Phandroid » Reviews http://phandroid.com Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Tue, 23 Sep 2014 20:45:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Kyocera Brigadier Review: a tough one-trick pony http://phandroid.com/2014/09/22/kyocera-brigadier-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/22/kyocera-brigadier-review/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:58:14 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=149255 Brigadier 4

It’s happened to all of us. You bring home your shiny new phone, and at first you are very careful with it. You take care to set it down gently, and maybe even buy a case for it. As time goes on you become increasingly rough with the device. Then it happens. It slips out of your hand as you pull it from your pocket. You hold your breathe as it lands face down on the pavement. The screen is cracked.

The details of this story may be different for you, but chances are we’ve all broke a phone or two in our day. It’s inevitable with the way most smartphones are built. They’re made with plastic or aluminum, and a large part of the device is a big pieced of glass. Plus we take these devices everywhere. It’s amazing we don’t break them more often. So what can you do about it?

The most popular solution is to buy a big, bulky case to put on it. That works pretty well, but it will cost you an arm and a leg if you want true protection from all elements. A better solution is to buy a device that was built specifically to withstand tons of abuse. Enter the Kyocera Brigadier. It’s certainly not the first rugged device on the market, but it has some new tricks up its sleeve.

Design

Brigadier

The design of all rugged devices usually follow the same formula. Manufacturers figure that the people buying a rugged device are men that don’t care about design. The devices are usually very masculine, with sharp edges and lots of black and red. The Kyocera Brigadier follows this script to the T. It’s shaped like a shield, with visible screws, covered in matte black, and topped off with red accents. Every port is covered with a plastic flap to keep water out.

The Brigadier is certainly not the ugliest device I’ve ever seen on the outside. Software design is another story. Kyocera, of course, has their own Android skin. It’s all glossy metal textures and bright teal highlights. The included widgets are very handy, but some of the uglier ones I’ve seen. It always boggles my mind when a mid-range device is so heavily skinned. They’re wasting their time on something that ultimately slows down the device even more, but more on that later.

Durability

Brigadier 5

Obviously durability is the main selling point of this device. Kyocera has made sure that every reviewer has ample materials to put this device to the test. Included with our review unit was a brand new pocket knife, rubber glove for water submersion, and a box of rocks. The reason for these items is to put the “Sapphire Shield” display to the test.

It’s easy to make the body of a phone durable, but the weak spot is always the big glass display. Kyocera has developed a proprietary display made out of sapphire, which is second only to diamonds in mineral hardness. This means the display is virtually scratch-proof and unbreakable. Of course we had to put this to the test ourselves.

This phone can take a beating. I dropped it on cement from five feet up several times, dumped rocks on it, submerged it in water (including flushing it in a toilet), attempted to scratch the display with a brand new pocket knife, and much more. The result? A bunch of scuffs and dings in the plastic/rubber case, but not a scratch on the display. Pretty impressive results, but durability is more than just skin deep.

We tortured the Brigadier much more than most people would with regular use. Chances are you’re not going to drop it, drown it, flush it, feed it to a dog, scratch it, and stab it all within the span of a couple of hours. How could we resist? Kyocera practically dared us to break this phone, and we may have succeeded. After all of our testing the device seemed to work fine…at first. Then the charging indicator was stuck on, and it started randomly rebooting. Now after a few days the touchscreen doesn’t recognize touches, and the power button thinks everything is a long-press.

In regular every-day disasters the Brigadier can take a punch like the best of them. However, if you’re a sadistic phone abuser like me you might run into some trouble.

Performance & Battery

Brigadier 3

It’s no surprise that durability is top-notch in the Kyocera Brigadier, but performance and camera quality is usually where these devices suffer. Putting time and money into awesome things like a sapphire display means other parts of the device won’t receive as much attention. The Brigadier is not a slow device, but it does suffer from good ol’ Android Lag. It’s especially noticeable when using Kyocera’s custom launcher or when you get a bunch of apps running at the same time.

Battery life is very important for rugged devices. The people who buy these devices demand a lot, especially when it comes to battery life. The Brigadier is packing a 3100mAh batter and even has Qi wireless charging. The good news is you won’t have to worry about charging it very often. I was able to get a day and a half of use before I plopped it on the charging pad. it has enough juice to keep up with your rugged lifestyle.

Camera

Brigadier 8

Camera quality is what you would expect from a mid-range device with a 8MP camera. Decent in well-lit situations, sub-par in low light. There’s really not much to say about it, but that is probably a good thing. Chances are if you’re buying this phone the camera is not a huge concern. You want to get quick photos when you’re on a hike or at the job site. The good news is it’s perfectly capable, but it lacks the “wow factor” of cameras on flagship devices. The benefit of this camera is it’s attached to a device that will allow you to still upload to Instagram if you drop it on the sidewalk.

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Conclusion

The question I always ask myself when rating a device is “would I recommend this phone to someone?” The answer to that question is tricky for the Kyocera Brigadier. On one hand it’s an excellent device for people who need something durable. But on the other hand it’s nothing more than a decent mid-range device with a killer gimmick. Ultimately I think the people who look for rugged devices like this will be happy with the Brigadier. The sapphire display truly is an amazing piece of technology, but I wish it was connected to a slightly better device.

The Good

  • Sapphire display is impressive
  • Body can take a beating
  • Great battery life

The Bad

  • Software design is not great
  • Camera is just okay
  • Stopped working after our extreme durability tests

Score: 2.5 out of 5

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Motorola Moto 360 review http://phandroid.com/2014/09/16/motorola-moto-360-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/16/motorola-moto-360-review/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:23:15 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=149081 Moto 360 DSC06937

When it comes to new tech, wearables like smartwatches have landed themselves in a unique position. While everyone agrees that an aesthetically pleasing smartphone or tablet can be seen as a bonus, it’s not mandatory. These devices spend the majority of their day tucked away out of view inside our pockets, backpacks, or hidden behind protective cases. But because smartwatches are actually worn, they’re just as much a fashion accessory as they are a piece of tech. This could be why Google Glass (at least in its current form) may never hit the mainstream and why tech heads were chomping at the bit over the newest kid on the smartwatch block: the Motorola Moto 360.

Like a girl at a Justin Bieber concert, it seemed like the tech community was eager to award the Moto 360 the distinguished honor of taking their Android Wear virginity based on looks alone. But underneath the chamfered glass and aluminum, is there more to the 360? Or is its primary success merely as an expensive piece of eye candy? We’ll answer all these questions and more in our Motorola Moto 360 review.

Design / Build quality

Moto 360 DSC06958

After visiting Motorola’s all new HQ in Chicago, we literally got a full tour of the facilities as Motorola employees showed us every step that went into making the Moto 360, from design, to early prototypes, manufacturing, and the final gorgeous product you see today. Having seen all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that went into making the 360, we have to admit, we appreciate the watch a little more than we would have otherwise.

So by now, we get it: the Moto 360 is round. It’s the most defining characteristic of the smartwatch and one that — at least when pitted against the current crop of Android Wear devices — sets it apart from the pack. You’ll notice Motorola has been careful to avoid calling the 360 a “smartwatch.” Instead, Motorola chooses the term “modern timepiece,” a fancy way of saying it’s the traditional round watch you’re all used to, only smarter (you know, a smartwatch).

At first glance it appears as if the Moto 360 is floating on the watch strap and, like any other fashion accessory (smart or not), reactions to hockey puck-design have proven to be somewhat polarizing. Some will say it’s the sexiest smartwatch they’ve ever laid eyes on, while others will say it’s something better suited for the ice rink. Whatever your opinion, there’s no denying the Moto 360 at least looks expensive.

Moto 360 DSC06955

On the face, you’ll find Gorilla Glass 3 raised ever so slightly from its brushed metal frame. The glass uses chamfered edges that cleverly reflect the light as to hide the side pixels of the LCD display when viewing the watch directly. All the distinct layers and pieces really give the watch some character, especially when looking at the lifeless design of rival devices like the LG G Watch. Even the single physical button on the side has a gold layer surrounding it, once again playing into that layered design aesthetic.

It’s these small details that help the watch appear less like it was slapped together in some Chinese factory and more like it was carefully assembled by a master craftsman. The watch looks premium and is further extended by Motorola’s choice in offering Chicago-sourced 100% genuine Horween leather wrist straps out of the box. There is no lower-end, rubber strapped sport “edition” or anything like that. This is the plate Motorola serves you and it’s delicious.

If leather doesn’t particularly suit your tastes, Motorola’s stock bands can be swapped for most standard 22mm bands, you’ll just have to make sure they’re thin enough to slide into the 360′s undercarriage. Motorola’s own official stainless steel link straps will be available later this year for an added $75.

Moto 360 Horween Leather strap DSC06984

Upon picking it up, the first thing you’ll notice is how absurdly light the Moto 360 is. For a second we actually thought there was some sort of mixup at the plant and we ended up with a dummy unit by mistake. After strapping the 360 on, the watch sat perfectly in the middle of our wrist and the leather was light and comfy. There’s was no chaffing or pulling of our vast abundance of arm hair when adjusting the strap. It was easy to forget the watch was even on our wrist.

The Moto 360 is IP67 rated and means you wont have to worry about getting the watch wet while vigorously washing your hands everyday, but if you plan on jumping in the pool or hitting some waves at the beach, it’s best to leave it somewhere dry.

Hardware

Display

Moto 360 DSC06981

There’s no denying the Moto 360′s body is a full 360-degrees round, but the same can’t be said for its display. At 320×290 (205ppi) resolution, the watch is almost perfectly round save for a small black bezel along the bottom which houses the ambient light sensor and the watch’s “display drivers.” Although the circular display can sometimes cutoff UI elements along the sides, the added screen real estate actually allows the 360 to display more words per line when compared to the LG G Watch.

Out of all the Android Wear devices, the Moto 360′s display is definitely the brightest, acting as a small flash light if for some reason you aren’t using the auto adjusting brightness setting. Speaking of which, the 360 is currently the only Android Wear device to come with an ambient light sensor, something that takes away the hassle of having to manually adjust the display. This is especially convenient when traveling from a dimly lit room out into daylight where the 360 was still tough to read (like most LCD devices), but at least it auto adjusted the brightness accordingly.

Moto 360 direct sunlight DSC06956

Something we should note, the review unit we were provided with actually came with 2-dead pixels. Although we’d normally dismiss it as a fluke, we’ve been hearing reports from other 360 owners experiencing similar on their units, even after getting it replaced. You might want to check yours out of the box (it’s easier to see with an all black background) and make sure you purchase from a reputable retailer with a convenient return policy. You know, just to be safe.

Like on our LG G Watch, we also found the display on the Moto 360 wasn’t always the most responsive. Often times, you’ll find selecting UI elements on the display requires multiple taps because the first tap didn’t register. It’s annoying and interesting that we can now confirm it happening on two separate Android Wear devices, so this isn’t necessarily a Moto 360 thing.

Power button

Power button DSC06983

The Moto 360 is actually one of the few Android Wear devices to come equipped with an actual physical button. Located on its side, we thought it odd how it primarily acts as yet another way of waking the display on the watch if for some reason tapping the display was just too easy. We originally thought this was a conscious decision by Motorola simply to keep the device looking traditional but we soon learned the button serves a another purpose: long pressing the button actually acts as a shortcut to the device’s settings. This normally requires a ridiculous amount of effort (tap to wake, tap to voice search, scroll down to settings, tap again to select).

Another bonus is when turned off, you can even — brace yourself — power the device on. I know, your mind is blown, right? Although this might not sound like such a big deal, the LG G Watch has no buttons and once powered down, requires you to dock and connect the device to its charger (or use a paperclip to press the tiny button on its back) before it can be booted up again. Let me tell you, there has been more than a few occasions where I was rushing out the door, only to realize I forgot to boot up the G Watch, forcing me to go about my day with a watch I couldn’t power on. For having the foresight to see the convenience in something as simply as an easily accessible power button… for that, I tip my hat to you, Motorola.

Heart rate monitor

Moto 360 back heart rate sensor DSC06964

The 360 isn’t just a pretty face. The watch also packs a few tricks up its sleeve that you can’t find in competing smartwatches (like the LG G Watch). For all you fitness types, Motorola threw in a tiny heart rate monitor located on the bottom of the device with a glowing green LED (see above pic).

This hardware feature is supported by Motorola’s own specialty apps and while great for tracking your daily fitness goals, is actually quite finicky when trying to get an accurate reading on the go. We found that you have to remain almost completely still to check your heart rate, so you’ll need to jump off the treadmill to get an update on your progress. We’ll go over both Heart Rate and Heart Activity apps more during our software portion of the review.

Wireless Charging

Moto 360 charging dock DSC06925

Because manufacturers want to keep their smartwatches looking as svelte as possible, just about every Android Wear device — with the exception of the Moto 360 — feature their own proprietary methods of charging. This can make it difficult in the event you forget to pack a charger or, heaven forbid, lose your charger and have to pay through the nose for a first-party replacement.

The Moto 360 on the other hand features wireless charging. Since this is using the Qi wireless charging standard, it’s the same kind of wireless charging found on many popular Android handsets. This means if you or someone else already has a wireless charger for their phone, you also have another means of charging your Moto 360.

Moto 360 wireless charging DSC06797

When it comes to Motorola’s supplied wireless charging dock, it’s actually quite small and features a smooth, soft touch finish. Since the dock faces outward, it’s meant to act as a bedside clock when charging the Moto 360 overnight. Because the Moto 360′s battery is so small, it won’t take more than an hour to reach a full charge, giving you plenty of time to charge while performing your normal morning ritual.

Moto 360 portable wireless charger  DSC06851

For those instances when you happen to be away from a wall outlet, don’t forget it’s possible to power the charger using one of the many portable battery chargers on the market. We paired our Moto X with Motorola’s tiny Power Pack Micro for a quick charging solution on-the-go. Surprisingly, it made for a nice mini charging station without all the wires or bulky battery packs.

Performance

Moto 360 DSC06951

Inside the Moto 360, you’ll find an aging single-core TI OMAP3630 running the show. It’s by no means a powerhouse (not that it needs to be), just an odd choice by Motorola given the fact that rival OEMs all went with the more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 400.

While actions are executed relatively quick, it’s the smoothness of the UI that suffers from the former Motorola DROID X SoC. That may not sound like a huge deal — and things have gotten smoother since the latest 4.4W.1 update — we have a feeling that over time, the OMAP will ultimately hold the smartwatch back and in some cases, it already does. Check out our battery life results below.

Battery life

Moto 360 Battery DSC06823

By now you may have noticed that battery life reports are all over the place. Since the latest software update, I’ve been able to consistently hit 20+ hours with the Moto 360 and its tiny 320mAh battery, but that wasn’t always the case.

Elsewhere, I’m still seeing reports of 12-15 hours and all we can do is scratch our heads, wondering why the experience differs so greatly person to person. It could have something to do with half-baked software, poor internal components, or even a shoddy Bluetooth connection with the paired handset. But the bottom line: I consistently got a full waking day, which passes the minimum expectations for these first generation smartwatches.

Unlike its Android Wear rivals, the Moto 360 comes with “Ambient screen” mode turned off right out of the box. Ambient mode is a fancy way of saying the display is always on, so you can quickly glance at the time without having to lift your hand and face the watch towards you (or press the physical button). While it only makes sense that battery life would suffer as a result, it’s nowhere near as big of a problem on other Android Wear devices as it is on the Moto 360.

With ambient mode on, you’re looking at barely 10 to 12 hours of battery life, a stark contrast to the 20+ hours with other devices like the LG G Watch. Again, we have a feeling the culprit is the Old-Man Jenkins OMAP which isn’t anywhere near optimized to run in a low power state like the Snapdragon 400. Simply put, it’s a shame and probably the only thing keeping the Moto 360 from unfettered greatness.

Connectivity

Moto 360 disconnected DSC06929

I’ve seen more than a few reports of Bluetooth connections dropping in and out, and where I’ve only experienced this once or twice since my 2 weeks with the device, it could be due to any number of causes. Outside interference, the connected phone, the OS, the Android Wear app — who the heck knows. The bright side is it only takes a simple disconnecting/reconnecting of my watch using the Android Wear app to fix the problem.

I was hesitant to mention this in our review because I’ve had similar experiences with Google Glass and other Bluetooth devices. Again, it’s tough to figure out exactly what is to blame — the Moto 360, smartphone, or something else entirely — but thankfully it seems this was largely remedied in the latest 4.4W.1 update.

What’s missing

Because the Moto 360 is a first generation device, of course there are going to be some things Motorola left out whether to add for its inevitable sequel, or because they simply aren’t supported. We’re not going to hold it against them — especially given battery life is already at the bare minimum of what we would deem acceptable — but the Sony SmartWatch 3 has a GPS sensor, while the upcoming Apple Watch features NFC for quick mobile payments.

And although it’s never been discussed, we also wouldn’t mind seeing an IR blaster for quick universal remote functionality. Just file this under Motorola Moto 360 (2015) features we would like to see.

Software

Android Wear

Android Wear reservation

As one of Google’s flagship Android Wear devices (it was announced back during Google I/O alongside the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live), we’re sure by now you know everything there is to know about the modified Android OS that powers the watch. One of its main functions is simply quick access to Google Voice Search and if you’re curious to see all the information it can deliver, check out our video of 40+ voice commands you can do with Android Wear.

Aside from its handy Google Search functions, the primary goal for Android Wear is not to act like a tiny smartphone, but more of an extension of the notifications already found on your Android-powered smartphone. We don’t have statistics, but in our own experiences we’d say that anywhere between 80 to 90% of notifications you receive throughout the day don’t require an actual response, or perhaps just a quick one.

This is why Android Wear exists. Instead of pulling out your phone every 5 seconds to view a notification — which can add up, slowly diminishing your smartphone’s battery life — you can briefly check your watch instead. If something needs addressing, you can perform quick actions like a voice reply, delete, or “open on phone” and quickly get back to whatever it was you were doing.

Android Wear voice reply action

This also applies to apps that run on Android Wear, which are meant to have low attention costs and, in most cases, are installed simply by downloading its full Android counterpart from the Google Play Store. There aren’t too many Android Wear apps at the moment, but the list is definitely growing. As the platform continues to grow and evolve, expect these mini apps to become more helpful in the future (our favorite is Google Maps which shows turn-by-turn directions on your watch). For those worried about the here and now, outside of quick notifications, Android Wear’s usefulness is limited.

There are some that feel like Android Wear isn’t quite ready for prime time and in some ways, we’d have to agree. The UI isn’t all that intuitive (we like Google Glass’ timeline UI much better) and it’s clear Google still has their work cut out for them. But in terms of overall philosophy, Google is definitely on the right track by using Android Wear as a way to alleviate the heavy attention costs associated with using a smartphone OS (a stark contrast to Apple’s approach with their smartwatch).

Setup

Android Wear app

Setting up the Moto 360 is a snap and involves downloading the Android Wear companion app from the Google Play Store. After that, you simply pair up your watch upon first boot with your smartphone and you’re ready to go. Because, chances are, you have a few apps on your phone that have the same general function — multiple note apps for instance — you can specify which apps you’d like to launch by default when feeding your watch with voice commands.

If fiddling around in your watches settings is too difficult, you can also adjust these inside the Android Wear app by pressing the cog icon at the top.

Motorola apps and watch faces

Moto 360 heart activity app DSC06969

It’s true Google forbids Android Wear manufacturers from adding their own UI skins, but that doesn’t mean they can’t add their own specialty apps. In the case of the Moto 360, Motorola has added their own apps, watch faces, and even a bedside clock mode that displays while the watch is charging.

Motorola Connect

Using the Motorola Connect app (yes, you’ll need to download another app), you can customize the look of the Moto 360′s round watch faces, update your wellness profile, or view the last known location of the connected device (in this case, our Moto 360). The app actually works for a variety of Motorola’s Bluetooth connected devices like the Power Pack Micro and we’re guessing the Moto Hint will soon be added as well.

Although the app is now available for a variety of Android devices, the Motorola Connect PC Extension (which allows you to send receive/send SMS from your computer) is still a Moto-only affair.

The Moto 360′s Heart Activity app monitors your heart rate throughout the day, letting you know once you’ve hit 30 minutes of light exercise. Of course, fitness buffs likely wont bother with this and that’s fine. The app is more or less geared to couch potatoes like myself who want to live a little healthier, but need something to help track it.

Verdict

Moto 360 DSC06941

After its initial unveiling, most everyone was ready to declare the 360 the undisputed king of Android Wear based purely on design. Turns out, there’s more to a device that just its looks. By now you know the the Moto 360 isn’t the “perfect smartwatch” and as a first generation device, we never really expected it to be.

Thankfully, reports of dismal battery life weren’t as terrible as some made it out to be, the the Moto 360 has proven it has the chops to be a successful contender in the smartwatch device segment. Now we have round watch faced competition from LG and Samsung looming around the corner, there’s no question Motorola’s window of opportunity is closing fast.

There’s all these other little things that make up a pleasant experience in consumers devices, hardware features you don’t really think about at first. The convenience of wireless charging, a simple power button — sure the Moto 360 has its share of short comings, but in life and tech you always make a trade off. The Moto 360 is no different, but whether it was for the better or worse is ultimately up to you to decide.

The Moto 360 nails it in the looks and comfort department, while offering premium build materials and hardware features like ambient light sensor and heart rate monitor the other guys aren’t offering. Add this to the fact it supports wireless charging — a common standard amongst Android devices — and you have all the makings of a winner.

At $250 for the leather strapped models, we can’t help but feel the Moto 360 is offered at a reasonable price. With features and a design that bests other Android Wear offerings, it’s not a bad deal. Especially when you consider the Apple Watch is retailing for $350 just for the base model in contrast to the Moto 360 which, we feel, has superior design and functionality. You can buy the Motorola Moto 360 from Best Buy, Google Play Store, or direct from Motorola.

Looking ahead

We have a feeling the mad push for Android Wear devices aren’t about to slow down, with bigger and badder smartwatches are just around the corner. Now that the Apple Watch has a general launch date, expect sequels for all these watches to arrive around then (or earlier) with more features and better internals than today’s models.

While we won’t fault anyone for passing up the current crop of wearables, tech addicts like myself have grown accustomed to the growing pains associated with first generation devices. Nobody ever said living on the bleeding edge of tech was easy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pros:

  • Looks and feels great
  • Wireless charging
  • Auto dim display
  • Power button
  • Leather out of the box

Cons:

  • Small battery
  • Underpowered, non-energy efficient processor
  • There’s an ambient mode, but you don’t wanna use it
  • Most expensive Android Wear smartwatch

Final Score: 4 out of 5

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Moto G (2nd gen) Review http://phandroid.com/2014/09/16/moto-g-2014-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/16/moto-g-2014-review/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:35:38 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=148920 moto-g-front-hero

The Moto G is a rare beast: a budget-priced phone from one of the most respected players in the mobile industry. Motorola doesn’t just stamp their name on any old handset, and it’s more apparent than ever with the 2014 refresh to the company’s best selling smartphone of all time. While the Moto G makes some sacrifices to reach its $179 retail price, it more than makes up for them with its combination of pure Android and attractive design.

Build & Design

moto-g-curve

Little has changed year-over-year in the design of the Moto G. At a glance, it features the same rounded edges and curved back that imbue the handset with a subtle classiness you might expect from a phone twice its price. The design language is borrowed from the Moto X (both the 2013 and 2014 iterations), though the build differs. Where the second generation Moto X introduces aluminum construction and accents, the Moto G retains its plastic frame. Still, the phone feels solid in a way that we’ve come to expect from Motorola device, regardless of the materials used.

The Moto G has increased in size and weight ever so slightly. The phone is a hair over 4mm wider at 70.7mm and grows by 11mm in height to 141.5mm. Weight sees a barely noticeable increase from 143g to 149g. What hasn’t changed is the handset’s thickness, which remains 6.0mm at its thinnest edge increasing to 11mm at the peak of its curved back.

That curve, by the way, serves a dual purpose. It not only give Moto some flashier thickness figures to throw around, but it also creates an inviting feeling to the hand. It adds an ergonomic shape that keeps the Moto G from feeling big or unwieldy. Bezel snobs will also be happy to know that Motorola has once again done their best to increase the overall screen-to-body-size ratio.

moto-g-colors

Buyers are given two finish options when buying the Moto G (white or black), but Motorola has extended a touch of the personalization available for their pricier Moto X to its cheaper counterpart. This includes a replaceable back that can be swapped out for a variety of colored Motorola Shells. New to the 2014 edition are Motorola Flip Shells, which provide a folio-style screen cover for added protection.

moto-g-flip

Display

As for that screen? The Moto G’s display has increased in size — quite literally the biggest change from first generation devices — but not resolution. The result is a display with a lower pixel density but more real estate for enjoying apps, games, movies, and more. At 5 inches (half an inch larger than the previous models’s 4.5-inch display) and 1280×720 pixels, the Moto G lacks the flashy resolution other devices of a similar size employ, but it’s hard to argue with what you get for the price (a recurring theme when reviewing the handset).

moto-g-display

While top-tier Android devices move into the realm of Quad HD, let’s not forget that the Moto G’s resolution is on par with that of Apple’s iPhone 6, a phone with a top-of-the-line price and marketed as such. 720p might seem like old hat for Android users. It might even seem like a cop out. It still looks sharp and clear, however, and leaves little room for complaint.

Hardware

moto-g-front

As a low-priced handset aiming for a premium experience, the Moto G’s hardware is a bit of a mixed bag. Whereas Motorola went bigger with the display, the Snapdragon 400 processor within the handset remains identical to the previous generation. This is almost unheard of in the world of Android devices where we might at least expect a bump in clock speed or other performance factors. Instead we see the same 1.2GHz quad-core processor and Adreno 305 GPU as last year.

That’s not necessarily a knock on performance. The Snapdragon 400 gets the job done efficiently and effectively (a stock build of Android 4.4 helps), but as the latest handsets move toward Snapdragon 801 and 805 platforms, it would seem logical to at least see a jump to Snapdragon 600. We digress, though.

Motorola instead chose to focus on feature-focused hardware updates for the Moto G, the big two being the addition of front-facing stereo speakers and a MicroSD card slot. The latter allows users to expand on the 8GB or 16GB of internal storage the Moto G carries with up to an additional 32GB of removable storage.

Some potential buyers will be disappointed to learn that Motorola did not introduce an LTE-ready Moto G out of the gate, nor is the phone compatible with CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint. With the original Moto G, Motorola eventually released versions of the device that addressed both of these shortcomings. We might expect them to do the same here.

As is, the handset is outfitted with GSM radios capable of HSPA+ speeds on AT&T and T-Mobile’s network. Globally, a dual SIM version of the device is compatible with a broad range of GSM networks and service providers.

Software

moto-g-home

One aspect of the Moto G Android enthusiasts are sure to find appealing is the decision to go with a “pure” infall of Google’s KitKat operating system. Officially Android 4.4.4 out of the box, the Moto G benefits from the same software capabilities available to owners of higher-end Nexus and Google Play Edition handsets.

Motorola has included a few helpful software benefits, however, for Moto G users. These include Motorola Migrate, a service that makes transitioning from anything from a feature phone to an iPhone extremely easy. Just a few taps will transfer contacts, photos, and other stored data. Motorola Assist puts a filter on incoming calls and alerts when you are sleeping or in an important meeting. Motorola Alert helps notify friends and family of your whereabouts, whether you are arranging a meet up or experiencing an emergency.

One awesome feature we don’t see enough in smartphones is the inclusion of FM radio software (to go along with a built-in FM tuner). Using wired headphones as an antenna, the Moto G can pick up and playback local FM feeds without the need for a WiFi or cellular connection. A little more old school than Spotify, but nifty nonetheless.

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Another software/hardware combination feature that comes in handy is Trusted Devices, which allows the Moto G to operate without password protection provided it is in range of a “trusted” Bluetooth device. This could be a headset, a computer, or even a Bluetooth speaker. When the Moto G is paired to the device, waking the phone skips the lock screen and gets you right into the action.

Beyond these additions, the Moto G has access to Google services like Gmail, Maps, Hangouts, Chrome, and more. With a stock Android implementation, there is no confusion between these apps and competing services that manufacturers and carriers typically include. It also enables the handset to take full advantage of Google Now’s predictive info cards and helpful voice actions.

While on the subject of stock Android, Motorola is guaranteeing at least one version upgrade beyond what comes installed on the phone. This means when Google has Android L ready to ship, Moto G owners will be on the short list to receive it. And while they are only promising one update, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Motorola support the phone for at least a few more.  It really doesn’t get much better than what Motorola is doing here.

Camera

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The Moto G sees an improved 8MP camera as part of its updates as well as the introduction of a few software features (and one more hardware goody). The camera itself has improved with an f2.0 aperture and also includes LED flash and 4X digital zoom. Shooting modes include slow motion video, burst shot, HDR, and panorama.

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Users have options when it comes to actually capturing a photo. By default, tapping the screen will focus the image on the area of interest. A flip of a setting enables One-Tap Capture, which will focus and snap a shot at the touch of a finger. The Moto G can also take advantage of a hardware shutter button (a secondary function of the phone’s volume rocker).

Image quality is solid, and 720p video is smooth. We’ve seen better on other smartphones, but the full package is impressive for a device of this class.

Battery

Motorola promises “all day battery life” for the Moto G, and the phone’s 2070mAh battery certainly has the qualifications on paper. This is where a sub-1080p display, Snapdragon 400 processor, and a lack of LTE come in handy, as their power draw is theoretically reduced.

The battery itself is the same size as the power cell of the first generation handset, and it did well enough in our testing. It is reasonable to expect the phone to get similar performance in this spec compared to last year’s model, but mileage will vary by usage. “All day battery life” really depends on how you define “all day.” A single charge will certainly get you from sun up to sun down, but cracking the 24-hour mark might be a rare occurrence.

The Bottom Line

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It would be easy to recommend the Moto G as the phone to buy for those on a budget. Saying that, however, sells the handset a little short. The Moto G is a perfectly respectable phone to buy for almost anyone who was already planning on spending $200 up front for a phone with a required two-year contract. In fact, at $180 said shopper will save money and be free of any sort of carrier obligations or restrictions on when he or she can upgrade their phone.

The Moto G most certainly is not a phone designed for folks seeking a powerhouse along the lines of the Galaxy S5 or LG G3, but for users who can avoid falling prey to the hype of octa-core processors and Quad HD displays, it does everything you need and more. The decision to stick with a stock install of Android 4.4 adds even more appeal to the Moto G, making it a great choice for fans of the pure “Google Experience.”

Wrap the solid specs and powerful software in a quality build that not only looks great but offers room for personalization via its replaceable back cover and the Moto G is even harder to deny. Did we mention all of this comes at a price of only $180?

The Good

  • Stock Android 4.4 with guaranteed upgrade
  • Solid, attractive build with customizable back
  • $179 off-contract

The Bad

  • No LTE version or CDMA support
  • No upgrade from first generation’s Snapdragon 400 SoC

The Bottom Line: 4/5

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Madden NFL Mobile review: the best of Ultimate Team right in your pocket http://phandroid.com/2014/08/31/madden-nfl-mobile-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/08/31/madden-nfl-mobile-review/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:00:22 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=147895 madden mobile

Many football gamers have likely already drain hours of their time into Madden NFL 15 for consoles as it launched this past Tuesday. But what about when you’re away from and needing that football fix? EA Sports has a pretty decent gift for you lot — Madden NFL Mobile. We’ve had a few days to sink our teeth into it and determine whether this is the pigskin simulator that your phone or tablet deserves, and here’s our final review.

Graphics and Presentation

While graphics have never been the absolute most important element of video games, you don’t want a football game made in 2014 to look like Tecmo Bowl. How does Madden fare? Quite well, I must say. EA spared no expense when it comes to resources, as they draw on every ounce of power that today’s powerful mobile GPUs provide. While you certainly won’t be getting console quality graphics here, the game looks and performs smooth enough to make you believe you’re on the field.

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Player models are perhaps most important, and they are given proper justice here. You might not get a clear look at all of Colin Kapernick’s tattoos or that receding hairline Drew Brees has, but their height and build are represented accurately enough, and the names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys are clear enough to make no mistake about who it is.

Animation of these models are done quite smoothly. From the throwing motion of a QB to a kicker swinging his leg to nail a field goal, the game looks and feels exactly as you’d expect it to. The environment you’re surrounded by  – a stadium that’s supposed be full of tens of thousands of people — doesn’t quite give you that gladiator feel of an actual NFL stadium, but a modestly animated crowd with the sound effects to match definitely go toward providing a “football feel.”

We played this game on an HTC One M8 running a Snapdragon 801 processor, which we imagined would be more than enough to get the job done. We imagine the game should run well on a vast range of “contemporary” hardware, though don’t be surprised if it suffers a bit on hardware more than 2 years old — this is one demanding game. Long story short, you won’t be complaining about how it looks when you sit down to knock out a couple of quick games. Can the same be said about how it plays?

Gameplay

Just as most folks will argue that beauty is only skin deep, a game can only be good as its gameplay. Doesn’t matter how well a game looks if you don’t enjoy playing it, right? For the case of Madden NFL Mobile, we’d say they did just fine. EA did a fine job in finding a balance between simplicity and freedom.

Movement of players is handled by an on-screen analog stick, allowing you to move the players in pretty much any direction you please. On the other side of the display is a context-sensitive Action button that will change depending on the situation.

Pre-play, you simply press that button to snap the ball. When you are controlling the ball carrier during the play it becomes your best friend — spins, jukes and hurdles are all performed by pressing the button. Your player smartly chooses the right action depending on the situation so you only have to worry about hitting the button at the right moment. On defense, you use it to try and get a big tackle and force a fumble.

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So that’s the ball carrier — what about cornerbacks and quarterbacks? For the former, you can try to intercept an incoming pass by switching to the player closest to the ball (a simple double finger tap) and swipe up on the display when prompted. In order for the latter to throw a pass, you hold the icon if the receiver you want for a bullet and tap it for a lob/floater. Kickers also have their own mechanic: swipe up on a kick meter cone. The velocity of your swipe determines kick power, while the direction of your swipe will determine accuracy.

All of that comes together to create a gameplay experience that feels full, smooth and free as opposed to over-complicated or dumbed down. It makes you feel like every decision is yours and yours along to make without the annoying interference of hand-holding and autonomy. You won’t be getting the deepest of football gameplay out of a mobile title, but it sure feels a lot better than anything we’ve played to date.

Modes and Features

Madden NFL Mobile isn’t exactly heavy on a variety of modes and features this year. You’ll be doing a vast majority of your bidding in EA’s Ultimate Team, a card-based collection mode where you play with the player cards you earn. Player cards can be earned from Pro Packs which can be bought with gold (earned by playing and completing games and events) or purchased using in-game currency that you buy with real-life currency.

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Unfortunately this means you won’t be able to play with the stars of your favorite team immediately — that is, of course, unless you are lucky enough to pull their card from a pack or have enough gold to buy them on the auction house. You will at least be able to play with your favorite team’s uniform, though, so there’s that. It’s a shame EA didn’t include actual NFL teams this go-round, but Ultimate Team has been a cash cow for them in the past few years so we can’t say we’re too surprised.

Thankfully there’s no shortage of what you can do with whatever team you happen to put together. You can go through a more traditional 16 game season where you play your team’s real-life schedule in hopes to reach the playoffs and, ultimately, the Super Bowl. You can go head-to-head against rivalries and friends online. You even have a few training mini games to sink your teeth into for the purpose of earning more gold and XP. Daily and weekly challenges help keep things fresh by giving you the chance to win promotional and collectible cards that can’t be had otherwise.

Unfortunately, all of this is marred by one very annoying factor — stamina. EA has succumbed to the pressures of the free to play world and implemented a system where you can’t move forward unless you wait for your stamina meter to refill or replenish it yourself. You earn one stamina point every 10 minutes, and stamina can also be refilled when you reach new levels, but should you be too impatient to wait or can’t bring yourself up to the next level in a decent amount of time they’ll ask you to pay $1 to continue.

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It shouldn’t be surprising considering premium microtransactions have always been the backbone of Ultimate Team, however we wish EA would have kept the shameless cash grabs isolated to the need to buy packs instead of using every little crooked trick they can to push you to spend unnecessary money. I am fortunate enough to be a very patient individual so time constraints don’t usually send me off the deep end — I’ll simply find something else to do or switch to another game. That said, we understand if it’s a turnoff that ultimately keeps you from enjoying the game.

The Verdict

EA has put together a pretty fun game for those who absolutely can’t stand to be without football while they’re away from home. It feels like they have a good grasp on what makes mobile gaming fun. Unfortunately, they don’t have that same level of understanding when it comes to what makes a game frustrating (either that, or they do know and simply don’t care).

Whether the annoyances of microtransactions and modern-day mobile gaming annoy you, we at least appreciate that there’s a pretty good game beneath the green veil of dollar bills EA decided to decorate it with. The download is free in the Google Play Store so don’t hesitate to decide whether it’s worth the time (and potential headache and whatever money you might be inclined to spend) for yourself.

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HTC One Remix Review: when “mini” is a good thing http://phandroid.com/2014/08/27/htc-one-remix-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/08/27/htc-one-remix-review/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 15:58:24 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=147476 one remix

The size of phones is getting a little out of control. Every new flagship Android phone these days has a screen around the 5-inch mark. It wasn’t long ago that we were freaking out about the “giant” 4.3-inch display on the original HTC EVO. This recent trend of extra-large Android phones has created opportunities in the “mini” phone category. HTC is one of several manufacturers to try to cash in on consumers who prefer a more pocketable device.

The HTC One Remix is Verizon’s version of the HTC One Mini 2. The funny thing about the Remix is it’s not actually all that “mini.” In fact, while it is significantly smaller than the HTC One M8, it’s almost the same exact size as the original HTC One. Do you have to sacrifice great features in order to get a device that’s slightly easier to put in your pocket? Let’s find out!

For an in-depth review of HTC software and build-quality, which the Remix shares, check out our in-depth HTC One M8 review.

Hardware

HTC One Remix 2

HTC’s build quality has been traditionally exceptional, and the Remix does not disappoint in that regard. If you’ve ever held the HTC One M8 you know exactly how the Remix feels. Everything about this device screams “premium.” The aluminum casing has a far superior feel to any other mid-range device we’ve held. It’s heavy enough to feel solid without weighing down your pocket. The only gripe we have with the overall design and build quality is how slippery it is. You will drop this device a few times. Luckily it’s also very durable.

Size

HTC One sizes

Since this is a “mini” device we obviously have to talk about the size. As we mentioned above, the Remix isn’t exactly what most people would consider “mini.” That can be blamed on the excessive bezel that HTC seems to love. The dimension that makes the Remix feel like a mini device is its width. At nearly a quarter of an inch narrower than the One M8 it’s so much easier to hold and operate with one hand.

Speakers

HTC One Remix 4

Not all of the extra bezel around the display is pointless. Most of it is for the dual front-facing BOOMSOUND speakers. As someone who hasn’t used a device with these speakers I was skeptical about the praise they have received. But let me tell you, once you have a device with BOOMSOUND speakers you will never want to go back. It’s like being able to really hear for the first time. YouTube videos, music, podcasts, and everything just sound amazing. The speakers are easily one of the best features on the HTC One Remix.

Display

HTC One Remix 3

The Remix is a scaled down version of the One M8 in more ways than just size. The display has of course been slimmed down from 5-inches to 4.5-inches, but also the resolution from 1080p to 720p. The good news is HTC still put the same great display tech in the Remix. After looking at the display on the Remix for several days other devices seem to have a yellow tint. That’s because the LCD display on the Remix is much better at color reproduction.

Camera

HTC One Remix 6

HTC put a standard 13MP camera in the Remix as opposed to the 4 “ultrapixel” camera on the M8. My experience with the camera was a mixed bag. On the plus side it takes photos very quickly, but that made it hard for me to get clear focus in photos. When I did get it to focus correctly the photos looked very nice. I’m sure it’s one of those things that takes some time to get used to.

As with most smartphone cameras, the HTC One Remix works best outdoors in sunlight. Under those perfect conditions you can get clear detailed photos, especially if you utilize the “daylight” option in the white balance settings. Speaking of settings, the camera software is easy to use and has easy settings for even the photogenically impaired.

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One camera feature that stood out was the “Selfie” mode. This mode utilizes the 5MP front-facing camera (same one that comes with the One M8). Photos taken with the front-facing camera on the Remix look awesome. You can get more people in a shot than you can with other devices because of the wider angle lens. For Selife aficionados this is a must-have feature.

All in all the experience and photo quality is good for something considered mid-range. Compared to other smartphone cameras in the same price range there is no contest. Take a look at some photo samples below. Note the slightly out of focus shots.

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Software

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I won’t go too deep into the software on the HTC One Remix. It’s running the same version of Sense that we tested on the One M8. As far as Android skins go it’s easily one of the best. HTC doesn’t only use their great design sense for hardware. Sense is a very polished and refined Android skin. Small details and added functionality can be found throughout the OS. Even something as simple as a widget that turns from white to black at night.

Blinkfeed is one Sense feature that you might love or hate. If you use the default launcher you can access Blinkfeed by swiping to the left from the main screen. You can add social networks and websites to see a single stream of content. It’s a handy feature, but I found myself forgetting it was even there. To remove Blinkfeed just use your fingers to zoom out on the homescreen. Drag the Blinkfeed screen to the trash icon.

Most of the time I try to erase all evidence of an Android skin, but with HTC Sense I don’t feel the need. That says a lot.

Performance & Battery

remix battery chart

The Remix is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. It has nearly half the horsepower of the One M8, but yet it feels just as smooth and fast. HTC does a great job of optimizing their software for the hardware. We had no trouble downloading apps quickly, playing games, multitasking, and doing all the things you demand from a phone. As a mid-range device the Remix easily has enough power.

The one area that really impressed us about the Remix was battery life. As I’m writing this review the phone has been on battery power for nearly 24 hours. This is compared to my Nexus 5 that needs to be charged every day before I go to bed. In fact, while testing the Remix and using it as my main device it was still lasting longer than my idle Nexus 5. Verizon has inexplicably disabled the Power Saver modes on the HTC One Remix. Battery life is already great, but with those battery saving modes it could be even better. Shame on you, Big Red.

The Bottom Line

HTC One Remix 5

“Remixing” usually means to create something completely different from an original source. Most “mini” phones on the market have been “remixed.” They may share a name with the original flagship, but so many features have been scarified it’s hardly the same device. The HTC One Remix is a “mini” phone that doesn’t require the user to give up on flagship features. You get the great HTC build quality and design, amazing BOOMSOUND speakers, excellent performance and battery life, a snappy Android skin, and a capable camera. The best thing we can say about the HTC One Remix is that it’s worth of the “HTC One” name.

The Good

  • Premium build quality
  • Amazing BOOMSOUND speakers
  • Excellent battery life
  • Sense 6 is a joy to use

The Bad

  • Photos are inconsistent
  • Hard to focus with fast shutter
  • Not all that “mini”

Score: 4 out of 5

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‘Freaking Math’ is a game so easy it will drive you insane http://phandroid.com/2014/08/08/freaking-math-for-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/08/08/freaking-math-for-android-review/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 19:42:22 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=146496

Some games are hard. Some games are easy. Freaking Math is a rare game that somehow can be easy and hard at the same time. The premise of this game is so simple it can be described in one sentence. You have 2 seconds to choose if a math equation is right or wrong. That’s it. The equation is always simple addition, and the goal is to get as many correct in a row as you can.

The key ingredient to what makes this game so addictive and fun is the 2 seconds you get to answer. It’s barely enough time to read the equation, let alone decide if it’s right or wrong. Your brain and fingers can barely keep up with each other. I can guarantee you will get some very easy equations wrong. Once you hear the buzzer that signifies an incorrect answer you will let out a scream and pound the button you should have pressed. Don’t feel embarrassed. I once thought 1+1=3 was correct. It will happen to you, too.

freaking math

The design of the game matches the simplicity of the gameplay. It’s all very cartoony and easy to read. The buttons are large so you can’t miss them. A satisfying “bloop” sound can be heard every time you choose correctly. Freaking Math is a great game to hand off to your friends and see who can get the highest score. The game is free to download, but there are banner ads and the occasional pop-up. It’s a lot of fun, and you might even get better at math in the process.

Worth downloading?

Yes. Freaking Math is like Flappy Bird, but not mind-melting. This is the perfect game to hand-off to your cocky friends who think they are good at math. Freaking Math is freaking addictive and tons of fun. Download it today!

PlayDownload

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Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport Review http://phandroid.com/2014/08/08/samsung-galaxy-s5-sport-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/08/08/samsung-galaxy-s5-sport-review/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:30:07 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=146299 galaxy-s5-sport-heroThe Galaxy S5 Sport is Sprint’s new exclusive take on Samsung’s 2014 flagship device, a phone that takes everything we love (and didn’t love) about the original Galaxy S5 and wraps it in a new package with some additional fitness-oriented software. While it scores points for its solid build quality, is  the Sport a better buy than the first iteration of the S5? Read on for our full review.

Design & Build

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The design of the Galaxy S5 Sport is significantly different than the standard version of the GS5 released back in the spring. While the phone maintains a similar footprint and silhouette, it features a boxy, ruggedized build incorporating contrasting plastic accents in matte and faux-chrome finishes. Homages to the original Galaxy S5 design persist, including a dimpled back that is considerably more grippy on the Sport thanks to its rubber inset.

Measuring 5.67 x 2.91 x 0.35 inches, the Galaxy S5 Sport is bigger than the standard S5 by a few fractions of an inch in every dimension. Most noticeable is the device’s  thickness, which increases from 0.32 inches. The Sport is also heavier by a considerable amount at 5.57 ounces compared to the GS5’s 5.11 ounce weight.

The Galaxy S5 Sport caters to fans of physical Android navigation buttons with the standard set of three mapped out below the screen. The buttons are plenty big and feature a textured design that adds some grip and makes them easy to find. It’s a small touch that could come in quite handy when drenched in sweat after a serious workout, reminding that the Sport was purpose-built for those incline to “active” lifestyles.

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Elsewhere the phone features a volume rocker and power/standby key, camera sensor that protrudes slightly from the rear of the phone above a flash array that doubles as a heart rate monitor, and a sealed microUSB charging port. The latter is important to maintain the waterproof design introduced with the original Galaxy S5. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S5 Sport does not include the fingerprint scanner of its blueprint device, eliminating the ability to unlock the phone with the swipe of a finger and more.

Check out our full review to read more about many of these features carried over from the Galaxy S5.

Display & Hardware

While the shell of the Galaxy S5 Sport is a far cry from the original, the device’s internal hardware is more or less identical and functions as much. It starts with the one outward-looking piece of kit, a 5.1-inch 1080p Super AMOLED display. With the Galaxy S5 it was touted as one of the best screens to ever grace a smartphone, and its no different in its Sport iteration. As with all AMOLED displays, expect a high level of contrast and rich, vibrant colors. You can read more about the Galaxy S5’s display in our full review.

The Galaxy S5 Sport features the same Snapdragon 801 found in the Galaxy S5 coupled with 2GB of RAM, delivering performance that matches that phone in every respect. It certainly doesn’t feel like the fasted Android phone on the market — thanks in no small part to its bloated TouchWiz interface — but it is no slouch by any means. Again, you can read about the Galaxy S5’s performance in more depth in our original review.

We would be doing a disservice if we didn’t mention cellular performance. As a Sprint exclusive, the Sport is tied to Sprint’s hit-or-miss network. When able to maintain a solid connection with the carrier’s 4G LTE network, users can expect solid download and upload speeds. The issue arises with coverage. If you live and spend most of your time in an area with strong Sprint service this shouldn’t be too big of an issue, but you may want to do some research if you aren’t already on Sprint’s network. As an alternative, the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active is a similarly designed Galaxy S5 variant that benefits from AT&T’s network.

Software

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Samsung’s TouchWiz interface has long been a divisive element of the Galaxy S line. While its intentions have always been in the right place — attempting to add to the Android experience via software features and exclusive apps — the execution hasn’t always been seamless. TouchWiz often comes across as clunky, confusing, and overwhelming for both the user and the phone’s hardware. This continues to be the case with the Galaxy S5 Sport, which implements the same TouchWiz Nature UX found on other Galaxy S5 models.

For an overview of TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5, see our initial review. Here we will focus on additional software exclusive to the Galaxy S5 Sport, which are mostly geared toward the “active lifestyle” sect. The main aspect of this is Sprint Fit Live, a hub of sorts that combines the S Health app standard to all Galaxy S5 handsets with Spotify (Sport owners get a few months of free access as a bonus) and another service MapMyFitness. Sprint Fit Live also provides users with access to health-related articles and other fitness info.

Does it add to the experience? For those intending to use the Sport as a fitness companion, it gets the job done. It’s nothing that could not be accomplished to the same degree or even better with standalone apps, however, so it’s far from a reason to run out and buy the Galaxy S5 Sport. Many will simply see it as bloatware along with the numerous other apps from Sprint, Samsung, and its partners that come preinstalled on the device. These include Amazon, eBay, Lookout Security, Flipboard, and 1Weather just to name a small fraction.

Camera

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As with other hardware elements, the Galaxy S5 carries a 16MP camera identical to the Galaxy S5 and performs on par with its predecessor. In good lighting conditions the S5’s optics can really wow, but don’t expect every shot to be a masterpiece based on the high megapixel count alone. While lowlight performance is adequate, it certainly isn’t spectacular.

A number of shooting modes give photographers plenty of options, whether that be capturing a panorama, using selective focus for artistic shots, or using Shot & More mode to create neat visual effects. You can see our Galaxy S5 review for an in-depth look at the handset’s camera plus a complete gallery of sample shots.

Battery

The Galaxy S5 Sport features a 2,800mAh battery that didn’t cease to impress us, just as was the case with the vanilla Galaxy S5. With standard use the phone will have no issues lasting more than a day on a single charge. Even with the Sport’s more rugged inclinations, the battery pack remains removable making it possible to carry a spare, but you likely won’t need one given the distance the handset can go on a single charge.

Software power saving modes to optimize battery life are available to push uptime to the max. These modes tweak hardware and software settings with a single tap to keep the Galaxy S5 alive in a pinch. You guessed it, you can read more about these power saving modes and Galaxy S5 battery life in our original review.

The Bottom Line

galaxy-s5-sport-front

Is the Galaxy S5 Sport an upgrade over Samsung’s standard S5 flagship handset? That is to say, is there a solid rationale to choosing one over the other? While Sprint subscribers may find some appeal in its new design and fitness buffs might see something in a phone built for “active” lifestyles, the Sport ultimately is little more than a Galaxy S5 with a fresh coat of paint. Users already in the market for an S5 might consider the Sport if they want a device that stands out from the rest of the GS5-wielding pack. It’s no better but no worse than the original.

The Good

  • Solid build quality
  • Brilliant Super AMOLED display
  • Excellent battery life

The Bad

  • Lacks fingerprint sensor found in regular GS5
  • Software feels a bit overwhelming, fitness features don’t add much

Overall: 3.5/5

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Amazon Fire Phone Review http://phandroid.com/2014/07/30/amazon-fire-phone-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/07/30/amazon-fire-phone-review/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:24:22 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=145518 amazon-fire-phone-books

Amazon’s long-rumored smartphone has finally arrived in the form of the Fire Phone. The pseudo-Android smartphone shows its maker’s touch with heavy leanings toward Amazon digital content and features like Firefly that aim to keep consumers embedded squarely in the retailer’s ecosystem. Dynamic Perspective breathes some life into an otherwise flat Fire OS, but is the average hardware worth the $600+ price tag? Read on for our full review!

Build & Design

fire phone design

The Amazon Fire Phone is unique for many reasons, but its design hardly tops that list. At first glance, Amazon’s debut smartphone seems as unassuming as any that has come before it, but closer inspection reveals there is slightly more to the Fire Phone’s design. What most will quickly notice are four front-facing cameras stationed around the device’s bezel, essential elements to what Amazon hopes will become a killer feature: Dynamic Perspective. But more on that later.

Aside from these additional imaging sensors, the phone takes on a rather nondescript appearance that borrows some design cues from devices like the iPhone (the overall shape of the phone) and Nexus 4 (it’s glass rear casing). The outer edges of the phone are covered in a grippy rubber material that adds an air of durability to the device but also manages to negate some of the premium feel imbued by the rear glass accent panel (which itself gains some durability by utilizing Corning Gorilla Glass 3).

The Fire Phone manages to feel a bit chunky despite measuring in at less than 9mm thick (0.35 inches) and has some heft to it with a weight that tops the scale at 160 grams (identical the HTC One M8). For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S5 weighs in at 145 grams while the iPhone 5s weighs in at 112 grams.

Several hardware buttons are located around the phone, including the prerequisite power/standby switch and volume rocker, but the most intriguing is a hardware camera key that can be used to trigger the phone’s Firefly product identification service. There is also a home button mounted below the phone’s display.

All in all, Amazon hasn’t created anything particularly inspired here, hedging the phone’s success less on a stellar, interesting design and instead on an innovative software experience that attempts to seamlessly interface the handset’s hardware with the overall user experience.

Display

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The Fire Phone sports a 4.7-inch IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1280×720 (312 ppi), but as with the design of the phone, it seems Amazon wasn’t overly concerned with making this aspect of their handset a tentpole feature. It’s an adequate display on par with most other midrange smartphones sporting 720p resolutions, but it will surely induce groans from those spoiled on the 1080p (and Quad HD) resolutions of most current Android flagship devices.

It’s a slight shame for a device so dependent on Amazon’s digital ecosystem. By default, consuming digital video content would be a logical focal point for an Amazon smartphone, but that doesn’t shine through with the Fire Phone’s display. Don’t get us wrong, the display performs well and many (especially those coming from the sub-HD display of the iPhone) won’t notice the missing pixels. Beyond resolution, the Fire Phone does a fine job reproducing images in terms of color and contrast.

That is to say: most users looking into picking up the Fire Phone won’t find the display a major turn off; it simply won’t provide that extra little bit of wow factor that has become the increasing concern of most other Android smartphone manufacturers (to be fair, the Fire Phone was never pitched as a straight up Android phone, either).

Hardware

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When it comes to hardware performance, the Fire Phone once again delivers an adequate experience without showing much sizzle. A Snapdragon 800 processor is the centerpiece, and it delivers for the most part. Benchmark tests obviously place the Fire Phone squarely below devices utilizing the new Snapdragon 801 processor (think LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5), but those hard numbers don’t always tell the full story.

In the case of the Fire Phone, those numbers — though not spectacular — might still be a bit generous. The handset is slow to respond in many situations, especially when moving from a sleep to wake state and loading the Dynamic Perspective lockscreen. Bulkier apps can take some time to load, and you’re bound to miss out on a few shots waiting for the phone’s camera to launch (in such cases a few seconds can feel like an eternity). We were pleasantly surprised with how quickly Firefly could respond to input and identify products, however.

Whereas with a more lightweight configuration you might expect some impressive results from the Fire Phone, it is obvious here that Amazon has burdened the handset’s modest hardware compliment with a bulky Android modification and processor-intensive features like Dynamic Perspective. We might expect Amazon to address this in some way via a future software update, but for the time being expect some lag and the occasional application crash.

Software

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We can’t overstate one fact about the Amazon Fire Phone: this is not your typical Android phone. In fact, it makes no attempts to be anything remotely similar to any Android device before it. If it isn’t obvious upon first observing the phone’s widget-carousal homescreen arrangement then it becomes painfully clear upon realizing the total lack of Google services or access to the Play Store.

For the experienced Android user, this iteration of Amazon’s Fire OS (based on Android, but, as we said, almost nothing like Android) is at first confusing and then limiting. The “homescreen” setup provides several panes for quick access to Firefly, Amazon.com, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Music. You’ll notice the theme: the Fire Phone wants to keep you firmly in Amazon’s ecosystem. Apps are located by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the app drawer. And if you are seeking apps, you better be happy with the selection found in the Amazon App Store, because that’s what you get. Remember, there is no Google Play access on this device.

For an Amazon Prime member (and the phone comes with a free year of Prime for a limited time) with plenty of money invested in Amazon’s digital content, the Fire Phone makes a fine companion for accessing media and shopping for more. For users with their eggs in more than one shopping cart, however, it’s hard to reconcile the Fire Phone’s dependency on Amazon. But what did we expect? This is, after all, an Amazon phone produced by Amazon.

The software does gain two nifty features that have become the focal point of Amazon’s Fire Phone marketing materials: Firefly and Dynamic Perspective. Each has its pros and cons, and while both are a bit gimmicky they do add some basic value to the device.

Firefly

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Firefly isn’t necessarily anything new. We have seen the image and sound ID functionality in countless apps like Google Goggles, Shazam, and even Amazon’s own offerings. What Firefly does, however, is take that functionality and shine a spotlight on it, making it a central part of the Amazon smartphone experience by including a hardware button to launch the service with one touch. It works surprisingly well, quickly pulling up information on scanned products and, yes, offering users the ability to purchase the item via Amazon.

The experience was seamless in most instances, able to pick out albums by their cover art, scan barcodes, pull audio from media. While Amazon’s big hope here is that Firefly will get you spending even more of your hard earned cash at their digital storefront, Firefly does illuminate additional info that makes it useful as a learning and discovery tool, as well.

The problem with Firefly is that it’s hard to imagine the feature becoming something users rely on. It is sure to get some use when comparison shopping and in those instances when you are dying to know what song is playing, but isn’t any reason to run out and by the Fire Phone right now.

Dynamic Perspective

fire phone dynamic perspective

Rumors leading up to the unveiling of Amazon’s smartphone often mentioned that the company would be dabbling in three dimensions. What was ultimately announced as Dynamic Perspective is unlike the 3D smartphones we have seen previously, but ultimately no more useful.

Rather than go with an approach that sees imagery emerging from the screen via glasses-free 3D technology, Amazon decided to add the depth behind the screen. The initial result is something quite akin to iOS 7’s parallax view, but the Fire Phone doesn’t carry four additional front-facing cameras for nothing. There is certainly more depth to Dynamic Perspective than parallax view. The feature adds more than a dimensional background that shifts with the phone’s movements. It also is designed to enable users to “peek” around menu items and peer into new aspects of apps like Maps (and a couple of games as well).

Dynamic Perspective seeks to introduce natural user interface interactions by treating the phone’s screen as equal to three-dimensional space our eye normally operate in. The problem is, while the concepts of Dynamic Perspective are in fact very natural in the real world, our brains have been trained to treat the way we interact with a smartphone differently. The result is an experience that isn’t so natural, after all. Getting the most out of Dynamic Perspective involves consciously rethinking the way we approach interacting with a smartphone, for better or worse.

Some features were more useful than other, such as the ability to scroll web pages by tilting the phone. Even this is nothing new, and other manufacturers have been able to accomplish this without the need for added hardware. Does Dynamic Perspective represent a paradigm shift? Will it spark a revolution in the industry? It seems unlikely, and we wouldn’t be surprised if many users disabled the functionality in its current state (which is easily accomplished via the phone’s settings). We also wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire concept scrapped in future entries to Amazon’s smartphone lineup.

Battery

fire phone battery life

The Amazon Fire Phone carries a 2400mAh battery, but battery life was far from exceptional during our testing. You can expect average uptime on a single charge that should get you through the better part of a day, but keep a charger handy. We suspect the four cameras constantly monitoring the user’s interactions with the handset might have something to do with this. Throw in the more graphically intensive Dynamic Perspective as a whole and we might be on to something.

It doesn’t get much better if you use the Fire Phone as intended to consume streaming music and video. Operating the device as a media hub of sorts will quickly cut into battery life. While the Fire Phone fell short in several categories for us, the poor battery life is perhaps the least forgivable of the bunch.

Camera

While the Fire Phone’s camera is useful for scanning and searching products among Amazon’s catalog, it is more than simply a tool for taking advantage of Firefly. At 13MP, there is some real promise in that little imaging sensor, and for the most part it delivers. The Fire Phone delivers decent shots in prime lighting conditions, but falters when the setup is less than ideal. This is expected as it is the case with most smartphone cameras.

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The Fire Phone failed to reproduce the vibrancy and color of other 13MP smartphone cameras we have seen hit the market recently, but the images are of a high enough quality that you are likely to snap some real keepers that you will be proud to plaster all over Instagram and Facebook.


In general the camera features few bells and whistles, opting to keep the interface simple rather than adding in almost infinite shooting modes and options. It does do video, but it isn’t the phone’s strongest aspect.

The Bottom Line

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The Amazon Fire Phone is a device that aspires to be much more than it ever could be, falling short in so many areas while reserving the greatest attention to detail for features that could ultimately be written off as gimmicks. Dynamic Perspective and Firefly do add a unique angle to the phone, and they are neat in their own right, but it would be difficult to label them must-have features.

For the Android user, the Fire Phone is far from familiar and at times frustrating. For those looking for a fresh start with a new mobile OS, Amazon’s Fire OS still seems a bit half baked. For a device that seems to settle on nearly every aspect, hardware and software included, a price tag north of $600 is hard to justify, even with a free year of Amazon Prime thrown in.

At its best, the Fire Phone is an expensive experiment in merging the Amazon ecosystem with a smartphone form factor. At its worst, the handset is an average device limited by its reliance on the corporate hand it serves.

The Good

  • Tight Amazon integration makes it a fine phone for accessing purchased media
  • Dynamic Perspective offers an interesting, if not intuitive, take on navigating the phone’s interface
  • Firefly works seamlessly and effortlessly to ID products, music, and more

The Bad

  • Hardware is sluggish, software seems half baked
  • No access to Google Play or Google services
  • Battery life left us wanting more

Overall: 2.5/5

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S review http://phandroid.com/2014/06/24/samsung-galaxy-tab-s-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/06/24/samsung-galaxy-tab-s-review/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 19:25:51 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=143223 galaxy-tab-s-pair

Samsung has finally crafted a tablet deemed worthy of the ’S’ branding so far only associated with the company’s flagship smartphone line, and it’s easy to see why. The Galaxy Tab S offers a compelling feature set — including a stunning Super AMOLED display — at a competitive price for both its 8.4 and 10.5-inch variants, a mix that Samsung has struggled to achieve in the past. Read on for our full review!

Design & Build

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The Samsung Galaxy Tab S takes several design cues from its smaller counterpart, the Galaxy S5. Most notably, the dimpled rear introduced with the GS5 carries over, faux-leather inclinations and all. A home button and soft-touch navigation keys mirror those of Samsung’s premium smartphone. These buttons are arranged for portrait orientation on the 8.4-inch model and landscape on the 10.5-inch Tab S. Regardless, both versions of the slate resemble a Galaxy S5 that has been pulled and stretched to a larger size.

Samsung has added gold accents around the edge of the device to bring a touch of class, and the result is a slate that is truly quite pleasing to look at. For better or for worse, this is about as adventurous as Samsung gets with the Galaxy Tab S’ design.

What is truly impressive, however, is just how thin and light Samsung has made this tablet. Both editions measure 6.6mm at their thickest. This isn’t the thinnest on the market (consider the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet at 6.4mm), but it’s close enough. The small and large models weigh 294 grams and 465 grams, respectively.

Samsung continues to rely on plastic composite construction for nearly all of their devices, resulting in a set of tablets that doesn’t feel quite as premium as it looks. The build quality, however, manages to translate slightly better to these larger devices that it typically does to Samsung’s smartphone line.

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One interesting aspect of the Galaxy Tab S’ design is the inclusion of two attachment points on the rear of the tablet. These circular ports allow for the secure attachment of accessories ranging from folding folio-style covers to Bluetooth keyboards.

Display

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Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology has long been regarded as producing some of the best displays on mobile devices. Most recently, the Super AMOLED display was the cause of much acclaim for the Samsung Galaxy S5. It took Samsung a bit longer to bring the same display to a tablet, but it arrives with the Galaxy Tab S as one of its strongest features. Samsung knows this — the company has based the majority of its Galaxy Tab S marketing on its display.

The company isn’t wrong in doing so, as the Super AMOLED displays of both the 8.4 and 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S models are some of the best you can expect from a tablet. Both sizes sport WQXGA resolutions of 2560×1600 pixels and provide rich, vibrant colors and the deep contrast that has become expected of AMOLED displays. Samsung promises users can expect a color palette blanketing 90 percent of the Adobe RGB standard (versus the 70 percent of a traditional LCD) and a contrast ratio 100 times greater than that of the typical smartphone and tablet display.

The Galaxy Tab S’ Super AMOLED display is further enhanced with what Samsung is calling “adaptive display” technology. The gist is a screen that automatically optimizes presentation depending on the app (whether it be a movie, eBook, or web page). The limitation to this feature is that adaptive display only applies to seven pre-installed apps. In all other instances, users can choose between three screen modes: AMOLED Photo, AMOLED Cinema, and Basic Mode. The selected mode will then apply tablet-wide to all apps and services.

The result is about what you would expect: a display on par with that of the Galaxy S5 and other AMOLED devices. It looks great, but it comes with the caveat that is often applied to AMOLED technology specifically. The vibrant color reproduction and deep contrast can often lead to an image that seems artificially enhanced and not true-to-life. That shouldn’t be taken as a knock on the display, but there is a reason they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For some the Super AMOLED might be a bit much, but for most it is a perfectly enjoyable display, if not one of the strongest on the market when it comes to tablets.

Hardware

Samsung hasn’t raised much noise about the Galaxy Tab S’ hardware, but the device is no slouch. The WiFi-only edition of the tablet runs Samsung’s in-house Exynos 5 Octa chipset, while the LTE model sports a Snapdragon 800. Regardless of the wireless configuration the processor will be served by 3GB of RAM. Combined these two key elements provide strong hardware performance, but it can at times lack in responsiveness. If you throw a lot at the Galaxy Tab S, expect a few hiccups here and there, but overall we had no major complaints.

Beyond the solid processing power the Galaxy Tab S offers several other hardware elements that keep it inline with the latest tablet offerings from the competition, including 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO wireless. Dual antennas provide more stable connectivity and faster internet speeds when operating over WiFi. It’s one of those little perks that is easy to overlook but hard to miss once, especially for a multimedia-centric device like the Galaxy Tab S.

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The Galaxy Tab S also takes advantage of the fingerprint scanner technology introduced with the Galaxy S5, allowing users to unlock the device with a swipe of their fingertip as well as interact with other apps and services like Private Mode. While the prerequisite headphone jack is available, users will be pleased to see stereo speakers on the Galaxy Tab S line. Side-mounted, they don’t offer an especially immersive or profound audio experience, but they are suitable enough when it comes to enjoying video and music.

Samsung’s latest tablets offer a good mix of hardware features suitable for multiple uses. The slates are powerful enough for gaming, fast enough for streaming HD content, and utilitarian enough for productivity purposes.

Software & Multimedia

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Hardware only goes so far by itself, and Samsung knows this as well as we do. We were glad to see that some attempts were made to provide a unique experience tailored to the form factor, and they paid off. While the Magazine UX on top of Android 4.4 is a pretty standard take on the Samsung experience we have become accustomed to, there are a number of new features that add a layer of utility to the Galaxy Tab S.

For starters, the Quick Briefing pane gives an all-in-one look at your favorite bookmarks, events and alarms, and stocks, as well as magazines via the new Papergarden app plus news and quick access to Samsung WatchOn. It also provides quick access to Samsung’s new SideSync 3.0, easily the coolest new feature of the Galaxy Tab S.

Using SideSync, a user can link a Galaxy smartphone to the tablet, providing complete remote control over the phone. This not only lets you explore the apps and media installed on your phone through an emulated Galaxy interface, but it also will forward text messages and even allow the user to place and receive calls directly from the tablet. This is a killer feature, assuming you own a compatible Samsung smartphone to make it work.

Overall Samsung has done an impressive job putting the Galaxy Tab S’ software to good use. The inclusion of exclusive apps and services, the ability to sync a Galaxy smartphone, and the useful Quick Briefing pane make the slate a worthy companion device for both work and play.

Camera

The Galaxy Tab S is equipped with an 8MP rear camera and flash and 2.1MP front-facing camera for both versions of the device. While the setup can provide pretty decent results in ideal conditions (good lighting being key), this is a tablet we are dealing with. Users shouldn’t expect the most impressive images ever captured on a mobile device, but the slate’s camera serves its purpose well.

 

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The Tab S’ camera struggled in low light but otherwise offered decent color reproduction and did a good job of focusing in and providing sharp images. Likewise, HD video recording offered about as much as we would expect from a tablet of this class. You can see for yourself in the sample below.

Battery

The 10.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab S rocks a beefy 7,900mAh battery, and it needs every last drop of juice to keep that power-hungry Super AMOLED display online. Likewise, the 8.4-inch Tab S makes the most of its 4,900mAh battery. Given the circumstances, both perform admirably when it comes to battery consumption.

Samsung advertises that a full charge on either tablet should provide up to 12 hours of video playback, and their claims are surprisingly spot-on. Use the tablet for a mix of other tasks instead of 12 hours straight of video playback and you can expect to uptime in excess of this number.

Just as with the Galaxy S5, Samsung has included software-aided power saving modes to get even more life out of the Galaxy Tab S. These modes dim the display, shut off unnecessary wireless connections, and otherwise alter the tablets performance profile to get the most out of a battery running low on charge.

The Bottom Line

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Considering its striking Super AMOLED display, slim design, and strong battery life, the Galaxy Tab S arrives as one of the best Android tablet options on the market. Add to that the fact that the competitively priced tablet will sell for $499 (10.5-inch) or $399 (8.4-inch), a direct strike at Apple’s iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display, and you get slate that could challenge for best on the market, period. It took Samsung several years to craft the tablet worthy of appending the ’S’ brand onto, but we’d say the Galaxy Tab S does the name justice and then some.

The Good

  • Beautiful Super AMOLED display
  • Long battery life
  • Slim, light design

The Bad

  • Hardware performance can be sluggish at times

Overall: 4/5

 

 

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Amazon Prime Music Review: should you cut ties with your favorite streaming apps? http://phandroid.com/2014/06/22/amazon-prime-music-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/06/22/amazon-prime-music-review/#comments Sun, 22 Jun 2014 19:56:36 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=143135 prime music banner

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has recently added music to the list of goods that come with your Amazon Prime subscription. Is it any good? Should you fork up $100 per year (billed annually) and cancel your subscriptions to the likes of Google Play Music and Spotify? That’s what we’re here to find out.

App overview

Long story short: Amazon MP3, the ugly app Amazon used to make you use to retrieve your digital tracks on the go, became Amazon Music. The app is a significant upgrade over the original in terms of design and functionality. It adopts the same design language as most other Amazon apps, which is a pretty far departure from the design guidelines Google suggests.

That said it does offer a familiar UI that is easy enough to get around. The app is broken down into three categories:

  1. Library: all the tracks in your possession, whether you’ve bought them or added them through Amazon Prime Music
  2. Store: where you’ll go to buy new music
  3. Prime Music: where you’ll go to discover all the free music that is now part of your Amazon Prime subscription if you happen to have one

Each category gives you the ability to drill down by genre and browse by artists, albums and songs. You’ll also find a search button prominent throughout all levels of the app, so if you know exactly what you’re looking for you can skip the hunt.

amazon prime music carousel

Jumping into an album or playlist view gives you the ability to play that entire playlist from start to finish, as well as access to shuffle and repeat functions. You’ll also find a handy button for storing all your songs on your device so you won’t have to use any data if you’re on a metered plan. If there’s just one song you want to listen to you simply tap the song and it’ll start playback. Simple enough.

The app does nothing special in any regard: you find your music, you play it. Some glaring annoyances get in the way of making it less intuitive than it could be, though, such as the inability to listen to a Prime Music song without first adding it to your library (any tracks you purchase or already own are automatically added to your library).

We also would have liked a more intuitive “swipe to skip track” option: the current method brings up the overflow menu when you’re doing it, making it a lot more clunky than it should be. App design has never been Amazon’s strongest suit, but they could have done a whole lot worse here.

Heading into the settings menu presents a wealth of options that should satiate the appetite of anyone looking for fine control over their music experience. You can set tracks to automatically download upon purchase, set streaming and downloading up for WiFi only or 3G + WiFi, set streaming music quality, enable equalizer and lock-screen controls and more. It’s pretty standard stuff that any app had better possess if they want people to consider spending money.

All in all it’s a very ho-hum app that won’t shine as a music player on its own, but as a tool to access all the music you have via Amazon’s service it does its job decently enough.

Audio Quality

As I often do when I write about music apps or audio accessories, I must make the declaration right now: I am not an audiophile. I’m your average Joe Schmo looking for some tunes to put into my ear. That said, I found nothing worth complaining about when it comes to the audio quality of Amazon’s tracks. They sound just as good as the tracks I listen to in Google Play Music. Should you end up using this app for your music needs and you find that it isn’t up to your standards, be sure to take a dive into the settings menu and set your preferred bitrate: it’s automatic depending on network conditions by default, but you can set it to play at the same bitrate no matter what.

Song Selection (with and without Amazon Prime Music)

Song selection is a deciding factor for anyone looking to find a music ecosystem to invest in. Anyone who has taken a stroll through Amazon.com’s music section knows that they have digital versions of pretty much any track you can think of. Their selection rivals Apple’s iTunes and the Google Play Music store in that regard. Where things get tricky is the new Prime Music selection that comes with the cost of your subscription — it’s slim, and almost badly so.

You get just over a million tracks sparsely littered throughout over a dozen genres. I did find some music worth listening to, such as several Outkast albums, Journey’s Greatest Hits, and Prince’s Purple Rain, but you won’t get the same freedom of “think, and you shall hear” as you would from other services unless you’re willing to pay for individual tracks and albums. Then again, you can’t really expect that out of Amazon Prime.

Why not?

Because Amazon Prime is a different sort of subscription. The Spotifys, Rdios and Google Play Musics of the world enjoy 18 million to 20 million+ tracks because you’re paying for that one service. Amazon Prime provides a multitude of content for an overall cheaper price (now $100 per year, in case you were wondering). amazon_prime

You have Amazon Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, Kindle Lending Library, and all of the shipping discounts and perks that most Amazon Prime members originally got the service for in the first place. I personally subscribe to Amazon Prime for shopping alone: the money saved on shipping of tangible Prime-eligible goods far outweighs the cost of the service. That’s the way it was meant to be from the start. But Amazon started adding movies, music, books and all sorts of things that we weren’t expecting, and now it’s become one of the better values in e-commerce.

So yes, while there are better individual services out there for movies and music, Amazon Prime provides great value that the others do not. It’s up to you to decide if the core of the service and all the additional features surrounding it is worth the cost of admission.

Conclusion

Simply put, you don’t get Amazon Prime for one thing alone, unless that one thing is free two-day and $3.99 overnight shipping. It’s the sum of all the things Amazon provides that makes it such a great value.

Amazon Prime Music is a very fine addition to that value, but if you were hoping to be able to cancel your subscription to your favorite music service I implore you not to. Not unless you don’t mind not having unlimited access to nearly any track you can think of, anyway.

Alternatives

So Amazon isn’t the bee’s knees unless you’re the type to want to buy individual tracks and albums — what else is out there? If you don’t mind coughing up a bit of coin, these fine alternatives should offer what you’re looking for in some capacity. Have a look!

Google Play Music — Free features, $9.99/m Premium

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Google’s library is quite varied with 18-20 million tracks on tap. Google’s edge comes from the ability to upload 20,000 of your own tracks at no extra cost (and the feature is available even if you don’t opt to pay for the premium All Access subscription). Downside is that Google Play Music doesn’t have quite the same geographical reach as some other alternatives.

Spotify – Free features, $9.99/m Premium

Spotify

And for those whose countries go unrepresented in Google’s lineup, Spotify should fill that gap. Spotify was the defacto premium streaming service for a long time, and it was almost laughable to consider spending money with any other company just a short couple of years ago. Their library is as good as anyone’s, if not better than most’s, at a comfortable 20 million tracks.

Spotify’s music curation and suggestion angles are also hard to beat. For those not comfortable spending the money  Spotify went free a while back, so if you don’t mind advertisements and not being able to listen to any song you want on demand (think Pandora) then that’s worth checking out. We wish their app was a bit better, but eh — small price to pay for a quality service otherwise.

Rdio – Free features, $9.99/m Premium

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Rdio also offers both free and premium goodness. On the free side, you’ll get access to an ad-supported stream of over 25 million tracks on both web and mobile, as well as the ability to listen to pre-built playlists and albums on the web. Pay the fee and you’ll eliminate the ads and get on-demand access to any album and song you want. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they have a very nicely designed app.

Grooveshark – Free features, $5/m Premium Grooveshark_Logo_Vertical I’m not the biggest fan of Grooveshark, but it can be a pretty fine internet streaming service if you’re OK with a couple of quirks. For starters, their smallish library pales in comparison to the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music at just 15 million songs. That said, this is one of the only services offering free, ad-supported on-demand music.

The perk is that you can only get said access by visiting their website. Want apps for mobile and desktop and not a fan of those pesky ads? You’ll have to pay $5. The only real downside to Grooveshark has to be their unsure future: Apple banned the app from their app store due to legal concerns, and the Android app is no longer in the Google Play Store. No worries, though, because the ability to sideload apps on Android should mean you’ll always be able to grab the Grooveshark app.

Rhapsody $4.99 or $9.99/m Premium

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Rhapsody is probably the only service on this list that won’t let you in on the fun without paying a dime, but what they’re offering is quite worth it. $5 per month gets you Pandora-like internet streaming radio, except you have unlimited skips, no ads and access to live radio stations worldwide. The $9.99 option gets you on-demand access to a library with over 30 million tracks.

Slacker – Free features, $3.99 or $9.99/m Premium

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Slacker Radio isn’t everyone’s go-to internet radio service, but it has come a long way over the years. It’s one of the more versatile services on the list, giving you three options depending on the level of access you need. Their free service is pretty much Pandora — pick artists, genres and songs, and let the service work out a nice ad-supported playlist that should get you through a work day. They do some unique things here such as playlists based on your mood or activity.

In the realm of premium access, a $3.99 option will net you the same aforementioned service without ads and with unlimited song skips. You’ll also be able to download stations with up to thousands of songs for offline listening on mobile if an internet connection isn’t exactly handy (or if you want to mind your data cap). Stepping up to $9.99 gets you on-demand access to all the songs Rdio has to offer, as well as all of the other goods mentioned in the lower tiers.

Pandora – Free features, $4.99 Premium

Pandora for Android

Pick an artist, song or genre. Combine them. Have the service deliver music based on your tastes that it learns over time. Pandora’s “you get what we give you” model might not be the most attractive for everyone, but if you just want some no-frills music streaming and a chance to find some really good music that you didn’t know of otherwise, this is your best bet.

A $4.99 premium option is a little steep all things considered. It removes ads, but you won’t get unlimited song skips. A couple of other handy features, such as high bitrate playback and a desktop app, are nice but nothing worth writing home about. It’s fine as a free service but your money is better spent elsewhere if you’re looking for anything more.

Beats Music — $9.99/m or $99/y Premium

beats music shots

Beats took an ambitious trek into the music streaming arena. The service doesn’t do anything technologically amazing compared to anyone else — it’s very straight forward, simple and clean. It also doesn’t have the most music to choose from, though it’s doing very well for itself right now with over 20 million tracks.

What Beats does provide, though, is some of the most heralded music curation you’ll find. Beats’ team of super music expert geniuses (or whoever these folks are) do a pretty good job of serving up music suggestions for your taste. Whether that is worth $10 per month or $100 per year is up to you to decide.

Name your own

Of course, these aren’t the only services in existence. We’re sure there are many more that you guys will want to highlight. Let us know if you have anything to add by dropping a comment below, and why not participate in the poll and tell us which one of these music services you prefer. Have at it!

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LG G3 Review http://phandroid.com/2014/06/19/lg-g3-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/06/19/lg-g3-review/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 17:59:04 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=142372 LG-G3-Hero

For LG’s G3, simplicity is the focus, and it accomplishes as much with an air of grace that is rare for a smartphone. Choosing to forgo the flashy bells and whistles and focus on the G3’s core smartphone components, LG has created a device that still manages stands well above the rest of the pack. Read on for our full review!

Design & Build

LG-G3-Artsy

Unlike many of the iterative releases that have graced the smartphone market lately, the LG G3 takes a bold leap forward with its design. Starting with the blueprint laid by last year’s G2, the G3 improves on nearly every aspect of its preceding model. The phone in hand feels like a true upgrade with refined style and material quality to accent familiar features like LG’s signature rear button, which combines power, standby, and volume controls (plus assignable shortcut functions).

The G3 achieves its premium brushed metal finish via the combination of a thin metallic skin fused within plastic composite. The result is a gorgeous appearance that retains durability (and a decent bit of grip). As a bonus, this construction allows for the back plate to remain removable, allowing access to the 3000mAh battery and microSD card reader within.

LG-G3-back-button

The front of the device features a 5.5-inch display framed but what might be the perfect amount of bezel. While not edge-to-edge, the screen is accented with only a few millimeters of dead space on either side. The reliance on Android’s software navigation keys further allows the G3 to maintain a small footprint despite the substantial size of its display. By the measurements, the G3 is 5.76-inches tall, 2.94-inches wide, and 0.35-inches thick.

Of course, the rear button means the sides of the device remain free of any hardware controls, which coupled with a comfortable curved shape makes the LG G3 quite comfortable in the hand. It’s sleek, light (149 grams), and a joy to look at.

Display

LG wants the G3’s display to be a focus of the device, and it sure caught our attention. While 2014’s other flagship devices — the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 — held serve with 1080p resolutions, the G3 ups the ante with its QuadHD 5.5-inch display and its 2560 x 1440 resolution.

The interesting thing about this display — a True HD IPS+ display — is that its beauty isn’t immediately apparent. One reason for this might be that there is some truth to the idea that super high resolution are lost on smaller screens. Another might be that LG chose to go with a fairly muted color scheme for their user interface, one which doesn’t dazzle the eyes with vibrant and flashy graphics (but more on that later).

But as you use the display more and more it’s strengths become apparent. It is graceful in its beauty, much like the G3 as a whole, providing brilliant image reproduction and plenty of brightness. HD video looks stunning, and the 5.5-inch size gives the web and apps plenty of room to breathe.

Hardware

LG-G3-Rear

lg-g3-benchmark-antutu

With its stunning design, gorgeous display, and revamped user experience, the LG G3’s impressive hardware is easy to overlook. What a shame. The G3 is the complete package here, offering top-of-the-line specs that hold their own against any Android device currently on the market. For starters, we’re talking a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 system-on-a-chip with four cores clocked at 2.5GHz and 3GB RAM.

The G3 can handle just about whatever you throw at it. Flipping through home screens is as smooth as butter, apps are up and running almost as soon as you launch them, multitasking and dual-window mode never flinch. Interestingly enough, however, repeated benchmark tests reveal that the LG G3 is outperformed by several devices including its predecessor, the G2. Take those numbers for what they are, but don’t believe for one second that the G3 can’t hang with the big boys.

But power isn’t the only thing the G3’s hardware has going for it. It is also quite capable in other areas. The G3 is available with the latest LTE-A spec to provide blazing fast download times. Internal storage is ample with 16GB and 32GB models available, but this can further be expanded with up to 128GB of microSD storage.

Software

LG-G3-Software

Vastly superior hardware prowess means little when coupled with a sub-par software experience. This has been all too common in the past for LG, but with the G3 that changes. LG’s custom Android UI sees a complete makeover for the G3, opting toward the flat, simple design that has become so trendy as of later and pushing features that highlight usability rather than bogging things down with bloat.

If LG has simply given their software a visual makeover that might have been enough — the cool, earthy colors are eye pleasing and simple animations add some life to the experience. It was a pleasant treat, then, to get access to some quite useful features and tweaks.

Owners of previous LG handsets will be happy to know that the notification tray is now fully customizable, allowing for the placement and removal of quick toggles and sliders for brightness and other functions. A dual-window mode accessed via the multitasking menu allows for the simultaneous use of two apps at one. Watch a video on the top half of the screen while you search the web below, check email, or perform any other number of tasks.

lg-g3-software-screens

LG has also introduced a Google Now-esque widget that provides information cards based around the way you interact with the device, your habits, location and more. LG missed a great opportunity to simply attempt to incorporate the vastly superior Google Now as a whole, instead opting to reinvent the wheel and in the process provide far fewer card options and limiting the experience. Still, being able to quickly glance at the widget for info is nice in its own respects.

Another area where LG fell a little short was the rear button and its relation to the phone’s software. While shortcut actions were a big marketing point for the LG G2, the G3 by default has these shortcuts disabled. You can enable them in settings, allowing users to quickly access Quick Notes and the camera, but we would like to have seen some customization options here, if only a few different commands that could be assigned to the rear keys.

The G3 continues LG’s quest to explore other new and interesting ways to interact with our smartphones. One of our favorites is the inclusion of Knock Code, the logical expansion of Knock On, a feature introduced in last year’s G2. Knock Code allows you to still unlock your device with a knock, but to do so securely by allowing you create a knock-based pattern that can be rapped on the screen while in its off state. This effectively reduces a two-step process (turn on display, unlock phone) to one by both turning on the display and unlocking the phone at the same time upon entering the correct Knock Code.

Battery

LG-G3-Battery

A 3000mAh removable battery is housed behind the G3’s removable back plate and provides ample power to keep your G3 up and running. Still, a big Quad HD display, quad-core processing, and ultrafast LTE don’t exactly add up to the most battery-friendly compliment of hardware. While you can expect some pretty lengthy standby times, real world use will take its toll on the G3.

If you mainly use your phone for talk and text with some light web browsing and email sprinkled in, it’s not unimaginable to see a full day of battery life. If you take full advantage of the beautiful display by streaming HD video, gaming, and otherwise participating in activities that might fall under the “power user” umbrella, you would be lucky to get 10 hours of up time — 8 hours of use would be reasonable under these conditions. You can expect even more if you enable the G3’s battery saving mode (which will kick in when the handset’s charge drops to 30 percent), but this will disable certain features in order to reduce power drain.

The good news is should your battery die, LG has included wireless charging as a standard option. You won’t need to buy additional accessories to convert the G3 to a wireless charging-ready device, but you will need to invest in a wireless charging cradle. [Note: This feature was standard on the Korean version of the G3 provided to us by LG for review. It may or may not be a standard feature of variants of the phone available in other markets.]

Camera

As we have established, the LG G3 is a thing of beauty. The same applies to the photos and video it is capable of capturing. A 13MP camera does all the heavy lifting here and produces crisp, clean, and colorful imagery.

LG-G3-Photo-Sample5 LG-G3-Photo-Sample3 LG-G3-Photo-Sample2 LG-G3-Photo-Sample1 LG-G3-Photo-Sample4

It really flexed its muscle during outdoor shooting with ample natural lighting. Indoors, artificial lighting wasn’t so kind to the G3’s camera sensor, but we’ve come to expect this from most smartphone (and even more traditional, low-end) cameras.

Where the G3 really impressed was its autofocus. LG put a laser in their latest flagship for this very purpose, a feature you would typically expect to find on higher end DSLR cameras. The laser allows the G3’s camera to focus faster than you can blink an eye (literally), letting you grab that perfect shot almost instantaneously.

The one drawback to the laser focus is that it works best within a range of a couple feet. If you are trying to capture distant action shots or a large group portrait you might need to wait a few seconds longer for the G3 to do its magic, and that could ultimately mean the difference between getting the shot you want and not.

As with photos, video was equally impressive. An pairing the record button with the camera shutter button makes it easy to quickly jump between the two, and a simple interface with a few tasteful camera modes sprinkled in cuts down on complications, providing a clear path from inspiration to final image.

The Bottom Line

LG-G3-Front

Move over, Galaxy S5. Take a seat, HTC One M8. We can unequivocally say that the LG G3 is the new Android smartphone to beat. LG did so much right in creating this handset while managing to avoid the pitfalls — bloated user interfaces, gimmicky features, etc. — that usually hamper flagship devices. There is no caveat to the G3. It is a graceful, gorgeous device that belies the true power lurking behind its brushed metal finish.

And that’s not even mentioning the Quad HD display, which would be a killer feature in its own right had LG failed to follow through in every other area with the G3. It will be hard for LG or any other Android manufacturer, for that matter, to top this one any time soon.

The Good

  • Graceful design
  • Gorgeous Quad HD display
  • Top-notch hardware and refined user experience
  • 13MP camera with laser autofocus

The Bad

  • Still no customizable shortcuts for rear button
  • Would be nice to see Google Now integration in LG’s cards widget

Overall: 4.75/5

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Huawei Ascend Mate 2 Review http://phandroid.com/2014/06/12/huawei-ascend-mate-2-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/06/12/huawei-ascend-mate-2-review/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 15:22:33 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=142278 huawei-ascend-mate2-hero

The Huawei Ascend Mate 2 4G LTE has a name that is matched in size by its substantial frame, and as such won’t be the smartphone for everybody. The phablet brings a compliment of specs that provide plenty of power, but it doesn’t quite achieve on the same level as competing Android flagships. That’s alright — there is always a tradeoff. The Ascend Mate 2 looks all the more appealing when you consider its unlocked, off-contract pricing of $299. Read on for our full review.

Build & Design

huawei-ascend-mate2-back

There’s no question the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 is a big phone. The minute you pry the handset from its box you will realize this fact. And you’d expect as much considering the phone boasts a 6.1-inch display. Once you go beyond this immediate conclusion we are left with a handset that is relatively uninspired in terms of design, which is a bit of a shame. The Ascend Mate 2’s large size provides plenty of real estate for dreaming up a more intriguing look and feel, but instead we get a generic plastic rectangle that seems a simple (albeit much bigger) rehash any number of smartphones that came before it.

huawei-ascend-mate2-front

The Ascend Mate 2 measures in at 6.34” tall and 3.33” wide. At 0.37” thick, it’s not the thinnest smartphone on the market but remains slim all things considered. The phone weighs just a hair over 7 ounces. But you want to know how it feels in the hand, don’t you? Quite burdensome, actually. It’s hard to imagine being able to use this thing with one hand, and Huawei hasn’t made any particular efforts to specialize the design of the device for its larger form factor (e.g. incorporated stylus à la Samsung Galaxy Note).

Display

The Ascend Mate 2 seems to be a device built around tradeoffs, and the handset’s 6.1-inch IPS+ display is perhaps the best example. While it offers plenty of screen real estate with which to take in video, games, the web, and more, it does so with a yawn-inducing 720p resolution. Don’t get me wrong: the display doesn’t look bad, but it just feels a bit underwhelming compared to the 1080p Super AMOLEDs and Quad HD displays of the world.

We noticed that the display on our review unit also reacted curiously when applying liberal pressure. The area below where the  finger makes contact with the display would often distort under more generous taps and long-presses. We haven’t seen a capacitive touch screen react in that way in quite some time, and such issues carry all the markings of sub-par materials.

It’s a shame. With a 6.1-inch display, the screen is, almost by default, the defining feature of the handset. When making a device of this size, it is imperative to deliver in this area, even if every other spec on the phone was garbage. And this sentiment reflects back on the Ascend Mate 2 as a whole. It is a device that could have been much more if only Huawei had taken advantage of its form factor.

But again, we get it. It’s a tradeoff. The display is one of the more expensive components that goes into a smartphone build, and keeping the Ascend Mate 2 priced at $300 off-contract requires skimping in some areas. We just wish it wasn’t the display that suffered.

Hardware

huawei-ascend-mate2-hardware

A solid mix of hardware makes the Ascend Mate 2 workman-like, but it lacks some of the flash you might expect from a brand new Android smartphone. It uses Qualcomm’s aging Snapdragon 600 chipset to provide quad-core processing at 1.6GHz. Pair that with 2GB of RAM and you get respectable performance , but it’s not quite the productivity powerhouse you might expect from a phablet-class device. Nevertheless, the Ascend Mate 2 is well-suited for nearly anything you could throw at it, from 3D gaming to HD video. Just don’t expect the smoothest performance at all times.

The standard handset ships with 16GB of internal storage, but the phone also sports support for MicroSD cards up to 64GB. Storage is accessed via a removable back plate that provides access to both the card reader and SIM slot. While the handset will be sold unlocked by Huawei, it will only support GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T in the United States. Customers of CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint unfortunately will not have the option to use the Ascend Mate 2 on those networks.

Battery

While many of the Ascend Mate 2’s other hardware specs fall just shy of impressive, the battery most certainly does not. A non-removable 4050mAh battery can keep this phone going, quite literally, for days.

It has so much excessive battery power that the phone can even be used as a portable charging station for other devices. This might come in handy if you carry a secondary phone or — if you are a glutton for punishment — a tablet in addition to this already large 6.1-inch smartphone. In reality, the feature will likely get the most use showing up your friends. You will offer to charge their dying iPhones and Android devices with the caveat that they must listen to you boast about the impressive battery life of your own phone.

But if you are only concerned about keeping your own device powered, Huawei has you covered here. It would not be extraordinary to get two days (or more) of charge out of the Ascend Mate 2 with average use.

Software

huawei-ascend-mate2

If the Ascend Mate 2 has a glaring weak spot it is its software. An Android 4.3 build is skinned with Huawei’s Emotion UI, an interface that is looking dated in comparison to Google’s latest Android guidelines. While manufacturers like LG, HTC, and even Samsung move toward a refined user experience with simple, tasteful design elements, Huawei’s take remains squarely rooted in the more bubbly, childish Android of yesteryear.

On top of an interface that lacks much visual appeal, Huawei hasn’t done much to differentiate the software of their device. They offer a few options like one-hand mode, but even these seem a bit half-baked. One-handed operation only applies to the dial pad, which is nice but ultimately a part of our phones that we interact with less and less. One might expect Huawei to take a page out of Samsung’s book and offer a one-hand mode that shrinks the entire interface down to fit on a more manageable portion of the screen. With the Ascend Mate 2 you can expect to always type with two hands.

Likewise, Huawei’s W.o.W. key is a nice floating toggle with access to quick shortcuts, but half are redundant versions of Android’s software navigation keys and there is no option to customize the functionality of this key. It was also mildly annoying that the toggle can only be snapped to the edge of the display rather than placed anywhere the user desires.

Huawei failed to cease an opportunity to provide an experience truly unique to the Ascend Mate 2 and its form factor, and the result is a device that feels like a rather pedestrian smartphone in a much larger package.

Camera

huawei-ascend-mate2-camera

Huawei skimped in many areas on the Ascend Mate 2, but one where they did not was the camera. A 13MP sensor provided by Sony is capable of producing some pretty decent shots, although Huawei hasn’t offered much to enhance the photo experience. The camera app is straightforward, providing only a few shooting modes (including shot and sound), but pair the 13MP camera with a more advanced app from the Google Play Store and the Ascend Mate 2 remains surprisingly competitive in this space.

huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample4 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample3 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample2 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample1

Perhaps more impressive than the 13MP main camera is the 5MP front-facing camera, which seems to have gotten a bit more attention from Huawei. The wide-angle lens makes quick work of selfies and even features a “groufie” mode for taking panoramic group portraits.

The Bottom Line

huawei-ascend-mate2-feature

You want a phablet that you can own at a middle-of-the-road price without the hassles of a long-term carrier contract or monthly installment plan? You might consider the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which is now up for pre-order via GetHuawei.com.

It’s an ambitious device from a manufacturer looking to make a splash in the US market, but even its makers admit that it won’t be for everyone. For us, the Ascend Mate 2 seems a bit hesitant, never pushing the boundaries of what it could really be, instead settling for a device built on compromises of cost versus performance.

The Good

  • Attractive $299 price for unlocked, off-contract model
  • Strong battery life with secondary device charging
  • Solid Sony-made 13MP camera

The Bad

  • Underwhelming 6.1-inch 720p display
  • Outdated software that doesn’t adapt to the form factor
  • Doesn’t do anything unique despite being uniquely bigger than the typical smartphone

Overall: 2.5/5

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Une Bobine review: the smartphone charger that thinks it’s a tripod http://phandroid.com/2014/05/16/une-bobine-charger-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/05/16/une-bobine-charger-review/#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 17:30:48 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=140820 une-bobine

Fuse Chicken’s Une Bobine is rather unique among smartphone charging cables. Its design serves several purposes at once, offering durable construction alongside the ability for the cable to double as a tripod and phone dock all at the same time. It sounds like a potentially zany idea, but is the end result just another forgettable gadget?

The Une Bobine is a charging cable

une-bobine-charger

The Une Bobine is, at it’s core (literally), a charging cable. In that respect it works exactly as expected. Available for Android (MicroUSB) and iPhone (Lightning connector), it does the job of charging a device just fine. Connect one end to your phone and the other to a USB power supply and watch as your battery level goes up, up, up.

What sets the Une Bobine apart is its design. This is perhaps the sturdiest cable you will come across. The internal charging cable is wrapped in a seemingly impenetrable flexible metal exterior. You can rest assured that dogs, cats, scissors, and any other manner of destruction will not easily befall this cable.

The downside, of course, is that this metal wrap makes for a bulky result. The Une Bobine is most definitely one of the heaviest charging cables you will encounter. It packs down to a fairly portable size, but it’s a far cry from tossing a traditional charging cable in your bag.

The Une Bobine is a tripod, too

une-bobine-tripod

The Une Bobine’s construction makes for an intriguing possibility. It can be bent into and retain shape, allowing for the cable to double as both a “dock” and a “tripod.” This is an intentional feature, and perhaps the most enticing aspect of the Une Bobine.

For the most part, it works as advertised, but as device’s continue to increase in size the added weight isn’t always friendly to the Une Bobine. As long as you establish a pretty firm base and create a center of balance, this is usually fine, but for larger device’s like the Galaxy S5 things can become a bit precarious. Another thing to consider is the various locations that Android manufacturers place their device’s USB ports. The Une Bobine works best with a device that features a charging point located at a central point below the display.

The Bottom Line

The Une Bobine is an intriguing concept, and at about $20 ($10 for the “petite” version) isn’t breaking the bank. For those looking for a simple solution for a tripod in combination with a durable charging cable, it might be worth a purchase. Folks may wish to hold off though. Fuse Chicken informs us that a new version of their charging cable is on the works, one that is designed to better fit the large variety of Android devices available on the market today.

The Good

  • Durable construction
  • Versatile design doubles as a dock/tripod

The Bad

  • Heavy and a bit bulky
  • Not perfect for all Android devices

Overall: 3.5/5

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Braven BRV-X Review http://phandroid.com/2014/05/07/braven-brv-x-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/05/07/braven-brv-x-review/#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 15:58:24 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=139906 braven-brv-x-hero

Music is essential to the human experience, but the world does not always provide an ideal listening environment. Here is where the Braven BRV-X portable speaker comes into play. It provides plenty of sound in a compact build that has been ruggedized to resist the elements, insuring that the party need not stop on Mother Nature’s behalf. That’s a big promise from this small package. Does it meet our expectations?

Powerful sound

The Braven BRV-X portable Bluetooth speaker has some strong sound for its size. Bass hold its presence at almost any level and can really boom when you kick it up to higher volumes. Music is clear in the upper frequency ranges but gets a bit muddy at times. The overall sound isn’t going to blow anyone away, but the BRV-X is surprisingly musical. The speaker’s sound profile definitely suits music with a more modern, compressed, bass-heavy mix. Classic rock and older tunes can sound a bit flat.

braven-brv-x-ports

As with most speakers of this class, the BRV-X lacks any onboard tone controls. One feature the BRV-X does boast is an indoor/outdoor switch, which, as described in the speaker’s manual, provides a sound “[boost] to carry further and louder in outdoor settings.” In reality, this switch seems to do little more then accentuate treble frequencies while attenuating the bass when switched to outdoor mode. The result is music that is indeed slightly louder than its indoor counterpart, but it can sound a bit harsh while lacking robust tone. This actually does alright in outdoor settings when the music bleeds into the background, but we’d avoid this setting when looking for a simple all-around volume boost.

Speaking of volume, we do wish the Braven BRV-X could get a bit louder. We understand the limitations of its size, but this particular speaker seems to be one of the quieter ones we have tested. Having said that, it still gets some decent volume and should be perfectly adequate as a party speaker, especially for a summer BBQ or day at the beach.

Rugged construction

braven-brv-x-profile

While the audio experience of the Braven BRV-X is a little on the pedestrian side, this portable speaker makes up for it with its rugged construction. The BRV-X is IPX5 certified. If you recall in our discussion of the waterproof features of the Galaxy S5, this means the BRV-X carries an IP rating of 5 in regards to water resistance. The BRV-X  won’t survive complete submersion under water, but it will be fine in rain and won’t flinch from a bit of pool-side splashing.

The BRV-X is comprised mostly of plastic and rubber with a bit of metal mixed in (the speaker grill appears to be metal, at least, but we can’t say for sure). The design should be able to handle light drops and definitely will survive the rigor of being tossed in a bag and toted around.

A plastic cap covers all the sensitive ports, connections, and secondary buttons and switches when not in use (for water protection) while the main controls are featured on the four corners of the top of the device for easy access. These controls — volume up, volume down, power, and playback — can be hard to see in the dark but are located easily enough. With the four buttons numerous commands and functions can be completed.

One final touch that was appreciated was the inclusion of a tie-down/carrying strap. The strap attaches to clips on either side of the speaker and can be used to tote the device around or to secure it to another object. Water resistance + tied-down strap = we are taking this one out on the boat.

The little things that go a long way

The BRV-X’s tie-down strap is just one of the little extras that adds to the charm of Braven’s little speaker. Two other features add some allure to what otherwise might be considered a fairly average Bluetooth sound machine: NFC support and external charging.

braven-brv-x-nfc

NFC support isn’t new to speaker’s of this class, but it’s a great thing to have. Not all phones have NFC support, but, if you happen to own one that does, pairing is as simple as tapping it on the BRV-X’s NFC logo (make sure Bluetooth is turned on). It eliminates the hassle from what can sometimes be an annoying process searching for devices via the Bluetooth settings menu and pairing manually.

But, as we said, NFC is by no means a game changing feature. Perhaps external charging isn’t, either, but we were glad to have it on the BRV-X. You can attach any device that charges via a USB cable and get some added juice while you jam. Now you don’t have to worry about a dead phone killing the party. The drawback here is the fact that charging your device now drains the speaker’s battery at a faster rate. Braven has packed a fat 5200mAh battery inside to make sure there is sufficient power for both the speaker and external devices, however.

One feature that might get overlooked is the ability to pair two BRV-X speakers to create a true stereo soundscape. This is a novel concept and will take some of the strain off each individual speaker, allowing for greater clarity, volume, and dynamics. At $200 a pop, though, the money is better spent on a better stereo speaker setup. Still a clutch feature if you have a friend who also owns the BRV-X.

The BRV-X can also double as a pretty loud speakerphone and its controls can be used to answer incoming calls. Again, this feature has become pretty standard for speakers of this class so we aren’t giving Braven’s offering too many points here, but it functioned about as well as we could have hoped for.

The bottom line

braven-brv-x

If you didn’t notice the recurring theme here, the Braven BRV-X excels as an outdoor speaker providing the background music to a day on the water, a cookout, or some lounging by the pool. The BRV-X is not the centerpiece to your next raging dance party. The sound quality falls slightly short and volume begins to be an issue in noisier settings. Rugged construction and resistance to water make it a great speaker to tow along on your other adventures, however.

Is it worth the $200 Braven is asking for it? At that price, it’s worth checking out competition from Jabra, Jambox, and others just to see what you are really getting, but we’d say the Braven BRV-X is right there holding its own with the rest of the pack.

The Good

  • Rugged construction and water resistance great for outdoor use
  • NFC for easy pairing
  • Charges your phone

The Bad

  • Not as loud as we would have liked
  • Sound is a bit flat/muddy at times

Overall Score: 3.5/5

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Samsung Gear Fit Review http://phandroid.com/2014/04/22/samsung-gear-fit-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/22/samsung-gear-fit-review/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 17:08:58 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=138750 galaxy fit hero

The Samsung Gear Fit is part fitness tracker, part smart wearable — a device that has the potential to solve the conundrum of smartwatches that attempt to cram too many features into too small a package. With an attractive design, reasonable price point, and the backing of Samsung’s hit line of Galaxy smartphones, the Fit has all the measurables to finish first. Does its training pay off in a victory? Read on to find out.

Smartwatch design done right

We have had a lot to say about Samsung’s design choices over the past few years. Whether it be the tacky faux-leather of the Galaxy Note 3, the cheap plastic construction of the Galaxy S line, or the clunky aesthetics of the original Galaxy Gear (and to a lesser degree the new line of Gear smartwatches), Samsung has continually missed the mark when it comes to aesthetics. The Gear Fit is a rare exception to the trend.

That isn’t to say the Fit is a marvel of design and engineering. Rather, the Fit borrows from the established look and feel of previous fitness trackers like the FitBit Force, Jawbone UP and Nike FuelBand, mixing in a few tasteful elements that are pure Samsung — remember, “tasteful” is a word not typically found in Samsung’s design dictionary.

gear-fit-horizontal

What we get is a device that through its design emphasizes its most appealing asset: a 1.84-inch curved AMOLED display. In fact, the Gear Fit represents perhaps the most appropriate use of curved touchscreen technology to date, one that marries form factor with aesthetics in a way that is more useful than the bowed displays of the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex smartphones that came before it. And, as can be expected from a Samsung AMOLED display, it looks pretty darn great with brilliant, eye-popping color and crisp detail.

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The Fit’s greatest asset, however, is also one of its biggest flaws. The unique screen design, which results in an odd resolution of 432 x 128 pixels, presents issues with the way information is displayed and presented on the Fit. The standard readout, which arranges text longways across the screen, is not suited for a quick glance at the wrist while running, cycling, or performing another fitness activity. Likewise, while opting to orient text and other data vertically (done by the flick of a settings parameter) makes it easier to consume at a glance, the display was obviously not optimized for such use. This can result in some odd text wrapping or information that gets cut off at the edges of the screen.

Beyond the display, a minimalist approach also has its drawbacks in other areas. A proprietary charging cradle is necessitated by a lack of ports on the device itself. Instead, the Fit must be charged via a set of five small contact pins on its underside. Compounding the issue is battery life that is good but not great. While two to three days of use on an average charge is solid (though not as good as the battery life of competing devices such as the FitBit), if the need arises to charge the Fit on the go — perhaps while on vacation or at work — you will need to bring along the charging cradle. It’s easy to imagine this small peripheral, essential to keeping the Fit operational, becoming lost.

gear-fit-charging-cradle

One nice addition to the fit is a built-in heart rate monitor. The sensor sits on the underside of the the fit and makes contact with the wearer’s wrist, reading heart rate info on command. After using the Fit, such a sensor, though finicky at times, seems like a must-have for any future fitness wearable. It’s use does require that the user stay relatively still and that the Fit maintains good contact with the skin. Better results seem to come from wearing the fit so that the heart rate monitor makes contact with the underside of the wrist.

The Fit offers a degree of water resistance, as well. While it might not be the best device to use for tracking laps in the pool, the Fit won’t sizzle out due to excessive sweat and you won’t have to worry about taking it off before hopping in the shower for a post-workout rinse.

Finally, rounding out the Gear Fit is its adjustable wristband. The rubberized band is comfortable enough and offers a decent range of sizes for the average wearer. Those with slightly thicker wrists might be out of luck, though, as the band does seem to run a bit on the small side of things. The band is easily removable to wash off sweat or swap out for any number of colored options from Samsung.

Fitness tracking that needs to shape up

gear-fit-fitness

For a device with the word “fit” in its name, fitness tracking isn’t always the strong suit of the Samsung Gear Fit. Users are presented with three basic options for tracking health and fitness related activities: Pedometer, Exercise, and Sleep. As the names suggest, Pedometer tracks a user’s daily steps, Exercise provides tracking for specific activities like running, cycling, or hiking, and Sleep gathers information related to a user’s sleep patterns. Additionally users have access to a timer and stopwatch, but we’ll focus here on the modes geared toward tracking specific health and fitness data.

The pedometer does a decent job of tracking steps taken throughout the day, though it is not always the most accurate. A daily goal can be set that will congratulate the wearer when they reach a certain number of predefined steps over the course of the day. If there is a drawback to the Fit’s functionality as a pedometer it is the fact that the users must start and stop step tracking manually. The Fit will not automatically track this data as will other fitness trackers.

Likewise, users must do the same for tracking their sleep. Whereas some competing trackers will enter sleep mode automatically when they sense a user has settled down for the night, the Fit requires its wearer to manually start and stop sleep tracking. Seeing as tracking sleep cycles is probably one of the farthest things from most individual’s minds just before falling asleep and after waking, it leaves something to be desired.

As for tracking exercise, the Fit offers modes for walking, running, cycling, and hiking. Each activity provides feedback for more or less the same parameters, which include distance traveled, speed, and heart rate if selected. Once an activity is finished this data will further be crunched to provide more information like average and max speed. In Running mode, the Fit can provide coaching feedback based on heart rate. While this is more information than most basic fitness trackers provide, the modes still seem fairly limited overall.

One thinks back to Motorola’s MOTOACTV, released in 2011, and sees little advantage over  what that since-dsinctonued fitness watch offered three years ago. In fact, that Motorola device included ANT+ support for connecting a variety of sensor peripherals (from heart rate monitors to step counters to cycling cadence meters) that would further add to collected data. The Gear Fit lacks support for ANT+ devices and any of the more robust fitness tracking that comes along with them.

gear-fit-s-health

The data collected by the Gear Fit can be fed into Samsung’s S Health app on a connected Galaxy device, but it won’t offer much insight beyond what can be culled from the Fit itself. You get the same information arranged in a more visually appealing manner, but don’t expect the detailed analysis offered by Fitbit’s software and others. This makes it even more perplexing that the Fit cannot be used as a standalone device; it must be connected to a Galaxy handset during initial startup. S Health does offer some additional benefits, such as the tracking of nutrition and diet information entered by the used, and the hope is that Samsung will continue to refine and build on the experience.

The not-so-perfect smartphone companion?

The Gear Fit’s ability to sync with Galaxy smartphones elevates it from simple fitness tracker into the realm of the smartwatch, but here again the experience seems shortsighted. The fit is more a glorified notification ticker than anything else, but it’s hard to say whether this fact — at least as a concept — is necessarily good or bad.

gear-fit-notifications

The tendency among smartwatch makers is to try to make a device limited by form do too much. With the Fit, Samsung has stripped back functionality to the bare minimum. You get alerts for missed calls, incoming texts, Facebook likes, and more, but the degree of interaction is relegated to the ability to read a message or other basic information related to a notification. After receiving an alert, there is little a user can do beyond dismissing it.

For the Fit’s design this makes sense. It would be near impossible to type a response to a text; including a microphone, speaker, or headset jack would complicate the device’s simple build. But even in representing notifications in their most basic form the Fit falters, again in no small part thanks to the dimensions of its display. When arranged horizontally information is hard to access at a glance. When arranged vertically text is wrapped in an odd manner.

Beyond this, the Fit offers two other ways to interface with your smartphone. The first is Find My Device, which will trigger the ringer of a lost phone to help the user locate it. The second is Media Controller, which offers playback controls for media stored on a Galaxy device. The crux to this, of course, is the fact that you will still need to carry that Galaxy device in order to enjoy this experience. This isn’t always ideal when taking a run or doing other strenuous fitness activities.

Samsung Gear Fit — The Bottom Line

The Samsung Gear Fit offers a simplified fitness tracker/smartwatch experience that manages to under-deliver without over-promising. By attempting to cram smartwatch functionality into a basic fitness tracker, and, as a result, neither aspect flourishes. In a rare instance for Samsung these days, design is actually the one area where the Gear Fit gets things right with a nice (if at times hampered by its dimensions) curved AMOLED display and solid build.

Should you buy it? For its price of $199, Samsung gives few compelling reasons to choose their device over cheaper alternatives from FitBit, Jawbone, and others that offer more or less the same fitness tracking capabilities. Even if a user wants the device for its direct integration with Galaxy smartphones, the more advanced Gear 2 Neo can be had for the same price.

The Good:

  • Clean, attractive design
  • Sharp and colorful curved AMOLED display
  • Heart rate sensor is a nice addition

The Bad:

  • Display orientation is not ideal
  • Fitness tracking is limited, at times inaccurate
  • No ANT+
  • Smartphone integration leaves something to be desired
  • Better options exist for the same price or cheaper

Overall: 2.5/5

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