Phandroid » Reviews http://phandroid.com Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:46:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 http://phandroid.com/2014/04/18/samsung-galaxy-s5-vs-htc-one-m8/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/18/samsung-galaxy-s5-vs-htc-one-m8/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:43:07 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=138148 So you’ve read both our HTC One M8 Review and our Samsung Galaxy S5 Review and you still can’t decide which to get. Welcome to the universe… you’re not alone. They’re both great phones – best on the market, even – but neither are perfect. Read on as we pit them head to head in several categories before giving you the verdict on which to call your own.

Design & Hardware

HTC and Samsung have gone two very different directions with the designs for their flagship phones.

Hardware: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

HTC has worked hard to craft a device that looks and feels premium, putting appearance and personality above all else. That all starts with a metal unibody frame that looks beautiful, feels sturdy, and has some nice heft. The  iconic front speaker grills command attention.

Samsung foregoes some luxury for the sake of mass marketability, attempting to build the one-size-fits-all device that everybody loves. They’ve done a pretty darn good job thus far. The Galaxy S5 looks more typical, is covered in plastic, has some questionable finishes, and a removable battery cover.

If that doesn’t seem very glamorous, that’s because it isn’t, but those choices also allow Samsung to pull off a bigger screen, in a smaller and lighter package, while cramming in more hardware.

That flexibility will help Samsung in other areas, but from a design perspective the HTC One M8 is a notch above all of the competition, including Samsung’s S5.

Hardware Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 1 to 0 (HTC One M8)

Display/Screen

Whether you’re talking about phones, TVs, computers, or even touch panels on household appliances, displays are something that Samsung always seems to get right. The Galaxy S5 screen is no different: it’s hands down the most gorgeous screen I’ve ever seen on a mobile phone… and I’m not the only one with that opinion.

Screen: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

That’s a bold statement, but it’s worth noting that the HTC One M8 isn’t far behind. The key difference is the outrageous level of brightness, vibrancy, and contrast found on the Galaxy S5 display. For some people the One M8 screen might be preferred because it looks less artificial with more natural colors. If that floats your boat, go for it- but I’m personally picking the S5 and sticking with it.

From a spec standpoint their displays are nearly identical:

  • One M8 Display: 5-inch, Full HD 1920 x 1080, 442 ppi
  • Galaxy S4: 5.1-inch, Full HD 1920 x 1080, 432 ppi

This is a matter of preference of course and the choice is made much more difficult when comparing the phones side by side. In reality, whichever phone you choose to use, you’d be incredibly happy with the display. Both the One M8 and Galaxy S5 have market leading screens, but I heavily prefer the latter above all else.

Screen Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 1 to 1 (tie)

Software & Experience

The Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 both run Android 4.4 KitKat and each overlay their own custom UI- the S5 with Touchwiz and the One M8 with Sense 6. Taking advice from users longing for more of a stock Android experience, each company has vowed to tone down the bloat while still delivering added value through unique integrations throughout the software.

For home screen experiences HTC brings Blinkfeed to the table while Samsung offers My Magazine. They both let you customize an easily accessed feed with social network accounts and news content, but Blinkfeed is much more robust while My Magazine seems a bit half baked. Thankfully you have the option to remove both- but give Blinkfeed a chance, it works well enough to consider keeping onboard.

Software: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

Navigating your pages and apps is much easier with the HTC One for two primary reasons: the app drawer is designed distinctly different from your home pages and the it follows many more of Android’s standard guidelines. Samsung’s Touchwiz app drawer looks so similar to the home screens that it’s easy to confuse the two, wander with your finger, and get lost.

Diving into the settings is where the software customizations go next level. Samsung has thankfully buried some of its highly touted settings of generations past, but they’re mostly still available, which makes exploring and finding the settings you want a bit of a chore. Each have some really great comparable features worthy of praise such as:

  • Do Not Disturb / Blocking Mode
  • Battery Saving Options
  • TV remotes to go with the IR Blasters
  • Greatly improved camera software

That being said, Samsung still has some fat to trim from Touchwiz. In addition to a slight delay when opening native apps like dialer and contacts (we’re talking fractions of a second), the experience can seem scattered, with incomplete experiences in some areas and too many options in others. If Samsung can choose focus areas and reinvest their energy to initiatives they deem most important, they’ll be doing themselves and their customers a huge favor. Right now they seem undecided on far too much, which provides HTC with the opportunity to walk away with the software category.

Software Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 2 to 1 (HTC One M8)

Camera

The divergent approaches of Samsung and HTC don’t end with design:  they’ve gone completely different routes with their cameras. Mobile cameras have become somewhat of a megapixel marketing war with consumers crowning the bigger number the better camera. If you chose the better camera based purely on megapixels, Samsung would be crowned prince automatically, besting HTC by a megapixel count of 16MP to 4MP. The Nokia Lumia 1020 – a Windows Phone with a 41MP camera – would be crowned King.

Camera: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

But it isn’t all about megapixels. Really, megapixels determine how many pixels are in your photos, which directly correlates to their size (in dimensions and file size). The majority of photos taken with your phone are shared only on the web, which means even the 2688 by 1520 pictures taken with the One M8′s 4MP camera are too big for Facebook.

That doesn’t make the Galaxy S5′s 16MP camera overkill, though- it has its benefits. Want to blow up a picture as a poster or canvas? Or perhaps zoom in on a part of a picture? The Galaxy S5 is the only one between the two that can perform this luxury with any significant quality.

The prerequisite of doing anything with your photos is having good photos you want to do something with. In perfect, sunny conditions, the Galaxy S5 probably slightly edges the One M8 in terms of photo quality. As soon as those conditions change it’s the HTC One M8 camera that is better able to handle adversity. I want consistency in a smartphone camera and if I wanted a great camera for traveling I’d opt for a DLSR, point-and-shoot, or Galaxy Camera before either of these.

But wait: the HTC One M8 has some magic up its sleeves. It doesn’t just have a dinky 4MP camera on its rear… it’s got TWO lenses: one actually takes the photo and the other collects depth information, allowing for some amazing effects and wizardry with what HTC calls the Ultrapixel Duo Cam. Samsung has a software-based post production alternative, but it doesn’t come close to touching HTC’s 2 lens phenom in that department. The duo cam is not a gimmick… it works amazingly well and is an absolute blast to use.

Selectivefocusclose.jpg
Taken with Galaxy S5
orioles-back-blurry
Taken with HTC One M8

To top it all off, the HTC One M8 has a 5MP front facing camera that ensures selfie snappers are delighted.

Travelers using a mobile phone as their only camera might disagree, but for its consistency, outrageously fun duo cam integration, and attention to selfie detail, I’m giving this highly debated category to the HTC One M8.

Camera Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 3 to 1 (HTC One M8)

Multimedia

The name multimedia inherently dictates that more than one form of media is being discussed. In the case of this comparison, though, I’m going to cut to the chase: the HTC One M8 BoomSound speakers put it several horse lengths ahead of the Galaxy S4.

Most phone’s these days have an earpiece at the top front of the phone and speakers either somewhere on the side or on the back. In the case of the Galaxy S5 it’s on the back, bottom left. The HTC One M8 meanwhile boasts dual front facing speakers that not only look epic, but sound epic.

Multimedia: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

I often find myself in odd situations where I’m using my phone as a jukebox. If you do too, you won’t find a phone whose speakers sound more loud and full than the BoomSound speakers on the HTC One M8. Since some people label gadgets as “sexy”, I’m calling the One M8′s speakers voluptuous: it’s a full and beautiful sound that carries itself well.

voluptuous-speakers

I find myself wanting that great sound in so many situational moments. Sometimes it’s sitting on the couch playing an immersive game like Dead Trigger 2 and the sound effects bring excitement to the action. Sometimes it’s with a group of friends with whom I want to share a Youtube video without cupping the speaker and oddly switching between looking and listening, looking and listening. Other times it’s just talking to someone on speaker phone and expecting good sound quality.

You’ll get okay sound quality with the Galaxy S5 but the further you turn up the volume the more tinny and shaky it sounds. That being said, Samsung’s audio quality while headphones are plugged in or while using bluetooth is very good. Nothing though – and I mean nothing – tops HTC BoomSound at this point in time.

Once again, there will be plenty of people who never use their phone speakers who disagree with this pick… and that’s fine. That’s good for you to know and you should calculate it into your personal buying decision.

Multimedia Winner: HTC One M8
Overall Score: 4 to 1 (HTC One M8)

Performance

This is a hard category to pin down, not only because benchmarks between the two devices vary based on what benchmarks you choose, but also because manufacturers have begun adjusting their hardware to specifically perform better in benchmarks. Not to mention, how you use your phone in real-life may vary from what the benchmark scores for and taking it one step further, how YOU use your phone will differ from me- and thus we could have totally different experiences.

Performance: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

Based on my experience using both devices extensively for over a week, they were both top notch. They both were as swift and smooth as I’d expect from flagship phones by top manufacturers.

That being said, while I experienced virtually no hiccups from the Galaxy S5, I spotted a few roadbumps while using the HTC One M8. It’s quite possible that the blame should be placed on the shoulders of an app developer whose bad coding caused something flukey.

In the end, both devices performed so well that the winner came down to a rather nitpicky decision, but I’m comfortable picking the Galaxy S5 since my experience with its hardware performance was close to flawless. Stock Android evangelists may notice a slight delay (fractions of a second) in navigating, which can likely be blamed on Touchwiz.

Both devices run a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with the Galaxy S5′s being a tiny bit beefier.

Performance Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 2 HTC One M8

Battery

Where HTC picks up the win on design it simultaneously picks up the loss on battery life, but not because it didn’t perform well. Both phones had above average battery life that usually lasted me through the day without concern. The S5 and One M8 now both have special modes you can place your phone in for when battery life is at a premium and you desperately need to conserve.

s5-vs-m8-battery

Although battery life was comparable, I’m going with Samsung on this category for two primary reasons:

  • I preferred Samsung’s Power Saving Mode which offered two different severity levels as presets, especially enjoying the option to remove the backlit buttons and turning the phone gray scale.
  • Samsung’s back cover is removeable, so should I start to use the phone more heavily and require a bigger battery, an extended battery will likely be available. It’ll make the phone thicker, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

It should be noted that Samsung’s battery is slightly larger at 2800mAh compared to the One M8′s 2600mAh.

Battery Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 3 (HTC One M8)

Wildcards

Some features simply don’t fit into a category and in typical Samsung fashion, there are a bunch in the Galaxy S5. Only this time, instead of packing all the fun into the Software, Samsung has done some really interesting things on the hardware side.

The home button now doubles as a finger sensor, allowing you to lock your screen and other areas of your phone by sliding your finger over the home button and scanning your fingerprint. We’ve seen the idea in the iPhone 5S and although Samsung’s version doesn’t work as well yet, it’s still a pretty interesting feature tossed into the mix.

On the back of the phone is another sensor- a heart rate monitor. Activate it through Samsung’s S Health app, which is becoming quite the lifestyle hub, and it can read your heart rate by placing your finger over a grooved indentation just below the rear camera. It’s an accurate feature and definitely cool, but similar to the fingerprint scanner you’ve got to be incredibly precise where you put your finger, making it a bit frustrating.

The finger scanner and heart rate monitor are cool wildcards, but likely limited in use to a select percentage of the population. However, one new Samsung hardware feature takes the wildcard section all on its own: weatherproofing.

Waterproof: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

The Galaxy S4 is IP67 certified which means you can use it in the rain, drop it in the toilet, use it in the shower, even submerge it in a couple feet of water while still recording video (don’t go any deeper)! If you’ve ever needed to replace a phone due to water damage you’ll appreciate this greatly and in reality, EVERY phone should have this feature. No longer do you need to fear water when you’ve got your S5, you can embrace it!

Wildcard Winner: Samsung Galaxy S5
Overall Score: 4 to 4 (tie)

Verdict

A tie? Blasphemy!

In all honesty it’s a pretty telling conclusion: both phones are great, include some awesome features, but have their flaws. Their pros and cons come in different areas, making each phone suitable for different types of people.

s5-vs-m8-winner

Personally, I’d go with the HTC One M8 because I’m dying for its audio experience, love its camera to pieces (simply fun to use), and have a separate camera I use for traveling. I’m a Galaxy Note 3 owner and would love try something new while I keep one eye on the upcoming Galaxy Note 4.

The Bottomline

Declaring a decisive winner is up to you, not me, as you’ll weigh the value of the above categories far differently based on your preferences and circumstances. Here are some suggestions based on the above.

Should you get the Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8?

  • If you listen to music on your phone constantly, get the HTC One M8
  • If you use your phone’s speaker often for music, videos, or games, get the HTC One M8
  • If you travel often and this will be your primary camera, get the Galaxy S5
  • If you’re clumsy or want to treat your phone with some liquid disrespect without breaking it (rain, shower, toilet, Seattle) , get the Galaxy S5
  • If you prefer a finely crafted device made of metal instead of plastic, get the HTC One M8

If you fit into a combination of the above, walk into a store, play with each, and make your decision with hands-on experience. If you want further counseling, don’t trust one sales person at random, instead head to Android Forums for advice from thousands.

And lastly, here is the spec comparison for your convenience:

Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 Specs

Which would YOU choose?

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Samsung Galaxy S5 Review http://phandroid.com/2014/04/17/samsung-galaxy-s5-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/17/samsung-galaxy-s5-review/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:16:56 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=138011 Samsung’s flagship line of Galaxy smartphones has enjoyed a level of success paralleled only by Apple’s iPhone, and the latest of these devices – the Samsung Galaxy S5 – just launched.

The tech world has come to expect excellence from the Galaxy S series, but has Samsung created another device that wows or simply one that keeps pace? And perhaps most importantly, should you spend your hard-earned money on the Galaxy S5, go for a competitor, or wait for the next big thing? Find out in our full review below.

Galaxy S5 Hardware & Design

The Galaxy S5 is packed full of hardware upgrades that the untrained eye wouldn’t likely spot at first glance. The fingerprint sensor baked into the home button. The heart rate monitor paired with the flash. The added charger door ensuring water resistant status. All brand new.

Bigger screen. Bigger battery. Bigger camera. Bigger processor. All stuffed into a device that’s unnoticeably bigger than its predecessor- a mere handful of millimeters larger and only a few grams heavier. You’ll read reviews labeling the Galaxy S5 as “iterative” and “evolutionary not revolutionary” – which may be true – but when you consider these improvements in context, relative to the maturity of the smartphone market, I’d argue that what Samsung has accomplished with the S5 is incredibly impressive.

Galaxy S5 Battery Cover

The biggest visual change with the Galaxy S5 is found on the rear, where Samsung has opted for the dimpled faux leather a la the Galaxy Note 3 rather than the glossy shell of the Galaxy S4. It’s an improvement, but it also continues Samsung’s infatuation with plastic (like it or not), though credit them with a step in the right direction.

The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display is full HD (1920 x 1080) and absolutely gorgeous, offering the most vibrant colors of any smartphone on the market. Some might complain it has too much contrast and looks artificial – a matter of opinion with which I disagree but can appreciate – and to accommodate this viewpoint Samsung allows users to adjust screen saturation in the Display settings. The clarity, quality, and viewing angles of the screen make it a real joy to use day-in and day-out. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 Screen

The S5 layout matches the S4 in almost every way, with volume buttons on the left side, power button on the right side, MicroUSB 3.0 charging port on the bottom, and 3.5mm headset jack and IR blaster on the top. The home button now doubles as a fingerprint scanner and is flanked by two capacitive buttons: multi-tasking on the left and back button on the right.

You can hold down the multi-tasking button to pull up any screen’s menu, hold down the home button for Google Now, and optionally set a double tap of the Home button for S Voice – all very convenient.

An ear piece at the top rests above the Samsung logo, to the left of which you’ll find an LED light and to the right of which you’ll find a couple ambient light sensors and a front facing 2MP camera.

Flip over the S5 and you’ll see the huge and very capable 16MP camera at the top. Just below it is a recessed groove that houses a flash for the camera and an all-new heart rate monitor. A tiny speaker grill at the bottom left of the back adds more audio power.

Galaxy S5 Battery

Pop open the back cover for access to the 2,800 mAh battery, SIM card slot, and MicroSD slot (up to 128GB in addition to the 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage). The S5 is amply powered by a 2.5GHz quadcore processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 801), Adreno 330 graphics unit, and 2GB of RAM.

On the surface the total package may seem rather unremarkable: we’ve grown familiar with the Galaxy S design standards and Samsung has decided not to stray from a formula that’s consistently yielded results. Samsung should be careful to not let familiarity become fatigue, though. And as tech enthusiasts we should realize that our clamoring for “the next big thing” can be a distraction from what matters here and now.

Samsung has not only improved every nook and cranny of an already fantastic phone, they’ve also added completely new hardware features, done so without increasing size, and made it available at the same price. On paper it’s difficult to ask for much more, so long as in practice everything performs as you’d expect. But does it?

Let’s start with the three newest features: weatherproofing, finger print scanner, and heart rate monitor.

Weatherproofing and Water Resistance

Samsung won’t make the mistake of telling you the Galaxy S5 is waterproof, but for all intents and purposes, the Galaxy S5 is waterproof. The technical classification of Samsung’s weatherproofing is IP67 certification which Samsung describes as, “resistant to sweat, rain, liquids, sand and dust, so your phone is protected for any activity and situation.”

Galaxy S5 in Toilet

The technology has been around for years but few manufacturers have made it a staple of their flagship phones: bravo to Samsung for including this on the S5. Weatherproofing adds immediate and tangible value by acting as an insurance policy: water damage ranks up there with lost phones, stolen phones, and cracked screens for top reasons smartphones require replacement.

We don’t suggest you go swimming with the S5, but if you drop it in the toilet, use it in the rain, or even take it with you in the shower you shouldn’t have any problem. Just make sure the back cover is snapped on around the entire circumference of the phone and the charging door is closed… it doesn’t perfectly seal every time you take it on and off so a little paranoia will go a long way.

Close S5 Battery Case Completely

The battery door is a tad annoying to open and close at every charging pitstop – a wireless charging solution would have provided an elegant alternative – but the minor inconvenience is well worth the added value.

In years past manufacturers were happy to collect on your clumsiness, but hopefully the most popular smartphone manufacturer weatherproofing their most popular device will help the practice become as commonplace as WiFi and Bluetooth. This might be downplayed as a minor upgrade from the S4, but in the grand scheme of things, weatherproofing makes a world of difference.

Finger Sensor

There are two ways you can look at Samsung’s addition of a finger sensor for fingerprint scanning in the Galaxy S5:

  1. A “me too” feature that follows in Apple’s footsteps, erasing one selling point potentially swaying consumers towards the iPhone 5S over the Galaxy S5.
  2. A response to the increased exposure that the topics of privacy and data security are attracting in the court of public opinion.

Galaxy S5 Fingerprint Reader

I’ll be honest: Samsung’s fingerprint scanner isn’t as good as Apple’s. Not even close. But whereas Apple’s core functionality is focused on letting you unlock your phone, Samsung has left the door open for developers to integrate finger scanning functionality in their apps through Samsung Accounts. Two examples: use your fingerprint to make immediate payments with Paypal or gain access to locked files on your phone that you’ve set as private.

Unfortunately the Samsung finger scanning experience has two key drawbacks. First, you’ve got to slide your finger over the home button with such precision that it requires two hands. Second, the delay between registering a successful fingerprint and actually unlocking your device is too long to make it efficient.

It’s undoubtedly a cool feature and one I would consider using at the application specific level, but not quite ready for primetime for the most frequently accessed activity on your phone: unlocking it. Still, this could prove a smart move by Samsung if for nothing more than acting as an iPhone stopgap.

Heart Rate Monitor and S Health

If the finger sensor is meant to go tit-for-tat with Apple then Samsung’s Heart Rate Monitor can be considered a display of oneupmanship. Found in a recessed groove below the camera and sitting next to the flash, the Heart Rate Monitor might seem like a completely random addition, but it ties in well with Samsung’s push towards offering lifestyle solutions, especially in health and fitness.

Galaxy S5 Heart Rate Monitor

How many people care about monitoring their heart rate? Fitness fiends might enjoy the added ability, but it’s also likely they’ve got a separate wearable – perhaps even one of Samsung’s own Gears  Smartwatches – that accomplishes the same task more accurately.

The Heart Rate Monitor suffers in much of the same way as the Finger Scanner: if you don’t get your finger positioned just right it’ll frustratingly feed you with an error message and ask you to try again. And again.

galaxy-s5-s-healthS Health as a lifestyle initiative is starting to look very promising. Grouped with the Gear smartwatches and the heart rate monitor, Samsung is putting together a nice little suite of health and fitness solutions that work together like a cohesive brand. I’m eager to see continued development of S Health, both from a hardware and software standpoint.

While I point out these faults, I won’t blame Samsung for trying to innovate: they’ve added three brand new features to the Galaxy S5 with weatherproofing, finger scanning, and heart rate monitoring without increasing the size or cost of the device. None are particularly ground breaking, but all three are welcome additions you can choose to embrace or ignore without consequence thanks to Samsung’s seamless integration.

Galaxy S5 Software

The Galaxy S5 runs on Android 4.4 KitKat with an updated version of TouchWiz that offers a mixed bag experience of both pleasant surprises and letdowns.

For starters, the home screen and app drawer share the same wallpaper and look almost identical. The lack of a transparent overlay or relative sense of orientation is annoying at best and could be a real headache for Android beginners.

Galaxy S5 Home Screen vs App Drawer

That problem is compounded by a huge number of pre-installed apps including duplicates from Samsung and Google, each trying to be the one stop shop that owns the user experience. You can easily uninstall apps in bulk and hide those where removal is not allowed, but the clusterbomb of confusion created by this unorganized landfill of icons is somewhat ridiculous and easily preventable. Instead, users will want to spend several minutes removing stuff when they first get their phone, including apps piled on by your carrier.

Samsung tries to accomplish too much and it translates into a scattered user experience. In some places though, such as the camera UI, Samsung successfully narrows their focus, and the result is a refined UI that’s a breath of fresh air in a too often overwhelming environment.

My Magazine

Aggregated content experiences seem to be all the rage these days and Samsung has returned with their own solution – My Magazine – which has been stripped down to a Flipboard skeleton. Occupying the far left home screen, you can fill it up with your choice of news topics and social networks which will then populate an always-updating feed.

Galaxy S5 My Magazine

Unfortunately there are a few glaring oddities: Facebook is missing, topical selection is too broad, and most news links abruptly pass you to the Flipboard app rather than existing in a self contained My Magazine ecosystem. With the greatly limited scope of customization and inability to uninstall Flipboard, you’re probably best off removing it (Home Screen > Menu > Home Screen Settings > Uncheck My Magazine).

Samsung is criticized often for going overboard with TouchWiz and perhaps this was an attempt to pull back, simplify the concept, and let Flipboard run the show. If so, they missed the mark. The result is a lackluster offering that should have been scrapped completely.

Settings & Features Overload

Samsung has given the settings area of the Galaxy S5 a nice looking facelift, making square icons circular, flattening images, and relying more on muted colors and pastels. Not only do these look better, they also better match the direction Google is taking Android (consider the circular profile icons in Google+ for example). The only problem is that in some ways they look out of place with the rest of TouchWiz and Android 4.4.

Galaxy S5 Quick Settings

Samsung has had a usable and helpful quick settings tray for as long as I can remember. Pull down notifications with one finger and you’ll see a side scrolling list of icons at the top for quickly toggling on and off. Just below it is an adjustable screen brightness widget that you’ll use frequently. Pull down the notifications with 2 fingers and you’ll be treated to a full menu of quick settings that essentially fill the page. Both of these areas are easily customizable for adding, removing, and re-ordering settings.

One level deeper into the settings and you’ve hit Android Inception, washed up on the shores of Samsung’s subconscious. The Galaxy S5′s main settings menu has 37 top level categories, all with their own list of specific settings and options, most of which have an additional sub-list of sub-settings and sub-options from which to choose. And then, of course, there’s the settings for the settings page.

Samsung Android Inception

There is one saving grace here: Samsung puts a search icon front and center, allowing you to search all of your phone’s settings for relevant keywords. This can sometimes ease the pain but it doesn’t alleviate the problem.

Samsung is clearly doing some housekeeping of their own and rethinking the strategy of attempting to control their entire Android ecosystem through Touchwiz. Added value features and settings that Samsung once touted are now buried in the options, most likely because Samsung leadership knows they aren’t being used but parting with proprietary technology can be emotionally challenging.

Samsung should cut their losses on features like Air browse, Palm swipe, Air view, and Easy Mode, focusing instead on more meaningful initiatives that all users would want. It would have the added benefit of allowing Samsung to consolidate their settings, make their devices easier to use, and perfect some really great ideas that currently seem half baked.

That’s not to say Samsung doesn’t have some really great settings and features that we’d be sad to see go. Here are some to which you should pay particular attention:

  • Smart Remote – control your TV and home entertainment system with this app thanks to the S5′s IR Blaster. This is a fully featured solution that’s far from a gimmick. Spend a few minutes setting it up and your TV-watching experience is greatly improved.
  • Power Saving Mode – quickly jump into either moderate or extreme power saving modes that will shut down or alter phone activity to conserve battery life, including changing your display to black and white. Works great!
  • Blocking Mode – prevent notifications and alerts during certain hours and allow certain contacts to bypass the block
  • Toolbox – a floating chat-heads style menu that hovers over all screens to give you instant access for up to 5 apps from anywhere in your phone. Defaults to camera, voice recorder, notepad, and calculator which makes a lot of sense. This can get annoying but also be very helpful.
  • Active Call – similarly, if you’re browsing your phone while actively on a call, Samsung will show a hover icon of the current contact on top of your active screen, allowing you to easily jump back into the call

Other ideas, like Private Mode, sound good in theory but aren’t executed with enough clarity to make them shine on the S5, perhaps even causing a distraction to the existence and execution of other opportunities.

One small example is comparing Samsung’s text to speech engine with Google’s…

Why even offer this as an option? Could the resources used here have been better allocated elsewhere? Samsung is trying awfully hard to maintain their lead and continue their dominance in the Android universe, but I think at times TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5 proves their ambition is getting the best of both them and their customers.

Let’s be clear: the S5 user experience isn’t bad and on the contrary is quite enjoyable, but as the Galaxy S5 Camera UI revamp goes to show, simplifying, refining, and focusing your approach can go a long way to improving a technology experience. More is not always better.

Galaxy S5 Camera

The Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 16MP camera and 2MP front-facing camera, an improvement from the S4′s 13MP/2MP combination. Technically speaking, you probably wouldn’t notice the 3 megapixel difference between the two generations unless you were printing a poster sized image or zoomed in to focus on a specific portion of the image.

The photo quality of the S5 is on par with the S4: it performs great in daytime with ample light, similarly reliable with macro pictures, but really struggles when lighting and conditions aren’t optimal and the flash can produce washed out results.

galaxy-s5-zoom-out galaxy-s5-woodys-1 galaxy-s5-the-warehouse galaxy-s5-pirate-band galaxy-s5-phil-on-water-taxi galaxy-s5-oriole-bird-on-dugout galaxy-s5-oriole-bird-on-dugout-2 galaxy-s5-markakis galaxy-s5-lowlight-pickles galaxy-s5-flowers-2 galaxy-s5-flowers-1 galaxy-s5-donkey galaxy-s5-domino-sugar-night2 galaxy-s5-domino-sugar-night galaxy-s5-android-robots galaxy-s5-android-robots-flash

The real upgrade with the S5 camera is in the software and features. The camera UI is an absolute breath of fresh air: simple, intuitive, enjoyable, and easy to find what exactly what you want. The main layout has consistency with the shutter buttons, primary modes, and gallery link on the right and more specific camera options on the left.

galaxy-s5-camera1

Samsung prioritizes three specific camera toggles:

  • Rear vs. Front camera toggle
  • Selective focus on/off which can provide the DSLR blurred background effect
  • HDR (High Definition Richtones) which converts awkward washed out lighting into rich, vibrant colors

galaxy-s5-camera2

Want to jump into more settings? No problem, the bottom left gear pops open a big menu that lets you fine tune further including options for:

  • Picture size – ranging from 6MP to 16MP and 3 different aspect ratios
  • Video Size – up to UHD 3840 x 2160
  • Recording Mode – normal, slow motion, fast motion, smooth motion, etc…
  • Burst Shot Toggle
  • Picture Stabilization Toggle
  • Face Detection Toggle
  • ISO
  • Tap screen to take pics
  • Audio zoom
  • Effects
  • Flash Toggle
  • Timer

galaxy-s5-camera3

Samsung’s selective focus option is neat when it works (see below), but it’s bit problematic. Your subject has to be a certain distance and ratio from you and the background, and if you’re not, the picture will snap but selective focus won’t activate- this happened to me more often than not. It also takes several seconds to take the picture and process, making candid photos even more difficult. I hope Samsung will continue developing this feature – it’s fun when it works but doesn’t seem ready for prime time just yet.

selectivefocusall Selectivefocusclose.jpg

HDR on the other hand is excellent and can make a world of difference. When in HDR mode the camera preview shown on the S5 screen actively displays your HDR effects in real-time, letting you know exactly how it will look and preventing the guessing game that cameras so often like to play. Its position in the primary options is well deserved and I think its success can partially be attributed to the S5′s quick focus and shutter times. Another nice HDR option: recording HDR video.

Video on the S5 lines up with photos: excellent under the right conditions but obstacles such as dimly lit scenes can cause big problems. The various video modes are fun to play with but you won’t find yourself looking for them often.

terrible-selfieThe 2MP front facing camera leaves a lot to be desired (the subject matter doesn’t help in this case) and we’d earmark it for an expected upgrade in the inevitable Galaxy S6.

Overall the Galaxy S5 camera is a solid improvement. The cleaned up UI makes taking a picture with the preferred settings an absolute breeze and in favorable conditions the photo quality is excellent. However, far too many situations seem adverse for the S5 camera’s capability range, which in turn prevents some cool new features like Selective Focus from functioning properly.

The result is a more than adequate 16MP camera that still won’t replace your point and shoot, but makes us yearn for a day when that’s possible. Until then we think the vast majority of people will be perfectly happy rocking the Galaxy S5, and if not, Samsung would be happy to sell you the Galaxy Camera 2 or the Samsung Galaxy Zoom to fulfill your photographic dreams.

Galaxy S5 Performance & Battery

My experience with the Galaxy S5 was near flawless from a performance and battery standpoint. The 2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and its 2GB of RAM seemed to power Android 4.4 KitKat with the greatest of ease. Whether multi-tasking out the wazoo or handling everything Touchwiz could throw at it, I didn’t experience a single hiccup that you can blame on the Galaxy S5′s internals.

I know other reviewers have complained that the S5 seems sluggish at times, blaming the bloatiness of Touchwiz and a processor that can’t keep up but in my personal experience this simply couldn’t be further from the truth. The appearance and organization of the software may seem inconsistent in places, but from a hardware performance standpoint the Galaxy S5 was the definition of quality and consistency.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the Galaxy S5′s battery life, lasting a full day without much difficulty, offering additional battery saving modes for crunch time, with additional comfort knowing that should I choose I could likely upgrade the S5 with an extended battery.

galaxy-s5-battery-saver
Keeping your battery charged can be a mountain to climb… but not with the S5 

The two battery saving modes are called “Power Saving Mode” and “Ultra Power Saving Mode” and can be found in the main settings list. Customize the settings of each and activate them depending on how dire your straits (you cannot activate them both at once).

Power Saving Mode can block background data, limit CPU performance, lower the screen’s frame rate, lower brightness, turn off the capacitive menu and back button lights, turn off GPS, and convert the display to grayscale. I decided to turn off the touch key lights permanently and grew rather fond of grayscale at times.

Ultra Power Saving Mode takes it to another extreme, turning your phone into an “Easy Mode” of sorts. Your screen will turn black and white, you’ll have access to a maximum of 6 apps, and offered practically no additional options until the mode is turned off. You’re able to see your battery percentage and time left on standby, helpful towards tracking your battery conservation efforts in the clutch.

The Galaxy S5′s elite hardware performance combined with great battery life will alone make a lot of customers very happy, especially those coming from older generation phones.

Galaxy S5 Audio & Call Quality

If you plan on cranking up the volume, listening to music, watching videos, and playing games with noise to the max you may want to think again. The S5 can handle moderate sound levels okay, but the higher you take the volume the more tinny and cheap the audio sounds. This is especially noticeable when the device is laying flat on a surface, causing the plastic S5 frame to vibrate and rattle.

Needless to say, when operating the S5 at louder volume letters the multimedia experience leaves a lot to be desired.

I also found speakerphone quality dropped with the device laying flat on the counter; the other caller sometimes complained my voice was muffled. This was sporadic and I was unable to reproduce the effect, so I wouldn’t weigh this heavily into a purchase decision, but keep it in mind. If you plan on listening to loud multimedia on speakerphone regularly, you’ve got a lot more to think about.

Galaxy S5 – The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is an impressive upgrade to an already great phone. On paper, Samsung has improved their offering in nearly every area imaginable. Aside from packing a more powerful punch in a similarly slender frame, the S5 improves both performance and battery life while retaining the crown for best mobile display.

Galaxy S5

The most important addition to the Galaxy S5 – weatherproofing – is an invisible feature you won’t use on a daily basis and is consequently overshadowed. It shouldn’t be-  its inclusion brings a ton of value to the S5. Instead it’s the finger scanner, heart rate monitor, and 16MP camera that steal the lime light even though their combined real-life improvement from the S4 is likely to be limited.

We’ve grown to expect an awful lot from Samsung, perhaps even holding them to a higher standard, which is why not being absolutely blown away by the S5′s awesomeness seems like a disappointment. The fact remains: the Samsung Galaxy S5 instantly becomes one of the best phones on the market, perhaps is the best all-around phone, and the vast majority of users will be pleased and impressed by its performance. It still has room to improve – especially in camera consistency, audio quality, and UI experience – but the Galaxy S5 once again delivers while leaving us continually yearning for more.

Should you buy it? If you’re due for an upgrade the Galaxy S5 should occupy one of the tops spots on your short list, along with the HTC One M8 and perhaps a couple others. It doesn’t warrant an upgrade fro the S4  and audiophiles should steer clear, but if you’re due for an upgrade and/or love the cutting edge of tech, the Galaxy S4 is a great choice.

The Good:

  • Amazing, best-in-market screen
  • Weatherproofing is a hugely valuable addition
  • Among most powerful and consistent performers
  • Strong battery life with additional battery saving modes
  • Finger Scanner and Heart Monitor are fun additions that add zero bulk

The Bad:

  • Software options can be overwhelming and scattered
  • Tinny and subpar audio when played at high volumes
  • Camera is inconsistent in less than optimal conditions

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

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Popular iOS app ‘Frontback’ finally launches for Android [Video] http://phandroid.com/2014/04/16/frontback-for-android/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/16/frontback-for-android/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 18:48:54 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=138249 frontback2

Taking photos of yourself has become so popular that even the Oxford dictionary recognizes the word “selfie” as an official word. The selfie craze has helped create hundreds of photo apps, but only a few become popular. One such app is called “Frontback,” which has gained popularity in the last few months on iOS. Today the app was finally released for Android users. What’s all the buzz about?

Frontback is selfies, emoticons, and regular photos all in one. The app allows users to easily take a photo with both the front and rear cameras, then stitch them together. The result is a photo that shows what you’re looking at, and your reaction to it. You can easily tell a short story about what you are currently doing and feeling without saying a word. Instead of just sharing a photo of something crazy with the caption “OMG” you can share the photo and include your “OMG” face.

Frontback allows you to add friends and view their photos in a news feed along with curated “Staff Picks.” The photos can also be shared to your favorite social networks. If you’re looking for a fun way to share selfies this is the app for you. Download it below for free from the Google Play Store.

google-play-download-button

 

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Oppo Find 7a first look and unboxing [Video] http://phandroid.com/2014/04/11/oppo-find-7a-first-look-unboxing/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/11/oppo-find-7a-first-look-unboxing/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:07:09 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=137974 Oppo_Find_7

The time has come Oppo fans, the successor to the Find 5 has finally arrived. Meet the Oppo Find 7a, the non premium edition of the Find 7. Because Oppo is known for their wonderful device packaging and quality devices for that matter, we’ve included an unboxing video for you below.

The Find 7 comes in two variants, a premium edition and a standard edition. Here are the specs below:

  • 5.5-inch 1080p display (2560 x 1440 premium)
  • 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad Core (MSM8974AB)
  • 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage (3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage premium)
  • 2,800 mAh removable battery with VOOC Fast Charging technology — charges up to 75% in 30 minutes (3,000 mAh premium)
  • 13MP rear camera with LED flash; 5.0 megapixel front camera
  • GPS w/ GLONASS, WiFi ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 152.6 x 75 x 9.2 mm, 171 g

The Find 7a feels great, looks great, and I can’t wait to put it to the daily grind over the next few days. Check back later in about a week and we’ll have the full review on the Oppo Find 7a.

And, just to keep your interests peaked, the Find 7 rocks an always listening microphone, just like the Moto X and the upcoming OnePlus One. However, it doesn’t look like Oppo did anything unique with the hotword.

Find 7 - Hey Snapdragon

Are you interested in the Oppo Find 7? Let us know in the comments below.

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HTC One M8 Review http://phandroid.com/2014/04/03/htc-one-m8-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/04/03/htc-one-m8-review/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 19:52:08 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=136806 When the original HTC One launched in 2013 it was widely viewed as one of the most stunning smartphones crafted to date. The sleek metal frame. The iconic speakers. The seamless integration.

It’s back. The original HTC One earned high marks for not only being a gorgeous device, but an all-around top performer. Now along comes its successor, the HTC One M8…  is it worthy of the throne?

HTC One M8: Hardware & Specs

Apple and Samsung might own the top spots for high-end mobile hardware in terms of marketshare, but with the HTC One and now the One M8, HTC continues to redefine premium.

HTC-One-M8-Style

Look at the HTC One M8 and you immediately notice the iconic dual speaker grills hugging its 5-inch display, an undeniable sense of personality. Pick it up and you immediately experience the sturdiness of its metal unibody frame, while maintaining a compact and slender feel at 160 grams. Inspect its exterior and you immediately appreciate the craftsmanship of the design, with a body that tapers at the edges before subtly curving to meet its face.

The HTC One M8 looks and feels amazing. That first impression is met with a set of specs that (mostly) do it justice.

The 5-inch screen, up from 4.7-inches on last year’s model, is a Super LCD3 display with 1080p resolution, protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Bright but natural colors, crisp pixels, and good performance when facing the elements (sunlight, viewing angles) are expectations that HTC fulfills. On the top and bottom of the screen are those lux BoomSound speakers, which have been further improved (more on that later).

HTC-One-M8-vs-M7-Specs

Formerly to the left of the top speaker was the ambient light sensor, which has been flipped to the right side and paired with a very good 5MP front-facing camera. The location change will please gamers and video watchers who found themselves accidentally covering up this ambient light sensor in landscape mode, causing their screen to go dark.

One hugely welcome addition is the MicroSD slot which can now cram in a ton of storage using SanDisk’s 128GB  MicroSD Card. This is in addition to the 32GB of onboard storage.

You’ve got the volume rocker just below the MicroSD slot, 3.5mm headset jack and MicroUSB on the bottom, MicroSIM on the left (opposite the MicroSD), and IR transmitter and power button on the top.

HTC-One-M8-MicroSD

The back of the phone features HTC’s UltraPixel camera that incorporates 2 lenses and 2 flashes. It’s only 4 megapixels which equals last year’s model, a disappointment worthy of discussion, but there are plenty of pleasant surprises: we’ll save all that for the camera section.

The HTC logo and carrier branding – in this case Verizon – are displayed prominently on the back with slightly raised lettering. White stripes cut across the top and bottom of the silver glacial silver body, offering further stylistic uniqueness. The HTC One M8 also comes in Gunmetal Grey and Amber Gold.

htc-one-m8-colors

Packed inside the M8 you’ll find a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of DDR2 RAM, both upgrades that are better equipped to power the One M8 and do so mostly with ease. The result isn’t only a smooth experience, but a longer experience, more efficiently operating the phone and getting noticeably better battery life on the 2600 mAH battery.

It’s hard to complain about a device designed so beautifully, but two recurring complaints I continue to hear:

  1. The top and bottom speaker grills aren’t the same width, and
  2. The black stripe with the HTC logo below the screen is a stupid waste of space.

I beg to differ on both accounts. The symmetry provided by using the camera as the stop point is preferred in my opinion, and the HTC bar has a load of guts beneath it that you wouldn’t want to sacrifice. Stretching the screen would ruin the aspect ratio and HTC’s implementation is a tasteful solution with all things considered. Is it preferred? No, but manufacturing electronics comes with an outrageous set of tradeoffs, and this is one of them.

You truly have to see the HTC One M8 in person to understand why these complaints are trivial. Ever since we’ve been seeing M8 leaks I thought it looked a bit bulky and grotesque, but in person, it’s nothing short of stunning and beautiful. I dare you to claim otherwise.

HTC One M8 Software

The HTC One M8 runs Sense 6.0 atop Android 4.4 KitKat and offers one of the more pleasant custom UI experiences provided (or some would say imposed) by a manufacturer. It’s a natural graduation from Sense 5.0 – which toned down some of the more obtuse customizations – yet has some noticeable improvements and new features. They’re calling this “The Sixth Sense” and although I’m fairly certain M. Night Shyamalan played no part, we’re still treated to some surprises and plot twists.

Motion Launch

How often do you find yourself fumbling for the power button to glance at your gadget for time checks, notification alerts, and weather? The correct answer is never if you’ve got the HTC One M8: you can now double tap the screen to wake the display and double tap again to put it back to sleep. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. Thank you for this, HTC (hat tip to LG Knock).

This is a part of HTC’s bigger initiative called Motion Launch in Sense 6.0, allowing you to take a locked and sleeping phone directly into functional activities with a simple swipe on the screen:

  • Swipe up: home screen
  • Swipe down: voice dialing
  • Swipe right: Blinkfeed
  • Swipe left: most recent activity

The above options will work when your phone is sleeping, but if you’ve already awakened your screen (double tap!) you’ll have these additional options:

  • Unlock directly to an app by pressing the corresponding dock icon and swiping up
  • Unlock to most recent activity by swiping up from the middle of your screen
  • Unlock to Blinkfeed by swiping right from the middle of your screen
  • Unlock to your Homescreen by swiping left from the middle of your screen
  • Unlock to Google Now by swiping up from the very bottom of the screen

The dock apps shown on the unlock screen will mirror whatever is in your home screen dock. No amount of digging into the options will help you customize them further, something we’d love to see added along with the customization of other Motion Launch destinations.

None of these special motion launch features work when your phone is laying flat on a surface, so you’ve got to pick it up. This should also help prevent accidental unlocks and butt dialing.

Worth reiterating is that to unlock your phone you do NOT have to press on the actual lock symbol in the dock, you can start your swipe anywhere on the middle quadrant of the phone and it will register accordingly.

Blinkfeed

People constantly checking their phone has become somewhat of a thing. In line at the grocery store. Sitting at a red light. Waiting for your food at a restaurant. No matter the time and place, more often than not, people are mining their phones for the latest information, entertainment, or distraction.

HTC-One-M8-BlinkFeed

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable, but regardless of where you stand on the issue, HTC aims to make that an easier task with a new and improved Blinkfeed. You can quickly load it up with your favorite:

  • Social profiles: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram
  • Content: select from dozens of online news sources in many different topics
  • More: Calendar, Fitbit, Foursquare, TV listings, etc…

After taking a couple minutes to set it up, you’ve now got a centralized location to sift through updates across all your areas of interest. This isn’t meant as a productivity tool, but neither is Facebook, right? Blinkfeed ensures that instead of continually opening your phone and rummaging for something interesting, you’ve got an organized destination where “stuff” is almost guaranteed to be waiting for your procrastinatory attention.

When using Blinkfeed as your home screen, you’ll see the time and weather at the top. If you’re using it as an alternate page, the time and weather will be removed from Blinkfeed, only showing on the home screen. And if you want to remove Blinkfeed completely, HTC gives you that option. Simply:

  • Pinch and close (pinch and unzoom) from Blinkfeed or any home page to enter page manager
  • Press and hold on the Blinkfeed thumbnail at the very top left
  • Drag it to the “Remove” icon at the top right
  • Use this area to add and rearrange all your pages

Blinkfeed is a decent solution to an age old problem and definitely worth testing out for a few days. It might surprise you. However, two particular complaints nudged me to remove it quicker than I otherwise might have:

  • Image loading can be slow and sudden, creating a distracting experience.
  • The color schemes(s) can be a bit overwhelming and are currently limited.

Hopefully HTC can improve image loading with a software update and we’re thinking an increase in color schemes will eventually be available through HTC’s new “Theme” setting.

If you’re worried about battery life implications, you shouldn’t be: Blinkfeed updates once per hour on WiFi , every 15 minutes when on WiFi and charging, and otherwise on command by swiping the feed down. Further optimizations ensure apps like Calendar only sync once per day (not sure how this will affect heavy calendar users).

HTC Themes

Android users have been able to customize their wallpaper forever, but with Sense 6.0 on the HTC One M8, users are offered a theme option that adjusts colors throughout their phone to match their wallpaper. You can access themes by going to: Settings > Personalize > Theme.

At the time of launch, only four HTC One M8 themes are available to apply, but we assume and hope HTC will bring more, perhaps allowing themers and developers to submit their own.

htc-one-m8-themes

In addition to changing the wallpaper, applying a theme changes the color schemes you’ll find in Blinkfeed, Quick Settings, and perhaps other places my explorations have yet to take me. I did notice some hiccups with theme settings getting “stuck” and not changing, but it’s a mostly smooth experience and something HTC should build out.

Pro Tip: the Black & White theme is by FAR the best for Blinkfeed appearance. If you use Blinkfeed, select this theme and then manually customize your wallpaper accordingly.

Quick Settings

HTC gives you quick access to settings with a feature not surprisingly called Quick Settings. You can access it in one of two ways:

  • Pull down the notification bar with 1 finger and press the top right icon
  • Pull down the notification bar with 2 fingers

Most people miss that second option, which is quite a nice thing to know.

A simple tap on the notification icon will toggle that setting between it’s different states (ex: silent, vibrate, normal for the ringer) or you can long press (or press the 3 horizontal dots) to access advanced options. Clicking the paper and pencil in the upper right will allow you to edit this page, adding, removing, and re-ordering the quick settings (up to 12 total) to meet your preferences.

Do Not Disturb.

This is a Quick Setting worth highlighting. Turning Do Not Disturb on will block incoming calls, sounds, vibrations, and LED notifications to ensure you’re not the idiot whose buzzing and blinking at church, the movies, or a meeting at work.

You can set DND to turn on/off manually or give it a timer to automatically expire after a certain period of time. There’s also an exception list to let certain contacts bypass do not disturb, option to prevent alarms and timers from silencing, and the ability to create recurring do not disturb schedules to match your daily or weekly routine.

BoomSound

I’m still shocked that more manufacturers haven’t made front facing speakers on their smartphones. Placing them anywhere else is counterintuitive: apparently illogical is the status quo.

How annoying is it to watch a YouTube video and have to huddle around the screen, cupping the speaker and tilting your bodies so you can both see and hear? Or listening to music while multi-tasking on your phone? It doesn’t make sense to put speakers anywhere else but the front and I’ve been saying this since before the Casio g’zOne Commando launched with front-facing speakers in 2011.

BoomSound

Thank you for getting it right, HTC. Not only for putting the speakers on the front, but making them look epic and making them sound amazing. BoomSound was already impressive but it got noticeably better with a more full sound and strong bass that laps the competition in smartphone audio.

The new BoomSound incorporates a new amplifier and  improved speakers. When you’ve got the external speakers blasting you can’t turn BoomSound off, but if it’s a bit too much when wearing headphones you can turn it off in Settings > BoomSound.

Sense TV, NFC, and More

The goodies continue to pile on as smartphones mature and the HTC One M8 is chalk full of options, features, and settings that you might miss if you don’t explore. The most notable of those is Sense TV which allows you to use your One M8 to control your sound system, television, and cable box. Setup takes only a few minutes.

Don’t forget mobile payments with NFC, long list of media sharing options, and all the small niceties Sense brings like seeing social status updates on incoming calls and being able to answer your phone simply by picking it up and putting it to your ear. Stay tuned for more in our HTC One M8 Tips & Tricks video.

HTC One M8 Camera

There’s no better way to say it: the HTC One M8 camera out-instagrams Instagram. The primary camera is outrageously fun for taking and editing photos, offering a multitude of unique and impressive options. It’s front camera is narcissistically built with selfies in mind and proves to be a real #winner. It’s not without flaws, but for what it tries to accomplish, the HTC One Camera succeeds.

HTC’s UltraPixel camera on the phone’s rear actually has two lenses and two flashes, thusly called Duo Cam when both are in use. The primary lens captures a 1080p image and the secondary lens captures depth information. This combination allows for some stunning effects that rival your DSLR, plus it piles on a hoard of post production editing options.

HTC-One-M8-Taxi-Sample

I captured the above picture in New York City after the HTC One M8 event using all automatic camera settings. Just open the camera app and snap. The heavy lifting was done by the Duo Cam.

My favorite feature by far is UFOCUS and it still kind of blows me away.

UFOCUS

The pictures below are the exact same image, the first taken with automatic settings, the second and third created from the original using UFOCUS. To get this professionally looking “blurred background” effect you would normally need an expensive camera and photography expertise. With the HTC One M8 camera it’s literally as easy as 1, 2, 3:

orioles-regular

orioles-back-blurry

orioles-front-blurry

  1. Take a picture using automatic settings
  2. View the photo in the gallery and select Edit > UFOCUS
  3. Tap the area you want focused and the rest will auto-blur!

It works like magic. You need not worry about adjusting any settings or focusing just right — simply take the picture and later on use HTC’s editing options to make an okay picture look awesome. I’m slightly obsessed with this feature and everyone I’ve shown has been equally mesmerized.

There’s a lot of distortion around the couple (my parents at Orioles’ opening day) in the examples above, which I’m showing on purpose: UFOCUS isn’t perfect. But even with its imperfections, it’s still a lot of fun, and many other pictures turn out perfectly. Seriously, once UFOCUS UWONSTOP!

While UFOCUS is my favorite feature of the One M8 camera there are dozens more. Other effects utilizing the Duo Cam are Foregrounder (stylize only the foreground or background with special effects), Seasons (animate pics with falling leaves and snow), Dimension Plus (tilt phone for a 3D effect), and Touch Up ( fix red eye, soften skin, etc…).

I’m not going to lie: UFOCUS alone makes me want to buy the HTC One M8.

Note that Duo Cam will be automatically disabled in low light, macro settings, burst mode, dual cam mode, and whenever the flash is activated.

The New & Improved Camera UI

As illustrated above the HTC One M8 Camera shines in post production, but you’ve got a myriad of options prior to snapping the shutter, now organized in a more efficient camera UI.

htc-one-m8-camera-options

The bottom right button featuring 4 circles in a square is your basic camera selection where your options are: Camera, Video, Zoe Camera, Selfie, Dual Capture, and Pan 360. Within each camera you’ll find (when available) a toggle for flash on/off/auto  in the upper left, previous photo/video in the upper right, capture settings in the bottom left, and the shutter/record button on the far right. The consistency is refreshing.

Jumping into the camera you’re presented with a wide range of typical settings from Panorama and Night mode to Manual and Macro. I found myself mostly using Auto – which works great – but occasionally jumping into HDR for richer colors and was bailed out by backlight once or twice. Because the Auto setting is so effective, I found myself relying on it – and that’s exactly how it should be.

htc-one-m8-camera-settings

Users who want more control can adjust ISO, EV, White Balance, and a range of effects, saving the settings combination as a camera name that lets you quickly switch between preset favorites. To save a camera combo:

  • Adjust your settings as preferred
  • Press the gear near the bottom right of the options
  • Scroll down to “Save Camera” and enter a name
  • This camera will now be selectable in the main options where you select Zoe Camera, Dual Capture, etc…

Rear Camera Samples

Other reviewers have found the HTC One M8 performs great in low light but I’ve not found that to be the case consistently. In my experience it struggled a bit with indoor and night pictures, producing grainy results, but the flash proved pretty impressive. Here are a handful of pics from the rear camera.

HTC-One-M8-Subway-Sample

colored-houses graffiti-boats mark-crossfire NYC-Taxi pickles-and-sliders roof-silhouette

Video samples:

Video was overall pretty good, the audio from video was great, and the slow motion settings are fun to mess around with. My biggest complaint would be the lack of stabilization – videos with minimal movement may end up appearing pretty shaky. Videos shoot in 1080p HD or 720p when recording slow motion videos.

#Selfie Cam

The One M8′s front-facing camera is 5MP and shamelessly designed around selfies. In fact, HTC actually calls the front camera “Selfie” on the selection screen and optimizes the UI specifically for selfie performance.

HTC-One-M8-dayton-selfie

Selfies can be taken in Auto, HDR, or Portrait mode, the latter of which seems a bit redundant. A customizable countdown timer gives everyone in the pic time to prepare, which can be especially helpful for a huge group selfie. Speaking of which: your selfie can now include even more people thanks to the front facing camera’s wide angle lens.

The difference is noticeable and chronic selfie takers will find themselves getting it right on the first try much more often. Not every time, though: HTC has no control over the success of your duckface. The Selfie cam also lets you adjust EV, White Balance, switch between filters, and save your camera with a custom name.

Swiping from the right edge of your screen to the left (or top of your screen down if in landscape mode) will quickly flip between your rear cam and selfie cam.

The quality of the Selfie Camera varied greatly, I assume because of the  many variables, including:

  1. Lighting
  2. Subjects
  3. Steadiness with which camera is being held

The above selfie is middle of the road for the HTC One M8… but you’re going to want to stay tuned for our complete HTC One M8 Camera review that feature a lot more where selfies came from.

Disappointments?

Don’t flip out when I tell you the HTC One M8′s main camera is only 4 megapixels- even smaller than the front-facing selfie camera’s 5 megapixels. The vast majority of people take pictures with their smartphone and do one of two things with them:

  1. Nothing
  2. Post them online

If you’re uploading your smartphone pics to Facebook, Instagram, or similar sites then the number of megapixels is generally pointless: your images are getting shrunk in size to accommodate computer screens when you upload them anyways.

Consumers have largely fallen prey to tech marketers pushing megapixels as the end-all be-all of camera specs when in reality, it’s often meaningless for smartphones. More megapixels does not equal better camera. Unless you’re blowing up your picture to poster size or need to zoom in, the camera’s sensors are more important in determining image quality for the casual photographer uploading their photos to Facebook.

For the 90% of smartphone users that fit into the above category, HTC has gotten one thing incredibly right with the One M8 camera: they make the picture-taking experience FUN, and that’s what I think most people are after. If you fall into the other 10%, I’d recommend against buying the HTC One M8 as you’re clearly not their target consumer.

There is some disappointment that last year’s HTC One and this year’s model have the same megapixel power and that’s understandable. Despite the exciting additions such as the Duo camera, we would have liked to see incremental improvements in resolution, at least enough for the main shooter to surpass the Selfie camera. For that I guess we’ll have to wait for the HTC One M9.

Although HTC focuses on making a fun camera experience that’s easy to use, they still give users an extensive menu of advanced options and manual settings. The people diving deepest into these are likely better suited for a different phone anyways, but it’s really fun to play around and learn all the different settings and effects.

Performance & Battery Life

Most reviewers attempt to quantify the success and of smartphone processors with benchmarks, essentially programatic hurdles that challenge the processor’s computational power, measuring the results and then ranking their performance. I’m not going to join that rat race: I’ll instead take the consumer approach of explaining my experience.

Overall, very good. HTC Sense did seem to very rarely skip a beat on button presses, but they seemed limited to specific apps (Themes, Sense TV) and didn’t cause enough grief to make me question the phone’s capabilities. Those specific apps – or even a conflicting app I downloaded on my own – could be the root cause.

The 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 was mostly blazing fast and if battery life is any indication, more efficient as well. The One M8 gets a bump up from 2300 mAh battery to 2600 mAh battery but also has to power a screen jumping from 4.7-inches to 5-inches and we all know that displays are typically the biggest battery suck.

Even on days of heavy reviewing and multimedia, I didn’t have a problem getting through a full day with the M8 and that’s without the highly regarded “Extreme Power Saving Mode”. This mode will block everything except phone calls, text messages, Mail, Calendar, and Calculator, giving you up to 15 hours on standby with only 5% of battery life left.

Extreme Power Saving Mode hasn’t yet been introduced on the Verizon model I’m testing, but boy oh boy do I know a lot of people that would crave this feature.

HTC claims up to 15 hours of standby time on the new One when running in Extreme Power Saving Mode (with 5% battery remaining).

The Bottom Line

In a smartphone world where everyone else is pumping out rectangles, HTC cuts through the clutter with the HTC One M8. They take the road less traveled at almost every turn – front-facing speakers, metal unibody frame, cameras that provide an experience instead of a pixel count – and it pays off.

The HTC One M8 is truly unique and one of the most enjoyable phones I’ve ever used. The BoomSound speakers help offer a best-in-class audio, video, and gaming experience. The MicroSD slot ensures you never run out of content. The cameras are admittedly imperfect and produce lower quality images than rivals, but they defeat the competition in the area that matters most: enjoyment.

The HTC One M8 is a treat to use and a fantastic option for anyone looking for a premium Android phone that defies the status quo. I can only hope that HTC continues down this path with their One series, because they’ve created something spectacular (twice) that offers innovation others are not.

The Good:

  • Beautiful, bold design
  • Premium build quality
  • Best-in-class audio/multimedia experience
  • Powerful specs built to last
  • 128 MicroSD slot opens doors
  • Amazingly fun to use camera

The Bad:

  • Camera produces inconsistent image and video results
  • Minor lag in some native Sense 6 apps
  • Some new features seem incomplete (Themes, Motion Launch customization, etc…)

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

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My Disney Experience [REVIEW] http://phandroid.com/2013/12/24/my-disney-experience-review/ http://phandroid.com/2013/12/24/my-disney-experience-review/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 18:27:53 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=131236 Disney Magic BandsI recently had the privilege of visiting the happiest place on earth, Disney World in Orlando, FL.  It was the first time I was back since 2006 and aside from the obvious theme park renovations Disney makes to keep their parks current, they had made a major change as well.

Disney had implemented FastPass+ which works in conjunction with their app, My Disney Experience, and these fancy new wristbands called MagicBands.

The newly implemented MagicBands are very cool as they control pretty much everything.  Your meal plan, purchases, park admission, your room key (if you stay on resort) and of course FastPass+ entry are all controlled with just a swipe of the wrist.  But honestly the wristbands aren’t even the coolest new enhancement at Disney, it’s the My Disney Experience app which is a must have for anyone visiting Disney!

The My Disney Experience app offers users the ability to see the entire resort map, things to do, current wait times, park hours and even what characters are where and when in each of the theme parks.  But even more importantly the app allows users to setup FastPass+ times, dining reservations and setup an itinerary for each day to ensure that you don’t miss anything you want to do.

Maps

My Disney Experience Map

As you would expect with the mapping features, they utilize the GPS functionality of your smartphone to pinpoint exactly where you are on the Disney resort.  This feature is immediately available when you open the app and are greeted with the option of “Here & Now” which will use your GPS to show you what is happening currently where you are on the resort. 

Aside from the “Here & Now” function, the app kicks it up a notch by allowing sub-sections to be mapped as well.  For example, if I go to the “Things to Do” or “Wait Times” listings, I can select “Map” in either of these lists and it will convert the list to points on a map.  This makes it incredibly easy to find activities that are already close to you since traveling throughout the resort can be very time consuming.

Explore

Throughout the app you have the ability to filter, sort or explore to easily find the information you’re looking for.  An example would be in the “Characters Today” section of the app.  You can sort by name of the character, schedule times or location to easily find what you’re looking for.

Or you can filter to only show characters in a particular location or at a particular time.  Also from this screen you can change the theme park and/or activity at the top of the screen.  Doing so easily lets you toggle between attractions, characters, dining, entertainment, events & tours, restrooms, etc. at any of the parks.

Reservations/FastPass+

Probably the most important feature I found in the app was the ability to make restaurant reservations and FastPass+ selections.  Disney can be an incredibly busy place and it really pays to take the time to make reservations and FastPass+ selections ahead of time.  However, plans can change on the fly and the app makes it easy to facilitate those changes.

Throughout the day I often found myself re-scheduling my FastPass+ times or even changing the rides themselves.  You can manage each of your parties’ bands individually as well, so if your teenagers wanted to ride a coaster at the same time you wanted to visit “it’s a small world,” it’s easy to give everyone their own plans.

For dinner, a majority of the reservations I made were made on the fly by checking in the app what restaurants had availability at the time we expected to eat.  With that said, I really do recommend making your reservations in advance and trying to stick to them.  Occasionally you will find yourself without a place to eat if you expect to dictate your dinnertime at the last minute.

My Disney Experience ToDo

Additional Features

The My Disney Experience App really takes vacation planning/management to a whole new level.  As you’re surfing through the app you can tap on rides and/or shows and see additional information about the height requirements, thrill factor and who it may be fun for.

You can even tap the little heart icon and it will add the ride to your wishlist for easy tracking of what you want to do during your trip.  Additionally you can add friends to a “friends list” so that you can coordinate ride times and/or dinnertimes with people outside your party.  You can manage payment methods linked to your band or deactivate a band or report it as lost.

Overall this app absolutely rocks.  It made navigating Disney so much easier.  It looks like Disney really spent the time to develop an app that could let you manage any aspect of your trip on the fly.  My only real gripe is the load times when going in-between screens and the occasional partial load (where the screen loads the framework, but not the content).

Typically if you exit the app and immediately re-open it these bugs will go away.  These small bugs aside, I would recommend this app as a must have for anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World (or Disneyland).

Download Here

 

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Exclusive: Avia Chromecast app review, cast personal music, photos, videos from Google+, Facebook, Dropbox, local storage, DLNA servers http://phandroid.com/2013/12/10/avia-chromecast-app-review-personal-music-photos-and-videos-google-facebook-dropbox-local-storage-dlna-servers/ http://phandroid.com/2013/12/10/avia-chromecast-app-review-personal-music-photos-and-videos-google-facebook-dropbox-local-storage-dlna-servers/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 16:00:28 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=130498 avia_feature graphic_gray

When Chromecast launched last summer, consumers everywhere immediately wished to display local content from their phones and tablets onto the big screen. Having the ability to cast photos and videos of your choice was in such demand that some developers even found unsupported hacks and methods to get the job done. Ultimately, Google closed the gaps while they ironed out the Chromecast SDK leaving Chromecast fans everywhere yearning for the ability to cast their own personal media with Chromecast. That wait is finally over thanks to Avia, Chromecast’s first personal media player.

For those not aware, Videon, the company behind Avia, is no stranger to Google or Android, working with Google and Sony on the first Sony Google TV Blu-Ray player back in 2011. Their relationship with Google do to previous app support for Google TV and Android allowed them this launch opportunity with Chromecast. We go hands on with an exclusive review below.

Share_Lifes_Moments_with_Avia

Avia’s goal is to help users move their personal media between devices from a variety of storage locations. Like previous versions of Avia, you can link the app to cloud storage, local storage, and network servers.

  • Cloud storage – A this time, Avia only allows you to link your Dropbox, Facebook, or Google+ accounts. If you use Dropbox for photo and video storage or have the automatic camera upload feature enabled, this is for you. Avia allso supports Facebook photos and videos, allowing you to view and cast any media that’s been uploaded to your Facebook account. While Avia is still using the old retired Picasa name, the final cloud storage option is in fact Google+ Photos. If you share photos or videos on Google+ or have Auto Backup enabled, this is a great option seeing as Google+ allows for unlimited photo and video uploads. Additionally, during our interview, Videon told us that Google Drive support and other possible storage options are on the roadmap, so stay tuned.
  • Local storage – Your prayers have finally been answered. Just as it sounds, Avia automatically scans your local device storage looking for videos, photos, and music and allows you to cast them to your TV. This is probably one of the most sought after features for Chromecast as many people store media on their phones and tablets. Not everyone embraces the cloud.
  • Network storage – If you have a local media server, such as a DLNA server, Avia can be linked to cast your content from a networked computer or server to your Chromecast. For example, if you have an extensive photo collection, video, or music library and happen to run a DLNA server such as Windows Media Player, Avia can stream content from that server to your TV. If you have multiple Android devices, let’s say a tablet with videos and a phone with photos, either device can be enabled as a media sharing device, allowing you to pull all of your media together from all sources, into one library.
Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-22-23 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-23-12 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-22-55 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-26-16 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-23-21 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-26-52 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-27-24 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-24-11 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-39-28 Screenshot_2013-12-06-21-22-45

After you’ve added all of your storage locations, you’re now ready to begin using Avia and Chromecast with your own personal media. If you’ve added music, all music added to your library is indexed, adding album and artist art where needed, making this feature one of the best in class. If you have an extensive library, Avia’s built in search feature allows you to search your music, photos, or videos by entering the media title, movie name, or image name into the search box. If searching isn’t your thing, you can browse content by album name, date, playlist, ratings, by folder name, or get the whole list by selecting all.

While playing Music with Avia or on your Chromecast, you can choose to enter DJ mode or Jukebok mode. DJ mode immediately changes the song as soon as a new one is selected while the Jukebox mode is similar to YouTube’s TV Queue, allowing you to add music to a list.

With Photos, you have the option to view the individual photo or go into slideshow mode by hitting the play button. You can configure the slideshow options via settings, such as changing the image display duration as well as choosing different types of transitions.

While Avia is going to godsend for those wishing to cast locally stored content to Chromecast, Avia does have some limitations for Videos and for some, might not be the final app for tackling Chromecast.  When it comes to videos, Avia does an amazing job at playing and casting supported content. You’re going to be limited by the types of codecs supported by your device, your DLNA server, and of course the Chromecast itself. Avia does not do any sort of audio or video transcoding. If you have a plethora of MKV movies, some videos won’t play and others will play, but will be missing audio. Once again, this isn’t a problem with Avia, it’s just unsupported content. With that said, some AVI movies, MPEG files, and mp4′s will play just as intended if their codec is supported. If you’re ripping DVDs and Blu-Rays from your personal collection, be sure to encode them with a supported codec. As for videos taken with your phone, you shouldn’t have any issues at all and it works great.

The cloud storage option works quite well for pulling in content from Dropbox and Facebook. At the time of this writing, we were given a pre-production build of the application and Picasa did take a couple seconds to retrieve photos and videos. The team informed us they are aware of a few issues and plan on making improvements prior to launch. Besides the slight delay, photos from Picasa worked quite well. Also, the team does plan on eventually changing the name and icon to reflect Google+ Photos since Google+ Photos has replaced Picasa web.

Avia is free to install on the Google Play Store and the Amazon Appstore, but you’ll need to complete an in-app purchase for $2.99 to enable Chromecast functionality. In addition to adding Chromecast support, the paid version enables another perk, Themes support. If you’re on the fence about purchasing this app, it’s worth knowing that in early 2014, Videon plans on raising the price of Avia to $4.99. Previous Avia Pro owners will automatically be upgraded to the new version that supports Chromecast and the updated version will be available to Google TV owners as well.

Having the ability to use Chromecast with the photos and videos recently taken on your phone, competing with Apple TV mirroring, has been one of the most sought after features since Chromecast’s launch last summer. Avia’s ability to accomplish this and more definitely makes it a powerful tool that you’ll want to add to your personal media arsenal.

Happy Casting!

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HoneyDru car charger review [GIVEAWAY] http://phandroid.com/2013/11/27/honeydru-charger-review-giveaway/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/27/honeydru-charger-review-giveaway/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 22:14:16 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129978 HoneyDru-4

When it comes to chargers, there is no competition for the fun and cute (yes, I used that word) chargers made by “Power by Gen”. These double as a charger and Android figurine, making them the best charger for the loyal Phandroid. You may remember I checked out the ANDRU Dark and ANDRU Chill chargers last year. I fell in love with them and even nominated them as one of my Staff Picks for our Holiday Gift Guide. Almost a year later I sit here with Gen’s newest charger – the HoneyDru!

HoneyDru form factor and build quality

Power by Gen is stepping out of its comfort zone and has built its first car charger. The HoneyDru charger takes the form of the Honeycomb logo, making it a perfect fit because the Honeycomb bee is shaped very similar to a normal car charger. The manufacturer didn’t have to tinker much with the design of the logo to make the charger look like the original Honeycomb bee. Even the metal parts of the charger make sense, that stinger just belongs there.

This makes the charger a rather unique and familiar Honeycomb figure. This is why it makes sense that Power by Gen chose Honeycomb over any other of the 3 newer Android iterations. The design of Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean or KitKat art wouldn’t make as much sense as this heart-warming bee does.

The eyes and wings light up when the charger is ready to go. I found it serves as a reminder that it’s time to charge your phone. It lighting up always catches your eye. Not to mention it looks very neat and always gets compliments.

HoneyDru-2

When it comes build quality, the HoneyDru doesn’t have much to complain about. The “stinger” part feels a bit wiggly, which I would say is about my biggest complain. That doesn’t take much away from the charger, though. Unless it makes it prone to getting damaged in the long run, which I doubt would be the case. This part doesn’t ever seem to be very solid in other car chargers either.

There is a bit of a gap between the plastic pieces (in the left and right). I wish those were smaller, but it’s also me being nitpicky. All other parts are solid and in their place – no piece is going where it shouldn’t. The unit does feel solid, as well as the spiraling cable, which keeps the chord from going all over your car when in use. It also stretches from 8 inches to 3 feet, so it’s rather flexible.

HoneyDru charging capabilities

With an output of 5V/2A, this charger is designed to power up a tablet. This will make charging a smartphone relatively fast compared to other chargers out there. As a comparison, the original ANDRU charger (and many other chargers out there) output only 1 amp, making the HoneyDru twice as powerful.

HoneyDru-5

Conclusion

What can I tell you? It’s a charger! It does what it’s supposed to do and it does it right. What makes the HoneyDru special, then? It’s really just how good-looking it is!

Any Android fan would be ecstatic to see one of these in the car’s dashboard, and that is ultimately what Power by Gen offers: good quality chargers with an awesome design for the Android fan. I fell in love at first sight as soon as I opened the package.

You can buy the HoneyDru car charger for $19.99 straight from GEN or Amazon. It’s not the most affordable charger, but it’s also not that much more expensive than other chargers. Hell, I have seen some that cost more and aren’t nearly as cool. I say it’s the perfect deal for those who want a little something extra in their charging experience, which tends to be an annoyance.

HoneyDru-3

GIVEAWAY: Win one of five free HoneyDru chargers!

Our friends at Power by GEN have decided to start the holidays by giving away 5 HoneyDru chargers! We know you will enjoy one of these as much as I did, so you might want to sign up and see if you get lucky!

Here is how you can enter to win:

  • Follow Phandroid and Power by Gen on Google+.
  • Leave a comment below telling us which was your favorite Android mascot! (Mine was hands down the Ice Cream Sandwich one).
  • That’s it!

Of course, there are some rules. For legal reasons, we can only offer this to US residents. You must also link your email to your comment (same as the one you use on Google+). We will have to add the winners to our circles to verify they have added both accounts to their circles.

The contest will go on until Friday at 12 PM Pacific. We will announce the winners during the weekend, so stay tuned! Aside from that, it’s pretty straight forward. Good Luck!

Winners have been announced!

We have 5 lucky winners announced in a separate post! Check your inboxes.

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App Review: CloudMagic, one of the best E-mail apps out there http://phandroid.com/2013/11/24/app-review-cloudmagic-one-of-the-best-e-mail-apps-out-there/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/24/app-review-cloudmagic-one-of-the-best-e-mail-apps-out-there/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 19:43:10 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129922 This image has no alt text

CloudMagic InboxI’ve got a confession to make: I still have a Yahoo! Mail account. You know how it goes, you’re young and stupid, typically choose a cool (soon to be lame) username, and end up giving it to some very important contacts. Contacts you want to maintain possibly for the rest of your life.

I don’t particularly use the account, and I don’t even remember the last time I needed to sign in. But whenever I think of it, there’s a bit of me that is worried for a simple reason: I don’t keep the account connected on my phone. The reason for that is I haven’t been a fan of any of the E-mail apps out there. And, to make matters worse, Yahoo! never managed to get their mobile web app right.

To my delight, I came across CloudMagic while browsing through XDA Developers. What struck me immediately was, simply put, the complete neatness of the app. Every font size was perfect, the shades of colors used in every area very carefully chosen. My immediate reaction was that this is what OEMs should look at when they build the E-mail apps that are shipped with their phones. CloudMagic follows the Android guidelines to a tee, and the result is an app that is amazingly intuitive.

The app supports Gmail/Google apps, Office 365, Yahoo!, Outlook, iCloud, Exchange and IMAP accounts, so it’s very unlikely that you aren’t covered. You are limited to adding only three accounts, though, which the developer says is because

CloudMagic creates a high performance index of your emails on the cloud to offer blazing fast search on mobile. We incur high server costs, hence the restriction.

CloudMagic conversation viewThe conversation view is very Gmail-like and a decent search is built in. You can set a passcode to protect your mails, but the best feature of all is the ability to set reminders by long-pressing the favorite-button, so as to get back to an important mail. On the whole, though, the app reminded me how good Gmail really is. I’ve grown highly accustomed to Gmail’s new inbox, which has helped cut down notifications tremendously. While the folders are available within CloudMagic, there’s no way, at least right now, to customize when notifications should be fired.

If you’re on the look for a non-Gmail E-mail app, I highly recommend giving CloudMagic a try.

[XDA-Developers Forums, Google Play]

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Oppo N1 Review, a massive Android phone packed with unique hardware http://phandroid.com/2013/11/23/oppo-n1-review-massive-android-phone-unique-hardware-camera/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/23/oppo-n1-review-massive-android-phone-unique-hardware-camera/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 01:35:54 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129877 Oppo N1 Review

When Oppo announced the N1, they boasted that their latest smartphone would bring back innovation to the smartphone space. As time goes on, it’s widely accepted that smartphones will get faster internals, get thinner, weigh less, and continue to incorporate larger screens. Oppo set out with the N1 to add true innovation to the smartphone, not to just to continue playing the numbers and specs game that most manufactures play with every new release. Has the Oppo N1 held true to their word? Let’s find out.

Hardware: When it comes to hardware, the Oppo N1 has a lot of surprises, some very unique.

Even before I touched the N1, I was impressed with the immaculate retail packaging from Oppo and the fact that this phone shipped with accompanying earbuds.

Oppo_N1_Unboxing

When you first look at the N1, you immediately notice the sheer size of the display. The Oppo N1 is a very large phone with an equally large screen clocking in at 5.9 inches, making it almost feel like a small tablet for some. The IPS screen packs Gorilla Glass 3 and supports full 1080p (1920 x 1080) with 377 pixels per inch.

The IPS screen on the Oppo N1 has wide viewing angles and has vibrant, bright colors. While putting the N1 through the daily paces, I was able to easily view the screen outside in the sunlight.

While you’re holding the N1, admiring that gorgeous screen no doubt, you’ll immediately be amazed with the N1’s luxurious feel. Besides feeling completely solid and evenly weighted, the N1 feels elegant in your hand even though it weighs 213 grams and has dimensions of 170.7 x 82.6 x 9 mm.

Oppo_N1_Side_View

When it comes to actually using the N1, those good looks and perfect body make the N1 a bit hard to use sometimes, because size does matter. Being a large phone, I found myself unable to complete most tasks with just one hand as I could with phones that have screens 5 inches or smaller. Sometimes I felt like the N1 was just too big.

Oppo has incorporated ways to combat this size issue with additional hardware features such as rear hardware controls dubbed O-Touch. With the N1’s O-Touch controls, you’re able to swipe left, right, up down, and tap to complete a wide variety of tasks such as scrolling through the app launcher, flicking through photos, browsing the web, or even tapping to activate the shutter on the camera. The rear controls do take a little bit getting used to. I often found myself taking photos too early by tapping or scrolling through my photo album while trying to take a photo. With time though, I was able to get used to rear Controls and found myself using them more and more, but eventually disabled them because I found them to be somewhat of a nuisance when not intending to use them.

Oppo_N1_O-Click

Next up is the O-Click, which is a Bluetooth accessory device included with the N1. The O-Click is a key-ring sized fob with a button that has a couple of functions that will make you want to use this device all the time. That said, if you’re like me, once the novelty wears off, you’ll probably never use it again.

The O-Click includes a find my phone feature, where tapping the O-Click button twice rings your N1. Of course, this will only work if your O-Click and N1 are within Bluetooth range of one another, which is about 25-30 feet. The O-Click is prepared to help tackle that Bluetooth range issue by making the N1 ring if the O-Click is about to get out of range. This is particularly useful if you’re absent minded with your smartphone while out in public, it’s a nice security feature. And lastly, the O-Click acts as a remote camera shutter, which is very useful for taking group photos or highly unique selfies.

Speaking of selfies, let’s talk about the most unique feature of the Oppo N1, the 13 megapixel camera that has a f/2.0, 6-element lens, dual LED flashes, and the entire camera rotates over 206 degrees going from rear shooter to front facing camera in an instant. Oppo put the N1 through vigorous testing, passing a 100,000 time rotation test. That means you can rotate the N1’s camera 40 times a day for 7 years, making the movable part quite reassuring that it won’t easily break.

Oppo N1 Rotating Camera

The included camera software sports many featured you’d expect in a camera like this. The N1 includes a slow shutter feature of up to 8 seconds, HDR image processing, and Oppo’s famous beautification feature that provides an air-brush like feature and allows one to apply a wide variety of make-up options.

The N1 takes gorgeous, high quality photos, shoots impressive HDR photos, and is pretty much the dream phone for a teenage girl obsessed with selfies. I loved reviewing this device simply because of the camera. It’s probably the best camera I’ve ever used on a phone. Check out the included gallery below to see examples of normal shots, and HDR mode.

When it comes to Android phones, everyone wants to hear about the camera quality and how how long the battery lasts. It seems like we’re always forced to choose between the lesser of two evils in this regard. The Oppo N1 though seems to have the best of both worlds. According to Oppo, the N1 should get 350 hours of standby time and 780 minutes of talk time. The 3610mAh battery on the N1 lasts forever. Well, maybe not forever, but it will definitely get you through two days of usage or 7-8 hours of screen on time, whichever comes first.

On the bottom you’ll find hardware keys, something that just needs to go away. To make matters worse, they’re backwards from what one would consider the standard configuration, making them pretty hard to get used to.

Opp N1 Bottom Ports

On the underside of the N1 you’ll find your standard audio jack, micro USB port, a microphone, and the speaker. The speakers are definitely louder than most Android phones, easily allowing me to jam to the latest tunes and I wasn’t afraid of missing phone calls due to a quiet ringer either. Along the side you’ll find both the power button and volume rocker which feel great to the touch, but can be a bit hard to find from time to time only because the Oppo N1 is bigger than what I’m used to carrying around day to day.

As for connectivity, the N1 supports GSM and WCDMA networks only. That means you’ll be able to use it on AT&T and T-Mobile here in the USA and most other places around the world. If you’re on Sprint or Verizon, the Oppo N1 won’t work. Sadly, the Oppo N1 doesn’t support LTE either. If you can get by with HSPA+ then, so be it. If LTE is a requirement for you, as it should be in 2013, the N1 might not be for you.

The Snapdragon 600 quad core processor, Adreno 320 GPU, and 2GB of RAM perform as expected. The N1 felt snappy while moving around through the phone’s features and while putting it through the daily grind. I’m really not one for specs anymore, the Moto X helped with that, but I’ll include some benchmark numbers as I know many readers will be chomping at the bit for them. The Oppo N1 scored 26,544 on AnTuTu Benchmark, right between the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, other Android phones with similar internals.

Oppo_N1_Benchmarks

Oppo N1 full hardware specs:

  • OS: ColorOS with Android 4.2.2 / CyanogenMod coming soon
  • Display: 5.9-inch IPS Full HD 1080p
  • Processor: 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad Core
  • GPU: Adreno 320
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • O-Touch: Slide up or down, left or right, tap, double tap and long press for different functionality
  • O-Click: Bluetooth accessory for remote control and security purposes.
  • Camera: 13-megapixel sensor with dedicated ISP, FlashDual-mode LED, Aperture f/2.0
  • Scene modes: Normal, Panorama, High Speed, Rewind, Beautify, and Slow Shutter
  • Storage: 16 / 32 GB
  • Dimensions: 170.7 x 82.6 x 9 mm
  • Weight: 213 g
  • Sensors: Distance sensor, Light sensor, G-sensor, 4D Gyroscope
  • Battery capacity: 3610 mAh
  • GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz
  • Other connectivity: USB OTG, Bluetooth 4.0, 5G Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Display, GPS

Software Part 1: ColorOS: I think Android is in there somewhere.

Oppo_N1_Front_View

Oppo’s version of Android, dubbed ColorOS, comes packed with a whole lot of interesting features you won’t find from traditional Android OEMs and if you’re familiar with the popular Android ROM MIUI or Xiaomi, Oppo’s theme engine will seem very similar.

ColorOS is a heavily skinned or themed version of Android. In fact, it doesn’t even look like Android at all. Some might be a fan of the depth of Oppo’s customization feats, while others, such as myself, miss the look of stock Android.

Oppo_N1_Screenshot1

If you’re into customizing the look and feel of your smartphone, the theming application that comes with ColorOS allows you to choose from dozens of themes just by browsing an online repository. Themes change your wallpaper, customize your icons, and can even completely change the functionality of your lockscreen. Simply put, ColorOS is a themer’s dream.

Oppo_N1_Screenshot2

On the home screen, ColorOS includes a special set of widgets called ‘Exclusive Space’ which take up an entire home screen (don’t worry, you can add more). The included spaces are for the camera and for music. The camera space allows you to take photos directly from the widget, without opening the camera app through a nifty viewfinder built into the widget itself. Once you snap a photo, the image gets added to that space in a special photo widget with a date and timestamp. This allows you to scroll through them all, reviewing your memories without leaving your home screen. The music space isn’t as interesting, but there for your use if you have locally stored songs to play.

Oppo_N1_Screenshot3

Beyond themes, Oppo packed a few interesting applications and features into their OS, including gestures, O-Cloud, application encryption, application permissions, guest mode, holiday mode, and data saving features.

The included gesture and motion features allow you to launch various phone tasks by just moving your fingers around the screen. Gestures allow you to launch the camera, control the volume, take a screenshot, and you can launch the flashlight, control music, or double tap the screen to wake up the N1 all while the screen is off. Besides the included gestures, Oppo’s ColorOS allows you to create your own gestures, such as drawing a plus sign to open Google+. In my day to day testing, I found some gestures more useful than others and I ended up turning most of them off while gaming. There’s nothing like trying to do an epic 720 rotation in Riptide G2 and watching the system volume go up and down instead.

Additional time saving features on the Oppo N1 allow you to rotate the camera to launch the camera app, flip the phone to mute it when receiving a phone call, automatically dial the contact on the screen when placing the phone up to your ear, and disable hands-free if you pick up the N1 while using a Bluetooth earpiece.

Oppo_N1_Screenshot4

The included O-Cloud service allows users to backup their contacts, which seems redundant seeing as Google syncs your contacts, backup your SMS to the cloud, and find your phone in the event that you lost it, which once again seems redundant now that Android Device Manager has come to fruition.

Guest Mode can be configured to hide private contacts, photos, videos, and even hide applications from other users. Unlike other guest modes or multi-user implementations, Guest Mode on the Oppo N1 is activated by simply unlocking the phone with the guest password or guest pattern. If the secondary guest method is used to unlock the phone, guest mode is immediately activated. To exit, you simply lock the phone and unlock with the owner method and you’re good to go. Those of you with little rugrats running around your house will find this very useful. How many times has your little loved one accidentally called, texted, or got into something they shouldn’t? It happens. Guest Mode makes those accidents a thing of the past.

As if Guest Mode wasn’t enough, application security can be taken a step further with the Application Encryption feature. This feature, while sounding extremely security conscious is a bit misleading. The feature does not encrypt selected applications, but instead allows you to setup per-application passwords and security patterns.

Next up is Holiday Mode, which is simply an extended privacy mode. When enabled, calls and notifications from contacts that aren’t white-listed will be muted when the screen is off. However, you can still be reached in an emergency if the contact calls you 3 times within a 3 minute period.

The N1 also comes with a Data Saving application which is essentially a firewall and resource control tool, allowing you to pick and choose which apps can consume network data and CPU while running in the background. If you’re on a small, limited data plan, this could come in handy.

The Verdict: The Oppo N1 is a big ass phone with a big ass camera

Oppo_N1_Featured

ColorOS is faster than I had expected. Normally when an Android OEM themes and customizes Android’s UI as much as Oppo has, you see lag through the user interface. This is something that I didn’t see or wasn’t noticeable in my experiences. While having Android this heavily customized might not be for some, Oppo has done a fine job providing visual eye candy for those that need it. For those that don’t need it, stay tuned.

Oppo’s N1 was built with the utmost quality in mind, boasting an elegant look and feel, an innovative camera, and a battery that just won’t quit. Some hardware features such as O-Click or O-Touch seem to only be beneficial for certain users or useful in certain scenarios. If you need a large screened phone with an impressive camera, and don’t need LTE connectivity, the Oppo N1 might be for you.

IMG20131116141111 IMG20131109120128 IMG20131109120318 IMG20131110193446 IMG20131111125209 IMG20131112122449 IMG20131116120114 IMG20131116143423 IMG20131116150823 IMG20131116151209 IMG20131116140504 IMG20131108231914 IMG20131108231836 IMG20131109105323 IMG20131108232827 IMG20131109105417

Software Part 2:  CyanogenMod coming soon, No ETAs

As you might recall, the Oppo N1 will be the first commercial phone to ship with CyanogenMod installed. At the time of this writing, CM 10.2, Android 4.3, wasn’t available. Once Google finishes their certification testing, we’ll do a short review of the CM version of the Oppo N1. As a fan of CyanogenMod and general things #HOLOYOLO, I’m excited. CyanogenMod’s take on stock Android with this camera and battery life should be well worth the wait.

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Nexus 5 hardware review http://phandroid.com/2013/11/18/nexus-5-hardware-review/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/18/nexus-5-hardware-review/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 21:33:53 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129228 Nexus 5 Phandrizzle

We’ve had our Nexus 5 for a little over a week now, making sure we’ve had enough time to get well acquainted with the device. During this time, we’ve taken the Nexus 5 out on dates, slept with it, got real nice and schmoozy with the phone. While I can’t show you video of the great lengths I took in getting a good “feel” for the device, I will describe my experiences with the phone over the past week. Like any first date, I’ll be judging the Nexus 5 based solely on the physical: its hardware.

Design

Nexus 5 back 1

First things first, the Nexus 5 is dead sexy. Sure it has that strange, overly large, camera areola on its back. But it’s the little quirks that give an otherwise boring, matte black slab some defining personality. Especially since design-wise, you kinda get the feeling LG designed the phone to not stand out. It’s entirely possible this was an intentional move by Google to keep the spotlight on Android, and not the tool that delivers the goods (Google services). The “ceramic” buttons were a nice touch, and probably the most premium aspect of the Nexus 5′s design.

Nexus 5 back angle

The phone is surprisingly much thinner and lighter than I expected, measuring in at 8.59mm thin and a feathery 4.8oz. This, along with the silky smooth soft touch finish, makes for a phone that feels great in the hand (or anywhere else for that matter). It’s definitely a clear departure from the gaudy, glittery glass backing of the previous model.

The best part about the soft touch finish is that the phone sits wherever you lay it: your lap, car seat, sofa arm rest. It wasn’t until I revisited my HTC One — which somehow always ends up sliding onto the floor or in between couch cushions — that I realized how much I had been missing this.

LG made it so the soft touch finish fully extends around the device, even along the rim where it meets with the glass display on top (white version features a glossy plastic rim). I noticed that this creates an uncomfortable feeling when dragging your finger off the sides of the display. It also traps a crazy amount of lint/debris in the crevices where the rim and glass meet. As much as knock the Nexus 4, those smooth beveled edges on the display are sorely missed in the Nexus 5.

Nexus 5 speaker mic

Speaker placement on the Nexus 5 is odd. It’s found along the bottom of the device — yes, just like the iPhone — with another grill right beside it for the microphone. While using the phone with one hand and in landscape, I found my hand would actually cover, muffling the sound. Pretty annoying for those who watch a lot of video or do some gaming on their smartphones.

Can’t say I was too crazy about the speaker quality either. The speaker does get fairly loud, it’s just not crisp or clear. In the end, it seemed to get the job done. Apparently there’s a software bug in KitKat that makes audio output inconsistent and Google will be addressing in a future update, so we’ll be on the lookout for that.

Nexus 5 upside down

Nexus 5 right side up (left), Nexus 5 upside down (right)

My biggest complaint with the Nexus 5′s design was the large chin (bezel) along the bottom of the device. Sure, LG could have created a smaller overall device by simply chopping off the bottom chin but they didn’t. Gotta leave room for improvement in next year’s Nexus, right? What I can’t for the life of me figure out is why Google didn’t have LG flip the phone upside down, so that the incredibly small bezel was at the bottom of the phone.

This would make infinitely more sense given the bottom software buttons already take away some screen real estate and would make for a phone that looks more balanced. Lastly, it’d also allow your thumb extend further over the screen, making it easier to hit those hard to reach corner UI buttons in single handed use.

Processor

Nexus 5 games

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz) and Adreno 330 GPU (450MHz) quite frankly haul ass on the Nexus 5. It’s pretty noticeable when moving up from a Snapdragon 600 phone and will be even more apparent coming from an older SoC. With 2GB of RAM, it’s almost like Android 4.4 KitKat simply stands out of the way and lets the Snapdragon 800 do its thing.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU

What’s interesting is in a few side-by-side tests with the LG G2 (housing the same Snapdragon 800), we saw the Nexus 5 consistently beat the G2 when opening apps or loading web pages. Not by much, but it was certainly there. This lead to a phone that felt more snappy and responsive than any other phone we’ve come across — bar none. If speed is what you’re after, there has never been an Android device faster than the Nexus 5. Ever.

Nexus 5 benchmarks

While we never place much weight in benchmarks, we feel obligated to provide the usual tests, simply because it gives us something a little more concrete than subjective opinions. Yes, some OEMs like to doctor their results but in the end benchmarks do measure something, even if it’s nothing more than the potential of the hardware within.

Also worth noting is that while we were performing these benchmarks the Nexus 5 stayed cool, never reaching “hot” temperatures that we noticed from other devices during these same tests.

Storage

Nexus 5 storage

The Nexus 5 comes in 2 storage options: 16GB and 32GB with no option for expandable memory (micro SD cards). On our 32GB model we found that after formatting and the loading of the OS, there’s about 26.78GB of total space left for apps and media. Last year’s model only offered 8GB/16GB of storage, so this year’s 16/32 was a definite upgrade.

32GB isn’t terribly confining, but after loading up only a few apps and games, we’re already down to 22GB of free storage. Because Google wants to keep costs of the the Nexus 5 to a minimum, we get that storage is just one of those specs they need to cut corners on. It just doesn’t mean we have to like it (or wouldn’t considering paying a higher premium for a 64GB option).

Camera

Nexus 5 camera

A huge aspect of a phone’s hardware is its camera. Given that we’ve covered that in depth in a previous post, you guys can read up on that here. To make a long story short, we found that while the Nexus 5′s camera was lacking, we think a good portion of that is software based — not hardware. That being said, the Nexus 5 wasn’t the best smartphone camera we’ve shot with, but it’s also not the worst (an ongoing theme in the Nexus 5).

Nexus 5 camera review

The 8MP camera’s optical image stabilization helps out a lot while taking video, but the camera’s slow focus and performance make shooting from the hip feel like a chore. Also, video was nice, but for whatever reason, Google’s camera software only utilizes a single microphone when recording video instead of the available 2 (although rooting can enable both).

Don’t get us wrong, there are instances where the Nexus 5 camera can deliver a really nice image. Give it enough light, and it will perform well. When using HDR+ mode, you can shoot in even the lowest of lighting conditions and deliver a great image. Just good luck getting the Nexus 5 to focus correctly.

Display

Nexus 5 front

Lets talk about the display quality. The Nexus 5 features a 4.95-inch Gorilla Glass 3 1080p display. Some of you may know from previous reviews, but I’m kinda big on displays. Because the Nexus 5 isn’t offered at the premium price-point of other smartphones, I expect LG would skimp out on a few parts, the display being one of them. Believe it or not, the 1080p display used for the Nexus 5 is actually the same one used in the HTC DROID DNA (which I loved).

That’s not to say there aren’t differences. Google/LG tweak the color saturation and gamma differently than other OEMs, so what you’re left with is a very true to life, accurate color representation. Of course, for some folks, that might be too bland or “washed out” at first glance, especially when comparing it to other devices. Like the Nexus 4 before it, viewing angles were pretty bad. A good argument can be made by how how often anyone really uses their phone from an angle.

Nexus 5 display comparison

Comparing it side-by-side with the G2, I preferred the display on the G2 with much brighter whites, darker blacks, and vibrant colors. We decided to do a quick comparison test, pitting the Nexus 5 against the LG G2, HTC One, and iPhone 5s in a dark comparison test. Results can be found above and below.

Nexus 5 display viewing angles

Battery Life

Note: battery life on any mobile device will never be the same for any 2 people. That being said, I can only give you my personal experience, comparing it to other devices I’ve own or currently have in my possession. This is in no way the final word in battery life for the Nexus 5, and your mileage may (and likely will) vary.

Nexus 5 battery life

With that out of the way, the Nexus 5 comes equipped with a sizable 2,300mAh battery. While it’s far from the 3,000mAh found in its cousin, the LG G2, we were hoping that a similar 23% decrease of the G2′s 2-day battery life would also be found in the Nexus 5. Not the case. We found that on average (after tallying up a little over a week’s worth of data), the Nexus 5 hit a respectable 12 to 14 hours of battery life with light usage. Anyone who is looking to actually use their phone should expect a few hours less.

Of course we know a large portion of battery life has to do with software working along with the processor, so we’re hoping future updates will improve this number substantially. Battery life is always a huge concern for anyone looking to buy a new smartphone and rightly so. With options like the LG G2 and Moto X who offer phenomenal battery life, the Nexus 5 is up against some stiff competition.

Other

DSC01511

There’s a handful of other hardware specs that are worth mentioning, so we’ll round them up here. It’s not always mentioned, but the Nexus 5 features a micro SIM card, not the tiny new nanos. This means you wont be able to swap SIMs from your Moto X or iPhone 5s with ease, something we were a little disappointed with.

Also, like the Nexus 4, Google once again opted for a Slimport enabled micro USB. We’ve never used Slimport (which is said to be a better technology than MHL) and likely never will, so we’re not sure if this is a plus or minus. You’ll also find the Nexus 5 is capable of wireless charging using your favorite Qi compatible charging accessories.

Like most good Androids these days, the Nexus 5 also features NFC for tap-to-pay transactions at participating retailers and Android Beam (now Google+ compatible) which is also convenient and something you wont find on an Apple device. There’s also Bluetooth 4.0 on board, along with dual-band WiFi 802.11 ac, and the Nexus 5 offered in the Play Store offers support for AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint networks. How many smartphones have you seen that can do that?

Verdict

Nexus 5 no hands

So who, if anyone, is the Nexus 5 aimed for? Of course, there’s the small minority of Android fanboys who love (and demand) constant and unhindered software updates directly from Google. But with the Nexus 5, Google is really targeting those fed up by paying steep monthly cell phone rates, simply to get online with a great smartphone. It’s a way out. Like the all-American Miller High Life, the Nexus 5 is a good phone, at an honest price.

Now comes the tough part of figuring out whether the Nexus 5 is worth your hard earned money. In fact, great value is exactly what the Nexus 5 is all about. While it’s true the Nexus 5 doesn’t excel in every area, this was an intentional move by Google.

Google simply wants to get their goods and services into as many hands as possible. A Nexus phone always gives consumers the biggest bang for their buck. At only $350/$400 unlocked, simply put: there’s no better smartphone you can buy for the money. Of course, when factoring in carrier subsidies, there are other — even better — options offered from other smartphone makers.

Is the Nexus 5 the best smartphone on the market? Definitely not. But its not that far from it either.

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Review: Camera Awesome just might be our new favorite camera app [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2013/11/12/camera-awesome-for-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/12/camera-awesome-for-android-review/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2013 22:37:44 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129253

Spend a few minutes in the Google Play Store, and you’re sure to trip over at least a few different camera applications. Today we can add yet another to the list with the iOS favorite Camera Awesome now officially available on Google Play. The app was created by SmugMug, an online service that provides for the storing and sharing off photos on the web. Camera Awesome takes SmugMug’s photo know-how and creates a wonderfully useful app for Android smartphones or tablets.

In my short time with the app, Camera Awesome has already managed to stand out from the rest. Aside from performance (pictures are saved the instant you tap the shutter button), Camera Awesome also gives Android users a ridiculous amount of control over the camera functions of their device. Sure many manufacturer UI’s feature pretty robust software features, but Camera Awesome squeezed in a few I’ve been dying for, especially on a Nexus.

Features, performance, and features

Camera Awesome by SmugMug screenshot

The first trick is the ability to select different focal and exposure points in the viewfinder. Where tapping on the screen will combine focus and exposure specifically on where you touched, using a 2-finger tap will separate focus and exposure allowing for more freedom. Both the focus and exposure can further be locked, holding onto whatever is currently focused or exposed in the viewfinder. Top notch feature right there.

Camera Awesome screenshots

Of course, standard manual controls of your ISO, white balance, and exposure exist, along with a full screen shutter button, burst shot, HDR mode, timer, and panorama. Interval mode is a fun feature that could be extremely useful at parties or events where it’s possible to set up your smartphone or tablet as a makeshift photo booth.

The video mode also has a neat trick. When using the Pre-record mode, Camera Awesome begins recording footage before the record button is ever pressed. This acts as a sort of buffer, giving users a few extra seconds of video footage they might have otherwise missed.

Shortcomings

The only place where the app truly falls short is in Camera Awesome’s UI, using recycled skeuomorphic graphics from its iOS counterpart. We wouldn’t even have faulted them providing the app was at least updated to iOS 7′s visual design guidelines (at least those look a little more “Android”). SmugMug has been taking a lot of heat for this in various forums online, and hopefully this will be addressed in a future update. If not, it’s not like having iOS buttons takes too much away from the app where I’ll still be able to shoot the hell out of my lunch and post to Instagram.

Lastly, Camera Awesome is only available for a number of hot Android devices. So, those of you with something more obscure will no doubt be left in the cold. Those who own an HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3, Note 2 or 3, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Moto X or Kindle Fires — you’re all in luck. Given this is an initial release, the app was a little buggy but we’re sure will be patched up soon. The developer also mentioned that Nexus 5 support is coming in the future, making the app a no-brainer for those stuck with Android’s limited stock camera software.

Camera Awesome featured

Where the iOS version was free but offered premium features via in-app purchases, developer SmugMug has included all the paid filters and features into the paid Android app for only $3 up front. You can download Camera Awesome right now in the Google Play Store via the link below.

Download: Camera Awesome on Google Play

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Oppo N1 First Look and Hands On http://phandroid.com/2013/11/09/oppo-n1-first-look-and-hands-on/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/09/oppo-n1-first-look-and-hands-on/#comments Sat, 09 Nov 2013 19:32:34 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=129134 Oppo N1

The N1 from Chinese based Oppo looks to bring innovation back to the mobile phone scene. The N1 boasts a gorgeous display, a high quality and very unique camera, as well as other unique features such as gesture controls, rear controls and of course the O-Click Bluetooth accessory. We go hands on with the Oppo N1 to give you a first look.

Specs:
OS: ColorOS with Android 4.2.2 / CyanogenMod
Display: 5.9-inch IPS Full HD 1080p
Processor: 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Quad Core
GPU: Adreno 320
RAM: 2 GB
O-Touch: Slide up or down, left or right, tap, double tap and long press for different functionality
O-Click: Bluetooth accessory for remote control and security purposes.
Camera: 13-megapixel sensor with dedicated ISP, FlashDual-mode LED, Aperture f/2.0
Scene modes: Normal, Panorama, High Speed, Rewind, Beautify, and Slow Shutter
Storage: 16 / 32 GB
Dimensions: 170.7 x 82.6 x 9 mm
Weight: 213 g
Sensors: Distance sensor, Light sensor, G-sensor, 4D Gyroscope
Battery capacity: 3610 mAh
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz
Other connectivity: USB OTG, Bluetooth 4.0, 5G Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Display, GPS

We’ll be back with a full review of the Oppo N1 later this week. Have questions about the N1? Let us know in the comments.

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Nexus 5 camera review http://phandroid.com/2013/11/06/nexus-5-camera-review/ http://phandroid.com/2013/11/06/nexus-5-camera-review/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 00:44:58 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=128906 Nexus 5 camera DSC01444

It’s a curse that’s long plagued Nexus devices: piss poor camera performance. While the blame has never rested solely on Google’s shoulders — OEMs are the ones skimping on camera hardware after all — the stock Android camera software didn’t do much to help matters.

With the Nexus 5 now available on Google Play, the most common question we’ve been asked from apprehensive buyers is if the 8MP OIS camera is really as bad as they’ve heard, or if Google/LG have finally turned things around. Without having to wait for our full review, we though we’d tackle the camera ahead of time. Here’s our Nexus 5 camera review.

Camera features and performance

Nexus 5 camera DSC01448

Other than YouTube, the Camera app is still one of the slowest to open on the Nexus 5. Which is weird, given the device screams doing just about anything else. When using the camera lockscreen widget/shortcut, there’s an even longer delay getting the app to open. There was even a few instances where it just hung, leaving me with no option but to force close the app altogether and start over. Not good if you’re trying to capture one of life’s fleeting moments.

Once the app is opened, the camera software is pretty much the bare-bones app we’ve seen in Android 4.3. Unfortunately, that means the obnoxious sliding options are also present. I don’t know who thought this was ever a good idea and was hoping Google would do away with this in KitKat. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Nexus 5 camera menu 2013-11-07 00.25.10

Because Google is thinking about the average user — the one that doesn’t know a thing about ISOs and shoots quick selfies in the bathroom — there are only a few options in the first menu level: HDR+, exposure, “more options”, flash, and front/rear camera toggle.

Sliding your finger to “more options” will bring up another level with: location, countdown timer, pic size, white balance, and scene mode with another level to select either action, night, sunset, party, or none. Again, pretty basic but protip: switch to “party mode” if you want your images to look more saturated and lively.

In well lit conditions, the camera does an okay job of focusing and snapping off shots fairly quickly. There’s a slight delay, but it’s one we’ve seen even on Google Play edition devices. Just don’t go expecting instant capture like on the HTC One.

In adequate to low lighting, sometimes locking the focus is all but impossible. What makes it even more frustrating is it works fine other times. Really, the camera basically does what it wants.

Nexus 5 Photo Sphere 2013-11-06 16.14.53

While lack of any kind of burst shot function means capturing extreme action shots are out of the question, thankfully Photo Sphere and panorama were included (Photo Sphere in particular has been dramatically improved) which add a few more features to what would be a completely lackluster camera app.

Picture quality

Nexus 5 camera samples

Picture quality wasn’t too shabby, especially given the device’s Nexus roots. Because captured images always felt a bit washed out (saturation and contrast is toned down), we couldn’t help but feel like we were being nudged into using Google’s new robust photo editing software to tweak photos. Occasionally the white balance would completely freak out (see the front facing camera comparison) and just like camera performance, picture quality too was a bit inconsistent.

Nexus 5 camera test high contrast

Nexus 5 camera test low light

Nexus 5 front facing camera comparison

Above you’ll find some quick comparisons of the Nexus 5 going head to head with some of the best smartphone cameras in a variety of lighting situations. We were surprised to see the Nexus 5 holding its own, and while you can set up a perfect shot like we did above (tripod was used), your results will vary according to lighting conditions and just life in general.

HDR+ works well given it actually captures different stops of light and combines them into a single image. Because it’s so extremely slow, the only practical time you’ll want to use it is when photographing food, or completely motionless subjects. Really though, if you have a steady hand use it. Always. Pictures come out dramatically sharper, with increased dynamic range. HDR+ is quite literally the only way I’ll shoot anything with the Nexus 5.

Photo editing software

Now here comes the fun part, editing pics on the Nexus 5. Oddly enough, KitKat gives users 2 ways to accomplish this, either by using the Photo Editor found in the standard Gallery app, or the Photos editor in the new Google+ app. Why 2 options? Because Google, that’s why.

Photos editor

Nexus 5 Google Plus Photos editor

Editing images in the Photos app is by far the easiest route to take as it’s essentially the extremely user friendly Snapseed photo editing software. The app gives you 3 main options: rotate, crop, or filters. The first 2 are self explanatory, while the filters options gives you traditional Snapseed filters along with frames.

Gallery editor

Nexus 5 new Gallery editor

The Gallery editor is the more robust option, overhauled for Android 4.4. KitKat. Chances are you’ll never see this on any other device than a Nexus, as OEMs tend to remove this app in favor of their own offerings. The Gallery app gives users 4 main options to choose from:

  • Filters (9 total)
  • Frames (11 total)
  • Crop/straighten/rotate/mirror
  • Color correction

Filers can’t be adjusted like the Snapseed/Google+ editor, but the new KitKat Gallery color correction editing makes up for this with options to adjust everything from exposure, to vignette, graduated, contrast, shadows, highlights, vibrance, saturation, sharpness, local, curves, hue, BW filter, negative, and posterize. It’s a great tool for smartphone photographers that want to dive in and really tweak their photos, and shows us that Google really takes Android’s photo capabilities seriously.

Verdict

While the camera experience on the Nexus 5 might leave a lot to be desired from those want to simply shoot from the hip, Google’s provided enough tools to make up for what would be a lackluster affair on the Nexus 5. Overall, we’d say the photo experience on the Nexus 5 is a pleasant one, even if it can’t manage to be the best-of-the-best — it’s refreshingly the best Nexus camera to date. Now let’s hope Google can tighten it up further with a software update.

Disclaimer: at the time of writing, we’re running build number KRT16M and camera version 2.0.001. It’s been said that Google will soon push out an update to address laggy camera performance, in which case we’ll update this post if we notice an improvement.

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Review: Meenova micro SD card reader for Android devices [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2013/10/21/meenova-micro-sd-card-reader-for-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2013/10/21/meenova-micro-sd-card-reader-for-android-review/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 21:19:22 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=127683 Meenova DSC01194

Love it or hate it, more and more Android manufacturers have been relying solely on internal storage for their devices. It’s been the subject of bitter debate among the Android faithful, one that has Samsung fanboys drawing a line in the sand, while the rest of us shrug and opt for devices like the Nexus 4 or Moto X.

I have to say, I didn’t mind this change very much at first. But as technology presses on, and we’ve seen the introduction of 1080p+ devices, 4K video, bigger and badder video games, storage — even on my 64GB HTC One — is starting to get a little tight. That’s when I came across the recently Kickstarted Meenova micro SD card reader for Android devices. The Android accessory has only just become available to all via Meenova’s website, so I decided to pick one up. Here’s my quick review.

What does it do?

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This little nugget plugs directly into an Android device’s micro USB port and allows users to expand the storage of their device up to 64GBs. Okay, “expand” probably isn’t the best word, as you’re not going to leave this plugged into your device 24/7. But, when it comes to say, all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad, you can simply dump all of them onto your micro SD card, freeing up your limited internal storage for more important things like video games.

How does it work?

The Meenova works on all devices that support USB on-the-go (USB OTG). If you’re unsure, a list of compatible Android devices can be found on Meenova’s website. Using the Meenova is literally a plug-and-play process (at least on the HTC One). There’s no setup, no fumbling through device settings in order to mount external memory — none of that. I simply slid my 64GB micro SD card into the Meenova dongle, plugged it into my HTC One, opened my gallery app and I was up and watching Pacific Rim in glorious HD, BoomSound and all. Yeah, nerdgasm.

Verdict

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Cloud storage isn’t a blanket solution to limited internal storage. With carrier data caps not going away anytime soon, streaming video, music, etc. might not be a viable option for everyone. With the Meenova micros SD card reader, you can ensure that your extensive media library is always easily accessible from your Android device. The accessory is also the perfect companion for those considering an Android device that may not offer expandable storage (like the Nexus line).

So far in my experience, I have nothing but good things to say about the tiny accessory. I found that it’s small stature was way more convenient to use than the traditional micro SD card reader/USB OTG cable combo and at $12 ($3 worldwide shipping), it wont break the bank. The Meenova micro SD card reader comes in 4 different colors — black, white, silver, and orange — and while the plastic feels a little cheapy, it gets the job done. Purchase links provided below.

[Buy Meenova here | Meenova]

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