Phandroid » Reviews Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Sat, 28 Mar 2015 02:40:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 HTC One M9 Reviews [ROUNDUP] Tue, 24 Mar 2015 15:19:51 +0000 HTC One M9 DSC08393

In case you haven’t heard, the HTC One M9 has officially launched in Taiwan and reviews of the international version of the phone have started pouring in. While our HTC One M9 review is still in the works and will be along shortly (here’s everything you need to know about it in the meantime, and you can always talk about it at, we thought it wise to bring you the opinions of some of the web’s top tech outlets ahead of the phone’s April 10th availability here in the United States.

Engadget, who rated the phone 84 out of 100, says that while it looks and feel just as good as the previous two entrants have, there wasn’t a big enough improvement in the camera department to completely win them over. “Alas, the M9 is let down by a camera that isn’t as good as it should be,” said the reviewer, who noted that it wasn’t much better than yesteryear’s Ultrapixel counterpart that now sits on the front.

HTC One M9 Custom Nav Bar DSC08929 copy

The Verge gave it a similar rating of 8.3/10, and echoed Engadget’s sentiments about the HTC One M9’s 20.7 megapixel camera. “For the third year in a row, HTC has a really compelling phone with a disappointing camera,” writes Dan Seifert.

And that seems to be the common theme here — the familiar design is fine, because it’s actually good. HTC Sense is better than ever, and the Snapdragon 810 is plenty powerful to make it run smoothly. But if the HTC One M9 is supposed to one-up its predecessor in every other way, then the camera seems to have missed the memo. Here’s a bundle of impressions from other notable outlets:


“HTC played it safe this year instead of pushing things further. Honestly, if you’re willing to settle for the M9, you should also look at the M8 while you’re at it. It lasts longer, it feels just as fast, and it costs less.”


“Although we’re still missing some of the pieces, based upon what data we have the One M9 is in an alarming place for a new smartphone. It’s pretty rare that a new phone ends up regressing in almost every major way compared to an old phone, but the One M9 ends up doing this in display and battery life. “

Phone Arena (8.3/10):

“As we take a look at the bigger picture, we certainly can agree that the HTC One M9, as a whole, has been tweaked and refined to correct the issues that were left outstanding with the M8.”

ZDNet (9.5/10):

The only thing I don’t like about the new HTC One M9 is that I cannot yet buy one on T-Mobile. Actually, I am a bit disappointed that there is no OIS support for the rear camera.”

PocketNow (8.7/10):

“As a sequel to the One M8, it’s definitely a letdown: the new camera is worse in low light; the aesthetic changes are subjective; and most of the software improvements will probably come to the M8 anyway.”

Trusted Reviews:

“There’s no denying it, the One M9 is another fantastic phone from HTC. Yes, it is let down slightly by an inconsistent camera and some software niggles, but the One range remains one of the best all-round flagships you can get thanks to the One M9.”

Pocket-Lint (4/5):

“If you’re an HTC fan, the M9 is HTC delivering what you love, with power, precision and sophistication. But with the overriding aim of refinement, of correcting the parts of the M8 that didn’t quite work, HTC has focused attention on its camera. It’s here that the M9 stumbles.”

TechnoBuffalo (7/10):

“The HTC One M9 is a great phone, but it’s so much more of the same. In a lot of ways, this is simply a One M8+.”


“Latest Snapdragon, latest Android and Sense, Dolby Surround added to HTC Boomsound, very good screen quality. With a proper camera finally on the list, the HTC One M9 is the all-round flagship smartphone the company should have had a while ago. “

Slash Gear:

“Refinement, not revolution. HTC took what was undoubtedly a handsome, capable phone in last year’s M8, and thoughtfully polished away the rough edges. “

CNet (8/10):

“One M9’s camera is improved, but not not enough to make it a “killer app” that sets this phone apart from its peers. And — in early testing — the battery life does not impress.”


“HTC’s new One M9 is a strong offering from the scrappy Taiwanese company. It’s the strongest phone HTC has ever made. The hardware is sleek, the performance is smooth, the power is there and it has been improved in almost every way compared to its predecessors.”


“There’s no headline grabbing innovative ideas here. There’s no HTC Pay or curved edges, but there is a solid phone that has some decent standout features. The fact is that I enjoyed using the One M9, which is probably the most important metric to measure anything against. But some glaring mistakes means HTC missed an opportunity to make this the complete smartphone.”

Tech Radar:

“Let me make one thing clear: the HTC One M9 is an excellent phone, filled to the brim with good features, a clever interface and a design that it should rightly be proud of, once again showing every other brand how it should be done. The issue is that it doesn’t improve enough.”

And there you have it. We’ll have to put the device through its paces ourselves to see if we agree with any of these opinions, but trot on over to the HTC One M9 section at AndroidForums to discuss these early impressions and whether the HTC One M9 will be worthy of your attention once it hits retail (and feel free to drop a comment below, too).

]]> 0
Palabre might be the most beautiful Material RSS/Feedly reader [VIDEO] Tue, 24 Feb 2015 20:47:02 +0000 palabre2

Can you believe it’s been nearly two years since Google Reader closed up shop? In the time since that sad day Feedly as become the de facto RSS reader service. There are tons of excellent Feedly apps available in the Google Play Store. Developers are slowly incorporating material design into these apps, but the newest Feedly app may be the most beautiful.

Palabre is a new app created by LevelUp Studio, the same team behind Beautiful Widgets, Plume, and Bright Weather. If you use any of those app you know that Palabre is going to be a quality app. They’ve built it from the ground up with material design in mind.

When launching the app for the first time you will have the choice to log in with a Feedly account or simply tap Start. Logging in with your Feedly account will sync all of your subscriptions, categories, and saved articles. Tapping Start will bring you to  page with genres such as Technology, Gaming, Food, Cars, etc. Each one of the genres has a few suggestions for websites to follow. There is also a floating (+) button in the bottom corner to manually add feeds.

Once you’re all set up you will be greeted with a magazine-like view of all your feeds. Across the top of the page is tabs for all of your categories. If you’re signed in with Feedly you will see a “popular” tab with a mix of articles that are, you guessed it, popular today, and your saved  stories. Tapping on a story from any tab will reveal the full story with a very material-like animation. On the article page you have a few more options that make this app great.


A feature that I always look for in a RSS/Feedly app is Readability support, and Palabre has it. Readability is a service that makes webpages easier to read. In this case it strips an article down to just the basic text and links. On the article page you can also adjust the text size, share the story, and save it for later. There is also a button at the bottom for opening the story in the integrated browser.

Palabre comes with a few customization options that can fine tune the experience to your liking. By default the app uses a light theme with the magazine layout. In the settings you can switch to a dark theme and list layout. You can also choose how often the app refreshes in the background, when to mark articles as read, and what to do when you double tap.

palabre screens

I’m really digging the style of this app. The material elements are all there, but it doesn’t seem as bogged down by animations as some other apps. I love that you can manage subscriptions and add news ones right from the app. Not all 3rd-party Feedly apps allow this. If you’re looking for a clean and fast app for Feedly or just reading RSS feeds you should give Palabre a try. It’s available for free, or for $2.47 if you want to remove ads.

]]> 0
‘94%’ is all about finding the most popular answers to simple questions [VIDEO] Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:53:54 +0000

One of the most popular game shows to ever exist is the classic “Family Feud.” The game is all about trying to find the most common answers from a survey of 100 people. A new game for Android called “94%” is a lot like Family Feud, but you won’t have to watch your sister dance on stage with Steve Harvey.

The goal of “94%” is to find the top 94% of the given answers to a specific question. The question could be “things you eat with your hands,” and the most popular answer would be “hamburger.” In this case “hamburger” represents 15% of the total answers and “corn on the cob” is another 9%. Now you’re left with another 70% to figure out.

94 screens

There are many possible answers to each question, but the trick is to find the most popular answers. Some of the first few questions in the game include “things you find in a pencil-case, fruit with seeds or pits,” and “first things you do in the morning.” Each level is made up of two text questions and one image. For the images you have to guess the most popular words associated with the given image.

If you find yourself stuck on a certain question you can use earned coins to buy hints from the “Letter Joker.” He’ll give you the first letter of the answer and a jumble of letters to fill in the rest. For $3 you can buy the premium pack to get unlimited access to the Letter Joker and eliminate ads. If you play this game a lot you will probably want to spend the $3 just to eliminate the ads.

94% is very well designed with material elements and animations. There are 35 levels to play, with each one containing three questions. If you love getting into the minds of others and trying to figure out the most commons answers to life’s questions this is the game for you. [DOWNLOAD]

]]> 0
‘Orcs’ is a really weird game, and we can’t stop playing [VIDEO] Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:02:01 +0000

Orcs is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played, and yet I can’t get enough. It has all the ingredients of an addictive game: super simple gameplay, repetitive mechanics, cute graphics, and Orcs that love puns. From the moment you start playing you won’t really understand what’s going on, but you won’t want to stop.

When you first launch Orcs you won’t be bothered with any pesky tutorials. There is just one thing you need to know: tap. That’s it. All you do is tap the tree in the center of the screen. A lot. Every time you tap the tree you are actually chopping it and collecting wood. The wood can then be used to purchase upgrades, and that is where Orcs gets a little more in-depth.

Orcs screens

You can upgrade your ax so every chop is collects more wood, purchase orcs to help you collect more wood over time, and build a stronghold to protect your orcs. After you build the first building you can then buy an Orc Warrior. The second building will allow you to send the warrior on quests to protect your stronghold.

Quests are another weird aspect of this game. When your warrior is sent on a quest you become a spectator. All you can do is watch and hope you upgraded the warrior enough to win the battles. Once you’ve finished all of the quests you’ll be able to purchase an Orc Archer to protect your stronghold even more.

orc gif

The graphics for Orcs are 8-bit-inspired like you see in a lot of games. The objects and characters look really nice and clean, but the text in the game is a bit blurry. I also love the silly comments the orcs are constantly making, such as “turn down for wood!” and “get to the chopping!” The game is completely free, but you can purchase a “golden ax” to make the game go faster.

What makes this game so addictive is there is really never a stoppage in play. There seems to never be a good time to stop and pick up later. Of course, you can stop anytime and pick up later, but once you get really into it you won’t want to put it down. Orcs is weird and kinda stupid, but I love it. [DOWNLOAD]

]]> 0
Amazon Echo first thoughts: Alexa out Google’s the Google app by delivering faster and less robotic results Fri, 13 Feb 2015 17:36:07 +0000 Amazon_Echo_Front_Blue

When it comes to reviewing a product, I tend to spend as much time as possible with the device, so that I’m able to accurately give my honest thoughts for all of you. While this is by no means a fully loaded review with all of the belles and whistles you’ve come to know and love, I just couldn’t keep my thoughts on the Amazon Echo to myself any longer. I cannot remember the last time I found myself this excited to use and talk about a particular device. Using Amazon Echo is very enjoyable and I’ve found myself the past two evenings just thoroughly enjoying my experiences so much that I had to share.

The most surprising and in-your-face observation thus far: Amazon’s Echo bests the Google app (formerly Google Search) in three key areas, where until now, Google had held a clear leader position in two of them.

  • Amazon Echo returns results faster than the Google app
  • Alexa from Amazon Echo sounds less robotic and more pleasant than Google
  • Music controls. Music controls. Music controls.

Now just because working with Alexa is faster and more pleasant than working with Google doesn’t mean that Amazon’s Echo is the superior virtual assistant. Google’s extensive Knowledge Graph has been able to provide answers to some questions that Amazon Echo failed to answer. Conversational search is another area where Google excels, leaving Alexa in the dust, as it just doesn’t exist. Though, for the most part, the two virtual assistants were quite similar with their results.

As for my third observation, the music controls on the Amazon Echo are by far the most advanced I’ve ever used in a product. Being able to say Alexa play, stop, pause, unpause, next, volume up, volume down, shut up, etc. to fully control your music listening experience, all hands-free, is something that I’ve wanted with Google Play Music for years now.


Amazon Echo and Alexa have many other pros and cons to cover. Over the next week I’ll be putting the two through the paces with a full video comparison to the Google app, which will be showcased in our upcoming review. Teaser: I love the microphone.

For now, here’s some questions that need answering: Can the Amazon Echo live up to it’s advertised expectations? Will Amazon’s limited ecosystem spell doom for the Amazon Echo? And lastly, will Amazon Echo be able to compete or replace the Google app?

Keep watching Phandroid for our full Amazon Echo Review to find the answers to those questions as well as more information about the omnidirectional microphone, speaker output, and companion application.

What do you want to know about the Amazon Echo? Let us know in the comments.

]]> 0
OrderUp’s Android update seamlessly satisfies hunger [VIDEO] Mon, 09 Feb 2015 21:29:04 +0000 orderup

When it comes to ordering food, looking up a menu and making a phone call is so passé. Numerous startups have been tackling the challenge of aggregating local food options and providing a unified online ordering experience, and it’s a win-win for all involved. Mom and pop operations that can’t afford to build out a fancy web presence get fully-supported, seamless online ordering. Customers don’t have to deal with waiting on hold, reading credit card numbers over the phone, and misheard orders resulting in the arrival of the wrong food.

OrderUp is just one of several competitors in the space, and they look to stake an even greater claim with the relaunch of their Android app. The app represents a move from a web-portal interface to a truly native experience. Finding your location and nearby restaurants is as simple as a tap, sorting restaurants by cuisine is straightforward, menus are easy to navigate, and  restaurant info — including coupons — is a few swipes away.

With an OrderUp account, info is synced seamlessly from the web interface, giving access to saved addresses and credit cards. Checking out is a breeze with options to tip and provide special instructions in case you live in a location particularly unfriendly to delivery drivers (hidden entrances, broken doorbells, etc.).

The whole thing works as you would expect and makes the ordering process as quick and painless as possible. The app is a bit barebones, but it’s hard to imagine what else you would need from a food ordering app.


Depending on where you ordered from, the fulfillment of your order is handled in one of two ways. The individual restaurant provides delivery via their own drivers or an OrderUp delivery driver will pick up your food and whisk it away to your front doorstep. The latter is one of OrderUp’s more unique features, and offers delivery options for restaurants that normally would not do so, but you will need to be within a certain covered delivery zone.

Download OrderUp at Google Play

In my case, the cutoff was literally one block from my doorstep, so once the order was placed everything was in the hands of the restaurant where I ordered from. If you should need to change or cancel an order in a situation similar to mine, you will need to contact the restaurant directly. Otherwise, OrderUp offers full customer service that is quick to respond and plenty friendly.

OrderUp’s Android update makes food ordering so easy you might never see the outside world or the inside of a grocery store again. Now if you will excuse me, this lunch isn’t going to eat itself.

OrderUp’s current roster of supported cities includes:

  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Irvine, CA
  • San Diego, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • Boulder, CO
  • Denver, CO
  • Northern, CO
  • Northwest Atlanta, GA
  • Iowa City, IA
  • Boise, ID
  • Naperville, IL
  • Bloomington, IN
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • West Lafayette, IN
  • Lawrence, KS
  • Manhattan, KS
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Towson, MD
  • Columbia, MO
  • Fayetteville, NC
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Gloucester County, NJ
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Columbus, OH
  • Norman, OK
  • Eugene, OR
  • State College, PA
  • West Chester, PA
  • Nashville, TN
  • Katy, TX
  • Sugar Land, TX
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Norfolk, VA
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • Williamsburg, VA
  • Morgantown, WV
]]> 0
Oppo R5 Review, the world’s thinnest phone Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:30:12 +0000 Oppo_R5_Rear

Oppo might not be a well-known name outside of it’s home market of China, but that doesn’t mean that the company’s mobile products should be overlooked. Oppo continuously pushes smartphone design boundaries along with new innovative features across their product line every year. This time around we have the Oppo R5, an elegant device that can proudly boast the title of world’s thinnest smartphone, coming in at an incredible 4.85 mm thick. With the design choices made on the Oppo R5, did Oppo make any notable compromises to achieve their thickness goal? We’ll find out in our detailed review of the Oppo R5 below.

Before we get started with this review, I’d like to mention that I’ve had the Oppo R5 for a little over a month. The device that shipped to me included pre-production software. I’ve held off on publishing this review for quite some time as I’ve been waiting for software fixes from Oppo. The company has produced multiple fixes over the past month, however, my pre-production device will not install any of the OTA updates that could include fixes for my issues. Since the OTA updates repeatedly fail me, I have requested a full-ROM from Oppo, but they have not provided one as of this writing. If they do, and my shortcomings are resolved, this review will be updated. Let’s get started.

Oppo R5 Specifications

  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat / Color OS 2.0
  • Price:  $499 USD / €399 EUR
  • SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
  • CPU: 1.5 GHz Octa-Core
  • GPU: Adreno 405
  • Display: 5.2 inch AMOLED
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels, 423 PPI
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • Storage: 16GB (no microSD)
  • Rear camera: 13-megapixel Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor
  • Front camera: 5-megapixel front-facing 83 degree wide angle lens
  • Battery: 2000 mAh Li-Po with Rapid Charge
  • NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, 5G Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/a
  • Ports: MicroUSB, no 3.5mm audio
  • Bands: International
    • GSM850/900/1800/1900
    • WCDMA850/900/1900/2100
    • FDD-LTE B1/3/7
    • TD-LTE B40
  • Dimensions: 148.9 × 74.5 × 4.85 mm
  • Weight: 155g

Hardware Design and Feel
If you’ve held an Oppo device in your hand before, such as the N1, or Find 7, you’ll realize that the Oppo R5 is no exception when it comes to solid build quality. Oppo devices feel graceful and look stylish in your hand, and the Oppo R5 holds true to that thanks to the high quality steel frame and rock solid build quality. Frankly, the Oppo R5 feels like an elegant tank in the palm of your hand.


The Oppo R5, while extremely minimal and flat, is quite easy to hold thanks to the overall thinness of the phone. The flat sides and rock solid build quality make gripping the R5 fairly easy. Often with thin devices I find myself having trouble to hold on to them, I didn’t have this issue with the R5.

The power and volume buttons were opposite from what I was used to with the Moto X or Nexus 6, and often resulted in pressing the power button inadvertently due to the button location, but I’d say that’s more of a personal preference than a design flaw. Besides placement, the buttons themselves are just as well designed as the rest of the phone, toting high build quality.Oppo_R5_Buttons

The main attraction with the Oppo R5 is the smartphone’s extreme thinness. At just 4.85 mm thick, the Oppo R5 is currently the thinnest smartphone available, a feat Oppo has held in the past with their Find 5 back in 2013. The Oppo R5 does make a few sacrifices on the design front, however this most impressive feat has been achieved without compromising any structural integrity as you’ll see in a video below.

The back of the phone isn’t entirely flush, having the camera stick out just ever so slightly, similar to the iPhone 6. The Oppo R5 is also missing something, a piece of hardware that we’ve seen on just about every phone since phones started carrying enough storage for media or had Internet access. The Oppo R5 is so thin at 4.85 mm that there wasn’t enough room to squeeze in a 3.5 mm audio jack and it’s housing. Instead, the Oppo R5 continues to push form over function and comes with a USB to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter for headphone enthusiasts.


Oppo’s latest still hasn’t moved past 2011, including hardware keys equipped with a menu button on the left, home in the middle, and a back button on the right hand side. Many people still prefer physical buttons versus software keys, personally, I despise hardware keys. However, the inclusion of a menu button on the left hand side makes these cringeworthy no matter what camp you’re from.


Oppo also included a wallet case with the R5 that includes a window that activates to display the date and time when you double tap the window. The case also turns the screen on and off when opening and closing the case flap. For those that like cases, the included high quality case is a nice added bonus.


The display on the Oppo R5 comes with a 5.2-inch AMOLED display with a 1080p resolution, producing a pixel density of 423 ppi. Quad HD might be all the rage these days, but Oppo opted for a more modest display that fits the device’s mid-range spec sheet. The AMOLED display produces vibrant colors with a heavy amount of saturation as one would expect. As for outdoor and nighttime visibility, the deep blacks and bright whites allow for great viewing no matter the time of day.


WiFi, Bluetooth, Data, and Call Quality
The R5 doesn’t have 802.11ac or Bluetooth 4.1, as the majority of new handsets have been doing for a while. As a mid-range specced Android phone, the Oppo R5 doesn’t come with all of latest and largest internals, and that’s okay as most people won’t need to care about iterations beyond 802.11n or Bluetooth 4.0 for a while. I was able to connect to my 5GHz home WiFi network just fine and use stream music to a Bluetooth speaker with no hiccups.

The Oppo R5 supports GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS (850/900/1900/2100MHz), and LTE (Bands 1, 3, and 7) networks. That means, in the good ole US, it’s missing support for T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 and Band 4 LTE networks, as well as AT&T’s Band 4 and 17 LTE networks. The HSPA+ compatible radios in the Oppo R5 work well on AT&T and should function similarly on T-Mobile, though I wasn’t able to test. As for LTE connectivity, Oppo has no plans on releasing a US LTE variant at this time. Bummer.

Call quality on the Oppo R5 ran the course just as one would expect. I was able to hear callers and they were able to hear me as intended without struggle.

Speakers and Audio
The single speaker output on the Oppo R5 isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s not going to go down without a fight either. As I type this, I’m jamming to a healthy mix of dubstep beats, and the Oppo R5 does produce enough sound for me. However, when being compared to other devices such as my Nexus 6, the Oppo R5 does lose that battle. As for the ringer, I was able to hear the ringer in my car and in crowded areas with ease.


One of the more prominent concerns with Oppo’s R5 surrounds the audio jack, or the lack thereof. Oppo wasn’t able to include your standard audio jack do to the R5’s extreme thinness and instead opted to provide a USB to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter. The question remains; how does audio sound through the USB adapter? While I’m not an audiophile by any means, throughout my testing I wasn’t able to tell the difference and was completely satisfied. And speaking of headphones, in standard Oppo fashion, the R5 comes with it’s very own set of high quality earbuds. You just won’t be able to use them if you happen to need to charge your phone at the same time.

Oppo’s rear camera is equipped with a 13 megapixel Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor. If that sounds familiar, it’s the same camera sensor found in Google’s Nexus 6. Though when comparing the two, I believe the Nexus 6 takes better photos. The Oppo R5 camera does produce detailed images coming from a variety of lighting scenarios with minimal noise, unless we go into low light scenarios, then the R5 seems to underperform. That said, the shutter speed on the Oppo R5 is extremely fast.

When it comes to camera software, Oppo’s PI 2.0+ engine offers some of the best features in the camera control business with a wide variety of shot options, various scene modes such as GIF, Double Exposure, RAW, Super Macro, After Focus, Colorful Night, Slow Shutter, etc and even an expert mode allowing shutter speed control, ISO controls, and exposure compensation options. Just like the Oppo Find 7, the Oppo R5 includes an Ultra HD mode, which allows for 50 MP shots by quickly taking a series of photos and then stitching them together. It does take an extra second or two, but the end result is a sharper, more detailed, and very large image.

Normal Ultra HD HDR Normal Ultra HD Normal Normal Ultra HD HDR HDR Ultra HD Normal Normal Normal Ultra HD HDR Low Light Normal Low Light Ultra HD Low Light HDR Night Slow Shutter Night Slow Shutter

As for video, the Oppo R5’s rear video resolution tops out at 1080p, unlike the current 2K trend, but does offer a few juicy tidbits such as slow motion video and HDR video. Here’s a short video sample.

The front facing camera on the Oppo R5 consists of a 5 megapixel shooter with an 83 degree wide angle lens, which seems to perform quite well for “selfies”, videos, and video conferencing. Here’s another short video sample.

Battery Life
The Oppo R5 might arguably be the pinnacle of design and build quality, but there’s definitely a few shortcomings and battery life is near the top of that list. Due to the incredibly thin nature of the Oppo R5, Oppo was only able to include a small 2,000 mAh battery. Throughout my testing, I was only able to get about 12 hours of usage with about 2 hours of screen on time. Producing a phone this thin definitely impacted battery life and I’m not sure why being able to boast the world’s thinnest phone is better than a phone that can get you through the day, but whatever, preferences I guess.


Though, the good news here is that the R5 comes with Oppo’s patented VOOC rapid charging technology, which is capable of charging the R5 up to 75% in about 30 minutes. The R5 I received didn’t include a US charger, which makes sense as they don’t plan on supporting US markets. However, I had a spare VOOC charger from another Oppo device and was able to successfully use VOOC rapid charging at the advertised rates. Being able to quickly give your dying phone a hefty helping of juice is quite nice.

Under the hood the Oppo R5 packs a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon 615 processor, an Adreno 405 GPU, and 2GB of RAM. The octa-core Snapdragon 615 SoC from Qualcomm is considered mid-range, though is 64-bit compatible. ColorOS 2.0 and Android 4.4.4 however, are only 32-bit, meaning the software doesn’t take full advantage of the hardware. Still though, the phone generally performs great and applications launch fast with no noticeable lag or dropped frames from games or videos. Every once in a while while accessing notifications or the quick toggles, I would notice stutter and lag. Chances are these issues have been resolved or can be resolved in future software updates.

For those that like numbers, the Oppo R5 scored 29,714. As you can see, the phone’s not going to win any specs or numbers awards. 

Screenshot_2015-01-17-21-12-01-175[1] Screenshot_2015-01-17-21-16-22-108[1]

ColorOS 2.0
When it comes to software, Oppo’s deep customization options and suite of applications that make up ColorOS are quite unique. With the Oppo R5, ColorOS received a version bump to 2.0 and comes with Android 4.4.4 KitKat, a first for Oppo phones. Although, the overall aesthetics haven’t changed all that much besides a darker settings panel, the gesture panel has been moved to the bottom, and the proprietary ColorOS apps received a fresh coat of paint.

Let me just tell you that moving the gesture panel from a swipe down from the top to a swipe up from the bottom is a lot nicer than it seems. The change in placement puts a stop to many accidental gesture panel launches when trying to access the notification shade, which normally resulted in users (including myself) just disabling the gesture panel in the past. The rest of Oppo’s standard gestures are all present, allowing for quick access to the camera, flashlight, changing tracks, turning the screen on and off, and now includes air gestures for navigating your home screen.

Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-05-18-834 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-05-53-387 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-10-15-34 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-05-26-573 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-13-46-783 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-14-27-772 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-11-39-673 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-09-43-919 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-11-11-394 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-11-20-950 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-10-42-728 Screenshot_2015-01-11-20-10-51-433

Moving on to Oppo’s full suite of applications, which are for the most part located inside an application called Security Center. Inside you’ll find Memory cleanup, App encryption, Data saving, Power manager, Quiet time, Block, Data monitor, Permission management, and Guest mode.

  • Memory cleanup – essentially an app and task killer, freeing up memory.
  • App encryption – not really encryption, it’s really just password protecting applications.
  • Data saving – you can block certain applications from accessing background data.
  • Power manager – power saving and super power saving modes.
  • Quiet time – allowing you to put your device into silent mode for certain hours.
  • Block – phone number white and black listing.
  • Data monitor – this is essentially just the built in Android data monitor.
  • Permission management – allows you to see which apps have access to which permissions.
  • Guest mode – allows you to set applications as private, disabling them by using the guest password.

Additionally, the theming capabilities are probably one of my favorite features of ColorOS. The Theme Store allows you to change the look and feel of nearly every aspect of your phone, though not as powerful as the theme engine that’s included with CyanogenMod.

As mentioned in the performance section above, ColorOS does have a few hiccups from time to time, that can be seen throughout the OS. For example, air gestures were very inconsistent and boreline too touchy. ColorOS comes with SwiftKey installed by default, if you try to change to another keyboard, the phone crashes and reboots, defaulting back to SwiftKey. The built in Music application is buggy, switching tracks automatically, though Google Play Music is fine. And lastly, sometimes the pull down toggles pull down horribly slow. Overall, I feel ColorOS 2.0 has some bugs and performance issues that need to be resolved, but it’s better than previous iterations of ColorOS.

At $499, the Oppo R5 is an expensive mid-range phone, but Oppo is obviously marketing this phone as a premium device based on the overall quality and aesthetics. When it comes to build quality, a lot of phones just can’t compare with what Oppo has done with the R5. As I said above, using the Oppo R5 feels like you’re holding an elegant tank in the palm of your hand. While I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home, Oppo has confirmed the R5’s impeccable build quality and used the R5 as a knife, a hammer, and a speed bump. Check out the video below to see what I’m talking about.

Beyond hardware though, the Oppo R5 is a tough sell for me and most likely for you too. The Oppo R5 is launching with Android 4.4.4 KitKat and if Oppo’s software update track record continues as it has for the past few years, the Oppo R5 most likely won’t see Android 5.0 Lollipop without going to a custom ROM.

Generally speaking, Oppo and their devices are very developer friendly. However, with limited connectivity options, there’s a good chance we might not see a whole lot of developer support for this phone making this a touch choice even for the Android tinkerer.


If you could care less about Android updates, love having as many software customization options as possible, and happen to live in part of the world with the appropriate LTE bands, the Oppo R5 is a worthy contender if you’re looking to turn a few heads while sporting this hardware in your hand. Be sure to check out our official Oppo R5 forums and let us know what you think.

]]> 0
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge Review: Is it better than the Note 4? Fri, 02 Jan 2015 19:14:42 +0000 note-edge-hero

As it stands, it is more novelty than game changer, but if you are set on the Note 4 and don’t mind spending the extra cash there is no reason not to opt for the Note Edge.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge offers everything we love about the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with the addition of curved AMOLED technology that creates a unique secondary display. It takes some getting used to, and functionality is limited for now, but the phone’s Edge display offers a novel experience that subtly enhances usability without sacrificing performance.

What’s Different


Aside from the obvious inclusion of the Edge display, there are a few key differences between the Galaxy Note 4 and the Note Edge, most of them superficial. Because of the curved AMOLED design, the shape and size of the phone are altered slightly amounting to a device that is slightly wider.

The Note Edge measures 5.96 x 3.24 x 0.33 inches compared to the Note 4’s 6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33-inch frame. The Note Edge comes in a hair lighter than the Note 4 at 6.1 ounces.

In terms of hardware the major changes include a Super AMOLED display smaller that that of the Note 4. The 5.6-inch display of the Note Edge doesn’t feel any smaller than the 5.7-inch screen of the Note 4, especially taking into consideration the added benefit of the Edge display. The Note Edge also has a 3,000mAh battery, 220mAh less capacity than the standard Note 4.

note-4-note-edge-backs note-4-note-edge-stacked note-4-note-edge

The overall design of the Note Edge stays in line with that of the Note 4, including Samsung’s faux-leather material on the rear of the device. The left half of the phone is more-or-less identical to the Note 4. It’s the right side with its cascading side display that is the Note Edge’s biggest departure from the design of the Note 4.

This review will continue to focus on the Note Edge’s curved display and accompanying functionality. All other hardware and design aspects, including the Note’s S-Pen stylus, are covered in our full Galaxy Note 4 review.

The Edge Display


Physically, the Edge display takes some getting used to. A standard-looking AMOLED display takes a downward curve toward its right edge. The display rests under its matching curved glass, both aspects are continuous from the main display to the Edge display. The Edge portion features a resolution of 2,560 x 160 pixels.

The curve is close to a 45-degree angle and terminates sharply where the display glass meets the back of the phone. The created edge isn’t the most ergonomic design of all time, but it doesn’t create any immediate discomfort. Because of the placement of the Edge display, users will need to adjust their typical smartphone grip a bit in order to avoid accidentally tapping icons or content.

The Edge display serves two primary functions within the Note Edge’s Android presentation: acting as a shortcuts drawer and providing at-a-glance access to notifications. Both elevate the Edge display from novelty to something quite utilitarian in overall presentation of the Note Edge.

It’s an adjustment from the standard Android (and smartphone, for that matter) interface to constantly reach for your most-used shortcuts to the right of the display rather than the bottom, but it’s a smart one on Samsung’s part. Relocating the shortcuts frees up more of the main display’s screen real estate for widgets and other homescreen modifications. There is also enough room on the Edge display to include a few more shortcuts than you would otherwise be able to. Note that not all apps can be added as an Edge display shortcut.


The Edge display works well as a notifications ticker. You can swipe through alerts, missed calls and texts — the display works particularly well for displaying the content of incoming messages. The display also operates independently of the main screen, meaning you can discretely glance at incoming notifications while your phone rests on the table or desk in front of you. For those curious, notifications still appear in the standard pull-down drawer accessible from your homescreen.

Other Software Functions

There is, of course, more to the Edge display than what we have discussed so far. While out of the box the Note Edge is set up to serve shortcuts and notifications from the curved portion of its display (and this is ultimately what the Edge display does best), there is a bit more to it.


Swiping down for the top of the Edge display serves up a drawer of tool shortcuts. The most unique of which is one that only a device like the Note Edge could take advantage of: a ruler. Yes, it’s ultimately a bit useless. It only measures up to 4 inches, and you could just as easily gauge the length of something of that size by simply comparing it to the actual Note Edge.

With the phone’s display off, you can view only the curved edge by swiping your finger along its curve. This will show the date and time as well as weather and other notifications with brief previews depending on the comment. You can further swipe through the various Edge screens without lighting up your entire device, perfect for discretely checking incoming notifications during a meeting or at other inopportune times.

A night clock mode dimly illuminates the Edge display with the date and time, acting as replacement to the alarm clock on your nightstand. Be warned that while it isn’t a huge impact, this will slowly drain battery life while you sleep if the device is left off the charger.

One use of the Edge display demonstrates how such technology can be used in more innovative and intriguing ways. The shutter button of the camera software has been relocated from its place on the main display to along the curve, mimicking the placement of the shutter button on traditional cameras. It might take a bit of getting used to, but once you are familiar with the change it feels totally natural.

note-edge-panels note-edge-customize note-edge-lefties

The Edge display settings menu provides for some cursory customizations to give it a look and feel that better suits your style, and Samsung has no plans to keep their curved AMOLED off limits from developers. Content is rather scarce other than the functions already provided by Samsung, but we are interested to see if any developers out there jump on the bandwagon.

A note for left-handers


Within the Edge display’s settings menu is an option to allow the screen to rotate 180 degrees. This allows those left-handers among us to use a device that was no doubt designed for righties. Since the phone is held upside-down to achieve this affect, this creates the issue of the Note Edge’s hardware navigation buttons now being located at the top of the display. Samsung has solved the issue by providing software alternatives that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the display. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best solution lefties have right now.

Battery Life

The Note Edge features a smaller battery than the Note 4, and its battery life does suffer slightly. 3,000mAh of power capacity still provide about a day of life on normal use. Vegging out on video or using the Edge as a gaming machine will obviously have their impacts, but even then the phone should pull a respectable 10-12 hours per charge with heavy use.

The Note Edge, as with the Note 4, contains quick charge technology that allows users to restore about 50% of battery life in only 30 minutes. The Edge lived up to these numbers, and charging really is pretty painless.

Is there better battery life out there with other Android devices? Most assuredly. But the Note Edge still offers strong battery performance that is aided by its ability to charge quickly when needed.

The Bottom Line


The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge takes everything we like about the Note 4 and enhances it with its Edge display. Is it enough to say it is a better overall phone? The answer to that still isn’t quite clear. While the Edge display has its advantages with quick access to shortcuts, notifications, tools, and other content, its tough to say these features are worth the added cost of owning the Note Edge.

The Note Edge retails for $399.99 with a two-year contract. The Galaxy Note 4 is a full $100 cheaper, and there are equally strong smartphones that can be purchased contract-free for the same price or only a little more than the Edge.

In the end we give Samsung an ‘A’ for effort. It’s refreshing to see a phone that not only tries something new while pushing the technological limits of smartphones forward, but the Edge display still doesn’t feel like a must-have feature. As it stands, it is more novelty than game changer, but if you are set on the Note 4 and don’t mind spending the extra cash there is no reason not to consider the Note Edge.

The Good

  • Innovative Edge display adds functionality to the Note 4 design
  • At-a-glance notifications offer distraction free use
  • Shortcuts on Edge display free up space on the main homescreen

The Bad

  • Can be slightly awkward to hold/takes some getting used to
  • No perfect solution for left-handers
  • Battery life slightly worse than standard Note 4.

Overall: 4.5/5

]]> 0
Samsung Gear VR Review Mon, 29 Dec 2014 17:01:04 +0000 gear-vr-hero

It’s rare that a piece of tech comes along and completely stuns me, but the Gear VR did it.

Samsung’s partnership with Oculus has produced a stunning virtual reality experience with the Gear VR and Galaxy Note 4. The platform still has a long way to go before many casual users will see a need for it, but the early promise has us looking forward to the future of consumer VR technology.

Design & Comfort


The Samsung Gear VR definitely looks the part, presenting a headset typical of our visions of virtual reality while adding a bit of polish that in its own way implies that the technology has finally arrived for the masses. And that is really what the Gear VR is all about: a consumer-grade virtual reality experience at a (mostly) affordable price.

The Gear VR is built of lightweight plastic that does feel a bit cheap, but that’s a tradeoff we are more than fine with. Keeping the weight of such a headset down is key to wearability. A flimsy plastic shield is removed to reveal the dock for the Note 4. We have found no real purpose for this plastic shield other than that of aesthetics — we left it off and set it aside. The Note 4 plugs into a Micro USB port and locks down with a clamping mechanism. It’s easy to get in and out.


For a pair of futuristic VR goggles, the technology incorporated into the Gear VR is actually quite simple. The headset is mainly utilized for its lenses, which serve to create 3D stereoscopic imagery from content formatted for VR. There is a touchpad for navigation on the side of the goggles as well as volume and back buttons, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and its Oculus tech does the heavy lifting. We have explored the topic in a bit more depth, as well as what it means for folks who want to use the Gear VR with a phone other than the Note 4, in a separate article.

As something intended to be worn on the head for what could amount to significant periods of time, the Gear VR better be designed for comfort. We are happy to say that this is mostly the case with one or two small exceptions.


The presence and weight of the Gear VR is noticeable when the Note 4 is docked in the goggles, but not in a way that felt unbalanced or irritating to the head or neck. Give credit here to the headset’s adjustable straps, which offer padded support around the back of the head as well as the top. Around the lens box is a foam gasket that not only protects the skin of the face, but also creates a good seal to block out external light (which goes a long way in selling the VR experience).

Since most of the weight is centered toward the front of the Gear VR, if the straps are not tight enough to pull the goggles snug against the orbits of the eyes it does have a tendency to slip forward and down. If this is the case, the plastic casing has a habit of digging into the top of the nose, which can cause some discomfort over an extended period. It would have been nice if Samsung had included some additional padding in this area, but a bit of foam could easily be added by the user with a bit of strong tape or glue.

VR Experience

Jumping into the virtual world of the Gear VR is simple enough. Insert the Galaxy Note 4 and the Oculus Home app will boot right up. The first time you use the headset you will be treated to a demo featuring a montage of content (some available in a longer format and some exclusive to the demo, for now) that really showcases what the Gear VR can do. For someone with limited experience with VR, it was a mind blowing experience. Sharing the demo with family and friends, it has led to more than a few gasps of amazement.

That one short tech demo is evidence enough that we have something big on our hands with the Gear VR, but the joy of operating extends into some of the more fully fleshed-out apps and videos. Head tracking is nearly flawless with no noticeable latency and smooth operation. You move your head, your POV in the virtual world moves to correspond. As long as the content supports it, you can look about in a full 360 degree range: above, below, to the sides, and behind.

In some cases, games especially, the display can lose calibration causing you to have to turn your head at weird angles to view the content that is intended to be presented as the default view. This is easily enough fixed by holding the back button to access the settings menu and selecting the option to reorient. It’s a minor annoyance that likely has more to do with the way the  particular apps or games are programmed than any fault of the Gear VR or its Oculus software.


Navigating the interface of the Gear VR is accomplished through a combination of head tracking and a touchpad on the side of the headset. The touchpad can be used to tap selections or swipe through menus. A gamepad can also be connected for navigation purposes (and is required for certain games). As of now there are no hands-free controls for the Gear VR, meaning you will always need at least one physical tap to start up content. It would be nice to see voice commands or gesture support in future iterations.

The VR itself is immersive. We hesitate to say you feel 100% transported to another world, but we found ourselves reaching out into the virtual ether more than once only to realize that our hands and limbs did not exist within the context of the Gear VR. The virtual and 3D effects are executed almost flawlessly.

Whether it was a tour of Iceland, a Cirque du Soleil performance in an empty theater, or a swim through the virtual deep ocean, the experiences were very impressive. We found more interest in 360 video content, but there is definitely some promise on the gaming side as well. A small disappointment is a lack of native support for 180 degree video content.


If there is one downside to the viewing experience it is image quality. While the Gear VR features an adjustable focus, it’s hard to get things perfectly free of blur. Full disclosure: I wear glasses for nearsightedness, which cannot be worn with the Gear VR. This may have had an effect on my interpretation of image quality, but others with better vision than I reported similar results.

Even with the Note 4’s high pixel density, the image might have been sharper and most videos lack the rich, vibrant color we have come to expect from Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays. It is again somewhat understandable considering the design. The Gear VR is holding the display only an inch or two away from the eye, so at that distance you are bound to notice visible pixelation. To its credit, the Gear VR does a great job of not simply feeling like you have a smartphone held only an inch or two in front of your eye.



The Gear VR is currently only available in its Innovator Edition, a public beta that launches with limited software support up front. Many of the video and game experiences amount to little more than glorified tech demos, but we found a reason to check out a majority of the content available in the Oculus Store.

The Oculus Home itself is easy enough to navigate, dividing content into categories like 360 Video and 360 Photos, movies, games, and more. Alternatively, accessing the library lays out all content in one place.


Some of the more specific app experiences include a virtual theater mode for viewing standard 2D and 3D videos not designed for 360 degree head tracking. In this mode you can choose to view in several theater settings, including a home cinema and even the surface of the moon. It is easy to load your own video files for viewing in Oculus Cinema, but streaming services and other media apps cannot be accessed from within the Gear VR interface. As awesome as watching Netflix on the Gear VR sounds, it simply is not possible at this time.

You can also load your own 360 video content for viewing on the Gear VR, and this immersive viewing experience might have been our favorite aspect of the Gear VR. A lot will depend on the quality and production of the video you are viewing, but there is something magical about being able to peer around inside the confines of a virtual world.

Gaming options are currently limited, but what’s here can be addicting. It’s easy to get lost in the role of a hacker playing through a few missions on Darknet. Just be warned, extended use has the potential to cause some headaches or at least mild discomfort or strain.

The bottom line…


It’s rare that a piece of tech comes along and completely stuns me, but the Gear VR did it. Make no mistake: there is a long way to go before the virtual reality experience presented here is perfect. But the promise of what is possible with the Gear VR (and hopefully more Oculus Mobile headsets to follow) has me excited to see what comes next.

In recent memory, the Gear VR is one of the most fun gadgets I have had the pleasure to play with, but it’s more of a luxury than anything else at this point. For starters, if you don’t have a Note 4 or plans to purchase a Note 4 in the future, the Gear VR is nearly useless. Then there is the fact that this is the Innovator Edition and content support is, as of now, limited. At $200 you aren’t draining the bank, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to give the platform a few more months to grow.

Having said that, if you own a Note 4 and want to check out the Gear VR experience, we highly recommend it. It’s hard to imagine you will be disappointed.

The Good

  • Immersive virtual reality experience
  • Comfortable, lightweight design
  • Flawless head tracking and responsive software

The Bad

  • Innovator Edition features limited content, no third-party app support
  • Only works with Galaxy Note 4
  • Can cause headaches or eye strain over prolonged periods of use

Overall: 4.5/5


]]> 0
ASUS ZenWatch Review Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:33:20 +0000 asus-zenwatch-hero

If the ASUS ZenWatch is a sign of things to come, we like where Android Wear is headed. The watch itself is one of the more thoughtfully designed devices to sport Google’s wearable software platform, but like those before is not without its flaws. Those looking to make a fashion statement will love the look of the ZenWatch on their wrists. Power users might still be left wanting more, however.



As we enter what we could more or less consider generation 1.5 of Android Wear devices, manufacturers are seemingly gaining confidence in the form factor. It shows in the design of devices like the LG G Watch R with its analog-inspired hardware and now the ASUS ZenWatch. The ZenWatch opts for the square/rectangle form factor seen in devices like the Samsung Gear Live and original G Watch, but does so in a way that pays homage to traditional watch roots.

Immediately noticeable is ASUS’ choice of default watchband. It’s a thin strap of brown leather that sits in stark contrast of other Android Wear devices, all of which seem to skew toward chunky and black regardless of material choice. The ZenWatch utilizes a clasping mechanism more commonly seen in conjunction with metal watchbands. It adds a bit of intrigue to what might otherwise be a boring bit of leather by providing a nice accent on the underside of the wrist. Still, if it’s not quite your style it can easily be swapped out for any other 22mm watchband.

The brown leather of the band blends seamlessly into the body of the watch thanks to the classy yet subtle addition of a band of copper-colored metal sandwiched between the silver halves of the ZenWatch’s stainless steel case. The case itself is slim with a subtle curve to its face, though the bottom half is more or less flat. The whole package exudes effortless style — a classic look hardly dated by the modern technology buried within.

While the ZenWatch looks great on the wrist, we can’t say it feels like the greatest fit. Those with larger wrists will find themselves on the borderline of needing to replace the included watchband out of the box. My wrists are by no means thick, and even after maxing out the length of the clasp the ZenWatch still felt a bit too snug for my liking. Sizing issues aside the flat, rigid steel case didn’t sit all that comfortably on the wrist. A more ergonomic design could have gone a long way to prevent the constant abrasive rubbing against the wrist bones.

The watch design includes one hardware button for standby and power on/off (plus quick access to settings), but it sits tucked under one side and flush with the case. The design implies the button is meant for use only when the ZenWatch is off the wrist, and indeed it is quite hard to reach when wearing. A more accessible placement would have been nice (a mock crown would have been a nice design accent, as well), but the action assigned to the button can be accessed directly from the interface so it is far from a deal breaker.


The ZenWatch features a hardware compliment more or less standard with other Android Wear devices. The internals include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 SoC and 512MB RAM. 4GB of internal storage are there should you need it, but most content will be accessed over a wireless bridge with your Android smartphone; it is unlikely you will need to be worried about running out of space.

The display is a 1.63-inch AMOLED fortified with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. At 320×320 resolution it’ a far cry from the HD our eyes are used to, but on such a small screen it still boasts a solid pixel density of 278 ppi. Fans of efficient design won’t be too pleases with the amount of bezel here. In addition to the metal edges of the case, large swaths of black surround the display on all sides. One could only imagine if the ZenWatch featured an edge-to-edge display. Sadly, it’s not what we get here.

A built-in heart rate monitor is becoming an expected feature for Android Wear devices, but with the ZenWatch it isn’t immediately apparent where this bit of hardware is tucked away. To utilize the monitor, a finger must be placed on each side of the display touching the front bezel/metal casing.

The ZenWatch is water resistant but not waterproof, which is fine. Not too many folks are swimming or bathing with a leather-banded watch, in any case, and the metal clasp makes the ZenWatch easy enough to take off.



As an Android Wear smartwatch, the ASUS ZenWatch is privy to all the goodies Google has baked into the platform. Unlike Android on smartphones, the Big G has been pretty firm about keeping the interface standardized, so voice interactions, Google Now information, and phone-based notifications and controls work about as effortlessly as they do on any other Android Wear offering. There’s not much to the basic interface that can’t be gleaned from the quick tutorial upon booting up and pairing the device to a smartphone (worth noting that only Android devices are supported as of now) for the the first time.

But the standardized interface hasn’t held back ASUS and friends from finding their own ways to make each Android Wear a more unique software experience. ASUS does so with a few additions, primarily in the form of Android smartphone apps that further interface with your ZenWatch. These apps include ZenWatch Manager, software that allows you to customize the look of the device’s exclusive watch faces.

A more useful feature allows your ZenWatch to notify you if you wander off without your phone. This is important because an Android Wear device is more or less useless without its accompanying Android smartphone, but also because losing your phone is a real bummer. Other possibilities unlocked by ASUS-specific apps are remote viewfinder and shutter capabilities for your smartphone thanks to Remote Camera.

Wellness features include the built-in heart rate monitor and accompanying software to track your well-being based on feedback from that sensor and the watch’s pedometer. The software side can be a bit finicky in terms of an accurate heart rate reading, but that could also be partly due to the actual heart rate monitor hardware.


A chief complaint against Android Wear devices early on is disappointing battery life. Users will find no solace with the ZenWatch. While the 369mAh battery has more than enough juice to get the average user through a day of use, power users pairing many apps and service with their watch might end up scraping by on fumes.

On the short side, the ZenWatch will reliably produce 12-13 hours of uptime on average. With slightly more conservative usage, the number can be pushed to closer to 20. What is clear, though, is that the device will require daily charging. No, they have yet to design and Android Wear device that runs on watch batteries that last for years at a time. Sorry, guys.

Key to getting the most out of battery life is opting to turn off the always on display option. We’d also suggest running a lower brightness setting.

The Bottom Line


As the Android Wear ecosystem begins to mature we are starting to see some truly great smartwatch contenders, and the ASUS ZenWatch is one of them. It has all the style of a classic time piece while introducing the modern advantages of Android Wear, though it brings along the platform’s shortcomings, as well.

For those looking for a smartwatch that is both a fashion accent and utilitarian object, you might look no further than the ASUS ZenWatch. For all its minor flaws it is truly one of the better Android Wear devices currently available — especially at a price of $200.

The Good

  • Sharp, classic design
  • Quality materials at a great price

The Bad

  • Not the most comfortable watch to wear
  • Battery life a bit disappointing

Overall: 3.5/5

]]> 0
LG G Watch R Review Tue, 09 Dec 2014 18:07:13 +0000 g-watch-r-wrist

While LG was quick to jump into the Android Wear ecosystem with the original G Watch, the G Watch R feels more like their first true attempt at an Android smartwatch. It refines much of what was introduced with the G Watch while opting for a circular form factor that serves to merge the traditional with the futuristic. Albeit for a few flaws inherent in nearly all Android Wear devices, the G Watch R is about as good as it gets for a smartwatch.



The LG G Watch R is the first piece of Android Wear hardware that, at least in terms of designs, recognizes it is a watch first and a smart computing device second. A lot of attention has been paid to the details of the design, from an analog-inspired bezel that serves to mask the issue of bulky screen-edge electronics to a genuine leather 22mm strap. If the latter doesn’t suit your taste, it can be swapped out for a nearly endless selection of watchbands currently available for your more run-of-the-mill (i.e. non-smart) watch offerings. A mock crown serves as a screen on/off switch and can also be used to power down the device or access system menus.

Going back to the bezel, it is one of the few instances where an Android Wear watch pays service to the more traditional form factor, but it also showcases a unique integration between hardware and software that hasn’t been explored with previous smartwatch offerings. The hands of the virtual watch faces sync up seamlessly with the physical markings on the bezel to great effect.

While the Moto 360 has won over plenty of fans with its round design, the G Watch R exploits the form factor to create perhaps the most complete Android Wear device to date. Its mix of flat black accents and quality leather for the strap imbue a refined classiness. This is a watch that looks sharp with any outfit, including a suit. On that note, the design of the watch is decidedly masculine, a trend all too common with the first crop of Android Wear devices. One can’t help but feel like the bulky, stark looks of many Android Wear devices completely ignore the female segment of the market.

And the G Watch R is indeed bulky, a chief complaint levied against the device in most early reviews. We would counter that at 46.4 x 53.6 mm, it is not quite as bulky as some would have us believe, but we can see how those with smaller wrists or an affinity toward a more subtle fashion might find it a turn off. In defense of LG, they did manage to cram quite a bit of hardware within, so we can be a bit forgiving of the watch’s girth.


The focal point of the G Watch R experience is a circular OLED display measuring 1.3 inches in diameter. It’s 320×320 resolution is far from HD (and at times noticeably grainy), but it does not lack for visibility in nearly any lighting condition. In fact, at higher brightness settings the light from the watch face has a tendency to drown out the physical markings on the bezel, making them difficult to read in some lighting conditions. It’s a minor annoyance that can be avoided by choosing a proper brightness setting, but one worth mentioning.

The G Watch R is one of the more powerful Android Wear devices on the market with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC clocked at 1.2GHz and 512MB of on board RAM. The watch features 4GB of built-in storage, though since the device must be constantly synced with a a smartphone where much of its data will be streamed from it’s hard to imagine a case where all of that storage space will be needed.


Rounding out the hardware are features like IP67 resistance to dust and water and a built-in heart rate sensor position on the underside of the watch. As with much of the heart rate sensing technology that has made its way to mobile devices in recent months, it is not always the most cooperative, but it comes as a nice bonus for those planning to use their G Watch R to monitor fitness-related activities.



We’ve already mentioned how the G Watch R’s watch faces integrate nicely with the physical bezel of the device, and we won’t delve too deeply into the intricacies of Android Wear. For that, you might want to check out our Moto 360 review or our look at seven things we hated about Android Wear. It’s worth noting that Android Wear is a developing platform and looks to only get better with time; a Lollipop update that apparently addresses many of our concerns should arrive soon

Back to the G Watch R. While Google has promoted the circular watch face option alongside the more common square form factor found in watches like the original G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, the Android Wear software does not seem to support both equally. Info cards are cut off by the curving lower edges of the display, greatly reducing the amount of visible content when using the G Watch R. This is perhaps its biggest flaw. As a device designed for at-a-glance info, these display issues are a major hinderance to usability.

As with other Android Wear devices, the software experience is designed to act as a companion to and compliment an Android smartphone (we should point out that Android Wear devices are as of now only compatible with Android and not iOS or Windows Phone handsets). While the benefit of this is a platform that doesn’t attempt to do more than truly fits its form factor, it also amplifies its limitations. Far too often the Android Wear interface prompts the use to complete an action on their smartphone. Certain actions — music playback controls come to mind — possible through Android Wear end up feeling redundant.

We chalk most of this up to a platform still in its infancy. Some will argue that Android Wear launched before it was ready, and we can’t really say there isn’t some truth to that. How Android Wear matures will greatly influence the usefulness and longevity of devices like the G Watch R.

Battery Life

One thing the G Watch R has going for it is battery life. Depending on how you have your device set up (brightness, watch face always on, etc.), you can expect anywhere from a full day of use on a single charge to closer to two days. It features one of the larger power cells an Android Wear device has seen at 410mAh to help it achieve this goal (and a bit of additional design bulk).

Two days is impressive for an Android Wear watch, but it’s far from what many expect of such a device. Until manufacturers can replicate battery times of traditional watches on their smart counterparts, those looking for a truly watch-like experience will always be disappointed in the final result.

We’re not sure this a truly fair comparison given everything the G Watch R does beyond simply tell time, but it’s understandable that folks don’t want yet another device to charge at the very least every other day. Still, as we said the battery time is impressive for an Android Wear device of this class, especially considering its fairly powerful hardware.

The Bottom Line


The G Watch R gets so much right in terms of design and hardware that it’s hard not to call it the best Android Wear device on the market. It’s bulkiness won’t be for everybody, but aside from faltering in the software department slightly, which falls more on the side of Google, it is a well-rounded (no pun intended) smartwatch that provides an experience that melds our expectations of a traditional watch with the forward-thinking capabilities of wearable tech.

The Good

  • Sleek design integrates hardware with software
  • Top-notch hardware
  • Battery life among the best for Android Wear devices

The Bad

  • Software experience still needs refinement
  • Bulkiness might be a deal breaker for some

Overall: 3.5/5

]]> 0
Google Nexus 6 review, a whale of a phone built by Motorola Sun, 30 Nov 2014 16:22:55 +0000 Nexus_6_Midnight_Blue-4

Since the release of the Nexus One in January 2010, Google has made the Nexus line of devices some of the most important devices across the entire Android community. Nexus devices represent Android as a whole and in theory pack everything that Google has to offer, acting as somewhat as a reference device for the Android ecosystem. With the launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop the device set to tackle the daunting task of showcasing Google’s ‘sweetest’ update to date is none other than the Motorola made Nexus 6.

When Google purchased Motorola Mobility for 12.5 billion dollars in 2011, many Android fans became elated as Motorola has often been seen as an industry leader when it comes to design, quality, and performance. The thought was that someday we’d see a Motorola made Nexus phone and we’d see a marriage of hardware and software to the tone of something that only Apple could accomplish. While Google has since sold Motorola to Lenovo, we’re still seeing that dream come true in the form of a Nexus.


In the past, Nexus phones may have lacked or had a subpar feature, such as battery life or camera quality, and it was generally accepted due to the phones extremely wallet friendly pricing. That isn’t the case this time around. Google didn’t focus on aggressive pricing as they did with the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, but have accomplished something that’s possibly even more important to the average consumer, launching on every major carrier here in the United States. With top tier hardware and carrier support, Google’s strategy with the Nexus 6 differs from previous devices not only with quality, but with pricing and availability.

Before we get started, it’s worth mentioning that I was pretty critical of Motorola’s “Shamu” when rumors started to surface surrounding the Nexus 6. We were flooded with credible reports stating that Google and Motorola were working on a phablet, a term that just makes me shudder. I very publicly stated that a smartphone of this size would not be something on my wishlist, in fact, I stated it would be the first Nexus phone that I didn’t want at all. I’ve never owned a phone that sported the “phablet” (shudder) moniker as my daily driver until now.

How have my thoughts changed over the past 5 months, from rumor, to actually using the massive phone? Let’s get started with the Nexus 6 review below.

Nexus 6 Specifications

  • Price: $649 / $699 from Google Play Store
  • SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805
  • CPU: Quad-core 2.7GHz Krait 450
  • GPU: Adreno 420
  • Display: 1440 x 2560 5.96″, 493PPI
  • Memory: 3GB RAM
  • Storage: 32GB / 64GB (no microSD)
  • Cameras: 13MP rear with dual-LED flash / 2MP front
  • Battery: 3220mAh
  • Gorilla Glass 3
  • NFC
  • Qi Wireless Charging
  • Ports: MicroUSB, 3.5mm Audio
  • Dimensions: 159.3 x 83 x 10.1 mm
  • Weight: 184g

Hardware Design and Feel

The overall design of the Nexus 6 is somewhat different than what we’ve seen from previous Nexus phones and tablets over the past couple years, even including the new Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 doesn’t sport a flat back as other Nexus devices. In all honesty, it’s literally a blown up Moto X 2014, from the speaker grills, to the SIM tray, to the back, and to the metal edges that encompass the phone.


There are some differences between these cousin devices though. Unlike the Moto X from this year, the Motorola dimple on the back of the Nexus 6 is more akin to the style of the original Moto X from last year. The power buttons have been slightly moved too from the smaller Moto X design, moving them down more towards the middle of the phone to accommodate the larger size.

The Nexus 6 is a very solid feeling smartphone that just feels great in the hand albeit it’s massive size. The curved backing of the Nexus 6 allows the phone to fit and feel very comfortable in the palm of your hand. That said, not all tasks can be completed one handed all of the time. I find myself attempting to use the Nexus 6 one-handed, which does work for many short termed tasks as I mentioned, but ultimately using the phone two-handed for longer interactions is the way to go as it’s much more comfortable.


The phone does fit in my front pocket without any issue, though I do find myself having to adjust my tighter jeans a little bit before I sit down. It’s nothing that’s out of the ordinary as I’ve had to adjust for a large set of keys from time to time, so that I do no stab myself in the leg. It’s something you get used to and eventually it’s a task that becomes second nature. And sometimes, I’ll just take the phone out of my pocket before I sit down too.


As someone that has never used a phone that’s even close to this size before, I will say that after a week I didn’t mind the large size anymore.


The 5.96 inch display of the Nexus 6 is truly one of the better displays you’ll find around thanks to the AMOLED panel. The 1440 x 2560 resolution with 493 pixels per inch provides an incredible viewing experience and a great amount of detail. On some lesser dense displays I can see the pixels. On this display, I could not. The display on the Nexus 6 is very vibrant with color and provides excellent viewing angles.

Where the glass meets the side of the phone, the minimal bezels and sweeping design allow for easy side swiping navigation gestures as your fingers very naturally glide over the edges. While this does help, no matter how you look at it, the Nexus 6 is a huge phone and navigating the large display will not be for everyone.

WiFi, Bluetooth, Data, and Call Quality

Motorola is known far and wide throughout the Android world as providing some of the best radios in the business. The Nexus 6 backs up those claims with ease. I had great WiFi performance, connecting to my 802.11AC router at home with impeccable speeds. The Bluetooth 4.1 radio connected fine to my Bluetooth speakers, Google Glass, and Moto 360 without hiccups. I live in an area that has very poor cell reception, but the Nexus 6 performed well while on Straight Talk via AT&T’s network. At home my dBm ranged from about -100 to -119 (not the phones fault) and I had much better service around town with a dBm in the -90’s.

Call quality on the Nexus 6 is on par with the rest of the device’s hardware. Voice comes in loud and clear, without the need to strain your ear to hear the person on the other end of the call.

Speakers and Audio

Thankfully, the Nexus 6 sports two front facing speakers and not just two front facing speaker grills like the Moto X 2014. The Nexus 6 has not only great audio quality, but produces sound that is actually quite loud. In fact, I found myself turning the volume down a notch or two during frequent jam sessions with the Nexus 6 around the house.

I have a fairly long commute and often listen to Google Play Music while in the car. With every smartphone I’ve owned, I found myself subconsciously reaching for the volume button on my steering wheel to crank up volume. My car doesn’t haven’t Bluetooth support, so sadly this doesn’t do anything. With the Nexus 6, I found myself not yearning for louder music as often as I had with other smartphones. Simply put, I’m quite pleased with the speaker performance of the Nexus 6 which is a night and day different when being compared to the Nexus 5.


Additionally, the speaker grills on the Nexus 6 aren’t flush with the display surface, jutting out ever so slightly. You’ll either love or hate this. Personally, I like this feature as the speakers ever so slightly lift the display off of the surface if you happen to place the phone face down, helping to prevent minor scratches.


Another pain point for Nexus users has often been the camera. There’s no easy way to say it: Nexus devices generally have subpar camera output, especially in low-light. However the Nexus 6, with it’s focus on hardware quality and design, performs just as well as the rest of the package in the camera department, and I’m quite impressed.

The rear camera on the Nexus 6 sports a 13 megapixel shooter with auto focus, optical image stabilization, and dual-LED “ring” flash, which is powered by the Sony IMX214 CMOS sensor.  The rear camera is able to capture 4K video at 30FPS.

The front facing camera on the Nexus 6 comes in the 2MP HD flavor and is able to capture video at 1080P.

My impressions of the Nexus 6 camera are quite positive as mentioned above, producing great photos in normal mode, eye popping vibrant photos in HDR, and performing quite well in low light scenarios. However, the occasional HDR overprocessing does exist and sometimes normal photos can seem a bit washed out. These very minor issues can most likely be tweaked with software. Overall, the quality and detail of the Nexus 6 camera is a major improvement over previous Nexus offerings.

Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Normal Nexus 6 HDR Nexus 6 Nighttime Flash Nexus 6 Low Light No Flash Nexus 6 Low Light Flash Nexus 6 Low Light HDR Nexus 6 Nighttime Indoor Flash Nexus 6 Nighttime Flash

Everyone has different expectations when choosing a mobile camera. Take a look for yourselves at the images above before you make a decision on the camera. You can also view all of my photos taken with the Nexus 6 here.

Battery Life

The final pain point of Nexus users or Android users as  whole surrounds battery life. The battery life portion of the review is always quite hard and highly subjective as each user has quite the different setup, including usage habits, applications installed, and even signal strength can play a major role in overall longevity.

The Nexus 6 is equipped with a 3220mAh battery, which depending on who you are, might seem a little small seeing as the battery has to push a QHD display and a beefy Snapdragon 805 processor. The battery optimizations done in Android 5.0 Lollipop gives the Nexus 6 respectable battery life, maybe even great battery life depending on your use cases.

Screenshot_2014-11-28-09-19-18 Screenshot_2014-11-28-09-19-24 Screenshot_2014-11-28-09-19-12

As I sit here writing this review, my Nexus 6 is at 17%, has been off the charger for 24 hours, and has a little over 2 hours of screen on time. Based on my usage the past day, the battery meter is telling me that I have about 10 hours left until I’m fully drained.

Throughout the past week I’ve had similar experiences, able to gain 4+ hours of screen on time during 18-20 hours of use or 3 hours of screen on time with about 28-30 hours off the charger more than once. That’s not always the case though. On two occasions I had my battery die in about 14 hours, with only 3 hours of screen on time, however I do believe the severe lack of service was to blame for one of those days and the other was due to an odd Google Play Services bug which kept my phone awake for 3 hours straight.


And speaking of bugs, let’s talk a little bit about the performance of the Nexus 6. I’m not going to read a lot into benchmarks or numbers as I don’t feel they’re worth all that much in the grand scheme of things. I’m much more concerned with real world scenarios. Additionally, some benchmark applications aren’t updated to support the hardware properly or even the latest version of Android properly. For those that like big numbers though, here they are:

Nexus_6_Benchmark-3 Nexus_6_Benchmark-2 Nexus_6_Benchmark-1

The Nexus 6 takes a very long time to start-up, I’m talking a little over a minute. I wouldn’t say this is that big of a deal, because most people don’t reboot their devices all that often. It’s just mildly annoying. That said, once your device is up and running the Nexus 6 is extremely fast and responsive.

Moving around the Google Now Launcher I see no jitteriness or lag moving from home screen to home screen or launching the application drawer and swiping through the pages. The animations on the Nexus 6 don’t hinder performance or slow down the devices hardware unlike other OEM devices. I don’t see any lag while launching the Overview (Recents) or when tapping the Home button.

Sometimes opening the camera can be a little slower than I would prefer, this seems to be a random occurrence though. No matter if the camera opened slow or fast, shooting a photo is always instant, unless doing HDR, which does take an extra second to begin processing, which then takes about 3 seconds itself. You can continue shooting more photos while they’re being processed in the the background.

Shooting video in 4K seems to work quite well, unless you’re moving around. As you move the phone around you’ll notice a slight hiccup from time to time, skipping a frame. This doesn’t always translate to what is recorded when you’re watching the video as you can see in the sample above. My guess is the display is having trouble keeping up with what’s being recorded. Once again this is most likely a software bug that can be fixed in the future.

When it comes to stability, the stock firmware on the Nexus 6 is very stable, with only minor hiccups. I’ve had the Google Camera app on the Nexus 6 crash on me a few times and I’m not quite entirely sure what caused the issue. I believe this happens when switching from HDR to normal and back and forth again over and over while also looking at photos as they’re queued up to be processed. I’ve also had Google Cloud Print crash on me a number of times and I’ve never even attempted to print anything from my Nexus 6. So there’s that. Everything else is very reliable and very fast though.

Android 5.0 Lollipop

The Nexus 6 is the very first phone to ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop and will act as a reference device for the entire ecosystem. I won’t go too far into all of the ins and outs of Lollipop nor will I touch on some of the more prominent features as these aspects of the platform have already been covered in Phandroid’s previous articles.

Screenshot_2014-11-29-23-03-11-redacted Screenshot_2014-11-29-23-03-50 Screenshot_2014-11-29-23-04-08 Screenshot_2014-11-29-23-04-23

The Nexus 6 comes with encryption enabled out of the box and you won’t be able to turn it off unless you’re into tinkering with your Nexus. This is a new feature of Android 5.0 Lollipop and will be enabled on all future new devices. While this is a great step forward in terms of security and privacy, some will argue that encryption hinders the device’s performance. I haven’t tested this theory, but there’s plenty of supporting evidence out there.

Android 5.0 Lollipop also allows carriers to automatically install their bloatware applications if you activate your phone with their SIM card inserted at the time of activation. These applications are generally for account management and can easily be uninstalled to remove their blemish from your stock Android experience.

Lollipop also has a new feature where a device will verify the subscription status when a user attempts to use the built in WiFi Hotspot functionality. I’m using Straight Talk via AT&T’s network and my Nexus 6 wants me to visit AT&T’s website or call AT&T’s customer support while trying to enable the built-in WiFi Hotspot. Since I’m not an AT&T customer, that warning message that’s display is of little value to me. I do find it slightly annoying that I can no longer tether, which I only used in very rare situations, but it’s technically not supported on Straight Talk, so I’m okay with it.

One of the better features of the Nexus 6 and Lollipop surrounds notifications. Ambient Display on the Nexus 6 or Lollipop in general is Google’s take on what Moto X users have been accustomed to for a while. The screen will pulse in a low power state when the phone has active notifications ready to be seen. Whenever you touch the screen, the display lights up, ready for action. Additionally, when there are no notifications to be seen and you’d like to see the time, picking up the Nexus 6 and bringing it into the upright position displays the time. Then, just a simple upwards flick of your finger across the screen unlocks the phone and you’re ready to go.

There is no Tap to Wake functionality as seen on the Nexus 9, however with Ambient Display and the Nexus 6 waking upon picking up the device, I really see no need for it and did not yearn for that feature at all.

Again, the Nexus 6 is a massive phone. Normally devices in this category have some sort of functionality to help users deal with the extra screen real estate. Apple offers reachability and Samsung offers split screen or windowed mode. While not everyone uses those features on their respective devices, it would have been nice if Google would have implemented a feature or two into Lollipop to take advantage of the extra screen space.


Coming from the Moto X 2013, then the Moto X 2014, and disliking extremely large phones in general, I was quite apprehensive about Google’s Nexus 6. If I haven’t made myself clear, this is an insanely large phone that just will not work for everyone. However, given the chance to use it for over a week, I don’t mind it’s size and every other phone feels extremely tiny now. Even though the Nexus 6 is one of the larger flagship phones currently available, Motorola has done a fine job at maximizing the display, producing a device with minimal bezels, and more importantly, the Nexus 6 feels extremely solid and well put together in your hand.


The only problem right now seems to be actually obtaining the Google’s “Unicorn” device. They’re still back ordered and many are still awaiting shipment details. And to top it all off, the Nexus 6 isn’t available on all carries at this time. Only Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile are selling the Nexus 6, besides the Google Play Store and Motorola’s online store.

At the beginning of my review I mentioned that the Nexus 6 is supported on all major carriers in the US, while that is technically true, it does come with a major asterisk. At the time of writing, you cannot purchase the Nexus 6 from Verizon nor can you activate a new SIM / account with the Nexus 6 in mind. You need to go through a few small hoops, such as buying a new SIM, activating the SIM in another Verizon device, then taking that activated SIM out of that phone, and finally popping it into the Nexus 6. If you’re already a Verizon customer with a nano-SIM all you need to do is transfer the SIM from your current device to the Nexus 6 and you’re all set. This really only causes issues for those looking to move to Big Red and will continue to do so until Verizon officially supports the device.

If the Verizon debacle doesn’t apply to you, I urge you to head into a store and check out the Nexus 6 before purchasing it. It’s a very large device that just won’t work for everyone. If you can handle all that Shamu has to offer, the Motorola built Nexus 6 is probably one of the top designed phones available on the market right now.

As for me, I was wrong. I won’t be going back to the Moto X after all. The Nexus 6 has superior battery life, a superior camera, and will receive the latest bug fixes and enhancements for Android 5.0 Lollipop before the Moto X. And after all, the Nexus 6 is Motorola made. It screams quality from every angle of the device, just as we’ve been hoping for years. We finally have our Motorola made Nexus and I couldn’t be happier.Nexus_6_Midnight_Blue_Cloud_White-2

Be sure to leave us a comment  below and let us know what you think of the latest Nexus phone and don’t forget to drop by our official Nexus 6 forums for additional tips, tricks, and information.


]]> 0
Nexus Player Review [VIDEO] Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:29:28 +0000 nexus-player-artsy-2

Google is taking another stab at entering your living room with the introduction of Android TV and its flagship device, the Nexus Player. The new platform promises a simplified, content-driven approach to home entertainment, but will a lack of options ultimately doom the Nexus Player’s chances to get a foothold in the market? How long until Google reinvents its TV strategy again? Read on to find out.

11 Things new Nexus Player owners should know



For Google’s simplified television solution it makes sense that the company would go with a simplified hardware design. The discreet set-top box, which is manufacturer by Asus, has been compared to a hockey puck, and that’s not so far off. It’s more like a regulation hockey puck that has been run over by a truck. It’s thinner but takes up a larger footprint overall. All that is to say, once you have it setup among your home entertainment options, it’s hardly a focal point of the living room. This isn’t the eye-catching design of the short-lived Nexus Q and it’s not as bulky as many of the Google TV devices that came before.

The Nexus Player is powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor clocked at 1.8GHz. The Imagination PowerVR Series 6 Graphics 2D/3D Engine makes the Player a more-than-capable gaming device, but some might be disappointed to learn that Google only provides 1GB RAM. The Nexus Player only includes 8GB of on board storage and no options for expansion.

Setup is quick and easy. Connect the Nexus Player with an HDMI cable to your TV and plug in the power supply. Throw some batteries in the remote and you are done. It takes less than five minutes to go from the box to completed setup (not including software).

nexus-player-puck nexus-player-bluetooth-sync-button nexus-player-remote-2 nexus-player-remote


The smooth circle of the Nexus Player is interrupted by a cutout for its various ports. There are only three: HDMI-out, microUSB, and power jack.

There is no ethernet connection (though ethernet is listed as an option under the Nexus Player’s settings menu). There are no outputs for digital or even analog audio to connect to a home theater system. There is no HDMI pass-through (you’ll have to switch television inputs to access Nexus Player content). Oh, and that USB port? Lest you think you will be expanding storage or sideloading apps out of the box, Google says the port exists solely to allow developers to debug their app experiences. [Editor’s Note: While this appears to be Google’s official stance, users have reported that the USB port can indeed support wired peripherals including keyboards and mice in addition to expandable storage, though it is not its intended use and therefore is not as simple as plug-and-play in all cases. MicroUSB-to-ethernet adaptors will also work, apparently. We are working to confirm.]

As for wireless connectivity, WiFi 802.11ac is the only option for networking (remember: no ethernet port). We understand the reasoning behind it. As long as they have a fast, reliable WiFi network it won’t make much of a difference to the average consumer whether the device is connecting to their home network via a wireless or wired connection, and one less port means one less component adding to the cost of the device. Still, it’s a simple addition that would have gone a long way.

The Nexus Player also includes Bluetooth for pairing accessories like the included remote and optional gamepad. A button (the only hardware button on the actual Nexus Player) that initiates the pairing process is centered on the underside of the puck. We appreciate Google going with Bluetooth here. It opens up the possibility of connecting all sorts of controller accessories down the road, but it also means we aren’t dealing with pesky line-of-sight IR sensors. The Nexus Player could be stashed in a drawer and the remote would still work effortlessly.

The Remote

Google didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel with the Nexus Player remote. It looks similar to the controllers included with devices like Amazon’s Fire TV, the Roku, and, yes, Apple TV.

A large circular D-pad is used to navigate system menus. It’s not capacitive so there is no scrolling simply by running your finger around it; you will have to click. The select button is centered within the circle and below both are Android’s standard navigation controls (home, back) and a play/pause button. Perhaps the best addition to the remote is a voice search button and built-in microphone, but more on that later.

The remote runs on two AAA batteries (included). The construction of the whole thing feels a bit cheap, but we don’t really need much more for a device like the Nexus Player. Alternatively, Android users can download an app that allows remote control from their smartphone.

Software and Experience


Time for a very brief history lesson: Google’s path to the Nexus Player began in 2010 with the launch of Google TV, a smart TV solution based on Android that acted as an intermediary between your television service provider and you. Google TV allowed users to search the internet alongside TV listings, jump from an app to live television, and access services like YouTube and Netflix. It never caught on with consumers and the consensus seems to be that Google TV attempted to do too much. It was feature packed but often clunky and buggy.

Why is this important to the story of the Nexus Player? Because the Nexus Player is the first consumer-ready device based on the Android TV platform, a completely revamped experience from Google TV. It is built off of Android 5.0 Lollipop as part of Google’s effort to unify the Android operating system across devices that now include smart watches, tablets, smartphones, and your television.

Android TV is far simpler than Google TV. Starting up the Nexus Player we are greeted with a main menu. A top row emphasizes recently viewed and suggested content and below are rows for installed apps and games. It’s Google, so of course there is a search bar at the top. Everything Android TV can do is accessible from this menu, which is to say it doesn’t take long to learn the ins and outs of the Nexus Player.

nexus-player-android-tv-voice-search nexus-player-android-tv-google-play-movies nexus-player-android-tv-google-play

Native apps

As the first commercially available Android TV device, the Nexus Player suffers initially from a limited ecosystem when it comes to available apps and games. The Google services are there — YouTube, Play Music, Movies & TV, and the Play Store — though we don’t get the full suite. The included apps are all tailored toward the media experience (and mostly toward Google’s content ecosystem). Don’t expect to find full web access via Chrome or even the ability to check your Gmail.

The decision not to include such Google apps speaks to what Android TV is attempting to accomplish. It also shows when checking out the currently available selection of non-Google apps and games. Android is known for its wild west approach to openness, but here Google is being a bit more choosy about the content available for their television platform. Apps and games must be specifically tailored for Android TV or they don’t make the cut.

We are not faulting Google for wanting a consistent quality across the Android TV experience, but it does mean early adopters won’t be greeted with the widest selection. At worst, Android TV never catches on with developers and a lack of approved apps and games turns into persistent issue (as was the case with Google TV).

So what do users get access to out of the box? The aforementioned Google services are there plus Netflix and Hulu Plus. Users can opt to download from a selection of other streaming providers including Food Network, PBS Kids, Bloomberg TV, TED TV, and more. For music options include Pandora, Vevo, and iHeartRadio. A Plex app is available for local content streaming.

What is almost inexcusable, though, is a lack of certain streaming apps that have become staples of competitors like Apple TV and Roku. Want HBO Go? It’s not available yet. Spotify as a music option? Not here. And forget about Amazon content. Perhaps some of these apps will eventually find their way to Android TV and the Nexus Player, but not having them at launch is disappointing to say the least.

Google Cast

Some of Android TV’s shortcomings in the apps department are addressed with the addition of perhaps the device’s most killer feature: Google Cast. Google Cast allows users to wirelessly beam content from a smartphone, tablet, or computer directly to the TV with the tap of a button (provided the service supports casting). No HBO Go app on the Nexus Player? No problem. HBO’s mobile app supports the ability to cast content to your TV. For apps that don’t support casting directly, the Chrome browser features tab casting, allowing for a quick and easy work around (provided the service can be accessed via the web).

So why isn’t the presence of Google Cast a true saving grace? A completely native app experience still trumps the ability to cast content from your phone or computer. It’s the most accessible option for a shared media device like the Nexus Player. More importantly, though, Google Cast capabilities can be brought to your television for much cheaper with a $30 Chromecast dongle. If beaming content is a suitable solution, there is almost no reason to justify buying the Nexus Player.

Voice search

Like Google Cast, voice search might not be reason enough to run out and buy a Nexus Player, but it is one of the better software features. Typing out search queries using the remote turns into a real chore, but pressing the microphone button on the remote and speaking the same query is a quick and easy task. Voice recognition is fairly good, though not perfect — background noise and others speaking in the room can be an issue — but the responsiveness is what we have come to expect from Google’s voice integration.

Your range of searchable options, like with other aspects of Android TV, is limited. You can’t search for web content, but you can still ask classic questions like “How old is Barack Obama?” and get a result. You can search for a specific movie, search for content by artist, tell your Nexus Player to start playing your favorite artist — it all works and works well.


nexus-player-gamepadAside from streaming content, gaming is a huge part of what Google is hoping to accomplish with the Nexus Player and Android TV. Like with streaming content, options are limited at launch. The games that are available, though, really show off the best of what the Nexus Player can do. There is a range of content, including games designed to work using only the included remote.

There is a taste of console-quality graphics and gameplay with titles like Riptide GP2. We get to see the quirky, indie side of Android with side-scrolling title Badland. Arcade classics like Pac-Man offer familiar fun.

This was perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the Nexus Player. The games felt polished and ready for larger screens. The controls worked. The hardware handled it all without any major hiccups. We hesitate to say the Nexus Player has what it takes to be a serious contender in the console wars, but it provides an excellent gaming experience that is not strictly set on the casual market.


The Nexus Player’s optional gamepad is what allows the device to transcend above being simply a box for playing blown-up mobile games. It’s a full-on Bluetooth wireless gaming controller that most closely resembles that of the Xbox 360. The buttons are all there: two analog stick, one D-pad, four trigger buttons, and four action buttons. Like the remote control, it’s not the most premium-feeling thing in the world, but it gets the job done.

The nice thing is you can use the controller to navigate the entire Android TV system, and we actually almost preferred it over the standard remote if not for the lack of a microphone and voice command support.



The problem with the Nexus Player is that it shows a lot of promise but is in many ways limited by its fledgling Android TV interface. It’s the sort of device where content like available apps and games make a huge difference, and should more become available in the coming months our opinions about the Nexus Player overall could change.

For now, though, it’s hard to say the Nexus Player and Android TV are the answer we were looking for. While Google TV was never the biggest success, it holds some advantages over Android TV. The same can be said the other way around, but neither of Google’s television platforms has gotten it completely right at this point. For $99, we can think of a couple TV streaming devices (Chromecast, Roku 3) we would purchase ahead of the Nexus Player, and it’s hard to recommend the average consumer not do the same.

If your are engrained in the Google content ecosystem it may the device for you, but otherwise you will want to weigh your options.


  • Google Cast expands content source options
  • Responsive voice search
  • Easy to set up and jump into content


  • No TV pass-through
  • Limited app and game selections
  • Lack of hardware ports (ethernet, audio-out) and internal storage

Overall: 3/5

]]> 0
Motorola Droid Turbo Review Fri, 07 Nov 2014 16:44:15 +0000 droid-turbo-hero

You can trace the roots of Android back to the first device running it, the HTC G1, but Google’s mobile operating system owes much of its initial success to another phone: the Motorola Droid. Launched in 2009, the Droid was the first in a succession of similarly branded devices tied exclusively to Verizon. The latest is the Motorola DROID Turbo, a phone that has the potential to reestablish Droid as the premier Android smartphone brand. With excellent battery life, powerful processing, and a unique and durable design, Verizon and Motorola have accomplished something great with their latest flagship.


The Droid line has long been known for devices that favor industrial design, especially when we are talking about Motorola’s contributions to the brand. It all started with the original Motorola Droid. This wasn’t the cutesy, round plastic of the iPhone. It was metal, glass, and angled edges. The weight of the phone in hand seemed to communicate the gravitas of the whole thing.

Several years later Motorola is now the exclusive provider of Droid devices for Verizon, and the DNA of their landmark handset lives on in the Droid Turbo. The details are all there: dark blacks and vibrant reds, technologically advanced materials and metal accents, sharper edges, and again, that weight — that gravitas. Close your eyes and pick up the Droid Turbo and it simply feels like a Droid device. Anyone who has ever used one of Verizon’s exclusive Android smartphones will understand.

Motorola’s recent handsets — the Moto X, the Moto G, and even Nexus 6 — have all shared a common design language. The Droid Turbo rightfully feels more like an evolution of last year’s Droid Maxx. It does take some cues from those newer Motorola devices, though the curve of its back is more subtle, the edges less rounded, the whole thing a little more tech-y in build and appearance.


It’s worth noting some of the finer points of the Turbo’s design. Those opposed to Verizon’s often incessant need to plaster their name anywhere and everywhere on their devices will be pleased to know that at least the 64GB version of the device is free of any carrier branding. While the Turbo does feature soft keys for Android shortcuts, the only other breaks in its frame are for a USB port, power button, and volume rocker, the latter of which cleverly doubles as the SIM tray.

The Droid Turbo nails it when it comes to size, measuring 73.3mm wide, 143.5mm tall, and maxing out at 11.2mm along its curved back (about 8mm at the edge). It is most certainly not the lightest phone we have ever encountered, but as a Droid that’s almost expected. Its 176 grams are less heavy in the hand than they are a physical reminder of the Turbo’s solid build.

droid-turbo-rear-hero droid-turbo-rear droid-turbo-moto-display-2

Built for Durability


Motorola’s design team made the interesting choice to offer the Droid Turbo in in two material finish options. What we would consider the “flagship” version of the phone sports a new ballistic nylon insert for the non-removable back panel. Presented here in a 2×2 weave, ballistic nylon is a material most commonly found in luggage and backpacks. It is highly durable and abrasion-resistant.  The ballistic nylon provides a textured finish that adds grip and improves durability.

The second option, something Motorola is calling metalized fiber composite, features a glossier finish and smoother touch. At its core, a fiber weave promises similar durability to ballistic nylon.

Ballistic nylon is the more visually interesting of the two options, for certain. The look is industrial, but there is a certain business-like appeal to it. Buyers wanting a red Droid Turbo will have to go with the metalized fiber composite finish, however, as ballistic nylon is only offered in black.

Beyond the use of premium materials, other factors make for a phone that is as rugged as its looks suggest. The screen uses the latest Gorilla Glass spec for resistance to scratches and cracks. A nano-coating seals the Turbo from the inside out against water damage. It is important to note, however, that the Turbo is only water-repellent, not waterproof.


While the design of the Droid Turbo doesn’t quite mirror the likes of the Moto X and Nexus 6, its internal hardware does borrow quite a bit from those handsets. The Turbo could almost be seen as a compromise between the two; it features the top-tier specs of the Nexus 6 in a form factor that matches the Moto X (for those that find the N6 a little too large). There are still some key differences that make such a comparison a little more tricky (including software, which we will touch on later).



The Droid Turbo features a 5.2-inch AMOLED display, much like the Moto X, but in the Turbo’s case it has been upped to Quad HD resolution. That’s 1440 x 2560 at a pixel density of 565 ppi. It is capable of reproducing some truly great high-resolution content, from video to gaming and beyond. It did no disappoint in this department. Viewing angles were solid and it performed well in most lighting conditions.

The display is a bit on the dim side of things even with brightness set to full blast, and the colors can come off as a bit muted in many cases. They lack a certain vibrancy or pop. This is a mere AMOLED display, after all, not Super AMOLED. That could be a good or bad thing depending on your views on the way Super AMOLED displays (particularly in Samsung devices) tend to artificially enhance the color profile of images, video, and graphics. Perhaps our own views have been tainted by the often excessively bright and colorful displays of recent flagship phones.

Is the Droid Turbo’s display the best we have ever seen on a smartphone or even the best Quad HD display we have seen in recent months? No, but it milks every bit of resolution it can. This display produces crisp and clean imagery, if a bit underwhelming.

Processing Power

One of only a few handsets on the market to feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 SoC, the Droid Turbo features 2.7GHz quad-core processing and Adreno 420 graphics (600MHz GPU). Combined with 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM with 64-bit support and the Motorola Computing System and its Natural Language Processor and Contextual Computing Processor, we have the makings for a handset that truly lives up to its name.

The heavyweight processing compliment is why it is baffling that the Droid Turbo so often drops the ball when it comes to simple tasks. The Droid Turbo is zippy when it comes to booting up the device, going from lockscreen to homescreen, and navigating system menus. It has no problem tearing through intensive hi-def video or desktop-grade graphics. It’s the small but important things like camera shutter speed, where quite a bit of lag is present, and an overall lack of smoothness when loading apps and handling animations.


The Turbo quite often just feels a bit weighed down in terms of software, something that could be improved in future updates (particularly with Lollipop) and a point we don’t think should detract too much from the overall experience. It’s still on par with or better than the other flagship devices out there when it comes to performance, and it lays the smack down in benchmark tests (take those results as you will). With a name like Droid Turbo, perhaps we were just hoping for a little more.



Power users have always been a key demographic for Verizon’s Droid line, and power users demand more than a measly 16GB of internal storage. Hence, the Droid Turbo in its smallest storage configuration offers 32GB of memory to work with. The fully decked-out 64GB model (ballistic nylon-only) takes it to the next level for a reasonable $50 up charge.

The Droid Turbo does not include microSD support for expandable, portable storage. Users wishing to get more storage plus data portability will have to rely on a cloud service (Verizon provides 5GB via Verizon Cloud free of charge, other options include Dropbox and Google Drive)

Connectivity and Calling

The Droid Turbo is well-rounded when it comes to connectivity, offering everything from Bluetooth 4.0 LE to 802.11a/g/b/n/ac dual-band WiFi. Where it really excels is cellular connectivity, where it sports LTE Cat 4 (Bands 2, 3, 4, 7, 13) and support for Verizon’s next-gen XLTE 4G network Technology within XLTE-compatible phones theoretically allows up to double the bandwidth speed by allowing simultaneous access to Verizon’s 700MHz and AWS spectrums in XLTE-ready cities. Even for those not able to take advantage of XLTE speeds will benefit from carrier aggregation for better connectivity and increased bandwidth.

While the Turbo can simultaneously access multiple LTE networks, it cannot perform another trick that has only recently started to become common on Verizon handsets: simultaneous voice and data. Out of the box, users won’t be able to do both over the cellular network concurrently, but as Verizon rolls out its VoLTE (voice over LTE) features through the end of the year, the feature is expected to extend to the Droid Turbo via an update.

Four microphones positioned around the Turbo aid in improving voice call quality while cutting down on background noise. The CrystalTalk technology developed by Motorola also benefits the device when it comes to voice commands via Google Now and Moto Voice.



As has become standard in the post-Google acquisition Motorola (and transition to Lenovo ownership), Motorola again skews toward stock Android for the Droid Turbo. With the exception of a few app-based enhancements, wide-ranging Moto Voice integration, and Moto Display, the software is pure Android 4.4.4 KitKat out of the box. Users can take advantage of standard Android features like multitasking, actionable notifications, Google Now support, and Google’s suite of mobile apps including Gmail, Maps, Hangouts, and more.

Motorola is promising a timely upgrade to the newly launched Android 5.0 Lollipop update and is already hard at work with both Google and Verizon to make this happen. Their experience with the Lollipop flagship Nexus 6 and the similarities between that phone and the Turbo mean that the update process should be swift; Verizon might be the only roadblock in making this happen as quick as users would prefer.

Moto apps

The look and feel of the Droid Turbo’s software is pure Android and instantly familiar to anyone who has used an Android phone in the past, but Motorola has managed to pack in some pretty nice additional features. The execution is clean, avoiding the software bloat typically associated with manufacturer and carrier features. Enhancements like Moto Actions, Moto Display, and Moto Voice integrate seamlessly without detracting from the hard work Google has done in building a polished Android interface.


Motorola’s experiences are mostly housed in a single “Moto” app. This app acts as a settings pane and interface for controlling and tweaking the way Motorola’s system-wise enhancements work.

Motorola was the first manufacturer to enable anytime, anywhere voice controls (even with the display off), and it is only improved with the Droid Turbo and Moto Voice. Users can set a custom launch phrase and there is an expanded set of commands as well as app integration. Speak the launch phrase plus “What’s up?” to have the phone read a list of recent notifications. “Post to Facebook” can be used to update your status hands-free.

Moto Actions and Moto Display go hand-in-hand. Moto Display provides at a glance info including notifications and the time using a power-friendly display mode. Your screen lights up as notifications come in to give you a quick glance. Paired with Moto Actions, infrared sensors in the front of the Droid Turbo will sense when you are reaching for your phone and automatically flash Moto Display. While this feature is neat and will be nice for some, it can quickly turn annoying, lighting up your display with even the slightest movement of your hand or the phone itself. Moto Display is nice to quickly view and interact with interactions, but Moto Actions took it a bit overboard. Other Moto Actions, like the ability to wave your hand over the Droid Turbo to silence incoming calls or an alarm, were more useful.

A separate app, Moto Assist allows your phone to use contextual information like location and time to automatically adjust your device settings. It can silence your phone during meetings based on your Google Calendar data, speak your incoming calls and texts to you while you are driving, or make sure you don’t miss an important call at night while still allowing you to get some shuteye. Moto Assist doesn’t have the widest range of usage, but for the situations it is built for it really comes in handy.

Click here for more on setting up your Droid Turbo software.

Droid Zap


Droid Zap allows Droid Turbo users to quickly send photos and videos to other Android owners by simply swiping their display. With the flick of a finger, this is about as easy as it gets when it comes to transferring media files. The service is available in a limited form for all Android devices, but Droid owners get certain enhancements like Zap Zone.

Zap Zone creates temporary, location-based photo sharing. Set up a Zap Zone at a party, invite some friends, and all can share to and view pictures from the joint photo stream. Zap to TV lets you quickly share content to any TV utilizing Google’s Chromecast.


A 21MP camera gives the Droid Turbo one of the most competent imaging sensors found on a smartphone. At full resolution (4:3 aspect ratio) its photos feature a 3936 x 5248 resolution. While it’s debatable whether or not more megapixels always means better photos, one benefit is certain: if you don’t frame the shot perfectly the first time, the high resolution means you can crop and zoom quite extensively without sacrificing image quality. In addition, the camera can be switched to a 16:9 aspect ratio at 15.5MP to create a different look while still producing photos of a high resolution (2952 x 5248).

As with most smartphone cameras, low light situations were not the Turbo’s strong suit, but the shooter was an overall solid performer. The camera in many ways is on par with the 2014 edition of the Moto X and is more than capable given proper lighting (a dual LED flash helps when this isn’t the case). Check out some samples below.

droid-turbo-camera-sample-1 droid-turbo-camera-sample-2 droid-turbo-camera-sample-3 droid-turbo-camera-sample-4

Shooting modes include burst mode, auto HDR, and panorama. When shooting video, the Turbo offers 4K at 24fps and 1080p at 30fps. The resolution numbers sound fancy, but as we have seen with previous 4K smartphones, we still have quite a way to go to equal the rich cinematography of true 4K Ultra HD cameras.



Motorola has made a pretty big effort to give the Droid Turbo best-in-class battery life, promising up to 48 hours of use on a single charge of its 3900mAh battery. In our real world tests this wasn’t quite the case, but as always mileage will vary depending on usage.

See the results of our Droid Turbo battery tests

With light use (a little web browsing, checking email, sending messages, perhaps a bit of gaming and media streaming) it is feasible that the Turbo could hit the 48 hour mark. It certainly has standby time for days beyond that, even. But the Turbo is a device built for power users, and power users will certainly be capable of draining the charge on the Turbo dry well ahead of that all important two day estimate.

Manufacturers will always want to promote their best case scenario when it comes to battery life, but we find it is better to speak in more conservative figures. 24 hours of use on a single charge might be a better approximation of battery life, but many users still won’t be able to stretch it that far. But let’s be real: if we can go from sunrise to sunset without having to seek out a charger, that’s a real win. Unless you are traveling off-grid and the Droid Turbo is your only connection to the civilized world, you’ll be fine if your smartphone doesn’t clock 48 hours of up time.

Turbo Charge

Here’s the insane thing: if for whatever reason the Droid Turbo’s 3900mAh battery can’t get you through a whole day without hitting the charger, built-in Turbo Charge technology (using the included Turbo Charger wall charger) will get you up to an additional 8 hours of battery life after only 15 minutes of charging. Think about that. 15 minutes will get you enough charge to make it through a full work day.

The Droid Turbo’s battery is really quite impressive anyway you look at it. Sure, it might not achieve its advertised longevity but any shortcomings in battery life are more than compensated for by the presence of Turbo Charge.



We’ve heard quite a few comparisons when it comes to the Droid Turbo. Some will say it’s a smaller version of the Nexus 6. Others have called it a beefed up Moto X. While neither totally captures the essence of the Turbo, neither is that far off from the truth. We also understand the Droid brand doesn’t hold quite the same level of prestige as it once did. While the past few years have brought us some solid Droid devices, its easy to overlook them in a marketplace that doesn’t always look kindly on carrier-exclusive smartphones.

That is to say, do not overlook the Droid Turbo. The Droid Turbo is just about everything you could ask for in an Android smartphone and more. From its solid and durable build hitting the sweet spot in terms of size to its powerful hardware and massive battery, Motorola has addressed some major customer concerns without sacrifice.

The Droid Turbo is very much a phone that would justify switching from another carrier to Verizon. For Verizon customers looking for their next handset, this one should be at the top of your list.

The Good

  • Solid build quality with industrial design
  • Great battery life (if not 48 hours) with Turbo Charge technology
  • Software experience adds features without feeling overwhelming

The Bad

  • Display is good but doesn’t “wow”
  • Some noticeable software lag despite ample processing power

Overall: 4/5

]]> 0
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:08:37 +0000 note-4-android-robots-phandroid

Oversized smartphones, endearingly referred to as phablets, were once seen as outrageous monstrosities procured by only a select few in a niche crowd. The poster boy for the large form factor has long been Samsung’s Galaxy Note. Now in its fourth iteration, it has developed a large and loyal following while Samsung has diligently crafted and honed the product, simultaneously helping define the category.

Competitors have followed, most notably Apple, who have finally arrived on the scene with the iPhone 6 Plus in hopes of stealing Samsung’s thunder. Worse things could happen: they’ve also drawn mainstream consumer attention to larger screened phones as a whole. With a four year head start, does the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 retain it’s rightful place atop the smartphone elite? That’s the question we tackle in this comprehensive review.

Design & Build

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has finally matured, ditching the cheap plastic wrapper from previous Notes and replacing it with a premium aluminum frame that a device of this caliber deserves. Despite growing slightly – it’s millimeters larger and grams heavier – it feels more compact and sturdy than ever, assisted by a more sleek, refined, and polished design than it’s predecessors.


The faux leather back? It’s still there, but it looks much more seamless and realistic, and gone is the leather stitching that formerly bordered the exterior shell. Some may still complain about the plastic back, but Samsung has done a much better job masking the material, and the fact remains that this choice allows for a removable cover providing access to additional memory, a battery, and SIM card.


Rather than a solid colored front face with a slight brushed look, Samsung has opted to embed subtle black stripes across a dark grey face. Better or worse is arbitrary, but it does create a weird effect where it overlaps with the illuminated backlit capacitive buttons.

The Note 4 also trades some of its straighter edges for graceful curves, partly for visual appeal but also to improve structural integrity. The corners of the phone flare slightly on the left and right, providing reinforcement for drops and accidents. Stronger curves around the headset jack, USB port, and S Pen add a nice touch.


Samsung has nudged the volume rocker and power button down a tad, which won’t be noticeable to most, but could make reaching these ever-important assets with one-hand a little easier. They’ve also been given some contour and silver lining to fit Samsung’s new premium theme.

As a Note 3 owner who doesn’t use cases, I found the plastic chrome wrap to be pretty susceptible to scratching, wear, and tear. At least on the surface, the Note 4 seems like a more resilient device, but it’s hard to know how 1 year of use will treat its decor. Scuffing up this beauty would cause much more heartache.


You’ll also find that the speaker has moved from the bottom of the Note 3 to the back of the Note 4. This may seem like a step in the wrong direction, but a tiny bump on the speaker grill creates the smallest of gaps when laid flat, allowing audio to escape and vibrate. The sound on the Note 4 is loud and full enough to make it a non-factor, but I must admit that I’ll miss cupping my hand around the edge of the phone to aim the audio my way when watching videos. The only thing better here would be front facing speakers.

The Galaxy Note 4 is a gorgeous Goliath, taking everything that was right about the Note 3 and graduating it. From the looks of it, the Note 4 is like the teenage boy whose parent’s already loved him, but are now proud to finally see him become a man. Now let’s find out what that man is made of…

Hardware & Specs

Considering the Galaxy Note 3 was already an industry front runner, Samsung had a tall order to impress consumers with spec improvements. Although there are no shocking surprises in the Note 4, the device improves in pretty much every area possible, taking great hardware and making it greater.

The show stopper on the Note 4 is it’s screen- a 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display that is an absolute beauty. For those wondering, Quad HD means it can display four 1280 x 720 HD images on the screen at once! That’s possible due to a resolution of 2560 by 1440, an improvement most naked eyes won’t be able to fully appreciate. I’ve often maintained that Samsung makes the most gorgeous displays and the Note 4 is the most gorgeous of the gorgeous.


We’re not the only ones who think so: according to DisplayMate not only does the Note 4 have the highest resolution of any smartphone on the market, it also has the brightest display, incredible scores in power efficiency, great performance at various viewing angles, accurate color profiles, and the list goes on. We can’t say enough good things about the Galaxy Note 4 screen. But if you want to know more, see for yourself.

The Note 4 is powered by a 2.7 GHz QuadCore processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory (expandable by MicroSD), immediately making it one of the most powerful devices on the market. That power is supported by a 3220 mAh battery, giving it the juice necessary to get the typical user through a full day. Not that it matters, but the Note 4 battery is an interestingly skinny shape compared to the typical mobile phone battery.


As expected, the Note 4 also has an upgraded camera, both front and rear. In addition to increasing the rear camera from 13MP to 16MP and front camera from 2MP to 3.7MP, Samsung has added some software features to improve the experience. It’s also got all the connectivity features you’d imagine including 4G, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 2.0, MHL3.0, IR Blaster, Accelerometer, Gyroscope and beyond.

Two noticeable additions to the Galaxy Note 4 are a fingerprint scanner and UV sensor, the former of which was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the latter of which is brand new. Integrated with S Health, you can now read UV levels directly from the sun to determine recommended skin protection.

These bells and whistles are nice additions to the Note 4, but there are also noticeable absences from the spec sheet and other upgrades we’d hoped to see but didn’t, namely the backtracking from USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 and lack of IP67 weatherproofing found on the Galaxy S5.

The only real advantage of USB 3.0 over 2.0 is enhanced data transfer speeds, something approximately twelve people will miss. Although USB 3.0 also offers quicker USB charging when connected via laptop, that benefit is completely overshadowed by other improvements Samsung has made to the Note 4’s battery life (more on that later).

The lack of a water resistant body is the most disappointing non-upgrade of the Note 4, but it’s difficult to be too critical of this decision. The feature itself is relatively new to the Galaxy line, competing devices in the same class don’t have the feature, and let’s not forgot that the Note 4 has one huge difference that would make water proofing it a much more difficult task: the S Pen.

Next: S Pen Stylus

]]> 38