Phandroid » Reviews http://phandroid.com Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Sat, 01 Aug 2015 05:49:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 ‘Agar.io’ is a chaotic Android game where you must eat or be eaten [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/07/15/agar-io-for-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/07/15/agar-io-for-android-review/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 20:24:49 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=168312 agario

Survival of the fittest: it’s a phrase we hear often. You must grow and survive or be destroyed by those more capable than you. Agar.io is a game that takes that idea to heart. It’s simple, eat or be eaten. Take advantage of those weaker than you to survive. This may sound like a gruesome gladiator-esque game, but it’s not. Agar.io combines simple gaming mechanics with an online element to produce an addictive game.

In Agar.io you play as a simple cell. In order for your cell to grow you must absorb smaller cells, but be wary of the cells bigger than you who are trying to do the same thing. This type of game is certainly not new. In fact, one of our most addictive games is very similar. However, Agar.io has a few more tricks that make it even more addictive and fun.

As your cell gets larger it also gets slower. This makes it hard for you to track down smaller cells and absorb them. In order to catch other cells you have a couple maneuvers to choose from. The “split” maneuver will project half of your mass in the direction you’re aiming. This allows you to shoot yourself at other cells, but you better make sure they are smaller than half your size. You’ll also want to make sure there are no large cells waiting to gobble you up once you’re split in two.

The second maneuver allows you to eject smalls parts of your mass. Doing this will make you smaller, but it can come in handy at certain times. For example, if you need to quickly escape you can shed some mass to be able to move faster. You could also shoot some mass into another cell to slow it down. Both of these maneuvers play a large part in the strategy of the game. You can’t just slowly move around and expect to do anything.

agario screens

The last thing that makes Agar.io so great is the online element. You’re not just playing against a bunch of computer-guided cells. All of the other cells you see are being controlled by other humans like you. In the top right corner of the screen you can bring up a leaderboard. You can see which player is currently the biggest on the map, and see what place you’re in. It adds a competitive element to the game that makes it 10 times more addictive.

The controls for Agar.io work relatively well. To move you simply drag your finger anywhere on the display. It’s not as easy as playing on the web version, but it works for a mobile device. We’d love to see a way to navigate with the accelerometer. Overall, it works pretty well, and it’s a good way to play the game while you’re on the go. You can download Agar.io for Android right here for free. Maybe we’ll see you in the game!

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‘Atomas’ is an addictive puzzle game with a dash of science [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/07/13/atomas-addictive-android-game-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/07/13/atomas-addictive-android-game-review/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 20:52:20 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=168138

Science is typically seen as one of those subjects that only “nerdy people” enjoy. That stereotype has started to change in the last few years. More and more people are realizing that science doesn’t have to be some old dudes in white lab coats. Science can be really fun, and games like Atomas drive that point home.

Atomas, by Sirnic, is a puzzle game that uses scientific elements. Your job is to create valuable elements such as gold, platinum, and silver. All you have to start with is a hydrogen atom, but in no time at all you’ll be creating bigger and better things. The good news is you don’t have to be physicist or chemist to understand this game. Anyone can pick it up in just a few seconds.

atomas screens

To play Atomas you have to combine matching elements. Every element has an atomic number, and when combined they create the element with the next higher atomic number. For example, when you combine two Lithium atoms (3) you’ll get one Beryllium (4). The goal is to get the element with the highest atomic number you can before the board gets too crowded.

Here’s how it works. A few random elements are arranged in a circle. At the center of that circle is another random element, or a (+) or (-) icon. You can tap anywhere in the circle to place the new element in that spot. The (+) icon can be placed between two matching elements to combine them, but you can combine more than just two at a time. If you create a symmetrical pattern of elements, and then place the (+) at the center you can combine multiples.

atomas

The (-) icon can be used to move an element into a different position, or transform it into a (+) icon. Once the circle is completely full of elements, and there is no room for new ones, the game is over. At your disposal is “antimatter” that can be used to clear half of the circle, but these are only available via an in-app purchase.

Along with the standard mode that I just described, there is Time Attack and Alchemist mode. In Time Attack, you are tasked with creating as big of an element as you can in the allotted time. Every time you combine elements you get a few more seconds. Alchemist mode is for serious players. You have to create all 118 existing elements, and a few new ones created by the developer.

Atomas is a really well designed and addictive game. You can log in with Google Play Games and compete with your friends to get the high score. If you don’t have time to finish a game you can easily stop and continue at a different time. We can’t help but feel like Atomas would have made high school science class much more enjoyable (and maybe there wouldn’t be so many science errors in this review). Download Atomas for free from the Play Store here.

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If Material Design was a game, it would look like these three Android games [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/06/29/pivot-bing-bong-righty-tighty-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/06/29/pivot-bing-bong-righty-tighty-android-review/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 20:03:24 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=167433

I love simple games and I love Material Design. So when I first discovered a game called Bing Bong I was very excited. It combined simple and addictive gameplay with a Material-esque design. Then I found out that the same developer had made other games with the same style. The three games can stand on their own, but together they make for an addictive combination. Let’s take a look.

Bing Bong

Bing Bong screens

I’m not sure which game came first, but Bing Bong is the one I played first. In this game you control a green dot that is constantly going up and down across a street of traffic. Each time you successfully get to the other side you earn a point. You have to avoid blocks of varying sizes to cross the street. The green dot is constantly moving, but you can slow it down by pressing your finger on the screen.

The game becomes all about timing. Will you be able to make it past that block at full speed? If you slow down now will that make you hit the next block? You’re constantly adjusting your speed to perfectly cross the street unharmed. It’s easy at first, but gets difficult quickly.

Righty Tighty

Righty screens

In Righty Tighty you play as a red dot. Your goal is to collect the white dots and bring them to the goal. The red dot is constantly moving, but every time you tap the screen it will make a right turn. Like in Bing Bong, there are blocks of varying sizes constantly crossing your path. Also, the red dot is constantly growing, which makes it increasingly more difficult to avoid obstacles. You have to return a white dot to the goal to reset your size.

Pivot

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The simplest of the three games is Pivot. You play as a blue dot this time, but you still have to collect white dots to earn points. The blue dot is constantly moving in a circular path. Tap your finger on the screen to go in the opposite direction. There are no goals this time. You get a point for simply collecting a white dot. Blocks of varying sizes are still trying to get in your way, and the wall is also an obstacle.

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I like these games a lot because they feel like a family. Each one has its unique aspects, but they all share the same basic foundation. They’re beautifully simple, yet extremely addictive. The developer has done a great job with the little details, like how the music intensifies the longer you survive in Bing Bong.

All three games have Google Play Game integration for leaderboards and achievements. The games are free with very few ads (which can be disabled completely for $0.99). You can download all three in the Play Store. Enjoy!

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‘Running Circles’ is a spherical and addictive Android game [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/06/26/running-circles-android-game-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/06/26/running-circles-android-game-review/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:07:03 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=167349

“Run in circles” is an idiom that usually has something to do with wasting your time, and that is exactly what Running Circles does, but in a good way. This is yet another extremely addictive game that will waste all your free time if you’re not careful.

The main goal of Running Circles is to successful move from circle to circle for as long as possible. Your character is constantly running around circles, but you control when and where it goes. To play the game you only need to tap the screen. On each tap the running character with switch from the inside of the circle to the outside, or vice versa. If you time it just right you can jump to a connected circle.

Running Circles screens

Your score is determined by how many circles you can successfully enter before running into an obstacle. The obstacles can be stationary or in motion, and if you run into the outside of an adjoining circle you’ll also be killed. While you’re playing you can collect diamonds for purchasing new characters.

The single player mode is addictive enough, but there is also a multiplayer mode. The gameplay is the same as single mode, only this time you’re going up against another player. Sometimes you’ll see them in real-time, but mostly you’ll play against their ghost. You can challenge friends fro Facebook, random players, or send an invite. The multiplayer mode adds a layer of competition that makes the game even more fun.

Running Circles is free to download and play, but there are in-app purchases. You can unlock Easy Mode for $4.99 and unlock all the characters for $9.99. Extra diamonds are also up for sale if you’re willing to spend real money of fake currency. The good news is it’s very easy to play the game without spending a dime. It’s fun, well designed, and very addictive. Download Runnin Circles for free here.

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‘Powder’ is a relaxing Android game, until you run into a tree [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/06/24/powder-alpine-simulator-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/06/24/powder-alpine-simulator-android-review/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 20:17:16 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=167239

There is literally a simulator for everything these days. Goat Simulator. Farming Simulator. Forklift Simulator. Street Cleaning Simulator. The list goes on and on. If you had a Windows PC in the 90’s you may remember a game called SkiFree, which could be considered one of the original simulators. Powder -Alpine Simulator brings back some of that classic SkiFree charm for Android.

In Powder your goal is to simply ski down a mountain as long as possible. There are tree and rocks that will get in your way, but no abominable snow monsters (as far as I know). To control the skier you tap or hold on the whichever direction you’d like to go. Your speed will build up and it will get more difficult to avoid the obstacles.

Powder screens

The other aspect of this game is its soothing nature. Instead of a rocking soundtrack there is only soothing white noise. Combine that with the rhythmic swooping back and forth down the hill and you’ll fall into a trance, that is until you run into a tree. At first it may seem a little boring, but after a while you’ll be hooked in.

For $1.99 you can unlock a bear skier to replace the default pixel skier. Playing the game is great, but once you venture outside of the gameplay it gets a little messy. On my LG G4 the menu is very hard to read and the buttons are difficult to press. The game doesn’t seem to be optimized for 2K displays. Other than that this is a soothing and fun game. Download it for free from the Play Store here.

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ULTRAFLOW is an addictive Android game that has you bouncing off walls [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/06/23/ultraflow-android-game-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/06/23/ultraflow-android-game-review/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 19:54:12 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=167148

I love simple games. You can pick one up at any time and kill a few minutes, or many minutes if the game is really good. I’ve discovered that simple games are often the most difficult. They hook you in with a simple mechanic, but then things ramp up quickly. Of course, this is exactly what makes simple games so addictive. ULTRAFLOW is my latest obsession in this genre.

If you’re a listener of the Mobile Roar Podcast you may remember ULTRAFLOW from a couple of weeks ago. The premise of the game is simple in theory: get your ball to the goal. In order to do that you need to bounce your ball off of walls, but it doesn’t stop there. You’re only allowed a certain amount of bounces, and there are tons of obstacles getting in your way.

ULTRAFLOW

The idea of finding the perfect trajectory to bounce an object to a goal is not new. That’s simply billiards. ULTRAFLOW takes the idea to a much more addictive state. You have to plan out your shot for more than just one or two bounces. Obstacles will make that very difficult. There are directional arrows, speed traps, wormholes, moving walls, gates, and so much more. Eventually you have to not only worry about the trajectory angles, but also the speed of your shot.

I love everything about this game. The design is minimal and cool. The soundtrack is futuristic and catchy. The controls are easy, and you can restart levels very quickly (because you will die a lot). However, the best part has nothing to do with how the game is played. ULTRAFLOW is free and it doesn’t have any ads or in-app purchases. Seriously. Plus, you can earn achievements through Google Play Games.

Trust me, you’ll love this game. Download ULTRAFLOW for free from the Play Store right here.

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Hands on with SoundHound’s ‘Hound’ Virtual Assistant and comparison with the Google app [Video] http://phandroid.com/2015/06/03/hands-on-with-soundhounds-hound-virtual-assistant-and-comparison-with-the-google-app-video/ http://phandroid.com/2015/06/03/hands-on-with-soundhounds-hound-virtual-assistant-and-comparison-with-the-google-app-video/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 02:56:20 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=166262 SoundHound_Hound_Virtual_Assistant

Yesterday, SoundHound announced to the world that they’ve been working on a virtual assistant for 10 years, aiming to take on the likes of the Google app (formerly Google Search), Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. SoundHound said that Hound was fast, provided deep results, has the ability to take on detailed query criteria, and has the ability to speak naturally. Hound is supposed to understand both context like the Google app, but also able to understand detail, something Google and other’s do not offer.

How does Hound perform in real a real world test? Watch the video below to find out. (Yes, it’s long. I didn’t want to edit out the failures. I felt they showed real world results.)

For a beta app that’s aimed to take on Google on Android and soon Siri on iOS, Hound isn’t bad. You can tell the app is beta, as the experience can’t handle the competition from time to time. I found found myself having to retry a query because it failed or the voice recognition was just plain horrible. However, all is not lost. Hound can do certain tasks and queries that even the mighty Google cannot handle. Hound is able to answer questions such “show me hotels near Times Square that cost less than $200 per night” or “show me 5 star restaurants in New York City” or “what’s the population of China and the population of Russia and the population of Japan and the population of Germany and the population of Italy”. What Hound can do, it can do pretty damn well.

I’m sure the company will continue to improve their product over time and I’ll be paying attention closely, as will Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and any other corporation that might be interested in acquiring their semi-impressive technology. Hopefully the next beta fixes the voice recognition issues and adds an easy way to access Hound, such as a homescreen widget.

What do you think of Hound? Let us know in the comments.

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‘Does not Commute’ is a traffic game with a time-traveling twist [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/05/25/does-not-commute-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/05/25/does-not-commute-android-review/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 16:00:37 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=165471 DoesNotCommute

I’m a sucker for simple, time-killing games. One of my favorite developers in this genre is Mediocre. They’ve made games like Smash Hit, Sprinkle, and Granny Smith. Their latest games is called Does Not Commute, and it’s another smash hit (pun intended).

On the surface Does Not Commute seems like a typical traffic game. You drive cars, trucks, mopeds, and other vehicles through traffic in different locations. Here’s where things get interesting: the traffic is made up of vehicles that you drove in earlier parts of the game.

The game starts with one car on a street in a quiet neighborhood. The goal is to follow the arrows and navigate to the checkpoint. On your next turn you’ll have to do the same thing with a different car, but now you’re not alone. The car from your previous turn is replaying what you just did. Hopefully you didn’t drive recklessly in that first turn, because now you’ll have to share the road with it.

You can probably guess how the game goes from here. Each turn adds more vehicles, which were all driven by you in previous turns. As more vehicles are added it gets harder and harder to avoid them. Not only do you have to avoid those cars, but you’ll also want to take note of how you’re driving so you don’t screw yourself later on in the game.

The other aspect of the game is the timer. You start with 60 seconds on the clock. Time ticks away only while you’re driving, which makes it very important to avoid obstacles and slow-downs. The goal is to get as far into the game as possible before the time reaches zero. You can collect extra time throughout the game, and power-ups which will help you drive faster. The game would probably be fun without the timer, but with it it’s a lot more addictive.

DoesNotCommute2

I love this game. There is so much to think about while you’re playing. You’re trying to take the most direct route so you don’t waste precious time, but you can’t be too careless or you’ll get in your own way later on. You’ll also want to collect as much extra time as possible, but sometimes it can take more time to collect than its worth. It’s a constant battle with yourself and the clock.

My only gripe is you have to start at the beginning for each new game, even if you’ve unlocked the next levels. In order to start at a different level you have to unlock the premium version of the game for $1.99. Luckily, this game is well worth the $2. You can download Does Not Commute for free from the Play Store. If you like cars, driving, time travel, and racing against the clock, this game is for you.

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LG G4 Review http://phandroid.com/2015/05/08/lg-g4-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/05/08/lg-g4-review/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 18:14:28 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=164585 LG_G4_5

LG has issued its response to the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 in the form of the LG G4, a phone that sees efforts focused on the features that most impact everyday use. While the phone ultimately feels a bit too familiar to last year’s LG G3, the G4 holds serve with its 2015 counterparts and offers compelling improvements in the areas of design, display, and camera.

Design

With the G4, LG intended to eschew the rectangular shape we have come to expect from smartphones, carrying over elements of the curved design of the far more ambitious G Flex 2. It’s far more subtle here, however, and the G4 lacks the flexible OLED display.

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The shape of the device does not call attention to itself, but it won’t go unnoticed. The phone is ergonomic in hand despite its measurements —5.86 x 3.00 x 0.39 inches — and the curve adds a nice aesthetic quality. The G4 most definitely borders on the phablet designation, and even those with long thumbs will likely have a hard time reaching all corners of the screen. Depending on the app or situation, the G4 is often difficult to operate with one hand, a trade-off any phablet user should be well aware of.

LG does address this reachability issue to some extent with their unique home button/volume rocker arrangement found on the rear of the device. First introduced with the G2 and honed with the G3, the button placement does take some getting used to for the uninitiated. After your brain is trained it seems rather natural. You might even wonder why all smartphones haven’t be using this design for years.

lg g4 colors 2

Adding to the phone’s visual appeal are a variety of finish options, including leather, ceramic, or a more traditional metal/plastic hybrid. The model we tested featured the latter, perhaps the most underwhelming of the bunch. Ceramic has the feel of a premium material and promises good durability, but leather with stitched accents seems to be the look LG wants the G4 to be know for. We’ve seen other manufacturers experiment with the idea, from simulated and faux leather to the real thing, but LG really pulls it off here in a selection of colors.

A removable backplate means users can swap from one to another to change the look of their G4 on the fly, and LG has plans to sell all options separately. That should be appealing to consumers with personalization on the mind, and means buyers won’t feel any regret over the version of the device they initially choose.

Display

LG_G4_10

LG has opted to stand pat with a 5.5-inch QHD display, the same size and resolution as the display featured on last year’s G3. Our initial reaction in many ways was similar to the experience with that phone, but LG has made improvements that do make a meaningful impact.

LG touts improved IPS Quantum technology, and the G4’s 500 nit display indeed stands out as one of the brightest we have ever seen on a smartphone (said to be 25% brighter than previous QHD displays). There have also been enhancements in terms of color reproduction over the G3 with a 20% wider range of color and 50% increase in contrast ratio (1,500:1) from last year’s model.

What you can expect are colors that pop and hues that are more true to life in comparison to technology like the Super AMOLED displays Samsung has come to rely on. The tones generated by the G4’s display are more representative of what the eye sees in nature, but often images can seem a little washed out. Some depth seems to be lost in the brightness.

Our perception might be somewhat skewed after too much time with the almost cartoonishly vibrant displays of Samsung’s Galaxy line, but if your preference is for such exaggerated imagery you could potentially view the G4’s display as a let down. We don’t. It’s display that is easily viewable even outdoors on a bright and sunny day, and it offers sharp, clear images on par with other Android flagships.

Hardware and Performance

The LG G4 features an interesting mix of hardware being the only 2015 flagship device so far to employ Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 processor, a hexa-core SoC comprised of a dual-core ARM A57 CPU paired with a quad-core ARM A53, which offers 64-bit support. Graphics processing is handled by an Adreno 418 GPU, and the processing suite is paired with 3GB of RAM.

In comparison, both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 take advantage of quad-core processing with an Exynos 7420 and Snapdragon 810, respectively. Even the predecessor G Flex 2 from earlier this year sports the 810 chipset, leaving some to wonder if the G4 is a step back in terms of processing.

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Benchmark scores reproduced here indeed suggest the phone underperforms when pitted against the competition, but a string of somewhat arbitrary numbers doesn’t tell the full story. LG and Qualcomm made it a point to discuss how closely they worked to optimize the Snapdragon 808 for use in the G4, the result being a device that should still perform well despite hardware with a little less sizzle.

Real-world performance was as it should be with no noticeable lag when navigating software and launching apps. Launching the camera and snapping off a few photos took mere seconds, cycling between apps was effortless, and the G4 deftly handled the demands of graphics-intensive gaming.

Though the G4 includes 32GB of onboard storage, fans of expandable memory will be glad to know the LG has not abandoned MicroSD support. Extra removable storage is especially useful for those wishing to take advantage of the 16MP camera’s RAW image capabilities.

Camera

LG has gone all out with the G4’s camera, utilizing hardware that really starts to blur the line between smartphone photography and something more akin to what we might see from a DSLR. It starts with an f/1.8 aperture and super-sized 1/2.6″ image sensor. These combine to offer a camera that excels in nearly any lighting condition, including those dreaded lowlight situations. LG didn’t stop there, though. They have also included a color spectrum sensor that works to bring out the most lifelike colors in the images it captures. For good measure the laser autofocus of the G3 returns, offering speedy refocusing for subjects in close range.

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The results speak for themselves. The G4 offers up finely detailed shots with little fuss, and strikes a fairly even balance of color, light, and shadow. The camera’s ability in poorly-lit environs was indeed impressive, though you should expect these shots to still lack a certain quality found in more ideally illuminated pictures.

In general, the G4’s auto mode churns out impressive images on its own, but a retooled camera interface gives photographers the tools they need to adjust shooting parameters on the fly with its manual mode. Focus, exposure, ISO, white balance, and more can be dialed in to the perfect amount. Within manual mode, one tap enables the ability to save images in RAW format (an uncompressed file offering more data and detail) for later editing and processing.

Software

LG_G4_14

The camera isn’t the only software that gets an update with the G4. LG has further improved the look and feel of their user experience over the G3, giving us an interface that stays quite true to the Material Design roots of the Android 5.1 Lollipop OS that ships with the device. Colors are bright and fun while icons and interface elements take on a flat, paper-inspired look.

The most prominent addition is Smart Bulletin — a homescreen pane showcasing a series of widgets like LG Health, the music player, and calendar. It is accessed by swiping to the far right (the same place you might find Samsung’s Briefing pane or HTC’s BlinkFeed). The idea is nice, and there is some use in quickly accessing certain widgets, but in this iteration Smart Bulletin feels a little half-baked.

LG_G4_13

LG has also introduced a new feature within the calendar dubbed Event Pocket. When opened, Event Pocket will present a variety of items culled from your Facebook events or nearby points of interest, allowing you to drag and drop them directly to your calendar. For those managing an endlessly busy schedule, Event Pocket could become a useful tool.

Beyond these additions, the G4 also includes an improved Smart Notice widget that incorporates data like weather, location, and stored events to offer predictive suggestions, tips, and more, much like what we expect from Google Now. As we said with our G3 review, Google Now remains a superior alternative.

Speaking of Google Now, the great thing about the G4 is that its interface is relatively unobtrusive and allows much of what we love about Lollipop to shine through. LG’s user interface changes strike a good balance with stock Android.

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Battery

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While the battery capacity hasn’t increased since the G3, battery life is improved thanks to optimization spanning software and the phones Snapdragon 808 processor. How much things have improved is a matter of debate.

It’s safe to say you will get a solid day of use from the G4 dependent on usage habits. 12-14 hours of uptime seems to be a reasonable expectation with an average gauntlet of messaging, web surfing, light gaming, and some video consumption. With even more spare usage you might push into a second day before needing to recharge, but this would be a rare case for most users. Standard Android battery saver modes can be set to kick on when power runs low in order to shut down unnecessary services that speed battery drain.

A removable battery is convenient for power hogs who need the security of a backup, but the G4 lacks built-in wireless charging, a feature found in the Galaxy S6 and starting to see a surge in popularity. Is it a deal breaker? No, but it’s the little things that count.

Conclusion

LG_G4_6

Taken individually, features like the camera, display, and design of the G4 are quite impressive, if not tops among it smartphone peers. As a package, however, there still seems to be something missing from the overall presentation. Something feels a bit underwhelming, though it’s difficult to place a finger on.

Perhaps the G4 does not feel like a big enough leap from last year’s G3. Maybe it’s a fingerprint sensor away from feeling complete. While there is this sense that LG could have pushed harder, it is also difficult to find much to complain about with what the G4 ultimately presents: a phone worthy of consideration as one of the best to launch in 2015 so far, though perhaps not THE best.

The Good

  • Near-DSLR quality camera with advanced shooting options
  • Big, bright, and beautiful QHD display
  • Subtle design accents that add form to function

The Bad

  • Battery life is average and improves little from last generation
  • Snapdragon 808 processing performs well but lags behind other current flagships

The Bottom Line: 4/5

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review: worth an extra $100? http://phandroid.com/2015/04/30/samsung-galaxy-s6-edge-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/04/30/samsung-galaxy-s6-edge-review/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 21:38:09 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=164143 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09183

After posting our lengthy Samsung Galaxy S6 review a few weeks back, it behooved us to do something similar for its sibling, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Sure, we briefly talked about some of the new Edge features already in our S6 review, but we felt like going more in depth with these new Galaxy S6 Edge features in a review all of their own.

On the hardware front, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are near identical for the most part, sporting nearly the exact same internals as one another (with the exception of a very small 50mAh increase in battery capacity for the S6 Edge). It’s this reason for our review, we’ll be focusing on the one feature that sets the two apart: the $100 extra curved Edge display.

EDGE SCREEN

How it looks (Verdict: Stunning)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09187

It’s the single defining feature of the Galaxy S6 and most can agree it improves upon the traditional boring “flat” smartphone design with something that looks like it stepped out of science fiction. The fact that the phone can often times be found appearing solo in Samsung Galaxy S6 marketing materials has us feeling like this is the Galaxy S6 Samsung wanted to make, but simply couldn’t due to constraints surrounding production of its curved AMOLED display. Without a doubt the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge looks fresh, leaving Samsung with a product to finally set itself apart in a crowded market. In other words, they done did good.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09210

Samsung would love for you to believe that the S6’s “Edge display” brings some kind of added functionality to the phone by displaying UI elements not normally viewable (or difficult to see) on a regular flat screen. Truth is, you could probably view the exact same information on a flat display when viewing the phone at a downward angle.

When looking at the phone directly from its side (if you’re laying in bed and viewing on your nightstand for instance), information from the Edge screen features are actually cut in half where they sit a lot higher than the actual edge of the display. How’s that for irony?

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09207

Before we got our hands on it, we were honestly expecting something much more extreme and/or closer to what we saw with the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. Upon closer inspection, the Edge display is actually much more discrete than it appears in promos and it’s probably better off. If the curve was angled any more than it already is, it would make full-screen viewing an extremely awkward experience.

That’s not to say the curved display doesn’t take some getting used to. Viewing web pages, videos, or images online feel strange at first, with your eyes focusing only on the flat portion of the display, discounting anything wrapping over to the curve portion. Aside from the image becoming warped and colors looking off, the curved edges also pick up a fair amount of glare, making full-screen viewing a bit more difficult than usual.

We’ll admit, it’s only really a problem when using the phone outside or when the display is dimly lit. Turn up the brightness indoors, and you shouldn’t have much of a problem, if at all. It was bothersome enough for us to want to run back to our boring, basic, flat S6 unit. In the end, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge isn’t necessarily going to turn any heads and anyone that doesn’t know much about technology likely wont be impressed by this hardware feat.

How it feels (Verdict: Awkward)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09193

Apart from its handsome good looks, the Edge doesn’t really offer up any real-world benefit. In fact, the curved display actually makes for a smartphone that’s both more difficult to view and awkward to hold. This is all thanks to the same metal frame from the Galaxy S6, only on the Edge, it shrinks down around the sides of the device. This allows that curved edge to extend halfway down its sides.

The problem is with such little surface area to grab onto, you never quite feel like you have a confident grip of the S6 Edge. Doesn’t help matters that the metal frame also feels like non-stick Teflon.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09219

Needless to say, unless you’re comfortable with your phone flipping and flopping out of your hands and onto pavement — you’re going to want to invest in some protection. Using a case largely remedies this lack of grip issue , but you may find the selection of cases for the S6 Edge is much more limited than say, the regular S6 model (we listed some of our favorites right here).

And although it may sound weird to say, using a case was probably our favorite part about the S6 Edge. Because the frame is so far along the sides of the phone, equipping a case — even those bulky rugged ones — never impedes on the edge itself. This allows your finger to reach and slide over the edges of the curved display without the usual thick rim of a case getting in the way. We absolutely loved that.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge case DSC09508

Speaking of sliding our fingers over the edge of the display, grabbing UI elements — like slide-out navigation menus — feels a hundred times more enjoyable than your usual flat device. We did notice a sort of dead zone along the sides (as well as slightly thicker black bezels), more than likely there to compensate for fingers that may slightly encroach on the Edge display when holding the device. We should also note there were more unintentional screen presses along the edges when viewing full screen media and/or playing video games. It was more than frustrating.

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09293

We should note, tempered glass screen protectors (the only kind we use on our phones these days) present a very real challenge for the Galaxy S6 Edge as the vast majority available only cover the middle flat portion of the display — not the curved edges. There are very few tempered glass screen protectors available for the S6 Edge (we did find this one from Amzer), but expect to pay a higher premium than usual. This means plastic film screen protectors are generally going to be your best bet for now, but at least they’re inexpensive.

Ultimately, the way that 3D-ish display felt when gliding our fingers across was easily the best feature of the S6 Edge and something that made transitioning back to flat phones feel…. well, a little boring to us. But as we mentioned, a nice case is all but mandatory for this version of the S6. Thankfully, we listed some of our favorites in a previous post right here.

EDGE SOFTWARE

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09182

Even if the Galaxy S6 Edge doesn’t bring any real world functionality in and of itself, the phone is bundled with a handful of exclusive software features to help take “advantage” of its curved display. Sure these features could have come bundled on the Galaxy S6 and worked just as well, but that’s neither here nor there.

In this portion of the review, we’re going to examine Samsung’s new “Edge screen” features for the Galaxy S6 Edge and evaluate whether or not they are helpful, or just more bloat Samsung packed onto the device to try and fool the masses. Let’s get to it.

Edge lighting (Verdict: Useless)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Lighting DSC09196

Edge lighting is an S6 feature that allows the edge of the display to light up whenever you receive a phone call or notification. It only works when the phone is faced down and gives users the option to reject calls by long pressing the heart rate sensor (you can even set this up to shoot out a customized quick reply).

Edge lighting also works with People edge, so it’ll glow with the color you set for some of your favorite contacts. This is so you can always see who’s calling/notifying at a glance. But you know what also works for seeing who’s calling at a glance? Setting your phone face up like the good Lord intended.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge lighting

Not only is Edge lighting almost completely pointless, it’s downright dangerous if you care about keeping your phone in pristine condition. You will — I repeat, will — be scratching your phone’s display if you lay it face down on just about any hard surface. Tiny bits of dirt, salt, or any other micro particles will scratch up the display, Gorilla Glass 4 or not. The only time this feature would even be acceptable is when using a screen protector, but even then — why not just set the phone upright?

People edge (Verdict: Helpful)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People DSC09310

The People edge is probably going to be the feature most people use on the Galaxy S6 Edge. It’s basically a persistent shortcut on the home and lock screen that appears along the right or left side of the phone’s display, giving you quick access to your favorite contacts. Pull it out, and you can quickly call, text message, or email one of the contacts you’ve preselected (up to 5).

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People edge

Since these contacts are all color coded (blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple), it’s easy to see at a glace any missed notifications and quickly address them by tapping on the appropriate icon. There’s also an option to have your phone alert you every time you pick it up to ensure you never miss a notification from the people you care about most (or those who keep you on a short leash). You can even toggle what kind of notifications you’d like to receive (missed calls, messages, or emails).

This is actually a neat feature, don’t get us wrong. But it’s just one that doesn’t really require the Edge screen to exist. It could have been just as helpful on the regular S6. Of course, that doesn’t take anything away from People edge which was something we found actually came in handy for the most part.

Information stream (Verdict: Somewhat handy)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Information Stream DSC09512

Information stream is basically a news ticker that displays feeds according to your interest. Since they’re only displayed on the edge screen — and the main screen is “turned off” — Samsung says it shouldn’t eat up too much battery life when displayed. Activating the Information stream (when enabled in Edge screen options) is done by performing a quick swiping gesture on the Edge screen while the phone is sleeping. After that, a ticker will be displayed according to the feeds you’ve set up and for however long you’d like (15 seconds, or even up to 10 minutes).

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Information stream 1

Options for the news ticker are fairly limited at this point and include general Android notifications (specific apps can be turned off, but all are enabled by default). As far as news feeds, Yahoo! News, Twitter Trends, Yahoo! Finance, and Yahoo! Sports available on the device, with the ability to download feeds from Whoscall – Caller ID & Block, RSS Feeds for Edge, and BILD Newsticker. Tapping on a news item will open the browser and pull up the article. Oh, and weather can also be displayed, with the settings controlled by the general Samsung weather app.

We found Information stream somewhat useful, but couldn’t help but feel like it sucked up more battery life than Samsung lets on. This wouldn’t have been so much of a big deal if Samsung simply added the option to display Information stream only while the phone is charging.

Night Clock (Verdict: More harm than good)

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Clock Weather DSC09306

Night clock is the final Edge screen feature and, well, does exactly what the name suggests. It displays a dimly lit clock on the Edge screen for easy viewing while laying on your nightstand. When enabled, it’s up to the user to set the display time and the duration maxes out at 12 hours, so you can’t have it on 24/7.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge screen night clock

Despite only displaying a dimly lit clock — which is supposed to keep the “main screen” off — we noticed a good deal of battery drain than when normally sleeping. We activated Night Clock in a pitch black room and actually noticed the entire display was dimly lit. Suddenly that battery drain made a lot more sense. In the end, this meant that unless we were plugged in for the night, Night clock wasn’t a viable option for us, again, something Samsung could have easily rectified by adding the option to display only while charging.

Is the S6 Edge worth spending $100 extra dollars?

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge DSC09221

Now that we’ve fully examined the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and every single one of its Edge screen features, it’s time to reach a verdict. At $100 extra for the S6 Edge, does the curved display actually bring anything more to the table than sexy good looks? The short answer: no. But does it really have to?

In a world of cookie cutter smartphones, it’s clear someone needed to step out and finally do something different. It just so happened to come from the unlikeliest of places, Samsung, who has done a great job at building a smartphone that looks unlike all the rest and even steals some of the lime light away from beauties like the iPhone 6 or HTC One M9.

As long as you understand what you’re getting, we don’t think anyone should feel bad dropping 100 extra dollars for the S6 Edge. People value good design. They do it all the time. I found myself buying more expensive plastic silverware simply because it looked nicer than the cheap stuff. Others may splurge on designer name clothes or shoes because they simply fit better or look nicer than the stuff they find at Walmart. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We will say, for the more thrifty buyer, that $100 might be better spent on upgrading the internal storage of the Galaxy S6 (which also sees a $100 jump for every configuration). Just something to keep that in mind if you can’t decide between a 32GB S6 Edge, or 64GB regular S6 for the same price.

Sure, we found the Edge screen was little more than a gimmick to get you to pluck down more money for a smartphone that does everything the regular version can do. While spending an extra $100 is probably asking a little bit much (Samsung really couldn’t have made it only $50 more?), we couldn’t help but find ourselves suckered into picking up the S6 Edge over the regular model.

If you received a little extra dough in your tax refund and have $100 burning a hole in your pocket than by all means, treat yo self. As long as you know what your money is getting you, ain’t no one going to fault you for it.

Pros:

  • Fresh design
  • Great conversation starter
  • Cases don’t impede on Edge screen at all
  • Envy of friends too poor to afford it

Cons:

  • Edge screen distorts images
  • Edge screen picks up extra glare
  • Awkward to hold
  • Software features are mostly gimmicks
  • More expensive than regular S6 model

Bottom line: The Galaxy S6 Edge sure looks pretty, but its hardware benefits mostly fall flat. Unless you’re hell bent on being the coolest kid on the block with its cutting edge design, that extra $100 would be better spent on increasing the internal storage on the regular Galaxy S6.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

Additional Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge resources:

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TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount Review http://phandroid.com/2015/04/25/tylt-vu-wireless-charging-car-mount-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/04/25/tylt-vu-wireless-charging-car-mount-review/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2015 19:26:17 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=164101 TYLT-VU-Charger-2

Charging your phone, sometimes multiple times per day, has become a burden that we’re all conditioned to do as a normal task. Sure, it’s not that cumbersome, but you still need to find your charger, find the cable, and then attempt to plug it in correctly the first attempt – try getting it right the first time in the dark. Wireless charging tends to make life a bit easier in this regard, because it’s simple and highly convenient. All you have to do is place your phone on the charging area and watch the juices begin to flow into your device. A company by the name of TYLT, one of the more popular and higher quality wireless charging manufacturers out there, has brought wireless charging to your vehicle via a car mount. This is the TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount review.

Before we get into the actual review of this phone accessory, let’s take a look at how I use my Android phone in the car. My current phone is the Nexus 6. With it’s ample screen real estate, I sometimes have Google Maps running in the foreground with Google Play Music streaming via Bluetooth to my car’s speakers in the background. If I don’t need Maps, I’ll still have Google Play Music streaming, with my screen set to never turn off, so that I can easily change songs with a simple finger swipe. Recently though, I’ve been using the AutoMate App, which keeps the screen on as well, shows directions, the current tune playing, my current speed and heading, etc. instead. My point is, my phone is always doing something while I’m safely paying attention to the road of course, and it’s always sucking away previous battery life.

I’ve been using the TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount for a long time. In fact, this review is way overdue by a couple of months. I’ve been using the mount in my car as a daily charging tool with my near hour long commute to and from work and I’ve used it on a few long road trips, such as a three hour drive to the Big Android Meat & Greet last month in Alexandria, Virginia.

Part of the reason for the delay in my review is because this is actually my second TYLT VU car mount. The first one I was sent was a pre-production unit. The sticky suction cup, which I’ll talk about in a moment, gave me a few issues and the gripping arms on the side were peeling off. That’s not the best experience as you can imagine. After letting TYLT know about my issues, they said that I had a pre-production unit, they had never heard of this issue, and would promptly send out a replacement. I’m happy to say that 1) TYLT reviewed the returned unit and did state that it was in fact faulty and 2) the production charger that was sent to me is of the utmost quality and works as intended. If you happen to run into these issues yourself, though they should already be fixed in the production run, but the TYLT VU dock comes with a one year warranty just in case.

Hardware
The TYLT VU Wireless Charging Mount is a little larger and heavier than my previous, non-charging mount, but it’s also a TYLT product, so that means build quality is going to be higher than competitors. And that’s true. This car mount screams quality from every angle.TYLT-VU-Charger-1

Starting from the bottom, most car docks include a small puck shaped disc and double-sided tape for your mount. This provides your dock with a smooth, flat surface to grip onto and attach to your car’s dash. The VU Wireless Charging Car Mount did not include one of these to my surprise. Instead, the VU came with an ultra-sticky suction cup that is supposed to stick to various surfaces and textures with ease. The dash of my wife’s Jeep is much smoother and flatter than my Suzuki’s dash and the VU had absolutely no problems sticking to either surface for weeks at a time before moving between vehicles. If you happen to get some dust or dirt on the suction cup, a slightly moist cloth can do the trick to get it ready for use again. Also, TYLT states that you can use the suction cup on the windshield, I didn’t test that setup in either of my vehicles. And it’s also worth mentioning, the above pictured shot does include a disc from a previous mount, though in my testing, I did move the mount around various places before ultimately choosing a location where I already had a disc installed. I didn’t want to rip the old disc off of my dash and potentially leave a mark. I guess that’s another bonus feature of the TYLT VU, there’s no sticky doubled-sided tape to ruin your dash!

The base unit is fairly straight forward. On the back you’ll find a lever that allows the suction cup to clamp down on the surface of whatever you’re trying to place the mount onto. To release the suction, you can easily press in on the button area provided on the lower back.

As I mentioned above, the TYLT VU is a bit large. At the top of the cone shaped base, you’ll find a ball joint that pivots, allowing you to rotate your soon to be attached phone in various ways for your optimal viewing pleasure. The wireless charging pad then attaches onto the ball joint, which can be tightened with a plastic triangular nut. The VU charger won’t allow vertical adjustment, which is a bit of a bummer, but does allow for a reasonable amount of horizontal adjustment. I had no problems finding the perfect angle, I just wish the phone or mount wasn’t so tall or included an arm to position the wireless charging pad at an equal height or lower than the base itself.

TYLT-VU-Charger-3

Along the sides of the wireless charging pad you find two rubberized arms for gripping your phone. To clamp down on your device, simply squeeze the arms until your device is secured. I had the most success when I squeezed the arms towards the back.

To release your phone from the mount’s grips, press the included button at the top of the wireless charging pad. The arms are spring loaded and will immediately release your phone. The first time I did this my Nexus 6 fell and bounced off of my car’s center console. Lesson learned. Since then, every time I press the release button with one hand, I use a second hand to hold my phone, just in case.

At the bottom of the wireless charging pad you’ll find a tiny charging port for plugging in the included vehicle adapter. One nice feature about TYLT’s offering? Even though the mount is taking up your vehicle’s charging port (cigarette lighter socket) the adapter includes a 5V 1.3A USB port so that you can charge another device if need be. Feel free to rub it in while you charge your significant other’s device like a barbarian with a cable, while you get to live in the future with Qi charging.

TYLT-VU-Charger-5

The TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount comes with two adjustable bottom brackets that slide into the bottom of the wireless charging pad. These brackets can be adjusted to accommodate your phone. For example, I had to position the bottom bracket just right so that the side clamp wouldn’t press the volume buttons on my Nexus 6. I’m not really sure why two brackets are included as one of them comes with a notch on the side which could be for USB cable management, which really isn’t needed, at least in my situation. This might be different if you chose the windshield as a mounting option.

Wireless Charging
If you’re not familiar with wireless charging, the simplest explanation is that wireless charging is extremely convenient, but definitely not fastest. You actually sacrifice charging speed for ease of use, the ability to just place your phone on a charging pad and forget about it. Wireless charging generally makes your phone very hot too, which, depending on what school you’re from, may not be the best choice for your battery in the long run. When we add larger batteries and rapid charging capabilities like Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, OPPO’s VOOC charging, and Samsung’s new quick charging technology to the mix, the argument in favor of slow Qi charging gets a little harder.

For example, I use Qi charging with my Nexus 6 every night. If I need a quick bump during the day, I won’t opt for wireless charging, I’ll grab my Motorola Rapid Charger every time. What I’m trying to say is that for long, uninterrupted charging sessions, wireless charging is great, but if you need more juice and don’t have a whole lot of time, a quick charger is probably going to be the better choice. However, the convenience of a high quality wireless charger in the car is enough for me to really enjoy this charger.

TYLT-VU-Charger-4

As for device support, TYLT uses a 3-coil Qi technology in their VU Wireless Charging Car Mount allowing for a very long compatibility list, including 6-inch phones. My Nexus 6 fits perfectly, thanks to the large 3.6” wide grip clearance. To find out if your device is supported, you’ll want to head on over to the official TYLT VU compatibility guide before purchasing.

The question remains, can the TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount keep my Nexus 6 charged while streaming Google Play Music, using Google Maps, and with the screen set to always-on? The VU won’t keep your device topped off at 100%, but it will definitely slow down the rate of battery drain. For example, I was able to drive for 3 and a half hours with everything mentioned in use and only lose 16% of battery. That’s pretty good, I’d say. During my daily commutes to and from work, I usually only drop a couple percentage points whereas before I’d drop an easy 10%. A wireless charger definitely helps.

Conclusion
The bottom line is that your phone isn’t going to charge as fast as it would with a USB cable and higher amp charger. That’s not really the point of wireless charging though. It’s about convenience. Before, I only charged my phone in the car if I knew my battery was low or I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to a charger later in the day. Picking up a USB cable off of the floor is a major first world problem, but it’s one that I opted to only do in dire situations. So, for the lazy and for the convenience seekers, the TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount is a very tempting choice.

TYLT-VU-Charger-6

You can buy the TYLT VU Wireless Charging Car Mount from directly from TYLT or head on over to Amazon and pick one up today for $79.99 in gray, blue, red, or green. TYLT stands by their high quality products and you generally get what you pay for when it comes to these types of accessories. Other, cheaper options exist on the market right now, but I’d rather take my chances with a company with a proven track record.

If you have any specific questions, let us know in the comments.

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Review http://phandroid.com/2015/04/15/samsung-galaxy-s6-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/04/15/samsung-galaxy-s6-review/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 21:05:28 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=161321 Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09324

With a seemingly endless amount of marketing dollars at their disposal, Samsung has long been the reigning king of Android. Nobody else comes close on a global scale. This isn’t so much because Samsung has always built the best looking devices, or even developed the most intuitive software. It’s because Samsung discovered early on that if they threw enough ad dollars into something, it would guarantee success. And for the most part, they were right.

But as we saw with last year’s Samsung Galaxy S5, it was clear people were wising up. The device failed to resonate with consumers and in the end, failed to meet Samsung’s lofty sales goals. Sure it had lots of “me too” features (fingerprint reader, heart rate sensor, loads of software enhancements), but it was a jack of all trades and master of none.

With the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, Samsung has finally seen the error of their ways. The new handsets aren’t so much a deviation from Samsung’s traditional Galaxy line as they are a very necessary evolution. The good kind. But is it all roses? Let’s jump into our review.

Design / Build quality

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09333

I’ve always been pretty vocal about my disgust strong distaste for last year’s Samsung Galaxy S5. In a world where smaller OEMs like HTC and Motorola were focusing sleek designs and more premium build materials, Samsung was content in selling yet another plastic flagship with the same tired, uninspired design. Needless to say, the Galaxy S5 left a lot to be desired and plenty of room for improvement in the Galaxy S6.

At first glance, it’s clear the Galaxy S6 is unlike any other Samsung devices before it. But we’d be lying if we said the phone didn’t appear to take a few design cues from a certain other competitor. Not so much the new aluminum sides. One could easily argue Samsung adopted that design from their ATIV S Windows Phone. Yet we still feel like some additional work could have been done to avoid obvious similarities with the iPhone 6.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs iPhone 6 DSC09238

Instead of avoiding similarities with the iPhone 6, Samsung seems to have wholly embraced them. It feels blatantly intentional. The 3.5mm headphone jack has now moved from top — where it has been since the original Samsung Galaxy S — to an all new position at the bottom of the S6. Sure a few phones have a similar setup, but it’s even placed to the left of the charging port just like on the iPhone 6.

On the opposite side, we now find billet drilled holes where the speaker has, wouldn’t you know it, also been moved from the back to the bottom. We know. It’s entirely possible this is all just one big, silly coincidence. Perhaps Samsung designers never once laid eyes on the iPhone 6 when adding the final touches on the Galaxy S6. Somehow we doubt that.

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09394

The good part is that’s where the similarities end. From head-on, the S6 is classic Galaxy. Samsung’s all too familiar chrome earpiece makes yet another appearance, along with their now trademark oval home button. Coloring on the device is handled by luminescent chrome slipped underneath smooth Gorilla Glass 4 that now covers the entire front and back of the device.

According to Corning, it’s supposed to be less prone to surface scratches and shattering than Gorilla Glass 3 which was found on the previous Galaxy S5. We’ve seen enough drop tests to know that the phone isn’t immune to shattering, so we’d still recommend buying a nice tempered glass screen protector and/or case just in case.

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09389

Speaking of the glass, unlike the Galaxy S5 which was completely recessed, it is now slightly beveled and sits almost completely flush with the frame edges (more so on the sides than the top and bottom). This means when grabbing UI elements from the sides of the display — like those slide out app menus — your finger gracefully glides over the edges of the display, making for a smooth and silky experience. It’s not quite as pronounced as the 2.5D glass on the iPhone 6, but a little closer to what we’ve seen on the Moto X (2nd Gen) or DROID Turbo.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs HTC One M9 vs DROID Turbo DSC09252 (1)

Once again we find Samsung opting for their traditional home button setup along with recents and back capacitive buttons on each side. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is that they still don’t use stock Android’s setup (back on the left, home center, recents on the right), but those coming from a previous Galaxy device will feel right at home. Everyone else, well, you should adjust in no time.

A design area we were a tad disappointed to find Samsung didn’t work on was the Galaxy S’s ever growing bezels. Things were looking good from the S3, to the S4, but all that went out the window when the S5 introduced thicker top and bottom bezels. The Galaxy S6’s bezels look to match last year’s model (although we don’t have specific measurements). We’ve seen advancements in this area with Sharp and LG creating devices with super small bezels, but then again, they don’t have the hardware the S5/S6 has (fingerprint scanner). It’s because of that, we’ll give Samsung a pass on this one. Function over form, we suppose.

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09339

If there was one thing to be said about Samsung’s choice of plastic in previous Galaxies, it’s that they were durable. Ditching the perforated, soft touch pleather of last year’s model, the S6 now features a single pane of glass that covers the entire back of the phone. Underneath all that glass, the phone’s metallic surface can be seen, creating a sheen and flashy multidimensional effect. Samsung devices have always been shiny, but this is shiny on top of shiny.

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09358

The only thing messing up the sleekness of the back is the camera housing jutting out towards the top. A protruding camera is nothing new for Samsung devices. It’s just now further accentuated thanks to a much flatter, all-glass back plate. If you thought the iPhone 6’s camera was an eyesore, the S6’s is sure to make you cringe. Not only that, the phone always lays at a slight 5-degree angle, resting on the camera housing. If you’re not careful, you could end up with scratches on the lens or even worse, a crack if lay down the phone down with a bit of force. Something to be careful about.

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Samsung’s choice to go with wireless charging in the S6 prevented them from going with a metal back plate like how they did on the Galaxy A series. For the record, we would have been cool with matte or even high gloss plastic although we’ll admit, the glass certainly does look pretty. That is, until it’s covered in a hundred fingerprints after a few minutes of use. In the phone’s defense, fingerprints are super easy to wipe clean with a cotton shirt or sleeve. Did we mention the Galaxy S6 is really shiny?

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In the hand, the Galaxy S6 feels great. The non-stick, anodized aluminum siding can make it difficult to gain a confident grip on the phone, but the light weight (138g compared to 145g of the S5) keeps it from feeling like it constantly wants to slip out of your hand. Let’s also not forget the dozen or so official cases Samsung is offering, let alone various 3rd party cases already available online. If you’re worried about slippage, you’ll have no problem finding a nice bumper case with added grip and protection from just about every case maker under the sun.

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At the time of writing the Samsung Galaxy S6 is available in 4 colors: White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Blue Topaz (Galaxy S6 only) and Green Emerald (Galaxy S6 Edge only). Why each model got a single exclusive color is beyond us, but we really had our hearts set on an electric blue option for the Edge.

All-in-all, we’d say Samsung did a fantastic job at updating their flagship Galaxy series with the S6. The phone offers a much more refined experience than any Galaxy before it. There are similarities with the iPhone, but it doesn’t really take anything away from the phone and we wont knock off any points because of it. We will say after taking a look at other devices like the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen), HTC One M9, or even the Sony Xperia Z3, we wish Samsung would have done a little more to avoid similarities with their biggest competitor, while carving out a truly unique identity all their own. As of right now, they’re off to a great start.

Hardware

Display

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By and large, the Galaxy line’s greatest strength has always been its stellar AMOLED displays. Over multiple iterations the past few years, Samsung’s AMOLED displays have managed to carve out a name for themselves as the best on the market. Deep blacks, colors that pop, and phenomenal refresh rates, there’s just so much here to love.

The move from the Galaxy S5 to Galaxy S6, we’re now seeing Samsung up the ante in terms of resolution, employing their most advanced display panels yet. The display on the Galaxy S6 now carries an eye blistering 2560 x 1440 Quad HD resolution at 577 pixels per inch. It was a logical progression, if not a little overkill. But we knew it was coming, especially after last year’s LG G3 hit the market with their own 2K display. When it comes to Android competition, often times it’s a numbers game (more cores, higher res, bigger batteries). The real question is whether or not the jump to Quad HD provides any benefit to the user and whether or not it’s worth the hit on battery life.

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We’ll admit. We were skeptical that Quad HD would look drastically better than the now standard 1080p resolution, especially on a smaller 5-inch device where the ppi is already plenty dense. But after spending more than a week with the Galaxy S6, it’s officially made us believers. The quality is sharp. Pin sharp. We still believe the move to 2K might have been a bit premature as there just isn’t much content that takes advantage of this resolution at present, but the market is certainly headed that way. Nothing wrong with staying ahead of that curve and we’re sure it wont be long before content providers catch up.

Anytime someone brings up a discussion about AMOLED displays, there’s always that one guy who says he doesn’t like their over-saturation. As most Galaxy users will know, these arguments were laid to rest back in the Galaxy S4 when Samsung’s custom software allowed users to turn down saturation for a more accurate LCD-like color gamut.

The Galaxy S6 is no different, with the option to choose between AMOLED cinema (super saturated, cool whites), AMOLED photo (less saturated, warmer whites), and basic (the lowest saturation setting). Samsung also included an Adaptive display mode which they claim “optimizes the color range, saturation, and sharpness” of the display according to whatever it is you’re viewing. The only problem is this mode isn’t compatible with all 3rd party apps.

Edge screen

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The single defining feature — and only difference between the regular Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge — is its new double-sided curved AMOLED display. There’s no question it improves the phone’s design. It looks absolutely beautiful. Like some kinda of smartphone from the future. The thing is, it doesn’t really offer up any real world benefit outside of its good looks. Because the angle of the curve is so minute, the Edge screen really adds little functionality to the phone.

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Like an optical illusion, the angle of the curve is much less prominent than what Samsung would have you believe. Don’t get us wrong, it’s definitely noticeable. But it doesn’t really wrap around the sides of the device much, if at all. It’s nothing like the Galaxy Note Edge which is, admittedly, much larger and features a dedicated section for app shortcuts.

Samsung would love for you to believe that the S6’s Edge screen adds functionality by displaying UI elements not normally viewable (or difficult to see) on a regular flat display. But truth is, the majority of the time you could probably view the exact same information on a flat display when viewing from an upward angle. When looking at the phone directly from its side (if you’re laying in bed and viewing on your nightstand for instance), the top half of whatever is displayed on the Edge screen is cut in half. It’s more like a half-edge.

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While the Edge display doesn’t curve much around the sides of the phone, it’s probably better off. Unless Samsung increased the aspect ratio, or added separate little screens, viewing videos and other media would cause even more of the image to get all warped around the sides. And that’s the biggest challenge we found in adapting to the new Edge display. It’s hard to explain, but it feels… weird. Your eyes really have to adjust and it can take some definite getting used to, but I’ll be damned if it sure doesn’t look pretty. Whether that’s worth an extra $100 is up to you.

Performance

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Without question the Samsung Galaxy S6 is one of the fastest phones on the block. Sure, this is generally expected when a new flagship hits the market, but as we saw with last year’s Galaxy S5 (or even the LG G3), this isn’t always the case. For the S6, Samsung has built their all new 64-bit, Octa-core Exynos 7420 using an advanced 14nm manufacturing process. Yes, “Octa” means 8, and there’s four 2.1 GHz Cortex-A57 high performance cores working together with four 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 cores.

This means the processor is not only quicker, but more power efficient than older SoCs. What we found was this translated into a processor that opened apps at lightning quick speeds, while never feeling hot in our hands. The Exynos 7420 is also supposed to sip battery when in standby, but you’ll have to read our battery life section for more on that.

Even though the S6 is kicky fast, we did notice the occasional stutter or longer than usual load times during use (like waiting for a keyboard to popup, or app drawer to redraw), but that could be buggy software as much as anything else. After comparing the S6 to the One M9’s Snapdragon 810, it’s clear Samsung made the right choice in opting for their own silicon. Not even the phone’s absurdly high resolution 2K display could hamper its performance. Other hardware specs on the Samsung Galaxy S6 include:

  • 14nm 64-bit Exynos 7 Octa chipset
  • 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM
  • 32GB, 64GB or 128GB UFS 2.0 storage options
  • 16 megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization, 5 megapixel front camera with real-time HDR
  • 5.1-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display (577 ppi)
  • Dual-mode wireless charging with support for both WPC and PMA charging pads
  • 10 minutes charging for 4 hours of use, 0% to 100% battery in half the time it takes an iPhone to charge
  • NFC, heart-rate sensor and improved fingerprint scanner
  • Depth: 6.8mm/7.0mm edge
  • Weight: 138g/132g edge

Fingerprint scanner

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We saw Samsung’s first awkward attempt at adding a fingerprint scanner to the Galaxy S5 last year. Needless to say, it wasn’t anywhere near as intuitive as Apple’s “Touch ID.” This was thanks to a weird swiping motion it required users to do across the button in order to scan your fingerprint. Sorry, but no thanks.

This year, Samsung has vastly improved the fingerprint scanner with the Galaxy S6 and simply put: it works just as well as it does on the iPhone. Trust us, that’s a good thing. No more swiping. Simply hold your finger atop the home button (you don’t even need to physically press it in) and watch as the lock screen fades away in nearly an instant. Authentication is super quick and more importantly, a hundred times easier than using a traditional PIN or password. Screw that noise, fingerprints are the way to go and I’m never looking back.

Setting up the secure unlocking method on the S6 is eerily similar to how it’s done on the iPhone. The UI and animations of the app are practically identical. While registering your finger prints (up to 4), you’re asked to press and remove your finger in a variety of orientations so the phone can learn your entire fingerprint. For those concerned your fingerprints are being sent to the cloud, Samsung assures us all your fingerprints are encrypted in the S6’s secure device storage.

After successfully scanning your fingerprints, a backup PIN code will help gain access to your phone should your fingerprints get burned off or something (or perhaps the hardware fails for some reason). You can even set up the phone to log into websites using your fingerprint, but you’ll first need to enable this feature in the settings. We would have loved to see this feature system wide (like logging into the Play Store), but we’ll take what we can get.

We can’t tell you how amazing it feels to have a fully functional and accurate fingerprint scanner on a phone. As someone who finds PIN codes, passwords, or pattern unlock methods too troublesome to put up with, the fingerprint scanner on the Samsung Galaxy S6 is an absolute godsend and functioned properly 99% of the time. We did run into a few fails, but simply tried again and it worked like a charm.

Storage

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Samsung made a very controversial move by forgoing removable expandable memory in the S6, a previous staple of the Galaxy line. We’re sure there are some Samsung fans who feel slighted by the move, but at least Samsung is offering ample internal storage, albeit, at a much higher premium. The Samsung Galaxy S6 comes in 32GB, 64GB or 128GB varieties and sees a +$100 increase for every upgrade. Combine that with the $100 premium for the curved display on the S6 Edge, and you’re looking at one expensive smartphone.

Before you make your decision, we want to remind you that out of the box, the Samsung Galaxy S6’s system OS takes up around 9GB of internal memory, and you lose a little after formatting and the bundling of those extra system apps that come pre-installed. That being said, you’ll never see the 32GB as advertised in which case we’d recommend sticking to the 64GB as your base model should you plan on keeping the phone for a good while.

Battery life

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This is probably our least favorite category to talk about in a review, given how battery life is one of those things that always varies from person to person. Before we get into that, let’s start off with the facts. The Samsung Galaxy S6 features a 2,550mAh (2,600 in the Edge) non-removable battery. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is actually smaller than the 2,800mAh battery in last year’s S5. It’s not bad enough OEMs have continually favored a slimmer profile over equipping their phones with bigger batteries, but to actually take a step backwards? What. In the actual. Eff.

We’re guessing Samsung got caught up in the promises of their new 14nm Exynos. So how did it hold up? It’s tough to say. Reports are mixed around the net with some users reporting software bugs (WiFi Calling bug, Google Play Services bug, etc.) that are drastically impacting battery life. After reviewing our stats, our device didn’t appear to be affected by any of these issues, so we’ll report our findings as normal.

During our first week reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S6, we found battery life averaging a mediocre 15 hours with normal to light usage. We found the phone would drop about 10% from a full charge every 1.5 hours or so. Maybe even 2 if we were lucky. That’s with brightness turned up about halfway, and just using our phone like normal (occasionally checking Twitter, Reddit, sending a few messages on Hangouts). Screen on time was anywhere from 2 to 3 hours.

When actually using the phone, battery life takes a huge drop. I gave our spare review unit to my girlfriend (the ultimate stress test), and she averaged around 7 hours (3 hours screen on time) by constantly checking on Facebook, web browsing, listening to Spotify, watching Netflix, and/or snapping the usual 400 selfies in the mirror.

Adaptive Fast Charging

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Its clear OEMs just aren’t making battery life a big enough priority in our mobile devices. To help alleviate some of the pains associated with keeping your device juiced up, they’re using fast charging technology. The Samsung Galaxy S6 comes out of the box with an Adaptive Fast Charging USB charger. It’s similar to Qualcomm’s Quick Charging 2.0 technology — which is also compatible with the S6 despite using a different processor — in that it shoots out a high voltage to power up the device quicker. Really quick, actually.

Samsung claims you’ll get 4 hours of usage after only 10 minutes of charging, and our tests mostly confirmed that. We tried both a standard Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 charger and the included Adaptive Fast Charging charger and found Samsung’s charged a little quicker after the 70% mark. This is probably because the phone switched back the standard 2A charging, while the phone using Quick Charging defaults back to 1.67A.

Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging / Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0

  • 0 min: 0% / 0%
  • 15 min: 25% / 28%
  • 30 min : 53% / 50%
  • 45 min: 78% / 73%
  • 1 hour: 93% / 85%
  • 1 hour 15 min: 99% / 95%
  • 1 hour 20 min: 100% / 1 hour 25 min: 100%

Battery saving software

Samsung Galaxy S6 Ultra Power saving mode

Because you’ll be running out of power nearly everyday, thankfully Samsung including their excellent battery sipping software to save as much battery as possible. With such a huge dip in performance and functionality, you’ll want to save this for when you hit 50% or below.

Power saving mode

Power saving mode is the first level of battery savings, and limits the maximum CPU from running at its full potential. This mode will also reduce screen brightness (and big battery sucker), turn off haptic feedback and LED touch key navigation lights, while reducing the frame rate and the amount of time it takes before the phone sleeps. This doesn’t interfere with data or anything like that, so you’ll continue receiving notifications, emails, and instant messages as normal.

Ultra Power saving mode

As the name suggests, Ultra power saving mode is the more extreme version of power saving mode. Once enabled, the Galaxy S6 turns the color of the display black and white (grayscale) off, while limiting mobile data to only when the screen is on and you’re actively checking your phone. Screen off, data is off and you’ll no longer receive emails or Facebook updates. Background apps are also severely limited, with only the following accessible to the user: Calculator, Clock, Facebook, Google+, Memo, Twitter, Voice Recorder, and WhatsApp.

Emergency mode

Tucked away in the power menu (long pressing the power button) is an “emergency mode.” It’s pretty much the same as Ultra power saving mode only it provides unique shortcuts to a flashlight, emergency alarm, the ability to share your location with others, phone calling, and internet browsing. The only additional apps are Facebook, Google Maps, and Twitter. Should you find yourself trapped in the middle of nowhere with your arm stuck under a rock, gotta take a selfie and share it with your friends, right?

Wireless charging

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Unlike last year’s model (we’ve been saying that a lot, haven’t we?), the Samsung Galaxy S6 now comes with wireless charging straight out of the box. This is actually the reason why Samsung chose to go with a glass back on the phone, not because it looks pretty, but because glass is simply more efficient at wireless induction charging than metal is. With that out of the way, the Galaxy S6 is agnostic when it comes to wireless charging standards, meaning it supports both Power Matters Alliance and Qi based wireless chargers.

What does this mean to you? It means no matter where you go, if you happen upon a wireless charger — whether someplace public like Starbucks, or one built into your furniture — it’s going to work with the Galaxy S6. While the majority of wireless chargers on the market are Qi chargers, really this was the smartest way for Samsung to go. Why support one form of wireless charging when you can do both.

Camera

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One stand out feature on the Samsung Galaxy S6, is, without a doubt, its amazing photo capturing capabilities. Over countless generations of Android devices through the years, none have been able to top the iPhone. Some have gotten close, but none could beat its quality or consistency. We knew it was only a matter of time before some Android device would top it, and the Samsung Galaxy S6 is just that smartphone.

The Galaxy S6 is outfitted with a 16MP rear camera and 5MP front camera. For the back, it uses a Sony IMX240 sensor — the same sensor as found on the Galaxy Note 4. But the tiny lens now features a larger f/1.9 aperture, which allows more light in. It’s this, coupled with the new optical image stabilization (OIS) that delivers a 1-2 punch and makes the Galaxy S6 an amazingly versatile shooter, even in low lighting conditions.

On the software side, Samsung’s increased camera launch speed by keeping the app in the background at all times. A quick double click on the home button acts as a shortcut that can pull up the camera from inside any app. The camera does support Lollipop’s Camera2 APIs, but sadly there’s now RAW support on Samsung’s software end. At least not yet.

Samsung Galaxy S6 camera modes

The camera app itself is wonderfully laid out, with a handful of modes and features to keep mobile photographers happy. The phone supports tracking auto-focus to keep moving subjects in focus, voice commands for the shutter, and even a Pro mode for those that want better control of the ISO, shutter speed, exposure, or white balance. There’s a handful of downloadable modes and effects (filters) too, all the stuff Samsung used to have in their previous Galaxies, but removed in the Galaxy S6 to keep it simple. Here’s a quick list:

  • Surround Shot: a Photosphere-like mode that lets you take 360-degree photos
  • Sound & Shot: record the audio of your surroundings at the time the photo was taken for more immersive photos
  • Rear-Cam Selfie: use the rear camera to take a selfie with visual cues to let you know when it’s about to snap the shot
  • Dual Camera: snap a photo or shoot video with both the front and rear cameras simultaneously
  • Animated GIF: create a moving image of a series of photos or videos and save it as an animated GIF
  • Beauty Face: image tweaks to enhance the look of human faces
  • Sports Shot: automatically selects focus and exposure settings for fast moving scenes
  • Food Shot: a macro-focus mode for bringing out the best details in a close-up shot of food (or anything else, really)

Sample photos

GS6 sample 20150415_104319 GS6 sample 20150415_104445 GS6 sample 20150415_104405 GS6 sample 20150415_104300 GS6 sample 2015-04-11 01.31.42 GS6 sample 2015-04-11 01.33.38 GS6 sample 20150410_175902 GS6 sample 20150411_110638 GS6 sample 20150411_110832 GS6 sample 20150415_123448 GS6 sample 20150411_123106(0) GS6 sample 20150411_112935 GS6 sample 20150411_115958 GS6 sample 20150415_111810 GS6 sample 20150415_111949 GS6 sample 20150415_112016 GS6 sample 20150415_111839 GS6 sample 20150415_123512 GS6 sample 20150410_160641 GS6 sample 20150409_171217

Other hardware

Other hardware making a return in the Galaxy S6 is the IR blaster and the heart rate monitor. The universal remote functionality is now powered by the Peel application, while the heart rate monitor is handled by S Health. Since we already have a heart rate monitor built into our smartwatch, we didn’t use this feature much. But the heart rate monitor did work great as a shutter button for the camera in selfie mode.

Also worth noting is the speaker loudness has been drastically improved from the previous Galaxy S5. We suppose the lack of waterproofing has something to do with that, but the speaker is now louder and clearer than ever. So much, in fact, we never turn it up all the way to full volume, instead keeping it a notch below max in most cases.

Software

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While software features are typically a good thing, at some point back during the Samsung Galaxy S4 that Samsung appeared to have lost their way. TouchWiz — Samsung’s custom Android interface found on their Galaxy devices — had grown into a monster straight out of a horror flick. With more features and gimmicks than you can shake a stick at, it quickly began feeling slow, bloated, and hacked together.

With the S6, Samsung appears to have changed all that. According to them, they’ve trimmed some of the fat that originally made TouchWiz such a bloated mess and the result is a cleaner, leaner, meaner, and all around more user friendly OS than ever before.

On the UI side of things, menu icons are now spelled out clear as day. The search icon now reads “Search” while the 3-dot menu, where Samsung has now tucked away many excessive app options out of sight, simply reads “More.” It keeps things clean and leaves little guess work for the end user. We like that.

The new TouchWiz is definitely fast. That weird lag found on previous Galaxy models has, thankfully, been completely obliterated. In most cases, the phone flies through apps and multitasking. While we did encounter a slight stutter and hiccup here and there (the Recents always takes a second to load), it was nothing too terrible. In fact, we’re not even sure if we should blame TouchWiz, Android, or just some glitchy app.

Samsung Galaxy S6 customize home screen folders

In terms of memory, TouchWiz is pretty light too, weighing in at around 6GB on the Galaxy S6, and 9GB on the Galaxy S6 Edge (believe it or not, the S5 was also around 6GB size). Compare that with the HTC One M9’s Sense 7 taking up 12GB of system memory or even Android on the DROID Turbo taking up 11.7GB, and you have an OS that feels as light as Samsung’s claims.

That’s not to say there isn’t any bloatware. Samsung has done away with many of their Google alternative apps, making them available for download inside their Galaxy Apps store. This is great, but you’ll still find a few stragglers like Hancom Office 2014, Memo (note taking app), Milk (music streaming), My Files (file explorer), Voice Recorder, S Voice, S Health, Smart Manager, and Samsung’s new Theme Store.

Samsung Galaxy S6 bloatware

There’s also the usual assortment of carrier apps, along with miscellaneous apps like Peel Smart Remote, and Facebook’s app suite: Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Facebook. What was that about fat trimming? The weirdest part is the bloatware seems to vary with carrier devices in the US. You’ll find the Galaxy S6 on Verizon comes bundled with Amazon apps in lieu of Microsoft’s, and even some core TouchWiz features are missing. More on that later.

Since one man’s gimmick is another man’s treasure, you’ll still find the Samsung Galaxy S6 chock full of software features. This doesn’t even feel so bad when the OS no longer runs like sh*t. Even still, it seems Samsung has never heard the term “less is more ” and has always been concerned with the kitchen sink approach. With every new flagship, they’ve been throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. After 6 iterations of Galaxy devices, the software features found on the Galaxy S6 are what was left clinging to the wall. Here just a handful of software features you’ll find inside the Galaxy S6:

  • Smart Stay – Prevents display from sleeping while you’re looking at the phone.
  • Smart Alert – Alerts you every time you pick up the phone of missed calls or messages,
  • Direct call – Bring the phone to your ear while viewing one of their messages to call them directly.
  • Flip to mute – When receiving a call, place your phone face down to quickly mute it.
  • Quick toggles – Quickly toggle system functions like WiFI or Bluetooth and customize buttons for easy access.
  • Multi-view – Use two apps at the same time or create a popup app in a floating window.
  • Download booster – uses both your LTE and WiFi connection to download files at blazing speeds.
  • S Finder – one-stop search for every app, file or contact on your device.
  • Notification Reminder – Remind yourself to take action on past notifications by reminding every few seconds or minutes.
  • Quick connect – Send files to other Galaxy users quickly and easily.
  • Private mode – keep “sensitive” content on your phone safe by making it only visible while in Private mode.
  • Send SOS messages – Quickly send an emergency message to designated contacts along with photos and location.
  • Emergency mode – It’s like extreme ultra power saving mode for those emergency situations.
  • Adapt sound – Uses a variety of tones and beeps to custom tailor a sound profile to your ears.
  • Smart Manager – This app is supposed to help you keep up with routine maintenance on your phone but is god awful.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Adapt Sound setup Samsung Galaxy S6 Private mode Samsung Galaxy S6 Send SOS messages Samsung Galaxy S6 Emergency mode Samsung Galaxy S6 Quick Connect Samsung Galaxy S6 Download booster Samsung Galaxy S6 Multi-view Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People edge Samsung Galaxy S6 Keyboard resizing Samsung Galaxy S6 S Finder Samsung Galaxy S6 Quick Settings 1 Samsung Galaxy S6 Motions and gestures Samsung Galaxy S6 Easy Mode Samsung Galaxy S6 Smart Manager app Samsung Galaxy S6 fingerprint setup Samsung Galaxy S6 Ultra Power saving mode Samsung Galaxy S6 Quick settings Samsung Galaxy S6 uninstall delete apps Samsung Galaxy S6 Wake-up command setup

We know, all these features can be a bit overwhelming. Lucky for you, we’ve provided step-by-step directions on how to enable the software features listed above, so make sure you check out our Galaxy S6 Tips & Tricks post here.

When all is said and done, we wont knock Samsung for including all of these software features into their device. Hell, some of them are actually incredible helpful (those bloatware apps are another story, however). Our only real complaint is, unlike Motorola, HTC, or Sony, Samsung continually avoids dropping their system apps into the Play Store for easy updating. This would eliminate the need for a full system update when they wanted to add a few new software features. Every other smartphone maker has caught on, so why hasn’t Samsung?

Themes

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Themes seem to be all the rage these days and the Galaxy S6 with its new version of TouchWiz is no different. It’s funny too. Themes were once only found in custom Android ROMs, so it’s refreshing to finally see big name manufacturers like Samsung get on the ball after all these years.

For the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Samsung has opened up an entire theme store where designers can show off their virtual creations. These themes drastically change up the look of the device across a variety of UI elements. We’re talking icons, menu popups, quick toggle settings, the dialer, folders, app headers — just about everything that has to do with the user interface can be altered with a theme. We absolutely love it.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Themes

However, there are only a handful of themes available at launch and a good majority are quite “girly.” We were disappointed that a stock “Nexus” theme wasn’t available, but hopefully that’s coming somewhere down the road. We also didn’t like that it’s an all or nothing affair. Currently, there is no way to pick a theme apart, choosing only an snazzy icon pack or really cool wallpaper you found in another theme. Oh, and don’t even get us started on the theme store which is a mess right now. It’s probably just the early stages but we’d kill for some theme categories or even a search function.

Edge screen software

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Aside from looking more aesthetically pleasing, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge does feature a handful of software features tailor made for the curved display. Because the Edge screen doesn’t quite work the way it does on the Galaxy Note 4 Edge, these are features they could have easily included on the regular Galaxy S6, but I digress…

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People edge

In the Settings app, Samsung has added new Edge screen options which allow you to adjust things like the placement of the Edge screen (right or left side), as well as turn on/off some of the other options like a news ticker. The “People edge” is just a shortcut for your favorite contacts and when used in conjunction with Edge lighting, allows the edge to glow when the phone is flipped over on its face to let you know when you’ve received a message or call from one of your People edge contacts.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Lighting DSC09196

Since the actual display just barely creeps over the edge, it can be tough to actually see the glow (plus you’ll need a light colored (and preferably soft) surface to place the phone down on. Simply put, we felt like the Edge software features were merely a ploy to help nudge prospective buyers into picking the S6 Edge over the standard model (and spending an extra $100 in the process). Um, no thanks.

What’s missing?

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Like any smartphone or piece of technology for that matter, the Samsung Galaxy S6 isn’t perfect. Far from it. Although there is a lot here to love, Samsung made a very conscious decision to remove key hardware features found on last year’s Galaxy S5. We’ll focus on all of those below, along with something we would have really like to have seen on the Galaxy S6.

  • Removable battery – For years Samsung handsets allowed you to removed the battery and swap them out with another should the need arise. This meant you could potentially carry a handful of batteries on your person and swap them out as needed.
  • Micro SD card slot – While we don’t particularly miss not having a micros SD card slot, we absolutely have to mention this given it’s been such a staple with previous Galaxy devices. Heck, even the HTC kept expandable memory for the One M9. To simply throw the baby out with the bath water sounds like a bad move, especially when they could have easily kept this in.
  • Water resistance – The Galaxy S6 no longer features the water resistance that debuted on the Galaxy S5. It’s especially odd considering a non-removable back plate and lack of memory card slot seems like it’d be much easier to seal the device.
  • Bigger battery – We should be at that point that our smartphones are getting so physically thin, we can pack more mAh in them. Since the battle for thinness is alive and well, with that came an actual reduction in mAh for the Galaxy S6. Either Samsung was really confident in their Exynos processor, or they were blinded by shaving off a few extra millimeters to compete with the iPhone 6.
  • USB Type-C – It’s still early, but USB Type-C devices have already begun hitting the market. For the uninitiated, USB Type-C is the newest port on the block and is fixin’ to become the new industry standard in how we transfer, power, and display content to external monitors in our next generation devices. It’s a damn shame Samsung didn’t have the foresight to include this on the Galaxy S6. It could have been yet another killer feature.

Bottom line

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09285

Believe it or not, it actually feels like Samsung is trying now. This is the phone people have been asking for and the phone we always knew Samsung could build. Samsung has always been the king of gimmicky features but for the Galaxy S6, Samsung has married the absolute best hardware with the software features of the Galaxy S5 and built upon them. Without a doubt, this is one of the best smartphones on the market and a worthy entry into the high-end smartphone market.

As we’ve seen with other OEMs in the past, things can quickly change (remember BlackBerry?). The mobile landscape is quickly changing and you can either evolve, or find yourself falling to the way side. Perhaps it was Samsung’s overconfidence that caused them to become lazy. They were on top, and didn’t see themselves going anywhere but up. But complacency often times leads to failure and the Samsung Galaxy S6 signals the company’s new found effort to become really competitive — not with clever advertising — but by first and foremost building a quality device.

It’s this competitiveness that will drive innovation, not just for Samsung products, but all mobile devices, Android, iOS, and the like. Lord knows we need someone to keep the heat on Apple and with the Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung brought a flame thrower to a knife fight.

Pros:

  • Fast processor
  • Solid construction
  • Premium materials
  • Fantastic camera
  • Wireless charging
  • Fast charging
  • Quick fingerprint scanner
  • IR blaster
  • Speaker volume

Cons:

  • Battery downgrade
  • Average battery life
  • Edge screen is gimmicky
  • Non removable battery
  • No micro SD card slot
  • No longer water resistant

Bottom line: Samsung has meticulously put together one of, if not the best Android phones currently available on the market and although battery life may leave you wanting, the rest of the phone sells itself. Without a doubt, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is the best smartphone the Korean manufacturer has ever made. Click here for our full Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge review.

Rating: 4.9 out of 5

After you buy…

If you’ve finished our review and now have your heart set on picking up the Galaxy S6 (or maybe you already purchased one), we wanted to make sure you check out our posts for new Galaxy S6 buyers. These posts will provide you with a variety of tips, tricks, and step-by-step walkthroughs on getting the most out of your shiny new Android:

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LG G Flex 2 Review: Is this the curve you deserve? http://phandroid.com/2015/04/01/lg-g-flex-2-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/04/01/lg-g-flex-2-review/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 21:17:07 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=162296

Smartphones are getting a little boring. All of the top devices have roughly the same features and specs. Manufacturers are trying harder than ever to differentiate their devices. The display has become an area of experimentation, but we’re not talking about pixels. More and more devices are getting curved displays, and one of the best entries is the LG G Flex 2.

We’re at a point where many people consider curved displays to be nothing more than a gimmick. Manufacturers keep trying to find valuable uses, but so far no one has made a compelling case for why you need a curved display. LG has taken a much different approach. The G Flex 2 is not full of gimmicky features and silly widgets. It’s all about comfort, and that might be the best reason yet for curved displays.

Hardware & Design

LG G Flex 2 (7)

LG has done a nice job of refining the look from the previous LG G Flex. There are subtle improvements everywhere you look. The curved display is not so pronounced, the corners are slightly less rounded, the camera bump has been slimmed down, and the buttons on the back are much nicer to look at. Speaking of the buttons on the back, LG is sticking with this design and I love it. Once you use a device with buttons on the back once you’ll wonder why more phones don’t do it.

The back cover is made of the same futuristic “self-healing” material as the original. It feels like a typical plastic back, but it’s super resistant to fingerprints, and it can heal light scratches in 10 seconds. The first G Flex required heat and rubbing to heal scratches, but LG says the G Flex 2 can do it right before your eyes. I didn’t have a lot of luck with this. The type of scratches it can heal are not the type of scratches most people freak out about.

LG G Flex 2 (9)

When it comes to pure specs the G Flex 2 is second to none. It’s one of the first few devices to run Qualcomm’s latest processor, the Snapdragon 810. There has been some concerns about heat issues with the Snapdragon 810 in the  HTC One M9, but I had no problem with the G Flex 2. Everything was snappy and smooth, and the device barely got warm at all when playing intensive games.

The battery is a nice 3,000 mAh, and it’s one of my favorite things. The G Flex 2 has the best battery life I have ever seen on an Android device. It took over 3 days for the phone to go from 100% to 15% with limited use. It just barely sips battery when idle. If that wasn’t enough the G Flex 2 can be charged up to 50% in less than 40 minutes with Fast Charge.

  gflex2LG G Flex 2 Specs

Display  5.5-inch P-OLED
Processor  Qualcomm Snapdragon 810
Camera  13MP / 2.1MP
Storage  32GB, microSD card support
RAM  3GB
Battery  3,000 mAh

Display

LG G Flex 2 (8)

Obviously, the big selling point of this device is the curved display. LG has trimmed the size of the display from 6-inches down to a more manageable 5.5-inches. It’s still the great P-OLED, but they bumped the resolution up to 1080p (403ppi). All of this makes for one of the best smartphone displays on the market. It might not be as crisp as some 2K displays, but the difference is negligible.

That leaves us with the curve. As mentioned above, LG doesn’t really do much with the curved display. It’s basically just there to be different, however there are some practical benefits. Since the display is curved like a banana it feels great when holding it up to your ear to make calls, that is if you actually make calls with your phone. It’s also ever so slightly easier to reach the top of the display with one hand.

There’s no real reason for why this device needs a curved display. It’s just something to make the device stand out. When you’re walking around in public people will notice the curve and ask about it. That being said, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be curved. The device feels really nice in the hand and it’s much more ergonomic than other devices. There is nothing negative I can say about the curved display, it’s just not terribly exciting.

Software

LG G Flex 2 (5)

The G Flex 2 is running the latest version of LG’s custom interface based on Android 5.0. As far as Android skins go it’s one of the more refined and unobtrusive ones out there. The default launcher is clean and easy to use, plus you can do cool things like create folders in the app drawer. LG’s skin is all about customization. Everything from the screen-off animation to navigation bar buttons can be tweaked. The only problem is you have to dig through the settings to find the customization options. It would be nice if they were all in one place.

LG might not have any specific features for the curved display, but the G Flex 2 has many of the same unique features we saw in the LG G3. You can double-tap to unlock the phone (and even use a KnockCode to securely unlock). Dual Window allows you to run two apps at the same time, but it only works with 11 pre-determined apps. The buttons on the back can still be used as shortcuts. One cool new feature that you won’t find on the G3 right now is Glance Screen. Simply pull down from the top of the display while the phone is locked and you’ll get a quick peek at the time and date.

GFlex2 UI (2) GFlex2 UI (3) GFlex2 UI (6) GFlex2 UI (5) GFlex2 UI (4) GFlex2 UI (1)

There are a few things that I don’t like about LG’s software. First, when you pull down the notification shade it always shows the Quick Settings instead of requiring an extra pull or a two-finger gesture. I don’t need to see a dozen toggles every time I want to check a notification. They’ve also buried or removed a lot of the new Lollipop features. The new notification priority modes, smart lock, lock screen privacy, downtime, and more are either gone or very difficult to find.

Camera

LG G Flex 2 (3)

The camera on the original G Flex was not very good. To fix that LG has adopted the same camera from the LG G3. It’s the same 13MP shooter with the crazy high-speed laser autofocus. Photos look very crisp and well-exposed in most situations. Even low-light photos looks very nice. Optical image stabilization and the fast shutter speed make it easy to snap photos at just the right time. The front-facing camera is nothing special, but a nifty trick allows you to snap a selfie by clenching your fist in the shot.

LG has done a really nice job with the camera software. By default there are only two icons on the screen, a back button and a three-dot menu button. To take a photo you simply tap the screen or use the back volume buttons. Tapping the menu button brings up more advanced options for HDR, timers, flash, panorama, video, and more. You can swipe across the screen to flip the camera, say “Cheese” to snap a photo from afar, and hold the shutter button for burst mode.

Check out the camera samples below:

GFlex2 sample photo (1) GFlex2 sample photo (2) GFlex2 sample photo (3) GFlex2 sample photo (4) GFlex2 sample photo (5) GFlex2 sample photo (6) GFlex2 sample photo (7) GFlex2 sample photo (8)

Conclusion

DSC01934

One of my favorite things about the G Flex 2 is how nonchalantly LG approaches the curved display. They haven’t included any special widgets, gestures, or any other gimmicks. LG isn’t trying to convince anyone that a curved display is going to make their life better. It’s simply a phone with a curved display.

The G Flex 2 doesn’t need any gimmicks. If you straightened out the display this would still be an excellent device. The display is gorgeous, the battery life is great, it has a powerful processor, and a great camera. The fact that it has a curved display is icing on the cake. It looks cool and feels awesome in your hand. People will want to know what phone you have. In a day and age where 90% of phones look-alike you can stand out from the crowd with the LG G Flex 2.

The Good

  • Beautiful display
  • Good camera
  • Great battery life
  • Curved display is comfortable

The Bad

  • Self-healing back is overrated
  • LG removed some Lollipop features

The Bottom Line: 4/5

Be sure to join the conversation with other G Flex 2 users over at Android Forums.

*The G Flex 2 used in this review was the Sprint model.

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Living with Alexa: An Amazon Echo Review http://phandroid.com/2015/03/31/amazon-echo-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/03/31/amazon-echo-review/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 01:00:38 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=162335 Amazon_Echo_Review

It’s no secret that we, as a society, want to live in a world where we seamlessly talk to computers à la Star Trek. Nearly every futuristic Sci-Fi movie has been portraying computers with voice interactions for ages. Thanks to a few tech giants, we’re slowly on our way to making this a reality.

Now, talking to your Android phone is nothing new. In fact, you’ve been able to use voice commands with Android since Voice Actions were first introduced way back in 2010 with Voice Search for Android. This new capability allowed us to send messages, get directions, make phone calls, take notes, and listen to music just by speaking to your smartphone. If we fast forward about two years later, we’ll see the launch of Google Now and a drastically updated Google Search application that you’re all familiar with today. The new Google app brought on countless voice search capabilities that continues to grow and mature with Google’s ever expanding Knowledge Graph.

Today, I can talk to a variety of Android powered devices and even the Chrome web browser or Chromebook, and receive a plethora of information back in the form of voice responses and informative cards. Having the power of Google in your pocket or on your desk is a truly powerful experience.

When it comes to voice assistants, Google has their cleverly named Google App, often referred to as Google Now, Apple has Siri, and Microsoft now has Cortana. Amazon has been ramping up their content ecosystem for a few years now and has a handful hardware products with their Fire line of devices, yet the company was missing the coveted voice assistant, until now. The Amazon Echo is their answer.

Amazon Echo Hardware

Amazon Echo is a WiFi and Bluetooth connected cylinder speaker, coming in at about 9 inches high and 3 inches in diameter. On the bottom you’ll find a speaker grill, on top you’ll find a multi-colored LED ring, two hardware buttons, and there’s even a small remote. Inside the Echo you’ll find a 2 inch tweeter and a 2.5 inch subwoofer. Simply put, the Amazon Echo is a smart speaker, but it’s the brains that matter most here.

Amazon_Echo_Bottom_Logo

The LED ring is a nice feature too. During setup, the ring is orange, it’s blue while Alexa is actively working, and white when you’re changing the volume, expanding or shrinking around the top of the Echo. You can also manually adjust the volume of the Echo by turning the top ring, though it’s much easier to just ask Alexa to turn it up or down and watch her do her magic.

The two hardware buttons on the Echo are used for disabling the seven built-in always listening microphones and an action button that is used during the setup process as well as a manual prompt, telling the Echo to begin listening for a command. And speaking of microphones, the built-in microphones are the number one feature of the Echo, in my opinion. They hear you from across the room, with a normal speaking voice. It’s quite pleasing.

Amazon_Echo_Remote

Amazon also includes a small remote, that resembles a Fire TV remote or a Nexus Player remote, which can be used in instances where Alexa might not be able to hear you. Outside of testing purposes, I haven’t used the remote control yet. For me the need hasn’t arisen.

Getting started with Amazon Echo

Amazon has nailed the setup process with their Echo, making it very easy and straightforward. After you plug in the power cord to your Echo, you’ll head over to Amazon or the Google Play Store to download the Echo companion app for Android. After you launch and sign into the app, your Android phone or tablet will then disconnect from your WiFi network and connect directly to the Echo. After you enter your WiFi credentials into the app, your Echo will connect to your WiFi network and you’ll have the option to pair your Echo remote, which is takes just a few seconds after pressing the forward button on the remote. And, that’s it. You’re done.

While your Echo is ready to go at this point, you’ll want to take a few seconds and set up additional services to use with your Echo for a better experience. For example, Amazon’s Prime Music is quite limited, so you’ll want to add iHeartRadio and TuneIn to you Echo. You’ll also want to go into the Echo app to configure your news sources (flash briefing), enable voice purchasing (kinda scary), and add information about your daily commute.

Screenshot_2015-03-31-20-02-32 Screenshot_2015-03-31-20-02-45 Screenshot_2015-03-31-20-02-56 Screenshot_2015-03-31-20-03-09

Now you’re ready to start working with Alexa.

Comparing Amazon Echo to the Google App

When it comes to comparing Alexa with the something everyone’s familiar with, such as the Google App, Google’s Knowledge Graph comes out on top, and that’s no surprise. Google can answer more questions, has conversational search, and integrates with more applications. That doesn’t mean that Alexa isn’t useful though. For the time, weather, sports scores, news, general inquires, and playing music, Alexa is great. Alexa works quite well actually, in most scenarios. Even though Alexa’s brains aren’t as well developed as Google’s, Alexa’s voice sure does sound a bit more human, less robotic, and is noticeably faster – that’s a huge plus in my book.

Interacting with Alexa reminds me of Apple’s Siri and not the Google App. She’s a bit quirky and funny, if you want to go down that route. You can tell her you love her, hate her, or even mute her by telling her to be quiet or shut up. She’ll tell you jokes, play rock, paper, scissors, and Simon says. Compared to Google’s offering, she’s got a lot more personality. Check out the video below and visit the our official Amazon Echo Forums for more Amazon Echo Easter Eggs.

Living with Amazon Echo: Pros and Cons

Amazon Echo’s secret weapon is by far the seven built-in microphones that are always listening, awaiting your command. Sure, an always listening microphone isn’t anything new, as the original Moto X from 2013 launched with this capability, the Amazon Echo however can hear and understand you from across the room, while speaking in a normal voice. This makes using and interacting with Alexa a much more pleasurable experience than the Google App, because she can hear you from across the room and even while music is playing.

Have you ever said ‘ok google’ to your phone, tablet, or computer and waited for the audible prompt to let you know that Google is awaiting your voice command to only have your device not respond, because it didn’t hear you? I’m sure you have. Then, you’ve most likely would have taken a few steps closer to your device and tried again. If that didn’t work, you may have even then raised your voice so that the device can hear you, which can lead to voice recognition failures, because you’re yelling, having it fail yet again. I’m sure this scenario isn’t out of the norm for a lot of people.

We’ve all been there and that’s okay. Today’s phones and tablets weren’t meant to be listening for your voice commands from across the room. They’re meant to hear you from a few feet away. In that regard, the Google App, accompanied by an always listening microphone, works great and is extremely useful. When it comes to distance though, the Amazon Echo wins more often than not in tests with my Nexus 6. If there’s any background noise, the Nexus 6 can have trouble at about 10 feet or less, while Alexa normally pushes through with no issues. If there’s music playing, voice commands on the Nexus 6 are pretty much worthless, but Alexa performs just as she always would.

We know the microphones on the Amazon Echo are great, now how about the speaker? I’m not an audiophile by any means, but I can definitely recognize quality when I hear it. For $100, the Amazon Echo is a whole lot of speaker, able to fill the room with plenty of highs and lows. It’s definitely loud enough for my family and I and plenty loud enough for when the family is away and this guy needs a private jam session. Things do get a bit distorted at the max setting of 10 though.

Another weapon in Alexa’s arsenal is voice controls for music. You can tell Alexa to skip the song, play it again, play the next song, pause, resume, and even control the volume level, all with your voice. As someone who listens to countless hours of music on Google Play Music, this is a feature that I’ve wanted for years. Applications such as Tasker and Commander for Google Now can be configured to provide a similar, yet sub-par experience, though I wouldn’t recommend it. Even though Amazon Music is an inferior product, the voice capabilities alone keep drawing me back to the Echo for my music fix.

There is a supported workaround though. As I mentioned above, the Amazon Echo does have Bluetooth capabilities, so you can easily pair your Echo with your phone by saying “Alexa pair with my phone” to being the pairing process. Then, you can say “ok Google listen to [insert your favorite artist or genre of music here] and music will play from your phone, to the Echo. The best part, you can now control the music being played from Google Play Music, with your Echo. Just say “Alexa next song” and Play Music will skip ahead, etc. This does work great, though it’s kind of silly to use two device to accomplish with what would be preferably done on just one.

The Amazon Echo and Alexa have a lot going for them, however a few downsides do exist. Stating the obvious, the Google App is portable and continues to work anywhere with an Internet connection, such as every room in your home, outside your home, in the car, you get the picture. The Echo is a stationary device and can’t compete in that regard.

Amazon_Echo_Front_Blue

The largest downside to the Amazon Echo is certainly the ecosystem, as with all Amazon products. If you’re not fully embedded into Amazon’s playground, some features you’d might expect, just aren’t there or don’t work as you’d hoped. You can’t add items to your calendar or receive calendar notifications. You can create notes and reminders, but they’re limited to the Amazon Echo companion app, sadly not working with third party apps such as Google Keep, Evernote, or Trello. Even if you’re okay with using Amazon’s offering, the extremely basic functionality included in the companion app for notes and reminder are pretty horrible. For music, you’re limited to Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, unless you pair your Echo with another device, of course.

Conclusion

I’ve been living with Amazon Echo and “Alexa” for quite a while now and I have to say that I’m truly impressed with Amazon’s offering. I held off on my review for a while because I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t just experiencing the honeymoon phase of a new tech gadget. I wanted to put Alexa through the paces as an everyday addition to my house and my life. My Amazon Echo has lived in a variety of places throughout my house, finally settling in a central location near my kitchen, breakfast nook, and family room.Amazon_Echo_Top_Blue

It’s safe to say the Ross household has been assimilated by Alexa, being used by not only myself, but my wife and small children throughout the day. My five year old son often asks Alexa about the weather or has her play various Daft Punk songs or even Dubstep playlists (he gets his music tastes from me). I told my wife I’d be moving Alexa to the basement now that recent renovations for my office are complete, however she angrily told me that I was not removing her from the Kitchen and I’d have to order another one if I wanted her with me in the basement. She’s obviously a fan.

I’m a fan of the Amazon Echo too. However, being perfectly honest, if this connected speaker responded to “ok Google” and not “Alexa”, I’d be in connected device heaven. I already use the Google App non-stop and I’m heavily embedded in Google’s ecosystem for everything imaginable. I personally don’t like spreading myself across various ecosystems, but I’m making an exception for the Echo, because the Echo has a lot going for it and it’s going to improve with time. However, if Google or one of Android’s OEMs came out with a similar product, there’d be no need for the Echo and Alexa.

At this exact moment, is the Amazon Echo worth $200? Possibly. Is it worth $100? Most definitely. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, for $100, you get a great sounding WiFi and Bluetooth speaker that can be controlled with voice commands. What’s more, answering normal questions such as the weather, listening to the news, getting sports scores, setting timers, settings alarms, and getting answers to countless fun and interesting facts is a great experience for the price. This makes the Amazon Echo a great household companion.

I don’t play in Amazon’s ecosystem at all, but I still use the Echo daily for music, weather, quick searches, and every once in a while, a little bit of personality. Alexa’s capabilities are always expanding, just like the Google App, and she’ll continue to get better over time. If you want to purchase one for yourself, Prime Members can request an invitation to purchase one for $100, while non-Prime members will have to fork over $200.

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HTC One M9 Review [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/03/30/htc-one-m9-review-video/ http://phandroid.com/2015/03/30/htc-one-m9-review-video/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:00:50 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=162158 htc-one-m9-front-software

In 2013, HTC launched the One, a device that defined their vision of an Android flagship rooted in strong design and build quality and relying on powerful hardware and a slimmed-down Sense interface. Two years later HTC continues to refine the formula with the HTC One M9, a smartphone that borrows heavily from the past in the hopes that it might push us more firmly into the future.

Design and Build

htc-one-m9-frontal

A lot has been made of the iterative nature of the HTC One M9 — we need look no further than the name. But let’s dispel the idea that ‘iterative’ is a pejorative and dispense with the cliches: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. With the One M7 and the One M8, it was hard to talk about either device without at least a precursory mention of their superior design and build. The One M9 is no different, mostly picking up where the One M8 left off while reaching back to the One M7 for refinement. The One M9 has the grippier feel of the latter while being as comfortable as the former in hand. Some will be put off by a sharp edge that replaces the curved design of the One M8, but we didn’t take much issue with it.

In fact, the average consumer would be hard pressed to spot the differences between the One M8 and One M9 in a glance. The changes really are subtle ones.

The power button that has been relocated to the side of the device under the volume rocker. This makes it more easily reached than if it were placed on the top of the device, but we still took some issue with its placement. The volume rocker has been separated into two separate buttons, both pretty close in size to the power button. The power button gets a textured finish to make it easier to feel out, but it’s was still easy to find yourself seeking one button and pressing the other. Perhaps it’s the positioning of the button below the volume rocker — we would have preferred it either be placed above or simply on the opposite side of the device.

htc-one-m9-rear-straight htc-one-m9-power-button HTC-one-m9-ultrapixel htc-one-m9-frontal htc-one-m9-chin htc-one-m9-edge

A one-piece metal front houses the One M9’s BoomSound speakers, UltraPixel camera, and 5-inch display. It’s a small touch that will be overlooked by most, but it is a departure from the One M8. With that model, the speaker grills were inserts. With the One M9 everything is machined from a single piece of “jewelry grade” aluminum.

The rear of the device is perhaps most noticeable altered, ditching the UltraPixel camera in favor of a traditional 20MP sensor now housed in a raised enclosure topped with a piece of durable sapphire glass.

Hardware

HTC went all in on the build quality of the One M9, but there was no tradeoff when it comes to hardware. The One M9 is a flagship phone in every sense of the word, utilizing the latest and greatest components to push one seriously powerful device.

HTC One M9 Specs

Processing Qualcomm MDM 8994 Snapdragon 810
RAM 3GB DDR3
Storage 32GB internal, microSD expandable up to 128GB
Display 5.0-inch 1080p Super LCD3
Camera 20.7MP rear with dual-LED flash/4MP UltraPixel front-facing
Dimensions 5.69 x 2.74 x 0.38″
Weight 5.54 oz.

Display

htc-one-m9-display

The 1080p resolution of the One M9’s 5-inch display leaves us a little wanting, at least on paper. While other major flagship devices have opted to upgrade to 2K resolution, HTC has stood pat with a display identical to the one featured on last year’s One M8.  The thing is, we would challenge anyone in a blind test to take issue with the One M9’s pixel density. Yes, 1080p lacks the buzz of 2K and seems like an ancient technology in 2015, but when we are dealing with a 5-inch viewing area the difference between the 441 ppi of the One M9 and the 577 ppi of the Samung Galaxy S6 is negligible.

On the other hand, the One M9’s LCD3 hardware seemed to lack a bit of vibrancy and depth and contrast of color. Blacks could have been blacker. Colors could have popped with more brightness. Perhaps this is merely the result of our eyes becoming too accustomed to the often exaggerated color palettes of Super AMOLED displays. Either way, it is hard to call this a knock on the One M9. Rather, it’s more an issue of personal preference.

Performance

htc-one-m9-orcs

The One M9 handles its software with deftness thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 enclosed within its metal shell. The octa-core processor coupled with 3GB of RAM makes for one of the fastest Android devices in recent memory. Apps and menus would open so fast that we would often have to wait for the network to catch up, resulting in staring at a quite a few blank windows as data loaded.

Here’s the catch: it does result on a device that tends to run a little warm when put through its paces.

We first got a hint of heat during initial setup while downloading and updating dozens of apps from the Google Play Store. The phone’s propensity to double as a radiator was more apparent during heavy gaming sessions. The worst of it seemed to occur when charging the device. The heat was never so bad as to cause concern, and the device was never too hot to handle. In fact, there was something comforting about the soft warmth.

And yes, the One M9 also gets hot while running benchmark tests, the results of which are included below for those curious.

AnTuTu 3DMark Ice Storm GeekBench
one-m9-antutu one-m9-3dmark one-m9-geekbench

BoomSound speakers

HTC’s stereo BoomSound speakers are back, enhanced by Dolby Digital Audio (with two audio profiles: Music and Theater) and offering even louder audio output than the One M8. It’s impressive, to say the least, in terms of volume, and there is a surprising amount of depth in the audio reproduction, but ultimately we are still dealing a pair of pretty small (though larger than the average smartphone) speakers packed into a tight metal chassis.

htc-one-m9-chin

BoomSound will not replace a good portable speaker like a Jambox or the Braven BRV-X, but it’s will make due for casual listening at home or in small groups, or if you just want to enjoy a movie or other video without the need to wear headphones.

Software

htc-one-m9-software-angle

With the One M9, HTC continues to move toward a software experience more true to its Android roots — in this case the most lightweight version of HTC’s custom Sense UI. While the interface itself relies more heavily on the enhancements inherent in Google’s Android Lollipop OS, HTC has focused much of their efforts with Sense 7.0 on user customization.

Sense 7.0

Sense 7.0 is continues HTC’s evolution by devolution, stripping away much of the interface’s gaudy scaffolding in favor of something more familiar. It plays to the strengths of Google’s Android Lollipop operating system while offering just enough in the way of tweaks and features to differentiate it from the competition.

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You get Lollipop standards like a Material Design base with smooth animations and an emphasis on color and contrast, notifications filtered and sorted by priority, and improved quick settings including quick access to a flashlight toggle. But you also get a bit of polish from HTC with added perks like the ability to customize, rearrange, and add to the handset’s software navigation buttons. For instance, you could remove the multitasking button and replace with one that allows quick access to device settings, or you could choose to have both at the same time.

HTC Themes

HTC has made theming a central part of the One M9 experience, and users are given a surprising amount of flexibility in adapting their homescreen to better suit their tastes. Users can browse a wide-ranging selection of pre-made themes or pick and choose items from a catalog of wallpapers, icons, and fonts to create their own custom look. Even better, visiting HTC’s Themes landing page on a desktop opens up even greater possibilities, allowing for themes that make use of alternate versions of Android’s software navigation buttons and HTC’s clock widget.

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One cool trick allows the user to generate a theme around a chosen wallpaper. The One M9’s Themes app will analyze the wallpaper’s content and use it to create a custom color scheme from which to build a totally unique look.

Sense Home

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A new Sense Home widget focuses on tailoring your device to your location. It determines the apps you use most at locales like home or work and surfaces them for quick access. This feature relies heavily on tracking your location and learning from your habits, so it starts off by offering a selection of apps HTC believe would be most suited for a particular situation. It will slowly pick up on your habits, but thankfully you can also simply drag and drop the apps of your choosing into each category (choices are Home, Work, and Out).

Sense Home also provides a selection of suggested apps to download and install, but for the most part these were relegated to pretty mainstream services. We could see the feature being a nice touch if it had the capability of surfacing those rare yet useful apps one might otherwise overlook, but we were presented with something more akin to a top apps page on Google Play. We mostly ignored these suggestions. For anyone wishing to ignore Sense Home as a whole, the widget can easily be removed from the homescreen altogether.

HTC BlinkFeed

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HTC’s BlinkFeed is still present from past Sense iterations (swipe left from the main homescreen), and it learns a new trick, offering location-based suggestions from sites Yelp and Foursquare. The suggestions, much like with the Sense Home widget, are supposed to be personalized, but that personal touch did seem a little lacking. The suggestions presented read more like generic recommendations based solely on proximity and rating.

The suggested items can be turned off, but we didn’t find them too overbearing mixed in with the variety of other content BlinkFeed offers (a selection of news outlets and blogs, your social streams). Otherwise, it’s a familiar BlinkFeed experience that is actually quite useful once you get accustomed to it.

Camera

That camera also represents one of the biggest hardware departures from last year’s One model. In 2014, HTC was eager to abandon the megapixel war in favor of their UltraPixel sensor, a camera designed to perform well on its own merits despite a deceptively low megapixel count. With the One M9, however, HTC returns to a traditional sensor in the hopes that megapixels sell, and we’ve got 20 of them here.

Unfortunately, this camera is one of the more disappointing aspects of the new One. It’s not outright terrible, and in the right conditions it is capable of producing some stunning shots, but it struggles in lowlight situations and photos can often appear dull or grainy.

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The one thing HTC’s camera does have going for it is a pretty slick software interface. Swiping up or down on the display will cycle through photo modes including panorama and the front-facing camera. Tapping on a particular part of the image will focus. And while these features make it easy to jump right in and snap some shots, the real power of the camera is its wide range of manual adjustments, which include white balance, ISO, and other settings typically found on “pro” camera rigs. Using these settings we were able to squeeze the most out of the One M9’s underperforming image sensor.

The UltraPixel sensor does return for the One M9’s front-facing shooter, and it makes for a very worthy selfie camera perfectly capable for late night group shots in a dimly lit bar. 4K video support is also embedded in the HTC One M9 for fans of ultra HD resolution video, but it’s a far cry from cinema-quality results.

Battery

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The 2840mAh battery was strong, offering pretty standard uptime during average use. The power cell can conceivably get you through the day with anywhere from 13-15 hours of use before needing to hit the charger. The minute you start really pushing that Snapdragon 810 processor things change, however. Hours of intense gaming or HD video streaming will quickly take their toll on the One M9. In these situations you might be lucky to get 8-10 hours of use.

The good news is the One M9 includes a few features to help you get the most out of your battery. For one, there is the battery saver modes that come stock as part of Android 5.0. There is also support for Quick Charge 2.0, which provides as much as 60% charge in as little as 30 minutes, but HTC has made the bizarre decision to not include a Quick Charge-compatible wall charger out of the box.

Conclusion

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Is the HTC One M9 iterative? Yes. Does it lack the flash of a curved display or fingerprint sensor or other gimmicks found in competing Android flagships? Yes. Is that necessarily a bad thing? The One M9 puts design above all else, and in that respect it could still be crowned the best on the market. With strong hardware and improved software, the One M9 makes a case for the best overall Android device, as well.

The Good

  • Gorgeous design and premium build
  • Sense 7.0 is a perfect union of Android Lollipop and customization options
  • Top-notch hardware for great performance

The Bad

  • Battery and display are not a marked improvement over last year’s One M8
  • 20MP camera does not live up to its pixel count
  • Has a tendency to run a little hot when pushed

The Bottom Line: 4.25/5

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