Phandroid » Reviews http://phandroid.com Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Fri, 24 Oct 2014 17:54:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review http://phandroid.com/2014/10/15/samsung-galaxy-note-4-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/10/15/samsung-galaxy-note-4-review/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:08:37 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=150696 note-4-android-robots-phandroid

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

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

Design & Build

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

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

note-4-back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware & Specs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: S Pen Stylus

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Rounds is a pretty beautiful way to keep score of all your games [Material Design Update] http://phandroid.com/2014/10/03/rounds-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/10/03/rounds-review/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 17:25:59 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=150184 IMG_2869

A great new update for a great app has crept into the Google Play Store and we think it’s worth you taking a look. Its name is Rounds, and it’s quite simple at its core: a digital way to keep track of score for any game you’d play where you’d need such a thing. Whether you’re playing cards with your family, mini golfing with some buddies or something as silly as what these guys were doing in Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 4 ad, it makes it easy to tally up points and declare a clear winner.

We wouldn’t highlight such a simple app except for the fact that it’s been designed like no other of its kind. The developer takes full advantage of Material Design and presents a user interface that is not only beautiful, but also extremely intuitive and fun to use. Upon inputting all of the players’ names, you’re taken to a screen with a wheel akin to Simon Says. Each player has a point on the wheel, and you simply touch their name and spin it to give them however many points they’ve earned.

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The score table below it will update in real time to show you who’s in the lead, and if that’s not simple enough the status bar of the app will change to the color of whoever’s winning — simple enough, eh? The app adds a couple of cool functions for helping you get your games started, including a “spin the bottle” randomizer that will choose one person to go first in the event that you don’t use the roll of a die. You can also choose between two different scoring standards: highest number wins or lowest number wins.

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Topping all that off, you can easily share your game results with anyone using a built-in feature. It’ll generate a neat looking table of scores to show whoever cares exactly what went down. Don’t worry, folks — Rob would never beat me at any game. Ever.

rounds result screen

Even with the great job the developer has done to this point, we wish to see see some additions over time. One such addition could be virtual dice that’ll let you customize the number of sides and what the sides of the dice count or stand for. This would make it a one-stop tool for playing pretty much any table-top game out there.

We also wouldn’t mind being able to customize the amount of steps points are increased by for games where scores can only increase by 5 or 10 points, or what have you. We’re sure the developer isn’t done delivering all that they can so we’ll certainly be looking forward to future updates.

Give the app a shot in the Google Play Store (it’s a free download, though you have the option of paying $.99 for additional player colors if you’re interested) if you’ve been looking for something like this in the wake of laziness or the untimely absence of pencil and paper.

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Motorola Moto X (2014) review [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2014/09/24/motorola-moto-x-2014-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/24/motorola-moto-x-2014-review/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 21:17:49 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=149009

It’s been a roller coaster of events for Motorola these past few years. As sales of their once widely successful Droid line began to dwindle, Motorola seemingly found new life in Google after the internet search giant officially bought them for $12.5 billion back in February of 2012. A sort of rebirth for the company, soon after they were rebranded “a Google company” and launched another flagship under new management — the Moto X.

Built with an entirely different vision than previous efforts (a more Google-y one), the Moto X avoided getting caught up in the smartphone arms race of offering bigger, badder hardware specs and heavy custom UIs. Instead Motorola took the road less traveled, keeping things relatively simple by offering an almost completely stock Android interface. From there, they looked to improved upon the user experience by adding their own specialty apps that complimented the core OS, not tried to hide it.

Ultimately, the Moto X wasn’t the breakout hit Motorola (or Google) thought it would be and in January of this year, Google sold Motorola to Lenovo for $2.9 billion. Back at square one, Motorola is giving it another try for 2014 with an all new model, the Moto X (2nd Gen). The new Moto X looks to address many criticisms of last year’s model by offering true flagship specs, while building upon the Motorola apps and services that set the original apart from its competitors.

There’s no question Motorola has a lot riding on their latest flagship and with a new recipe for success, will the new Moto X be enough to capture the hearts (and wallets) of consumers looking for a next-gen smartphone? Or will phone fold under the pressure from heavy weights like the Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5? Find out in our full review of the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen).

Design / Build quality

Moto X 2014 DSC07009

Last year’s Moto X had a very Google/Nexus vibe to it. Motorola went with a nearly all plastic housing, something that could be easily assembled at their Fort Worth Texas plant. Although Motorola now plans to shut down that facility by the end of the year, it seems they wanted to go out with a bang, improving the build quality of the older sibling in just about every way.

If you had to describe the new Moto X with a song, Daft Punk’s single “Harder, “Better, Faster, Stronger” is the first to come to mind. The phone ditches last year’s all-plastic design in favor of something with a little more metal. Similar to the iPhone or the new Samsung Galaxy Alpha, the new Moto X now offers just a taste of metal with an aluminum frame that wraps around the sides of the device.

The frame isn’t just pretty, it also acts as an extension of the internal antenna to help boost signal quality. Along the sides, the frame starts off thicker in the middle, the shrinks to almost nothing towards the corners. It reminds us a lot of the sides of the HTC One M8, which in all honesty, were a little difficult to grip given the small surface area. The new Moto X makes the same mistake, and because the sides feel like Teflon, the phone repeatedly slipped from our hands and onto our face while laying down with the phone in our bed.

Moto X 2014 2nd Generation angles

On the front of the device, you’ll find the smooth Gorilla Glass 3 is beveled around the edges, creating the most satisfying experience when sliding your finger from the sides of the device (grabbing sidebar menus and such). It’s not the first time we’ve seen this on a smartphone (iPhone 6 has a similar glass front), but the new Moto X is the first Android device in a long while to go with this design. Buried underneath each corner of the glass are low-powered IR sensors Motorola uses to detect movement. They’re virtually invisible with the black housing, but somewhat of an eyesore on the white model.

Keeping the design language of the Moto E (and now the new Moto G), the new Moto X now also features a front facing speaker. Unfortunately, unlike the new Moto G, it’s only the bottom speaker capable of outputting loud sound for media, with the top acting as little more than a simple earpiece when making calls. Quality on the front facing speaker was nice and loud, but not as tinny or ear-piercing as we’ve heard on other devices. It seems Motorola tuned it to have fuller sound, but it’s nothing near the quality you’ll find on the HTC One M8. Interestingly enough, the aluminum speaker grills actually protrude a bit from the front of the device, keeping the new Moto X’s glass slightly raised when laying the device face down on a perfectly flat surface.

Moto X 2014 DSC07023

It’s the back of the device where the new Moto X shows off all of its personality. You’ll find a huge camera hole on the back, made even larger with a clear ring to position the dual LED flash around the lens. We loved the way the entire camera/LED unit is incredibly smooth, making for easy wiping of fingerprints that sometimes accumulate on the lens.

In somewhat of a new tradition, Motorola kept last year’s dimple but this time cut out a hole especially for it, slapping an aluminum “M” logo inside. While it looks great to have such a prominent display of the company’s branding, it also acts as a reference point when holding the device, allowing your index finger to quickly find and rest inside. All these small details make for a smartphone that feels absolutely wonderful in the hand and looks even better.

Moto X 2014 Motomaker

Making a return for the new Moto X is Motomaker, Motorola’s online tool that allows anyone to customize a Moto X to their liking using a variety of back cover options and trim colors. Prospective buyers are given a choice of either a black front /gun metal frame, or white / silver frame combos, and more back cover colors than you can shake a stick at.

moto materials

Pretty much all the colors of the rainbow are covered if you’re looking for traditional plastic (black is the only color to offer a soft touch finish). But for those willing to pay a little higher premium, you can upgrade the material to wood or one of Motorola’s all new leather options for an extra $25.

Leather comes in black, natural, cognac, or navy blue colors, while woods are available in walnut, bamboo, ebony, or teak finishes. If you want to build a phone that truly stands out from the crowd, these are definitely the way to go.

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In a day and age where smartphone manufacturers typically hold onto new color combinations for carrier exclusives, gradually releasing new colors of their popular handsets months after launch, it’s refreshing to have so many options available right off the bat. Not only that, Motorola is the only manufacturer to offer such unique and premium materials in their smartphones, and with this level of style and personalization.

Up until now, it’s something we’ve only seen with sneakers (NIKEiD) and nobody — not even Apple — can touch that. Motorola has definitely carved a niche for themselves, but whether or not the soccer moms and Joe Schmoes will take notice (or even care) remains to be seen.

Hardware

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There’s no question the hardware specs in last year’s Moto X left many feeling like something was missing. And there was. Although you can argue all you want that high-end hardware doesn’t always equal a good end user experience (Samsung devices are proof of this) — it certainly helps.

For this year’s Moto X, Motorola is pulling out all the stops (well, most of them anyway), packing their latest flagship with many of the high-end specs you’ve come to expect from a 2014 flagship. It’s all here. Aside from a minimal increase in battery (we’ll talk more about that later),  you’ll find a 1080p display, Snapdragon 801 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 13MP camera.

It’s clear Motorola wasn’t going to settle with mid-range this time around and while the hardware specs weren’t too ambitious, there’s enough here that performance should be top notch. They’ve learned their lesson and with so much riding on the new Moto X, let’s check out everything the phone now has to offer for 2014.

Display

Moto X 2014 display size comparison DSC07045

On the front of the new Moto X you will find a much larger 5.2-inch 1080p AMOLED display, a pretty sizable increase when compared to the 4.7-inch/720p of the previous model. While many original Moto X fans consider 4.7 that sweet spot (I’d have to agree), Motorola did do a bang up job at keeping that bottom bezel as small as possible, while still having enough room for a front facing speaker.

Make no mistake, the new Moto X is certainly larger, but when compared against devices like the Nexus 5 or HTC One M8, the overall footprint of the new Moto X was kept small, while extending the display. And because the bottom bezel is so small, the display actually sits lower than even the Nexus 5 which helps your thumb reach most UI elements without overreaching or stretching during one-handed use. That means grabbing the notification bar with your thumb wont be a problem like it is on some devices.

Seriously though. A 5.2-inches is probably the largest sized display we can comfortably handle (we’re big on the while one-handed use thing) but those coming from last year’s 4.7-inch model shouldn’t have many difficulties adapting to the size. For next year’s Moto X, Motorola need only focus on shaving off a few millimeters from the bottom bezel and we’ll be happy.

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Moto X 2014 at its lowest brightness setting

 As we mentioned previously, the new Moto X is once again using an AMOLED display and because of that, the usual pros and cons apply. Blacks are much darker than you’d find on traditional LCD displays (this has power consumption benefits as well) and colors are over saturated (but we kinda dig that).

We will say, it seems Motorola has turned down the saturation just a tad for the new Moto X, but we’re sure it has more to do with the newer Samsung panels they’re using. On last year’s model, viewing photos in Instagram or in the Gallery app showed noticeably orange skin tones. For the new Moto X, everyone still looks very much like a normal human being and not so much like an Oompa Loompa.

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HTC One M8, Moto X 2014, iPhone 6, Nexus 5

The display does have the typical AMOLED yellow tinge to it, something you’ll notice when viewing whites but can affect other colors like blues. This is actually what bothered us most about the display and when compared against other devices, the difference is even more obvious.

Also, it’s almost if there’s a strange film on the AMOLED, just under the glass, making for a glittery look (like those matte screen protectors). Although 1080p, the display isn’t nearly as sharp as say, the Nexus 5 or other LCD devices.

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Daylight visibility is always a challenge and when viewing in direct sunlight and AMOLED’s funny way of creating a nearly blinding rainbow effect was apparent. We suppose if worst comes to worse, you can always find some shade or make your own.

There’s a good chance many of you wont notice any of the above issues with the new Moto X’s display, but there was enough that, overall, we were left with a bad impression.

Performance

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Running a nearly stock Android experience has its benefits. With an OS unencumbered by the usual OEM skins, it wouldn’t take much horsepower to provide an adequate Android experience (just take a look at the Moto G (2nd Gen). Thankfully, Motorola didn’t skimp in this regard, equipping the new Moto X with an uber fast 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor worthy of a flagship Android device. They could have used something a lot older and got nearly the same results in terms of real-world speed, but we’re glad they chose one of the quickest mobile processors currently available. The result? An unhindered OS that can spread its wings and fly.

Everything feels like it’s been put into overdrive. Apps open quicker than you can blink, the UI is always silky smooth, and games run at high frame rates. If you’re coming from the previous Moto X, you’ll notice how much quicker the camera quick shake gesture now opens the app, with little down time from shake, to vibrate, to the app launching. Honestly, it’s a c0mplete joy to use. I really can’t say enough about how kicky fast and buttery this phone is. It’s like a Nexus 5 on steroids.

Storage

Moto X 2014 storage 16GB

Limited storage is just one of those things that’s either gonna bug the sh*t out of you, or wont be any skin off your nose. For us, having only 16GB and 32GB options for the new Moto X sounds like a major oversight on Motorola’s part. Aside from last year’s model having access to a larger 64GB config, no such option is available (yet) for the new Moto X. Looking at how much storage space is even usable on the new Moto X, we dove into our settings and sure enough, our 16GB model had only about 10.2GB of that was even usable. Even for a base model, that’s borderline unacceptable.

This is further compounded by the fact that the new Moto X doesn’t offer a micro SD card slot, leaving the phone stuck with whatever amount of storage you choose before hand. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but we’d recommend opting for the 32GB model lest you kick yourself a few months down the road when you have no more room for apps, games, or media. 16GB model shouldn’t even be an option.

Battery life

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Battery life is one of those areas that’s always the hardest test. Because no 2 people have the same smartphone usage habits, there’s no telling how someone’s 20+ hours of battery life will translate to you specifically. Even still, we’ll go ahead and give you our accounting of what battery life was like on the new Moto X.

Using the device as our primary daily driver for the past few weeks, we found battery life more than acceptable (but it wont blow you away). Typical life for us was about 16 or so hours with normal to light usage, 2+ hours of screen on time, WiFi and Bluetooth always on. Despite the absence of last year’s X8 low-power core, standby time on the new Moto X is where the phone truly shines. If you find yourself at work or spending a long day at a theme park, rest assured that if you don’t fiddle around with the Moto X very much, you can get upwards of 24 hours+ with little to no usage (but still allow notifications and phone calls to come through).

That’s not to say it wasn’t improved, but at 2,300mAh, it’s a feeble attempt at increasing last year’s 2,200mAh battery. We would have been more than happy to take a slightly thicker or filled out Moto X with a larger battery, something closer to the 2,800mAh offered by competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5.

So, while the phone doesn’t deliver in spades when discussing battery life, it’s not necessarily lacking. Still, when a smartphone scores such high marks in just about every other category, it’s almost painful to see something so fundamentally important such as battery life take somewhat of a back seat. The fact that it’s 2014 and 2-day battery life on our smartphones sounds like a fantasy is depressing. We can’t even tell you how much extra money we’d pay for a 3,100mAh Moto X option in Motomaker, but we’re sure Motorola already has bigger batteried Moto Maxx variant planned for Verizon later this year (pure speculation).

Moto X Turbo Charger wall

Another thing worth mentioning is thanks to that speedy Snapdragon 801 processor we told you about earlier, the new Moto X is now Quick Charge 2.0 ready. That means when paired with Motorola’s Turbo Charger (sold separately), you can get an extra 8 hours of battery life with only 15 minutes of charge time. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve taken bathroom breaks longer than that. If you can’t (or wont) extend battery life, why not have the dang thing charge faster? Pretty sweet.

Notably absent was any kind of “extreme power saving mode” like we’ve seen on many competing devices which can extend battery life substantially by scaling down CPU cores, disabling background apps, or disabling data after a specific amount of sleep time. With Motorola’s suite of apps, you would have thought they’d had include something like this, but we suppose there’s always next year.

Camera

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In an age of sharing every meal, traffic jam, or plane ride on social media, we get it — if you’re shopping around for a new smartphone, you’re probably going to want make sure it’s capable of taking a nice photo. Just about every year, smartphone OEMs tout some new camera technology or new way of focusing and capturing light. Not matter what, they almost always fall short of expectations because, well, they’re just smartphones — not DSLRs. Take last year’s Moto X and it’s 10MP “Clear Pixel” camera that was quite literally the worst shooter we’d ever seen from an Android device (well, mid to high-end devices anyway).

With the bar set so low, the new Moto X didn’t have to improve much to beat out the last year’s model. Thankfully, Motorola went with a much better 13MP Sony Sony Exmor RS IMX135 sensor coupled with a slightly faster f.2.2 lens in the new Moto X. This is actually the same sensor as found on devices like the LG G3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4 — all top camera performers. This pretty much leaves Motorola’s software to do all the fine tuning.

Moto X 2014 camera app

The Motorola’s custom camera app is where all the magic takes place and is pretty much the same one we saw on the original Moto X. Motorola’s Camera app doesn’t go overboard with features like Samsung, or offer a complete set of manual controls like HTC, but — like the rest of Motorola’s apps — does provide a few additional features not normally found in “stock” Android.

Taking a shot is as easy as pressing anywhere on the screen (or long press for burst shots). Aside from now being able to shoot 4K video, it’s pretty much the same tap-to-shoot app we saw last year and therein lies the problem. Because the camera app automatically handles all the focusing, more than often we’d tap the screen to take a shot that wasn’t properly focused. It’s annoying and could have been easily fixed by adding a tap-to-focus-then-shoot option in the app’s settings.

Moto X Camera suggested shot

Another extremely nifty feature is the fact that the camera actually starts firing snapshots in the background before your finger ever reaches the display. This works in tandem with Motorola’s new Gallery app, which can tell when you’ve taken what it feels is a “bad shot,” providing you with a suggestion of a better one it captured on its own. Believe it or not, this actually came in handy in real life while attempting to snap a photo of someone walking down the street. By the time I pressed the shutter button, they had already walked by but luckily, Motorola’s Gallery app showed me a better shot with the man completely in the frame. It’s easy to see how this could help when trying to capture your kids doing something silly.

We should also note that we completely fell in love with the Camera app’s quick launch gesture, executed by twisting the entire phone twice to quickly open the app. It can even be done while the phone is sleeping and sadly, is probably the only time we’d use Motorola’s camera app (or when shooting 4K video) over something like say, the Google Camera. In any case, here’s a few sample shots (along with video) as taken with our new Moto X (2nd Gen) so you can see the camera’s actual output and judge for yourself.

IMG_20140905_134642066 IMG_20140905_134848049 IMG_20140905_132104408 IMG_20140905_140045850 (1) IMG_20140905_145653679 IMG_20140905_145420871 Moto X 2014 IMG_20140922_171318976 IMG_20140905_153733408

2 minutes of 4K video was roughly 800MB in size

Overall, we found the camera quality more than adequate for some quick off the hip shooting, although occasionally inconsistent. In some cases shots showed a lot of noise (in a way, we kinda like that) and although we’ve yet to see a truly wonderful low light shooter from a smartphone, the new Moto X was certainly one of the worst offenders. Chances are, you’ll be using the new Moto X to shoot a close up of the kids, or that fancy meal the wife cooked up. If that’s the case, you’ll find the Moto X capable of producing a perfectly decent photo as evidenced above.

Software

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There’s absolutely no question the new Moto X’s greatest strength lies in its software. What is probably a lingering philosophy of their short time with Google, Motorola does very little to alter the Android experience in the Moto X (or the rest of their devices), keeping the same “stock” UI as found on Nexus devices.

The only difference is that Motorola throws in a few of their own apps, bringing some additional functionality to what would have otherwise been bare bones Android. Everything from automating certain tasks, or adding a more convenient lockscreen, but the most notable improvement is the way Motorola has extended Android’s standard voice commands by providing “always listening” functionality. This means that, even with the screen off, you can still perform quick Google searches, set a timer, or just ask the Moto X what time it is — all without ever having to physically touch the phone.

Moto

Moto X 2014 assist actions voice display

While posted individually in the Google Play Store, Motorola new suite of apps are actually located inside another app simply called “Moto.” Opening Moto will initially pull up the Moto Voice function right off the bat (like S Voice or Siri), but the app also acts as a hub for Motorola’s other contextual services (found after clicking the small gear icon). There are four main apps: Assist, Moto Actions (motion), Moto Voice, Moto Display (Active Display). Details on which features can be found in each are provided below.

  • Moto Actions: Utilizing the IR sensors located on the front of the device, Actions allows users to interact with the new Moto X using simple gestures (I guess this is why they ditched the name of the Touchless Control app). Wave a hand above the new Moto X to silence calls and/or alarms. You can even launch the camera when the phone is sleeping by flicking your wrist twice.
  • Moto Voice (formerly Touchless Control): Essentially audio monitoring for your smartphone, Moto Voice gives users the ability to wake their devices using a simple voice command — totally hands free. New for the Moto X (2nd Gen), you can now create your own custom voice prompt. Anything from “Hi-Yo, Silver. Away!” to “OK, Jarvis.” There’s new actions too, with the ability to post a status updates to Facebook, messages in Whatsapp, or even check your <insert carrier here> usage. It’s limited, but we expect more apps will be supported in the future.
  • Moto Assist: It’s one of those handy features that sounds like it would have found itself already baked into Android by now. Whether you’re driving, in a meeting or back home, Moto Assist can change your phone’s behavior to do your bidding automagically. Driving? Assist will read your text messages aloud. In a meeting? Assist will mute the ringer so you’re not interrupted. Set up your own quiet hours and you can even whitelist certain callers (or anyone calling in rapid succession) for emergency situations.
  • Moto Display (formerly Active Display): For the all new Moto X, Motorola has rebranded their Active Display app as Moto Display. Like a smart lockscreen on top of the normal Android lockscreen, Display will “breathe” notifications as they arrive, allowing you to peek at them using only a finger. An improved version of last year’s Active Display, Moto Display can even detect when your hand is near (IR sensors), activating before you even touch it.

Probably the best part about all of these applications is that they’re found and updatable in the regular ‘ol Google Play Store. This means you won’t have to wait around for a full system update to get your hands on a few new software features or bug fixes (this has long been Android’s Achilles heel). What can be seen as the fingerprint of their former parent company, this mimics the move we saw Google take recently with many of their apps, albeit those are available to everyone while Motorola’s apps remain exclusive to their line of devices.

Motorola Gallery

Motorola Moto X 2014 Gallery app

While we don’t see too much wrong with stock Android’s Gallery app, Motorola saw fit to replace it with their own in the new Moto X. Design-wise, the app reminds us a lot of Google’s Photos app from Google+ — white background, vertical scrolling, side menu, etc. — only Motorola’s sticks to covering local storage. Perhaps further fingerprints of Google’s influence, the Gallery app even takes Google+’s popular Highlights feature and makes it available in the app.

Highlights groups together photos and videos by dates, and allows users to combine them into their own home video reel, complete with background music and everything. Because it’s all local storage, you wont have to bother backing up your photos and videos to the cloud — everything can be done directly on your phone.

Other apps and features:

Although Motorola’s “big 4″ contextually aware applications take most of the limelight, there’s a handful of other apps and features Motorola has packed inside the new Moto X that still deserve some attention.

Other apps that can be found on the new Moto X include Motorola Migrate, an application that helps you import contacts, photos, and videos from an old phone to your new Moto X. Should you find yourself in need of technical support, the Motorola Help app is only a click away and a great place to find quick support for your Moto X. Spotlight also makes a return, a sort of interactive story book that takes advantage of all the hardware sensors available on the Moto X.

The all new Motorola Connect is alive and well in the new Moto X, although it’s gotten a bit of a face life. A one stop shop for Motorola’s connected accessories (Power Pack Micro, Moto 360, etc.), we don’t think the Chrome extension — which allows you to send/receive text and picture messages from your phone — is up and running on the new Moto X quite yet.

Again, all these apps are also found on the Google Play Store where they can easily be updated without the need for a full system update.

Moto X 2014 Attentive Display Audio Effects Trusted Devices

While the Moto X features a mostly stock Android experience, they did bake in a few new must-have features we don’t know how we’d live without. Attentive Display is an option in the Settings app that keeps your phone awake while you’re facing the device, and sleeps it quicker when you’re not.

Motorola has also added their own customizable equalizer app called Audio EQ to tweak your phone’s audio to your heart’s content. Our favorite feature? Trusted devices. This allows a password protected Moto X to stay unlocked only while connected to specified (i.e., trusted) Bluetooth devices. Move out of range? Your device goes back being locked down with a password.

What’s Missing?

Moto X 2014 featured DSC07020

If you made it this far in the review, you’d know that the new Moto X (2nd Gen) does a lot of things right. Still, no matter the smartphone/tablet/piece of technology, there’s always going to be a few things that were simply left on the cutting room floor. Gotta leave something for next year, right? Going by current smartphone trends, things we would have love to have seen in the new Moto X are as follows:

  • Water resistance (IP67 rating) – While it’s not true every device has this, we have to admit being able to take our phone in the shower for some Netflix viewing will change your life.
  • Wireless charging – It’s was a damn shame to see this left out of current flagship devices this year and the Moto X (2nd Gen) is no different. As one of the more convenient features in recent times, we’re really hoping this isn’t the start of some new trend.
  • 64GB model – It took awhile, but after almost a year since it was release, Motorola began offering a 64GB model of the original Moto X. How or why this isn’t an option for the new Moto X is beyond us.
  • Micro SD card slot – Although we’re not quite sold on the idea of micro SD cards in our Android devices, we know many of you are. With HTC and LG recently offering memory expandability on their devices, we were taken aback by Motorola’s move.
  • IR blaster – At one point, it seemed every new flagship was carrying around an IR blaster. A feature that gives users universal remote functionality out of the box, the best remote is the one you always have on you.
  • Extreme battery saving software – Just about every OEM offers some kind of “extreme power saving mode” on their flagships. With Motorola’s strange move to keep the battery so small in the new Moto X, the least they could have done was included something similar (and they still could in the form of an app somewhere down the road).
  • Motorola Alert: One of our favorite Motorola applications, Motorola Alert is only available to the Moto E, Moto G, and original Moto X. The app allows you to send a distress beacon in the event of an emergency, and while not currently compatible with the new Moto X, could become compatible in the future.

Bottom Line

Moto X 2014 DSC07024

When all is said and done, the all new Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen) is not only a worthy upgrade from last year’s model, but easily one of the best Android handsets to date. It’s not perfect by any means, but Motorola did manage to do a great job at improving just about every aspect of the original, from design and build quality, to internal hardware specs, and even software.

Factor in a nearly stock Android experience, unparalleled software support with system apps that update independently of firmware updates, and the fact that this new Moto X will be one of the first Android devices to receive new Android updates (Android L, anyone?) — it’s easy to see how the new Moto X is an a class all of its own.

At $500 for the base model and $575 for a Moto X with all the trimmings, you’re probably going to want (or have to) to get one on contract. Keep in mind Motorola also offers 2 years of coverage for accidental damage for an additional $80.

With Google Play edition devices hanging in the balance, the new Moto X is probably the closest thing we’ll get to a premium Nexus device and the living embodiment of Android’s core principals. Having said all that, the new Moto X (2nd Gen) has just elbowed its way to the top of our ever growing Android family and demands your consideration should you be in the market for a new Android smartphone. Seriously, it’s hard to top this right now.

Pros:

  • Premium build quality
  • Near stock Android
  • Front facing speaker
  • Minimal overall size
  • Camera performance

Cons:

  • Display
  • No micro SD
  • 32GB model (highest config) is still limited
  • No wireless charging
  • Battery life isn’t great

Rating: 4.6 / 5

 

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Moto G (2nd Gen) Motorola Flip Shell case review http://phandroid.com/2014/09/24/moto-g-2nd-gen-motorola-flip-shell-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/24/moto-g-2nd-gen-motorola-flip-shell-review/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:37:40 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=149440 Motorola-flip-shell-rear-moto-g

Those looking to add a personal touch to their Moto G without sacrificing protection need look no further than the Motorola Flip Shell case. A direct replacement for the Moto G’s back cover (available in a variety of colors) with the added benefit of a folio-style screen protector, the Flip Shell  would seem to be an easy choice. But does it deliver?

CHECK OUT OUR FULL MOTO G (2014) REVIEW

Form + Function

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Motorola Shells are the Moto G’s equivalent to the Moto Maker options available for its pricier sibling, the Moto X. The Shells don’t offer quite the level of customization we see with the Moto X, but they do offer one distinct advantage: they are user replaceable. So, while options overall are more limited, users are not stuck with one look for the duration of their handset’s life. Simply decouple the back you don’t want and snap a new one in place. You could even rotate daily to match your outfit.

While the standard Motorola Shell merely replaces the Moto G’s back cover, the Flip Shell is a slightly different beast. It’s Motorola’s take on the folio-style cover that has become more and more popular in recent years — a case that wraps around to include a front flap for added screen protection. It perhaps started with Apple’s iPad Smart Cover and caught on in the Android world with Samsung’s S View case for the Galaxy line. Other manufacturers have followed suit, bringing us the Quick Circle case by LG as well as the Dot View case by HTC.

The Motorola Flip Shell shares the same form, but doesn’t provide the same extended functionality as these cases. The aforementioned smartphone cases all in one way or another offer a windowed view that at a minimum allows users to quickly peek at notifications and other info without lifting the front folio flap. Some even enable shortcut capabilities to quickly respond to said notifications or dismiss them. The Motorola Flip Shell for the Moto G does none of these things, but that’s not to say it serves no purpose or lacks at least some basic bells and whistles.

Beyond simply adding a degree of protection for the Moto G’s display, it also interacts with the handset on the software side. Opening the folio cover will fire up the display. Your phone is ready to view when you are. It’s a little touch that takes the flip cover from cumbersome to quite useful.

A Bulkier Moto G

Those thinking about going with the Motorola Flip Shell should know one thing: it adds a decent amount of bulk to the phone. The back is similar in proportion to the standard rear cover, while the padded front folio adds to the device’s overall thickness. Same goes for the pliable hinge that connects the front and back portion of the Flip Shell. As a bonus, however, the Flip Shell does offer a textured back that adds some grippiness.

It is our opinion that the Moto G doesn’t look quite as nice in its Flip Shell digs. It loses some of its sleekness and the beauty of its subtle curves are obscured. We’re sure not everyone will agree on that point, and it wouldn’t be the first time a smartphone buyer decided to sacrifice looks for protection (look at you, Otterbox users).

A magnet system is in place that in theory should keep the Flip Shell from flying open, but we haven’t had much luck getting it to hold. The link between the magnets is fairly weak and makes this almost a non-feature.

The Bottom Line

motorola-flip-shell-front-moto-g

At $30, the Motorola Flip Shell is twice the price of standard Motorola Shells. Perhaps this is justified — it offers twice the protection. Still, the sum seems a bit inflated considering the limited added functionality the case provides. For those looking to keep their screens scratch-free or wanting to go for a more mature look for their Moto G, the Flip Shell is a fine option. It won’t be for everybody, however.

The Good

  • Protects screen while providing personalization options
  • Opening cover seamlessly powers on display

The Bad

  • Adds bulkiness to the Moto G
  • Magnet doesn’t hold cover shut

Overall: 3/5

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Kyocera Brigadier Review: a tough one-trick pony http://phandroid.com/2014/09/22/kyocera-brigadier-review/ http://phandroid.com/2014/09/22/kyocera-brigadier-review/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:58:14 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=149255 Brigadier 4

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

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

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

Design

Brigadier

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

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

Durability

Brigadier 5

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

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

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

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

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

Performance & Battery

Brigadier 3

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

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

Camera

Brigadier 8

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

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Conclusion

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Score: 2.5 out of 5

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

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

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

Design / Build quality

Moto 360 DSC06958

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

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

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

Moto 360 DSC06955

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

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

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

Moto 360 Horween Leather strap DSC06984

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

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

Hardware

Display

Moto 360 DSC06981

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

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

Moto 360 direct sunlight DSC06956

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

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

Power button

Power button DSC06983

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

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

Heart rate monitor

Moto 360 back heart rate sensor DSC06964

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

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

Wireless Charging

Moto 360 charging dock DSC06925

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

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

Moto 360 wireless charging DSC06797

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

Moto 360 portable wireless charger  DSC06851

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

Performance

Moto 360 DSC06951

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

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

Battery life

Moto 360 Battery DSC06823

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

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

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

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

Connectivity

Moto 360 disconnected DSC06929

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

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

What’s missing

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

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

Software

Android Wear

Android Wear reservation

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

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

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

Android Wear voice reply action

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

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

Setup

Android Wear app

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

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

Motorola apps and watch faces

Moto 360 heart activity app DSC06969

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

Motorola Connect

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

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

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

Verdict

Moto 360 DSC06941

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

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

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

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

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

Looking ahead

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Final Score: 4 out of 5

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

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

Build & Design

moto-g-curve

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

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

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

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

moto-g-flip

Display

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

moto-g-display

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

Hardware

moto-g-front

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

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

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

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

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

Software

moto-g-home

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

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

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

moto-g-assist

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

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

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

Camera

moto-g-camera

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

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

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

Battery

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

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

The Bottom Line

moto-g-back-hero

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

The Bottom Line: 4/5

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

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

Graphics and Presentation

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

Screenshot_2014-08-31-05-41-23

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

Screenshot_2014-08-31-05-41-29

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

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

Modes and Features

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

Screenshot_2014-08-31-05-34-41

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware

HTC One Remix 2

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

Size

HTC One sizes

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

Speakers

HTC One Remix 4

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

Display

HTC One Remix 3

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

Camera

HTC One Remix 6

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

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

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

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

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Software

HTC One Remix 8

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

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

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

Performance & Battery

remix battery chart

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

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

The Bottom Line

HTC One Remix 5

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Score: 4 out of 5

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

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

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

freaking math

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

Worth downloading?

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

PlayDownload

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

Design & Build

galaxy-s5-sport-rear

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

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

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

galaxy-s5-sport-buttons

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

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

Display & Hardware

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

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

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

Software

galaxy-s5-sport-software

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

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

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

Camera

galaxy-s5-sport-camera

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

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

Battery

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

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

The Bottom Line

galaxy-s5-sport-front

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 3.5/5

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

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

Build & Design

fire phone design

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

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

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

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

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

Display

fire phone display

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

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

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

Hardware

fire phone hardware

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

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

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

Software

fire phone software

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

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

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

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

Firefly

fire phone firefly

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

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

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

Dynamic Perspective

fire phone dynamic perspective

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

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

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

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

Battery

fire phone battery life

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

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

Camera

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

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


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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 2.5/5

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

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

Design & Build

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

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

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

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

Galaxy-Tab-s-accessories

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

Display

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

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

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

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

Hardware

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

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

galaxy-tab-s-hardware

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

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

Software & Multimedia

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

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

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

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

Camera

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

 

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

Battery

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

The Good

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

The Bad

  • Hardware performance can be sluggish at times

Overall: 4/5

 

 

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

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

App overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio Quality

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

Song Selection (with and without Amazon Prime Music)

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

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

Why not?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Alternatives

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

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

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

Spotify – Free features, $9.99/m Premium

Spotify

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

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

Rdio – Free features, $9.99/m Premium

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

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

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

Rhapsody $4.99 or $9.99/m Premium

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

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

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

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

Pandora – Free features, $4.99 Premium

Pandora for Android

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

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

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

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

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

Name your own

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

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

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

Design & Build

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

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

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

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

Display

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

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

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

Hardware

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

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

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

Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battery

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

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

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

Camera

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 4.75/5

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