Phandroid » Reviews http://phandroid.com Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Fri, 29 May 2015 20:02:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 ‘Does not Commute’ is a traffic game with a time-traveling twist [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/05/25/does-not-commute-android-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/05/25/does-not-commute-android-review/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 16:00:37 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=165471 DoesNotCommute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

Display

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

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

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

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

Hardware and Performance

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

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

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

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

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

Camera

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

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

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

Software

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

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

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

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

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

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Battery

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

The Bottom Line: 4/5

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

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

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

EDGE SCREEN

How it looks (Verdict: Stunning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it feels (Verdict: Awkward)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDGE SOFTWARE

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

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

Edge lighting (Verdict: Useless)

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge lighting

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

People edge (Verdict: Helpful)

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People edge

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

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

Information stream (Verdict: Somewhat handy)

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Information stream 1

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

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

Night Clock (Verdict: More harm than good)

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge screen night clock

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

Is the S6 Edge worth spending $100 extra dollars?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

Rating: 4.6 out of 5

Additional Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TYLT-VU-Charger-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design / Build quality

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs iPhone 6 DSC09238

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

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

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09389

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware

Display

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

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

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

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

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

Edge screen

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

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

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

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

Performance

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

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

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

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

Fingerprint scanner

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

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

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

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

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

Storage

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

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

Battery life

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

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

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

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

Adaptive Fast Charging

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

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

Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging / Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0

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

Battery saving software

Samsung Galaxy S6 Ultra Power saving mode

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

Power saving mode

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

Ultra Power saving mode

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

Emergency mode

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

Wireless charging

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

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

Camera

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

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 camera modes

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

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

Sample photos

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

Other hardware

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

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

Software

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09342

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

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

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 customize home screen folders

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 bloatware

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

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

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

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

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

Themes

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09300

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Themes

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

Edge screen software

DSC09310

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge People edge

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

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Lighting DSC09196

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

What’s missing?

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09335

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

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

Bottom line

Samsung Galaxy S6 DSC09285

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

Rating: 4.9 out of 5

After you buy…

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

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

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

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

Hardware & Design

LG G Flex 2 (7)

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

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

LG G Flex 2 (9)

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

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

  gflex2LG G Flex 2 Specs

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

Display

LG G Flex 2 (8)

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

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

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

Software

LG G Flex 2 (5)

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

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

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

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

Camera

LG G Flex 2 (3)

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

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

Check out the camera samples below:

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

Conclusion

DSC01934

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

The Bottom Line: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Echo Hardware

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

Amazon_Echo_Bottom_Logo

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

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

Amazon_Echo_Remote

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

Getting started with Amazon Echo

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

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

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

Now you’re ready to start working with Alexa.

Comparing Amazon Echo to the Google App

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

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

Living with Amazon Echo: Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design and Build

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

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

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

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

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

Hardware

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

HTC One M9 Specs

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

Display

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

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

Performance

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

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

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

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

AnTuTu 3DMark Ice Storm GeekBench
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BoomSound speakers

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

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

Software

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

Sense 7.0

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

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

HTC Themes

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

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

Sense Home

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

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

HTC BlinkFeed

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

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

Camera

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

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

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

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

Battery

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

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

Conclusion

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

The Bottom Line: 4.25/5

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HTC One M9 Reviews [ROUNDUP] http://phandroid.com/2015/03/24/htc-one-m9-reviews/ http://phandroid.com/2015/03/24/htc-one-m9-reviews/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 15:19:51 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=161923 HTC One M9 DSC08393

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

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

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

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

Gizmodo:

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

Anandtech:

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

Phone Arena (8.3/10):

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

ZDNet (9.5/10):

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

PocketNow (8.7/10):

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

Trusted Reviews:

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

Pocket-Lint (4/5):

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

TechnoBuffalo (7/10):

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

GSMArena:

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

Slash Gear:

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

CNet (8/10):

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

BGR:

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

Forbes:

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

Tech Radar:

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

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

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Palabre might be the most beautiful Material RSS/Feedly reader [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/02/24/palabre-might-be-the-most-beautiful-material-rssfeedly-reader-video/ http://phandroid.com/2015/02/24/palabre-might-be-the-most-beautiful-material-rssfeedly-reader-video/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 20:47:02 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=160065 palabre2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘94%’ is all about finding the most popular answers to simple questions [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/02/23/94-percent-android-game-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/02/23/94-percent-android-game-review/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:53:54 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=160008

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

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

94 screens

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

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

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

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‘Orcs’ is a really weird game, and we can’t stop playing [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/02/20/orcs-for-android-is-stupid-fun/ http://phandroid.com/2015/02/20/orcs-for-android-is-stupid-fun/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:02:01 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=159714

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

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

Orcs screens

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

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

orc gif

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

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

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Amazon Echo first thoughts: Alexa out Google’s the Google app by delivering faster and less robotic results http://phandroid.com/2015/02/13/amazon-echo-faster-than-google-less-robotic/ http://phandroid.com/2015/02/13/amazon-echo-faster-than-google-less-robotic/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 17:36:07 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=159289 Amazon_Echo_Front_Blue

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon_Echo_Bottom_Logo

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

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

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

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

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OrderUp’s Android update seamlessly satisfies hunger [VIDEO] http://phandroid.com/2015/02/09/orderup-android-app-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/02/09/orderup-android-app-review/#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 21:29:04 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=158886 orderup

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

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

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

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

orderup

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

Download OrderUp at Google Play

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

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

OrderUp’s current roster of supported cities includes:

  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Irvine, CA
  • San Diego, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • Boulder, CO
  • Denver, CO
  • Northern, CO
  • Northwest Atlanta, GA
  • Iowa City, IA
  • Boise, ID
  • Naperville, IL
  • Bloomington, IN
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • West Lafayette, IN
  • Lawrence, KS
  • Manhattan, KS
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Towson, MD
  • Columbia, MO
  • Fayetteville, NC
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Gloucester County, NJ
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Columbus, OH
  • Norman, OK
  • Eugene, OR
  • State College, PA
  • West Chester, PA
  • Nashville, TN
  • Katy, TX
  • Sugar Land, TX
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Norfolk, VA
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • Williamsburg, VA
  • Morgantown, WV
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Oppo R5 Review, the world’s thinnest phone http://phandroid.com/2015/01/18/oppo-r5-review/ http://phandroid.com/2015/01/18/oppo-r5-review/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:30:12 +0000 http://phandroid.com/?p=157017 Oppo_R5_Rear

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

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

Oppo R5 Specifications

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

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

Oppo_R5_Wallet_Case_Rear

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

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

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

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

Oppo_R5_Top_View

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

Oppo_R5_Buttons

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

Oppo_R5_Front_Case_Window 

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

Oppo_R5_Side_View2

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

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

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

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

Oppo_R5_Bottom_USB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oppo_R5_Case_Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oppo_R5_Side_View

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

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