Phandroid » Reviews Android Phone News, Rumors, Reviews, Apps, Forums & More! Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:00:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Madden NFL Mobile review: the best of Ultimate Team right in your pocket Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:00:22 +0000 madden mobile

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

Graphics and Presentation

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Modes and Features

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


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

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

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


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

The Verdict

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

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

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HTC One Remix Review: when “mini” is a good thing Wed, 27 Aug 2014 15:58:24 +0000 one remix

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

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

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


HTC One Remix 2

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


HTC One sizes

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


HTC One Remix 4

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


HTC One Remix 3

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


HTC One Remix 6

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

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


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

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

20140825_115514_Android 20140825_115132_Android 20140825_100223_Android 20140824_143020_Android 20140824_133542_Android 20140823_203548_Android


HTC One Remix 8

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

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

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

Performance & Battery

remix battery chart

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

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

The Bottom Line

HTC One Remix 5

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Score: 4 out of 5

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‘Freaking Math’ is a game so easy it will drive you insane Fri, 08 Aug 2014 19:42:22 +0000

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

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

freaking math

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

Worth downloading?

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


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

Design & Build


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

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

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


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

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

Display & Hardware

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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


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

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

The Bottom Line


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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 3.5/5

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Amazon Fire Phone Review Wed, 30 Jul 2014 19:24:22 +0000 amazon-fire-phone-books

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

Build & Design

fire phone design

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

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

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

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

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


fire phone display

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

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

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


fire phone hardware

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

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

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


fire phone software

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

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

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

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


fire phone firefly

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

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

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

Dynamic Perspective

fire phone dynamic perspective

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

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

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

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


fire phone battery life

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

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


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

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

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

The Bottom Line


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

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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 2.5/5

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S review Tue, 24 Jun 2014 19:25:51 +0000 galaxy-tab-s-pair

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

Design & Build


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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Software & Multimedia


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

The Bottom Line


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

The Good

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

The Bad

  • Hardware performance can be sluggish at times

Overall: 4/5



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Amazon Prime Music Review: should you cut ties with your favorite streaming apps? Sun, 22 Jun 2014 19:56:36 +0000 prime music banner

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

App overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio Quality

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

Song Selection (with and without Amazon Prime Music)

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

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

Why not?

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Spotify – Free features, $9.99/m Premium


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

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

Rdio – Free features, $9.99/m Premium


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

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

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

Rhapsody $4.99 or $9.99/m Premium

Rhapsody banner

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

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


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

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

Pandora – Free features, $4.99 Premium

Pandora for Android

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

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

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

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

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

Name your own

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

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LG G3 Review Thu, 19 Jun 2014 17:59:04 +0000 LG-G3-Hero

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

Design & Build


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

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


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

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


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

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

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




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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line


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

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

The Good

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

The Bad

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

Overall: 4.75/5

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Huawei Ascend Mate 2 Review Thu, 12 Jun 2014 15:22:33 +0000 huawei-ascend-mate2-hero

The Huawei Ascend Mate 2 4G LTE has a name that is matched in size by its substantial frame, and as such won’t be the smartphone for everybody. The phablet brings a compliment of specs that provide plenty of power, but it doesn’t quite achieve on the same level as competing Android flagships. That’s alright — there is always a tradeoff. The Ascend Mate 2 looks all the more appealing when you consider its unlocked, off-contract pricing of $299. Read on for our full review.

Build & Design


There’s no question the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 is a big phone. The minute you pry the handset from its box you will realize this fact. And you’d expect as much considering the phone boasts a 6.1-inch display. Once you go beyond this immediate conclusion we are left with a handset that is relatively uninspired in terms of design, which is a bit of a shame. The Ascend Mate 2’s large size provides plenty of real estate for dreaming up a more intriguing look and feel, but instead we get a generic plastic rectangle that seems a simple (albeit much bigger) rehash any number of smartphones that came before it.


The Ascend Mate 2 measures in at 6.34” tall and 3.33” wide. At 0.37” thick, it’s not the thinnest smartphone on the market but remains slim all things considered. The phone weighs just a hair over 7 ounces. But you want to know how it feels in the hand, don’t you? Quite burdensome, actually. It’s hard to imagine being able to use this thing with one hand, and Huawei hasn’t made any particular efforts to specialize the design of the device for its larger form factor (e.g. incorporated stylus à la Samsung Galaxy Note).


The Ascend Mate 2 seems to be a device built around tradeoffs, and the handset’s 6.1-inch IPS+ display is perhaps the best example. While it offers plenty of screen real estate with which to take in video, games, the web, and more, it does so with a yawn-inducing 720p resolution. Don’t get me wrong: the display doesn’t look bad, but it just feels a bit underwhelming compared to the 1080p Super AMOLEDs and Quad HD displays of the world.

We noticed that the display on our review unit also reacted curiously when applying liberal pressure. The area below where the  finger makes contact with the display would often distort under more generous taps and long-presses. We haven’t seen a capacitive touch screen react in that way in quite some time, and such issues carry all the markings of sub-par materials.

It’s a shame. With a 6.1-inch display, the screen is, almost by default, the defining feature of the handset. When making a device of this size, it is imperative to deliver in this area, even if every other spec on the phone was garbage. And this sentiment reflects back on the Ascend Mate 2 as a whole. It is a device that could have been much more if only Huawei had taken advantage of its form factor.

But again, we get it. It’s a tradeoff. The display is one of the more expensive components that goes into a smartphone build, and keeping the Ascend Mate 2 priced at $300 off-contract requires skimping in some areas. We just wish it wasn’t the display that suffered.



A solid mix of hardware makes the Ascend Mate 2 workman-like, but it lacks some of the flash you might expect from a brand new Android smartphone. It uses Qualcomm’s aging Snapdragon 600 chipset to provide quad-core processing at 1.6GHz. Pair that with 2GB of RAM and you get respectable performance , but it’s not quite the productivity powerhouse you might expect from a phablet-class device. Nevertheless, the Ascend Mate 2 is well-suited for nearly anything you could throw at it, from 3D gaming to HD video. Just don’t expect the smoothest performance at all times.

The standard handset ships with 16GB of internal storage, but the phone also sports support for MicroSD cards up to 64GB. Storage is accessed via a removable back plate that provides access to both the card reader and SIM slot. While the handset will be sold unlocked by Huawei, it will only support GSM networks like T-Mobile and AT&T in the United States. Customers of CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint unfortunately will not have the option to use the Ascend Mate 2 on those networks.


While many of the Ascend Mate 2’s other hardware specs fall just shy of impressive, the battery most certainly does not. A non-removable 4050mAh battery can keep this phone going, quite literally, for days.

It has so much excessive battery power that the phone can even be used as a portable charging station for other devices. This might come in handy if you carry a secondary phone or — if you are a glutton for punishment — a tablet in addition to this already large 6.1-inch smartphone. In reality, the feature will likely get the most use showing up your friends. You will offer to charge their dying iPhones and Android devices with the caveat that they must listen to you boast about the impressive battery life of your own phone.

But if you are only concerned about keeping your own device powered, Huawei has you covered here. It would not be extraordinary to get two days (or more) of charge out of the Ascend Mate 2 with average use.



If the Ascend Mate 2 has a glaring weak spot it is its software. An Android 4.3 build is skinned with Huawei’s Emotion UI, an interface that is looking dated in comparison to Google’s latest Android guidelines. While manufacturers like LG, HTC, and even Samsung move toward a refined user experience with simple, tasteful design elements, Huawei’s take remains squarely rooted in the more bubbly, childish Android of yesteryear.

On top of an interface that lacks much visual appeal, Huawei hasn’t done much to differentiate the software of their device. They offer a few options like one-hand mode, but even these seem a bit half-baked. One-handed operation only applies to the dial pad, which is nice but ultimately a part of our phones that we interact with less and less. One might expect Huawei to take a page out of Samsung’s book and offer a one-hand mode that shrinks the entire interface down to fit on a more manageable portion of the screen. With the Ascend Mate 2 you can expect to always type with two hands.

Likewise, Huawei’s W.o.W. key is a nice floating toggle with access to quick shortcuts, but half are redundant versions of Android’s software navigation keys and there is no option to customize the functionality of this key. It was also mildly annoying that the toggle can only be snapped to the edge of the display rather than placed anywhere the user desires.

Huawei failed to cease an opportunity to provide an experience truly unique to the Ascend Mate 2 and its form factor, and the result is a device that feels like a rather pedestrian smartphone in a much larger package.



Huawei skimped in many areas on the Ascend Mate 2, but one where they did not was the camera. A 13MP sensor provided by Sony is capable of producing some pretty decent shots, although Huawei hasn’t offered much to enhance the photo experience. The camera app is straightforward, providing only a few shooting modes (including shot and sound), but pair the 13MP camera with a more advanced app from the Google Play Store and the Ascend Mate 2 remains surprisingly competitive in this space.

huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample4 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample3 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample2 huawei-ascend-mate2-camera-sample1

Perhaps more impressive than the 13MP main camera is the 5MP front-facing camera, which seems to have gotten a bit more attention from Huawei. The wide-angle lens makes quick work of selfies and even features a “groufie” mode for taking panoramic group portraits.

The Bottom Line


You want a phablet that you can own at a middle-of-the-road price without the hassles of a long-term carrier contract or monthly installment plan? You might consider the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which is now up for pre-order via

It’s an ambitious device from a manufacturer looking to make a splash in the US market, but even its makers admit that it won’t be for everyone. For us, the Ascend Mate 2 seems a bit hesitant, never pushing the boundaries of what it could really be, instead settling for a device built on compromises of cost versus performance.

The Good

  • Attractive $299 price for unlocked, off-contract model
  • Strong battery life with secondary device charging
  • Solid Sony-made 13MP camera

The Bad

  • Underwhelming 6.1-inch 720p display
  • Outdated software that doesn’t adapt to the form factor
  • Doesn’t do anything unique despite being uniquely bigger than the typical smartphone

Overall: 2.5/5

]]> 6
Une Bobine review: the smartphone charger that thinks it’s a tripod Fri, 16 May 2014 17:30:48 +0000 une-bobine

Fuse Chicken’s Une Bobine is rather unique among smartphone charging cables. Its design serves several purposes at once, offering durable construction alongside the ability for the cable to double as a tripod and phone dock all at the same time. It sounds like a potentially zany idea, but is the end result just another forgettable gadget?

The Une Bobine is a charging cable


The Une Bobine is, at it’s core (literally), a charging cable. In that respect it works exactly as expected. Available for Android (MicroUSB) and iPhone (Lightning connector), it does the job of charging a device just fine. Connect one end to your phone and the other to a USB power supply and watch as your battery level goes up, up, up.

What sets the Une Bobine apart is its design. This is perhaps the sturdiest cable you will come across. The internal charging cable is wrapped in a seemingly impenetrable flexible metal exterior. You can rest assured that dogs, cats, scissors, and any other manner of destruction will not easily befall this cable.

The downside, of course, is that this metal wrap makes for a bulky result. The Une Bobine is most definitely one of the heaviest charging cables you will encounter. It packs down to a fairly portable size, but it’s a far cry from tossing a traditional charging cable in your bag.

The Une Bobine is a tripod, too


The Une Bobine’s construction makes for an intriguing possibility. It can be bent into and retain shape, allowing for the cable to double as both a “dock” and a “tripod.” This is an intentional feature, and perhaps the most enticing aspect of the Une Bobine.

For the most part, it works as advertised, but as device’s continue to increase in size the added weight isn’t always friendly to the Une Bobine. As long as you establish a pretty firm base and create a center of balance, this is usually fine, but for larger device’s like the Galaxy S5 things can become a bit precarious. Another thing to consider is the various locations that Android manufacturers place their device’s USB ports. The Une Bobine works best with a device that features a charging point located at a central point below the display.

The Bottom Line

The Une Bobine is an intriguing concept, and at about $20 ($10 for the “petite” version) isn’t breaking the bank. For those looking for a simple solution for a tripod in combination with a durable charging cable, it might be worth a purchase. Folks may wish to hold off though. Fuse Chicken informs us that a new version of their charging cable is on the works, one that is designed to better fit the large variety of Android devices available on the market today.

The Good

  • Durable construction
  • Versatile design doubles as a dock/tripod

The Bad

  • Heavy and a bit bulky
  • Not perfect for all Android devices

Overall: 3.5/5

]]> 13
Braven BRV-X Review Wed, 07 May 2014 15:58:24 +0000 braven-brv-x-hero

Music is essential to the human experience, but the world does not always provide an ideal listening environment. Here is where the Braven BRV-X portable speaker comes into play. It provides plenty of sound in a compact build that has been ruggedized to resist the elements, insuring that the party need not stop on Mother Nature’s behalf. That’s a big promise from this small package. Does it meet our expectations?

Powerful sound

The Braven BRV-X portable Bluetooth speaker has some strong sound for its size. Bass hold its presence at almost any level and can really boom when you kick it up to higher volumes. Music is clear in the upper frequency ranges but gets a bit muddy at times. The overall sound isn’t going to blow anyone away, but the BRV-X is surprisingly musical. The speaker’s sound profile definitely suits music with a more modern, compressed, bass-heavy mix. Classic rock and older tunes can sound a bit flat.


As with most speakers of this class, the BRV-X lacks any onboard tone controls. One feature the BRV-X does boast is an indoor/outdoor switch, which, as described in the speaker’s manual, provides a sound “[boost] to carry further and louder in outdoor settings.” In reality, this switch seems to do little more then accentuate treble frequencies while attenuating the bass when switched to outdoor mode. The result is music that is indeed slightly louder than its indoor counterpart, but it can sound a bit harsh while lacking robust tone. This actually does alright in outdoor settings when the music bleeds into the background, but we’d avoid this setting when looking for a simple all-around volume boost.

Speaking of volume, we do wish the Braven BRV-X could get a bit louder. We understand the limitations of its size, but this particular speaker seems to be one of the quieter ones we have tested. Having said that, it still gets some decent volume and should be perfectly adequate as a party speaker, especially for a summer BBQ or day at the beach.

Rugged construction


While the audio experience of the Braven BRV-X is a little on the pedestrian side, this portable speaker makes up for it with its rugged construction. The BRV-X is IPX5 certified. If you recall in our discussion of the waterproof features of the Galaxy S5, this means the BRV-X carries an IP rating of 5 in regards to water resistance. The BRV-X  won’t survive complete submersion under water, but it will be fine in rain and won’t flinch from a bit of pool-side splashing.

The BRV-X is comprised mostly of plastic and rubber with a bit of metal mixed in (the speaker grill appears to be metal, at least, but we can’t say for sure). The design should be able to handle light drops and definitely will survive the rigor of being tossed in a bag and toted around.

A plastic cap covers all the sensitive ports, connections, and secondary buttons and switches when not in use (for water protection) while the main controls are featured on the four corners of the top of the device for easy access. These controls — volume up, volume down, power, and playback — can be hard to see in the dark but are located easily enough. With the four buttons numerous commands and functions can be completed.

One final touch that was appreciated was the inclusion of a tie-down/carrying strap. The strap attaches to clips on either side of the speaker and can be used to tote the device around or to secure it to another object. Water resistance + tied-down strap = we are taking this one out on the boat.

The little things that go a long way

The BRV-X’s tie-down strap is just one of the little extras that adds to the charm of Braven’s little speaker. Two other features add some allure to what otherwise might be considered a fairly average Bluetooth sound machine: NFC support and external charging.


NFC support isn’t new to speaker’s of this class, but it’s a great thing to have. Not all phones have NFC support, but, if you happen to own one that does, pairing is as simple as tapping it on the BRV-X’s NFC logo (make sure Bluetooth is turned on). It eliminates the hassle from what can sometimes be an annoying process searching for devices via the Bluetooth settings menu and pairing manually.

But, as we said, NFC is by no means a game changing feature. Perhaps external charging isn’t, either, but we were glad to have it on the BRV-X. You can attach any device that charges via a USB cable and get some added juice while you jam. Now you don’t have to worry about a dead phone killing the party. The drawback here is the fact that charging your device now drains the speaker’s battery at a faster rate. Braven has packed a fat 5200mAh battery inside to make sure there is sufficient power for both the speaker and external devices, however.

One feature that might get overlooked is the ability to pair two BRV-X speakers to create a true stereo soundscape. This is a novel concept and will take some of the strain off each individual speaker, allowing for greater clarity, volume, and dynamics. At $200 a pop, though, the money is better spent on a better stereo speaker setup. Still a clutch feature if you have a friend who also owns the BRV-X.

The BRV-X can also double as a pretty loud speakerphone and its controls can be used to answer incoming calls. Again, this feature has become pretty standard for speakers of this class so we aren’t giving Braven’s offering too many points here, but it functioned about as well as we could have hoped for.

The bottom line


If you didn’t notice the recurring theme here, the Braven BRV-X excels as an outdoor speaker providing the background music to a day on the water, a cookout, or some lounging by the pool. The BRV-X is not the centerpiece to your next raging dance party. The sound quality falls slightly short and volume begins to be an issue in noisier settings. Rugged construction and resistance to water make it a great speaker to tow along on your other adventures, however.

Is it worth the $200 Braven is asking for it? At that price, it’s worth checking out competition from Jabra, Jambox, and others just to see what you are really getting, but we’d say the Braven BRV-X is right there holding its own with the rest of the pack.

The Good

  • Rugged construction and water resistance great for outdoor use
  • NFC for easy pairing
  • Charges your phone

The Bad

  • Not as loud as we would have liked
  • Sound is a bit flat/muddy at times

Overall Score: 3.5/5

]]> 3
Samsung Gear Fit Review Tue, 22 Apr 2014 17:08:58 +0000 galaxy fit hero

The Samsung Gear Fit is part fitness tracker, part smart wearable — a device that has the potential to solve the conundrum of smartwatches that attempt to cram too many features into too small a package. With an attractive design, reasonable price point, and the backing of Samsung’s hit line of Galaxy smartphones, the Fit has all the measurables to finish first. Does its training pay off in a victory? Read on to find out.

Smartwatch design done right

We have had a lot to say about Samsung’s design choices over the past few years. Whether it be the tacky faux-leather of the Galaxy Note 3, the cheap plastic construction of the Galaxy S line, or the clunky aesthetics of the original Galaxy Gear (and to a lesser degree the new line of Gear smartwatches), Samsung has continually missed the mark when it comes to aesthetics. The Gear Fit is a rare exception to the trend.

That isn’t to say the Fit is a marvel of design and engineering. Rather, the Fit borrows from the established look and feel of previous fitness trackers like the FitBit Force, Jawbone UP and Nike FuelBand, mixing in a few tasteful elements that are pure Samsung — remember, “tasteful” is a word not typically found in Samsung’s design dictionary.


What we get is a device that through its design emphasizes its most appealing asset: a 1.84-inch curved AMOLED display. In fact, the Gear Fit represents perhaps the most appropriate use of curved touchscreen technology to date, one that marries form factor with aesthetics in a way that is more useful than the bowed displays of the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex smartphones that came before it. And, as can be expected from a Samsung AMOLED display, it looks pretty darn great with brilliant, eye-popping color and crisp detail.


The Fit’s greatest asset, however, is also one of its biggest flaws. The unique screen design, which results in an odd resolution of 432 x 128 pixels, presents issues with the way information is displayed and presented on the Fit. The standard readout, which arranges text longways across the screen, is not suited for a quick glance at the wrist while running, cycling, or performing another fitness activity. Likewise, while opting to orient text and other data vertically (done by the flick of a settings parameter) makes it easier to consume at a glance, the display was obviously not optimized for such use. This can result in some odd text wrapping or information that gets cut off at the edges of the screen.

Beyond the display, a minimalist approach also has its drawbacks in other areas. A proprietary charging cradle is necessitated by a lack of ports on the device itself. Instead, the Fit must be charged via a set of five small contact pins on its underside. Compounding the issue is battery life that is good but not great. While two to three days of use on an average charge is solid (though not as good as the battery life of competing devices such as the FitBit), if the need arises to charge the Fit on the go — perhaps while on vacation or at work — you will need to bring along the charging cradle. It’s easy to imagine this small peripheral, essential to keeping the Fit operational, becoming lost.


One nice addition to the fit is a built-in heart rate monitor. The sensor sits on the underside of the the fit and makes contact with the wearer’s wrist, reading heart rate info on command. After using the Fit, such a sensor, though finicky at times, seems like a must-have for any future fitness wearable. It’s use does require that the user stay relatively still and that the Fit maintains good contact with the skin. Better results seem to come from wearing the fit so that the heart rate monitor makes contact with the underside of the wrist.

The Fit offers a degree of water resistance, as well. While it might not be the best device to use for tracking laps in the pool, the Fit won’t sizzle out due to excessive sweat and you won’t have to worry about taking it off before hopping in the shower for a post-workout rinse.

Finally, rounding out the Gear Fit is its adjustable wristband. The rubberized band is comfortable enough and offers a decent range of sizes for the average wearer. Those with slightly thicker wrists might be out of luck, though, as the band does seem to run a bit on the small side of things. The band is easily removable to wash off sweat or swap out for any number of colored options from Samsung.

Fitness tracking that needs to shape up


For a device with the word “fit” in its name, fitness tracking isn’t always the strong suit of the Samsung Gear Fit. Users are presented with three basic options for tracking health and fitness related activities: Pedometer, Exercise, and Sleep. As the names suggest, Pedometer tracks a user’s daily steps, Exercise provides tracking for specific activities like running, cycling, or hiking, and Sleep gathers information related to a user’s sleep patterns. Additionally users have access to a timer and stopwatch, but we’ll focus here on the modes geared toward tracking specific health and fitness data.

The pedometer does a decent job of tracking steps taken throughout the day, though it is not always the most accurate. A daily goal can be set that will congratulate the wearer when they reach a certain number of predefined steps over the course of the day. If there is a drawback to the Fit’s functionality as a pedometer it is the fact that the users must start and stop step tracking manually. The Fit will not automatically track this data as will other fitness trackers.

Likewise, users must do the same for tracking their sleep. Whereas some competing trackers will enter sleep mode automatically when they sense a user has settled down for the night, the Fit requires its wearer to manually start and stop sleep tracking. Seeing as tracking sleep cycles is probably one of the farthest things from most individual’s minds just before falling asleep and after waking, it leaves something to be desired.

As for tracking exercise, the Fit offers modes for walking, running, cycling, and hiking. Each activity provides feedback for more or less the same parameters, which include distance traveled, speed, and heart rate if selected. Once an activity is finished this data will further be crunched to provide more information like average and max speed. In Running mode, the Fit can provide coaching feedback based on heart rate. While this is more information than most basic fitness trackers provide, the modes still seem fairly limited overall.

One thinks back to Motorola’s MOTOACTV, released in 2011, and sees little advantage over  what that since-dsinctonued fitness watch offered three years ago. In fact, that Motorola device included ANT+ support for connecting a variety of sensor peripherals (from heart rate monitors to step counters to cycling cadence meters) that would further add to collected data. The Gear Fit lacks support for ANT+ devices and any of the more robust fitness tracking that comes along with them.


The data collected by the Gear Fit can be fed into Samsung’s S Health app on a connected Galaxy device, but it won’t offer much insight beyond what can be culled from the Fit itself. You get the same information arranged in a more visually appealing manner, but don’t expect the detailed analysis offered by Fitbit’s software and others. This makes it even more perplexing that the Fit cannot be used as a standalone device; it must be connected to a Galaxy handset during initial startup. S Health does offer some additional benefits, such as the tracking of nutrition and diet information entered by the used, and the hope is that Samsung will continue to refine and build on the experience.

The not-so-perfect smartphone companion?

The Gear Fit’s ability to sync with Galaxy smartphones elevates it from simple fitness tracker into the realm of the smartwatch, but here again the experience seems shortsighted. The fit is more a glorified notification ticker than anything else, but it’s hard to say whether this fact — at least as a concept — is necessarily good or bad.


The tendency among smartwatch makers is to try to make a device limited by form do too much. With the Fit, Samsung has stripped back functionality to the bare minimum. You get alerts for missed calls, incoming texts, Facebook likes, and more, but the degree of interaction is relegated to the ability to read a message or other basic information related to a notification. After receiving an alert, there is little a user can do beyond dismissing it.

For the Fit’s design this makes sense. It would be near impossible to type a response to a text; including a microphone, speaker, or headset jack would complicate the device’s simple build. But even in representing notifications in their most basic form the Fit falters, again in no small part thanks to the dimensions of its display. When arranged horizontally information is hard to access at a glance. When arranged vertically text is wrapped in an odd manner.

Beyond this, the Fit offers two other ways to interface with your smartphone. The first is Find My Device, which will trigger the ringer of a lost phone to help the user locate it. The second is Media Controller, which offers playback controls for media stored on a Galaxy device. The crux to this, of course, is the fact that you will still need to carry that Galaxy device in order to enjoy this experience. This isn’t always ideal when taking a run or doing other strenuous fitness activities.

Samsung Gear Fit — The Bottom Line

The Samsung Gear Fit offers a simplified fitness tracker/smartwatch experience that manages to under-deliver without over-promising. By attempting to cram smartwatch functionality into a basic fitness tracker, and, as a result, neither aspect flourishes. In a rare instance for Samsung these days, design is actually the one area where the Gear Fit gets things right with a nice (if at times hampered by its dimensions) curved AMOLED display and solid build.

Should you buy it? For its price of $199, Samsung gives few compelling reasons to choose their device over cheaper alternatives from FitBit, Jawbone, and others that offer more or less the same fitness tracking capabilities. Even if a user wants the device for its direct integration with Galaxy smartphones, the more advanced Gear 2 Neo can be had for the same price.

The Good:

  • Clean, attractive design
  • Sharp and colorful curved AMOLED display
  • Heart rate sensor is a nice addition

The Bad:

  • Display orientation is not ideal
  • Fitness tracking is limited, at times inaccurate
  • No ANT+
  • Smartphone integration leaves something to be desired
  • Better options exist for the same price or cheaper

Overall: 2.5/5

]]> 8
Oppo Find 7a Review Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:04:39 +0000 Oppo-Find-7a-Front

When it comes to Android devices, Oppo generally isn’t a household name, but that doesn’t mean you should look the other way either. The Chinese company’s previous offerings, the Find 5 and N1, were high quality devices that packed just the right amount of innovation. This time around, Oppo is releasing two variants of their next flagship phone: the Find 7 and Find 7a. The Find 7 is the premium version with a little more juice in the specs department and the Find 7a is the standard version. While many Android fans will opt for the Find 7 because it has bigger numbers (and a higher price) the Find 7a isn’t something you want to overlook and it’s the closest phone to the upcoming beast of a device that will be released in the future. Oppo’s latest flagship smartphone, the Find 7a – the younger brother of the upcoming Find 7, does follow Oppo’s previous track record, bringing impeccable hardware, incredible design, and just the right amount of innovation to make any smartphone fan salivate.

Hardware: Impeccable hardware and an amazing camera.

When you first look at the Find 7a you’ll notice the device has plenty of screen real estate at 5.5 inches. The IPS display with Gorilla Glass 3 sports 1080P full HD at 1920 x 1080 resolution with 403 pixels per inch. According to Oppo, the display on the Find 7a was designed to work flawlessly with small amounts of water droplets or with gloves. I tried various styles of knit gloves and was not successful, maybe leather gloves would produce better results. As for water droplets, the screen did function as intended with wet fingers. While using the Find 7a outside in the Spring sunlight I was able to see the screen in direct sunlight for the most part, after all, the Find 7a uses an IPS display with a high amount of brightness.


Below the screen you’ll see that Oppo opted to use hardware capacitive keys. While some Android users prefer hardware keys over software keys, sadly Oppo opted to use Android’s ancient Menu key instead of the more modern Recents navigation key. The Find 7a also takes an untraditional approach again by placing the Back button on the right side. While I may not be a fan of hardware keys, all isn’t doom and gloom though. The Find 7a allows users to tweak the key settings slightly by opting to turn them on for 6 seconds after the phone is touched, completely disable the key lights altogether, or to keep the keys lit the entire time the phone is in use.

Right below those hardware keys you’ll find the Skyline Notification system. This LED notification is by far one of the best implementations of a pulsing notification light I’ve seen to date. It’s quite aesthetically pleasing and very easy to be seen, ensuring you’ll never miss a notification. This LED also can be configured to turn on when charging with the screen off or when the battery is below 10%.

Oppo Find 7a

Oppo’s Find 7a ships with a 2800 mAh battery under the removable back cover, which can be easily accessed via a small access button on the lower right side. Under the rear hood you’ll be able to expand your storage up to 128GB, slap in your SIM card of choice, and swap batteries if the need would ever arise. Speaking of batteries, the Find 7a comes with VOOC Rapid Charge technology. This allows for 4x charging over conventional chargers. Oppo says that a 5 minute charge will allow you to make a 2 hour phone call. While I never talk on my mobile computer that long, I was able to back up their claims of a 75% charge in just 30 minutes.

Oppo Find 7a

As for battery life, I was able to get through most of the day with 2-3 hours of screen on time depending on my usage. I thought I would get a bit more usage out of my battery, however I’ve been using non-finalized software builds. Oppo has assured me that fixes are along the way and planned prior to launch. That said, if battery doesn’t last as long as you’d like, VOOC Rapid Charging does help. The Find 7a doesn’t have the best battery life when compared to other flagships, but it certainly doesn’t have the worst either.

Unlike the Oppo N1, the speaker on the Find 7a is situated on the back of the phone and raised slightly but a little nub or nipple. The Find 7a’s speaker is very loud, allowing me to fill a quiet room or car with just the speaker. This is in part thanks to MaxxAudio sound enhancement technology by Waves.

The Camera of the Find 7a is simply stunning.

The camera on the Find 7a is, in my opinion, the best damn camera I’ve used to date. The Find 7a has a 13-megapixel Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor on the rear and the front shooter is a 5-megapixel camera with an 80 degree wide angle sensor. Both cameras have aperture of f/2.0 which allows for more light in low light conditions. The included Sony sensor allows for absolutely gorgeous photos whether that be at night in low light conditions, using a 32 second long exposure shot, creating vibrant HDR photos, using “Super Zoom” to create a 50 megapixel gargantuan image, shooting stunning 4K video, or creating a slow motion video.

“Super Zoom” or Ultra HD photos are captured at 50 megapixel as mentioned above. This is accomplished by taking 10 photos back to back all with the press of a button. The phones camera software then automatically combines them into a 50 megapixel photo with stunning quality, perfect for prints. The whole process takes about 2 seconds.

The only problem you’ll come across is deciding on which type of photo you want to take. If you like HDR and want very vibrant photos, an HDR image will run you an extra second to process, but it’s worth the wait. If you don’t like HDR and just want a high quality photo, then load up Ultra HD mode and have at it. If time is of the essence, then normal mode will still get the job done nicely. In many of the photos shown below I’ve included Ultra HD, HDR, and Normal modes of the same shot.

Normal HDR HD Normal HDR HD Normal HDR Normal HDR HD Normal HDR Normal HDR HD Normal HDR HD Normal HDR Normal HDR Normal HDR Normal HDR Normal HDR Normal HDR IMG20140419120702 IMG20140419172545 IMG20140419181225 IMG20140419120902 IMG20140419120600 IMG20140419120551 IMG20140419120624 IMG20140413162232 IMG20140417120248 IMG20140415222244 IMG20140412182334 Low light Low light

Besides being able to snap gorgeous photos, the Find 7a can shoot high quality 4K video and 720p slow motion video. If you have a 4K TV or monitor, you’ll have to let me know how the 4K test looks. As for the slow motion video, I assure you the train is moving along at a much faster speed than it looks.

The Oppo Find 7a looks great and feels great.

The Find 7a is a big phone. There’s not denying it. Coming from a Moto X, I thought it would be a bit hard to get used to the massive size. Oppo did a great job designing this phone as it feels much smaller than it is. The Find 7a clocks in at 152.6 × 75 × 9.2 mm and weighs just 170 grams.

The phone is extremely well balanced and surprising thin. The Find 7a feels very solid and screams quality, thanks to the devices metal frame and all glass front. Due to the size of the Find 7a, I thought it would be hard to use one handed. That’s not the case here with the Find 7a. This phone isn’t difficult to use and the power button and volume rocker are placed just right, lining up perfectly in my hand. The Find 7a doesn’t feel like a 5.5 inch phone.

The back of the Find 7a is very smooth and feels nice in your hand, no faux leather or slippery surface here. I was able to easily hold onto this phone while snapping photos, shooting video, and of course normal day to day use.

Oppo Find 7a full hardware specs.

  • Color White, Midnight
  • Dimensions 152.6 × 75 × 9.2 mm
  • Weight 170 g
  • Operating system ColorOS, based on Android 4.3
  • Processor 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad Core
  • GPU Adreno 330
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Storage 16 GB (expandable up to 128GB microSD card)
  • 2800 mAh Li-Po battery with Rapid Charge
  • Size 5.5-inch
  • Resolution 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), 403 PPI
  • Type IPS panel by JDI, 1000:1 contrast ratio
  • Main Sensor 13-megapixel Sony Exmor IMX214 BSI sensor
  • Front Sensor 5-megapixel front-facing 80 degree wide angle sensor
  • Flash f/2.0 for both cameras
  • 4K video @ 30 fps, 1080p video @ 60 fps, 720p slow motion video @120 fps
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 5G Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • Wi-Fi Display
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • International Connectivity:
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • WCDMA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz
  • FDD-LTE: Bands B1/3/7/20
  • TD-LTE: Band B40
  • Mexico & US Connectivity:
  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz
  • FDD-LTE: Bands B1/4/17

Software: ColorOS is great for customization.

The Find 7a rocks a highly customized version of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean which Oppo calls ColorOS. We’ve seen ColorOS before on the Find 5 and during our review of the Oppo N1. Seeing as Android 4.4 KitKat has been out since last fall, it’s a little disappointing to see a flagship device of this caliber launch with last year’s Android version.


However, ColorOS is quite unique compared to other UI’s from other OEM’s. If Oppo’s custom UI doesn’t work for you or just doesn’t feel right, ColorOS comes with a built in theme application allowing you to customize your lock screen style, launcher, and icons. Plenty of free themes are included, allowing you to easily download one to your liking. Me, I eventually chose the Jelly Bean theme as I like a more simple approach to Android UI’s. It’s worth mentioning that themes won’t modify the settings application of ColorOS, won’t change the notification area, and themes won’t modify any ColorOS stock apps like Phone, Messaging, Calendar, Contacts, etc.


A lot of the nifty features of ColorOS revolve around included gestures or unique ways to interact with the Find 7a. For example, you can double tap the screen to turn on the phone or you can double tap the home button to put the device to sleep. No need for a power button here.

Swiping down from the top right or down from a vacant area of the home screen brings down the notification shade, which includes every type of quick setting or toggle that you could ever need. You can also swipe up on a vacant area of your home screen to customize your home screen with widgets, wallpapers, themes, etc.


Swiping down from the far left side brings down the custom gesture panel, where you can create and use your own gestures for opening various apps or performing minor tasks such as launching the camera, controlling the volume, taking a screenshot, you can launch the flashlight, and much more. If you’re not a fan of gestures or accidentally invoke the gesture panel, you can easily disable it with a toggle switch.


Coming from the Moto X, I was happy, and quite surprised to see the Oppo Find 7a support an always on listening microphone, allowing me to launch Google Now from anywhere, even if the screen is turned off. This should come as no surprise, seeing as the Find 7a’s 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad Core (MSM8974AB) processor fully supports this functionality. It seems Oppo didn’t customize the default wake command though. To wake up your Find 7a, you’ll have to say “Hey, Snapdragon”. While it’s not trainable like the Moto X, only answering to your voice, I was able to launch Google Now every time by speaking the hotword / phrase.

ColorOS apps – Guest Mode, Holiday Mode, Data Saving, privacy and security.

As I mentioned about when talking about hardware, the camera is on of the most oustanding features of this Android phone. Seeing as the hardware is top of the line, the camera software doesn’t disappoint either. The Find 7a’s camera sports many features you’d like to find in a flaghship phone and a few surprises. You can shoot videos and photos in HDR, various scene modes, make animated gifs, capture slow motion video, and of course use Oppo’s famous beautify mode, which allows you to auto touch up your shots.

Guest Mode can be configured to hide private contacts, photos, videos, and even hide applications from other users. Unlike other guest modes or multi-user implementations, Guest Mode on the Oppo Find 7a is activated by simply unlocking the phone with the guest password or guest pattern. If the secondary guest method is used to unlock the phone, guest mode is immediately activated. To exit, you simply lock the phone and unlock with the owner method and you’re good to go. Those of you with little rugrats running around your house will find this very useful. How many times has your little loved one accidentally called, texted, or got into something they shouldn’t? It happens. Guest Mode makes those accidents a thing of the past.

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

And speaking of privacy, ColorOS sports a Permission Monitor app that allows you to view all of the application you have installed, grouping them by the permissions they need. For example: you can see which applications have access to NFC or can send SMS messages. ColorOS also comes with a call blocking application, Block, that does exactly what it sounds like.

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

The Find 7a also comes with a Data Saving application which is essentially a firewall and resource control tool, allowing you to pick and choose which apps can consume network data and CPU while running in the background. If you’re on a small, limited data plan, this could come in handy.

If you’re just not a fan of ColorOS, but love every other aspect of the device from camera to hardware keys to overall build quality and you’re okay with running a custom ROM, in the past Oppo devices have been very developer friendly. I’m sure in the coming week’s well see ROMs from Omni, CyanogenMod, and probably more for the Find 7a.

Conclusion: 4.5/5

The latest from Oppo continues to show that this Chinese company needs more global recognition as one of Android’s top hardware manufactuers. Their devices are of utmost quality in both design and performance, providing a very pleasurable experience. I’m going to give the Oppo Find 7a a 4.5 out of 5 possible points. I’m deducting half a point for launching a flagship device with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean when KitKat has been available for over 6 months. Personaly, I’d deduct another half a point for using hardware keys and the menu button, but Oppo isn’t the only Android OEM that does this travesty, so I’ll let it slide. The Oppo Find 7a has a gorgeous screen and as you can see from the photos above, takes immaculate photos and video. I’ll overlook the Find 7a’s minor flaws and I’ll be putting my Moto X back on the nightstand for a bit longer while I continue to use the Find 7a. The hardware is worth it.

Oppo Find 7a

You can pre-order the Oppo Find 7a from for $499 today.

Have questions about my new favorite Android phone? Ask away in the comments.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:43:07 +0000 So you’ve read both our HTC One M8 Review and our Samsung Galaxy S5 Review and you still can’t decide which to get. Welcome to the universe… you’re not alone. They’re both great phones – best on the market, even – but neither are perfect. Read on as we pit them head to head in several categories before giving you the verdict on which to call your own.

Design & Hardware

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

Hardware: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

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

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

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

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


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

Screen: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

From a spec standpoint their displays are nearly identical:

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

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

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

Software & Experience

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

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

Software: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

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

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

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

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


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

Camera: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

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

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

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

Taken with Galaxy S5
Taken with HTC One M8

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

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

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


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

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

Multimedia: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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


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

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

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

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


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

Performance: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Waterproof: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8

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

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


A tie? Blasphemy!

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


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

The Bottomline

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

Should you get the Galaxy S5 or HTC One M8?

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 vs HTC One M8 Specs

Which would YOU choose?

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Samsung Galaxy S5 Review Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:16:56 +0000 Samsung’s flagship line of Galaxy smartphones has enjoyed a level of success paralleled only by Apple’s iPhone, and the latest of these devices – the Samsung Galaxy S5 – just launched.

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

Galaxy S5 Hardware & Design

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

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

Galaxy S5 Battery Cover

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

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

Samsung Galaxy S5 Screen

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

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 Battery

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

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

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

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

Weatherproofing and Water Resistance

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

Galaxy S5 in Toilet

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

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

Close S5 Battery Case Completely

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

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

Finger Sensor

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

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

Galaxy S5 Fingerprint Reader

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

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

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

Heart Rate Monitor and S Health

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

Galaxy S5 Heart Rate Monitor

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

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 Software

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

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

Galaxy S5 Home Screen vs App Drawer

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

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

My Magazine

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

Galaxy S5 My Magazine

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

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

Settings & Features Overload

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

Galaxy S5 Quick Settings

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

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

Samsung Android Inception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 Camera

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

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

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

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


Samsung prioritizes three specific camera toggles:

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


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

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


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

selectivefocusall Selectivefocusclose.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 Performance & Battery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 Audio & Call Quality

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

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

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

Galaxy S5 – The Bottom Line

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

Galaxy S5

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

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

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

The Good:

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

The Bad:

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

Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5

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