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Posts tagged ‘Reviews’

1
Jul

Pebble Time review


Once the pioneer of the smart wearable, Pebble has managed to find continued and impressive success in the face of ever-growing competition in this market from Google, Apple, Samsung and others. The company is back again with their latest smartwatch offering that, despite what the competition is doing, doesn’t divert too far from Pebble’s traditional path, which is something that consumers don’t seem to mind, if their hugely successful Kickstarter campaign is any indication. So is the latest Pebble

So is the latest Pebble smartwatch deserving of a place on your wrist? We find out in this comprehensive Pebble Time review.

Design

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The most important feature of the Pebble Time is the update to the design, and though this is the original edition that is made of hard plastic materials, a Steel version with the same general aesthetic will soon be on its way to Kickstarter backers as well. In a stark contrast from the taller overall design of the original Pebble, the face of the Pebble Time is more symmetrical and looks quite a bit like a very tiny old-school TV on the wrist. Contributing to the rather wide body of the watch is a significant bezel around the display, that adds further distance from the edges of the screen to the edges of the watch itself.

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The sides of the body house the button layout, with the selection button flanked by the up and down navigation keys on the right, with a back button towards the top on the left side. A water resistant microphone is just below the buttons on the right, that can be used for any voice input. The buttons start off squishy, but end with a strong click at the end, and feel pretty sturdy all around. The availability and usage of the buttons is one of the main differences between Pebble devices and the other smartwatches out there, with Pebble still favoring this implementation over complete touchscreen control.

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For those who like to customize their watch, the usual 22 mm prongs are available at the top and bottom, which should allow users to replace the included strap with any of their own choice. That said, the fact that they tend to stick out quite a bit makes it difficult to find a replacement watch strap that doesn’t end up looking a bit weird. Cuts in the strap will tend to stick out, and don’t fill the blank space between the body and the watch enough to look stylish. The back of the Pebble Time houses the charging and expansion port, through which we will hopefully see smartstraps become a reality. Underneath the port is a clear indication that this particular version is a Kickstarter edition of the watch, with a big “Kickstarter Backer” label as a reminder that I was an early adopter.

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Design has been one of the most polarizing aspects of the Pebble Time, and it is somewhat obvious as to why. While this watch is quite the departure from what the original Pebble looked like, it is also quite far from a traditional timepiece, something that other smartwatch makers have been at least attempting to achieve. Despite the usage of the word watch, it is perfectly alright for some smartwatches to feature a unique aesthetic, which the Pebble Time does, and what it does well is present the screen with enough room around it to express itself, in a simple and elegant way.

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With just enough space for the buttons to be of a comfortable size, the Pebble Time isn’t particularly thick, and is quite light on the wrist as well. It is so light, in fact, that you might actually forget you are wearing the device throughout the day. The search for a better watch strap might prove to be a bit of a nuisance, but the original band available helps keep it inconspicuous at first glance, though the device itself will lead to some curiosity on the double take.

Display

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The Pebble Time brings with it an upgrade to the e-paper display, which now provides color, resulting in a new level of character being added to the applications in the Pebble ecosystem. The colors are really muted however, but this isn’t unexpected, given the nature of this display. Though the colors allow for an easy distinction among different elements, you certainly won’t be amazed by this enhancement the way you might by the color displays featured on Android Wear devices and other competitors.

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What the Pebble Time does bring forward from its predecessor is with regards to visibility, with a mostly positive effect. In broad daylight, it is really easy to see what is on the screen, and in well-lit scenarios it is a treat to have this always-on display when compared to some of the competition — which have displays that must first be triggered on before they will display. Where the display falls short though is in lower light situations, with the backlight not having been engineered to its best potential.

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Though bright enough for easy viewing, a hard flick of the wrist is needed to trigger it, and apart from the fact that the movement is quite jarring, it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. When it does work, the backlight stays on for only a short amount of time, which can become very frustrating. While there is a third-party app available in the store that helps remedy this issue, it is a shame that this kind of functionality isn’t better implemented out of the box. Hopefully, a substantial firmware update in the future will help make the backlight better.

Performance

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When it comes to performance, the Pebble Time performs as well as its predecessor, which is a very good thing, even if speed and snappiness aren’t too difficult to come by when applications are given a simple, but effective, platform to work on. Under the hood, an updated ARM Cortex processor is accompanied by a larger amount of storage, allowing for a bump in the number of apps you can have installed from 8 to as many as 50 this time around. Getting through a large app list may prove too annoying though, but that is about all that will slow down Pebble Time users.

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Animations when transitioning between screens don’t take too long to finish, but does keep tasks from feeling instantaneous like before. This short loading time is easy to forgive though, as these animations to add some character to the overall experience. The only real slowdown is with the new Pebble Time application for Android, which still takes some time to load lists of apps and watch faces. Once you find what you are looking for however, adding it to the watch requires a very short transfer time.

Hardware

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On the hardware side of things, some new additions help add to the overall experience and usability, bringing it up to the mark with what you’d expect from a current generation smartwatch. To start with, the Pebble Time comes with resistance to dust and water and a Gorilla Glass 3 panel to protect the display and help keep it scratch-free.

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The big enhancement in its capabilities is in voice. The microphone nestled below the right buttons does require Android Wear to be installed though, allowing the Pebble Time to take advantage of Wear’s API for voice input. While it can’t be triggered at any point to perform a search on Google, it does provide the useful opportunity to respond to messages using your voice, which works about just as well as it would on any Android Wear device.

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Another highlight of the original Pebble was battery life, and it’s great to see that feature carry over to the Pebble Time as well. Not a lot of devices that claim to offer incredible battery life live up to that claim, but that is certainly not the case here. The Pebble Time can comfortably last close a full week of usage, which includes a lot of vibrations and backlight usage throughout the day. The cherry on top is the fact that the charging time is also short, and just an hour of having the device tethered to the magnetic cable is enough to get the device back to a full charge. The fact that it doesn’t need to be removed and placed on a dock every night is great, and even when it does need to be, it wouldn’t have to be off the wrist for very long.

Software

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When it comes to the software side of things, the underlying foundation of the Pebble Time is exactly the same as the original. All the applications installed using the Android app are transferred over to the watch, with now up to 50 apps allowed to be installed, compared to the 8 with its predecessor.

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Not all the applications have been updated for the color screen or for the new Timeline feature, but all of them can still be installed and used, and will simply be presented in their original monochrome iterations. Of course, notifications remain a key part of this platform, as any notification you get on your phone from any and all applications appear in previews on the watch, making it very easy to decide whether you actually need to reach for your phone. Notification handling is definitely the main point of a smartwatch, and is one of those features that you must feel for yourself to really the huge advantage it offers.

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The biggest addition to the way the Pebble Time software feels is the Timeline, which is an agenda-based UI that can be triggered by going up or down from the main watch face. You can see what is coming up on your schedule, see what you might have missed recently, and also whether you’re approaching sunrise or sunset. The overall functionality is being expanded all the time as well, and there is already an app that can create a custom Timeline entry for a simple reminder. This is a fantastic feature for anyone that is wholly dependent on their calendar, and as mentioned, this will only continue to get better with more apps adding information like sports scores and travel times.

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What makes the new Pebble firmware standout is its character, and that is exactly what colors and new animations bring. Initially, the extra time needed to even show these quirky animations felt like time lost, but it really doesn’t matter once you get used to them. Once the task is triggered via a button press, you are likely not going to stick around to watch them all happen anyway. If you do, however, you’ll see a charming and quirky animation that will bring a smile to your face, like a star that tells you that you’re all set, or an ostrich digging its head into the ground when notifications are muted.

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Apple’s watch OS features an elegant but ultimately predictable look and feel, and Google’s OS offers a somewhat sterile information based system, but what the Pebble Time brings to the table is a different kind of take, and one that isn’t afraid to look a little goofy while still getting the job done admirably. It speaks to what kind of community the Pebble team knows it has, and makes the Pebble Time a platform for the company to be clear on what makes it different from the rest, which is the way it expresses itself. All in all, the software might get a couple new abilities and some color, but what gives the Pebble such a loyal following is how unique it is, inside and out.

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Pricing and Final Thoughts

Though I pledged $179 on the Kickstarter, the Pebble Time is available for pre-order and will come to Best Buy stores by the end of July with a price tag of $199.

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So there you have it for this in-depth look at the Pebble Time! $199 might seem like a lot, considering there are some high quality Android Wear watches coming down in cost. Even the original Pebble watches are easy to find in retail stores for $99, which sounds like quite a steal these days for a full featured smartwatch. That said, for anyone that already supported Pebble before, the pledge price, and perhaps even this retail price, makes perfect sense, because the Pebble ecosystem makes more sense to them than the competition, and I think I fall in that category.

If you are looking to be convinced, there is a lot going in favor of the Pebble Time when you consider some of the pitfalls associated with almost any other smartwatch out there. Touchscreens can be fidgety, where tactile input is very reliable. Battery life on full LCD screens don’t go much further than 2 days, let alone 7. Finally, while Apple and Google stick to their guns in terms of look, feel, and also compatibility, the Pebble is functional across both platforms and gets tasks done just as well, while not taking itself too seriously. Smartwatches are still on the bubble between need and want, but among the smart wearables I have, it doesn’t take much time for me to decide which one I prefer on the daily.

1
Jul

Evo Check Case for the HTC one M9


The return on investment for smartphone cases is pretty high. Most offer pretty good protection at the fraction of the cost of a deductible or a brand new device. My Nexus 6 has been saved quite a few times. For good reason too; I live on that device. When someone’s daily driver becomes unusable it means that they are less productive. This can quickly translate into actual dollars lost.  Nobody wants this. Besides the obvious financial implications, people seem think cases are just a good idea. They have been known to add aesthetically pleasing experiences to some devices that are just too bland for some users.  Some people use cases for advertising their experience outwardly to the world.

With the new crop of Android flagships, this paradigm does not seem to be shifting. Cases are here to stay. Recently I was sent the Evo Check Case for the HTC One (M9) to review. This case by Tech21 is really great. Its elegant design lends itself to offer loads of protection without adding a lot of bulk. The M9 isn’t a really thick phone to begin with, but some cases on the market tend to add a little more heft than needed. I feel this is due to the M9’s aluminum casing and carrier varied colors. The variant of the M9 I used for testing was the rose gold model from T-Mobile. Tech21 says this case “is the next step in the evolution of Impactology and intelligent impact protection.” The case is really light and gives full access to the ports, buttons, microphones, and RF sensor. This case also comes with a small bezel to keep the phone face off flat surfaces.

The armband I use for running doesn’t take the phone and the case together. This isn’t really an issue as the Evo Check is easy to remove and install. Tech21 has done a great job with the aesthetics of this case as well. It has a great balance of sleekness and grip. It doesn’t feel like it will slip out when in my hand. Another great touch is that the volume rocker and power buttons seem to be raised and more responsive. For sometime now, I’ve felt that the buttons of the M9 were a little too close to the body of the phone and lacked a great tactile experience. With this case, that problem has seemed to go away. A simple drop test also showed that this case can handle drops from about 6 feet. Not bad for a simple TPU case.

My ultimate review of this case is a “buy”. Have an M9 and in the market for a case in the $40 range? Head over to the folks at Tech21. You won’t be disappointed.

The post Evo Check Case for the HTC one M9 appeared first on AndroidGuys.

29
Jun

Xiaomi Mi 4i review: not a flagship, but definitely a great buy


Xiaomi’s latest addition to their ever-expanding smartphone portfolio is a revised, mid-range edition of the company’s flagship Mi 4. With India being the target market for what Xiaomi is calling an “affordable flagship,” will the Mi 4i be able to hold ts own against the slew of similar products that fall in the price segment? We find out, in this Xiaomi Mi 4i review!

Design

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While the Mi 4i may share the name of its flagship counterpart, the differences between the two are obvious right off the bat, starting with the design. Gone are the aluminium frame and glossy plastic back cover of the Mi 4, with Xiaomi favoring a matte polycarbonate design instead for the Mi 4i. The overall design language is quite similar to previous Xiaomi smartphones though, and the Mi 4i manages to look and feel great.

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Going around the device, the power button and volume rocker are found on the right side, both within easy reach, and offering a good tactile feedback. The dual SIM card slot is found on the left side, with the headphone jack and microUSB port at the top and bottom respectively. Up front, below the display are the three capacitive buttons, and above the display is the 5 MP front-facing camera and a notification LED to the right of it. As is the case with all Xiaomi devices, you can choose between seven different LED colors based on notification type, accessible from the Settings menu.

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The Mi 4i is both thinner and lighter than its flagship namesake, with a thickness of just 7.8 mm, and weighing 130 grams. The finish of the side edges makes the phone very easy to grip, and its relatively compact size makes for a very comfortable handling experience, even when it comes to one-handed use.

Display

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Even with significant differences in other key areas, the Xiaomi Mi 4i retains the display of its more powerful sibling, featuring a 5-inch IPS LCD display with a 1080p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 441 ppi.

This display proves to be excellent, and certainly goes beyond what the price point of this device would suggest. Color reproduction is accurate, color temperatures are neutral, and viewing angles are fantastic. Outdoor visibility in bright sunlight is also very good, courtesy of Xiaomi’s technology that makes hardware level adjustments to improve visibility while in bright environments. Overall, the display of the Xiaomi Mi 4i looks really good, and will be pleasing to anyone, whether you use it for work or play.

Performance and hardware

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Under the hood, the Xiaomi Mi 4i packs a second generation 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, clocked at 1.7 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. While this processing package is decidedly mid-range, it has proven to be very capable, and that remains the case here.

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Performance is as smooth as expected, but understandably not as fast as what you’d get with far more expensive flagships. The device handles gaming very well, and multi-tasking is also a breeze. The MIUI 6 OS is quite memory-intensive though, leaving users with just over 1 GB of memory on boot. Xiaomi said that they worked closely with Qualcomm to ensure that the device doesn’t overheat, and luckily, there were no issues with this review unit. It does get warm when performing processor-intensive tasks for a long time, but not uncomfortably so, or any more than what would happen with any other smartphone out there.

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The Mi 4i comes with 16 GB of on-board storage, but there is no microSD card slot available for any expandable storage. The device also comes with a standard suite of connectivity options, with a Dual SIM slot (dual standby) with 4G LTE supported with both. That said, while the device is compatible with 4G LTE networks in India, and a few other markets around the world, in the US, it is limited to HSPA+ connectivity on the T-Mobile and AT&T network.

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The call quality was really good, with the sound loud and clear at both ends of the call. The device comes with a single speaker unit at the back, and while the speaker isn’t as large as the grill may suggest, it still sounds pretty good. Unlike most budget-friendly smartphones, the audio output isn’t distorted at the highest volume, and thanks to the small bump on the back, the sound isn’t muffled as much when the phone is placed on a flat surface, something that is usually a big issue with rear speaker setups.

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The device packs a non-removable 3,120 mAh battery, that allows for some impressive battery life. While being connected to the AT&T network, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on, and with the display brightness set to 90%, the device lasted from 7 AM to around 11:30 PM, with just over 4 hours of screen-on time. Most users shouldn’t have any difficulty comfortably getting a full day of use out of this device. If you do manage to drain the battery completely, the Mi 4i also comes with quick charging, that allows for the device to charge from 0 to 40% within an hour.

Camera

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The Xiaomi Mi 4i comes with a 13 MP rear camera with a dual LED flash, and 5 MP front-facing unit, and the device takes some great photos, especially when considering its price point.

Images appear to be sharp and crisp, and even more so when using Xiaomi’s advanced HDR mode. When it comes to the software, the MIUI camera application hasn’t changed from any other Xiaomi devices, and continues to offer just the right amount of manual control, without getting too overwhelming. There also some very useful additions, like the ability to use the focus ring to adjust exposure, even while in the auto mode.

Software

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The Xiaomi Mi 4i ships with the latest MIUI 6, based on Android 5.0.2 Lollipop, even if you will be hard-pressed to find a lot of material design elements in the user interface. MIUI is certainly one of the heavier Android skins, but does add quite a lot to the overall software experience.

MIUI allows for a very high level of control and customization throughout, something that isn’t easily available with other Android skins. Features like lockscreen notifications, heads up notifications, Do Not Disturb, and card style multi-tasking were all a part of MIUI before the release of Lollipop. In addition to Xiaomi’s unique take on those, you also get access to a robust theme store, more powerful data usage management tools, battery saving profiles that can automatically be activated based on the time, app permissions, in-call recording, and so much more.

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There are some aspects of the software experience that can take some getting used to though, including, but not limited to, the fact that an app drawer isn’t available, leaving users dependent on folders to keep things organized. The Settings menu can also be a little overwhelming, and is quite unorganized when compared to the stock Android version. Another unfortunate issue is that Xiaomi hasn’t been very good with Android version updates as of late, so an upcoming update to Android M, if any, could take a while.

Specifications

Display 5-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 441 ppi
Processor 1.7 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
Adreno 405 GPU
RAM 2 GB
Storage 16 GB, not expandable
Camera 13 MP rear camera with dual LED flash
5 MP front camera
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.1, FM Radio
Battery 3,120 mAh
OS MIUI OS 6 based on Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
Colors white, yellow, pink, grey, blue
Dimensions 138.1 x 69.6 x 7.8 mm
130 grams

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Pricing and Final Thoughts

The Xiaomi Mi 4i is priced at Rs 12,999 (approx. $220) in India, with only the white version available for now, and other color options, including grey, pink, blue, and yellow, launching soon. This is a very competitive price tag, that’s cheaper than any other device that offers similar specifications.

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So there you have it, for this closer look at the Xiaomi Mi 4i! There’s no denying that this is a really good phone that features an unbeatable price tag, but Xiaomi’s marketing of the Mi 4i being an “affordable flagship” is quite misleading. Affordable, definitely, but flagship, not quite. While you do get excellent design and build quality, great display, impressive battery life, and a good software experience, its processing package, and the availability of just 16 GB of non-expandable storage puts this device in the mid-range. That said, while there are quite a lot of devices that offer similar specifications, the Xiaomi Mi 4i is certainly the cheapest of the lot, and is a great choice for anyone.

29
Jun

Lenovo Tab 2 A8 review: great sound on a tight budget


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Over the last year or so, budget-friendly device manufacturers have been focusing on a particular key aspect, in order to help their device stand out in the over-crowded and highly competitive market. Some offer fantastic battery life, some attempt to provide a great camera, and some, like in the case of Lenovo’s latest budget-friendly tablet, are focused on the audio experience. Does Lenovo deliver with regards to audio quality, and what else does the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 bring to the table? We find out, in this Lenovo Tab 2 A8 review!

Design

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The design of the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 can best be described as simple, but elegant. The rear plastic panel with a matte finish wraps around the sides of the tablet to meet the display frame, and this device is available with navy blue as the color option, which is a pleasant change from the default black that is sported by many devices in this class.

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Going around the device, the power button and volume rocker are on the right side, and while neither is exactly within easy reach, it doesn’t take a lot of hand gymnastics to get to them. The disappointing thing about the buttons is the fact that they do sit quite flush with the body of the tablet, and don’t offer much tactile feedback when pressed. At the back is a flap that houses the microSD card slot, and has an additional space, presumably for a SIM card for those that opt for the LTE version of the device. The front-facing stereo speakers are above and below the display, and both the headphone jack and the microUSB port are at the top.

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The tablet has a thickness of 8.9 mm and weighs 360 grams, and while it is a little too wide for comfortable one-handed use, the handling experience is standard for a tablet in this size category. Overall, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 does feel really good in the hand, and features a build quality that goes beyond what its extremely budget-friendly price point would suggest.

Display

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The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 comes with an 8-inch IPS LCD display with a 1280 x 800 resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 184 ppi. The display is certainly capable and colors on the screen do look quite good, but the viewing angles aren’t the best, and the low resolution does make for a display that is average at best. That said, this resolution is standard at this price range, and while this display doesn’t stand out, it isn’t any worse than even some more expensive devices out there.

Performance and Hardware

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Under the hood, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 packs a 64-bit quad-core MT8161 processor for the Wi-Fi-only model, and a 64-bit quad-core MT8735 for the LTE model, both clocked at 1.3 GHz, and backed by the Mali-T720 GPU (Wi-Fi-only model) and 1 GB of RAM.

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While the processing package leans towards the lower-end, it does handle tasks quite well, with no obvious issues in performance. Understandably, it can feel a little slow at times, but not when doing what you might want a tablet for, which is watching a video or listening to music. 1 GB of RAM is somewhat limiting when it comes to multi-tasking though, but at least the device handles gaming very well, including some popular titles like Need for Speed – Most Wanted.

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The Tab 2 A8 comes with 8 or 16 GB of internal storage, further expandable via microSD card, but only by up to a further 32 GB. The standard suite of connectivity options is available, including GPS, which is great to see, given that it isn’t available with some other budget-friendly tablets. Being able to use the tablet for offline navigation is certainly a big plus, and something that can be useful for a lot of users.

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Coming to what is the biggest selling point of the Lenovo Tab 2 A8, the front-facing stereo speakers: featuring Dolby Atmos Cinematic Moving Audio, the fantastic quality of these speakers is very apparent when listening to any audio. This speaker setup allows for a truly immersive experience when watching a movie or playing a game, and is huge plus when it comes to the media consumption experience.

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On the battery front, the Tab 2 A8 packs a non-removable 4,290 mAh battery, that provides a battery life that’s better than average. In my usage, the battery lasted for about 7 hours with over 5 hours of screen-on time, and usage that consistently mostly of watching videos or writing, with very little standby time, while using Wi-Fi, and with the display brightness set to 100%. Overall, most users shouldn’t have too difficult a time getting a full day of use out of this device.

Camera

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The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 comes with a 5 MP rear camera and a 2 MP front-facing camera. Being able to take pictures isn’t really a part of the tablet experience, and as such, very rarely will you find a tablet with a good camera. While some do allow for decent shots in a pinch though, that is unfortunately not the case here. The shots taken by the rear camera lack sharpness, color, and detail, and are basically just not very good. Overall, the camera feels like quite an unnecessary addition.

Software

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The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 comes with a very slightly customized version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. The only noticeable changes in the user interface are in the form of custom icons, a few changes to status bar and Quick Settings menu, and the presence of an the actual representation of a home button, instead of just a circle.

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A big change that has been made to the software experience is with regards to the animations, which have been disabled, making transitioning between various elements seem very abrupt. This has likely been done to accommodate the lower-end processing package, but you do have the option enable animations in the Android Developer options.

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There’s not a lot in terms of additional features, but one that can be quite useful for some is Notification Log, which, as the name suggests, provides a log of dismissed notifications. Things otherwise remain close to stock Android with only minor modifications to be seen here and there, which is a very nice change from the quite heavy Vibe UI that Lenovo uses.

Specifications

Display 8-inch IPS LCD, 1280 x 800 resolution
184 ppi
Processor 1.3 GHz 64-bit quad-core MediaTek MT8161
Mali-T720 GPU
RAM 1 GB
Storage 8 GB/ 16 GB
expandable up to 32 GB
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS
microUSB 2.0
Camera 5 MP rear camera
2 MP front-facing camera
Software Android 5.0 Lollipop
Battery 4,290 mAh
Dimensions 210 x 125 x 8.9 mm
360 grams

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Pricing and Final Thoughts

The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 is available for $130 for the 16 GB model, and currently, the only color option available is navy blue. That is an extremely impressive price tag, and there’s not a lot of devices at this price range of a similar caliber.

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So there you have it for this closer look at the Lenovo Tab 2 A8! Lenovo has undoubtedly built a very solid tablet that goes beyond what its very budget-friendly price point would suggest. While not without its flaws, with its slower processor, the availability of just 1 GB of RAM, mediocre display, and bad camera, the Tab 2 does deliver in the area it was meant to, and that is in the audio experience. You’ll be hard-pressed to find such an excellent speaker setup with even a twice as expensive tablet, and to be able to have that with a device that is priced at just $130 is amazing. If media-consumption is the primary objective, and you are on a budget, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 should be under consideration.

Buy Now on Amazon

28
Jun

NVIDIA Shield Android TV review


Nvidia Shield Android TV-1

A plethora of set-top boxes has been introduced to the market, offering so many options we don’t even know how to handle them. Of course, here at Android Authority we have a very special spot in our hearts for Android TV devices, and today we are taking a look at what could be the best one.

Editor's Choice Update 2015We know it’s hard to make a decision on the right smart TV device to get. Are you into gaming? If so, you may be looking for a set-top box which provides a good media and content experience, yet has the power to handle your gaming needs. NVIDIA has an answer to your prayers, and it comes in the amazing form of the NVIDIA Shield Android TV. Let’s take a look at it and see if it’s worth your cash! Plus, we’ve given it our Editor’s Choice Award for its stellar performance and robust feature set.

See it on Amazon

Nvidia Shield Android TV-14

Design

The NVIDIA Shield is arguably the most powerful set-top box in the market, as it was made with gaming in mind. This is why it only makes sense that the unit looks and feels a bit like a miniaturized gaming console. I mean, this won’t compare to the size you find in giants like the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

The NVIDIA Shield Android TV can easily blend into the rest of your home entertainment system. The device’s aesthetics are not too flashy, but it definitely has a good look and serves its purpose. We are sure it will be easy to find a good spot for it.

It only takes a second of looking around the unit to see this is a very well-endowed Android TV device. The console is adorned by a fun green light bar that turns on when the device is powered on. Flip the device around and you can find a bevy of ports that will leave you desiring nothing. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports, a microUSB port, an ethernet LAN port, HDMI and microSD card slot.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-13

The bundle includes a single controller, which can be used for navigating, controlling media and, of course, gaming. NVIDIA is one of the gaming kings in the industry, so you can be sure they didn’t skimp out on this gaming pad’s quality. It offers comfort for long hours of gaming and a matte finish that allows for a great grip.

The gaming pad comes with your standard D-pad and four main buttons (X, Y, A and B). Below these are the two thumb sticks, which happen to be made of rubber and are very comfortable to operate. The center of the controller displays back, home, play/pause and an NVIDIA button. There’s a couple shoulder buttons on the top, as well as a microUSB port for charging and a 3.5 mm headset jack for private listening. Oh, and we can’t forget that handy volume button under the thumb sticks.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-3

Not convinced with the controller? Even if you love it, using a gaming accessory for controlling a media device can get pretty uncomfortable. It’s a bit of an overkill, and that is why NVIDIA offers an optional remote with very simple controls, a mic for voice actions and even a 3.5 mm headset jack for listening to your content. It’s small and discrete, but it does cost extra (more on that to come).

Just in case you don’t like your set-top boxes laying flat, you can also purchase a stand that props the device up vertically. It blends in amazingly well with the design and gives the NVIDIA Shield Android TV’s look another angle (literally).

Nvidia Shield Android TV-23

Performance

Making a gaming set-top box without pristine performance would be unforgivable. This thing needs to perform to the tee, and we are glad to report we found no problems with it. The NVIDIA Shield Android TV can handle any game title you throw at it. Even the most graphically intensive games run without a single stutter, lag or delay.

We tested it with some of the most graphically intensive games around, including Asphalt 8, Skyforce, Modern Combat 5 and Dead Trigger 2. We never found a single issue. Just in case you were wondering, we never saw any problems with the way the device handles the software and UI, either.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-22

The device sure isn’t at the level of the PS4 or Xbox One in terms of graphics, but I would say it’s on par with the last-generation consoles. It’s definitely one of the top performers in the Android TV ecosystem. By the way, this little guy does support 4K resolutions, which also puts it above the competition.

Hardware

Much of this amazing performance can be credited to the powerful specs hidden inside this beast. It’s an NVIDIA product, so it obviously features an NVIDIA X1 processor that makes this little guy scream. Other specs include 3 GB of RAM, 7.1/5.1 surround sound support, 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO 2.4 GHz /5 GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1/BLE.

You get a couple options in terms of storage, and the difference between them is immense. The base version comes with 16 GB of internal storage, while the “Pro” iteration comes with 500 GB of memory. It’s amazingly simple to upgrade via microSD, though, which is definitely recommended if you go for the 16 GB model.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-11

Software

The NVIDIA Shield is essentially an Android TV on steroids, so the software is nearly identical to what you find in the competition. The build is based on Android 5.1 and you get access to all the applications you know and love. This includes Google services like the Google Play Store, Play Music, YouTube and more. You can also download third-party apps like Hulu and Netflix.

Android TV is sleek and simple to use, with large tiles and good imagery. The fact that it uses voice search also makes finding your content a breeze. Is the platform perfect? Definitely not. The following downsides may not be NVIDIA’s fault, but they are factors that will definitely affect people’s perception of the Shield Android TV.

I find the recommendations section to be random and not very helpful. It simply seemed like it wasn’t tailored for my tastes. Furthermore, app selection is still limited on Android TV – especially in the gaming section, which is what this specific product is all about. There’s plenty of Android games and apps out there, but only a handful have been tailored to work well with the large screen experience

Nvidia_Grid

Thankfully NVIDIA has blessed the tiny console with some of its own gaming capabilities, which take the Shield Android TV to a whole other level. NVIDIA has baked Grid streaming straight into the device, allowing it to stream PC games from your personal computer.

The only issue is not everyone will be able to enjoy NVIDIA Grid. It has some pretty demanding requirements, as it streams PC games straight from your computer. This means the user needs to have a pretty powerful computer in order to use this feature, and it also needs to have a fairly recent NVIDIA GPU.

Let’s move on to brighter news, though. I did love that the NVIDIA Shield Android TV comes with Google Cast support (which really comes with every Android TV). This makes it super easy to stream content from your smartphone or tablet.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-10

Overall, the software experience while using this device is pretty good. The few issues we found are not really NVIDIA’s fault, and we know Android TV will continue to evolve and improve. It’s just a matter of being patient and waiting for those software updates.

Pricing and final thoughts

Here comes the moment of truth! Should you buy the NVIDIA Shield Android TV or go for a more affordable alternative? Let’s take a look at the price before we dig into that topic.

Customers will need to fork out $199.99 for the 16 GB version. On the other hand you can multiply your internal storage by over 30 times and go for the 500 GB “Pro” edition, which only costs $100 more ($299,99), but it will save you from the hassle of having to worry about running out of storage or getting microSD cards.

The accessories seem to be equally pricey. An extra controller costs $59.99, the metal stand is $29.99 and the remote costs $49.99.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-6

Is this thing cheap? No way. In fact, it’s the most expensive Android TV set-top box around. The difference here is that the NVIDIA Shield Android TV is for the hard-core gamers out there. This is not for someone who simply wants to watch some flicks and stream music. The gaming market is big, demanding and expensive. The price is justifiable.

If you are on the lookout for a nice set-top box with an emphasis on gaming (and you are willing to deal with Android TV being a bit immature), the NVIDIA Shield is definitely going to be your best bet. My only gripe is that most people won’t be able to take advantage of all the awesome features it offers.

Nvidia Shield Android TV-1

Editor's Choice Update 2015Some of its biggest selling points include 4K and NVIDIA Grid support. If you love gaming, have a powerful rig with a robust NVIDIA GPU, and want to enjoy one of the best in class Android TV experiences, then the NVIDIA Shield Android TV is a sure bet. If you’re more of a casual gamer, then there are less expensive options, but if you want to have something that packs a wallop, streams your games, and is quite future proof, then we highly recommend it. Further, we’ve given it our highly coveted Editor’s Choice Award for being a rock solid Android TV device!

Are you buying this bad boy? If so, you can always get them from the official NVIDIA website, or you can head over to Amazon and enjoy your awesome Prime shipping.

See it on Amazon

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26
Jun

Living with a Live Case: Live Case review


Back in May, Google announced their partnership with Skrillex to produce the first limited edition Live Cases. The case was produced for five phones: Nexus 6, Nexus 5, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S5, and the Note 4. Thanks to MotoMaker Josh Veerkamp, I was able to get my hands on a Space Shield Live Case for the Nexus 6!

 

 

google-skrillexProtection

The Live Case doesn’t provide much in the way of drop protection. Well it might, but I didn’t want to test it. The case is one of the snap on cases that hug the corners of the device.

The case adds a decent amount of grip to the device, but it doesn’t do anything to put your mind at ease with durability. Actually, I feel more scared of damaging the case then my phone. I know that it is silly, but the fact that the case is a numbered limited edition makes me not want to use it. Instead, I find myself wanting to just set up it with the rest of my boxes and collectibles!

Function

With a case, you would assume that its protection is its function, right? Wrong. With the Live Case, Google implemented a NFC button near the bottom of the case. This button is to serve as a shortcut for various tasks or applications.

I am not sure how the button is implemented, but it works flawlessly on my device. I have never accidentally hit the button while going about my daily business, and when I did use the button, it was simple to activate.

On the Nexus 6, you can’t get enough force to activate the button while using the device with one hand, but it is simple to press the button with another hand. Overall, the button functions just as you would expect. There isn’t really any real benefit that I can see of using the NFC button, but it is, without a doubt, a sweet feature to have.

Looks and Designwallpaper-poster-square

One important thing to me about every case I buy is how it looks. While I use cases because I am a klutz and would drop/break a phone out of a case within a week, I really enjoy using cases for the customization value.

Most people slap a skin on their phone from a company like dbrand, but I never felt safe doing that. With a case, I can personalize my phone while having additional protection.

The Live Case designs are really busy. They each have a lot going on and are unique in their own way. I actually really enjoy how my Midnight Blue Nexus 6 looks with the Space Shield case! It is unique, but not distractedly so with blinding colors that don’t make sense.

The design is something that I have actually never worked with before. I always opted for the bulkier cases that wrap around the front of the device a little and cover any physical buttons with rubber. In fact, my case previously was a Sprigen Slim Armor. The Slim Armor was the ‘lightest’ case I have ever used.I usually go with the Trident Case Aegis or the SUPCASE Unicorn Beetle Pro for whatever phone I am rocking.

This is my first experience with a snap on case. As I said, it doesn’t feel like it adds much protection to me, but I can see where the science would come in. When the phone lands on the ground, the case could break off of the phone taking the shock with it. At least that is what I have been told by others who are apparently smarter than I am.

Overall

As a whole, the Live Case is actually a pretty sold accessory. It isn’t that great of a case by my standards, but the look and feel make up for it’s lack of strength. I wish that there was a dimple cutout for the Nexus 6, but I guess I can’t have what I want every time.Skrillex Live Case

Everything about the Live Case is just beautiful to look at and use. Including the box! The box sort of slides out from the bottom, but when you slide out the case compartment, tab sticks out from the top of the box with a info card.

The entire experience was just great. I have been switching between my Sprigen and the Live Case at least twice a week, but I always slap the Sprigen back on before I go running. I am not taking any chances with the Live Case on that front!

While it is a hefty $40 from the Google Store, I do think it is worth it in this one scenario. You are paying for a fashion accessory, not a case. The Live Case fails all of my expectations as a case, but it passes with flying colors as an accessory. It looks great as well as supplies additional features that are useful to your device.

If you are looking for something to add protection to your device, I suggest you keep on looking.

The post Living with a Live Case: Live Case review appeared first on AndroidGuys.

26
Jun

Oppo R7 review


At A Glance

The Oppo R7 is a solid phone with a more than solid, beautiful design.

PROS
  • Metal construction is sturdy and lovely, the definitive highlight
  • AMOLED screen was a good choice
  • Snapdragon 615 proves reliable for daily usage
  • Headphone jack returns!
  • Dual SIM or microSD card expansion available
  • 8 megapixel front facing camera
  • Color OS is smooth and snappy
CONS
  • Thin phone means thin battery, average longevity at best
  • Display is of good but standard quality
  • Spec hungry will want more power
  • No NFC?
  • Camera is average, post processing hurts it
  • Color OS still an odd version of Android for most
8.2

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Editors-Choice-Update-2015-4 stars When Oppo launched the super-thin R5 smartphone last year, it certainly impressed with its sleek design language, though the device left a few things to be desired. Oppo decided to sacrifice a few key functions and specs for the sake of slimming down, which actually turned out to be a negative in the long run. At first glance the successor to last year’s model, the Oppo R7, seems to avoid these same mistakes, but how does it hold up against the competition? We find that out, and more, in our full review of the Oppo R7!

Buy now for $399 from OppoStyle Read and watch: Oppo R7 hands-on and first impressions

Design

oppo r7 review aa (1 of 21) Although the R7 isn’t as noticeably thin as last year’s R5, this new model is still a really slender device. Measuring just 6.3mm thin, the R7 was able to regain the 3.5mm headphone jack this time around, which was a feature that was noticeably missing from the R5. The entire frame consists of a premium-feeling metal material that provides a slight lip on both the front and back sides. The combination of the slight lip on the sides and hefty metal build makes for a nice in-hand feeling. The right side features the volume rocker and SIM card slot, the left houses the power button, and at no surprise to us, the USB port is found at the bottom. A 2.5D glass panel can be found up front covering the 5.0-inch 1080p display, with capacitive keys housed directly below the screen. oppo r7 review aa (3 of 21) Plenty of phones these days are trying to be as slim as possible, but a beautiful design doesn’t come without its caveats. Many phones with this type of build quality slip around in the hand pretty easily, which can make for an unpleasant overall experience. But while the Oppo R7 doesn’t feel like an indestructible phone in the slightest, it doesn’t feel particularly delicate either. It sits very solidly in the hand and doesn’t slide around, and the lightweight plastic case included in the box also helps with that a bit. This is another great looking phone in the line that doesn’t sacrifice much to achieve its size. For the Oppo R7, thin is definitely in.

Display

oppo r7 review aa (5 of 21) The R7 features a 5.0-inch Full HD AMOLED display with a standard pixel density of 445ppi covered in Gorilla Glass 3. The AMOLED panel works to bring a higher level of saturation than most other types of panels in smartphones, and the colors on this one show quite well in mostly all tasks. While the viewing angles are quite good, the prominent black bezel surrounding the lit panel is very noticeable at times. Nonetheless, we found no problems with sharpness in areas of text and contrast kept blacks at a good level – neither over or underachieving. Gaming remained a treat for the eyes, as I spent quite a bit of time with Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us. In this particular game, I found the cell shaded noir graphic style quite lovely to watch. This might not be a particularly overachieving display, but going AMOLED certainly helped elevate this otherwise standard experience – high standard, but standard nonetheless.

Performance

oppo r7 review aa (6 of 21) As is the case with many devices this year, there is a focus on software optimization with the processing package rather than just a move toward sheer power. By many consumers’ beliefs, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 615 processor is considered a mid-range CPU through and through. However, this device’s CPU features eight cores, which actually proves to perform quite well with everyday tasks. The device also features an Adreno 405 GPU and 3GB of RAM to help power Oppo’s Color OS 2 software overlay, which feels surprisingly simplistic and light. oppo r7 review aa (14 of 21) User interface transitions moving about render little to no incident in performance, and changing applications is quite easy. For example, writing down a couple of entries in Evernote then taking snippets of them back and forth to Instagram posed no challenges whatsoever. And for an even better example, my gaming experience with The Wolf Among Us has been a breeze, with only the occasional frame rate issue between scenes. My only real problem has to do with the recent apps screen – not only do you need to hold the menu button to get to this screen, but scrolling and moving from app to app oftentimes took a lot longer than expected when each app had to reload completely. Overall, though, the device performed perfectly well in day to day usage, and with how smooth Color OS seems to be now, it’s not hard to put the R7 among the many phones that perform very well on the daily.

Hardware

oppo r7 review aa (13 of 21) Perhaps the most important piece of news on the hardware front is the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack, which was omitted because of size constraints from the R5. The phone is now just thick enough to accommodate it, and the audio coming from the jack is solid. While on the subject of audio, phone calls come in loud and clear, though we did notice a few disruptions in the signal at certain points in our test phone calls. The rear-facing speaker is pretty loud and has a bit more attention given to the lower ends, which isn’t typical of units of this type. There’s also a subtle dimple on the top and bottom of the phone’s back plate that lifts up just enough to emit sounds better from the surface, which is a really nice touch. oppo r7 review aa (16 of 21) This Chinese network version of the R7 posed an all too familiar problem for me – a lack of LTE connectivity – but thankfully the HSPA+ network on T-Mobile has been more than adequate for using this particular region’s unit for daily usage in the States. The R7 comes with a dual SIM card slot, with the ability to repurpose one into a microSD card slot for storage above the built-in 16GB. Other connections include the usual Bluetooth connectivity and sensors, but unfortunately there is no NFC, which many users will likely miss on this unit. Oppo also included a handy feature in the R7 that allows the device to sense when it’s covered up, for instance when the device is in your pocket. When the phone senses this, all screen-on gestures or button presses will be glossed over to keep the phone from performing tasks you don’t want it to. oppo r7 review aa (15 of 21) Although the device features a slightly larger chassis than its predecessor, it’s still not enough to warrant good battery life. While the hardware and software optimizations can definitely help, the non-removable 2320mAh unit in the R7 produces battery life that’s about as average as it gets. In heavy usage, I was able to get just over three hours of screen on time, which can be stretched out over a full day with lower levels of usage. Plenty of power modes are available to aid in the longevity departmet, allowing for everything from lower screen brightness to even an underclocking of the processor, but the phone pretty much never stretches to the predicted number of hours in the battery app. Of course, one welcome feature available in the R7 is the inclusion of Oppo’s VOOC fast charging technology, which can bring the phone up from 0% to around 70% charge in 30 minutes.

Camera

oppo r7 review aa (12 of 21) Oppo’s typical camera application returns this time around with a number of modes that were all introduced in their last few smartphones. Plenty of handy modes like HDR, GIF creation and Ultra HD are all present and can be accessed by hitting the icon in the corner of the app. Swiping the viewfinder switches from photos to video capture, which is done in 1080p resolution. Moving around to the front, you’ll be happy to know that the familiar Beautify mode is present, which allows you to take arguably better selfies with the 8MP front-facing shooter. Self portraits are quite good overall, though they lose a bit of sharpness due to some noise reduction in post processing. oppo r7 review aa (17 of 21) Ultimately, that’s the story with the rear facing 13 megapixel shooter, too – while photos typically look quite good as they are, there are some nuances visible in typical shots, including a fuzzy noise reduction observed when zooming in. Pictures are quite bright, perhaps overly so in plenty of them, and HDR unfortunately doesn’t help the dynamic range get much better as the blown out areas of a photo only become slightly dialed back when using this mode. HDR worked really well for us with the Oppo Find 7, so it’s a bummer that the R7’s shooter can’t produce the same – or similar – results. Even so, though, in the right situation, colors get a small boost in saturation, which might be the only takeaway from the standard HDR mode. oppo r7 review aa (18 of 21) Shots in low light situations suffer more from post processing, but they aren’t the worst we’ve ever seen. If we were to rank low light photos taken by the R7, we’d say they’re just above average, which is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to the R7’s camera. It’s clear that the R7 is a solid day to day device, and the camera falls in line with that. Even with the 8MP front-facing shooter, the experience yields good, but not great, results.

Camera samples

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Software

oppo r7 review aa (11 of 21) As Oppo told us during our visit with the company at the phone’s launch, it’s no secret that Color OS isn’t the most loved version of Android. So with Color OS 2.1, some changes had to be made. It might not look or perform too differently than before, it’s definitely much smoother. Customization remains a major selling point with Color OS, as it’s pretty easy to change the look of the software with the built-in theme engine, the option to add media pages for some extra fun on your home screens, and even the ability to add different transition effects for the home screens – a feature that will prove itself useful, seeing as how Color OS still doesn’t feature an app drawer. oppo r7 review aa (10 of 21) There are some nifty gestures built in to the device like the ability to draw a circle on the turned off screen to launch the camera or perform a double tap to wake the device. You can also program your own gestures for launching applications more easily. In addition, the device features an “eye protection display” mode that places a warm hue over everything when triggered, which is perfect for users with sensitive eyes. oppo r7 review aa (4 of 21) It’s worth noting that the R7 still runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, which might upset some users. Android 5.0 Lollipop has been out for some time now, so there’s not really an excuse for the device running old software. However, Oppo recently released a beta version of Color OS based off of Android 5.0, which we can expect to see roll out to this device sometime very soon. KitKat doesn’t hinder the device’s performance as far as we can tell, though it would be nice if the R7 ran one of the later versions of Android. Honestly, I don’t think Color OS is all that bad. Despite some issues in translation from time to time and the lack of an application drawer, Color OS handles itself well. Though it could use a bit of polish, and user that lets Color OS stick around should find a smooth, perfectly capable version of Android in the Oppo R7.

Specs

Display 5.0-inch AMOLED display with 1080 x 1920 resolution
Processor 1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
GPU Adreno 305
RAM 3GB
Storage 16GB, expandable up to 128GB
Camera 13MP rear camera f/2.2
8MP front-facing f/2.4
Battery 2,320mAh, non-removable
Software Color OS 2.1, Android 4.4.2 KitKat
Dimensions 143 x 71 x 6.3mm, 147g
Colors Silver, Gold
Frequencies International Version:
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
WCDMA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz
LTE Bands: 1/3/7/8/TD-40

Taiwan Version:
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
WCDMA: 850/900/1900/2100MHz
LTE Bands: 1/3/5/7/8/28/TD-40

US Version:
GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz
LTE Bands: 1/4(3)/7/17(20)

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Pricing & final thoughts

oppo r7 review aa (7 of 21) The Oppo R7 is available for pre-order now from OppoStyle for $399, with shipments starting in early July. For that price, the R7 is quite the deal, especially with its sleek and attractive build. Editors-Choice-Update-2015-4 starsOppo has proven time and again that it is not only capable of thinking outside of the box, but also excelling within the confines of users’ high standards. What might be the best part about the R7 is that Oppo is trying to keep the middle path, with a phone that prioritizes great aesthetic and feel with the best possible capabilities fit for its price point. No, the Snapdragon 615 isn’t exactly future proof, but you won’t really feel that along the way. And though the camera isn’t the best one we’ve used, it’s more than enough for typical social media users. Also, Color OS has gotten some of the updates its needed, even if they weren’t in the looks department. The price point won’t break the bank, but once you get this phone in your hand, it feels like it could. And that’s why we give the Oppo R7 our seal of approval.

24
Jun

Z Camera & Private Gallery(Review)


With nearly everyone having access to a camera conveniently tucked away in their pocket or purse, it has become essential to have a camera that is productive, fast, and gives you multiple photo processing features at a moment’s touch. Z Camera is a light-weight stock camera replacement with customizable features, quick switching between photo, video, beauty modes, and the ability to hide photos in a private gallery.

Features:

  • Amazing filter – Many filters available when photograph and photo-editing.
  • Real-time filter – Preview your photos before you take photo.
  • Fastest capture – Just 1s to capture photo after press the shutter button.
  • Simple interface – Intuitive interface, and quickly switch to video and selfie.
  • HDR – Open HDR to improve images captured in low light, and backlit scenes.
  • Beauty selfie – Just one tap to beautify your photo.
  • Private gallery – Keep your private photo safe.
  • Video mode – Record video via front facing camera or rear camera.
  • Photo Mode – Tons of options, you have the following features flash on/off, set a timer, front camera for selfies and wefies, and also a filter icon.
  • Beauty Mode – Take quick “beautiful” enhanced images.

Z Camera has three capture modes: Video, Photo, and Beauty. By swiping your finger left or right, you have the ability to navigate effortlessly through the three modes. Also packed into Z Camera is a Private Gallery. To access the Private Gallery you have to open the Z Gallery that is downloaded along with the app. While in Z Gallery you have three tabs, “My Album”, “Other Album”, and “Private Album”. In Private Album,  you are able to set a 4 digit security code in order to restrict access to the images stored in the Private Album.

AndroidGuys

Zero Team was very thoughtful to incorporate a Private Album. It’s awful when you let someone look at your photos and they continue to scroll past what you intended them to view, and the Private Album keeps their eyes off of those pictures that you don’t want them to see. Although, the Private Album should either be hidden or have an option to long press a title or a section in the app to activate it.

It is never a good idea to easily display Private Album; that’s why the Google Play Store is full of dummy cover apps that allow you to easily and securely hide your photo/video contents. Luckily, Zero Team has baked this feature into Z Camera.

Another complaint I have is the watermark. I was misled by what the watermark feature was. I just assumed that the watermark would allow me to easily have my name or hashtag placed on my photos. I was wrong, the watermark is Z Camera’s name. It would be a very useful feature if Z Camera allowed you to create your own watermarks. This would be a great feature to easily take and post watermark images to your social media networks.

After using Z Camera, I was really impressed with the ample selection of filters that I could quickly apply to my images. Although, after taking images, I realized the quality of the photos came out grainy and had a lackluster pop. I took photos with and without filters and the quality and colors were not comparable to my stock Samsung Note 4 camera.

What We Like What We Didn’t Like
  • Option to turn On/Off Shutter Sound
  • Multiple Free Filters
  • Ability to hide Photos
  • Grainy Images
  • User Interface felt old(Redesigning to Material Design would help greatly)
  • Private Gallery tab in plain sight not hidden or

With the plethora of alternate photo apps available, Z Camera doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Although, it will give you multiple filter options and a different look from your stock camera. Z Camera is useful and allows you to take photos or videos quickly although more isn’t always better.

The post Z Camera & Private Gallery(Review) appeared first on AndroidGuys.

19
Jun

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua review


The Bottom Line

PROS
  • Good display
  • Capable camera
  • Good software experience
  • Resistance to dust and water
CONS
  • Inconsistent design
  • Overheating issues
  • Average battery life
  • Overpriced
6.8

While being resistant to dust and water is a very useful feature, the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua does fall short in other key areas when compared to the, in some cases cheaper, competition.

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When it comes to the highly-competitive mid-range smartphone world, it is quite difficult to distinguish between one device and another in the sea of smartphones that make up this segment. OEMs are now depending on using a key selling point to help their device stand out from the rest, be it pricing, battery life, camera, design and build quality, and more. In the case of the latest mid-range offering from Sony, that key selling point comes in the form of a signature Sony flagship feature, water resistance. Does choosing to focus on a single element result in corners being cut in other areas? We find out, in this Sony Xperia M4 Aqua review!

Design

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-18

The Xperia M4 Aqua retains a lot of the design language of previous Sony smartphones, which isn’t particularly surprising at this point, given that Sony’s design strategy has been largely of the incremental nature, across their entire portfolio of devices. The use of the two glass panels, as seen with the high-end Sony devices, is certainly a nice touch and looks great, even if they are prone to fingerprints. It is in the presence of a plastic frame though that the mid-range nature of this device comes through, and unfortunately feels quite out of place. The mix of the premium-feeling glass and the cheaper plastic is quite unsettling, and makes the phone feel awkward in the hand.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-9

The signature Sony power button returns at its usual location on the right side, ideally placed to be within easy reach. The volume rocker right below it and the dedicated camera shutter button at the bottom of the right side don’t leave a lot of room to comfortably rest your thumb on this side of the device though. The SIM card slot is above the power button, and the microSD card slot falls on the opposite side, both covered by flaps that are necessary to maintain its waterproof nature.  Just above the microSD card slot is the microUSB port, which is a very different placement from what most of us would be used to. Finally, the headphone jack and single speaker unit are found at the top and bottom respectively.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-13

With the bulk of the buttons and ports placed on the sides of the device, it does look like quite a lot is going on, and takes away from the minimalistic design we’ve come to expect from Sony. Up front, above the display, is a notification LED on the left of the Sony branding, with a 5 MP front-facing camera on the other side. The Xperia M4 Aqua is still quite thin and light though, with a thickness of just 7.3 mm, and weighing 136 grams. The Xperia M4 Aqua is still quite thin and light though, with a thickness of just 7.3 mm, and weighing 136 grams, and its relatively compact size allows for a comfortable handling experience.

Display

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-1

The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a 5-inch IPS LCD display, with a 720p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 294 ppi. As is expected from IPS technology, the viewing angles this display offers are fantastic, but the colors aren’t particularly vivid though, as they are with some other devices that fall in this price range. The display is just decent overall, and not very impressive.

Performance and Hardware

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-10

Under the hood, the Xperia M4 Aqua packs an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 2 GB of RAM. This processing package is found with quite a few mid-range smartphones and has proven to be very capable, which is also the case here. Day to day performance is smooth and stutter-free, and multi-tasking is a breeze. The device also handles gaming very well, with no issues save for the most processor-intensive of games. While obviously not as fast as the flagships of the world, Xperia M4 Aqua is certainly very reliable in terms of performance.

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One area of concern though is the heat output of the device. The Xperia M4 Aqua does tend to get uncomfortably warm to the touch not just while gaming, but even when performing simple tasks like using the camera or downloading apps. There is significant throttling to prevent overheating, but that is definitely not the ideal solution to this performance issue that is becoming more prevalent with the latest Qualcomm processors.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-6

The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with 8 GB or 16 GB of on-board storage, expandable via microSD card by up to 128 GB. The 8 GB version does come with only 1.5 GB available to the user though, so it’ll be a better idea to opt for the 16 GB iteration if you do decide to pick up this device. The usual suite of sensors and connectivity options are available, including support for 4G LTE, but carrier compatibility does vary with each model, so make sure that you check the frequency bands of the model you are getting before picking up the device. For example, this particular review unit is restricted to HSPA+ on the AT&T network.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-11

The single speaker unit at the bottom of the device isn’t great, with the sound distorted and tinny, along with the volume being on the quieter side. As is the case with any device with a bottom-mounted speaker, it is also fairly easy to cover up the speaker and muffle the sound when holding the device in the landscape orientation.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-7

Coming to what is the key selling point of this device, the Xperia M4 Aqua is well protected from the elements, courtesy of its IP68 rating for resistance to dust and water. What this means is that the device can be submerged in up to 1.5 metres of water for as long as 30 minutes, with no negative impact on usability and performance.

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The device comes with a 2,400 mAh that is not replaceable, and offers a battery life that is just about average. In my daily use, the device lasted for around 16 hours with 2.5 hours of screen-on time, with usage that involved watching videos on Youtube and scrolling through social media, apart from other general tasks. While not bad, the battery doesn’t stand up to Sony’s claim of the device lasting comfortably for two days. There are a few power saving modes available in the Settings menu, that you might have to take advantage of to get that little bit of extra juice out of this battery.

Camera

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-16

The Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a 13 MP rear camera and a 5 MP front-facing shooter. The rear camera proves to be very capable, with the shots rich in detail and very sharp, even if the colors did lack some punch. The minimalistic camera has only a few modes available, including a manual mode that lets you select between multiple scene types and adjust the white balance. Additional camera modes are available though, which can be downloaded separately.

Software

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-4

On the software front, the Xperia M4 Aqua comes with a slightly skinned version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, which also takes on a more colorful motif than the Xperia UI of old. There are some very useful options available, such as the ability to customize the Quick Settings menu with the toggles you most use, screen recording, and also the staple Small Apps menu, which is a tad unpolished in its appearance, but still very useful.

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There is some bloatware to be found though, with a slew of apps, including AA Stocks, AVG Protection, and News from Sociallife coming pre-installed, but most of them can be easily removed though. Another negative is the placement of the hamburger menu in the app drawer, that gets in the way when attempting to swipe right, and can be quite frustrating.

Specifications

Display 5-inch IPS LCD
720p, 294 ppi
Processor 1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
Adreno 405 GPU
RAM 2 GB
Storage 8/16 GB
expandable via microSD upto 128 GB
Camera 13 MP rear camera with LED flash
5 MP front-facing camera
Battery 2,400 mAh unit
Software Android 5.0 Lollipop
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot.
Bluetooth 4.1
NFC
GPS + GLONASS
Networks 3G / 4G LTE
Dimensions 145.5 x 72.6 x 7.3 mm
136 grams
Colors Black, White, Pink

Gallery

Pricing and Final Thoughts

The Sony Xperia M4 Aqua isn’t officially available in the US yet, but can be found for $349 on Amazon for the 8 GB version, with color options including black, white, and pink.

Sony-Xperia-M4-Aqua-Review-2

So there you have it for this closer look at the Xperia M4 Aqua! While being dustproof and waterproof are very useful features, the rest of the package doesn’t particularly justify its price point. The inconsistent design, overheating issues of the processor, and just about average battery life overshadows the positives that include the solid display and capable camera. The competition in the mid-range space is intense, and there are some great options being made available to the public, at sometimes cheaper price points as well, and the Xperia M4 Aqua is a difficult device to recommend.

Buy Now on Amazon.com

18
Jun

Top Android Phones of 2015 (so far)


We’ve certainly had our fill of exciting Android releases thus far in 2015.  When I look at all the differentiation between each manufacturers’ offering, I get reminded of Android’s newly established motto, “Be together. Not the same“.

Each flagship presented to us have strengths and weaknesses, making the designation of the “best phone” only apparent when resolving what best suits you.  It is in this respect that we’ve compiled a rundown of the top phone options at the halfway point of 2015, in impression and comparison.  Let’s get started!

New Flagships

Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge

s6I think we can all agree this iteration to Samsung’s flagship brought the biggest change to design and build.  And it was about time!  Last year’s Galaxy S5 proved that Samsung could not keep recycling the same design and remain successful.

From the front, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that anything has changed.  Samsung has retained the same button, earpiece, and sensor layouts as before.  It’s only until you look at the sides and back where you notice a serious makeover.  The metal frame around the device is a bit more refined than what we saw on the Note 4 last year, with subtle curves and a soft finish.

Gone is the plastic, removable backing we’ve always known.  Samsung has succumbed to sealing the back for the sake of a premium build.  A flat glass back is now present, with a neat color-shifting reflection effect as you tilt the device.

Samsung also took this opportunity to take the curved edge concept from the Note 4 Edge a step further and put it on both sides.  Although it adds little to functionality, no one can deny it is certainty neat to look at, especially as content falls off the screen.

Under the hood we got another surprise, a home-brewed Exynos processor instead of the usual Qualcomm Snapdragon.  The 16 MP sensor was upgraded to a f/1.9 aperture lens, resulting in great low light performance.  Samsung’s TouchWiz UI has been toned down, and those lags and stutters are yesterday’s news.  This thing is quick.

s6_en_s6_edge 
The Good 

  • Premium design and feel
  • Arguably best phone display, with excellent outdoor visibility
  • Arguably best Android camera
  • Curved edge variant
  • Refined fingerprint sensor
The Bad 

  • Sub-par battery life
  • No microSD support
  • TouchWiz UI still present
  • Expensive

HTC One M9

m9-hero-imageHTC has taken quite a bit of flak for what they delivered to us this year, and I won’t say it wasn’t well deserved.  It’d make more sense to look at the One M9 as a One M8+, we don’t have much change.

It pains me to see that HTC is sticking with 5″ for the display.  It is simply too small for a flagship in this day and age.  And what makes it worse is that HTC shortly released the One M9+ with a 5.2″ display overseas soon after the M9 launch in the US.

It is also painful to see the infamous black bar (surrounding the HTC logo) still present.  Bezel should be a sensitive subject when the speakers add so much of it.  HTC should have worked to reduce it (perhaps a larger device could have provided the extra space for the circuitry).

But whatever negativity may befall the One device, it is still a solidly built, sexy slab of metal.  This time around, HTC added a two-tone finish, for flare and jewerly-like attractiveness.  The speakers underwent a dolby-surround upgrade.  The Sense UI is still one of the quickest and is now on version 7.0, although the biggest software updates were home screen app location switching and control over theming.

The camera got both an upgrade and a downgrade.  Upgrade in megapixel count, downgrade in quality.  Reviews found that the Toshiba-manufactured sensor isn’t where a flagship should be.  Not having OIS results in grainy shots, low light shots are fuzzy, and light balance is iffy (whites get overexposed in shots with dynamic ranges).  It’s like HTC flipped their ideals from a couple years ago, when they held quality over MP count.

And where is that phablet!?

m9 
The Good 

  • Proven design and solid build
  • Best smartphone speakers
  • Fast UI
  • MicroSD support
  • Uh-Oh damage protection (free 1-time replacement)
The Bad 

  • Exhausted look
  • Primary camera can’t compete
  • No wireless charging
  • Bad power and volume button ergonomics
  • Sense 7.0 doesn’t add much

LG G4

G4_Genuine_Leather2It’s a funny thing that LG has been creeping their flagship launches closer and closer to the Spring each year.  They’ve refined the G-series into a very competitive device and want to play with the big boys.  Like HTC, LG took the route of minor design changes.  The G4 bears a striking resemblance to the G3 last year.  The big differences to the design are the back covers, where we have either a diamond-texture plastic shell or leather.  The plastic build is here to stay (perhaps to maintain the removable back cover for battery and microSD card access).  Also, although subtle, the G4 got a little influence from the Flex line, with a slight curve on the chassis.

You start to see where the changes are when you breakdown the components.  Although the screen is still a 5.5″ QHD display, the quality has been bumped up quite a bit, at least on paper.  LG is using a brillant IPS “Quantum” LCD panel, with improved vividness, contrast, and color gamut.  This is flagged as the LCD screen to rival Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen.

The other larger improvement was the camera.  LG packed a lot of technology here to go with the 16 MP camera:  OIS (in all three axis of movement, x, y, and z), laser autofocus, color-spectrum sensor (helps light balance), and tons of manual controls in the camera app.

 

lg_g4_black_leather 
The Good 

  • Fantastic display quality
  • Powerful camera and control
  • Swappable battery and microSD support
  • Minimal bezel
  • Leather option
The Bad 

  • Plastic build
  • Uses the Snapdragon 808 (not more powerful Snapdragon 810)
  • No quick charging
  • No wireless charging
  • Unattractive UI

LG G Flex 2

flex2The LG G Flex 2 had a quiet launch at beginning of the year.  It predictably turned out to be a mash up between the original G Flex and the G3.  What surprisingly took dominance was the screen size, reduced down to 5.5″ from the mammoth 6″ of the original Flex, not something we see happen often.  LG has a sweet spot for 5.5″.

The banana-shaped chassis of course made a return, along with the self-healing backing.  The internals got bumped up to our first spotting of the Qualcomm’s new octa-core Snapdragon 810 SoC.  The camera and laser autofocus were retrieved from the G3.  However, the screen was toned down slightly to a 1080P Plastic OLED screen, rather than the QHD IPS LCD of the G3.

G-Flex2 
The Good 

  • Head-turning curvature
  • Speedy internals
  • Proven camera and quick focus
  • MicroSD support
  • Cover seal-heals against lite scratches
The Bad 

  • Lower resolution than other flagships
  • More bezel than the G3
  • Plastic, glossy build
  • No wireless charging

Sony Xperia Z4 / Z3+ / Z4v

Sony_Xperia_Z3+

We weren’t sure if we would get anything from Sony in the first half of the year, as they were reportedly cutting down their mobile division and failed to make a usual flagship showing at Mobile World Congress this year.  The Xperia Z4 got announced overseas, without a word on availability in the US.  Then the Xperia Z3+ got announced, for the European market.  The difference in naming prompted a head scratch.  Did Sony think other parts of the world would be outraged to see this minor iteration be called the Z4, but it was okay in Japan?

So what changed versus last year’s Z3?  Even more subtleties than we’ve witnessed before.  The main upgrade was the SoC, to the latest Snapdragon 810.  There were minor tweaks to the chassis:  Front speakers were moved closer to the top and bottom frames, the charging port flap is gone, and thickness was reduced by 0.4mm.  The battery was downgraded to 2,930 mAh (from 3,100 mAh on the Z3).

And to add to the messy fragmentation, Sony just announced a continuation of partnership with Verizon, with the Xperia Z4v.  This variant tacks on a 3,000 mAh, wireless charging, and bump in resolution to QHD (I thought Sony made a stance against going higher than 1080P?).  These additions expectedly took a hit on the sleekness, adding some weight and thickness, and to further tone down the appeal, Verizon has Sony throw in a plastic build.

Xperia Z4 / Z3+

z4
 
The Good 

  • Proven design and build
  • Top end SoC
  • Leading camera
  • Water and dust proof
  • MicroSD support
The Bad 

  • Very minimal change from predecessor
  • Battery capacity decrease
  • Unattractive Sony UI
  • No wireless charging

Xperia Z4v

Verizon Xperia Z4V 2
 
The Good 

  • Specs keep up with Z4/Z3+
  • QHD resolution
  • MicroSD support
  • Wireless charging
  • Slightly larger battery than Z4/Z3+
The Bad 

  • Less premium build (plastic)
  • Thicker and heavier than Z4/Z3+
  • Verizon-only

Still Relevant

Moto X / Droid Turbo

moto x (2014)Motorola did a great job last year delivering a successor to the original Moto X.  They up’d the specs to “flagship” status and boosted customization with Moto Maker, where you could choose from three different back cover materials (plastic, real wood, or real leather) and a multitude of color accents around the phone, something no one else yet offers.

The screen size was a modest 5.2″ (AMOLED panel, 1080P), the latest Snapdragon 801 SoC for the time, and a very near stock Android experience.  But alas, 2014 Moto X suffered from an Achilles heel, the camera.  Although on paper it sounded decent, at 13 MP, f/2.25 aperture, and dual LED ring flash, in practice the image quality often left to be desired.  So much so that Motorola admitted the fault and vowed to bring it next time.  The battery capacity was also unreasonably low for the day and age at 2,300 mAh.

Soon after the release of the 2014 Moto X, Verizon debuted their exclusive Droid Turbo, which was essential a Moto X on steroids, without Moto Maker and with some pre-set Droid-themed materials and colors.  Compared to the specs on the Moto X, the Turbo up’d the processor to the high-end Snapdragon 805, screen resolution to QHD, the camera to 21 MP, and the battery to a considerable 3,900 mAh.  And they threw in wireless charging for good measure.  It was certainly a top dog, but only for Verizon customers.

Moto X

moto_x_2nd_gen
The Good 

  • More customization than anyone else offers
  • Near Stock Android experience, with useful Motorola enhancements
  • front facing speaker
  • Great starting price (currently at $299)
The Bad 

  • Camera not in flagship league
  • Small battery
  • No microSD support
  • No wireless charging

Droid Turbo

Motorola-DROID-Turbo 
The Good 

  • Huge battery
  • Huge ppi
  • High-end SoC with 3 GB RAM
  • Lots of megapixels
  • Although a plastic build, some cool and unique back cover choices, like ballistic nylon
The Bad 

  • Only for Verizon
  • No on-screen buttons
  • No microSD support
  • No OIS on camera
  • Still on Android 4.4 (KitKat)

Note 4 and  Note 4 Edge

note4Samsung’s Galaxy Note series will always be highly regarded.  The first Note started the phablet trend, back in 2011, when a 5.3″ screen was considered enormous.  In the following years, screen size in other flagships began to grow aggressively, and soon the Note found itself in a good place, as the leader of the pack of pocket-busting phones.

The Note 4 brought the build improvement that Samsung started with the Galaxy Alpha and fully evolved to the S6 this year, with metal surrounding the phone.  Else-wise, we got subtle refinements from the Note 3, still a 5.7″ display and a removable faux-leather back (sans the stitching).  Samsung upgraded their brilliant Super AMOLED screen resolution to QHD, toned down the color saturation that had plagued their panels for quite some time, and backed it behind the latest Gorilla Glass 4.  The Note 4 is still a speedy beast, with the Snapdragon 805 SoC on-board and 3 GB of RAM.

Samsung also took this opportunity to debut the curved screen we had been seeing in prototype form for quite some time.  They curved one edge of the display down to the frame and called it the Note 4 Edge.  This offering turned out to be more proof-of-concept, as it didn’t really add much value (and for a hefty price tag), but it was a start and great to see something different come to market.  As for functionality, the Edge could treat the edge portion of the screen separately and give you different controls than on the main screen or tidbits of information.

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-4-Charcoal-Black-32GB-Verizon-Wireless-0 
The Good 

  • Brilliant and leading QHD display
  • One of the best Android cameras
  • High-end specs
  • Unique S-pen functionality
  • MicroSD support
  • Edge variant that keeps you on the cutting edge
The Bad 

  • Expensive
  • Back cover still feels cheap
  • Need special cover to wirelessly charge
  • Speaker is still lacking
  • Edge variant could use more functionality
  • TouchWiz (nuff said)

Nexus 6

Nexus 6The Nexus 6 made such a stir in the Android community when it was announced.  How could Google turn the Nexus line into a phablet-only club!?  For better or worse, Google wanted you to just be open-minded.  But then another aspect took a turn for the worse, the price.  Since LG took the reins starting with the Nexus 4, the Nexus became the phone for everyone through its affordability.  The Nexus 6 brought us back to the reality that if you want a premium smartphone, you gotta pay for it.

In terms of design/build, the Nexus 6 was essentially a blown-up Moto X, which wasn’t a bad thing at all.  The curvy-ness of the Moto X served well for a phablet variant in the hand.  Motorola nailed all the upgrades we would want from the Moto X:  High-end Snapdragon 805 SoC, check.  QHD display, check.  13 MP camera with OIS, check.  Dual front-facing speakers, check.  Qi wireless charging, check.  Let’s just say, as long as you didn’t mind the price and ginormous size , this was a dream phone.

But not all was rainbows and unicorns (that is, other than the 64 GB White version at launch).  The display looks great, but the visibility is poor outdoors.  The Lollipop pain-points have been addressed with the 5.1 update, but the battery life still isn’t where it should be.  And the camera could only be said to be decent at best, with struggles in low-light situations and an iffy camera app.

nexus-6 
The Good 

  • Huge QHD AMOLED display with minimal bezel
  • Stock and latest Android experience
  • High-end specs
  • Dual front-facing speakers
  • Wireless charging
The Bad 

  • Huge phone size, difficult one-handed use
  • Hit or miss camera
  • Poor outside visibility
  • Battery life should be better
  • No microSD support

Cost Friendly

Asus Zenfone 2

Asus-Zenfone-2-heroAsus has been in the smartphone scene for quite some time…it just wouldn’t be necessarily known because they have never made much of a dent in the Android world.  That is, until the Zenfone 2.  Asus has shifted their smartphone focus to value.

Similar to the Oneplus One strategy, the Zenfone 2 can be seen as a flagship at a budget price.  We have a common 5.5″ IPS LCD display at 1080P, quad-core 64-bit CPU (Intel Atom Z3580 SoC), 4 GB of RAM, 13 MP rear camera with dual-LED and dual-tone flash, 3,000 mAh battery, 64 GB of on-board storage with microSD expansion, and Android 5.0 Lollipop, all for $300 (available via Amazon).  Killer deal if you ask me.  There is also a cheaper variant with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage for $200 as well.

But do expect to see some some compromises.  The quality of the display is just okay, the camera is not on par with the greats, and the Asus software is undesirable.

zenfone2 
The Good 

  • Great value
  • “Sweet spot” display size
  • Quad-core, 64-bit CPU, 4GB RAM
  • MicroSD support
  • Lots of back cover choices
The Bad 

  • Mediocre display quality
  • Mediocre camera quality
  • Mediocre build quality
  • Weak speaker
  • Undesirable UI

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3

alcatel_onetouch_idol3Acaltel is not a house-hold name in the smartphone world, but they have been around, slowly building their presence.  They debuted the OneTouch Idol 3 this year, with very respectable specs for the asking price.  Be sure to check out our review here.

Like the Asus Zenfone 2, we’re looking at a 5.5″ 1080P IPS LCD display, 13 MP rear camera, and plastic build.  We start to see differentiation when we look more closely.  The Idol 3 is powered by a more-common Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 615 (octa-core, 64-bit, 2 GB RAM).  The screen quality on the Idol 3 is unarguably bests the Zenfone 2, with more accurate colors and wider viewing angles.  Acaltel put some focus on sound, with dual front-facing speakers (powered by JBL audio), something we never see on budget phones.  The Idol 3 falls slightly cheaper than the Zenfone 2, at $249 (available via Amazon).

Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 
The Good 

  • Great value
  • Fantastic display for a budget phone
  • Octa-core, 64-bit CPU
  • JBL front stereo speakers
  • MicroSD support
The Bad 

  • Plastic build
  • Okay camera quality, no OIS
  • Only 2 GB of RAM
  • No quick charging

Moto G (2015) and Moto E (2015)

moto_gMotorola made quite a name for themselves in the budget sector, first with the Moto G, then followed by the even cheaper Moto E.  At sub-$200 price tags, they wanted to cover a range of low budgets, with phones that only had what you needed to get the job done, without thinking poorly of them.  Hence, the review process is different when you take a tour around the devices, and the question becomes, how much am I getting for my money?

Turns out, you get quite a bit.  At $180, the 2015 Moto G gives you a 5″ screen with 720p resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC, 8 MP f/2.0 aperture rear camera, dual front-facing speakers, microSD expansion (up to 32 GB), and stock Lollipop (something you don’t see often).

At $120, the Moto E gets you a 4.5″ with 540×960 resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 200 SoC, 5 MP f/2.2 aperture rear camera, mono front-facing speaker, microSD expansion (up to 32 GB), and stock Lollipop.  In addition, unlike the Moto G, the Moto E has the option for a better model, with LTE and a Snapdragon 410 SoC, for $150.

Something to note is that neither phones have NFC, so you won’t be able to utilize Android Pay to make in-store purchases with your phone.

Moto G

moto-g-2nd-gen-front 
The Good 

  • Exceptional price for what you get
  • Dual front speakers
  • MicroSD support
  • Stock Lollipop

The Bad 

  • Plain design
  • Camera and screen quality are just okay
  • Only 1 GB of RAM
  • No LTE option

Moto E

moto-e-2nd-gen-front 
The Good 

  • Exceptional price for what you get
  • Option for LTE and better Snapdragon 410 SoC
  • Larger battery than Moto G
  • MicroSD support
  • Stock Lollipop
The Bad 

  • Plain design
  • Slightly worse camera and screen than Moto G
  • Only 1 GB of RAM
  • No camera flash

OnePlus One

OnePlus OneI don’t think it’d be right not to include the OnePlus One.  It almost falls in its own category, both a flagship and budget offering.  When we first heard about this venture for OnePlus last year, we weren’t sure if it’d be successful.  Not to mention that awful invite system.

Fortunately, OnePlus managed to make quite a name for themselves and a large fan base.  The One was everything OnePlus promised.  Well…except for all those different StyleSwap back cover options.  Nonetheless, over time it has become proven to be able to stand up with all the rest, for half the price.  And with recent price drop, it is made that more a consideration, especially when compared to new budget phones at about the same price.

To recap, we’re looking at the still capable Snapdragon 801 SoC, 5.5″ 1080P IPS LCD, 3 GB RAM, 13 MP f/2.0 (Sony IMX 214) rear camera, 3,100 mAh battery, and Android 5.0 Lollipop with either Cyanogen 11S or OxygenOS.

445CA0567C4C_OnePlus One_3_PORTRAIT 
The Good 

  • Fantastic value, even today
  • Great display size and quality
  • Camera that beats budget offerings
  • Large battery
The Bad 

  • Bigger than what a 5.5″ device should be
  • Dual bottom speakers are not all that
  • No microSD support
  • No wireless charging
  • Back cover options promise fell through

The post Top Android Phones of 2015 (so far) appeared first on AndroidGuys.

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