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Posts tagged ‘Reviews’

21
Apr

HTC One M9 review


For all the grief Android fanboys give Apple for merely refreshing its iPhone each year they don’t always hold Android smartphones to the same accountability.

Sure, most years we something big and revolutionary happen across the board; most hardware makers are able to produce something that looks different at first glance from one model to the next. What happens, though, when someone appears to go back to the same well three times in a row? In a boiled-down look, that’s what HTC has done with its flagship One.

The argument of revolution versus evolution plays out quite heavily with the HTC One line of devices. At a casual glance the average person might not be able to quickly identify the difference between the now-three generations? More importantly, does that matter?

Suffice it to say, the One and the One M8 received high marks for build quality and look to represent HTC very well. While other hardware makers were going the cheaper route with materials, HTC was putting out solid devices.

Android and UI

The HTC One M9 is not all that different from its predecessors yet it feels new at the same time. Attributed to Android 5.0 Lollipop and HTC Sense 7, the UI is the first thing that sticks with you.

Remember back to the first generations of HTC Sense and how it was a welcome alternative to the stock Android experience. A few years later, however, we were pining for HTC to stop pushing its agenda so heavily and to scale things back. The 7.0 release of Sense feels terrific and relies more on what Android sets forward with its Material Design principles.

Not only does Sense look wonderful with its more minimal influence, it’s also smarter than ever before. Out of the box you’ll find the One M9 set up with widgets, BlinkFeed (left screen), and a customizable launcher. What’s more, you’ll have a widget called Sense Home which is designed to highlight apps and games you’ll be more prone to use at home.

The idea is that when you leave you’ll turn to different apps; work sometimes requires entirely different apps. It might take a while for the phone to totally learn your preferences but it’s rather cool when it does. For those who already have specifics in mind you can drag and drop your own titles into the widget and jumpstart the learning.

For me BlinkFeed has always been a mixed bag. I love the concept but I always felt like execution was not where it could have been. That’s somewhat the case here for the latest iteration. Yes, there are more tie-ins and features, yet somehow I still come away wanting to drill down even more.

If there were a way for me to log into HTC’s website and pick and choose RSS feeds, sources, and other things and tie that to my profile I would be much more content. For example, I would  like to weigh some social media updates more heavily than a Yelp recommendation. Keep reaching for the stars, HTC, you’re getting closer each time out.

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As someone who loves to play with launchers, change icons and wallpapers, or install new widgets I love what HTC has done for the One M9. Specifically, I was so happy to see them embrace Themes. Users can pick a layout with like-minded icons, fonts, color schemes, sounds, and wallpapers.

Indeed, this is a rabbit hole for me as I am constantly looking at the various themes being created by HTC and the community.  To that end, I certainly recommend heading to the HTC site for themes and having a look around. There’s so many to install already in these early days and it’s only to get better.

If there was a drawback to the themes its that I might like 80 percent of the look but something about the widget or font irks me. Unfortunately you’re constrained on the handset and cannot do the full tailoring. But, head to the website and you’ll be able to customize the look to your liking.

HTC does a great job of leaving Android alone for the most part. You don’t have to look hard for things such as pinning apps, notification filters, and other Lollipop features. What’s more, HTC even lets users decide which order they want to place the Home/Back/Recent Apps buttons across the bottom. If you’re coming from another hardware maker you’ll not be slowed by having things out of order.

The default keyboard is good, but not perfect. For me, nothing beats the Google Keyboard that can be freely installed and customized to my liking. After using the Google option for more than a year or so I have become accustomed to its learning, key placements, and other tiny details. It’s not that the HTC version is terrible; it’s better than it has ever been. Auto-correction could certainly use a punch-up but otherwise this one does the job for most users.

Display

IMG_20150421_143134While the battle for pixels per inch has now gotten into Quad HD territory I was surprised to learn HTC opted for a 1080p (Super LCD) display for the One M9. At 5-inches it trails far behind the competition but ultimately matters not to the average end user.

Looking closely at the screen you are very hard-pressed to discern any pixels; viewing angles are some of the best we’ve seen on smartphones. Going any larger and it might have made a difference but then you’re not dealing with something as pocketable or easy to use with one hand.

Colors are great on the HTC One M9 and black looks very crisp. It’s not a perfect 100% black, but it sure does look good. Spend time playing games, looking at photos, or just generally playing with the phone and you’ll be thoroughly impressed by the screen.

I did not have the chance to review the One M8 however my understanding is that this screen is “cooler” than the predecessor. What’s more, other reviews I’ve seen indicate it feels less vivid or punchy than the display in last year’s model. With that said, I am reminded of one simple principle. If you have nothing to compare this to you’ll have a hard time finding something “wrong” or lacking.

Design

The One M9 feels (and looks) almost equal parts  One M7 and One M8. Suffice it to say, this is a good thing as we love holding this one in our hand. It’s angular where it needs to be yet doesn’t feel sharp or border on squarish. On the other hand, we like the smooth polished finish and tapered edges.

Looking at the device straight away you see the BoomSound speakers across the top and bottom of the face. The front-facing UltraPixel selfie camera, for its part, sits to the upper right corner. The speaker grille holes are very tiny but really push the sounds through. Depending on the lighting you might not even “see” them at all. Not to worry, though, because you definitely hear them.

htc-one-m9-global-ksp-best-audio-just-got-betterThe phone offers Dolby 5.1 surround sound effects which promise a cinematic experience. While it’s very easy to discern the left and right channels, it’s not all that easy to notice differences between Theater and Music modes. However, you won’t find anything else that delivers the levels and clarity that the One M9 does.

The One M9 feels fantastic and has just the right amount of weight. While you might initially find it heavy, especially as compared to other models, that goes away quickly. Indeed, the gunmetal and polished hairline effect has an air of quality and the overall package exudes attention to detail. If there’s one word that comes to mind in this phone it’s sturdy.

The nano-SIM and microSD card slots are tucked into the left and right edges, respectively. You can’t take the cover off and/or remove the battery; everything can be reached without digging under the hood.

The volume rocker (right side) is split in half with the power button sitting below the two. Looking closely you see a spiral pattern printed into the power/wake button. This helps make it easily identifiable without looking.

The One M9 is available in three color options: rose gold and silver, all-silver, and gunmetal. I’ve not spent any time with the other colors but I’ve seen them in person and find that all three are a nice touch that border on premium without pretense.

Depending on what kind of person you are you may want to get a protective case; there are plenty of official offerings to choose from. The One M9 can feel a tad slippery in the right (or wrong) conditions and the finish is not something you’ll want to scuff.

Along those lines, HTC’s Uh-Oh Protection plan is something you just don’t find in any other handset maker. Should you break the glass or crack the screen or even get water damage in the first year HTC will replace the phone for free. Hell, they’ll even extend the courtesy should you switch carriers in that same time frame.

The best part of this is that it comes free of charge and is just a perk of buying the One series. You can’t really put a price on this but it’s something I am sure some of us would have been glad to have in years past.

Camera

In an interesting twist, or about face, HTC has opted to go from UltraPixels back to megapixels in the M9. Yes, after spending so much effort on convincing us it in our interest to have UltraPixels, we’re given the standard unit of measurement (20-megapixels) in the 2015 flagship.  Well, that is, of course, except for the front-facing camera which is still UltraPixels.

The first few pictures I took with the One M9 were not what I would have liked but I would later learn it was the result of a software defect. HTC has since pushed an update and pictures are more accurate and much clearer. Also gone is the greenish vibe that was found in some images.

HTC One M9 camera samples

 

As I mentioned above, I did not review the One M8 so I cannot do a true comparison. However, looking through the reviews of others I get the sense that there isn’t a case of one camera being better than the other. In other words, we might have expected more behind the push to return to megapixels.

With that said, I found the camera to be very responsive even out of the box. I wager to guess that most users don’t dig deep when it comes to smartphone cameras. HTC, for its part, provides a really efficient setup for those who just want to snap pics in the moment.

In terms of the software side of the camera I really enjoy using the HTC One M9. There are a number of settings and controls to play with, some to satisfy the most powerful of users. Should you be the type of shooter who tweaks the ISO and white balance or toggles exposure settings, you’ll have plenty of tools.

On the other side of the coin there are some standard modes (Selfie, Panorama, etc) to choose from if you’re more of the “open and shoot” sort of user. Once you take your pics you can go in and remove red eye, add some particles, or create videos. Indeed, there are some fun settings to  play around with and a few of them produce really cool creations.

I don’t have any saved images from the front-facing camera but I can tell you it provides a much wider photo than other models. If you’re the selfie type of user (I am definitely not) then you will appreciate the picture quality and software for editing.

Overall Performance

Powered by a Qualcomm 810 processor and packing 3GB RAM, the One M9 screams along, handling everything you throw at it. Whether it’s an HD video, a massive first-person shooter game, or simply hopping from one app to another, this phone takes it all in stride.

You’ll have to look elsewhere for a head-to-head matchup or for benchmark scores. Our typical reader doesn’t care all that much for those sort of things, but we do know there’s a market for it. And, having a peek around the internet, we found the One M9 performs admirably and stands toe-to-toe with others recent models.

I like to keep my screen a touch more dim than my friends. I often set this on the first time I turn it on and never notice the difference. Keeping that in mind, I am consistently pulling in a full day’s work and play with this one. Even on days where I deliberately did not charge the phone I found myself going well into a second day before looking for a charger. I can image that playing with the power modes could push me two solid days.

If you’re in the market for a highly-rated, well-constructed smartphone you’ll have a difficult finding more for your money than the HTC One M9. Priced competitively to begin with, the Uh Oh Protection gives it an obvious edge.

I was thoroughly impressed with the software experience in this phone even though I didn’t love every aspect. While I do tend to prefer a more stock Android experience, I was not quick to hide or turn off the HTC stuff that comes out of the box.

Those who are graduating from the first or second generation One models will feel right at home. Likewise, those who are getting into their first smartphone altogether will be pleased with the ease and setup of the One M9.

The post HTC One M9 review appeared first on AndroidGuys.

21
Apr

Kraken A.M.S Case for the Samsung Galaxy S5 review


Finding a case for your shiny new Samsung Galaxy S5 can be as simple as getting the first case you see, or as hard as having to do hours upon hours of research to find one that will keep your device safe from the daily struggles of modern day life.Well, if you fall in the latter category, then do we have a great option for you. Today we are taking a look at one such case, the Kraken A.M.S Case for the Samsung Galaxy S5 by Trident, that not only offers a superb protection but does so in a sleek manner, a true rugged knight.

Trident Kraken AMS Series Case for the Samsung Galaxy S5 

Design and Build Quality

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The Kraken A.M.S Case is composed of hardened polycarbonate materials with over-molded shock-absorbing TPE, on both the outside and inside. On the corners, you also get some added protection where the shock absorbing padding is since one of the most likely places your phone is going to hit if it falls are the corners. While this is great and all, but how do they feel to the touch? Thankfully, the answer is comfortable. One of my biggest gripes with cases is how some of them tend to offer great protection, they look fantastic, but alas, they feel awful to the touch. The device is going to spend most of its time in our hands, so it only makes sense that case manufacturers take the time to make sure that they feel comfortable to the touch. Anyway, I digress.

There are two layers to the Kraken A.M.S Case, one being the front part that also hold the screen protector, and the bulk of the device, the back. The screen protector does have an opening on the bottom where the home button is so that, unfortunately, does not get any kind of protection. Most ports are covered to help keep out dust, but don’t expect the case to make your Samsung Galaxy S5 waterproof (which would be pointless, as the smartphone is waterproof straight from the factory.), but it will help keep out dust and other particles from touching the device. We all know that those evil dust bunnies are keen on ruining our lives.

  • Drop (Mil-STD-810F, Method 516.5) – 26 drops onto concrete from 4ft.
  • Vibration (Mil-STD-810F, Method 514.5) from 20-2000Hz across 3 different axes for a total of 18 hours.
  • Dust (Mil-STD-810F, Method 510.4) – blow dust for 3 hours at 29 ft / sec.
  • Sand (Mil-STD-810F, Method 510.4) – blow sand for 3 hours at 59 ft / sec.
  • Rain (Mil-STD-810F, Method 506.4) – 7.9 inches per hour of rain at 40 mph wind velocity for 1 hour.

Trident

Special Features

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One of the best features about the Kraken A.M.S Case for the Samsung Galaxy S5 is the stand on the back of the device. Now you can watch all of your favorite shows while you work on that essay that is due in an hour, you know, just watch your shows… The stand allows you to stand the device in both portrait or landscape modes.

On the back layer, you get one large opening where the camera is allowed to shine through and a smaller port on the lower left-hand corner where the speakers are located. Right in the middle you get the added bonus of a stand, which we will address in more detail later on.

Overall, the Kraken A.M.S Case provides protection from many kinds of damage, as it holds various kinds of certifications, such as:

Final Thoughts

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The Kraken A.M.S is a great option for those that like rugged cases. It provides excellent protection, and for the price, you would be hard-pressed to find a better case. The kickstand is a great added feature, and for those of you that like to carry your phones on your waist, it also comes with a belt holster. The Kraken A.M.S does what supposed to do, and that is protect your device from damage and the case delivers on that front. What makes it even better, in my personal opinion, is the comfort level I experience when using the device, which is usually not the case for cases of this kind. If you wish to purchase one for yourself, or just get some more information regarding the Kraken A.M.S, you can head over to Amazon using the link provided.

The post Kraken A.M.S Case for the Samsung Galaxy S5 review appeared first on AndroidGuys.

21
Apr

ZTE SPro 2 Review


The Bottom Line

PROS
  • Great build quality
  • Bright projector
  • Ease of use
  • Portable
  • Good battery life
  • Expandable storage
  • HDMI and Miracast support
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Proprietary charger
8.4

The ZTE SPro 2 is a portable and powerful projector that runs Android, and even though the price point may seem quite steep, this device does what it is designed to do extremely well.

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One of the biggest advantages of the open nature of Android is that it allows for its use and application in a variety of product, and has led to a unique line of devices from ZTE. Like its predecessor, the latest iteration of the company’s portable projector and mobile hotspot combo brings to the table some different and useful capabilities, while featuring major improvements in all key aspects when compared to the original. What does an Android-powered device such as this have to offer, and who is the intended target? We find that out, and more, in this comprehensive ZTE SPro 2 review!

Design

ZTE S Pro 2-35

The ZTE SPro 2 retains a lot of the design language of the original, and is basically just a large square with rounded corners and flat sides, and is slightly bigger and thicker than its predecessor, at 1.5-inches thick. The shape will remind of you the Amazon Fire TV, with the SPro 2 of course being much bigger, given the large display, battery, and projector that it features. The build material is mostly metal, with the bottom of the device being the exception, and weighs a little over a pound. That’s hardly what you’d call heavy, and the weight actually makes it feel more substantial in the hand than the previous iteration.

ZTE S Pro 2-11

Taking a look around the device, the buttons to control the volume are found on the left side with the power button placed on top, and all of them are very easy to press and offer a good tactile feel. On the right is a fan to keep things cool, and on the back are the proprietary charging port, HDMI port, USB 3.0 port, and headphone jack, below all of which are the microSIM card and microSD card slots. On the bottom are little rubber feet to keep the projector from sliding around, a standard tripod mount, and a rather small kickstand, the helps you prop the device up at an angle for easier viewing.

Display

ZTE S Pro 2-14

The display on top has been given a nice bump in size and resolution, with it now being a 5-inch panel with a 720p resolution, with a pixel density of 293 ppi. It’s not the highest resolution or pixel density around, but with a device such as this, it doesn’t need to be, as you won’t be using the display much, especially if you use the SPro 2 most of the top as a projector or a Wi-Fi hotspot. It is still nice that ZTE decided to include an HD display though, bringing with it bright, vivid colors and good viewing angles. So if you do decide to use the device to play games, browse the web, or read emails, this display is certainly more than good enough for that.

Performance and Hardware

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It’s somewhat odd to discuss the hardware features of a projector, but under the hood, the ZTE SPro 2 does pack some power, with its quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Adreno 330 GPU, and 2 GB of RAM. This processing package may seem a little dated given the current trends in the smartphone and tablet market, but is definitely more than capable of handling the standard aspects of the Android experience that is available on this device. Performance remains smooth during everyday tasks like web browsing, reading mails, and some multi-tasking, and also does very well with everything but the most graphic-intensive of games. Keep in mind though that certain games and applications may be a little awkward to use on this device due to their portrait orientations.

ZTE S Pro 2-4

The ZTE SPro 2 comes with the usual array of connectivity options, including 4G LTE support, and also functions as a Wi-Fi hotspot that allows a connection for up to 10 devices. The available 16 GB of on-board storage may not seem like a lot, given the media-centric nature of the device, but expandable storage via microSD card is possible. Also, being that it has a built in USB port, it’s likely that they are intending for this to be used in conjunction with a portable hard drive, which is a nice feature to have.

ZTE S Pro 2-9

For audio, an internal speaker is found at the bottom of the device that does get very loud and with more clarity than expected from a single speaker, but a better option may still be to use headphones or external speakers than can be connected via the headphone jack or Bluetooth.

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On the battery front, the SPro 2 packs a rather large 6,300 mAh unit the ZTE promises will provide up to 3 hours of use as a projector, and 10 hours when functioning as a Wi-Fi hotspot. So far in my testing, ZTE claims have certainly held true, with just above 20% of battery remaining after watching a movie with a duration of two and a half hours, and in some instances, I was able to squeeze past the three hour mark as well. The performance of the battery is definitely a big improvement over its predecessor and its maximum of two hours of use as a projector. As a side note, it has to be mentioned that projector use shows up as screen on time as can be seen in the battery screenshots above.

Projector

ZTE S Pro 2-22

We now take a look at the the projector, something that is essentially the star of the show, and the main reason why anyone would buy this device. It is a DLP projector that comes with a brightness of 200 lumens, doubling what was found with the original, and is capable of outputting a 720p image with a screen size up to 120 inches. The projector is pretty bright and fairly easy to see even in a well lit room, but unfortunately, in order to take advantage of the highest brightness setting, the device has to be plugged into an AC power source.

ZTE S Pro 2-15

The SPro 2 also features keystone correction, which basically means that the image will always maintain a rectangular form even if the projector is not perfectly horizontal, avoiding the trapezoid effect that will otherwise be seen without this feature. The device also doesn’t come with a physical wheel or button to control focus, which is all handled through the software now. Be default, the projector focuses automatically with a few seconds and works extremely well. If you do prefer setting the focus manually though, it is still possible within the projector settings.

ZTE S Pro 2-30

Projected content is made available in three ways, first by streaming or being stored and played locally directly from the device itself, secondly via Miracast, and finally, by connecting another device using the HDMI port. Streaming or playing locally store content directly is definitely the easiest method to use, with no extra wires or additional setups required. Transferring content isn’t always ideal though, and that is where HDMI and Miracast opens things up.

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The HDMI port allows laptops, or any other devices that support HDMI, to be hooked up, which is a great option not just for watching videos, but also viewing webpages or presentations. Miracast allows for any device that supports it, like most smartphones and tablets, to be used to project content. Once connected, any content from your device will be shown through the projector, and it actually works surprisingly well, with very little latency between the connected device and the projector.

Software

ZTE S Pro 2-21

On the software side of things, the ZTE SPro 2 is running Android 4.4 KitKat, but unlike last year’s device that offered a stock experience, the SPro 2 now comes with a custom skin that is definitely more suited to be used with a projector. The interface features large tiles, grids of icons, and individual tabs at the top to easily find what you’re looking for, with additional tabs also easy to create for any applications that you may want to group together. A floating bubble makes it very easy to turn on the projector, regardless of whether you’re using an application or at the homescreen, and is incredibly useful to quickly turn on the projector.

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Pricing and Final Thoughts

The ZTE SPro 2 will be available exclusively from AT&T for $399.99 with a 2-year contract, or $499.99 off-contract, with a $10 monthly fee to add it to a new or existing Mobile Share Value plan. The price is definitely steep to justify a purchase for just casual media consumption, but if you do see its use at work as well, the device could be a good buy.

ZTE S Pro 2-17

So, there you have it – a quick look at the ZTE SPro 2! There’s no denying that this device is a niche product, but it does what it is designed to do extremely well. The SPro 2 addresses a lot of the negatives found with its predecessor, and is certainly a good option for anyone looking for a simple, but powerful, and portable projector, with some additional features, such as its Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities and almost standard Android experience, tacked on.



20
Apr

BLU Studio Energy review


PROS
  • Excellent battery life
  • Low price point
  • Overall great build quality
CONS
  • Sluggish performance
  • Dim display
  • Subpar camera
7.0

The Blu Studio Energy is a phone design for consumers who value great battery life over most other aspects in a smartphone. While the combination of a giant 5,000mAh battery and energy efficient internals will give you up to 72 hours of battery life on a single charge, it’s clear that this device’s main focus is stamina, and not much more than that.

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BLU is slowly making a name for itself in the smartphone world by offering smartphones, unlocked and at very affordable prices. The company released a slew of such products at CES 2015 back in January, but the most compelling of the lot is the BLU Studio Energy, with its biggest selling point being the massive 5,000 mAh battery found within. A huge battery and the promise of long battery life is definitely a big plus, but what else does this device bring to the table? We find out, in this detailed BLU Studio Energy review!

Design

BLU-Studio-Energy-7

The BLU Studio Energy does feel like a large phone, despite what its 5-inch display size would suggest, mostly because of its thickness and significant weight. This thickness and weight feels out of place given that a lot of OEMs are still pushing the limits when it comes device dimensions, but at 10.4 mm thick, is a worthy compromise to allow for the large battery that powers the phone.

BLU-Studio-Energy-24

In terms of design, the Studio Energy isn’t built to turn heads, and is certainly a no frills type of device. The right side is where you will find a chrome textured volume rocker and power button, with the headphone jack and microUSB port placed at the top and bottom respectively. On the back is the 8 MP shooter and flash, speaker grill, and the BLU logo, with the back cover also removable.

BLU-Studio-Energy-2

The build materials are a mix of matte and glossy plastic, with some chrome plating thrown into the mix. The glossy plastic is found mostly on the sides of the device, and is quite slippery, which would have detracted from the handling experience if not for the manageable size of the phone.  The menu, home, and back capacitive keys are below the display, but I would have preferred the presence of a dedicated multi-tasking key, instead of needing to press and hold the home key for a few seconds.

BLU-Studio-Energy-15

The phone feels solid in the hand, and the weight actually works as a positive, allowing for more confidence in the grip then what you would get with the lightweight flagship devices of today. The design and build quality understandably doesn’t offer the premium feel that you may hope for, but this phone is made to do one thing, and that is offer great battery life.

Display

BLU-Studio-Energy-23

The BLU Studio Energy features a 5-inch IPS LCD display with a 720 resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 294 ppi. At this resolution, the display is sharp enough to zoom in to text and see more detail in images, and while the colors don’t necessarily pop, it’s certainly not a disappointing display experience. Brightness is a bit of a concern though, and when in broad daylight, it was difficult to get a whole lot from the screen without finding some shade.

The trend towards higher display resolutions dominates the flagship race, but this display does a good job with everyday tasks,  especially given the mid-range nature of this phone. It’s not going to please those looking to be at the cutting edge, but the Studio Energy isn’t targeting that market anyway.

Performance and Hardware

BLU-Studio-Energy-10

Under the hood, the device packs a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor, clocked at 1.3GHz, and backed by the Mali-400 GPU and 1GB of RAM. The processing package is intended to bolster what should also be an impressive battery life, and is decent for a device available at this price point. Performance isn’t the most impressive, and things do feel a little sluggish overall. 1GB of RAM doesn’t contribute a lot to the multi-tasking capabilities, but does a good job nonetheless. With minimal apps installed, even something as simple as swiping down to open the notification dropdown didn’t register, and the experience can take some getting used to.

BLU-Studio-Energy-21

On the gaming front, the Studio Energy’s Mali-400 GPU did a great job with most graphic intensive games we threw at it. Although Dead Trigger and Modern Combat warranted a few dropped frames, we’d imagine your gaming experience will be mostly positive if you decide to pick up this device. The Studio Energy comes with just 8GB of on-board storage, though it offers up to 64GB of expandable memory via MicroSD. No, this isn’t particularly ideal. But this device isn’t meant to boast the best specs on the market; it’s meant to offer specs that are good enough for most folks while not breaking the bank.

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Battery

BLU-Studio-Energy-6

Let’s move on to the main attraction – the giant 5,000mAh battery. Throughout this entire review, you’ll notice that, for the most part, BLU has added in hardware components that are meant to conserve as much power as possible to extend battery life. And after spending so much time with the device, we’d have to agree with BLU’s decision to scale back on the high-end specifications.

We were able to make the phone last up to 48 hours on a single charge with normal use, achieving about 6 hours of screen on time. We were connected to Wi-Fi the majority of the time we tested this device, and a typical day would consist of streaming Google Play Music and Spotify while playing the occasional game. Even if the phone doesn’t last 48 hours on a single charge every time, it’s still nice to know that at the end of a long day, there’s no need to dig around for a charger.

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Software

BLU-Studio-Energy-4

The Studio Energy is running a near-stock version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The majority of the software is very close to vanilla Android, though a few minor changes can be found throughout the device, like the slightly altered notification panel.

A handy Guest Mode can be found on this device, allowing your messages, photos and other personal information to be hidden if you choose. There’s also a quick power saving mode that limits the maximum CPU performance and restricts a few other under the hood processes. To be honest, we didn’t use this mode too much throughout our time with the device since the battery is already stellar. This feature is there if you need it, but odds are, you won’t.

Camera

BLU-Studio-Energy-20

The camera software on the Studio Energy is simple. The interface is very clean, though it doesn’t provide many options or controls. This definitely isn’t the best camera to use if you’re looking for a ton of granular control over your photos, but there’s always the option to download a third party camera app if need be.

The Energy includes all of the standard shooting modes we’ve come to expect on most smartphones, like HDR, Panorama and Sport Mode. There are also a few gesture-based modes to choose from, but unfortunately the selection doesn’t hide the poor image quality found in both cameras.

BLU-Studio-Energy-12

Overall, the images taken with the 8MP rear camera turned out very flat. Most photos lacked color, dynamic range, and were overexposed. The same can be said for the 2MP front-facing camera, which consistently provided poor saturation levels, overexposed areas and general graininess, even in well-lit areas. If you buy this device and attempt to take some photos, we’d suggest downloading a third party app to give you more control over the image quality.

Gallery

Pricing and Final Thoughts

BLU-Studio-Energy-18

So, there you have it – a closer look at the BLU Studio Energy! Sure, the specifications aren’t the best on the market and the camera could use some work, but for the most part, this device was a joy to use. For those who value battery capacity over just about every other aspect in a smartphone, this is the phone for you. And at just $150, it’s quite a steal.

You’ve heard our thoughts, now it’s time to voice your opinion! Given the price point, build quality, performance and battery statistics we’ve provided, would you pick one up for yourself? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

More from Blu

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20
Apr

7 months in, the Moto 360 is still the best Android Wear smartwatch on the market.


When the Moto 360 was released back in September of last year, we found it to be the best Android Wear smartwatch on the market at that time due to its elegant looks and nifty features. That was 7 months ago though, and quite a lot can happen in such a long time span. Today we are taking another look at the Moto 360 by Motorola, as I describe my personal experience with the device during a three-week testing period. During that time, I found the Moto 360 to be the one of the best smartwatches on the market and the best Android Wear smartwatch, period. So, how about we get started then.

Motorola Moto 360 

Initial Thoughts

When I got the email notifying me that a package had arrived for me, I quickly mosied on over to my mail center, knowing that I would soon have a shiny new Moto 360 to play with. When I took it out of the box, I was quite surprised. While I had seen many images and videos concerning the Moto 360, having never owned one, I was taken away by the truly elegant and sleek look of the device. The circular body encased in its metal body was just fantastic to look at. It gave it a very futuristic look, and I was quite impressed. The leather straps augmented that look by giving the Moto 360 a cleaner look. While I am a fan of metal bands, I feel that too much metal can make a device look gaudy. No, the leather band suited the Moto 360 by providing a great contrast to the silver, circular body.

IMAG0118

After I finished gawking at the Moto 360, I put it back into the box and went on home. I wanted to be able to test the device in a more tranquil location, and the FedEX store was not that. Also, I am pretty sure that the lady at the desk was giving me a weird look, most likely due to the fact that I love gadgets and I tend to get overexcited whenever I get a new one. Anyway, when I got home, I proceeded to take everything out of the box and place them in an ordered fashion on my desk. The dock looked great, as it was small and out of the way. So you could place it almost anywhere and forget that it was even there. I placed mine right next to my bed, making it serve as a nightstand clock.
After I had everything situated on my desk, I took the next logical step and powered on the Moto 360. So began my testing period, and here are my thoughts on the Moto 360, in no particular order.

My first impressions of Android Wear

Android Wear has been around for some time now, and I will admit, when I first heard about it, I was very excited. I thought to myself, “finally, a true smartwatch OS that will make owning a watch a great experience again.” Unfortunately though, after the first devices started hitting the market, I realized that I was not going to get the experience that I wanted. What experience was that you may ask? Well, I honestly can’t really tell you. I wanted Google me an experience that I didn’t know I needed, and that when I got it, I would not be able to imagine not having it. I wanted to be able to quickly check my messages on my smartwatch and be able to reply to them in a quick and easy fashion. I wanted the smartwatch to be an extension of my phone, to be able to make me more productive. I guess what I really wanted, was a tiny virtual assistant on my wrist, which I foolishly thought I would get since I knew that Google Now would be a very prominent feature of Android Wear. Unfortunately, that was not the case and I quickly dismissed Android Wear and returned my LG G Watch, and went back to using my Pebble Watch. While this is not to say that the LG G Watch was inferior to the Pebble Watch, the Pebble Watch at least knew what it was and did not advertise anything else.

Fast forward to our present day, and Android Wear has seen some revisions and improvements that have made it a bit more useful. While it still needs quite a lot of improvements for me to be able to say that I am 100% satisfied with the OS, it has reached a point where I am content with having a device that runs it, which brings us back to the Moto 360.

After having had an unsatisfactory experience with the LG G Watch, I was just going to wait until Android Wear improved, or a device was announced that could make me forget about my previous grievances and make me want to own it. In my case, the latter occurred. When the Moto 360 was announced, I instantly knew that I had to have one, though this time I would wait some time before I purchased the device, since most new devices tend to have issues when they first come out.

Android Wear and the Moto 360

Even though Android Wear is supposed to offer the same experience on all devices that carry it, I found that I enjoyed using it much more on the Moto 360 than I had on the LG G Watch. To be fair though, the software did have some time to mature between then and now. Anyway, after I turned on the device, let it run through the setup process, downloaded Android Wear on my HTC One M8, synced them together, and then set things up on the phone, I was ready to start testing and using the Moto 360.

IMAG0106

Notifications, which one can argue are the heart of any good smartwatch OS, worked flawlessly on the Moto 360. All of my text messages, Gmails, FB messages, and other forms of communications were delivered to my wrist for easy access. I could then easily delete them, reply to them, or just simply ignore them (which I may have done on several occasions…). It was also nice being able to read entire messages on my wrist, without having to take out my phone to read them. I tend to spend a lot of time in class or in meetings, so being able to discretely read a message when I had a minute or two was a huge bonus for me. One of my favorite features though was able to speak directly to the Moto 360 and reply to text messages using nothing but my voice. This really came in handy when I needed to reply to my friends and let them know that I was going to be late. All in all, the notification system on the Moto 360 worked as it should have, with little hassle to be had, if any.

Sadly though, that was the extent of my usage for the Moto 360. In the sense that I did not find myself using it for much else. I never used the heart rate monitor, nor did I download any apps for it, or much else than use it as a watch and a notification center. I never really found the need or desire to do so. Which is by no means a bad thing, per se. I needed a watch that would allow me to receive my notifications on my wrist so that I did not have to take out my smartphone every single time, and the Moto 360 delivered wonderfully. As for the other features, it was nice knowing that they were there, but I did not find myself needing to use them. This is not a reflection on Motorola though, as Android Wear is a product of Google and not the hardware giant. Google just didn’t really improve that much on the whole smartwatch idea, and it, unfortunately, shows in Android Wear.

Battery life and everyday use

The battery life on the Moto 36o, when it was first released, was horrendous, at least that is what everyone kept saying. I can’t really speak on that since I got mine after many software updates that really helped improve said battery life. I also never had the ambient screen turned on.

I was able to get a full days use of the watch, which is more than I could have asked for. I didn’t mind having to charge it every night since it was as simple as setting it down on the dock and letting it do its thing. Even better, I didn’t have to plug it into anything, due to the Qi Wireless charging capabilities of the Moto 360. When I would forget to charge the device at night, I would quickly set it on the dock and it would charge fully in less than an hour. So in the time that it would take me to get ready for work.

IMAG0116

The Mot0 360 is a neatly designed smartwatch and very comfortable to use. I never minded having it on my wrist, and I really enjoyed the compliments that I received on a daily basis while I had it on. This is a testament to Motorola and their great ability to make great products.

Final Thoughts

As I said before, this is by no means supposed to be a detailed review on the Moto 360. Just a short synopsis of my experience with the Moto 360 and some of the changes it has seen since it first came out.
While the Moto 360 did not have all of the features that I would have liked to have seen it carry, it still offered a great experience and I would gladly recommend it to anyone that wanted to get a smartwatch.  So if you want a quality smartwatch at a reasonable price, then the Moto 360 is the way to go, as it remains the best Android Wear smartwatch on the market.

The post 7 months in, the Moto 360 is still the best Android Wear smartwatch on the market. appeared first on AndroidGuys.

17
Apr

Masked Shooters review: a fun FPS with some kinks


Masked Shooters screenFirst-person shooters are always fun to play and are an easy way to pass the time. It’s easy to start playing one and then realize that you have been playing for hours. The Play Store is full of these games, and Masked Shooters is one that is fun if you can look past some of the bugs.

Masked Shooters gameplay

First off, Masked Shooters is really easy to start up. After installing you can have it up and playing in seconds. After starting, you are brought to your character screen where you can choose your name, see how many games you have played, how many games you have won, and how many kills you have. You are also given a score and a title. However, I do not know how the score is calculated. There are no instructions for this game nor any type of leader board. I am also unsure of how you receive certain titles since there is no sort of explanation anywhere in the game. The next screen lets you select your room. You can name the room, select the number of players, select the game mode, the game location, and what weapons are available. One thing that I enjoy about this game is that all weapons are unlocked from the beginning. You do not have to earn a certain amount of points to unlock a better gun. One more continue and you are playing. The controls are simple. A joystick to move and a “Change Weapon” button on the right. On the left, you have a firing button, a sights button, and a jump button. You look around by sliding your finger across the screen. Once you have mastered the controls, it is time to go on a rampage and shoot anything that moves. And that…is…about…it. There is not other objectives for this game. There is no story line, achievements, rewards, anything. Sure, you have that score I mentioned earlier, but who knows what that is even for? That being said, this game is a great way to blow off steam. Since you have all the guns one the game begins, you can spend forever just shooting people and them switch to an RPG for some sweet explosions. The game does not look half bad, and the locations are pretty cool. Once you start playing, it is actually pretty hard to stop. After installing it, I played for about an hour without even realizing it.

Masked Shooters optionsBack at the start screen, you have some options that you can choose to change around your gameplay. By default, the quality is set to “Fastest” but you can set it to whatever level you want and whatever your device can handle. I played this on a Nexus 6, and when I attempted to set the quality to “Beautiful” or “Fantastic,” it would crash. I restart the app, restarted my phone, and reinstalled with no luck. I am not sure why this happens, but hopefully the developer fixes it soon. If you are like me, the sensitivity was a little too high. You can change that in the options, too. However, the slider for sensitivity is actually labeled “Sensibility.” It is a small typo, but I feel like the developer should have caught that. You also have the option to raise and lower the sound. One more complaint is that the game does not rotate with your device. If I turn my device the wrong way, I am just staring at an upside down game because it does not rotate on your screen.

With all these issues stated, the game is still super fun. If you are looking to find a fun little FPS to play in your spare time, then this is definitely the game for you. You will not have to commit much time to it because there is nothing to unlock or upgrade, just things to shoot. While I reviewed the single-player version of this game, there is also a multiplayer version which might bring some more competition. Masked Shooters is available on the Play Store for free.

What we liked:

  • Quick to start playing
  • Everything is already unlocked
  • Graphics are nice
  • Controls are simple and easy to learn
  • No tasks to complete, just things to shoot

What needs improvement:

  • Crashes when the quality is set past a certain level
  • Does not rotate with your device
  • No storyline or achievements
  • No instructions
  • Not sure how to points are earned and titles are gained

Did you check out Masked Shooters? Tell us what you thought in the comments!

The post Masked Shooters review: a fun FPS with some kinks appeared first on AndroidGuys.

16
Apr

Showdown: Raspberry Pi 2 vs ODROID C1 vs HummingBoard vs MIPS Creator CI20


The 2012 release of the original Raspberry Pi created a whole movement of hobbyists, developers, and educationalists, who used the ARM based platform to create, hack, and teach. Although the Raspberry Pi wasn’t the first Single Board Computer (SBC) on the market, it succeeded for three important reasons. First, it was a full computer on a little board, it had a desktop and you could write computer programs on it; Second, it had a set of user programmable GPIO pins, similar to those found on microcontroller platforms like the Arduino; Third, and probably most importantly, it only cost $35.

Since then the SBC market has grown significantly and the Raspberry Pi is no longer the only choice available. Among the popular devices available are the ODROID C1, the HummingBoard, the MIP Creator CI20, and the Raspberry Pi 2. Of course, the list of available boards is much longer, but these are the boards that I have personally tested. At the end of the article I will list some of the other boards that you might to consider, if you don’t find what you are looking for here.

SBC-showdown-16

The SBC market is heavily dominated by ARM and three of the four boards that we will be looking at use ARM based processors. The exception is the Creator CI20 which uses a MIPS processor. So before we compare the boards, let me formally introduce you to each one.

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Raspberry Pi 2

Although the Raspberry Pi 1 was enormously successful, there was one complaint: the overall performance of the board was lacking, especially when running desktop applications. The performance was less than desirable because it used a single core CPU clock at just 900 MHz. Considering the cost, the innovative nature of the board, and its versatility, then the performance is perfectly understandable, but there was room for improvement. That improvement came in the form of the Raspberry Pi 2, which uses a quad-core processor and doubles the amount of RAM.

Even though the Pi 2 is more powerful and has more memory, the Raspberry Pi foundation managed to keep the price exactly the same. This is a guaranteed recipe for success.

Raspberry-Pi-2-IMG_1510

ODROID C1

One of the key reasons for the success of the Raspberry Pi was its price. While there are lots of other companies that make SBCs, there aren’t that many who seem to be able to match the Pi’s price point. Of course, some of the boards are only slightly more expensive than the Pi, and to be fair they often offer more functionality, as we will see with the MIPS Creator CI20.

However one company that has managed to build a board for the same basic price as the Raspberry Pi is HardKernel. Called the ODROID C1, it also costs $35. And like the Pi 2, it also uses a quad-core processor and comes with 1GB of RAM. The ODROID C1 isn’t the only SBC that HardKernel make, but it is the cheapest one. Details about the other boards later.

ODROID-C1-31

HummingBoard i2eX

Another company which offers several different SBCs is SolidRun. All of their boards are built around Freescale’s i.MX 6 series of processors. The i.MX 6 range is based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 design, and scales from single- to quad-core.

HummingBoard-00001

The HummingBoard i2eX uses a dual-core i.MX 6 processor, comes with 1GB of RAM, and has the same form factor as a Raspberry Pi 1 – it will even fit into a case designed for the first generation Pi.

MIPS Creator CI20

The one board in our line-up which doesn’t use an ARM based processor is the MIPS CI20 Creator. At its heart is a dual-core MIPS based processor coupled with a PowerVR GPU and backed by 1GB of RAM. It is also unique in that it includes its own built-in storage, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. At just $65, it is more expensive than the ODROID C1 or the Raspberry Pi 2, but you are getting more for your money.

Imagination-CI20 (2)

How they compare on paper

Now that you have been introduced to our four boards, how do they compare on paper? Here is a list of the specifications of each board and how it compares with the others:

Device ODROID C1 Raspberry Pi 2 HummingBoard i2eX Creator CI20
CPU 1.5Ghz quad core ARM Cortex-A5 CPU from Amlogic 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU from Broadcom 1GHz i.MX6 dual-core Cortex-A9 CPU 1.2GHz dual-core Imagination MIPS32 CPU
GPU Mali-450 MP2 GPU Videocore IV GC2000 PowerVR SGX540
Memory 1GB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Storage SD card slot or eMMC module SD card slot SD card slot 8GB onboard flash, SD card slot
Connectivity 4 x USB, microHDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, infra red remote control receiver 4 x USB, HDMI, Ethernet, 3.5mm audio jack 2 x USB, HDMI, Ethernet, 3.5mm audio jack, infra red remote control receiver Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 x USB, HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack
OS Android, Linux Linux, Windows 10 Linux, Android Linux, Android
Connectors GPIO, SPI, I2C, RTC (Real Time Clock) backup battery connector Camera interface (CSI), GPIO, SPI, I2C, JTAG Camera interface (CSI-2), GPIO, UART, SPI, I2C, PCI-Express Gen 2, mSATA II, RTC with backup battery Camera interface (ITU645 controller), 14-pin ETAG connector,
2 x UART, GPIO, SPI, I2C, ADC
Price $35 $35/£24 $110 $65/£50

Android

The two main Android features that distinguish one board from another are support for sound over HDMI, and support for USB flash drives.

So that is the hardware, but what about the software. Each of the boards in our test can run at least two operating systems, all of them run Linux, and most of them run Android. The one board which doesn’t run Android is the Raspberry Pi, 1 or 2. The Raspberry Pi Foundation doesn’t see Android as a priority, and there appears to be some porting difficulties due to some missing drivers from Broadcom. Of course, this could all change.

Android does however run on the ODROID C1, the HummingBoard and the MIP CI20 Creator. Currently all three only support Android 4.4 KitKat, but each one has the potential to run Android 5.0 Lollipop, however none of the board makers have officially released a ROM at this time.

To judge how well Android is supported on each of the boards I will use the following criteria: features, performance and support for Google’s services.

The two main Android features that distinguish one board from another are support for sound over HDMI and support for USB flash drives. The best board in terms of these features is the ODROID C1. The HummingBoard and the CI20 don’t support USB flash drives under Android, and the CI20 doesn’t support sound over HDMI.

Scoring each board out of 4 for features: the ODROID C1 gets 4, the HummingBoard gets 3, and the CI20  scores 2.

Next, performance. Using AnTuTu as a guide to the relative performance, the ODROID C1 scored 15887, and the HummingBoard-i2eX scored 12198. I wasn’t able to test the CI20, but according to comments I have seen on the Internet, it scores less than the other two.

So, scoring each board out of 4 for performance, the ODROID C1 gets 4, the HummingBoard gets 3, and the CI20  scores 2.

Finally, in terms of support for Google Play and Google’s services: the HummingBoard comes with Google Play pre-installed, whereas the ODROID C1 doesn’t include Google’s services by default, but you can install them via a quick hack. The CI20 doesn’t include support for Google’s service at all.

Therefore scoring each board out of 4 for Google Play support: the HummingBoard gets 4,  the ODROID C1 gets 3, and the CI20  scores 2.

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Since the Raspberry Pi doesn’t support Android, it will score 0 for this section. The totals for this section are:

  • ODROID C1 – 11
  • HummingBoard i2eX – 10
  • CI20 Creator – 6
  • Raspberry Pi – 0

Linux

All four boards support Linux, and they all support it well. To try and judge which board supports Linux the best, I will use the following criteria: the number of distributions supported, performance, and the amount of free memory available after a fresh boot into the desktop.

The board which supports the most Linux distros is the Raspberry Pi 2. Largely due to the sheer size of its user community, the Raspberry Pi is a popular platform and therefore receives the most attention in terms of porting.

The fastest board of the four, in terms of CPU performance without help from the GPU, is the ODROID C1.

The ODROID C1 isn’t too far behind, and neither is the HummingBoard. Last but not least comes the MIPS CI20 Creator. Partly because it is a relatively new board and partly because it uses a MIPS based processor rather than an ARM based processor, the CI20 does support a respectable list of distros including Debian, Gentoo, Yocto Sato, and Angstrom, however it just isn’t as many as the other three.

The scores for distro support is therefore: Raspberry Pi – 4, ODROID C1 and HummingBoard – tied on 3, and CI20 – 1.

As for performance, the OpenSSL command line tool has a speed option which tests the performance of its various cryptographic algorithms. It also provides a good way to judge the relative performance of one CPU compared to another.

SBC-mega-showdown-openssl-benchmark

The scores were quite revealing. The fastest board of the four, in terms of CPU performance without help from the GPU, is the ODROID C1. Next comes the HummingBoard, followed by the Raspberry Pi 2. Last place, but not by much, goes to the CI20.

As a result, the scores for performance are: ODROID C1 – 4, HummingBoard – 3, Raspberry Pi 2 – 2, and the CI20 – 1.

Since these boards all have 1GB of RAM, it is important how much free memory remains once the board has booted to the desktop. The graphical user interfaces can be memory hogs and each of the boards uses a lightweight window manager to try and conserve memory. The results are for the default or recommended distro that can boot into the desktop without any additional installation and configuration by the user.

The most frugal board is the Raspberry Pi 2, which had 816360K free after booting. Next comes the CI20, which had 737436K free. The ODROID C1 had 425836K free, and finally the HummingBoard had 313860K free.

So the scores for the free memory test are: – Raspberry Pi 2 – 4, the CI20 – 3, ODROID C1 – 2, and HummingBoard – 1.

Collating all the score for this section, the results of the Linux tests are as follows:

  • Raspberry Pi – 10
  • ODROID C1 – 9
  • HummingBoard i2eX – 7
  • CI20 Creator – 5

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Kodi/XBMC

All four boards should support Kodi/XBMC. To test the performance of Kodi I used its internal codec information display to show the frame rate and the amount of CPU time being used to decode the video. I then produced a Full HD, 50Mbps version of my ZTE Blade S6 Plus review video and played it on each board.

The ODROID C1 and the HummingBoard i2eX both did an excellent job of displaying the video. Both managed consistently to show the video at its full frame rate, and neither taxed the CPU too much in doing so. The same can’t be said for the Raspberry Pi, which disappointingly could only manage 9 fps, instead of the needed 23.97 fps. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an easily accessible version of Kodi to run on the CI20, and neither could I find a video player in the online repositories.

The scores for this section are: ODROID C1 – 4, and HummingBoard – 4, Raspberry Pi 2 – 2, CI20 – 0

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Other OSes

In a nutshell, the Raspberry Pi 2 has the widest OS support and the other three are very similar in the level of support offered.

The big news that accompanied the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2 was that Microsoft will release a free version of Windows 10 for the Pi 2, which is aimed at creating Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Although the idea of Windows 10 running on a Raspberry Pi sounds intriguing, you might yet be disappointed, the IoT version of Windows could be quite limited, in fact it may not even offer a desktop. Besides Windows 10, the Raspberry Pi 2 has support for RISC OS, NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenWrt.

As for the other three boards, they each have a measure of support for different OSes. For example FreeBSD is known to run on the HummingBoard, while NetBSD has been ported to the ODROID C1 and the MIPS CI20 Creator. There is also a work in progress to support OpenWrt on the CI20.

In a nutshell, the Raspberry Pi 2 has the widest OS support and the other three are very similar in the level of support offered. Therefore to score this section I will give the Raspberry Pi 2, 4 points. And the other three, 2 points each.

Community support

A big factor in picking an SBC is the size of the various online communities. How many people are there blogging about this board? Making videos about it? Writing books about it? Offering help in forums? And so on.

There is little doubt that the Raspberry Pi community is the largest. This is mainly because of the success of the original Raspberry Pi, however it is already clear that the community has embraced the new Pi 2 board with the same passion. It is hard to judge between the online communities of the ODROID and the HummingBoard, but roughly speaking, in broad terms, they are approximately the same! The CI20 has the smallest of the communities partly due to its relative newness.

As a result, the Raspberry Pi 2 scores – 4, the ODROID C1 and the HummingBoard – 3 each, and the CI20 – 1.

What other boards are available

Before we draw our conclusion, I mentioned at the beginning that the boards shown here are the boards that I actually have at hand and can actually test. There are of course many more SBCs available than just these four, and I might have missed off your favorite board. If you can’t find what you are looking for among these SBCs then here are a few more that you might want to check out.

As well as the ODROID C1, HardKernel also makes the high-end $179 ODROID XU3, with a Samsung Exynos 5422 octa-core processor and 2GB of memory; as well as the mid-range $69 quad-core ODROID U3, with its 1.7GHz Exynos 4412 CPU, it also has 2GB of RAM.

beagleboneblack

Another well respected board is the BeagleBone Black. It uses a 1GHz, single core Cortex-A8 based processor backed by 512MB of RAM. For hardware enthusiasts it is a considered a good choice as the board also includes 2 built-in microcontrollers.

Other boards to consider are the UDOO, the Wandboard, the Banana Pi/Pro, and the Radxa Rock.

So which board is the winner?

And without further ado… The final scores are:

Device ODROID C1 HummingBoard i2eX Raspberry Pi 2 MIPS Creator CI20
Android tests 11 10 0 6
Linux tests 9 7 10 5
Other OSes, Kodi/XBMC, community size 9 9 10 3
Totals 29 26 20 14

If you need Android support then the ODROID C1 is the clear winner.

Which makes the ODROID C1 the winner. This is perhaps a surprise, as you may have expected the Raspberry Pi 2 to win. The reason it scored so badly was its lack of Android support. If you remove that row from the score sheet then the Pi 2 just beats the ODROID C1. But other than its lack of support for Android, the Pi 2 does have other weaknesses. It is easily beaten by the ODROID C1 and the HummingBoard in terms of performance, and even the dual-core MIPS processor comes close to the Pi’s performance level. Also the current version of Kodi for the Raspberry Pi doesn’t handle video that well, it might be fixed in the future, but at the moment the ODROID C1 and the HummingBoard do a better job.

But having said that, the community size of the Raspberry Pi is unequaled, so maybe the Pi 2’s shortcomings can be overlooked. There is also the issue of price. The C1 costs the same as the Pi 2, on paper, but the shipping costs can be high if you want it directly from HardKernel. My ODROID C1 actually cost 44 Euros from a European distributor, that is around $46.

However, if you need Android support then the ODROID C1 is the clear winner.



14
Apr

Asus Zenfone 2 Review


The Bottom Line

PROS
  • Great build quality
  • Bright and vivid screen
  • Fast charging technology
  • Customizable UI
  • Fantastic performance
  • MicroSD expansion
  • Affordable
  • 4 GB of RAM
CONS
  • Mediocre battery
  • Average camera
  • Weak speaker
8.5

Apart from a few drawbacks that can be fixed with software updates, the Asus Zenfone 2 brings a lot to the table in terms of build quality, specifications, and features, and could prove to be very disruptive in the smartphone market with its budget-friendly price point.

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During CES 2015 back in January, Asus introduced the follow up to its affordable Zenfone smartphone series with the Zenfone 2. To start of, it has to be mentioned that there are actually three variants of the device that share the Zenfone 2 name, with the version in this review featuring a 5.5-inch 1080p display and a whopping 4 GB of RAM. What does this device have to offer beyond its impressive spec sheet? We find out, in this in-depth review of the Asus Zenfone 2!

Design

ASUS Zenfone 2-9

The Asus Zenfone is technically a mid-range smartphone, but it certainly doesn’t act or feel like one. Things aren’t particularly different or unique in terms of design, and the inspiration from existing devices is obvious, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the build quality is definitely solid. It’s made of plastic like its predecessors, but the phone doesn’t feel cheap in the hand and is very well put together.

ASUS Zenfone 2-27

The device comes with rounded corners, and the back has a significant curve to it that tapers down towards the edges, making for a very comfortable feel in the hand. The plastic back features a faux metallic coating, which results in not only a great look, but also allows for good grip, while preventing the back from collecting fingerprints. The back cover is also removable, giving you access to the two SIM slots and the microSD card slot. That said, the battery is still sealed and non-removable.

ASUS Zenfone 2-10

Asus states that the Zenfone 2 is a 5.5-inch smartphone in the body of 5-inch smartphone, but while the device is fairly manageable when it comes to one-handed use, it’s certainly nowhere close to what Asus claims, and in fact isn’t even the smallest in this size category either. A lot of the girth has to do with the somewhat thick bezels along the sides of the display, and the chin below it that houses the capacitive keys. That said, the Zenfone 2 is still a very sleek looking device overall, even if I do wish it was slightly smaller for an easier handling experience.

ASUS Zenfone 2-2

A noticeable design element is the bare left and right sides, with the Zenfone 2 coming with a different take on the standard button layout. For starters, the power button is up top next to the headphone jack, which is actually quite unfortunate, given the hand gymnastics required to reach it. The power button is also extremely flush with the surface, and isn’t the easiest to press. A double tap to wake and sleep gesture is available though, which luckily means that you won’t find yourself reaching for the power button all that often. Like most of LG’s current smartphone lineup, the volume rocker of the Zenfone 2 has been moved to the back and also come with a slightly ridged texture, making it very easy to reach and find by feel. The microUSB port is at the bottom, with the speaker found at the back.

Display

ASUS Zenfone 2-13

The Asus Zenfone 2 features a large 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with a 1080p resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 403 ppi. Quad HD may be currently trending, but Full HD is nothing to scoff at and is certainly impressive given the budget-friendly nature of this device.

ASUS Zenfone 2-17

The display experience is great, providing everything you’d expect from a high-end panel. The screen is sharp, vivid, bright enough to easily see in broad daylight, and offers fantastic viewing angles. 5.5-inches is a good size for media consumption, and you’ll have a great time watching videos or playing games on this display. The default settings in terms of color calibration are perfectly fine, but you do have the option to tweak the settings more to your liking, with a reading mode that is gentler on the eyes, a vivid mode that drastically increases the saturation, and finally, a manual mode for more granular controls over the display settings.

Performance and Hardware

ASUS Zenfone 2-28

Under the hood, the Asus Zenfone 2 packs a 64-bit Intel Atom Z3580 processor, clocked at 2.3 GHz, backed by the PowerVR G6430 GPU, and is also the first smartphone to boast 4 GB of RAM. Keep in mind though that the other versions of the device that come with 2 GB of RAM and feature the 1.8 GHz Intel Atom Z3560 processor, so the performance may vary depending on which variant you choose. When it comes to the performance of the 4 GB version, the device feels every bit as snappy and responsive as a high-end flagship. Animations are smooth, applications open quickly, it handles gaming extremely well, and with this much RAM on-board, multi-tasking is a breeze.

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To push the device to its limits, I loaded several games at once and switched back and forth between them, and there were no signs of any stutter or slowdown. Of course, this was done merely for the purposes of testing, and isn’t a use case scenario for most people, but the raw power to handle such a thing is still very impressive. 4 GB of RAM may be overkill for some, but the Zenfone 2 is certainly a fantastic budget-friendly option for the power user. The only hiccup was with regards to the Instagram application that simply crashed all the time. This could be due to compatibility issues with the Intel processor, and is hopefully something that will be fixed with a future update. It could be a huge drawback for heavy Instagram users, and is a small blemish to what is an otherwise solid performance.

ASUS Zenfone 2-5

The device packs a standard suite of connectivity options, including support for 4G LTE which does work in the US, and I had no issues with getting high-speed internet on the T-Mobile network. 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB of on-board storage is available, with further expansion via microSD possible up to 64 GB. The rear speaker is denoted by a very large speaker grill that gives the illusion of the phone packing a powerful speaker. That is unfortunately not the case though, with it having just a small single driver placed on the left side of the grill. The sound quality is adequate, butit doesn’t get very loud when compared to some other devices with similar speaker setups.

ASUS Zenfone 2-11

The Zenfone 2 comes with a non-removable 3,000 mAh battery, that, coupled with the power frugal Intel Atom chip, should allow for some great battery life, but that unfortunately has not been the case. As you can see from the screenshots below, while it is possible to get a full day of use out of the device with around 4 hours of screen-on time, there are significant battery drain issues from the Android OS that is drastically shortening the battery life. It’s difficult to pinpoint whether the cause is in the initial version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, which has been known to be buggy, with a lot of issues being resolved with the jump to Android 5.0.2 and now Android 5.1, or whether the problem is with the Zen UI itself.

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Thankfully, Asus is aware of this issue and is working hard to fix the problem. That means a future update should eventually solve the battery woes, and we’ll be sure to report on this as soon as it hits. On the bright side, the Zenfone 2 does come with fast-charging technology, which Asus claims will restore 60% of battery life in a little more than half an hour.

Camera

ASUS Zenfone 2-4

The Asus Zenfone 2 comes with a 13 MP rear shooter, with a dual tone LED flash, and a respectable aperture of f/2.0. Like previous generations, this device also features ASUS’ Pixelmaster technology that is supposed to provide better shots and video in low light conditions. The camera application is fairly straightforward and easy to use, and includes all the usual setting that you would expect, such as white balance, exposure, ISO, and 1080p video capture, and some typical shooting modes are also available, including manual, HDR, and panorama.

ASUS Zenfone 2-21

Like a lot of smartphone cameras, the camera of the Zenfone 2 performs best in good lighting conditions, with the f/2.0 aperture allowing for some nice depth of field. That said, the biggest issue with this camera is the lack of dynamic range. While it is capable taking a decent shot, more often than not highlights were either completely blown out and overexposed, or right at the other end of the spectrum with images being too dark and underexposed. HDR mode proves to be the savior here, and works quite well to even out the images, while adding some extra saturation as well. HDR image processing does take a long time between shots though, so if you don’t have a steady hand, or the subject is moving, the image will be not be particularly sharp.

ASUS Zenfone 2-22

Image quality deteriorates as lighting conditions worsen, with photos starting to exhibit noise, and the image quality becomes worse when shot at ISO 300 or higher. ISO is capped at 800, which limits the amount of noise that could potentially be introduced, but even then, the camera’s image processing doesn’t handle the existing noise all that well. The built-in low light mode takes advantage of the Pixelmaster software to allow for up to 400% brighter photos, and while it does work, the images are of a lower resolution, and the increase in light actually makes the digital noise even more visible.

If you enjoy taking self-portraits, the front-facing 5 MP camera with a wide angle lens will certainly get the job done. The camera comes with a real-time beautification feature, and there is also a selfie panorama mode that will help you easily fit your friends or family into the shot.

Software

ASUS Zenfone 2-20

The Asus Zenfone 2 comes with Lollipop out of the box, but as mentioned, it is Android 5.0, and not the newer Android 5.0.2 or the latest Android 5.1. On top is the Asus Zen UI, but it does retain some of the material design elements of Lollipop, noticeable in the notification shade and the Recent Apps screen. That said, those familiar with the Zen UI will still feel right at home here.

ASUS Zenfone 2-26

There are a lot of bloatware applications on-board, but a handful of features do add to the overall experience, like an Easy Mode that creates a simplified interface, and a one-handed mode, which, as the name suggests, allows for comfortable one-handed use, and can be triggered by a double tap of the home button. There are also a few gestures that can be used while the screen is off, that Asus calls ZenMotion, which includes the double tap to wake feature and also allows you to draw different characters to launch specific applications. The Zenfone 2 also eliminates the need for carrying two separate work and personal devices, with the build-in Snapview feature allowing users to create completely separate and secure profiles to store business or personal data that only you can access.

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One of the main attractions of the Zen UI is the ability to customize the interface with the built-in theme engine, that can be used to alter the look and feel of the entire experience with different fonts and icons, as well as changes to the lock screen and notification shade. The launcher preferences can also be customized simply by swiping up from the bottom, or by a long press on the home screen. While standard settings like widgets, wallpapers, and various home screen scroll effects are available, the best part about this launcher is the ability to use third party icon packs from the Google Play Store, something that is otherwise only possible with a third party launcher.

Specifications

Display 5.5-inch IPS display with 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution. Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3.
Processor 64-bit Quad Core Intel® Atom™ Z3560/Z3580 processor (running at 1.8 or 2.3GHz).
GPU PowerVR G6430 from Imagination
RAM 2GB or 4GB.
Storage 16GB/32GB/64GB, microSD card slot, up to 64GB.
Camera Rear: 13MP, f/2.0-aperture, 5-element, auto-focus lens with dual-color Real Tone flash. Front: 5MP, f/2.0-aperture, wide-angle 85-degree lens with Selfie Panorama.
Battery 3000mAh lithium-polymer with fast-charge technology.
Connectivity 802.11ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS
Networks GSM, 3G, 4G LTE
Software Android 5.0 Lollipop
Dimensions 152.5 x 77.2 x 10.9-3.9mm, 170g

Gallery

Pricing and Final Thoughts

The Asus Zenfone 2 is available now in select regions like China, Taiwan, and Europe, and will soon be releasing in India in the coming weeks, but US availability is still to be announced. Available colors include black, gold, gray, red, and white, with pricing starting at $199 for the base model. Official pricing for the higher-end models will be announced by ASUS later this month, but you can expect it to range anywhere between $50 to $100 above the base price, depending on the RAM and the storage option.

ASUS Zenfone 2-12

So there you have it – a closer look at the Asus Zenfone 2! Once the battery life issues are resolved, this device is going to be a major contender in the Android smartphone world. Boasting a beautiful design, powerful specifications, and a solid user experience overall that will cater to a variety of users, it’s hard to imagine that all of this is available at such a budget-friendly price point. Asus is proving once again that you don’t have to pay a lot to get a lot, and the Zenfone 2 is certainly setting a new standard for the affordable smartphone market.

Other quality, affordable smartphones

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13
Apr

Eton Ruckus Xtreme review






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media-20150413 (1)

Eton Rukus Xtreme 

Today we present to you a rare gem in the form of a portable Bluetooth speaker. What makes it so special you ask? Does it play music so melodic that is brings tears to winged babies? Perhaps the design is something that future artists will look to when they seek inspiration? Alas no, it is none of those things. What makes the Eton Rukus Xtreme so special is the plethora of features that it brings, that you might forget it’s a speaker first and everything else second.

Design

Starting off with the design of the Eton Ruckus Xtreme, we get design features that are a smooth blend of both conventional and modern design elements. When we first saw it, we couldn’t decide if it looked more like a rectangle, maybe a slab, trapezoid? Trapezoid, that is what the overall body of the Eton Ruckus Xtreme looks like (It took many nights of restless sleep to come to that conclusion). The front where the speaker grills is the biggest part of the Eton Ruckus Xtreme. The speaker grills concave into a circular design on the sides, so the front looks like a rectangle with rounded circle edges. As you move inward the device begins to slant and get smaller, so it ends up looking like a slanted slab. There is purpose to this madness thought as this allows the solar panel (which is no top and we shall address more in detail later) to get more sunlight. Once you get to the very end of the device, there is a nice handle that makes taking the Eton Ruckus Xtreme anywhere a breeze. On the sides of the handle you will find the power button and aux port on the left and on the right lies the AC and USB out port.

media-20150413 (5)

The color scheme of the Eton Ruckus Xtreme is a nice black and green that flow well together. Normally such color combination do not make for great design choices but the Eton Ruckus Xtreme actually looks better for it. It gives it a distinct look, almost a sleek outdoorsy appearance.

Solar Panel


Now things start to get really interesting. The Eton Ruckus Xtreme is truly one of a kind where Bluetooth speakers are concerned as it comes with solar charging capabilities that not only allow you to charge the device itself, but also other devices using nothing but the mighty power of the sun. The solar panel on top is built to gather as much sun as possible when placed outside so your outdoor jam sessions never have to end. So how did the solar panel fare in real-world testing? Remarkably well. Our testing was done on a nice sunny day, so your experience will be different depending on the day. We let the device die down all the way and found that it took less than an hour for it to be operational again. You would still need it to be in the sun for it to keep functioning of course. So if you left it out for a while and did not use it, then it would be more than capable of being fully charged in a matter of hours.

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Charging other devices was not as fast but still a nice feature if you find yourself out in the woods without any other power source. We found that keeping the device pointed directly towards the sun, the device that we needed charging (my HTC One M8) was able to get a nice charge. While we would not use it to charge our device every day, it is still a nice feature that definitely has purpose and will be a welcome addition for those that enjoy being outdoors.

Sound Quality

Now to the actual purpose of the Eton Ruckus Xtreme, playing those hit new jams you just downloaded off the Play Store. With so many other capabilities, one would think that the Eton Ruckus Xtreme would not be a great speaker but we found the opposite to be true. Eton Ruckus Xtreme made listening to music a great experience and could easily replace your current speakers. Sound was rich and deep, with loud tones being very prominent. While we would not necessarily use it to listen to classical or instrumental music, it is more than sufficient for current modern songs that rely heavily on bass and loud tones.

Final Thoughts

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The Eton Ruckus Xtreme is a great speaker with many added features that makes getting one a simple choice (That choice being getting one). If you need a speaker that is also capable of charging itself and other devices with nothing more than what mother nature has already provided us, then the Eton Ruckus Xtreme should be on your wishlist. It is definitely one of the better speakers we have tested thus far due to its added features alone. Any speaker can play music and sound good while doing it, but it takes a special kind of speaker to do so and then some. You can head over to Amazon to snag one for yourself and with summer right around the corner, why wouldn’t you?

 


The post Eton Ruckus Xtreme review appeared first on AndroidGuys.

11
Apr

Review: Battlefield Hardline on Xbox One (with giveaway!)


Battlefield swerves away from the military to deliver fans of Xbox One a cops and robbers fantasy.

How frequent should multiplayer shooters see releases? Call of Duty enjoys a yearly launch cycle headed by three separate studios (and a bunch of additional collaborating studios). Some argue higher frequency of releases leads to stagnation. Some resent the lack of innovation, and more and more of us are refusing to purchase annual franchised game releases that fail to innovate.

Sections of the community are concerned that Visceral’s Battlefield Hardline could represent the same for the Battlefield franchise. Just how far does it go to differentiate itself from Battlefield 4, which launched just 18 months ago?

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