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8
Mar

Unboxing the Verizon Galaxy S7 edge


The stealthy black box contains a super-bright phone.

The first step of any phone purchase is getting the thing out of its box. And while so much fun comes thereafter, if you appreciate gadgets the way we do there’s a special feeling associated with that first time you unseal the box of a brand new device.

There’s plenty excitement around the Galaxy S7 edge, and we’ve been lucky enough to pull a gold platinum Verizon version out of its box this week. It’s pretty standard fare in there, but Samsung seems to do something different with its Galaxy S packaging each year and this time around it’s mixed things up again.

Check out our unboxing video above, and then follow it up with all of our great Galaxy S7 and S7 edge coverage!

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Galaxy S7 edge with Exynos: A Canadian perspective
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
  • The SD card is back on the GS7
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

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8
Mar

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (with Exynos) review: A Canadian perspective


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Canadians will have to pay a lot to get the best, but the Galaxy S7 edge is a true flagship in every sense of the word.

For the second time in two years, Mobile World Congress brought two new Galaxy S flagships, but for the first time they are different sizes. And unlike what you’ll find in the U.S. (and a couple other countries), this Canadian Galaxy S7 edge is powered by something other than a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

A passerby to this industry would be forgiven for confusing the specifics of 2015’s Galaxy lineup, but in retrospect it’s a comfort to be able to say they were all superb products. Now, with the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 and 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 edge, Samsung has even further honed its hardware craft, returning two consumer-favorite features — the microSD slot and waterproofing — while bumping the software to Google’s latest.

To this Canadian, the Galaxy S7 edge is the true flagship, and will be the focus of this review. There are some subtle differences between the GS7 and its larger edge counterpart — the size of the battery, and the curvature of the screen — but to my eyes, the S7 edge is the one to focus on.

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About this review

This review was performed on a Telus-branded Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, model number SM-G935W8. It’s on Android 6.0.1, software version G935W8VLU1APB7. We used this GS7 edge for six days in both Canada on the Telus network, and in the U.S., roaming on AT&T.

Pros

  • Beautiful form factor
  • Compact body for the size
  • Great battery life
  • Impressive camera

Lows

  • Edge screen offers too little utility
  • Really expensive
  • Only available with 32GB of storage
  • Only sold in one color, Black Onyx

Price: $500 CAD on contract, $1,000 outright

Availability: Rogers, Bell, Telus, Koodo, Virgin Mobile, Wind Mobile, MTS, SaskTel, Videotron, Eastlink

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Galaxy S7 edge: The Canadian Review

The Galaxy S7 edge jumps out as being a few things right away: it’s compellingly compact for having a 5.5-inch display, which is a byproduct of Samsung’s ability to manufacturer the components in the phone. The 2560×1440 pixel Super AMOLED display is as good as ever, but the company has managed to increase the screen-to-body ratio by reducing the bezel area above and to the side of the screen. What does that mean in practice? This is one of the most one hand-friendly big phones I’ve had the pleasure of using.

Samsung also takes cues from the Galaxy Note 5 in its new S7 lineup, curving the rear glass as it meets the aluminum frame on the sides. The result is ergonomic and functional, and quite attractive, especially in the Onyx Black model I have been using. Unfortunately, unless it is purchased from one of a handful of Samsung Experience stores throughout the country, that black color is the only version of the S7 edge available from Canadian carriers; the Galaxy S7 proper is being sold in both black and silver variants.

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Unlike the Qualcomm-powered U.S. version, Canadians will be exposed to the Exynos 8890 system-on-a-chip, the latest from Samsung’s semiconductor business. Built on the same 14nm process as last year’s Exynos 7420, it’s clear that this new octa-core chip is powerful — the presence of a heatpipe inside the phone proves that Samsung is serious about mitigating heat output — and the S7 edge does occasionally get uncomfortably hot. But most of the time, the phone comports itself extremely well.

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Canadians shouldn’t worry about the differences between the Exynos 8890 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, which is found only in models being sold in the U.S., Japan, and China. At this point, Samsung has just about graduated to “reliable” in the mobile processor space (the entire S6 line was powered by Exynos processors), and this year’s iteration is no exception.

The big question is whether the Galaxy S7 edge is worth its massive price: $500 on-contract is a big ask, and puts it up there with the iPhone 6s Plus, its natural competitor, as one of the most expensive handsets on the Canadian market. Even more distressing is the $1,000 off-contract price.

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The hardware certainly feels expensive, but what about what’s going on inside? The 12MP camera sensor is the same physical size as its Galaxy S6 counterpart, 1/2.6″, but has four million fewer addressable pixels. It also captures photos at a more industry-standard aspect ratio of 4:3, which is one of a few welcome changes on the spec sheet.

In practice, the new sensor, combined with a sharper, wider F1.7 lens, means that the S7 can take better photos in low light — and it’s true, they are! — but my colleagues and I agree that the phone’s regular camera output is actually somewhat worse than on the 2015 lineup, which included the Galaxy S6 and Note 5.

Outdoor shots have a pablum of chroma noise, and at 100 percent zoom there is a distracting amount of sharpening — which looks good on the compression-friendly internet, but not when viewed on a large, properly calibrated high resolution display. No one can call the S7’s camera bad, but it’s more of a side-step than an upgrade over the S6. That is, unless one spends most of their time in dimly-lit indoor rooms, which is where the S7 edge truly shines.

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It shines elsewhere, too: battery life is much better than on the S6 edge, owing to a cell that is some 38 percent larger. Samsung may not have brought back the S5 era’s removable part, but it’s done everything it can to ensure the newest generation products last at least a full day, and then some. I used the heck out of this phone for a week, and didn’t drop below 20 percent once before putting it back on the charger before bed.

That charger can still be wireless, too, is a big plus: Samsung has maintained its ability to charge the Galaxy S7 series using either Qi or PMA standards (which will continue to be the case until the industry decides on a single standard). With the Quick Charge 2.0-compatible wired charger, the S7 edge’s 3,600mAh battery cell charges in 100 minutes; with a Fast Wireless Charger, which is available from Samsung for around $80 CAD, the phone charges in 155 minutes, or just over two and a half hours.

Combined with the improved battery life, the S7 edge finally feels like a well-rounded device, and fixes the most glaring issue from its predecessor, which wallowed in charging anxiety due to its 2,600mAh cell.

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Part of the battery life improvements are thanks to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which, despite looking nearly identical to Lollipop on the Galaxy S6 edge, contains Google’s Doze feature, which cuts down on standby battery usage. In short, leaving your phone alone for a while intelligently shuts down background processes whenever possible, extending uptime considerably. That, and Google Now On Tap, which has yet to prove itself particularly useful, stand atop a wealth of subtle improvements that Google added to Android M last year — though many devices are only now shipping with Marshmallow.

TouchWiz is fine. Samsung’s version of Android still has certain idiosyncrasies, but it’s not the dumpster fire it once was. Instead, it’s well-rounded and approachable to new users, which is considerably more than what could be said about it just a few years ago.

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Canadian Particulars

We’ve already written extensive reviews for the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, so what (I assume) you’re really interested in is what the Canadian version is like.

The main difference between the Canadian and U.S. models is that the former sports an Exynos 8890 SoC as opposed to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820. All but the most fastidious specification hounds will likely care little about the differences, but there are a couple. First, the Snapdragon’s two high-performance Kryo cores perform slightly better than the Exynos’s four custom M1 cores on tasks, such as web browsing, that only use a handful of cores.

On the flip side, because the Exynos chip is clocked higher, and has more cores in total (eight to the Snapdragon’s four), it tends to outperform in games and other CPU-intensive activities. These minor differences won’t be apparent in real-world use, but you can bet the benchmarkers out there will make something of the differences.

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Canadians also can look forward to a nice bump in terms of network performance from the Galaxy S7 edge. Supporting theoretical speeds of 450 megabits per second, the takeaway here is that the S7 edge is highly optimized for tri-carrier aggregation, which is currently in use by Bell and Telus. This usually shows itself in a combination of Band 2, Band 4 and Band 17, with an end result in the range of 100 to 120 megabits per second down and 15 to 35 megabits up.

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Canada is a launch country — along with India, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and United Arab Emirates — for Samsung Members (also known as Galaxy Care), a service that connects GS7 owners directly with customer care representatives. The goal is to make it easier for device owners to diagnose and fix issues, either software or hardware, through a direct support channel and diagnostic tools.

Finally, compared to the U.S. carrier versions, the Telus model I am using has almost no bloatware, and all of it can be disabled. Aside from the Telus “My Account” app, the GS7 edge had apps from Suretap and Amazon pre-installed. That’s pretty darn clean.

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One of the best

Should you buy it?

I’ve always been a reluctant Samsung user — I never enjoyed the squishy plastic of the Galaxy S to S5, and I always had trouble recommending the software. That largely changed in 2015 with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge (and Note 5 and S6 edge+, but I digress), but there were still some issues, mainly with battery life.

Now, with a larger screen, better battery, a great low-light camera, and niceties like wireless charging, water resistance, and the reintroduction of the microSD slot, the Galaxy S7 edge is, in my opinion, close to the best Android device one can buy.

But it’s expensive. Like, really expensive. At $500 on-contract and $1,000 outright, with no choice of a 64GB or 128GB model, it may be difficult to justify purchasing Samsung’s latest flagship, even with the addition of a Gear VR headset with every pre-order. Nonetheless, no one is going to be disappointed upon using the device, and really, that’s all that matters.

Where to buy the Galaxy S7 in Canada

It’s 2016, and you still can’t purchase the Galaxy S7 edge unlocked directly from Samsung. That speaks to the relationship the OEM has with its carrier providers, but there has been one positive change in the market recently: the opening of five Samsung Experience stores throughout the country. While you still won’t be able to buy the phone unlocked, Samsung promises that if the phone is purchased outright it will offer free unlock codes. Take that for what it’s worth.

Elsewhere, you can expect all the major carriers to carry the device. Rogers, Bell and Telus have all priced it at $500 on-contract and $1,000 outright, and you can bet that most others will follow suit with similar schemes.

See at Samsung   See at Rogers   See at Bell   See at Telus See at Wind Mobile

Also: Read our Galaxy S7 review!

The Galaxy S7 edge is a seriously great phone, but it’s only half of this year’s Galaxy S launch from Samsung — there’s also the “standard” Galaxy S7. It’s smaller and flatter, but offers much of the same experience we’ve covered here. It’s worth learning about it to help you decide which of the two is right for you.

Hit the link below for our comprehensive Galaxy S7 review.

Read our GS7 review here!

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8
Mar

Galaxy S7 and S7 edge launch in India, sales kick off March 18


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Samsung has officially launched the Galaxy S7 and the S7 edge in India, with both devices set to go on sale starting March 18. Both phones are up for pre-order right now, with all bookings made before March 17 eligible for a free Gear VR headset.

The 32GB variants of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are currently available for pre-order in black, gold, and white color variants. The Galaxy S7 costs ₹48,900 ($718), while the Galaxy S7 edge will set customers back ₹56,900 ($835).

The key difference from the units that will be sold in the U.S. is the SoC, with the Indian variants coming with the octa-core Exynos 8890 SoC on-board. You still get the microSD slot, which can accommodate a card up to 200GB in size, as well as IP68 water resistance, Quick Charge 2.0, and the excellent QHD Super AMOLED display.

Interested? Head down to links below to order the vendor’s latest and greatest. I’m getting the standard Galaxy S7 in black. What are you guys going for?

See at Samsung India See at Flipkart

Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

  • Galaxy S7 review
  • Galaxy S7 edge review
  • Galaxy S7 edge with Exynos: A Canadian perspective
  • Here are all four Galaxy S7 colors
  • Details on the Galaxy S7’s camera
  • The SD card is back on the GS7
  • Join our Galaxy S7 forums

AT&T Sprint T-Mobile Verizon

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8
Mar

FunimationNow offers Android owners access to tons of anime on the go


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The anime studio Funimation has officially launched FunimationNow, offering Android owners access to hundreds of anime movies and TV shows on the go. The service is available for free, but there are also two optional subscription tiers that add more content and features.

Funimation says:

Starting today, subscribers will enjoy unlimited, ad-free HD streaming access to Funimation’s expansive library of hit anime television and film properties, both subbed and dubbed, including “Dragon Ball Z,” “Attack on Titan,” “Fairy Tail,” “Cowboy Bebop,” “Assassination Classroom” and more, on iOS, Android, Kindle, and Windows 10 devices. FunimationNow provides fans with unparalleled access to the hottest new simulcasts while also providing subscribers access to a vast catalog of classic anime television shows and films they know and love.”

Her are the three subscription tiers to FunimationNow:

Basic- Free

  • limited anime library
  • video ads

Subpass – $4.99/month

  • All subtitled anime including simulcasts
  • Unlimited device streaming (subtitled only)
  • Ad-free in HD

All Access Pass – $7.99/month:

  • All subtitled anime including simulcasts
  • Unlimited device streaming (subbed and dubbed)
  • All English-dubbed anime
  • Funimation Broadcast Dubs – English-dubbed episodes of select shows that are available within weeks of the Japanese broadcast
  • Exclusive video extras
  • Ad-free in HD

Amazon’s Fire TV devices will also add support for FunimationNow in the future.

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8
Mar

Grab Silicon Power’s 128GB microSD for $35 at Amazon


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Amazon currently has the 128GB microSD card from Silicon Power for just $35, which is a savings of $20 on the regular price. We’ve seen the price of storage drop over the past few months, and this is an absolute steal for anyone looking to have extra space to keep their favorite songs and movies.

Whether you need it for your new phone, tablet or just as an extra, you won’t want to miss this deal. You don’t need any coupons, just hit the link and grab one now!

See at Amazon

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8
Mar

Chromecast snags 35 percent of global streamer market in 2015, says Strategy Analytics


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According to some new research from Strategy Analytics, the Chromecast has taken 35 percent of the global streamer market in 2015. Google, Amazon, Roku and Apple account for 8 out of every 10 streaming media players sold, and the demand for these continues to rise. The company claims that the demand has grown 32 percent in 2015.

It’s noted that Google has shipped more than 27 million Chromecast’s in the two and a half years since its release, and Apple has shipped 37 million Apple TV’s since 2007. You can find additional research and information about Chromecast market share and digital streamers below.

Press release:

Chromecast takes 35% of the 42 million unit Global Digital Media Streamer Market in 2015, says Strategy Analytics

Demand for dedicated streaming media boxes and dongles grows 32% to a record level in 2015 but control rests with four major brands

Boston, MA – March 8th, 2016. Amazon, Apple, Google and Roku accounted for more than 8 out of every 10 Digital Media Streamer shipments worldwide in 2015, strengthening their combined grip on the fast growing category. Google’s low-cost HDMI dongle continues to lead the standalone streamer market and it has now cemented itself as a top 5 player in the overall Connected TV Device rankings according to the new Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices (CHD) report “Global Connected TV Device Vendor Market Share: Q4 2015.”

David Watkins, Service Director, Connected Home Devices service said, “Google’s puck sized Chromecast dongle continues to have broad appeal with consumers who favor its mobile-centric approach to content access and control. The device’s portability and low price at just $35 has made it an impulse purchase for many and household ownership of multiple Chromecasts is not uncommon. However, the mobile device is not necessarily the center of the universe for everyone and devices such as Apple TV, Roku and the Amazon Fire TV continue to prove popular with those looking for a more traditional remote-based and UI driven TV experience.”

  • Based on cumulative shipments of digital media streamers, Apple still leads the way having shipped close to 37 million Apple TV units since its launch in 2007. However, Google’s Chromecast is catching up fast with 27 million units shipped in just two and a half years followed by Roku’s Box and Streaming Stick (20 million) and Amazon Fire TV (less than 10 million).
  • Global shipments of all Connected TV Devices (including Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, Game Consoles and Digital Media Streamers) totaled 220 million units in 2015 following record shipments of 84 million in Q4.
  • Smart TVs accounted for 54% of all Connected TV Device shipments in 2015 reaching 120 million units. Samsung, LG and Sony have a combined 50% share of the Smart TV market although Chinese brands TCL and Hisense enjoyed the strongest annual shipment growth as they continue to expand beyond their domestic market.

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8
Mar

Best smartphones 2016: The best phones available to buy today


So, you want to buy a new phone? If you’re looking for the best smartphone of 2016, you’ve come to the right place. We will guide you through the hottest mobile phones of the year to save you time when you go to your local phone shop.

We continually update this best smartphones feature to reflect recent launches, recognise price changes, and ensure 2016’s latest devices appear alongside the best of 2015 (and before, if applicable). All the listed devices have been fully reviewed by us.

Our best smartphones list covers all operating systems, all sizes, and prices, so you’ll be armed with everything you need to consider when choosing to buy your next device.

Of course, the most important factor in buying a new device is making sure you have the best smartphone for you. The best for your budget, the features you need, the size that feels right and platform that suits you best.

Be sure to let us know what you think is the best smartphone in the comments below.

Pocket-lint

18. Motorola Moto E (2015)

The Moto E is Motorola’s play for the budget end of the market, with a price tag of £109 seeing it even cheaper than the Moto G. It might not have the fastest processor in the world, but this rarely affects daily use.

Principal to the Moto E is a great design – which now includes interchangeable “Bands” for a lick of colour, a good display, excellent battery life and microSD support for expanding the internal storage. Compared to the original 2014 model, the 2015 Moto E also adds a front-facing camera, a smoother Android experience, as well as all-important 4G connectivity for fast internet browsing.

Despite its low price point and slightly bulky build, the Moto E has glimpses of premium about it. It’s a brilliant handset for just over the £100 mark and the budget handset to beat.

Buy the Motorola Moto E 2015 for the best Android experience on a budget.

FULL REVIEW: Motorola Moto E (2015) review

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17. HTC One A9

The HTC One A9 might be best known for its closeness to the iPhone 6 in design, but there’s a lot about this phone to love. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with a stripped down version of HTC Sense, resulting in a lovely overall experience, full of refinement.

The design is great, it feels lovely in the hand and surprisingly, the performance is very good for a handset that has mid-range hardware.

The AMOLED display is great and there’s an improved camera that beats that of the M9, although it still struggles in low light conditions. There is also an excellent fingerprint scanner.

However, the HTC One A9 is expensive for a device at this level, priced over £400. You might get a premium body, but it’s still a mid-ranger at heart and that’s reflected in performance in some areas.

If you want something that’s well built and a decent size, then it’s definitely worth considering.

FULL REVIEW: HTC One A9 review

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16. HTC One M9+

Many will say that HTC stumbled with the One M9, choosing refinement in design over dealing with the biggest problem it faced: camera performance. No sooner had the One M9 hit the shelves, HTC launched a bigger device, with better specs in Asia, announcing wider availability of the HTC One M9+ a few months later.

The HTC One M9+ is a better device than the flagship M9 in many ways. It has a large 5.2-inch display that’s not only better quality, it’s a higher resolution too. It offers a fingerprint scanner on the front that’s fast to unlock it and it also doesn’t get quite as hot as the regular M9.

But HTC doesn’t really address the camera issue with the HTC One M9+. Using the same 20-megapixel sensor on the rear, it has the same problems as the regular M9, being poor in low light, and struggling to match the quality of rival cameras, even in good light. It also offers Duo Camera functionality, but it feels like a short-lived novelty, rather than something that makes a pursuasive case for itself.

Ultimately, the HTC One M9+ is the device to pick for the latest HTC experience, but even in this enhanced model, it struggles against flagship rivals. Although we’d recommend this phone over the regular M9, which is expensive at £579, the M9+ is a little hard to come by.

FULL REVIEW: HTC One M9+ review

Pocket-lintHonor 7-1

15. Honor 7

Honor is a sub-brand of Huawei, looking to shake things up with impressive specs paired up with competitive prices. What the Honor 7 really does is cram in a lot of the technology you’ll find in the Huawei Mate S, also featured in this list. It doesn’t have the premium sheen that the Mate S offers, but you do get a lot for your money.

At £250, you get a great 5.2-inch display, a good quality of build, a fingerprint scanner on the rear that’s fast and packed with extra features, as well as a camera that’s a good performer too.

Combine that with plenty of power and you’re faced with a phone that offers plenty. The customisation of Android is a little heavy and is bettered with a little unpicking, but if you’re looking to escape the mainstream familiarity that many devices offer, then Honor is worth a look.

Buy the Honor 7 to get performance at a budget price.

FULL REVIEW: Honor 7 review: Brilliance on a budget

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14. Sony Xperia Z5

The Sony Xperia Z5 is a fully-fledged flagship update, wiping away the Xperia Z3+ that was released a few months previously as something of a stop gap.

The Xperia Z5 brings Sony up-to-date in terms of hardware, but really pushes changes in the camera, with a new 23-megapixel sensor. It’s a good performer too, but is hampered by slow software, making the experience a little lacklustre.

There is plenty of power, as well as the water resistance that Sony is known for, although the design is pretty similar to the previous devices in the Xperia Z family and hasn’t seen much change. By current standards, as a flagship, the design isn’t quite as premium as you’ll find elsewhere.

This is a handset packed full of tech, as well as plenty of customisation from Sony. But in a world where less is starting to feel like more, this update is overshadowed by more exciting rivals, with Sony’s software being the biggest bugbear. That can be improved with app substitution, but as it is, the Z5 feels like it needs plenty of updating before it matches the upper echelons.

FULL REVIEW: Sony Xperia Z5 review

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13. Motorola Moto G (third-gen)

The original Moto G was a brilliant device when it first launched in 2013, taking many by surprise. It has been updated no less than five times since it first arrived and while we weren’t massive fans of model three and four, the fifth version of this handset is a winner.

The design has been redefined and despite still being a little on the chunky side, the third-generation of Moto G is lovely. Water resistance has been added, as has Moto Maker, which means this device can be customised more than the majority on this list.

The third-gen Moto G has a good battery life, an improved camera over its predecessors and an almost raw Android experience with some great software enhancements. The specs aren’t as impressive as some others in this feature, but this phone isn’t about numbers, it’s all about the experience. And as affordable experiences go at £159, it’s a true return to the top.

Buy the Moto G (third-gen) because you want a good smartphone experience at a more than reasonable price.

FULL REVIEW: Motorola Moto G (third-gen)

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12. BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry returns to form with the Priv, it’s first Android handset. It’s the first time for a long time that BlackBerry has been including in the list of best smartphones, but this is a serious handset worthy of serious consideration, whether you’re a BlackBerry fan or and Android fan.

It is a slider handset with a huge 5.4-inch display, offering all the benefits of the lastest Android devices, with a physical keyboard that BlackBerry users will find familiar.

It’s blessed with BlackBerry Hub and a range of BlackBerry shortcuts and features lifted from BB handsets and reinvented for Android. The result is an innovative handset that offers some charming twists, like the pop-up widgets and battery charging indicator, which both show software nouse from BlackBerry.

It’s not the fastest handset around, the camera isn’t the best and it lacks a fingerprint scanner, while demanding top-draw prices for its wares at £559. However, BlackBerry continues to update the software, so some of those early complaints will likely be wiped out.

Choose the BlackBerry Priv because you want a physical keyboard and a device that’s very apt at messaging.

FULL REVIEW: BlackBerry Priv review

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11. Motorola Moto X Play

The Moto X has doubled up, offering two very different handsets in its latest guise. The Moto X Style is the bigger, more powerful and more expensive handset, leaving the Moto X Style to slip in at a lower price point, but also takes prize as the better handset.

The Moto X Play’s attaction comes from the huge battery that Motorola has stuffed inside, meaning it offers some of the best endurance you’ll find in an Android handset. Yes, this is the phone to pick if you want it to last not just through the day, but through the night and the following day too.

It’s a mid-range handset, offering Motorola’s Moto Maker customisation, but it isn’t the most powerful handset around. That aids the stellar battery life, but it’s easy to accuse the Moto X Play of not being hugely exciting, and it lacks a fingerprint scanner, which is the biggest negative. The camera isn’t great in low light either, but is a step ahead of previous generation Moto cameras in normal conditions.

It’s pretty much free of bloatware, however, so if you’re after a clean Android experience, with Moto’s customisation and great battery life, this could be the phone for you.

FULL REVIEW: Motorola Moto X Play review

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10. Huawei Mate S

The Huawei Mate S is the best Huawei device we’ve seen so far, with a design and build that challenges the best devices out there.

There are some points on the spec sheet that will see the Mate S pale in comparison with flagship superphones however. There’s a 5.5-inch display sitting at 1920 x 1080 pixels, hardly the sharpest around, but it has a trick up its sleeve – it’s pressure sensitive on the top luxury model.

This brings some individuality to this device – you can remove the Android navigation buttons in favour of hard presses for example – but it doesn’t go to the depths of innovation that Apple has with 3D Touch.

Even opting for the Mate S models that lack the pressure sensitive display gives you a great smartphone experience however. There’s plenty of power, the option for microSD expansion, cameras that perform very well, and a battery that while lower in capacity than some, will get you through the day.

Huawei’s EMUI software skin sitting over Android takes the shine off things in some areas, but with a tweak and a swap of stock apps, you’ll have a very nice big screen experience that’s a third cheaper than big brand rivals. You can expect to pay from £469.

FULL REVIEW: Huawei Mate S review

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9. LG G4

If you’re in the market for a big phone then the LG G4 could be your ideal match. From the optional leather finish, to excellent camera performance, this 5.5-inch phone-meets-phablet has plenty going for it. It might not have the most powerful flagship processor inside, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t every bit the flagship phone. Quite the contrary.

Its position in our top phones list reflects these qualities, but the one thing holding it back from greater success is battery life. Despite squeezing a brighter Quad HD screen and new processor into the mix, the 3000mAh battery is too much an echo of the earlier G3, delivering performance a little below par. On the upside the battery is removable so you can easily swap it for a reserve.

However, it is both bigger and thicker than many other flagship devices on the market by some distance. It is, however, great value for money at £419.

Buy the LG G4 for a great camera experience in a large-screen phone.

FULL REVIEW: LG G4 review

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8. Huawei Mate 8

Huawei’s handsets are getting stronger and stronger. Not only has brand awareness been boosted by the Nexus 6P, but sensible refinement has resulted in a recent batch of very usable handsets, a sub-premium prices. That’s the case with the Mate 8, a 6-inch handset, a snip at £429.

But this isn’t only about price, because you get a lot of phone for your money. The design reflects Huawei’s skills we’ve seen in other devices, with a high quality metal body and an excellent fingerprint scanner on the rear, fused with internal hardware that delivers plenty of performance and some of the best battery life you’ll find. This is a device for the power user, make no mistake.

It’s not all perfect though. Huawei continues to do its own thing with EMUI and while there’s a lot of functionality added, there’s a general reworking of the style, swapping of apps that’s a less useful than stock Android and other niggles that let the side down. The less is more manta applies, and Huawei seem to be ignoring that.

Specs fans might be disappointed to find only a full HD display and at this size more pixels could be used to better effect, but then that’s in some way reflected in the price. A great, big phone, and a great performer.

FULL REVIEW: Huawei Mate 8 review

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7. Nexus 5X

The cheaper of the two new Nexus devices, the Nexus 5X replaces the successful Nexus 5, presenting a device that’s more affordable at £339. It takes some hits on the spec sheet compared to the Nexus 6P too, but that fits with the price point, slotting this device into a sub-flagship position.

The biggest change and differentiator from flagship devices is the build, with the LG-made device having a plastic body. It feels solid enough, but it’s lacking the premium feel that many of the top devices offer.

There is, however, great performance from the unsullied Android 6.0 Marshmallow software that it launches with and although it’s not the greatest machine for gaming or multimedia, as a daily communicator, this the Nexus 5X offers fuss-free efficiency.

There’s an excellent fingerprint scanner on the rear that’s lightning fast, as well as the latest USB Type-C connection on the bottom. This isn’t the most powerful phone, but it has plenty to offer for the price.

FULL REVIEW: Nexus 5X review

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6. Apple iPhone 6S Plus

Apple’s larger model has had a chance to find its feet, updated in the iPhone 6S Plus to mirror the updates brought to the regular iPhone 6S. That brings you the advantage of a 3D Touch display, with more methods of interaction, a faster Touch ID experience, backed by faster hardware.

If you’re looking for a larger iPhone, then the 6S Plus is where you need to look. Some might say that by the time you reach 5.5-inches, the Full HD display isn’t as sharp as some rivals. That’s the case with the 6S too, but here there’s the slight feeling that Apple isn’t offering more features through that large display, as you might find in a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, for example.

You do get a new camera experience, however, and this model also sports optical image stabilisation, along with new 4K video capture and Live Photos, making for one of the slickest camera experiences around.

But in the process of updating the 6 Plus to the 6S Plus, this larger than life iPhone has piled on an extra 20g in weight. It’s pushing the scales a little, and could be too weighty for some. It’s also expensive at £619.

FULL REVIEW: Apple iPhone 6S Plus review

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5. Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+

The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ takes one of 2015’s most innovative models and expands it. Swelling the edge+ up to 5.7-inches over the original 5.1, it’s a leap forward in screen size, even if much of the specification remains the same. For many, with the absence of the Note 5, it’s the S6 edge+ that takes all the glory in the big screen stakes.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 family offers some of the best camera performance around and that’s repeated on the S6 edge+, combined with a great fingerprint scanner and some innovative features in those curved display edges.

Some might say that the curves are a little under ultilised and in reality, the S6 edge+ doesn’t have quite the feature set as the Note Edge that it replaces, or the Note 5 that it sits alongside. That’s a bitter pill to swallow considering that this handset is one of the most expensive devices on the market, at £629.

It’s a showpiece, that’s for sure, but in the battle of the big devices, Samsung’s own Note will edge it out in terms of functionality – if it’s on sale in your country.

FULL REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ review 

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4. OnePlus 2

OnePlus has been shaking things up in the smartphone world. The Chinese company might not have the high street profile that Samsung or Apple do, but in the underworld of smartphone geekery, OnePlus is overload.

That’s due in many parts to the great value proposition that OnePlus presents. There are few other places where you’ll get this grade of hardware for this price, undercutting the likes of budget darlings Huawei in many cases.

In 2015’s model, the OnePlus 2 presents great build quality at a price that many will find surprisingly cheap, along with slick performance from OxygenOS, its customised Android interface, and great battery life.

There are shortcomings, like the lack of NFC and specifications that don’t quite rival the best out there. The OnePlus 2 isn’t so much the flagship killer, but it decimates the mid-range and sub-premium bracket.

OnePlus has also dropped the invite system so it is simple to buy. At £239, it’s money well spent.

FULL REVIEW: OnePlus 2 review

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3. Nexus 6P

The Nexus 6P was launched alongside the Nexus 5X, a premium counterpoint to it’s more affordable LG-built rival. The Nexus 6P is manufactured by Huawei, the first time this Chinese company has been involved with the Nexus programme. It’s also the most accomplished Nexus handset to date and for many will be the default choice for Android superphone.

It has a full metal body and although the design perhaps doesn’t challenge the interest in the Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 edge, it’s certainly something that will appeal to those looking for that premium sheen. Nexus is no longer just about affordability, now it’s about desirability too.

There’s plenty of power in this 5.5-inch device and a display that’s full of detail and pop, dripping in vibrancy with deep inky blacks. The fingerprint scanner on the rear is incredibly fast too, and there’s USB Type-C on the bottom for simple connection to your charger.

There’s a camera that’s capable of some great shots in all conditions, with the hardware outperforming the software in this instance. The HDR mode (auto) is a little slow, even if it gets great results.

This is a pure Android handset, debuting Android 6.0 Marshmallow and again makes a case for how consumer friendly this software is without all the additions you’ll get elsewhere. Priced at £449, it undercuts most flagships. It might lack a few flourishes and additions, but it’s a wonderful Android handset.

FULL REVIEW: Nexus 6P review

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2. Apple iPhone 6S

The iPhone 6S takes a strong design and supercharges Apple’s smartphone. The iPhone 6S might be an “incremental” model, with no changes to the exterior design, but under the skin there’s a lot that’s new in the iPhone 6S.

A natural starting point is the display. Although it isn’t the highest resolution handset out there, Apple has introduced pressure sensitivity to the new iPhone and called it 3D Touch. It’s not unique, but the depth to which Apple has empowered this new feature stands it aside. Being able to trigger alternative actions, peek into apps and then pop them open, changes navigation around the phone.

This is a more powerful handset than previously, so things are slicker and faster, but there’s also been a refresh to the camera, the first update in a long time. A new 12-megapixel sensor powers proceedings, with new features, including 4K video capture. You can now take Live Photos, bringing movement to stills, as well as an improved selfie experience, with the display firing as a flash.

The result is an iPhone in which it looks like not much has changed, but in reality, it has. It’s a better, faster, more engaging experience than it was the last time around. It is, however, still one of the most expensive smartphones around at £539, and although it offers a premium experience, some will see that the iPhone is behind the curve in some areas, such as display resolution.

FULL REVIEW: Apple iPhone 6S review

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1. Samsung Galaxy S7

Following a strong showing from the SGS6, some might have been surprised by how little changed in the Samsung Galaxy S7. Launched alongside a larger S7 edge model, the SGS7 takes what the SGS6 started and refines it. It tweaks the design slightly bringing better aesthetics, reducing the camera bump on the rear and adding curves to the back edges for a nicer feel. It’s more natural and less slab like.

Visually, that’s about the only difference you’ll see, but the SGS7 brings with it a whole lot more. It adds IP68 protection against water and dust and importantly, it brings the microSD card back, so you have more storage options.

Internally there’s plenty of power for a slick performance from the Exynos or Qualcomm chipset and 4GB of RAM, and a wonderfully vibrant Quad HD AMOLED display. The S7 edge is more impactful in the display, larger at 5.5-inches, but both offer plenty of punch.

There’s a hugely wide range of functionality offered through Samsung’s TouchWiz reworking of Andorid Marshmallow, and although this perhaps throws up more features than you’ll ever use, the important point is that it’s beautifully optimised, so it doesn’t feel like it’s ever slowing the phone down. 

Pair that will improved batter performance and a camera that’s consistent and dependable and you have the recipe for the most compelling smartphone on the market. The regular SGS7 is the smaller, with a 5.1-inch display, but is also cheaper at £569. However, the S7 edge is likely to be the more popular device, despite the £639 asking price.

This was the best handset of 2015 and it looks like a repeat performance in 2016.

FULL REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S7 review

8
Mar

Hitman preview: Agent 47 is back with some time to kill


With all the furore surrounding The Division, it would be easy to forget that another big game is released for Xbox One, PS4 and PC this week too. Agent 47 returns to our consoles and computers this Friday and he demands every bit as much attention.

That’s for a couple of reasons. First, from a preview build we’ve played ahead of a full, in-depth review, developer IO Interactive has really stepped up a notch in how much freedom it is offering the player when carrying out a hit. And second, the decision has been made to do something quite different with the release.

Hitman: Episodes

Instead of a full-on, all-in-one game, as was originally touted, Hitman will be seeded episodically. The main game and first episode will arrive on 11 March with different missions arriving regularly thereafter.

Of course, Telltale adopts a similar release system with its adventure games series, such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, while Life is Strange – one of our favourite games of last year – followed a similar pattern. Where Hitman differs though is that it crams a whole lot of gameplay into each episode, and they will be set in different locations around the globe.

There will also be plenty of replay value in that you will be able to complete your objectives in a myriad of ways. Levels are sandboxes full of intricate traps and weapons to use. We doubt any one hit will be the same as another.

Hitman will also be seasonal in that, once this series and its overarching story is complete, there will be another.

Hitman: Missions

For now though, the game starts 20 years before the first Hitman game, Codename 47, and offers three tutorial missions for you to tackle before launching into episode one.

Once you do though, you soon discover exactly what makes this outing different from, say, Absolution. While the control method is similarly fluid, with simple actions sending 47 to seek cover in the environment and the ability to chop and change outfits more often than the cast of TOWIE, the open world locations reward exploration and give ample opportunities to craft cunning and, at times, hilarious plans to dispatch targets.

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Hitman: Gameplay

We played plenty of the Paris level, based at a fashion show, and wherever we turned we seemed to find a different item we could use to kill someone with, or a staff member to knock out and unclothe in order to disguise ourselves. There are also set “opportunities” which will take you on a step-by-step path to getting close to a designated target. You can pick these up by simply overhearing a conversation, and they can lead you down some interesting paths.

For example, you might end up taking out one of the world’s top male models in order to infiltrate higher levels, or use the TV camera crew to get closer to the action.

Finding these is a large part of the fun. But what we love about Hitman already, even from the preview version, is that you don’t even have to follow either yourself. It’s up to you how to proceed and that freedom is refreshing.

Graphically, Hitman definitely looks like it’s had a current generation refresh, but without heading down the nitty gritty route. It still looks slightly cartoonified, as always. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

First Impressions

It remains to be seen whether the rest of the episodes are as engaging as the first. And if the final game expands upon the sandbox locations on offer with extra missions and additional objectives. But we can already tell that we’ll have a blast finding out.

Pricing has previously been revealed to be very reasonable, with the launch pack to be available for $15 (UK pricing yet to be confirmed) and subsequent episodes will cost $10 a pop. We’ll reveal more in the full review soon about whether it’s worth that outlay, but we suspect so, especially as the moment we finished our preview session we fancied popping back into the Parisian setting for another crack.

8
Mar

SEC sues Wells Fargo and Rhode Island for game loan disaster


Wells Fargo and Rhode Island state have been charged with fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for their part in the 38 Studios debacle. The SEC alleges that both parties defrauded investors to the tune of $50 million in an attempt to finance the MMO Project Copernicus.

You can be forgiven for forgetting about 38 Studios — it’s been defunct for years now — but let’s bring you up to speed. The game maker was founded in Massachusetts by baseball star Curt Schilling, but moved to Rhode Island as part of the state’s economic development plan, securing a $75 million loan guarantee from to build the action-RPG Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and an MMO codenamed Project Copernicus.

It managed to borrow $50 million from a state agency, but couldn’t secure the additional $25 million it needed. Although it released Kingdoms of Amalur, and sold over a million copies, it faced a massive shortfall and unable to pay back the money it had already borrowed. The studio was forced to close without completing Project Copernicus. When it finally filed for bankruptcy in 2012, it owed over $150 million, with less than $22 million in assets.

The SEC asserts that the Rhode Island Commerce Corp (formerly the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, RIEDC) and Wells Fargo failed to tell investors that 38 Studios was $25 million short of the the total funding it needed to make its game.”We allege that the RIEDC and Wells Fargo knew that 38 Studios needed an additional $25 million to fund the project yet failed to pass that material information along to bond investors, who were denied a complete financial picture,” the SEC said.

Additionally, Wells Fargo is accused of failing to disclose a side deal with 38 Studios that “nearly doubled” the compensation it received when the deal went sour. “This additional compensation,” said the SEC, “… created a conflict of interest that Wells Fargo should have disclosed to bond investors.” Wells Fargo’s lead banker on the deal, Peter Cannava, has been charged with aiding and abetting the fraud, along with two former RIEDC executives, Keith Stokes and James Saul. Although neither has admitted guilt, both Stokes and Saul have already settled the suit, paying a $25,000 fine.

Wells Fargo says it disputes the allegations, and will argue its case in court, suggesting that Cannava is unlikely to settle. RIEDC is still reviewing the SEC’s complaint, and as such is not commenting on specifics. It did note that it previously filed suit against Wells, alleging that the bank didn’t inform it of its side deal with 38 Studios.

Source: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

8
Mar

Pandora will let bands insert voice messages into your music stream


Social media has increasingly broken down the walls between musicians and their fans, allowing bands to have more direct conversations with the people listening to their music. The “artist marketing platform” (AMP) that Pandora launched a few years ago was meant to be part of that move, helping to enable that connection between musicians and fans. In an effort to foster that connection, Pandora is launching AMPcast, an app that lets Pandora artists record messages to fans on-the-go and insert them right into a user’s audio stream.

A musician participating in Pandora’s AMP program can use the new app to record a quick message to fans, add a link and then share it out to their listeners with speed and spontaneity. Perhaps the most obvious use case is a band alerting fans to a new album release or that there are still tickets available for a concert that night, but Pandora expects it’ll become an all-purpose way for artists of all sizes to reach fans and even grow their audiences. The messages can include a call to action link so you can click for more details.

If you’re worried about your listening experience getting cluttered with messages you don’t want to hear, fear not. For starters, Pandora will only insert audio messages from artists that you’ve used to start a station or who have songs you’ve liked. So you shouldn’t hear messages from bands you couldn’t care less about. Unlike Pandora ads, you can skip past artist message, and you can even opt-out of the entirely.

In Pandora’s view, the magic for artists is the combination of the company’s reach and targeting. For starters, artist messages are only delivered to listeners who’ve expressed an interest in that artist, but the company envisions a time in which it can use the vast amount of data it has tying together related songs and artists to serve listeners messages from bands they’ve never heard before. Pandora thinks that could be very valuable to smaller groups trying to find an audience. There’s even talk of making these messages location-based — so if a band is chatting about its concert in New York City, listeners in San Francisco won’t necessarily have to hear about it.

Much of the story around Pandora over the last year has centered around the company’s move towards offering listeners ways to engage with music they love beyond just listening to songs. The company bought Rdio in an effort to eventually compete head-on with Spotify, launched new recommended stations to help users find new music and purchased Ticketfly in an effort to get its listeners buying tickets to see their favorite bands. This latest initiative ties in well with the Ticketfly move, as artists can directly talk to listeners about upcoming shows as well as have a link to buy tickets.

The program launches today in a limited fashion: only a small group of selected artists can participate for now. But Pandora plans to roll it out to anyone using its AMP platform soon after it gets data on how the service is best used. The company wants to optimize the frequency of messages and get better at targeting before widely rolling it out.

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