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Posts tagged ‘Smartphone Reviews’

15
Dec

Nomu S10 review


nomu s10

In an world where every company tries to come up with an ever thinner device than last year’s, sacrificing battery life for looks, leaving out plasic and using metal and glass instead, it’s nice to see a manufacturer like Nomu. Its whole lineup of devices is aimed at people that are normally in harsh environments.

With IP68 water resistance rating, utilitarian design and a mind-boggling 5000mAh battery, the Nomu S10 is not aimed at someone working a run-of-the-mill office job.

Specs

The specs for the Nomu S10 are very respectable for 2016 standards. And look at that battery.

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.0-inch display at 1280 x 720 pixel resolution; Gorilla Glass 3
  • Quad-core Mediatek 1.5GHz processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage; microSD expansion card slot for 32GB
  • 8-megapixel (interpolated to 13-megapixel) rear camera
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 5000mAh battery
  • 2G GSM: 850/900/1800/1900(B5/B8/B3/B2)
  • 3G WCDMA: 900/2100(B8/B1)
  • 4G FDD-LTE: 800/900/1800/2100/2600(B20/B8/B3/B1/B7)
  • TDD-LTE: 2300(B40)
  • WiFi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n 2.4GHz
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 BLE

MicroSD support is also nice in an era where more and more phones leave this feature behind in favor of internal storage. You’ll have to make a compromise though: it’s either a microSD or two SIM cards, but not both.

Initial Impressions and Setup

Pretty straightforward packaging.Pretty straightforward packaging.

The packaging is pretty straightforward. It’s just a brown box with the Nomu logo on it, devoid of any other branding or indication of the phone itself. Curiously, the Nomu S30 comes in exactly the same box, even though it is much bigger.

Inside you will find the phone, a pair of headphones and a charger. This review unit came with a charger compatible with European plugs, something which wasn’t a problem for me but could be a minor inconvenience for those who live in the US.

Something peculiar about this phone is that, upon powering on, it doesn’t take you to the normal setup screen that you’re used to when booting an Android device for the first time. Instead, you’re greeted with the phone’s main screen. You can effectively use the phone without configuring. As a person who dislikes long setup processes, I like this approach.

If you actually want to use your Google account with your phone, accessing any Google-made app will take you to the configuration you’re used to. From then on, everything will work exactly as expected. As a side note, some Google apps you’re used to don’t come installed by default, including YouTube and Google Drive; you’ll have to do that by yourself.

Hardware and Build Quality

First, let me address the elephant in the room: this is the thickest phone I’ve used since my Nokia 3590 back in 2003. Probably the massive 5000mAh battery has something to do with it. But let me get something straight: this is actually not a bad thing.

Sure, Apple, Motorola, Samsung and company have us think that a thinner phone is better (which, to an extent, you can say it is), but there’s also a market for people looking to, you know, actually use their phones. What’s more, they don’t want to turn off every shiny new feature to make it through the day. Sure, there’s a trade-off, and that’s something Nomu has obviously accepted, but kudos to them for favoring function over form.

Upon holding the device, you will immediately notice its ruggedness. This is a heavy-duty phone, aimed at people who work in harsh environments, where a power outlet is not available for hours and/or water is a serious concern.

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Corners are not rounded, but very angular and sharp instead. It tries to alleviate the thickness factor by reducing it around the edges, something which works to some extent.

Except for the Gorilla Glass 4 screen, the whole device is made of some kind of rubberized plastic. While many phones these days opt for metal and glass casings that can make the phone slippery, the Nomu S10 is almost impossible to drop by accident under normal conditions.

The device itself is black with orange accents, which, combined with its rugged elements, makes it look futuristic and it has certainly garnered attention when using it throughout my review process.

nomu s10The orange accents makes it a pretty looking device.

Its IP68 water resistance rating means that it can be submerged for 30 minutes under a maximum of 1.5 meters of water. That’s A LOT of time, so feel safe knowing that this phone will survive that drop into the toilet.

All of these characteristics and focus on ruggedness makes the phone feel incredibly sturdy. Your immediate reaction would be to think that this phone is more expensive, because it sure feels like it is.

For those wondering, the volume keys and the power key (in that order, from top to bottom) are all located on the upper right side of the device, while the speaker is at the back.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is present (thanks Nomu for not being “courageous” enough to remove it) and located at the top, while the microUSB port is located at the bottom. Both of them are covered by rubber flaps in order to achieve its water resistance rating. I actually didn’t try submerging the phone with the flaps open, but I’m pretty sure that is one of those “don’t try this at home” situations.

Screen

Being a $100 phone in this era means that some corners have to be cut. The first place where you notice this is by looking at the screen. The 1280×720 5.0″ Sharp IGZO screen does a decent job under normal conditions and you can perform your tasks without your eyeballs bleeding. However, sometimes you can see some icons and colors being displayed in a weird way. Picture an image compressed 5 times: this is how the S10’s screen displays stuff sometimes.

This was really noticeable for me while taking a closer look at the default wallpaper. At first I thought “Wow, that’s a really crappy picture,” but then I changed it to a different one and saw the same kind of artifacts. It’s a shame, because otherwise this panel would be decent enough for a $100 device.

It gets really bright (there’s almost no direct sunlight in Estonia at the moment, but trust me, the screen can get very bright) and the 720p resolution is good news for battery life. Unfortunately, in its current state, the screen leaves something to be desired.

Speakers and Audio

nomu s10Speaker is located at the back of the device.

As previously mentioned, the speaker is located at the back side of the phone. The last phone I owned that had this configuration was the LG G3, and I sure hated that speaker. I just can’t stand speakers there because you have to lie your phone on its screen for the speaker to be useful. That simply doesn’t make sense.

Anyways, the good news is that it gets extremely loud. If loudness was the only factor, then actually I would use this phone over my Bluetooth speaker. However, as we know, quality is the other side of the story, and unfortunately some distortion and loss of quality can be heard when the speaker is at its maximum. It’s not a deal-breaker, but something to note anyways.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that this may be noticeable to us who actually care about this kind of stuff. I tried the speaker with a couple of friends and both noticed the loudness first, and made no mention about the loss in quality.

When actually connecting the phone to a pair of headphones, output was good enough. Note that I’m not able to detect any significant improvements in quality since my only pair of headphones are Apple Earbuds, but I can definitely notice a reduction in said quality, something that didn’t happen while listening Epica’s latest masterpiece, The Holographic Principle, or a really nice 80’s music playlist I found the other day.

Connectivity

If you didn’t get the message when talking about the charger that ships with the S10, then you will definitely notice it here. Clearly, Nomu is not focused on the US market for now. Why? In short, it’s because its phones doesn’t have the required bands for 4G to work there. That is really a shame for our US readers; the phone will get 3G speeds at best. However, here in Estonia, Telia uses bands 3, 7, and 20 to deliver its 4G service, so I could test it.

nomu s10Be careful about the bands your carrier uses, since there’s limited support for bands in some regions.

Overall, I got good signal everywhere I went. Call quality was exactly as you might expect, so, if you have the required bands, the phone behaves exactly as you expect it to. Be sure to check this beforehand, though.

Regarding WiFi, I could achieve the same download speeds as on my other devices, so there are no surprises here either. A thing to note, though: there’s no support for 5.2GHz WiFi networks as only 2.4GHz is supported.

Software

nomu s10 home screenThe launcher is not Google Now or Pixel.

Do you like stock Android? I have good news for you. Nomu has decided that Google’s implementation of Android Marshmallow is good enough for its purposes and decided to leave it partially unchanged. That is normally good news regarding updates, since it means less things to test and update for new versions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Nougat update.

However, let me tell you that this Android 6.0 implementation works pretty well. Since you already know the main features of Android 6.0, I will tell you the deviations from Google’s original software.

First, there is the launcher. I know what you might be thinking: “First, he says that Android is largely unchanged and then he says that the launcher is different?” I know, let me explain. This is neither Google Now Launcher nor the shiny new Pixel Launcher introduced in Android 7.0. This is a generic launcher that has home screens, an app drawer and nothing more. It is pretty bare-bones and, frankly, not that good of an experience. Fortunately, the Play Store has a plethora of options from which you can choose, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Also, a weird thing about this Android build is that, even though it is Marshmallow, the icons for some apps look like their Jelly Bean era counterparts. I can’t for the life of me understand the reason behind this.

Regarding other aspects, you’ll see that the quick settings has two new members: Audio Profiles and Supershot. The former lets you change your sound profile from four predefined options: General, Silent, Meeting and Outdoor. The latter lets you take a screenshot without having the Volume Down + Power Button combination.

nomu s10 optionsMany useful options have been added.

When taking a screenshot, you will get the option of editing it too. You can crop it in a rectangular shape, with a lasso tool, or with a graffiti function (the image becomes your canvas and you select parts of it by making lines over it). You can also create longer screenshots by using the scroll function.

The problem with this is that the phone doesn’t generate screenshots correctly. It compresses its height a little bit, making the image look distorted. It seems like it is a problem with the implementation of the navigation bar, since making it hide and then opening an app results in screenshots being captured correctly. I’m sure this can easily be corrected with an update, but it’s inadmissible that this kind of faults have made it through QA and into production software.

There are some really useful options in the settings screen. Stuff like tap to wake, hiding the navigation bar and turbo download (download big files using both data and WiFi) are present there for your pleasure.

Also, there’s this neat feature in which you can draw a letter on the screen while it is off, and, upon detection, the phone will open the related app. For example, I configured the C to open the camera. It works exactly as advertised, although it could benefit from opening the app faster. The current implementation wastes time making an animation based on the detected letter.

Performance

I know that benchmarks tell us nothing about the performance under daily use, but here is the AnTuTu benchmark score in case you were wondering.

nomu s10 antutuWith its score of 37396 points, the Nomu S10 is ranked among devices like the Samsung Galaxy A3 (2016), Huawei Honor 5X, Blu Vivo XL and OnePlus One. For reference, the Google Nexus 5 scores 23225 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 scores 76912.

Using it for a couple of weeks, though, I can say that I could easily use this phone as my daily driver. It is really snappy when doing normal activities, like checking Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube videos and streaming Spotify. It struggles when there’s a lot of things going on (for example, when downloading apps), but then again, a lot of phones do.

Games is a different matter, though. Stuff like Star Knight performs superbly, since it is not a graphic-intensive game. However, things change a bit when launching N.O.V.A 3. It’s likely my fault for trying to run such a game on a $100 phone, but results are decent at best. The game gets laggy in a lot of instances and skips a lot of frames. If you’re the kind of person that plays heavy-load games, then you won’t be interested in this mid-range phone.

Camera

Continuing with the list of components that were hindered in order to reduce costs, we arrive at the camera. I don’t want to blame the camera only, since the screen actually makes pictures look worse than they are, but the results are not stellar either. The 13 MP shooter with a single flash does a modest job in daylight conditions, but it is especially bad in low light.

nomu s10The camera is decent at best under conditions with lots of light, but struggles in dark environments.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single clear day to take pictures in which the sky was blue, but you can clearly see that colors are not bright enough on any of the samples anyways. Also, you have to move the phone as little as possible when taking pictures, because if not, the photo will turn out blurry.

Low-light images look like they were printed on sandpaper and the camera does an awful job with colors too. Also, focusing sometimes takes a really long time, something that, in my opinion, is as annoying as the quality itself. This is specially true on low-light conditions, when focusing is sometimes downright impossible.

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The camera app is not Google Camera but a different implementation which actually has some nice options. There’s a mode in which you can capture a picture with both cameras at the same time, and the software will superimpose one on top of the other. There are also different filters like mono, sepia, negative, whiteboard and similar.

Stuff like scene modes, timers, ISO and video quality can be changed at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, it can’t aleviate the camera’s inefficiencies, which is a hardware problem that no software might be able to resolve.

Battery

nomu s10 batteryBattery life is superb on this phone, thanks to its 5000mAh battery.

The phone can easily last three days on a charge with location, several social networks constantly pinging home for no reason, some light gaming, some YouTube videos, and Amaranthe’s Maximalism looping for hours on Spotify.

There’s one small thing though: standby time could be better. Sometimes, when leaving the phone at home with WiFi and Bluetooth on, the phone discharges just a bit slower as when actually carrying it with me and using it appropriately, something that makes no sense.

Actually, the phone has a function called “Standby Intelligent Power Saving,” which I tried to turn on and off for a few days but it made no noticeable difference. Another thing, the battery screen appears to be kind of broken, since it always displays “Phone idle” as the most expensive process, with a disproportionate amount of computed power use.

Charging the phone takes a lot of time, even with the included charger. We’re talking about 4 hours easily. Also, the phone tends to get warm when charging, especially when the battery is almost depleted. This is an increasingly common thing these days thanks to Quick Charge, so you probably shouldn’t worry about it.

Conclusion

The Nomu S10 is certainly a peculiar device. It has no middle ground: its ups are superb, but its downs are almost catastrophic. On one side you have a really sturdy, rugged, Bear Grylls-worthy build, but the screen then fails to display some patterns correctly. The battery is the best one I’ve used by far (at least since the dawn of the smartphone era), but its camera is not dependable at all. Even within the same category, there are some superb stuff and some unbearable aspects. Take as an example the speaker: really, really loud but on the back of the phone, and some quality is lost at high volumes.

Recommending this phone is as hard as it gets. Do you care about a phone that will last through use and abuse? Then buy it. This is the S10’s main market, and, it is really good at that. Do you want to buy a phone that will accompany you through your son’s first years in this world? Then don’t but it. You will probably want to take pictures of his first steps into this world, and this camera will produce pictures that will leave you as disappointed as the kid will be when he realizes he has to study for the next 20 years.

There are some situations in which this phone is almost perfect, and some in which it’s not up to the task. For $100 though, this phone is good to have as a backup (which actually has longer battery life than the phone it is backing up).

If you’re looking for one, you can get it from the following shops:

  • iGoGo.es
  • Coolicool
  • Geekbuying
  • GearBest
  • EverBuying

Prices vary from shop to shop, but they won’t ever surpass $130 dollars (or euros, depending on where you are). If you want more information about the phone, then Nomu’s official site has more information.

7
Dec

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe review


ASUS made quite a splash in January last year with the mid-range ZenFone 2, with the device offering impressive specifications and features that were coupled with a very budget-friendly price tag. This is a practice that has becoming increasingly common since then, with a lot of OEMs jumping on the “high quality, affordable price” bandwagon, and has also become a growing trend in the flagship space as well.

  • ASUS ZenFone 3 review
  • ASUS ZenFone 3 family hands-on

This year, ASUS has released a high-end Deluxe edition along with the two mid-range ZenFone 3 variants, to better compete in this growing smartphone category. Is ASUS’ latest flagship offering a compelling option in the face of stiff competition? We find out, in this comprehensive ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe!

Design

Expectations are high when a word like “Deluxe” is tacked on to the name of a device, and the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe does deliver in terms of design. As expected from a flagship smartphone, the build quality of this device is fantastic. Unlike its mid-range siblings that utilize a metal and glass construction, the Deluxe edition features a full metal unibody design.

Chamfered edges around the front and back, a sloping, curved back, and rounded corners and sides all make for a device that provides a smooth and comfortable feel in the hand. It is fairly thin, with a thickness of just 7.5mm, which gives it a sleek look, but even more impressive is the fact that the ZenFone 3 Deluxe features a truly full metal construction.

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You won’t find any plastic antenna lines as is seen with every other smartphone with a metal body, and ASUS claims that this is the first smartphone to achieve this. This choice doesn’t seem to inhibit the phone’s ability to pick up a wireless signal, which makes you wonder why we haven’t seen this already, especially from much larger OEMs.

Like previous ZenFone devices, you will notice ASUS’ signature pattern of concentric circles above the display, on the bottom chin, and along the power button and volume rocker that are both located on the right side. Up top is the headphone jack, and at the bottom are the USB Type-C port and a single speaker unit. On the left side is the SIM and microSD card combination slot.

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The device uses capacitive navigation keys, but instead of embedding a fingerprint scanner into the capacitive home button up front, ASUS decided to keep the sensor on the back. The fingerprint scanner features a thin rectangular design which is unlike the circle or square sensors that we are used to seeing with other smartphones.

Display

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The ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes with a large 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a 1080p resolution. This screen is not going to stack up to a Quad HD display in terms of sharpness, particularly if you are planning to use this phone for VR, but it certainly more than gets the job done and actually looks really great.

You get bright and vibrant colors, excellent viewing angles, high contrast, and deep, inky blacks, which are expected features of a Super AMOLED display. The large display makes it the perfect size for playing games and watching videos and movies. It also comes with some handy features that are becoming increasingly common, including a blue light filter, and the ability to tweak the display and color settings to have the screen look the way you want it.

Performance

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Under the hood, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that is backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and a whopping 6GB of RAM. This is the processing package that powers the majority of 2016 flagships, plus more RAM than the standard, so unsurprisingly, performance isn’t an issue with the smartphone.

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The device handles everyday tasks like opening, closing, and switching between apps, browsing the web and social media, and a whole lot more, without a hitch. Gaming is very enjoyable, and multi-tasking is a breeze. You can easily have numerous apps open in the background, including a couple of games, without any signs of slowing down. Despite ASUS’ heavily skinned version of Android, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe manages to provide a very fluid experience.

Hardware

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64GB, 128GB, and 256GB are the options available in terms of built-in storage, which is further expandable up to an additional 256GB via microSD card. However, keep in the mind that the second SIM slot doubles as the microSD card slot, so users will have to choose between dual SIM capabilities or expandable storage.

As mentioned, the device comes with a single speaker unit at the bottom which sounds fine and gets decently loud. It’s not going to compare to a phone with stereo or front-facing speakers though, and as is the case with any bottom-firing speaker, it is very easy to cover up when holding the device in the landscape orientation.

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The different design of the fingerprint scanner from the back doesn’t take away from how accurate it is, with it able to unlock the device every single time. However, it isn’t the fastest sensor out there, and there have been a few instances where it took two to three seconds to wake and unlock the phone. I’m also not a fan of the fact that there is no haptic feedback or vibration when using the scanner, so there is no way to tell that you are actually unlocking your phone when you are doing it blindly.

The ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes with a decently-sized 3,000mAh battery, but in my experience, the battery life leaves much to be desired. Light usage will allow for a full day of use, but even slightly heavier usage that involves watching videos on Youtube and playing games will mean that you will need to charge your device in the middle of the day.

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Heavy gaming will cause rapid battery drain with any smartphone, but I noticed that it was much faster with the ZenFone 3 Deluxe when compared to other flagship smartphones I’ve used recently like the Galaxy S7 Edge, Google Pixel, and OnePlus 3T. The phone typically lasts about 8 to 9 hours off the charger, which is significantly shy of what I would normally expect to get a full day’s worth of use. The phone does support Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 though, so at least it doesn’t take a long time get it back to a full charge.

Camera

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The Deluxe comes with a 23MP rear camera with a f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and a laser autofocus system. Up front is an 8MP shooter with the same aperture, and it works pretty well to cover all your selfie needs. A slew of beauty mode settings to take a better selfie are available to use with the front-facing camera, that can hide blemishes, change your skin tone, widen your eyes, and thin out your face.

The camera app is packed with a variety of features, and comes with 20 different shooting modes, including beautification, low light, depth of field, timelapse, and more, so there is a whole lot you can do with this camera. The built-in manual mode is surprisingly well fleshed out. Apart from the usual granular controls for white balance, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, and focus, you also get a built-in histogram and a horizontal level so you can get a perfectly straight shot every time.

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With a 23MP shooter, you might expect the photos to be very well detailed, but that unfortunately just hasn’t been the case. The color reproduction and dynamic range are pretty good, but the images lack a lot of detail and sharpness, even in daylight shots. Shots do look fine overall, but zooming in is when you can really see the detail start to break down, and everything just appears rather soft.

In well-lit lighting conditions, the shutter is nice and fast, but in low-light conditions, it slows down drastically. The image quality also deteriorates and OIS doesn’t seem to be of any help here. There is a lot of noticeable noise and blooming in the highlights, and the overall image is just soft and lacking in detail or sharpness. It takes a good two or three seconds for the camera to capture a shot in low light, and that makes it really difficult to get a shot that was in focus. Any movement before you are sure that the camera has taken the picture will result in a blurry image.

What is impressive about the camera experience is all the features and shooting modes that are available, but quality of images it is able to capture is a little underwhelming to say the least.

Software

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On the software side of things, the ZenFone 3 Deluxe is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with the Zen UI on top. While many OEMs have been streamlining their user interfaces, AUS has gone in the opposite direction. Zen UI changes a lot of the Android experience, and comes jam packed with a ton of features which may or may not be all that useful.

If you prefer something more simplistic, the Zen UI can certainly feel a touch overwhelming. Some of the elements also feel slightly outdated. For example, the app drawer still houses all the widgets, which we haven’t seen on stock Android since the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean days.

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The out of the box is also very animation heavy, and while they do look good and flashy, some of the animations are quite long and can make something as simple as opening an app from a folder take more time that it should. You do have the option some of these, like the home screen scroll effects and folder animations to something shorter, but if you stick with the regular settings, it will make the experience feel a lot slower.

Zen UI is very reminiscent of Samsung’s TouchWiz from a few years ago. It is very bright, colorful, has a lot of cartoonish icons, and comes pre-installed with a handful of ASUS’s own bloatware applications. The experience can feel incohesive and bloated, but it isn’t all bad. There are some features that are useful, such as double tap to wake and sleep, a one handed operation mode, and a robust themes store that lets you change the look and feel of the UI.

Specifications

Display 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display
1080p resolution, 386 ppi
Processor 2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Adreno 530 GPU
RAM 6 GB
Storage 64/128/256 GB
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
Camera 23 MP rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, OIS, laser autofocus, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera, f/2.0 aperture
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS + GLONASS
IR
USB Type-C (USB 3.0)
Battery 3,000 mAh
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions 156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm
170 grams

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Pricing and final thoughts

So there you have it for this in-depth look at the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe! The device is priced at $499.99 which isn’t a bad price tag, but there are several other smartphones out there like the Axon 7 and the new OnePlus 3T that undercut this price, while offering very similar experiences.

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The ZenFone 3 Deluxe features a beautiful design, a great looking display, and comes with a ton of features, but so do a lot of other smartphones, and the Deluxe just falls short in too many key areas to make it really stand out from the crowd.

22
Nov

OnePlus 3T review


After only six months, OnePlus took the wraps off of their latest flagship offering, dubbed the OnePlus 3T. As the name suggests, this device is essentially a souped up, or “Turbo” version of the OnePlus 3, but not necessarily a successor though.

  • OnePlus 3T announced
  • OnePlus 3T pricing and availability

OnePlus decided to launch this device to offer a better experience for their consumers, but how much of an upgrade is it when compared to its flagship sibling? We find out, in this comprehensive OnePlus 3T review!

Design

As far as the design is concerened, the OnePlus 3T looks exactly like its older sibling, and features the same full metal unibody construction, with a slightly curved back and rounded sides and corners. Despite being made entirely of metal, the phone is surprisingly light, and because the back tapers along the edges, it feels thinner as well, making for a device that is very comfortable to hold.

It’s also not a very tall or wide phone and is only slightly larger than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, allowing for a comfortable one-handed experience despite coming with a 5.5-inch display. There isn’t any 3T logo anywhere on the device that explicitly indicates that this is the upgraded flagship, and the only way to to really distinguish it from the older OnePlus 3 is by the color.

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The OnePlus 3T is available in the same gold variant as the OnePlus 3, but the second color option is gunmetal instead of silver. The gunmetal version is going to be the more expensive model though, with it featuring 128 GB of internal storage, while the gold iteration comes with 64 GB of on-board storage.

As was the case with the OnePlus 3, build quality is not an issue here, and everything is very well put together. Taking a look around the device, the power button and volume rocker are on the right and left sides respectively, and the buttons feel very tactile and are easy to press. Above the volume rocker is the very useful Notification Slider, that lets you quickly toggle between silent, do not disturb, and full volume options.

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At the bottom is the headphone jack, the USB Type-C port, and the single speaker unit, and up front is the home button with the integrated fingerprint scanner, flanked by capacitive back and Recent Apps keys. The back key is on the left and the Recent Apps key is on the right by default, but you can flip the orientation if you prefer in the Settings.

Display

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Things remain unchanged on the display side, with the OnePlus 3T also coming with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with a 1080p resolution. As is expected from an AMOLED screen, you get rich and vibrant colors with a lot of contrast, and the optional dark mode that is built-in to Oxygen OS takes fanastic advantage of the deep inky blacks. If you aren’t a fan of the vibrancy though, it is also easy to switch to a sRGB color mode in the Display Settings that provides a more natural and less saturated look.

Brightness isn’t a concern and allows for comfortable outdoor visibility. Sharpness isn’t a problem either, and to the naked eye, the difference between this 1080p panel and other Quad HD screen won’t be noticeable, unless you are using the phone for VR. OnePlus feels that VR isn’t mainstream enough to justify the jump to Quad HD, and decided to stick to 1080p to aid with the battery life.

Performance

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There aren’t a whole lot of differences between the OnePlus 3 and the 3T, but performance is one area that has seen an improvement. Under the hood, the OnePlus 3T comes with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, clocked at 2.35 GHz, which is faster than the one found in the Google Pixel smartphones. The 3T retains the 6 GB of RAM that is also available with the OnePlus 3.

Not surprisingly, the performance is absolutely fantastic with the OnePlus 3T, with the comparatively lower resolution display a contributing factor as well. Opening, closing, and switching between apps is smooth and snappy, the touch responsiveness is excellent, and the device also handles graphic-intensive gaming comfortably, with no dropped frames to be seen.

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With 6 GB of RAM, multitasking isn’t an issue either, and you can have a lot of apps in running the background and keep them for a very long time. The OnePlus 3T features one of the quickest and smoothest Android experiences out there. Granted, it may not be as smooth as the experience available with the Pixel devices, but it is certainly up there among the best.

Hardware

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As mentioned, 64 GB and 128 GB are the internal storage options available, but if storage is a concern, users will have to opt for the higher variant, with expandable storage via microSD card not being available. Getting the 128 GB model means that you will also get the new gunmetal color.

The fingerprint sensor that is integrated into the home button up front does unlock the device really quickly, but it is unfortunately not the most accurate scanner out there. It is fairly reliable, but there have been quite a few instances where it misreads my fingerprint. You can also add a variety of long press and double tap functions to the home button and the capacitive keys.

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Another area where the OnePlus 3T has received an upgrade is in the battery department, with the device coming with a 3,400 mAh battery, which is a slight bump when compared to the 3,000 mAh unit available with the OnePlus 3. The 13% bump in battery capacity is more impressive when you consider the fact that OnePlus was able to achieve it without making the phone any heavier or thicker than its namesake.

OnePlus’ Dash Charge technology is available here to quickly get the phone back up to a full charge. The biggest advantage with this technology however is that the majority of the heat that is generated during charging is contained in the wall adapter and doesn’t make its way to the device. This also means that you can use the phone while it is charging, without worrying about the charging speeds being throttled in order to control the device temperature.

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OnePlus claims that you can get a full day of battery life after charging the device for just half an hour. In my experience, that translates to a charge to 60% in half an hour, which is certainly impressive, and very useful if you don’t have a lot of time to fully charge your phone.

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As far as the battery life is concerned, the overall experience has been extremely good. The phone easily lasts all day even with my fairly heavy usage, which typically consists of several hours of gaming, watching videos on Youtube, and streaming music, throughout the day. So, while this bump in battery capacity may seem small, it seems to make a significant difference to the battery life.

Camera

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The final area that has seen an upgrade from the OnePlus 3 is with the camera, but this change is more focused on the front-facing shooter, which is now a 16 MP unit, which is double the 8 MP sensor that was found with the OnePlus 3. The rear camera is the same 16 MP unit that was availabe with the OnePlus 3, and  comes with a f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and phase detection autofocus.

The front-facing camera also comes with a f/2.0 aperture, which helps a lot when taking selfies in low-light conditions. With the bump in megapixel count, you will also have a lot more room to zoom and crop without any deterioration in the quality of the picture, and also enjoy sharper looking video. Overall, you get a far better experience with the front-facing shooter now than you did with the OnePlus 3.

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The default camera app is pretty similar to the Google Camera, with many of the same modes to be found here, including Timelapse, Slow motion, and Panorama. The only exception is that manual controls are available if you are looking to dial in the setting yourself, but it is otherwise a very nicely laid out and easy to use camera application.

This is definitely a good camera with it comes to picture quality. Photos are crisp and well detailed, and I really like the color reproduction. You get nice, natural looking colors, and the images are sharp enough, but without looking oversharpened and artificial. If you do want some extra sharpening, the HQ mode is available, which adds a fairly noticeable amount of sharpening to the photos. However, the images looked fine in most situations, and I rarely had to use this feature.

In terms of dynamic range, the camera does have a tendency to overexpose the shot and blow out a lot of the highlights, but HDR mode alleviates this problem easily. It does a great job of pulling extra detail from the highlights and shadows, while still maintaining the natural look of the original image. Low-light shots can be good, but onl when using the HQ mode. Without it, images are noisy and soft, and the mode allows for sharper, more detailed images that are a lot cleaner.

Software

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On the software side of things, the OnePlus 3T is running the latest Oxygen OS 3.5.1 based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and you get a very stock Android look and feel here, but with a lot of customizations available that add to the experience without getting in the way.

Shelf is still accessible by swiping to the left of the home screen, and holds a lot of information, including the weather info and your recent contacts or used apps. You can also compose memos and manage your data, storage, and battery life, and there any widget can be added here, instead of having them take up space on the other home screens.

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A few new customization options have been added to the latest version of the Oxygen OS, such as a built-in night mode, that makes the viewing the screen easier on your eyes at night. There are custom accent colors, support for third party icon packs, and the screen off gestures like double tap to wake, or the ability to launch the camera or flashlight by drawing on O or a V on the screen.

You can truly tailor the experience to exactly the way you like it, and that is one of the best parts about Oxygen OS. This updated version introduces some new features to further refine the experience. You can now swipe down on the screen with three fingers to take a screenshot, and add a password or use your fingerprint to lock down any application.

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Despite still being based on Android Marshmallow, OnePlus has also updated the notification shade to the Android 7.0 Nougat style that comes with easy access to the Quick Settings with one downward swipe. OnePlus hasn’t announced a specific date as to when an official update to Android 7.0 Nougat will be available, but it is slated for the end of the year, and will be made available for both the OnePlus 3 and 3T.

Specifications

Display 5.5-inch Optic AMOLED display
1920 x 1080 resolution, 401ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Processor 2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
GPU Adreno 530
RAM 6GB
LPDDR4
Storage 64 or 128GB (Gunmetal only)
UFS 2.0
MicroSD No
Ports USB 2.0, Type-C
Dual nano-SIM slot
3.5 mm audio jack
Buttons Capacitive hardware keys and on-screen navigation support
Audio Speakers: Bottom-facing speaker
Microphones: Dual-microphone with noise cancellation
Cameras Rear: 16MP Sony IMX 298 sensor, 1.12μm, f/2.0 aperture, OIS, EIS, phase detection autofocus

Front: 16MP Samsung 3P8SP sensor, 1.0μm, f/2.0 aperture, fixed focus

Sensors Fingerprint, Hall, Accelerometor, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light, Electronic Compass
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
Battery Non-removable 3,400mAh
Dash Charge (5V 4A)
Software OxygenOS based on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Colors Gunmetal
Soft Gold (Available shortly after launch)
Dimensions and weight 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35mm
158g

Gallery


Pricing and final thoughts

The faster processor, an improved front-facing camera, and larger battery capacity also results in a bump in the price point, with the 64 GB model priced at $439, and the 128 GB iteration setting you back an additional $40. The OnePlus 3T will be available on November 22 in the US and November 28 in Europe.

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So, there you have it for this in-depth look at the OnePlus 3T review! If you already have the OnePlus 3, the 3T isn’t compelling enough to justify an upgrade. The improvements are nice, but the overall experience isn’t significantly different between the two, and if software updates are a concern, the good news is that both devices will receive them at the same time.

On the other hand, those who have been waiting to see what Google had to offer with their smartphones and were holding off on buying the OnePlus 3 will certainly be elated. Given the upgrades, the $40 and $80 difference in price from the OnePlus 3 is completely understandable, and still undercuts a lot of other flagships. What you get for the money does make the OnePlus 3T one of the best deals you can get for an Android flagship, and is a smart move by the company.

27
Oct

Bluboo Maya Max: Massive potential but massive disappointment (phone review)


Before we get into the review, I want to start out with a bit of an explanation. I’ve had the Bluboo Maya Max for around two months. The journey with this device has certainly been an interesting one and is the central case of why people are afraid to buy products from companies they don’t know.

I’ve had two review units and neither have worked correctly. The software on the first device was not final and frankly broken. Working with Bluboo’s support saw them ask me to download an application onto my computer that was in Chinese to apply an update and I could not get to work even with assistance.

The second review unit seemed to have faulty hardware. The battery discharged down to nothing and then refused to turn back on after charging. To me, this says faulty hardware but Bluboo told me they’d have another software patch for me to flash before no longer responding to emails.

I will conduct as much of this review as I can because I believe that these issues are important to consider when purchasing a phone intended for other markets. Companies that have no infrastructure in the United States tend to be a risky proposition due to the lack of support and updates. This is the prime example of what can go wrong. Now, on with the rest of the review.

Introduction

The rise in popularity of importing devices is on the rise. We’ve seen excellent offerings from companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Gionee, and ZTE that don’t have great infrastructure in the US and importing them from third-party marketplaces like Gearbest tends to be the only way to get them. Popular in these devices has been rising because customers see them as a fun and cost-effective alternative to any old Galaxy or iPhone.

Bluboo is a Chinese company that is stuffing amazing specs in a phone for a low, low price. Normally priced at $179, the Maya Max features has some excellent specs.

  • Processor: MediaTek MT6750 1.5GHz octa-core
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Display: 6.0″ 1080P with Gorilla Glass 4
  • Camera: 13MP Main, 8 MP front
  • Battery: 4200mAh with Quick Charge
  • Software: Android 6.0
  • Connectivity: USB type-C

Build

As you can see, the Maya Max is spec’ed like a flagship but with a budget price. The phone also includes features like 6000 series aluminum, a fingerprint scanner on the back, a mute switch, VoLTE, and a dual-sim card slot. Beyond the specs, the phone feels really nice in the hand and looks like a show-stopper. On paper, it’s one of the better phones for the price available right now and in person, it’s very impressive.

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The Maya Max has an impressive 85% screen to body ratio. The phone is only slightly larger than my Pixel XL but fits an extra .5″ of display in there. While the size difference does feel significant the phone is still pretty easy to handle due to good weight distribution and even better ergonomics. The back of the phone is very slightly curved so it sits in the hand nicely. Add in the fact that it’s relatively light for its size and it turns out that the Maya Max is easier to handle than some smaller phones.

One thing that really can make or break the experience of a device for me is volume and power buttons. Crappy, mushy buttons show a true lack of attention to detail or the company cheaping out on an important component. Luckily, Bluboo stuck true to its design principals with high quality and well functioning buttons. There is a mute switch that sits directly below the sim tray on the right side of the device that reminds me why I miss my iPhone sometimes. The switch puts the phone into silence, rather than vibrate mode, but it’s a convenient solution none the less.

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The phone utilizes on-screen buttons so the chin is bare, while the top of the phone is dotted with a camera and sensors around the speaker. If it’s one thing that Bluboo nailed with the Maya Max it’s the bezels. The bezels on the side of the device are almost nonexistent and the chin and top of the device are just big enough to get the required components in. I love the design of the Maya Max.

The top of the device houses the headphone jack (thankfully) and the bottom houses two drilled grills. A speaker sits behind the right grill and a microphone behind the left. Around back we find a fingerprint scanner that reminds us of the Nexus 6P and a raised, round camera hump with a dual-tone flash in-between.

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I really couldn’t have been more pleased with the physical design of the Maya Max. It really screams “premium” and goes toe-to-toe with any other device on the market in terms of quality, in my opinion. While you may prefer others for their size or materials, you’ll be forced to admit that the Maya Max is a beautiful device.

Software

This, unfortunately, is where things fell apart for me. My first unit shipped with broken software that saw constant app crashes and the phone locking up for long periods of time. I was informed that the phone couldn’t accept an over-the-air (OTA) update and I would have to update the phone by plugging it into my computer and downloading Bluboo’s software. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, it never happened due to the software being in Chinese. I do hope that Bluboo gets the software finalized and in good working order because a beautifully built device is being held back by broken software.

I believe a lot of these Chinese or Korean companies will not have success in the US market due to their software. These companies tend to strip out a lot of what makes Android great (stop taking away my app drawer!) and replaces it with bright, obnoxious colors and the duplication of apps that are already on the device. Samsung seems to have gotten the message with its recent iterations of TouchWiz. Hopefully, companies like Bluboo follow suit because even when the software was working, I didn’t enjoy the experience.

Yes, the app drawer is noticeably absent on the Maya Max. I also found it odd that on a 6.0″ device, Bluboo limited you to four icons across. There is obviously room here to add more icons comfortably and it’s needed since all of your icons will be showing. Folders are for whatever reason incredibly hard to create due to the fact that the touch sensitivity and accuracy isn’t excellent.

Several themes come with the device and you can download more through a theme store. I didn’t find any of the included ones very appealing and they honestly don’t alter the appearance that much. It’s nice that they included this feature, but it’s certainly not going to sell any devices.

The Play Store is installed, but that’s about it for Google’s apps. I downloaded a few apps here and there but it’s mostly filled up with Bluboo’s apps like Hitap Keyboard, SIM toolkit, FM Radio, and Theme Store.

The software is pretty spartan. If stock Android bothers you for its lack of features, the Bluboo Maya Max isn’t going to be your cup of tea either. Bluboo just isn’t consistent in its software enough. Some Google apps are skinned, some are replaced, some are completely untouched. Add in the weird quirks like not being able to reset the device to factory settings (yes, seriously) and you have a difficult to use contradiction on your hands.

Battery

Unfortunately due to the software issues we had with the Maya Max we cannot provide a reliable review of the battery life. However, we can give you some of the facts about the device and that will play into what battery life you may get.

The Maya Max has a 6″ 1080P display and a 4200mAh battery. Those are both pretty big numbers and the battery capacity being on the high end of anything on the market today. Bluboo made a choice to go with a 1080P display (probably due to cost) and it really should benefit you in battery life. Pushing all the extra pixels of a QHD display not only takes processing power but battery power too.

One thing that will negatively affect your battery life is the lack of supported bands in the United States. I tested the Maya Max with a T-Mobile sim and was disappointed to find that I only picked up Edge coverage. The device supports the following bands:

  • 2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
  • 3G: WCDMA 850/2100MHz
  • 4G: FDD-LTE 800/1800/2100/2600MHz

If you’re using AT&T you will be able to pick up 3G on the 850 frequency, but no LTE for you either. With the constant searching for a better signal (especially indoors), the battery life could take a hit.

Reference guide to US carrier bands and networks

Conclusion

If you’re afraid of buying a Chinese phone from a site like Gearbest, this review is not going to do you any favors. This is pretty much the worst case scenario. Luckily for me, Bluboo supplied the review units so I’m not out any money, but I could easily see that happening to someone. There are a lot of great companies making wonderful devices that haven’t hit the shores of the US yet and I would encourage you to do you research to see how they deal with their customers when you’re making a purchase. Don’t let this one case scare you off.

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As for the Maya Max… if I could load stock Android onto it, it might be an amazing device. Unfortunately, it’s held back by broken software and puzzling design choices. If Bluboo gets the software figured out, I’d love to give the phone another review because I think there’s a ton of potential here. It has one of the best-built phones out there with some excellent features and a comfortable design.

25
Oct

ZTE Axon 7 review: Outstanding with a few faults


ZTE is making waves this year by pushing out a phone most Android enthusiasts crave, at least on paper. For the increasingly common and competitive $400 price, the Axon 7 offers a stylish metal unibody, QHD AMOLED screen, dual-front facing speakers, a rear fingerprint sensor and the latest Snapdragon 820 chip with 4GB of RAM. Oh, and you’ll be getting 64 GB of storage too. However there’s some serious competition in the field for the same price or less. Let’s find out if this phone deserves your money.

Build

As soon as you hold the Axon 7, you’ll notice its heavier than just about every flagship phone today. This can be credited to the all metal body and the larger 3250 battery, but there are other phones with similar features that weigh noticeably lighter. To most people, the slightly heavier weight may not matter, but I did find it uncomfortable to hold horizontally for awhile while watching Netflix in bed with the phone or a lot of YouTube videos as it added a strain on my wrist when holding with one hand.

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Heaviness aside, this feels like a truly premium phone. The aluminum body is smooth all over with no sharp edges on the sides or bottom, and it’s curved just right on the back to fit in the palm nicely.

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I’m impressed that ZTE was able to keep this phone so compact. For a 5.5 inch phone with a decently sized battery and front facing speakers, this phone is still shorter than the 5.5 inch OnePlus 3. The phones shares the very common top and bottom antenna line like many other metal devices today, and I’ve found reception to be more than acceptable where I’m located in Athens, Ohio using AT&T LTE. WiFi speeds have been very fast, however I’ve noticed it takes a little longer to connect to my house and school WiFi than other smartphones I’ve tested recently.

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The fingerprint sensor is located on the back of the device which will be a hit or miss to all of you. After using this and the Nexus 6P, I’ve easily gotten use to having my index finger on the sensor as I’m pulling the device out of my pocket, waking up the screen as soon as I look at it. The sensor used on the Axon 7 is very fast, and I would place it between the Nexus 6P and OnePlus 3 (the 3 being the fastest I’ve used).

My biggest complain about the phone’s build is the capacity navigation keys at the bottom. From left to right, these act as the back, home, and recent buttons. I suppose I like how minimal they look, but they are took close together and it makes it difficult accurately tap them. I really wish ZTE allowed us to toggle software navigation keys, because these aren’t even back-lit, making them impossible to see at night.

ZTE knew exactly what a hardcore Android enthusiast wanted here and placed two front-facing speakers on the phone backed up by Dolby Audio. I was really impressed with the sound that was coming out of these. Dolby Surround is on by default with this device, but you can toggle it in the quick settings to hear the difference. Turning Dolby on while playing out the speakers provided a much more area effect to the audio, which was very apparent in videos and movies. When Dolby is off, movies and music sound a bit louder actually, but lose the surrounding effect and clarity. I always kept Dolby on.

Overall though, I found these speakers to be very clear, but not as loud as some phones I’ve listened to. The Alcatel Idol 4S takes the cake as having the best phone speakers I’ve ever heard.

Display

The Axon 7 gives us the same panel used on the Samsung Galaxy S6, which is a damn good screen. Samsung has yet to sell its latest generation of AMOLED panels to other companies, so this screen as good as AMOLED screens get except for the newest Galaxy S7 phones.

With the 1440×2560 QHD resolution, I could not see any pixels even if I squinted close up. The phone got very bright, but in direct sunlight I did have some trouble seeing smaller text and overall detail. It’s not on par with Samsung’s ability to “overdrive” their displays in sunlight.

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Regardless, this screen can easily be featured as the highlight of this phone for how great the colors are and how crisp everything is. However going back on fourth between this phone and my OnePlus 3 daily driver, I can notice the improved clarity of the QHD panel closer to my face, but I’m still completely satisfied with 1080p screens and am not sure is QHD is worth the cost yet. Still, these two phones are the same price, so if the higher resolution is really worth it to you, you’ll be glad to know this screen is noticeably better.

Performance

ZTE is giving us almost the best the market can offer with the Axon 7 in terms of performance. The Snapdragon 820 chip coupled with 4GB of RAM offers a quick and pleasant Android experience, but isn’t perfect.

Because most high-end Android phones offer near identical performance, the best way to rate the Axon 7’s performance is to compare it with the other big hitters this year, as I have used several of them.

After using the Galaxy S7 Active, Idol 4S, OnePlus 3, HTC 10, and for a limited time, LG G5, I can say the multitasking is slightly worse on the Axon 7, as apps take slightly longer to hop back into even when it’s still in memory. I also ran into a few hiccups during my time of use where I tried to go back into an app I just used to see it had closed and needed to reopen. While the Snapdragon 820 chip is plenty fast enough to open apps in 1-2 seconds, there is no excuse as to why an app so recently used should have closed down. Like I said though, this only happened a few times.

Small problems aside, this phone just doesn’t offer a jaw dropping fast experience as I had witnessed when first using the HTC 10 and OnePlus 3. It’s fast, don’t get me wrong, but not the fastest by a long shot.

Camera

In daylight, the Axon 7 takes some amazing photos. With the 20 megapixel rear-shooter, I loved being able to zoom into photos more than other phones I’ve used this year. Colors and brightness all looked great during the day, and detail was very crisp.

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Starting with a few shots I grabbed in glorious Gatlinburg, the detail in these are very impressive in large part due to the optical image stabilization in the camera helping balance pictures being taken. Usually the sun is over exposed in pictures like these taken with smartphone cameras but this one was incredibly well balanced as the trees still held a lot of detail.

The phone’s camera does struggle at night, much more than other high-end phones I’ve used. When capturing our school’s library at night, the lights are easily seen, but not much else even with HDR mode enabled. Detail on the townhouses shown above aren’t very impressive either, and the lights are way overexposed.

Battery

After using the phone for about a month, I’ve always felt comfortable that the phone would last me a whole day. My current schedule includes unplugging the phone at 8:30 a.m. and making till about midnight when I go to sleep with about 15% or slightly less left.

My daily phone agenda involves using GroupMe about all day (I think I’m ready for college to be over), about 15-20 minutes of Snapchat use, occasional SMS texting, heavy Reddit use, about an hour of Netflix and YouTube combined, constant Gmail syncing and a few other apps. About 80% of my day I’m connected to WiFi and the rest I’m on LTE. I don’t usually play games on my phone so I’m using the Axon 7 as I would my daily driver.

I rank the Axon 7 slightly lower than the OnePlus 3 which would rarely reach less than 20% by the end of the day for me, and lower than the Idol 4S (also a $399 phone) which got me the best battery life out of either of these devices. However this phone is still a really solid performer and if it does need a quick sip, Qualcomm Quick-Charge allowed me to charge the phone 0% to 54% in 30 minutes.

Software

This is the first ZTE device I’ve ever reviewed, so I was nervous about their software experience. They’ve clearly tuned things quite a bit from previous devices, as the software strongly resembles stock Android with small cosmetic changes. I actually really like the shade of dark blue that carries throughout the system UI – much more than stock Android. Also the way the pull-down notification bar and quick settings change color with the wallpaper is a really nice touch.

On to the functional side of things, ZTE made the default homescreen launcher their “Stock Android” launcher, a quick and fluid homescreen that includes an app drawer and similar aspects of the Google Now Launcher, except for the actual integration of Google Now. ZTE included another launcher that you can switch to in your settings menu, but I couldn’t stand it as it was just an attempt to mirror iOS. Both of these launchers were pretty basic and lacked customization, so I downloaded a different launcher.

ZTE’s settings menu includes two columns. One for quick access to common categories of the phone, and the other is about the same as stock Android. As part of habit, I always swiped left to get to the normal “All settings” view.

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One of the stand-out features ZTE included with the Axon 7 is Mi-POP, a software navigation button and can be dragged around your screen in case you don’t want to use the capacity keys. I liked this feature, and used it for a bit without problems, but I hate having clutter on my screen and eventually disabled it, even if it meant having to use the capacitive keys more.

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ZTE allows for a decent amount of customization, at least compared to stock Android, and I always like being able to change the color profile of my display. The three options for the color mode include natural (the dullest, looks more like and LCD panel), normal, and vibrant. Vibrant was a bit too saturated for my eyes so I stuck with normal and really liked it.

My biggest grip with the software by far is the lockscreen, and the way the phone displays notifications. Or should I say hides them? For some reason, the folks at ZTE thought it was a good idea to hide your notifications and only allow you to see them if you tap a small bell icon. I couldn’t begin to provide a solid explanation as to why that would be a good idea. There are phones that can show you notifications without even turning the screen on (thank you, moto). If they don’t do that, you might be able to double tap the screen to see your lockscreen notifications. Pretty convenient if the phone is laying on its back. With the Axon 7, there is no hand wave gesture and no double-tap. I have to press the power button, then tap a small icon on the top left just to see who called me or texted me.

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Sure, this is first-world problems, but the worst part is you can’t disable it. Not even after a couple software updates. Sorry ZTE, but just about every other phone offers a better way of doing this.

Conclusion

While there are some notable downsides to having this phone, such as the poor low-light camera, occasional performance stutter, the frustrating “feature” of hiding notifications from you on your lockscreen, and the lackluster navigation keys, ZTE has seriously stepped their game up this year and is offering a flagship phone that I almost wanted to purchase myself.

The all-metal build that carries over to the front-facing speakers has caught more than a few eyes when using in public, and the screen of this phone is a thing of sheer beauty. I can confidently say these are the second best speakers I’ve ever heard on a smartphone and I’ll definitely miss having those. Playing Fallout Shelter and Monument Valley provided the best gaming I’ve experienced on a phone, and to the average user, every day usage is going to feel very fluid. This is a phone that looks excellent on paper, and for the most part is. However some software adjustments are needed before I can recommend this phone over some of the other competition in this price range.

 

 

22
Oct

Nomu S10 and Nomu S30 unboxing initial impressions


We recently received review units to two of Chinese handset maker Nomu’s new unlocked smartphones, the S10 and S30. Launching this week, the devices are powered by Android 6.0 and feature IP68 waterproof protection. Moreover, they each boast a downright insane battery at 5,000mAh capacity. In terms of specs to price ratio, the handsets come in rather aggressively at $100 and $230, respectively.

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A Qualifying Statement

We’ve only had these phones in our possession for a few days, so do not look for this to be a comprehensive review. Rather, this will be more of a piece that details what comes in the box, how the devices stack up against each other, and what we think of them so far. A full review will follow in the coming weeks.

Quick Comparison

While the two phones do share a number of features and traits between them, there are are obviously going to be differences. Here’s a quick breakdown of each model.

Nomu S10

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.0-inch display at 1280 x 720 pixel resolution; Gorilla Glass 3
  • Quad-core Mediatek 1.5GHz processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage; microSD expansion card slot for 32GB
  • 8-megapixel (interpolated to 13-megapixel) rear camera
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 5000mAh battery
  • 2G GSM:850/900/1800/1900(B5/B8/B3/B2)
  • 3G WCDMA:900/2100(B8/B1)
  • 4G FDD-LTE:800/900/1800/2100/2600(B20/B8/B3/B1/B7)
  • TDD-LTE:2300(B40)

Nomu S30

  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 5.5-inch display at 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution; Gorilla Glass 4
  • Octa-core Mediatek 2.0GHz processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB internal storage; microSD expansion card slot for 32GB
  • 13-megapixel (interpolated to 16-megapixel) rear camera
  • 5-megapixel (interpolated to 8-megapixel)front-facing camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 5000mAh battery
  • 2G GSM:850/900/1800/1900(B5/B8/B3/B2)
  • 3G WCDMA:900/2100(B8/B1)
  • 4G FDD-LTE:850/900/1900/2100(B5/B8/B2/B1)
  • FDD-LTE:800/900/1800/2100/2600(B1/B3/B7/B8/B20)

What’s In The Box?

We’re not sure if the review units we received are actual retail model boxes but we suspect they might be. But, with that said, it’s a no-frills experience that doesn’t give you any more than it needs to. The cardboard box is brown and features only the Nomu brand embossed on the top; the bottom has a sticker with the model number and serial number.

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Inside you find the phone, a pair of headphones, and a wall charger and USB cable. The outlet plug, for what it’s worth, is not going to work here in the United States. You’ll want to either get an adapter or just use one of your existing units to plug the cable in.

The quick-start guide details the basics of the phone, indicating where all of the ports and buttons are. It does have multiple languages, one of which is English.

Initial Impressions

Taking the phone out of the box and powering it on, you get the sense that these phones are rugged and ready for various conditions. Indeed, the IP68 ratings, utilitarian design, and general aesthetics signal the S10 and S30 are the sort of phones that a construction worker, contractor, or field worker might enjoy having. They’re not unlike what Kyocera is doing with its DuraForce line.

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Both models have very distinct and angular corners with rubber edges. The S10 has a little bit more of a rough and tumble build that looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica. Moreover, the orange and black colors look sharp and unlike anything else we’ve spent time with.

The S30, for its part, doesn’t look to be as waterproof or built to spill. In fact, we had to double-check and triple-check that it was IP68 rated before putting it into water. The back of this one has more of a plastic shell with carbon fiber design and silver aluminum/titanium side. It would easily pass for an early generation of Droid from Verizon and Motorola.

Android

Hey look, it’s a nearly stock Android experience! Props to Nomu for not doing much to mess with the look and feel of the phone. It’s easy for a Chinese hardware maker to put a “foreign” spin on things that doesn’t resonate with US buyers. Fortunately, it appears that there’s not much done here to customize the interface.

With that said, the icons look like something you’d find in an old version of Android, perhaps something around the Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean era. It confused us at first, because we though, “wasn’t this supposed to be Android 6.0?” Alas, it does run Marshmallow, but with an interesting approach.

Looking through the settings we see a number of options that don’t come standard with Android. Be it gestures, flip to mute, or other subtle tweaks, it’s a nice mix additional options. And, while they may not be something we specifically use, there’s nothing here that feels out of place. If someone were just getting into Android or smartphones, we see things that would actually appeal to them or make the experience better.

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While there are a handful of the major Google apps present on the S10, you’ll have to head to the Play Store to pick up a few of them. Present are Calendar, Chrome, Gmail, Google, and Play Store. You’ll need to manually install others such as YouTube, Hangouts, Drive, Mesenger, or Google+.

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The S30, by contrast, had nearly all of the above (no YouTube) as well as Photos, the full suite of Google Play clients, and Android Pay.

Sound and Camera

We tested the speakers out on both models and found the S10 to get really distorted at the higher volumes. Moreover, it was a flat and unappealing experience. Perhaps related to a couple of water droplets that were still on the speaker, we heard some minor rattling or extra noise that should not have been present. The S30, by comparison, was louder and more full.

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Same thing goes for the camera. The S10 is so-so, if not a little less than desired, while the S30 comes in with more of what you’d hope for in a smartphone. Keeping price in mind, we can see where corners have to be cut. It’s not always the RAM and storage that makes the difference; sometimes it’s the internal components, too.

In short, the S10 is probably around a 2/5 stars with the S30 closer to a 3/5 stars. We’ll get a better sense for both the audio and camera features over the coming days and weeks.

Waterproof Protection

We’re always reluctant to put phones into water, even when they carry a certified rating. our philosophy is that unless you absolutely have to, there’s no reason to tempt fate. And, while these two phones do protect the ports and speakers, there’s always that slight risk that you could “do it wrong”.

With that in mind, we did submerge both phones into water, albeit briefly. It just so happened that it had rained for two days straight here at the office. Going outside, we found a couple of puddles in which to dunk the phones. Both continued to work immediately after and in the hours to follow.

We are compelled to tell you, however, that the S30 seems to be just ever so wonky at times. It’s hard to say if it’s related to the water or something else in the hardware and software, but the home screen likes to bug out. By that we mean it acts as if you were long pressing on it to change the wallpaper. It flits and flickers and a quick press of the home key brings things back in line. We also saw traces of this when navigating around the device in various apps, too.

A Note About Network Support

One of the best features of most unlocked phones is the almost universal support for GSM carriers. Here in the US we have two major players competing on the GSM 4G LTE front, AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon and Sprint, for their parts, offer their own 4G technology with CDMA.

Every so often a phone comes along that sounds so appealing on paper that you simply can’t pass it up. That is, until you look closely at the supported networks. Alas, the Nomu S10 and Nomu S30 don’t have the same support for 4G LTE that you might expect or hope for in the US.

While there are a few frequencies allowed for, you’re going to have a tough time getting nationwide coverage, especially at higher speeds. Take a look at the respective carrier bands and frequencies and you may end up with 3G speeds at best.

The last thing we want to do is endorse something that you end up buying only to find out it doesn’t work in your area. After all, a smartphone is rather dumb if it has not data to support it.

Understanding that our readers are not entirely US-based, we are certainly not going to write this one off. There are obviously going to be users who may benefit from such a device. We’ll do our best to put together as thorough of a review as possible in the next few weeks and circle back.

Where to Buy

Already set and looking to pick one of these up? There are a number of places to do so, including Gearbest, Everbuying, Geekbuying, and AliExpress. As part of a launch event, you can head to Nomu’s promotional page to check out more details. As a refresher, the Nomu S10 runs $100-$120 while the Nomu S30 fetches approximately $230.

In the meanwhile, feel free to learn more at the links below:

18
Oct

Google Pixel XL: Hands on, early impressions, and camera samples


Announced at a San Francisco event on October 4th, the Pixel and Pixel XL are the two new smartphones from Google for 2016. The pair of phones are the first to offer the Google Assistant software technology and look to head further down the path already started by the nexus line.

What makes this year’s effort different from those in the past? As it turns out, plenty. Not only is the Pixel line smarter and more capable than all other phones, but it also packs a world-class camera experience, too. Indeed, the Pixel offers up a rear camera that bests all previous smartphone shooters.

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Digging into the hardware, the Pixel boasts a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, among the first smartphones to do so. Clocking in at 2.15GHz (four cores) and 1.6GHz (four cores), the handset also benefits from having an Adreno 530 GPU. Toss in 4GB of memory and you’ve got the making of one of the most well-rounded phones of all time.

Storage comes in the form of 32GB and 128GB options but you won’t find a microSD expansion card slot. This might push some away as some of us have come to rely on external storage for housing our media. But, before you get out the pitchforks, know that the Pixel and Pixel XL give customers unlimited lifetime storage of photos and videos at full, original resolution. Yes, that also means the 1080p and 4K videos you’re starting to see emerge.

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Available in three distinct colors, the Pixel line can be had in Very Silver, Quite Black, and Really Blue. Prices start at $650 for the Pixel and $770 for the Pixel XL with availability through a number of online retailers. At start, Verizon Wireless will be the exclusive service provider to offer the phone. Don’t let that scare you off, though, as the unlocked models will work with other carriers, too.

Pixel versus Pixel XL

What’s the difference between the Pixel and Pixel XL? In short, it’s a larger display; 5.5-inches at 2560 x 1440 pixels instead of 5.0-inches at 1920 x 1080 pixels, and a bigger battery. The Pixel packs a 2,770mAh power source while the Pixel XL gets a 3450mAh unit.

A Qualifying Statement

We’ve spent the last few days with the Pixel XL and are ready to offer up some initial impressions. While we wish this was a full-on review, there’s simply no way to get that much feel for a device after only four days, two of which span a weekend.

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Design

The phone takes a very minimalistic approach which starts at the box itself. With very little printed on the outside of the box, it feels somewhat like how Apple might package the device. Gone are the days of flashy boxes with all sorts of specifications and photos; this one is as bare bones as it gets.

Sliding the box out of its shell and opening it up we are greeted with the phone on the left and power supply and cable on the right. Underneath we find the additional cable and an OTG USB adapter for transferring files from another device It’s worth noting that we did not receive any headphones with this device so we cannot attest to whether this is the norm. Our box did not have any Verizon branding on it but we did receive a Verizon sim card to use for testing purposes. There was no extra space for headphones; they are not listed as included in the box on Google’s website.

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Looking the phone over it definitely has a quiet and simplistic design. It is altogether very basic and boring yet still a little bit refined and unique. The bottom black is more than pictures suggest and the top is a little shinier in person. Both materials, however, are soft and slippery to the touch.

I’ll be honest, I would prefer the Silver version over the Back or Blue. In my time with the demos at Google’s press event, I found it to be in line with my preferred style and generally more stylish. But, given that I will ultimately protect this black one with one of Google’s Live Cases at some point, that color becomes a non-issue.

At a distance of a few feet, the black Pixel XL looks like a very utilitarian an almost uninspired slab phone. Pick it up, though, and you can feel the design choices in the material. The glass feels strong and secure and not prone to pick up fingerprints. The back, smooth and premium, also comes across as well-intentioned and thought out. But, were it not for the shiny upper third, the phone might be construed as generally boring – in black at least. Again, the Silver and Blue models felt “new” where this color is just “meh”.

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The power button is located to the right of the display with the volume rocker sitting almost halfway up on the same side. Up top we find the 3.5mm headphone jack while below the screen is the USB Type-C port and speakers. Well… one speaker; more on that below.

Display

Whereas the screen does have a slight bezel to both the left and right of the display there is a much more pronounced one above and below the screen. I am not certain as to why there is so much going on below the screen as there are no soft buttons or physical buttons to be found. To be sure, it does feel like a lot of wasted space. My gut tells me it has something to do with having a uniform or mirror approach where the top reflects the bottom.

Staying with the topic of the display, the ever-so-subtly curved edge around the screen is quite nice. And, when you factor in the Gorilla Glass 4 and protective, oleophobic coating that keeps it from getting smudges and fingerprints, we can surmise that this display will take a decent beating and still look sharp in the process.

As far as the picture quality goes, the 2560 x 1440 pixels image is sharp and vibrant. We’d expect nothing less in a flagship phone with a 5.5-inch screen, especially in late 2016. Given that, it’s easy on the eyes with a well-balanced color.

Around back we locate the fingerprint reader which is about one-third of the way down from the top. It is essentially in the same spot as the Nexus 6P and feels very natural when reaching for it. Above and to the left of the fingerprint reader is the rear camera and its flash and Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) and Laser Detection Autofocus (LDAF).

Branding

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Then, of course, comes the branding of the device. Gone is the “Nexus” that emblazoned the flagship line of phones. Also gone is any mention of the word “Google”, too. In fact, the only thing you’ll find now is the stylized G which represents the brand itself. If you squint, the bottom displays a “phone by Google”, but it’s not outwardly obvious.

Android and UI

Powering on the device we are greeted with a very stripped down approach to Android. Nothing that is startling, mind you but it is quite refreshing to go back to a stock Android experience that is only what Google wants you to have. You won’t find any bloatware of carrier-branded software or services. This is as raw as it gets, and you’d be silly not to want for it.

To us, there’s nothing quite like the default vanilla Android builds. We’ve reviewed plenty of Android phones over the years and one common thread that skews scores more favorably is how the Android OS works. Google’s vision of Android is something we’ve always come to love. The stuff we’ve seen in this version of Nougat is no different. Hell, it’s better than ever.

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The Android 7.1 build is very easy to learn navigate. Having tested every version of Android so far this one feels the most intuitive and user-friendly. The round icons are nice and uniform for the most part, however there are a few that stick out such as Allo and Keep. And, once you start to install other applications, that cute uniform user interface doesn’t look so uniform.

A few weeks from now, when we have a bunch our daily driver apps, the app tray won’t look as pretty. Call us silly, but this is where a custom launcher and icon pack can make all the difference in the world.

Setup

Going through the initial setup is a breeze, and Google does an excellent job of walking customers through the process. If you are migrating from one platform to another, Google will hold your hand as you make the jump from iOS to Android. Not only is the software there to support you, but there are cables in the box to assist as well.

If you already have an Android device, this setup makes it easy to get your phone back up to where you want in no time at all. And, if you are brand new to smartphones altogether, the Pixel and Android 7.1 are smart, intuitive, and comprehensible. The best part? You’re getting into an ecosystem (Google) of which you are likely already familiar and not one put forth by a wireless provider with an agenda.

Carried over from previous versions of Android, the launcher brings up all of your relevant news and information with a simple swipe to the left panel. As somebody who is quite fond of Nova Launcher and custom launchers, I am actually not in a hurry to get rid of the default Google setup. There is something very appealing about the way Google designed the interface.

With that said, I like the way in which users can swipe up from the bottom row of the phone to access the app drawer. No longer are you required to tap a specific icon; this is refreshing and comes across as “why didn’t they do this all along?”. The general color scheme, icons, and other Material Design cues work better than ever and come across as cohesive.

Google Assistant

We’ll be honest, it takes a little bit of time to understand what Google Assistant can really do for you. It is much smarter than a simple Google search or using Google Now. While you might be familiar with asking very specific and explicitly defined questions in the past, the Assistant is much smarter and more forgiving.

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We like that we can use this from anywhere on the device and get help on just about anything. We even relied on it to help us find certain settings in the software on our phone. If there’s one are we’ve slowly eased yourself into with Google Assistant, it’s being able to talk more normally.

Look up Red Lobster, for instance, and then you can follow with, “how late is it open?” instead of, “how late is Red Lobster open?” Moreover, follow that with, “navigate me there” and you’re handed off to Google Maps.

Other Software Touches

Playing around with the settings, we found the “moves” and gestures to be rather helpful. Users can toggle one of three settings to make the overall experience quicker or more intuitive. One will let you double tap the power button to quick to launch into the camera while the other one lets you flip your wrist to go from rear-facing to front facing camera. It is not unlike what Motorola does to launch into its camera application.

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The one we like the most, however, is this swipe for notifications. Users can swipe their finger down the rear fingerprint scanner to slide the notification shade down. Slide up, and they go away. It is very simple to unlock your phone and check for all notifications with just one finger.

Battery

In terms of battery, we think this one is a real winner. The standby time and talk time have been spectacular in these first four days, and we’ve only had to charge the phone twice. This includes using the charge that came out of the box which was roughly ⅔ full.

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Plug the Pixel XL into the wall four a half hour and you’ll find you are back up and running with damn near a full day’s worth of juice again. Google claims 15 minutes of charging equates to seven hours of mixed use battery life.

Sound

While it might appear that the bottom of the phone houses stereo speakers, it’s really a case of one speaker and a placeholder cutout to match it. Indeed, the one on the right side is a dummy that doesn’t put out any sound. With that said, the lone speaker does provide a rather loud experience that’s clear and full. Watching a video in portrait will put the sound out in your right hand and, depending on how you hold it, could be muted by your palm.

Camera

Let’s talk about that camera, eh? We’re not experts in the area of photography, but we were seriously blown away by what the Pixel XL delivers. It’s super fast and color accuracy is as good as anything we’ve ever seen in a phone. And Google wasn’t lying when it said that HDR was enabled by default.

Google Pixel XL Camera Samples

Was the camera perfect? No, we still had blurred images, for instance, when trying to capture a moving dog in lower lighting conditions. Moreover, there were traces of noise in night shots, too. But, when zoomed out and stacked up against other phones, the Pixel has already become a favorite still shooter around here. You can take a look at the embedded images below to get a feel for how the camera performs on the Pixel XL.

Performance

We’ve only loaded a few of the daily driver applications on this device so we can’t speak to the long-term viability, but we are quite optimistic. Things move about very quickly in all aspects of this device. The screen responds to our touch quickly, the apps load instantly, and Google Assistant never wastes time and getting you the right answers. The same goes for the camera shutter and fingerprint scanner.

Early Conclusion

All things considered, we’re very pleased with the Pixel XL thus far. There’s nothing here that alarms us, but it’s still not a perfect device. We’ll always champion for external storage and a waterproof coating is one of those features which should be standard by now. But, a few quibbles aside, it’s one slick piece of kit.

When you look at how much phone you can get for $400 today, it begs the question of whether the Pixel or Pixel XL are worth the extra money. To us, that comes down to a personal use case. Do you want or expect to take a lot of photos or video? If so, the Google line is one to keep an eye on.

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With unlimited cloud-based storage, you’d easily spend money on another service for that kind of hosting. Ask a photographer or media creator how much they’d like to have 4K video service that houses things for them.

How important is it to you to have the Google Assistant? What about the latest release of stock Android? The 7.1 Nougat definitely has its advantages in both departments.

First time smartphone buyers might not necessarily head for the best of the best when it comes to devices. But, should they want to dive in head first, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL are worthy contenders. This goes double if you need a helping hand; the built-in 24×7 support is something you won’t get elsewhere.

We’ll spend another few weeks with the phone and circle back to provide you with our full review.

 

12
Oct

Nubia Z11 review


Nubia is still a relatively unknown brand in the Android world, but the Chinese company has been making in-roads into the competitive European and US markets with a slew of fantastic smartphones. Nubia is hoping to continue their rise in popularity with their latest flagship offering, the Nubia Z11, which has recently been released in Europe, with an US launch imminent as well.

  • Nubia Z9 review
  • Hands on with the Nubia Z11

Does this high-end smartphone bring enough to the table to stand out from the crowd and can it survive in the increasingly-competitive US market? We find out, in this comprehensive Nubia Z11 review!

Design

The Nubia Z11 may not have the most eye catching or original design, but it’s still a good looking phone that features a solid build quality. The device basically features a rectangular slab design, with a full metal unibody construction that puts its build quality at par with a lot of current generation flagships.

The rounded corners and slight tapers around the back and sides make it more comfortable to hold, but because the metal body doesn’t have any sharp or flat edges to help with the grip, the phone can be a little slippery and difficult to hold onto at times.

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If you’ve come across a Nubia smartphone before, you will be familiar with the red accents that the company uses with their devices to make the phone stand out a bit, such as the ring around the camera and the bright red capacitive navigation keys that are found below the display. This particular unit is the standard silver model, but there is also a black and gold dual tone version that is more flashy, and looks really good and more unique.

Taking a look around the device, the volume rocker and power button are on the right side, and are positioned well enough to be comfortably within reach of your thumb. The buttons are also made of metal, with a nice tactile feel to them. On the left is the dual SIM card slot, with the secondary SIM slot also doubling as a microSD card slot, and up top is the headphone jack and IR blaster.

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An IR blaster isn’t something that is often seen with smartphones anymore, but does provide a convenient way of controlling your television and other peripherals. Finally, at the bottom is the USB Type-C port which is flanked by what appears to be dual stereo speakers. However, the dual speaker grill design is present just for the sake of symmetry, with only the right side housing a single speaker unit.

Display

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The Nubia Z11 comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display, but unlike other competing flagships, the display resolution is 1080p instead of Quad HD, resulting in a pixel density of 403 ppi. The display gets very bright, features very saturated colors and good viewing angles, and provides plenty of sharpness. Doing anything, including reading text, watching videos, and playing games, is enjoyable, so unless you are using this device for VR, you aren’t going to easily notice the difference in resolution.

The Nubia Z11 features an eye catching display, but what makes it really stand out is that there appears to be no bezel on the left and right sides of it, something that Nubia was able to achieve by curving down the sides of the screen.

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This design aspect is something you will be familiar with if you’ve used previous Nubia flagships, but it remains impressive to look at, and really makes it feel like you are holding just a screen in your hand. With the side bezels being so thin, the phone also feels a lot more compact when compared to other smartphones that feature 5.5-inch displays.

The curves on the side aren’t as drastic as what you will find with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge or Galaxy Note 7, but that didn’t stop Nubia from adding some software tweaks to take advantage of these slightly curved sides.

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You can perform a variety of functions, like adjusting the display brightness by sliding two fingers up and down along the edges of the display, swiping up or down from the edge to switch between apps that are running in the background, swiping repeatedly from the edge to close all recent apps, or holding along the edge and swiping inwards to quickly switch to a specific homescreen.

This feature can be really useful, but is a little awkward to use, with there also being the fact that some of them aren’t that much faster than doing things the traditional way. I also ran into a lot of issues with accidentally triggering these features by just holding the phone. Fortunately, all of them can disabled if you come across the same problems, or don’t find them particularly useful.

Performance

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Under the hood, the Nubia Z11 packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB of RAM, which is the standard processing package across the board when considering 2016 flagships. The black and gold version of the device not only looks better, but also comes with 6 GB of RAM and double the on-board storage.

The performance has been perfectly fine with the 4 GB of RAM version of the device. Even with Nubia’s heavy skin, it’s been very fast in day to day use, and handles launching apps, browsing the web, watching videos, and playing graphically-intensive games well. The only exception to the otherwise smooth performance is when it comes to multi-tasking, with the experience feeling very slow and clunky.

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There is no dedicated recent apps key, so the way to access it is via a long press of the back button. The recent apps screen itself takes a few seconds to load. The apps are laid out in a horizontal swiping view, allowing you to see only a couple of apps at the same time, and swiping back and forth to switch between apps is a lot slower in comparison to something like the card stack layout of stock Android.

Hardware

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64 GB is the available on-board storage, but as mentioned, the black and gold version with 6 GB of RAM doubles that to 128 GB. Expandable storage via microSD card for an additional 256 GB is an option as well, but since this utilizes the second SIM slot, users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.

There is a single speaker unit that is bottom-firing, which isn’t an ideal placement. However, the speaker itself sounds fine, and doesn’t get distorted or sound tinny at the highest volume. It is on the quieter side though, and can be a little difficult to hear with the volume set at around the 50% mark or lower.

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On the back of the phone is a fingerprint sensor, that has worked extremely well. It is fast and accurate, doesn’t require a lot of time to setup, and there have been no problems when using it to unlock the phone. The scanner has been very reliable, and rarely has it misread my fingerprint, which easily puts it at par with some of the best smartphone fingerprint sensors currently available in the market.

The Z11 comes with a 3,000 mAh battery, and while Nubia claims that their battery optimizations will allow up to 2 days of battery life, my experience hasn’t matched that claim. With regular usage that involves social media, surfing the web, and a couple of hours of watching videos or playing games, the device comfortably allows for a full day of use, which is fine, but nowhere near what Nubia claims the battery is capable of.

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If battery life is a concern, the device comes with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, allowing you to get back to a full charge in a short amount of time.

Camera

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When it comes to the camera, the Nubia Z11 may not be packing any fancy dual lens setups that we’ve been seeing with a lot of other smartphones, but you do get some rather interesting features here. Up front is an 8 MP camera, which is definitely more than good enough to take care of all your selfie needs. On the back is a 16 MP shooter, with a f/2.0 aperture, optical image stabilization, and phase detection auto focus.

The camera app is straightforward and easy to use, but it does feel very iOS-like. You can swipe left or right to switch between different camera modes, and there are some built into this camera that make it unique and a lot of fun to use. For example, there is a Clone mode, that will overlap several photos to make it appear as though there are multiples of a person or object in a single shot. It does a good job of stitching these photos together for the most part, but it isn’t always perfect.

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Another interesting mode is called Electronic Aperture, that lets you select an aperture from as wide a f/2.8, to as narrow as f/44. Changing the aperture will effectively change the shutter speed from as quick as 0.3 seconds to as long as 72 seconds, with the longer shutter speeds allowing you to capture some silky smooth motion blur with moving objects, while still keeping everything that is stationary in focus.

Nubia Z11 Review-2

The Z11 has three types of stabilization built in to allow you to use this feature with just your hands, but in my experience, the results were still much better with a tripod, especially if you are using shutter speeds that are over a minute long.

The general picture quality is actually quite good. The shots taken are pleasantly sharp and detailed, and there’s enough color to make them pleasing to the eye, but without going overboard and looking oversaturated and unnatural. However, it does have the tendency to overexpose and blow out highlights, but this issue can be alleviated by using HDR mode.

What I like most about HDR mode with this camera is that it will automatically take a standard shot and HDR shot in one take, which can ultimately save you a lot of time, and avoid the hassle of switching back and forth between HDR and standard modes.

In low light situations, the camera tends to hunt for focus a lot, which makes the shooting experience feel a lot slower. That said, shots taken in poorly-lit environments still have a relatively good amount of detail. There isn’t a whole lot of grain or noticeable noise reduction to be seen, but there are still problems with properly exposing highlights, which is also seen with day time shots.

Software

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On the software side of things, the Nubia Z11 is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with version 4.0 of Nubia’s user interface, which drastically changes the entire Android experience. The interface is cluttered with bright and cartoon-ish icons, there are a lot of transparency effects, and there is also no app drawer.

It is jam packed with a slew of interesting features though. If you long press on the fingerprint scanner, or hold the volume down button and volume rocker, you will get the option to take a long scrollable screenshot, a standard screenshot that you can crop different shapes like hearts or circles out of, or create a recording of the screen.

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My favorite feature has to do with how this phone handles split screen multi-tasking. To enter this mode, all you have do is swipe up from the bottom of the display, but instead of giving you a list of applications like you would see with other smartphones that feature split screen multi-tasking, the Nubia Z11 splits the screen into two separate desktops.

It’s a very different approach, but by doing it this way, you are able to use virtually any application you want, with the exception being the camera. That said, just because you can use any app doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. For example, apps like games can open in the split screen view, but these aren’t exactly split screen friendly. However, apps for social media, email, text, and web browsing all work just as you would expect.

Specifications

Display 5.5-inch IPS LCD display
1080p resolution, 403 ppi
Processor 2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Adreno 530 GPU
RAM 4/6 GB
Storage 64/128 GB
expandable via microSD up to an additional 256 GB
Camera 16 MP rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, OIS, PDAF, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
GPS + GLONASS
NFC
IR
USB Type-C 1.0
Battery 3,000 mAh
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions 151.8 x 72.3 x 7.5 mm
162 grams

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

Pricing for the Nubia Z11 in the US is still to be determined, but in Europe, the device is currently priced at €499 (~$560) for the standard version, and €599 (~$673) for the black and gold edition. Hopefully these prices are not an indication of what the eventual cost in the US will be, as these will make the Nubia Z11 a rather expensive smartphone to get your hands on.

Nubia Z11 Review-10

There you have it for this in-depth review of the Nubia Z11 ! The big question here is whether this smartphone is worth getting over other current generation flagships. The Z11 is a solid high-end device from Nubia, but it doesn’t necessarily offer a lot of compelling reasons to be considered a better option that its competition. Had it released in the US a lot earlier, it would have garnered a lot more attention, but at this point, there are numerous great options at different price points, and Nubia might be a little late to the party.

11
Oct

Sony Xperia XZ review – flagship, at a price!


Sony may be done with the Z series, but the letter returns with the company’s latest addition to their flagship X range, with the Xperia XZ. Introduced alongside the much smaller Xperia X Compact at IFA a little over a month ago, this high-end smartphone is Sony’s attempt at finding a foothold once again in the competitive US market.

  • Hands on with the Sony Xperia XZ
  • Sony Xperia X Performance review
  • Sony Xperia X Compact review

With the company hoping to arrest their continuing fall in popularity, does their latest offering prove to be the answer? We find out, in this comprehensive Sony Xperia XZ review!

Buy the Sony Xperia XZ now

Design

The Xperia XZ features a design that has been refreshed in a few different ways, but the general rectangular slab-like design language still makes it easily recognizable as a Sony smartphone. A combination of materials has gone into the build of this device, with glass up front, an all metal back plate, and plastic along its sides.

The phone comes with what Sony is calling a “loop” design. Basically, the sides are rounded and taper towards the front and back, which makes the transition between the different build materials feel more seamless, and also allows for a very comfortable feel when holding the phone. Sony has never had issues with build quality as far as their high-end offerings are concerned, and that remains true for the Xperia XZ as well, with the device feeling sturdy and substantial in the hand.

Sony Xperia XZ Review-4

A few color variations of the Xperia XZ are available, with options including blue and silver, and as seen with this review unit, black. The black version comes with a satin-like finish, which isn’t particularly glossy, but does tend to be prone to fingerprints. That said, black also gives this phone a very sleek and stealthy look.

The Xperia XZ comes with a 5.2-inch display, which allows for a relatively easy one-handed handling experience, despite the back plate being made with metal. Speaking of the metal backing, there are no plastic inserts to be found here, resulting in the NFC chip being moved from the back, where it is normally expected to be, to the front, next to the front-facing camera. This isn’t the first time that Sony has gone with this placement, but it does make tapping the phone to other devices or payment terminals just a little bit more awkward.

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Taking a look around the device, the headphone jack and USB Type-C port are at the top and bottom respectively, a combined SIM card and microSD card slot is on the left, and finally, on the right side is the power button, volume rocker, and Sony’s signature dedicated camera shutter button.

As I also noted in the full review of the Xperia X Compact, the inclusion of a dedicated camera button provides a quick and easy way to get to the camera and is very convenient, but having all the buttons on the right makes the whole side feel quite cluttered. The placement of the volume rocker makes sense when considering its secondary use as a digital zoom control, but it is very awkward and uncomfortable to reach with your thumb when trying to adjust the volume in the portrait orientation.

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The power button of the Xperia XZ does function as a fingerprint sensor, but that’s only true in other markets around the world, and unfortunately not the case in the US. For reasons unknown, Sony has decided to disable the scanner with the US version of the device, as the company did with previous Sony flagships as well. The keyword here is disable, and some developers have figured out a workaround that you can attempt at your own risk, if a fingerprint scanner is a must have.

Display

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The Sony Xperia XZ comes with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. Quad HD is generally what is expected from current generation flagships, but unless you are planning to use the device for VR, you are not going to notice any difference with 1080p here.

The screen is plenty sharp for comfortably reading text and web browsing, has excellent viewing angles, and is surprisingly very vibrant. Brightness is of no concern, and the display is easily view-able outdoors. You also have the usual white balance controls and Sony’s X-Reality engine built-in, that provide a sharper and more natural looking image when looking at photos and videos. There are also some benefits to having a lower resolution display, particularly in terms of performance and battery life.

Performance

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Under the hood, the Xperia XZ packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. While this is the processing package that is generally seen with most current flagships, 4 GB of RAM is the norm, so the reduction may be disappointing to some.

With a 1080p display, you’ll generally get much smoother game play and graphics performance when compared to Quad HD screens, because of the reduced strain on the GPU. Not surprisingly, the game play on the Xperia XZ is definitely extremely smooth, and there were no stutters or dropped frames that were noticeable with high-end games. Day to day operations including web browsing, opening apps, checking emails, and watching videos, have also been very smooth. Despite having 3 GB of RAM, I haven’t managed to slow this phone down with heavy amounts of multi-tasking either, so you certainly won’t feel the loss of an additional gig of RAM.

Hardware

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The Xperia XZ comes with 32 GB or 64 GB of on-board storage, but if you do opt for the lower storage option, you can bolster that with a microSD card by up to 256 GB. The US version of the device is a single SIM version, but there is also a dual SIM iteration available in some other markets, where users will have to make the choice between dual SIM capabilities and expandable storage.

Unlike the Xperia X Compact, the Xperia XZ does come with an IP 68 rating for resistance to dust and water, which means that you can use the phone in the rain or while in the shower if you want to, and it can also survive a dunk in the water with no adverse effect on functionality.

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Audio is a big part of the Xperia XZ experience. By plugging in a pair of headphones, you can take advantage of the device’s built-in support for Hi-Res audio files like FLAC, ALAC, DSD, and LPCM, and it can also upscale an compressed music files to give it more of a Hi-Res sound.

Two small slits above and below the display house dual stereo front-facing speakers, which sound excellent, with no distortion even at the highest volume. However, when compared to something like the Nexus 6P, these speakers are no where near as loud, and don’t offer as much low-end punch.

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The Xperia XZ comes with a 2,900 mAh battery, with is a little smaller than a lot of other flagships out there. The battery is good enough to comfortably allow for a full day of use, but you won’t get a whole lot more beyond that. Even with heavy usage that involved a few hours of gaming every day, along with the usual activities that include social, email, and texting, the phone lasted for 12 hours off the charger, which is definitely not bad.

The phone comes with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, which will allow you to get back to a full charge quickly. If you are running out of battery and can’t get to a charger easily, you do get Sony’s staple Stamina and Ultra Stamina modes that limit performance and certain functionality in favor of longer battery life.

Camera

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Sony is known for making really good camera sensors for smartphones, but they have unfortunately never managed to get the camera quite right with their own phones. However, there are a lot of improvements that have been made with the new sensor that the Xperia XZ is sporting. The device is sharing the same 23 MP rear camera as the smaller Xperia X Compact, and also comes with a 5-axis image stabilization, a new laser auto focus sensor, and a RGBC-IR that helps get the most accurate white balance, regardless of the lighting condition.

A point to remember is that the 5-axis stabilization is purely software based, so there are no moving parts that are making this happen. This stabilization also kicks in only when you are recording close ups or macro shots, and in other situations, 3-axis stabilization is what you are getting. It does work extremely well though for video, and stabilizes the footage without any noticeable warping or distortion.

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Where the Xperia XZ differs from its smaller sibling is when it comes to the front-facing camera, with the former coming with a 13 MP shooter, instead of the 5 MP front-facing unit of the Xperia X Compact. The front camera of the Xperia XZ allows for plenty of detail and color to be captured, and you also get a lot more flexibility with zooming into and cropping shots.

The rest of the camera experience is typically what has been available from Sony. The camera app is fairly simplistic, and navigating between Superior Auto, Manual, Video Recording, or switching to the front-facing camera can all be done by simply swiping on the screen. You also get the usual modes like AR Effect, Sweep Panorama, and Timeshift Video, that can be a lot of fun to play around with. The only quirk with Sony’s default camera app is that the HDR mode is still buried in the camera settings, and is only accessible when using the Manual mode.

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It is very quick and easy to launch the camera and take a shot, especially when using the dedicated camera key, and the pictures it takes are surprisingly very good. Images are extremely sharp and detailed, and it produces colors that are much more natural and true to life, but at the same time are stilll very pleasing to the eye.

The predictive hybrid auto focus feature that Sony has been using a for a while now also works well for tracking moving objects and capturing them without motion blur. As long as the subject is moving at a reasonable speed, you’ll be able to get a crystal clear shot.

In low light conditions, there is still a fair amount of detail to be had, and the images come out relatively noise free. The camera does to tend overexpose shots though, and there is a lot of blooming in the highlights. The camera can also be really slow to capture a picture poorly-lit situations, and if you aren’t holding the phone perfectly steady, you will end up with a lot of blurry shots.

Software

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On the software side of things, the Xperia XZ is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the Xperia UI on top, which Sony has scaled back significantly to keep the experience fairly light. You still have Sony’s own launcher, Settings menu, app icons, and a built-in themes engine, but the majority of the user interface feels very close to stock Android.

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This integration goes up to the point where the Google Now second screen is now a part of the Xperia launcher as well. While the Xperia XZ is only available unlocked and free of network carrier bloatware, there are a few pre-installed applications to deal with, like AVG protection, Amazon Shopping, and Sony’s own list of apps. Overall however, this is a very clean and simple software experience, which is definitely a contributing factor to the smooth performance of the device.

Specifications

Display 5.2″ Full HD Triluminos IPS LCD
Processor Quad-core, 64-bit Snapdragon 820
RAM 3 GB
Storage 32 GB (single SIM), 64 GB (dual-SIM) + microSD
Dimensions 146 x 72 x 8.1 mm
Weight 161g
IP rating IP65/IP68
Main camera 23 MP with triple image sensing, predictive hybrid autofocus, 5-axis stabilization
Front camera 13 MP
Battery 2,900 mAh, Quick Charge 3.0, Qnovo Adaptive Charging, USB Type-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes
Networks GSM GPRS/EDGE (2G), UMTS HSPA+ (3G), Cat. 9 LTE
Connectivity A-GNSS (GPS + GLONASS), Wi-Fi Miracast, Bluetooth 4.2

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

If you are looking to get the Xperia XZ, the price is going to be something to contend with, with the device priced at $699. This puts it in the same price range as other flagships like the Galaxy S7 Edge and Google’s brand new Pixel smartphones, and there are also smartphones that offer flagship experiences at a fraction of the price, like the ZTE Axon 7 and the OnePlus 3.

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So, there you have it for this in-depth review of the Sony Xperia XZ! It has to be admitted that I do really like this phone, and it has been a long time since a Sony smartphone has truly impressed me. The Xperia XZ has got a refreshing, new, and beautiful design which is still true to Sony, and also features a beautiful display, excellent performance, and a really great camera.

There is so much to like about this phone that I was able to forgive the lack of Quad HD display and a fingerprint sensor. However, with these features missing, the high price point might be harder to forgive. The Xperia XZ is undoubtedly the best smartphone that Sony has made in a long while, but if that is enough to justify paying a premium for it is up to you.

Buy the Sony Xperia XZ now

10
Oct

Is the Huawei Honor 8 the midrange champion? (Review)


2016 is the year of the midrange phone. This year we’ve seen amazing offerings in the $400 range that push the limits of what we can expect from midrangers. It’s left a lot of us here at AndroidGuys wondering if it’s worth buying a flagship anymore. The OnePlus 3, ZTE Axon 7, Lenovo Moto Z Play, Alcatel Idol 4s, and Huawei Honor 8 represent the best of the best in terms of quality, but who takes the cake? We’ve spent a few weeks with the Honor 8 and it makes a pretty compelling case.

What’s the best $400 phone you can buy?

Specs

  • Display: 5.2″, 1080p LCD
  • Processor: Kirin 950 Octa-core processor
  • Storage: 32GB (expandable)
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Camera: Dual 12 MP, f/2.2 aperture (rear), 8 MP, f/2.4 aperture (front)
  • Battery: 3000mAh non-removable
  • Software: Android 6.0 with custom EMUI skin
  • Connectivity: Dual-Sim

    • 2G: 850/900/1800/1900
    • 3G: 850/1700 (AWS)/1900/2100
    • LTE Bands: 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/20

Read More: Reference guide to US carrier bands and networks

Build

If I were to tell you that you could get almost the exact same build quality of the Samsung Galaxy S7 while paying about half as much, would that interest you? Would you ask yourself how that was even possible? Well, I was certainly left wondering how Huawei pulled it off after I removed the Honor 8 from its packaging for the first time. I used the phone for about three weeks and was still constantly amazed at how well Huawei sandwiched glass and metal together to make this phone. It’s simply brilliant.

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The front of our blue review unit is simple, just the display, small bezels, a standard speaker earpiece/camera and proximity sensor up top with an Honor branding on the bottom. If the Samsung logo on the S7 and Note 7 bother you, the Honor branding might too, but I thought it looked nice without being too eye-catching or distracting.

The back of the phone is equally understated with just a fingerprint sensor, dual-camera setup, flash and honor branding at the bottom. You can see Samsung and Apple’s influence in the design for the Honor 8. It’s simple and doesn’t try to impress with a modular design, large front-facing speakers, or tactile buttons. Huawei kept it simple and let the materials impress those who are lucky enough to see it in person. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is the most visually stunning phone I’ve ever seen in person, but the Honor 8 is right behind it.

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With the premium build materials do come compromises, namely, fragility and slickness. The phone will absolutely slide off anything with an incline and any kind of fall onto bumpy surfaces will blemish the devices. At the end of a long drive, I sat the Honor 8 on the top of my car along with my keys and a few other things. I thought it was on a flat enough surface, but I was wrong and it slid onto our blacktop parking spot. Luckily the display was spared, but the corners took the brunt of the blow. No more nice beautiful phone, but it could have been worse. If you’re worried about dropping your phone, get a nice case or choose a different phone because it’s easy to scuff this one up.

Display

The display on the Honor 8 is a 5.2″ 1080p LCD display. Hardly the highest resolution display on the planet, but ask yourself if you truly need a 2560 x 1440p display at 5.2″. The Samsung Galaxy S7 has a 5.1″ QHD display and it truly is a thing to behold, but it’s more due to the AMOLED technology, deep blacks, and wonderful peak brightness rather than the pixel density. Huawei made the right call with “only” a 1080p display on the Honor 8.

The colors are vibrant and the blacks look great. Peak brightness won’t approach those in the upper echelon of devices- that’s one of the tradeoff’s you’ll make in this $400 device, but it does do well enough on cloudy days. Sunny days are another story. You’ll be covering the phone with your hand or running under cover to get a good grasp of what’s on your display.

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Auto brightness is better on the Honor 8 than most phones, but it does keep the display a bit dark. I kept my display at roughly 50% for the duration of the review period and was very happy. However, reading in bed was a bit of a pain. The display floor is pretty high and made for some squinting and eye strain in bed. If you like to read in bed you’ll probably need to download a third-party application from the app store to artificially lower the brightness.

Viewing angles are wonderful. If you often share your display with another while watching YouTube or Netflix on the couch at home or the train, you’ll be pleased with the Honor 8. I noticed no color shifting or distortion when viewed at even the most extreme angles.

Software

Software is the biggest area of difference between the Honor 8 and any other widely available Android device in the US market. The Honor 8 runs a heavily customized skin known as EMUI- or Emotion UI. These heavy skins are usually confined to the eastern markets of South Korea, Japan, China and others while we generally get lighter skins here in the States. EMUI takes a lot of what is great about Android and builds on it, but still has some head scratching decisions.

The biggest issue for me is the lack of app drawer. It’s 2016 and some companies, namely LG, have experimented with ditching the app drawer, but EMUI takes that step. I have used my fair share of iPhones and I love them for what they are, but part of the reason I use Android is for software functions like the app drawer. I don’t want three home screens full of folders that I have to search through for an app. Luckily you can swipe down on an empty space of the launcher to pull down a search bar that you can open apps from, much like on the iPhone.

Icons everywhere!Icons everywhere!

One of the smart improvements that the Honor 8 has is in the notification tray. A swipe down reveals all of your alerts, neatly tucked organized by what time they came in. It reminds me a lot of the timeline layout that Pebble uses in its smartwatches. A swipe to the right opens up your quick toggles. Unfortunately, you can’t customize what quick toggles you have or in which order they show up, but there are some smart toggles like Screenshot and WiFi hotspot toggles.

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The app suite included with the Honor isn’t by any means bloated, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some bloatware here. You do get Huawei’s messaging app, gallery, theme store, music player, video player, calendar, clock, file browser, phone manager and email client. You’ll also see two folders named Tools and Top apps. The Tools folder has some of the usual suspects like a calculator, notepad, sound recorder and flashlight. Nothing too revolutionary. Top apps are all of the added bloatware like Facebook, Twitter, and Shazam. Luckily, these are uninstallable. I’ve said this before but if including these apps are what help companies keep the cost of phones down, I’m fine with it (as long as they are uninstallable).

During the review period, I did receive the September security update, so Huawei is doing a good job of staying on top of those. I would like to see when the Honor 8 receives Nougat, though, and what it looks like when it finally hits the phone. When a phone is heavily skinned like the Honor 8, updates tend to take a while because there are a lot of features to incorporate into a new operating system. That’s a lot of testing to make sure nothing is broken once those features are incorporated. If you care about the latest software updates you probably already own a Nexus device. If you care about cool features and aesthetics, the Honor 8 might scratch that itch.

Performance

The Honor 8 is powered by Huawei’s in-house Kirin 950 chip and represents the first phone in the US powered by it. The Kirin 950 is an octa-core chip with four 2.3GHz cores and four 1.8GHz cores. In real world usage, the chip feels comparable to the Snapdragon 820. Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into how a phone feels but I’m basing my opinion on usage of the Samsung Galaxy S7, OnePlus3, LG G5, Motorola Z Force Droid, and Samsung Galaxy Note7 (which thankfully didn’t explode).

While I did experience minor hiccups, they were just that- minor and infrequent. Daily tasks like browsing Reddit, scrolling through my agenda in the calendar, checking social media apps, taking pictures, and watching videos on YouTube were frustration free. After turning the phone on, it did need time to “wind up”. I’ve seen this issue in Samsung phones as well where they’re difficult to use in the first couple of minutes after a reboot as processes get started. The Honor 8 wasn’t nearly as bad as some Samsung phones that I used, but the issue did exist.

Battery life was a big standout with the Honor 8. The smallish 5.2″ 1080p display combined with a power-efficient processor meant I was able to get through the day, even on heavy usage days, with battery left over. The only day I was reaching for a charger to top off was the first day I received the Honor 8 and that was due to the phone not having 100% battery out of the box and setting up all of my apps. If you have a charger in your car capable of quick charging or a charger at your desk, it’s very possible to not charge your phone at night and just continue topping off as needed. To say I was impressed with the battery life would be an understatement.

Camera

We’re starting to see more and more companies put dual cameras on the rear of phones to maximize mobile photography opportunities. Huawei was one of the first to do this with the Honor 8. The rear of the phone houses dual 12MP cameras, one lens to capture color and one monochrome. This design intends to let more light into photographs in low-light situations. While you will see some grain in these low-light situations, I was impressed at how well the Honor 8 was able to let in as much light as possible. When you’re able to use the flash, you will notice a huge difference. In the sample below, you would be forgiven if you though the brighter picture was taken during the day rather than at 7:30 at night in a dark room with only a television for light.

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The cameras do even better in well-lit situations. A day at the ballpark and the beach left us with some truly excellent pictures. Here are some camera samples from my time with the Honor 8

Honor 8 camera samples

The camera app gives you more than just the bare-bones, too. I was impressed that a quick swipe to the left from the viewfinder found 16 different modes including pro and beauty modes for both photo and video, Good Food, Panorama, HDR, Night Shot, Light Painting, Time-lapse, Slow-mo, Watermark, Audio note, and document scan. While most of the modes will probably go completely untouched, it is nice to have them built-in to the camera app instead of needing to download third party applications if you ever do decide to use them.

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Conclusion

As lovers of technology, the writers here at AndroidGuys often engage in conversation about phones like the Honor 8, ZTE Axon 7, OnePlus 3, Moto Z Play, and the Idol 4S. It’s hard to pick which would be the “best” $400 phone since they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. But, the fact that we’re able to consider these phones over flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG V20, and HTC 10 means that the state of midrange phones has never been better.

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I really enjoyed my time with the Honor 8. I’ve used a lot of the phones released this year, and while it isn’t my favorite phone released in 2016 (Moto Z Play, in case you’re wondering) I would have no trouble recommending it to anyone. Huawei proves that they pay attention to detail and put a lot of work not only into the physical design of the phone but the software too.

The software may not be everyone’s idea of what they’d like to see on an Android device, but much like Samsung devices, Huawei was able to pack in a ton of features without making the device feel bloated. It feels sleek and cool like a cutting edge product no-one else has gotten their hands on yet. The Honor 8 is something completely different than what’s on the market right now and that’s a huge plus.

You can pick up the Honor 8 from Amazon, B&H Photo, or Newegg.

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