Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Smartphone Reviews’

8
Oct

BLU Pure XR Review


Over the past couple of years there has been a surge of emerging tech companies creating mid to high-end devices, at a lower price than ever before. The competition in the market has resulted in more options and price points for purchase, and nowhere is the competition more evident than at the affordable flagship price point of $299-$399.

  • BLU Pure XR announced, near-flagship specs for $299
  • BLU Pure XL review

American phone-maker BLU isn’t new to this market, having previously launched the BLU Pure XL at this price point, but what of its latest affordable flagship? The BLU Pure XR looks appealing on paper but has BLU delivered? Join us as we find out in this, our BLU Pure XR review.

Buy the BLU Pure XR now

Design:

In the Pure XR, BLU has done a great job of designing and building a product that is affordable but still looks and feels premium. The BLU Pure XR’s housing is a solid piece of 7000 series aluminum, with chamfered edges and a matte finish. Along the back border of the device you will find the antenna band that’s used for wireless connectivity and unlike other devices, it blends in really well.

Moving to the front of the device you will find a 5.5” display wrapped in Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with a slight curve around the edges. Also, on the face of the phone you can see the speaker grill along the top between the front facing camera and proximity sensors.

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA7

Beneath the display is the home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner and is flanked by the back and multi-tasking capacitive touch buttons. On the bottom of the handset, you’ll find the USB Type-C port,  headphone jack, single speaker grill and microphone.

Moving around the rest of the phone and on the left of the BLU Pure XR, you have the SIM and microSD card tray that can be ejected with the included tool. On the right is a volume rocker as well as the power button and BLU’s choice of having the chamfered buttons rest in a recessed trench definitely adds to the allure of the phone.

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 1.02.10 PM

On the back, the BLU Pure XR sports a 16MP camera and single LED flash in the top left corner, as well as BLU logo in the middle of the phone. The rest of the design is clean and serves to show off the aluminium finish, which looks and feels great in the hand. Despite the slim 7mm profile, there’s no camera bump which means the device won’t rock when placed flat on its back on a table, a condition other phones do find themselves afflicted with.

Like other phones of this size, the BLU Pure XR can be difficult to use one-handed but BLU have reduced the overall footprint as much as possible. In particular, the slim design coupled with a large display (and a wholesome profile at 75mm wide and 154mm tall) make the Pure XR an excellent device for media consumption and two-handed use.

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA3

Of course, BLU isn’t the only phone maker in this market and the Pure XR design seems to be on par with the likes of OnePlus 3 and ZTE Axon 7. It’s not the most inspiring but it’s definitely stylish for the price tag and when you use this phone, you get the feeling that it was worth the money you paid for it.

Display:

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA13

As a media consumption device, the BLU Pure XR definitely delivers on the display front, with the 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD display offering 1080p resolution, which results in a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. The display may not quite be on par with Quad HD panel – although this is IPS and the handset costs more – but it’s more than acceptable for the Pure XR.

As we’ve seen from other Super AMOLED panels, the display offers good color reproduction and great viewing angles. When watching movies or reading text, the screen offers vibrant colors, deep inky blacks and a surprisingly high max brightness, which means it’s comfortable to use, even in direct sunlight. Overall, the screen is definitely pleasant to use and on par with anything else available at this price point.

Performance:

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA16

In the past, BLU has traditionally been one of the few OEMs to bring MediaTek powered smartphones to the US, even though almost all companies opted to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset. The BLU Pure XR is no different, arriving with MediaTek’s Helio P10 processor in tow backed by 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a Mali-T860MP2 GPU.

The 64-bit Helio P10 features four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.9GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.0GHz, arranged in a big.LITTLE formation. The clock speeds of the Helio P10 do seem lower than other chipsets but nonetheless, in actual performance, there’s very little lag. During general use and when gaming, there were no noticeable performance issues to note.

BLU Pure XR benchmarks
BLU Pure XR benchmarks

How does it stack up in the benchmarks however? Well the results are definitely less than impressive, as an AnTuTu score of 50789 is considerably lower than the Snapdragon-backed OnePlus 3, which scores 140288 but it is on par with other Helio P10 devices, which average a score of around 51000.

BLU Pure XR benchmarks
BLU Pure XR benchmarks

Moving onto GeekBench 3 and the BLU Pure XR scores 839 in the single-core test and 3290 in the multi-core test, which is definitely not the best score but more than acceptable. By way of comparison, last year’s Snapdragon 808-backed Nexus 5X achieves a multi-core score of 3538 while the Moto G4 Plus – which costs $249 and is powered by a Snapdragon 617 processor – scores 3150.

Overall, there’s no noticeable lag or lack of fluidity when using the phone for general purpose and when gaming there weren’t any glaring issues that compromised the experience. Game load times were a bit longer than we’d have liked, but when the game gets going there aren’t any noticeable issues. The performance scores might not be the highest but the actual experience is smooth and polished.

Hardware:

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA12

On the hardware front, the BLU Pure XR comes with 64GB of internal storage and offers micro SD expansion up to an additional 64GB. The storage is certainly higher than more smartphones and the expansion means there should be enough storage for most users, although power users who need over 128GB of storage might want to look elsewhere.

Along the bottom the Pure XR does feature a single speaker, which produces loud audio while preserving clarity without distortion. The only downside to the speaker is its placement, as when holding in your hand, it was surprisingly easy to cover the speaker which results in muffled sounds. Of course, front facing stereo speakers would have solved this problem but you can’t have everything so if you plan on watching videos, we would recommend getting a stand or using headphones.

Blu Pure XR Battery Life
Blu Pure XR Battery Life
Blu Pure XR Battery Life

The BLU Pure XR is powered by a 3,00mAh battery, which provides good battery life. During our testing, the battery delivered around 4 hours of screen on time and we were comfortably able to get a full day of usage out of single charge. For reference, this includes streaming on YouTube, playing games, general communicating and web browsing. For the times when it is running low, the included quick charger makes it quick and simple to get fully charged up again.

Camera:

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA2

One of the most important parts of a smartphone is the camera and the BLU Pure XR seems to tick this box with a 16MP sensor of f/1.8 aperture, phase detection and laser autofocus and a single LED flash. There’s not a lot of other noteworthy camera features but on paper, the camera should be good enough to get the job done.

Like most smartphones, the Pure XR can take really sharp images in perfect conditions but it’s rare to actually be shooting in ideal conditions so you need a smartphone that can adapt and still capture an excellent picture. Sadly, this isn’t the case with the BLU Pure XR, which does seem to struggle when conditions aren’t ideal.

IMG_20160914_131827
IMG_20160914_131814
IMG_20160915_231743
IMG_20160915_231759

One of the issues is with HDR as using the feature outdoors results in highlights that were often over exposed and blown out, while in low light, using HDR results in discoloration in the shadows and an increase in overall noise. A key use-case for HDR is to prevent blow outs within photos but the Pure XR definitely fails to deliver and we wouldn’t recommend using the feature unless absolutely necessary.

BLU Pure XR Review Camera samples
BLU Pure XR Review Camera samples

In low light, pictures don’t seem to offer as much detail as with other phones and while there’s both phase detection and laser autofocus on the Pure XR, they don’t appear to be too effective at preventing noise. Furthermore, in general use, we found that the Pure XR doesn’t focus properly when manually setting the focus in the viewfinder: the handset doesn’t seem to respond to the selected focal point and resulting images are focused on the centre of the frame, with the edges blurred out.

BLU Pure XR Review Camera samples

On the video front, the BLU Pure XR is capable of shooting Full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second and like photos, the results can vary significantly. For instance, the Pure XR can take decent video in good lighting (just like the camera) but when transitioning from dark to highlighted areas, the camera noticeably shifts ISO, adjusts exposure and isn’t able to handle any lens flare caused by direct sunlight. The lack of any form of stabilisation also shows as video footage can be shaky and generally, we wouldn’t recommend relying on the Pure XR camera for videos or photos.

Software:

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA10

Out of the box, the BLU Pure XR runs the Android 6.0 Marshmallow OS with BLU’s own custom skin on top and given BLU’s track record, we’re not holding out for an upgrade to Android 7.0 Nougat any time soon.

The interface does move away from conventional Android by omitting the app drawer and moving system toggles to a swipe up from the bottom, in a similar way to iOS 10 on the iPhone 7. If you’re accustomed to the traditional Android experience, you’ll find this takes some getting used to but I did find that the it feels more intuitive to have the toggles at the bottom rather than the top, especially as it helps with overall one-handed experience.

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA15

One of the selling points of the BLU Pure XR is that it comes with a pressure sensitive offering called 3D Touch, which is similar to the Force Touch feature on the Apple iPhone. Essentially, the screen can register the amount of pressure you apply which gives you additional functionality like being able to preview content, jump straight to taking a selfie and compose a text message when applying additional pressure to the home screen. It works surprisingly well and seems to be on par, at least performance wise, with the feature found on Apple’s flagships.

The Pure XR also comes with a variety of smart gestures including being able to double tap the phone to wake it, raising the phone to your ear to answer a call and flipping the phone over to silence an alarm. These features aren’t new but work well enough and help to make the experience a little better.  Overall there’s not a lot of bloatware – which definitely aids the slick performance – and while the skin will definitely require acclimatising to, it’s not the most gharish out there. If you’re willing to get used to the different experience, it definitely gets the job done and you can always install an Android launcher for an alternative experience.

Specifications:

Display 5.5inch Super AMOLED curved display
1080p resolution, 401 ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass, 3D Touch sensitive panel
Processor 1.9GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P10
Mali-T860MP2 GPU
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB
expandable via microSD up to 64 GB (uses second SIM slot)
Camera 16 MP rear camera, f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, Laser Autofocus, LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0, A2DP
GPS + GLONASS
USB Type-C
Dual SIM Card
Battery 3,000 mAh
Quick Charging
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions 154.3 x 74.9 x 7 mm
147.2 grams

Gallery

Final thoughts

Blu-Pure-XR-Review-AA9

When considering a phone, price is often one of the biggest factors and the BLU Pure XR comes in at only $300 giving wallet-conscious customers a great offering. However, the poor camera and the questionable future upgrade plans might mean handsets such as the LG Nexus 5X and OnePlus 3 could be great alternatives if these are important concerns to you.

  • BLU Pure XR announced, near-flagship specs for $299
  • BLU Pure XL review

All in all, this phone definitely delivers a great experience that is reliable and slick and considering the price, it’s definitely a worthy contender if you’re shopping on a budget. What do you think of the BLU Pure XR and would you buy one? If not, what would you buy instead? Let us know your views in the comments below!

Buy the BLU Pure XR now

5
Oct

Posh Optima LTE L530 review: A budget device with a premium feel


Posh Mobile is a relatively new player to the mobile phone scene. Posh released its first devices in 2013 and has grown its portfolio to include over 20 GSM unlocked Android-based phones and tablets. In a crowded market filled with hundreds if not thousands of budget friendly devices, Posh sets out to be different from the crowd with the mission “Elegance for all.”

Posh Mobile LogoI have spent the last two weeks using Posh’s Optima LTE L530 as my daily driver on the T-Mobile network. For a budget device, the unboxing experience was a good one. Included with the phone, Posh gives you a case, screen protector, headphones, charger and a sim tool. Posh Mobile was a relatively new name to me when I received the Optima L530. I was aware that the company had made the largest and smallest Android phones available on the market, but this was my first experience using one of its devices.

I know it is said a lot, but cheap phones are continuing to get better. The Posh Optima L530 is a GSM unlocked device that was released in April of 2016. Though I missed my 6P, I found myself missing it less than I would have predicted. The Optima is a very solid selection for those looking for a budget phone with a premium feel, great battery life, and a decent display. While Posh lists the MSRP for the Optima at $229.99, you can buy the phone on Amazon in both black and gold for $169.

Specs

  • Display: 5.0″ 720p IPS LCD (~294 PPI)
  • Processing Package:

    • CPU: Mediatek MT6753 Octa-Core 1.3 GHz Cortex-A53
    • GPU: Mali-400
    • RAM: 2GB
  • Battery: 3000 mAh Li-Po non-removable
  • Storage: 16GB (Expandable 32GB)
  • Connectivity: Dual Sim

    • GSM: 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
    • LTE Bands: 2 / 4 / 7 / 17
    • WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, Hotspot
    • Bluetooth: v4.0
    • USB: microUSB v2.0
  • Price: $229 $169 (on Amazon)

Build and Design

The Posh Mobile Optima LTE L530 has a very nice balance between metal, glass, and plastic. Glass is used to cover both the front of the device and the rear facing camera. This Glass gives the phone a premium feel while also providing increased durability. A plastic plate covers the back of the phone, but it does not detract from the phone’s premium feel. Joining the front sheet of glass and rear sheet of plastic together is a metal skeleton. In addition to feeling great in hand, the metal band provides a lot of rigidity to the device.

Posh Mobile Optima LTE L530

To get this premium feel out of a “budget material” like plastic, Posh used a glossy hard plastic that feels similar to glass. While I’m sure this plastic back allowed them to save a lot of money on production thus keeping the device cheaper for consumers, the back is slippery and scratches extremely easily. A few days of setting the phone on my desk and visible scratches appeared on the rear of the device. Despite the slippery feel and ease of scratching, I’m glad Posh used the materials they did. Between the 5.0″ screen and premium feel, the device is a joy to use and fits well in your hand.

Posh Mobile Optima LTE L530

Many budget phones don’t include added features like fingerprint scanners, but Posh decided to add one to the Optima. The fingerprint scanner, if implemented properly, could have been a nice touch for the device at its price point. Unfortunately, I found the fingerprint scanner to be more of a nuisance rather than a useful feature since I could only get the fingerprint scanner to recognize my finger about 50% of the time on the first try. One reason for this lack of functionality could be the fact that the Optima L530 is still running Android 5.1 Lollipop. To get its fingerprint scanner to work, Posh had to develop its software to integrate its fingerprint scanner into Android since Android did not officially support fingerprint sensors until Marshmallow.

Posh Mobile Optima LTE L530

Display

The Optima LTE L530 has a 5.0″ IPS LCD with a resolution of 720p. Following the example of many budget phones before it, the Optima uses a lower resolution LCD panel to presumably save money and get the most out of the battery. The display did not seem cheap in the slightest, though, and I enjoyed using it to watch videos and read. The Optima has wide viewing angles and PPI nearing 300 allowing text to be read clearly at nearly any angle.

Posh Optima LTE L530

A few Posh devices have had issues with the overall brightness of their displays being very low; this is not the case with the Optima L530. I found that I had to turn the auto-brightness feature off to prevent the device from cooking my eyeballs indoors. I leave the brightness at around 35% at almost all times both indoors and out. The only time I adjust the brightness is in bed at night when I’m reading. Even with the phone’s ability to deep fry your corneas, its lowest light setting is still shockingly low and allows for a good experience reading at night.

Software and Performance

Posh Home ScreenThe software experience across the Posh lineup varies significantly. Some devices like the Volt L540 come with a heavily skinned version of Android. The Optima L530 does not. Posh has added some “enhancements” to its version of Android, such as functionality for the fingerprint scanner, but I was excited that the phone still feels distinctly like stock Android Lollipop.

Posh Drop down settingsWhen you get the device, you will need to do a bit of downloading. The phone comes with almost nothing installed. No bloatware, no extras, nothing except the mandatory Google apps and a handful of Posh apps like “Posh Apps” (Which doesn’t load), Inbox (Not to be confused with Googles Inbox), an FM radio tuner, and a basic sound recorder. This is a nice change from the bloatware riddled devices I am used to. I was able to choose what I wanted to install, and I didn’t have to navigate around other “mandated” software. This experience was a bit freeing for me. Despite all this freedom, though, I am still having issues changing my default messaging app. screenshot_2016-10-02-18-41-20I now have two apps that receive texts and have those lovely notification flags. The messenger bug and fingerprint software aside, I have had no software issues with the phone that would prevent me from using the device in my day to day.

As with many budget friendly devices, Posh had to make sacrifices somewhere to lower the price of the Optima and the performance of the device saw some of the corner cutting. For the first week using the device, I used completely stock settings. While the Optima was usable, I did find it to be a bit slow, and it would stutter through animations occasionally. I decided to try and speed up the phone by enabling developer options and decreasing the animation scale by half. Not only did this speed up the transition between screens, I saw a huge reduction in the stutter between animations as well.

Battery

Posh Optima batteryThe battery in the Posh Optima LTE L530 is something to write home about. Posh managed to cram a 3000 mAh battery into the Optima L530. This combined with a power-efficient processor, and a smaller screen with a lower resolution allows the device to go for days at a time. I have come to expect 4 hours of screen on time on any given day from the Optima. Unfortunately, there is a small catch to the great battery life. Once you drain the big battery, you will be tied to the wall for 2+ hours to get back to 100%. To include a quick charge feature on the device, while nice, would have raised the price of the Optima. I think excluding it was a smart move on the part of Posh.

Camera

The Optima LTE L530 has two 13MP sensors with a 2.2 aperture. The rear of the device has a dual-tone LED flash, while the front only has a single tone LED flash. The Optima can record 1080p video at 30fps, has autofocus on both the front and rear sensors, and HDR capabilities. While these specs are far from the worst out there, they do not produce good pictures. Even with perfect lighting conditions and a steady hand, pictures will be blown out, foggy, and have a soft focus. You will not want to use this camera for more than picture messages, and social media.

Posh Optima LTE L530

Conclusion

One major criticism I have with the device is the decision to go with Android Lollipop over Android Marshmallow. The L530 was released six or more months after the announcement and release of Android 6.0, and yet it is still running Lollipop. I feel the inclusion of Marshmallow would have improved my experience on the Optima. The fingerprint scanner would have had built-in software support, the great battery life would have gotten even better with Doze, and general functionality of the phone would have improved and gotten smoother. I’m holding out hope that Posh will release a 6.0 update (or jump straight to 7.1), but regardless of what “could have been,” the Optima LTE L530 it is still a good device.

marshmallow_stacking2_810

When Posh Mobile sent me the Optima LTE L530, I was expecting to get a “chunk” of plastic with a cell radio inside of it. Instead, I got the pleasure of using a well-designed phone. Posh has built a well-rounded device in the Optima L530. Many budget friendly devices make enormous sacrifices to make one feature on the phone excel, but Posh went a different route with the L530. The phone does well in many categories with a focus on the display, battery and build quality. This winning combination, combined with the $169 price tag on Amazon makes the Posh Mobile LTE L530 a phone well worth your money.

24
Sep

Alcatel IDOL 4S review: Can it stay king in 2016?


When Alcatel released the IDOL 3 last year, I called it the best budget phone of 2015. This year, Alcatel has come out with its successor that is meant to improve upon the IDOL 3 in every way. Unlike last year, competition has gotten incredibly steep around budget flagships in 2016, and the IDOL 4S has to give everything its got to carry the title of Best Budget Flagship this year. Let’s see if it can claim the crown once again!

Design and Build

fileminimizer-idol-4s-backLast year, Alcatel took a more subtle approach to the design of the IDOL 3. It featured a plastic back and sides that felt and looked nice but didn’t create an overall sense of luxury or precision. For its 2016 flagship, Alcatel completely ditched the plastic and opted for a killer metal and glass design. With a glass back and metal sides, the IDOL 4S is a stunner that screams quality straight out of the box. The glass on front and back is slightly curved along the side making the phone comfortable to hold for pretty much anyone.

Let’s take a look around the 4S before we dive in. On the front is the 5.5″ display that we will talk more in depth about later along with the dual front-facing speakers and selfie camera. On the left side, you’ll find the power button and SIM card/MicroSD card slot. On the right are your volume controls along with an extra button Alcatel refers to as the Boom Key. On the bottom are the MicroUSB port for charging and a microphone. Finally up top, you have your 3.5mm headphone jack (thankfully) and another microphone. Flip the phone over and you’ll find the main camera along with a fingerprint scanner.

fileminimizer-idol-4s-fingerprints

Overall, the IDOL 4S is lightyears ahead of the IDOL 3 in terms of style and design. The glass and metal build feels incredible to hold. However, I have a love-hate relationship with the glass back because it is a fingerprint magnet. It is one of the worst phones I have ever used in terms of how quickly it picks up fingerprints. In fact, I put a case on it almost immediately just because of how often I had to wipe off the back. Also, the glass back means that any accidental drops could end up shattering it along with your screen. And trust me, this phone is slippery. Accidental drops are bound to happen.

As beautiful as the IDOL 4S is, I must recommend that you at least get a skin or a case to keep from dropping it and cracking the glass. Thankfully, Alcatel is one step ahead and includes a case and screen protector in the box.

fileminimizer-idol-4s-fingerprint-scanner

While the power button is still located annoyingly on the left side of the device, the IDOL 4S kept the double-tap to wake feature from the previous generation. But I doubt you’ll even be using that as the fingerprint scanner on the back with also turn on the phone when you go to scan your finger. In terms of speed and accuracy, the fingerprint scanner impressed me. It is not as fast as the latest from Apple and Samsung, but it is plenty fast for most people.

The only main complaint I have is that it is not set off from the back of the phone at all. This makes it hard to locate blindly and position your finger correctly, but after a while, I found that I got much more accurate.

Display

fileminimizer-idol-4s-screen

Alright, it is time for my favorite upgrade from the IDOL 3. This year, Alcatel ditched IPS for AMOLED and cranked the resolution up to 2K. All I can say is, nicely done! The increased resolution is great for gaming, video, and VR (more to come on that) and pairs nicely with the front-facing speakers.

Going for an AMOLED panel was the right choice as colors look clear and vibrant. Like the IDOL 3 before, the 4S has one of the brightest screens I have ever seen. I usually have to keep my screen at above half brightness, but I could easily turn the display on the IDOL 4S down to 30% with the same results. There is no need to worry about outdoor visibility with this display.

I would love to say that the display is perfect, but I found one major annoyance during my time using it. Even as someone who always makes sure to carry my phone is a separate pocket away from loose change and keys, the display on my IDOL 4S still picked up scratches. None are horribly obvious and cannot even be seen with the display on, but I was disappointed that the screen scratched so easily.

Performance

The IDOL 3 was a mid-ranged device that provided competitive performance at an incredible price, but that was in 2015. This year, the IDOL 4S got a price bump while other companies started focusing more on budget-friendly flagships. The 4S definitely has more competition this year so it better come with the performance to keep its high standing.

The IDOL 4S is running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 510 GPU, and while the processor may not be an 800-series, it still packs quite a punch. For storage, you get 32GB of onboard memory along with a microSD card slot to add extra space when needed. Needless to say, the IDOL 4S is more than powerful enough to handle even your craziest of social media binges. I was impressed with how snappy the Snapdragon 652 was as I was able to fly through most apps without a single frame drop.

fileminimizer-idol-4s-asphalt-8

Asphalt 8 seems to be the de facto game for testing a phone’s gaming performance so that is the app I used. Ninety percent of the time, the IDOL 4S handled the game like a champ. However, there were a couple of times where I noticed a slight frame drop. I doubt that most would even notice it before it went back to normal, but there were definitely a couple of slow downs. The phone itself never seemed to get hot enough to throttle so I am assuming the hardware just wasn’t fast enough to fully handle the game. Most games will play wonderfully on the IDOL 4S, but graphically intensive games may have a couple of struggles.

Last year, this would not have been a big deal since the IDOL 3 sold for $250 and smoked basically every other phone in that price range. However, the IDOL 4S is priced at $399 which puts it right up there with phones like the OnePlus 3, which is running a Snapdragon 820.

Along with price, Alcatel heavily marketing the IDOL 4S on how well it performed with virtual reality, and while the preinstalled titles do play well, more graphically intense VR games will likely exhibit some stuttering. We will have a post coming out soon fully dedicated to VR on the IDOL 4S so keep your eyes out for that.

So what does this mean for performance on the 4S? Overall, it is incredibly fast and smooth in almost every situation. However at this price point, there are phones that beat it on the performance side.

Software

fileminimizer-idol-4s-launcherThe IDOL 4S comes running a slightly skinned version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (no word yet on a Nougat update). As far as most Android skins go, the one on the 4S is fairly minimal. It’s not as close to stock as something like the Moto G4, but it is nowhere near as intense as Samsung’s TouchWiz.

The IDOL 4S comes with a custom launcher, custom icons for basic apps, and Alcatel’s versions of stock apps like Contacts. There are some preloaded apps, but the majority of them can be uninstalled immediately from the phone.

Even with all the uninstallable apps removed, there are still several apps unique to the IDOL 4S that remain on the phone. These include VR apps and games, an equalizer app, an FM radio app, and some video editing and live streaming apps. While some of them are needed for VR applications, I still wish that they could be removed easily or uninstalled completely.

fileminimizer-idol-4s-boom-key-weather-2The custom launcher comes with a couple of neat tricks up its sleeve. The first is a parallax wallpaper effect that makes it seem like the icons are floating above the wallpaper. I am not a big fan of this effect, and it is easy to turn off from the wallpaper selector. If you are on the homescreen and push the Boom Key, there will be a visualization of the current weather in your location. While it is not particularly useful since the weather is also displayed on the homescreen widget, I cannot deny that it looks super cool, and I find myself pushing the Boom Key to trigger it all the time.

My single favorite feature from the IDOL 3 made a return on the 4S, and that is the Reversible UI. Basically, this allows the screen to rotate a full 360-degrees so that no matter what way you pick up the phone, it is always right side up. Unfortunately, I found this feature less useful now that there is a fingerprint scanner. When I hold the phone upside down and reach for the fingerprint scanner, I immediately realize that I am holding the phone wrong and flip it around.

The feature is still useful for quickly answering calls without having to spin the phone around, but I am sad to see my favorite feature become less useful.

Speakers

fileminimizer-idol-4s-speaker

One of my favorite features on the IDOL lineup are the dual front-facing speakers, and the IDOL 4S does not disappoint in this area. The JBL-certified speakers pump out a loud sound that is crisp and clean regardless of the volume.

Being phone speakers, the low end does leave some to be desired, but I would challenge you to find a better sounding set of speakers on any smartphone especially in this price range. Whether you are playing a game, watching a video, or just listening to some music, the IDOL 4S speakers will do more for you than basically any other phone speaker out there.

When you lay the phone face down while playing something through the speakers, it will actually route the audio towards the back of the device so that volume and quality are not hindered.

fileminimizer-idol-4s-boom-button

When you are using the speakers, pressing the Boom Key activates one of the special experiences of the IDOL 4S. Alcatel claims that pressing it boosts the bass and volume of the music, and while I did notice a volume increase, an increase in audio quality is questionable. Some of my music sounded fuller when the Boom Key was activated, but other times it sounded too echo-y. It does help with some songs, but it was not something that I enabled every time I listened to music.

The best time to use the Boom Key is while gaming. When I played Asphalt 8, I pressed the Boom Key and the audio became much more immersive. It almost seemed like surround sound at times. While the Boom Key might not improve all the audio you listen to, it definitely increases the immersion while playing games.

Camera

fileminimizer-idol-4s-camera

The camera on past IDOL phones has always been pretty good but consistently left me wanting more. The IDOL 4S comes with a 16-megapixel f/2.0 main camera and an 8-megapixel front camera, and I can fully say that these are the best cameras on any IDOL to date.

Throughout my time with the 4S, I found the camera is quick to focus and takes detailed shots with good color reproduction as long as the lighting is good. Unfortunately, it looks like many of the pictures I took with the IDOL 4S suffered from oversharpening like the IDOL 3 before it. While the camera often exposes correctly, I found that it has a tendency to overexpose and highlights easily get blown out.

Alcatel IDOL 4S camera samples
Thankfully, the IDOL 4S had a pretty solid HDR mode. Unfortunately, there is no option for AutoHDR, which means you need to switch it on and off as needed, which makes taking quick shots more difficult. There are a few Boom Key features within the camera app. You can press it to take a photo, or while taking a video, you can press it to immediately livestream through the preinstalled app TiZR.

If you are looking to record video with the IDOL 4S, you were probably happy to see that it supports 4K at 30fps; however, there is no OIS (optical image stabilization) on the cameras so videos come out looking shaky even with the electronic image stabilization. I think that leaving out OIS was a big mistake on Alcatel’s part.

Overall, the camera is the same story that it was with the IDOL 3. The camera is okay and capable of taking some good shots, but it still has problems that hold it back from being a truly great camera.

Battery

idol-4s-batteryI was pleased with battery performance on last year’s IDOL 3, but I am full on impressed with what I was able to get out of the IDOL 4S. The phone is powered by a 3000mAh battery and comes equipped with QuickCharge technology for a quick fill up when you don’t have much time.

I am a fairly heavy smartphone user, and I manage to kill most phones before the day is done. My typical day includes streaming music and YouTube videos for about an hour each. I text and check social media consistently throughout the day, and I also have 3 email accounts that are constantly pulling down new emails. Other than that, I do browse the internet over WiFi and LTE along with some light gaming.

idol-4s-sotAfter putting the IDOL 4S through its paces on a daily basis, I found that I consistently got over five hours of screen-on-time with some days tending closer to five-and-a-half hours. For a phone with a 2K AMOLED display, I am extremely pleased with the battery performance. I still have to charge it every night, but at least I am making it to the end of the day now.

Conclusion

There is no hiding that the IDOL 4S is a wonderful phone and a huge improvement over last year’s IDOL 3. However, the price jump of $150 dollars has put the IDOL 4S against some incredible competition. Phones like the OnePlus 3 and Nexus 6P are available close to that price and each of them comes with a beefier processor, which provides even better performance.

So is it the best budget phone of 2016? Unfortunately, I am going to have to say no, but that is simply because the competition is extremely fierce in the budget arena now. I’d be hard pressed to name any phone as the best budget flagship. That being said, the IDOL 4S is one of the best budget phones of the year. It has great build quality, a stellar screen, loud speakers, and strong battery life. I would definitely recommend the IDOL 4S to any interested, and I doubt it will leave you unimpressed.

One thing that the IDOL 4S has going for it is the inclusion of a case, glass screen protector, and VR goggles when you purchase it. Head on over to Alcatel’s website or Amazon and pick up an IDOL 4S for yourself for only $399!

12
Sep

Blu Vivo 5R unboxing and first impressions


The Blu Vivo 5R is the sixth in the Vivo series of smartphones, which is essentially a mid-range line of devices. To be fair, though, the mid-range pretty much only applies to the hardware that powers the experience; the exterior is quite polished and punches above its weight.

We’ve had a Vivo 5R in our possession for a few days now and have come to really like the look and feel of the phone. Designed with aluminum and curved glass, the handset looks like it would cost at least $50-$75 more than it does. Indeed, this $200 experience has all the trappings of a flagship model yet it’s not too much phone for the average user.

blu-vivo-5r

Aside from the outward appearance, a few things we’ve already come to appreciate in the Vivo 5R include the fingerprint reader and Android build. The former is new to the Vivo line while the OS is an updated, more secure, and feature-rich platform.

Let’s face it, it’s not as if the Vivo 5 needed to be refreshed already. Given it’s only eight months old, we would not have been surprised if another 2-4 months went by without a successor. Thankfully, Blu decided the time was right to drop a refresh.

Not only do we get more memory and storage in the Vivo 5R, but users also pick up an extra half-inch of display. There’s a slight trade-off in terms of size, of course; it’s taller than its predecessor and a teeny bit bigger on the other edges. It’s barely taller than the OnePlus 3, but it’s every bit as pocketable and one-hand friendly.

img_20160909_105023

One thing we were glad to see in the Vivo 5R was its $200 price tag. This is the same space that the Vivo 5 occupied so it’s essentially like getting a punch up barely one half year after release. We’re not sure what will happen to the cost of the older sibling, but we’re guessing a price drop is soon in order.

We love the rear placement of the fingerprint sensor as it’s right where your finger tends to rest. It’s the same spot as where you’ll find it on a Nexus 6P or where the volume buttons are for the recent LG G models. Thus far it has been snappy all around. Speaking of snappy, we appreciate that it can also be used to activate the shutter of the camera.

The 3150mAh battery carries over from the Vivo 5, which is a big win in our eyes. More than enough to get users through a day or more of typical tasks, it’s bigger than what most lower-cost phones offer. We might have liked the USB Type-C connector, but not everyone is making the jump yet. But, given Blu has included it in a number of recent models, we were surprised to see the microUSB port.

img_20160909_105046

The nearly stock Android build is present, something we’ve come to appreciate in Blu models. There’s a few apps pre-loaded from the handset maker, but it’s not heavy handed. Aside from McAfee Security and Opera, the only other non-Blu touches are apps from Amazon. If you’re new to Android, you’ll get the near-Nexus software, and is almost exactly what Google intends for users. It’s intuitive, friendly, secure, and smart.

When it comes to cameras, we’re yet-again astonished by what we’re getting out of Blu, especially for the price. To us, it’s getting harder and harder to justify spending more than $400 on a phone. When you look at some of the pictures you can take in a $300 phone like the Pure XR, it’s tough to consider pulling more out of the wallet. The same goes for the Vivo 5R; it’s amazing what you get out of the Sony sensor.

img_20160909_105113Keeping in mind that we’ve only had the Vivo 5R for just over three days, we’re totally digging it. Having just used the Pure XR for a daily driver over the last few weeks, we expected to feel the difference, literally. We figured it would come across as cheaper in texture or build. We were happy to be proven wrong.

In terms of performance, we’ve not put this one through a battery of daily driver tests. We’re just starting out with the stock experience to see how it goes out of box. Another couple of days and we’ll put on the various accounts and apps to get rolling.  Suffice it to say, even though it has less internal hardware power than the recently released Pure XR, it’s negligible for the most part. Again, a few days from now we might sing a different tune, but the octa-core processor with 3GB RAM is plenty for many users.

img_20160909_105016

Kudos to Blu for throwing in the screen protector and rubber protective case on top of the headphones and power cable. It’s a small gesture that saves a little bit of money, but it’s certainly appreciated.

We’ll be putting together the formal review over the next few days so be sure to check back for more coverage.

9
Sep

First thoughts and impressions of the Huawei Honor 8


2016 will be known as the year of the budget flagship device with the release of the ZTE Axon 7, OnePlus 3, and the Huawei Honor 8. We recently got our hands on the Honor 8 and while our full review isn’t ready just yet, we do have some initial impressions to pass along.

Huawei is starting its push into the United States and the likes of LG and Sony should be worried. It has shown that it can be a true powerhouse in Asian markets and now Huawei taking what its learned there and bringing it to our shores. With build materials rivaling the Samsung Galaxy S7 and one of the most interesting takes on mobile software, the Honor 8 is unlike anything else on the market right now.

Everything down to the packaging was well thought out by Huawei. The phone slots into the box instead of sitting atop of the books, charger, and cable like every other device on the market. It’s these little things that show Huawei is focused on doing things differently. Not every change is for the better, but it is truly focused on making its own phone, a big departure from the Google-guided Nexus 6P of last year.

Build

huawei-honor-8-3

Wow. I knew that the build quality and materials on the Honor 8 were supposed to be good, but I can honestly say that I’m blown away. The Honor 8 falls just short of the Samsung Galaxy S7 in terms of build quality. But, It’s pretty close. The phone definitely channels the S7 with its glass and metal build, while keeping a more rounded edge. Those who handled the phone in our short time with it mentioned how much the sides looked and felt like an iPhone.

huawei-honor-8-6

The Honor 8 may not feel as dense or solid as the S7 but it does weigh the almost the exact same, 153 oz for the Honor 8 and 152 oz for the S7. Both phones are also remarkably close in size. The Honor 8 is a few millimeters taller and wider and a half a millimeter thinner. After using a Nexus 6P for a few days, I was blown away how light the Honor 8 felt the first time I picked it up.

huawei-honor-8-9

The bezels are slim and the power and volume buttons are clicky. These are two things that can truly ruin the experience with a phone and Huawei did well here. The bottom chin isn’t massive and the top of the phone is just big enough to hold the speaker and sensors. Overall I’d say it’s a pretty compact device that can easily be used in one hand.

Even though the Honor 8 looks excellent and feels great in the hand, I do wonder about how well it will hold up to scratches and falls. Phones like this tend to be fragile and I can tell my behavior changes when I’m using them as a daily driver. Added onto the suspected fragility of the device is how slippery it is. It reminds me a lot of the Samsung Galaxy S6 which is notorious for sliding off level surfaces. You won’t be able to just let this sit on your leg or a pillow because it will slide off as I found out in my first 24 hours with the phone.

huawei-honor-8-2

If you’re one of the many people out there that feel Samsung ruins its devices by putting its branding on the front of the phone, you may feel the need to pass on the Honor 8. The Honor name is printed on the bottom chin of the phone and interestingly enough, the exact same logo is in the exact same place on the back of the phone. I know why Huawei is doing this, but it doesn’t look great and I wish they would’ve just stuck to the branding on the rear of the phone.

I find it ridiculous that this is even an issue but yes, there is a 3.5mm jack for your wired headphones.

Software

After only a small amount of time playing with the Honor 8, I feel like I could write entire books about software customizations that Huawei made atop of Android 6.0. The Honor 8 runs EMUI, or Emotion UI 4.1. If you want Android customization with all of the charms of iOS (no app drawer!) then EMUI might be for you.

To be honest, I’ve found myself a little bored with Stock Android as of late so EMUI is a nice change of pace. EMUI touches every part of the OS much like LG’s skin but goes even further with its customization. You will not find settings and options where you normally would in Stock Android. Sometimes that’s for the better, sometimes not.

huawei-honor-8-customization-screen-shot

The notification shade is redesigned to have two panes, one for notification and one for shortcuts that you get to with a swipe to the right. The shortcuts are what you would expect to find nested in the Stock Android notification shade, WifI, Bluetooth, Auto-rotate and the rest. One of the coolest things that Huawei did here, and it does extend to some other places like the messaging app, is give your notifications more of a timeline feel with times and an order to how your notifications show up. It may not be any different in practice to how stock 6.0 shows notifications, but it does make you feel more on top of your day when looked at in this view.

huawei-honor-8-quick-reply-screen-shot

The lack of the app drawer does mean that apps are everywhere and there are plenty preloaded onto the Honor 8. The Tools folder has 9 preloaded apps for everything from the Weather app to the Mirror app. We’re also greeted by a Top Apps folder that has such crapware as Facebook, Twitter, Shazam, Booking.com, News Republic, Lyft, and a few Huawei apps. I know adding these apps in are money-makers for Huawei and if that’s what keeps the cost down, I’m alright with adding these in as long as they can be uninstalled- which these can.

We’ll delve deeper into the software here in our full review, but suffice to say, if you’re looking for something different, EMUI certainly offers a different experience.

huawei-honor-8-1

So far, I’m impressed. There have been a few little hiccups like some struggles scrolling through long lists but that might be chalked up to the phone breaking in. I’m trying to keep in mind that this is a $400 phone but it feels like it’s punching above its weight. The build quality feels like a device twice the price and will challenge the best from Samsung, LG, Sony, and HTC.

We’re going to spend a few weeks with the Huawei Honor 8 so we can bring you a thorough review. Let us know what you think about the Huawei Honor 8. Is it something you’d consider? Does the software disqualify it for you? Let us know down in the comments.

31
Aug

Honor 8 Review


Earlier this year, Honor released the Honor 5X, which we proclaimed to be one of the best sub-$200 smartphones available in the United States. Huawei is now looking to further build up their Honor brand with the Honor 8, Honor’s take on the “affordable flagship.”

Interested in ZTE?

  • Honor 8 hands on
  • Honor joins the ‘flagship killer’ fray with the Honor 8
  • Huawei announces super-affordable honor 8
  • Honor 5X review

At $400, does the Honor 8 have what it takes to go up against segment leaders ZTE and OnePlus? Let’s find out in our written review of the Honor 8!

Buy the Honor 8 now!

Design

The Honor 8 is an absolutely gorgeous smartphone. Even before digging into the details, it’s difficult to associate the Honor 8’s design with its price; its level of premium appeal is comparable to that of the more expensive Samsung Galaxy S7.

The dual glass panel design is admittedly reminiscent of the Galaxy S7 and even more so of the Xiaomi Mi 4S. It is still quite remarkable, however, with the rear’s 15-panel light-refracting glass composition. This composition primarily enables some very enthralling light patterns.

Both glass panels curve down to meet with the chamfered aluminum band, which gives an impression of cohesion. The tactile power and volume buttons can both be found on the right edge of the phone. There is a nice texture on the power button, but I wish it was less subtle.

There is an IR blaster at the top of the device which can be used to control TVs and other household appliances. It worked quite well in my testing, and I think it’s a valuable addition.

Huawei honor 8-22
Despite the metal band, handling can be a bit challenging due to the device’s slippery glass profile. You’ll want to be especially careful when setting the Honor 8 down, especially on uneven surfaces. The glass has what could be described as an “ice cube effect,” where it slips and slides very easily.

The build quality seems strong enough to resist most damage

During my five days with the device, it fell a total of three times. Thankfully, the build quality seems strong enough to resist most damage, but you’ll probably still want to consider adding a case. That’d also help cover up any fingerprints, which can collect surprisingly easily. Huawei has designed a few cases that compliment the 8’s beauty, which should be available soon.

Huawei honor 8-2
I would have preferred capacitive keys in place of the “honor” chin branding, but the on-screen navigation keys are still very pleasant to use. I also really appreciate the added software option to change the key layout as well.

Display

Huawei honor 8-6

The Honor 8 is sporting a 5.2″ 1080P LTPS display, which looks great with a good amount of sharpness and saturated and punchy colors. Color reproduction could have been more accurate, however. Mainly, the display’s color temperature is very cool. Thankfully, you can make adjustments in the settings to compensate for this, but it’s a shame that the device didn’t ship with a better calibrated display.

Honor 8 Color Gamut

The smaller display size does make handling easier in comparison to larger devices on the market. In fact, the Honor 8’s smaller size may seal the deal for some, as we rarely see this, especially at this price. The display brightness maxes out at 455 nits, which is about average. Sunlight readability is consequently good, especially for the price.

Performance

Huawei honor 8-23

It should come as no surprise that the Honor 8 is powered by one of Huawei’s own in-house processors, a HiSilicon Kirin 950. The Kirin 950 offers comparable performance to that of the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 820

Kirin-950-video-thumbSee Also: In-depth look at the Kirin 9508

As expected, performance was absolutely excellent. Everything is very smooth and responsive, which is what you’d usually expect from a more expensive device. Thankfully, there is 4 GB of RAM in both US models, so you can expect a smooth multitasking experience as well.

Honor 8 Screenshots-15
Honor 8 Screenshots-14
Honor 8 Screenshots-16
Honor 8 Screenshots-17
Honor 8 Screenshots-18
Honor 8 Screenshots-19

In my experience, the Honor 8’s Mali-T880 MP4 GPU performed very well when playing mobile games. Do keep in mind, however, that it may not be as future proof as the high-end Adreno GPUs. For example, in a 3Dmark test, the ZTE Axon 7 with the Adreno 530 scored a 2580 whereas the Honor 8 with the Mali-T880 MP4 scored a 964.

Hardware

Huawei honor 8-19

As is the case with many Chinese smartphones, the Honor 8 is unlocked and includes dual-SIM card support, meaning that you can use up to two different lines with this single phone. In the US, carrier support includes AT&T, T-Mobile, and their respective MVNOs. The phone also supports Band 12 LTE, so you’ll receive T-Mobile’s extended range coverage.

If you’re willing to give up one of the SIM card slots, you can expand the phone’s base 32 GB of storage via microSD card, up to 128 GB. This is always a great option to have, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

Huawei honor 8-16

The USB Type-C charging port is accompanied by the headphone jack on the left and a single speaker on the right. The speaker is decent; it gets the job done, but sounds hollow and distorted. I would say that it performs slightly below average overall.

The fingerprint reader on the back of the Honor 8 is quite good: it’s fast while still being accurate. It’s comparable to the one found on the Axon 7, but that’s before considering the unique functionality that Huawei has implemented.

Huawei honor 8-13

Since the reader also doubles as a tactile button, or what Huawei calls a “smart key,” you can program different shortcuts including flashlight, screenshot, or voice recording to tap, double tap, and hold. You can also have it open an app instead, if you find that useful. It’s a pretty nifty idea, and I’ve found my settings for double tap for flashlight and hold for Google Now to be quite handy.

Battery Life

Huawei provides three battery profiles out of the box: performance, smart, and ultra. While the default smart mode does seem to marginally improve battery life, I noticed that it prevented many of my apps from sending notifications. This made me miss a few important messages in Slack and a couple of Snapchats within the first few hours of using the phone, so I had to switch to the less power-conservative performance mode in order to continue with my review.

Honor 8 Screenshots-25
Honor 8 Screenshots-26
Honor 8 Screenshots-27
Honor 8 Screenshots-28
Honor 8 Screenshots-29
Honor 8 Screenshots-30
Honor 8 Screenshots-31
Honor 8 Screenshots-32
Honor 8 Screenshots-21
Honor 8 Screenshots-22
Honor 8 Screenshots-23
Honor 8 Screenshots-24

Heavy users may need to charge up more than once per day

In my testing, the 3000mAh battery delivered lackluster results. Battery life is long enough to get most light to moderate users through a full day of use, but heavy users may need to charge up more than once per day. While three and a half hours of screen on time isn’t terrible, it’s not nearly as much as what some competing options offer.

nexus 6p first 48 (7 of 36)Also check out: Best USB Type-C Cables16

Thankfully, the Honor 8 supports 9V/2A fast charging with the factory supplied charger. You can charge the phone from 0 to about 42% in 30 minutes, which is almost as good as competing options. I do wish that the phone supported fast charging with third party 9V/2A chargers, but Honor has informed us that they will be selling compatible chargers directly to US consumers in the future.

Camera

Huawei honor 8-18

The Honor 8 includes a 12 MP dual-camera configuration with an f/2.2 aperture and hybrid autofocus (laser assisted). One of the lens captures color, while the other is monochrome; Huawei states that this setup helps the phone capture better, crispier looking images.

It’s a great shooter overall

And for the most part, the Honor 8 takes great, contrasty images with a good amount of sharpness and excellent dynamic range. I was surprised at how well it handled balancing the highlights and shadows in many of the images I took.

Honor 8 camera samples:

It’s a great shooter overall, and you’ll likely be very pleased with the images it takes. It’s not going to outperform the Samsung Galaxy S7, but that’s okay considering the Honor 8’s price. The 8 MP front-facing camera is also good.

Low-light performance was surprisingly strong, unlike many other affordable smartphones. Images don’t turn out excellent, but they’re more acceptable than those taken by the Axon 7 and even the OnePlus 3.

One of the perks of having the dual camera setup is the wide aperture mode, which allows you to set an aperture from f/0.95 to f/16 when taking a photo. Once you take the image, you can go back and change the aperture or focus point. This worked pretty well in my testing overall, although the widest of apertures weren’t as convincing.

Huawei honor 8-17

Unfortunately, there’s no 4K video recording, and you’re limited to 1080P/60p. That’d be acceptable on its own given the phone’s price, but the video quality itself is poor as well with disappointing colors. You can see a sample clip in our video review, featured above.

The camera app is fairly nice, and offers some very useful manual controls. Unfortunately, they don’t rotate when switching to landscape mode, which is quite annoying. The myriad of camera modes can be overwhelming too, and many of them feel half-baked.

Software

Huawei honor 8-24

For software, the Honor 8 is running Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1 over Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Overall, the software is very different from stock Android: there’s no app drawer, the UI is iOS-like, and there are a great number of additions. Some users will enjoy this experience, but it may not be for everyone.

Some users will enjoy this experience, but it may not be for everyone

Some of Huawei’s additions are certainly appreciated, but a lot of them can come across as gimmicky. For example, the knuckle gestures are cool in theory, but don’t always work in practice. There’s also a good number of bloatware apps, which I quite frankly wasn’t expecting.

EMUI also has an entirely different scrolling mechanic than stock Android, which is smoother but slower. It looks pretty nice, but you have to wait for the inertia scrolling to completely stop in order to select something. This is incredibly frustrating in day-to-day use, as you’ll find yourself having to repeatedly tap on something until the phone finally responds.

It’s not all bad, however, as the lock screen view is refreshing, the timeline notifications are kind of cool, and the power management tools are quite useful. I just wish that Huawei would have approached software wholeheartedly and made more refinements instead of including a bunch of features that few people will actually use.

On a positive note, Honor has committed to updating the Honor 8 with new features every three months for the first year, and then providing security and bug fix updates for an additional year. With this phone, the question is not whether you will receive the Android 7.0 Nougat update, but rather, when it will arrive. It’s great to see this kind of software support, especially at this price.

There’s also the recently announced partnership with XDA-Developers that aims to create developer interest in the Honor 8. While it’s difficult to say just how many custom ROMs will be available for the phone in the future, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Gallery

Price

The Honor 8 is now available for pre-order from Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and HiHonor starting at $399.99 for the 32 GB storage option or $449.99 for the 64 GB storage option. There are several promotional offers available, including a $50 gift card, which can certainly sweeten the deal. The color options include blue, black, and white.

If you accidentally crack the Honor 8 within the first three months of owning it, Huawei will repair it for free. This is a great protection to have, although I wish it covered the phone for a bit longer.

Buy the Honor 8 now!

Conclusion

Huawei honor 8-20

Huawei has brought what many have wanted from an affordable flagship for a while now: a gorgeous design, a smaller size, and a great camera. In addition, the Honor 8’s excellent performance and IR blaster are not always common on an affordable smartphone.

While the Honor 8 is indeed a great value for the money, it is important to recognize that this is a very competitive price segment so you have many options to chose from. It would be wise to consider what you value most in a smartphone and base your final decision off of that.

  • Honor 8 hands on
  • Honor joins the ‘flagship killer’ fray with the Honor 8
  • Huawei announces super-affordable honor 8
  • Honor 5X review

We want to know: what are your thoughts on Honor’s affordable flagship? What do you value most in your smartphone? Let us know in the comment section below!

29
Aug

The Posh Volt LTE L540’s insane battery, dual SIM and $120 price tag make it the perfect travel phone (review)


“Good phones are getting cheap, and cheap phones are getting good.” YouTuber MKBHD has been known to repeat this in his videos and he’s generally right. Sure, we do have phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and the Apple iPhone 6S Plus (64GB) with price tags that can reach north of $800, but generally, good phones are getting cheaper and cheap phones are getting better and better every year.

Posh Mobile might not be a name you know right now, but there is a good chance you will soon. It has received some notoriety lately for having the largest LTE phone on the market (review coming soon!), but today we’re focusing on one of its best phones, the Volt LTE L540. It has impressive specs, a sub-$200 price tag, and a massive battery.

Specs

  • Display: 5.0″ 720p IPS LCD
  • Processor: Mediatek MT6735P Quad-core 1.0 GHz
  • Storage: 16GB (expandable 128GB)
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Camera: 8MP main, 5MP front
  • Battery: 4000mAh (embedded)
  • Software: Android 5.1
  • Connectivity: Dual-sim,
    GSM: 850/900/1800/1900
    4G HSDPA+: 850/1900/2100
    LTE: 2/3/4/7/17

Read More: Reference guide to US carrier bands and networks

Build

Build quality is one of the most popular areas for OEM’s to cut corners so it can control its costs. Posh has done a pretty good job of walking the line of using decent materials and cost savings. It definitely feels like a plastic phone, but I don’t hate it. I’m used to glass and metal phones at this point from my time spent with the OnePlus 3, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, and Samsung Galaxy Note 7 so the L540 is definitely a downgrade in terms of those phones, but it also costs half as much as the cheapest phone in that list, the OnePlus 3 ($119 vs. $400). Those phones are also very fragile, where the L540 isn’t.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 rear

The battery cover is a removable hard plastic that comes off easily and provides only a little bit of flex when removed from the phone. It’s decently strong and I think the biggest advantage of having a phone with a plastic backing is that you’re not going to break or dent it with due to a fall. I’ve dropped the L540 a few times and my daughter knocked it off an end table onto hardwood floors and it still looks like I just took it out of the box. When you remove the back you’re greeted by an embedded battery, two SIM card slots, and a micro-SD card slot. Posh passed on dual use SIM/micro SD card slot that has become pretty popular so you can insert all three cards at once.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 dual SIM card slots

The camera on the rear of the phone barely sticks out at all and has a small flash directly under it. The only other two features on the faux brushed metal back are the Posh logo and the deceivingly large speaker grill. It’s a very simple design without being too boring.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 camera

Posh chose a simple and angular design for the front of the device. The rectangular screen sits inside of pretty big bezels on the top and bottom and larger than we’d like bezels on the right and left. The chin on the bottom reminds us of an HTC device sans front face speakers. The top of the phone houses the standard speaker, sensor, and front-facing camera.

With the screen off you could be forgiven if you thought that the screen had zero bezels on either side, but once you turn the display on, the illusion is quickly broken. The bezels on the sides are among the biggest I’ve seen on a phone this size and absolutely scream “budget phone”.

SEE ALSO:   Stop paying for big brand overhead; Buy an unlocked phone online (Elephone)

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 front

The L540 feels solid and light in the hand. This is partially due to the fact that the smaller screen size makes the phone a little more compact, but also because it only weighs a touch under 6 ounces. This puts the phone right on par with flagships like the Galaxy Note 7, HTC 10 and budget phones like the ASUS Zenphone 2.

The L540 is by no means provides an offensive experience, but you definitely get what you pay for here.

Display

The display on the Posh Volt L540 is a 5″ 720p LCD IPS display. As with most budget phones, you’re getting LCD instead of AMOLED here. The blacks get decently dark without looking gray which some LCD panels can struggle with. Viewing angles are great with text still able to read at extreme angles and minimal color shifting.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 right

Where the display struggles is top end brightness and color accuracy. I normally keep my devices on auto-brightness during review periods but the aggressive dimming of the display can make it very hard to use. When taking it off auto-brightness you’re forced to jack up the brightness to at least 75% to get a decent experience. It’s rough to try and use it in direct sunlight since the of the low brightness ceiling. On the other hand, the brightness floor is sufficiently low with nighttime reading in bed a pleasing experience.

Colors, unfortunately, feel washed out on the display. This is very obviously not a current-generation display and may, in fact, be something off the shelf several years old. It reminds me a lot of early smartphone displays that you dealt with because there was simply nothing better on the market. That’s exactly what the display is here, just something you deal with. It, again like the build of the device, isn’t offensively bad, but it’s not a standout feature either.

Software

The L540 is running Android 5.1 Lollipop with a custom skin atop of it. If you’re someone who has used Android before, the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of an app drawer. I actually find this pretty puzzling because the software experience across Posh’s device lineup is not standard. Some of its devices feel like Stock Android, some feel heavily skinned. Some have an app drawer, some drop it. I hope at some point Posh can standardize the software across its lineup so customers have an idea of what to expect.

Screenshot_2016-08-29-06-02-07

Screenshot_2016-08-29-06-02-18

If you’re worried about bloatware, you can rest your head easy because there isn’t much installed on the L540. No, not much bloatware but not much period. It comes with only the basically Google mandated apps like the App Store, YouTube, and Maps and a few that Posh loaded onto it like FM radio, a music player, and a Sound Recorder.

Prominently displayed in the dock alongside the dialer, messenger, and browser is the “Posh Apps” application. The app allows you to earn tokens when you complete surveys, watch videos and install suggested applications that you can spend on app deals and accessories. You’re given 100 tokens right off the bat, but I was never able to do anything with them because the app won’t actually load beyond the tour and splash page. I don’t know if Posh is having issues with the service, it hasn’t begun operations or it’s already killed it, but for right now it’s just an icon taking up space on my phone screen.

SEE ALSO:   Xiaomi and Meizu gain first U.S. carrier sales via T-Mobile MNVO (UPDATED)

Performance

Posh Mobile seems to be able to push the quad-core 1.0GHz chip in the L540 about as hard as it can. It does fine with normal tasks like social media apps, texting, and most web browsing. You won’t have an enjoyable experience if you try to play any kind of graphics intensive games with it, though.

I generally stay away from benchmarks, especially on phones like this because I think it sets false expectations. This isn’t a phone that you’re going to swap out your Galaxy S6 or LG G4 for. If you have something like HTC Desire 816 from back in 2014, this would probably seem like an upgrade. You can easily get through the basic tasks with some occasional lag when scrolling through long lists or the graphics get a bit heavy.

Expect to stick with just one task when using the L540. I saw some pretty bad lag and dropped frames when I would run YouTube in the background listening to music and trying to do anything else.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 battery

Battery life is easily the standout feature of the L540. Due to the large battery and the low resolution of the display (720p), the battery can easily last two full days of use. When the processor pushes hard you can see a noticeable dip in battery life, but for standard use, a teenager or senior citizen looking for their first smartphone should see wonderful battery life.

Camera

The camera frankly reminds us of something straight out of 2013 or 2014. While it is possible to snap good pictures in optimal conditions, it is a bit of a mess in overly bright or low-light situations. You’ll see foggy pictures, blown out brights, crushed blacks, and soft focus. The camera is best suited for social media pictures and MMS only. Taking pictures with the intention of blowing them up or printing them is outside the capabilities of this camera.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540

Conclusion

The Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 definitely makes some compromises to keep the cost down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone- in fact, it’s a pretty good one. The L540 won’t be an upgrade to may of you who own flagships from the last two years, but there are a couple of groups of people I would recommend it for.

Posh Mobile Volt LTE L540 rear bottom

 

First being travelers. If you’re navigating around a city while on holiday or a work trip, the dual SIM capabilities and a huge battery will keep you in contact with your friends, family, and colleagues until you can get back to a charger.

The second group of people would be those seeking their first smartphone, such as kids and seniors. Again, the huge battery will come in handy for those who are on their phones a ton doing social media or might forget to charge their phones at night since they’re coming from flip phones that last multiple days.

I’m not in love with the build materials or the camera, but I’m also coming from flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. This phone isn’t for me. As a reviewer, though I can definitely see that the group of people who this phone is made for would absolutely love it.

The Volt LTE L540 isn’t a perfect phone, but it is a very good one for the price. You can pick it up on Amazon.

24
Aug

Galaxy S7 Active Review: #1 in almost every category


Exclusive phones suck. Period. More people need access to a phone like the Galaxy S7 Active, which is currently locked down to just AT&T users like myself. After using the Galaxy S7 Active for a couple weeks, one thing has become clear to me. This phone is the best Android phone… wait, the best phone in general in four out of the five categories I am judging it on.

Build

This phone isn’t aiming to be in the hands of today’s designers or fashion experts, so don’t expect this device to blow you away with how good it looks. Grab a Galaxy S7 Edge if you’re going for a stunner. What Samsung sought out to do with this phone is build a tank of a device that will withstand anything. And they succeeded.

build1

build2

I’ve left this phone in the sink with the water running over it while I fixed myself a drink, I’ve dropped it out my car window going about 25 mph, and I even got bored and buried the thing under half a foot of dirt and left it there for a little while. All of these actions left the phone unscathed and ready for more.

The downside is this is a pretty ugly phone to say the least. The phone is made of rugged plastic that makes no attempt to match the sleek style of the regular Galaxy S7. The navigation buttons stick out too much, and remind me of a messaging phone before smartphones got popular. This phone was built for the outdoors, not for getting compliments.

I can’t tell you the extent of how the glass will hold up after so many drops (however there are videos out there showing some amazing results), but after dropping it out of a moving car window onto pavement with not even a scratch on the glass… I think you’ll come to trust this phone’s durability. Major props to Samsung for creating a phone like this, it easily competes with Motorola’s Droid Turbo 2 and the Moto Z Force.

Display

There’s not much to be said here that hasn’t already been said by Nick Schiwy in his Galaxy S7 review. Samsung continues to make the best smartphone displays in the world, and the S7 Active is no exception. We’re seeing the same panel put on the regular Galaxy S7, which is a 1440×2560 Super-AMOLED display, with an added layer of glass for durability. This added layer does make the regular S7 slightly more attractive, as the Active has slightly worse viewing angles when you tilt the phone to its side. The screen still amazes me with how bright it gets outside and how impressive games and movies look on it, as the AMOLED panel on this trumps all other AMOLED screens on the market because of Samsung providing its latest screen technology exclusively to its own premium phones.

active display

Camera

The S7 Active shares the same incredible camera that the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have, which have been continuously praised as the best smartphone cameras in the world. I used this phone around the same time I was testing the OnePlus 3 and Moto Z Force, and neither of these two truly compare with the S7 Active’s camera.

camera screen

I don’t really like taking videos on smartphones because the stabilization generally looks bad, but the S7 phones are on a whole new level. While taking 1080p 60 FPS video, I truly realized why so many people love Samsung cameras. The fluidity of 60 frames per second on top of Samsung’s stabilizing mode (which can be toggled, but I don’t see why you would turn it off) creates a video-recording experience I’ve never used before. This phone creates the perfect opportunity to hike, mountain climb or even swim while taking some of the best photos possible on a phone.

Performance

This is the section where I’ll calm down a bit and not give Samsung every award. With the help of AT&T, the S7 Active comes with apps I’ll never use that I’m unable to uninstall. The phone gave me suggestions on what AT&T services I should use like connecting to DirectTV. I was not a fan…

However, I recommend you check out our guides to installing a new launcher to avoid all of AT&T’s services and bloatware if you prefer. These launchers allow you customize your homescreen and hide apps you never want to see again.

Anyway, only after using the OnePlus 3 did I notice a couple jitters when using the S7 Active, and it just wasn’t the same smoothness I was use to, nor the memory management. This phone comes with 4GB of RAM, but when multitasking it feels identical if not slower to switch between apps than my Idol 4S, which only has 3GB of RAM. This is frustrating because memory management has been a problem for Samsung for a long time. I will say, coming from using the OnePlus 3 to the S7 Active is vastly different from someone upgrading to this phone from a device a year or two old. All-in-all, you’re going to be satisfied with the performance on the S7 Active.

Battery

If you’re on AT&T, and you’re sick of your phone not lasting you half-way through the day, you are going to be dumbstruck with how good battery life is on this phone. To give you an idea, the Galaxy S7 Edge has a 5.5 inch screen with a 3,600 mAh battery. More screen size means more power consumption. The Edge has incredible battery life, giving most users around 5 hours of on screen time. The Galaxy S7 Active has a 5.1 inch screen – with a 4,000 mAh battery. This is a huge battery even for phones with much bigger screens. I’ve been consistently getting around seven hours of screen on time, which is ludicrous for me.

Easily, I’ve been making it into the evening of the second day of usage on a single charge with around 8-12% battery left, with heavy usage (not even you can kill my phone this time, Snapchat). There’s not much else to say here folks. Take this thing camping for a night or two, and you might find yourself not needing an extra battery pack at all.

Conclusion

Like I said in the introduction, whether you’re looking for a phone with the best display, best camera, best durability, or best battery life, The S7 Active covers all those areas in one rugged package. Performance isn’t the best out of all the offerings, but with the Snapdragon 820 chip it’s still extremely close to every other high-end Android phone.

Of course, this phone isn’t for everybody (not that a lot of people have a choice, AT&T…) because it’s not the prettiest phone out there and some people may prefer a bigger screen or less ugly navigation buttons at the bottom of the phone, but if looks aren’t an issues for you, you literally cannot go wrong choosing this phone over any other at the AT&T store.

17
Aug

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review


Here we are – Samsung went ahead and skipped a whole number to bring out their newest Note device. Though the main reason makes a lot of sense – Samsung wanted unification of their Galaxy line – the very notion of skipping a whole version is an interesting one. Does the phone actually innovate or jump forward to justify going from 5 to 7?

Or, as we have started to see in the Galaxy over the last couple years, are we just subject to the decisions of big Samsung and are getting a small step forward in an otherwise established line of smartphones? If history is privy to repetition, is it entirely possible that the next in the Note line simply repeats the same while coating it in what they hope looks different? All of these questions are pondered in this, our full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Buy the Galaxy Note 7 now!

Design

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (1 of 23)

It feels like a long time since we were introduced to Samsung’s unibody dual glass design on the Galaxy S6, a move that plenty of us thought was a welcome far cry from the plastic phones of the past. Since then, Samsung has tried to incorporate new design elements into what their Galaxy phones were clearly going to look like moving forward. This included the Edge, originally brought to the forefront in the Galaxy Note Edge – perhaps a phone that hasn’t been given the credit it deserves, with the Edge now being a Galaxy mainstay. And there’s no better place to see that than in the Galaxy Note 7.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (7 of 23)

So, at its core, there are basically no surprises with the way the Note 7 looks – a dual glass design with tactile home button and single camera optics on the rear next to a heart rate sensor. Then there is the Iris Scanner, a dedicated secondary camera module and LED light that accompany the existing front facing camera and notification light. A USB-C charging port is one of the more obvious changes, centered between the speaker, the headphone jack – that the Galaxy is thankfully still holding on to – and the Note-defining S-Pen.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (5 of 23)

The S-Pen doesn’t go backwards into the slot anymore, thankfully – so no Pengate this year – and it manages to do that with a clicky-top that is just wider than the rest of the pen and the slot that it slides into. All that aside, the S Pen and its singular button feel exactly the same as last year despite some subtle changes – a thinner tip means better precision on the highly pressure sensitive screen and the pen itself is as long as a standard ballpen. None of this means an even slightly different experience physically using the Note 7’s little friend.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (3 of 23)

Subtle is the word to use for the refinements to the phone’s overall design, but they actually work to change the handling experience of Samsung’s famously large smartphone. The 5.7 inch screen is now curved – and that is the deal, as there will be no flat version of the Note nor any other types to accommodate the Edge – but a curve is actually found on the backing, too, much like the previous Note 5. The marriage of these two curves was summarized in one main word that Samsung was keen to make very clear in the phone’s introduction:

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (2 of 23)

Symmetry. It is a design term that is not always used in the world of smartphones and, indeed, is often relegated to art and architecture. But designers of the Note 7 made it a big focus this year, to wonderful effect. The symmetry is not lost on the eyes, but it does have to somewhat be searched for, because the Note 7 retains the overall design DNA of the Galaxy S7 Edge. But it’s when one grabs and handles the phone that the symmetry becomes one of the most welcome additions to what used to be a functional, powerful, but ultimately somewhat tone-deaf Samsung design history.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (21 of 23)

Of course, the final change to the design here is IP certification. Now, the Galaxy Note 7 can be submerged in water for some time and still tick; or write, rather, because it is possible to use the S Pen underwater. Maybe users won’t be writing or drawing in the pool or ocean, but for the vast majority of people, at least this phone won’t break due to a splash.

What Samsung has managed to do with the Note 7 is something users like myself probably didn’t know they wanted – a larger phone experience that feels accessible. Even though the Note 7 might not win any medals for one handed usage, it is definitely one of the most comfortable big screen experiences that we have ever had the pleasure of using.

Display

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (6 of 20)

Samsung hasn’t really leapt forward in much of the Note 7, and that starts with the display – a Quad-HD resolution Super AMOLED display that pumps out some of the most saturated colors in smartphones. Granted, this can be changed in the settings among a couple AMOLED modes, a bland (in comparison) Basic mode, and the default Adaptive mode that tries to change it up according to what is being displayed.

Speaking of color, a Blue Light Filter is easily accessible in the notification shade and can be set on a schedule so that it only triggers when it matters – after the sun goes down. Users might not be all that in tune with the benefits of a Blue Light Filter, so allow me to explain it plainly – the harsh blue light of electronic displays, especially late at night, make it harder to get more sleep both in quantity and quality. As one of our resident AA health-nuts, I make plenty use of this feature.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (7 of 20)

It is important to note that the resolution can also be changed in the name of battery savings. In the Device Maintenance area of the settings, the resolution of this 5.7 inch display can actually be made as low as 720p. It’s easy to see the difference between Quad HD and regular HD, which means we don’t think users will change resolutions often unless power saving is highly in demand.

A big deal from the Galaxy S7 line now makes it over to the Note, and that is the Always On Display. Though we found it nice to have the time or a calendar always at the ready on the Galaxy S phones, Samsung has brought it a step further by making it a little more customizable.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (1 of 20)

In the settings, the AOD can be changed to have a number of different clocks, a few different calendars, and a small number of canned images. A favorite of these options is the ability to put in a personalized block of text. The AOD lists the different notification icons that are sitting in the notification shade, so you can get a quick glance at what is waiting for you under the lock screen.

Considering the Note now employs the curved display, the Edge screen elements also move over from the S7 Edge – but there isn’t really anything new in the Edge UX. What is worthy of note is that the angle and curve of the display isn’t very egregious, so accidental presses from user palms shouldn’t be that much of nuisance. As a matter of fact, we found touches to the very edges of the curve harder to trigger – thankfully, this is pretty much never an issue and doesn’t impede in any typical tasks users may do. It is far more common to slide from the edge to the middle of the display, like with the Edge UX.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (14 of 23)

Though subtle, another aspect of the curved screens comes to the Note – Material Design elements that slide from either side of the interface seem to curve into view, which is a rather lovely effect when noticed. A related but somewhat negative side effect of this is a bit of difficulty reading text that bleeds all the way to the actual curves of the display.

Of course, the above aspects are somewhat nitpicky to what is otherwise an expectedly wonderful viewing experience. Text is sharp across the board, video playback is always nice on a larger display, and playing games like MOBIUS Final Fantasy proved to be really fun with such a vivid screen. Though there are a few additions made to the overall experience, they do well to bolster what was already considered a great experience in the Note line. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might be the axiom to employ here, but it might be more practical to just say there are little to no complaints here.

Performance

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (9 of 23)

The same sentiment can just barely be used with the processing power and overall performance experience, too. Users familiar with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge know what to expect here – the Snapdragon 820 with the Adreno 530 and 4GB of RAM. It is worthy of note that the Exynos 8890 edition of the phone will also be produced but it won’t be the version made readily available to users in the West.

It’s not hard to merit the Snapdragon 820, one of the most abundantly available SoC packages found today, because it has proven itself as a reliable and good performing processor. The same can be said for the Adreno 530, which has been able to render and play MOBIUS Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy IX with the best of them.

Where we find a little bit of a fleeting desire is in the amount of RAM installed. 4GB of RAM will not make the majority of users feel like they are lacking, but some users have already lamented that the Galaxy simply does not have good RAM management.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (15 of 23)

Even if that were not the case, we’re dealing with one of the most feature-heavy devices on the market, the Note – this is a phone that takes on all of the already existing demands of smartphone users and adds a myriad of capabilities in the form of the S Pen and its software. While we don’t think that there is a huge hurting for higher RAM capacities like the nice 6GB found in the OnePlus 3, we also can’t help but think that perhaps an amount like that could have been the inch that feels like a mile.

We didn’t have these feelings often, as slowdowns were still rather far and few between. Still, that little bit of forward thinking could have made a huge difference. For the vast majority of the time, the Note 7 will perform just as well as any other Snapdragon 820 powered device, even with the laundry list of features that Samsung puts into their software – which we will explore soon.

Hardware

samsung galaxy note 7 unboxing aa (20 of 27)

Despite the lack of higher RAM capacities, which would have been a great move supporting power users, Samsung did well to close the gaps in storage – 64GB is the built-in storage option, with no higher or lower options to be made available. Unification of the line, indeed. And even then, the ability to put in a microSD card is another boon to Samsung, who have just released a 256GB microSD card that we gladly popped into the phone for that added peace of mind.

samsung galaxy note 7 unboxing aa (27 of 27)

Calls on the Note 7 all sound fine, with no real frills or thrills, even with Wi-Fi calling getting some front exposure depending on what carrier you are on – mine was on T-Mobile. Nonetheless, both ends had no issues with the call quality and there were no drops. The on-board speaker, unfortunately, doesn’t evoke the same sentiment – it is simply not loud compared to even other bottom mounted speakers, much less any front facing or dual stereo speakers we’ve seen on plenty of other phones. Simply put, it is continually one of the weakest points of the Galaxy line.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (10 of 20)

Plug some headphones into the headphone jack, and breathe a sigh of relief – if the headphone jack is to go away in the near future for Samsung, you might as well cherish it right now. Thankfully, the experience is above average, even if not by leaps and bounds. There is no dedicated DAC working in especially this Snapdragon 820 edition of the phone, nor is there an AMP to really drive a good pair of cans like my Audio Technica M50x headphones. That said, Samsung does put its best foot forward by providing plenty opportunity to tweak what they were given to work with.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (9 of 20)

Some users might remember SoundAlive from a few other Samsung devices, and it returns in the Note 7 to provide sliders and dials to cater the sound coming out of that headphone jack. At its simpler level, emphasizing bass or treble and instrumentals or vocals can get the sound to lean more in the direction one wants, but for even more fine tuned control, the Note 7 can analyze and enhance plugged in headphones through a rather long process of beeps and user input.

By figuring out the headphones by way of the listener’s ability to hear said beeps, the EQ will adjust to bring out the best possible sound. Of course, this means little if the phone cannot drive headphones with the power audiophiles want, but I was plenty happy with what resulted. It might not be HTC 10 levels of audio, but it is certainly in the right direction.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (15 of 20)

Battery Life

Battery life was a key focus in the Note 7, a phone that comes at moment in time when users are simply going to deal with what having bigger batteries entails. Thankfully for the Note 7, 3500mAh is the capacity standard and it is what users get in a pretty slender and sleek body. Anyone looking for more than this might have to contend with the brick of a phone that results, but at least with 3500mAh there is plenty to work with.

Thankfully, battery saving options are abundant, with a lot of customizable options to get the most out of the phone. This is all found in the Device Maintenance area of the settings, where a number of tweaks can be made to the user experience – clearing out some storage, some RAM, and changing some settings to get better battery life.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (14 of 20)

These options include not only the toning down of the processor power, but also the lowering of resolution in the screen. Yes, you can make the Quad HD capable display output only HD Android. All of these options can bring up the amount of hours one has left in the battery – according to Samsung – and it always seems to be a little generous, as always.

But our time with the Note 7 has been properly mixed, and by that I mean depending on one’s usage and circumstances, the battery can certainly go the distance. A short test from our own Android Authority battery testing app used a mixture of gameplay, web browsing, and video playback while on Wi-Fi, and predicted that the screen on time can be more than 6 hours.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (2 of 20)

In my own testing, I decided to try and recreate this with my own real life usage, I binged YouTube on my home Wi-Fi network for a very large portion of the day (for science!) and played some Final Fantasy before bed. Sure enough, the Note 7 was able to take the hour long episodes of the Game Grumps with no problems as it blasted past 4 hours, then 5 hours, and then conked out at around 6 hours and 15 minutes.

When circumstances change, however, the results should, as well. A very heavy usage day out and about on mobile networks and doing a lot of Google Maps Navigation brought the battery down to single digits in about 9 hours, with a screen on time of just under 3 and a half. Thankfully, a normal day shouldn’t be so hard on the Note that it only works in the extremes. Normal days with this phone were between the 4 and 5 hour marks in screen on time while easily making it to bedtime without any issues.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (13 of 23)

But we’re also in a time when fast charging is not just a great feature to have, but almost a full-on requirement of a smartphone. And in Samsung’s case, the USB Type C port brings its brand of fast charging that, they claim, can get the Note 7 charged up in the same time that the Galaxy S7 and its smaller battery took.

That has been largely true in our testing, as the Note 7 got to half battery in about half an hour – if you’re really hurting for juice, it’s little effort to plug in the phone or put it on a wireless charging mat (fast wireless charging is a thing, but when wired fast charging is so good, the convenience of a pad or mat is about all it can boast) in order to get the power you need. And even then, the included adapter will make microUSB cords play nicely with the Note 7 – just remember to use the charging brick included with the phone or there will be diminishing returns to the fast charging claims.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (23 of 23)

All of this goodness is now in a body that is IP certified – not only will dust never get into the device, but the Note 7 will keep on going even if it gets wet. This is a wonderful feature for everyone’s inner klutz, as a bit more peace of mind never hurt anyone. And though Samsung did try to really push the fact that this phone can write notes underwater – after all, the S Pen is also IP certified – we would just be happy with a phone that still works even in the rain or after picking it out of a spill.

samsung galaxy note 7 unboxing aa (25 of 27)

Iris Scanner

Finally, we come to the Iris Scanner. This is where we’ll talk about Samsung’s new foray into biometric security and it will do nicely as a segue into the Camera talk. After all, this is a new dedicated infrared camera that will scan one’s Iris – the composition of one’s eyes – as a way to unlock the device or other parts of the phone. It takes a little bit of setup, but not much – remove glasses and stare into the Scanner, keeping one’s eyes in the designated areas. After it gets a snapshot of one’s eyes, it’s all set. Having contacts or glasses on, Samsung disclaims after setup, can impede the Scanner’s ability to read Irises, so users have to be wary.

samsung galaxy note 7 unboxing aa (24 of 27)

Honestly, after you get the hang of it, the Iris Scanner is surprisingly easy and fast to use. It is still debatable if this is actually faster than fingerprint readers, but the novelty will definitely stick around for a while. To unlock the phone with an iris, one has to wake the device and swipe to start the Scanner. Once we knew exactly where to look and got the muscle memory down to about how far the phone needs to be, this method of unlocking the phone was a piece of cake. All we had to do was already be looking at that part of the phone and when the wake and swipe commenced, the viewfinder didn’t even need to appear – the lock screen would just disappear in an instant.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (11 of 23)

I just wanted to be sure my eyes were wide open for the Scanner.

If you do need some guidance as to where your eyes need to go, there are a few different masks that can make the job easier – or cuter, if you actually pick the cat or dog face ones. Still, the method and the requirements are the same. It can lead to some interesting reactions, but the best one that I’ve gotten was a friend telling me it looked like I hated my phone. When I asked why, she told me that I kept giving it the evil eye every time I held it up to my face. I just wanted to be sure my eyes were wide open for the Scanner.

Camera

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (22 of 23)

A whole other reason to look at that area above the display is when taking a selfie, and in the camera department, Samsung seems to be confident enough in what they’ve achieved with the Galaxy S7 that the same package makes an encore in the Note 7. Once again, unification of the line takes on a tangible quality.

So, the 12 megapixel f/1.7 dual-pixel shooter of the Note 7 is the same as before – that might not be a very bad thing, honestly, as the S7 was one of the top performing cameras of the year. That large, dual-pixel technology is supposed to help with fast autofocus and better low light performance, which we agreed did the job fairly well in the S7 . And finally, the front facing camera is 5MP still, at f/1.7 and wide angle.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (6 of 23)

If there are any real improvements in the Note 7, it’s in the camera app, still easily launched via a double tap of the home button. Any users that found the app convoluted and full of too many options might not change their tune, still – but at the very least, all of those elements and settings are easily available using one hand.

This is because key functions have been put into swipe actions on the viewfinder – swipe up or down to change which camera you’re using, and swipe left to access the different filters or right to bring up the many modes. The only viewfinder elements that are still out of reach for one hand are the deeper settings which probably should already be setup (to 4k video recording and Quad HD for the front facing camera, for example) and HDR (which could be on Auto already, anyway).

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (12 of 20)

Anyone familiar with the Galaxy S7 and its top-notch camera quality will know what to expect from the Note 7. It is still capable of some of the better batches of photos in good lighting, providing good saturation and good colors bordering on almost oversaturated. For an even bigger punch in colors, HDR does a good job of bringing up the shadows in situations where it really calls for it – but don’t expect HDR to spruce up every single photo you take.

Details are captured quite well, with only some softness showing up when zooming into these photos – small text is still legible in some of these photos that have it.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (11 of 20)

Self portraits are still not the super high quality that some might be expecting, especially in indoor conditions where lighting is less than the power of the sun. We will give all the credit in the world to the f/1.7 lens for doing what it can, but lower light will still hinder the quality of a selfie.

The same can somewhat be said for the main camera in low light, as its optical image stabilization, f/1.7 aperture lens, and large pixel construction all work together to bring passable dark photos. As we generally find the case to be in low light, the color temperature tends to get quite warm – and a steady hand can be required from time to time as shutter speeds have to get much slower to expose darker scenes. This didn’t happen to often, though, as we were happy with quite a few photos we got in dark, late night restaurant scenes – the foodies will still be proud with this camera package.

I think that this year has been a great one for videographers, as every flagship has had a big feature to boast for their video cameras – the S7 didn’t have a wide angle lens like the LG G5 or the OIS in the front facing camera like the HTC 10, but it was the only camera to record front facing video at 2K resolution. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it made the Galaxy S7 one of the better choices for vloggers like myself.

Galaxy Note 7 Camera Samples

With more resolution, there was quite literally a little more room to work with in terms of editing and quality. That same feature comes on the Note 7 – and coupled with the high onboard storage and the potential 256GB microSD card storage added on top, the Note 7 can be a powerful tool for videographers. (Until we get whatever LG has cooking with their manual video controls in the next V series phone, of course – that’s a comparison we’re excited to do.)

In the end, the cameras of the Note 7 prove as useful as ever, even if we’ve seen them before. But like much of this phone seems to be to Samsung, it’s a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of device. Easier handling of the camera app is nice to have, but ultimately it is the same experience as the Galaxy S generation we got this year – and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Software and the S Pen

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (7 of 23)

The software experience for a Note device always centers around the S Pen – that is definitely the case in the Note 7, but there have been some refinements to Samsung’s version of Android. Overall, the user interface has been given some unified colors in order to make everything feel more coherent. Lighter colors are abound, with only the important bits and buttons providing the splashes of color. The notification shade and the settings page are the best places to see this; and even then, the settings page has been simplified so that things are easier to navigate.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (8 of 23)

Sections of the settings page are consolidated in categories that include some main examples of what users might expect to find after going deeper, and this hopefully will make the usually daunting Samsung UI easier to navigate. Indeed, Samsung wants to guide the users more than ever without the pesky dialog boxes that used to appear out of nowhere and incessantly, which was more annoying than helpful in the past. Instead, there are little texts for just about every setting and there are arrows in the notification shade showing that pressing the text of an option will provide a little more information.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (13 of 20)

Of course, there are still all of the main tropes of the Samsung interface, including the rather cartoonish and rounded icons and folders, but the round backgrounds for non-Samsung apps can be removed. Briefing is still the news aggregator found to the left of the homescreens, but that can also be disabled. And all of this can be themed through the Themes area of the settings, which provides quite a few different options for changing the look of the interface without tampering with function.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (8 of 20)

Which brings us to the extras – the flourishes, if you will, of Samsung’s software design. Given that this is a curved display phone, the Edge UX makes an appearance and is largely the same as the one found on the Galaxy S7 Edge. Sliding from either the left or right side will bring up the Edges, a number of different panels that are able to house either contacts for quick dialing, icons for quick launching, or tickers for various forms of information like CNN News or a compass. If you find yourself actually using the Edges for their convenience, then these are welcome additions to an already fully functional Android launcher experience – if not, they are neatly out of the way and don’t really get triggered accidentally.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (20 of 20)

The other addition focuses on security – the Secure Folder. Used as a sort of triage area for apps and accounts, the Secure Folder can best be described as a clean slate area. Files, apps, and content put into it are locked under any of the same security measures that are used to unlock the device (yes, including Iris). It is basically like putting a second copy of an app on your phone – for example, when putting Instagram in the Secure Folder, opening it brought up the initial login page, so that I could feasibly put in a personal or work account there depending on what configuration I wanted. It’s a power little folder that can actually be hidden for even more security.

Various other features return from previous Galaxy devices like the MultiWindow and Pop Up View for multitasking, and the gesture for One-Handed Operation. Digging through the settings shows all of these different features that don’t appear in the annoying dialog boxes to throw themselves in your face – so, users are expected to dig and find these features to hopefully use them on the regular.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (19 of 23)

But, of course, the crux of the Note 7 is the S Pen – and there is a mixture of streamlining and adding to the formula to make this iteration probably the most practical one yet. Hovering the pen tip over the screen can still provide previews into various parts of the UI and selecting multiple items is still simple with the mouse-like nature of the S Pen and its button.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (16 of 23)

Removing the S Pen (again, can’t be put in backwards anymore) while the screen is on will bring up the Air Command menu, which has a few features that return from the Note 5 and the main additions now introduced. While these shortcuts can be edited to open up pretty much any application, the main ones for the S Pen still include a straight note creation, Smart Select for some more creative captures, and Screen Write for capturing what the screen is currently showing (or scrolling, if one is currently on a scrollable page) for writing and editing and sharing.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (18 of 23)

Smart Select got one of the bigger and probably funner additions, Animation select. A frame of any size the user chooses appears and can be put over any part of the screen to record a 15 second GIF, making GIF creation just about as easy as GIF searching. Or, if you ever have that GIF you can never find, now you have the method to save it.

The Smart Select Animation can quite literally capture anything, like video content from Instagram or YouTube for easy sharing in only the easy way the S Pen does it – just hit share and it goes straight to the place of your choice. In the age of the emoji and GIF keyboards, this might be one of the trendier additions Samsung has ever put into their phones, and after a few GIF shares, we’re liking it.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (17 of 23)

The other additions to the S Pen software family are not quite as deep, but they are useful in their own rights. Magnify provides a small square to magnify parts of the screen up to 300%, which can be useful for those times when users do need to get a closer look at something.

Glance is an interesting one that shrinks any app to a small square snapped to corners of the screen – hovering the S Pen over the square makes it large again for easy checking or for continued regular usage. It might be a nice way to tuck an app away for quick glances at any changes that may have happened on it, but the use cases still don’t feel very vast.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (18 of 20)

And finally there is Translate, perhaps the feature that we really want to see evolve. Translate uses the S Pen hover to quickly search for singular words’ translation in Google Translate – there are a myriad of languages available to go to and from, which makes this easy translation method already pretty robust. Though would like to see full sentences and phrase become a part of Translate, we applaud Samsung for included it in this new version of the Note.

samsung galaxy note 7 aa autom3otices ryan vergara (12 of 23)

The final addition to the S Pen adds upon the Screen Off Memo, which was a feature well-liked from the Note 5. Removing the S Pen while the screen is off brings up a black screen where one can quickly jot down a scribble. Returning the S Pen to its slot puts the memo into the Notes app, just like any other note. However, now the memo can be pinned to the Screen Off Memo so that it is always within view. This can be useful for task lists or reminders you don’t need to be around for more than a short amount of time.

All of these notes are now put into one singular Notes application, which consolidates all of the different methods and abilities the S Pen used to have splashed across the UI – Action Memo and S Note, for example. By putting everything under one roof, the Notes application is now one of the most robust apps for notation and will eventually be made available for even the Galaxy S devices.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (19 of 20)

While the small but noticeable changes to the Android experience on the Note 7 are already welcome, it seems that this year Samsung really wants users to start pulling the S Pen out more. Why else include a GIF creator, if not to make it so that this year S Pen usage hopefully shoots up? After all, plenty of users report that they never use the S Pen or its myriad of features and instead just look at the Note as a standalone device with a lot of power. Will these features make that change? That remains to be seen, but there seems to be a lot of thought put into the S Pen this year and the effort is not lost on us here at Android Authority.

Specifications

Display 5.7-inch Dual-edge Super AMOLED display
2560 x 1440 resolution
518ppi
Processor Quad-core 64-bit (2.15GHz Dual + 1.6GHz Dual) Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 or
Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8890
RAM 4GB, LPDDR4
Storage 64GB
MicroSD Yes, up to 256GB
Cameras Rear: Dual Pixel 12MP sensor with OIS, f/1.7 aperture
Front: 5MP sensor with f/1.7 aperture
Battery 3,500mAh
Fast charging
WPC and PMA wireless charging
Water resistance IP68 rating
Connectivity WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
MU-MIMO(2×2) 620Mbps
Bluetooth v 4.2 LE
ANT+
USB Type-C
NFC
Location (GPS, Glonass, Beidou)
Sensors Barometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, HR
Sensor, Iris Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Colors Silver, Gold Platinum, Blue Coral, Black Onyx
Dimensions and weight 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9mm
169g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

And, indeed, that effort permeates throughout the phone, where a number of different aspects have been either refined or straight up upgraded. The onboard storage and microSD card slots really speak to power users while the design will make this phone more accessible for many users who are even the slightest bit apprehensive toward larger displays. Even then, the display experience is growing to be more than just a conduit for showing off Android interfaces, and the S Pen is probably the most useful than it has ever been.

samsung galaxy note 7 review aa (4 of 20)

But users who are familiar with Samsung’s pedigree might scoff at these changes, knowing that plenty of things have remained the same from before – indeed, if you have a Galaxy S7 Edge, you are basically adding in the S Pen as the justification to pay so much for a new phone.

So, all of this comes at a price – not just a monetary price, which we will get to in a second – a learning curve that is different for every user. While the larger Note device will work really well for just about anyone, those who want to get a little more out of their phones have a lot of things to discover and learn deeper in the most feature packed phone Samsung has ever put out.

samsung galaxy note 7 unboxing aa (15 of 27)

Just think about the different things you can do with this phone – GIF creation, MultiWindow, Pop Up View, One Handed Operation, Screen Off Memo, Edge UX, Always On Display customization, Theming, and SoundAlert, just to name a few. Each and every one of these features requires some familiarity, not to mention actually finding them in the settings menus or by chance. To get the most out of this device, users will have to do their homework – and we can’t say that will be a good or bad thing, as that answer might be different for everyone.

Bar none, the Galaxy Note 7 is the best big screen smartphone Samsung has ever made

Perhaps for one of the few times in their tenure, Samsung has made a phone that is trying its darnedest to justify its very high price point. Currently, on the Samsung website, the phone is available for a total $849.99 – a very steep price for a phone that simultaneously feels fresh yet undeniably familiar. With all that being said – bar none, the Galaxy Note 7 is the best big screen smartphone Samsung has ever made.

The images in this review were captured by @autom3otives

Buy the Galaxy Note 7 now!

12
Aug

BlackBerry DTEK50 review


BlackBerry launched their first Android smartphone ever last year, and while there were a lot of people who were eagerly awaiting its launch, the Priv fell short of expectations. Granted, there were some good things going for it, but a lackluster camera and premium pricing meant that their first effort wasn’t exactly a smash hit.

  • BlackBerry PRIV review
  • BlackBerry DTEK50 hands on

Now, BlackBerry is back with their second attempt, and what BlackBerry is touting as the most secure smartphone in the world. What else does this device have to offer, and is security enough of a selling point to make this phone worth buying? We find out, in this in-depth BlackBerry DTEK50 review!

Buy the BlackBerry DTEK50 now

Design

When looking at the BlackBerry DTEK50, you will find that this device appears to be eerily similar to another phone that we’ve seen before, but not to worry, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The design of the DTEK50 is actually based on the same TCL reference design that Alacatel used with the Ido 4, making them pretty much identical.

Everything from the curves at the top and bottom, the rounded corners, flat sides, and the dual front-facing and rear-facing speaker setup is found with the DTEK50, and the only distinguishable design element that separates this from the Idol 4 is on the back. Instead of a glass backing that is available with the latter, the DTEK50 features a textured material with a silicone-like feel.

Blackberry DTEK50 -13

This difference actually works in favor of the BlackBerry smartphone, with it not attracting fingerprints, and allowing for a lot of grip. The general shape of the DTEK50 is reminiscent of the Nexus 4, especially when looking at it from the front, so I’m definitely a fan of the design. It’s simple, clean, and easy to use with one hand, thanks to the thin side bezels and small top and bottom chin.

Blackberry DTEK50 -7

Taking a look around the device, the SIM and microSD card slot is on the right side, and the headphone jack and microUSB port are at the top and bottom respectively. The volume rocker is also on the right, and below it is a large circular button that you would expect is the power button. Instead, it is what BlackBerry is calling the “convenience key.” This is a completely programmable button that can be used for a variety of functions, like composing a text, controlling the LED flash, toggling Wi-Fi, or opening any app.

Blackberry DTEK50 -9

The power button is located on the upper left side of the phone, and that is actually my biggest gripe with the design of the DTEK50. Unless you use the phone with your left hand, it can be quite awkward and difficult to reach the power button, and will certainly take some getting used to. Thankfully, the phone does come with a double tap to wake and sleep feature, and even though it may not work as well, and can be quite slow at times, it’s still better than having to reach for the power button all the time. The convenience key can be used to lock the device, but unfortunately cannot wake it.

Display

Blackberry DTEK50 -25

The BlackBerry DTEK50 comes with a 5.2-inch IPS LCD display, with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 424 ppi. It’s not a display that is going to amaze, but you certainly won’t have any complaints either. It gets bright enough to see outdoors, has decent viewing angles, and offers a good amount of color and contrast, without being oversaturated. 1080p is more than enough at this display size, and reading text, watching videos, and playing games are all enjoyable on this screen.

Performance

Blackberry DTEK50 -15

Under the hood, the DTEK50 comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. This processing package is pretty standard fare when it comes to mid-range smartphones in 2016, but the performance is a little bit of a mixed bag. With normal, everyday use, the smartphone works perfectly well.

The touch responsiveness is good, and opening, closing, and switching between apps doesn’t result in any problems, even if there is an occasional stutter here and there. While gaming, however, is where you will notice a lot of hiccups. Games are very playable for the most part, but load times can be pretty long, and there tends to be a lot of choppiness and lag when playing a game as basic as Pokemon Go.

Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-8
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-7
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-9

This issue is even more pronounced if there are a lot of graphical elements on the screen at the same time. Games like CSR Racing 2 have to render graphics at a much lower resolution, and also limit some in-game functionality in order to run smoothly, which is a little disappointing. If you’re big into mobile gaming, the DTEK50 won’t make the cut, but for everything else, this phone will certainly get the job done.

Hardware

Blackberry DTEK50 -10

You only get 16 GB of on-board storage with the DTEK50, but the device does offer expandable storage via microSD card up to 256 GB, so if you are looking to download a lot of apps and games, you will definitely need to pick up a microSD card.

One of the best aspects of the DTEK50, as is also the case with the Idol 4, is the speaker setup of the device. You get dual front-facing speakers as well as dual rear-facing speakers, and the sound quality is pretty good. They get plenty loud, and the audio doesn’t sound tinny, or become distorted at the highest volumes. Since the speakers are also mirrored on the back, and you can put the phone face up or down without any deterioration in sound quality. The only issue with these speakers is that because of the tiny machined holes, they are very prone to getting dirty and trapping dust.

Blackberry DTEK50 -5

On the battery side, the DTEK50 comes with a 2,610 mAh unit, which is rather small when compared to other similar smartphones that are available. As such, battery life proves to be a weak point for this device. You can get a full day of battery life with light usage, but if you are someone who likes to play games, watch videos, and check social media often, the phone will unfortunately not last a day.

Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-6
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-5
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-4
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-3
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-2
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-1

With similar usage, I needed to charge the device after just 7 or 8 hours. You do get Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 support, so it doesn’t take long to get back to a full charge, but if you are on the move often, picking up a battery pack may be a good idea.

Camera

Blackberry DTEK50 -20

The BlackBerry DTEK50 comes with a 13 MP rear camera, with a f/2.0 aperture, phase detection auto focus, and a dual LED flash, along with an 8 MP front-facing shooter, with a f/2.2 aperture.

As far as the camera app is concerned, it is quite simplistic, with not a lot of bells and whistles. You don’t get any extra shooting modes beyond the standard video, photo, panorama, but it does have a bunch of live filters built in. There is also a HDR Auto mode, and a built-in manual mode for controlling the focus, white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure.

Blackberry DTEK50 -23

To get a great looking photo with this camera, the lighting conditions have to be perfect, but even then, there is a noticeable lack of sharpness and detail when zooming in. The color reproduction is good though, when shooting outdoors or in well-lit areas.

However, in low-light conditions is where the image quality really deteriorates. The camera constantly hunts for focus, making it very difficult to take a photo, and when you do take a shot, they’re usually very noisy with a lot of artifacts, and the images just look soft and muddy.

The front-facing 8 MP isn’t particularly noteworthy either. You can take some decent selfies with it, and the notification LED can also double as a front-facing flash to help you get slightly better results in low-light situations, but the results are still typically not that great.

Software

Blackberry DTEK50 -21

The big selling point of the DTEK50 isn’t the design, the camera, or the specifications. It’s all about the software, and the security that comes along with it. The majority of the security comes from the DTEK application, which is also what gives this phone its name. DTEK will show you the security status of the device, and this can change over time the more you use the phone. With DTEK, all your data is encrypted, and you can control the permissions of individual apps and what they’re allowed to access, so you never have to worry about apps having access to things that you don’t want it to.

There’s also a factory reset protection, so in the event that someone steals your phone and factory resets it, they still won’t be able to use the phone without knowing your Google account info. Whether it really is the most secure smartphone in the world is pretty tough to say, but BlackBerry is promising that they will be very quick to release security patch updates as soon as they are available.

Blackberry DTEK50 -16

The rest of the software is a very stock-like Android 6.0 Marshmallow experience, with a lot of Blackberry’s software enhancements on top, many of which were seen with the Priv last year. It comes with BBM installed by default, which is something I personally don’t use, but could be ideal for those who still love communicating via BBM.

However, I do like a lot of the features from BlackBerry, and many of them are actually pretty useful. You have the productivity tab, which you can access by swiping from the right, to see your current calendar events, emails, tasks, and your most recent contacts.

Blackberry DTEK50 -22

My favorite feature of the lot definitely has to be the BlackBerry Hub. If you aren’t familiar with it, the BlackBerry Hub is your one stop shop for virtually all your notifications. It aggregates your BBMs, text messages, emails, phone calls, and social media, all in one place, making them very easy to check. It does have some issues, such as Gmail not rendering properly through the Hub, but for the most part it does what it is suppose to do extremely well.

You can also swipe up from the bottom, similar to how you would access Google Now before, but here,  you get access to three app shortcuts, which are set to BlackBerry Search, the dialer, and the Hub, by default. You can change them to whatever you want though.

Blackberry DTEK50 -14

BlackBerry gives you a lot of room for tweaking and customization, and something that I really enjoy is the fact that you can use third party icon packs to customize the default launcher. If you’re a fan of widgets, the Pop Up widgets is another very useful feature. Basically, any app that you have that supports a widget will display 3 dots beneath it, and all you have to do is swipe up to open the widget. It’s a really elegant solution to using widgets without having them take up any space on your home screens.

Of course, you can’t talk about a BlackBerry without talking about keyboards. The DTEK50 is an all touch screen device, so it obviously doesn’t have a physical keyboard, but it does come with BlackBerry’s own software keyboard. It’s accurate and easy to type on, and I like that the predictive text allows you to swipe up on a letter to quickly complete a word.

Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-10
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-11
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-12
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-13
Blackberry DTEK50 screenshots-14

BlackBerry’s software isn’t perfect, and it does have some minor quirks, like the way the app drawer looks when the apps are sorted alphabetically. They’re not only sorted alphabetically, but it’s also sectioned out by the letter, and visually just doesn’t look very appealing. Overall though, I’m a fan of the software package, and their features add a lot of value, without making the experience feel boated, or taking away from the stock Android experience.

Specifications

Display 5.2-inch IPS LCD display
1080p, 424 ppi
Processor 1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
Adreno 405 GPU
RAM 3 GB
Storage 16 GB
expandable via microSD card up to 256 GB
Camera 13 MP rear camera, f/2.0 aperture, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS + GLONASS
microUSB 2.0
Battery 2,610 mAh
Software Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions 147 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm
135 grams

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The BlackBerry DTEK50 will be priced at $300 in the US, and will be available unlocked, and can be used with AT&T and T-Mobile.

Blackberry DTEK50 -24

There you have it for this in-depth look at the BlackBerry DTEK50! $300 is relatively cheap, especially if you want a smartphone that prioritizes security. If that is the case, you’re probably not going to find a better deal.

However, as far as phones go, there are a few better options out there that offer a lot more for similar prices, like the OnePlus 3, the Moto G4 Plus, and the Axon 7. If you do store a lot of sensitive information on your phone, the DTEK50’s top notch security will be well worth the investment, but if there is one major flaw, it is that BlackBerry didn’t make it a better phone all around.

What do you think about the BlackBerry DTEK50 and would you buy one? Is smartphone security as important to you as say, things like the camera, display or battery? Let us know your views in the comments below!

Buy the BlackBerry DTEK50 now

%d bloggers like this: