Software

Fossil Q Control review

Fossil Q Control review

Think back a few years to when Android Wear was introduced and how many thought that Google had tapped into something extremely special. Having all but pulled the plug on its Google Glass endeavor, Android Wear seemed much more practical and beneficial.As much as we didn’t picture ourselves wearing Glass, or having this little screen hovering right outside of our eye, we were intrigued. There truly was something interesting and intriguing about it — regardless of how dumb we might have looked.Android Wear was going to fix that. We would go back to wearing watches again, relying on them for not only the time, but notifications, tracking, and so many other things. Right? Yeah, right.Fitbit, Jawbone, and Pebble notwithstanding, the first few years and iterations of smartwatches were exciting and full of promise. We had companies like Motorola, LG, Samsung, and Huawei getting into wearables.Android had already conquered the smartphone space on the backs of these brands; it made sense that the same would be replicated on the wrist. And, really, why buy an activity tracker when there was something much smarter to consider?Today that landscape is entirely different. Pretty much all of those phone companies have gone stopped working on wearables with some deciding to go after VR and AR instead. But, despite that, Google has continued to refine and rebrand its wearable OS.Known now as Wear OS, it’s the platform of choice for smartwatch makers. The problem? That list of watch manufacturers has evolved and is now largely comprised of traditional companies like Fossil, Casio, Movado, and TAG Heuer.Somewhere along the line tech brands stopped caring so much about watches. At the same time, your favorite watchmakers got smarter and began tapping into Wear OS.One wearable brand we’ve reviewed a few times here is Fossil. Historically, we’ve found the watches to be among the best in the space, largely because of the hardware and materials. Today finds us looking at one of its newest models, the Q Control.Fossil Q ControlThe Fossil Q Control is one of the first models under the brand to focus more on the sporty side of things. Whereas the company’s umbrella covers the likes of Kate Spade, Diesel, and Michael Kors, the main brand has been more traditional in its approach. To be more specific, it tends to focus on leather and premium bands with fashion-focused designs.The Q Control looks unlike most of the Fossil stuff you’ve seen over the years. At first blush it reminds us of something that Samsung might produce. The black on black is not all that exciting but it’s not meant to be. This is the sort of watch you want if you’re looking to track your activities and/or live a more active lifestyle.The Q Control also calls to mind the Misfit Vapor, another brand under the Fossil line. In fact, there’s a lot of crossover between the two models with both offering the same tracking features.DesignThe review unit we received was all black, however there is also a rose gold version offered, too. Both have a 45mm case which comes in at 14mm thick. Water resistant up to 50 meters, you can certainly take it for a swim or keep it on in the shower.With interchangeable 20mm straps, you can change up the look of the watch by simply sliding a pin on the back of the band. Heading out to a formal event or night on the town? You can go from sporty and uninspired to eye catching inside of a few seconds.As we see it, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the design of the Q Control. Our main complaint, at least with the black, is that it’s pretty uninspiring. The side edge of the face is more of a brushed nickel than black but it’s dark and semi-stylish nonetheless. Fossil calls it “Gunmetal” and it’s comprised of stainless steel. With the right band we could see this being a very attractive unit.The display is a 1.39-inch circle with 450×450 pixel resolution and it offers up a bright, rich image. The blacks are deep and dark thanks the OLED screen, but the color can sometimes feel a little oversaturated. On the other hand, it’s better than having a watch that makes you squint or causes you to cover it from light.We applaud Fossil for giving us a full circle here as the flat tire seems to be a thing of the past. That wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, but we appreciate that a circular display is a full circle again.As far as other physical characteristics go, there’s one button to the side of the screen and a heart rate monitor on the back. The included silicone bands are very soft and flexible, making for a comfortable wearing experience. The face feels somewhat heavy upon first wearing it, but we got used to it fairly quick.We’ve had watches, especially those in the “active” market, which employ generic materials in the band. Moreover, we’ve seen our share of bands which cause minor skin irritation, or feel generally stiff. This is not the case here as the out-of-box Q Control experience is a pleasure to wear.HardwareInternally, the watch houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor with 768MB RAM and 4GB storage. If you want to add your own music, and somehow still have MP3 files to do so, there’s room here.Noticeably absent from the Q Control are LTE radios and NFC connectivity. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of owning a watch with either of those, you know how convenient it can be. But, LTE is not a necessity and NFC (Google Pay, for instance) is more want than need. There’s also no GPS inside, but we’ll get to that in a moment.There’s a microphone located on the left edge of the display which allows for voice commands and usage. Want to trigger or use Google Assistant? Talk to the hand because the face ain’t… Well, talk to the hand. It works, and it’s really nice to have when your phone is tucked away.SoftwareIn terms of software, the Wear OS has grown over the years and feels a little bit more natural and intuitive with each iteration. The Q Control comes with standard fare of apps and features including reminders, weather, and translate. Indeed, there are also plenty of watch faces to be found with many of them offering further personalization.Although Wear OS has grown in the four years since it launched as Android Wear, there’s still something in it that sometimes feels like a hacked-on software experience. It’s nowhere near what it was in the first few years, but we’re occasionally reminded that the hardware and software come from two different places.As a “sports watch” the Q Control does an okay job. It’s certainly not going to be in direct competition with any Garmin or high end Fitbit, but it’s an excellent everyday unit.If you’re just starting to get more active and want some help with accountability and tracking, this is a great option. However, if you’ve come to rely on GPS and a more standalone experience, you’ll find this one lacking.If you’re interested in tracking walks, runs, or bike rides, you’ll need to rely on your phone for the GPS side of things. This isn’t always convenient, especially if you’re pushing for personal bests or looking to improve on times. Do you want to wear a phone on your arm or hold one in your hand?Checking your heart rate isn’t quite as simple as it sounds as there’s not really an always-on way to simply glance at it. You’ll have to go through the app to pull it up and even then your rate could have changed a fair amount in that time.Want to track calories or measure steps and distance? Google Fit handles that for you but it’s something that you’ll be manually working with instead of passively reading. Unlike, say, a Fitbit Ionic, you aren’t going to glance at your wrist and see all of that stuff updated on a regular basis.Swimming is another area where you might encounter a wonky experience. Out of the box there’s nothing here that makes it easy to track your swims. However, an app like MySwimPro is available, but it looks to be geared toward serious swimmers.As a whole, the aforementioned things are what cause us to remember that one company is creating software that is designed to work on a variety of devices. The common denominator approach is okay, but it’s certainly not optimal. This is where a Garmin, Misfit, or Fitbit rises above — at least when it comes to sports and activities.Battery & ChargingThe Q Control will get you through a day of usage without any issue. Much longer than that, though, and you’ll be reaching for a charger. Unlike less “smart” watches, you will want to plug this one it at night.The charging mechanism is similar to what we’ve seen before from Fossil and other players. It amounts to a USB cord with a magnetic platter. There are three pins on the “dock” which line up to the back of the watch. There’s a noticeable vibration and animation to signal that charging is underway.ConclusionIt’s hard to fault Fossil for anything here as it’s not necessarily their sole responsibility to create a smooth and intuitive user experience. This is a watchmaker first, and one that didn’t rely on any software in the past. It surely doesn’t need to be “smart” to stay in its current line of work. The shortcomings we experienced fell at Google’s feet.Wear OS is the best that’s available to them and it’s good stuff to be sure. We like having all of the features available within a literal arm’s length, whether with or without a phone. Maybe what the platform needs is a whole litany of features and options that watchmakers can enable or disable based on hardware.There’s something really great about how cohesive the experience is on a Pixel phone. Given Google is directly responsible for how the hardware works with its software, it makes sense. We’d love to see a Pixel-like watch from Google but as of today that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. Until then, we‘ll (hopefully) continue to get various watch manufacturers employing the ever-evolving Wear OS.If it sounds like we hate the software experience, we don’t. In fact, it grows on us more with each update. Further, we root for it and hope that Google is able to deliver something that works for watches in the same way that Android does for phones.Could the Q Control stand to include GPS, LTE, and/or NFC? Sure, but that comes with a cost. As of today you can purchase the watch for less than $200 from Fossil. This is a good price point for smart wearables designed for the everyday user. Much more and you’ll start looking at dedicated stuff like a Garmin.Interestingly, and oddly, enough, the Q Control launched with a $275 price tag. That’s way too much for our liking given the overall package. We would have knocked $50 off the wearable before we’d consider it. Where it is today is the right pricing.Each time we’ve taken a look at Fossil we come away impressed with the overall package. And, each time we’re reminded as to how handy and helpful Android Wear/Wear OS can be on a daily basis. Unfortunately, once we stop wearing them for a bit of time we don’t exactly miss it. The longer we’re away from one, the less enthusiastic we find ourselves at considering the next one.We have enjoyed our time with the Fossil Q Control to be sure; however, we don’t know that we’ll miss it when we send it back. It’s a solid buy for the money, and well built, but it’s not the cohesive sports tracker and standalone watch that we’d like to see. We understand keeping the cost down and respect that this sits where it is — yet there’s just something lacking.When it comes to all-around tracking of activities and life, we love Fitbit. Its software experience, and hardware, is among the best you’ll find and there’s a whole array of offerings at different prices. Why does it work so well? Likely because it keeps everything under one roof. If only that were the case here.When you start to get into $200 or so, and look at what you want versus what you need, then an educated buyer does his or her homework. Our advice, look around, find out exactly what you plan to do or how you want to use a smartwatch, and then narrow your decision.If, when you’re done whittling down a list of potential sport and fitness watches, you have various Wear OS models to choose from, definitely consider the Fossil Q Control. Other than that, it’s hard for us to fast-track this one to the top of a pile of contenders.
Motorola Moto E5 Play review

Motorola Moto E5 Play review

For more than a couple of years now, Motorola’s E series of phones has delivered entry-level, straightforward phones for users who don’t demand a lot of their device. It makes sense that they do so well in developing and emerging markets; it’s all that you need with just a little extra left over.As a no-frills line of handsets, the Moto E is solid, budget-friendly, and offers up an excellent first phone experience. The 2018 model, the E5 is more of the same. We’ve spent time with an E5 Play and are happy to share our impressions.If you’ve ever had the chance to use a Moto E phone, you know that’s it not an overly sexy device. Simple in design and straightforward in its approach, it’s what we would call an “everyman” phone. That’s the same for the Moto E5 Play.Design and FeaturesThe E5 Play follows the same design language set forth by its predecessors and goes with the same approach internally, too. In essence, look for a utilitarian phone with capable specs, and not much else.In terms of hardware, the Moto E5 Play packs a 5.2-inch 1,280-by-720 IPS panel, a quad-core processor (1.4GHz), and 16GB storage. Additionally, it offers up a microSD expansion card slot for external storage of media; a 2,800mAh battery powers the show.As for cameras, this one has an 8-megapixel shooter on the back with a 5-megapixel sensor on the front. Taken as a whole, there’s nothing too fancy, to be sure.Despite not being a “rugged” phone, the Moto E5 Play does have a water-repellent coating and can handle life’s spills and accidents.You’ll find the volume and power buttons on the right side of the phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top edge. A microUSB charging port is located along the bottom; the rear cover removes to access the SIM and microSD slots.It’s worth noting that while the Verizon model comes with a fingerprint reader on the rear, not all versions are the same across carriers. At last check, the Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless models do not include the sensor.Where we do find the Moto E5 to be really interesting, though, comes in the supported network bands. And, while our particular review unit is offered through Verizon and its prepaid line, it supports LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/14/17/25/26/29/30/38/41/66. In other words, that’s pretty much anyone you’ll encounter carrier-wise.Staying with networks, you can purchase the Moto E5 Play through the following providers as of today: Verizon, Cricket, Boost Mobile, T-Mobile, Sprint, Virgin Mobile, and Xfinity. Color options vary but you’ll find it in Black, Dark Lake, and Flash Gray.Performance & ImpressionsIn our testing of the phone we found this to be about the baseline for an acceptable smartphone experience. It’s somewhat frustrating to go directly from a flagship to something like this as the differences in hardware are glaringly obvious. With that in mind, we expect that more casual users, or those who don’t replace their phones all that often would complain much.Powered by Android 8.0 Oreo, the Moto E5 Play has but a smattering of extra touches. Motorola, as always does a fantastic job of keep the platform pretty much untouched. There’s nothing added to the user interface, meaning it’s basically what Google envisions for its software experience.Viewing angles are good for the Moto E5 Play and the picture is decent enough for our tastes. Because of its resolution it’s not the sort of phone you’ll want to put in a VR headset.We did find the phone to feel larger than the 5.2-inch display, at least physically in hand. There’s more bezel around the screen than you’ll find in other phones, but that is a trade-off we’re okay with considering the price. The top and bottom edges could shrink somewhat, though, if we’re being totally honest.When it comes to taking pictures, the Moto E5 Play delivers passable results. Images look good on the phone and when viewed over social media but close inspection reveals fine details are lacking at times. Lower light conditions seem to impact things more than we expected. Pictures taken in cloudy or rainy days were dull and uninspired and not simply because of the subject and environment.The front-facing camera is alright but nothing spectacular. If selfies are super important, or if you spend a lot of time video chatting with others, you might want to temper your expectations.The Moto E5 won’t win any benchmark awards. It also won’t take first prize in a beauty contest. Do we care? Not really. It’s all about practicality at this level. You’re not buying this phone because you expect to get a tier-one experience for less than a night on the town. No, you’re buying it because you need a phone or are just starting out with your first one.With prices that range from around $40-$100 at different outlets, it’s a terrific pickup for the money. And, when you understand that it can go with you from carrier to carrier, that peace of mind is worth it alone. Hell, assuming you opt for something more expensive later on, we’d suggest keeping this one for backup purposes or travel.If you’re going camping for the weekend, headed to an amusement park for the day, or spending a few weeks abroad, the Moto E5 Play does the trick. In all of those instances you are not going to spend a ton of time using the phone. What’s the point in buying an expensive phone for those purposes? Moreover, why take the risk in losing or damaging one?We like that the Moto E5 Play is paired with a variety of prepaid carriers. It’s the perfect demographic for it here in the US. Many of those user types are lesser demanding and the price point is right in line with its hardware.Admittedly, battery life could be better. The phone’s 2,800mAh is touted as being “all-day” but that’s stretching things a bit. With that said, you don’t exactly have to keep a charger on you at all times. And, even when you are charging, it’s super fast (10W) and you’re back up and running before you know it.In our testing we found it to last plenty long enough for our liking just so much as we plugged it when driving and didn’t pass up any opportunity to charge during meals. If you have a charger at work, you may really only need it once every so often.SoftwareWhile the overall Android experience is excellent in 8.0 Oreo, and Motorola’s extra gestures and enhancements are minimal, we can’t say the same for the installed apps. There’s plenty of carrier-branded influence here, at least on our Verizon review unit.Among other titles, we found ours to have Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, Solitair, Slotomania, Word Blitz, Yahoo Mail, Wish, and Weatherbug. This was in addition to the Verizon stuff. Fortunately, we were able to uninstall these non-essential titles.We noticed that there was approximately 40% worth of storage space already spoken for so definitely look for a microSD expansion card. A few apps and games later and you’re sitting on the down side of the hill. That’s not even counting the pics and videos you’re likely to take.We recommend at least trying out some of the Motorola gestures and functionality. A lot of them provide a bit of handiness and practicality. And, really, we miss them when they’re not activated or enabled.ConclusionsRegardless of where you buy it, the Moto E5 Play makes for a solid all-around value. It’s everything you need in a device (web, social media, email, and messaging) with just a little bit left over.There’s nothing overly sexy about the phone but we appreciate having the 3.5mm headphone jack, fingerprint sensor, and microSD card. It runs a very modern version of Android and the custom Motorola touches are essentially opt-in. We might like to remove some of the Verizon branded stuff but that ought not reflect on what Motorola’s done here.For a first time smartphone user, less demanding consumer, or someone who might need a phone in a pinch, the Moto E5 Play is a great bargain. If your phone use is a mix of want and need, you may wish to look elsewhere.
Google Home review: After nearly two years, is it still worth it?

Google Home review: After nearly two years, is it still worth...

Google Home is the original Google Assistant enabled smart speaker. When it launched competition didn’t exist. If you wanted an Assistant enabled speaker, it was your only choice. Since then, there have been several Assistant smart speakers released. Your choices are no longer as limited as they once were. Now the question is, how does Google Home compare when it is no longer your only choice?DesignThe Google Home has a neutral design that blends seamlessly into most rooms. It mostly resembles an air freshener in my opinion, and I mean that as a compliment. Google Home simply blends in and won’t draw any extra attention to itself. It is not meant to look like a piece of tech and it excels at this.A lot of this comes from the color choice and shape of the device. However, if you want yours to stand out you can easily buy replaceable bases and even skins for the top plastic section. The fabric base is held on securely by magnets and is easy to slide off and on. I’m happy to let mine look like a fancy air freshener.My favorite part of the design would be the hidden LEDs on the top of the unit. The purpose of these is to give you feedback when Assistant is listening, thinking, or speaking to you. There is something so satisfying about watching the four multicolored LEDs light up and dance around. It’s honestly what I miss most when using any other Assistant enabled speaker.Besides the animated LEDs on the top, there is also a touch sensor for controlling the volume. By running your finger in a circle around the top you can lower or raise the volume as indicated by the white LED volume meter. Then, of course, there is the mute button for the microphone on the back.FeaturesGoogle Home launched with some fantastic features such as controlling your smart home, music playback, alarms, timers, updating you with your daily news and weather, and more. All you had to do was utter the command and like your digital genie, Assistant would light up and do your bidding. Over time it has gained more and more abilities such as making phone calls, adding reminders, playing games, and the list goes on and on.Read More: 9 Tips and tricks for your Google Assistant speakerWhile all Google Assistant smart speakers share essentially the same features, there is one exclusive to the Google speakers. For whatever reason, you can only make calls using the Google Assistant speakers at this time. Asking any other Assistant enabled speaker to make a call will be met with the reply “sorry I can’t make calls yet”.Microphone PerformanceThe far-field microphones used in the Google Home speaker are some of the best I’ve ever used. Through my testing of several other smart speakers, I’ve always found the Google Home to be one of the top performers in this category. In fact, it even works better than the one on my smartwatch. Many times when trying to activate my watch only inches from my face Google Home would light up while the watch laid dormant.Sound QualityAs a bit of an audiophile, I’ve been disappointed in the audio quality of the Google Home speaker since day one. The good news is the Google Home speaker has tons of bass and is very loud. I didn’t expect that given the compact size of this speaker. The bad news is, the bass is overwhelming and it lacks any detail in the high end making audio sound muddy overall.An overwhelming amount of bass isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, when listening to rap, pop, or dance music it can be nice to feel the impact of the bass. Thankfully, if you’re not enjoying the sound quality of the Google Home speaker, there is a solution. Nearly a year after its release, Google finally added an equalizer option into the settings.With the ability to tweak the bass and treble you can greatly improve the sound quality. However, even after adjusting the equalizer audio quality still falls short of some other Assistant speakers on the market. While the equalizer is a great feature, it also appears to be another Google speaker exclusive. None of the other speakers I’ve reviewed have included this option.Final ThoughtsThe great thing about smart speakers is they don’t age the same as other tech does. They don’t get slower over time, the battery life doesn’t decline, and a new faster one doesn’t come out every year. That means your smart speaker never gets worse, in fact, it actually gets better over time. Your smart speaker is always evolving as the AI improves and new skills and features are added.With that said, there is no doubt that Google Home is better now than it has ever been. However, it no longer stands alone and you now have more choices than you have ever had when buying an Assistant enabled speaker.Read more: Here are all the Google Assistant speakers, headphones, and displays you can buyMy biggest complaint about the Google Home was always the audio quality. However, after the introduction of the equalizer setting Google has almost negated that entirely. There are still slightly better sounding speakers in the same price range, but none are as fully featured as the Google Home. Making it one of the best choices when it comes to buying a midrange smart speaker. If you’re interested in picking one up you can get it from one of the links below.Google Store ABT Best Buy B&H Photo Frys Newegg Target Verizon Walmart
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 accessories round up

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 accessories round up

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is an expensive phone, there is no way to get around that. As such it is only wise to want to protect your investment. Below you’ll find some great cases and one of the best screen protectors around to keep your new Galaxy Note 9 looking new.Read More: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Full ReviewSamsung Galaxy Note 9 Rugged Protective Cover CaseI found the back of the Rugged Protective Cover Case didn’t offer a lot of grip but it does offer a lot of protection. The buttons were easy to find and click, and all the openings for ports were easily accessible. However, the true benefit of this case is the stand built into the back making it easy to prop up the Note 9 for taking photos or enjoying videos.Buy from Samsung Buy from Mobile FunSamsung Galaxy Note 9 Clear View Standing CaseI don’t particularly like folio type cases but the Clear View case stood out to me in a big way. The front cover appears to be opaque yet allows you to view the always on display. This is a great way to be able to check the time and notifications without ever having to open the folio case.While that was the most impressive part of this case it still had another trick up its sleeves. You can fold it out into a stand for watching videos or taking photos with the new S-Pen. All in all this is the most impressive folio case I’ve ever used. A drawback to using folio cases though is the volume and Bixby button are difficult to find unless you physically look at the phone.Buy from Samsung Buy from Mobile Fun Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Silicone Cover CaseOut of all the cases I tried, the Silicone Cover was by far my favorite although I would have preferred it in another color such as the black one. The silicone used on this case was so soft and provided a fantastic grip when holding the phone. The buttons were easy to find and press and the cutouts left plenty of space. The only downside was it could stick in your pocket a little and pick up lint.Buy from Samsung Buy from Mobile Fun Samsung Galaxy Note 9 LED Wallet Cover CaseWhile I don’t particularly like folio cases, I really wanted to love the LED Wallet case. The color looks great and the retro feel of the LED clock is super cool. Unfortunately, the clock doesn’t stay on all the time and the smell of this case was terrible. It had that new plastic smell and I could not tolerate it and had to remove the case. Even days later the smell remained and I couldn’t force myself to use it.Buy from Samsung Buy from Mobile Fun UAG Plasma Series Galaxy Note 9 CaseThings to love about the Plasma Series of cases from Urban Armor Gear are the industrial sci-fi design, rubberized grip, and it meets military drop test standards. It was a really nice case that offered plenty of protection, but the one flaw was the buttons were not easy to find.Due to the buttons being flush with the case and all of the texture throughout I could never tell when my fingers were actually on the buttons. Unfortunately, this had me bringing up Bixby when I wanted to adjust the volume and was quite annoying. Otherwise, it’s a unique looking case that offers great protection.Buy from AmazonUAG Plyo Series Galaxy Note 9 CaseMany of the same benefits of the Plasma series are present on the Plyo series from Urban Armor Gear. This includes meeting military drop-test standards, a protective lip for the front screen, and compatibility with Samsung Pay and fast wireless charging. I actually preferred the more simple design of this case. However, it is a pity it also shares some of the drawbacks such as buttons that are hard to discern through touch alone.Buy from UAGWhitestone Dome Glass Screen ProtectorAs Gorilla Glass has gotten stronger against cracks it has gotten weaker against scratches. For this reason, having a screen protector these days is essential on your phone. When it comes to a high-quality glass screen protector you can’t do much better than the Whitestone Dome Glass protector.It is made to fit the curved screen of the Galaxy Note 9 without showing any colors along the edges. It uses a frame system allowing you to line up the protector perfectly and prevents bubbles during installation.The only downsides are it can be a bit pricey, involves a pretty complicated install process, and the glue smells awful and takes days to dissipate. In fact even days later I could still smell the glue when the phone was close to my face.Regardless, I’ve never felt a glass screen protector that felt as good as the original glass on the phone. It also did a great job of covering the curved edges and showed no signs of peeling days later.Buy from Amazon
Notti Smart Light review

Notti Smart Light review

When the Notti Smart Light by Witti Design first came across my desk, I was largely uninterested. Great, another gadget to fill space and serve no significant purpose. After spending some time with it, I’m ready to eat humble pie. I severely underestimated both the usefulness and charm of this little light.Notti, a sister product to the Dotti pixel light, is a 4-inch polygonal structure that immediately adds character to your room by lighting up via Bluetooth synchronization with your phone’s alerts and notifications. All of the colors are completely customizable, thanks to the Notti app (Google Play and iOS compatible), and can serve as incredibly useful. Let’s say you’re washing dishes in the kitchen and using your device to play music through a Bluetooth speaker. Your hands are soapy but with a quick glance in Notti’s direction, you can instantly tell if you have an update worth drying off and attending to.When not lit, the device’s minimalist white design looked beautiful in my apartment. The Notti boasts an alarm mode that gradually lights up your room with warm hues to gently start your day. I wasn’t a candidate for this feature (my bedroom windows allow plenty of sunlight) but I could see it being a nice bonus for the right person. I found the Music Mode, which syncs Notti to your tracks and pulses in time, to be a fun feature and compliment to a lively social setting.Notti has a battery life of over 700 hours in notification mode and 5 hours when using constant light. It charged easily via MicroUSB, which I kept plugged in for the majority of my time with the unit.I enjoyed using this, not just for practical purposes, but for mood lighting as well. While I’m not quite ready to call it a must have or game changer, Notti is a natural byproduct of our evolving lifestyles and progression toward a completely connected home.At best, it’s a smart device with the power to soothe or energize. At worst, it’s a cool conversation starter in any household. At $39.99, it may just have a place in yours.
Honor 10 review: a compelling option in the affordable flagship niche

Honor 10 review: a compelling option in the affordable flagship niche

Putting the words “affordable” and “flagship” used to feel like an oxymoron in the recent past. But not anymore, as more and more manufacturers have reached a point where they have achieved a great balance between specs and price.OnePlus has been spearheading these efforts with its line of premium, yet still affordable products that have, over the years, become an icon of budget excellence. And other Android manufacturers have been quick to jump on board the trend and offer their own takes on this rising category.Indeed, affordable flagships are a thing now, and they are taking away some of the premium segment’s long-standing appeal. With good reason. After all who wouldn’t want the best specs and features in a cheaper package?One of the newer affordable flagships was introduced earlier this year by Huawei’s sub-brand, Honor. The Honor 10 is a tremendous device which borrows a lot of features from Huawei’s more expensive P20 flagship. But the big question here is, does it have what it takes to dethrone the OnePlus 6 from its place of glory? We try to give you an idea in what follows.Design and displayDesign was obviously a big focus here. The back of the Honor 10 is reminiscent of the high-end Huawei P20 with a gorgeous Twilight gradient-effect that makes the phone look really unique. This will give you a different shade and look depending on what angle you view the device from.Honor says it has achieved this super-polished, striking design by stacking more than 15 layers of glass on top of each other. Apart from its unique looks, the Honor 10 features a mixed metal and glass body.In this respect, it’s not very different from most of the flagships we’ve seen arrive this year. The device has metal sides and a sleek 2.5D glass back that houses the dual-camera setup and the Honor logo at the bottom. While the phone looks quite sleek, it’s shiny back is a magnet for fingerprints. Also, it’s very slippery, so you might use a protective case with it. Our review unit came with a clear case, but unfortunately, we found it was also prone to gathering grime and marks.The Honor 10 is a trendy device in the sense that it features the all-popular display cutout (aka the notch) at the top of its 5.84-inch LCD panel. But don’t worry if you’re not a big fan of the rectangular bump. Honor provides you with the option of hiding it if you so prefer.The Honor 10 is indeed quite a lookerThe resolution of the screen is only FHD+, which is exactly what it’s direct competitor, the OnePlus 6 is offering too. Overall, we found the display to be bright, clear and vibrant, so we don’t have any major complaints in this department. If you prefer warmer or cooler tones, Honor gives you the option from Settings to tweak the color temperature or contrast. But, we kept it in the out-of-the-box Vivid mode.Obviously, the phone features a so-called bezel-less design with a minimal chin which houses an under-glass fingerprint scanner, which is wonderfully responsive. So instead of a physical button, you’ll find the Honor 10 has a subtle pill-shaped outline that shows you where your finger should hit the scanner. During the weeks we used the Honor 10, we found ourselves using the fingerprint scanner quite a lot. Although, its placement is less than ideal in our opinion, as we tend to prefer devices that incorporate it on the back.The phone also features a face unlock feature which is super-fast too. It works incredibly well and is able to recognize you even if you’re wearing sunglasses or a hat.Like the OnePlus 6, the Honor 10 keeps the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is located at the bottom, next to the USB Type-C port and the speaker. Speaking of the speaker, it offers a moderate performance, but don’t expect anything too spectacular. Yeah, it does its job, but it doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary. Maybe except for the fact that it doesn’t tend to distort sound at high volumes.PerformanceThe Honor 10 is a super-fast phone which has no problem sustaining the most intense sessions of gaming. It’s powered by Huawei’s latest 10nm chipset, the Kirin 970, the same that keeps the lights on the P20 and P20 Pro flagships. Unveiled in October of last year, the chipset features a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) which brings AI capabilities to the device.Paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, the Honor 10 is a beast of a phone. In the two weeks we’ve used the device, we haven’t noticed any slowdowns, freezes or any other weird performance issues. There’s no microSD card slot on board, but the 128GB you get by default should be plenty enough to accommodate all your apps, photos and videos. However, you do get a dual SIM card tray with 4G connectivity for both SIMs. And yes, there’s dual VoLTE too.While everything seems peachy in the performance department, one area of concern with the Honor 10 is the battery life. Many reviewers write that the Honor 10’s battery life is pretty great and the phone can easily go through a full day of use and still have 10% left by the time you go to bed. But our experience was a bit different.Maybe the phone got damaged in the shipping process, but our Honor 10’s battery levels dropped alarmingly fast. With the phone connected to a Wi-Fi, the device lost 10% constantly by just sitting on a table. A factory reset later and the battery was still draining a bit too quickly. With LTE turned on sporadically and doing our normal routine (check emails, spending a lot of time on chat apps, taking and uploading photos, browsing the web etc) we got around nine hours of life. Fortunately, the Honor 10 does have fast charging, so you can juice it up again in under 2 hours or so.CamerasPhotography is one of the main highlights of this phone. The Honor 10 features a dual 24-megapixel + 16-megapixel arrangement on the back. The first sensor is a monochrome shooter, while the second is color.And thanks to the imbued artificial intelligence, the Honor 10 can take some awesome photographs. The camera software takes advantage of special algorithms to improve your snaps including brightening areas or changing the focus, so you can get the best results.According to Honor, the phone can automatically identify 22 different scenes like pets or green landscape and will automatically adjust the settings for you. Above you can see an example of a shot taken with AI and without AI (which can be easily turned off). And if the phone hasn’t enhanced the photo to your liking, you can easily revert to the original.The phone also offers a lot of Pro features including being able to change the aperture or adjust the ISO and shutter speeds. There’s also a dedicated Monochrome mode and other goodies such as the ability to do a Light Painting, apply filters or add a Watermark.The Honor 10 also includes a 3D panorama feature which lets you take a moving panorama picture. You can also take advantage of a 3D creator. This is a feature that scans your face to create a 3D avatar figure of yourself. It’s similar to Samsung’s AR Emoji option. Speaking of which, you can shoot pictures and then add AR characters on top of them.The phone also has “moving pictures” which is a feature similar to motion photos on the Pixel 2. The device basically records a short video for a few seconds which you will be able to view in the gallery afterwards.When it comes to editing, there are a few nice surprises here too. Like Splash, a tool that lets you isolate and keep a color, while the overall picture remains monochrome.The selfie problem…What about selfies? Well the 24-megapixel secondary snapper offers the promise of great self-portraits. However, we found that the selfies we took looked kind of fake.Indeed, there’s a beauty mode enabled by default in Portrait Mode. But even if its effect can be toned down, selfies still look like you have foundation on. If you’re the type who loves a natural look, you might not like what the Honor 10 has to offer in this department. Even regular selfies look a bit too perfect.On the bright side of things, the phone has a lighting effect for your self-portraits including split lightning or soft lighting which will help you enhance your snaps. While most selfies will look pretty good in bright light, these modes will come in handy when you want to take a snap of yourself in the dark.SoftwareThe Honor 10 ships out with the latest version of EMUI, which is based on Android 8.1 Oreo. Those of you who used a Huawei phone before will feel just at home here. The Chinese company has taken steps to make the interface more-friendly for the Western market, so EMUI 8.1 is a lot more usable than before. For example, you can now add an app drawer, although it’s not enabled by default and you’ll have to do from Settings.But even so, EMUI is nowhere as clean as stock Android. You’ll find there are a lot of pre-installed apps for Music, Calendar, Email and others, which are quite useless.  On the other side of the coin, there’s no shortage of customization options. EMUI is packed with all sorts of tools and features to give you control of your experience.Just to give a few examples of what you can do:Enable/disable the notchTake screenshots using knuckle gesturesMute notifications by flipping the phone overUse Ultra Power saving mode which consists of a minimalist interfaceAnswer calls with voice controlsEnable Navigation dockOff-screen navigation buttonBut a word of warning to you! These options are scattered all over the place, and you’ll have to dig deep to find certain features. Some are filed under Display, others under Smart Assistance and so on. Basically, you’ll have to devote a lot of time if you really want to get to know EMUI in-depth.VerdictPriced at only €399 / $467 in Europe, the Honor 10 makes you a proposition you can’t resist. Putting the battery issue aside, the Honor 10 is really an excellent device at this price point. Its major highlights include design, camera, and advanced performance.Sure at the end of the day, EMUI still won’t be to everyone’s liking. And some sort of waterproofing and a microSD card slot would have been nice. But at this price point, you can really understand why there aren’t there.In the US you can grab the Honor 10 from places like Amazon. But be warned that you won’t be able to use 4G LTE. Even if the device is listed as compatible with GSM carriers, it doesn’t appear the phone supports any of T-Mobile’s 4G frequencies.
Urbanear Lotsen Speaker Review: A better “smart” speaker clone?

Urbanear Lotsen Speaker Review: A better “smart” speaker clone?

Urbanears has been an audio company for a long time now. It focuses mainly on aesthetics rather than creating the highest audio quality for only prestigious “audiophiles”. The company’s newest project includes a 3-tier family of smarter, connected speakers. These include the Baggen at the high end, Stammen in the middle, and the Lotsen on the low end. I’ve received the Lotsen to review. This family of speakers seems to rival the similar families from Sonos (Play series) and Bose (Soundtouch series).I’m already heavily invested in Sonos’ lineup. So, while not only reviewing this speaker, I got the chance to compare it to its biggest rival.Setup and FeaturesThe initial setup of the Lotsen wasn’t tricky at all. Plug in and turn on for the physical speaker, and app setup was pretty straightforward. The app, ‘Connected Speakers’ which you download for free on Google Play, allows for a host of settings changes. You can set up the preset channels or change music quality, and directly stream music from your device.Speaking of preset channels, the Lotsen features a second dial on top that allows you to switch from Bluetooth, wifi, or preset channels. The Bluetooth and wifi selects are pretty self-explanatory and work as advertised.Channels are something unique to the Lotsen speaker. You can (using the app) assign Spotify playlist, radio channels, and more to a set channel. From there, you can then turn the dial to start up that particular choice without using a device. I’ve set mine up to a few different Spotify radio playlists. Now I can leisurely listen to music without having got pull out my phone first.With the ability to do Bluetooth, Aux, Wifi, Airplay, Google Cast, and a somewhat native Spotify, there isn’t a connectivity feature I miss.SoundUrbanears Lotsen speaker is designed to fill a similar space that a Sonos One would, on a side table, bookshelf, or pair up in stereo in separate corners of a room. The Lotsen does a good job filling a room with sound, but honestly, I was hoping for more regarding quality.The Lotsen contains a primary driver and a tweeter to the front, so no surround or 360 sound. For someone like me that listen to a lot of urban (RnB, Hip Hop, etc.) and electronic genres, I like some bass in my audio devices.It doesn’t deliver super deep bass, especially at quieter volumes. The bass and even the treble of this speaker is “safe.” It doesn’t wow the audio geek in you, but it does perform at a standard level. Unfortunately, it isn’t only the lower levels that suffer, but the highest levels suffer a bit too. Not that you wouldn’t want to listen to the Lotsen at higher volumes, but it’ll start to get messy.With all that said, this speaker is solid in sound for what it is. Especially when you consider the features it offers (Airplay, Google Cast, Bluetooth, AUX, AND without a phone) for the price it’s set. Looking at the Losten reveals a speaker that fills a room in a variety of ways that can support any general consumer. Overall the audio is balanced but teeters off at super low or super loud volumes.Design and AvailabilityWhile offering a decent sound signature that can easily fill a bed or living room, the Urbanears Lotsen has a unique look. The Lotsen is a rectangular brick of a speaker with four small feet on the bottom to raise it for that the power cable. That brick design is made of plastic and covered with fabric to hide what I assume is a speaker grill. The fabric does add a nice aesthetic touch though. It comes in 5 different colors and doesn’t scream ‘smart speaker.’ This technique is evident in all of Urbanear’s products, where the company may not cram all of the latest specs into its product, contemporary design is also at the forefront.The Lotsen is available to purchase for $200 at Urbanears website, Amazon, and a host of other online stores. Again for that price, you could buy a competitor’s speaker. You may then would have to sort through a pro/con list to make sure of your decision. Urbanears also offer the Stammen and Baggen speakers of the family for 250 and 350 respectively. For only $50 more, it’s hard not to see if the Stammen improves on the Lotsen’s audio shortcomings.ConclusionIn the end, this speaker is for a customer who cares about modern design as much as a decent sound. That person doesn’t want to always fiddle with their phone to hear some of their favorite music. They also may host a small party mode type of environment, including being able to host a variety other devices. If you solely care about audio quality and are ok with losing out on some unique features the Urbanears Lotsen is not for you.
Xiaomi Pocophone F1 review: First impressions

Xiaomi Pocophone F1 review: First impressions

We’d like to thank our friends at GearVita for supplying the device for this review. We’ve placed a link at the end of the review if you’d like to purchase the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 from GearVita.Generally speaking, if a phone launches a Snapdragon 845 (currently the best mobile processor on the market) 6GB RAM (the gold standard of mobile memory) and most of the must-have amenities of modern smartphones, you’d expect to drop about $700 on it – like the Samsung Galaxy S9, or LG G7, perhaps. If you’re phone-savvy, you might even be able to spend $500 on a Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S or a OnePlus 6.But $300? For those specs? All-but unheard of.At least, so we thought. The Pocophone F1 (from the aforementioned Chinese tech giant Xiaomi) crams flagship-caliber hardware into bargain bin pricing, while simultaneously cutting very few corners in the process. Released in August and starting at just $300 for the base model, the F1 features a very impressive spec-sheet worthy of a phone twice its price.Pocophone F1 Specs At-A-GlanceDisplay: 6.18″, 1080p IPS LCD (82.2% screen-to-body ratio)Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 CPU, Adreno 630 GPUMemory: 6+64/128GB or 8+256GB RAM/ROM (expandable)Rear camera: 12+5MP, f/1.9, 1/2.55″, 1.4µmFront-facing camera: 20 MP, f/2.0, 0.9µConnectivity: Bluetooth 5, WiFi 802.11acAudio: 3.5mm jack, “Stereo” Speakers (see below)Battery: 4,000mAh batteryBuild materials: Plastic Body, Gorilla Glass displayMeasurements: 6.12 x 2.96 x 0.35 in, 6.35 ozBut is it really that good?Short answer? Yes, yes it is. It runs just as smoothly as my OnePlus 6, with better battery life and a screen that competes despite being “just” a 1080p IPS LCD. Since it runs on a Snapdragon 845 core, it features the same built-in Bluetooth 5.0 and 802.11ac WiFi modules that you’d see on any other flagship phone. At 4,000mAh, the battery is about 25% larger than your average flagship battery, and the same size battery as the spankin’ new Samsung Galaxy Note 9.Need more praise? As GSMArena points out, the Pocophone F1 puts up a ridiculous 285k aggregate AnTuTu score, landing it squarely between the OnePlus 6 (286k) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (283k). That’s pretty great company to be in. And granted, that metric only measures raw processing power and doesn’t take into account things like firmware and the performance of accessory modules, but even still – that number blew me away.Okay, so what’s the catch?There’s one rather severe catch and a number of smaller ones. The major on – for US users, at least – is that neither the Global nor India versions of the Pocophone F1 support any of the Primary LTE bands of the four major US-based carriers. This means that while the Pocophone will technically run on either of the GSM-based carriers (AT&T or T-Mobile), the best connection you’ll ever see is the HSPA+ “4G” label – never a true LTE connection.The smaller catches are significantly smaller. The phone doesn’t feature wireless charging or NFC – which is a deal-breaker for very few people, I would imagine. It also features a plastic back, which is a purely cost-cutting move I’m sure most people will be able to handle at this price point. Ironically, perhaps the plastic back makes the Pocophone more drop resistant than many glass-bodied phones on the market.I won’t sugar coat it for you, the “Stereo” speakers on the Pocophone F1 are not great. In anything other than a quiet room you’ll struggle to hear it even on max volume – and I use “Stereo” in quotes because while the phone has two speaker grates on the bottom, there’s only one speaker in there. Covering up the right one makes sound all but muffled, while covering up the left one doesn’t impact sound in the least. It’s a fake speaker grate, and marketing the phone as having Stereo speakers is rather disingenuous of Xiaomi.VerdictAnd that’s it. Everything else works as you’d expect from a phone running the above specs, which is to say – quite well. Personally, if the couple problems listed above are all that’s wrong with a $300 flagship, I call that a huge win for Xiaomi.Now if they’d just make a North American version, we might see a true shakeup in the industry. Keep an eye out for my full review in a week, AndroidGuys.Again, we’d like to thank our friends at Gearvita for supplying this device for review. If you’d like to pick up a Pocophone F1, head over to GearVita and pick yours up today.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: A great phone that comes at a price

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: A great phone that comes at...

Samsung always swings for the fences with their Note line up and it should because it is quite literally its biggest phone of the year. Not every year can be a home run though. Most people have all but written off the Galaxy Note 9 as nothing more than an incremental upgrade. They would not be wrong, but even minor upgrades can have a big impact.A little about this reviewThe Samsung Galaxy Note 9 used in this review was provided courtesy of AT&T and used on their network for the past three weeks.Read More: First 10 things to do with your Note 9DesignNot much has changed here, if you liked the design of the previous Note 8 then you’ll enjoy the Note 9. Samsung is back with the same glass sandwich with metal chamfered frame they’ve been using for the past couple of years now. Just about every phone maker has jumped on this trend, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.By utilizing this same design Samsung has also retained some of the best features of the Note 8 such as the IP68 waterproofing, wireless charging, and near flush camera design. However, it also retains some of the flaws of this particular design.For example, the glass back is a fingerprint magnet and no matter how tough Gorilla Glass 5 is, glass is still glass and is less durable than a plastic or metal back. The Galaxy Note 9 does have some improvements though.The fingerprint scanner is now in a much better location in the center of the phone. While it is much easier to reach now, it could be a little lower and larger. It is still a little too high and you run the risk of overreaching and smudging the camera lens with them so close in proximity to each other.ScreenThe screen is also slightly larger than the Note 8 and as always it is gorgeous. Others can get close but no one can compete with the beauty of a Samsung AMOLED panel. It is sharp, the colors are vivid, and the blacks are inky.Samsung regularly wins awards from DisplayMate for having the best displays of the year and it is a title well deserved. Plus, you’re getting a slightly larger screen in essentially the same sized body. It’s really hard to complain about that, especially when they do it without an obnoxious notch.S-PenThe Note series simply wouldn’t be the same without the S-Pen. It is a unique feature that Samsung offers that no other phone on the market comes close to replicating. Regardless, Samsung continues to search for ways to enhance and improve the experience. This year we saw the Galaxy Note 9 S-Pen get its biggest upgrade ever in the form of Bluetooth LE.With Bluetooth LE built in the S-Pen can now act as a remote providing features. By pressing once, long pressing, or double pressing the button you can unlock your phone, launch the camera, take photos, control media playback, control Powerpoint presentations, and more. Samsung even allows you to customize these actions in the settings menu.The one downside of this upgrade is that Bluetooth devices run on battery power. Similar to Bluetooth speakers and headphones the S-Pen now has a battery inside that must be charged. The good news is 40 seconds of charging is enough to give the S-Pen 30 minutes worth of usage.Fortunately, if the battery dies in the S-Pen all of the old features still work. You will only lose the ability to use the button to launch apps or control them.Read More: Tips and Tricks for the S-PenEven with all the tricks, the S-Pen is capable of old and new. I still can’t find much of an excuse to use it. Whenever I have a Note phone I always have to force myself to use the S-Pen. Once I send it back I never once miss having the S-Pen. For all intents and purposes, the S-Pen is nothing but a gimmick to me. However, that is only my personal opinion as I’m sure many others out there use it and love it.Bixby ButtonThe Bixby button is back and is just as useless as ever. Samsung is determined to force this on their users whether they want it or not. At best this is a worthless button and at worst the button is a major annoyance when you trigger it accidentally.If only Samsung were to allow a little customization of the button similar to the button on the S-Pen. You don’t have to allow us to assign it to Google Assistant but at least give us the option to assign other actions to it.Unfortunately, the apps that once made this little button more useful by reassigning it do not currently work with the Galaxy Note 9. Nor do you have the option to disable the button in the Bixby settings like in previous phones. Hopefully, by the time this review is released or sometime in the near future this will change. Until then, we must live with Bixby getting in our way.Headphone JackYes, the headphone jack is still there. Once again Samsung bucks the trend of nixing the headphone jack and forcing wireless audio on their customers. As an avid music fan who owns several wired and wireless headphones that I use regularly, I dread the day that Samsung and LG give in to this trend. Thankfully, that day has not come yet and I don’t have to live the dongle life.SpeakersContinuing with their improvements over the Note 8, Samsung has made the stereo speakers even better this year on the Note 9. Between the bottom firing speaker, earpiece speaker, and Atmos processing the Note 9 sounds fantastic. I wouldn’t say it can compete against a phone with true stereo front facing speakers, but the Note 9 gets closer than ever to being one of the best sounding Android phones.StorageBravo to Samsung for making the 128GB model the base model for the Galaxy Note 9. This doubles the amount from the previous Note 8 and Samsung also sells a 512GB version. If you really want to go overboard then you can take advantage of the microSD card slot and carry a whopping 1TB in your pocket by adding a 512GB microSD card.SoftwareSamsung is notorious for their software skin most commonly known as TouchWiz or Samsung Experience. The name Samsung Experience does it the most justice because that is what Samsung is trying to provide its users. When you use a Samsung phone it is distinctively different from stock Android. Samsung is also the only handset maker to include a skin on an Android Go phone.This is one way Samsung brands themselves and sets their phones apart from others in the marketplace. However, there are things to love and things to hate about the Samsung Experience.Some of the things I love are all the extra features that are added to Android. These include extras such as themes, a customizable always on display, calibration options for your display, a sound equalizer, dual messenger, video enhancer, one-handed mode, multi window, and much much more.Read More: 9 Tips and Tricks for your Note 9Samsung also includes a couple of extra software goodies which work in conjunction with their hardware. S-Health, for example, uses the sensors on the back near the camera as well as other sensors in your phone to help you keep track of your health.Samsung Pay also deserves a special mention thanks to the use of Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology in its phones. Thanks to this wonderful technology you can make mobile payments at almost any terminal that accepts a debit or credit card. This by far is one of my favorite exclusive features and I love being able to pay with my phone almost anywhere.Some of the reasons to hate the Samsung Experience come in the form of delayed OS upgrades and in general some performance lag. In my opinion, all of the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and I prefer a phone packed with more software and hardware features.PerformanceAs I mentioned, one of the drawbacks of Samsung’s heavy software skin is performance lag. Fortunately, the Snapdragon 845 SoC and 6GB of RAM offer quite a powerful duo to combat any sluggishness. In my usage, the Galaxy Note 9 was the quickest and snappiest Samsung phone I have ever used. It might still struggle to keep up with some phones running lighter skins, but overall I didn’t notice any lag or performance quirks and it kept up with everything I threw at it.For those interested in the stats when I personally ran AnTuTu it returned a score of 283533 and Geekbench reported a single core score of 2435 and 8760 for multi-core performance. This ranks the Note 9 as one of the top five fastest phones out right now.CameraThe same 12MP dual camera setup with dual focal lengths from the Note 8 returns on the new Note 9. This time gaining a new trick with the variable aperture. We first saw this in the Samsung S9 models where the aperture on the main camera can switch dynamically from f/2.4 to f/1.5.The reason for the dynamic aperture is because when you shoot with a lower aperture such as f/1.5 it keeps less of what’s in the frame in focus. Using a variable aperture allows you to shoot f/2.4 in abundant light keeping more in focus while only switching to f/1.5 in low light allowing the camera to absorb more light.On top of having a variable aperture, Samsung also makes use of two different cameras giving you options for a 2X optical zoom and portrait modes. In my experience, this dual camera setup works better than the single-camera portrait modes. Due to providing a greater range to capture the subject in portrait mode and offering a warning when it won’t work.One thing to note is the 2X optical zoom camera has significantly worse camera quality in low light conditions. If you are trying to take photos in a low light situation you’ll get much sharper and detailed photos if you use the regular camera. Check the full view of the samples below for an example of this.Samsung also includes a new software enhancement to the camera in the form of scene optimizer. After taking many samples and comparing them, it seemed to me scene optimizer no matter what scene means make it darker and add a yellow tint. That doesn’t always result in the best photo, and generally, I preferred to leave it turned off.Where it was most helpful was for detecting flawed photos. For example, if something moved and was blurred or someone blinked it would pop up a message immediately after saving the photo giving you plenty of time to snap another.As far as overall photo quality is concerned Samsung always has one of the top cameras on Android. General second only to the Pixel phones and in my opinion that is the case here as well. The Note 9 continues on with this tradition and if you’re looking for the second best camera with the most features available then you’re looking for the Note 9.View More Photos on our Google Photos AlbumThe front-facing camera much like the rear-facing camera is feature packed. This 8MP f/1.7 shooter includes autofocus, beauty modes, built-in stickers, AR emoji, and a portrait mode.It includes just about everything you could need or want for a selfie camera except for a portrait lighting mode similar to the iPhone X. Personally, I’d prefer a portrait lighting mode over all of these useless stickers and AR emoji.Unlike the rear camera that provides a decent second place to the Pixel phones, I find the front-facing camera is significantly worse than the Pixel phones. It is entirely due to Samsung’s over processing of the photos, where even with all the beauty filters set to 0 the images still come out soft.If you were to try the Google Camera app for selfies then the results are much sharper with far better contrast. Which leaves me very disappointed in the front facing camera on the Note 9 unless using third party software.BatteryWith the jump to a 4000mAh battery, I was ready to be impressed by the Note 9. To my disappointment, I wasn’t quite blown away by the battery life. That doesn’t mean battery life isn’t good, on the contrary, it is quite good. I was easily able to end my days with 5 hours of screen on time with at least 30-40% of battery life remaining. If I was a little more conservative I could even see almost up to two full days of usage.You might wonder, what is there to be disappointed about then? The answer to that question would be that all of this is done on the FHD 1080p resolution. While other phones such as the Pixel 2 XL and LG V35 are able to accomplish similar or dare I say better battery life using QHD resolutions with smaller batteries.If you increase the resolution to QHD on the Note 9 then you’ll see closer to 6 hours total screen on time. Without a doubt, that’s still great battery life and most general users will be pleased. Personally, though, I expected more from the upgraded battery.Final ThoughtsDespite a couple of qualms here and there the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 will have no trouble ranking as one of the best phones of 2018. It is fast, it’s premium, it has a great camera, it has great battery life, and it has a new improved S-Pen. There were only a few reasons I could come up with to not buy this phone.First off, it is $1000 dollars which is no easy sell but unfortunately, this is becoming more common in the smartphone market. Another reason would be that you have a Note 8 and have no complaints about the battery life and no use for a Bluetooth S-Pen. Then there’s the final reason, which is you love the Pixel phones for stock Android, fast updates, and the best camera on Android.Beyond any of these reasons, the Galaxy Note 9 is going to be one of the top two phones of the year and if you can afford it, then get it. Outside of the price I could not find any one flaw that would prevent me from buying and loving this phone.Buy from AT&T Buy from SamsungDevices used in this article were provided by AT&TRead next:When and Where to Buy: Samsung Galaxy Note 9You can grab all 12 of the Note 9 wallpapers right nowHere’s the list of official accessories for the Galaxy Note 9Nine things we love about the Note 9
Opinion: Apple needs to modernize its antiquated annual app update routine

Opinion: Apple needs to modernize its antiquated annual app update routine

While Google updates its core Android apps frequently through the Play Store, Apple saves up core app updates for its annual iOS unveiling. Perhaps it’s time that Apple took a new approach.The post Opinion: Apple needs to modernize its antiquated annual app update routine appeared first on Digital Trends.
Optoma NuForce BE Live5 headphone review: Wireless headphones with clarity and average battery life

Optoma NuForce BE Live5 headphone review: Wireless headphones with clarity and...

NuForce is the audio-focused sub-brand from Optoma specializing in high-quality audio products. Previously known for its award-winning BE6i Bluetooth headphones, NuForce has prepared a follow up in the form of the BE Live5 headphones. Similar to the BE6i the BE Live5 are Bluetooth headphones this time using smaller 8mm drivers and packed into a smaller body. We were provided with these headphones for review courtesy of Optoma for an honest and unbiased review.PackagingI don’t often cover the packaging of a product unless there is something exceptional about it or there is a problem. Unfortunately, in the case of the BE Live5 it is the latter. While the packaging looks as good as you could expect, one of the buds was wedged in too tightly.I fought with it for a while pulling on the cable until I was afraid it could get damaged. Then I resorted to using a pen to try to pry it out to no avail. Finally, I broke out my knife and had to cut it free, and in the process partially from haste and partially from frustration also scratched up the finish on the buds.I’m certain this won’t be the typical experience for most customers and it was an anomaly, but it is important to point out every aspect good and bad.DesignWhen it comes to earbuds there isn’t much you can do to stand out. In order to fit the drivers, battery, and other electronics they all generally take on the same shape. Some standouts with the NuForce BE Live5 though are the aluminum build, flat cable, magnetic backs, ipx5 sweat protection, hard case, and included Comply foam tips.Out of all of these features, the magnets are my favorite. It’s not something new or unique to the BE Live5 buds, but it is quite convenient none the less. The option to wear them around your neck as a necklace using the magnetic clasp makes it easier to carry around and I really appreciate that.The in-line controls can be found on the right side of the tangle free cord along with the micro USB charging port. Unfortunately, it is micro USB and not USB-C, but that’s hardly unusual and similar among other Bluetooth headphones. The controls are easy to distinguish with touch alone and are snappy and responsive.While the buttons work well NuForce uses a pairing shortcut that requires holding down the power button. In order to pair you will have to continue holding down the power button after turning the headphones on. Otherwise, there is no other way to enter pairing mode and you’ll end up turning them off.It is always annoying when this shortcut is used on Bluetooth headphones. A better alternative would have been a shortcut requiring you to hold down both the volume up and down buttons for pairing.Fit and ComfortThe Optoma NuForce BE Live5 headphones include three pairs of ear tips and two Comply foam tips along with three sizes of ear wings. For someone like myself with smaller ear canals, it can be challenging to find headphones with ear tips in the proper size. Some brands such as Klipsch provide a smaller option which fit perfectly.While most tend to include ones too large and the buds are constantly falling out. That was the case with the BE Live5 buds. Fortunately, when you combine it with the included ear wings it provides a much more secure fit. With this combination, I no longer had any issues with them falling out.I was also impressed the included ear wings were so flexible soft, making them more comfortable than others I’ve tried in the past. The more rigid ear wings can often lead to early ear fatigue and don’t stand up to long listening sessions.Between the smallest ear tips and medium-sized ear wings, the fit was extremely comfortable, making it easy to listen to music for hours without any discomfort.On a side note replacing the ear tips was extremely frustrating. This was by far the most difficult pair of headphones I’ve ever had to deal with when it came to inserting the ear tips. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to exchange them swap them out repeatedly to find a comfortable secure fit.Sound QualityThe BE Live5 make use of the aptX and AAC codecs for Bluetooth streaming. These two codecs provide near CD like quality if both your headphones and phone support it.The sound signature of the BE Live5 is light and crisp with wonderful detail and excellent separation. Thanks to this I was able to pick up on some subtle nuances in songs that can get lost on other pairs of headphones. Bass lovers should look elsewhere, however.For all of the clarity, the BE Live5 provides the bass takes a backstage here. That doesn’t mean there is no bass, only that the bright highs and crispness takes center stage here. The BE Live5 headphones would be better suited for music lovers who prefer a more balanced and clear sound.BatteryBattery life on the BE Live5 headphones was pretty average. They are rated for 8 hours of usage and that is pretty close to what I experienced. There are headphones that offer more, generally ones with charging cases or collar designed headphones though.One major annoyance with the BE Live5 headphones is once you reach 20% battery it constantly announces your battery is low in a loud overpowering voice. The repetition was completely unnecessary and the volume of the voice was actually painful to my ears.Bluetooth RangeSimilar to most Bluetooth devices I’ve reviewed the BE Live5 performs well within 30ft. without any interruptions or drop outs. If you’re indoors with walls between you and your device you can expect to lose signal occasionally once outside of 30ft. When outdoors the distance is a little better only deteriorating around 40ft. or more.ConclusionOverall, the NuForce BE Live5 are a decent value if you aren’t a bass head and prefer a more balanced sound. The comfort fit will keep you immersed in your music for hours enjoying every bright detail. That is until it begins yelling repeatedly in your ear the battery is low. However, if you’re someone who prefers more bass in their music than I’d look elsewhere.
Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro Review

Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro Review

We’re now well into the second half of 2018 and a question has nagged at me all year: do we really need tablets anymore?Phone displays are getting bigger and bigger and we now routinely see phone displays that span more than 6-inches. That’s pretty crazy considering just a few short years ago we reveled at a 4.5-inch display, even wondering if it was too big.So, as the devices in our pockets get bigger, faster, and stronger, why do we need tablets? Aren’t phones good enough now to take care of all of our needs?To answer this question, I reached out to Huawei, asking to take a look at the MediaPad M5 Pro. The 10.8-inch tablet is widely viewed as one of the best on the market today. If there’s anything that can make the case for tablets as a whole, this is the one to do it.Just a note before we go on. There are three versions of the MediaPad M5 available today. An 8.4-inch MediaPad M5, a 10.8-inch MediaPad M5, and a 10.8-inch MediaPad M5 Pro. The 8.4-inch and 10.8-inch devices are available today for $320 and $360 respectively. The 10.8 Pro is $450.The biggest difference between the 10.8-inch models is that the Pro comes with support for the M-Pen (Huawei’s stylus), where the non-Pro model does not. Both models can connect to a keyboard dock via Pogo pins on the rear of the device, but one was not available for this review.For purposes of this review, we are reviewing the 10.8 Pro version with M-Pen included.Hardware and designThe MediaPad M5 Pro is a good looking device, but further inspection leaves us feeling… unimpressed. Sure, it looks just fine. It’s classy and non-offensive but there’s nothing to write home about here. You won’t find yourself feeling awkward about pulling it out during the bus ride to work or on the plane after take off. You will feel just fine about taking notes on it during a business meeting or relaxing with it on the couch.But, there’s just no wow there. It feels very plain to look at. The metal back offers almost no design flair at all besides Huawei and Harmon Kardon logos. The top houses a rather large camera bump and the Pogo pins at the bottom are flanked by two large speaker grills– two more line the top too. Yep, that’s four speakers (we’ll touch on them later).Read More: Honor View10 Review: The budget flagship king?The right side of the device finds the volume rocker and power button. These are wonderfully clicky buttons and Huawei did a good job of placement here. Most people hold larger tablets in landscape and they’re placed perfectly for that. If you hold your tablet vertically, they’re a little awkward but we found no real issue. No matter where you place the buttons, there’s always going to be someone with an issue. We’re just happy with how high quality they are.Just below the buttons are a microSD card tray and a USB type-C port. Some of our friends who we let play with the tablet remarked that this was an odd place for the charging port, but once we pointed out that the tablet supports keyboards that attach to the Pogo pins, they understood the placement.Unfortunately, the microSD card tray is just a single card slot. We’d have loved to see 4G LTE support on these tablets, but those have been reserved for markets across the ocean. Huawei seemingly targeted this specific tablet at those who want to get a little work done and we think cellular connectivity could’ve gone a long way for that set of folks.The front sees a similarly barren layout. The right side of the device houses a fantastic fingerprint reader and the bottom presents a Huawei logo shining back at us. That’s about it. Our Champagne Gold and White version looks just fine, but we found the darker colors of other models to be a bit more appealing.Back to that fingerprint scanner– we’re in love. Not only is this thing fast, accurate, and in a great spot, but it supports fingerprint gestures too. We routinely used it as our home button, but you can also head into the settings to set up back and multitasking gestures too. We did run into some accidental home button presses here, but nothing we were overly annoyed at.The display is big, bright, and beautiful. It’s an IPS LCD display that has a 2560 x 1600 resolution. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 16:10 aspect ratio. We love aspect ratio as most widescreen media clocks in at a 16:9 aspect ratio.Media looks absolutely fantastic here. While colors and blacks don’t look quite as good as on AMOLED displays, we were pleased nonetheless. Max brightness was more than enough to provide a clear picture on sunny days and we found colors to be pleasingly warm. This isn’t the most accurate display in the world, but it does look damn good.Flanking the display are decently sized bezels. As we watch bezels grow smaller and smaller on our phones, we’re glad Huawei stuck with this chunky monkey. The bezels are small enough to look nice while providing enough grip. This is always going to be a two-handed device (and the slippery back provides no help in that area), but we always were able to comfortably reach our thumbs to the middle of the tablet to type and press buttons while playing games.Huawei pulled off a solid, if not uninspiring, feat here. The device, on first inspect, feels a bit bland and forgettable, but after spending time with it, it becomes clear that the MediaPad M5 Pro is more than the sum of its parts.PerformanceIf you’re going to charge as much as some cheaper laptops for your tablet, performance has to be top notch. We’re happy to report that we have no issues here and were quite surprised in some instances.The MediaPad M5 Pro has a HiSilicon Kirin 960 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of space. Huawei made the decision to release its flagship tablet without its flagship processor inside. It’s a puzzling decision on paper. But, once you use the MediaPad M5 for a while, you see why. We’re under the assumption that it costs less for Huawei to pump out the Kirin 960 chips today and there’s almost no loss in performance.Read more: Honor 7S review: good looking, but so very slowDuring our time with the tablet, we saw no hiccups. This thing is blazingly fast in most tasks and we found even in larger games, we were more than happy with the performance. Sure, loading times could have been better in some places, but this isn’t a $1,000 flagship phone. It costs less than half that, although you might not know it.It feels like 4 GB of RAM is now the lowest Android OEMs can get away in flagship devices– both phones and tablets. We didn’t have any problems necessarily with the MediaPad M5 knocking recent apps out of memory, but we know things could’ve been better here with more RAM. We hope Huawei will consider upping the ante in the next refresh of these devices if it wants to continue to convince people to drop their laptop for this little powerhouse.One area where we had zero issues is battery life. The MediaPad M5 Pro has a 7,500 mAh battery that supports quick charging. We got between eight and nine hours of screen on time with the tablet and took us about four hours to fill it back up in our completely unscientific tests.In phone reviews, we normally consider four to five hours the standard. Anything less and we’ll point out poor battery life. Anything more and you get some praise. Tablets are a little bit different. We’re not using our tablets as much in a given day or for the same tasks. For this reason, we found ourselves going four to five days between charges on the MediaPad M5 Pro. This is fantastic.Again, Huawei has obviously targetted a segment of the population that wants to get some work done without investing in an ultrabook or lugging around a cheaper laptop. Even if you were to work a full day while on battery power, we think you’d have no problems getting that last email to your boss in at the end of the day. We’re very impressed.SoftwareThe MediaPad M5 Pro comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. It has Huawei’s own EMUI 8.0 on top.If you don’t have any experience with Huawei’s skin, just know that it’s pretty heavy. Huawei obviously has its own vision of how Android should look and they go to great lengths to achieve that goal. There is literally no part of the operating system that is untouched. Whether that is a positive or a negative is up to you.Read more: Huawei Mate 10 Pro reviewHuawei has worked to add small but noticeable upgrades to the Android OS. It gives you much more control over how your display looks and acts, strict background and permission controls, strong controls for how apps are able to bug you, and many more.Where Huawei can fall down a little bit is not playing to the strengths of having a large screen. Besides some menus that have dual pane menus and allowing two apps to be run side-by-side, Huawei hasn’t done a lot here to maximize its potential. There’s a beautiful 10.8-inch display here, but sometimes it feels like I’m just using a big phone.One of the ways that Huawei has tried to reach that potential is with the included M-Pen. The active stylus is a very nice addition and the software allows you to write as you normally would with a pen or pencil. I found that Huawei was almost always able to make out what my sloppy handwriting was trying to convey. While this isn’t a more efficient way of dictation than a computer keyboard, it is far better than trying to type on a screen or on a cramped tablet keyboard (just a reminder: we don’t have the Pro’s keyboard so we can’t comment on that specific keyboard’s typing comfort).As of the writing of this review, our review unit hasn’t received an update in quite a while. We’re still resting on the May security patch. And hey, we didn’t assume that we’d get monthly updates, only Google and Essential do so, but we wouldn’t mind seeing more than three or four a year.The MediaPad M5 Pro is one of the only large display tablets that comes with Oreo out of the box. That’s a huge positive, but we wonder how long it’ll stay that way. More tablets are being released all the time and it only makes sense they’d come with Oreo as well. With Android 9.0 Pie’s release, we also wonder how long it’ll take the Pro to get an update.ConclusionSo, what did we learn? Do you need a tablet in 2018? Do they really make sense anymore?For me, I think they do continue to make sense. Outside of all of the productivity advantages of the MediaPad M5, this thing is just fun to use. It has four speakers, that even though they shoot the wrong way, are fantastic. I’d take these Harmon Kardon-tuned speakers on most laptops any day of the week. It also had a display that matches or exceeds the quality of what you can find on laptops at a similar price. If you want a bigger screen to watch YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu on, I’d highly suggest the MediaPad M5 Pro.I also see quite a few benefits of using the MediaPad M5 Pro instead of a laptop for productivity. Yes, you are going to deal with a smaller screen and therefore a smaller keyboard. But, the MediaPad is also only 1.1 lbs and small enough to fit in almost any bag or purse. It’s highly portable, very powerful due to all of the productivity apps in the Play Store, and supports both a first party keyboard and stylus. That’s pretty powerful.My only big fault with here is that I feel like Huawei didn’t do enough to make use of the big display. Apple had been plagued by this for years with its iPad Pro lineup. It recently introduced more features to make that big display even more powerful.Read more: HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic ReviewHuawei could do more too. We do know that when connecting it to its first-party keyboard, the tablet gives users an option to enter a desktop mode that allows free-floating windows and reminds us a lot of a Windows 10 desktop. Since we weren’t able to use this feature, we can’t comment on it too much besides giving Huawei praise for including it. Some users reported that not all apps are available in this desktop mode (the Play Store being among them) so we’d like to see this ironed out before calling the MediaPad M5 Pro a full ultrabook or Chromebook replacement.But overall, we feel as though the MediaPad M5 Pro is more than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t have the most powerful processor, the most ram, storage, or the biggest battery. The software isn’t the cleanest or most feature-packed, but we loved every moment with the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro. From getting some work done to watching way too many Casey Neistat videos on YouTube, it was a pleasure to use.
Get the most out of your S Pen! 12 apps to use with the Galaxy Note 9

Get the most out of your S Pen! 12 apps to...

So, you've got a Samsung Galaxy Note but no apps to go with your S Pen? These apps and games will help you make the most of the Samsung's lauded stylus, whether you're looking to take notes or slice virtual fruit.The post Get the most out of your S Pen! 12 apps to use with the Galaxy Note 9 appeared first on Digital Trends.
Alcatel 7 review

Alcatel 7 review

As phones continue to get better, we’re seeing some compelling options at the cheaper end of the market. Companies like Motorola have made a statement by producing very nice devices that can be had for the price of a nice steak dinner with the family.Alcatel, much like Motorola, has plenty of experience making “cheap” but good devices. We’re now getting our first look at its newest “flagship” device the Alcatel 7. This isn’t a flagship in the normal sense, but it is the best and most expensive phone Alcatel released in 2018.Alcatel sent over its Alcatel 7 for us to take a look at; we’ve used the device as a daily driver for the last few weeks. During this time, we’ve been using it on the MetroPCS network since the 7 is a Metro-exclusive device. You can walk into a store right now and pick one up for under $200.HardwareThe Alcatel 7 is a bit of a trip down memory lane. While many companies work to put as many so-called premium materials in their devices today, the 7 doesn’t feature any. We’re reminded of the shiny plastic Samsung Galaxy S4 when we pick the device up.The smooth plastic back is definitely a throwback and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, some will overlook the device for not featuring enough glass, but others will appreciate how durable this makes the device. We’ve seen enough of our share of problems with glass-backed phones to make us appreciate that this one can survive a fall.One of the biggest issues we’ve had with the Alcatel 7 related directly to that plastic back. This thing is incredibly slippery. We have seen some devices that are worse in this respect (the Samsung Galaxy S6 comes to mind), but you will definitely want to grab a case for this phone if you want to avoid is slipping onto the floor. It didn’t really matter where this phone sat, it was always trying to slide.The back of the device is dotted by a fingerprint scanner just below a dual camera sensor. The scanner is rougher than we’ve seen in other devices and threw us for a bit of a loop. It’s something we got used to eventually, but we never did get used to how painfully slow it is. After using Pixel and Huawei devices with lightning-quick scanners, this one felt like we were puttering along in the slow lane.The camera, which we’ll touch on more in a little bit, is a dual 12 MP f/2.2 + 2 MP f/2.4 affair. It can record up to 1080p video at 30 fps, but that’s about it. It is flanked by a dual LED flash that does a pretty respectable job of lighting up a room. We’ve definitely seen worse.Around front, things get a little more interesting. We’re treated to a 6-inch, 1080p display. The display follows the popular new 18:9 display ratio we’ve seen on phones for the last 18 months or so. We were really surprised at what a really nice display the Alcatel 7 has.For this generation of devices, Alcatel went with its own in-house displays to cut down on some costs and it was a great move. Sure, you’re not going to be blown away like you would be on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (a phone 5x its price!), but considering this is a $180 device, we were impressed.Colors look fantastic and pop right off the screen. Where some cheaper displays appear to have the display far below the digitizer, images felt forward and right in front of our eyes with the Alcatel 7. The only time we could really tell we were looking at a budget panel was some slight color shifting when looking at the device off-axis. Though that being said, the phone does get very bright outdoors and is very usable on all but the brightest of days. Low light scenarios were a bit different. We wish the display was able to get a little bit darker so it was a little easier to use late at night or first thing in the morning.Above the display sits your normal selection of sensors and the front-facing camera. We really enjoyed front-facing flash for selfies, something that is bound to be a popular feature with younger individuals looking for a solid phone. Just beware, this thing gets BRIGHT and will leave you blinking for a few minutes after. Still, it’s a nice touch.Another nice feature we’re seeing in more devices is fantastic buttons. The Alcatel 7 has wonderfully clicky buttons and a textured power button. Nothing ruins an experience quicker than mushy buttons that you have to think about when pressing. Alcatel’s choice of buttons here is great. They’re tactile, have great travel, and almost no wiggle. Sure, this might be a small thing, but its this attention to detail we really appreciate.The top of the device hides an IR blaster that you’d be forgiven for forgetting about. It was trendy to stick these devices back in the HTC One M7 days, but that quickly died out. We love to see Alcatel keeping the idea alive here. It’s convenient to grab our phone, open up an app and have control over our cable box, television, or window-mounted air conditioning unit.The opposite end of the device holds the USB type-C port and a speaker. We weren’t blown away by the sound quality of the speaker, but it was fine for a speaker call in a moderately loud situation. You aren’t going to stun anyone with how awesome music sounds coming out of this thing, but it’ll get the job.And speaking of music coming out of this thing– yes– it does have a 3.5mm headphone jack!SoftwareCheaper Android devices are a mixed bag in terms of software. We see some like Nokia embracing stock Android. But, equally as often, we see others like Blu put really ridiculous skins on the phone.Alcatel tries to walk a fine line here and does a pretty decent job.After you get through the initial setup, you’re greeted by a launcher and icons that will make you roll your eyes. But, upon further inspection, there’s a lot to like here. Yes, the Joy Launcher is terrible and the icons are laughably bad but those are easily replaced. And hey, at least the Google pane is to the left of the homescreen, something we’d like to see more often.The rest of the device is left unmolested by customization by Alcatel. Notifications, settings, and other important system apps look just like they would on your Pixel device. There are some added settings like Face Unlock (which I was never able to get to work despite repeated efforts), but you’ll feel at home here if you’ve ever owned a Nexus or Pixel device.Where Alcatel and Metro go wrong is the apps it has included with the system. We’ve seen devices that have included more, but this definitely on the high side. The phone is loaded down with apps like Metro’s own “App Store”, MetroZONE, Lookout, Device Unlock, Hotspot, Name ID, myMetro, and more.Metro PCS’ App Store application is nothing more than an advertisement. The app gives users links to suggested and promoted applications and does nothing more than link to the Play Store listings for these apps. It’s like Metro asked “How can we make some money?” and came up with this. It’s terrible and shouldn’t exist in the first place.Another pretty terrible inclusion is the MetroZone app. The app aims to be a one-stop shop for all of your local news, movie times, events, gas prices and more.I wish I had never opened this app.The Alcatel 7 unit we have for review is now taken over by advertisements because of the MetroZone app. Every time we open up the device, we see an ad. They appear full screen until you close them, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you quickly need to get some info from your device. It feels like I’m using Internet Explorer in 2007 without a popup blocker.I think what honestly bugs me the most is this app doesn’t give me any information I didn’t already have access to. Weather applications are extremely popular. So are apps for gas prices and movie times. And then there are the sponsored blog posts it tries to get you to click on….Ugh.One addition that we did like is Alcatel’s Smart Manager. This app allows you to keep an eye on which apps are opening on startup and which apps are deep in hibernation. I’m not sure how useful it will be to most people but giving users more control over their devices is never a bad thing.We also appreciated the power saving modes included. Most Android OEMs include some kind of lower power mode, but the Alcatel 7 has two. We have our normal power saving mode that kicks on when your battery gets low and limits background activity, throttles down your processor speed, and dims the screen.Then we have an even more powerful mode that turns the wallpaper black, limits which apps can be launched and is designed to get the absolute most out of your device.We love this restrictive power saving mode, but there seems to be a problem with its implementation on the Alcatel 7. Our unit constantly reloaded the power saving mode and therefore wouldn’t let us access anything. It took a full power cycle get out of the mode and we came away with a bit of a bad taste in our mouth. If we had been in an emergency situation with a dwindling battery, this could make the difference between getting help and not.There are a ton of little quirks with the Alcatel 7’s software, but at its core, it sticks pretty close to stock. If you replace the launcher and disable some of the built-in apps, you could probably enjoy your time with the Alcatel 7 a little bit more than we did.PerformanceThe Alcatel 7 is a budget device through and through. It features a MediaTek Helio P23 SoC clocked at 2.5GHz. The octa-core chip is not the fastest or most powerful out there and it shows in the day-to-day performance of the Alcatel 7.We found tasks like opening apps or scrolling through lists frustrating. There is lag in almost all areas of the device. The system routinely drops frames during animations which leads to stuttering and a choppy feel. Android is heavily dependant on the device being able to render graphics and animation smoothly for an overall pleasing software experience and the Helio P23 really falls flat here.But, it’s not all bad news. The Alcatel 7 reminds us a lot of that older car that takes a few cranks to get going, but once it does, is completely fine. We saw a ton of dropped frames and sluggish behavior after waking the phone up from a deep sleep, but once we used the device for more than a minute or so, we were good to go. Scrolling through Reddit or browsing Instagram was completely fine. It’s a weird issue, but one we were able to reliably produce.Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. The phone isn’t properly able to support the camera app because of how much lag is in the system. Remember the front-facing flash we mentioned? Well, almost every selfie we tried to snap with the flash enabled failed. The flash would light up, go dim again and we’d still be waiting on the camera shutter.It is ridiculous for a phone in 2018 to behave like this. If Alcatel’s key demographic for this device is younger individuals looking for an inexpensive phone, it is really shooting itself in the foot with this terrible experience. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but people like to take pictures of themselves and their friends with the front-facing camera and they don’t like to be embarrassed by terrible phone performance.The Alcatel 7 features just 2 GB of RAM and this initially gave us pause going into this review. We routinely review devices with double or triple that amount of RAM and we were interested to see how full-fledged Android would perform with just 2 GB of RAM.We have to say that we were pleasantly surprised. There were definitely apps that got pushed out of memory before they would on other devices with more RAM, but we never encountered an app being killed while used. We were also surprised to pick up the phone after a while and find some of our social media apps still in memory. Games are another story and die almost immediately, but that is to be expected.If performance is somewhat disappointing, then battery life is the standout. The Alcatel 7 features a 4,000 mAh battery and supports quick charging. We were able to get well over a day’s worth of use with 40% to 50% of our battery left at the end of the day. The large battery capacity coupled with a weak processor and average display resolution really lended to some fantastic battery life. If you’re a regular user, we could easily see two days of battery life here.CameraMost people aren’t going to expect a camera experience that rivals a Samsung flagship on a $180 device. And they’d be right to temper their expectations.The 12 MP + 2 MP main camera is nothing to write home about. Dynamic range is weak, auto-focus can be hit or miss and we see a lot of colors that are misrepresented. Not only that, pictures with bright light sources routinely look blown out, destroying many lovely outside shots.Is it possible to take a good picture with the Alcatel 7? Sure. But, you’re going to have to adjust with the included Pro mode, and even then, we’d suggest just sticking them on social media. If you’re looking to pick this device up for your kid as their first device, you probably aren’t going to hear much complaining. But, if you’re used to higher end devices, you will probably be frustrated here.Click here to view an album of Alcatel 7 camera samples on Google PhotosConclusionDuring our review period, I asked several people for their thoughts on the Alcatel 7. Almost universally, people thought the device felt pretty cheap. On its face, that’s not a great sign. But, when I asked those same people how much they thought the device would retail, I didn’t get any answers under $300. Sure, it might not feel premium, but Alcatel isn’t asking for a premium price either.One area where the 7 shows its value is the display. We really can’t say enough how impressed we were with the panel on this device. We’ve seen devices that cost two to three times more with inferior displays. Since we spend our entire lives looking at screens now, it makes sense to pick a phone with a quality display and the Alcatel 7 won’t disappoint.Unfortunately, the Alcatel 7 disappoints in enough areas that we’d suggest holding off if you’re used to the flagship lifestyle. The MediaTek processor in the Alcatel 7 just isn’t good enough to get the job done. We found the experience of using this phone very frustrating due to slowdowns and lag.We’re also disappointed in the apps Metro and Alcatel loaded on the device. Some are pointless while some almost feel malicious like MetroZone. Sure, there aren’t a ton of these apps (and far less than you’d expect to see on a Samsung flagship), but they’re just plain bad. If you do decide to pick this phone up, I’d avoid these at all cost. Uninstall or disable where you can.But these trade-offs aren’t enough to avoid this phone. There are few devices in a carrier store that carry a price tag under $200 and that makes the Alcatel 7 very attractive. If you’re picking this up for your kid or perhaps an older family member that needs a first smartphone, they’ll probably be fine with this.Alcatel has a long history of making quality devices and they’ve done so here again. The Alcatel 7 certainly isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done.
Avido Wiba review: Wireless power, anywhere – but at a price

Avido Wiba review: Wireless power, anywhere – but at a price

After raising over $40,000 back in July on IndieGoGo, the WiBa wireless power bank from Avido is finally ready to ship. The WiBa (presumably short for Wireless Bank) is a combination charging dock and external battery bank, both with Qi charging built in. We got our hands on the innovative device, and took it for a test-drive. The WiBa retails for $99, available for pre-order directly from Avido.HardwareThe Avido WiBa is actually two products that function symbiotically as one. The first half of the product is a Qi-charging cradle, with built-in pins to charge the latter piece, which is a 5,000mAh power bank. Said power bank is a little larger than a 6″ phone, and a little thicker as well. It features a Type-C input port (which is all-but superfluous, as you’ll see), USB-A Quick Charge output port, and Qi Wireless Charging on its top face. Its bottom face also features contacts to charge the battery wirelessly – when Avido advertises the WiBa as a wireless charging solution, it means it.Aesthetically, the WiBa doesn’t try to do anything fancy. It’s made of a soft-touch bone-colored material, which unfortunately doesn’t quite fit in with the standard black of most smartphones these days. It does, however, fit rather perfectly with the white ceramic aesthetic of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S – eerily so.Specs & PerformanceSpecification-wise, both the Power Bank and Charging Cradle feature standard Quick Charge speeds. The former can charge devices both wired (5V/2.1A) and wirelessly (5V/5W). The latter only charges devices wirelessly – at the fast-charge rated 9V/10W current. But it churns out enough power to charge both the power bank and your phone by stacking them atop one another, which is a great convenience. One cable to the cradle charges both your Qi-enabled phone and the WiBa power bank, and taking them off the cradle is a simple as picking them up. No wires, no cables. It’s pretty cool.ValueAt $99.99, the 5,000mAh Avido WiBa is no cheap buy. Most batteries of that capacity are $20 or less. Even if you include a fast-charging Qi Charger to the cart, you’re only looking at about $40. But the wireless technology in both the charger and battery shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the convenience of being able to stack a battery and phone on top of the charger for utterly effortless charging.At this price point, the Avido WiBa is, unfortunately, a rather niche purchase. But if it can sell enough of these to make the investment worthwhile, I have a feeling a WiBa 2.0 could change the way we think about charging. If you just can’t do without the ability to stack your battery and phone atop one-another to charge, the Avido WiBa is up for pre-order for $99 on Avido’s website.
Apps Sale review – the simple way to discover which paid apps have gone free & on sale

Apps Sale review – the simple way to discover which paid...

Everyone wants to save money, whether it’s on phone bills, clothes or simply apps and games. Android developers regularly put apps on sale, or even make them for free for a limited time, to attract more attention. But sometimes you won’t know an app has been discounted until it’s too late.Fortunately, there are ways to find the latest apps and games on sale. You’ll simply need a monitor app like Apps Sale. You can get it from the Google Play Store for absolutely no cost.The first time you’re using the app, a set of quick instructions will pop up for your convenience. Although, you probably won’t really need those, because the app is super intuitive to use.Get access to all the discounted appsOnce inside the app, you basically get a long list of apps that are currently discounted or available for free. The developer also lists the date when the deal is set to expire, which is super convenient. Simply tap on the app in question and you’ll be redirected to the Google Play Store where you can immediately download it.On top of that, the app also offers you promo codes for particular apps. There’s a dedicated section for that, which you can access by tapping the App Promo codes option in Settings (the hamburger menu in the top left corner). However, you will have to download App Giveaway Pro in order to claim the promo codes. This time it will cost you $0.99.There’s also a Google+ community around the app. Here you can suggest apps to the developers and they will do their best to get promo codes deals for you. And you can interact with the other members of the community too.The app can also send you notifications with the top 10 new deals, which you can schedule at a time that is convenient for you. The developers claim they don’t include apps with lower ratings than 4 and during our testing, we didn’t find the statement to be inaccurate.Bottom line is, we definitely encourage you to give this app a try if you’re looking to save some money on your app purchases.
Blu VIVO XI+ review: A new direction for the unlocked phone maker

Blu VIVO XI+ review: A new direction for the unlocked phone...

When it comes to smartphones, the term “flagship” is thrown around an awful lot. It seems every 3-6 months you an announcement touting a device as a flagship or flagship killer. And when it comes to Blu, that seems to be the case even more frequently.In the past Blu would take it rapid fire approach to releasing devices. It would not be uncommon for it to release anywhere from six to eight phones a year. Many of them, sadly, tend to look and sound similar to one another.As a company who specializes in unlocked devices for GSM phones, Blu tends to focus on the entry-level and mid-range experience. Prices are often a fraction of what you would find in another brand, such as Samsung or LG.Generally speaking its competitors are usually brands that you’re not too familiar with here in the United States. Sure, its phones can take on the bigger global brands on paper, but in practice it is more akin to “no name” or less recognizable models from overseas.As a whole, we like the devices that we review from Blu and often find ourselves recommending them for first time users or for customers who need affordable replacements; they make excellent Band-Aid phones, or something to get in a pinch. If you have a young user in your house or are just starting to dabble in smartphones, Blu makes excellent options.The problem that we run into is that it’s often a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience from the manufacturer. Software updates are never promised and rarely show up.As longtime smartphone users, we like to focus on security updates and timely patches, and it’s even here where Blu has a so-so track record. What’s more, it has run into its fair share of vulnerabilities and bad press.All of this leads to a less-than-stellar experience from the phone maker. Despite its best intentions, Blu struggles to break out of its current mold. Looking ahead, things look to be changing for the company.Something New?Today marks the release of Blu’s latest smartphone, the Vivo XI+. Launching with a limited-time price tag of $250, the phone will ultimately stay around $350 when it’s introductory offer expires. It’s not a 24 hour sale but it does have a short time frame.What can customers expect in the device? You guessed it, another flagship. It arrives on the heels of its predecessor which launched just six months ago, signalling it might not be all that different…Wait, you’ll want to hear this one out.What makes the Vivo XI+ so different? For starters there are a number of firsts in this phone. But, before we get into the hardware let’s talk about the new path ahead for Blu.Slow Things DownRather than launching with many devices and flooding the market with confusing and overlapping options, Blu is opting to slow its pace. What’s more, it is taking a strategic approach to software updates and is even making promises. Indeed, this phone comes with the company’s first promised Android update.One only need look at the recent statement from its CEO to see that Blu understands where it can do better. Assuming things go the way they hope, the horizon looks good for the brand.VIVO XI+ ImpressionsWhen you look at the hardware on this phone, one finds that it matches up nicely with devices that tend to run a good $700 or more. As we’ve seen from Blu time and again, this unlocked phone works with GSM carriers and features an incredible amount of bang for the buck. Things are no different for the 11th generation of the flagship line.Key FeaturesMediaTek Helio P60 with AI Technology 2.0GHZ Octa Core Processor64GB/128GB internal storage (with microSD slot up to 128GB)6GB RAMAndroid 8.1 Oreo6.2-inch display with 19:9 and 18:9 aspect ratio (1080 x 2246 pixels)Dual rear cameras (16-megapixel, 5-megapixel)16-megapixel front-facing cameraFingerprint sensor3,050mAh batteryUSB Type CWireless Charging4G LTE: 1/2/3/4/7/12/13/17/28/66That’s quite a bit of heavy hitting hardware to be sure. And, that’s not really painting the whole picture. There’s a few things going on here that aren’t super obvious when reading bullet points.As indicated above, this phone launches with Android 8.1 Oreo, the most recent version widely available. Very few others offer Android 9 Pie so it’s nice to see Blu keeping pace with the big brands. According to the phone maker, the Vivo XI+ will see its Android 9 update at some point in the first quarter of 2019.With a window of around six months to work with it’s not too bad. It could definitely be better but we suspect it will still beat other phones with an update.What’s Included?The review unit provided to us by Blu looks to be the same as what consumers will purchase. To that end, this does mark the first time one of its phones came shrink-wrapped in the box. We didn’t see anything inside all that different from previous phones, but we did take notice.Inside we find the standard fare of Blu pieces and parts. In addition to the phone you’ll get a protective carry case (that matches the box), an already applied screen protector, sticker, SIM key, charger and cable, 3.5mm earbuds, and an adapter.Although there is no headphone jack on the Vivo XI+, Blu throws in the adapter so you can plug into your car stereo or, of course, the included headphones. Otherwise, feel free to pair your Bluetooth earbuds and rock out.DesignConstructed from a solid metal body with a curved back design, the Vivo XI+ looks and feels like a solid experience. There’s a good amount of heft to the phone, but we would expect that when we’re approaching small tablet-sized displays and these materials. One glance signals to us that the phone is to be taken seriously.Powered on we see that Blu has opted to go the same route as nearly every other phone maker. Yes, there’s a “notch” on the display. Not to worry, though, you can toggle it on and off with a simple swiping down gesture from the top left. In essence you can go from 19:9 aspect ratio to 18:9.You have to look closely to see that there is screen up near the top edge. When not in use you get an image that resembles more traditional smartphone designs. It’s really a matter of opinion and personal preference as to whether the notch works or is necessary.Internally, we here at AndroidGuys are pretty mixed when it comes to the idea and day-to-day usage. To us, at least, it’s fairly easy to get used to both experiences in the Blu Vivo XI+.The power button and volume rocker are located to the right side of the display, which is typical for most phones. Across to the left side is where one finds the microSD card and dual SIM card trays.On the bottom edge of the handset we see the USB Type C port flanked by speaker grilles. We’ve seen Blu dabble with this charging port in other models but it has yet to fully commit to it. Here’s hoping the new direction means a standard approach to devices.The fingerprint reader is found on the back in the upper center of the phone. It’s right about where your finger wants to fall naturally, but we may have liked for to be just a smidge bigger or maybe even a little more of a pronounced edge. We can find it without looking — but it sometimes blends in a bit too well.There are two cameras, which are stacked on top of each other, on the rear left of the phone. Below them is the LED flash. We like having these away from this fingerprint reader if only because we’d hate to run our finger across it when blindly unlocking.SoftwareIf you’ve read our reviews on Blu before, you know we like the experience. It’s a nearly unadulterated version of Android and doesn’t have very much in the way of pre-installed apps. There are usually a couple added but they’re not the invasive carrier-branded stuff you get from wireless providers.The Vivo XI+ is exactly what we expected: lean and mean Android with a touch of custom Blu flourishes and a sprinkling of apps. The model we received came with Opera, NextRadio, Amazon Prime Video, Wish, and Amazon Shopping.The first two had icons on the home screen and could not be directly uninstalled; the other three could be uninstalled completely. For what it’s worth disabling NextRadio and Opera ultimately results in them being removed from the phone.There’s also a couple of smaller apps like Blu Help, Compass, and Data Clone (new phone setup), Torch (flashlight), SIM Toolkit, Sound Recorder, Video Player, Music Player, Notes, and File Explorer. Unfortunately, you can’t remove these or disable them. Thankfully, they are lightweight and take up next to zero space. All in all, it sounds worse than it really is and it definitely beats a bunch of games and apps selected by the carrier.In terms of Google apps, the gang’s all here. Look for Google, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Play Music, Play Movies & TV, Photos, Messages, YouTube, and Duo.PerformanceWe’ve had our unit for approximately ten days as we readied our review. In that time we’ve installed nearly all of the software that we use on a daily basis. Given the hardware we felt no reason it couldn’t meet our demands. To that end we loaded up multiple accounts, and a handful of apps, and games.We tried as much as possible to use the phone as a “daily driver” over the time we had the review unit. There were times where it did stay back for a few hours while we took a different model with us, but we didn’t mind coming back to it at all.After living with so many different phones over the years we come to appreciate certain things over time. Take wireless charging, for instance. Once you get used to doing it, you tend to not want to go back. In previous Blu models we couldn’t do this; going from a more feature-rich flagship to other Blu devices left us missing the option.The same goes for USB Type C. Yes, we still have plenty of reasons for microUSB ports and chargers in 2018, but we don’t rely on it for our phones. Those cables have been replaced either outright or with a wireless dock. It’s nice to see Type C if for no other reason than us not having to swap out car chargers and other cables.The Vivo XI+ also comes with a few other goodies baked in, too. The Real 3D Face ID lets you unlock your phone using your face. Blu indicates that you can’t trick it with photos, masks, or “even wax sculptures”, adding that its IR sensor aids in detection in all light conditions, including total darkness.Setting this feature up only takes a couple of moments and it really makes for a hassle-free unlocking experience. We found it to be not only fast and accurate, but true to its promise. There were no instances where we couldn’t get it to register, regardless of environmental light.It didn’t really matter what apps or games we played as the phone handled the duties in stride. Hopping from one app to another didn’t yield any delays and there were no noticeable lags or stutters.You can say that an octa-core 2.0Ghz processor doesn’t stack up on paper and be right. But, in practice, you have to run benchmark tests and really look for the differences. Coupled with 6GB RAM, there’s enough horsepower in the Blu Vivo XI+ to qualify the phone as more than capable for demanding users.There are a handful of gestures and settings that help you really tailor the experience around your personal preferences. It’s not unlike what Motorola offers in that it’s helpful stuff if you want to use it. There’s nothing that is vital to set up; however, playing with stuff like navigation settings, display notch, camera options, and Face ID can make the phone feel like “yours”.CameraThe  phone boasts a dual camera setup on the back, which is “powered by AI technology” for smarter and better pictures. With a 16-megapixel main camera, it has an F/2.0 aperture, 1/3 inch sensor and 5P lens. The 5-megapixel secondary shooter is what captures your depth of field and is what’s responsible for the blurred backgrounds in portrait shots.The Vivo XI+ focuses on its subject quickly thanks to the Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) with Laser Focus. Pictures, even those in taken with filters or additional settings, are captured quickly and accurately.To be perfectly honest, one of the main reasons we would leave the phone at home in favor of the daily driver (Pixel 2) is because we know what we’re getting in the camera. After having spent most of a year with that one we didn’t want to take a chance on missing out on key moments with a goofy camera app or experience.Over the last two weeks, though, our anxiety over this has eased. Each time we pick it up and play with the camera we like it more and more. We’re more confident now that we can take it out and capture candid moments and look forward to really using it over the next few weeks.Click here to see some sample pics taken from the Blu Vivo XI+ in a growing libraryWith that said, the pictures we’ve taken so far have been solid. The color is accurate and they’re crisp and vibrant. Playing with the different shooting modes is pretty intuitive, giving us pretty much what we could hope for in the end results.We expected the phone to struggle more in lower lighting if only because of price and previous experience. Blu did well here, providing sensors that capture more light than in its predecessors. It will be fun to figure out where the line is on the Vivo XI+ and learning where its capabilities end.ConclusionIf you’re on T-Mobile, AT&T, or one of their respective prepaid networks and don’t care about whether your phone has a major brand name, this is an excellent place to start. As an unlocked phone, the Vivo XI+ is compatible with GSM networks [4G LTE (1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/28/66), 3G (850/900/1800/1900), and HSPA (850/900/1700/1900/2100) ]. Like other Blu models, this one comes with support for two SIM cards so feel free to mix and match, especially if you travel.There may be more exotic or sexier models out there, but you could pay double for that experience. Moreover, we tend to protect our phones with cases, often hiding a glamorous finish or fancy flourishes. When that happens, it’s pretty much a level playing field on the front.Unfortunately it’s all to easy to look at devices for what they don’t have as opposed to what they do have. After nearly two weeks with the Vivo XI+ we’ve come to like it quite a bit, finding it more in line what we want from a phone.The things we didn’t love in its predecessor are pretty much addressed and it falls within about $50 of its price. If it’s a case of fixing the little stuff that bothered us, Blu did very well.We often recommend that anyone considering a first Android phone start with something in the middle of the pack. This way you can figure out whether they want, or need, more later on. Luckily for today’s buyers, the mid-range is more than strong enough to handle daily needs.You’re going to have a tough time beating this phone’s specs at this price, at least from a brand you’ve heard of before. If you’re looking for a phone for T-Mobile or AT&T in the US, start here and work your way out. Likewise for those overseas considering something new for Orange Vodafone, O2, or other GSM carriers.It’s a fantastic phone at $350 and an even better buy if you’re an early adopter.We’re optimistic about the future of Blu, especially if it delivers on its new promises. If it can meet the self-imposed deadline for Android 9, and slow down on the sibling releases, then it will be doing well for itself.Throwing stuff at the wall so many times a year likely has a negative effect. If it wants us to think its phones are special, it needs to take a more measured approach. There’s nothing wrong with a couple of annual releases but they ought to be spread out across various lines. Here’s hoping that’s what is in store for us.AvailabilityThe Blu Vivo XI+ is available from Amazon at launch with an introductory, limited time price of $250. This is a $100 off the standard retail cost and is subject to available stock. After the short window Blu will set the price to its everyday sticker of $350. Sold in Midnight Black and Chrome Silver, it comes with free shipping, too.
Sennheiser IE 800 S Flagship In-Ear Headphones Review – Small Upgrade, A Lot of Dough

Sennheiser IE 800 S Flagship In-Ear Headphones Review – Small Upgrade,...

It’s been a couple years since we’ve looked at the best from Sennheiser with regard to in-ear headphones. The petite IE 800 were an original take on a high-end earphone, deviating from the current trend over-the-ear design and multi-driver configurations. It was surely understated, but the attention to detail is what set it apart, from the elegant, ceramic casing to the super crisp sound.Well, it’s about that time for a successor, and Sennheiser has debuted it in the form of a IE 800 S. Following in the footsteps of Apple’s naming convention, the “S” means that we’re looking at a refresh of the original flagship rather than something really new. And naturally, that begs to question: Are the tweaks worthy? It’s crucial to note that this update pushes the price back up to the original $999. Let’s find out.DesignAs expected, we’re presented with a very similar form and design as before. That is, tiny tapered earpieces with stubby nozzles and unique dual bass exhaust ports at the rear. Nothing has changed with regard to mechanics. To the disappointment of many, the cable still isn’t removable from the earpieces (which is often a feature in higher-end earphones). You still have that interesting break on the cable’s Y-split, where it detaches via a 2.5mm jack. However, this time, that feature is more functional.Sennheiser updated the wiring so that the new headphone can be used with Balanced output. And what’s more, the Balance cable isn’t an extra purchase. Sennheiser includes two common standards in the box: 2.5mm (TRRS) and 4.4mm (Pentacon) terminations. The cable detachment now serves as a cleverly quick way to switch cable types.The three different terminations that you can choice from: top and bottom are Balanced standards and middle is the typical, Unbalanced 3.5mm jack.Styling has been given an impactful update, for better or worse. Starting with the earpieces, they’re still made out of durable ceramic, but with now a matte finish instead of glossy. We usually agree with this kind of move. Glossy typically invokes a cheap feel. However, coupled with the ceramic, it gave the original IE 800 a luxurious sense. The new matte finish moves to “understated”, but at a close look, you can see a high quality sheen to it. And we can’t ignore the practically of it. The earpieces aren’t nearly as slippery as before, and fingerprints are no longer a bother either.The cable got a similar makeover. Instead of the textured, green accented styling from before, the IE 800 S comprehensively pushes the stealthy aesthetic with a more understated, basic smooth black sheathing. Again, it feels higher quality than the standard rubbery plastic used on most earphones, but we can’t ignore how basic it looks for such an expensive unit. We prefer the unique look of the original.UsabilityThe box contents with the new IE 800 S have minimally changed from before, Such is the case with the design of the leather case, to our dismay. It’s unnecessarily large (relative to the size of the earphones), and you have to wrap the cord around the sides to utilize it.A positive is that Sennheiser is now offering a set of foam ear tips (customly made by Comply). Those take place of the oval silicone tips that have quietly disappeared for an unknown reason. Then there’s the new inclusion of two types of Balanced cables that we’ve discussed.As far as we can tell, Sennheiser hasn’t messed with the shape, angle, or size of the earpieces, so ergonomic-wise, the fit experience is just like I’ve seen with the IE 800.Their compactness results in a deep insertion. The tips (standard silicone ones) are firm but plenty mold-able. A seal is no problem in my case, but it isn’t the most secure you’ll find. On that subject, we still wouldn’t recommend these for working out, not just because of the delicate fit but also because microphonics noise is still a concern when the cable rubs against you with movement. This is a headphone for sitting still and listening.Not all of the gripes from before have gone unaddressed. Many users disliked the short length of the cable. Sennheiser listened and added a little length.SoundI adored the sound of the original IE 800. Its sub-bass was captivating and treble detail/extension was extraordinary. Sennheiser also has this skillful cleanness and clarity unaccomplished by many. But not everything in its reproduction was as brilliant. Namely, it was lacking a bit too much energy in the mid-range, and thus, some of that pleasurable fullness found in some of the competition.This is one of the qualities I can hear that Sennheiser tweaked in the IE 800 S. Mind you, it’s not a big change. Nothing with the IE 800 S is a big change, just refinements. In other words, if you’re pondering the upgrade, know that this is still very much a IE 800 sound. It’ll be the same experience for the most part.The IE 800 S paired with the Android-powered, HiFi Onkyo DP-X1 in Balanced mode is wonderful.So where the original IE 800’s frequency response could be deem V-shaped, Sennheiser pushed the mids up to what could be considered U-shaped. It doesn’t sound like much, but is an impactful difference. Vocals, in particular, have more breathing room (rather than being pressed down). It also adds a touch of musicality and fullness that the drivers’ excellent dynamics benefit from. That said, the update doesn’t get the mids even near the rockin’ level of the SE846.Sennheiser also made tweaks to the sub-bass and treble regions. In contrast to the mids, these changes brought more control to the strongest areas of the IE 800’s sound. Some users found the past sub-bass to be a tad overbearing. Likewise, while the treble output was magnificently detailed and crisp, it could be fatiguing.The result of taming these regions is an easier listen, while still being able to pick up the high-caliber acoustics. However, on the same token, these critical details aren’t as catching and distinct as they previously were, taking away from the “specialness” of the output. That aspect is important when considering how much you’re paying.The IE 800 S sounds more “ordinary” in comparison to its predecessor, and it’s harder to make out the benefit of the high cost. It’s totally a game of give and take. It’s apparent that Sennheiser is trying to even out the frequency response for the sake of trueness. The better approach may come down to preference.All-in-all, the IE 800 S is still a masterful in-ear solution. Articulation and clarity are first-rate. It’ll be hard to go back to ordinary earphones after this. Somehow, these little guys manage to pump out an able soundstage. It’s not the widest, but the 3D space is beautifully perceived and worked within. You’ll excellently identify varying range of depth as different notes hit. It’s still amazes me what these little earpieces can do, with their tiny drivers. The IE 800 S’s output can still stand with today’s best.Final ThoughtsVery tough decision at $999.If you’re nit-picky like I am (and I’d argue that at this price range, you’re allowed to be), you may be plentiful content with this update. My strongest point, especially for IE 800 users, is that the updated sound is more of a tweak than an upgrade. It’s totally on you if that’s worth putting down the dough for the “upgrade”. I honestly wouldn’t say so at this point in time that the originals are at half the cost.As for interested non-IE 800 owners, I’d recommend being cautious. Get your hands on them for a test listen if at all possible. The sound quality is exquisite, no doubt, but it can be seen as an acquired taste. However, if you’re someone that can appreciate qualities like clarity and detail more than energy and booming bass, then you may recognize the magic within. And once you do, you’ll be hooked.
Apeman M4 review: A tiny, compact projector that you can take anywhere

Apeman M4 review: A tiny, compact projector that you can take...

Going camping and need some entertainment? Or you simply want to watch a movie with the whole family and don’t have a big screen TV?Then a gadget like the Apeman M4 Mini projector might be exactly what you need. We’ve been testing out this particular device for the last few weeks, and here’s what we think of it.AppearanceThe Apeman M4 mini projector comes in a stylish little box that includes the device, an HDMI cable, a tiny tripod, and an AC charger with a USB charging cable.The M4 looks great. It’s quite small and can easily fit in my hand. It has a nice black shiny finish and an overall minimalist design. The unit measures only 3.86 x 3.86 x 0.85-inches and weighs next to nothing. It can be made to fit anywhere including in the pocket of my pants.Unfortunately, the top surface is quite a magnet for fingertips which it’s particularly great, but not a deal breaker either. You’ll just need to have a wiping cloth with you at all times.The projector comes with a large vent at the front, and there’s another one located below. Both are used to dissipate heat. Throughout our testing, the M4 remained quite cool in use and we didn’t notice any overheating.On the back, you’ll find an HDMI, USB and USB-C ports. The latter is used for charging. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can hook up your favorite headphones.Functions and useThe M4 is not as feature-rich as some of the other projectors on the market. That’s mostly because it’s a budget affair. However, it does provide more than necessary to get entertainment on the go.For example, there’s no microSD storage expansion slot. But, the good news is that you can use the USB port to plug in a hard drive. What’s more, the 3,400 mAh rechargeable battery can double as a battery pack to recharge your phone. Which is pretty handy.The M4 features 50 lumens LED lamp that offers decent quality pictures in a dim or a completely dark room. However, this is definitely not a daylight projector. It has a decent contrast ratio of 1,000:1 but it’s not nearly as powerful as other projectors available on the market today.The HDMI port on the M4 makes it fully compatible with any standard media device. However, keep in mind that you’ve got absolutely no wireless connectivity on board including Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. So connecting a smartphone to it is not so simple and would require an additional device like a Roku stick.A thing I found quite unusual about the Apeman is the lack of software interface. When you turn the projector on, using the power button on the side, you won’t see anything other than the Apeman logo greeting you. No additional Settings options or anything like that. Connect the HDMI cable and you’ll immediately start seeing the projected images.The upside to this is that the mini projector is really easy to use and works straight out of the box. It doesn’t involve a complicated setup or anything like that. It also comes pre-charged, so simply take it out and start using it.Place the projector at a distance of about two meters for best results. Don’t forget to use the mini tripod that comes in the box; it comes super in handy. Once you’ve found the best distance, all you need to do is manually focus the image and you’re good to go.In our testing, we discovered that sound quality was pretty impressive for such a tiny device. The M4 features 1-watt stereo speakers which sit on either side of it and can provide loud and clear audio. While the projector’s own speakers can fill up a small room, if you’re looking to use the device in a larger chamber, we recommend you hook up an external speaker (if you have one of those laying around). You can connect them to the Apeman using the 3.5mm audio jack.As we mentioned above, you’ll need to be in a completely dark room to take advantage of the full quality of the Apeman. The projector has a native resolution of 854 x 480, but it supports 1080p video input. Although it will downscale it. We know the resolution sounds disappointing, but actually, the projections end up looking quite decent on the wall. Colors are ok and the contrast ratio is good enough to watch a movie or look at a family album.The internal battery can play up to about 80-90 minutes of content before running out of juice. Once the battery is drained it will take about 3.5-4 hours to fully charge it back up.ConclusionThe M4’s biggest advantage it’s the fact that it’s such a tiny, portable device, which you can take with you literally anywhere. It’s not the most advanced projector we’ve seen, but it does get the job done when you need some quick entertainment to spice up a boring family evening.The Apeman M4 is available for purchase for $209.99 from Amazon.
First Impressions:  A weekend with the Huawei P20

First Impressions: A weekend with the Huawei P20

Huawei isn’t having the best time with US press and governments right now, but that doesn’t affect the quality of their phones. Earlier this year Huawei announced its new flagships, the P20 and P20 Pro, for mass markets. Unfortunately, the phones aren’t sold in the US, so it’s been a little hard to get our hands on one, but we finally did! I’ve been using the P20 (not Pro) for this past weekend, here are my initial thoughts and annoyances.HardwareThe P20 packs great specs in its beautiful glass and metal package. It houses a 5.8” LCD FHD display with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of Storage, and a 3,400mAh battery. There are a small notch and chin with a fingerprint reader on the front. On the back, we have a dual camera setup consisting of a 12MP RGB sensor and a 20MP Monochrome sensor.One definite thing I can state about the P20 is that I love the design. The notch is minimal but actually looks like a notch instead of Essential’s nipple-notch. The chin is also actually doable since it houses a fingerprint reader — unlike what’s expected from the Pixel 3 XL The phone overall is slim and sleek, and very manageable to maneuver in one hand.I haven’t been using the phone with a case and have managed to save it from dropping twice, but I’d love to rock a Peel case on this device. Not all the time though because again I love the feel. Also, the speakers are surprisingly loud.SoftwareThe biggest drawback to Huawei devices is their software. Huawei devices run a software skin named EMUI and I’ve never been a fan of it or any skin similar to it. Luckily with Android, you can swap out launchers, change icons, and more very quickly. I have yet to change the launcher even though the wallpaper is skewed off axis. It’s based on the Google Launcher, and you can even have the Google feed on the left.There’s a lot of AI features built in the P20’s software. There’s a Google lens-esque information accessor in the camera – which I’ve never used or even wanted too. A weekend (with a full-time job) doesn’t allow the most time to dive into all the Huawei AI software features, but know that there is a lot packed into the phone and its skin. There’s also a bunch of pre-installed apps, stop that Huawei. Lastly, there’s a blue line/bubbles that appears when I swipe down from the top right corner, but I can’t figure out what it does or how I activate it.CameraThe camera gives the opposite experience of the general software. The UI looks a little sad, especially the shutter button, but the features are godly. Huawei includes a variety of modes, including my favorite ‘Pro’ mode where you have near-total control of the sensor settings. You also have recent favorites such as Night mode and Portrait mode — with different lighting effects, similar to that one company’s camera app. You can trigger the camera from a locked screen via double pressing the volume down, but that doesn’t work if the screen is on at all. Picture quality though is rather amazing.The pictures I’ve taken recently with the P20 are very detailed and colorful. Even without the extra sensor from the P20 Pro, the little brother is keeping up and giving other devices from this year a run for their money. The only other annoying part of using the camera is the insistent AI popping up at inconvenient times. Otherwise, I love the camera app and possibilities.There are a few other small things about the phone I must mention that I’ve noticed. The power button has a red line on it, which is a small neat touch. There is no headphone jack, which is to be expected from everyone but Samsung. Also, even with its glass back, the P20 can’t wirelessly charge. The biggest faux pas though is there is no waterproofing on the P20. Huawei, what the ..!ConclusionAfter these first few days, using the Huawei P20 has shown me that it is an excellent phone. Naturally, Huawei focused more on the Pro version, but this standard version can beneficially support many consumers. I can already tell I will be enjoying this phone, especially after I can spend a whole day personalizing it without having work interrupt me. Our full review will be available in a couple of weeks, and other articles may arrive soon as well. See you soon.I really wish the Pixel 3 XL shared a similar design of the P20….

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