Xiaomi Hongmi review – hard to beat value for money

Xiaomi Redmi

Xiaomi Hongmi (meaning “red rice” in Mandarin) or Redmi as it is known in Singapore has long been a best-selling device for the so called “Apple of China.” In its own backyard, Xiaomi is selling this smartphone for less than $150. If you’re living in the Western hemisphere, you must get it from some importer…

The Good
  • No other device gets you the same bang for the buck.
  • Camera is on par with some much more expensive models.
  • Screen is rather awesome for a device this cheap.
The Bad
  • The lack of 4G LTE connectivity could be a deal-breaker for some.
  • MediaTek's chip doesn't provide enough power for 3D gaming.

Hardware

Here's what Hongmi delivers:

  • HSPA connectivity
  • 4.7-inch 720p HD (720 x 1280 pixels) IPS LCD screen
  • MediaTek MT6589T quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 chip clocked at 1.5GHz with PowerVR SGX544 graphics
  • 1GB of RAM, 4GB of built-in storage, expandable with microSD cards
  • 8-megapixel rear-camera with auto-focus and flash
  • 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS, 3.5mm audio jack, FM radio
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • Dual-SIM capability, only one SIM can be connected to HSPA networks
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean-based MIUI 5
  • Dimensions: 5.39 x 2.72 x 0.39 inches (137 x 69 x 9.9 mm), 5.57 oz (158 grams)

As with the Mi3, the Hongmi also comes inside the simple yet fancy box that has a wall charger with microUSB to USB cable, and a thin simple user guide. Headphones, again - are not included.

The Xiaomi Redmi gets its power from MediaTek's MT6589T quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz. This chip won't deliver the performance of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 600 or 800, but you'll get a decent experience, nevertheless. Don't expect all 3G games to work great, but other than that - you shouldn't notice any lag. Quite the contrary, everything seems to be running smoothly. We would love a faster auto-focus in the camera app, but again - this isn't a high-end device and considering the price, that would be asking too much.

Design

Xiaomi Hongmi - Redmi

The Hongmi/Redmi looks like any other phone. Unlike the Mi3 which has the all-metal back, the Hongmi is made out of plastic. Hence, it's cheaper. But, you can buy some fancy case/cover and turn it into a premium-lookin' device. Again, we're suggesting everyone to check out what Xiaomi World has to offer - they have some fancy covers listed at their site.

But even if you stay with the default plastic cover, you won't regret. At first glance, the phone seemed kinda clunky in my hand, but that was before I've put battery inside after which it felt pretty solid. Heck I would say it feels more solid than many premium phones made by major companies.

That 4.7-inch screen looks rather amazing for any phone let alone the one that costs $220 (or less than $150 if you live in China or Singapore). Forget about fuzzy fonts, everything looks sharp on Hongmi. We would love it to have a slightly thinner bezel but I guess we ask too much from a phone this affordable.

Below the screen are three capacitive buttons with red icons (hence the name "red rice") that make the phone different from other devices. Add a red cover to the mix and you get the ladies' new best friend. Or go with the default black or white cover and it's perfect for men.

The back of the phone is where the rear camera and flash are located. There are volume and power on/off buttons on one side of the phone; while the 3.5mm headset jack is placed on the very top.

Build Quality

Xiaomi Hongmi - Redmi

The Xiaomi Redmi is a solidly-built product. Heck, I would say that it's better than most of the phones in its category. Compared to similarly priced Samsung, LG or HTC phones wouldn't do any good to the mentioned handset makers; as a China-based company, Xiaomi has lower costs of operations and is able to deliver a much better product for the same price.

Unlike the Mi3, the Redmi is completely made out of plastic which, I'm happy to say, doesn't make the phone FEEL cheaper. It does look plasticy and cranky, but that's only until you take it to your hand. At 158 grams, this is one of the heaviest devices in its range and that extra weight is responsible for the solid feel in the hand.

We also have to applaud Xiaomi for opting for Corning's Gorilla Glass 2, making sure the Redmi's screen isn't that easy to break. Again, bear in mind this is a phone that costs around $200.

Software

Xiaomi Hongmi - Redmi

Like any Xiaomi phone, the Redmi runs MIUI, a custom version of Android that in many ways makes the phone look like it's running Apple's rather than Google's mobile platform. Forget about the app drawer, it doesn't exist in MIUI and you'll have to cram all of your apps into folders on the homescreen. Or place them [apps] directly on one of homescreens.

It's not all just cosmetics. Xiaomi has its own cloud services which are tightly integrated in the MIUI and are used for storing photos, contact management, messaging, backups, and the ability to find your phone if you (God forbid) lose it.

Furthermore, the software brings along an array of tweaks that together make MIUI one of the most popular ROMs on the planet. For instance, holding down the home button when the phone is locked will turn on the flashlight, which is pretty cool.

Folks who like to personalize their phones with custom tones and graphics will also appreciate MIUI. Xiaomi has its own store of themes, audio and graphics files, providing users with a ton of options to choose from. Some things you can get for free, while some others cost few cents.

The biggest downside is the lack of preinstalled Google apps, which luckily could be quickly fixed. Simply search for "Google" in the Mi Market and grab the first app that you see on the list (it has a red icon with "g" letter and small Android logo). Called Google Installer, this app will let you install the missing apps, including Google Search, Chrome, GMail, Google Maps, and of course Play Store.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

Most other phones in this price range have a 5-megapixel camera on the back; not the Xiaomi Redmi - its camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. Moreover, there's also a pretty solid camera software included allowing such options as panorama and HDR photography. We would appreciate a faster auto-focus, but I guess that would be asking too much for the money.

Outdoor shots are surprisingly good with a plenty of detail and not overly saturated colors. Taking photos indoor doesn't produce that fancy photos, but again - we got more than decent results in our testing. Overall, I would say the Redmi delivers a better-than-expected camera that can easily take on Samsung, LG and HTC smartphones in its category.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Xiaomi Hongmi - Redmi

Calls were as crisp and clear as on any other device. I'm not really an expert in these sort of things, but I would say the Redmi is on par with other devices we've tested in the past. If you don't expect the HTC One-like audio -- which has those front-facing speakers to thank for the amazing sound -- you won't be disappointed with Hongmi.

Likewise, the battery life is more than decent. You'll easily get through the day on a single charge even if you're emailing and surfing the web more than a "normal" person. The Hongmi has a 2,000 mAh battery which delivers just the right amount of juice.

The Final Take

The Xiaomi Hongmi is an amazing device for the price. If you can get it in China or Singapore, do it even if you already have a great phone. It's hard to imagine a better phone costing less than $150. On the other hand, if you have to buy it from some importer like Xiaomi World, perhaps you're better off going for something better (some other Xiaomi phone, perhaps?). The same amount of cash gets you the unlocked Moto G, which is equally decent product. We're not sure we would say the Redmi is better than Moto's popular low-cost smartphone. It is, however, the single best smartphone with a price tag of $150 I ever tested. And it has that extra SIM card slot which comes in handy for those frequently travelling to other countries or just want to have a single device connected to two different networks. That's something the Moto G lacks. That information alone could be worth pushing the button for some... ;)

Motorola Moto E Review

feat

At first glance, the Moto E looks like a rather unremarkable phone. Burdened by a low-end spec sheet and a tiny 4.3 inch display, the Moto E seems to have everything stacked against it. But after holding the Moto E in the hand and firing it up, you’ll find that there’ more than meets the…

The Good
  • Motorola skimped on the bloatware, delivering an almost stock Android experience
  • Extraordinary battery life
  • Amazing performance given $129 price tag
The Bad
  • No 4G LTE support
  • Performance lags when trying to open resource heavy apps
  • 4.3 inch screen makes typing a bit difficult

Hardware

On paper, the Moto E looks like a shabby device. In the age of quad and even octa-core processors, the Moto E rocks a dual-core Snapdragon 200 clocked at 1.2GHz, and a Adreno 302 single-core GPU. You’d expect this device to crawl through apps, but it doesn’t. Thanks to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the Moto E is snappy and responsive when it comes to swiping through homescreens, listening to music and posting selfies* on Instagram. But for basic everyday use, the Moto E delivers the goods. Motorola didn't add a ton of bloatware to the device either, which surely helps out in the performance department. The 5MP rear-facing camera is nothing to speak of really, but gets the job done. The camera interface is intuitive and easy to use, and provides a comprehensive list of options such as being able to snap a picture with just a tap of the finger. Swiping up or down adjusts the camera's zoom, and a simple swipe to the right brings up camera options such as HDR and panorama mode.

*Don’t expect to snap any sweet selfies on the Moto E, though – there’s no front facing camera to be found. You'll have to use the rear-facing camera for that.

The Moto E comes up a little short when it comes to internal storage, offering only 4GB. Luckily Motorola added a microSD card to the device, allowing memory to be expanded up to 32GB.

The Moto E supports the following bands:

US GSM Model:

  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • UMTS/HSPA+ up to 21 Mbps (850, 1700 (AWS), 1900 MHz)
  • Requires a microSIM card (not included)

Global GSM Model:

  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • UMTS/HSPA+ up to 21 Mbps (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • Requires a microSIM card (not included)
  • CDMA Model Coming Soon!
  • CDMA/EVDO Rev A (850, 1900 MHz)

 

 

Design

The first thing one notices about the Moto E is the device’s design. Borrowing heavily from the Moto G, the Moto E has a Gorilla Glass 3 coated 4.3 inch 540 x 960 qHD display, a power button and volume rocker on the right hand side and no physical buttons. The speaker resides on the front of the unit. Charging port can be found on the bottom of the Moto E, while the headphone jack sits in the dead center of the top.

The Moto E has just enough weight to it to sit comfortably in the hand, and a form factor small enough to jam in the pocket of even the skinniest of jeans.

All around, the Moto E’s design is simple and unobtrusive. The back lacks carrier branding, delivering instead a clean Motorola logo surrounded in a sea of white. Not a huge touch, but it helps the budget device feel like a premium one. The back panel’s slight curve makes the Moto E fit perfectly in the hand. The device comes in two colors: white, as pictured, and black. Back panels can be swapped out for more colorful ones if so desired, just like the Moto G and Moto X.

 

Software

Motorola kept the amount of additional software on the Moto E to a minimum, which ends up delivering an almost stock Android experience. This helps out the overall performance of the Moto E, allowing its modest processor to focus on software that matters. Most mid and entry level devices ship with manufacturer software that may work well on a flagship device, but end up hurting performance on smartphones with low-end spec sheets.

The Moto E includes an FM radio and a TV Tuner in select markets. Motorola's Migrate app is on board to help new users easily transfer data from an older device to the Moto E. Google Voice Search voice actions are accessible as well as full access to the Google Play Store. Motorola Assist allows users to fly through their day without worrying about annoying interruptions. Assist allows users to set notification profiles which will limit the Moto E's audible notifications while at a meeting, asleep or just enjoying a day at the beach.

The Final Take

Simply put, the Moto E is the best budget smartphone around. At only $129 off-contact, the Moto E is the perfect device for a first-time smartphone owner, those on a budget or as an emergency backup. Where most budget Android devices come riddled with performance hindering software and outdated versions of Android, the Moto E keeps it clean with the latest version of Android, KitKat. While the Moto E might not be the best gaming device, the Snapdragon 200 processor whizzes through basic everyday tasks such as e-mail, web browsing, watching YouTube videos and sending text messages. The battery will get you through your day without a charge, and the Gorilla Glass 3 coated screen gives the device an added layer of protection.

If you're in the market for a new Android device but don't want to bankrupt yourself, give the Moto E a go. You just may like it.

 

Verizon LG Lucid 3 Review – A Mid-Range Offering with Some Sexy Curves

feat

Mid-range smartphones are all the rage these days. Well, actually, they’ve always been popular. But as the age of smartphones drudges on, faster processors, cheaper RAM and an abundance of apps has driven smartphone manufacturers into overdrive. That’s not a bad thing, because it ultimately means that first time smartphone buyers can jump on board…

The Good
  • Sleek design, fits great in the hand
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board
  • LG's KnockON and Knock Code are welcome additions
The Bad
  • Camera quality very low
  • Call quality leaves much to be desired
  • Screen resolution lacking

Hardware

The Lucid 3's spec sheet reads like a flagship device from a few years back. On board you'll find Android 4.4 KitKat running the show, Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the a 4.7-inch qHD display at 960 x 540 pixels. The quad-core 1.2GHz processor isn't the snappiest you'd find out there, but is more than sufficient for everyday usage. 8GB of storage is on board, along with a microSD card which allows for memory expansion of up to 64GB. 1GB of RAM is more than enough to swipe through homescreens and switch between apps.

As far as benchmarking goes, the Lucid 3 held no surprises. The AnTuTu benchmark pins the Lucid 3's overall performance just under that of Samsung Galaxy S3, with an overall score of 17233.

Check out the full spec sheet below.

Design

  • 4.7” qHD Display with Narrow Bezel and Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Display: Color TFT, 960 x 540 pixels

Dimensions / Weight

  • 5.18” (H) x 2.60” (W) x 0.39” (D) inches
  • Weight: 4.37 oz.

Network

  • Technology: CDMA, LTE
  • Frequencies: 1.9 GHz CDMA, 800 MHz CDMA, LTE bands B13/B4
  • Data Transmission: EVDO, EVDO Rev. A, 1xRTT, LTE

Operating System

  • Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)

Memory / Processor

  • Memory: 8 GB (formatted capacity is less); Supports up to 64GB microSD™ (sold separately)
  • 1.2 GHz Quad-Core Processor

Keyboard

  • Virtual QWERTY Keyboard

Battery

  • Standard Battery: 2,440 mAh (Non–removable)
  • Usage Time: up to 12.5 hours OR
  • Standby Time: up to 15 days

Camera

  • 5 Megapixel Rear - Facing Autofocus Camera and Camcorder with LED Flash
  • VGA Front-Facing Camera and Camcorder
  • Camera Resolutions: up to 2560 x 1920 (2304 x 1296 default)

 

Camera

There's not much to say about the Lucid 3's camera. With a rear-facing camera of just 5MP, the camera is clearly the Lucid 3's weak point. Pictures tended to blur out, leaving important details out of shots. The autofocus is laggy, and the VGA front-facing camera ensures that you'll get the worst looking selfies, ever. If you're not worried about picture quality of your device, than the weak camera experience may be overlooked. But if snapping selfies and Instagramming are your thing, you may want to shy away from the Lucid 3.

 

Design

The Lucid 3 borrows heavily from the LG G2, so much so that it seems like the real LG G2 mini. LG decided to forgo the rear power button and volume rocker which has become an LG staple on its premium phones, debuting on the G2 and landing on the G Pro and G Flex as well. The Lucid 3's button layout is pretty standard fare for an Android phone. A power button resides on the right hand side of the device, a volume rocker on the left, a headphone jack up top and a mini usb charging port and microphone on the bottom. LG included a physical button in the Lucid 3, beneath which you'll find a notification LED. A capacitive back button and menu button also adorns the front of the Lucid 3.

The Lucid 3's camera is housed in the middle of the device's rear, with a LED flash right beneath the 8MP snapper. Directly beneath that Verizon branding can be found, and an LG logo at the bottom. The speaker can be found on the back right hand side of the Lucid 3, directly left of the LG logo.

The sweeping curves of the G2 show up on the Lucid 3, helping the device feel great in the hand. While the G2 can feel unwieldy at times, the Lucid 3 can be gripped without the worry of the device slipping out of your hand.

Software

Overall, the user interface doesn't deviate too much from other LG Android devices running on Android 4.4.2 but does have a few nice surprises. LG has added some of its own software in as well, such as QSlide, which places an app bar in the notification panel, enabling easy access to apps such as the web browser, memo pad, calendar calculator and the Videos folder. QSlide allows the aforementioned apps to be opened in their own windows which float over the homescreen, allowing for multitasking. The transparency of the QSlide window can be quickly changed via a slider bar for easy access to other apps. Easy Home is a nice feature, which puts the phone dialer at the forefront. Apps can be quickly accessed here as well, and time and weather information are displayed at the top.

LG threw KnockON and Knock Code onto the Lucid 3, both useful features that allow you to unlock the device with ease. KnockON unlocks the Lucid 3 with a few taps on the homescreen. Knock Code is the security layer, which allows you to enter an unlock code by tapping a predetermined pattern at various areas of the device's screen.

Here's a list of the software LG included with the Lucid 3:

  • KnockON – double tap the screen to put your phone to sleep/wake it without picking it up or pressing the Power/Lock Key
  • Knock Code™ – customize a quad-screen tapping pattern to wake the phone
  • Isis Mobile Wallet® – holds virtual versions of your credit cards, loyalty cards, and offers/promotions from providers and merchants
  • One–Handed Operation – adjust position of the keyboard or keypad for convenient one–handed access
  • QSlide Function – overlay up to two windows with adjustable sizing and transparency on the primary screen
  • QuickMemo™ – create and share personalized memos by taking screen shots and adding handwritten drawings or messages
  • Multilanguage Support for Phone and Keyboard Input
  • Polaris® Viewer 5 – PC–like office suite app for viewing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets
  • Guest Mode – create a separate unlock screen pattern for guests with preset access and restriction
  • EasyHome – show the dialer and other frequently used features right on the home screen for quick and easy access
  • Text, Picture & Video Messaging with Threaded Feature

 

Call Quality And Battery Life

Calls on the Lucid 3 came through crisp and clear most of the time, but tended to become muddled when the conversation got a little more intense. The speakerphone is nothing to marvel at, but does its job well. Calls tunneled through the device's speaker were clear comprehensible when not turned up too loudly. Turning the speakerphone up to full blast is a less than wonderful experience, making voices sound muffled and confusing.

The Lucid 3 packs a non-removable 2,440 mAh that provides ample juice for moderate use throughout the day. On a full charge, I was able to keep the Lucid 3 alive for about 8 hours on WiFi and moderate usage. When out and about with the Lucid 3, the battery survived for around 7 hours with fairly heavy usage. Just sitting around on standby the Lucid 3 clocked in at around 13 hours, which is to be expected. A little more juice would be nice, but the Lucid 3's battery will surely get you through your day with no worries.

 

The Final Take

With much attention put on smartphones with higher-end spec sheets and flashy bells and whistles, it's great to see that LG is not forgetting about the normal smartphone user. For most of us, features such as battery life, GPS accuracy and ease of use are most important. With a quad-core processor and running Android 4.4.2, the Lucid 3 may not whiz through more complicated apps, but the unit does deliver fast and accurate performance with minimal lag. LG keeps the bloatware at a minimum on the Lucid 3, and with XLTE compatibility the Lucid 3 can deliver some pretty breakneck data speeds.

If you're looking to upgrade your smartphone or just jump on the Verizon bandwagon, check out the LG Lucid 3 and enjoy a surprisingly powerful device at minimal cost. The LG Lucid 3 can be purchased from Verizon for free when signing a new two-year contract. If a contract isn't your style, the Lucid 3 can be purchased for $299.99.

 

Verizon Nokia Lumia Icon Review

iconfeat

I’ll never forget that soggy day a few weeks ago when the delivery man showed up at my doorstep with the Nokia Lumia Icon review unit. I was expecting the usual fare, a small-ish box with just a smartphone and some documentation. That’s how it usually goes, but on this rainy day the postman had…

The Good
  • Amazing 20MP camera takes great photos
  • Beautiful, elegant design
  • Bright, crisp 5 inch screen
The Bad
  • Windows Phone lacks many popular apps
  • Phone is a bit on the heavy side
  • Switching between camera software can be confusing at times

Hardware

Nokia really went all out on the hardware for the Nokia Lumia Icon, packing it with the latest hardware that is on par with many flagship Android smartphones out there today. If you count the 20MP camera the Icon packs, you could even say that the Icon's spec sheet is more impressive than any flagship Android smartphone from 2013. Nokia used the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor in the Icon, which delivers snappy response time and no app lags that I could see. Here's a look at the Icon's spec sheet:

Networks

  • LTE: 700MHz; SVLTE Band 13; Band 4
  • CDMA: 3G EVDO 850/1900 Rev A with Rx Diversity
  • Global Ready: GSM (850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz)
  • UMTS (850MHz, 900MHz, 1900MHz, 2100MHz)

OS

  • Windows® Phone 8 GDR3 + Nokia Lumia Black

Speed

  • 2.2 GHz quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800 (MSM8974), with Adreno 330 GPU

Display

  • 5” Full HD OLED display; Resolution 1920x1080,
  • Pixel Density 441 ppi; ClearBlackDisplay, Sunlight Readability Enhancement (SRE), High Brightness Mode
  • Color depth 24 bit, 16M colors, refresh rate 60Hz
  • Supersensitive capacitive touch enables interacting with the display with gloves and long fingernails; Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3

Battery

  • Integrated 2420 mAh battery, Lithium-polymer

Charging

  • Micro-USB charger included in box
  • Integrated wireless charging (Qi-standard)

Memory

  •  2 GB RAM; 32GB internal memory (formatted capacity is less); 7GB free

Camera & Video

  • PureView 20 MP sensor with ZEISS Optics and Auto Focus
  • Optical Image stabilization
  • f/2.4, wide angle lens
  • Dual-capture: 5 MP oversampled + 19 MP (4:3) or 16 MP (16:9) full resolution images
  • Dual LED flash for Images and Video
  • HD 1080p Video Capture @ 30 fps Video and
  • HD front facing camera with 2 MP sensor and 1.2 MP stills and 720p video

Connectivity

  • Micro USB 2.0 HS with charging.
  • A-GPS and Glonass
  • NFC with secure element on SIM
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Sensors: 3D Accelerometer, Proximity, Magnetometer (compass), Ambient light (ALS), Gyroscope
  • HAC (Hearing Aid Compliance): M4/T4

Size & Dimensions

  • 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 in, Weight: 166g /5.86 oz

Audio

  • 3.5mm Audio Connector, FM radio,
  • 4 digital high-performance microphone

Impressive, right? not only does the Lumia Icon look good on paper, it performs well in real life, too. The Snapdragon 800 flies through apps, plays videos with ease and stands to attention when commanded. Snapping video and pictures is a breeze, and pictures which require filters and special effects are rendered within a few seconds. Overall, the Nokia Lumia Icon is up there with some of the higher end devices on the market currently, such as the iPhone 5S, LG G2, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Design

The Nokia Lumia Icon follows in the footsteps of previous Lumia devices, but with a Verizon twist. Where other Lumia devices such as the 1020 rock a colorful tone, the Icon is all business coming in either white or black colors. The Icon retains Nokia's signature solid rectangle design and throwing in a few curves which are almost unnoticeable at first glance. The back of the device has a slight curve, tapering out at the edges. The Gorilla Glass covered display is slightly curved as well, giving the device the illusion that the screen is protruding slightly from the body of the phone. The edges of the rectangular design are rounded, made of a nice polished grey aluminum. The white polycarbonate back radiates light slightly, giving the whole thing a soft muted glow. The Icon may not tout a full metal body, but that doesn't make it feel cheap. When held in the hand, the Icon feels sturdy and almost indestructible, although I wouldn't take a sledgehammer to it to test my hypothesis.

As far as size goes, the Icon fits perfectly in the hand, making one-handed use a possibility. Some devices with bigger screens such as the LG G2 are a bit unruly when trying to use with one hand, and Nokia made sure this didn't happen. The slightly rounded back helps the Lumia Icon sink into your hand, ensuring against slippage. Where most polycarbonate and plastic backed smartphones tend to slip out of the hand at the most inconvenient times, the Icon stays put.

As far as physical buttons go, the Icon keeps them to a minimum. A volume rocker, power button and dedicated camera button all reside on the right side of the device, bringing the total of physical buttons on the Icon to three. The dedicated camera button works like a charm, activating the camera instantly when pressed. As I've been using an LG G2 for a few months now, it was hard for me to get used to the power button being located on the side. But after a few hours of messing around, I was quickly acclimated to it. The nano-SIM slot can be found on the top left-hand side of the device, and sticks out like a sore thumb. It's not really ugly, but it does break the aesthetic flow of the metal ring surrounding the perimeter of the phone. It's hardly noticeable, but noticeable nonetheless. The microphone jack sits in the middle of the top of the Icon, just right of the nano-SIM card slot. A micro USB charging port is situated in the middle of the bottom of the phone.

A speaker can be found in the bottom right corner of the rear of the Icon, sharing the back cover with the Icon's 20MP camera, dual LED flash and audio recording microphones, one situated at the top and one near the bottom of the Icon. The Gorilla Glass covered front of the Icon houses a microphone for voice calls, back, home and search buttons and a earpiece located in the middle of the very top of the phone. A front-facing camera resides just right of the earpiece.

 

 

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

Nokia Camera Interface

Simply put, the camera on the Lumia Icon is amazing. The Icon's camera touts a 20MP image sensor and can take video at 1080p. Thanks to some extra resolution in the sensor, videos can be zoomed up to 3X without pixelation, a problem that plagues most other smartphones. If you're into configuring your camera settings manually, this is the device for you. By simply holding the camera button and swiping to the left, a manual camera settings interface overlays the picture. Configuring is easy, assuming you know how to manually configure a camera. Simply swipe up or down on the corresponding feature to change the settings.

If manual photography is not your forte, don't fret. The Lumia Icon has a ton of presets which enable you to capture pictures in almost any condition and even has a set of filters that can be added to your masterpiece.

The Icon touts pre-sets for Sports, Auto and Night shots. Probably the coolest feature is the manual focus, which allows you to choose the depth and positioning of objects in your picture. This can be applied before snapping a pic, or afterwards by using the Nokia Refocus app.

Smart Mode is a feature which shoots a burst of ten photos at four frames per second, allowing you to pick your favorite shot after snapping. Using Smart Mode, an Action Shot can be created, with the ability to add frames, fades and motion blur to the sequence of pictures. Motion Focus allows the removal of unwanted objects, just in case you want to take someone out of that group photo.

Pictures came out nicely in Auto mode, and HDR functioned amazingly as well. Check out the pictures below for an idea of how awesome the Icon's camera really is.

Auto, Nokia Refocus

HDR, Nokia Refocus

Auto

HDR

Auto

 Nokia Cinemagraph

Nokia Cinemagraph is a pretty neat app which creates animated GIF like videos. Think if it as a high-quality GIF that lets you pick which parts of the video to animate. While the feature was confusing to me at first, it became second nature very quickly. After snapping a Cinemagraph, the app highlights fields of the picture which when chosen become animated, as you can tell from the Cinemagraph above. I chose every part but the top left to be animated. A host of filters are also available, giving your Cinemagraph that proper old-timey look.

Software

The Windows Phone GDR3 update brings a bunch of features and improvements to Windows Phone 8, and runs prominently on the Icon. Right next to the GDR3 update is Nokia's Lumia Black update, which adds features and Nokia bloatware software to the mix. Nokia has added a third column of Live Tiles to the device's 5 inch Full HD screen, and adds an easier way to multitask. When holding the back button on the Icon, a list of currently running apps will pop up, with a nice little X displayed in the top right hand corner of every window which closes the app when tapped. Unlike the vertical row of running apps which appears on most Android devices, users can swipe left or right to view open apps.

Driving Mode makes an appearance, and can be configured to activate automatically. With Bluetooth activated, the Lumia Icon will activate Driving Mode when a pairable Bluetooth device is in range, such as a car infotainment system. Once activated, the Icon's notification bar will display a cute little car icon to let you know that you're good to go. Pretty cool feature, if you have a newer car with a Bluetooth capable infotainment system. The rest of us are gonna have to get to saving! Or just throw a new car on top of our ever growing piles of debt.

Joining iOS and Android, the newest Nokia  update, Lumia Black brings rotation lock to the Icon. I know what you're thinking - Windows Phone hasn't has rotation lock until now? Yup, it's true. But now that hurdle is cleared, and signals a step forward for the Windows Phone platform. Features like these are an integral part of any mobile OS, and it's actually pretty shocking that it took so long for the feature to make into Microsoft's mobile OS.

As far as the Nokia apps go, the Icon rocks Here Maps, Nokia MixRadio, Nokia Beamer, and camera specific apps Nokia Cinemagraph, Creative Studio and Refocus. (I'll dig into those apps in the camera section.) Here Maps is a full fledged navigation and mapping app, easily on par with Google Maps. (Apple Maps, well..) I found the navigation feature of Here Maps to be cooler than Google Maps, actually. Here Maps displayed my current speed while I was driving, and even alerted me when I was going over the speed limit. Needless to say, I quickly turned that feature off. Overlaid over the map was traffic conditions, and an estimated arrival time kept me reassured that I would arrive to my destination promptly.

I didn't use Mix Radio much, as I prefer to use Google Play Music for my listening pleasure. When I did use the app, it delivered ad-free mixes and radio stations all displayed in tidy little tiles. The music selection was good, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference from Mix Radio and other music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. No ads is a huge plus however, as any listener of the free version of Spotify can attest to.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality on the Nokia Lumia Icon was great, on par with other Verizon devices I've used in the past. There was no crackling or noise during calls, and using the device on speakerphone delivered crisp and clear voice quality.

I live in a rural area, in a place where even T-Mobile and Sprint dare to tread. Verizon however dominates in my remote location, delivering full bars where the unfortunate lot using AT&T get spotty coverage and 56K modem like speeds. Verizon beams 4G LTE to my location, much to my delight. Needless to say browsing the web on the Icon was a delightful experience.

Battery life on the Icon is on par with other high-end smartphones with a  2420mAh that delivers around 8 hours of battery life with moderate to heavy usage. I was able to get around 13 hours of battery life out of the Icon with little to no usage while connected to WiFi. Overall, the Icon's battery is nothing to balk at and will easily get you through half a day without a charge.

The Final Take

When its all said and done, the Nokia Lumia Icon is a great device for Windows Phone fans, and may appeal to Android and iOS users as well. While the Icon won't make smartphone users drop their OS of choice and adopt Windows Phone, it may at least make them curious about the platform, and at least give it a test drive. It's a great step forward for the Windows Phone platform with regards to breaking into the U.S. market, which is dominated by mostly mid to high end devices running on iOS or Android. Nokia and Microsoft think that breaking into the high-end device market is possible, and are attempting to do so with the Nokia Lumia Icon.  In my eyes, Nokia and Windows Phone as a whole will see success in emerging markets, where smartphone users are few and far between. This will be where Windows Phone will see success, as is apparent if you look at current mobile OS distribution numbers.

Windows Phone may not catch on in the U.S., but that doesn't mean the platform is dead to rights in the states. A new version of Windows Phone is expected soon, version 8.1, and will be sporting Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now named Cortana. Cortana is a personal assistant for Windows Phone, with a Siri-like personality.   If more Windows Phone devices like the Lumia Icon hit store shelves and more popular mobile apps make its way to the platform, Microsoft could just have a hit on their hands. It will (and currently is) an uphill battle for Microsoft to grow their presence in the U.S., especially with the recent release of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the upcoming All New HTC One.

Throwing powerful cameras onto phones with limited functionality isn't enough for Nokia if the company truly wants to help in the proliferation of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 platform. While it provides a huge wow factor and some truly incredible photos and videos, it won't be enough to convert an army of iOS and Android users into avid Windows Phone users.

Xiaomi Mi3 review – one of the best phones, ever!

Xiaomi Mi3 review

Finally, we’ve got to play with Xiaomi Mi3, the phone we’ve been hearing about so much in the past few months. As you may know, Xiaomi has been growing like crazy, doubling its sales from year to year. Moreover, it has managed to attract Google’s very own Hugo Barra, who will undoubtedly help the firm…

The Good
  • Rock-solid build quality. On par with HTC One, perhaps even better.
  • MIUI is amazing. It looks like the iPhone but you can tell it's Android.
  • The Mi3 looks amazing. It's simple, yet awesome!
The Bad
  • You'll have to manually install Google apps to the Mi3.
  • Lack of LTE connectivity could be a deal-breaker.
  • Xiaomi phones are not available from any major operator in the West.

Hardware

Again, we're talking about a high-end product here, one that easily fits the super-phone category. Here's the specs run-down:

  • HSPA+ connectivity
  • 5.0-inch full-HD (1080 x 1920 pixels) IPS Sharp/LG display that works even with gloves on
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC with quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 300 CPU and Adreno 330 graphics
  • 2GB of RAM, 16GB of built-in storage, no microSD card slot
  • 13-megapixel rear-camera with Sony Exmor sensor, F2.2 aperture, wide angle 28mm lens, dual-LED flash
  • 2-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/b, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS + GLONASS, NFC, 3.5mm audio jack, FM radio
  • 3040 mAh battery
  • TV out with MHL-enabled microUSB port and Miracast
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean-based MIUI 5
  • Dimensions: 144 x 73.6 x 8.1 mm (5.67 x 2.90 x 0.32 inches), 145 grams (5.11 oz)

Also worth mentioning is that inside the simple yet fancy box, you get a wall charger with microUSB to USB cable, and a thin simple user guide. Headphones, unfortunately, are not included.

Design

Xiaomi Mi3 design

It's easy to love Xiaomi Mi3's design. At first glance it looks like some Nokia Lumia device, but the more you hold it, you see the many differences. First of all - it has a solid-metal back, and it's thinner than (pretty much) any Lumia.

Above the screen there's a front-facing camera, while main (rear) camera is located in the top left like on the iPhone. Also on the front, below the screen, are backlit capacitive buttons.

The main speaker is located at the base of the phone which is handy when it's laying on its back; however, playing games can cause you to cover the speaker and muffle the sound. A micro USB port is also located at the base of the phone.

A SIM tray that can "handle" full SIM card is located at the top (iPhone again), and here you'll also find a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right side, we have the power button and volume buttons.

Build Quality

Mi3 build quality

In a word - awesome. It's by far the best built device I've ever used. The only other phone that can come close to it is the HTC One. All other devices are not in the same league with the Mi3.

According to Xiaomi, the Mi3 rocks "internal magnesium alloy structure incased in three layers of graphite," the fact that makes the end product such a joy to hold. We would give it score 10 out of 10 for build quality. It's that awesome.

Software

MIUI

As that's usually the case with all Xiaomi phones, the Mi3 comes with a special version of Android called MIUI. It's easy to use and you'll quickly get familiar using the phone. We can't help but note that MIUI looks a lot like the iOS, and that's the fact that makes it so fancy. There's no dedicated app drawer and in order to organize all of the apps, you'll have to create folders. Not a big problem as far as I'm concerned.

What's notoriously missing are Google apps and Play Store. That, unfortunately, kills the out-of-box experience. You can quickly install these by searching for "Google" in the MiStore - tap on the first result and after that app is installed, you'll be able to add Google Apps (start with the Play Store and take it from there).

Yeah it's a (temporary) pain but it's definitely not a deal breaker. Woz agreed to go through this process to join the "Xiaomi ride" and we think those extra few minutes you'll put into making your Mi3 Google-friendly are well worth the effort.

On the plus side, the Mi3 comes with few cool apps like easy backups and the ability to control the root rights, which is handy for tech-savvy users.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

Xiaomi Mi3 cameraCamera is pretty much on par with what we've seen on many other Android phones. Sure enough, Sony, LG and Samsung have more advanced software with a ton of features the Mi3 lacks, but again - this isn't a deal breaker for me. I rarely, if ever, use some special effects. And besides, if I need something like that, I can always install a third-party camera app.

That said, it's important to add that the built-in camera app is pretty solid. It has an HDR mode, as well as a number of filters you can use to add a dose of life to your photos. The software allows you to take up to 10 pictures per second, and can even take RAW photos if you fancy so. You can manually set ISO, exposure time and focusing.

The main (rear) camera is powered by Sony Exmor 13-megapixel sensor with F2.2 aperture, and has a wide angle 28mm lens. There's also Philips-made double LED flash to make sure you can take both photos and videos in low-light conditions. It, however, lacks Optical Image Stabilization.

As for the front camera, it's a 2-megapixel shooter that is supported by several filters like intelligent "beauty corrector," and the ability to identify gender and age. Yup, you shouldn't have problems taking nice selfies with the Mi3.

Call Quality And Battery Life

I'm not an expert on call quality but can say that the Mi3 sounds like any other phone I've tried in the past. And I haven't tried those devices explicitly known for their bad call quality. So in this department I would say Xiaomi's baby is on par with competition. There could be some differences but, honestly, I haven't noticed a thing.

When it comes to battery life, the Chinese firm made sure their flagship device can take on other top phones. The Mi3 comes with a solid 3050 mAh battery; in comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 2600 mAh battery, Sony Xperia Z1 and LG G2 - 3000 mAh, while Nexus 5 and HTC One each have a 2300 mAh battery.

I was able to get through the day on a single charge, and I consider myself a heavy user who often fires-up Wi-Fi and enjoys streaming podcasts and audiobooks to a Bluetooth headset.

The Final Take

Xiaomi Mi3 screen

The Xiaomi Mi3 is an awesome device and we do think the so called "Apple of China" has what it takes to compete in the Western market. Before doing so, they will have to include LTE connectivity support to the Mi3, and as far as we've understood, something like that is in works as we speak.

The Mi3 fares well when compared to other high-end smartphones. It may lack some tricks on one front, but it delivers some other features on the other. As I've noted before, this is the one of the best looking phones ever. Perhaps even the best looking one.

Thanks to the top-notch specs found under its hood, you can't go wrong with the Mi3. Even if you end-up disliking the company's MIUI software (we doubt), you can always cram some custom ROM to it. We still suggest you to explore Xiaomi's custom UI; it's easy to use while offering some handy shortcuts along the way.

So if you like what you've read and can live with HSPA+ speeds, feel free to proceed to Xiaomi World to get yourself the brand new Mi3. You won't regret buying it! ;)

Nintendo 3DS XL Review: Silver Mario & Luigi Edition

3DSXL-1

When you talk about video games and gaming consoles you can’t leave out the importance of the Nintendo brand. This company is responsible for some of the most iconic game consoles, like the N64, or the the revolutionary Game Boy in 1989. Most of us in this tech industry have grew up with characters such…

The Good
  • Double the memory
  • Larger screen
  • Better battery life
The Bad
  • Games still cost $40
  • Still lacks a legitimate account system

Hardware

This year's model was all about refining the small details missed in the previous version. Gone is that awkward feel, and most notably, the irritatingly tiny screens surrounded by huge bezels. As I've said before, the new 3DS XL offers 90 percent more in the display department, but manages to keep the dimensions of its predecessor. The 3DS XL measures at 134 x 74 x 21mm (5.2 x 2.9 x .82 inches). What's even more reassuring is the device can still fit in your pocket, even though it's one millimeter thicker than the 3DS.

The design overall is much cleaner and subtle than the 3DS, too. Nintendo did a good job at giving customers a bigger screen and building the device in a way that protects that extra display. Each U.S. XL variant comes in a two-tone design with a colored shell on the outside and a matte black finish inside. This Mario & Luigi Edition has a silver cover on it, with Mario and Luigi placed on the bottom left-hand corner. Touching the XL and pressing the buttons feels like you're handling a premium product, similar to gaming with a controller on any console.

The only changes found on the XL from the 3DS are minimal but improvements, nevertheless. The headphone jack has been moved from directly under the lower screen to the bottom left of the unit, and the SD card slot has switched from the left side to the right. In addition to those changes the XL's stylus is non-retractable and is stored horizontally on the unit's right side. I love where the stylus is placed, as it makes it super accessible when trying to navigate between menus while gaming.

Another good addition is the changes made to the “3-D volume” slider (a feature that changes the strength of three dimensional game play). The 3D effect can now be clicked off reducing those accidental moments of turning the 3-D on.

If there were any complaints with the hardware, I'd have to say its with the speakers. The speakers aren't horrible but they're not top-notch either.

Software

What can you expect, you ask? Well, expect to see the usual cartoon-ish look with Nintendo's software. It's weird, but Nintendo's playful user interface works for some reason -- even if its lacking the visual design elements found on today's tablets and smartphones. Diving into the software further you'll find the browser unbearable as it's hardly usable, media playback support is a joke, and online gaming still requires the use of Nintendo's friend codes to add to your player list.

Besides that, the system brings an interesting new feature called StreetPass which lets you automatically trade, gain coins for in-game items and save handwritten notes. Moreover, users can share Mii avatar information with the people around them, however, it's only good for those who carry their 3DS frequently. Nintendo also brings some more fun apps like SwapNote along with firmware updates that have added features such as folder support, video recording, extra StreetPass games, and 3DS-to-3DS software transfer.

I couldn't give this review justice without briefly mentioning my experience with the game Mario & Luigi Dream Team. The game is obviously important because it came with the package, so a little game analysis is necessary here. The game offers fresh ideas to a repetitive concept as it introduces new means of interaction, short mini-games and elements that completely change how battles are fought -- in short, the game stays fresh.

The interesting plot of this game (beside Princess Peach being kidnapped) is Mario discovers he can enter Luigi's dreams, giving the brothers access to a different reality folks on the island had no clue existed. It's a good game, can't wait to finally beat it.

The Final Take

Now there's some things I didn't get ridiculously in-depth on such as the quality of the display, camera, and battery life. Truth is, you're not really missing anything when it comes to two out of the three. The display is like the previous version, it looks the same, but it's bigger; the camera gives a 3-D visual when taking shots but the quality is worse than taking pics with a tablet. The battery-life is worth mentioning because it did add improvements: 3DS XL has 3.5 to 6.5 hours of battery life, versus the original 3DS’ 3 to 5 hours. In straight up gaming I got up to four hours consistently.

In the end, if you already have a 2013 3DS, then it's hard for me to justify buying the XL for $200. However  the improved design, screen, and battery performance make the XL clearly worth the extra $30 (the 3DS retails for $169.99). Those of you who happen to be rocking an older DS, DS Lite, etc., then it's a no brainer.

LG G Flex Review

Gflexfeatured

We’ve been seeing prototypes of flexible displays for years and years, but it’s only now that we’re beginning to see a small chunk of the technology make its way to real products today. Well, according to Dr. Ram-chan Woo, Head of LG Mobile Platform Planning, prototyping such devices isn’t the biggest drawback — manufacturing is. In…

The Good
  • Curved and flexible display will turn heads.
  • Self healing backing is pretty awesome
  • Nifty software features to take advantage of the display
The Bad
  • Only a 720p display in a 1080p+ smartphone world
  • Odd placement of IR blaster

Hardware

As if having a curved and flexible display wasn't enough to get some attention, LG has packed in a handsome set of specifications into this innovative piece of hardware. From a practicality standpoint, the curved display on the G Flex contours to the face when on a call, but the company is also aiming for this to be a media device, offering a unique and immersive experience throughout.

Featuring a 6 inch 720p OLED display, the G Flex's screen resolution may be the only complaint that some will have. With such a large panel, it only seems right for a display to ship with a 1080p resolution, but at the end of the day, we didn't have an issue with the screen.

LG chose to give the G Flex such a large display for an optimal video viewing experience, likening it to watching a 55 inch curved television from 10 feet away. While it may not be the best analogy, we see what LG is trying to say, and it's a fitting claim. The large display on the G Flex is perfect for viewing movies and the curve makes the experience more cinematic. It's really something to behold.

Outside of the display, the G Flex shares a good chunk of the specifications found in the LG G2, including a 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB RAM, NFC, a huge (curved) 3,500 mAh battery, and more.

As you'd expect, the screen dominates the curved face of the G Flex. Above the display, you'll find the usual suspects: front-facing camera, proximity and ambient light sensors, notification LED, and ear piece. The left spine houses the micro SIM card slot, and the bottom is where you'll find the microUSB port, 3.5mm headphone jack, microphone, and an antenna for mobile TV (this is the Korean unit). On top, there's little to speak of, but you'll find a noise-cancelling microphone here.

Like the G2, most of the action is on the backside of the G Flex. Here you'll find the 13 megapixel camera and LED flash, along with the volume rocker, power button, IR Blaster, speaker grill and LG's logo. Of course, that's not all. The back of the G Flex is covered in a nano coating that can actually repair itself from normal wear and tear. Healing time is dependant on temperature, so you'll see results faster when the phone is in an area where the temperature is warmer and wait longer when it's in a colder environment.

When testing out the self-healing back on the G Flex, it was hard to photograph the initial scuffs when we ran keys over it a few times, but almost an hour later these marks were virtually invisible to the point where you needed to seek them out.

 

 

Design

The design on the G Flex is obiously pretty unique, but we'd be lying if we said it didn't look like the Galaxy Nexus a bit -- Only bigger and with a more dramatic curvature. Nonetheless, the G Flex is a sleek device for its size.

Just like any 6 inch device, the G Flex feels pretty huge in the hand(s), but stays as compact as possible. It's shorter and more narrow than both the HTC One Max and Nokia Lumia 1520 despite having the same screen size.

Overall, the design of the G Flex is sleek and sexy. Continuing in the tradition of the G2, the volume rocker and power buttons on the back of the device will take some getting used to but features like Knock On will ensure an easy adjustment period.

 

Software

A phone as interesting as the G Flex needs some decent software to back it up, and LG delivers in this area. While a majority of the software found on the handset is virtually identical to that of the G2, there are quite  few unique software tweaks specifically for the G Flex.

Running on top of Android 4.2.2, LG's customer user interface is one of our favorites. While LG has essentially thrown in more features than one will know what to do with, most are kept tucked away and out of sight until you need them.

QTheater

To give the G Flex a more 'cinematic feel', LG has a new feature for accessing your media directly from your lockscreen called QTheater. Users can access QTheater by dragging their fingers outward on the device on the lock screen. This will result in an effect that resembles a curtain being pulled back, revealing your photos, videos, and YouTube. Of course, there's also a dedicated application in the application drawer as well.

Dual Window

 

The Dual Window feature does exactly what it sounds like it does. The ability to have two applications running on the screen at the same time isn't anything new, but this implementation is new for LG. The feature comes in very handy, especially when doing something like sharing a photo from the gallery to the messaging application. It's as easy as dragging the photo you want to the other side of the screen and you're done.

Swing Lock Screen

The G Flex's lockscreen is definitely interesting, even if it's nothing but visually appealing. The exact animated image itself shown on the lockscreen depends on what time it is, so in the evening you'll see the moon and stars at the top overlooking water and in the day time you'll see the sun shining in the bright sky. Easy enough. But when you tilt the phone back or towards you the image moves along too. From shooting stars above and bubbles coming from the sea bed below, Swing Lock Screen is strangely intriguing, even if it doesn't have any functional purpose. LG even goes a bit further by providing two different unlock effects depending on where you unlock the phone on your screen.

Daydream Tweaks

In addition to Swing Lock Screen, LG also added a new Daydream animation when charging you phone. It looks like it was taken directly from LG's older live wallpaper that showed liquid that rose and fell depending on the battery level. Now, this Daydream option is more simple and almost looks like sound waves. Again, simple, not necessarily functional, but still nice.

Urgent Call Alert

Usually, when you miss a call, the rear key on the back of the device will blink green. With Urgent Call Alert, if you miss several calls by the same number within a short amount of time, the rear key will begin to blink red. To signify the "urgency" the key will also blink faster than usual.

Overall, the new software tweaks are more than welcomed on the G Flex, but that's not all there is to it. All of the features that were introduced in the LG G2 are also present here as well, including KnockOn, Slide Aside, QMemo, and QSlide applications, as well as other cool features like Audio Zooming when recording video, Guest Mode, and Plug and Pop.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

The 13 megapixel camera on the G Flex is capable of taking stunning photos. In perfect lighting conditions, colors are spot on for the most part with very little noise. Low-light performance can also produce decent shots as well but is a little more hit and miss than on a bright and sunny day.

The camera software on the G Flex offers up an array of features to get the photo you want. ISO, white balance, color effects, brightness and the other usual suspects can be found here, but there are also more than 12 shooting modes to choose from as well. Shot & Clear, HDR, Burst Shot, and Time Machine are just a few.

default settings

HDR

HDR

As you can tell from the photos, the camera on the G Flex can perform very well in low-light (first two photos) and not so great at times as well.

The G Flex also has a nifty feature hiding away in the camera settings for face tracking. No, it's not the normal face tracking that you're thinking -- or, it is, but it's used in a new way. The new feature allows you take 'selfie' photos without having to worry whether or not your face was captured in the shot. When enabled, the camera will start looking for your face to focus on and when this happens, the power button will begin to blink yellow. When the camera has successfully found and focused on your face, the key will turn green and you're ready to go.

Battery Life

The 3,500 mAh battery on the G Flex will easily get you through the day on a single charge. Our first day test driving the G Flex's battery, we were streaming video for a few hours, playing Ingress (requires screen to be on at all times with GPS), browsing the web, and listening to hours of music, the handset lasted for 17 hours. With moderate use, the battery managed to squeeze out almost 24 hours on a single charge.

Overall, the battery on the G Flex can go the distance you want it to. Given the size of the display, we'd expect the battery to be able to suit the average user's needs, and it definitely delivers.

The Final Take

The LG G Flex is possibly the most interesting devices we've seen all year. The curved and flexible display alone will have people interested in the G Flex, but it offers much more than that. The self healing back cover, great camera, and neat software features make this one of the best phones around if you're looking for a phablet. That said, the G Flex isn't perfect.

We're sure that the 720p display is going to be a deal breaker for some and we do really wish that LG had put a 1080p display into the handset. Still, the device is unique enough that some just won't care about the display resolution, but some definitely will.

While it's clear that the G Flex will turn heads because of its display, the handset itself still provides some great features, even without the curve. Utilizing the power button's LED with the new face tracking feature is very interesting and something we've never seen before on a smartphone. LG is really flexing it's muscle and know-how with its smartphones, offering up some refreshing features and designs that set it apart from the competition.

As far as competition goes, there really isn't much to speak of. The Samsung Galaxy Round is clearly the only handset similar enough to make comparisons with the G Flex and even has a higher resolution display. That said, the G Flex's unique hardware and software features have LG winning this round.

The G Flex's existence may well be just a proof of concept at the moment, but it's also proving that LG and flexible smartphone technology are just getting  started.

Flash Review: HTC One Max

htconemax

The HTC One is still one of the better smartphones to be released this year, and since then we’ve seen the HTC One Mini launch in the US, bringing with it a bite sized Sense 5 experience wrapped up in the familiar and sexy design as the original. Of course, we knew HTC likely wouldn’t…

The Good
  • The 5.9 inch Super LCD 3 display is stunning as ever
  • Ultrapixel camera still gets high marks
  • Fingerprint sensor is a welcome addition
The Bad
  • The massive size may be too big for some
  • Fingerprint sensor sometimes requires multiple attempts to activate
  • Screen can become hard to view when in direct sunlight

Hardware

HTC's One Max might be large, but it's just as sexy as the rest of the One family. Of course, this is to be expected from most HTC handsets today, especially in this current line of Android devices.

The HTC One Max features a 5.9 inch 1080p HD Super LCD 3 display, and it's gorgeous. Given the size and resolution of the display, the PPI is comparitively a little low, but we're definitely not complaining about a 373 PPI on the One Max. Outside of the beautiful screen, users can look forward to a super fast 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM, Ultrapixel camera, 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, front-facing Boomsound speakers, fingerprint reader, microSD card slot,  IR Blaster, and 3300 mAh battery.

The front of the One Max will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen the HTC One or One Mini, as it's the exact same -- with the exception of the screen size. The 5.9 inch display swallows the face of the device, and you'll find the proximity and ambient light sensors, one of the two Boomsound speakers, ear piece, and 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera above it. Below the display is where the back and home buttons can be found, along with the HTC logo between the two.

On the sides of the One Max, you'll easily see that they resemble that of the One Mini more than the original One, in that they're lined in plastic and not solid aluminum. Given how large and hefty the handset it, we'd say that this is a good idea. Speaking of the sides, there are a few tweaks on the One Max compared to the rest of the family. For starters, the power button has been moved to the right side of the device instead of the top, allowing for easier access. Here you'll still find the volume rocker right above the power/lock button. The top houses both the IR blaster and 3.5mm headphone jack and the bottom is where you'll find the micro USB port for charging. The left side of the One Max is almost left bare, with the exception of a small switch that some might mistake for a silence toggle, but it's not. The small switch allows the user to remove the back panel of the handset.

The rear side of the One Max is where you'll find the Ultrapixel camera, fingerprint reader, contacts for the optional charging case, along with HTC's logo. Going back to the small switch on the left side, if moved, removed the back panel that reveals a few other things. This is where the SIM card and microSD card slot find a home. The addition of the microSD card slot is going to make a lot of people happy, even if they never use it. Options are always nice to have.

 

Fingerprint sensors are quickly gaining popularity, and HTC has thrown its hat into the ring with the addition of a fingerprint sensor on the One Max. HTC went a step further than Apple with the iPhone 5s by allowing the fingerprint sensor to be used for multiple functions, as well as the ability to register up to three different fingers. Each finger can be programmed to trigger a specific function on the One Max. For instance, a user's middle finger could be programmed to open the camera app, the ring finger could open up the texting app and so on and so forth. It's a quick and easy way to access apps and feature with a quick swipe of a finger. The hard part is remembering what finger does what.

The fingerprint scanner does have some drawbacks, however. The smooth sensor feels very similar to the back of the phablet, making it hard to determine if your finger is in the right spot. What's more, the accuracy of the scanner is a bit finicky, sometimes not recognizing finger swipes at all. If your swipe fails, a password login screen is displayed, which makes the whole process a massive waste of time. The added features of the fingerprint sensor are neat, but that's about it. While Apple's TouchID is based on providing a layer of security, HTC's functions more as an unnecessary feature.

Software

Out of the box, the HTC One Max ships with the latest and great version of Sense, version 5.5. The changes in Sense 5.5 are a minimal but certainly make an impact.

Blinkfeed

Blinkfeed has seen a fair amount of changes. With the addition of Google+ content and RSS feeds, you can customize Blinkfeed even more to your liking, which is a big win if you use it often. In addition to the extra content available to you on Blinkfeed, HTC has also included a Read Later option that will download the selected article so it can be read offline. From there, you can go to the Read Later section to catch up on what you missed. This makes BlinkFeed more of a news aggregator than it has ever been before. It makes BlinkFeed a strong contendor against  news aggregators which have popped up in Google Reader's wake such as Digg Reader and Feedly.

Another feature that some might like is that you can actually disable Blinkfeed altogether now. While we believe Blinkfeed is worth taking up one of your panels up, some may want the extra space for applications and widgets.

Zoe & Highlight Videos

Zoes and Highlight Videos are largely a part of the camera on the One Max, but it's HTC's software touch that makes the features one of the greatest part of the experience. Both Zoes and Highlight Videos have received tweaks that many are going to enjoy in Sense 5.5.

Zoes are no longer confined to being an interesting 'piece' of Highlight videos now. With the new GIF creator, you can now choose to turn your short Zoe into a GIF with ease. Simply select the new GIF option, chop down what part of the Zoe you want to be a part of the GIF, choose an optional video effect and you're done! Sense 5.5 includes some awesome video editing options, with a new video highlights editor added into the mix. Users can now string clips together without switching to full-screen mode, and transitions can now be synced to the beats of a music track. The result is hours of fun, and you may just find yourself scouring your hip-hop catalog in search of the best song to set your homemade video to.

Along with Android 4.3, Sense 5.5 runs smooth and as buttery as ever. Sense 5.5 also provides a useful "Do Not Disturb" mode, accessible from the pull down menu at the top of the homescreen. The new version of Sense also includes some bundled apps, such as SenseTV, Kid Mode, Stocks and Polaris Office 5, as well as a bevy of other features. Android 4.4 KitKat will hit the Max soon, so that's something else to look forward to if you decide HTC's phablet is the one for you.

 

Camera

The HTC One Max sports an Ultrapixel camera, which also graces its little sibling the HTC One. The Ultrapixel camera is designed to capture amazing low-light pictures. The sesor is comprised of three sensors at 4.3 megapixels each. When the images are combined, they reach close to the 13-MP standard, and are in most part on par with other 13 megapixel shooters. This technique means that three lots of data can represent one pixel, making the extra data available to be intelligently “combined” to make a crisp, clean image and better color accuracy. The f/2.0 lens coupled with a small bit of optical image stabilization allow the camera to capture still pictures quickly and without bleeding. It's no 41 megapixel camera like that of the Nokia Lumia 1020, but it does the trick quite nicely. HDR mode is snappy, and processing occurs almost instantaneously, allowing you to snap quality HDR photos as fast as you please. Since HDR takes two shots and combines them together - one brighter than the original and one darker - interesting colors and lighting sometimes occur when snapping a photo.

HTC did make one move with the One Max's camera however that puts the phablet at a disadvantage: they dropped OIS from the device altogether. This results in darker and more pixelated photos from time to time. This move really hurt video quality, with video coming out shaky and sometimes unbearable to watch. Videos on the HTC One come out better than those of the HTC One Max, something which seems hard to fathom.

The camera app included with the One Max is supurb, allowing quick access to camera modes and change exposure and focus for those who like a little more control over their photos.

Taking pictures with the HTC One Max is as easy and snappy as the HTC One, with the exception of its size. Taking pictures with the massive phablet doesn't feel like using a tablet, one of the biggest faux pas of all time.  All in all, the Ultrapixel camera performs very well, especially in HDR mode.

Call Quality And Battery Life

With such a massive device, HTC had to make sure that there would be enough juice to power the handset for at least a full day. Not messing around, HTC dropped a 3,300mAh battery into the One Max, which lasts for longer than one might think. After using the One Max on Wi-Fi all day, streaming music and doing some light browsing, I got twelve hours of battery after all was said and done. I got around 10 hours after a day of heavy use, which is amazing to say the least. The Snapdragon 600 processor doesn't require as much juice as say the Snapdragon 800, and HTC has used this to their advantage.

To really put the HTC One Max to the test, I streamed Netflix via 4G LTE for 9 hours straight, which put a small dent into the battery. After the Netflix test, there was about 23% of battery remaining. That's pretty impressive when stacked up against similar devices such as the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra, with the HTC One Max coming in with at least 20% more battery life after completing similar tests.

As far as charging time goes, the One Max recharges very quickly. After just an hour of being plugged in, the phablet had gone from a battery level of 10% to fully charged, even while connected to Wi-Fi and streaming music. I'd venture to say that the One Max could be fully charged in an hour or possibly less if left to charge without running any resource hungry processes.

 

The Final Take

Any way you slice it, the HTC One Max is an exceptional piece of hardware. Fans of the HTC One will be thrilled at it's beautiful aluminum design, brilliant screen and snappy processor. Sense 5.5 has some nice additions, and the fingerprint scanner adds a layer of functionality into the mix. The battery life is amazing for a device of its caliber, and is the ultimate media viewing center while on the go.

The size of the One Max may turn some people away, and the lack of OIS in the camera is a huge disappointment as well. Don't be fooled though, the camera is still very good and will provide some good still shots, it just might not be the device to take to your children's soccer game. Coming in at $150 with a two year contract on Sprint and unlocked for around $650, the HTC One Max provides a ton of value for the price, and is a great option if you are considering a phablet device.

Sony Smartwatch 2 Review

smartwatch2featured3

Wearable technology is quite the hot topic these days, and people will soon begin to have quite a few options to choose from. The first piece of wearable tech that will likely become the first widely accepted device is the smartwatch. (If we exclude the pager, or, you know, real watches.) Smartwatches will likely be…

The Good
  • Simple UI is easy to navigate
  • Decent selection of apps
  • Water resistance and swappable wrist bands are a plus
The Bad
  • Software can be very buggy at times
  • Lacks features found on a few competing smartwatches

Hardware

Certainly a step up from it's predecessor, the Smartwatch 2 is a solid piece of technology that comes in at the right price. At $199, the Smartwatch 2 undercuts the Galaxy Gear's $299 price point and the upcoming Qualcomm Toq's $349 price point by a wide margin.

The Smartwatch 2 ships with a 1.6 inch transflective LCD display with a resolution of 220x176. The transflective display allow you to view to the time on the watch while the backlight is off, which is a huge plus, given that this is a watch first and foremost. Other specs on the Smartwatchs 2 include Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC, and we'll touch on those later in the review.

Unlike the Galaxy Gear, all of the guts inside the Smartwatch 2 live inside the actual body of the device, as the wristband is just plain silicone, unless you opt for the steel option. This isn't a bad thing in anyway, since you can replace the wristband with any standard 24mm wrist strap of your choosing. Of course, Sony has it's very own wrist strap options to choose from in a variety of colors. The silicon wrist straps come in black, turquoise, pink, purple, and yellow, with two leather straps available in black and light brown.

As you'd expect, the Smartwatch 2 doesn't have many buttons. Like many of Sony's newer smartphones, the Smartwatch 2 also shares the same large, aluminum power/lock button on the right side, along with three capacivtive buttons below the display for back, home, and menu. Tucked away and hidden on the left side is where you'll find a small latch for the microUSB port for charging.

It looks like Sony was really going for functionality and practicality when making the Smartwatch 2. Water and dust resistance, along with the ability to change wrist straps are hardly epic features in any sense, but they exist for a real reason and not to just throw a feature in.

Design

 

Sony put as much of its Omnibalance design in the Smartwatch 2 as it could, and it works well. The overall design is simple and to the point, but at the end of the day it's just a small square, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Out of the box, the Smartwatch 2 keep the look pretty classic with the black silicone strap, but you can glam it up a bit with your choice of wrist straps. The ability to do this alone helps the Smartwatch 2 standout against the rest. Given the camera built into the strap of the Galaxy Gear, this just isn't an option, giving Sony's offering a leg up.

Software

The software found on the Smartwatch 2 has its good and bad points, but overall gets the job done in a very easy to use software experience.

Setting up the Smartwatch 2 couldn't be easier. NFC makes the Bluetooth connection between the smartwatch and your smartphone as easier than ever. On initial startup, you'll be asked to tap your NFC-enabled smartphone together, which will send you a link to download the Smartwatch 2 application. From there, you run the application and you're off.

When it comes to applications, you'll find that there are quite a few at your disposal. You can filter applictions through the Smartwatch 2 application for optimized applications or other applications that were previously developed for the first Sony Smartwatch. Nonetheless, given what you'll likely find yourself using this piece of kit for, you have enough options to be satisfied, with more applications on the way.

Installed applications automatically pop up on the smartwatch when they have been installed through the phone. Settings for these smartwatch applications are also kept on the phone. This not only keeps you from needing to log into Facebook on a 1.6 inch display, but all applications will remain intact if it needs to be wiped.

Why would the Smartwatch need to be wiped? For starters, the software can be pretty buggy at times. Phantom vibrations and devices freezes happen from time to time, which may require you to wipe the device. That said, given that the smartwatch applications live on your accompanying phone, this is less of an issue. Still, the software could certainly use a few tweaks, and Sony is looking to send an update to the Smartwatch 2 in the very new future with stability improvements as well as a few new, unnannoucned features along with it.

User Interface

The software user interface is simple and intuitive. A 2x3 application grid for applications span each panel, which can be a bit of a pain if you've installed a healthy amount of apps for the accessory. Luckily, you can sort your applications aphabetically or by most used. Notifications can be found in the standard Android method of swiping down from the top of the screen, but there's also an 'events' icon that offers up the same functionality.

Notifications could be handled better, as the only way to dismiss them are to swipe through all of them individually. This can be a bit of a pain. If Sony implemented the swipe to dismiss feature found on Android phones today, it would significantly improve the experience and we wouldn't be surprised if that idea isn't on the table for a forthcoming update.

As far as customization with the Smartwatch 2's software goes, there isn't a lot to speak of. You can change the watchface and notification style but that's about it. Then again, the applications are really what you're getting this companion device for, but we can also expect Sony continue updating the Smartwatch 2's software through its lifespan.

Applications

You'd probably be surprised to see what kind of applications can be installed on the Smartwatch 2. Not all are groundbreaking, that's for sure, but it was pretty fun to play Simon or Snake on my wrist. Of course, there are many more applications available for the device. There are almost 200 Smartwatch 2 'Optimized" applications alone, and even more if you select the "works with Smartwatch 2" option.

Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, messaging, are all present here, ensuring that all your forms of communication can be accessed from the smartwatch. Hell, there's even an Ingress portal timer.

Some applications allow you to control your smartphone without needing to pick it up. Smart toggles, camera shutter, and music applications are pretty nifty, and applications like Runtastic can help you keep track of your exercise and calorie burn.

Compatibility

One thing that is going to make a lot of people happy is that the Smartwatch 2 is compatible with any Android device running 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher, unlike the Galaxy Gear. Giving a smartwatch a premium price and leaving compatibility confined to just a handful of devices isn't a very good idea if you ask us -- even if you're a company that essentially owns the OS.

 

Battery Life

Sony claims the Smartwatch 2 can get up to seven full days with light use, and from our testing, it came pretty close. With moderate usage, it also stays pretty true to the expected 3-4 days use as well. However, while we put the Smartwatch 2 through its paces with a ton of applications, we mainly used the device to check text messages, so battery life may vary for some.

The Final Take

The Sony Smartwatch 2 is a nice smartwatch offering that comes in at a great price if you're looking for such a companion device. It might lack features like a camera, wireless charging and more, but it does offer water and dust resistance, which might be considered more important to some. And from a practical standpoint, they are.

The software on the device is simple and straightforward, and offers up a wealth of applications to make the smartwatch work for you. From excercise and fitness to text messaging and social networks, there's a good chunk of options available.

The software still needs a bit of work but Sony is definitely smart to keep the UI clean and intuitive, not over the top. I could only imagine that this is because the Smartwatch 2 doesn't attempt to be anything it's not. It's a smartwatch, and while the exact definition of such a device has yet to be truly defined yet, Sony's offering is simply an extension of your smartphone with a few other tricks along for the ride.

Sony's Smartwatch 2 isn't perfect, but if I were in the market for a companion device that'll live on my wrist, it's price point would put it at the top of my list. That said, the smartwatch market is still terribly immature and it's going to take a while for the average consumer to have a device like this on their must-have list.

Nexus 5 Review

Nexus5featured

The Nexus 5 might be the most leaked device of the year, but it’s finally real and available to the public. The follow-up to the Nexus 4 bumps up the specs almost across the board and has a feature set that bares a striking resemblance to the LG G2.  That said, the Nexus 5 is…

The Good
  • Great display
  • Kit Kat has a few nifty tricks
The Bad
  • Camera can't compete with some of the competition
  • Battery life is very hit or miss

Hardware

We've known what the Nexus 5 was going to look like and what hardware it was going to ship with for a while now, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. The Nexus 5 is fully equipped to take on just about any task you could throw at it with ease.

The Nexus 5 ships with a 5 inch 1080p HD IPS+ display, 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB RAM, 8 megapixel OIS camera, 16 or 32GB storage options, and more.

The display on the Nexus 5 is stunning. Shipping with a 5 inch 1080p HD IPS+ display and protected by Gorilla Glass 3, the screen on this bad boy is one of our favorites alongside the Super LCD 3. Color representation is spot on and not oversaturated like AMOLED displays, with great viewing angles. Watching movies on the device really showcases just how beautiful and rich the display can be.

The face of the device is just what you'd expect a Nexus handset to be; simple. The 5 inch display covers a majority of the face with the standard assortment of sensors above and below. The bezels surrounding the display are pretty small, which may not be as tiny as the bezels found on the G2, but most definitely help the handset fit comfortably in the hand.

Above the display, you'll find the expected sensors (proximity and ambient light) along with the 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. The earpiece on the device is  a small circular hole with a grill inside, which is interesting enough, though we don't see any genuine benefits from this implementation. The grill on the white version of the Nexus 5 is also white, which adds a bit of an odd contrast, but some may like it. Below the display, you'll find the multi-colored notification LED that's been found on the past few Nexus devices.

The sides of the Nexus 5 are virtually identical to that of the Nexus 4. The right side houses the power button, with the micro SIM card slot right below it, and the volume rocker can be found on the left side. These buttons are made of ceramic, which really does nothing for the handset, but we're not complaining. The bottom is where you'll find the micro USB port that's inverted when put next to the Nexus 4, and the 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the top of the handset.  The backside of the handset is where you'll find the 8 megapixel OIS camera, LED flash, Nexus and LG logos.

Outside of the earpiece color on the black and white versions of the Nexus 5, you'll find that the sides of the two are also different. The sides on the black Nexus 5 have the same soft touch material found of the backside. However, the sides of the white Nexus 5 are done up with a glossy plastic, which may give off a cheap look and feel to some.

Design

The design of the Nexus 5 is pretty simple. The boxy slab of a device is rather easy on the eyes, while some may find it a bit drab.

The rear side of the handset is the most dramatic as far as design goes. The camera is surrounded by a black, circular ring that provides some contrast on the white version of the handset.

The large Nexus logo that spans the back of the device is also pretty interesting. It's oriented in the landscape position like the new Nexus 7. Like the black ring around the camera, it doesn't look bad, but it's not necessarily something that makes the design look better.

Overall, the design on the Nexus 5 is pretty sleek, and we wouldn't be surprised if we saw these design choices come to more Nexus devices in the future.

Build Quality

We're pretty sure that many are happy to see that the Nexus 5 doesn't ship with a glass panel on the back like the Nexus 4 did. The Nexus 4 looked great, but the back was fragile and would slip off of almost any surface without the protection of a bumper or a case. Luckily, the Nexus 5 ships with a soft-touch backside that feels great in the hand and you won't have to worry about it shattering into a million Gorilla Glass pieces.

By going with the soft touch back, the Nexus 5 doesn't give off the premium feel found on its predecessor.  We liked the feeling of the cold glass when picking up the Nexus 4, but the soft touch on the Nexus 5 is a worthy trade off that will be able to handle more wear and tear.

Software

As you'd expect, the Nexus 5 ships with the latest version of Android, 4.4 Kit Kat. The latest and greatest version of the OS brings a wealth of new features, along with a handful of user interface tweaks that some will enjoy, while others might not.

Possibly one of the most interesting changes in Kit Kat is that Google Now is fully integrated into your homescreen. A quick swipe to the left from your main homescreen panel will reveal all of the Google Now goodness that was previously tucked away and accessed by a swipe up from the home button. Now, this gesture will only bring up a Google Search. (I'm personally not a fan of this new implementation at all.) If you've been used to having your homescreen setup on both sides of the main homescreen,  you'll need to adjust to the new way the panels are laid out. And while you can disable Google Now, you won't be able to get the extra screen to the left of the main panel back, so it's best to keep the feature enabled. The only way to send Google Now back to where it used to be in Jelly Bean is to install a third-party home replacement.

Other home screen tweaks include the ability to say "Ok, Google" from any panel to launch a voice search, but the Nexus 5 won't wake up from it's locked state like the Moto X. You can also move entire homescreens to another position, but the only way you can delete them is by removing every icon and widget from said panel. The user is also allowed to make many more homescreen panels (we stopped at 31), so if you've ever needed more panels on your homescreen, you now seem to have an endless supply.

The all apps button on your homescreen will reveal that icons in the application drawer are much larger than previous versions of the OS. This can be a good and a bad thing, depending on the resolution of the application's icon. You'll also find that there's now no way of adding a widget to the homescreen from the app drawer, and Google has gone back to a previous implementation to get this done. For the Nexus 5, you simply long press on the homescreen, where you'll be able to tweak your Google Now settings, add widgets, and change your wallpaper.

Throughout the system, Google has gotten rid of the blue accents that were introduced in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Instead, it wants applications to shine through and the OS to simply be the vessel, which is why the new accent color found throughout is a more subdued grey.

In an attempt to bring the latest version of Android to more devices, Google has made KitKat extremely power efficient and can run on devices that ship with 512MB RAM. The idea is rather great, but we have our doubts that existing handsets that are lower priority to handset-makers will be receiving KitKat, and may be reserved for upcoming 'budget' Android devices. The jury is still out on that one, and we'll have to wait and see what low-end devices make the KitKat cut.

What else does KitKat have to offer? A lot. While some KitKat 'features' live within Google Play applications that users can have without KitKat, they're best showcased on the Nexus 5.

  • The new Phone Dialer offers up a new way to search for contacts and businesses, right in the same place. With the new phone dialer, no longer will you need to search for a business' number in Google Maps, as you can just type in the name of the business and the dialer will give you the results you're looking for. Google also makes this new feature work for you when you're receiving calls, too. If a number calls your phone that's not in your contact list, it will attempt to match the number of businesses through Google Maps.
  • Full screen album art now adorns the lock screen when listening to Play Music.
  • Android KitKat now natively supports IR blasters, so you can control your television with your phone or tablet. While official support for IR blasters is definitely a welcomed feature, we're still pretty surprised to find that the Nexus 5 lacks one. Luckily, with Android 4.4 KitKat, we'll likely begin to see some quality IR blaster remote applications hit the Google Play Store in the future.
  • It's now easier than ever to print from your Android phone or tablet with KitKat. Documents can be sent easily to printers connected with Google Cloud Print or HP ePrint Printers, along with other printers that have accompanying Google Play applications.
  • The new Google Keyboard has seen a fair amount of tweaks and now includes emoji support for those who just can't get enough of it.
  • A refined version of Android's font, Roboto, is found throughout the system.
  • Tap & Pay now offers up an easier way to pay for items and is built right into the system and works across any mobile carrier.
  • The on-screen navigation keys are now hidden when reading books and other content, allowing for a full screen view. A quick swipe from the edge of the display will bring the keys back into view.
  • Google Hangouts now includes SMS integration and replaces the messaging application on the Nexus 5.
Overall, KitKat brings a lot of features to the table, but we'd be lying if we said it was the update we were expecting. Some new additions are more than welcomed, but we aren't huge fans of the homescreen layout right now. It will take some time to get used to the new way things are done with KitKat's UI. We would have loved to see Google release the launcher to the Play Store, allowing users to get a little bit closer to the stock Android look and feel if they wanted to. Overall, KitKat is a pretty sizable update to the OS, even if many of the enhancements are found under the hood.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

By now, one should know that a higher megapixel count doesn't make a camera better, and this stands true with the Nexus 5. The  8 megapixel shooter on the Nexus 5 ships with OIS and can produce some great shots with the new HDR+ mode.

The camera software hasn't changed much since Jelly Bean, which is a bit of a bummer. The camera software UI is simple and to the point, but it's also very barebones, lacking a significant amount of shooting modes and features found on other Android handsets.  This leaves a lot to be desired. Although some handset-makers tend to throw in way too many camera tweaks in their software, we'd rather have the option to have these features without having to install a third-party application.

While significantly better than the Nexus 4, the low-light performance of the Nexus 5's camera isn't anything to praise. A lot of detail that a few other smartphone cameras would be able to pick up is lost with the Nexus 5's shooter. In perfect lighting, some photos come out oversaturated, which might look nice, but the results are less accurate.

If all Google set out to do with the camera on the Nexus 5 was to make it better than its predecessor, then it succeeded. If it was aiming to take on every smartphone camera around,  it didn't.  That said, the camera itself it certainly capable of taking some great shots, even if it isn't the most powerful.

Want to see how the Nexus 5's camera does against the  iPhone 5S and LG G2? Be sure to check out our Photo Shootouts below!

Photo Shootout: Nexus 5 vs. iPhone 5S

Photo Shootout: Nexus 5 vs. LG G2

 

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

HDR+

Call Quality And Battery Life

When using the Nexus 5 on T-Mobile, we ran into no issues whatsoever when on the phone. The calls came through clear on both sides, with little to no interference. The loudspeaker on the back of the handset is pretty loud, but don't expect anything above average.

One of the most important features on a smartphone is the battery, and the Nexus 5 misses the mark here. Battery life ranged widely from a little more than 4 hours, all the way up to 16 hours. With heavy usage, we were able to burn through 25% of the 2300 mAh battery in about 20 minutes. Further testing may yield more favorable results, but battery life is something you'll want to keep an eye on if you're a power user and might be a deal breaker for some people.

The Final Take

Well, what can we say about the Nexus 5? It's the latest flagship handset that we've been waiting quite a long time for, features the latest version of Android, and a fast CPU. This much we know, but is this the Nexus we've been looking for? With a great in-hand feel, and solid hardware through out, the Nexus 5 is a great device that Android purists will surely enjoy, but it's not perfect.

Personally, I'm less impressed with the Nexus 5 than I thought I would be, which is disappointing, considering I've bought three of the four past Nexus handsets. The new tricks KitKat bring to the table are solid, but I'm not in love with the new homescreen layout, which makes Nova Launcher a staple for me with this handset.  The hit or miss battery life on the Nexus 5 is really a let down, and it's an area that Google has continued to skimp on. That said, the price of the Nexus 5  will probably have many overlooking anything that's less than perfect.

Starting at $349 off-contract, the Nexus 5 may indeed be the best Android handset you can grab right now. The value alone makes it good enough to ignore just about any other Android smartphone available today, unless you're on Verizon. And believe me, despite the annoyances I have with the Nexus 5, it would be my personal device if I wasn't sold on the LG G2 right now.

With a better build quality and spec sheet than it's predecessor, the Nexus 5 will no doubt turn out to be the most popular handset in the family. Plus, this is pretty much the cheapest off-contract option to get a Snapdragon 800-touting handset in your hands, and that sounds pretty good to us.

Back to top ▴