Архив метки: Short Version

Sony Xperia Ion Review: Punching Above Its Weight Class

x-ion1

Short Version:

It’s been a long time since Sony released a smartphone in the U.S. market that had a chance of hitting it off with customers — too many of their recent releases have either been meant for niche markets (the Xperia Play 4G) or were expensive and unlocked (nearly all of these things).

That said, they’re looking to give it another go with the new Xperia ion, and it certainly looks like it could go all the way. It’s the company’s first LTE-enabled phone to land in the United States, it packs a much touted camera, and it’ll only set AT&T customers back $99. What’s not to like?

Read on for all the juicy details.

Features:

  • 4.6-inch 720p Reality Display and Mobile Bravia engine
  • Runs Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread
  • 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB of onboard storage, can take up to an additional 32GB microSD card
  • NFC
  • 12MP rear-facing camera (records video in 1080p) with Exmor R sensor
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • Runs on AT&T’s 4G LTE and HSPA+ networks
  • MSRP: $99 with a two-year contract, available June 24

Pros:

  • Rock-solid camera
  • Impressive 4.6-inch display
  • Aggressive price point

Cons:

  • Why does this thing run Gingerbread?
  • Finicky capacitive Android buttons
  • Peculiar button placement on the Ion’s side puts form ahead of function

Long Version

Hardware & Design:

Looking at the Ion dead-on doesn’t leave you with much of an impression — the Ion’s face is clad in black, and is dominated by the 4.6-inch Reality Display. A terribly small speaker grill is nestled right along the device’s top edge, and a row of small capacitive Android buttons (more on them later) sit just above the Sony logo on the Ion’s chin.

In short, it’s not much of a looker from the front, and it lacks the quirky characteristics (think the color palette of the Xperia U and the nifty transparent sliver of the Xperia P) that helped some of its recent predecessors stand out in a crowd. Lack of style isn’t my only issue with the device’s face; that row of capacitive buttons took quite a bit of getting used to.

I’m not sure if it’s just because I have weird thumbs or what, but it can be a real struggle at times to register a touch on those buttons. They’re rather small (which doesn’t help things at all), and it often takes a more concerted press than one would expect to make things work the way they should. It may seem like a minor thing to get worked up over, but the effect is cumulative — having to touch the same button two or three times to make the device bend to my will for a few days isn’t too taxing, but it could make for some real headaches for people who actually take a chance and buy the thing.

Things get a little better upon turning the device over, which reveals a similarly understated design. Strangely though, I think this is where the Ion actually shines a bit. A handsome dark metal backplate (that’s sadly prone to attracting smudges) takes up most of the Ion’s rear end and is bound on the top and bottom by a pair of removable plastic caps that hide both a microSD and a micro-SIM slot. The only bit of branding back there is the iconic green Sony orb plopped right above the Xperia logo, and I frankly like it that way.

The other thing to note about the Xperia’s back is that it gently curves to fit your hand, something that helps hide its 11.68mm waistline. That curve coupled with that metallic backplate imbues the Ion with a sturdy, comforting feel in spite of the fact that it weighs in at only 4.9 ounces. That said, I take some issue with the way Sony crafted the sides of the device — the edges were designed in such a way that the power, volume, and camera buttons are mounted at an angle. The buttons themselves aren’t any harder to physically press, but their angled placement means they’re not quite where your fingers expect them to be.

This is especially prominent when trying to use the two-stage camera shutter button — my finger naturally gravitates to the highest point on the edge of the device, which often tricks me into applying pressure exactly where the shutter button isn’t. Again, it may seem like a minor thing to get worked up over (and users may get used to it in time even if I didn’t), but it’s annoying to see how Sony’s sense of aesthetics have made it slightly more difficult to use the phone the way I want to.

Software:

Gingerbread, I wish Sony knew how to quit you.

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded — after having used an Ice Cream Sandwich device as my daily driver for the past few months, going back to a lightly-tweaked take on Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread for nearly a week didn’t seem like a tempting proposition. Sony maintains that the device will gets its Ice Cream Sandwich update in due course (the Xperia S just got its own ICS update a few days ago), but really — it’s the middle of 2012 and Ice Cream Sandwich first hit the scene toward the end of last year.

It may just be one of the pitfalls that needs to be dealt with when mid-range devices are concerned, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that a solid handset isn’t quite living up to its potential because of Sony’s decision on this front.

Anyway, I’m not going to get too caught up in pondering the sort of device the Ion might have been, and Sony has done their part to try and freshen up this stale cookie. Longtime readers may know that I’m no great fan of what manufacturers do to the stock Android experience, but Sony thankfully hasn’t gone too crazy with their custom UI — save for a few particularly heinous widgets (Timescape and the large, love-em-or-hate-em Tools widgets in particular) I actually found myself enjoying some of what Sony came up with.

The app launcher in particular seemed nice and clean, with apps being arranged on multiple horizontal scrolling pages a la Ice Cream Sandwich. What made the whole thing even better was the fact that Sony didn’t completely load the device up with bloatware or plugs for their myriad media services — Sony only preloaded a few apps and at least some of them are rather useful.

Sony’s LiveWare manager app for instance is a scaled down version of Tasker, which prompts user-defined apps to spring to life when accessories like headphones or power cables are connected to the Ion. And just like clockwork, Sony’s Timescape social app makes yet another appearance here. The app pulls in tweets, Foursquare check-ins, Facebook status updates, and LinkedIn updates into a vertical stream of social information that’s at the same time visually striking and super smooth to scroll through. Just do yourself a favor and stay away from the fugly widget.

Of course, since AT&T is selling this thing, you can expect the full complement of carrier bloatware apps to round out the package. All the usual suspects are present and accounted for (I’m looking at you especially, Yellow Pages), but to my great relief, tapping a small grid icon in the bottom right corner of the app launcher lets you delete most of them quickly and without prejudice. Kudos to Sony for making that process dead-simple.

Camera:

One of the Ion’s biggest claims to fame is its 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, which makes the device second only to HTC’s Titan II for the title of “beefiest cameraphone” on AT&T’s store shelves. Thankfully, I’m pleased to report that Sony’s claims aren’t just marketing fluff — this is one of the nicer smartphone cameras I’ve used in quite a while.

But first, let’s address some of the mechanical bits. Holding down the two-stage shutter button while the phone is locked lets users jump straight into the camera app while the device is locked, which sounds great except for one thing — by default the camera app is set to snap a picture as soon as someone uses the shutter button to unlock it. That’s right, it just takes a picture as soon as the phone wakes up, which means that you’ll have no clue how well you’ve framed the shot or if the camera focused on the right subject until it’s too late.

Thankfully all that requires is a quick settings tweak, and the rest of the camera experience is quite solid. The process of auto-focusing and actually snapping a photo was awfully quick — just under three seconds to focus, shoot, and return to standby mode. Once inside the camera app proper, users can select from a number of different scene modes (though the default scene recognition mode is smart enough to accurately handle most situations) and shoot panoramas to boot, but there isn’t much in the way of manual controls outside exposure and metering settings.






Of course, all that would mean nothing if the photos didn’t turn out well. Fortunately, colors were bright and vibrant, though perhaps to the point of being slightly over-saturated at times (more on that in a moment). Low-light performance wasn’t too shabby either, but the Ion’s Exmor R sensor isn’t a miracle worker — there was still quite a bit of grain present in shots taken in darker locales. C’est la vie.

The Ion can also record 1080p video at 30fps, and results were generally passable — test recordings generally displayed plenty of detail, and additional features like image stabilization and the ability to light up the LED flash came in quite handy. The process isn’t entirely flawless though, as the camera tends to take a few extra moments getting into focus when you’re ready to begin shooting and the image stabilization can occasionally be hit or miss.

Now, about that over-saturation issue I was talking about — it’s not entirely the camera’s fault. It’s worth noting that the images look extra vivid on the device itself thanks in part to Sony’s use of their Mobile Bravia engine, and that their level of vibrance will vary once you move those photos onto other devices. And speaking of which…

Display:

Since the Ion is the first Sony smartphone I’ve worked with in a while, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from its 4.6-inch, 720p Reality Display. As such, seeing the bright, crisp display come to life for the first time was actually a bit of a surprise — sure, it lacks the deep blacks seen on AMOLED displays but the LCD panel Sony’s using is no slouch (especially since at 342 ppi it beats the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 4S at the pixel density game). The display’s viewing angles are actually quite good, though prepare for the colors to wash out a bit the further you move away from dead center.

The screen’s performance in daylight seemed respectable at best. Since Sony doesn’t include an option to automatically set screen brightness, you’ll have to manage that yourself should you decide to venture into the outside world, and the screen tends to get overwhelmed unless brightness is cranked up full blast.

As I’ve mentioned before, Sony’s Mobile Bravia engine plays a significant role in how images and video appear on that sizable screen. With the Bravia option on (note: it’s on by default) colors were vibrant and vivid to the point of being slightly lurid at times — this was especially apparent in one of my test videos, where the Xperia ion tended to make a stage lit mostly in blue take on a notably purple cast.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad change (I actually think it gave the video some cinematic flair), but not everyone may enjoy the effects engine has. In addition to pumping up colors, the Bravia engine also sharpens the image, leading to the double-edged sword of slightly crisper images and video versus the potential annoyance of seeing more jaggies. Occasionally nuclear colors aside, I think leaving the Bravia engine on is generally a plus; it adds a bit of pop to the viewing experience, and it’s simple enough to shut down if it gets to be too much.

For a closer look at the difference, take a look at this image — the left side is a screenshot of a photo I took with the Bravia Engine off, and the right is a screenshot of same image with the Bravia Engine on (click to enlarge).

Performance:

The Ion’s spec sheet would’ve been considered top-tier just last year, but my how times have changed since then. We’ve since entered the age of the quad-core chipset (even though most of them don’t end up on U.S. soil), but the 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor nestled inside the Ion’s curved frame still has plenty of game. The device seemed plenty responsive when put to the usual gamut of daily tasks — swiping between menus was buttery smooth, as was pulling down the notification drawer and scrolling through my innumerable contacts. Similarly, I had no trouble at all watching Top Gear reruns on Netflix or building obtuse structures in Minecraft Pocket Edition.

If you want to break things down numerically, the Ion managed to squeeze out an average Quadrant score of 2872, which roundly put to shame my trusty Galaxy Nexus (average: 1812). It’s still a long ways off from HTC’s ostensibly mid-range One S (generally around 4-5000 depending on the circumstances), but the Ion certainly has enough horsepower to be a daily driver for all but the most demanding users.

In terms of network performance, I’m loath to admit that I couldn’t latch onto an LTE signal in my particular corner of New Jersey (a problem that I imagine isn’t unique to me considering AT&T’s LTE network is only live in 41 cities), but I managed to pull down an average of 7.3 Mbps down and 1.3 Mbps up. It doesn’t sound great, but the Ion actually performed slightly ahead of other AT&T devices — namely an iPhone 4S and an unlocked Galaxy Nexus — I tested alongside it.

Though one of the Xperia Ion’s main draws is going to be that nifty camera, Sony is positioning it as more than just a media creator — it’s also a media hub. As you might expect from a company that launched the working group behind it, the Ion is DLNA certified, and it was a snap to get it linked up with my DLNA-compatible LG smart television and media server. From there, I was able to fire up the included Connected Devices app and sling my media onto the big screen. Streaming videos from my media server proved to be a breeze too, and it didn’t take long before Plex was serving up (dorky) content to the Ion.

If you’ve got a micro-HDMI-to-HDMI cable handy, you can also connect the Ion directly to your television at which point something very interesting happens. Once the connection is in place, the Xperia swaps its stock launcher for an upscaled version meant to be displayed on a television, allowing users to fire up apps and pore through media on the phone.

Provided you’ve got an HDMI-CEC (or SIMPLINK, or Viera Link, or whatever) compatible television, you’ll also be able to control the Ion with your television remote. The ability to take any compatible television and effectively turn it into a smart television set certainly has its appeal, and while it’s gimmicky and it’s fun, it’s hardly the kind of thing I’d want to use for any extended period of time.

When it comes to sound, the Ion is actually sort of a mixed bag. Call quality was generally very clear, but even with the volume cranked all the way up, I still had trouble hearing the person on the other end of the line. The same goes for the Ion’s main rear-mounted speaker — for a device that’s so centered around media, you would think that Sony would have bothered to pop a better speaker in the thing. Even at maximum volume (which, again, doesn’t seem that loud) the speaker produces sound with muddy middles and almost non-existent lows. I’ll admit that I can’t be too surprised as it’s relatively rare to get an unabashedly good speaker in a smartphone, but I was a tad disappointed nonetheless.

Battery:

For better or worse (I usually lean toward the latter), Sony has opted to seal the Ion’s 1900 mAh battery under that black metallic plate I’m so fond of. Though the road warriors among you may miss the ability to swap out spare batteries as needed, the Ion does a fine job of chugging along throughout the day.

Since I started using the Ion as my go-to phone earlier this week, I’ve averaged about eight to nine hours of consistent use each day — checking my email, firing off text messages, watching the same clip of a tap dancing Broadway starlet over and and over — you know, my usual routine. If you’re not the sort to check your phone at every possible moment, you can expect to squeeze closer to 13 hours out of the thing before needing to juice up again.

If you’re planning to binge on some video content though, expect that figure to plummet to roughly six hours, and that’s if you’re mighty careful with all the rest of your settings.

Head-To-Head With The HTC One S And iPhone 4S:

Conclusion:

For all of the Ion’s foibles (and there are quite a few), there’s still plenty to like here. The Xperia Ion definitely leans to the more premium end of the mid-range spectrum, and it tries valiantly to punch above its weight with features like its solid camera, media functionality, and great display. Its price tag too makes a pretty compelling statement — there are far worse things you could get for $99.

Ah, but the real question is whether or not it’s worth your money. I was originally going to say that if you’re in the position where you really can’t justify spending an extra $100 on a top-of-the-line smartphone, then the Ion will do in a pinch. Now that I’ve thought about it a bit more, that’s selling the Ion a bit short.

Despite how harsh I may have been with some of my comments, I really do think the Ion is a good phone. The problem here is that like with many mid-range phones, the Ion straddles that very fine line between “good” and “great,” and it doesn’t seem to have quite enough oomph to push it over the edge. Strangely enough, this may well change down the line — with a few minor tweaks and perhaps a helping of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Xperia Ion may eventually grow to become a must-buy, but it’s not quite there yet.














Sony Xperia Ion Review: Punching Above Its Weight Class

HTC One S Review: I Give It A Fly

IMG_0053

Short Version

Despite the fact that there’s no real wow factor here, it would be entirely unfair to say that HTC’s One S isn’t a great phone. It is. The hardware is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, Sense 4 is quite nice albeit a touch heavy for my taste, and the specs are right in line with what we’re seeing on the market today.

Truth be told, anyone at T-Mobile would be lucky to have one. S. (Lawl.)

Features:

  • 4.3-inch 960×540 Super AMOLED display
  • T-Mobile “4G” 42Mbps HSPA+
  • Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor
  • 8MP rear camera (1080p video capture)
  • 0.3MP VGA front camera
  • Sense 4
  • MSRP: $199.99 on-contract

Pros:

  • The hardware is truly impressive
  • Super thin and light
  • Solid battery life

Cons:

  • Sense adds to Android’s usual lag
  • No real wow factor

Long Version

Hardware/Design:

As I’ve said twice already, I’m truly impressed with this hardware. It sports an aluminum unibody frame, with a soft-touch finish. The back fades from a lighter to a darker grey, and when all is said and done, it’s a stunning device. Android phones these days are so plastic-y, too light to feel premium, and seem to be thrown together.

However, it’s clear with the One S that HTC spent time on design and build quality. The phone is super thin with a .37-inch waistline and weighs in at just 4.22 ounces. I usually don’t spend a lot of time talking about weight and dimensions because most phones are actually quite similar in that respect, but HTC hit the nail right on the head with the One S. Here’s why: if a phone is too thin, and thus too light, it begins to feel cheap — especially when it’s made entirely from plastic.

Since the One S is made of aluminum, it’s able to maintain a thin profile while still having a balanced, solid heft to it. This allows the phone to feel way more high-end than most of its competition. The phone is relatively flat on both the front and back, though all the corners and edges are slightly rounded. As I said, it has a beautiful design and solid hardware.

The camera sits square on the back of the phone and sports a nice little blue trim to add a little style to a rather grey device. If you like a pop of color, you’ll surely appreciate the detail. Along the left edge you’ll find an MHL-style micro-USB port, which also doubles as HDMI out, and on the right edge you’ll find the volume rocker. A 3.5mm headphone jack and the lock button share space on the top edge of the phone.

Software:

The HTC One S runs Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, though you’d be hard-pressed to recognize it. Sense is one of the heaviest OEM skins on the market, and it completely dominates the phone. That said, Sense is actually a pretty beautiful UI. Sense 3 and all of its iterations was way too much. 3D animations abounded, frills and flourishes were everywhere, and most of it was entirely arbitrary.

Much of that has been cleaned up to actually serve a purpose. See, as John and I mentioned in our Fly or Die episode with the One S, Android has become a platform that pumps out phones from hundreds of vendors that ultimately look like “just another Android phone.” The skins become critical to manufacturers in terms of differentiation, but they also have to be careful to leave Android alone in many respects. Android fans love Android, not Sense or TouchWiz or whatever else.

Still, I think HTC did a good job of reigning in all the creativity and letting Sense be useful rather than overly beautiful. The camera app is quite wonderful, which I’ll discuss more in a second, and the widgets provided make it easy to customize the One S to suit you specifically. I’m using a pretty bad ass analog clock right now on my main homescreen that I’m quite proud to show off.

Camera:

The One S camera is quite capable. In fact, you’ll probably really like the images you capture with it. At the same time, I wouldn’t say the camera is all that good at keepin’ it real, if you know what I mean. Colors seem to be saturated and brightened to make images more beautiful, especially yellows and reds.

If you take a look at the comparison shot below, you’ll notice that the iPhone 4S makes my food look a little bland. (It’s delicious, in case you’re wondering.) But when I hold both phones up next to the food, the iPhone 4S clearly captured reality way better than the One S.

In terms of software, the Sense camera app may be my favorite of all the Android phone makers’ camera software variations. It has a variety of filters that are built right in to the app, and I’d say some of them (like Vintage) rival those of Instagram. There are also plenty of settings for ISO, White Balance, etc.

Comparison shot between the One S (left) and the iPhone 4S (right):

Display:

I have very few complaints when it comes to the One S display. At 4.3-inches, it’s absolutely the perfect size to be comfortable in the hand while maintaining a nice pixel density. qHD — or 960xb540 — is perfectly acceptable on a 4.3-inch display. And the Super AMOLED quality only adds to that.

You really don’t notice any pixel-to-pixel differentiation, and images and videos look great. I did notice that when the phone fires up, there’s a small, rectangular block on the top right of the phone where the screen displays that the software is loading up. It looks like any other progress bar you’ve seen before, but when the progress bar disappears that little block of pixels is much whiter than the rest of the start-up screen.

This is a minimal, if not entirely unimportant, issue. It makes no difference whatsoever, as that same block doesn’t show any weird coloration or pixelation when the phone is turned on and working.

Performance:

Wow!

The One S has tested better than the Note, the Droid 4 and the LG Spectrum in both Browsermark and Quadrant. Quadrant tests everything from the CPU to the memory to the graphics, and while all three of the aforementioned Android phones stayed well below the 3,000 mark, the One S scored an impressive 4,371.

Same story applies in the browser-based Browsermark test. The Spectrum, Droid 4, and the Note all scored below 60,000, while the One S hit 100,662. I’m totally impressed, but not by the numbers.

True, there’s a general lag that comes along with Android, especially in the browser. Pinch-to-zoom and scrolling simply aren’t as smooth as they are on iOS, or even on Windows Phone for that matter, even if it’s minimally. But the One S felt more frictionless than I’m used to on Android, and I never experienced a freeze of any kind. It’s a nice change from most Android reviews.

Speed test was a bit of a different story. Of course, in different parts of the city, I had my highs and lows in terms of a speedy network. But during testing Speedtest only saw an average of 2.11Mbps down and .73Mbps up.

Battery:

I’m pretty impressed with the One S battery. Around the mid-way point of testing I had a bad feeling. The phone displayed about a quarter of juice in the little battery icon, but it lasted another two hours or so. I’m thinking the icon itself is off, to be honest with you.

Our testing includes a program that keeps the phone’s display on at all times, while Google is constantly performing an image search, one after the other. It’s an intense test, and at any point I can hop in and play a game, browse the web, send a text, make a call, etc.

All in all, the One S lasted 4 hours and 51 minutes. T-Mobile 4G was on the entire time. To be honest, the phone got a bit warm during the battery test, but it didn’t slow things down or create a lag by any means. Plus, you’re probably not as much of a power user as our battery test is.

In real world scenarios, the One S should surely stick with you all day.

To give you a little context, the Droid 4 only hung in there for three hours and forty-five minutes while the Droid RAZR Maxx (Motorola’s battery beast) stayed with me for a staggering eight hours and fifteen minutes.

Head-To-Head With The One X And iPhone 4S:


Check out our thoughts on this match-up here.

Hands-On Video: Fly or Die

Conclusion

As I expressed during Fly or Die, I think the One S will owe a lot of its success to its carrier. T-Mobile is a fine operator and I applaud the company for trying to rebrand and build up its selection. But without any competition from the iPhone, the One S gets a bit of a freebie. It’s a fine handset, but it has no real wow factor, as I’ve mentioned over and over.

The Samsung Galaxy Note has its massive screen and an S-Pen (and might actually compete with the One S on T-Mo shelves), the Droid 4 has its superior physical keyboard, and the Lumia 900 (which also might be T-Mobile-bound) has Windows Phone. The One S has none of that — it’s just another Android phone.

But that’s ok, because it’s an excellent Android phone. It has all the right dimensions, a comfortable weight, a premium feel in the hand, and a stunning design. It’s rather quick for an Android phone, and comes loaded with tons of fun software.

I give it a fly.












Check out all of our One S review posts here.


HTC One S Review: I Give It A Fly

Nokia Lumia 900 Review: This One’s A No-Brainer

lumia 900-4

Short Version

Guys, this one’s such a no brainer that I shouldn’t even have to lay it all out. But I will.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is an excellent handset, comes packed with a fresh new operating system in the form of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, and thanks to a nifty AT&T bill credit from Nokia, you can essentially get this $100 LTE-equipped phone for free until the 21st. Repeat: for free.

Like I said, this one’s a no brainer.

Features:

  • 4.3-inch 480×800 AMOLED display
  • AT&T 4G LTE
  • Windows Phone 7.5 Mango
  • 1.4GHz single-core processor
  • 8MP rear camera (720p video capture)
  • 1MP front camera
  • MSRP: $100 on-contract (or free through April 21)

Pros:

  • Beautiful unibody polycarbonate casing (matte)
  • Well-built and premium feeling in the hand
  • Windows Phone is a refreshing joy to use

Cons:

  • Poor color reproduction on the camera
  • The display is a bit pixelated
  • If thin and light is your thing, this may feel clunky

Long Version

Hardware/Design:

The hardware on the Lumia 900 is top-notch. Nokia truly stepped it up, which says quite a bit considering that well-built hardware is one of the Finnish company’s fortes. The weight distribution is balanced, which allows the Lumia 900 to stand up on its own should you place it on the table.

It has rounded edges along the side, with a flat top and bottom. The matte finish feels great in the hand, and Nokia actually built the phone with blue and black materials so even a deep scratch shouldn’t leave an ugly mark. The volume, camera, and lock buttons on my review unit felt a bit loose in their sockets, but I’m fairly certain that’s my only complaint.

Micro USB is square on the top of the phone, and it always bothers me when phone makers get in the way of playing games while plugged in (battery suffers most during gaming, so we plug a lot as we play at home), but at least the design is beautiful.

The battery isn’t removable, but battery life is better than expected on this little smurf so I don’t see it as a huge setback.

To be honest, the phone is a bit bulkier than most of its competition but I see this as a good thing. It’s not cumbersome by any means, and actually feels a bit more expensive than an LG Spectrum or any other super light, super thin phone.

Software:

I’ve got a thing for Windows Phone. I’m honestly not sure where it came from — I’ve never been a huge Microsoft user — but I feel lucky to have seen the light.

Now, there are inherent cons that come along with Windows Phone, for now. For example, you won’t find as many apps on the Marketplace as you would on Android or iOS (though that number is growing, and Microsoft is banking on quality over quantity). Another issue is locked-down specs, which happen to be just a bit outdated, that Windows Phone partners must abide by. One of those — the worst one, I feel — is a 480×800 display resolution, which bums me out on a 4.3-inch screen.

But, Microsoft is adding more high-res options with the launch of Apollo, though that won’t help you much with the Lumia 900.

But back to the point.

The baked-in features of Windows Phone are excellent. Threaded messaging is far and away my favorite, as it lets you conduct conversations with friends over a variety of formats (Facebook chat, text, Windows Live messenger) all from one unified stream. Local Scout, powered by Bing, is a welcome alternative to Yelp, and the People and Me hubs make me actually enjoy social networking. Of course, there’s still work to be done here, but if you haven’t given Windows Phone a chance I highly recommend checking out this emulator on your phone and seeing if you perchance have a crush on the new kid on the block.

Nokia also added some smart software to the phone including a contacts transfer app, which will help you transition from Android, iOS or BlackBerry.

Camera:

Now for a little bad news, if I may.

I love the UI of the camera app, to be sure, but the actual images produced by the Lumia 900 camera aren’t all that great.

Here’s what I’m noticing: When you open up the camera and look through the viewfinder, everything looks beautiful. Whatever you see in the viewfinder is almost identical to what you’re seeing in real life, in front of the lens. But once you snap the picture, the image produced instantly changes color. This happens most frequently on Auto, and adjusting the settings based on your environment will help this.

But the fact of the matter is, we take pictures quickly on our phones and don’t often want to mess around with settings unless we have the time. (None of us have the time.) Furthermore, some settings don’t quite match up with what you’d expect. White Balance in particular was a bit janky. That said, I wish color reproduction were a bit better.

On the other hand, I do like the physical shutter button on the side of the phone. It lets you half-press to focus, just as you would on an SLR, and then full-press to capture.

Video recording was smooth and I have no real complaints there.

Display:

Here’s the thing with this display. It’s the same exact size and resolution as the Galaxy S II (though the Lumia has an AMOLED display as opposed to a Super AMOLED Plus display), which was considered a beast for the past year. With the Galaxy S III on the horizon and 720p displays flooding the market, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this phone to anyone who’s recently upgraded to a new super phone. In tech, it’s very difficult to go backwards.

At the same time, upgraders coming off of a one- to two-year-old phone shouldn’t have too much of a problem unless you’re really keen on display issues. Graphic artists and designers, for example, will surely notice the pixelated resolution. And Windows Phone only compounds that. It’s heavy on images, even on the home screen, and white text on a black background makes the resolution look even choppier.

However, one important win for the Lumia 900 display is its ClearBlack technology. I was able to use the phone in bright, direct sunlight (with my sunglasses on, mind you) and had absolutely no problem viewing everything on the display. I think this is a pretty big deal, since every phone I’ve ever used becomes really difficult to view in sunlight.

Performance:

It’s tough to measure the Lumia 900 against Android phones or the iPhone simply because any of the benchmarking we’d do would be irrelevant anyways — they’re different platforms. But I will tell you this: The Lumia 900, and specifically Windows Phone, is snappier than any Android phone I’ve ever played with.

Granted, animations and transitions are a half a second longer than they are on Android, but they’re beautiful and as a whole, the OS never shows any sort of lag. Pair that kind of speed with a little 4G LTE radio, and the Lumia 900 surely won’t disappoint in the performance department.

I’m also a big fan of the IE9 mobile browser in this bad boy. It’s quick like lightning, as proven by its BrowserMark score of 28769.

Battery:

Battery life on the Lumia 900 is actually quite impressive. In real-world scenarios the phone lasts through the entire day, even with 4G on the entire time. It seems like phone makers are finally figuring out what it takes to make 4G viable in the battery department, and we’re glad to see it.

As far as official testing goes, the Lumia 900 lasted a full five hours. Our testing includes a non-stop Google Image search — the phone never sleeps or rests from 100 percent green to death. At any point I can make a call, play a game, or browse the web, all of which I did with the Lumia.

To give you a little context, the Droid 4 only hung in there for three hours and forty-five minutes while the Droid RAZR Maxx (Motorola’s battery beast) stayed with me for a staggering eight hours and fifteen minutes.

Head-To-Head With The Lumia 800 and iPhone 4S:

Check out our thoughts on this match-up here.

Hands-On Video: Initial Impressions

Conclusion

My editors always tell me to close these reviews with a definitive stance, as I should, but this phone makes it difficult. I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, tell a smartphone enthusiast who’s been using a Galaxy Nexus or iPhone 4S to upgrade to this, simply because it wouldn’t be an upgrade. You’d notice the camera issues right off the bat, and the screen would probably bug you.

But this doesn’t make the Lumia 900 a bad phone at all. It’s a great phone. Nokia kicks ass at call reception, and while the specs are a bit outdated, hardware is beautiful and sturdy. As I said before, anyone coming off of a phone over a year old would be lucky to own a Lumia 900.

Especially for free.












Check out all of our Lumia 900 review posts here.


Nokia Lumia 900 Review: This One’s A No-Brainer

LG Spectrum Review: This Is One Ugly Sumbitch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Short Version

The LG Spectrum has spent a long while with me. In fact, LG’s asking for it back, saying that my review period has come to an end. I didn’t get around to the full review until now because (to be perfectly honest with you) I didn’t really want to sit down and talk about the LG Spectrum for X amount of hours.

True, there’s nothing necessarily “wrong” with the phone. It’s got solid specs, performs alright (I guess), and has a downright gorgeous display. But at the same time, there’s a long list of issues that I have with the phone, and most center around design.

Features:

  • 4.5-inch 720×1280 True HD IPS display
  • Verizon 4G LTE
  • Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor
  • 8MP rear camera (1080p video capture)
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • LG UI
  • MSRP: $199.99 on-contract

Pros:

  • This is a stunning display, without a doubt
  • Camera gets the job done
  • 4G LTE speeds are fast

Cons:

  • Poor battery life
  • Creaks and cracks when stressed
  • Ugly: Too light and plastic-y to feel premium
  • LG UI is equally ugly

Long Version

Hardware/Design:

Ah, where to begin?

The LG Spectrum isn’t the prettiest phone I’ve ever laid eyes on. In fact, it doesn’t even really compete. In a world of sexy iPhones, captivating Galaxy Notes, and compelling Nokia Windows Phones, the LG Spectrum likely won’t even get your attention. It sports some of the same design language as the Nitro HD, but for some mysterious reason LG chose to put a nasty plastic panel across the backside. It has a little textured print on it, but feels slick and cheap like plastic. The 4.5-inch display is surrounded by a black bezel and gunmetal silver tapered edges.

Every part of it soaks up your fingerprints like that’s what it was built to do. This, of course, only lends to that cheap feel I mentioned before.

Then there’s build quality. The Spectrum creaks and bends when stressed in a way that makes me highly uncomfortable. People have dealt with cheap-feeling phones for a long time now, and if you’re upgrading from something two years old that may not bother you so much. But if you’re moving from an iPhone or any of Samsung’s or HTC’s newer devices, you may be disappointed at just how creaky this little guy is.

MicroUSB access is square on the top of the phone, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and the lock button. The volume rocker can be found on the left hand side, and three capacitive home buttons are down at the bottom. I’m not a fan of this plastic cover LG likes to put on the MicroUSB port — it’ll surely break off at some point — and it doesn’t help that the port is right where your hand would be if you chose to play around with the Spectrum in landscape while plugged in.

Nothing Special:

We usually reserve a place in our reviews for that extra something special a phone has. The Note had its S-Pen, the Droid 4 had its amazing QWERTY keyboard, the GalNex had ICS and NFC, and the list goes on and on. Almost every phone has some extra umph, whether it’s by way of a really cool feature, interesting design, extra hardware or a first-of-its-kind spec.

The Spectrum has nothing like that, and thus I’m left filling up a review section with nothingness.

Software:

Let’s just start out with LG UI. I’m going to be upfront when I say that all of the manufacturer overlays are awful. I’d say that Samsung’s TouchWiz (or whatever they’re calling it these days) and HTC’s Sense are the most visually appealing and useful, while Motorola’s is meh. LG’s sucks.

Everything’s bubbly, round, and it looks like a children’s version of a user interface. Of course, these are just aesthetic preferences, so if you like the look and feel of LG UI then boo on me. The only problem is that it has no real use. The trick with a custom UI is adding value. Users will get over the fact that you’re snatching away their pure Android if you give them something cool like HTC’s weather widget or Samsung’s special contacts scroll feature. It’s the little things that count.

With LG UI, the only “little thing” I can find is that apps are automatically categorized by type. Unfortunately, I would rather arrange apps on my own and keep the little headers out of it. LG also included a little media carousel in the UI, which would be much more pleasing if it wasn’t the laggiest thing on the phone.

Pre-loaded apps include Netflix (which should be nice on that gorgeous display), ESPN ScoreCenter, Amazon Kindle, BlockBuster, NFL Mobile, and a handful of Verizon apps like VZW Navigator, V CAST, and Verizon Video.

Camera:

I’m actually quite impressed with the Spectrum’s 8-megapixel camera. It seemed to reproduce color slightly better than my iPhone 4S, which was a pretty big shock after dealing with this phone for a couple weeks. The shutter’s not nearly as fast, and I’m not a fan of the camera app UI, but I still give the Spectrum camera a fly.

It does have more trouble in low-light than my iPhone 4S, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Sometimes you take pictures in a dark environment to recreate that eery, dark look. In fact, that’s the only reason you should take pictures in a dark environment. The Spectrum tends to brighten pictures automatically, even with the flash off, and it makes anything taken in a cloudy bar or dark room look awkward.

Video capture was fine, but nothing to call home over. Switching between low and well-lit areas takes some time, and playback was a bit grainy for what I was expecting. But on the whole I think the LG Spectrum camera is just fine.

Comparison shot between the LG Spectrum (left) and the iPhone 4S (right):

Display:

Go ahead. Breathe a sigh of relief — you’ll get all love and no hate while we chat out the display.

The Spectrum’s 4.5-inch 720p display is everything and more. I tend to lean toward Samsung’s displays, especially of the Super AMOLED Plus persuasion, but LG’s TrueHD screen is seriously beautiful. Blacks are sharp and deep, text is crisp, colors feel real… I mean honestly, it doesn’t get much better.

There is one thing that’s sticking out to me, but it’s not necessarily make or break. The display sports a 16:9 aspect ratio, and while many phones share this trait, the Spectrum display seems awfully long and skinny. This wasn’t so apparent when watching videos in portrait (and you’ll have to excuse the fact that I’m coming off of a Galaxy Note review, which obviously makes a difference), but I just thought it worth noting.

The display is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass so there shouldn’t be any huge scratching issues, but as I mentioned before, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your finger prints off this thing.

Performance:

Generally speaking, this phone didn’t live up to my expectations in the performance department at all. Laggy? All the things!

Let’s just start with the most basic actions, scrolling between home screens and opening apps. More than once (in fact, more than a handful of times), I clicked the apps icon… waited… and clicked it again. Of course, this led to the app tray opening and closing in a flash. It was so slow, that I had closed it before I opened it.

This is the kind of stuff that happens over and over with the Spectrum. Pinch-to-zoom… wait… double-tap to zoom… zoom in and out in a flash. It’s hella annoying.

But it gets worse.

There’s some strange flaw in the Spectrum that has to do with Car Mode. Basically, the Spectrum decides when you’re in a car, whether you’re actually in a car or not. When it makes this decision, as displayed by a tiny steering wheel icon up top, the phone reverts back to the home screen and flashes black. Repeatedly. To make matters worse, you can’t really access the car mode app within Android as far as I can tell.

Super fun.

Oh, and I’m not the only one to notice.

The problem persisted so much that I couldn’t complete my testing. Usually, I like to run each of my three tests three times each, just to be fair, but this Car Mode bug made that impossible. So unfortunately, I’m going to have to hit you with the results from the first of each test. In Browsermark, we saw a score of 57573, which is nice compared to the Note’s score of 48,610. The Spectrum unfortunately did not test better than the Note on Quadrant (a full-fledged benchmark program), scoring 2448 compared to the Note’s 2703.

In the data department I was seeing an average speed of 4.5Mbps down and 1.6Mbps up on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. That’s not so hot knowing how fast Verizon 4G can be.

Battery:

And as we migrate into the battery department, the disappointments only persist. I was shocked to find that the Galaxy Note, with its massive HD Super AMOLED screen and 4G LTE radio could hang with me all day. After reviewing the Note and the Droid RAZR Maxx, I had hoped that phone makers were starting to figure out how to make 4G a viable option with solid battery life. I was wrong, at least about LG.

The Spectrum doesn’t last all day with me. In fact, it barely makes it to dinner time. I’ve been fiddling with settings for the past few days and I noticed I can get just a little bit of extra life with certain services, like location services, shut down, but I’m still not pleased. And on top of that, I don’t know where the hell I am.

When we did the official battery test, we found that the Spectrum only lasts a little over three hours. Of course, this is a restless workout for the Spectrum. We run it through a program that constantly loads Google Image search pages, but at any time I can pop out of the browser and play a game, make a call, etc.

Still, I’d like to have seen more out of the Spectrum. The Droid 4 only hung in there for three hours and forty-five minutes while the Droid RAZR Maxx (Motorola’s battery beast) stayed with me for a staggering eight hours and fifteen minutes.

Head-To-Head With The Galaxy Nexus And Nitro HD:

Check out our thoughts on this match-up here.

Hands-On Video: Initial Impressions

Conclusion

The problem with the LG Spectrum is that it’s a sheep dressed in wool. I hoped against hope that the performance of the phone paired with an amazing display and 4G connectivity would rid me of my desire to hurl something so freaking ugly against a wall. But it did not. There was a bug that lasted through the entirety of my two weeks with the phone, it soaks up prints, lags like a fat man in a marathon, and is just plain ugly.

The phone looks cheap, and performs like it’s cheap, and no one deserves to live through two years of frustration like this.

I give it a die.

Die. Die. Die. Die. Die.

Die.












Check out all of our LG Spectrum review posts here.


LG Spectrum Review: This Is One Ugly Sumbitch

Samsung Galaxy Note Review: Who Do You Think You Are? Mr. Big Stuff?

p1018175-(1)

Short Version

When I went to meet with Samsung to pick up the Galaxy Note, I was told something that I kept in mind throughout my last week or so with the phone. “People freak out and say it’s too big until they play with it — then they love it.” I was also told that the S-Pen is way more than just a stylus, and I generally felt excited to be playing with something different from your average Android phone. So what do I think now of the giant 5.3-inch S-Pen-packing Galaxy Note?

To put it plainly, I think they were wrong.

Features:

  • 5.3-inch 1280×800 HD Super AMOLED display
  • AT&T 4G LTE
  • Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor
  • 8MP rear camera (1080p video capture)
  • 2MP front camera (720p video capture)
  • S-Pen
  • MSRP: $299.99 on-contract

Pros:

  • The display is downright gorgeous
  • Thin and light
  • Solid battery life

Cons:

  • A bit laggy all around
  • Doesn’t take prints well
  • Way, way too big

Long Version

Hardware/Design:

Clearly the first thing we need to chat about here is size, and to be honest I think it may exclude quite a few people. It’s just too damn big. Now, many of you will cry foul because I’m a girl but here’s what I say to that: first, I have rather large hands for a girl, and secondly my male counterparts have confirmed that the Note is, in fact, too big to be comfortable.

Truth is, you just can’t perform one-handed actions with comfort and security. I felt like I was always slipping, almost dropping it, or simply working too hard to do what I needed to do. If you’re using the S-Pen that problem goes away a little bit, as you hold firmly with one hand and doodle with the other. But many of us only have one hand free to do what we need to on our phones, and that’s where the Note fails.

In terms of materials and build quality, I find this superphone quite handsome. It looks a lot like a Galaxy S II, and has this stitch-style texture on the battery door. It’s nice and light at at 6.28 ounces, and measures just .38 inches thick. The microUSB is square at the bottom of the phone with the S-Pen slot just to its right, while the volume rocker is on the upper left edge, and the lock button on the upper right.

I honestly don’t have much to complain about here except for the size. Everything feels solid, premium, and looks good too. I just can’t enjoy it because I don’t have XXL hands.

S-Pen:

I figured many of you would scroll to this section anyways, so I thought I’d save you some trouble and put it closer to the beginning. The S-Pen is great, but it’s not enough to justify the phone on its own.

It’s fun, sure. You have a paintbrush, marker, pencil and highlighter; complete control over color and thickness, and can add text. You can drop in photos, crop, take screen grabs, and share everything. Plus, the S-Pen is pressure-sensitive, so it can even pick up light and dark strokes. It’s also got a little button that helps you perform shortcut commands like taking a screen grab (hold button, hold tap screen) or opening the S-Memo app (hold button, double tap).

I had a fine time tooling around and doodling all over pictures of my bosses, but even after a week I couldn’t really integrate the S-Pen into my daily life in any useful way. Mind you, Siri sets at least five reminders for me a day and sends at least two or three texts.

It takes two hands to use it, which takes it out of the equation a large amount of the time, and it always seems like it takes longer to get it out and start using it than it does to just take care of it with touch.

Now, I’m not the most artistic person and I will say that my more creative friends have spent more dedicated time drawing than I have, and the products have been pretty impressive. However, the Wacom-style S-Pen can’t replace a real Wacom pen and/or tablet, or so says my graphic artist/animator friend.

So that really leaves it in a sort of middle ground: you can’t do real work with it, and you can’t make it useful in any other, daily-life kind of way. So basically it’s just for fun.

Software:

The Galaxy Note runs Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread under Samsung’s custom TouchWiz UI. The UI is tweaked a bit to make the most of the extra screen real estate, offering five virtual home buttons along the bottom and a 5×5 grid of apps/icons.

I’ve noticed with Samsung devices that both Android and TouchWiz slow things up. Samsung’s $50 Focus Flash runs like a champ on Windows Phone compared to this, and it has to come down to software. The good news is that TouchWiz actually adds some usability rather than just a heavy, custom look.

Resizeable widgets actually allow for a little differentiation which is nice, but TouchWiz has a lot more subtle features that make it a bit more intuitive than other overlays. For example, when you scroll down the letters along the right side of your address book, you can swipe a bit to the left to move on to the next letter in the name. So if you have two dozen J names in your contacts, you can narrow it down to ‘Jo’ or ‘Ja’ or whatever.

Another plus is that Samsung’s HD Super AMOLED display is basically off wherever it’s black. The UI just so happens to be mostly black in all the menus and most apps can be configured to display light text over a black background, so that tends to help on the battery front.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of pre-loaded apps like Amazon Kindle, Qik Lite, Crayon phsyics and How To Draw (clearly for the S-Pen), and a host of AT&T apps. When I went into the Android Market to try out some games and such, a Gameloft title (NFL Pro 2012) was “not compatible with my device.” Bummer. Precision apps, on the other hand, like Where’s My Water and Fruit Ninja are much easier with the S-Pen. After a few tries I was getting some of my highest scores ever on Fruit Ninja. Good times.

Camera:

The Note’s 8-megapixel camera takes great pictures, no doubt. And if you have two hands to take the picture with then you’re in great shape, but otherwise good luck. I seriously had the most difficult time trying to hold the Note in one hand to take a picture of something in the other hand… it was a joke.

And it doesn’t seem like there’s a physical shutter button anywhere either, which means you have to find a way to get that thumb free and tap the little soft shutter. The good news is that the pictures are great, with really nice color reproduction and light sensitivity. The shutter is really fast and snaps the picture upon release.

The video quality is also really great, though it does take some time to switch between low light settings and outdoor light. But I found that the Note does this gracefully, a slow transition but at least it doesn’t seem really obvious during playback — a steady shift.

If you have the hands (the size of catchers’ mits) to handle it, the Note camera will treat you really well.

Comparison shot between the Galaxy Note (left) and the iPhone 4S (right):

Display:

You’ve got to hand it to Samsung. They know displays. This 5.3-inch HD Super AMOLED is just about as good as it gets, except for the fact that I wish there was more of it. I wish it was a tablet, and the whole stylus thing could be seen as a great accessory (maybe for kids) and that no one would ever, ever have to hold one of these things up to their face ever again.

Watching movies was awesome, and everything from pictures to the clock widget looks crisp, bright and beautiful. But again, all this real estate makes for more than a few issues during any regular usage scenario. I’m going to type text messages way more often than I’m going to grab a bag of popcorn and watch Inception on this thing, and if I can’t send a simple “Hey, sorry… I just got this text now…” to one of my dearest friends then what’s the point?

Performance:

There’s not really much to complain about here when talking about performance. The Note is pretty snappy, even with TouchWiz along for the ride, and things should get ever better once ICS makes its way onto the device. The biggest beef I had with the Note was during web browsing. Every time I scrolled or zoomed in on some text, the Note took an extra half a second to do what I’d asked. This is pretty common on Android, but worth noting.

Benchmark testing went well for the Note, too. The superphone scored a 2703 on Quadrant, which tests everything with a focus on graphics. Browsermark, on the other hand, gave the Note a 48,610. As far as AT&T’s network goes, I was surprised with just how great call quality was.

In the data department I was seeing an average speed of 24Mbps down and .8Mbps up.

Battery:

If there’s one thing that really exceeded my expectations about the Note, it would be battery life. That massive HD Super AMOLED display and 4G LTE radio would lead you to believe that this thing wouldn’t make it past breakfast, but that wasn’t the case.

In real-world usage scenarios, the Note hung with me all day long. That’s not to say I could take it partying into the wee hours of the morning with me, but it’ll get you past dinner time. But I don’t know how you use your phone, so let me share with you some numbers.

When we did the official battery test, we found that the Note lasts a little under six hours. We test this by really pushing the phone, running a continuous image search within the browser. At any time, I can come in and play a game or check something else out for testing, and then continue running the program. But at no point, whatsoever, is the phone resting.

To give you a little context, the Droid 4 only hung in there for three hours and forty-five minutes while the Droid RAZR Maxx (Motorola’s battery beast) stayed with me for a staggering eight hours and fifteen minutes.

Head-To-Head With The Galaxy Nexus And Streak 5:

Check out our thoughts on this match-up here.

Hands-On Video: Initial Impressions

Conclusion

Here’s the deal.

I applaud Samsung for thinking outside of the box on this one, but the issue with this type of exo-box-thinking is that I think it’s headed in the wrong direction. I understand that people are increasingly enjoying larger screens, as mobile video and gaming take over, but there has to be a line. Unfortunately, I think the Galaxy Note crosses it.

No matter how beautiful the display is or how fun (/useless) the S-Pen is, this thing is just too damn big to enjoy. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was doing even the simplest things like taking a picture, gaming, or even writing a text or search inquiry. And don’t even get me started on the kinds of looks I got holding this thing up to my face.

Perhaps if you have giant hands and can’t get enough doodle in your life, the Note might be right for you. But for anyone else, I’d recommend either waiting for the Galaxy S III (which is sure to be freaking awesome), or holding out for this rumored Galaxy Note 10.1 we’ve been hearing about. The Note makes much more sense as a cool tablet than it does a giant phone.

















Check out all of our Galaxy Note review posts here.


Samsung Galaxy Note Review: Who Do You Think You Are? Mr. Big Stuff?