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Showing posts with label gadget. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gadget. Show all posts

3/22/2015

HTC One M9 Review: A Great Phone That Can't Keep Up


Amateur Photography - Everyone loves an underdog. They're new, exciting, and upset expectations. In 2013, the HTC One M7 brought that incredible disruptive energy to smartphones, and the following year's M8 ran neck and neck with the best you could buy. Now, with the M9, the One is no longer an underdog—but it's not exactly leading the Android pack, either.
Click Here To Buy My One M9 Case Wishlist
What Is It?

The One M9 is the latest 5-inch flagship smartphone from HTC, complete with Android Lollipop, amazing dual BoomSound speakers, and the latest processor from Qualcomm all wrapped in an aluminum chassis—your choice of silver/gold, gold, or gunmetal grey. Although the price hasn't been determined, you can probably expect to be parting with $650 for an unlocked model (or $200-$250 on contract) with all major U.S. carriers starting April 10th.

Note: Our review unit was an international version, so I was unable to test LTE connectivity and any additional effects on battery life and general performance.

Why Does It Matter?

HTC's One series has always been an indicator of what premium Android smartphones will look like in the future. In 2013 when the first One was introduced, most smartphone makers were still making plastic and faux-chrome smartphones—I'm looking at you, Samsung—and now almost all of them have embraced the fancy aluminum way of thinking. A vote for HTC is a vote that smartphones will continue to be fashion statements first and communication devices second.
Design

The HTC One M9 is one of the best-looking smartphones you can buy. It's one of those smartphones that feels almost criminal to enshrine in a plastic case and obscure its machined metal exterior. It's a smartphone for show, a fashion accessory, a 5-inch slab of metal that's practically jewelry. This smartphone be pretty.

What it isn't—design-wise—is new, exciting or meaningfully different.

The M7 that wowed us back in 2013 made a big splash in the Android smartphone pond, but last year's M8 was really just a ripple—slightly bigger, rounded edges, and to some, a design step in the wrong direction. The M9 is also a ripple, another small iteration on what's come before and strangely more akin to the original M7.

 I complained about this after my initial impressions earlier this month, but one of the M9's most distinguished design changes is also one of its most perplexing—a small lip that juts out a millimeter around the entire rim of the M9. Three weeks later, I'm still not quite sure why it's there. It makes holding the phone sort of awkward. Not necessarily bad, but you'll feel that hardware seam when you hold it.

Also, the M9 feels like an accident waiting to happen. Now, I'm not one to break phones. Unlike some of my colleagues, I've never cracked or water-logged a phone, and I don't plan on starting now. But I fear the M9's super-slippery finish might break my streak. Whether I'm pulling it out of my pocket or just it picking up from my desk, the phone slides around in my hand, creating that stomach-drop reaction of "oh shit oh shit oh shit." As of writing this sentence, I've dropped the M9—thankfully from short distances—three times already. The M9 is a curse for the clumsy.

Now, if it's pedestrian jealousy you're going for, the M9 does wonders. When walking about or standing idly on trains, the M9 pulls inquiring glances. But those glances could mean two separate things—great-looking or gaudy-looking. HTC describes the silver/gold finish on the M9 as "jewelry grade," which for me is part of the problem. I've been going back-and-forth on how I felt about my silver/gold companion, and I think I finally fell into the gaudy camp. But that's why more colors exist! Maybe gunmetal grey is more my speed.

Using It

Looks aren't everything. It's true browsing Tinder, and it's true for smartphones as well. What HTC has going on under that brushed metal exterior is just as important. And what M9 has going on is... good enough.

You won't find any complaints here about the One M9's performance, that's for sure. As you'd expect, this flagship has the latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM, which could handle absolutely everything I threw at it with ease. But that's table stakes these days.

(Though you may have heard that Snapdragon 810 runs so hot it can cook an egg, I'm happy to report differently. I personally didn't run crazy benchmarks to test that theory because that's not how people use smartphones, but I did actively try to make the smartphone heat up by playing graphics-intensive games. Sure, it got a little toasty, but it wasn't like holding a fistful of fire. Just business as usual.)

And the display—while great!—may not blow you away either. It's the same exact screen last year's One: a 5-inch, 1080p display (441 ppi) with Corning Gorilla Glass on top. Some people seem brainwashed that top-of-the-line smartphones need 2K screens, but this LCD panel is bright and vivid with great readability in daylight.

So what's the issue? Battery life. The HTC One M9 has the biggest battery of any One series smartphone yet and it's running a 1080p screen, meaning it doesn't need to push nearly as many pixels as say the G3, Nexus 6, or the upcoming Galaxy S6. All good news, right? On paper, yes, but not in reality. Some days I was able to eke out to about 2 or 3am, definitely not multi-day use but solid all-day battery life. But then other days, I'd be off the charger by 6am and dead by 4:30pm with just 20 minutes of turn-by-turn directions and an hour of recording audio (with the screen off). When we reviewed the M8, we were able to get stellar battery performance with full-day charge peace of mind. The M9 simply doesn't, and that's a shame.

What is not a shame are these BoomSound speakers. Damn. I can say, without exaggeration, that these are the absolute best speakers on any smartphone ever created. These speakers are so loud and crisp, I've basically stopped using my Mini Jambox completely. In fact, it's so much better than watching anything on my computer, I chose to whip out the M9 to watch Netflix than mess with my MacBook Pro's tinny audio nightmare. Even compared to the M8, the M9 outperforms in every way. And the Nexus 6? Forgetaboutit. Seriously.

Software

Another year, another new version of HTC Sense—the company's custom Android skin. Sense 7 is passable, which isn't the worst verdict you could give an Android skin, but it doesn't add anything substantial over stock Android. Even LG and TouchWiz have some cool tricks you'd conceivably use like multi-windowed apps. But with Sense, it's just gimmicks dressed up as convenience. Here are a couple examples:

Themes: Long press on the homescreen, and Sense 7 gives you a new "theme" option, a curated "store" where you can browse artistic themes ranging from subtle to absurd. To be clear, these are not backgrounds, these are themes that change everything about the look of the software—from the lockscreen, icon design, and menu colors. Unfortunately, some themes crop icons in weird ways or make using the phone even harder because you won't recognize the app icons anymore. If you don't mind skins or even like heavy themes on top of Android, this might be great news. But people who love clean interfaces will consider this new theme option an enemy.

Sense Home: This widget keeps track of your six most used apps at home and at work, using GPS to detect where you are, and offers suggestions for other apps you may find useful. That's all well and good—if it worked as advertised. But it's been a week now, and there are still apps Sense Home thinks I used that I've never even opened, and half the suggestions it gives me are already on my phone. I love the idea, but this first effort is lacking.

 Sense 7 also includes the latest Android Lollipop, of course, though some of my favorite features like the carousel of recent apps have been stripped out for less interesting alternatives like the windowed app switcher you see above. (I find it less easy to navigate.) But Sense 7 isn't terrible, and importantly, it doesn't slow down the One M9 one bit. It won't get in your way.
Camera

The camera has been a big problem for HTC on past smartphones. With the M7, HTC introduced the "4 Ultrapixel" camera, which was HTC's fancy way of saying "we have bigger pixels which means we can capture light better." But though the following M8 did decent in low light, it lagged far behind in normal lighting conditions. So with the M9, HTC actually switched the 4 UltraPixel camera to the front and stuck a more standard 20-megapixel shooter on the back, turning that front-facing lens into a great selfie cam.

What does that mean for your regular rear camera photos, though? Oh boy. When shooting in well-lit situations, the M9 camera is okay—maybe even good. But as soon as you're working in low-light, expect graininess and discoloration. This is where some optical image stabilization could have eased some imaging woes, as it does on many a top-tier smartphone today... but only digital stabilization is included here. The camera does have RAW support, but you'll weirdly need a third-party app to access it and you'll only be getting 1080p recordings out of this guy. Here are a few test shots:

Like

Despite a few design concerns, the new M9 still looks as great as the M8 that looks as great as the M7. Looking good is what this phone does. It's true that you could accuse of HTC of getting lax with dreaming up a new design—or when they do, they make something like the lip—but like I said, design isn't the One's problem. Why fix what isn't broken?

Navigating through Sense 7 is great and pretty fluid. Not once during my time with the M9 did I have any weird glitches, crashes, or unexpected reboots.

The BoomSound speakers are so good that I want to say they're the One's greatest asset aside from its posh exterior.

HTC offers a free UH OH Protection plan with the M9. If you do damage your new One (it is slippery after all), you can trade it in for a new one free of charge, and if you don't use your trade-in, you can get $100 off your next HTC One. It's a way to keep you locked into HTC, but if you're a devout One user anyways, it's a nifty little bonus.

 Still got the infrared port for controlling your home entertainment system.
Dislike

Objectively, I know the phone's lip isn't really going to be a big problem for many people. Subjectively, I hate it. Ugh ugh ugh.

The battery life here is really disappointing. Before driving the HTC One M9, I had LG's G Flex 2 in my pocket, which also has a Snapdragon 810 processor and an even bigger 1080p screen. I never had to worry about my phone dying on me in less than a day. I could even get midway through the next, no problem. With the M9 you'll be toggling on power saving modes (or "Extreme Power Saving Mode" if the situation is dire) to help combat battery woes. Once you start compromising performance just to get a day of battery life, I get annoyed. Oh, and I tested the international model without LTE, which means battery life might be even worse stateside.

Sense 7 is shrug worthy. I would pay more money just to have this thing run stock Android but HTC has no Google Play Edition plans this time around. Bummer.

The One M9 solves your selfie woes by flipping that fancy 4 UltraPixel camera around front, but the rear cam needs some work. Its low-light is pretty bad, and you'd probably be better served by a lot of other smartphone cameras out there.

Should You Buy It?

The One M9 is a pretty great update from the One M7. If you liked HTC's original flagship, and you don't mind a slightly bigger smartphone, then the One M9 is good! I think you'll be happy with it. And if you're a multimedia fiend—watching Netflix, streaming music, or whatever—the BoomSound speakers make everything better.

But if you're looking for the best smartphone bar none, the One isn't at the head of the pack. This probably isn't the One for you. HTC played it safe this year instead of pushing things further. Honestly, if you're willing to settle for the M9, you should also look at the M8 while you're at it. It lasts longer, it feels just as fast, and it costs less.


Google Nexus 6 review


Amateur Photography - Remember when mobile phones were monstrously-proportioned beasts that would bloat your trouser pocket in the most unsightly fashion? If so, the chances are you also experienced the subtle transition from gigantic talk-tech to truly pocket-sized alternatives - but the race to miniaturise mobile telecommunications was somewhat short-lived. The arrival of touchscreen smartphones has seen the pendulum swing violently back in the opposite direction; the iPhone kicked things off with a 3.5-inch display in 2007, but since then its Android and Windows Phone-based rivals have pushed the envelope dramatically, leading to the rise of the somewhat irksome portmanteau "Phablet".

Samsung's 2011 Galaxy Note - equipped with what was then considered to be an absolutely ludicrous 5.3-inch screen - was the first mainstream device of this type, and the Note range has thus far sat alongside the mainline Galaxy S in Samsung's portfolio. However, Google isn't offering the general public the same option; the latest entry in its long-running Nexus range comes in one size and one size only: massive. Produced in conjunction with hardware partners such as HTC, Samsung, LG and - this year - Motorola, the Nexus lineage of handsets offers a pure and unsullied version of Google's Android OS, and it is via this family of phones that the company pushes the latest iterations of its software. That means if you're not a fan of big-screen phones yet you subscribe wholeheartedly to the Nexus program, you're going to have to suck it up and come to terms with owning what initially feels like an absurdly big handset - unless you're happy to sit it out and retain last year's Nexus 5, of course.

There's no escaping the fact that the Nexus 6 is huge. To accommodate that 5.96-inch screen Motorola has constructed a suitably mammoth chassis, one which is admittedly tricky to cradle in a single hand, though not impossible. The lack of a physical home button on the front - a hallmark of both Apple and Samsung's phones - means that the bezel is kept as thin as possible, and as a result the handset is roughly the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a smaller 5.5-inch screen. Handling the device takes some getting used to, and during calls we often found that it's hard to know where to position the phone - lining up your ear next to the speaker is tricky due to the sheer size of the device.

Even so, it's worth stressing how beautiful the Nexus 6's screen really is. We're talking about an AMOLED panel here, so you can expect bright, vibrant colours and deep, convincing blacks, while the resolution borders on the ludicrous: 2560x1440 pixels, not only comfortably beating the screen of the laptop on which this review was written, but also besting the iPhone 6 Plus' 1080p resolution. The pixel density of 493ppi is remarkable - spotting individual pixels with the naked eye is practically impossible. Whether or not a mobile phone really needs a display of this magnitude is questionable, but the fidelity of the Nexus 6's screen is noteworthy and enriches practically every activity, from browsing the web to playing games.

In fact, it's striking how soon you become comfortable with the massive dimensions of Motorola's handset. The display comes into its own when you're surfing the web, as there's little need to pinch-zoom to read large bodies of text, and the resolution and size of the screen means you'll be primarily using the desktop - or in Eurogamer's case, HD - view whenever you visit your favourite sites. Watching videos via YouTube or Netflix is another pastime that benefits from the additional real estate, and games like Monument Valley, 80 Days and even casual favourite Crossy Road really pop on a bigger screen. The only problem we have is that Google has done nothing to capitalise on the extra space on offer; while Samsung's Note series has many custom modifications to the OS that allow users to run two different applications or quickly scribble down notes using the bundled stylus, Android Lollipop on the Nexus 6 is curiously lacking in big-screen applications.

The only element which is unique to the Nexus 6 - and by that we mean it's not present in Android Lollipop on the Nexus 5 or Nexus 4 - is the Ambient Display, which flashes up monochrome notifications when the screen is asleep, allowing you to view incoming messages without picking up your device. It also turns on the moment you pick up the handset, so you can quickly see what notifications you have waiting without waking the screen or unlocking the device. On an AMOLED screen, black pixels are effectively turned off, so this feature doesn't consume much in the way of battery power. It's a neat touch that we'd like to see on future Nexus phones - assuming they come equipped with AMOLED panels, of course.

When you've rendering more pixels than is strictly necessary it helps to have a powerful heart driving the phone, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 is just that. Comprised of a quad-core 2.7GHz Krait 450 and an Adreno 420 graphics processor, it ensures smooth performance at all times - the 3GB of RAM naturally helps. Granted, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 is creeping onto the market as we speak - it's in the recently-released HTC One M9 - but we had little cause to grumble when putting the Nexus 6 through its paces, and rumour has it that the Android 5.1 update that is rolling out as we speak makes the device even faster.

The visual experience is just one side of the coin in the case of the Nexus 6, however. It's only in recent years that phone makers have given even a second thought to sound, with HTC leading the charge with its use of Beats-certified audio. Thankfully Motorola has blessed the Nexus 6 with a pair of the most powerful speakers we've heard on any phone; arrayed at either end of the massive screen, these provide bold and punchy audio, almost rendering external Bluetooth speaker systems obsolete. We say almost, as they're not quite powerful enough to fill an entire room with sound, but if you're playing a game, watching a film or simply desire some close-quarters music, you'll come away very impressed - and possibly a little surprised, given how feeble the single speaker on the Nexus 5 was. It goes without saying that ringtones and notification sounds are also quite striking, meaning you're unlikely to miss an important message again.

A bigger screen needs an equally sizeable battery to power it, and in the Nexus 6's case, there's a 3220mAh power cell at its core. This is quite a jump over the 2300mAh battery that shipped with the Nexus 5, but it's having to do more heavy lifting, servicing a power-hungry processor and that roomy 5.96-inch screen. Even so, we noticed a significant improvement in stamina when compared to the older model. With moderate use we were still able to squeeze almost two days out of the phone - something that never seemed possible with the Nexus 5, no matter how frugal we were when it came to using it. Another big plus is the inclusion of turbocharging - 15 minutes on the plug bags you around six hours of battery life, and it's possible to fully change an empty tank in just over an hour. The proviso is that this feature only works with the bundled "fast" charger, but you can use standard (and slower) chargers with the phone as well.

The Nexus 6 comes with a 13-megapixel camera on the back boasting autofocus, HDR and optical image stabilisation - none of which matters in the fight against the iPhone's excellent snapper. Few Android handsets can compete with Apple's device when it comes to photography, and the Nexus range in particular has been rather poor in this regard. The quality of photos produced by the Nexus 6 is actually pretty decent, but it's the process of taking the shot that proves to be the irksome part. As was the case with the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, it takes far too long for the camera to actually focus and capture the image, especially if you're in low-light conditions. Sometimes there's a pause of two or three seconds between tapping the on-screen capture button and the phone actually registering the shot. The sooner Google can fix this problem, the better. Video capture is a more positive story, with the Nexus 6 offering support for UHD 4K video capture - handy for the few people out there who currently have the means to playback footage at that resolution on their TV or monitor.

For storage, Google has dropped the near-ubiquitous 16GB entry point option and released the Nexus 6 in 32 and 64GB variants. As has been the case with previous Nexus handsets, there's no MicroSD card slot and therefore no means of physically increasing the amount of storage present in the phone itself, so if you intend to pack out the handset with downloads then you might wish to spend a little more and opt for the roomier choice. However, having slummed it with 16GB Nexus phones in the past, we personally found that 32GB (25.98GB of which is available to the end user) was more than enough for our needs, especially when taking advantage of cloud storage options like Google Drive and Google Music.

Google Nexus 6: the Digital Foundry verdict

There once was a time when the divide between phones and tablets was sizeable enough to ensure that both products had their own sector to cater for, but with phones getting bigger and tablets getting smaller, the gap between the two has shrunk dramatically. When you have a phone like the Nexus 6, a 7-inch tablet really does seem redundant - and figures suggest that tablet sales are declining due to the proliferation of such devices. During our review period we noticed that we used our tablet of choice - the excellent Nvidia Shield - much less than usual, largely thanks to the fact that the Nexus 6 was just as good for browsing the web, watching movies or playing anything but the most extremely taxing of Android games.



1/13 5.96-inches of bright and punchy AMOLED screen makes for an amazing gaming platform, with titles looking sharper than ever before. The powerful CPU makes short work of 3D titles, although the usual lack of optimisation - a common problem with Android games - means that things are rarely as smooth as they possibly should be.

Taking this into account, Google's decision to make its leading Nexus handset a phablet appears justified, and after spending a considerable amount of time with the phone we have to concede that its size is no longer the deal-breaker we initially thought it might be; we've become totally accustomed to its imposing dimensions and instead have come to appreciate the many ways in which so much visual real estate can enrich the entire user experience. Add in some impressive performance, the latest (untouched) version of Android and some surprisingly powerful speakers - not to mention one of the best-looking and best-built Nexus phones yet - and you've got a pretty appealing package.

The biggest catch - aside from the potentially divisive size of the phone - is the price tag. Both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 were pitched as mid-price phones with sub-£300 price tags, but Motorola's offering has a RRP of £499 for the 32G model (the 64GB is £50 more) - not outlandish when compared to other leading Android handsets perhaps, but the lofty cost could dissuade some from supporting Google's Nexus initiative for a third year running. That would be a shame, as Motorola has done Google - and the Nexus brand - proud with this device. Granted, that massive display will almost certainly take a bit of getting used to - especially if you're migrating from the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5 series - but it doesn't take long for the benefits to become apparent; bigger really is better, at least when it comes to Google's mobile OS.