When the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge first came out earlier this year, I thought it had a neat screen that was particularly useless.
The “edge” in the name reflects the phone’s curved edges along the longest sides.
At first I thought ‘Why do we need a curved edge on a screen?” Consumers usually want more battery life, a bigger screen and more space to store their cat videos and selfies.
Samsung touted the fact that notifications could show up on the edges, so the whole screen wasn’t bothered by push alerts. It was not a bad idea. But the curved edge also seemed a little gimmicky.
Apparently, I was wrong. Consumers loved the screen so much, it’s back, bigger and better than before.
The latest iteration, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, has a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Perhaps the freight-train-long moniker exists so consumers remember it. Regardless, it appears to be aimed to go up against the iPhone 6+.
The screen is spectacular. Measuring 5.7 inches diagonally, it’s the most vivid and sharpest display I’ve seen on a smartphone. Although on paper it’s not as sharp as its predecessor, the S6 Edge, the reproduction is top notch.
With an infinity pool-like screen, the Edge+ easily draws attention to itself and gets noticed.
To take advantage of the edge, the phone has a launcher-like application that lurks alongside the periphery of the screen on whichever side you choose. Swipe out to quickly connect with a contact or launch a favourite app. It’s not obtrusive at all, which sometimes meant I forgot it was there and din’t take full advantage of it.
When reviewing the first S6 Edge, I would often accidentally activate edges of the screen with the palm of my hand. That happens less now with the Edge+. Perhaps the software has been improved and the handset can better detect unintentional contact or I’m more vigilant of how much more of the phone is a touchscreen rather than the frame.
RAM has been upped to 4 GB from 3 GB, while the processor is an octacore.
Nothing appears to get in the way of this phone’s processing firepower. The increase in RAM helps to soothe any concern that Samsung’s Touchwiz user interface, which is slapped on top of Android Lollipop.
The look and feel is upscale, alongside that of Apple’s iPhone 6+. The glass back looks particularly luxurious, but be warned that it’s at the mercy of change and keys in your pocket (while the front display’s Gorilla glass is much hardier).
The camera captures the best images of any smartphone I’ve used. It’s a 16-megapixel unit with a f1.9 aperture and optical image stabilization. The latter is unusual for smartphone cameras, since most use electronic image stabilization, if at all.
In this case, it’s the lens that moves to capture a sharper image, not some software guesswork.
Details are sharp, colours balanced and the shutter is quick. There’s a RAW shooting mode too that will save uncompressed image files which can be better manipulated later on.
The phone can also shoot 4K video and it can stream live directly to YouTube (not at the same time).
Speaking of which, the phone features next-generation LTE technology, enabling a maximum download speed of up to 450 Mbps. (Hint: If you’re in range of a cell tower that offers such connectivity, perform a speed test with someone on a regular connection. Chances are you’ll win).
While the handsets don’t ship with a wireless charger, the device is capable of such charging with optional equipment. Regardless, the handset is also fast-charge compatible, meaning you can juice up completely in about 90 minutes. This feature is also designed to compensate for the fact that the battery is not removable.
Samsung says it found very few users ever removed their batteries, and improving the charging characteristics is a better solution for users looking to get an electrical boost.
With a price tag that starts at $949 for the 32 GB model, this Edge+ is one of the priciest handsets out there.
Chances are you’ve probably never heard of Alcatel, and you didn’t know they make smartphones.
Most of the time when shopping for an Android smartphone, consumers see offerings from companies like Samsung, Motorola and LG. What’s this Alcatel I speak of?
Well, let me introduce you to the Chinese company’s OneTouch Idol 3. Available flat-out for $349 it’s a relatively affordable Android device that packs above average performance.
In the palm of my hand, it feels as sturdy as a high school calculator, which isn’t saying much. The plasticky construction is something I haven’t felt in several years. By comparison, Motorola’s Moto G starts at $199 and feels sturdier and more upscale.
That Moto, however, can’t compare in the performance section and would be beat out by the Alcatel handset.
Behind the Idol 3’s screen sits competent hardware. It’s quarterbacked by a quad-core 1.5 Ghz processor mated to 2 GB of RAM. While there’s only 16 GB of internal memory, it can be expanded up to 128 GB with a microSD card.
Users with more than just a few apps – and an appetite for listening to more than just a few dozen songs – will be best suited to taking advantage of the phone’s expandable storage option.
The phone spurs to life smoothly and behaves with seemingly no lag. Apps like Instagram scroll smoothly and games like Need For Speed perform with ease.
The full HD 1920×1080 HD screen reproduces colourful images, perhaps with not as much contrast as competitors – but it’s definitely sharp at 401 ppi.
Users will find the volume rocker on the right and the power rocker on the left edge. This may take some time to get used to, particularly for those accustomed to phones in which this is switched (as many will find).
Speaking of audio, the Idol 3 has stereo speakers above and below the 5.5-inch screen. This arrangement, not often found on smartphones, is a pleasant surprise. It helps music videos come to life and provides for a more immersive gaming experience.
It’s also a feature that makes the Idol 3 “reversible” – in a way, it’s never upside down.
As is the case with other inexpensive Android phones, the rear-facing camera isn’t spectacular.
With the Idol 3, Alcatel is using a 13-megapixel image sensor coupled to a fast f2.0 lens system. It produces adequate images when the lighting is good. In dimly lit situations, images are grainy and sometimes blurry. The 8-megapixel front-facing camera works well for taking sharp selfies, helped by a wide-angle lens.
Battery life appears to be above average and I was able to get more than a day of moderate usage out of the handset. Two days would’ve been possible, if I pushed it.
Overall, the Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 packs a lot of performance for a phone with a mid-level price range. If a great camera isn’t a priority, grab a good quality case and the Idol 3 is good to go.
Samsung’s Galaxy S line of phones, for the most part, stand out for solid screens, fast hardware and generally good cameras. But the construction never felt as solid as the specs would warrant.
It’s not like the handset of the S5 would shatter if it were to slide off a table, but the phone didn’t feel rock solid.
Not only does Samsung’s latest flagship Android device feature innovative hardware, it now feels like the premium handset that it deserves to be known for.
The perimeter of the device is wrapped in a metal frame, meanwhile the back cover is a solid, albeit permanent, slab of glass.
It survived several tumbles from a spinning bike, and one fall from my hand while I was trying to unlock my car in the freezing cold. The damage? Just a scratch on the edge from the pavement.
Despite the beefy feeling of build quality, the handset is still remarkably light, weighing in at only 136 grams.
The downside is that 1) there’s no option to add a microSD card for expandable memory and 2) you can’t swap out the battery. While many consumers are unlikely to replace the battery after a couple of years, some hardcore users may miss this flexibility.
On the upside, the phone is available in healthy storage configurations: 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB varieties.
The 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen looks stunning and is the best-looking display on the market right now. On the S6 Edge, the left and right sides of the display are curved away from the front, thus the ‘Edge’ moniker.
This unique bend in the design makes it appear as though images and video and displayed in pseudo-3D, kinda like icing on a cake that adds depth.
Why else would you want a curved screen? Well, another benefit is the potential to see notifications displayed along the edge, so as to not disturb the rest of what you’re seeing on the screen. Or perhaps it’s a subtle text message visible from the curved display lurking under your phone’s case. The curved screen is not a feature I fell in love with, and there are two other potential drawbacks to consider.
In addition to the ‘Edge’ premium (about $100), the curved display makes it a little difficult to pick the phone off a table without disturbing what’s going on on the screen itself. So, for example, you might accidentally exit an app playing a soccer game, or pause a YouTube video.
Maybe it’s my stubby man hands, but I’d save the $100 to avoid this problem.
The rear-facing 16-megapixel camera features optical image stabilization to help produce sharper photos, and what a camera it is. Inside the dark, dimply-lit Parliament buildings during a recent trip to Ottawa, the S6 captured images in rich in detail despite not using the flash.
That’s thanks to the fast F 1.9 aperture which really excels in low-light situations. It’s also a damn fast camera too, ready to snap stills in 0.7 seconds.
When asking strangers to take a photo of my and some friends (sorry, no selfie stick here), they would inadvertently think the phone wasn’t taking photos because the shutter was just so fast.
Speaking of speed, the 64-bit octa-core processor provides more than enough juice for the S6 to crunch through everything from gaming to SnapChat.
With such a big screen and a fast processor, what is the battery performance like?
Yes, the battery in the Edge is smaller than what was used in its predecessor, the S5. But on that trip to Ottawa, the S6 helped me navigate through the city, take photos at touristy spots, browse the web, watch YouTube, use Instagram, hail an Uber, call the lost Uber driver, and then stream more YouTube to a TV late into the night.
Samsung has made its Android user interface, Touchwiz, less obtrusive, lending the S6 a fairly no-nonsense Android experience. Sure, it isn’t a pure Android phone (straight from Google, such as with the Nexus devices) but the latest Samsung likely won’t have users noticing the extra layer of software.
If you’re in the market for a smartphone with a big, gorgeous screen and a fantastic camera, the S6 should be on your list. And if you want to stand out from the crowd (and don’t mind paying extra for it), the Edge will turn heads wherever you go.
This holiday season, there are tablets for almost every price range and size. The newest entrant, the Nexus 9, offers users a pure tablet experience with no gimmicks.
The screen measures in just a tick short of the nine inches implied in its name (it is 8.9” to be exact). For the most part, the screen displays colours well and the brightness is good for most reading situations. The sharpness was quite good.
I found a bit of LED backlight ‘bleed’ when viewing particularly dark images, which can be distracting during gaming or when watching dark video. It’s possible this was due to my review unit being an early model.
Size-wise, the Nexus 9 is smaller than the iPad Air but is convenient enough to easily toss in a small bag for commuting or travelling.
Audiophiles, take note here. Front-facing stereo speakers means you hear the best of whatever sound is playing – not the people behind you.
HTC actually builds the Nexus 9 – and you can tell with the tablet’s quality feel. It has a smooth plastic backing and overall solid construction. Like HTC phones, the Nexus 9 is one of the best-designed tablets out there, and it’s a shame the company’s products don’t get more attention for sharp styling.
The camera 8 MP rear-facing and 1.3 MP front-facing cameras proved adequate for regular photography, but struggle in situations with dark lighting or fast motion. This isn’t the tablet to get for impressive photos, but really, few tablets excel in this area.
Inside sits a Tegra K1 2.3 Ghz dual-core 64-bit processor. True, on paper it’s no quad-core behemoth. But I found the Nexus 9 fluid and responsive for a variety of tasks, including gaming and just basic web browsing.
This likely helps battery life, as the tablet appeared to last for about three days with average use.
Another area where the Nexus 9 really stood out was in the connectivity department. The tablet has 802.11ac WiFi transmitters, which let it take full advantage of my equally fast router for quicker file transfers and great streaming performance. It’s a huge and noticeable step up from most tablets.
A lot of what makes the Nexus 9 unique is the operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop. Compared to previous versions of Android, this one is faster than ever, streamlined and more efficient on a device’s hardware.
There are still some apps, however, that are not perfectly optimized for tablets and/or this device, and the scaled-up versions of phone apps don’t look great. At the time of testing, the BBC News app was one example.It’s likely this will improve as more app developers adapt.
Pricing starts at $429 for the 16 GB model. It’s not a bargain, but it provides users with a pure Google Android experience and fast hardware in a solid package.
The new Moto 360, however, is the first of several devices aiming to prove that’s it’s not just an uber-geeky timepiece.
For starters, it looks relatively normal-ish with a round colour touchscreen display and a lone button on the right side – there’s no hidden power plugs or extra buttons.
My test unit was black with a black leather wrist strap, but stone, light stainless steel and dark metal style combinations are also available.
The watch has an IP67 water resistance rating, which basically means you should be able to shower and wash your hands with it on, but take it off before going for a swim. And you probably shouldn’t get the soft leather wristband anywhere near water.
The 360 also packs a built-in pedometer and an optical heart rate monitor, but more on that later.
The watch runs Android Wear, a special version of Google’s mobile operating system designed for wearable devices such as, um, watches.
After you sync the 360 with your Android phone via Bluetooth, you’ll begin receiving push notifications on your wrist. This includes everything from emails to traffic delays to sports scores, whether you’re stuck in traffic or in a meeting, they can silently or obnoxiously alert you.
For the most part, the Android Wear scales the push notifications well so they make sense on the small 1.56-inch display.
The size felt well-suited for someone like me, who would never go a day without wearing a timepiece.
A variety of apps are designed to work specifically with Android Wear devices. I spent some time with a fitness app that displayed exercises, a countdown timer and rep analysis on my wrist. The watch senses when you’ve done a complete rep of an exercise, then once you’ve done a set it switches over to measuring your rest time.
Just as you can dictate voice commands to your phone, you can do the same with the 360. It works incredibly well when your hands are occupied, such as when you’re driving.
Just say “Navigate to…” and specify an address, then the 360 will pull up directions and begin provide step-by-step navigation to the destination you read out.
Something that didn’t work incredibly well was the battery life. With the ambient screen (the clock display) enabled, 360 ran out of juice before getting through a full day.
With ambient screen switched off, the Moto watch made it – just barely. For someone who is used to looking down at their wrist to check the time, without necessarily used to flicking the write to ‘wake up’ the watch, keeping the ambient sensor off took some time to get used to.
When the 360 does run out of juice, just drop it on the cradle and the watch charges wirelessly.
The optical heart rate sensor is neat, when it works. If you’re sitting at a desk, lying on the coach, snoozing in bed, it quickly shows your heart rate and relays that to relevant apps.
But in between sets during a workout, or trying to catch my breath after a run, the 360 struggled to detect my heart rate.
However, the 360 did keep up with my daily steps, and the phone it was paired with used that data to tell me how healthy a lifestyle I was living.
In fairness, the Moto 360 appears to be the best Android Wear smartwatch out there. If you can tame the battery use, and if fitness tracking isn’t at the top of your wish list, then the Moto 360 is a worthwhile option.
That was kind of odd, considering how much time during previous Samsung product briefings was dedicated to things like S Note, S Health, and other Samsung touches.
Instead, the focus was on key things most people are immensely concerned with, such as battery life and the screen. There was also mention of the Note 4’s fast charger. It was all very straight forward, like going to a big-box retailer and not being pitched on the extended warranty.
The Note 4 is Samsung’s latest productivity phone, designed for professionals and average consumers who want a gigantic screen, a stylus and cutting-edge hardware.
Inside the Android-powered phone sits a 2.7-Ghz quad core processor and 3 GB of RAM, which provides for responsive and fluid use of the device.
Sharper screen, photos
That’s key, since the 5.7-inch display affords space for productive multi-tasking. You can compose an email in one window while watching a video in the other. Or scan Twitter in one third of the screen while browsing the web in the other chunk.
The 2,560 x 1,440 pixel Quad HD Super AMOLED screen appears sharp with such high pixel density, and the colours are deep and saturated — perhaps a little too much in some cases where photos may appear to pop a little more than you’d expect.
At a time when almost everyone from kids to CEOs snap selfies, this phone’s 16-megapixel rear camera seems almost irrelevant, although it’s quite good. The rear-facing camera also features optical image stabilization in order to snap sharp photos, even if you’re a little shaky.
If you have short arms, the next feature may be your favourite.
The most noticeable photographic improvement here is with the front-facing camera, which features a 3.7-megapixel sensor and an f1.9 lens that’s designed to capture images from a 90-degree range.
While Samsung spruced up the feel of the Note 3 with a soft faux-leather back, the Note 4 feels incredibly more solid and refined. The difference is like stepping up from a Toyota to a Lexus.
This improvement is largely due to the phone’s new metal trim, which adds a feeling of elegance and sturdy confidence to the handset.
The stylus that pops out from the phone’s edge – the S Pen – has been improved for the Note 4 and seems to be more natural to use and more precise on the screen.
Honestly, all these features are useless if your phone is dead, or about to die, after a day (or less) of heavy usage. To that extent, the Note 4 features Ultra Power Saving Mode, which can selectively turn off features yet still let you make phone calls and send/receive texts for hours once the battery is down to 10 per cent charge.
There’s also the adaptive fast charger, which can drastically juice up the battery in a shorter amount of time. Samsung says a dead battery can hit 50 per cent charge in as little as 30 minutes.
From my experience, it went from 5 to 45 per cent in 25 minutes. Not bad.
While the phone’s battery capacity isn’t drastically improved compared to the Note 3 (3,200 mAh vs. 3220 mAh), the adaptive fast charger and improved power saving features helped me easily get through a day during heavy use.
Is the phone too big? Most would say yes. But the few who appreciate a big screen, a sturdy handset and improved battery life should consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
- Screen: 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED
- Processor: 2.7 Ghz Qualcomm cuad core
- RAM: 3 GB
- Storage: 32 GB (internal, microSD expandable)C
- Camera: 16 MP rear with OIS, 3.7 MP front
- Connectivity: LTE, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1
Available Oct. 24 for $299.95 on a two-year contract, $799.95 without.
The phones may appear underpowered. They may have a lackluster screen with colours as dull as a 1960s photograph, a camera as sharp as your vision after a night of drinking, and a processor as fast as Toronto’s Queen streetcar during rush hour.
The Motorola Moto G LTE, currently $224.99 without a contract, could trigger such fears. But it’s far from that.
Sure, the 4.5-inch screen is on the small side compared to the larger 5-inch plus screens available from many other Android competitors. But this 720p HD display looks sharp, reproducing vivid colours that pop from a relatively small handset.
The phone’s construction is plasticky yet smooth and easy to grasp. Some may desire a sharper-looking handset, but that’s not what you get in this price bracket.
Images captured by the Moto G’s 5 MP camera appear better than what you’d see produced by last year’s budget Android phones, just don’t expect this handset to excel in low-light situations, or when trying to capture fast motion.
There is, however, the option to store all your images (and music, movies, apps, etc.) on an expandable microSD memory chip. This has the potential to vastly improve the phone’s standard 8 GB on-board storage capacity.
Battery life appeared to be on average, lasting about a day-and-a-half of above average use.
Now on paper, a 1.2-Ghz quad-core processor isn’t the fastest mobile phone brains out there. However, it zipped along quite well when running everything from games to HD video and apps. If you’re looking for the highest frame rates in intense first-person shooters, spend more on a faster phone. But coupled with the Android KitKat operating system (4.4), the Moto G pleasantly surprised in the speed category.
The Motorola Moto G LTE isn’t the fastest phone out there. But you know what? At it’s current price point and with smooth, fluid performance, the value for money proposition is strong.
For starters, the thing is huge, but neither too heavy nor thick. There’s so much screen real estate it could double as a serving tray. It does feel a little on the hefty side, but this is a 12.2-inch tablet.
Anyone would have a good grasp on the device thanks to the grippy, soft, leather-like backing.
The 16×10 screen, like others, looks great when watching TV shows or movies because you don’t get the black bars you’re used to seeing on more square-like tablet screens.
And it looks sharp too, with a 2560X1600 resolution screen and enough brightness to light up a small room.
Behind it all is a fast octa (eight) core processor that blasts through tasks with ease – particularly important since you can multi-task with up to four separate windows on the screen at the same time.
Did you just hear “windows” and “multitasking”? Yes.
Samsung is really pitching the productivity aspect of this tablet, and they’re backing it up with included free access to apps like Hancom Office (think Microsoft Office but for Android tablets) along with Remote PC, which does as it says. Several other productivity apps and services are also bundled for free.
According to Samsung, customers want to produce content and they want to do it on a large-screen tablet. Compared to most other tablets on the market, the NotePro 12.2 does the job.
But when multi-tasking, you can only use a few apps optimized for doing so. When it works, it’s great. The selection of multi-tasking apps, however, is still small.
The NotePro comes with a stylus that at first I thought was gimmicky. But over time I became addicted to writing with it, using the tablet’s text recognition software to turn my chicken scratch into legible print.
In some ways, the NotePro 12.2 could easily replace the laptop that many people lug around (in addition to their tablets). Toss in a wireless mouse and keyboard, and the average user would have a tough time justifying two very similar devices.
But at $769, this device may seem pricey for those who just want a tablet for checking email and writing memos.
There is an inexpensive version of the 12-inch tablet, the TabPro costs a hundred bucks less and you don’t get a stylus: $669.99 for the 32GB version.
But not everyone is throwing in the towel on their laptops. While powerful Android tablets and iPads are almost as capable as their Windows (and Mac) counterparts, some people still need to get stuff done with programs that only run on Windows.
The Asus Transformer Book Trio is one such device that bridges the gap between mobile tablets and traditional laptops.
You see, it’s actually three devices in one. It opens up like a laptop and can run Windows 8.1.
But, you can also use the mouse and keyboard like a laptop with the Android operating system that’s built into the screen — the screen which is detachable (and can function as a standalone tablet).
Essentially, this is the crossover vehicle of laptops, or the Swiss Army knife of tablets. But is the Trio a jack of all trades and a master of none? Nope.
From a technical perspective, the Trio ticks the boxes.
Both “devices” share an 11.6-inch HD touchscreen that appears to be one of the most vibrant I’ve used with a laptop.
The tablet has a dual-core 1.6-Ghz Intel Atom processor that performed much faster than I had expected, while the laptop features a powerful Core i7 4500U processor.
You’ll get 2 GB of tablet RAM with the tablet in Android mode and 4 GB of RAM from the base laptop when running Windows. An array of ports from USB 3.0 to micro HDMI will keep you well-connected.
As a daily device, the Trio makes total sense. Although the pre-production unit I tried out had a few early niggles, the tabtop (my new name for this segment) fit into everyday life.
Editing photos with Adobe Lightroom, the Trio tore through batch processing tasks with ease. There’s plenty of power for other demanding tasks.
But then I began running the tabtop with Android more than with Windows for everyday tasks such as email, surfing and social networking. Using a normal keyboard with a tablet really kicks ass, especially when you want to write long emails or documents.
Then, when it’s time to kick back on the sofa with just the tablet and no keyboard, simply detach the screen and the device runs like any other Android tablet. It’s quite seamless.
The tablet was a tad heavier than most I’ve used, and it would be neat to use the tablet in Windows mode too (not just docked in the keyboard).
Otherwise, the Asus Transformer Book Trio is a good device to bridge people’s digital worlds between tablets and laptops.
When Google released the latest version of its Android operating system last week, KitKat, the company touted the OS was the most secure ever.
In several ways, it is.
The chocolate-bar-named mobile OS contains a new safeguard called OS hardening.
This security feature is designed to make it more difficult for a hacker or malicious app to get root access to your phone or tablet. That being said, it will also make it more difficult for people who want to “root” their hone with different operating systems.
Another security feature is called “digital certificates,” designed to prevent so-called “Man-in-the-Middle” attacks.
Such a hack is when someone on the same wireless network you’re on, say – at a coffee shop, intercepts the data travelling between your phone and the Internet at large.
What could happen is that a website may appear to be the one you’re looking to pull up on your device, but it’s actually a fake that is pulling in your login details, for example.
But Kaspersky Lab researcher Stefan Tenase says these changes don’t really do much to address key Android security concerns.
On the Securelist blog, he writes that Android market fragmentation is still a big issue. That is, very few people are on the latest, most secure version of Google’s mobile OS. About 25 per cent of users are still on Android 2.3 – released ages ago.
And it’s up to carriers to release the update operating systems to users – which doesn’t always happen quickly.
Another big problem, Tenase says, is that people can still download and install apps from third-party app stores, which are often more vulnerable to malicious apps.
Are you worried about security on your Android device?