Sprint Vital Review

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The amount of progress that has been made in the last year when it comes to smartphone specs is amazing. So-called mid-range devices nowadays would have been considered high-end flagships less than 12 months ago. The Sprint Vital very well have been one of those had it come out last year, but now it’s another mid-range device with some pretty impressive specifications. The ZTE-made device is packing some pretty solid internals, and costs just $100 on contract, but how does it compare to the other devices on Sprint’s network? Keep reading to find out!

  • 5-inch 1280 x 720 IPS Display
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB user memory and microSD slot
  • Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean
  • Sprint 4G LTE
  • 1.5GHz dual-core processor (Qualcomm MSM8960)
  • Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 /b/g/n
  • 13-megapixel rear-facing camera with LED flash and video capture, 1-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Bluetooth 4.0 + LE
  • 2,500 mAh removable lithium-ion battery

[heading]Design[/heading]

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When you first pick up the Sprint Vital you’ll quickly notice one thing: it’s well built. It doesn’t feel cheap by any means. The front is all glass and has three capacitive buttons under the display, one for back, one for home, and a menu key. The back of the device is plastic, but with a rubber grip that removes the slick, slippery feeling you get from devices like the Galaxy S4 and almost all other Samsung devices.

On the top of the device is a power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, while the left hand side is home to the volume buttons and microUSB charging port. Finally, the right hand side houses simply a camera shutter key.

Overall, I really like the design on Sprint Vital. It feels really nice in the hands and is easy to hold for extended periods of time. Measuring at 142.0 x 71.4 x 9.95mm (5.6 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches) and weighing 5.43 ounces (154g), it’s a tad heavy when compared to other devices on the market, but that’s a price you have to pay for something that’s well built. It’s also worth noting that the back doesn’t attract fingerprints like I thought it would, so that’s a good sign.

[heading]Display[/heading]

I’ve come to loathe the displays on most of the mid-range devices I’ve had to review, but the Sprint Vital is different. The 720p display is very good. The colors are crisp and everything is very easy to read. It doesn’t feel like a $99 phone’s display, it feels like a flagship device’s screen. The only complaint I really had surrounded the colors. The whites seemed to have a slight yellow tint to them when compared to the the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4.  The blacks are also a bit lighter when compared to AMOLED panels, but that’s something we’ve come to know and understand with most non-AMOLED screens.

Most people should not have any issues using the 5-inch 720p display on the ZTE device. If you’re coming from a Samsung device, then there may be a few differences in color between the two, but nothing that a few days usage shouldn’t change.

[heading]Software[/heading]Sprint-Vital-review-bottom-angle1

Here’s what I really like about the Sprint Vital…it ships with stock Android. I’ll stock Android over a bloated skin any day of the week and this a piece of the puzzle that makes me love the Vital even more. While it doesn’t ship with the latest Android 4.2.2 build of Android, but rather Android 4.1.2, it’s still much preferred over other skins.

There are a few Sprint applications pre-loaded so it’s not pure stock like you’d find with Nexus devices, but it’s still pretty darn close. Sprint loads up Sprint Zone, Sprint ID and Sprint TV & Movies are here, along with Lookout Security, Twonky’s Media Share and Real Racing 3. Unfortunately the biggest difference between the build of Android running on the Vital and what runs on Nexus devices is the lock screen. To unlock the device, you have to long press and the unlock button and wait for it to expand and then it will transition to the home  screen. It’s not horrible, but it feels like it takes quite a big longer than with the stock Android launcher.

The camera is also much different, but seeing how the stock Android camera app could use some work, this change is welcomed with open arms.  The right sidebar is home to the the shutter, gallery view and camcorder toggle buttons, while filters, settings, modes and front-facing cam toggle are all located on the left hand side. Modes such as HDR, ISO, white balance, exposure adjustments, burst settings, macro mode, and more are also offered.

[heading]Performance[/heading] sprint_vital_rear_720

Another instance in which the Sprint Vital is not a mid range device is the specs. The device is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processor with an Adreno 225 GPU. For a frame of reference, that’s the same processor and GPU combo that the United States Galaxy S3 was rocking when it was released last year.

Performance-wise the device is pretty great. Every thing scrolls very smoothly and apps launch quickly. In Quadrant, the device received a score of  6,402, which puts it slightly below the Optimus G and Galaxy S3.

[heading]Battery Life[/heading]

Battery life with the Sprint Vital is sadly disappointing, some days I could make it through a day, while others I had trouble making it past lunch time. It really just depends on how much you use your device. If you’re making a lot of phone calls and frankly just using your device, then it’s going to drain disappointingly fast when compared to the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II

[heading]Conclusions[/heading] 324784-right

In the end, Sprint and ZTE have a great phone in the Vital. It performs very well and the design is very solid. The battery life could be better, and of course, Sprint’s network is not up to snuff with other LTE networks, but the Vital is still a great phone.

If you’re looking for an affordable, well performing Sprint device, the Vital is definitely the one to get.

 

BlackBerry Q10 Review

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Earlier this year, RIM announced a total change in its focus as a company. First, they changed their name from RIM to BlackBerry, then announced their biggest change to their operating system in years. Dubbed BlackBerry 10, the operating system is more touch focused than ever and really depends on gestures. Then, the company announced the Blackberry Z10 and Q10. The former is an all touchscreen device, which is out of the norm for the Canadian company, and the latter is the classic all keyboard design that many have come to know and love from Blackberry devices. Can Blackberry 10 compare to the other operating systems on the market? Read on to find out!

[heading]Specifications:[/heading]

  • 3.1-inch 720×720 pixel Super AMOLED display (330PPI)
  • 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor
  • BlackBerry 10.1 OS
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB internal storage; expandable via microSD cards up to 32GB
  • A-GPS/GLONASS
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • NFC
  • 8MP AF camera with BSI, f/2.2 aperture lens, flash, and 1080p video capture on the back and 2MP FF camera with 720p video capture on the front
  • USB 2.0 port, micro-HDMI port
  • 2,100mAh battery
  • Available in black and white
  • Dimensions: 119.6mm x 66.8mm x 10.35mm
  • Weighs 139 grams

[heading]Design[/heading]Q10_Black_TopAngle

Among all the large-screened devices that manufacturers are releasing these days, the BlackBerry Q10 is a surprisingly compact smartphone that feels quite comfortable in one or two hands (for example, when typing). The case is made of aluminum with a removable back made of woven glass that looks and feels remarkably like plastic.

Unlike most smartphone today, about half of the front of the device is taken up by a physical QWERTY keyboard that sits below a 3.1-inch touchscreen display.

At the top, in the middle, you’ll find the power button. On the right side is the volume rocker. The left side has a micro-USB and a micro-HDMI port. The bottom sports a speaker.

All in all, the BlackBerry Q10 is comfortable to hold both with one hand or with two when using the keyboard. The back does not smudge although the non-metallic portions of the casing will quickly bear the dings of every day life (our review unit certainly did).

[heading]Display:[/heading]

The display on the Blackberry Q10 is nothing to get too excited about, but it’s not too important considering most of your information input will be done via the QWERTY keyboard. Its a 720 x 720 pixel AMOLED panel. Colors are good but not great. Whites tend to come off as a tad yellow, especially in comparison to other devices like the BlackBerry Z10.

[heading]Software:[/heading]Q10_Black_FrontNoShadow

BlackBerry 10 is centered largely around gestures. To get the home screen you simply swipe up from the very bottom of the display. On the home screen (which could also be called the multitasking screen) you can swipe all the way to the left to access the notification screen, which aggregates information from all of your apps, specifically the communication ones. From there, you can view and reply to emails, texts, tweets, Facebook messages and more.

On the first home screen are your most recently used apps, and if you keep scrolling you’ll find all of your installed apps.

Overall, BlackBerry 10 is a nice improvement over previous iterations of the operating system, but I still didn’t find it as advanced as Android and iOS, this was specifically the case with the app selection. It’s just not up to snuff with other operating systems out there.

[heading]Performance:[/heading]Q10_Black_Back

The BlackBerry Q10 is aimed directly at those who have yet to make the transition to a software keyboard. And this is one area where BlackBerry has not disappointed. It took me a short bit of time to get used again to typing with a physical keyboard but I was quickly reminded of how much better it is than an even a very good software one.

[heading]Camera:[/heading]

The BlackBerry Q10’s rear camera may not be as impressive as some other ones (like the Nokia Lumia 900 series or Samsung Galaxy S4) but it is still a much better camera than I expected in such a small package. Images came out crisp and sharp, though focusing was a bit hard at times.

Video performance was decent, but nothing to write home about. I wouldn’t put it up against the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 in any instance, but then again, that’s not the main selling point of the Q10.

[heading]Battery life:[/heading]

Battery life on the BlackBerry Q10 was quite good, thanks in large part to the low resolution and small display. I was easily able to make it through a day and sometimes more with the device, even when calling, texting, and emailing quite a bit.

[heading]Conclusions:[/heading]Q10_Black_SideA

Overall, the BlackBerry Q10 is a great device for a certain market. As I mentioned before, it’s meant mainly for the people who haven’t gotten the hang of or attempted to switch to a software keyboard yet. Years later, you still can’t beat the classic BlackBerry Q10 keyboard. It has a great feel and move to it and all the keys are very easy to press.

The battery life on the Q10 is also excellent, which is something that can’t be overlooked this day and age. But the big question is, will the device sell? I’m inclined to say no. Most people have already made the switch to software keyboards and are perfectly content with them. Most companies nowadays have also switched to allow employes to bring their own devices. Of course, not every company has, so there’s still some market for a device like the BlackBerry Q10.

In the end, if you still have to have a keyboard, then the BlackBerry Q10 is the device for you. Nothing comes close to the keyboard.

Jerome Skalnik contributed to this review

JayBird BlueBuds X Review: Finally, Good Bluetooth Earbuds

BlueBuds X - Midnight Black - Packaging-0x600I love music. It’s as simple as that. I always am listening to something, whether it’s from Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or any place else. Over the years, I’ve tried quite a few pairs of earbuds, but have never found a pair that I truly love. I’ve always stuck with the generic Apple earbuds, or most recently, the EarPods. I’ve had especially bad luck with Bluetooth earbuds. I’ve never found a pair that offer decent sound quality, are a breeze to set up, and have good battery life. I think I have finally found that combination, though. Keep reading to find out if the JayBird BlueBuds X are my favorite BlueTooth earbuds.

[heading]The Fit[/heading]

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I’ve never been a fan of in-ear earbuds. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to get them to feel right, fit in my ear, and be comfortable for long amounts of time. The BlueBuds X offer a unique approach at staying in your ear. In the package, you’ll find three sets of actual earbuds and three “wings” that go around year to get a snug fit. For me, I found that the biggest pair of buds worked and the medium sized wings worked. It definitely took me a few tries to get the right combination, so I urge you not to give up if you can’t seem to make them comfortable.

I was skeptical of the BlueBuds X when I found out that they were in-ear, as I’ve never had much luck with them before, but to me surprise, they were incredibly comfortable. I was able to wear them for almost a whole day without any irritation whatsoever. It’s essentially like they weren’t there.

[heading]The Look[/heading]BlueBuds X - Midnight Black - S Cord-0x600

The BlueBuds X look essentially like any other pair of headphones, except for the obvious fact that the wire does not actually plug into your device. You can choose to let the wire hang down in front of your neck or behind your head. I vernally chose to wear it behind my head because it would put the microphone closer to your mouth, which helps with calls and things like Siri.

On the cord you’ll find three buttons, two for raising and lowering the volume and one for pausing the music, and turning the earbuds on and off.  It is, however, somewhat annoying that when you change the volume, the music stops between each change, which must be a limitation of the BlueTooth technology. To charge the BlueBuds X, you simply lift open the end of the right earbud to the microUSB charging port.

Included in the package is a clamshell case for storing the headphones, as well, which is a nice touch.

[heading]Set-Up[/heading]

The set-up process with the BlueBuds X is very simple. Simply hold down the middle button on the cord and the headphones will power on, evident by the voice that says “powering on,” then open up the Bluetooth settings on your respective device and connect to the BlueBuds X. From there on out, all you’ll have to do is turn the headphones on, and assuming you have Bluetooth on your device turned on, they will automatically connect. You’ll know when they are connected because the same voice returns and says “headphones connected.” The full breakdown of what she says is below:

  • “Headphones connected”
  • “Power on”
  • “Power off”
  • “Searching for your music device”
  • “Connection switched”
  • “Battery low”

[heading]Sound Quality[/heading]

One thing about the BlueBuds X is that getting good sound quality almost entirely depends on the way they fit your ear. If you don’t get them snug into your ear, then the sound will be very tinny and distant, which is obviously not what you want. Once you get them down into your ear, the sound quality is great. There is booming bass and the overall sound is very crisp and loud, something that can’t be said for many other Bluetooth earbuds.

One advantage of getting the earbuds down into your ear is that they are sort of noise canceling. Not totally, by any means, but while using them compared to the Apple EarPods, there was a clear difference in the amount of outside noise I could hear.

The Bluetooth technology still does compress the sound when compared to wired earbuds, but I honestly did notice any difference between the BlueBuds X and EarPods, though the EarPods aren’t high-end earbuds by any means.

[heading]Battery Life[/heading]BlueBuds X - Midnight Black - MicroUSBCharging-0x600

JayBird touts that the BlueBuds X should get around 8 hours of battery life on a single charge, and while your milage may vary, I was getting just about that. It depends largely on how loud your music is and how often you are using the controls on the headphones to change the volume and pause/play.

When the headphones are connected to an iOS device, you have the ability to see how much charge is left via a small battery indicator in the status bar, while on Android you have no way of telling. You have to rely on the voice that will tell you when you have about 20 minutes left.

[heading]Conclusions[/heading]

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To put it briefly, the BlueBuds X are a wonderful pair of earbuds. The sound quality and fit are incredibly good and I had no issues with the Bluetooth connection whatsoever. Plus, when you purchase the earbuds, you get a free lifetime warranty against sweat, meaning that if they break, you can get a replacement.

However, the BlueBuds X are pretty pricey. They retail for $169.99, which is quite a bit compared to other earbuds on the market. If you are looking for Bluetooth earbuds, the JayBird BlueBuds X are the ones to get. Nothing comes close.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 Review

IdeaPad Yoga 13 Image 9

With Windows 8, Microsoft brought over its new Metro interface to the desktop, and with it came many complaints about the lack of optimization and just how awkward it was to use with a mouse or trackpad. This then ushered in a new era of touchscreen capable laptops and desktops, as well as a handful oddly designed devices. One of them is the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. This 13-inch laptop allows you to bend the screen backwards and use it as a tablet, or keep the screen forwards to use it as a full laptop. But, just how practical is this design? Read on to find out!

[heading]Specifications[/heading]

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 @ 1.5GHz
  • Operating System: Windows 8
  • Display: 13.3″ HD+ IPS LED, 10-point capacitive multi-touch, 1600 x 900, 16:9 aspect ratio, 300 nits
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD 4000 Graphics
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Sound: 2 dual-cell speakers x 1 watts, 1 x internal digital mic, Dolby® Home Theater v4
  • Connections: 802.11 b,g,n WLAN, Bluetooth® 4.0
  • Weight: 3.3lbs
  • Dimensions: 13.1” x 8.9” x 0.67”
  • Battery: Li-Polymer 4 cell, 3860mAh, up to 8 hrs
  • Ports: 1 x USB 3.0 + 1 x USB 2.0, 2-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC), 1 stereo headphones output – mic input, combo jack, HDMI

[heading]Design[/heading]IdeaPad Yoga 13 Image 2

From the outside, the IdeaPad Yoga 13 looks just like every other 13 inch laptop. It’s slim and sleek looking, coming in at just .67 inches thick. The outside of the laptop is made out of a rubber-type material that unfortunately attracts fingerprints very easily. The bezel surrounding the keyboard is also a magnet for fingerprints and other gunk, but those are rather minor complaints in the scope the entire laptop.

The port selection on the IdeaPad 13 is rather small. On the right hand side you’ll find just a charging port, SD card slot, and a USB 2.0 connection. The left hand side is not much better, housing just a USB 3.0 slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and HDMI connection. While that’s on par with what Apple offers with the Macbook Air, it would be nice to see at least one more USB port, but in the world of ultrabooks, the lack of ports is just something we’re going to have to deal with. As far as branding goes, there are quite a few stickers – thankfully all removable. The top houses a simply Lenovo logo, while there are Intel Ultrabook, Intel Core i5, and Energy Star stickers under the keyboard. Finally, on the bottom you’ll find a Windows 8 sticker, and two FCC stickers with all sorts of numbers and logos that mean nothing to the end user.

The IdeaPad 13 is a tad heavy for my liking, coming in at 3.3 pounds. It’s not too noticeable, but there’s definitely a difference between it and the 2013 Air. In general, however, the IdeaPad Yoga is quite easy to carry around for extended periods of time.IdeaPad Yoga 13 Image 5

As far is the keyboard goes, there aren’t many complaints to be had. As someone who has used a Mac for the last few years, the layout definitely took some getting use to, but once you got going, there were no issues whatsoever. The keyboard design is very similar to the one found on the Macbook line, though the IdeaPad has an extra row on the far left. The keys are all spaced out very nicely and there is a good amount of move to them, as well.

The trackpad is good, but it still bothers me that PC manufacturers can’t make a trackpad as good as the all glass one found on all recent Macbooks. There are a variety of gestures, though, all centered around Windows 8 capabilities. This includes things like swiping in from various edges to perform certain tasks. For a Windows machine, however, the IdeaPad Yoga’s trackpad is good enough to get the job done. You can left click by tapping almost anywhere except for the lower right corner, which is obviously reserved for right clicking. You can also right click by pressing with two fingers anywhere.

Now, let’s get to the real selling point of the Yoga and the aspect that it gets its name from. As you notice when you pry the device open, it will just keep opening. Lenovo touts that the device can be used in four different modes.

  1. Notebook Mode – Use the classic notebook mode when the keyboard is needed for productivity tasks.
  2. Stand Mode – Choose the stand mode for viewing movies and video chatting in tight places, like airplanes.
  3. Tent Mode – Tent mode is good for touch-based tasks like browsing recipes while cooking, viewing photos, or playing touch games.
  4. Tablet Mode – Combined with Windows 8, turning the IdeaPad Yoga into a tablet is smooth and automatic. Use the notebook like you would any smart phone or tablet device.

When you move the display past the 180 degree angle, the keyboard deactivates, which keeps you from accidentally hitting any keys while using the device in tablet mode. I honestly didn’t see the use case of these modes. The Tent Mode is somewhat useful for propping the device up on a desk and watch a movie, but tablet mode felt really awkward. It was just…odd having a keyboard behind your display, whether it was activated or not.

Overall, as a general notebook, the IdeaPad’s design is quite nice. It feels nice to use and is relatively portable. I fail to see the point of the Yoga aspect, however. Maybe I’m simply not the right market for it, but it just doesn’t make a lot of practical sense to me.

[heading]Display[/heading]Ideapad Yoga 13 Image 7

In a world of high resolution and Retina laptop displays, it’s hard going back to a device that you can see the pixels on, but unfortunately, that’s a tradeoff that comes with most ultrabooks. The IdeaPad 13 is slightly better than most, however, offering a reasonably impressive 1,600×900 pixel resolution. As with a lot of newer Windows 8 laptops, the display is touchscreen.

The quality of the display is pretty good. Colors are nice and text is relatively crisp, but obviously it’s not going to be as good as a more expensive Retina Macbook Pro or Samsung laptop. For the average joe, however, it’s perfectly fine and should get the job done for just about anyone.

When I first got the IdeaPad 13 in, I was skeptical of how useful the touchscreen would be in normal laptop usage, but I have to admit, it’s quite nice to be able to scroll using your finger. It’s not all that useful while doing intensive work while sitting at a desk or table, but while relaxing on the couch, it definitely comes in handy. I even found myself reaching for my Macbook Air’s display a few times, as well. I also couldn’t see operating the Metro interface without a touchscreen. While the trackpad on the IdeaPad does support some gestures, Windows 8 is just not optimized for non-touch devices, which is pretty upsetting. It is worth noting that when using the touchscreen in normal laptop mode, there is a bit of wobbliness with the hinge, which for such a pricey piece of technology is pretty upsetting.

[heading]Performance[/heading]

IdeaPad Yoga 13 Image 6

The Lenovo IdeaPad is no speed demon underneath the hood, but then again, what ultrabook is? The device I tested was powered by a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM and Intel HD 4000 graphics. In the PCMark7 benchmark, the laptop was awarded a score of 4,474, in 3DMark06, the score was 4,465, and finally, in 3DMark11, it was E917 / P572. Now, benchmarks mean absolutely nothing in my opinion, and what matters is real world usage.

The IdeaPad 13 performed about average. It booted up in less than 10 seconds, like most Windows 8 devices do, and loaded up webpages pretty fast. Gaming performance was good but nowhere near great. I don’t game that much, but playing Eurotruck Simulator 2 at mid-settings caused quite a big of lag and stuttering at sometimes, while sometimes it would run pretty smooth. A word of warning here, if you want to game, then almost any ultrabook – especially with Intel HD 4000 graphics – is not for you. You’ll need something with dedicated graphics for sure.

As far as browsing the web goes, everything was pretty smooth. Scrolling though graphic intense sites like The Verge and Polygon did cause some lag and did take a little while for all the visual elements to load, but for less intensive sites, like BriefMobile, everything was as smooth as can be.

[heading]Battery Life[/heading]

The battery life with the IdeaPad 13 was disappointing, though right on par with other Windows 8 convertibles. In moderate usage doing things such as web browsing and listing to Spotify, the device lasted just over 5 hours of usage. That’s with WiFi on and the screen brightness set at 65 percent.

I’m really looking forwards to Windows powered laptops with Haswell processors. We saw what it did to the Macbook Air’s battery life, and it could definitely help quite a bit with all Windows devices.

[heading]Conclusions[/heading]IdeaPad Yoga 13 Image 5

When we made the decision to start reviewing laptops on BriefMobile, I was skeptical of reviewing laptops running Windows, but I have to say, I was presently surprised with the IdeaPad Yoga 13. The major downside, however, is the price. With specs we reviewed it at, the device costs $920 from Amazon, which for just $80 more, you could get the new, Haswell-powered Macbook Airs for. Those pack an improved graphics card and all day battery life.

However, if you are in the market for a Windows 8 convertible right now, the IdeaPad Yoga 13 is certainly something to look at, and one of the most well-built machines out there, but for performance, I’d urge you to hold out for Haswell powered devices, as the benefits of those will be through the roof.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

IMG_0032

A few months ago, Samsung unveiled finally unveiled its successor to the popular Galaxy S3. The Galaxy S3, according to many people, was the device that finally brought Android to the general consumer and created a well-known brand for Samsung. The device had a universal launch on all four major United States carriers and featured a standard design with all variants, as well. The latter really helped, as consumers were able to pick from a much wider variety of cases than ever before. With the Galaxy S4 , Samsung has done everything previously mentioned, and has really not changed all that much. But, with stiff competition from the HTC One, is it ok for a device to go largely unchanged for two years? Read BriefMobile’s full review to find out!

[heading]Specifications[/heading]

  • 5-inch 1080p display HD Super AMOLED Display 440PPI
  • 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon Processor S4 Pro 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB/32GB/64GB internal storage; Expandable via MicroSD card up to 64GB
  • 13MP camera on the back, 2MP on the front
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • IR LED (remote control like in the HTC One)
  • MHL 2.0
  • 2600mAh battery
  • Android 4.2.2 – Jelly Bean
  • Available in White Frost and Black Mist
  • Dimensions: 69.8mm x 136.6mm x 7.9mm
  • Weighs 130g

[heading]Design[/heading]

IMG_0009

As you are well aware of, the design of the Galaxy S4 is essentially the exact same as its predecessor. The device is still made out of all plastic and is still pretty slick. For me, however, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve always been a fan of the Galaxy S3’s design, and while I’d like to see Samsung use higher quality materials with its devices, I’m not entirely upset with Samsung’s decision to keep the design the same.

The Galaxy S4 is truly a gorgeous phone. It has a faux-aluminum look in some ways. With the white model I had in for review, both the front and back are totally white, while there is a chrome band going around the sides that houses all of your buttons. The device comes at just 7.9mm thin, with the full dimensions being 69.8mm x 136.6mm x 7.9mm

IMG_0010

The button placement is the same that has been on past Samsung devices. On the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack, while the power button is on the right. On the left is the volume rocker and the microUSB charging port is on the bottom. Also on the right hand side is a sliver to pull off the back of the device. Under the battery cover is the 2600mAh battery, up from the 2100mAh pack found in the Galaxy S3 and microSD card slot. Under the display is the physical home button, menu button, and back button. All the buttons are placed very ergonomically and are easy to reach, use, and press.

Having an all plastic design means that the device can get covered in fingerprints quite easily, especially on the black model. It wasn’t too bad on the white variant, though.

The Galaxy S4 has an overall smaller design than its predecessor, but has a larger screen with almost no bezel. While it’s still challenging to reach from the home button to the notification bar with one hand, it’s much more manageable than the Galaxy S3, which had an abnormally large bottom bezel.

In the end, I really like the Galaxy S4’s design. While it might not have the best build quality out there, it is still very lightweight and easy to hold in the hand, although it can be a bit slippery at times. It won’t standout from the crowd, but still looks incredibly slick and clean.

[heading]Display[/heading]

IMG_0031

While Samsung may not be known for having top of the line build quality, if there’s one thing it is known for, it’s display quality. Nearly every Samsung Android device ever released has been praised for having a stunningly beautiful screen, and as you would expect, the Galaxy S4 is no exception.

The Galaxy S4 features a 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED display with with a 1080p resolution. On the 5-inch panel, that equals out to 441 pixels per inch, or ppi. Some reviewers are not a fan of AMOLED displays because they tend to blow out colors more than the LCD panels used in some devices. I, however, have always been a fan of AMOLED screens. I love how dark and deep all of the colors are on the Galaxy S4. The color reproduction is truly excellent, which means you get greater detail of what you are looking at, as well as a more realistic look at it. After I’m done reviewing an AMOLED device, I find it incredibly hard to switch back to whatever device I’m using at the time. Every other device just seems washed out.

The only downside to the AMOLED screen is that the whites are not as clear and bright as on LCD panels, such as the one found in the HTC One.

The auto brightness on the device is a little wonky, as it tends to be darker than it should. I ended up turning auto-brightness off and set it at 75 percent and did not have any problems with it being to dark. Weather you have it at 75 percent or 100 percent, the display is really bright. The viewing angles are also excellent.

[heading]Software[/heading]

While Samsung didn’t add too many changes to the external looks of the device, the company has crammed the Galaxy S4 full of software features, some of which are gimmicky, and some of which are actually useful.

The Galaxy S4 ships with Android 4.2.2 and Samsung’s TouchWiz user-interface on top. While not a lot of visual changes have been made from the TouchWiz Nature user-interface, it’s still my favorite overlay of any.

One thing Samsung has down with the latest build of its overlay is organize the Settings app a bit more, which given the amount of options TouchWiz gives you, is quite nice. The Settings app interface is now broken down into four tabs. There is “Connections” which is home to things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Data usage, NFC, and more. Next, there is “My Device” which has the lock screen, display, LED indicator, sounds, and much more. Then, there is the “Accounts” tab, which, you guessed it, has all your account settings (Gmail, Facebook, etc.). All the way to the right is “More” section which has Location Services, security, application manager, battery, storage, data & time, developer options and about device.

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Pull down the notification bar and you’ll find a host of quick settings. Tap the four-square grid in the upper right and you’ll find even more settings, 19 to be exact. If you tap the pencil next to it, you can edit what settings appear and don’t appear there.

Another feature new to the Galaxy S4 is Smart Scroll. This feature uses eye-tracking technology to see where your eyes are reading, so when your eyes move towards to the bottom of the display, the page will continue to scroll down so you can keep reading. Now, this can get a bit shaky if you take your eyes of the page totally, which will happen if you’re reading a long form article. The Smart Scroll feature also only seems to work in the stock Samsung browser, which I don’t use, as I prefer Chrome Beta.

Smart Pause is the infamous feature showed of in numerous Samsung ads. It tracks when you are watching a video and when you move your eyes away from the screen. Now, while that may sound cool, it’s actually excruciatingly annoying. Something I often do is sit my phone down with a video playing on my desk while working. My focus isn’t totally on the video, and neither are my eyes, so the video would pause and start randomly. Or, if you’re just listening to music via YouTube, which a lot of people do, you’ll have to keep your eyes totally on the screen otherwise the music will stop. Even if the video is just a static image. Of course, this feature can be disabled, which I did soon after getting the Galaxy S4.

AirView is a feature that allows you to hover your finger over selected UI elements and launch the app or what is inside whatever you are hovering over. Air Gesture is similar, but allows you to perform gestures to do certain tasks, such as waving your hand in front of the screen to answer a call. It’s actually a really useful feature that I found myself using more times than not.

S Voice is still pretty horrible. With the voice recognition software found with Google Now and Siri, S Voice was a pain to use. I found myself having to repeat a phrase multiple times, while Siri and Google Now would pick it up on the first try. Another problem is that S Voice does not integrate with Google Apps, such as Play Music. That’s how I store all my music, so asking S Voice something like “Play Coldplay” is pointless, as it does not index music from Google Play, only music in the Samsung Music App.

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One thing you will notice on the Galaxy S III is the lack of a multitasking button. To bring up the multitasking menu, you simply long press the home button and a menu nearly identical to the one found in stock Android 4.0+ will pop up. Simply swipe left or right to delete an app from the list. Also from this interface you can launch a task manager and Google Now.

In the end, I really like TouchWiz, though I’d still take stock Android over it any day. One thing I’m worried about is Samsung cluttering up the overlay with features like Smart Scroll. It seems like a general consumer would get overwhelmed by all of the options and confusing features.

[heading]Performance[/heading]

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Here is where I start to have some issues with the Galaxy S4. Looking at the specs of the device, there is no reason it shouldn’t perform absolutely beautifully. It’s packing a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor paired with 2GB of RAM. Those are beastly specs that should be enough to power a device running any operating system.

Here’s the thing, though. The Galaxy S4 just does not perform fluidly. Completing any simple task was met with lag and stutter filled animations. Scrolling through the app grid was laggy, as was launching an app. Now, I really don’t know what to blame it on. Many people have reported lag with both the Exynos powered Galaxy S4 and Snapdragon powered model, so it doesn’t seem to be related to the processor. More than likely, it can be blamed on either TouchWiz or poor hardware optimization by Samsung. In 2013, an Android device with a quad-core processor and Jelly Bean with Project Butter should not lag. The good thing is, most don’t, but for some reason the Galaxy S4 does. Hopefully, since it sounds software related, Samsung will be able to fix this in
a forthcoming over the air update.

That’s not to say that everything about the Galaxy S4’s performance is bad. Games perform quite well, as does web browsing with Chrome for the most part.

As far as carrier performance goes, the Galaxy S4 is available on every major United States carrier. AT&T and Verizon generally have the best LTE coverage, while the latter is often more expensive than the former. Sprint and T-Mobile are both slowly rolling out LTE, but are often much cheaper than AT&T and Verizon. In the end, however, it’s always best to go with the carrier that has the best coverage in your area.

[heading]Camera[/heading]

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S4 is no slouch, coming in with a 13MP rear facing sensor. While HTC is trying to convince people that megapixels mean nothing, Samsung has proven something somewhat different. The Galaxy S4’s shooter is really amazing. The processor definitely comes in handy, as snapping pictures is incredibly quick. Pictures taken in good lighting are quite good. Colors are rich and all the detail you need is there. Low-light performance was somewhat disappointing, however. The iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 out performed Samsung’s latest flagship. The Galaxy S4 pictures were rather grainy and noisy and lacked the detail we saw with well-lit images.

Overall, however, Samsung did a really nice job with the Galaxy S4’s camera. While low-light performance is upsetting, I’d have no trouble grabbing the Galaxy S4 to snap a few pictures with.

[heading]Battery Life[/heading]

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The Galaxy S4 is packing a 2600mAh battery that is, unlike the HTC One, removable. Overall, I felt that battery life was good but not amazing. From waking up at about 8AM and using it moderately throughout the day, I was having to plug it in at about 7PM. Moderate usage includes things like emailing, texting, tweeting, listening to music via Google Music, and checking Facebook.

Obviously, the good thing about the Galaxy S4 is that the battery is replaceable, meaning that if you know you will be out for a long time, you can grab a replacement battery and swap it out during the day. The same can’t be said for the HTC One and iPhone 5.

[heading]Conclusions[/heading]

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Samsung has a lot riding on the Galaxy S4. The company finally became a well-known smartphone manufacturer with the Galaxy S3, and it can’t afford to have a clunker. Thankfully, it doesn’t. The Galaxy S4 is a very solid offering from Samsung. It’s not a huge upgrade over the Galaxy S3. In many ways, it’s the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 4. An improved camera and processor, but the design is essentially the same.

You have to remember that we are now living in a world where there are multiple great devices on the market, including the HTC One, iPhone 5, Nexus 4, LG Optimus Pro, and the Note II. I’d be hard pressed to tell someone not to buy a Galaxy S4, but I would say that it would be a good idea to play with all of those devices before buying anything.

Apple Announces iOS 7

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Apple has officially announced iOS 7 during its WWDC keynote. According to CEO Tim Cook, it’s the biggest change to the iPhone since the iPhone was introduced 5 years ago.

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The design follows everything we’ve heard in rumors. It has a much flatter and cleaner design. Nearly everything has been redesigned from the ground up. Designer Jony Ive notes that all of the icons have been redesigned with a new palette of colors.

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Control Center is a new feature that makes it incredibly easy to switch settings on and off, as well as tools such as a flashlight.

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iOS 7 also introduces multitasking for all apps, but keeps the same great battery life. You can now swipe between apps in a very WebOS-like card interface.

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Safari has a totally new interface, as well. It has the same Safari Keychain feature that was announced for the Mac earlier today.  There is also a new search bar that merges web addresses and Google Searches. If you are scrolling on a webpage, then Safari will automatically go full screen.

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AirDrop is a feature that allows you to easily share files with people around you. You simply tap the file you want to send and your friend and they will receive an option to accept or decline the file.

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Camera has also been updated with a new interface, as well as filters. It also has a new way to sort pictures via something Apple is calling Moments. Moments divides pictures automatically by time and location. The new Photos app also allows you to share photos via iCloud, Facebook, Twitter, and email.

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Siri has a totally new design, as well as a new voice, both male and female. It integrates with a lot more services now, including Twitter, Wikipedia, and Bing.

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Siri is also heavily integrated with iOS in the Car. With this feature, your iPhone can essentially power your in car entertainment center. It can listen to your voice and do things like read text messages and control songs.

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The App Store has been redesigned as well, including a new way of searching for apps via age range.

Music has also been redesigned, with a new cleaner interface and new landscape viewing mode that replaces cover flow.

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iTunes Radio is a new Pandora-like radio streaming service. It can create playlists based on a certain artist, genre, or other playlists curated by the Apple music team, such as Summer hits or Best of the iTunes Festival. It is totally free if you have an iTunes Match subscription without ads and free to everyone with ads. It works on the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It is available in the United States to start, but will rollout to other countries soon.

FaceTime also now supports audio calls. Notifications also sync between your devices so you don’t have to deal with notifications more than once.

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Activation Lock is a feature that prevents an iPhone from being activated again after being stolen, even if the device has been restored. If you get it back in your possession, you can activate it with your iCloud password.

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iOS 7 will roll out this Fall, but a developer preview is available today for iPhone, while the iPad beta will come in the coming weeks.

Apple Unveils OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Developer Previ

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During the company’s annual WWDC keynote, Apple has announced OS X Mavericks. Apple’s Craig Federighi took the stage to announce the operating system, which he originally teased as OS X Sea Lion.

One the biggest new features is better multiple display support. Now, when you go full screen with one app, your other displays are not made useless with a linen background. Instead, you can have multiple full screen windows on more than more monitor. You can also activate the dock on a secondary display by mousing to the top or bottom. Finally, the Apple TV can also serve as a secondary, full-featured monitor now, as opposed to previously only acting as a mirror.

Finder has also received several updates. You can now tag documents when you save the, and later search for it by those tags. For example, you can tag an important document as “important,” or something for school with “school,” and so on. Finder also now supports tabbed browsing.

Safari has also seen a host of new features, including a cleaner homepage. The full feature list follows:

  • Finder Tagging
  • Tabbed Finder Browser
  • Improved Multiple Display Support
  • Apple TV Support
  • New Calendar User Interface
  • iCloud Keychain (Like 1Password)
  • iBooks
  • Maps
  • Notification Improvements
  • Automatic App Update

A developer preview is available today, while it release to consumers this Fall.

Apple Has 575 Million iTunes Accounts, 900,000 Apps Available In App Store

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Just minutes ago during the company’s annual Word Wide Developer Conference, Apple announced that there are more than 900,000 apps available in the company’s App Store. The company has 575 million iTunes accounts on file. It has also paid out more than $10 billion to third-party developers, with half of that happening in the last year.

Last year, at WWDC, the company announced 400 million accounts and 650,000 apps available in more than 120 countries. At the start of 2013, there were over 800,000 apps available.

Finally, Apple announced that 50 billion apps have been downloaded, which we were already aware of. This leads Android’s 48 billion app downloads.

More from WWDC soon…

iPhone 5S Supposedly Delayed Until October

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The iPhone 5S will not be ready for the back-to-school season, at least according to one report. Citigroup analyst Glen Yeung claims that Apple has run into production nightmares with the iPhone 5S and will be forced to push back the launch date to October, as opposed to launching it in September like the company had originally hoped. Yeung says the two to four-week delay is “likely due to display issues.”

The analyst goes on to claim that the Retina iPad mini has also been delayed because of the production issues and its launch has been pushed back until the fourth quarter of 2013.

Keep in mind that these are rumors on top of rumored released dates for rumored devices. I wouldn’t be too upset if I was hoping to buy an iPhone 5S this fall.

Galaxy S4 Wireless Charging Kit Now Available From Samsung For $90

chargin-padThe wireless charging kit for the Samsung Galaxy S4 for is now available directly from Samsung’s accessory store. The kit, which claims to make charging “hassle free,” will run you a whopping $90. The wireless charging kit includes the charging cover (pictured below) that replaces the normal battery cover and the charging pad (pictured above). It’s worth noting that the charging pad uses the Qi standard, so theoretically, you can use it to charge other Qi-compatiable devices, as well.

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The back cover runs $39.99, while the pad will cost $49.99, for a grand total of  $89.98 to charge your Galaxy S4 wirelessly.

Will you be ordering the materials necessary to wirelessly charge your Galaxy S4? Tell us in the comments!

Sony Xperia Z Google Edition Said To Be Launching In July

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We’ve seen both HTC and Samsung announce Google Editions of their devices so far, so why shouldn’t Sony join the club? According to a new report from Android Geeks, Sony is planning to do just that and release a variant of the Xperia Z running stock Android Jelly Bean out of the box.

The blog cites its source as a Sony insider who wishes to remain nameless. The source claims that Sony and Google will announce the device sometime in July, though an official release date has yet to be decided.

It’s important to note that the Xperia Z already supports Sony’s Android Open Source Project that makes installing stock Android on the device very easy, but this does not deliver firmware updates through Google like the Nexus Experience program does.

Would you be interested in a Nexus Experience Sony Xperia Z? Let us know down in the comments!

Hulu Plus For iPad Receives Major User Interface Overhaul

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Hulu on Thursday rolled out a major update to its Hulu Plus iPad app. The update is an “entirely new” experience for iPad users and is focused primarily on discoverability and efficiency. “In addition to hundreds of internal optimizations, the Hulu Plus app has been redesigned to make browsing more enjoyable than ever and help you discover new and exciting shows with ease,” the company said.

The update added a discovery panel that displays additional information about a show you are watching or tap on. The browsing experience has also been greatly improved with the user now being able to scroll through seasons and episodes by simply swiping left and right.

  • Minimize a video during playback by tapping the minimize icon or “pinching” the video. The video will continue playing at the bottom of the screen while you use the app to browse, search, or do anything else you can think of.
  • Tap on an image of any episode, show, or season to take a peek at what’s inside using the new discovery panel. Have fun casually exploring old episodes within a season or learning more about a new show with as little effort as possible. (Want to get straight to watching content? Just double-tap any image).
  • Check out collections of editorially curated shows, clips, and movies. We recommend starting with the “Trending Now” collection of the day’s hottest clips – it’s a great way to see what everybody’s talking about right now.
  • Watch clips and short-form content inline, just one tap away.

Have you installed the Hulu Plus update on your iPad? Let us know down in the comments!