Latest StoriesSmartphones
    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Show and Tell: Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Adapter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his current solution for playing back music and making calls from his phone in his car. While his car has an auxiliary audio jack, he prefers using this Kinivo hands-free receiver as an intermediary. Its decent audio, built-in micrphone, and music playback controls are why it's Will's pick for an aftermarket car Bluetooth solution. What do you use to listen to music from your smartphone while driving?

    Tested In-Depth: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    After living with the new iPhone 6 Plus for a while, Will sits down with Norm to discuss the merits of Apple's biggest smartphone. How well does iOS 8 work on a 5.5-inch screen? Does the stabilized camera and extra battery life matter? We compare the new iPhone models and help Will decide if he wants to stick with the Plus or return it.

    iPhone 6 Plus Impressions and Most Common Questions Answered

    We're in the process of testing the Apple iPhone 6 Plus for our in-depth review, but wanted to show you how the phone compares to previous iPhones and other Android phones, as well as some distinguishing physical characteristics. We also answer the most commonly asked questions about the phone, including battery life, camera, and whether it bends.

    Hands-On with Samsung Gear VR at Oculus Connect

    At Oculus Connect, Norm gets to try out the upcoming Gear VR virtual reality headset, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. It uses a Galaxy Note 4 for its brains and screen, with VR software and optimizations designed by John Carmack. Norm shares his opinion of display performance on the Note 4's 60Hz 1440p screen, and whether the phone's technology is sufficient for a good mobile virtual reality experience.

    iPhone 6 Plus Mockups and Size Comparisons

    Apple announced its new iPhone 6 smartphones yesterday, both of which are larger than the current iPhone 5/S/C design. To get a sense of how the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen phones fit in our hands, we 3D printed mockups based on Apple's posted spec dimensions and compare them to our current phones. Plus, the jeans pocket test! (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for the 3D printing!)

    Apple Announces iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    As expected, Apple has announced its iPhone 6 line of phones, with two sizes. Here's what's new about them, with our thoughts coming later today.

    The two phones are the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, in 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. 1334x750 resolution with a 326ppi for the 4.7-inch model, which is the same pixel density of the current iPhones. The larger iPhone 6 Plus has a 1080p display (401ppi), not the 2208 × 1242 resolution that some had hoped. Both phones are thinner than the current iPhone 5S, at 6.9mm and 7.1mm. The larger phones will show more on the home screen (as well as a horizontal view), as well as a landscape mode for apps to show multiple panes. Kind of like the iPad. Apple also talked about its new iPhones using a better screen than previous generations, with an "ion-strengthen" glass, better polarizer, and ultrathin backlight.

    To accommodate the new phone sizes, the sleep/power buttons are now located on the right side of the phones for thumb access. Apple also decided to add a one-handed "reachability" function to the phones--double-touching the home button slides the whole display down so users can access the top of their app pane with the thumb. For the 1080p display that's not the same pixel density as the past phones, apps scale up to full screen using a software scaler.

    Other new hardware is Apple's A8 processor, which Apple claims to be 50% faster than the last generation. Battery life for the iPhone 6 is slightly improved over the 5S, but the iPhone 6 Plus has two hours of extra battery life for web browsing (12 hours from 10). 802.11AC is built-in, along with a new LTE chip that supports up to 20 LTE bands and voice over LTE.

    The iPhone 6's camera is still a 8MP sensor with a f/2.2 lens and dual-tone flash, but the sensor is redesigned for faster autofocus with phase detection and better tone mapping. The iPhone 6 uses digital image stabilization, but the iPhone 6 Plus has built-in optical image stabilization. The camera lenses also protrudes out from the back of the phone a little bit. 1080p video capture is capped at 60fps, but high-speed recording at 720p jumps to 240fps (8X slow mo). With the phase-detect sensor, continuous autofocus now works in video.

    The phones will come in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold, and pricing for the iPhone 6 starts at $200 on contract for 16GB, with the step up being 64GB for $300. The iPhone 6 Plus costs $100 more for each corresponding model, starting at $300 on contract for 16GB. Pre-orders open this Friday, and the phones will be released on the 19th.

    In Brief: Amazon Drops the Price on the Fire Phone

    After only a couple of weeks, Amazon has addressed one of our complaints about the Fire Phone, its high price. The 32GB model is now $0.99 with a two year contract, and the 64GB model is $100 on-contract. Amazon also dropped the off-contract price down to $450, $100 more than the entry-level Nexus 5. Even if you're tempted by the new lower price, don't be. You still shouldn't buy a Fire Phone.

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    Samsung and Oculus VR Announce the Gear VR Innovator Edition HMD

    At this week's IFA conference in Berlin, Samsung and Oculus VR announced the long-rumored VR headset that we've been hearing about for months. It's called the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition, and will be an accessory to Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 smartphones. As expected, you plug in Samsung's phone--which utilizes a massive 5.7-inch 1440p AMOLED display--into the headset for an untethered VR experience. Apparently, Oculus has been working with Samsung for over a year on the device, including a mobile SDK to optimize Android to run VR software. Because the mobile setup uses the sensors in the phone, users will experience wireless VR tracking in 3DOF instead of 6DOF, though Oculus and Samsung are promising a sub-20ms motions-to-photons latency (similar to that in the Oculus DK2). Oculus is also launching several VR software experiences with the Gear VR, including an Oculus Home interface, Oculus Cinema virtual movie theater, and Oculus 360 Videos and Photos viewer for panoramic content.

    This Gear VR is called the Innovator's Edition because it'll be an early-access beta SKU of the hardware for early adopters and developers, much like Oculus' own Development Kits. Samsung hasn't announced pricing for the Gear VR, but the Galaxy Note 4 is set to be released worldwide this October and the Gear VR add-on promised to be released this year. We'll be looking to get one of these devices to test, but this announcement says to us that Oculus won't settle for anything less than a 1440p display when the consumer edition of the Rift is ready.

    Tested In-Depth: Amazon Fire Phone

    We were curious when Amazon announced their Fire phone, and intrigued by the Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features that Amazon claims sets its handset apart from other flagship smartphones. So we bought a Fire phone to test and show you how those features work--or rather, how they don't really work well. Here's why we couldn't wait to return this phone for a refund after testing.

    Testing: Instagram's Hyperlapse App for iOS

    Instagram today announced and released a new iOS video app called Hyperlapse. It was a pet project of Instagram engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko, and impressed Instagram founder Kevin Systrom enough that the company developed it into a full-fledged app. Wired Design's Cliff Kuang has an exclusive story about the app's origins, if you're curious. But after a morning of testing, here's what you need to know about it.

    Hyperlapse is a time-lapse app for iOS, much like Studio Neat's Frameographer or the time-lapse feature built into many smartphones. Unlike those apps, three isn't much to configure--you don't set the interval time between snaps, nor the framerate of your output video. You just hit record and Hyperlapse starts record, at a default rate of five frames a second (assuming 30fps output). That translates to one second of video for every six seconds of time passing--pretty fast for a time-lapse. But what makes these time-lapses a "hyperlapse" is the stabilization between captured frames, making it look like your time-lapse video was shot on a gyro-stabilized gimbal. And technically, your video is gyro-stabilized, since the app takes into account the iPhone's gyro data to match frame angles and smooth out the video movement. The result is smoother time-lapses that you'd get than just putting your phone on a tripod, without using complex motion-correction algorithms like Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project.

    I shot a few Hyperlapse videos to post on Instagram, and frankly wasn't very impressed by the output. The gyro-stabilization works to some extent, but doesn't do a good job compensating for very shaky movement. You still have to try to keep your hands still or your phone held steady against a fixed object. Also, the video output on my iPhone 5 took a long time to process for a minute-long clip, and compressed the hell out of it. Hyperlapse is really only ideal if you're shooting the Instagram-preferred 15 second clips (about three minutes in real time), and if you don't care about video compression whisking away HD details. Full clips are saved to the iPhone's camera roll, like the video I uploaded to Vimeo and embedded below. A two minute clip ended up being only 120MB on my phone, and looked worse than a stationary time-lapse I shot and exported with Frameographer.

    Testing: Pros and Cons of the LG G3's 2560x1440 Screen

    When 1080p screens came to phones, the general consensus was that the resolution race could be coming to an end. After all, who needs more than full HD resolution on a phone? Whether or not we need it, LG took the stage a few months ago and announced the LG G3 with a quad HD (QHD) screen clocking in at 2560x1440 pixels. The G3 is the first device in the US market with a QHD panel, but LG had to make some sacrifices to get there. So is it all marketing nonsense, or did LG win the resolution race?

    More Retina than Retina

    The conventional wisdom has long been that anything north of 300 pixels per inch would be sufficiently high resolution that the average human would be unable to make out the individual pixels at arm's length (the G3 is 534 PPI). This is absolutely true if you're talking about picking out pixels, but reality is a bit more muddled than that.

    While 300 PPI makes it impossible to see pixels for virtually everyone, the images displayed on the screen might benefit from a higher resolution. For example, the eye can detect very small changes in the angle of a line that are well below the normal "retina resolution." Likewise, the alignment of two parallel lines can be seen with a startling degree of clarity--on the order of 4-5 times that of normal visual acuity. So, you might conceivably need 1500 PPI to account for all these cases.

    A QHD screen might also perform better when it comes to rendering curves--antialiasing, basically. The mathematical relationship between discrete points (pixels) and continuous elements (lines) is murky at best, but when you toss human vision into the mix, it can be hard to come to any firm conclusions. So what does this mean? A straight line made up of pixels you can't see is just a line. However, a curve made up of pixels exactly the same size might not look continuous as the pixels will produce a very subtle aliased (jaggy) edge. It would be up to software to clean that up, and having more pixels to work means better results.

    The way the eyes and brain process this visual data probably varies from person to person, but some analyses of the numbers point to roughly double the resolution requirements to prevent visible aliasing. So we're talking about 600 PPI, and the G3 gets close with 534 pixels per inch.

    The bottom line is that there's SOME basis for thinking that a QHD screen could offer a better viewing experience. Although, it's definitely not going to be a marked improvement in quality like jumping past 300 PPI.

    Tested In-Depth: Android Wear LG G Watch

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss Google's Android Wear platform, testing the new LG G Watch, and compare Google's smart watch to our experience living with the Pebble Steel watch. Here's why we think smart watches have the potential to be really useful accessories for smartphones.

    Scratch Testing an Alleged iPhone 6 Screen

    YouTube tech reviewer Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) recently posted two videos with what he claims is the front panel of Apple's as yet unannounced iPhone 6. The panel was supplied to him by Sonny Dickson, an Australian who has a history of procuring prototype phone components from suppliers in China. In Brownlee's testing, he found that the screen was much more scratch resistant than the iPhone 5S', using two different types of sandpaper. The alleged 4.7-inch iPhone screen was not impervious to damage, though, which Brownlee attributes to it being a sapphire-glass composite as opposed to being pure sapphire, like the iPhone 5S Touch ID/home button.

    Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

    Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

    Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

    Touchscreens separated at birth

    If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

    What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

    When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.

    In Brief: Samsung's VR Gear Solution Could Launch at IFA

    Engadget's report that Samsung is developing a virtual reality solution in partnership with Oculus VR to work with its Galaxy phones is becoming more believable. While neither Samsung nor Oculus have confirmed that a device is in the works, SamMobile claims to have the first images of the device design, along with details about its name and debut. The Gear VR name sounds believable, as well as the purported IFA unveil (Sept 5-10). Three new technical details stand out from this leak: first that Gear VR would use a cushioned elastic band to hold the headset in place, that it would have a dedicated button to activate the Galaxy phone's camera to let users "see through" the HMD, and that the side controls would be a touchpad. The latter two make sense as good UI, especially the see-through button--something I hope the consumer Oculus Rift will include. If calibrated properly with a camera lens, the see-through option opens up augmented reality potential for this kind of HMD.

    I'm still unconvinced that smartphone screens (as run through smartphone GPUs) can achieve the low persistence of vision that Oculus fans are expecting, but that's based on my experience using Google's Cardboard with an LCD-based phone, not Samsung's AMOLED screens. The other weird thing about this is that we're not expecting the Oculus consumer release any time soon, so Samsung's Gear VR may be the first Oculus-related virtual reality device to hit the consumer market. I'm not sure that would be a good thing for Oculus and the VR community if the reception isn't anything but glowing. If Gear VR does get announced at IFA, it'll be something that may distract from Oculus' agenda just two weeks later at their first Connect conference.

    Testing: OnePlus One Android Smartphone

    We just posted our OnePlus One phone review, and I wanted to distill some of those thoughts in a post for anyone searching on Google or looking to find more information about the phone. As I said in the video, this is one of the best Android phones I've ever used. It's faster than the HTC One M8 and costs less off-contract than even Google's Nexus 5. And as of today, I'm still using it as my primary phone, as the benefits of its awesome battery life outweighs the disadvantages of its massive size.

    Aside from its price, here are some of my positive take-aways from testing the OnePlus One.

    1080p is lovely for a 5.5-inch screen. I've seen the LG G3 in person, and couldn't tell the difference between icons, text, and photos on that high-density screen and the images on my 5-inch 1080p Nexus 5. Only 1400p video was noticeably better. The OnePlus One also has a 5.5-inch screen, but 1080p suits it just fine. In a blind test (covering up the bezels), text and photos on OnePlus looked indistinguishable from those on the Nexus 5, reinforcing my opinion 1080p is an optimal resolution for smartphones.

    The camera is top-notch. One of the reason's I'm sticking with the OnePlus over the Nexus 5. It has a smartphone camera that I actually want to use on a regular basis. I haven't felt that way about a smartphone camera since switching over to Android from the iPhone 5. The 13MP Sony camera takes great HDR photos in good light conditions. Low light photos tax the shutter, and photos can get blown out if shooting toward the light source. I'm just a little bummed by the heavy JPEG compression, and am looking forward to Android L's RAW support. Also, shooting 4K video actually makes sense on this phone because I can pipe it directly to YouTube, which supports 4K video playback. (These still aren't clips I'm going to sync back to my desktop to edit.)

    Battery life is unbelievably great. The big win for OnePlus. The OnePlus One is the first phone I've used that I haven't been able to fully drain in a day without forcing it. Outside of a video playback test where I was streaming a high-def video over a cellular connection, the OnePlus has never gone below 25% battery in any day I've used it. I'm a pretty heavily phone user, and use several milestones throughout the day to gauge battery depletion--when I get to the office, noon, early afternoon, and leaving work. With my use, the battery on other phones typically dip below 70% by noon, but it takes until 3pm or so to get to that point on the OnePlus. It's been consistently above 35% by the time I reach home at around 7:30pm.

    Tested In-Depth: OnePlus One Android Smartphone

    We test the new high-end Android smartphone from OnePlus that's unique because it comes with Cyanogen built-in, and only costs $300 off-contract. And with a 5.5-inch screen, it's also one of the largest phones we've used. Here's what you need to know about the OnePlus One if you're vying for an invite for buy it.

    How RAW Photography Will Change Smartphone Cameras

    One of the things we think Apple does better than other smartphone manufacturers is build great cameras into its phones. It's one of the reasons that iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world, period. Based on our experience, the iPhone 5S' camera produces better-looking photos than that on high-end Android phones like the Nexus 5 and HTC One M8, and it's a safe bet that the next iPhone will have yet another camera upgrade. Sony currently supplies the small CMOS camera in iPhones, and it's also the supplier of camera sensors on a variety of Android phones. The difference in photo quality between those devices, then, can partially be attributed to the lens system used. But photo quality is also tied to the imaging software built into the phone's OS. And on that front, Android may take a leap over iOS later this year.

    While Apple is opening up manual camera controls to developers in iOS 8, one feature that's sorely lacking is support for RAW photo capture. And coincidentally, that's one feature that Google is bringing to Android L--support for camera apps to write raw pixel data from the camera sensor as a DNG (digital negative) file. While this may not sound like a big deal for most smartphone users, it is in fact a huge deal for photographers who are doing more than just taking photos to immediately share on social networks. As I've said before, the post-processing of a photo is just as important to the whole of the photography process as the act of snapping the shutter. The ability to save smartphone photos as RAW files instead of just JPEGs is the equivalent to an immediate and free upgrade to the camera, regardless of the sensor make.

    Photo credit: iFixit

    To understand the benefits (and costs) of RAW, let's quickly go over the limitations of JPEG images. JPEG is a lossy file format, using image compression algorithms to reduce the file size of an image while retaining as much details as possible. Standard JPEG settings allow for a compression ratio of 10:1 from the original image without noticeable reduction detail, especially on small screens. JPEGs are also most commonly saved with 8-bit color profiles. That means that each of its RGB color channels top out at 256 gradiations. 256-degrees of brightness for each color channel is plenty for a photo, but camera sensors can actually record much more detail than that. Digital imaging chips can process light coming into sensors in 12 or 14-bits--light data that is lost when converting an photo to a JPEG. That extra data, when run through a RAW image processor, allows for more flexibility when editing and helps avoid image artifacts like light banding.

    Another limitation to JPEGs is the inconsistency of compression engines between smartphones. The amount of compression used to save a photo in the iPhone is different than that of an Android phone, and can vary between camera apps. For example, a 13 Megapixel photo taken on the new OnePlus One Android phone is compressed to a file between 1-2MB at the highest quality setting. The iPhone 5S, using a 8MP sensor also made by Sony, saves JPEG photos that are also around 1.5MB each. (By comparison, the 14MP camera on the Phantom 2 saves 4-6MB JPEGs). So where did that extra megapixel data go? While some camera apps have JPEG quality settings, the amount of compression isn't always transparent, so you don't know if you're getting the best possible photo you can from your phone.

    Photo credit: DPReview

    RAW image files eliminate that ambiguity, because it's just storing the unfiltered image data taken from the camera sensor. And the best part is that saving in RAW isn't a hardware limitation. All digital camera sensors have to pass that raw information through the phone's image processors--it's up to OS and camera software to give users a way to save that data before it gets lost in the JPEG output. The high-end Nokia Lumia phones have RAW photo capability, and previous phones like the Lumia 1020 were granted RAW file saving with a software update. DPreview ran a comparison of RAW and processed JPEG photos with the Lumia, and I ran own tests with a small-sensor camera to show you the image detail differences.

    In Brief: Early Android L Battery Life Testing

    Ars Technica's battery test of Google's Android L developer preview release is getting a lot of traction in the Android community today, and for good reason. Using the same battery test run on new phones for his reviews, Ron Amadeo was able to squeeze 36% more battery life on a Nexus 5, compared with a fresh 4.4.4 KitKat install. That amounted to about two more hours of runtime, with the screen on, and constantly loading webpages over Wi-Fi. This was also done without enabling Android L's performance throttling battery saver feature, which switches the phone to a low power mode at 15% battery. While I trust Ron's testing, this kind of bump shouldn't be expected across all Android phones--the Nexus 5 used isn't exactly representative of a phone running all the background processes users need for everyday use, and the Nexus 5 is notable for its low battery capacity. Nevertheless, this first battery test is a good sign of the Project Volta initiative in Android L.