Quantcast
Latest StoriesSmartphones
    11 Essential Tweaks for Your New Samsung Galaxy S5

    The Galaxy S5 is finally here, debuting new hardware and software from Samsung. Even those who have owned a Galaxy phone before are sure to find a few unexpected treats in this device. Samsung has traditionally engineered one of the more extreme Android skins, but TouchWiz has come a long way since its early days of iPhone cloning.

    There are some excellent features you'll want to take advantage of, and some you will want to hide as best you can. Let's get your Galaxy S5 in shape!

    Kill Bundled Apps

    Unless you've picked up the unlocked international Galaxy S5, there are going to be some carrier apps cluttering things up. Even the unlocked version will have a couple Samsung services you probably won't want or need. Luckily, Android supports disabling included apps that can't be uninstalled. They still take up a little space, but they won't run in the background or accumulate data.

    Just take a peek in the app drawer and decide what needs to go. Open the main system settings and find Application Manager. Slide over to the All Apps tab and scroll down until you find the app or apps you want to disable. It'll probably be things like bundled navigation apps, caller ID services, security suites, and other unnecessary junk. Open the desired entry and tap "Turn Off." Other Android devices label the button Disable, but it's the same thing.

    You can find all the disabled apps in a tab to the far right in the Application Manager called (predictably) Turned Off. You can go there to turn things back on if you need them.

    Tested Explains: How Google's Project Ara Smartphone Works

    Project Ara is real, and Google has its fingers on the pulse of the technologies required to make modular smartphones a reality. Given the overwhelming public response to the Phonebloks concept, it's something that users seem to want, too. But whether or not Project Ara modular phones have a future in the smartphone marketplace will largely depend on whether or not there's a strong hardware ecosystem to support it. The custom PC market wouldn't have flourished a decade ago if component manufacturers weren't making user-friendly video cards, storage drives, motherboards, and power supplies--the building blocks of a PC. That's the point of this week's Ara Developers Conference: getting partners excited and educated about how they can build hardware to support that vision for a modular phone.

    The two-day conference, which was also streamed online, coincided with the release of the Project Ara MDK, or Module Developers Kit. This MDK provides the guidelines for designing Ara-compatible hardware, and along with the technical talks presented at the conference, offer the first clear look in the technologies that make Ara possible, if not completely practical. I attended the conference and read through the MDK to get a high-level understanding Google's plans for Ara, which goes far to address the concerns we and experts have had about the modular phone concept. I'm not yet a believer, but at least this clearly isn't a pipe dream. The following are what I consider the important takeaways from what Google has revealed so far.

    A brief note: the conference was also the first public showing of a Project Ara working prototype (past photos have been of non-functioning mockups), though the unit was unable to boot up and had a cracked screen. A little appropriate, given that both the main processing unit and screen are replaceable modules.

    Project Ara is two core components: the Endoskeleton and the Module

    On the hardware side, Google has laid out specific guidelines for how Project Ara phones can be built. The most important piece of hardware is the chassis, or what Project Ara leads are calling the "Endoskeleton." Think of this as an analogue to a PC case--it's where all the modular components will attach. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the design of Razer's Project Christine, in that a central "spine" traverses the length of Project Ara phones, with "ribs" branching out to split the phone into rectangular subsections. In terms of spatial units, the Endoskeleton (or Endo) is measured in terms of blocks, with a standard phone being a 3x6 grid of blocks. A mini Ara phone spec would be a 2x5 grid, while a potential large phone size would be a 4x7 grid.

    Fitting into the spaces allotted by the Endos structure would be the Project Ara Modules, the building blocks that give the smartphone its functionality. These modules, which can be 1x1, 2x1, or 2x2 blocks, are what Google hopes its hardware partners will develop to sell to Project Ara users. Modules can include not only basic smartphone components like the display, speakers, microphone, and battery, but also accessories like IR cameras, biometric readers, and other interface hardware. The brains of a Project Ara phone--the CPU and memory--live in a primary Application Processor module, which takes up a 2x2 module. (In the prototype, the AP was running a TI OMAP 4460 SoC.) While additional storage can be attached in separate modules, you won't be able to split up the the AP--processor, memory, SD card slot, and other core operational hardware go hand-in-hand.

    In Brief: Amazon's Smartphone May Have 3D Interface

    First tablets, then a settop box, and now a smartphone. Amazon is increasingly becoming not only a services company, but a devices one as well. There have been many rumors in the past few weeks indicating that Amazon is almost ready to reveal its first smartphone, with the Wall Street Journal claiming a June announcement for a product release before the end of the year. BGR today posted not only many more details about this potential upcoming phone, but also what they claim are photos of the device. The high-end phone will run a heavily-forked version of Android, run on hardware similar to that found in other new Android phones, and have a 4.7-inch 720p screen. That relatively low resolution is likely to its big differentiating feature: four IR cameras on the front of the phone used for face and eye tracking. Ostensibly, these cameras will track the user to facilitate a glasses-free 3D interface. BGR's sources claim that this 3D effect will not be like the parallax filters used in the Nintendo DS. Instead, it'd be more like the faux 3D parallax effect (and nauseating side effects) of iOS 7's wallpaper, but one that responds based on where you head is instead of how you tilt your phone. The increased battery drain from processing and rendering this effect is likely why the phone would have a 720p display (also likely heavily subsidized), and my guess is that this novel interface effect is a trojan horse to let Amazon track user behavior when using their phones. Amazon wants to know not only how you're browsing the web and using your phone, but where your attention is, as well. More scary than exciting stuff.

    Norman
    In Brief: Diagnosing iOS Battery Drain

    Scotty Loveless, an ex-Genius Bar employee, recently posted this comprehensive guide to diagnosing and solving iOS battery issues, based on his two years working for Apple and hundreds of Genius Bar appointments with users complaining about their iPhone's battery. There's a lot of practical advice here, such as how to test your iOS battery drain rate by noting down usage and standby times, but Loveless also offers some very specific tips that he claims make a big difference. Disabling Location and Background App Refresh for the Facebook app tops his list, but the most useful recommendation may be to stop manually quitting apps in the multi-tasking view. Apps that don't use Background App Refresh don't actually pull power when they're in the background, and quitting them just means that your iPhone will have to use more power to relaunch them the next time. There's also the tip to turn off battery percentage to stop getting freaked out about battery, but I don't think that's a tip that's going to stick. Regardless, the guide is well worth reading and bookmarking.

    Norman 4
    In Brief: Voicemails Are The New Texts

    Here's something I never thought I'd say: my computer-illiterate parents taught me something insightful about technology culture. I got both my parents iPhones this past holiday. It's their first smartphone and I wanted them to use a device with a familiar and relatively unbreakable interface and operating system (they previously shared an iPad). But I soon realized that the only thing weirder than my parents using Facebook on their phones was them texting me. Communicating with them over text is awkward--their English isn't the best and they stumble over the nuances of text-based-conversation. "Call mom now" reads to me as an emergency, when they just wanted to know the next time I'm over for dinner.

    But our ability to communicate has dramatically improved with the use of an app they introduced to me, WeChat. It's very similar to WhatsApp, in that it's platform agnostic and free (for now) to use, but the feature that makes it invaluable to my parents is a push-to-talk voicemail button. Instead of fumbling over the virtual keyboard, they hold down a button and the app records an audio clip that pops up as a notification in my app. Right now, as they're on vacation in Asia, they've been able to send me regular updates about their travels, without the same sense of urgency that texting connotes, and I can respond in kind. This messaging system co-ops the efficiency and directness of an SMS or IM, but with the casual feel of a phone call (with the immediacy). Just as Google Voice Search has changed the way I query the internet on mobile, voice messaging is doing the same for direct communication. How do you communicate with your loved ones on your smartphone?

    Norman 4
    In Brief: Apple Announces CarPlay Dashboard Interface

    Dashboard integration was something Apple teased at last year's WWDC, and it's finally being announced as CarPlay. Unsurprisingly, Apple isn't building the physical dashboard units for its partners, but providing a set of standards for iOS integration. Partners--the first of which are Volvo, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz--can support CarPlay by incorporating touchscreen and wheel-mounted controls to their vehicles, while iOS devices will pair with the cars over a Lightning cable. CarPlay is basically an H.264 video stream piped from the iOS device, which will display Apple Maps and other native apps on the dash. Google Maps support is unlikely. Third-party music apps like Spotify and Stitcher will also be supported at launch, with more app compatibility to be announced later. Volvo has also released a video demonstrating CarPlay integration on its upcoming XC90 SCUV, which you can watch below.

    Norman 4
    In Brief: Announcements from Mobile World Congress

    We're not at Mobile World Congress this week, but our friends from other tech sites are keeping up with the torrent of smartphone and mobile device announcements that has already been unleashed. The big reveal from today is Samsung's Galaxy S5 flagship Android phone, which keeps a 1080p display while introducing features like USB 3.0 connectivity, water-resistant housing, better internal hardware, and a fingerprint sensor. The early consensus is that it's an iterative upgrade to the S4. Nokia confirmed rumors of releasing an entry-level Android phone line, the Nokia X series. It's a forked version of Android made to look like Windows Phone that won't have access to Google's Play store. Our Microsoft tracker Falcon has some thoughts in the forums. Sony also has a new flagship Android phone, the Z2, that it claims has the world's best mobile camera, and Qualcomm announced several new mobile processors. There's also new Galaxy Gear smart watches coming in April, if you're into that. But the biggest news to drop over the weekend may have been Netflix's agreement to pay Comcast for more direct access to its high-speed broadband. Wired lays out why this is potentially a bad sign for the future of net neutrality. And how about that ending to House of Cards Season 2?

    Norman
    In Brief: Analyzing the Pixel Density Race

    Really love this piece of technical analysis by Anandtech's Joshua Ho regarding the technical merits of increasing pixel density on phone and tablet screens. Joshua dives deep not only on intrinsic manufacturing and energy costs of building increasingly high-resolution displays for phones (Samsung's next Galaxy smartphone is rumored to have a 5-inch 2560x1440 screen), but also the limits of human perception--which aren't as clearcut as they seem. Several things jumped out at me from reading the piece. First, that PPI as a standard for screen quality is relatively useless, as pixels per degree (PPD) and sub-pixels per inch (SPPI) are arguably better metrics that take into account qualitative use cases and screen manufacturing technologies. Second, that there is an important difference between the technical limitation of human eye acuity and a person's perceptual capabilities, because the brain does some interpolation in its processing of photons. And third, that this may be the beginning of a shift away from PPI (a concept Apple bought into the mainstream) as a talking point for consumers. It's really interesting to follow along as users (and reviewers) get more informed about the minute technical aspects of new devices, and to see the salient marketing points that manufacturers push to the public shift along with it. We've seen that in smartphone displays (a shift from screen size to pixel dimensions to pixel density) as well as consumer cameras (shifting from megapixels to sensor size to lens ecosystem). As users become more tech savvy, the marketers have to find new ways to spin their tech talk and try and pull wool over our eyes.

    Norman 1
    In Brief: Lenovo Buys Motorola Mobility for $2.91Billion

    Who saw this coming? Google today announced that it has agreed to sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 billion. This comes less than three years after Google paid $12.5 billion to acquire the smartphone arm of Motorola, including its valuable portfolio of patents (which Google will retain). Since then, operating as an independent subsidiary, Motorola revamped its smartphone strategy by launching the Moto X and Moto G phones, both of which have been received well by reviewers. The $180 off-contract Moto G in particular helped raise expectations of what kind of smartphone you could buy for under $200, contract free. Despite this reinvention, Motorola had been operating at a net loss of close to $1 billion a year. Lenovo itself has not been shy about wanting to move into the US smartphone business with its Intel Clover Trail Android phones, and reportedly will keep Motorola's brand identity--just as it did with ThinkPads when it acquired the laptop business from IBM almost 10 years ago.

    Norman 10
    Intel CES Keynote Focuses on Wearables You Probably Won't Wear

    At Intel's 2014 CES keynote, chief executive Brian Krzanich could have focused on the technology Intel is developing to compete in the mobile market. Smartphone and tablet processors are a huge market, and one that Intel is still struggling to compete in. Intel wants to get its chips into many, many more devices than PCs. Mobile, then, is the obvious choice. But Intel went with something less obvious: wearables.

    Smartwatches, smart earbuds, smart chargers, smart you name it. That's the future Intel's shooting for, and the one Krzanich talked about in his CES 2014 keynote. The "smart" echo also follows the trend of CES's past, which promises that processors and wireless transmitters embedded in our washing machines and watches will make them better. The questions of how and why are usually left unanswered.

    The key piece of technology behind Intel's smart initiative is Quark, a very very small system-on-a-chip. Intel did not announce Quark at CES--the company announced the SoC many months ago, but now we're hearing about how it may be used in the future. Intel's examples included a pair of earbuds that include biometric capabilities, reading a jogger's heartrate and calculating how many calories they burn, and an "always listening" headset called Jarvis, which pairs with an Android smartphone and offers voice assistant features like Siri or Google Now.

    Like many products shown at CES, these are reference designs, which means you'll probably never be able to buy them. Similar products will probably go on sale eventually, and Intel says it plans to work with fashion designers to make attractive wearables. Intel is, at least, thinking about answering the how and why--The Verge quotes Krzanich stating: "Wearables are not everywhere today because they aren't yet solving real problems and they aren't yet integrated with our lifestyles...We're focused on addressing this engineering innovation challenge."

    But the "why" in this case, at least for Intel, is that the company needs to branch out from the shrinking PC processor market. And the how is, for them, an "engineering innovation challenge." Intel can make an incredibly small and capable processor, but it will largely be up to other companies to decide how to use that technology in a way that matters, and a way that makes our lives better.

    Will smart earbuds improve our jogs over a smartphone fitness app? Will the integration of biometrics into the earbuds be a useful convergence, or make the earbuds too expensive, or negatively impact audio quality?

    You could ask the same thing about the nursery products Intel used to show off Edison, a small computer running on Quark that fits into the form factor of an SD card. Edison runs Linux, has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and will run software from its own app store. Edison will likely be a very useful small form-factor computer, but "Nursery 2.0,"--which Intel used to demonstrate Edison, isn't convincing. A baby onesie with a turtle-shaped sensor embedded in it monitors the baby's vitals and transits that data to a coffee cup, where an LED display shows off the data. Or the sound of a baby crying can trigger a cup of milk to begin heating up.

    Does Edison know that the baby wants milk? Is a connected coffee cup with an LED more useful than existing baby monitors? Are smart turtles the future of technology?

    Edison is likely a significant advancement in miniature computing, and Intel plans to give out $1.3 million in prize money to developers who make useful applications for it. The ability to run Windows and Android simultaneously on one chip, which Intel gave only a vague mention during the keynote, is also an important step forward for uniting mobile and PC hardware. These are bits of technology to remember, because they'll probably pop up in some meaningful device a year or two down the road--but that device, in all likelihood, won't be one of the ones Intel showed off during its keynote.

    What Nvidia Tegra K1 Means for Mobile (and PC) Gamers

    Nvidia's 2014 refresh of its Tegra system-on-a-chip, announced on the eve of this year's CES, marks some major changes from the Tegras of years past. Tegra K1 succeeds last year's Tegra 4 with a pair of configurations: one a quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU, and the other a custom 64-bit ARMv8 Nvidia CPU. Even more importantly, K1 uses the same architecture of Nvidia's desktop GPUs, and future GPU designs will grow from mobile into desktop hardware. This leaves us with a couple important questions: How big a deal is K1 for mobile users? And how much will it influence the future of Nvidia's desktop graphics cards?

    Anandtech's breakdown of Tegra K1 gives us a good overview of the technology. The custom 64-bit Nvidia CPU making its first appearance in K1 is Project Denver, which Nvidia's been working on for years; the company first announced it in 2011. Like previous Tegra SoCs, K1 includes a fifth low-power core for battery saving. Anandtech points out that Cortex-A15 has seen some improvements since last year, primarily in energy efficiency. The move to 28nm and a max clock speed increase from 1.9GHz to 2.3 GHz means the Cortex-A15 version of K1 will be about 20 percent faster than last year's model.

    Photo credit: Nvidia.

    That's not a significant difference, even if it means some battery life improvements for Tegra devices. The Cortex-based K1 devices will be shipping in the first half of 2014. In the second half of the year, Nvidia plans to roll out Project Denver with dual-core, not quad-core, 64-bit processors. There's no low-power companion core in this configuration. The CPU is clocked at 2.5GHz, which Anandtech believes is to account for some very specialized software designed to make K1 more efficient.

    Nvidia hasn't revealed all the details about Project Denver--or most of them, really. Anandtech speculates Nvidia has built a chip capable of out-of-order execution that will make it more power- and performance-efficient, and a lot of that work is done in software. If Denver's design lives up to its potential, it could signal a major shift away from piling on CPU cores in favor of much more powerful dual-core designs, something Apple has likewise done with the iPhone.

    Photo credit: Nvidia.

    The Denver CPU is new territory for Nvidia, but the changes it's making to its mobile GPUs may be an even bigger deal for anyone who buys Nvidia hardware, be it mobile or PC. "All architectures will start as mobile designs and then be adopted to fit other, higher power segments," writes Anandtech. "Kepler makes the move into mobile largely unchanged. This is a full Kepler implementation with the same size register file, shared L1 and is 100% ISA compatible with its big brother. It turns out that Kepler, as it was originally designed, was pretty good for mobile."

    Nvidia called the K1 Kepler GPU a 192-core GPU, which just means it had 192 CUDA cores. For reference, the GTX 780 has 2304 CUDA cores, but you wouldn't call it a 2304 core GPU. Nvidia also claims that their mobile version of Kepler will deliver 1.5x the performance-per-watt of Apple's A7 and the Adreno 330 GPU. And if there's a major advantage to Kepler's mobile miniaturization, it's APIs.

    "In one swift move NVIDIA goes from being disappointing in API support to industry leading," Anandtech explains. "Since this is a full Kepler implementation (just a lower power/performing version) Tegra K1 maintains full API compatibility with NVIDIA’s flagship GeForce products. OpenGL ES 3.0 is supported but so are full OpenGL 4.4, DX11 and CUDA 6.0."

    Desktop PC users likely have nothing to worry about when it comes to Nvidia GPU architecture--the company isn't going to abandon the high-end market as it designs its GPUs to work well on mobile. But K1 is potentially a very, very big deal when it comes to mobile gaming and living room gaming. Nvidia claims it now delivers enough raw performance with K1 to outperform the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Whether or not that turns out to be completely feasible in practice, Tegra K1 is at least close to that level of performance, making an affordable, mobile-based Steam Machine a likely reality.

    "NVIDIA had a port of Serious Sam 3 running on Tegra K1 demo hardware just fine," Anandtech writes. "Any games that are prepped for Steam OS are very easy to port over to Android. Once you make the move to OpenGL, the rest is allegedly fairly simple. The Serious Sam 3 port apparently took a matter of a couple of weeks to get ported over, with the bulk of the effort going into mapping controls to an Android environment."

    This video shows off Nvidia and Epic talking about how amazing the K1 will be for mobile gaming. These promises and prototypes rarely end up mirroring the reality of full games on upcoming hardware, but it goes to show how much the gaps between mobile and console and PC continue to narrow.

    If Nvidia's got hardware powerful enough to run Xbox 360 games in a smartphone form-factor, small living room boxes may not be far behind. And if easy Android ports convince more developers to support SteamOS, K1 could be a great thing for gamers.

    6 Android Projects to Try This Holiday Break

    No matter which Android device you've chosen as your daily driver, it's jam packed with a variety of neat features. However, if you've got a little time this holiday season and curiosity to tinker, you can expand on the stock functionality or even completely change the experience. With many folks getting new Android phones and tablets over this holiday break, what better way to spend that free time than embarking on an Android project or two? Here are some tweaks that you shouldn't be afraid to try out. And don't worry, nothing's permanent!

    Get the Google Experience Launcher

    Let's start off slow with an easy one. If you're not looking to get your hands too dirty, but you still want to try something new on your device, install the still semi-secret Google Experience Launcher. It only takes a few minutes and it should work on almost every Android phone and tablet out there.

    It's more or less common knowledge now that Google is readying a new home screen launcher for Android devices, and it's probably already on your phone. The Google Search app, which started as just a quick search box, became a full app, then evolved into Google Now, is also a launcher these days. To access the Google Experience Launcher in your search app, you'll need to get the GEL stub app and install it on your phone or tablet.

    Make sure Unknown Sources is enabled in your device's security settings, then download the APK linked above. After it is installed, your device will ask you which home screen you want to use, just like installing any number of third-party launchers. The difference here is that updates to the Google Search app through the Play Store will actually tweak your home screen.

    This is a work in process -- in fact, Google just recently made some major changes to GEL on tablets. You're seeing the bleeding edge of Android if you sideload the Google Experience Launcher, and making your home there is a fun and low-risk project.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Macro Photo Love

    On the fifth day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares his love for macro photography using an adapter for his DSLR camera lens and also a lens attachment for the iPhone. Do you take macro photos? Share some in the comments below!

    Spotify Launches Free Plans for Smartphones and Tablets

    Spotify announced a new way to listen to its garishly obnoxious advertising on Wednesday--free Spotify is coming to Android and iOS! The good news, of course, is that millions of songs are now free on tablets and smartphones, which have previously been limited to paid versions of the Spotify service. Spotify users who don't mind listening to radio ads can download the Spotify apps on iOS and Android to get at the vast musical library, which now contains Led Zeppelin's discography.

    The new free versions of Spotify on tablets and smartphones are not identical, however. Tablet users get the same features as the desktop app, because Spotify says "tablets are becoming the new desktops." That means searching through entire artist libraries, building playlists, yada yada.

    Mobile smartphone users who download Spotify for free receive a more limited interface. Spotify calls it shuffle play. You can play any music saved to your playlists, or the playlists of people you follow using Spotify's social features. You can also shuffle the libraries of artists and listen to their entire discographies that way. But there's no selective playing or searching for specific albums or songs. If you're listening on mobile, you'll do it in shuffle mode.

    The premium version of Spotify costs $10 per month. Premium subscribers ditch the audio ads and can download songs for offline listening, which is especially handy for mobile users who don't always have enough bandwidth for steady streaming.

    What's Inside the Google Nexus 5 Smartphone

    We're joined by special guest iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, who has taken apart Google's Nexus 5 smartphone for a thorough teardown analysis. We examine each of the phone's components, see how they're assembled, and discuss just how easy it would be to repair the Nexus 5 if any of its parts breaks down.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (November 2013)

    Another month has gone by, and the deal making has really kicked up a notch. With the holiday season closing in, everyone wants to move more phones. That's great news for anyone in the market. Still, there's the dilemma of deciding on a new handset. It's a decision most people only get to make once every two years, so you don't want to screw it up. Let us help.

    Photo credit: Flickr user mesfoto via Creative Commons

    This month the Moto X shows us that specs aren't everything, the Nexus 5 keeps on rolling strong, and the Note 3 is still really (physically) big.

    Tested In-Depth: Google Nexus 5 Review

    A high-end 1080p phone for $350 off contract sounds too good to be true, but here it is. We sit down for an in-depth conversation about the hardware in Google's new Nexus 5 smartphone, what's different about Android 4.4 KitKat, and how the Nexus 5 compares with phones like the Nexus 4 and HTC One.

    Testing: Google Nexus 5 vs. HTC One vs. Nexus 4

    Back in early 2010, I flew to Orlando, Florida for the CTIA wireless convention to see the debut of two big smartphones. Big in the sense that they were notable, but also their physical size. The first was Sprint's EVO 4G, a 4.3-inch third-generation Android phone that some billed as the iPhone 4 killer. 4.3-inches was considered massive for a smartphone screen back then, before Apple shifted the conversation to screen resolution and pixel density. And while the Android community had high hopes for the HTC-made EVO 4G, another big phone shown at CTIA became more of a joke. That was the Dell Streak, otherwise known as the Mini 5. With a then unheard-of 5-inch screen, it was more punchline than phenom--a tablet that you can make phone calls on!

    But a 5-inch phone today is no joke, as demonstrated by Samsung's popular Note phones and its Galaxy S4, which has a 5-inch 1080p screen. iPhone users like myself were eased into larger screens with the 4-inch iPhone 5. And as I transitioned from that to the 4.7-inch Nexus 4 and HTC One phones, incremental bumps in screen sizes were offset by the phones themselves getting smaller overall. It's reached a point where Google's Nexus 5 is almost exactly the same size as the HTC One, even though its equipped with a larger screen and a faster processor. And it's a far cry from the bulkiness of the Dell Streak, both in build and billing. Nexus 5 has no pretensions of being a tablet or even an alternative to one. What LG and Google have made is a showcase of the best internal hardware and software that an Android phone has to offer today, sold at an ultra-competitive off-contract price. But that doesn't necessarily make buying it a no-brainer.

    I've been using the Nexus 5 for the past few weeks, replacing the HTC One that got me to convert from iOS to Android. The differences between these two phones are very incremental, and by and large the things that make the Nexus 5 a technically superior phone to the HTC One don't matter in day to day use. But those attributes are all worth talking about, especially in their relation to last year's popular Nexus 4 (which has been discontinued).

    We'll start with the screen, which is the feature that stands out most. LG, the manufacturer of the Nexus 5, managed to put a 4.95-inch 1080p screen (445ppi) into a chassis that has the same dimensional footprint as the HTC One, which "only" has a 4.7-inch 1080p screen. They did that by cutting away as much unnecessary bezel space as possible. And with its edge-to-edge front panel Gorilla glass, The Nexus 5 has this remarkable look of being almost all-screen in the front. No speaker grill, no physical buttons, no other flourishes. Sitting next to the Nexus 5, the HTC One's aluminum bezels and buttons really stand out. Optical bonding on the Nexus 5's LCD panel is also excellent, and the glossy black bezel helps hide any depth--screen images look like they're pressed up right on the glass. In terms of panel quality, the IPS LCD used here is sharp, bright, and colorful. The slight drop in pixel density between the HTC One and the Nexus 5 doesn't uncover any text aliasing, though I found the color temperature of the Nexus 5 slightly warmer than that on the HTC One's S-LCD panel. In a direct comparison of high-resolution photos taken with my DSLR, I thought the color saturation on the HTC One's screen was slightly more pleasing. Both are significant improvements over the Nexus 4's 1280x768 screen.

    The larger screen is also a way to show off Android 4.4 KitKat, which comes installed on the Nexus 5. KitKat is slowly making its way to other Nexus and Google Play devices, with HTC promising that One users will get KitKat by the end of January. This isn't a review of KitKat, since I'm not as well-versed in the minutia of the operating system as experts who've been using Android from the start. But of the user-facing changes, most are net positive. The removal of opaque notification and navigation bars makes the default launcher look beautiful with edge-to-edge wallpaper. Google Now is now built-in as a dedicated home screen on the far left, so it's even easier to access at a glance. Google Search on the Nexus 5 can also be activated with a voice command in the home screen without tapping any buttons, though it doesn't have the same passive listening functionality as the Moto X. And the integration of Google's knowledge graph with the dialer for making phone calls to businesses (and caller ID) is the right kind of synergy that doesn't feel forced.

    New Transistors Give iPad Air 57% Improved Display Efficiency

    According to DisplayMate's latest tablet display shoot-out, Apple's new iPad Air boasts a 57 percent bump in display power efficiency over Apple's previous iPads. Every hardware generation tends to be more efficient than the last. Apple improves its software to perform tasks more quickly and in fewer CPU cycles--that's a big draw of OS X Mavericks. Improved CPUs and wireless chips are often able to handle more data while drawing less power. But 57 percent in display efficiency is a big bump, and the iPad Air owes that improvement to a new transistor material called IGZO.

    "Displays featuring 'backplanes' of IGZO transistors should make it possible for tablets and TVs to have much higher-resolution displays while consuming significantly less power," explains Technology Review. "The technology has already cropped up in low volumes of high-end smartphones and televisions, but its appearance in iPads suggests we can expect IGZO to improve several more popular products over the next year."

    Photo credit: ifixit

    Let's back up a second here. Transistors supply electric current to LCD screens, and most LCDs are powered by amorphous silicon transistors. As display makers have chased after higher resolution panels, amorphous silicon has started to become a roadblock. Technology Review explains that "display makers have run up against the physical limits of amorphous silicon, because electrons don’t move through that material fast enough. If transistors can be made from a material with a higher degree of 'electron mobility,' the transistors can be smaller, making it possible to pack more pixels into a given space."

    IGZO, or indium gallium zinc oxide, transistors, have that higher degree of electron mobility. Ten times better than amorphous silicon, in fact. And as more displays push into super high resolution territory, we'll likely see more and more of IGZO, which will be great for battery life. However, Technology Review notes that IGZO isn't actually the most efficient transistor material around, and the iPad Air is hardly the first to make use of IGZO.

    Some competing devices, including the Amazon Kindle Fire 8.9, use a material called LTPS, or low-temperature polysilicon. DisplayMate's tests show how efficient LTPS can be:

    "The Relative Power Efficiency (for the same Luminance and screen area) is highest for the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, which has the highest performance and most efficient LTPS Low Temperature Poly Silicon LCD. Second is the iPad Air, which has a new higher efficiency metal oxide IGZO LCD that is a 57 percent improvement over the previous iPads, which used a-Si amorphous Silicon, but it still needs 30 percent more display power than the LTPS Kindle Fire. Coming in last in Relative Power Efficiency is the Nexus 10 with an a-Si amorphous Silicon backplane that is used in most current LCD displays, which requires 73 percent more display power than the LTPS Kindle Fire."

    LTPS is more power efficient than IGZO, though more expensive and not as easy to implement in larger displays. Clearly IGZO is a step in the right direction, but it may end up as an intermediary technology between amorphous silicon and LTPS--something for 10-inch tablets and cheaper smartphones to adot for the next few years, before LTPS (or perhaps something even more efficient) becomes the dominant display transistor.