Quantcast
Latest StoriesSmartphones
    Testing: Gear VR for Galaxy S6 Impressions

    I just got the new Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6, the second Innovator Edition developer headset released in partnership with Oculus. We had tested the first Gear VR with the Note 4 earlier this year, in time for the launch of paid apps in the Oculus store. Since then, few new apps have been introduced to the store, though events like the current Mobile VR Jam is encouraging devs to put their ideas in front of early adopters. Momentum in software and hardware is leading up to Oculus' consumer release in the first quarter of next year, but they've also said that the next Gear VR release will be a consumer-ready one. So while this new Innovator Edition is still a developer kit, it's interesting to see how Samsung is iterating its hardware based on some short-term feedback and also adapting it to fit the 5.1-inch 1440p display in the new Galaxy S6. 577 PPI!

    The physical design of the Gear VR for GS6 (I'll just call it "new Gear VR" from now on) is slightly improved from the original. Yes, it's a little smaller, but the ergonomic improvements aren't night and day. Much of the reduced size is due to the lack of the bulky plastic cover plate that fit over the Note 4 when mounted in the headset, which I don't think many people used anyway. In its place is a smaller plastic protector plate that fits into the slot where the GS6 sits when not in use, to protect the lenses. You don't have a way of covering up the phone when it's slotted in the new Gear VR, and that's just fine. Overall, the headset weighs a little less with the phone plugged in, partly due to the GS6 being significantly lighter than the Note 4 as well. I still found the head straps a little too short for my liking, though. With enough slack, the whole unit fits relatively comfortably over my glasses, but I ended up using it without glasses for tonight's tests.

    On the bottom of the new Gear VR is a micro-USB port for charging the GS6 while it's mounted. That's a much-needed addition from the Note 4, and my GS6 was draining its battery really quickly when running VR demos unplugged. I don't have the Note 4 any more for a direct power consumption comparison, but I'll be conducting a VR battery test soon with Oculus Cinema and Hero Bound.

    The touchpad is a tad smaller on the new Gear VR, and now has an indent to help guide your finger to its center point. For some reason, the back button was also moved slightly toward the front of the headset. These changes didn't affect my use of the touchpad, and I still prefer using a bluetooth gamepad for both UI navigation and games.

    On the left side of the headset, Samsung added a small fan and opening for airflow. When I first heard about this, my thought was that the fan would be used for cooling down the mounted phone, since the Note 4 had a tendency to overheat and slow games down in long sessions. However, the fan in the new Gear VR--which is powered by the phone--is actually used to reduce lens fogging. In practice, it works really well, too. I didn't have to wipe the inside of the Gear VR once while running demos tonight, something I had to do every 15 minutes or so with the Note 4. Some people have reported that their new Gear VR arrived with a busted fan, but it's really just quiet. It also only activates when your face triggers the proximity sensor on the inside of the headset.

    Tested In-Depth: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    Samsung's new Galaxy S6 smartphone is a bit controversial, with its familiar design to the flagship's omission of a removable battery and microSD card slot. But its brilliant screen and camera make it very compelling. We sit down to run through all the important things about this phone and compare it to the iPhone 6. Here's why the Galaxy S6 is the best phone Norm has ever tested.

    In Brief: LG Announces G4 Flagship Smartphone

    LG was the first to make a mainstream smartphone with a 1440p display, but Samsung's Note 4 and recent Galaxy S6 have found more success. That may soon change with today's announcement of the LG G4, LG's latest flagship. The important stuff: it still has a 5.5-inch 1440p LCD panel, but it's now slightly curved (not as much as the G Flex 2) and has an expanded color gamut that may approach AdobeRGB. The new 16mp camera is also a big deal for LG--it's paired with an f/1.8 lens and uses a new OIS system. But the things that may get Android fans on board are the inclusion of a user-replaceable 3000mAh battery and microSD card slot. Not sure about that textured leather back plate, though. The G4 ships this summer on all major US networks.

    Norman
    Testing: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    The new Samsung Galaxy S6 released last Friday sure looks more like an iPhone than any of Samsung's Galaxy phones before it. Unibody aluminum construction, glass front and back, and nary a screw or chunky piece of plastic in sight. Is the design an egregious rip-off? That's for lawyers to argue. But it is absolutely a concession by Samsung that the design ethos we've seen from Apple since the iPhone 4 has merit: a beautiful unibody phone is worth the omission of "power-user" features like a user-replaceable battery and memory card slot. And in this case, I think the tradeoffs may be worth it. There's so much to like in the new GS6.

    I picked up my Galaxy S6 from Best Buy when it was released and have been using it for the past three days. That's not enough time for a thorough evaluation of its technical performance and nuances of long-term use, but enough to share some impressions of the attributes that stand out. Let's run through those, starting with the design.

    The GS6's Design is Beautiful

    Regardless of how Samsung came to the design of the Galaxy S6, they ended up with one of the best-looking and feeling Android phones I've used. It looks especially fetching in white, where the illuminated menu and back buttons fade into the glass of the front face. But it's less about the glass on the front and back of the phone than it is about the aluminum band wrapped around the phone. Yes, from the bottom, it looks very much like an iPhone 6, speaker grille, headphone jack, and all. But the aluminum on the long sides of the phone is a flat edge, making it much easier to grip than the fully-curved sides of the latest iPhones. The GS6 is light, thin, and doesn't make me worry that it'll slip out of my hands when typing single-handed.

    Using glass for the phone's back may be the most questionable design decision for this phone. Glass may be prettier than aluminum, but this is a phone that will shatter if you drop it on concrete. I'm not going to get a case for it, but I am definitely treating it more carefully than the OnePlus One and Moto X I was using before. And no, I'm not going to try to bend it to the point of breaking.

    Hands-On: Virtuix Omni Treadmill + GearVR at GDC 2015

    At GDC 2015, we got to test out the near-final build of the Virtuix Omni, the virtual reality treadmill that's headset agnostic. We use the Omni with a GearVR running Dreadhalls, and then share our thoughts on how walking around can enhance a VR gaming experience.

    How To Keep Your Android 5.0 Lollipop Phone Secure

    Android has come a long way with regard to security in the last few years. Not only can you more easily secure your device to protect personal data, there are more tools that make all your other devices and accounts safe. Of course, none of that does you any good if you aren't taking advantage of it. Let's go over everything you can do to make Android as secure as it can be.

    Lock Screen and Pinning

    Some of your built-in security options will vary from one device to the next depending on OEM and Android version. As Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to roll out en masse, it's worth going over the new security features you'll find. One of the most significant changes is the way the lock screen is handled. It will show your notifications by default, and if you choose to have a pattern, PIN, or password, lock, you can restrict which notifications show up there.

    In Lollipop, you can control which apps contain "sensitive" content in the sound and notification menu. Under "App Notifications" you'll find a list of everything installed on your phone. Each entry includes an option to mark it as sensitive, which keeps it from showing up on the lock screen. No matter what version of Android you have, the secure lock screen is your first line of defense. Some OEMs like LG and Samsung add extra unlock methods like Knock Code and the fingerprint reader, respectively. If security is even a passing concern, you should use one of the available methods.

    So what if you don't want to enter your unlock code every single time? On all recent versions of Android there's a handy little feature in the Security menu. The "Automatically Lock" setting lets you choose how long after the screen goes off that the secure lock should kick in. There's also a toggle to have the power button automatically lock or not. This way you can wake up your phone a few times without entering the password constantly. However, if you leave it sitting for a certain amount of time, it locks.

    Android 5.0 Lollipop adds a new set of lock screen features called Smart Lock. You can set a location, device, or face that the phone will consider "trusted." When this criteria is met, you can just swipe to unlock. Location is straightforward--simply choose a location and the phone will remain unlocked there but will revert to your secure lock screen when it leaves. The trusted device setting lets you mark a Bluetooth or NFC connection as trusted so when that device is connected, the phone will unlock without asking for your code.

    Show and Tell: Seek Thermal Imaging Camera

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm tests out a thermal imaging camera accessory for his Android phone. The Seek Thermal camera connects to a smartphone over microUSB to gauge the temperature of anything in its sights--like Predator vision! The image resolution is a little low, but we've been using it for laptops, tablet, and phone testing.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2015)

    We took a month off from bombarding you with phone recommendations over the holiday season, but now it's time to dive back in. This is a crucial time if you're up for contract renewal or have saved up the cash to get a new device. Flagship phones are going to be announced in the coming weeks, which could make you feel quite behind the times with your previously top-of-the-line device. Let's try to keep that from happening.

    AT&T

    Ma Bell has taken a more cautious approach to updates than many of the other carriers, so there's not much movement amongst the top phones. I think your best bets right now are the Moto X or the LG G3. However, we know that HTC's upcoming flagship, which will probably be announced in mere weeks, will be for sale soon on AT&T. Samsung too is probably a little further off, but not much. That affects the calculus.

    Starting with the LG G3, You're looking at a 5.5-inch LCD with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. A fwe months ago this was a huge device, now it simply feels big. I even feel like a giant after using the G3 after carrying around a nexus 6. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and that's a good place for them. The frame and back are entirely plastic, but they're very solid premium-feeling plastics. I don't feel like I'm going to break the G3 when I take the back panel off. Speaking of, that's where the removable battery and microSD card slot are.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. It's a fast device, and LG's skin is mostly free of bloat. The battery life is very good in standby, but you won't get as much screen time as you would with a 1080p screen. 4-5 hours is still doable on the G3. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a better overall camera. Low light performance is solid, if perhaps a little aggressive with noise reduction. The laser autofocus system totally works and outdoor images are stunning.

    I find myself not disliking LG's Android skin, and what I've seen of the impending Lollipop update has me excited. Most of the strange UI choices LG made on the G3 (and there aren't many) are being covered up by proper Lollipop elements. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG also didn't spend time on crappy features no one will care about. Instead we get cool stuff like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    The G3 is still $149 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition.

    Testing: Google Nexus 6 Smartphone

    For most of 2014 it looked like we weren't going to see a new Nexus phone at all, but the rumors turned out to be wrong and Google announced the Nexus 6 alongside the Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 is the most expensive Nexus flagship phone ever made, and it's also by far the largest. It marks Motorola's first attempt at a Nexus as well.

    With so many changes to the Nexus strategy, you're probably wondering how it all turned out. Well, let's dig in.

    Yes, It's a Very Large Phone

    The Nexus 6 packs a 5.96-inch AMOLED display clocking in at 2560x1440. This has become the new top-of-the-line for a premium smartphone, but it hasn't always turned out well. For example, the LG G3 has a 1440p LCD, but it's rather dim. The Nexus 6's screen compares favorably to the competition with average brightness and power consumption. The pixel density is a whopping 493 PPI, which is all you could ever need on a screen that size. As for burn-in, I'm not seeing any.

    Surrounding that huge screen are narrow bezels that keep the device itself from being as huge as it might have been. Don't get me wrong, it's a big phone, but Motorola has improved its industrial design lately and can manage slimmer bezels. It also helps that the screen glass curves down to meet the edge of the phone just like the new Moto X. You can hold the Nexus 6 in one hand, and even use it a little if you've got an average size mitt, but any prolonged use needs to be done with two hands.

    It actually does feel a lot like a blown-up Moto X--even the buttons on the right side are a dead ringer for the Moto X's buttons. The only difference here is that they've been moved down toward the middle of the device so they're easier to reach. One improvement from the Moto X is the inclusion of stereo front-facing speakers. The Moto X only has one.

    The back panel feels like the Moto X too. It's made of a soft, somewhat grippy plastic emblazoned with the traditional Nexus logo. I wasn't as in love with the larger dimple on the 2014 Moto X, but happily, the Nexus 6 has the smaller plastic dimple seen in the first-gen Moto X. It's in just the right place for your index finger to rest and helps to stabilize the device while you're holding it.

    Testing Apple's Touch ID with Fake Fingerprints

    How secure is Apple's Touch ID? We explain how it recognizes your fingerprints, and then put it to the test by making fake fingers and fingerprints of our own. A German computer club claimed to have spoofed the security system last year, and we retrace their methods as well as experimenting with a few of our own. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Thanks to our members who've supported us. Learn more about memberships here.)

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Anker 5-Port USB Charger

    For the fifth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares his solution for charging all his mobile devices at his desk and nightstand. Instead of using multiple wall warts and chargers, he uses a single 5-port USB charger that can power phones tablets, and other USB devices at their fastest charging speeds.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Tile Bluetooth Tracking Beacon

    For this fourth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares a clever gadget that can be used to locate commonly misplaced objects around your house. Tile is a tiny Bluetooth dongle that you can attach to your keychain, remote controls, bag, or anything you commonly lose. Activate the Tile with an app and it'll chime a sound to help you find it.

    How To Replace a Cracked Smartphone Screen!

    How many of you have ever dropped and cracked your smartphone? For some phones, the process of replacing a shattered display isn't as daunting as your might think. Will walks through the repair of a broken Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, using iFixit tools and explaining each step along the way. Follow along the teardown and reassembly! Plus--giveaways!

    In Brief: Samsung Announces Project Beyond VR Camera for Gear VR

    Oculus and Samsung have announced that Gear VR, the virtual reality headset accessory developed by both companies to work with Samsung's Note 4 phone, will be released early next month for an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the bundle with the Bluetooth controller). That's for what the company is calling the "Innovator Edition", which is essentially a commercially available developer kit for early adopters and developers. This announcement coincides with the release of the Oculus Mobile SDK (v0.4.0), specifically designed to work with the Note 4 and supporting several key VR features like Asynchronous Timewarp). Gear VR will ship with the Oculus Home interface, as well as the VR theater and a panoramic photo players. Samsung also used this opportunity to announce a camera system called Project Beyond, which is a 3D 360-degree camera designed to capture video and photos for viewing on Gear VR. The tripod-mounted camera houses 16 HD cameras, collecting a gigapixel of 3D data every second. The coolest part is that the camera apparently processes these images in realtime, streaming the imagery to Gear VR users with what Samsung claims to be minimal lag. The video teaser for Project Beyond is below.

    Norman
    The Best iPhone 6 Case (So Far)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After surveying almost 1,000 Wirecutter readers and testing 60 iPhone 6 cases over a period of about 30 hours (so far), our current pick for the best all-around case is the NGP from Incipio. The NGP has protected several generations of iPhones (and many other devices) and has a reputation for providing solid protection and a good fit. It’s slim enough to not detract from the iPhone 6’s svelte dimensions, while still offering comprehensive protection for the handset’s body, including its buttons. Openings along the bottom allow for compatibility with a wide range of accessories.

    Update: We’ve added two cases as also-great picks: STM’s Harbour, and Apple’s leather case.

    How we decided

    Truth is, there are plenty of good iPhone cases out there. A bad case is actually a pretty rare thing. But in looking for a few cases that work for most people, we sought out a case that can adequately protect your phone without adding too much bulk or unnecessary embellishments while doing so. Apple sets forth very specific guidelines for case developers. The main thesis: “A well-designed case will securely house an Apple device while not interfering with the device’s operation.” It goes into much deeper specifics.

    A respectable degree of shock absorption is important, as is a tight fit. The case should cover as much of the iPhone’s body as possible, including a raised lip around the glass display to keep it from laying flat on a surface. The best cases offer button protection with great tactility, mimicking or in some instances even enhancing what you’d feel with a bare iPhone. Based on these criteria, plastic shells are automatically out of the picture.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (October 2014)

    In a world with dozens of interesting Android phones, you need to go in with a good idea of what's on offer so you don't end up regretting your decision. Most phones these days come with a 2-year contract or a payment plan that takes about that long to complete. With that in mind, it's time to take stock of the state of Android smartphones on the top US carriers and figure out which ones are the best bets.

    The Nexus 6 is on the horizon for some carriers, but others are being more coy. Is it worth waiting, or does another phone do well enough?

    AT&T

    You've got a ton of options on AT&T--too many perhaps, if there is such a thing. AT&T is getting the Nexus 6, but there's no release or pre-order date. As such, I'll hold off on making an official proclamation on it this time around. Right now it's down to the Moto X and LG G3. Let's get started with the new Moto X.

    The basic design of the Moto X hasn't changed much from last year, but it has seen an increase in screen size from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The AMOLED panel used here is 1080p and has great colors and clarity. The larger display isn't as easy to use in one hand as its predecessor, but it's more than manageable. The curved back also helps the Moto X sit nicely in your hand.

    The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The battery is a little on the small side for a flagship device, but it will still be good enough to get you through a day and then some. The design of the Moto X is also really great. The metal frame feels solid and tight. The way the glass front curves down to meet the edges makes the phone very pleasant to use too. Moto Maker customizations are also killer if you want to create a more distinctive device.

    On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it's ready. This is Android more or less the way Google intended it. There are no UI skins, no features changed for the sake of brand differentiation, and no lag to speak of. Motorola instead adds useful features that work alongside what Android already does well. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it's charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

    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?