By adding the PRO moniker to its latest line of tablets, Samsung was making it clear that uncompromising performance is what defines its latest series. The smallest of the bunch may quite easily be the best mid-sized, but not mid-range, tablet currently available. Here’s our in-depth review of the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4!
At a glance
Absolutely stunning high resolution display
Nice light weight
Can be used as TV remote
Very quick performance
Touchwiz still lacking
Battery can withdrawn quickly if used in a demanding fashion
When it comes to design, the TabPRO 8.4 looks a lot like a blown up Galaxy Note 3. With the flat profile all around and slightly rounded corners, it’s an unassuming design, until you get to the back, which features the same faux leather plastic that was also first introduced with the Note 3.
The button layout is signature Samsung, with a physical home and two capacitive buttons, with the only difference being the capacitive menu button being replaced with a recent apps button, to allow for simplified multi-tasking. The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, when looking at the tablet in portrait orientation, with a microSD card slot on the opposite side.
At just 331 grams and 7.2 mm thick, the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 is not only an attractive powerhouse, but also pretty easy to hold because of the form factor and flat sides that make it easy to grip with one hand. It’s one of the lighter tablets on the market, and offers a near perfect balance of screen size to display size, all while still being graspable by one hand. Many among us who have owned larger 10 inch tablets will attest to the fact that 7-8inch tablets are the near perfect form factor in that they offer the perfect blend of portability and screen size.
At the top and bottom of the screen is a nicely-sized bezel that does help with landscape handling, but with the capacitive keys so close to the bottom edge of the device, you might trigger those buttons accidentally from time to time.
Overall we’re looking at a device that isn’t all that flashy in design, is very “Samsung” in its look, but houses a lot of power underneath its simple exterior.
The 8.4-inch Super Clear LCD is the smallest of the PRO line, but comes with the same amount of power with a super high 2560 x 1600 resolution makes for one of the highest resolution to size ratios on any tablet. With a pixel density of 359 ppi, and considering the distance this tablet might stay from your face, this is a very sharp display that provides a great experience.
Samsung’s experience in producing best in class displays is more apparent than ever here, as we’re looking at the highest pixel density of any tablet ever released on the market with the release of the Samsung Galaxy TabPro 8.4.
Samsung proves its prowess once again with a screen that really exudes its colors well and provides wonderful viewing angles. You might argue that a lot of content isn’t made for such a high resolution, but that won’t stop you from enjoying all of the media you might throw it. Everything from YouTube videos to Netflix, to even games, like my current obsession, Riptide GP2, look and perform great without any issues.
You’ll find a lack of hiccups even during heavy gaming, because of the uncompromising processing package inside. A quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3 GHz, and the Adreno 330 GPU provide a snappy experience all around.
To put it mildly, the Galaxy TabPro 8.4 simply flies, which is interesting, considering how many pixels the GPU has to push all the time. It ranks as the most powerful and fastest device we’ve ever tested, according to Antutu’s benchmark. Our extensive testing revealed very few hiccups, with some stutter. Samsung’s UI powering does struggle at times, but we think this is more due to the fact that it has such a high resolution display to power more than anything. Web browsing with multiple tabs, multitasking, and copy and pasting on this professional grade device were all a real pleasure.
That being said, TouchWiz, even this slightly updated version, has its issues with speed and occasionally stutters. It’s a little more noticeable here than with other devices, but I believe this is more an effect of the super high resolution of the display as opposed to a shortcoming in the processing. However, getting things done isn’t hard on this tablet, and even in more intense tasks like multi-window, there is little to complain about with a slate as powerful as this.
Hardware takes on a media motif first with its microSD card slot that can bolster the 16 GB or 32 GB in-built storage, which always an advantage for people big on media.
Dual speakers, that are found on the bottom of the tablet near the microUSB charging port, perform quite decently actually. Sound isn’t particularly rich, but loud enough to allow you to share any media with friends that are watching with you. Samsung does love to add on as much as they can, so along with the usual bevy, you also get an IR blaster for WatchOn.
As far as power goes, you do get a decent amount of battery life with the 4,800 mAh unit of this tablet, though the high-resolution display does gulp up the battery quite a bit.
An 8 MP shooter at the rear of the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 provides a decent experience, but falls in line with pretty much every other tablet camera out there. As is the case with most Samsung devices, the camera software is packed with features, but pictures are decent and not of the highest quality, which is expected from a device with a camera that you’ll only use as a backup anyway.
The updated version of Touchwiz comes with a new tiled interface, called the Magazine UX, which really takes advantage of the screen, especially on the larger tablets in this line, but also works very well on the smaller 8.4-inch screen of this device.
Think of a stretched out Flipboard to imagine what the Magazine UX is like, as it is a front-end to what you would basically find in the Flipboard app. It is pretty easy to set up for news sources and social media feeds. That being said, what I didn’t like about it is that it doesn’t often take you straight to the content, and instead just opens up the relevant app, requiring you to find our way to the content again anyway.
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It’s a nice addition that allows for quick and easy glances at what you want to see, but the list of available widgets is rather limited for now, and the app controllers are restricted to just the Samsung specific apps.
Other than the new Magazine UX, TouchWiz is still TouchWiz, with its bright and colorful design. Even with the move to circular buttons in the power widget, not much as changed. Functionality like multi-window does set this UI apart from others, but if you’ve been hoping for a big change, you probably didn’t get it with the latest PRO line of tablets.
8.4-inch Super Clear LCD with 2560 x 1600 resolution, 359 ppi
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 2.0, GPS and GLONASS
Android 4.4 Kitkat
219 x 128.5 x 7.2 mm, 331 grams
Pricing and Final Thoughts
Priced at 9, you are definitely paying for a premium tablet, but it does live up to its price tag. The Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 provides all of the power the PRO name suggests, while keeping it all in a manageable size. While the tablet will let you get a lot of work done, it’s an absolute blast to use for fun and games, making this the all purpose device for tablet lovers. The size makes it a shoo-in for e-book reading while the nimble weight and size make it about as portable as it can get. Yes, you have to pay quite a bit for it, but if you need to do everything short of make calls on it, the price may well be worth it for you.
It seems the companies have figured it out – smaller form factors aren’t a fringe product but are in very real demand. But “mini” versions of flagships tend to lose some of what make their bigger siblings appealing in the first place, unfortunately. Sony, though, appears ever aspirational in its quest for greater consumer loyalty and market share, and wanted to buck that trend with a “compact” offering that literally just shrinks down their best device.
At a glance
Best in class performance
Fantastic 20.7 Megapixel camera
strong battery life
Water resistant, dust proof, and very durable device
Best compact phone on the market with no compromise
Bezels are a tad thick
Could fit a larger display in same form factor
In an attempt at creating a best in class device that offers little to no compromise over its larger, and equally powerful older sibling, the Sony Xperia Z1, Sony brings us the Xperia Z1 Compact. Is the Z1 Compact the accessibly sized phone that we’ve all been waiting for? You can find out in our review.
Sony took the shrink ray to the Xperia Z1 and brought everything down to size. The glass finish with an aluminum frame takes the premium look and feel that only Sony really puts out consistently, and brings it to a smaller, easier to handle form factor. It’s clever of them to identify an opportunity in the market in a way that seemingly no other manufacturer has, except for Apple. While smaller form factors remain popular in certain parts of the world, big 4.7-inch+ devices have become the norm, alienating huge swaths of people not used to negotiating seemingly gargantuan devices.
And, without a doubt, while bigger devices the the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, and even the Nexus 5 are certainly appreciated, the fact remains that not everyone wants a big device. Not everyone has large hands, and not everyone has access to both their hands at a time – something often demanded by anything with a display larger than 5 inches,
Button layout takes on the now classic Sony motif, as the big silver power button, the volume rocker, and the dedicated camera shutter button are on the right side. One problem we must mention here is that the camera button is a little hard to press, as it is really small and slim – it might be just a little difficult to easily snap a picture with it.
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The left side of the phone has the microUSB charging port, the microSD card slot, and the SIM tray covered with pieces of plastic, telltale signs of the phone’s resistance to water and dust.
Of course, the main story here is the smaller size and how easy it makes this phone to maneuver. The 4.3-inch display is surrounded by the rather thick bezels that Sony is known to employ, but, overall, the device is still in a pretty reasonable size, not too big and not too small.
The smaller size works wonders in some cases – one particularly great experience I had was with typing – the already pretty great stock Sony keyboard allows for easy swipe typing, and its small size makes one-handed use a breeze.
Bottom line, this is a refreshingly easy phone to work with.
From left to right: Siblings Sony Xperia Z Ultra, Sony Xperia Z1, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
The 4.3-inch TFT LCD display on the Xperia Z1 Compact packs 720p resolution, which is a specification that flagship Android devices were rocking back in 2012. Does that mean the Compact is inadequate? Not really.
At a density of 342 ppi, the Z1 Compact can’t match the 440+ ppi screens of 1080p devices like the Galaxy S5 or HTC One, but it’s still above the threshold of 320 ppi at which pixels no longer resolve for a person with normal vision. In other words, 720p is more than enough on a display this size.
Color rendering on the Z1 Compact is excellent, thanks in part to Sony’s homegrown display technologies, Triluminos and X-Reality. The former means that the display uses quantum dots to render colors, which put simply, makes it possible for the display to show colors that exceed the typical vividness of LCD. It’s not quite AMOLED level of color intensity, but it’s a notch above what you get on most LCDs. X-Reality means that the phone processes images and videos on the fly to make them look at their best. It’s not a stretch to say that the Z1 Compact looks a bit like a very tiny Sony TV thanks to these technologies.
A display may have the nicest colors, but it’s all for nothing if bad viewing angles spoil everything. Luckily, the Z1 Compact is clearly better in this area than earlier devices in the Xperia Z series.
In a few cases, we noticed that apps don’t adapt well to the smaller size of the display, but overall this relatively small screen performs very well.
Unlike some competitors, Sony did not compromise in the power department with the Z1 Compact. There are no compromises affecting the user experience, which is a refreshing change. Quite literally, Sony took the high powered processing package of the Z1 and put it into the Compact. That means a Snapdragon 800 with a quad-core CPU clocked at 2.2GHz, backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. Technically, there are some more powerful configurations on the market, but in terms of actual experience, this little ball of lighting is among the best.
It helps that Sony uses a minimalistic user interface without many processing-intensive flourishes. But even in power-hungry applications, the Xperia Z1 Compact chugs along without nary a hiccup. In Riptide GP2, for instance, we smoothly cut through the waves even at the highest settings.
If you’re familiar – and happy – with the hardware features of the Sony Xperia Z1, you’ll feel right at home on its diminutive sibling. That starts with the 16GB of onboard storage and the presence of the microSD card slot that lets you bolster storage with an additional 64GB. All the sensors and connectivity features make the jump as well.
Shrinking down the Xperia Z1 did result in some tradeoffs though. The speaker on the bottom of the device might seem capable due to its size, but the sound it outputs is nowhere near what we’d like in terms of volume and richness. Call quality from the phone speaker, however, is entirely satisfactory. The same can be said about the cell connectivity on T-Mobile’s LTE, both for voice and data.
The battery clocks in at 2,300 mAh, a nominal drop from the capacity of the Z1, but one that Sony could not avoid. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised by the stamina of this little guy, as it consistently got us through a day of pretty heavy usage. And that’s without activating all of Sony’s power saving features.
Somehow odd, there’s an USB OTG cable bundled with the device, making us wonder why Sony chose to offer it on the Z1 Compact, and not on its larger devices.
Small as it may be, the Xperia Z1 Compact packs an impressive camera, the same shooter that got everyone talking when the Xperia Z1launched last fall. You get the same 20.7MP Sony Exmor RS sensor, but know that, if you want to shoot in the 16:9 format, you will have to make do with 8MP resolution. Images taken in Sony’s well known Superior Auto mode (which is supposed to adapt to the scene and pick the best settings for you) shoots in 8MP. The image samples below have been taken in this mode.Besides the high-resolution sensor, there’s G Lens camera optics, which are supposed to be Sony’s best quality lenses, equivalent with the famed Carl Zeiss lenses.
Processing the signal is BIONZ, an image processor that Sony borrowed from its DSLR products.It’s possible that Sony improved the firmware on the Z1 Compact, compared to the Z1, as we low-light areas to be a little more detailed and less smudgy than on the Z1. Noise levels, however, are still higher than we would like.As we mentioned in the design section, the small and sharp camera shutter button is hard to press, but other than that, the size of the phone helps with the ergonomics of taking pictures. The speedy app and the ability to press the shutter button to start up the camera from anywhere in the phone make capturing passing moments a breeze.
Finally, in software, there’s not that much to say about Sony’s Timescape UI on the Xperia Z1 Compact, but that’s not that bad as it sounds. Instead of gimmicks and design flourishes, Sony offers simplicity and refinement, without moving to far away from the stock Android experience.
Sony’s take on Android keeps the homescreens simple, while the app drawer only features the addition of a quick pullover on the left for some extra options. The notification dropdown comes with a very simple power widget, and that’s about it.
Offerings like Walkman and Album remind us about Sony’s prestigious media offerings, even if they double the functionality of Google’s apps. We can’t forget about the small apps, small utilities that help with multitasking that can be accessed from the recent apps area.
Sony introduced many new software features on the KitKat-running Xperia Z2, and we expect at least some of them to transition to the Z1 Compact. When that happens, we will revisit this review.
As we’ve said so many times here in this review in so many different ways, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact is the smallest, most powerful device on the block ;a device with little to no compromise.While some would decry the bezel slightly thicker than it has to be, it’s likely that those voices will be silenced when comes time for the device to accidentally be dropped. Sony leads the pack in terms of durability and design construction. Often this comes at a price, wherein bezels are slightly thicker than industry leading peers like Samsung or LG. But those very same devices made by competing manufacturers are that much less likely to hold up to the accidental wear and tear that real humans subject their devices to. Regardless, here’s the specs of this little ball of fire below.
4.3-inch Triluminos IPS display with 720p resolution, 341 ppi
20.7 MP rear camera with Sony G Lens and Bionz mobile 2 MP front camera
WLAN (2.4/5Ghz) a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, A-GPS+GLONASS, microUSB 2.0 (MHL), BlueTooth 4.0 LE
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, planned upgrade to Android 4.4 Kitkat
127 x 64.9 x 9.5 mm, 137g
Pricing and final thoughts
Smaller phones these days tend to be what we like to call everyman and everywoman devices, in the sense that they are affordable. That’s not the case, which lives up to its flagship aspirations when it comes to its price – 0 unlocked on Amazon. But for what you are getting, it’s well worth it. A blazing fast, water resistant, durable device with incredible image taking abilities that will likely last you for years to come.
Indeed, the Xperia Z1 Compact is a no compromise device, in its quality, features, but also its price tag. If you are looking for a smaller device than the current crop of high-end Android devices, the Z1 Compact sure is the best phone you can get, albeit at a price tag that you don’t see elsewhere in this segment.
Sony undoubtedly created a little ball of lightning here and it’s one hell of a device. It might not stand alone in the smaller device space, but once you get your hands on it, it sure might feel like it does.
Let us know what you think of Sony’s Xperia line of devices, and of the Z1 Compact! We always love hearing from you.
Anybody who has spent any time actually trying to get a few things done has run into the same problem with standard earbuds: eventually you snag the cord and either rip the buds out of your ears or out of the phone they’re plugged into. If you’re lucky, that’s the extent of the trouble. If you’re not, you might be looking at your new earbuds at the bottom of a sink full of dishes. Either way, it’s not very convenient.
Bluetooth headsets and earbuds have done a lot to make this less of an issue, but they’re not without problems of their own. For a long time, Bluetooth just didn’t have very good audio quality, and even though that is less of an issue these days, Bluetooth earbuds are often just bulky enough to be annoying.
The Jaybird BlueBuds X aim to solve every single problem mentioned in the previous two paragraphs, offering great sound quality and low snag-ability without the feeling that you’ve attached weights to your ears. Specifically aimed at athletes, fitness buffs and other active people, they’re also handy for just about anyone. The question is: are they worth the comparatively high asking price? Let’s find out.
Included carrying case
Ear Cushions for secure fit
X-Fit (two different ways to wear)
Signal Plus for skip-free music
Jenna voice prompts
Lifetime guarantee against sweat-related issues
What’s in the box?
On opening the Jaybird BlueBuds X, the first thing you will see is the earbuds themselves. At their center, bearing the Jaybird logo, is the handy carrying case. Everything else sits inside this case: the charging cable, three different sizes (small, medium and large) of rubber tips for the earbuds, and the same three different sizes of the “ear cushions” that secure the buds in your ear. By mixing and matching the different sizes, most people should be able to get a secure, comfortable, and good sounding fit.
Even the best-sounding pair of earbuds is worthless if they aren’t easy to use, and with Bluetooth as part of the equation, usability is an even bigger part of the equation. Luckily, the Jaybird BlueBuds X performed very well in use.
One of the most unique features of the BlueBuds is the focus on providing the listener with a decent fit. Not only does a decent fit keep your earbuds out of the sink, but it is vital for the best sound quality. This is where the ear cushions come in, and though it was a little hard to get used to them at first, they certainly do what they’re intended to.
There are two different ways you can wear the BlueBuds X, with the cable going under your ear or over your ear, and even once you’ve made your choice, it can be a little confusing at first. To help you, Jaybird has not only included directions in the quick start guide but also produced videos to show you how to get the best fit for you.
Jaybird has clearly focused on keeping these earbuds out of your way, and they’ve succeeded in that. Once they’re on, you can just forget that they’re there in a way that simply can’t be done with a lot of earbuds. The BlueBuds are small, light and comfortable enough that I never noticed them becoming uncomfortable or irritating.
The Jaybird BlueBuds X claim a battery life of 8 hours, and in my testing, they seemed to hit the nail on the head. It might have been a little shorter, around 7 and change, but that’s still pretty good. Even if you do need to charge them up a bit, a 30 minute charge gets you around 90 minutes of playtime and they fully charge in around 2 hours.
There are a few other nice features that don’t need to be there, but certainly go a long way toward making this already-nice pair of earbuds even nicer. First, the included case. If you’re spending over 0 on earbuds, you’re going to want to make sure they’re protected when you’re not using them, and this does a good job of that while also giving you a spot to stash the charging cable.
Finally, the “Jenna” voice prompts are actually pretty useful. I initially wrote this off as a gimmick, but voice notifications are especially useful when you’re already wearing the BlueBuds but want to pair with a different device, for example.
There aren’t a lot of cons when it comes to how usable the Jaybird BlueBuds X are, especially once you’re used to them, and that’s the main issue here. Between having two methods of wearing the earbuds to the wing-like ear cushions, there’s a lot to get used to at first. You can just pop these in like normal earbuds, but you also get the feeling that you’re missing the point if you do. Personally, even after using them for a while, I had a hard time getting used to the “wings.”
The only other issue here is that while the over-the-ear method is supposed to be the preferred way of wearing the BlueBuds for those who are very active, they actually become a little less usable when worn this way. The buttons are just harder to reach because of the shorter cable length. This is another thing you can easily get used to, but it’s worth mentioning.
Just as I mentioned that the best sound quality in the world is useless if the earbuds aren’t easy to use, the opposite is true as well. A pair of earbuds could massage your earlobes and give you money, and they still wouldn’t be great earbuds if they didn’t sound good.
It’s simple science that the smaller the speaker, the harder it is to get any decent low-end frequencies out of it. This is why fit is so important with earbuds, because they work by basically making your ear part of the speaker. That said, when you get a really good fit in place with the Jaybird BlueBuds X, they sound fantastic.
Low rumbling bass isn’t actually all that hard to pull off in earbuds anymore. You can find pairs of earbuds that can do that for five bucks these days. There is a difference between bass that you can hear and bass that actually has definition though, and the BlueBuds have excellent definition in low frequencies. Low mids, another frequency range that tend to suffer in earbuds, were clear as well.
Even as I pushed up the volume levels, I couldn’t hear any noticeable distortion. It might be present, but not at levels I would feel comfortable subjecting my ears to. Stereo imaging is also very good, something I was curious about given how much the stereo image suffered in older Bluetooth headphones.
The only problem I noticed is that despite the Signal Plus feature, I would experience occasional very brief audio dropouts when I would move my phone (a Moto X) around. By brief, I mean so brief that it sounded more like a tick in the audio until I realized it was an ultra-short skip.
Obviously, if you’re looking for the highest in high-end audiophile audio, the BlueBuds aren’t going to fit the bill. Neither would any other earbud, Bluetooth or otherwise. Still, I’ve heard more than my share of speakers, headphones and earbuds, and for what they are, these do very well.
I’ll be honest; I hadn’t realized how little negative points I had against the BlueBuds until I sat down to write this article. Even after going over my notes again, I don’t have much bad to say about them. There is, however, one possible negative that we haven’t touched on yet.
The price. The Jaybird BlueBuds X retail for 9, but are usually on sale for around 0. After spending some time with them, I think they are worth the asking price, but that isn’t going to be the same for everyone. If you’re like me and find yourself going through a few pairs of earbuds a month because you don’t treat them well, you might want to hold off on considering the BlueBuds. Then again, if you consider them a worthwhile investment (and use the included case), they are definitely a great choice.
There’s no shortage of zombie games in the modern age, not even on mobile. And while zombies lend themselves especially well to action and shooter games, they also pop up in many other genres. A couple of iOS examples: [#protected_0#] is quite a popular adventure game, and cult favorite Zombies!!! mixes the undead with a dice-rolling board game.
Mobile publishing giant GREE has recently tossed its own hat into the world of zombie games with Beyond the Dead. Coming from GREE’s Vancouver-based studio, Beyond the Dead is more of a traditional mobile game than the two titles I just mentioned. But this one’s mixture of card collecting and town building with a zombie apocalypse still makes it worth a look for zombie-loving casual gamers.
Building a base
In Beyond the Dead, the world has been overrun by a plague of flesh-eating zombies. The player’s first order of business is to establish a base to defend against the undead. This begins with staking out a patch of land in the wilderness and setting up a tent to sleep in.
As time goes on, players can purchase new buildings and items for their settlement. These all fit the in-universe fiction of survival versus the zombie plague, such as a chicken coop producing food for your team. In actual gameplay terms, buildings mostly just produce silver (soft currency) over time. Checking in and collecting money to spend on further buildings and supplies becomes a core part of the gameplay routine.
From the homebase, you can browse and take on missions in the outside world. Again, bite-sized missions are a common component of mobile city building games. But Beyond the Dead outdoes many such games with the complexity and variety of missions it offers. You’ll have loads of them to choose from at any given time. Many are available for only a limited time, which creates a sense of urgency that you don’t usually get and also matches the desperate nature of the game’s setting.
Missions include such objectives as defeating certain enemies in an area, searching specific buildings, challenging other players, and more. The best part of these is that most involve visiting areas with actual complex maps and wandering zombies and then doing some exploration or combat. You can’t be killed while out in the wild, but looking around an area and hunting zombies is far more interesting than your average city builder’s gameplay.
The actual combat is still casual game simple, though. Just select the correct target enemy, tap Attack, and you’ll deal some damage. Each attack costs energy, as does searching buildings. Energy refills over time – remember, you’re supposed to return to Beyond the Dead throughout the day. But the energy costs and slow rate of refill do slow the game down and make it less exciting than it should be.
Completing missions gets you experience, silver, and battlefield lockers. These lockers contain random rewards of varying rareness. As for experience, you’ll level up when you gain enough of it. Level ups refill energy, unlock new items and buildings for purchase, and give you Skill Points with which to boost your team’s abilities.
Building that team (only five survivors can fight together at a time) is the real draw in Beyond the Dead. Over 100 unique survivors wait to be found and join your team. Each survivor’s card displays beautiful artwork (much better drawn than the actual sprites, as usual with these games) and a backstory that fleshes out the game’s setting.
Survivors have their own attack and defense stats that determine how effectively the will perform in battle. They also come equipped with special abilities like the chance for the whole party to deliver extra damage during attacks. You can also boost their damage by finding or purchasing new weapons, each with its own range, rate of fire, and ammo capacity.
The ability to develop survivors adds depth as well. Each one can be not only leveled up, but also evolved into stronger forms. To level up a survivor, you must pay a silver fee and then combine him or her with other survivor cards or items. Fusing two similar survivors will evolve them into better ones. It takes a mixture of leveling and fusion to create a formidable team.
Dealing with other players
Another promising feature in Beyond the Dead is the ability to battle other players. You can challenge other teams at any time, as long as you have the adrenaline for it. Adrenaline is the PvP-specific energy currency and refills over time.
Fighting other players is not as exciting as it could be at this stage in the game. The screen displays each team’s lineup of character portraits and then simply tells you who won based on each team’s stats. No action scene, RPG-style combat, or anything. Hopefully GREE adds some visual pizazz to player challenges in a future update.
Still, player battles are worthwhile because the winner gets silver and Reputation Points. Consecutive wins provide better payouts, as does graduating to higher reputation tiers. You have to fight more PvP battles within a set time period if you want to stay within those better tiers.
The zombie apocalypse isn’t all just fighting other humans for supplies and fame, however. Likeminded players can also team up to form alliances. As an alliance member, you’ll receive team boosts and even free items on occasion. Of course, even the alliance feature has some competitive elements…
Beyond the Dead offers alliance-specific live events, not unlike an MMO. The first of these starts on January 31st – not far from now. During the event, alliances will be able to declare war on each other. Each war lasts an hour, and the victor gains Prestige Points. At the end of the event, alliances will receive rewards based on their Prestige ratings compared to the other alliances. Read more about the Bloodbath Alliance event here.
As a free to play game, Beyond the Dead relies on optional In-App Purchases (IAPs) in order to turn a profit. Some of these include Starter Packs that range in price from .99 on up and contain an assortment of items and survivors for the taking. If you want to build your team in a hurry, Starter Packs will get you on the right foot without breaking the bank.
The remaining IAPs consist of either silver or gold packs ranging from .99 up through crazy amounts. Gold, the hard currency, pays for a variety of functions. As you’d expect, energy and adrenaline refills cost gold, not silver. Paying for energy in games is like a bottomless well to throw money into, so you might be better off using gold for other purposes. The best of these is buying rare and powerful survivors.
Keeping ahead of the undead
Beyond the Dead is off to a great start. It’s simple enough that anybody can play it, but the dark zombie theme, diversity of mission activities, collectible survivor cards, and PVP elements all make for a compelling experience.
The one complaint that practically every player seems to share concerns the game’s stinginess with energy and the high energy costs of mid-mission activities. Of course GREE needs to make money from the game, but trying to drain players of their life savings on energy (something you’ll always need) is not the best way to do it. Far better to sell interesting items that will make missions easier or give alliances an edge in PvP, if you ask me.
The Beyond the Dead team plans to support and improve the game in the long term, which means the energy situation and other bugs might get better as time goes on. Those enhancements and the promise of more live events certainly bring some hope to this particular zombie apocalypse.
It might not always be obvious, but there are highly desirable smartphones that make a splash on the international scene, but don’t come to the West. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here.
Thanks to their strong partnership with T-Mobile, Sony is bringing to the US their highly acclaimed flagship, the Sony Xperia Z1, in the form of the Xperia Z1S.
Here’s our detailed hands-on review of the Sony Xperia Z1S!
For all intents and purposes, this is truly a Sony device. With its robust and highly angular design, this is a phone that has a dramatic appearance, and one that will garner interest from curious onlookers for its pronounced presence. It has a very premium appearance to it, and is a joy to look at. While it features the same glass finish all around, this time, Sony has opted for a plastic skeleton that wraps the phone in its entirety.
There’s very little aesthetic differences between the two devices, with even fewer changes to the physical layout. As you can see from the image above, Sony has placed the headphone jack in the middle of the Xperia Z1S, as opposed to the left side, where it was found in the original Sony Xperia Z1.
The button layout remains the same with the silver power button, volume rockers, and dedicated camera button on the right. And, for those that have used mobile devices as extensively as we have – it’s a nice touch to have a dedicated camera button for those moments when you need to grab a quick snap.
This is one of the few water resistant devices that are available on the market today, so if you’re clumsy, or have a history of losing devices to water damage, or just tend to work and live in harsher environments, this is definitely a device you should consider.
Somewhat interestingly, the Xperia Z1S is a smidgen longer than its Z1 brother, which isn’t significantly noticeable. Very few will be able to distinguish the devices, that is, unless they see the branded T-Mobile moniker on its back.
You get the same great design, heft, and build quality found in the original Xperia Z1, and for those that have ever owned an Xperia device – they know that Sony has some of the best build quality of any manufacturer out there.
Sony has put what appears to be the same display found in the original Xperia Z1 in the Z1S, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Packing a 1080p resolution into a 5-inch Triluminos display, backed by the Sony BRAVIA Engine, it looks absolutely fantastic head on. In our review, we found it comparable to what we would expect a small Sony TV to look like.
You get rich colors, great response times, and a wide color spectrum. If we were to have a complaint, it would be simply not the display itself, but the bezel around it, which adds to the overall girth of the Xperia Z1S. This is only an issue because we’ve been spoiled by other devices that feature very thin bezels, and Sony has added a lot of real estate all around, especially on the top and the bottom, that could have been shaved off to make for a smaller phone overall.
Toting the industry leading Snapdragon 800 and robust Adreno 330 GPU, the Xperia Z1S simply flies, and can handle everything you throw at it, and then some. Sony’s UI is very true to Android; in a word, minimalistic, which we really like. Power is never in short supply and you’ll be multitasking and ripping through content, media, games, pictures, and more in record time.
Despite its plastic skeleton, the Z1S comes with the same IP58 certifications that made the Z1 water resistant and dust proof. It’s deeply comforting to know that this device can withstand the trials of life, the bush, or even a good party. Want to use it in the shower? No problem. Take it hot tubbing? No worries there either. It’s something that we’ve come to appreciate so much that we look upon other manufacturers that don’t incorporate this into their design with increasing amounts of aspersion knowing fully well that they are capable of it too. In reality though – for those of you that demand more from your mobile device, or work in environments that are harsher than the confines of an office cubicle – you would be wise to take a close look at this one.
As is the norm with Sony devices, expandable storage is included. Bolstering an already healthy 32GB of memory, microSD support is always a treat. The usual bevy of connections are included, along with support for T-Mobile’s 4G connectivity, which is quite fast and comparable, or even better, than Verizon in some parts in the US. Other interesting connectivity options include an FM radio, which is always a nice addition. Finally, it packs a 3,000 mAh battery, which keeps the device powered for a long, long time. Sony has one of the more adept development houses in the world of Android, and their power saving features baked into the Xperia UI will ensure that this device can go for well beyond a day with even heavy usage.
Sony has more experience than any manufacturer when it comes to optics, and the Xperia Z1S packs the highest megapixel count of any Android device on the market today. With its 20.7 megapixel camera, it brings very powerful optics via its G Lens. Here’s the break down:
f/2.0 aperture brings initial low light capabilities and some added software stabilization helps too
The camera app, however, comes with the same problems that plagued the Xperia Z1
20.7 megapixel shooting is only done in a singular setting (and 4:3 aspect ratio, no less) and when you step down, the pictures jump way lower to 8 megapixels
Superior Auto does its job of getting good settings without much fuss
Focusing speed is not all that fast but there are are much worse performers out there in this regard
It does feature many enhancement applications that add to your smartphone photography – you can add dinosaurs to your scene, modify your shot creatively, and share your view live to social media, with more apps adding more functions in the future
As anyone that has an Xperia Z1 will tell you though – image quality is, for the most part, inconsistent, with low quality results that come from lackluster processing. In some images, darker tones tend to show up fuzzy and lack detail. In others, colors actually look alright most of the time, but the camera might not expose the scene properly, in either direction. While excellent low light shots with this low aperture lens should be possible, they won’t come out very detailed. We would have expected better from Sony in this regard, considering they make the image sensor that’s in many flagship devices on the market today.
Make no mistake though – this is a very powerful camera, and Sony could fix many of these if it were to perform a proper update to the device, which we expect will happen shortly. This is a powerful camera; it just doesn’t bring the kind of quality you would come to expect from a company that created the full frame A7 and the great performing compact, the Sony RX100.
When it comes to software, the Xperia UI features a mostly stock operating system, with some additions. The most noticeable addition is “Small Apps,” which is found the Recent Apps screen. These are small overlay apps that cover a small area in your current workspace.
You also get a host of applications that add Sony’s experience to Android, including Walkman for playing music, and Album for photos and videos. PlayStation Mobile does make an appearance, but unless your specifically looking for the apps that are included, you’re probably already enjoying the Google Play Store offerings.
Because the Sony Xperia Z1s is available from T-Mobile, you’ll also find the usual carrier additions, that are mostly for account management, and some proprietary media consumption.
The Xperia UI continues to work as well as it always has, thanks to its minimalist take on Android, and its penchant for putting in some useful additions, without going overboard.
sony xperia z1s review aa-14″ src=”http://cdn03.androidauthority.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/sony-xperia-z1s-review-aa-14-645×362.jpg” width=”645″ height=”362″ />
Gone are the days when you’d have to pick up a Sony smartphone at full price if you wanted one. On T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan, you can pick up the Xperia Z1S for down, with the addition of to your monthly plan, over a period of 24 months, which works out to a total of 8 for the phone.
Considering the down payment for this phone, T-Mobile is giving you a very easy entry into the full high-end Sony experience, with what’s one of best Android smartphones to release in 2013.
And so, there you have it. What’s the takeaway here? The Sony Xperia Z1S is bringing Sony into the United States market, where Sony’s presence has pretty much dwindled in the past couple years. The Sony experience fits right alongside the other top players in the game and here’s to hoping that they continue to grow in the American market.
Let us know what you think of the Sony Xperia Z1S!
Udemy is an educational platform that offers thousands of courses in hundreds of subjects. It’s a great way to shore up some knowledge in a subject or learn a subject for the first time. Recently, they released an Android and iOS app so you can take the learning mobile. Is it any good? You can keep reading to find out or, if you don’t want to read, we have our video review posted above.
So what does this app do? It’s essentially a wrapper application for Udemy’s online learning platform. Using this app you can browse, purchase, and view content in a variety of courses that range from learning a second language to software development, cooking to graphic design, and pretty much everything in-between.
So here’s how it works. You browse courses until you find you like. You can then buy it using in-app purchases and you have immediate access to all of the video lectures available. You can stream videos if you so choose or you can download them for offline viewing later. The UI is very simple and that makes the app itself easy to use.
In terms of design, it follows many of the standard Android design elements including the slide out left-side menu and the swipable tabs. There isn’t a lot in the app aside from videos, course listings, and the courses you’re enrolled in.
A couple of fun things I’d like to mention. There is auto-sign in for Google+ and Facebook which is nice. In app purchases take place just like any other so you can purchase courses using your Google Wallet account or even bill your carrier which is also nice if you have that option. I’ve had no problems getting videos to stream or download so no issues there.
How can I use this?
So how can you use this? Simply put, you can use it to learn. The app offers courses in virtually everything I could think of and they add more all the time. So if there’s a subject you’ve been meaning to check out and haven’t had the time or can’t afford to take the courses in a college environment, this app helps fill that void.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re a current user of Udemy, the website will sync with the app so you can continue learning on your computer or your mobile phone no matter which interface you use, which we found useful.
Okay so here’s the good stuff.
The app UI is very simple and follows Android’s design recommendations. Thus, it is very easy to navigate.
The sheer number of available courses alone make this app at least worth checking out. I found classes for languages, cooking Italian food, and even video game development in the first 10 minutes alone.
There is Google+ sign in. A+ Udemy.
The ability to download video lectures for offline use is particularly handy if you’re a frequent user of subways, airplanes, or being in places without internet.
Lastly, it syncs with its online counterpart rather well.
And here are some things we think could be improved.
The interface’s simplicity is also one of its weaknesses. You can’t sort or search through courses you’re enrolled in, you can only view them, and even though you can search available courses, you can’t sort them based on any criteria. Thus, the app experience is not as rich and interactive as the website experience.
The sign in is a bit wonky. The app allows Facebook, Google+, and native account sign in. The website allows only Facebook and native account. I was able to get my content synced by signing in with Google+ on the app and Facebook on the website likely because I use the same email for both. But if you don’t have a Facebook and intend on using the website, you may need to create a native account so you can sync.
I had some problems finding where downloaded videos are located. I had assumed there would be a folder in my SD card directory but I had to go digging in the Android/data directory in order to find them. Also, the videos aren’t properly named so if you want to access these things outside of the app, good luck.
Overall, this is a must have application for people who are looking to learn more things. There are a vast number of courses available in an equally impressive number of subjects and more are being added daily. The interface is simple and functional, if a little bare bones in the feature department and the sign-in and file management could use a little work.
The issues aren’t nearly bad enough to outweigh the positive elements of this app so if you’re looking for a chance to learn some new skills or pick up some new hobbies, this is an amazing application to get. After all, learning is good for the brain. It’s free in the Play Store so the only thing you have to pay for are the actual courses. Dollar for dollar, it’s cheaper than taking these same courses in a college setting. If you want it, we have the download link down below.
T-Mobile previously released the Sony Xperia Z, and the follow-up device has recently arrived with the carrier. This other device is the Sony Xperia Z1S, which sports some similarities in the specs, but does step up a bit in the way of the external design. That having been said, T-Mobile allowed us some hands-on time with the Xperia Z1S during CES and that meant a full week of carrying this latest waterproof Sony device. Curious about how the phone stands up, read on for our full review.
Just like some of the other Sony devices, the Xperia Z1S has two glass panels — one covering the front and the other covering the rear. This isn’t the first, or only device to have such a setup, however given the darker coloring, this one could strike fear in the hearts of those who try to avoid fingerprint smudges. But on the flip side, the waterproof design means it should be easy enough to keep clean.
The Sony Xperia Z1S is fully waterproof which comes by way of the IP55 and IP58 ratings. One word of warning though, you will want to make sure all the covers are fully closed before taking this in the water. Moving past the novelty of being able to take the phone swimming, we look towards the display, which is likely where you will be staring the majority of the time.
The Xperia Z1S is packing a 5-inch Full HD display. Sony references this as being a TRILUMINOS Display for mobile with X-Reality and making use of the latest BRAVIA technologies. For clarification, the resolution is 1920 x 1080 and it sits with a ppi of 441. While there is quite a bit in terms of buzz words here, the display didn’t prove to be particularly vivid during our hands-on time. That isn’t to say the display was bad, maybe just not quite as nice as we had hoped and expected. Basically, it just seems the colors didn’t quite pop.
Along with the two glass panels, one can expect to find an Xperia and T-Mobile logo on the back, as well the camera lens and flash, which are sitting in the upper left hand corner. Continuing with the tour of the device and we find a headphone jack sitting on the top and a speaker across the bottom. Split between the sides you will find the SIM card and microSD card slots as well as the microUSB connector for charging, power button, volume rocker and dedicated camera button.
Overall the handset feels solid when being held, was fairly pocketable and as we have seen with earlier Sony devices, makes use of the three capacitive buttons in terms of navigation. We had a bit of issue using the phone one-handed, however we can blame that on smaller hands, the 5-inch display, or both. For reference, the Xperia Z1S measures in at 5.74 x 2.91 x 0.34-inches and weighs in at 5.71 ounces.
Other notable specs for the Xperia Z1S include a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, 3000 mAh battery and 4G LTE connectivity. The handset also has support for memory cards up to 64GB in size and sports a 20.7 megapixel rear-facing camera.
Sony and T-Mobile launched the Xperia Z1S with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. To get this out of the way in the beginning, there hasn’t been anything mentioned in terms of when, or if Kit Kat will arrive. For now, users all be greeted with a relatively clean lockscreen setup and a relatively clean homescreen setup. The lockscreen does have the date and time, as well as a quick launch for the camera. Otherwise, a swipe up or down will unlock from the lockscreen.
The initial homescreen setup has the basics such as Phone and Messaging. There is also access to Chrome and the Play Store as well as to several of the Sony branded apps. Those include WALKMAN, Album, Movies and PlayStation Mobile. And as one would expect with an Android smartphone — these can be customized to your liking.
The default installed apps can be seen in the image sitting above and below. Basically, you are looking at the basics from Google as well as several from Sony and several from T-Mobile. The app drawer offers easy access to search and also uninstall apps. There is also a few options available for organizing those apps — either in your own order, alphabetical, most used or by installed.
While the Xperia Z1S isn’t the cleanest in terms of apps, seeing this list on a T-Mobile branded Sony device really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Some of the apps can likely be overlooked, but on the flipside, some will likely come in handy. Otherwise, while this is an Android 4.3 experience at the heart, Sony does offer quite a bit in terms of the software. One example here, which we will touch on a bit later in the post deals with the camera.
Benchmarks remain a touchy subject, but we do find there is a small but vocal group that likes to see the hard numbers. In the case of the Xperia Z1S we ran benchmarks from Quadrant and also from AnTuTu. The Quadrant test returned a result of 20582 and the AnTuTu test returned a result of 34409.
We will let these speak for themselves, but we have to say the number fell just about where we would expect based on the hardware specs. Remember, the handset is powered by a Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM. In the case of AnTuTu, you’ll notice this meant it was a bit below the Galaxy Note 3, but also above the Xperia Z Ultra, LG G2, Galaxy S4 and HTC One.
Battery life is another touchy subject. Regardless of how good a phone looks, how well it feels in your hand, or performs otherwise — battery issues can spell disaster. The issue with talking battery life though, it is kind of personal and comes down to how you use your phone and what you are doing with said phone. Basically, more screen time and more heavy activities such as video streaming and gaming will have it dropping much quicker.
With that in mind, we spent our time as we think many would. That means some voice calls, some text messages and plenty of messaging with Hangouts. There was also some audio and video, and even a few minutes with some casual games. We also took the time to make sure the camera, and camera related features were up to par.
Without getting super specific, we can say that we were able to make it a full day without having to worry about running the battery all the way down to zero. Granted, some of the later nights and longer days at CES put us very close, but in a more true 8 hour work day (with some time for a commute mixed in) and we wouldn’t anticipate there being much trouble.
And for those worried about the battery life, Sony does offer a few tools to help improve things. A few of these are the Stamina Mode and the Low Battery Mode. The Stamina Mode means all the radios (WiFi and Cellular) are disabled when the phone is in standby mode. Stamina Mode does still allow you to get incoming calls, text messages and alarms. Basically, this means some features will be off when the display is off.
The Low Battery Mode kicks in when the phone battery reaches 30 percent. This setup is customizable and will basically turn those selected features off. Options here include the mobile data, WiFi, Bluetooth or GPS. You can also choose to disable the sync options once the battery drops down to below the 30 percent mark. While no mobile battery is perfect, we were happy with what Sony has to offer here, not only did the phone handle our needs, but those Sony tools certainly help to further conserve.
Network coverage and speeds will vary from market to market. But in the case of the T-Mobile coverage with the Xperia Z1S — we were pleasantly surprised. As we mentioned at the top of this post, we did our hands-on time for this review during CES. For those who have never been — mobile coverage it generally terrible.
The Xperia Z1S has support for HSPA+ 42 and LTE. As for our experience, the coverage was more than acceptable and the speeds were more than enough to help us get the job done. That isn’t to say there weren’t a few dead and/or slow spots from time to time, but that is likely more to where we were, than as a result of the network. Bottom line here, the network coverage we saw with the Xperia Z1S during CES week convinced us to start looking more towards other T-Mobile devices.
Our overall experience with the Xperia Z1S was positive, however one place it really shined was with the camera. Just looking at the mix of camera hardware and camera software and it is clear Sony put quite a bit of effort in. In fact, Sony touts this as having the “world’s best camera in a waterproof smartphone.”
While that may be somewhat of a specific statement, Sony didn’t skimp on the hardware. The rear camera is a 1/2.3 20.7 megapixel Exmor RS. Other key bits about the lens show is as being a 27mm wide angle and with an aperture of f/2.0. Sony also shared how this makes use of the BIONZ for mobile setup, and has an ISO 6400 setting for taking pictures in low-light.
What you see in the image below is the default camera interface. Basically, the shutter buttons, access to the gallery and modes are on the right. The settings, flash adjustment and option to switch between the front- and rear-facing cameras are on the left.
Sony does limit the 6400 ISO setting to the Superior Auto mode. Otherwise, using the regular manual mode you will be limited to ISO 800. This just breaks into one key aspect of the Sony handsets — plenty of camera options. Aside from the two mentioned there is also Info-Eye, Social Live, Picture Effect, Sweep Panorama, Timeshift Burst and others. One of those others does also add a bit of fun — the AR effect mode which lets you add fun things such as dinosaurs.
Otherwise, overall the camera seemed to hold up well in a variety of situations. That is to say, up-close and at a distance. We also saw pretty good results in both high- and low-light settings. All said and done, the camera on the Xperia Z1S seems to be good all around. Sitting below are a few random (and unedited) sample shots taken with the Xperia Z1S.
Assuming one isn’t bothered by, or can look past the numerous Sony and T-Mobile branded apps that come pre-installed, the Xperia Z1S is s solid offering and one that should at least be considered. Sony managed to pack something that can be described as feature rich into a good looking exterior. The device is slim, it feels solid in your hand, and overall, it is a good looking device.
No phone can be described as perfect, and we wouldn’t go as far as calling the Xperia Z1S perfect. But on the flip side, Sony did some good work in terms of the camera setup and battery life. There also weren’t any complaints in terms of connectivity, and the internal specs such as the processor and RAM are high-end.
We aren’t sure how many would be looking to pay full retail on this handset, but otherwise, T-Mobile does have it attractively priced. At the time of the review, the T-Mobile Xperia Z1S is available for no money down and with 24 monthly payments of . That of course, can then be combined with their UNcarrier approach to voice and data plans.
In 2013, we saw a wider variety of devices than in recent years. Not only did we see the continued spec race heat up as we got our first taste of Snapdragon processors from Qualcomm, but we saw some OEMs wisely pare their efforts back a bit. HTC went with one One, and Motorola took their time bringing new devices to market. Whether it was flagship spec-heavy offerings or a shockingly slimmed-down device, we had a lot of great stuff in 2013.
With 2013 closed out, and credit card bills from the holidays staring us in the face, we thought it was a good time to take a look back at what we saw in 2013 as it relates to hardware. These devices can be considered the best on offer today as well, and should serve as a precursor to CES 2014, which starts next week.
Samsung Galaxy S4
The natural upgrade from the insanely popular Galaxy S3, the S4 brought some subtle upgrades and needed fixes, but kept the runaway sales numbers of the S3. Though their TouchWiz skin is getting far too bulky (and ugly), the S4 sold at a frantic pace, keeping Samsung atop the Android heap. Helped by a nearly simultaneous worldwide launch and a reported billion marketing blitz, the S4 once again cemented Samsung as an industry leader.
With the Nexus 4, LG showed us they could make a popular, well built handset. Though at the direction of Google, the Nexus 4 served to put LG on the map in a big way. Their G2 was the follow-up for the Optimus G, this time dropping the ostentatious ‘Optimus’ branding. Rather than take the S4 road and bring a slightly bigger screen and feature set, the G2 re-thought the handset altogether.
With the power button and volume rocker on the rear of the device, LG was able to accomplish one thing the tech-obsessed have been wanting: almost invisible bezels. In regard to specs, it brought all it could to the table with an impressive 5.2-inch 1080p display and Snapdragon 800. Their skin is a bit heavy for our liking, but the feature set is really nice. There’s not a lot we didn’t like about this one.
This was the first savior devie of 2013 — or at least it was supposed to be. Like Motorola, HTC had been trending downward, effectively losing our interest as their hubris set in and they made ill-advised moves like getting involved with Beats. Upon release, the One was like nothing we’d seen before. Aluminum, sleek, and gorgeous, it still somehow felt dated and heavy. Sense was updated, which helped, but the One just missed something we still can’t put our finger on. Perhaps it was just confusion from all the Zoe and Ultrapixel talk, we’re still not sure. Where HTC failed, Motorola would succeed.
Perhaps understanding that we’re not going to buy a new TV anyway, Google released the Chromecast. The dongle (perhaps our favorite word for 2013) served as a streaming media device, though it had intrinsic ties to Google rather than content providers. It works with apps rather than an on-screen menu, and is little more than a broadcast device for your mobile media content. Be it locally stored content or via an app like Netflix, Chromecast makes it possible to view your stuff on just about any TV.
Like any successful product, the Chromecast invited a host of also-ran apps and hardware to mimic its functionality. At only , it was hard to not pick one up. Between the price and ease of use, Chromecast really lit up the mobile tech scene in an unexpected way. As more content providers bring the functionality to their apps natively, the want for one will only increase.
Android gaming, like smartwatches (which we’ll get to in a minute), exploded in 2013. NVIDIA set the stage with their absolutely shocking Project Shield at CES, and was followed by the launch of Ouya and Gamestick later in the year. We’re just now getting the MadCatz offering, which could annihilate the rest. So much hardware, there is one crucial aspect that some just aren’t getting.
The successful gaming devices have Play Store support. Those withouth, most notably Ouya, are left to beg the support of developers who are already stretched too thin. In that, their game offerings are not nearly as good as the Shield. The Shield, however, costs three times as much. With Google rumored to bring gaming to the living room in 2014, there will be a lot of activity in Android gaming this year — and a lot of hardware that falls off the map.
Prior to launch, the Moto X was rumored to be made of everything from Unicorn horn to being a working hologram of a phone. We’re clearly joking, but the fervor leading to the launch of the X was palpable. We were curious how the now Google-owned Motorola would stage a comeback, and the Moto X was the device we all thought they’d use to mount that re-entry to prominence.
On launch, the initial reaction was mixed. Some loved its simplicity, others lamented the device being limited to AT&T. The 720p screen confused us, as did the step-back processor. Highly customizable before assembly, the Moto X had no removable battery or microSD card slot. Left wondering what just happened, review units started working their way to us, and we finally understood.
If anything, the Moto X showed us that software is much more important than hardware at this juncture. The hardware choices for the Moto X were meant to compliment the software, not vice versa. In doing so, Motorola was able to give a significantly better experience with the Moto X, bringing the world of contextual data front and center. Their almost-absent skin on Android was refreshing, and let Android purists have their day. The tweaks and changes were all meant to help you in a day-to-day sense, not bring some oddball camera filter you’ll never use. For our money, the Moto X was the quintessential Android device in 2013.
As much as the Moto X taught us about user experience and perceived compromise, the Moto G is set to do the same for the mid-range segment. It packs all the normal punch you’d expect from a true mid-range device, but checks in at about half the price of the competition. If nothing else, the Moto G is set to hit other OEMs where it hurts, and keep our wallets happy. Though light on specs, it brings the same customization feel as the Moto X, but can be manipulated on the fly with removable back plates.
LG G Flex
Though Samsung was technically first to the curved device market in 2013, the G Flex was the better offering. With amazing battery life and interesting tweaks, we found it to be both interesting and compelling as a choice for this list. Though LG claims the device wen through several hundred design changes prior to launch, we still think of curved display smartphones more as proofs of concepts that signify those flexible displays we see so much of at trade shows are coming. They’re also keen to bring it to market on a wider scale, which proves they’re serious about this direction.
Note 3 and Galaxy Gear
Sadly, neither impressed, but both made a splash. The Note 3 was a slight bump from the Note 2, but brought with it the Galaxy Gear. Samsung’s first smartwatch was far, far less than desirable, especially considering other contenders like the Sony Smartwatch 2 or next device on our list, the Pebble. While making headlines, neither of these would have been notable as standalone devices, and the Gear only works with a few devices. The Gear has a camera, a first for a smartwatch, but continues to be hobbled with poor support and limited functionality. The creepy marketing efforts only turn us off more.
An eInk screen, slightly clunky design, and limited style options make the Pebble one that can easily be dismissed too quickly. When you look a little harder at the functionality, the Pebble just might be the best smartwatch around. Easily configurable (if you have a little tech know-how) and simple to use, the Pebble perfectly accomplishes what smartwatches currently set out to do: it notifies you. Others have come along with more flash or style (see above), and promise of more to come, but the Pebble remains great at being simple — and works with just about any device. It also trumps the competition in the battery life department, which is good, because plugging a watch in is still weird.
The Nexus 7 slimmed down and sped up, but we consider it a natural bump from the Nexus 7 2012. Sadly, we lost the Steve McQueen leather-esque backing of the original, and the screen got slimmer and taller, but nothing left us wanting. The slim profile and zippy processor handled everything Android with precision, and the screen is bright and gorgeous. The new Nexus 7 kept the Nexus brand at the top of the 7-inch tablet offerings.
The Nexus 5 was another upgrade we saw coming, even if it was one of the most anticipated devices this year. A screen size bump was welcome, as was the jettisoning of the glass back from the Nexus 4. We wish Google had kept the sloped front glass from the Nexus 4 for this one, but it’s easily the flagship Google needed — and we wanted. It also naturally encourages users to go prepaid and ditch their draconian contracts, which we’re always fans of.
What 2013 brought us was diversity, with Motorola disrupting the status quo and LG thinking outside of the box in new ways. We saw the birth of wearable tech in a big way, too. We still don’t quite have what we want from smartwatches, but we may never get there, either. If you’re wondering where Google Glass is on this list, don’t. As a product not ready for retail, we purposefully omitted it from the list. We like the concept, but until it sees the light of day for everyone — allegedly in 2014 sometime — we’ll be keen to watch the program from afar. When we can get it somewhere other than eBay, we’ll call it a consumer device.
As we look ahead to 2014, one thing is certain: we’re getting wearables. Google Glass promises to come out at some point in 2014, and there are so many smartwatches we can’t keep them straight. With an explosion in one segment, we can also expect to see some contraction as lesser-than offerings fall off the map. Much like the early days of Android tablets, wearables are coming fast and furious. Like those days of Android tablets, it’s also a good idea to be cautiously optimistic about your potential purchase. After all, you don’t want that device you’re excited about now to end up in one of those “worst products ever” article a few years from now.
The Samsung Galaxy Round launched on October 10 as the first smartphone with a curved display, a title that Samsung narrowly snagged from bitter local rival LG.
It’s safe to say that the Round was not what most of us expected from flexible display technology, after Samsung teased it for years as a game changing feature. That’s because the Round is more of a proof of concept than a real attempt to make curved smartphones a mass-market success. It’s a first milestone on a road that we’ll eventually take us to new form factors, that are, for now, on a distant horizon.
But even if the Round is not the game-changer we’ve been hoping for, it’s still a really interesting device. It comes with top of the line specs and all of Samsung’s software features, but also with a price tag to match. Should you buy it, provided you can get your hands on one? Is the Round worth the investment, curved screen aside? Join us as we find out in our Samsung Galaxy Round review.
Design and build quality
While the Round lacks the S Pen that would make it a member of the Note family, it’s still obviously inspired by the Galaxy Note 3, which is visible in its size and design. The device is as tall and wide as the Note 3, and just a little thinner, though you probably won’t feel the 0.4 millimeters difference. What you may notice is that the Round is 14 grams lighter than the Note 3, possibly thanks to the plastic substrate of the display, which is lighter than Note’s conventional glass.
You get the classic Samsung layout on the Galaxy Round: a physical home button flanked by capacitive menu and back keys on the front, the power button on the right, and the volume rocker on the left. The removable back plate is made of the textured plastic that Samsung introduced on the Note 3, which gives it great grip and a nice feel in hand. While the faux stitching is probably an unnecessary embellishment, we like the leathery texture of the Round, and it’s definitely a welcome step away from the glossy plastic that marked Samsung’s high-end devices in the past couple of years.
The soft, comfortable texture of the faux leather is enhanced by the device’s signature curved profile. The phone just feels nice in hand following the contour of your palm, even if it’s such a large device. The sides of the phone are slightly thinner than the center, and much of the weight of the Round is concentrated in its middle. That makes it self-balancing, which is important for the tilt-actioned software features that Samsung equipped the phone with.
Overall, the curvature of the Galaxy Round doesn’t change the user experience in a significant way. This feels like a “normal” phone, more so than the rival LG G Flex, which is curved from top to bottom. Especially if you know the Note 3, you will feel right at home on the Round.
Samsung managed to equip the Galaxy Round with a Full HD display, which is notable because the LG G Flex comes with a 720p screen, even if it’s larger. The 5.7-inch AMOLED panel on the Round is as good as anything that Samsung has put on the market so far – we noticed no differences between the glass-based Note 3 and the plastic-based Round, which is a major achievement for Samsung.
Being so subtle, the curvature of the display doesn’t distort images in any way, and, once you turn the phone on, you will quickly forget that the screen is curved. Look at it directly, and the Round looks exactly like any regular flat design. The only time you might notice a difference is when you see reflections on the screen, which are distorted and made smaller by the concave sheet of glass.
Watching movies and playing games is a pleasure on this beautiful 386 ppi screen. Like any modern AMOLED device, the Round is bright, has beautiful colors, and deep blacks. If you are put off by the oversaturate colors, you can set the phone to a more realistic color profile from the phone’s settings.
In terms of usability, the curved display does make it somehow easier to reach the screen with your thumb, but do keep in mind that this is a large phone that’s designed primarily for two-hand use.
Performance and hardware
We have to give Samsung credit for not making any compromises when it comes to the Galaxy Round’s specifications. At the core of the phone, there’s a powerful Snapdragon 800 system on a chip from Qualcomm, comprising of four Krait 400 CPU cores clocked at 2.3GHz and an Adreno 330 GPU. The Round is one of the select few devices to feature 3GB of RAM, along with Samsung’s Note 3 and the Note 10.1 (2014).
This combination of hardware makes the phone fly through the user interface, though we feel it would be even faster with a simpler OS instead of TouchWiz. That extra RAM comes in handy when using Samsung’s signature MultiWindow multitasking mode, as well as when loading games and large media files.
There’s 32GB of storage by default, and you can extend that with the microSD card slot found underneath the removable back plate. You also get the bells and whistles that Samsung launched on the S4 and carried over on the Note 3, including air gestures, an IR blaster, and sensors for temperature and atmospheric pressure. You might not need all of these features, but you’ll appreciate having at least some of them. All things considered, the lack of the S Pen is the only difference between the Round and the Note 3.
We had no qualms over the call quality and the phone’s speakers are adequately loud, though fidelity goes down as you pump up the volume.
The battery inside the Round is elongated, to accommodate the phone’s curvature, but it’s still a conventional removable unit. At 2,800 mAh, it’s smaller than the Note 3, but we think most users won’t be affected by it. On average, the Round should be good for two days of light usage, and, even if you are a heavy user, your phone will not shut down before the end of your workday. Even better, the unit we reviewed came with an extra battery and a special charger for it.
The Galaxy Round comes with the same camera module that Samsung uses on the Galaxy S4 and the Note 3. In other words, it’s a competent, high-quality camera loaded with software features, but lacking optical image stabilization or other special technologies.
The app is fast and the shutter is responsive, which is good for the moments when you whip out your smartphone in a hurry to capture a passing moment. If you’re willing to spend a little more time navigating the settings and various camera modes, you get a wealth of features that you can use creatively, such as dual shot, shot and sound, burst mode, drama mode, and erase mode.
Even if you’re not into Samsung’s little software features, the Round still provides a great camera experience. Images are crisp and color reproduction is excellent in most cases, though you might encounter problems in lower light or with fast moving subjects.
Just like with hardware, in terms of software the Galaxy Round is a consummate Samsung flagship. TouchWiz may be getting long in the tooth for some, but no one can deny that’s a feature rich implementation of Android. Samsung’s unique additions include touchless controls and the Premium Suite, including a nice multiwindow multitasking feature that takes advantage of that expansive screen. Just like with the hardware, you might not need all the stuff that Samsung threw in there, but you may find some feature or another very useful; even if you don’t, you can blissfully ignore everything that is non-essential.
The Round comes with a couple of unique software features that take advantage of its curved shape. When placed on a flat surface, you can tilt the device to a side to see any notifications or to skip tracks when you are listening to music. It’s a neat little trick, but in most cases, it’s simpler and faster to use air controls for the same task. We covered the tilt features of the Galaxy Round in more detail here.
Pricing and final thoughts
The Galaxy Round is a very limited release, and Samsung has expressed no intention to make it available outside South Korea. You can get it unlocked from specialized retailers though, if you’re willing to pay a premium for the privilege of owning such a rare piece of kit.
As with the LG G Flex, it’s definitely not worth buying the Galaxy Round for its shape alone, because the curved screen doesn’t really change the way you use the phone. Yes, it has a nice wow factor, but that tends to wear off after a while, or even turn into an annoyance. However, even if you ignore the curve, the Round is a great phone – you get high-end hardware, a beautiful screen, long battery life, and an excellent camera, just to name its biggest qualities.
Essentially, the Round is a slightly redesigned Galaxy Note 3 without an S Pen, so, if you’re interested in a large device and you can live without a stylus, there’s no reason not to give it a try.
We’ve already reviewed the ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad Air and now we’re back with another one of Zagg’s offerings when it comes to keyboard cases for iPad Air. The ZAGGkeys Cover for iPad Air has the same great keyboard layout and hardware features of its folio sibling, but comes in a slimmer cover only design. At first glance it may look like any other keyboard cover but don’t be fooled. Zagg’s done something special with this one.
When it comes to feature set, the ZAGGkeys Cover sports the same great keyboard as the Folio version does. That includes the awesome backlit keyboard with interchangeable LED colors. Following suit with the Folio, there’s also a battery light indicator that gives you a good idea of how much battery you’ve got remaining, another feature many keyboard cases lack.
The main feature that stands out on the ZAGGkeys Cover over other cover-style keyboards is the hinge itself. The inside of the hinge is rubber so it won’t scratch the exterior or interior of your iPad Air. Just slide your iPad into the hinge and line it up with the case. Zagg recommends doing this with the hinge only a little open but I’ve actually found it easier to set the keyboard down and slide my iPad in the top with equal pressure on both sides. The benefit of this hinge is that it provides multiple viewing angles which is great for watching videos or times when your iPad has to be in a awkward position. Just adjust the viewing angle accordingly without having to move the entire iPad.
When it comes to actual typing, Zagg makes a great keyboard that’s spaced out wonderfully and feels like a full-sized keyboard. There’s a top row dedicated to function keys as well so you don’t have to worry about an annoying Fn key. Shortcuts include a Lock button, dedicated Siri access, undo/redo, cut/copy/paste, play/pause music, skip tracks, volume controls, and more. I truly have no complaints with the keyboard layout.
For times when you want to read with your iPad Air and don’t need the keyboard, just pull it straight out. You can even turn it around in the keyboard case and slide it back in. This way the keyboard is protected and not detached from the iPad. While at home I prefer just using the iPad without the case attached if I don’t need to type but I can see the benefit of this in public places. That way you know you don’t accidentally forget the keyboard case somewhere.
Great keyboard layout
Illuminated backlit keys with interchangeable colors
Multiple viewing angles due to the hinge design
Dedicated row of function keys catering specifically to iOS
Amazing design that’s slim and really good looking
Minimal protection, but that’s expected with cover style cases
The bottom line
If you want the absolute best keyboard cover you can buy that adds a minimal amount of bulk to the already lightweight iPad Air, look no further than the ZAGGkeys Cover. You just can’t beat the keyboard design, backlit keys, and innovative design that supports multi-angle viewing.
The ZAGGkeys Cover isn’t out just yet but is available for preorder and will retail for upon launch. You can choose between black and white.