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Monday, June 6, 2016

LG G5

LG G5


What's Hot: The first metal-body LG phone. Wide angle rear camera is useful and fun. Fast performance, removable battery, has microSD card slot.
What's Not: Look could be better, fit and finish uneven. LG UI does away with app drawer. Friends are interesting but lacking.

There are those who say that mobile phone innovation has stalled, and that's hard to counter. LG has been brave enough to try something new, and even if it isn't yet the right thing, or the ideal way to execute on it, we have to laud that they took a chance. It's easy for those of us who are press, analysts and even customers to clamor for fantastic new features, but not many among us can come up with that. LG's next big thing are the terribly named LG Friends for the new LG G5 flagship Android smartphone. There's been chatter and even actual work on modular phones--Google's Project Ara for example, which is an entirely modular phone built with camera, processor, display, wireless and battery modules. LG's Friends are just a small (and more consumer friendly) version of that. The bottom chin of the phone is removable and the Friend modules slide in and out. So far there's a battery that ships with the phone, a camera grip and a hifi audio DAC for better headphone audio.

Specs at a Glance
The LG G5 is the company's mainstream size flagship Android smartphone for 2016. It has a 5.3" IPS QHD display and it runs Android 6.0 with LG UI on the top of the line Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 CPU. It has an ample 4 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of storage. You can expand storage via a microSD card slot. We can still count on LG to provide both removable storage and a removable battery. Speaking of the battery, it's 2800 mAh, which like the display, is smaller than the LG G4. The phone has the same 16MP main rear camera as the LG G4 plus a very fun 8MP extreme wide angle rear camera. There's a front 8MP camera for selfie love too. LTE 4G, WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS and an IR blaster for AV remote control round out the feature set.

Design and Ergonomics
There are big changes here: this is LG's first metal body phone. It's available in your choice of 4 colors: silver, titan (dark gray), gold and pink. Gone are the shiny plastic backs that defined LG, though they did occasionally jazz things up with the leather backs for the LG G4 and the rugged ribbed and rubbery LG V10 back. The phone looks like a cross between the Google Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, and is closer to the fluid curvy look of the 5X (the more affordable Google phone of 2015 made by LG). Yes, it's really a metal casing, even if the curvy back looks like injection molded plastic. Alas, it's painted with a primer (to add color we assume and to hide the antenna lines according to LG). That cheapens the look a bit, and we are worried as to how well that paint will hold up against scratches and wear. Several manufacturers have managed to incorporate antenna lines into the phone's design, and we're not sure why LG shied away from this (perhaps trying to one-up the competition).
LG's back fingerprint scanner is here and it's better than ever. It works extremely well and is easy to find by feel. The scanner doubles as the power button. It helps that they've moved the volume control buttons to the side rather than flanking the scanner as with the LG G4. As you might guess, thanks to the new Friends design, the back is no longer removable and the battery instead slots in from the bottom. There's a wide door on the side (opened via a paper clip or poke tool) that allows access to the microSD card slot and nano SIM card slot.

Above: yes that's how big the gap is on ours and the module is fully seated.
The phone feels good in hand thanks to curves and reasonable proportions. Fit and finish concern us when it comes to the fit of the Friends module on the bottom. If you watch our video, you'll see there's a gap large enough to see light through and slide a piece of paper into. We looked at other examples at our local store, and some of those fit more tightly. Our phone's highly polished chamfered sides weren't rough or sharp, but some at the store were. The paint on the back of our phone wasn't even and seemed as if it had run down before drying, causing a subtle lump just above the area where it mates with its Friends. LG will have to work out their QA issues to match their direct competitors, and even some $300 and lower Android phones we've reviewed recently from Huawei, Asus and Alcatel.

Is it Better to Have Friends?
The LG G5 has friends--both the kind that slot into the bottom of the phone and external accessories like a rolling bot that can do surveillance or harass your cat. There are only 2 Friends modules at launch (not including the included battery), though LG has made the design available to third parties who might make Friends if the phone sells well enough to warrant development costs (that seems iffy). Those third parties must agree to partner with LG to make the Friend, and obtain LG's approval as well. Such hurdles, understandable though they might be since LG doesn't want a rogue module compromising the phone, will likely temper excitement over building Friends.

LG offers the included battery Friend... your phone won't do much without a battery. The Cam Plus camera grip adds a 1200 mAh secondary battery and a hump that's supposed to make the phone easier to hold when shooting (dubious). The LG HiFi Plus audio DAC increases audio resolution through the headphone jack from 16 to 32 bits at 384 kHz. We're not sure if LG will sell the audio DAC in the US, but the camera grip is a go for around $70.
Friends can be complex, and LG's friends are easily ejected after you press a release button on the lower left side of the phone. That will power down the phone (since the battery has been ejected), and you'll need to wrestle the battery off the included battery Friend and attach it to the new Friend before use. Yanking that battery off is a traumatic experience--it's very hard to get off and you'll worry that you might break the module. Forgive me, I don't often bring up Apple in our Android phone reviews, but that's just the sort of hassle that Apple would never require of users. In fact, I don't think Samsung and HTC would either. It's just not fluid or fun, and the Friends so far don't warrant the effort. Innovation is wonderful, but not that sort that adds fiddly steps for dubious payoff.

Display
The LG G5 has an IPS QHD 2560 x 1440 resolution display that's competitive with other Android flagships in terms of resolution. Colors aren't as saturated as on the AMOLED Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, but for those who prefer more natural colors, that's fine. The display is actually smaller than the outgoing 5.5" LG G4; it's 5.3", which is a tiny bit bigger than Samsung's smaller flagship, the Galaxy S7. While the LG G4 was cool because it fit a bigger display in a still manageable phone, the G5 can't quite pull that off since the Friend feature enlarges the phone. These days folks love big screen phones, but I'd say that 5.3" is certainly comfy and adequate unless you prefer phablets or don't want to downsize from your LG G4.
Brightness is good, though the auto-brightness function (which you can disable) still leans towards what I find too dim. It has a very high max brightness of 850 nits when running on auto-brightness and using the phone outdoors in bright sunlight, but I found it a little challenging to get it to kick into brightness overdrive. Still, it's pleasingly bright, and many of us don't need retina-searing brightness when using the phone indoors. Contrast is good and black levels are likewise good for an IPS screen. Some users have complained of light bleed (white backlight bleeding through near the edges of the screen when viewing a dark image or letterboxed video), but ours didn't have that problem (see our video review to see the phone at max manual brightness with a dark home screen).
The LG has knock-on, which we love--tap twice on the screen to see info that's available without unlocking the phone. It also has an always-on display option that shows the time, date and notifications (the Galaxy S7 always-on screen lacks notification info). In our tests, it didn't impact battery life.

Horsepower and Performance
We've got top of the line specs here with the 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 820 CPU, 4 gigs of RAM and a decent 32 gigs of storage. Performance is spritely and the phone doesn't get burning hot (the fatal flaw of the Snapdragon 810 in some conductive metal body phones). Storage is expandable via microSD cards that load into a side slot, and LG says it's compatible with cards up to 2TB (theoretical since cards of that capacity don't yet exist).

Software

LG's UI is here, with its squared off, cartoony icons that remind us a bit of Samsung's older TouchWiz versions. This time, LG has banished the app drawer, which is a controversial move. Your app icons live on additional home screen panes instead of in a drawer. If you don't like that, but otherwise want the phone, load an alternative launcher like Google's own Google Now launcher or one of the other popular alternatives.
Underneath that UI, which has its good points like spilt-window multitasking, easy access to screen shots with annotations and the ability to rearrange the bottom navigation icons, there's Android 6.0 Marshmallow. That's currently the newest OS version available to Android phones. How quickly will LG offer updates to newer versions? That in part depends on carriers and how long their approval process takes.

Cameras
The LG G5 has the same very good 16MP rear camera with Sony sensor as the LG G4. In that respect, you're not upgrading if you move to the G5 from the G4. But it adds an 8MP extreme wide angle rear camera with a 135 degree field of view (similar to a 16 to 20mm lens on a dSLR). That might sound like a gimmick, but it's actually a lot of fun and useful for providing a near panorama field of view. Sure, there's distortion inherent to such a wide angle view and resolution is lower, but it still allows for very usable photos.


LG's camera software is similar to other models, with auto mode and a manual mode that lets you set shutter speed but not aperture manually. The 16MP camera can shoot 4K video at 30 fps as well as 1080p video at 60 fps. Results are nearly identical to the very good LG G4, so we won't dwell on that here. The front 8MP camera is quite high resolution for a front camera. It has a wide (but not crazy wide like the rear 8MP shooter) angle lens, so it will capture a good deal of your surroundings but some distortion of your features.

Battery Life
The LG G5 has a removable 2,800 mAh battery. That's actually a lower capacity than the LG G4 and LG V10, but this phone has a smaller display and the Snapdragon 820 is fairly power frugal (though we're not sure if it's that much more battery friendly than the Snapdragon 808 used in those two older phones). The phone supports Quick Charge 3.0 and a fast charger is included in the box that plugs into the USB-C port on the phone's bottom.

Standby times are truly superb, even with the always-on display active. Android 6.0's Doze feature prevents runaway apps from chewing through your battery when the phone is sleeping, and LG has done well here even when compared to other phones. Actual runtimes--screen on time for actual use, vary depending on the activity and screen brightness. 3D games kill the battery alarmingly fast (sometimes 2% every 5 minutes), but social networking and streaming video over WiFi allow for fairly competitive battery life. Display brightness has a strong effect on runtimes, and we suspect that's why LG's auto-brightness opts for what I'd call too dim a display. If you disable auto-brightness and run brightness above 50% battery life is noticeably weaker. I suspect user-selected brightness settings are why we've seen so many reviews and users claim widely disparate runtimes.

Conclusion
I'll be honest: the LG G5 doesn't excite me the way the LG G4 did. Last year LG offered a microSD card slot and removable battery when their archrival Samsung did not with the Galaxy S6 family. Their camera offered full manual mode and RAW format (though RAW quality is dubious on phones). This year, the Samsung Galaxy S7 has a microSD card slot and adds water resistance and one of the very best cameras on the market. LG brought design to the table to counter the Galaxy S7 and iPhone, and we have a full metal jacket. Alas, that jacket is clad in painted primer, and that reduces the metal feel and may make it vulnerable to scratches. The innovative Friends modules are perhaps ahead of their time: the modular design has promise but the Friends are few and not all that compelling (and they require very fiddly battery swaps). If you ignore the Friends feature, sad as that is, you're still getting a phone that's very fast with a very good camera and a near 8MP super wide angle rear camera. It's a reasonable size that can appeal to those who don't want a phablet, yet it's ample enough to not seem small-screened.

Website: www.lg.com
Price: $625 to $688, depending on carrier


HTC 10

HTC 10



What's Hot: Clean Android experience, great camera, pleasing high res display, fantastic audio, metal build.
What's Not: Rear camera sometimes overexposes a little. Battery life is just OK.

There's nothing like a comeback story to warm the heart and even net you a new phone. After floundering for a few years, HTC's on their game again, and the HTC 10 is assuredly their best Android phone to date. Sure, it's easy to say that since most manufacturers' new models show improvement year over year, but in HTC's case with the HTC One M8 and One M9, this wasn't so much the case. Their design was repetitive (though still really attractive), their low resolution cameras and image processing were lacking and key competitive specs like screen resolution lagged behind the competition. That's all changed with the HTC 10-- it has a pleasing high resolution QHD display, a very good 12MP rear camera with much improved image processing and a refreshed design. In fact, the front camera is no slouch, being the only camera phone with an optically stabilized front shooter. Those selfies at the bar in the dark after a few too many drinks? They'll be sharper than expected thanks to OIS.

Specs at a Glance
The HTC 10 is a unibody metal phone with a 5.2" QHD Super LCD 5 display in Gorilla Glass with subtly curved edges. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow with HTC's tasteful Sense UI on the top dog Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 CPU. It has 4 gigs of RAM, 32 gigs of internal storage and a micro SD card slot that supports Android 6's Adoptive Storage to turn that card into an extension of internal storage rather than a separate device (handy since not all apps support installation to a microSD card under the standard scheme).
The phone has a 5MP front camera, 12MP rear camera, dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, LTE 4G and a USB-C 3.1 port. It supports Quick Charge 3.0 that can charge the phone from zero to full in around an hour. HTC loves good quality sound so we get a new take on their BoomSound speakers and a high res 24 bit audio DAC (digital to analog converter) and a separate headphone amp.
Traditionally HTC's flagship phones have been available on all major US carriers and some smaller carriers. This time Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless have announced that they'll carry the HTC 10, but AT&T hasn't said they will. Should AT&T not carry the phone (shocking though that would be), you can buy the GSM unlocked version direct from HTC's website--it supports both AT&T and T-Mobile, including their LTE 4G bands. We have that unlocked model and are using it on AT&T, and data speeds and voice quality are comparable to top phones that the carrier offers.


Design and Ergonomics
The HTC 10 resembles the One M9, but it's been modernized with new finishes (available in silver or carbon gray) and a bold bevel or chamfer that makes it easier to grip. It's still thicker than the competition like the Samsung Galaxy S7and iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus, but the edges are thin so it doesn't feel chunky. Those thin edges rise to a thicker center area, much like previous HTC phones and the LG G4. That curve feels good in hand, and I don't mind the extra girth, but I do have large hands for a woman. Build quality is excellent, and the unibody aluminum alloy phone has no rough edges or unnecessary flourishes. It has a clean look that we like. The carbon is particularly striking, and both have what I'd call a masculine design with bold lines.
The 10's controls are improved too, with a much more tactile power button on the right that has a more deeply ridged surface compared to the M9. The volume controls are above, and are more distinctly separate compared to the power button on the One M9 since they're a single piece rocker (you're no longer choosing from three right side buttons when trying to feel for the power button). The front home button is capacitive rather than a clicky, physical button and we prefer that since it's also the fingerprint scanner. There's no need to press a stiff button to wake up and unlock the device, just lay your registered finger on it to unlock the phone. Haptic feedback lets you know if your fingerprint wasn't recognized, but that's a rare problem since this fingerprint scanner is one of the best we've used on an Android phone (yes, it rivals the iPhone 6s). We like front fingerprint scanners, also found on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s/iPhone 6s Plus since you don't have to lift the smartphone off the desk to wake it and take a glance at notifications and time on the sleep screen. Speaking of the sleep screen, you can see it by double-tapping on the screen to catch up with notifications and see the time and date (no need to unlock the phone).
Though the screen has enhanced response times, it's not overly sensitive (no accidentally launched apps), thanks to good design. There is a gloves mode for winter use.



Display
The HTC 10 has a QHD 2560 x 1440 resolution display (564 PPI) like the top Android competition. Previous HTC phones stuck with 1920 x 1080, which is actually fine until you take into account folks' obsession with specs. This is an IPS equivalent LCD with wide viewing angles and good brightness, though it doesn't get as bright as the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge running on max brightness or auto-brightness when the extreme brightness outdoor mode kicks in. Colors are rich, especially on the default Vivid mode (sRGB is the other available setting). It's not AMOLED zingy with color like the Samsung Galaxy S7 family, but it looks pretty darned colorful and enjoyable.

High Quality Audio
As always, audio quality is a selling point for HTC phones. The HTC 10 has a high quality 24 bit audio DAC and a separate headphone amplifier. Sound through good quality wired headphones is truly inspired--if you stopped listening to music on your phone because the quality didn't impress, the HTC 10 will change your mind. It makes the iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxy S7 sound pedestrian. Each instrument has a clearly distinct voice, and the timbre of those instruments sounds much more like the real thing. The phone can even record 4K video with 24 bit high res audio.
We tested the phone with 24 bit FLAC files using BlackPlayer and a set of high-end over the ear headphones made by Master & Dynamic--the MW60 using the wired option rather than wireless. High quality earbuds likewise sounded very good and noticeably better with the HTC 10 vs. other phone brands. The phone can up-sample standard 16 bit audio files, and we noted a little bit of improvement in terms of clarity and slightly stronger bass when listening to up-sampled audio. The HTC 10 also has customizable output for each set of wired headphones you plug in, and you can create separate profiles for different listeners. This only works with wired headphones, not Bluetooth headphones or the built-in woofer/tweeter combo speakers.
The front stereo BoomSound speakers are gone, replaced by BoomSound HiFi Edition with a tweeter in the earpiece and a woofer on the bottom edge where most phones' mono speaker resides. Sound is indeed relatively full for a phone, but I still have a soft spot for the old stereo BoomSound speakers for their channel separation.

Horsepower and Performance
Like the US Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge and LG G5, the HTC 10 has the current top of the line Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 CPU with Adreno 530 graphics (quad core CPU, base clock rate 1.6 GHz with burst up to 2.2 GHz). Like those phones, it has 4 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of storage. It has a microSD card slot (again, like its two main competitors), but differentiates itself with support for Android 6.0's support for Adoptive Storage that turns an SD card (up to 2TB) into an extension of internal storage. That means you don't have to look in two places for your files and that any program can be installed on a microSD card.
As you might expect, the HTC 10 benchmarks similarly to the competition running on the same platform. It does a little better in the CPU intensive benchmarks (a higher burst clock rate helps) but it's a little bit behind on graphics benchmarks. The numbers are close enough that the variance isn't significant.

Benchmarks


Software
I confess I prefer a clean Android build without lots of UI customizations and flourishes. The Nexus 6P is my cup of tea, and Samsung's TouchWiz is improving, but still a bit overdone. The HTC 10 runs Android 6 with HTC Sense UI, which is an extremely light customization of Android that doesn't veer far from what you'd see on a Nexus phone. One of the few significant departures from stock Android is HTC's BlinkFeed, which is by default the rightmost home screen. BlinkFeed is a customized version of News Republic plus social feeds from the likes of Twitter and Facebook. It was HTC's counter to Samsung's Flipboard option and has stuck around and matured to something that's an enjoyable way to kill time when waiting for the bus.
HTC is the first Android phone to support Apple AirPlay, which is handy should some family members own iOS AirPlay speakers or Apple TV. As per the norm, the phone also supports Chromecast, Miracast and DLNA. The USB-C 3.1 port supports display out, and we plugged in a USB-C to HDMI adapter that worked perfectly and we even tested the HTC 10 with Microsoft's Display Dock for Lumia phones and that worked as well--display, USB ports and all.

Cameras
Finally, an HTC rear camera that doesn't leave us wanting. The 12MP rear camera matches the resolution of the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s (no more silly 4MP Ultrapixel cameras). However, the name Ultrapixel does return since the camera has enlarged pixel sensor sites (1.55u) for better low light performance. The phone has a relatively large 1/2.3 sensor that's the same size as basic point and shoot cameras. There's more than good hardware here, HTC's image processing has greatly improved with better overall exposure (no more severely blown out highlights) and image sharpening that's much more restrained. In fact, it's a bit on the overly restrained side compared to the Galaxy S7 that increases contrast and sharpness more noticeably. Doubtless, the Galaxy S7's high contrast and cooler (toward the blue) tones will please many, especially because that look is currently in fashion. The HTC 10 has a warm bias with hues that favor skin tones, and a very three dimensional and natural look that's reminiscent of dSLRs. I found it easy to take sharp looking landscapes as well as "artistic" shots with a bit of shallow depth of field (see the wet rose petal shot in our HTC 10 vs. Samsung Galaxy S7 smackdown video).


The laser autofocus makes for extremely fast and accurate focusing even when taking macro shots, and exposure is correct most of the time. It does occasionally slightly overexpose images (but not video). We're not talking terribly blown out highlights, but rather the entire image being slightly overexposed. This is so minor that HTC should likely be able to fix this with a software update (no promises, though). Low light photography is excellent and competes well against the iPhone 6s Plus and does a bit better than the Samsung Galaxy S7 family--images have richer and more natural colors and organic detail compared to the Samsung. That said, I suspect many will favor the Samsung for landscape shots since it deepens blue skies and adds more contrast. Honestly, it's a very close race between these cameras, and DxOMark.com has rated them similarly.
Video quality is likewise very good, and the camera can shoot 4K video @30fps with high res audio and 720p slow motion video @120 fps. Optical image stabilization helps smooth out handheld jitters, and likewise it improves photos and videos on the front 5MP selfie camera.

Battery Life
In recent years, HTC phones have had decent but not stellar battery life. The trend seems to continue with the HTC 10. Our review unit is running what may be pre-release firmware, so there's some chance things will improve. I'll update this article after the phone's official launch in early May 2016 to note any changes. The 3,000 mAh capacity is both ample and competitive, and the phone supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 for extremely fast charge times. Alas, being a metal-backed phone, it doesn't support wireless charging. The battery is sealed inside. Finally, HTC has included the quick charger in the box, rather than selling it as a separate accessory.


Battery life varied between very good and not so great, with no rhyme or reason. Standby times are generally good with Android 6.0 Marshmallow phones thanks to Android Doze that deep sleeps apps to prevent serious battery drain overnight. The HTC's standby times were generally in line with what we've seen with other Marshmallow phones. Gaming of course eats the battery fast--a half hour of Asphalt 8 racing used 15% of the battery, which isn't unusual. But low demand tasks like email, web, Twitter and taking a few photos sometimes used little juice while on other days it ate through enough battery to not make it past 5pm. I expect the release phone to last morning to bedtime with 10% power remaining with light-moderate use, which is what we averaged on most days.

Conclusion
This may well have been HTC's last chance to stage a comeback, and I'd say they've succeeded. Right now, no phone offers an amazing and unique new feature that puts it ahead of the pack--it's been evolution rather than revolution...refinement over shock and awe. You could rightly say that LG went for something wildly new with their LG G5 Friends modules, but so far that's worked out more like shock than awe. HTC has finally mastered the sorts of improvements and refinements we were looking for: the styling is great, the camera is very pleasing and the audio quality is leagues ahead. The phone is durable for those who are leery of all-glass smartphones and it will readily be available unlocked for those who don't want to be tied to one carrier (albeit GSM only). There's no earthshattering feature here, rather we have most everything done right. I think an AMOLED display would have sealed the deal for those thinking of migrating from a Samsung Galaxy, but it holds up well against the LG G5 and the LG V10 in terms of display quality. The software is elegant and clean, ergonomics are excellent, storage is expandable and our only hope is that HTC can find some way to improve battery life to match the LG G5 and Galaxy S7.

Website: www.htc.com
Price: $699 (may vary by carrier, $699 is HTC's unlocked price)

iPhone SE

iPhone SE



What's Hot: Still a lovely design, high quality casing, as fast as the iPhone 6s, great camera.
What's Not: Tiny screen by today's standards.





Apple's made a few stabs at an affordable iPhone, but mostly it's been last year's model sold at modest discount. There was the tepidly received iPhone 5c with its plastic-fantastic casing and lesser specs compared to the then current flagship iPhone 5. It did just OK, but since it wasn't all that much cheaper, it wasn't the wild success some analysts had envisioned to bring the iPhone to institutions, kids and less affluent countries. With the iPhone SE, Apple's produced a familiar and well-liked design at a price that's a considerable savings over the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Better yet, it has the same internals and rear camera as those much more expensive models.
The iPhone SE has the casing and design (exactly!) of the iPhone 5 and 5s--that Leica inspired one with the straight edges and 4" display. That's actually my personal favorite in the iPhone's long history: it was unique, stunning, and the straight sides made it easy to grip. The 4" display isn't my personal favorite feature... I'm a large phone person... but for those who miss Apple's easily held and pocketed smaller models, it could be a godsend. It's easy work for Apple to reuse a design, and that helps keep the cost down. They have jazzed it up with two new colors: gold and rose gold (the iPhone 5 was only available in silver and space gray, which are also available for the SE).
The iPhone SE has Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the home button and it works with Apple Pay. It lacks the iPhone 6s' 3D Touch, where you press and hold your finger on the display to bring up additional applications options (if any are available).

First Rate Internals
Inside we have the iPhone 6s, and that helps to make the iPhone SE a good deal. No more living with last year's processor and a year or two outdated cameras. The phone runs iOS 9.3 on the same 1.83 GHz dual core Apple A9 CPU as the more expensive models, and it has the same 2 gigs of RAM. It's available with 16 gigs of storage for $399 and with 64 gigs for $499. Given the wealth of apps, games and media available for iPhone, 16 gigs may be tight. We look forward to the day Apple makes 32 gigs the baseline. The iPhone SE benchmarks the same as its more expensive siblings, which is expected since the 6s and 6s Plus use the same CPU, graphics and RAM. That means the iPhone SE is equally capable of playing 3D games well (perhaps even faster since the display resolution is lower). It can do the same iMovie video editing too, though you'll have less screen real estate and resolution to do that editing.

Good Cameras Too
You're getting the same camera and lens as the iPhone 6s, and that's pretty darned good. The 12MP with enlarged pixel sites means better low light photos and video, and the reasonably fast f.2.2 lens lets plenty of light in. The camera can record 4K video at 30 fps, and it can do slow motion video. Auto HDR, and simultaneous photo capture at 8MP while capturing video and panoramas are standard. It's the same camera as the iPhone 6s and the same software and features. Though the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge and the LG G5 edge it out for low light photography, it's still one of the best cameras on the phone market.

Apple cuts some features for the budget iPhone SE model, so you get the old standby 1.2MP FaceTime front camera rather than the iPhone 6s' 5MP shooter. It's fine but not stellar for FaceTime video chats, and it does better than some higher megapixel Android phones for Skype video chat.

Calling and Data
Unsurprisingly, reception is similar to the iPhone 6s, since it uses that phone's cellular chipset. The antenna design is still iPhone 5, but that's not a problem here. The bottom firing speaker phone is adequate and similar to many phones on the market with a similar speaker arrangement (the rare treat of front firing speakers like HTC's BoomSound speakers will do better). Voice quality in terms of naturalness, fullness and volume was good in our tests.
All major carriers offer the iPhone SE, and Apple will sell a SIM unlocked model. That means you can use most any carrier's nano SIM card with the unlocked iPhone (priced the same as carrier locked versions at $399/$499), except Sprint.

Battery Life
If there's one complaint iPhone users have, it's battery life. Not that the iPhone 6s has terrible battery life, it's merely average. The bigger iPhone 6s Plus with its bigger battery does better, but the iPhone SE, with its more power-frugal small and lower resolution display does the best of all. It outlasted even the iPhone 6s Plus, which is a hard phone to beat. We had no trouble making it from 8am to 11pm with average use (a few phone calls, streaming a few YouTube videos, taking photos, social networking, email, web and a location lookup in Apple Maps).

Conclusion
The iPhone SE is a hard phone to pin down--it's hugely smaller than anything else currently on the market. Do folks want that? You reading this will vote with your wallets. It's as fast as the much more expensive iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and it has the same great rear camera. That makes it quite a good deal if you want the latest iPhone technology but are priced out of Apple's flagship tier. The iPhone SE is undeniably good looking, iconic and easy to hold and pocket. If I weren't a fan of big screen phones, I'd consider it and save a few hundred dollars.
Website: www.apple.com
Price: $399 for 16 gigs, $499 for 64 gigs

Sony Xperia S

Sony Xperia S



Along with the Xperia ion, the Sony Xperia S is the first smartphone to bear just the "Sony" name. The Xperia S not only introduces a new design philosophy for Sony's handset range, but the name is also pleasingly short considering that some previous models have had up to six words in their names.
The Sony Xperia S is a seriously high-end device, powered by a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in flash memory. The large 4.3" display has 720 x 1280 pixels resolution, giving full 720p HD playback capabilities. On the back is a 12 megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording, and there is a secondary 1.3 megapixel camera on the front for video calling.
There are lots of Sony enhancements built in to the Xperia S, including an Exmor-R enhanced image sensor, BRAVIA engine enhanced graphics, xLoud and TrackID music enhancements, integration with Sony's entertainment services and the Xperia S is also PlayStation certified.
Other features include an FM radio, HDMI port and of course the Xperia S has all the usual features such as 3.5G, WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. The Xperia S will ship with Android 2.3, upgradable to Android 4.0 during Q2 2012. The handset is also NFC capable and has a set of optional NFC tags, although quite how useful that will be remains to be seen.

As is becoming common, the Xperia S has a built-in battery, a 1750 mAh cell quoted as giving up to 8.5 hours talktime on 3G and 17 days standby time. The Xperia S measures 128 x 64 x 10.6mm and weighs 144 grams.
This is a very slabby phone, although the design is lifted by a transparent element near the bottom of the handset. It does look very much more like a Sony product than a Sony Ericsson product, and it will be available in both black and white colour schemes, in the UK the white version will be exclusively available at Phones 4U.
It's an impressive device, and the Sony Xperia S marks a strong start for Sony's smartphone ambitions in 2012. No indication was given on price, although we suspect that this will retail for up to €600 or so at launch. Sony say that the Xperia S should be available from Q1 2012.
Legal disclaimer: Image for illustrative purposes only. Not for commercial use or re-sale. Use of "Sony" brand subject to regulatory approval.
Sony Xperia S at a glance
Available:
Q1 2012
Network:
GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 +
UMTS 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
Data:
GPRS + EDGE + UMTS (3G) + HSPA + WiFi
Screen:
4.3" 720 x 1280 pixels
Camera:
12 megapixels (main)
1.3 megapixels (sub)
Size:
Medium tablet smartphone
128 x 64 x 11mm / 144 grams
Bluetooth:
Yes
Memory card:
No (32GB internal)
Infra-red:
No
Polyphonic:
Yes
Java:
Optional
GPS:
Yes
OS:
Android 2.3
Battery life:
8.5 hours talk / 17 days standby (3G)

Sony Xperia ion Preview

Sony Xperia ion Preview



The Sony Xperia ion is the first smartphone to bear the "Sony" name.. or it should be if Sony gets to finalise its takeover of the Sony Ericsson joint venture.
Heading exclusively for the AT&T network in the US, the Xperia ion is presumably a taste of things to come as far as the rest of the world is concerned. And if this is what Sony are offering the world during 2012, then it looks like it could be a very good year.
This is a powerful beast. Inside is a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor. On the front is a 4.6" 720 x 1280 pixel HD display and an HD camera for video recording. On the back of the Xperia ion is a 12 megapixel Exmor-enhanced camera with 1080p HD video capture capabilities. The Xperia ion is a 4G LTE device, one of a number of new 4G devices for AT&T and other US carriers.
Internal flash memory is 16GB, and the Xperia ion also comes with an HDMI port and can share media using DLNA or Sony's BRAVIA Sync service. The Xperia ion is also PlayStation certified and has access to a very large library of entertainment from Sony's media division.
This is an Android 2.3 smartphone, and although Sony have not said if an upgrade to Android 4.0 will be available, we would be shocked if it were not.
At the time of going to press we don't have any further information on the Sony Xperia ion, although we do know that lucky AT&T customers should be able to get their hands on one from Q2 2012.
Legal disclaimer: Image for illustrative purposes only. Not for commercial use or re-sale. Use of "Sony" brand subject to regulatory approval.
Sony Xperia ion at a glance
Available:
Q2 2012
Network:
Not specified
Data:
Not specified
Screen:
4.6" 720 x 1080
Camera:
12 megapixels (main)
Size:
Not specified
Bluetooth:
Yes
Memory card:
Not specified
Infra-red:
No
Polyphonic:
Yes
Java:
Optional
GPS:
Yes
OS:
Android 2.3
Battery life:
Not specified

Sony Tablet S and Sony Tablet P

Sony Tablet S and Sony Tablet P



We first saw the Sony Tablet S and Sony Tablet P back in April under slightly different names. After quite a wait, Sony have now confirmed that these tablets are real and will start shipping this month.
The Sony Tablet S is a somewhat conventional looking Android tablet, but it is perhaps the Sony Tablet P that will steal the show. The Tablet P comes with two displays with a hinge down the middle, so it folds up like a book, measuring 180 x 79 x 26mm when closed.
This design may seem completely mad when compared to conventional Android tablets, but this approach works well on a much smaller scale with the Nintendo DS. For example, you can use the bottom screen as a game controller while playing the game in the top screen, but obviously this will require a specially written application.

The twin displays on the Sony Tablet P are each 5.5" 1024 x 480 pixel panels. Inside is a 1GHz dual-core processor with 512BMB of RAM. The Tablet P ships with Android 3.2 and supports both WiFi and 3.5G connectivity. Internal memory is just 4GB, but the Tablet P also has a microSD slot with a 2GB card in the standard sales package. On the front is a VGA camera for video calling, and on the back is a 5 megapixel primary camera with HD video capture.
When open, the Sony Tablet P measures 180 x 158 x 14mm, it weighs 372 grams and the P is quoted as having up to 5 days standby time and 4.6 hours of web surfing time on 3G or 6.1 on WiFi only. The Tablet P also has GPS, Bluetooth and support for 802.11 b, g and n wireless networks.
The Tablet P is available to order from Sony now for delivery from November onwards for £499, or €599.
The Sony Tablet S is definitely the more normal looking device, featuring a 9.4" 1280 x 800 pixel display and 

1GB of RAM. Normal is relative though as the back actually folds around, raising the tablet up slightly so it is easier to use on a flat surface.
Inside is the same 1GHz dual-core processor as found on the Tablet P, and the Tablet S also has the same camera arrangement. One novel feature is that you can use the Tablet S as a universal remote control for both Sony and non-Sony entertainment equipment.
There are several different models of the Tablet S available, 16GB and 32GB WiFi only versions for £399 / €479 / $500 and £479 / €579 / $600 respectively. A 16GB WiFi + 3G version is available in Europe for £499 or €599. The WiFi versions will ship with Android 3.1 with an upgrade to Android 3.2 promised soon, the WiFi + 3G version will have Android 3.2 out of the box. Delivery should start by the end of September.
The Sony Tablet S measures 241 x 174 x 10 to 21mm and weighs 598 grams (625 for the 3G) version. Internal memory is supplemented by an SD memory slot, although no card is supplied.

These Android devices support DLNA, have a USB port, Bluetooth, come with GPS and all the usual Android applications plus some additions of Sony's own. Both tablets are PlayStation Certified and have access to Sony's online entertainment services.
These are expensive devices which are very similar in price to their iPad 2 equivalents. However, Sony is a very strong brand and is probably one of the few makes that is desirable as Apple. Given Sony's expertise at home integration, the Tablet S and Tablet P do look like very attractive tablets and perhaps they will be the first Android tablets to sell in any real quantity.
Sony Tablet P at a glance
Available:
November 2011
Network:
GSM + UMTS
Data:
GPRS + EDGE + UMTS (3G) + HSPA + WiFi
Screen:
2 x 5.5" 1024 x 480 pixels
Camera:
5 megapixels (main)
0.3 megapixel (sub)
Size:
Folding tablet
180 x 158 x 14mm (open) / 372 grams
Bluetooth:
Yes
Memory card:
MicroSD
Infra-red:
No
Polyphonic:
Yes
Java:
Optional
GPS:
Yes
OS:
Android 3.2
Battery life:
5 days standby / 6.5 hours video playback
Sony Tablet S at a glance
Available:
September  2011
Network:
GSM + UMTS (option)
Data:
GPRS + EDGE + UMTS (3G) + HSPA + WiFi
Screen:
9.4" 1280 x 800 pixels
Camera:
5 megapixels (main)
0.3 megapixel (sub)
Size:
Tablet
241 x 174 x 10-21mm / 598/625g
Bluetooth:
Yes
Memory card:
MicroSD
Infra-red:
No
Polyphonic:
Yes
Java:
Optional
GPS:
Yes
OS:
Android 3.1 or 3.2
Battery life:
17 days standby / 6 hours video playback
 
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