LG V10 Review: Manual Camera FTW

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Photo Credit: LG UAE

One balmy day in Tel Aviv…

While traveling for vacation, I often forego expensive clothing or other tourist purchases. Instead, I splurge on gadgets! Not just any gadgets; the random and obscure ones often not sold in the US. This has caused issue before, with the purchase of incompatible smartphones and other junk electronics that were high on novelty, but didn’t make it past a month of my attention. During a recently completed 3 week jaunt in Europe and the Middle East, I picked up an unlocked LG v10.

Unlike other vacation splurges, the v10 IS sold in the US. In fact, it can be had on 3 of the 4 major carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon). The v10 in my case was a pure technology novelty, packing a killer camera that allows manual video controls, the ability to save RAW photo files, and another rarity being the integrated Hi-fi DAC that includes a headphone amplifier (my eyes water from the greatness). My example today is the LG-H960YK; a 64GB model in white – a variant NOT available on US carriers, or through Amazon (unless purchasing the International model not compatible with US 4G networks).

Hardware:

The LG v10 has been around for roughly 8 months at the time of writing. It is not a new phone. It does however, still have very cutting edge hardware. The v10 packs a 6-core Snapdragon 808, with speeds up to 1.4Ghz (not very fast). Things get better from here with the additional of 4Gb RAM, a 5.7″ 2k display, removable 3000mAh battery, SD card slot, 16MP rear camera, and the party trick dual 5MP shooters, and secondary notification LCD in front. The duel cameras on the front allow for standard and wide angle selfies. Rounding out the package, the physical build of the devices is sturdy. The v10 is rated with withstand shock, but not water. The sides of the device are flanked by a steel band, which is rounded and make the phone extremely comfortable to hold. Those same rounded edges make the phone almost impossible to pickup from a table sadly.

Focusing on the camera hardware, the v10’s rear camera is the same 16MP sensor dating back to the G4. It is also used in the new G5 handset. It is a trusty and reliable sensor with optical image stabilization and laser assisted autofocus. The combination of laser focus and OIS make shots from the v10 some of the sharpest from a smartphone. LG also does more sharpening on it JPEG’s than most rivals. I easily get superior shots from the v10 when comparing to my current daily driver – an iPhone 5SE, with its 12MP non-IOS shooter. Moving to video capture, the v10 records 4k video and 65Mbps. This is high for a smartphone camera and makes the v10’s 4k footage some of the highest quality on a phone. Audio recording from video is also boosted by the ability to direct which direction to focus audio – either from the front or rear of the phone. Audio quality from the build it mics (a total of 3) is still low. These mics are not a replacement for a dedicated mic if video recording is the goal.

Software:

The v10 ships with LG’s standard UI treatment. Its stock home launcher is more customizable than most, allowing hiding of app icons, and uninstalling apps by dragging icons to the ‘uninstall’ option that appears at the top of the screen. Although the UI is performant, LG still falls victim to including duplicate applications which can’t be uninstalled (email and browser for example). The stock keyboard is also replaced wth an LG version, along with LG supplied factory ringtones and wallpapers. The v10 being a 2015 device retains the app drawer option that was later dropped in the initial G5 release.

The v10’s camera software is a main draw for the device, allowing full manual control. The ability to adjust exposure and color temperature save most any shot that would have been blown out in auto mode. The color temp adjust deserves a special shoutout because it allows granular kelvin adjustment, rather than presets such as ‘day’ or ‘cloudy’. Manual controls for video are the same as photos, including manual focus, white balance, and shutter speed. Shutter speed is special as it allows a slower 24fps cinema recording, or a high 60fps record to get crisp still from action scenes in post. LG’s camera software used in the v10 is simply the best on the market, bar none.

LG decided to include a secondary display on the v10. This display can be used to display incoming notifications, a signature, recent apps, app shortcuts, as well as additional camera controls within LG’s camera app. Its is LG’s version of the curved display controls used on Samsung’s devices. Sadly, this second display is not customizable enough and is an obvious first generation implementation. I don’t expect it to make it to future phones. Although I can disable the display of app shortcuts, I cannot prevent the screen from being used for notifications. If you are using a custom launcher – it is very likely you will hit a wall if you expect to have similar controls over the secondary screen. I turned mine off completely.

As a final note to software, although LG includes a hifi DAC (32-bit to be exact), the company does not include any significant software to make use of its processing ability. There is not even an EQ option – only the ability to turn on on or off, and adjust each ear piece volume. I leave it on, and it does sound better enabled – but a pair of high end, or high impedance headphones are required to get the most out of what the DAC offers. I got the biggest benefit from using my Bose QC 25 headphones. Using most any earbud did not give significant result.

Conclusion:

The v10 is an anomaly. It is the type of smartphone that will attract buyers looking for its very specific features: either is manual video controls, or hi-fi DAC. All others need not apply. Many expect the v10 to be the start of a new series – perhaps ‘v’ for ‘video’, with subsequent models carrying similarly beefy video cred. I’m currently using the v10 as my daily driver, replacing my iPhone 5SE as I am a total sucker for the enhanced video and audio bits. I can’t however recommend the v10. The package in total seems not meant for mainstream. An experiment of sorts along the lines of Samsung’s first edge display phone; the Galaxy Note Edge. For the Android faithful, a Samsung Galaxy S7, LG own g5, or even the now bargain priced LG G4 from a year ago will be a better fit. For now, I’m still thrilled by the manual camera controls, excellent build, and can’t wait to see the next phone carrying the ‘v’ branding. One that has more fleshed out versions of all the hardware tricks bestowed on the v10.

Score: 6 out of 10

 

Nokia Lumia 635 WIndows Phone Review

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Photo Credit: Microsoft

How do you approach comparing a $50 off-contract smartphone? I suppose you don’t. You buy one – and the rest doesn’t much matter. If you are not a supreme gadget nerd, then you may consider the Lumia 635 as a starter smartphone, a disposable replacement for a lost device, or a cheap way to try the latest from Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

Software: Windows Phone as a OS is a pretty standard affair. You won’t find skinning or much manipulation outside of the occasional carrier bloat apps. My Lumia 635 was branded for AT&T prepaid GoPhone service and was littered with AT&T locker, TV, Navigation, Address Book, and other apps of dubious usefulness. Luckily – these can all be removed without restriction.

The Lumia 635 runs the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1. It even has received the latest Lumia Denim update to bring Cortana and folder support. Because of the lesser hardware spec on the device, the phone does not support rich capture camera modes or other settings menu options that are enabled on other devices. Perhaps more important than this however, is that the phone is compatible with Windows Phone 10 beta builds. It is the cheapest way to try out Windows Phone 10 for those adventurous enough.

Performance of the Windows Phone OS was excellent. The additional app transitions and large font styling of the OS mask the lower performance of the internals quite well. Low internal specs are obvious however when switching between apps. Moving between Spotify and Here Maps added a couple seconds delay as a loading bar of trailed dots trail across the screen. For most users, this will not seem a bottleneck as the switching delays are universal and consistent – regardless the number of apps open. The 635 however will not satisfy anyone who has used recent mid-range models such as the 1020, or high-end 1520, and icon.

Hardware: Inside the 635 is a quad core Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2Ghz, 1GB RAM, and a 5MP rear camera. The front facing camera is dropped as part of keeping the device cost low. The screen at 4.5” has a lower 480×854 resolution and 221 ppi. This ppi is quite respectable given the price. The panel itself is IPS and advertises Nokia’s ClearBlack technology. This proves to be simply advertising jargon in practice, as black levels are worse than those in the last generation 520 model. In total however, the panel ranks high against low cost Android models in which it competes – even if a step backwards from the 520 forebear.

Special mention is deserved for the sound out of the device. The back panel mono speaker gets very loud and clear – a Lumia tradition. The device does lack sound EQ options in its settings. Something I missed sorely when comparing to higher-end Lumia models. The back of the device can be removed and swapped for punchy plastic replacement backs. I opted for an eye-searing orange. Inside also houses a micro-sd card slot to supplement the paltry 8GB internal storage. My device purred with a 64GB micro-sd holding photos, downloaded podcasts, and apps.

Conclusion: A lot of people will buy the Lumia 635 as test hardware. It is the cheapest you can sample Windows Phone 10 today. For this – there is no better option. For the general consumer, the Lumia 635 is a sturdy, low cost, and well performing handset. It may be wholly impossible to buy the handset at $50 and find fault. All hardware specs and performance rate well for the price. The only major deal-breaker, being those who absolutely require a front-facing camera. The Lumia also will see distribution as wide as any flagship, including the iPhone. It is on sale for virtually every US carrier and has equally wide distribution outside the US. At $50, you can’t go wrong. Approved.

Rating: 9 of 10

Yezz Billy 4.7 Windows Phone Review

Yezz Billy 4.7 Windows Phone

On a random day, I strolled into the Microsoft Store to browse. No purchase in mind, just browse. Windows 10 for Phone Preview had just been announced and I was also in the market for a new laptop. I stumbled across the Yezz Billy 4.7, which sold for $179 unlocked. It was an excuse for me to jump back into trying Windows Phone. Here are my impressions of the cheap and cheery, unlocked device.

Hardware: At $179, the Yezz Billy is a good value. It ships with Windows 8.1, a 4.7″ 720p IPS LCD screen, Snapdragon 200 quad core chip at 1.2ghz, 1GB RAM, with 8MP rear and 2MP front cameras along with 2 SIM slots (only 1 being 3g capable). On paper, the device is solidly mid-range for a budget price. Sadly the Yezz Billy does not live up to the sum of its parts.

Build quality is solid, but firmly in budget category. The device ships with removable back in red, blue, and white. It even includes a screen protector and headphones in the box. In hand, the device is the lightest I have used in recent memory and is a claim to fame. I began fearing I would crack the device and opted not to store it in my usual back-pocket location.

Inside the device, the Snapdragon 200 chip falls at the low end of current offerings, slotting even below the $100 Lumia 635 which contains a Snapdragon 400 chipset. Performance was acceptable, but noticeably slowed by the chip. The devices proved unable to play 720p video from the mobile YouTube site, and 3rd party players. This ended up being pretty irksome and was a performance issue I ran into a lot. Other maladies of the device hardware included the built in sound chip which provided low quality sound and background noise when using anything other than the includes earbuds.

Camera performance on the device was also subpar. Both still shots and video lacked details and dynamic range. Typically I wouldn’t notice a lack of range, but frequently shadows made objects completely blacked out in a way I had not had to care about before. Front camera performance was slightly better, producing soft shots that were on par with other mid-range devices, such as my Nexus 5.

The screen on the device is a definite high point. Excellent viewing angles, color, and brightness. Excellent black levels as well. The screen punches above its weight class. Because the device is a slab, the screen masks the other imperfections. But the novelty of the excellent screen is lost after the first week, and every other aspect of the hardware was a sever compromise.

Software: The Yezz Billy ships with stock Windows 8.1. There is no carrier bloat, although the device does ship with Amazon Kindle and Evernote preinstalled.

Moving around the Windows Phone interface is as seem-less as ever. Due to memory management of the OS, it quickly became an issue the way the phone suspended and resumed background applications. Using the phone for navigation and toggling to Spotify to change tracks resulted in a multi-second delay to resume the music player. Certain Microsoft apps also had trouble functioning. The build in podcast client did not correctly scale the interface, instead producing very small tiles, out of place with the large print OS interface. The Yezz Billy also does not support any of the specific Lumia apps, such as Nokia Camera, and Mix Music.

There are still places Windows Phone is lacking, most major apps are available. It is more than a cheat though, as apps such as Twitter and Instagram are a couple version behind and lack timely updates available on other platforms. This is not a detractor however, as using Windows Phone is a choice that comes with understanding the ecosystem. No one should be surprised or disappointed with the app selection – its a point thats been made rote. Certain backend functionality is still missing in the OS however. Notifications cannot be acted on from the notification shade, as done in Android and IOS. The OS also lack fine control over Bluetooth, such as the ability to rename devices, or enable/disable bluetooth profiles on a device. The later prevented my from turning off calling to the bluetooth adepter in my car (which had no microphone).

Conclusion: The Yezz Billy looks like an excellent package when viewing the screen and handling its light build. It comes packaged with value adds, such as a screen protector, 3 interchangeable back plates, and headphones. Unfortunately, these few areas are outnumbered by the odd defects and performance issues of the device. Perhaps this comes with using a non-Lumia handset. The device seemed to have fully skipped quality testing and any form or tuning the OS installation for the device. Not recommended.

Verdict: 6/10

Techphyre Review: LG G2 Smartphone

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Samsung has enjoyed dominance in the Android smartphone space for quite some time now, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that LG has fallen into a rut as a constant #2. Although the company is still in the ‘fast follow’ mode, entering nearly every nice as second to Samsung – the company looks to be throwing more research dollars into developing phone functions that set it apart. Enter the LG G2…

Hardware: The G2, by every measure is a flagship smartphone. It has been on the market now for a half year, and is shipping on all of the Big 4 carriers in the US – a major win for LG. With the recent announcement of the LG G Pro 2 phablet, the older G2 is again of interest for those not quite ready for a larger than life smartphone.

The main attraction of the LG G2 is a 5.2” 1080p panel. This particular unit is hailed as using extremely small bezels in implementation. A closer look however will reveal a buffer space at the edge of the display that is a couple pixels wide, this would normally be covered by plastic bezel – so nothing groundbreaking here, just a different implementation.  As part of the smaller bezels, LG made the choice to made the choice to move the power and volume keys to the back of the device. The new placement was ergonomic and easy to get used to in practice. Not a gimmick, but a legitimate alternative for the standard smartphone ergonomics.

Other hardware bits include a Snapdragon 800 CPU at 2.2Ghz, 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage my T-Mobile model. No SD card, or removeable battery is available in the G2. In operation, the high-end hardware all worked well together, the device benchmarks slightly higher than the Nexus 5 smartphone that shares similar internals and Snapdragon CPU.

Software: Since most modern smartphone falls into predictable categories of low-end, midrange, and high-end, manufacturers – most notoriously, LG and Samsung, have relied on heavily modified Android software to differentiate their handsets. LG’s implementation of Android carrier very cartoony UI styling, with very bright coloring. It performs better than Samsung Touchwiz, but is just as intrusive. LG has also implemented a number of conflicting software options, such as LG Cloud storage that overa with services offered by Google. Overall, the software is middle of the road, rating behind that of stock Android, and lighter skinnings such as those from Sony – but above the heavier Samsung interface. Notable enhancements that came with the additional bloat, include “Knock-On”, which allows the phone to be waken, or placed in sleep with two taps. Other features such as slide-aside are not as useful, again conflicting with built-in Android multi-tasking.

Camera: A special mention is needed for the camera on the LG G2. At 13MP, it is not competing on numbers with Nokia or Sony, which have higher specs sensors. It does however include optical image stabilization which help churn out great images consistently. The camera has more lag than most any other phone I have tested – but in stock form offered 9-point auto focus, which while nice – was likely slowing it down.

Conclusion: The LG is a very good high-end Android device. It can be had for as little as $99 from a number of carriers. It packs high-end specs, including plenty RAM and a good camera. Perhaps most importantly, it delivered on excellent battery life, allowing users to be truly mobile. In the current crop of high-end handsets, the LG earns top marks – and also happens to be my current “daily driver”.

Rating: 8 of 10

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Motorola Moto G Review

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It wasn’t a surprise when Google announced that they put in a bid to buy Motorola Mobility. It’s Android operating system was rapidly expanding and under threat of patent litigation from rivals. Google itself had no history in telecom and did not have the patents to defend itself. This is, until it bought Motorola.

Two years after the acquisition, Motorola has burned through it’s line of second-rate smartphone offerings, and starting with the acclaimed Moto X, is now producing product fully under the tutilage of its parent company Google. Moto G is the second product of this formula – aimed squarely at the low end of the Android market.

Hardware: Moto G retail prices start at $179 for an 8BG model, and $199 for a 16GB unit. Outside of the storage allotment, all Moto G models ship with a 5MP rear camera, 1.2MP from shooter, 1GB RAM, and quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2Ghz. A very well rounded package. Prior to Android 4.4, 1GB of RAM would have been a concern – but performance of the Android 4.4 operating system has been mostly smooth in testing. Photos taken on the other hand were average to poor out of the 5MP rear camera. It’s video recording specifically is limited to only 720p and it noticeably less sharp that most any other android device that have all standardized on 1080p.

On top of the internals is a nice 4.5” guerrilla glass 3 display at 720p. Even at 720p, the display has pixel density in the range of iPhone 5 and was a pleasure to use. Motorola chose wisely in not skimping too much on the display. It is not made using AMOLED technology, but instead is a cheaper LCD panel – but performs well overall. Rounding out the hardware is a rear-facing speaker that plays loud but lack any richness when compared to current champs HTC One and iPhone 5.

My favorite function of the device overall may be the replaceable back covers, the covers are sold direct from Motorola, and come in multiple colors. My current back is an electric lime green. The Moto G is sure to be favored by a younger audience that wants a custom look – that can be changed with their mood. The flexibility of swapping the candy colored back may be the only advantage it holds over the more expensive Moto X.

Software: Motorola did well in sticking with a stock android experience on the Moto G. I wondered how the lower-end hardware would have coped with laters of bloat or skinning. Other than the base 4.4 built, Motorola does include a few Motorola specific aplications, such as Moto assist – but these can be easily disabled from the application menu.

Although 1GB RAM runs android 4.4 well – the phone did begin to slow once 20 or more applications were installed. Even is closing all apps, the additional installation required more services when the phone booted – leaving less memory for Android processes. This phone is not for power users. The lack of RAM was most apparent when multitasking between multiple application windows. Opening and closing the apps would begin to slow and transitions stutter for more visually heavy applications. 90% however would never reach such load to create this scenario.

Conclusion: The Moto G is a polished and well rounded smartphone, it cuts back in places that are not too obvious while providing all the functions a user expects. The processor, RAM, and screen combination works well together with Android 4.4. The swappable back covers make the devices also visually unique. At $179, the device is not for power users – but it is a value that is not matched by anything else in its class.

Score: 9 of 10