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Here’s the gorgeous Xiaomi Mi Mix in white

Everyone thought that Xiaomi was going to introduce a bevy of new devices at CES, given that this is the very first year that the Chinese manufacturer has an actual presence on the showroom floor, but as it turns out, the only “new” smartphone that they announced was a different color variant of an existing device – the Xiaomi Mi Mix. Now available in a pristine white ceramic paint job, it complements the existing, almost bezeless, all-black version of the phone that was announced back in late October.

Aesthetically, the near bezel-less nature of the Mi Mix continues to be its standout, offering one of the best screen-to-body ratios in a phone around. However, this new color variant makes the phone less prone to appearing smudgy or messy looking. The polished surface definitely helps to make the phone stand out, which as expected, does a significantly better job at masking those nasty fingerprints and smudges that tend to dirty most devices.

Here’s the gorgeous Xiaomi Mi Mix in white

As for the specs, this variant doesn’t differ from the original one. Just a quick recap, the Xiaomi Mi Mix features a 6.4-inch 1080 x 2040 IPS-LCD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC, 4GB/6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, 16MP rear camera, a 5MP front facing one that’s slapped in the bottom right corner of the display, and Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Beyond that, everything else about the phone is identical to the phone we saw announced back in the fall. If you haven’t checked out our full, in-depth detailed review of the phone, then we suggest to check it out to see whether or not the near bezel-less display is something that’ll work for you – or whether it’s more of a novelty. In terms of availability, this one, much like the original all-black version, is only going to be made available in China later this year. Therefore, you’ll need to think about importing this one when it comes out.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

CES 2017 is in full swing and some of the coolest smartphone announcements at the show are coming from Asus. The Taiwanese manufacturer revealed a ZenFone 3 variant equipped with dual cameras and optical zoom, but it’s actually the ZenFone AR that really piqued our interest, thanks to a combo of great specs and advanced features from Google.

The ZenFone AR is the first high-end Tango phone (and the second overall, after the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro), the first phone that supports Tango and Daydream VR, and the first smartphone with 8GB of RAM.

That’s a lot of premieres, so let’s take a closer look at what the Asus ZenFone brings to the table, live from CES 2017.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

As mentioned, the ZenFone AR will be the second commercially available Tango-ready smartphone, but unlike the Phab 2 Pro the ZenFone AR is much sleeker looking, more manageable in the hand, and a lot less bulky.

The phone has a full metal frame that wraps around the entire perimeter of the phone and on the back there’s a very soft leather backing that feels extremely nice and also provides a lot of grip.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

Also on the back is a 23MP camera, as well as the optical hardware needed to run Tango applications – this includes sensors for motion tracking and a depth sensing camera. The Tango module takes up the space where the fingerprint sensor is usually found on Asus phones, so the sensor is now placed on the front, embedded in the physical home button, which is flanked by capacitive keys.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

If you’re still somehow not familiar with what Tango is, here is a very brief explanation. Tango is an augmented reality (AR) platform created by Google. Born from Google’s advanced technologies labs, Tango eventually graduated last year to become a real product. Tango-equipped phones can understand the physical space, by measuring the distance between the phone and objects in the real world. In practice, that means Tango phones can be used for AR applications like navigating through in-door spaces, but also for more recreational purposes like games. There are currently over 30 Tango apps in the Play Store, with dozens more coming this year.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

Besides Tango, ZenFone AR also supports Daydream VR, Google’s virtual reality platform for mobile devices. As such, it’s compatible with Daydream View and other Daydream headsets and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time using mobile VR applications on it.

The phone has all the specs you’d want on a VR-focused device, including a large, bright, and beautiful 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen with Quad HD resolution and a Snapdragon 821 processor inside (sadly, it won’t get the brand-new Snapdragon 835, as we were hoping). The ZenFone AR will come with either 6GB of RAM or a whopping 8GB of RAM, a first for any smartphone.

Asus ZenFone AR hands-on: Tango, Daydream, 8GB of RAM, oh my!

All those hardware features will tax the system, so the ZenFone AR includes a vapor cooling system to help prevent the phone from overheating when using its AR and VR capabilities.

As all Daydream-ready devices, the ZenFone AR is running Android 7.0 Nougat, but not without Asus’ ZenUI customizations on top of it.

You can expect to see the ZenFone AR released in the second quarter of this year (April-June), but exact pricing and availability are still to be confirmed. The ZenFone AR is definitely shaping up to be a very interesting device, especially with both Tango and Daydream inside. The specifications – and especially the 8GB of RAM – make us curious to see how the ZenFone AR performs in real life. We’ll definitely pick it up for further testing once its release date approaches.

Meanwhile, keep it tuned to our YouTube channel and visit our CES page for all the latest from Las Vegas, and also tell us what you think about the Asus ZenFone AR!

LG K8 and LG K10 hands on: mid-range moneymakers

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LG didn’t bring the big guns to CES 2017, but it did bring the guns that make money. The K series – short for Kinetic and spiritual successor to the now-defunct L series – fit comfortably in the budget mid-range spectrum with sub-$200 price points. We’re only covering the two higher-end variants here, the K10 and K8, but LG also presented the even-lower-end K4 and K3.

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As the K series model numbers decrease, so too do their display sizes. The K10 is the largest of the bunch at 5.3 inches while the K8 comes in at 5 inches. As an upgrade to last year’s K series, the entire range of 2017 K models feature IPS in-cell displays. Both the K10 and K8 have HD resolution and share a very similar design generally.

Battery capacity increases are thankfully part of the updated package, with the K10 packing a 2,800 mAh removable battery – up from 2,300 mAh last year – and the K8 a 2,500 mAh cell, up from 2,125 mAh. The K10 also gains a fingerprint scanner and USB OTG support, both of which the K8 misses out on (although it still has a rear-mounted power button). On the software front, both devices run Android Nougat out of the box.

Camera resolutions get a nice bump, with both models sporting a 13 MP/8 MP combination, however the K10’s selfie shooter is a 120-degree wide-angle lens. Both devices feature LG’s Ultimate Selfie, Gesture Shot, face detection Auto Shot and soft-white selfie “flash”, enabled via a illuminated screen when shooting with the front-facing camera.

LG K8 and LG K10 hands on: mid-range moneymakers

On the specs side, the K10 packs an octa-core MediaTek MT6750 chipset clocked at 1.5 GHz paired with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB ROM with microSD expansion up to 2 TB. The LG K10 will be available in black, gold and titan (gray) colors.

The K8 is powered by the quad-core Snapdragon 425 (MSM8917) clocked at 1.4 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM and 16/32 GB of storage with microSD expansion up to 32 GB. The K8 is available in silver, titan, dark blue and gold color options.

LG K8 and LG K10 hands on: mid-range moneymakers

Both phones weigh 142 grams, despite their difference in size, and for no particular reason feature a microUSB charging port. Fortunately, their mass tier status also means they’re holding onto the 3.5 mm headphone jack. The speaker grill in both cases is mounted on the rear.

There’s nothing terribly special about the new K series devices to get hardcore Android fans excited about, but the specs upgrades across the board, Android Nougat and nice camera and battery bumps will ensure these phones get lots of play in the mass tier market. Exact pricing and release details will be available in the coming days.

LG Stylo 3 hands on at CES 2017

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With the Note 7 gone, looking for a stylus equipped alternative? While you won’t find anything nearly as high-end, LG does have a more budget friendly alternative. At CES 2017 LG announced the LG Stylo 3, a mid-range phablet offering mid-to-low range specs and na affordale price point.

The Stylo 3 rocks a MediaTek octa-core processor powered by 3GB of RAM and navigated by the latest version of the Android operating system, 7.0 Nougat. On the software side, it’s essentially identical to the LG V20, just accompanied with a sleek stylus for all your jotting needs.

While a stylus is equipped, the LG Stylos 3 is obviously not a Note 7 competior, offering much more modest specs. There are some similarities, though. First, there’s the obvious inclusion a stylus. Next, the software here closely mimics the Note 7, allowing you to pop out the stylus and scribble away without any unnecessary interface, but the Note 7 also delivered a very impressive camera, which is something you just can’t say about the Stylo 3. Pictures were serviceable enough under ideal lighting conditions, but even the lighting of the showcase room at CES proved a challenge for the 13MP selfie cam.

It’s worth noting that the stylus is notably thinner than we’ve previously seen. We’ve yet to really determine whether or not this is an improvement, and further experience with the Stylo 3 is definitely merited. Some members of our team found the thinner pen more comfortable than the comparably thick Note 7 stylus, but others found it flimsy and needlessly minimalist.

In short, the LG Stylo 3 is far from a flagship device, but really that’s no surprise since you’re paying so much less for it. If you’re someone who values the stylus attributes over conventional performance benchmarks, then this might be a device to consider. However, power users should venture forth with caution.

What do you think of the LG Stylo 3 so far? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

AsteroidOS review – the future of Android Wear?

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With Android Wear 2.0 being delayed until the next year, and seemingly no new smartwatches planned from OEMs like LG, Motorola, and Huawei, things in the Android Wear universe has come to a standstill. If you can’t wait for the Android Wear 2.0 update, or are just looking to breathe some life into your smartwatch, you might want to give something new a try. Currently compatible with a limited number of devices, including what was the first Android Wear smartwatch to be launched, the LG G Watch, here is a quick look at AsteroidOS!

AsteroidOS has been created by Florent Revest, a French computer science student, and is a completely standalone linux-based wearable OS that is not based on Android Wear in any shape or form. It is also entirely open-source, which will allow other developers and manufacturers to freely modify it as they see fit.

Before diving into the review, something to keep in mind is that AsteroidOS is still in the alpha stages of development, so understandably, not everything will work perfectly. You will notice a lot bugs and freezes, but it does run well enough for you to get an idea of what this new take on the wearable operating system has to offer.

AsteroidOS review – the future of Android Wear?

There is an app you can download from the AsteroidOS website, that will allow you to manage certain functions and pair it to your smartphone for notifications. So far, the smartwatches that AsteroidOS can be ported to include the LG G Watch, the LG Watch Urbane, the Sony Smartwatch 3, and the ASUS Zenwatch 2, but that list should continue to grow.

Bluetooth pairing works only with the LG G Watch however, and even then, it can be quite finicky. The connection isn’t always stable, and notifications tend to disappear after a few seconds, with the watch going back to saying that you have no new notifications. So far, there isn’t a way to interact with, or even read, notifications either.

AsteroidOS review – the future of Android Wear?

When the watch is connected to the phone, you have several options within the app itself. You can change the weather to the city of your choice, locate your watch, take a screenshot, and tinker with the notification settings. The weather settings and the find my watch options are currently the only features that work for now. The app also tells you the remaining battery life of your smartwatch, but it isn’t accurate at the moment, so you are better off checking the device’s battery life on the watch itself.

Since it is touch based, all the navigation is done via swipes. If you swipe down on the display, you will get access to some quick shortcuts for screen brightness, Bluetooth, and enabling or disabling vibration, and you can also see the remaining battery life here. If you tap on the lock icon, it will put the watch to sleep, and a double tap on the display will wake it up.

AsteroidOS review – the future of Android Wear?

Swiping to the left will show you your notifications, assuming that notifications work properly. Swiping right works like a back key, unless you are already on the main home screen , in which case a swipe to the right will take you to the Recent Apps screen. Here, you can quickly jump between apps, and easily close these apps with a long press on them, and tapping the x that appears.

No third party apps are available at the moment, but there are a few basic applications that are pre-installed that you can access by swiping up on the screen. These include a calendar, calculator, alarm clock, timer, stopwatch, a music player, and a weather application. All the apps are simple and minimalistic, with white text and graphics, and colorful backgrounds.

AsteroidOS review – the future of Android Wear?

You can also access all the watch settings here, which has all the basic functions that you would expect, like the time, date, language, Bluetooth, screen brightness, and the options to power off or reboot the watch. There are also some customization options here for wallpapers and watch faces, and it comes pre-installed with a surprisingly decent amount of them, given that it is such an early build.

So, there you have it for this quick look at the AsteroidOS! If you are looking to install this new wearable operating system, you can find all the information you need here. Keep in mind though that the installation process isn’t easy, and some amount of technical prowess is definitely recommended.

Another thing to consider is that this isn’t daily driver material just yet. Instead, what you will get instead is a fair idea of what the experience is like, and what to expect going forward. It doesn’t overwrite Android Wear either, so you can easily go back to the regular OS by simply rebooting the watch. Asteroid OS is a wearable operating system that looks like it has a lot of potential, and is definitely worth keeping an eye on to see where it can go from.

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

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Marking the end of an era, the Pebble 2 is the last of its kind, the last smartwatch from the now sold, but long-beloved company. Many Pebble fans may not even get their hands on the latest, and last smartwatch not made under the Fitbit brand.

In case you missed the news, Fitbit, one of the biggest fitness tracker companies in the world, bought most of Pebble’s assets in December. As a result, this will be the last smartwatch under the Pebble name.

The Pebble 2 is a unique smartwatch. That’s why we’ve decided to forgo our traditional review format and do something a little special this time around. We’ve reached out to fellow Pebble fan and industry friend, Michael Fisher, to talk about the very last Pebble device. We hope you enjoy our Fitbit 2 review.

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Overview

The Pebble 2 should be very familiar to those who owned the first Pebble smartwatch

As one of three products in Pebble’s last Kickstarter campaign, the Pebble 2 is a familiar device for original Pebble owners. A larger display and a bit more polish are noticeable at first glance, with the new watch being a nice update from even the Pebble Time, maintaining the square watch design. The inside exemplifies where Pebble was headed with their software, something we’ll talk about in a bit.

Around the edges of the Pebble 2 is the familiar button layout, offering that satisfying click and function from previous watches. More specifically, that’s the navigation buttons on the right and the back button in the top left corner.

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

The rear of the Pebble 2 sports the same magnetic charging contacts as we’ve seen before, with the inclusion of the new heart rate sensor. As the main upgrade in the Pebble 2, the heart rate monitor marked a shift to a more health-centric focus, which plays into their acquisition from Fitbit.

Allowing for interchangeable watch bands, we really like the look of ours with a full width band installed – that is, our band is as wide as the watch itself, which didn’t detract from the iconic design of the Pebble line.

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

Still rocking a black and white display (the Pebble Time was the color variant in the line), Pebble stuck to their guns, offering up the very best in simplicity, without sacrificing functionality.

Performance

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

Truth be told, performance is one of the few things that strike us when using the Pebble 2. Obviously any lag or delayed responses would stand out for us, but this is not a smartwatch like we’ve seen from some of the larger players. Instead of driving a high quality color display, navigating through image rich pages and cards, Pebble keeps it quite simple, but does so with a passion.

In typical Pebble fashion, the Pebble 2 will last almost a full week on a single charge

Adding to their own software by adopting and promoting an open source atmosphere around their products, most functionality is as simple as can be. As such, overall device performance remains smooth and without lag. This also adds to the excellent battery life of the Pebble 2, rocking close to a full week of life between charges.

Software

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

The Pebble 2 has one of the most unique and fun software experiences on a smartwatch to date

The software in the Pebble 2 exemplifies the nature and philosophy of Pebble as a company. We’ll just have to wait to see what Fitbit does with the brand moving forward. For now, Fitbit has pledged support for Pebble users and devices through 2017, at least.

The core of the Pebble experience is in a fun and playful approach to not only how things are done, but in the very flow of the software. One can only be so creative with an LCD looking e-paper display, but Pebble has done a great job at putting its own spin on things. Little things like the alarm clock are represented as an animated character bouncing around the display, for instance.

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The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

Telling the time is a basic starting point for this, as with any smartwatch, and popping up notifications is an important feature. The Pebble 2, in Michael Fisher’s words, “executes on those fundamentals pretty well.”

Gallery

Our thoughts on Pebble

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

Mr. Mobile here. I never got to spend time with the Core or the Pebble Time 2, but I was delighted enough by my experience with the standard Pebble 2 that I don’t think I missed out on much. Josh already covered most of the Pebble 2’s bits and pieces so I won’t retread them. Instead I’ll tell you what I loved most about this upgrade:

Pebble didn’t sacrifice its fundamental simplicity. Part of that is the aforementioned preference for tactile buttons over touch screen swipes, and part of it is the use of well-designed software. Some may find the animations a little cutesy but to me they gave Pebble a personality that’s missing from other wearables … and that, plus the small footprint and rock-solid notification reliability, is something I’m really going to miss.

I feel like the Pebble gave itself a license to be geeky in a way that most of its competitors are a little too shy to do.

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

Pebble was one of those products that you just wanted to succeed. A lot can be said about the company and how it handled itself, but it stands that the product was not only different, but effective. Tactile feedback and input offers a critical interface with a smartwatch that isn’t present in a touch screen display. Android Wear, as the predominant wearable OS in these parts, relies on you to view the display, then accurately touch or swipe to make anything happen. There is gesture support as well, but none as easy as finding a side button without looking.

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Pebble built a community upon which developers came to build apps and services. This was a small community, granted, but one that was passionate, with an open source community. Something that was destined to continue with the Pebble Core, Pebble Time 2 and the Pebble 2, only one of which ever making it to backers.

The Last Pebble: Pebble 2 review and commentary with MrMobile

That’s all a thing of the past now – with Fitbit acquiring much of the company, the future of existing Pebble devices will run into 2017 with no word on what will occur after. If you do have a Pebble 2, cherish it – it is quite literally the very last of its kind.


We’d like to thank Michael Fisher (MrMobile) for joining us here today. You can find him at his YouTube channel giving his thoughts and takes on today’s tech, from mobile to robots to Star Trek gadgets made reality. You can hit him up on Twitter as well, he’s @theMrMobile.

Huawei Mate 9 review

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Editor’s note: Full review video to follow soon. In the meantime, our initial hands on video can be found above. 

The spectacular failure of the Galaxy Note 7 earlier this year has presented an opportunity for companies to create the best big-screen Android alternative and Samsung’s misfortune could play right into the hands of Chinese OEM Huawei.16

Huawei’s Mate range dates back nearly as long as Samsung’s Note series and by offering metal unibody designs, large displays and fantastic battery life, the range has grown in popularity. The Mate 9 continues this trend with better internals, a large display and an upgraded version of the P9’s LEICA dual camera setup but, crucially, it also brings a major revamp to Huawei’s EMUI interface in the form of EMUI 5.

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Alongside the regular Mate 9, Huawei also announced the first device in its partnership with Porsche Design – aptly named the Porsche Design Mate 9 – which brings the same internals coupled with a curved QHD display, 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Porsche Design Mate 9 is limited edition and with a price tag of €1399, it’s definitely not for everyone.

Is the Mate 9, in either form, the perfect smartphone for those wanting a big-screen Android experience? Let’s find out in this, our Huawei Mate 9 review.

About this review: We’ve been using the Huawei Mate 9 and Porsche Design Mate 9 for around five weeks now as our main phone. Until early December, both handsets were running pre-release firmware and while some of our impressions were based on the non-final software, we’ve retested both phones on their latest software for this review.

All reviews published prior to November 30th 2016 were based on the non-final software and we’ve noticed several ‘issues’ in this build have been fixed in the latest software. Throughout this review, we’ll be referencing these improvements and tweaks as a reference point against issues raised in other reviews.

Huawei Mate 9: Design

Huawei Mate 9 review

The design of the Mate 9 isn’t really surprising as it’s largely unchanged from last year, although Huawei has made it a little more compact and ergonomically friendly. Alongside this, Huawei has also added a curved unibody finished with soft-feeling aluminium and the result is a smartphone that doesn’t feel as large as you’d expect.

Considering there’s a 5.9-inch display, you could be forgiven for thinking the Mate 9 is a big phone and while the display is certainly large, narrow vertical bezels and a slim profile mean it handles a lot better than other large devices. Compared to the Google Nexus 6P or the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mate 9 is infinitely easier to handle and use, despite the larger display.

To the right of the Mate 9 you’ve got the power and volume keys while on the left is the dual-SIM tray. On the bottom is a USB-C port and one of the dual speakers, while the headphone jack and infrared port can be found up top. Huawei has also added brushed patterns and a slight chamfer to the edges which adds grip, improves the handling and makes the Mate 9 more ergonomically friendly.

Huawei Mate 9 review

On the back, you’ve got a dual-camera arrangement in a vertical layout, rather than the horizontal layout found in the Huawei P9. Beneath this is Huawei’s typical fingerprint sensor which, in typical fashion, remains one of the fastest on the market. Rather interestingly – considering Huawei’s habit of mentioning the iPhone camera bump during its press conferences – the camera is on a slightly raised hump, although this does sit flush when you use the case supplied in the box.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Although the Mate 9 is a good looking smartphone, the Porsche Design Mate 9 is Huawei’s real design champion and whether it’s a sign of things to come – or a game of imitation – it’s definitely a looker. Almost all the design elements have been changed; rather than a regular display, you’ve got a dual-curved screen like the one found on the Galaxy S7 Edge.

The design changes don’t just stop there; the screen is smaller than the Mate 9 (more on that later), the fingerprint sensor is moved to the front beneath the display and flanked by back and recent keys and the back is covered in a pitch-black anodized metal that looks striking and shimmers in the light.

Huawei Mate 9 review

The curved display itself is surprising as it’s incredibly subtle and more an element of design rather than a feature in itself. The different finish on the rear also means the Porsche Design Mate 9 attracts more fingerprints but is easier to hold and provides a hard edge to grab a hold of, and more grip than the regular Mate 9.

Rather than a revolutionary design, the Mate 9 is another step in the evolution of Huawei’s design strategy. Huawei is demonstrating that big doesn’t always have to feel big, and that they can pull off a large display that’s still friendly to your hand. Personally, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 is definitely a looker, I prefer the feel of the regular Mate 9 in the hand.

Huawei is demonstrating that big doesn't always have to feel big, and that they can pull off a large display that's still friendly to your hand.

Huawei Mate 9: Display

Huawei Mate 9 review

The Huawei Mate 9 sports a 5.9-inch 2.5D Full HD IPS display with a density of ~373ppi, while the Porsche Design brings Quad HD resolution in a smaller 5.5-inch AMOLED display with ~534ppi density.

You could be forgiven for judging the regular Mate 9 purely on the Full HD resolution but to do so would take away from the fact the display is fantastic. Like previous Huawei devices, there’s a super high contrast ratio (1600:1+) which offers an immersive experience and helps to shield the fact it’s not an AMOLED display.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Running both devices through our testing reveals both have a cool display out of the box – with the Porsche Design more accurate than the regular Mate 9 – although this can be easily changed in the settings menu. Like most flagships, both devices also come with a blue-light filter, which is branded as “Eye Comfort” mode and works just as you’d expect by changing the display tone to a much warmer color. Digging further and the Porsche Design Mate 9 has a max brightness of 383 nits, while the Mate 9 tops out at over 600 nits.

The Porsche Design Mate 9 aside, Huawei has always stuck to its guns when it came to adopting higher resolutions and the Mate 9 screen goes to show that you don’t always need more than Full HD. Yes, it would have been nice to have better than Full HD resolution on the regular Mate 9 but this display is fantastic regardless.

Huawei Mate 9: Performance

Huawei Mate 9 review

As you might expect, the Mate 9 is packed with the latest internals from Huawei in the form of the Kirin 960 chipset, which is made up of ARM’s latest Cortex-A73 chipset (versus the A72 used in the Mate 8 and Huawei P9). The Kirin 960 comes equipped with four Cortex-A73 ‘performance’ cores clocked at 2.4GHz, paired with four Cortex-A53 lower power cores clocked at 1.8GHz. The Mate 9 is also the first handset to run the new 8-core Mali-G71 MP8 GPU, which is expected to power the Galaxy S8 and other flagship devices next year.

The regular Mate 9 comes equipped with 4GB of RAM and either 64GB of storage, while Porsche Design Mate 9 owners will get 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. If you do opt for the regular Mate 9, you do get expandable storage, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 is limited to 256GB of storage.

Huawei Mate 9 review

The combination of the latest processing package, ample amounts of RAM and lightning fast UFS 2.1 storage means both versions of the Mate 9 fly through everything you throw at it. On the regular Mate 9, there’s between 2.4GB and 2.6GB of RAM free with no apps running and even with 20 apps running (including a couple of games), we’re yet to hit below 1.5GB of RAM free. Based on the RAM utilization, the Mate 9 is the closest we’ve seen a smartphone come to PC-levels of optimization and resource usage.

The Mate 9 is the closest we’ve seen a smartphone come to PC-levels of optimization and resource usage.

A large part of this is down to Huawei’s new machine learning algorithm, which learns your habits and prioritises your favourite apps to ensures there’s always the right resources available when you need them. Huawei goes a step further to say that their machine learning algorithm means your phone is fast out of the box and remains fast, even after months of usage. Of course, we can’t confirm this but so far, the results are certainly promising.

Huawei Mate 9 review

How do both versions of the Mate 9 stack up to the competition and how much better is the Kirin 960 than the Kirin 950? In AnTuTu, the regular Mate 9 scores 127507 while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 111354. In comparison, last year’s Mate 8 scores 51432, the Exynos-8890 powered Galaxy S7 Edge scores 127507 and the Snapdragon 821-powered Pixel XL scores 136883.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Moving on to GeekBench 4 and the results are quite similar; the regular Mate 9 scores 1910 in the single-core test and 5311 in the multi-core test while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 1936 and 5921 respectively. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores 1070 and 1787, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 1578 and 3858, and the Pixel XL scores 1575 and 4090. Interestingly in the multi-core test, the regular Mate 9 is the first Android smartphone we’ve tested that’s on par with the iPhone 7 Plus (5395) while the Porsche Design Mate 9 leads the field comfortably.

Huawei Mate 9 review

The last of our regular benchmark tests is 3DMark, where we put the new GPU to the test and the regular Mate 9 scored 2203 on the Slingshot test, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 1600. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores just 351, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 2178 and the Pixel XL scores 2476.

Huawei Mate 9 review

To test the GPU further, we also ran another graphics-based benchmark (which we’ll be doing more of in 2017) in the form of GFX Bench. In the T-Rex HD on-screen test, the regular Mate 9 achieved 58 frames per second (fps), while in the Manhattan on-screen test, it scored 28fps. Meanwhile, in the same tests, there was quite a drop in the Porsche Design Mate 9 results at 41fps and 20fps, which is not overly surprising given the higher resolution and extra pixels the GPU has to power. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores just 39fps and 17fps, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 50fps and 14fps and the Pixel XL scores 55fps and 30fps.

Overall, the benchmark results show how much the Kirin 960 has improved over previous versions, especially in the graphics department, where the Mali GPU has almost completely closed the gap to the Adreno GPU used in Snapdragon chipsets. On paper, the Kirin 960 may not be perceived as one of the best chipsets, but the experience on the Mate 9 is almost as smooth as the Pixel XL.

Huawei Mate 9: Hardware

Huawei Mate 9 review

Like most flagship handsets, the Mate 9 comes equipped with the latest internals, including an array of sensor, a fingerprint sensor, and connectivity options. Huawei also demonstrates its network infrastructure prowess through the addition of smart WiFi features, excellent antennae and full control over dual SIM functionality.

Beneath the camera on the rear, the regular Mate 9 has a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, in the same vein of those we’ve come to expect from Huawei. It takes around half a dozen taps to register your fingerprint and once enrolled, you can wake and unlock your phone in under a second. The fingerprint sensor also comes with gesture support, allowing you to tap once to go back a step, press and hold to return to the home screen and swipe down to access your notifications and shortcuts.

Huawei Mate 9 review

On the Porsche Design Mate 9, the fingerprint sensor is moved to the front of the device with the rear sensor replaced by a Porsche Design logo. The fingerprint sensor works almost as well as on the regular Mate 9, although there does seem to be a slightly longer delay in reading your fingerprint when the display is turned off. This sensor also supports gestures, albeit they are different to the regular Mate 9 and if you opt to switch off the capacitive navigation keys, you’ll use swipe-based gestures on the sensor to navigate between screens.

The Mate 9 comes with a dual stereo speaker setup with a single speaker found on the bottom and a secondary speaker built into the earpiece above the display. The speakers are fantastic and louder than you’ll ever need them to be, but when set to above 60%, there is a noticeable tininess to the audio. However, you probably won’t need to set it to higher than this as it’s plenty loud without distortion for general usage.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Unlike many smartphones, the Mate 9 keeps the regular 3.5mm headphone jack, which can be found up top. The design might be questionable – I personally prefer a bottom mounted headphone jack – but the wired audio output isn’t, with the Mate 9 able to drive ample amounts of power to a variety of headphones. It’s not quite on par with audio-centric smartphones such as the LG V20 and ZTE Axon 7 but it comes very close and offers one of the best audio experiences on a flagship smartphone.

Like most flagships, the Mate 9 offers a plethora of connectivity options that include NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and an infrared port. It’s especially great to see that Huawei kept the infrared port, which can be used to control your home appliances and entertainment. The dual SIM card slot allows you to use either two SIMs or a SIM card and microSD card (on the regular Mate 9 that is) and call quality is fantastic, especially as when you put the phone to your ear during a call, the Mate 9 eliminates ambient noise. This, coupled with the speaker in the earpiece, results in excellent call quality.

Huawei Mate 9: Battery Life

Huawei Mate 9 review

One of the principle cornerstones of Huawei’s smartphone philosophy is battery life and in particular, a desire to prioritize battery life over features (such as higher resolution displays).

The Mate 9 is no different and its 4,000mAh battery is one of the largest found on an Android flagship smartphone. Coupled with a Full HD display, you get excellent battery life as you might expect from such a large battery. By way of comparison however, the Porsche Design Mate 9 has a higher resolution (yet smaller) display and the same 4,000mAh battery capacity and there is a noticeable drop in battery life.

How does the battery stack up to the competition? Using our custom battery tester app, we’re able to say that the battery life on both devices is firmly up there with the best smartphones on the market.

Huawei Mate 9 review

The first of our tests focuses on gaming and each smartphone is charged to 100 percent, the display brightness is set to 200 nits and all sync is turned off (with Wi-Fi remaining on). During this test, the Mate 9 lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes, while Porsche Design lasted 4 hours and 34 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts 4 hours and 48 minutes and the Pixel XL lasts 4 hours and 43 minutes. Our testing has revealed that no Android smartphone comes close to the iPhone 7 Plus, which lasts for 12 hours and 37 minutes when gaming.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Moving onto the next criteria and we use the same 1080p HD video file, charge phones to full and loop the video until the battery drains completely. In this test, the Mate 9 lasts for 14 hours and 12 minutes, while the Porsche Design lasts for 10 hours and 36 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts for 10 hours and 34 minutes and the Pixel XL lasts for just over 7 hours.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Our last battery test focuses on wifi browsing and our apps loads the same six webpages in a continuous loop until the battery drains completely. In this test, the Huawei Mate 9 lasts for 14 hours and 4 minutes, while the Porsche Design lasts for 11 hours and 28 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts for 11 hours and 57 minutes and the Pixel XL for 10 hours and 38 minutes.

Huawei has often claimed that it resisted the market transition to Quad HD displays because of the effect on battery life and as our testing has revealed, the QHD display on the Porsche Design Mate 9 has an impact on the battery life, when compared to the FHD display on the regular Mate 9. With that being said however, both smartphones offer exceptional battery life and even with heavy usage, neither device fails to last for more than a day. On several occasions, the 4000mAh unit has been enough to see us through the entirety of the second day, and sometimes, even half of the third.

With the Mate 9 Huawei proves that flagships can have lasting battery lives.

Throughout six weeks of testing, we’ve experienced screen on time ranging from 5 to 8 hours, whereas the Porsche Design Mate 9 achieves between 4 and 7 hours. For the most part, six hours of screen on time is regularly achievable for heavy users. Whether you’re a heavy, medium or light user, the Mate 9 will power you for days on end. Battery life is a problem that plagues all smartphone users and both variants of the Huawei Mate 9 are excellent solutions to this long-running concern with modern technology. Battery technology hasn’t progressed as fast as other areas of smartphone tech, but with the Mate 9 Huawei proves that flagships can have lasting battery lives.

For the times when the battery is running low, the Mate 9 and Porsche Design Mate 9 are the first handsets to come equipped with Huawei SuperCharge, a proprietary fast charging solution that’s designed to rival Qualcomm’s QuickCharge and other OEM solutions. Charging the 4,000 mAh battery inside the Mate 9 is incredibly fast using the bundled SuperCharge charger (either the wall or the car charger), with the battery taking around 90 minutes to charge from full. How does this compare to the competition though?

Huawei Mate 9 review

Huawei claims its new 4.5V/5A charging technology is also designed to be cooler than rival fast charging solutions, and in a direct dig at Samsung, says a processor inside the charger communicates with your phone, continuously monitors the temperature of your Mate 9 and will slow charging down if it notices the handset is overheating. Below 50 percent, it charges rapidly and once it gets to 75%, the charging process slows a little. On the lock screen, the Mate 9 shows whether you’re charging at standard, “fast” or “super” speeds and while it’s not slated to work with rival fast charging solutions, the Mate 9 does charge quicker than normal when plugged into a QuickCharge 3.0 charger.

Huawei Mate 9: Camera

Huawei Mate 9 review

Huawei’s partnership with Leica continues with the Mate 9 sporting a new and improved second generation dual camera setup. Much like the one in the Huawei P9, the camera is centred around a Leica-branded dual camera, with a 12MP RGB sensor supplemented by a 20MP monochrome sensor. Both sensors are behind lenses with f/2.2 aperture and the RGB sensor also sports Optical Image Stabilisation for additional stability in photos and videos.

Like the P9, the RGB sensor captures the colors in a scene while the monochrome sensor enhances the detail and this means the Mate 9 is capable of capturing images with a very impressive bokeh effect. In the right conditions, you’re able to take images that top the same effect found in the iPhone 7 Plus and the photo sphere feature found on the Pixel XL.

Huawei Mate 9 review

Overall, image quality from the Mate 9’s dual camera array has been impressive. In daylight, you get images that are crisp, full of detail with colors that are more realistic (and less saturated) than those captured by the Galaxy S7 Edge or Pixel XL.

Huawei’s camera app means Pro mode is just a tap away and offers settings to adjust the exposure, ISO and focal point to take stunning photos. In the default mode, the Mate 9 seems to struggle with picking the right focal point (images are often under or over exposed) but manually selecting the right focal point or tweaking the scene in Pro mode allows you to take fantastic photos.

One of the biggest improvements in the final software build is the low light performance of the camera, with the Mate 9 now capable of taking low light pictures that are on par with the Galaxy S7 Edge. However, while low light shots are vastly improved, the Mate 9 does struggle with slight movement in low-light, with OIS proving less effective than in other flagship devices.

The Huawei camera app is rather straight forward to use, with options for flash, wide aperture and filters found in the viewfinder. A swipe to the right brings up the settings menu, while camera modes such as monochrome (black and white), Beauty, slow-mo, panorama, light painting and HDR can be found by swiping to the right.

HDR mode in particular is interesting as there’s no way to enable it by default or have it automatically turn on so you’ll need to remember to activate it by swiping left. The Mate 9 does activate HDR automatically in certain conditions, but hiding it in the modes menu means it’s less user-friendly than on other smartphones. HDR does a decent job of boosting colors, reducing blowouts and brightening shadows, but the effect is less pronounced than on other smartphones and the difference is minimal enough that you won’t activate HDR as much as you might with another Android device.

Moving to video and the Mate 9 is capable of shooting 4k video at 30 frames per second and like in photos, video quality is decent in daylight, but becomes a little grainy in low light. The Mate 9 is one of the first phones to shoot 4k using the new h.265 codec, but given it’s so new, very few apps (including YouTube) know what to do with it. Although there’s ample storage on the Mate 9, Huawei’s compression algorithm means 4k video file sizes are up to 50% lower than on other devices. The Mate 9 also supports shooting in 1080p at 60 frames per second (where you get software-based stabilisation) and 720p video at 120 frames per second for slow-motion footage.

The front camera on the Mate 9 is an 8MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture lens, capable of shooting Full HD video at 30 frames per second. For the most part, selfies come out rich and full of colors in good lighting and in low light, the camera does a good job at boosting the ISO and letting more light into the camera.

Huawei Mate 9 & Porsche Design Mate 9 camera samples

However, a very irritating part of taking low light selfies is the amount of time it takes the camera to actually take a photo. When the flash is set to auto (there’s no way to keep it on by default) and there’s not enough light, the screen lights up for two to three seconds before the camera fires. Unfortunately, most selfie takers won’t hold a pose for that long (especially as the screen can be quite blinding at full brightness), and especially not when taking a group selfie, resulting in selfies that have motion blur. This does seem to be a software-based issue so hopefully this will be resolved in the next update.

The Mate 9 takes gorgeous photos that you’ll be proud to share

Overall, the camera on the Mate 9 certainly doesn’t disappoint and it seems to be on par with other Android flagships. In particular, the improvement in the camera performance from pre-release to final software was drastic enough for us to change our thoughts on the camera; initially, there were several issues, especially in low light, but these are no longer a concern with the final update. It’s not perfect – no phone is after all – but the Mate 9 takes gorgeous photos that you’ll be proud to share.

Huawei Mate 9: Software

Huawei Mate 9 review

Look at past Huawei phones and there’s a single trend that has defined the company’s smartphone efforts to now: hardware is always great but poor software. Like most Chinese OEMs, Huawei used to develop its global software in China, without taking into consideration how different the Chinese market is from, well, everywhere else.

Earlier this year, we heard that Huawei was working on a revamped version of its EMUI interface, that would look to address a lot of the issues raised in previous reviews. In the Mate 9 we have just that, with EMUI 5 bringing the latest Android 7.0 Nougat OS as well as several fixes to issues that have plagued Huawei smartphones for generations.

With that out of the way, what’s new with EMUI 5? There’s a lot of changes, starting with the new Azure color scheme that’s present throughout the UI. It brings with it a complete visual overhaul, with the odd color scheme of old replaced by white backgrounds, faint grey accents and blue highlights and tones. The changes don’t end there as Huawei’s own stock apps adopt more of Google’s Material Design guidelines and the icons no longer look like out-of-place and inspired by iOS.

The biggest new feature of all? An app drawer. It sounds so simple, but finally EMUI brings the option for an app drawer in the settings. It’s not enabled by default – and when it is activated, there seems to be a one second lag before the home screen shows when you return from an app – but the app drawer brings the familiar Android interface, and vastly improves the overall user experience.

The result is a familiar software experience chiseled and refined into something closer to the bone of Android.

Android 7.0 Nougat also brings some improvements and tweaks that lend to the overall experience and it’s refreshing to see that Huawei has resisted previous habits of overhauling everything. Instead, EMUI 5 brings tweaks to the stock Android experience with Huawei showing flair and tweaks in selected locations rather than throughout the OS. The result is a familiar software experience chiseled and refined into something closer to the bone of Android.

Swiping down from the top brings a new, darker notification shade that displays more icons than before and can be heavily customised. In the settings menu, there’s an option to toggle between individual notification icons in the top bar or the total number of unread notifications. For the data-driven type of user, there’s also the option to display the current network speed – surprisingly useful at diagnosing when you have connectivity issues – as well as the carrier name, which is useful to distinguish between carriers when you’re using two SIM cards.

Moving further around EMUI 5 and one thing is clear; this is a rapid interface, with bloatware – on the global version at least – kept to a minimum. The few preloaded apps can generally be uninstalled, save for a few that Huawei uses to provide core EMUI f5 features. The launcher is fast, full of features and heavily customisable and aside from the aforementioned slight stutter when you have the app drawer enabled, there is no noticeable lag. Although the launcher’s color scheme is pleasant and usable, if it’s not for you, there are plenty of themes available in Huawei’s theme store, although these won’t change the look and feel of Huawei’s own default apps.

During a briefing on EMUI 5 in China, Huawei revealed that EMUI 5 had been redesigned to ensure most tasks were only a couple of taps away. The exact figures they quote are being able to reach 50% of features within two taps and over 92% within three taps and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the settings menu. In previous generations, you’d find options nested inside options inside further options and so on, but with EMUI 5, the Settings menu is more user friendly and easier to navigate.

Take the battery menu for example; in EMUI 4.1, the battery menu could be found nested three levels deep but in EMUI 5, it’s a top-level menu. Dig into this menu and you’ll find the usual plethora of options including an ultra-power saving mode (which reduces your usage to a couple of apps only), regular power saving and the ability to reduce the screen resolution to eek out the last hours of your battery.

Battery management has also been revamped in EMUI 5, with a large improvement in the way the interface handles power-intensive apps. Previously, Huawei phones would prompt you with constant notifications about resource-heavy apps, and these are a lot less persistent in EMUI 5. Huawei’s new machine learning algorithm can be seen at work here as apps that you use frequently – in my case, this include Slack and FIFA Mobile – will appear in these prompts but won’t be killed off by default. EMUI now also gives you the option to blacklist rogue apps that might be the cause of battery drain and have them automatically killed when you turn off your display.

EMUI 5 also adds the ability to use multiple accounts with single-account applications like WhatsApp and Facebook, using the Twin App feature. How does EMUI does this? Essentially, the Mate 9 runs two instances of the app at the same time. If you have two SIM cards and have been frustrated as you couldn’t run Whatsapp with both numbers on the same phone, then the Twin App feature is the perfect solution.

What about the Porsche Design Mate 9? Does the curved display have any software benefits? In a word: no. The software experience is almost identical, save for some ugly Porsche Design themes, tweaks to UI tuning to take advantage of the high res display and a dark mode to save on battery life. The biggest difference is in day-to-day usage, where the on-screen keys from the regular Mate 9 are replaced by back and recent apps keys flanking the home button; these keys aren’t labelled so you can swap them around and work just like you’d expect. Although it is possible to disable the keys and navigate by swiping the home key, it doesn’t really work as well as you’d hope, and we wish using on-screen keys like the regular Mate 9 was an option.

EMUI 5 is smooth, feature-rich and easily Huawei's best software to-date

Overall, EMUI 5 feels more polished than previous generations and with a lot of features built-in like Samsung’s TouchWiz, it may yet serve as the next best alternative to the Galaxy Note 7. From EMUI 4 to EMUI 5, Huawei shows just how much can be achieved by listening to customer feedback. The result are clear to see: EMUI 5 is smooth, feature-rich and easily Huawei’s best software to-date.

Huawei Mate 9: Gallery

Huawei Mate 9: Specifications

SizeHeight: 156.9mm; Width: 78.9mm; Depth: 7.9mm
WeightAbout 190g
ColorsSpace Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White
Display5.9” FHD display
2.5D glass
1080p (1920 x 1080), 373ppi
16.7M colors, Color saturation (NTSC) 96%
High contrast 1500:1 (Typical)
CPUHUAWEI Kirin 960; Octa-core (4 x 2.4 GHz A73 + 4 x 1.8 GHz A53) + i6 co-processor
GPUMali-G71 MP8
Operating SystemAndroid™ 7.0 (Nougat)
Emotion UIEMUI 5.0
Memory64GB ROM
4GB RAM
microSD card slot, support up to 256GB (uses SIM 2 slot)
Dual SIMDual SIM
NFCNFC-supported
ConnectivityWi-Fi 2.4G/5G, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with Wi-Fi Direct support
BT4.2, support BLE
USB Type C (High Speed USB)
CameraFront: 8MP AF, F1.9
Main: Dual, 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB, F2.2
OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
4K video
Battery4000 mAh (Typical Value)

Huawei Mate 9: Price & Final Thoughts

Huawei Mate 9 review

The Mate 9 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade over its predecessor, nor is it going to be for everyone, but it does excel in the key areas that Huawei intended it to: battery, performance and camera. 2016 is arguably the year where Huawei broke through, first with the P9 and now with the Mate 9. With all things considered, the Mate 9 is probably the best big-screen Android smartphone you can buy right now.

The very-public demise of the Galaxy Note 7, coupled with the current trend for smartphone displays to measure 5.5-inches or less, means the Mate 9 is one of just a handful of big Android devices currently available. The LG V20 is another of these but there doesn’t seem to be an LG V20 launch planned for Europe, meaning the Mate 9 is the only big-screen flagship currently available for this market.

What will the Mate 9 cost? At the launch in Munich, Huawei confirmed the Mate 9 would cost €699 when it launches in Europe this month. Pricing for the US is yet to be confirmed but given the EU pricing, it’s likely to cost around $700 when it launches at CES in January. For those in the US that really want it right now though, you can find it online for around $750. This pricing puts the Mate 9 firmly in the flagship Android smartphone category, and while it’s not perfect, it can definitely hold its own against other devices.

Huawei Mate 9 review

What about the Porsche Design Mate 9? Well, if the glorious QHD display, subtle curves and stylish design have piqued your interest, it will set you back €1,395. Yep, the Porsche Design Mate 9 costs over a thousand Euros, which makes it a luxury smartphone, that isn’t designed for the mass market.

If you’re after a smartphone that offers exceptional battery life, an intriguing dual camera and incredible performance, the Mate 9 delivers in spades

Should you buy either of them? If you’re after a smartphone that offers exceptional battery life, an intriguing dual camera and incredible performance, the Mate 9 delivers in spades. If money is no object and you want a smartphone that is unattainable to most customers, the Porsche Design Mate 9 is certainly worth considering.

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ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

A few years ago buying a smartphone for $130 would have been a bad move, putting it politely. Phones in this price range were slow, clunky, and just didn’t take you very far. Thankfully, a lot has changed on that front in recent times. Low-priced technology has come a long way since the birth of the “premium affordable” smartphone market.

Today we are taking a look at the ZTE Grand X 4, and I can’t help but feel a little amazed at what so little money can get you nowadays.

After using the Grand X 4 for some time, there’s a few questions I would like to answer. For starters, is it worth your hard-earned $129.99? How good of a successor is it to the ZTE Grand X 3? Is it the phone for you? Also, is Cricket Wireless a good fit for you?

This gadget surely doesn’t compete with those high-end beasts that cost well over $600, but you may not need one of those expensive gadgets. Many of you can happily live with much more affordable handsets. Want to catch all the details? Let’s jump right into the full ZTE Grand X 4 review.

Buy the ZTE Grand X 4 from Cricket

Design and build quality

Whoever said you need shiny metals to achieve a good design and build quality? It sure helps, but a well made phone doesn’t always need so-called ‘premium’ materials in order to stand out from the crowd, and I can say such is the case with the ZTE Grand X 4.

The ZTE Grand X 4 is certainly not a small phone, offering a 5.5-inch display and a larger body size to go with. That said, the curved edges, textured back and a solid in-hand feel make the phone much easier to handle than you might expect. Further lending to this handling experience is the phone’s lighter weight. The ZTE Grand X 4 weighs in at 5.71 ounces, which is only a bit heavier than the smaller Samsung Galaxy S7 (5.36 ounces).

The Grand X 4 certainly doesn't feel like a cheap phone, and at least in our time with it so far, it's proven to be pretty durable.

The Grand X 4 certainly doesn’t feel like a cheap phone, and at least in our time with it so far, it’s proven to be pretty durable. One benefit of plastic over metal or glass is that it tends to be a bit more resistant to things like scratches and other wear marks.

The back is adorned by a plastic, non-removable cover with a crisscross pattern that gets rid of the material’s slippery nature. Of course, you can also find the 13 MP camera, flash and fingerprint reader aligned on the top area, while a speaker rests on the bottom-right side. It’s pretty surprising to see a phone at this price point rocking a fingerprint scanner, and we have to say it’s actually quite responsive as well – though we’ll go into more details on that a bit later in the review.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

The left side of the device houses the SIM card slot, which doubles as a microSD reader. On the right side we can find both the power button and the volume rocker, while the top features the 3.5 mm headset jack and an audio-cancelling microphone. Meanwhile, the USB Type-C port and microphone rest on the bottom side.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

On the front there is a 5.5-inch 720p screen, a speaker, the 5 MP front-facing camera and three capacitive buttons at the bottom. These follow ZTE’s Grand X line design, with a circular home button that is now iconic to the brand, as well as two customizable dots.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

ZTE makes these two dotted buttons easily re-programmable. It’s possible to choose which is the back or recent apps action. Not all of us have the same preferences, right? It’s annoying when you have to be stuck with the manufacturer’s chosen button layout.

Overall, the phone feels pretty good. There seemed to be a bit of a loose area to the left of the fingerprint reader, where a click would sound after creating some pressure, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker. It’s not something you will ever notice under regular use.


Display

We have said it time and again – a phone does not need a QHD screen to look great, and to some users even a 1080p definition may be a bit overkill. The ZTE Grand X 4 sports a large 5.5-inch panel with a 1280×720 resolution, which may be enough for many… or not.

At this size it can be hard to ignore those pixels, which are definitely noticeable to the naked eye. Some images look a little hazy and you can especially tell the low resolution when viewing text. But some sacrifices had to be made to reach this price tag, and once you get past the small details you will find that this is actually a pretty good screen.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

Colors are vibrant and well saturated. For a moment I was actually wondering if it was an AMOLED panel, but then realized it was just a good quality LCD screen. Viewing angles are great and I noticed close to no washing out or darkening when viewing from extreme perspectives. It is also bright enough to comfortably use under direct sunlight.

At the end of the day, if you are a display buff, this one might be a bit underwhelming, but if you are just looking for a bright, large display that gets the job done, the X 4 handles this quite nicely.


Performance

The ZTE Grand X 4 one-upped its predecessor by upgrading to the Snapdragon 400 series, as opposed to sticking with the 200 series. The Grand X 4 now sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 chipset, with four cores clocked at 1.4 GHz. You can also find 2 GB of RAM running the show.

This makes for a pretty good experience. Keep in mind lower-end processors are no longer as limited as they once were. This phone can handle its own pretty well. Apps open quickly and I never noticed any significant lag or real slow-downs during casual usage. Of course, it’s not as fast as the big guys, but that is to be expected.

When it came to running all my apps, for the most part, it handled everything I threw at it without any major issues. However, on the gaming front there were a few more issues. I was not able to run Shadowgun, and Real Racing had plenty of stutters. More casual games worked just fine, though.

The UI of course is super responsive. Remember when cheap phones took like 3 seconds just to go from homepage to homepage? Those days are long gone! But let’s get you some numbers, shall we?

 


Hardware

This is one area where the ZTE Grand X 4 really stands out. While most phones in this price range strip the phone of all cool features in existence, it seems the ZTE Grand X 4 is skimping out on very little. For starters, the phone does come with a fingerprint reader, as previously mentioned. And a very good one, at that. It is fast and only failed to recognize my fingerprint a couple times.

While most budget phones strip the phone of all cool features, the ZTE Grand X 4 is skimping out on very little.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

In addition, the phone comes with a USB Type-C connector, Bluetooth 4.2, 4G LTE and more. Also packed inside is 16 GB of internal flash storage. We know that’s not very much, but you can expand it by up to 64 GB using the microSD card reader. The only significant feature missing is NFC, really, but we know not many of you care for that anyways.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!


Software

The ZTE Grand X 4 comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which is not the latest and greatest, but it is recent enough to keep the phone relevant.

In good ZTE fashion, the software is pretty much stock Android with some slight (yet helpful) additions. The most obvious difference will be on the notification area, which does look rather unique. It looks like a rehashed version of the Grand X 3’s notification area, but with a transparent gradient we happen to be fans of.

Pulling down the notification area will display your notifications (of course) brightness options and 4 toggles you can customize to your liking. wipe down again and you will see a plethora of other toggles coming down. These can also be edited, by the way.

It is a simple interface, which we know is something the US market loves. The closer to stock Android, the better, right?


Camera

Cameras on low-end phones tend to be horrible, a trend ZTE has been wanting to change. Now, I am not saying this is a phenomenal camera phone, but it can take some decent shots.

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

I was especially surprised by the manual mode in the included app. Those of us who really need more control over our cameras usually can’t stand auto mode, an issue ZTE started tackling some time ago. One can easily tinker with the ISO, shutter speed, exposure, white balance and more.

In addition, one can separately select which area of the frame it would be better to focus on, while exposure is captured from another. Simply move the circle and cross wherever you prefer. Here are some samples of the images I captured.

Of course, you can find all those cool modes. These include panorama, multi exposure and interval shooting. I would say it’s one of the fullest camera apps I have used.

Here are some samples of the images I captured:


Battery life

I have always said there is one huge benefit to a phone with lesser specs – battery life. Less powerful processors, lower definitions and other cheaper components tend to be less resource intensive, which means you won’t need to stay tethered to a wall as long.

I seriously wasn't able to kill this phone with a full day's worth of moderate to heavy usage. In fact, I would plug it in every night with about 30% of juice left to go. This thing will last!

Couple this with the fact that the ZTE Grand X 4 has a pretty hefty battery and you have yourself one long battery life. I seriously wasn’t able to kill this phone with a full day’s worth of moderate to heavy usage. In fact, I would plug it in every night with about 30% of juice left to go.

This thing will last!


Specifications

 ZTE Grand X 4 specs
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Display5.5-inch 1280x720 LCD
Processor1.4 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 425
RAM2 GB
Storage16 GB (plus microSD support)
Rear camera13 MP
Front camera5 MP
Battery3,140 mAh battery
Dimensions6.11" x 3.03" x 0.36"
Weight5.71 ounces

Gallery


Conclusion

There's one thing no one can deny - the ZTE Grand X 4 is worth the $129.99, and more.

The ZTE Grand X 4 is certainly not the phone of your dreams, but you would be hard-pressed to find something of this quality at $129.99. The phone may need a bit more power when playing games or using intense apps, but for most casual tasks it will do great. It could also use a higher definition screen, but you are still getting much more than what you paid for.

The device comes with some features usually reserved only for higher-end phones, such as a fingerprint reader and USB Type-C, so you are not missing out on all the fun. In addition, you get amazing battery life, a pretty good camera (considering the price range), a solid construction, pleasing design and good build quality. All for $129.99!

ZTE Grand X 4 review – $129.99 can take you pretty far these days!

Oh, and there is one more factor – can you live with Cricket Wireless? This phone happens to be exclusive to the AT&T subsidiary. The carrier offers pretty good plans, starting at only $30 a month. Qualified plans get a $5 discount if auto-pay is set up. Not to mention you do get unlimited data; you only get a limited amount of high speed data, though.

Regardless, if Cricket Wireless doesn’t have coverage in your area, or you simply don’t like the carrier, you will have to look elsewhere for an affordable handset.

The main question I ask myself when making a review is – could I live with this phone? I probably wouldn’t choose to, as I am a fan of high-end games and this gadget wasn’t able to handle them very well. I would certainly recommend it to a casual user, though. There’s one thing no one can deny – it is worth the $129.99 and more.

Buy the ZTE Grand X 4 from Cricket

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

Lenovo has been on a hot streak in India, with a slew of great smartphones on offer that cover everything from entry-level to high-end. The company has found particular success with its K Note series, while both the K3 Note and the Vibe K4 Note proving to be quite popular.

Also read:

Lenovo K4 Note review

July 25, 2016

Lenovo is hoping to find the same success with the latest addition to the series, the Vibe K5 Note, that was launched in India in August. With upgraded hardware and a premium design, does the latest affordable smartphone from Lenovo prove to be a worthy successor? We find out, in this comprehensive Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review!

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Design

The Lenovo Vibe K5 Note features a beautiful, all-metal unibody design

More and more manufacturers are starting to include all-metal designs in their mid-range and entry-level smartphones, so it’s not surprising that the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note features a full metal unibody construction. Admittedly, it doesn’t feel like the highest quality metal when compared to its more expensive and higher-end counterparts, but the construction is sturdy, and the device feels solid in the hand.

Taking a look around the device, the headphone jack sits on the top, while the microUSB port can be found on the bottom. The hybrid dual-SIM card and microSD card slot are on the left side, and on the right is the power button and volume buttons. The buttons are definitely an improvement when compared to its predecessor, with a good amount of travel and a nice click to them.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

Below the display are capacitive navigation keys, and unlike its predecessors, the keys do light up, which is a nice upgrade. It’s not particularly bright though, and you won’t really notice it unless you are in a dark environment, but that is when having back-lit navigation buttons is the most useful anyway.

The fingerprint scanner is on the back, below the camera unit and the dual LED flash, and at the bottom is the single speaker unit. During the launch event, Lenovo made a big deal about how the camera, the flash, the fingerprint sensor, and the Vibe logo were perfectly aligned and symmetrical. It’s a nice design touch that you don’t really appreciate day to day, but has led me to taking a lot more notice of what other phones look like.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

With a 5.5-inch display, the K5 Note is a large device, but Lenovo has done a good job with keeping the bezels along the sides of the display relatively thin. The subtle curves all around the back contribute positively to the handling experience as well. However, the metal body makes for a very slippery device, which can take some getting used to. If you have had issues with dropping your phone, you are definitely better off using a case that adds some grip.

Display

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

The Vibe K5 Note's display is a huge improvement over its predecessor

The Vibe K5 Note comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with a Full HD resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 401ppi. This display is a huge improvement over its predecessor, particularly when it comes to the brightness. Color reproduction and viewing angles are better as well. 1080p allows for plenty of sharpness, and reading text, watching videos, and playing games are all enjoyable on this large display.

The default settings are good enough, but you do have the option to change the color balance and temperature to better suit your needs. There is a manual mode that gives you granular control over these aspects, and a few preset options, like Comfort Mode, that helps protect your eyes when browsing the phone for long periods of time.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

One point to keep in mind here is that the glass panel protecting the display isn’t of the Corning Gorilla Glass variety, which is definitely a step back, considering it was available with the K4 Note. It’s difficult to judge how sturdy the panel is without actually scratching it or dropping the phone, but if that is a worry, a regular or tempered glass screen protector is certainly recommended. That said, I haven’t had any issues with scratches on this screen yet.

Performance

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

The Vibe K5 Note is powered by the octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 processor, clocked at 1.8GHz and backed by the Mali-T860MP2 GPU. This particular review unit comes with 4GB of RAM, but there is also a slightly cheaper version of the phone available with 3GB of RAM. The benchmark scores may not be very impressive, but the overall performance has actually been really good.

Opening, closing, and switching between apps has been a breeze, and the device handles everyday tasks very well. The gaming performance is excellent as well, and there have been no instances of lag or stutter when playing games like NBA Live Mobile, Stick Cricket 2, Modern Combat 5, and Riptide GP: Renegade. That is as heavy as my gaming requirements go, and the K5 Note did a wonderful job with all of them.

Hardware

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

32GB is the only option as far as on-board storage is concerned, regardless of whether you pick the 3GB or 43GB of RAM version. Expandable storage via microSD card is available, up to an additional 256GB. However, the second SIM slot doubles as a microSD card slot, so users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual-SIM capabilities.

Users will have to make the choice between expandable storage and dual-SIM capabilities

While the K4 Note featured dual front-facing speakers, the single speaker unit of the K5 Note has been relegated to the back. Lenovo mentions that the curve along the bottom near the speaker directs the sound better, and it does help to some extent, but front-facing is definitely the better way to go. The sound quality itself is pretty good, and the speaker gets decently loud without sounding tinny.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

The Dolby ATMOS features do return however, where you can choose between preset options like Movie, Music, Game, or Voice, or set up custom settings depending on your liking. You also get additional features, including Surround Virtualizer, Dialogue Enhances, and Volume Leveler. As before, access to this feature in buried in the Settings menu, and can be found at the end of the “Ringtones and Volumes” section.

Speaking of ringtones and volumes, Lenovo’s software has a few interesting additions here. You have the ability to set up different ringtones and message tones for the two SIM cards, which is a nice and easy way to distinguish between the two. There is also a feature called “Pocket Enhancer,” that boosts the ringtone volume when the device is in your pocket. However, that only really works if your default volume setting is less than all the way up already.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

The fingerprint scanner on the back is really fast, but not as accurate as before, with the sensor often requiring a second try to unlock the device. The speed more than makes up for the slight lack of accuracy however, and you don’t even have to lift your finger for the sensor to read it the second time and get it right. It’s fast enough that the only reason I know it took another try is because of the vibration when it gets it wrong.

The fingerprint scanner on the back is really fast, but unfortunately not as accurate as before

The sensitivity and speed of the scanner did prove to be a problem in some instances though. For example, when pulling the phone out of a pocket, accidentally touching the scanner with the wrong finger would result in the device attempting to read it multiple times. This would result in the fingerprint scanner failing, which means the phone would then resort to requiring a PIN or pattern to unlock the phone. This would happen so fast that by the time I’d hold the phone up to actually unlock it, I would see an error message that reads “Too many attempts.”

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

As we’ve seen with the devices from other Chinese OEMs, this fingerprint scanner is capable of more than just unlocking the phone. There are a few different functions that it can be set up to perform. For example, a single tap can be set to work as a back button, or to take you back to the home screen. A long press can open the Recent Apps page, and finally, you can use the scanner as a shutter button, which is very useful when taking selfies.

The Vibe K5 Note comes with a large, non-removable 3,500mAh battery, and the battery life it provides has been excellent. With average to heavy usage, the device has consistently managed at least 4.5 to 5 hours of screen-on time, and there have been a few days where I’ve managed to push the screen-on time to close 6 hours. With fantastic standby times, the K5 Note will comfortably allow for a full day of use, and can easily be pushed to a day and a half to two days with lighter usage. There is no fast charging or wireless charging capabilities to be had though.

See also:

Screen-on time: Why is it important, and how can I extend it?

2 weeks ago

If you are looking to get even more juice out of the battery, there is the standard Battery Saver mode that automatically activates at the 15% mark. There is also an Ultimate Battery Saver feature that makes the UI much more minimal, and allows for only calls and texts. Another useful battery feature is “Scheduled Power On and Off,” which lets you select a time period where the device automatically switches off and turns back on again.

Camera

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

The Vibe K5 Note comes with the same rear camera as its predecessor – a 13MP shooter with a f/2.2 aperture and a dual LED flash. The front-facing camera has been updated however, now sporting an 8MP sensor.

Taking a look at the camera app, it is quite simplistic and easy to use. Everything you need can be found on the viewfinder, including the toggles for HDR and flash, as well as the button to switch between the front and rear cameras. The menu houses just the Panorama mode and a slew of color filters, and diving deeper into the Settings is where you can play around with features like aspect ratio, photo resolution, snap mode, white balance, ISO, triaxial leveling, and guidelines.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

There isn’t a whole lot of improvement in terms of image quality with the K5 Note when compared to its predecessor. The camera is still capable of taking some really nice shots outdoors and in good lighting conditions. The color reproduction isn’t very accurate though, and images lack saturation, making them appear quite dull. HDR mode just brightens the shot completely, which works well in certain situations, but is certainly not something you can use all the time.

Unsurprisingly, noise and grain starts to creep into the images when lighting conditions deteriorate. That said, the camera performs particularly poorly in low-light situations. The shutter speed is extremely slow, requiring a very steady hand to avoid blurry shots. Even then, highlights are blown out, and pictures lack detail.

The 8MP front-facing camera allows for more detail in the shot, but generally suffers from the same issues faced by the primary shooter. There is a nifty “Beauty” mode that you’ll be able to use with the front camera too, as well as an option called “fill light” that adds pink or chrome bars at the top and bottom of the viewfinder to provide some light for your selfies in darker environments.

Software

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

On the software side of things, the Vibe K5 Note is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. The default launcher is very clean, minimalistic, and features a lot of stock Android elements – especially when it comes to the Settings menu, notification shade and app drawer. However, for those who have used Lenovo smartphones in the past and prefer the company’s different take on Android, you also have the option to easily switch to the company’s Vibe UI.

See also:

Android 6.0 Marshmallow updates roundup

7 days ago

This offers a completely different look and feel, and elements like the app drawer are no longer available, leaving users dependent on folders to keep things organized. My personal choice is the former, but people who are already used to it from the experience they enjoyed with their previous smartphones may prefer the latter. Overall, it’s great to see Lenovo leave the choice up to the user.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

There are still a few pre-installed apps, but certainly not as many as what you’d get with its predecessor. All third-party apps can also be uninstalled easily, and the only ones that cannot be removed are Lenovo staples like ShareIt, SyncIt, the Lenovo Companion, and a Themes store that isn’t particularly robust. The Companion app is useful, and provides a quick and easy way to set up service requests, and a features a slew of guides and solutions to address common, everyday problems that you may come across.

A software feature that can be very useful for a lot of people is Secure Zone, which provides a simple way to create two virtual zones, which, as an example, can be used to keep your professional and personal lives separate. The feature can be toggled in the Quick Settings menu, and each zone can be set up to have their own accounts, passwords, and apps, with the setup of one not carrying over to the other.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

If you get a notification from an app in the other zone, you will know via a red dot that appears in the status bar. You’ll then have to switch to the other zone to check it. App data and documents are also kept apart, but there is a way to share information between the two zones as well, via a common shared folder. However, call logs and messages can be accessed from either zone.

Finally, we come to a feature that is very unique to the Lenovo K series, and that is the VR Mode. This mode can be triggered by simply long pressing on the power button, and after the shutdown and restart options, there will be an option to launch VR Mode. On the phone, it looks like the screen has been duplicated, and once you put the phone into a VR headset, you can enjoy a virtual reality experience regardless of which app you are using.

Lenovo recommends the ANT VR headset that has been designed specifically for these phones. It can also be paired with a Umido Remote Controller for basic navigation around the user interface while in VR mode, or the Amkette Evo Gamepad Pro 2, which is what I used. It is a fun way to enjoy videos, movies, and games, so we’d definitely recommend trying one of these headsets out if you can.

However, a Quad HD display is definitely better to enjoy a VR experience, with the 1080p screen of the K5 Note not exactly up to the mark here. The headset isn’t the most comfortable either, and watching a movie or playing a game for a long time can become quite stressful on the eyes. I wasn’t able to use the VR mode for more than 20 minutes at a time, for instance. It definitely is a nice feature to have and proved to be quite the conversation starter, but is unfortunately nothing more than a novelty at this point.

Specifications

 Lenovo Vibe K5 Note
Display5.5-inch IPS LCD display
Full HD resolution, 401ppi
Processor1.8GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P10 processor
Mali-T860MP2 GPU
RAM3/4GB
Storage32GB
expandable via microSD up to 256GB
Camera13MP rear camera, f/2.2 aperture, PDAF, dual LED flash
8MP front camera
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
A-GPS
FM Radio
microUSB 2.0
Battery3,500mAh
Non-removable
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions and weight152 x 75.7 x 8.5mm
165g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The Lenovo Vibe K5 Note is priced at Rs 11,999 (~$180) for the model with 3GB of RAM, while the higher-end model with 4GB of RAM will set you back Rs 13,499 (~$202). The ANT VR headset can be picked up for Rs 1,299 (~$19), and the Umido ESoul DH2 Remote Controller and Amkette Evo Gamepad Pro 2 are priced at Rs 999 (~$15) and Rs 2,599 (~$39) respectively.

Lenovo Vibe K5 Note review

So, there you have it for this in-depth review of the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note! This is yet another fantastic offering from Lenovo that provides an experience that goes far beyond what its price tag would suggest. Of course, this smartphone isn’t as powerful or packed with features as as the more expensive flagships out there. That said, the Vibe K5 Note handles day to day tasks very well, features an impressive gaming experience, provides impressive battery life, and comes with a clean and smooth software package.

And that is all that some users really need from their smartphone. The camera is a bit of a let down, but can take some nice shots in ideal lighting conditions, and that is the only negative in what has been a very positive experience overall. At this price point, the Lenovo Vibe K5 Note is definitely a phone that I would recommend.

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Fitbit Flex 2 review

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that there are tons of different fitness trackers on the market that provide a wide range of tracking capabilities. There are plenty of high-end offerings, like the Garmin vívoactive HR and Polar M600, that are geared towards serious athletes. There are also a growing number of affordable, entry-level options for those who simply want to keep tabs on their daily activity levels.

The Fitbit Flex 2 is the latest upgrade to one of Fitbit’s more entry-level fitness trackers. At first glance, it may appear to be little more than a fancy pedometer, but that would be a very unfair judgement of a device that actually has a fair few tricks up its sleeve, or, up your sleeve.

Join us as we learn the ins and outs of this device in our full Fitbit Flex 2 review!

Review notes: I’ve been using the Fitbit Flex 2 as my main fitness tracker for over two weeks. The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ has been my smartphone companion of choice for the duration of this review.
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Design

First up, let’s take a look at the design. This is a little hard to judge, seeing as the design can be pretty much whatever you’d like it to be.

That is to say that the main ‘brains’ of the unit can be removed and then inserted into a range of different bands and even pendants. The device itself is absolutely miniscule at 31.7 x 8.9 x 6.8mm and weighs in at just 0.83oz, letting it fit into a range of different accessories. In theory, this means that everyone should be able to find something that they like the looks of and that will fit their lifestyle.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

You can very easily wear the Flex 2 under a shirt sleeve, and it doesn't get in the way while typing

In the box, you get two plain-ish rubber bands – one large and one small – with enough crossover in the middle for those with medium-sized wrists to happily wear either. The bands have some faint patterns on them and look stylish enough, but more importantly they are thin and light enough as to be completely unobtrusive. You can very easily wear these under a shirt sleeve, and it doesn’t get in the way while typing or if you choose to wear a watch with it. This is a very important point for a fitness tracker – you need to be able to wear it all day without it becoming a hassle.

If you purchase your Flex 2 from Fitbit’s website, you’ll be able to choose from Black, Lavender, Magenta or Navy color options. Fitbit’s accessory page also offers a handful of other colors, in addition to different styles of bangles and pendants. Amazon has a bunch of third-party bands, too, including different patterned bands, leather straps and even a clip for attaching the Flex 2 to your bra. And if you’re really creative, it would even be easy enough to create your own band with a bit of 3D printing.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

As you’ve probably noticed by now, there’s no screen on this device like the one you’d find on the Fitbit Charge 2. What you do get, though, are five small LEDs on the top of the device. These can be used for very basic notifications (more on that below), or to show you how close you are to accomplishing your step goal. Double tap on the band and you’ll be shown a corresponding number of lights to indicate your performance so far. For instance, if your step target is 10,000 and you’ve done 4,000 steps, two lights will show.

See also:

Fitbit Charge 2 review

November 3, 2016

We do have a few criticisms on the design, though. For starters, attaching the band to your wrist is an absolute pain. As is the case with the Fitbit Alta, you’re not going to be easily tightening and loosening the band on the Flex 2. The clasps are a little difficult to put on at first, but it becomes easier once you get the hang of it.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

Also, the fact that the Flex 2 comes with a proprietary charging cable means that if you lose it, you’re out of luck until you can purchase another one. Replacement chargers are available at Fitbit’s website for $19.95, or you can grab a third-party charger from Amazon for around $10. We would have much rather preferred a standard microUSB or USB Type-C charging method, but we understand why that wouldn’t have been possible due to the device’s waterproof rating. Basically every other fitness tracker out there comes with a proprietary charging method, too, so this isn’t really anything out of the ordinary.

Tapping the device to check our daily steps and dismiss alarms is also something we’ve struggled with. So much so, that we’ve often found ourselves wondering if it has actually run out of battery or is just being finicky. Maybe this is just Fitbit’s clever way of getting us to burn a few more calories…

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The most common Fitbit problems and how to fix them

5 days ago

Features and performance

Fitbit Flex 2 review

The Fitbit Flex 2 has no heart rate monitor or GPS, which means it isn’t going to be a good choice for serious athletes. But that’s clearly not who this is aimed at.

It works well as a step counter and seems to be pretty consistent with the results from our vívoactive HR (yesterday the Fitbit counted 13,407, compared to the vívoactive’s 12,935). This information, along with some basic metrics such as height and weight, will then estimate your calorie burn for the day.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

This is, of course, less accurate than using a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor. We burned 5,767 calories according to the vívoactive on one particularly active day, but the Fitbit only counted 4,169 of them. It’s also worth mentioning that, like most fitness tracking companies, Fitbit does not ask for your body fat percentage. Without that information, any attempt at calculating your metabolic rate is going to be inaccurate, thereby skewing the final numbers.

The Flex 2 also handles basic sleep tracking and will automatically detect when you doze off. We haven’t been overly impressed with this aspect however, as it often accuses us of having gone to sleep much earlier than we did or breaks our sleep up into small bits. When it does get it right, it’s still a little lacklustre in terms of the information it presents. It’ll only tell you you the number of times you woke up and the number of times you were restless, for instance.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

Fitbit's autodetection technology is really, really good

What it does do remarkably well though, and what makes this much more than just a pedometer, is autodetection for activities. If you go for a run or a walk, the Flex 2 will automatically detect that activity and log it for you. Fitbit’s autodetection technology works very well, and the algorithms it uses must be mind-boggling. Throughout our testing period, the Flex 2 has successfully autodetected walks, runs and even swims. I’m personally a pretty shoddy swimmer, so the latter was especially impressive. After 17 minutes of breaststroke at a local fitness center, I was able to review the number of lengths and the rough number of calories that would have burned. And yes, that means that the device is also waterproof.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

This is actually a bigger deal than it seems, as the Flex 2 is Fitbit’s very first water resistant fitness tracker. Garmin, Withings, Polar, and most other big-name fitness tracking companies have been making water resistant wearables for some time now, so it’s nice to see Fitbit finally join the club.

Fitbit has finally made a water resistant fitness tracker

So we’ve already talked about automatic activity recognition, but exactly which activities can the Flex 2 track? With the Flex 2, you’ll be able to track walking, running, cycling, elliptical training, sports, aerobic exercise and swimming, though unfortunately there’s no option to log a weights workout. This means the Flex 2 likely won’t appeal to gym rats, which is a shame with a name like “Flex”. Other than that unfortunate omission though, we do believe that Fitbit is the best in the business when it comes to activity detection at the moment.

The Flex 2 will also remind you to move if you’ve been sitting for too long, which will definitely come in handy if you sit at a desk all day. This feature is par for the course in the fitness tracker world, but it is well implemented here.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

While the Flex 2 doesn’t have a display, it does offer a very basic form of notification support for calls and texts. The device will light up and vibrate when your phone receives an incoming call or text message, but that’s it. Obviously there’s no way to respond to or even dismiss the message from your wrist, which means you’ll still have to pull out your phone for everything. After all, you’ll feel your phone vibrate in your pocket anyway, which makes notification support on the Flex 2 is pretty meaningless. Still, it’s there if you want it and easy enough to turn off if you don’t.

There is support for a couple of alternative messaging services like WhatsApp, but you can only set notifications for one provider at a time. This means if you have your wristband set up to alert you to WhatsApp, you won’t get SMS message alerts.

On a more positive note, the Flex 2, like most other Fitbit devices, supports silent alarms. While it may be a small feature, it is particularly useful if you need to wake up before your partner.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

In terms of battery life, the Fitbit Flex 2 was able to last us roughly four days on a single charge. Fitbit says you can squeeze five days of battery out of this device, but we’ve found that to be particularly difficult, especially if you’re working out every day. This isn’t great news when you consider many other fitness trackers with screens can last significantly longer. Then again, it makes more sense when factoring in the tiny size of the unit. What we do find irritating, though, is that you only get a small notification to warn you when your tracker is running low on charge. This little notification is pretty easy to miss, and it actually led to us failing to record quite an active day when the Flex 2 was actually out of battery. It would have been nice to have a flashing light or something that would perhaps give us a little more prior warning.

 Fitbit Flex 2
DisplayLED display with five indicator lights
Heart rate monitorNo
GPSNo
Water resistantYes, up to 50 meters
Sleep trackingYes, automatic
Silent alarmsYes
NotificationsYes, calls and texts
Battery lifeUp to 5 days
Sensors3-axis accelerometer
Vibration motor
CompatibilityWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, Web
Interchangeable bandsYes
ColorsBlack, Lavender, Magenta, Navy
DimensionsSmall: 139.7mm - 170.2mm (11.2mm wide)
Large: 170.2mm - 205.7mm (11.2mm wide)
Price$99.95

Software

Fitbit Flex 2 review

Fitbit has always had one of the best Android apps in the fitness tracking landscape, and that shines here with the Flex 2. The interface is clean, simple and intuitive, and is sure to delight casual and power users.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

The app does come with a couple of caveats however, as one or two odd choices mar the experience. The biggest example for us is the fact that the swimming autodetection is off by default, so you’ll need to turn it on by heading to Activities>Settings>Swimming>Auto-Recognize.

I wasn’t aware the option was turned off by default, which meant the Flex 2 didn’t record my first swim. That meant I had to go again, but to be fair, it certainly achieved the goal of keeping me active.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

While there’s no GPS built in, you can still track your routes by using the Fitbit app. This syncs with the footstep data coming from the band and thereby gives you a little more information, as well as plotting your route on a map. This isn’t as good as having a built-in GPS, of course, as it means you have to take your phone with you on a run. It also won’t give you as much detailed information as you’d get with a true running watch. It also won’t record your stride length, VO2 max or anaerobic threshold, but the app should provide enough information to satisfy users who are new to tracking their running and workout stats.

While there’s no GPS built in, you can still track your routes in the Fitbit app

Oh, and if you find that the Fitbit app isn’t as robust as you’d like in some areas, you’ll be happy to hear that you can pair your RunKeeper or Endomondo accounts with Fitbit’s app. This means that whatever your Flex 2 records during your workouts, that information will be sent over to your favorite fitness tracking services.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

This is also the case for tracking calorie burn. While Fitbit lets you sync with many popular services like MyFitnessPal, it also has the functionality built in, even allowing you to scan barcodes to automatically enter things you’ve eaten. Fitbit is one of the best brands when it comes to third party support.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

The app will give you plenty of encouragement, too, with badges awarded for various milestones, weekly recaps and a strong social element. There are even challenges that pit you against other users.

Fitbit Flex 2 review

Gallery

Conclusion

Fitbit Flex 2 review

 

All in all, the Fitbit Flex 2 is a well-designed fitness tracker with a lot of neat features that serves as an introduction to Fitbit’s excellent software and ecosystem. It’s a small, convenient device that can take on any look to match your style and that will easily survive a dip in the pool. While it might lack advanced features, it is nevertheless smarter than you might expect thanks to the highly capable app and brilliant activity autodetection.

It’s not perfect, though. Serious gym rats will be disappointed at the lack of tracking for strength workouts, battery life could be longer and the notifications are essentially pointless. It’s also fairly expensive at $99.95 when you bear in mind that some fitness trackers will offer heart rate monitoring and other advanced features for not much more.

But if you like the svelte and versatile design and you’re just looking for something that will reliably track your steps and activity, then you might not need those extra features anyway. And in that case, the Fitbit Flex 2 is probably one of the best basic trackers available.