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Polar M600 review

Polar M600 review

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Polar M600 review

Throughout the past few years, we’ve had to choose one or the other – fitness trackers or smartwatches. Dedicated fitness trackers might be better at tracking your daily activity and heart rate, but they normally lack things like voice commands and proper notification support – two features normally found only on smartwatches. Sure, there’s always the option of buying a fitness tracker and a smartwatch, but that’s not a very elegant solution for those who are looking to wear just one device at a time.

But what if you don’t want to choose between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker? That’s where the Polar M600 comes in.

With a built-in GPS, optical heart rate sensor and plenty of other essentials found in higher-end fitness trackers, the new Polar M600 certainly brings a lot to the table. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the device, though, is the fact that it’s running Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch OS.

Does the M600 offer up enough to warrant its high price tag? Or should you opt for something else? We find that out, and more, in our full Polar M600 review.

In an effort to bring both our readers and viewers the most comprehensive review experience possible, the Polar M600 was reviewed by two different members of Android Authority. Both Joshua Vergara and I (Jimmy Westenberg) collaborated on this review.

We have both been using the Polar M600 as our main fitness tracker for roughly three weeks.

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Related:

Best fitness trackers

3 weeks ago

Design

It’s clear that Polar set out to create a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid device with the M600. While that may be the case on the software front, this thing doesn’t look anything like the other smartwatches currently on the market. Rather, its overall shape and size bares a slight resemblance to Garmin’s vívoactive HR, mostly because of its big, bulky design. In fact, the M600 is actually quite a bit bigger than the vívoactive HR. It measures 13mm thick, compared to the vívoactive HR’s 11.4mm.

Don't miss:

Garmin vívoactive HR review

September 19, 2016

One of the biggest downsides of a bulky device like this is that users could potentially feel less inclined to put it on every day. Especially for sleep tracking, this isn’t the most comfortable device to wear on your wrist, so try to keep that in mind if you’re looking for a comfortable, wrist-mounted activity tracker.

Polar M600 review

On top of the size issues some may have with the M600, the design of the device is quite bland, overall. While there are a few things that help the device stand out, such as the chrome bezels on the left and right edges and Gorilla Glass 3 screen, we can’t help but think that the M600’s design feels a bit uninspired. Polar might not be in the business of creating fashionable fitness accessories, but it’s hard not to compare it to the work Fitbit is doing with its latest activity trackers.

Polar M600 review

One of the more positive aspects of the M600’s design is support for interchangeable straps. This means if your strap breaks for some reason, you can pick up a spare on Amazon for about $30 without replacing the whole unit. The M600’s straps remind us a lot of the ones found on the Moto 360 Sport. They’re very rubbery and tend to collect a lot of dust and fuzz. It’s a small gripe, really, but should still be kept in mind if you own any dogs or cats.

See also:

Moto 360 Sport review

March 4, 2016

Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt

Smartwatches often try to toe the line between style and functionality, given that they often need to be quite thick in order to accommodate the technology underneath the screen. The problem with the Polar M600 is that it makes no such effort. For a watch that is supposed to be useful in more than just active situations, we felt like we could only use the watch when we were exercising or outdoors. Forget ever using the M600 with a suit or even a button up shirt – while we don’t have any problem letting others know we are active people, this fitness watch finds a way to make it a little too obvious.

The M600 also carries an IPX8 waterproof rating, which means it’s suitable for swimming up to 10 meters. This is certainly one of the more positive aspects in the design department, as it means you can not only track your swims, you also don’t need to worry about it getting wet if you’re near a pool.

Polar M600 review

Now let’s talk about the display. The M600 sports a 1.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 240 x 240, resulting in a pixel density of 260ppi. We’ve been quite happy with the quality and responsiveness of the display, though it does seem a tad small compared to the overall size of the device.

The M600 has two physical buttons – one right below the display and another off to the left. The leftmost button acts as a home button, which can also be used to wake up the display if you don’t want to swipe to wake it. The button below the display is the activity button, and pressing it will bring you to Polar’s built-in training application. From here, you get two options – Training and My day. The Training section is where you’ll go to select which workout you’d like to perform, and the My day section will give you a snapshot of the current day’s activity. You can only see your steps, distance and calories progress from this screen though; for everything else, you’ll need to open the Polar Flow app on your phone.

Features and performance

Polar M600 review

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we've tested

The Polar M600 is one of the most feature-rich fitness trackers we’ve tested. As for daily activity tracking, it’ll keep track of your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, resting and active heart rate, and sleep. In order for the M600 to track any of these things, you’ll first need to download the Polar Flow app on your Android or iOS smartphone. Once that’s downloaded, sync your M600 to the app and you’re ready to start tracking.

It’s also worth noting that Polar Flow has a desktop client and a browser version, too, if you’d rather look at your activity history on a computer. It’s definitely refreshing to see a fitness-focused Android Wear device with a robust companion app. While Google Fit and Moto Body are easy to use, simplistic applications, Polar Flow is much more to our liking. More on that later, though.

Polar M600 review

Before you take the M600 out for its first workout, we recommend opening up Polar Flow and navigating to the Sport Profiles section. This is where you’ll be able to load up to 20 different sport profiles on your M600 to select before you start working out. You can ‘only’ load 20 onto your device at one time, but there are over a hundred to choose from. Some of the most common Sport Profiles are running, hiking, walking, spinning, road cycling, jogging, indoor cycling and strength training. It can also track other sports like baseball, hockey and football, too.

We should clarify something here – the M600 may be able to track your activity during your Finnish baseball match or judo training class, but it won’t give you granular feedback based on that specific sport. For instance, it might be able to track your activity during your rowing class, but it won’t give you stroke rate or stroke count information.

Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn't come with automatic activity recognition

Whichever sport you choose to participate in, though, you’ll need to remember to tell the device to record your activity beforehand. Unlike Fitbit and some Garmin devices, the M600 doesn’t come with automatic activity recognition. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to record your workouts manually, but it’s only a few more buttons.

Polar M600 review

This is where we’ve found the Polar ecosystem to be one of the best in the fitness game. While the M600 may not be able to figure out automatically what kind of workout you’re performing, it will take into account the rigorousness of the current activity and put it towards your overall fitness for the day. And to that end, Polar does not solely rely on step counts in order to figure out users’ overall fitness. Instead, it uses a combination of sensors to know if the user is lying down, sitting, standing, walking, running, or otherwise being active. Based on the aggressiveness of activity, it will put the steps toward its overall count.

More importantly, however, the device will add it all to an overall percentage that, when completed, means that optimal fitness has been achieved for that day. We feel this is much better than other fitness trackers that rely only on steps (looking at you, Samsung, and your ridiculous 6,000 step goal by default) because it takes into account how rigorous the said steps are. Think of it this way: let’s say you paced around for a long time during the day and hit 10,000 steps – because you weren’t really exerting a lot of energy in doing so, you might only get to about 60% of the day’s overall optimal fitness.

See also:

Gear Fit 2 review – can Samsung get fitness tracking right?

July 11, 2016

Polar M600 review

The M600 will also let you know if you’ve been sitting down too long. Every 55 minutes you’ll get an inactivity alert, and that’s when it’s time to get up and take a walk, stretch or light jog. If you don’t get up and move within five minutes, you’ll get an inactivity stamp on your Polar Flow timeline.

The M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking

But how well does it perform? Throughout our testing, the M600 has been quite accurate in terms of step, calorie and distance tracking. Thanks to the built-in GPS, accurate distance tracking shouldn’t come as a surprise on the M600. This is especially good news for runners and cyclists who need accurate distance metrics, and the Polar Flow app does a great job at displaying this information.

When you’re done recording a workout, you can head into the Polar Flow app and view your past exercises in the Training section. Once you select your workout, click on the map, then use the slider on the bottom to scroll through your route. Polar Flow will give you granular details based on where you were in your route, how fast you were going, your pace at that time, and your heart rate. You can see a good example of this in the screenshots attached below.

If you’re at all familiar with Polar’s other products, you’re probably aware that the company has made a name for itself by producing high-quality, accurate heart rate monitors. With that said, it should come as no surprise that the M600 sports a very impressive optical heart rate monitor, complete with six LED lights.

Polar M600 review

Throughout this review period, we’ve tested the M600’s heart rate monitor against the Wahoo TICKR X. From what we’ve been able to gather, the M600 has one of the most accurate wrist-mounted heart rate monitors we’ve used thus far. When comparing it to the TICKR X, the M600 was never off by more than 4bpm or so, even during high-intensity workouts. We usually see wrist-mounted heart rate monitors slip up when reaching upwards of 160bpm, but we’re happy to say the M600 experienced no such problems.

Take a look at the screenshots attached above. The two on the left are from the Polar Flow app, while the two on the right are from the Wahoo TICKR X. As you can see, the M600’s heart rate monitor had no problems keeping up with the TICKR X during the highs and lows of the workout. If you’d like a more detailed look at the M600’s heart rate recordings, see the screenshot below.

Polar M600 review

If you'd rather not use the M600's built-in heart rate sensor, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap

If you’d rather not use the built-in heart rate sensor on the M600, though, you can pair it with a third-party chest strap. Not only will this give you more accurate heart rate data, pairing a chest strap to the M600 is easy. Just press the center button on your M600 (the one below the screen), then tap Training. If your chest strap is turned on, you should see a connect option on your screen. Tap that, and you’re good to go. Your M600 will now use the heart rate data from your chest strap.

Another bonus: once your chest-mounted heart rate monitor is connected, you can take the M600 off. This is useful for those times when the watch is simply too big for the activity being done (like hitting a punching bag, as it is too difficult to get gloves on while wearing the M600). You will still get an accurate reading of the exercise being done via the continuous heart rate monitoring from the strap. 

Polar M600 review

While the Polar M600 doesn’t offer up automatic activity recognition, it does, however, record sleep automatically. There’s no need to tap a sleep now button or anything before you pass out. Just fall asleep with the device strapped to your wrist, wake up, and your sleep data will be recorded in the Polar Flow app. The M600 will record your total time asleep, restful sleep percentage, restful sleep time, and restless sleep time. Those are the only stats you’ll get by default, but since this is Android Wear, you can download a third-party app like Sleep as Android if you need more granular stats.

Also read: The best sleep trackers

From what we’ve been able to tell, the M600 is very accurate at tracking sleep, though we would have liked to see more sleep stats offered up by default. Polar Flow doesn’t display sleep cycle information, for instance.

Under the hood, the M600 sports a MediaTek MT2601 processor backed by 512MB of RAM. That’s par for the course when compared to other Android Wear devices on the market. Plus, it comes with 4GB of on-board storage, so you can save your favorite playlist locally for offline listening with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.

Polar M600 review

The device also features a 500mAh battery, which Polar says will be able to get you about two full days of use or eight hours of training on a single charge. And for the most part, that’s absolutely correct. With moderate use, we’ve had no problems getting the M600 to last two full days, even with roughly an hour’s worth of exercise tracking on each day. If you’re constantly receiving notifications, replying to text messages or using Google Maps to navigate from your watch, however, the device will probably last closer to one full day.

Compared to the other Android Wear devices on the market, the M600’s two-day battery life is very impressive.

Polar M600 review

A quick tip – turn on Do Not Disturb when you sleep. It’ll keep the notifications from coming in and the alarm will still go off. After getting into this habit for just about any wearable, we’ve found battery life to be much closer to the claims that the various companies make. Two days is great for the Polar M600, but we could have done away with the proprietary charging cable that Polar uses for most of their peripherals. A microUSB connection would have worked just fine, as it did with the previous M400. Why they felt the need to go to a completely different charging connector is beyond us.

 Polar M600
Display1.3-inch TFT display
240 x 240 resolution, 260ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek MT2601
RAM512MB
Storage4GB
Battery500mAh
Heart rate sensorYes, optical heart rate sensor with 6 LED lights
GPSYes
Other sensorsAccelerometer, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope, Vibration motor, Microphone
Water resistanceYes, IPX8
Suitable for swimming, up to 10 meters
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
SoftwareAndroid Wear
NotificationsCall, text, calendar alerts, and more
CompatibilityAndroid phones running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher
iPhone 5 or later running iOS 8.2 or higher
Dimensions and weight45x36x13mm
63g

Software

Polar M600 review

One of the most unique aspects of the M600 is its software, and that’s mainly due to the fact that this is one of the first fitness-focused Android Wear devices we’ve seen thus far. The Polar M600 is running Android Wear 6.0.1, version 1.5.0.3062003.

Polar M600 reviewAs we all know by now, Google doesn’t give OEMs too much wiggle room in terms of the customization of Android Wear. Thus, the on-device software package that ships on the M600 will seem incredibly familiar to those who have used an Android Wear device in the past. Polar does include a good amount of its own watch faces, but only two of them display activity data on the screen. Plus, none of Polar’s watch faces are customizable, so you’ll need to download a third-party watch face if you’re looking to give your M600 a unique look.

While Polar’s implementation of Android Wear is familiar, we’ve also experienced quite a few bugs. We’ve paired our M600 with the Galaxy S7 Edge, HTC 10 and Nexus 6P throughout this review period, and we’ve found bugs and inconsistencies when paired to each device. For instance, the first time we paired the device with our HTC 10, an error would occur whenever we tried deleting emails from the watch. Perhaps the most notable bug we’ve discovered occurs when pairing the watch to a new phone. Our M600 has frozen up during the pairing process multiple times, forcing us to restart the watch and start the pairing process from the beginning. This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened just once or twice, but the fact that it happens multiple times during each setup is obviously an issue.

Related:

Best Android Wear watches

3 weeks ago

Aside from the software bugs, we’ve been quite impressed with the device’s OS. With Android Wear, you’ll get notifications from as many applications as you’d like, voice commands, silent alarms, music playback, and much more. Plus, if Polar Flow doesn’t offer a certain type of functionality, you can simply download your favorite third-party fitness tracking app and use that instead. Fitness stats might be more streamlined in Polar’s own Flow app, but other options are there if you need them.

Polar M600 review

Oh, and because this is an Android Wear device, all of your fitness activity will also be recorded in Google Fit. Google’s fitness app is simplistic and intuitive, though the fitness-focused crowd will be much better off using Polar Flow.

The combination of Android Wear and Polar's own software makes things too cluttered

This, however, makes this combination a little bit confusing for most users, especially those who have already enjoyed previous Polar models. The M400 software was updated recently so that it could provide notifications to the user via beeps (the M400 does not have vibration feedback) and through a simple text display using its typical digital watch screen. To that end, having Android Wear and all that it brings makes notifications and app connections a lot better, but when you can use just about any other fitness tracking software over Polar’s own built-in app, things seem just a little too cluttered in the end. Polar already does a great job with their own app, which makes it all the more confusing. We’re all for freedom of software choice, but we don’t expect existing Polar users to really go for the M600 simply because it has Android Wear, especially considering the M400 is much of the way there and costs much less.

Read more: The best fitness tracking apps for Android

The Polar Flow app is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and that’s a good thing. We’ve found the app to be a joy to use over the past few weeks. It’s well designed, intuitive, and gives you plenty of granular information without coming off as cluttered.

The app is divided up into three main sections: Feed, Activity and Training. The first section, Feed, is basically a timeline of your daily activity, which displays a snapshot of your activity statistics for each day. You’ll be able to see your total active time, calories burned and total steps taken. And if you connect with friends, you’ll be able to see, comment on and thumbs up their activity.

The next section, Activity, is where you’ll see your daily, weekly and monthly activity. Daily activity is displayed in a unique clock-like view, showing your activity type for each time of day. It’s a good way to visualize just how lazy or active you tend to be at certain points in the day. Additionally, Polar Flow will tell you how much time you’ve spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, or working out for each day, which has also proven to be quite useful. Many fitness apps simply tell you how much exercise you’ve done for each day, but not many will tell you how long you’ve been lying down or sitting. As for week and month views within the Activity section, you’ll see a graph in each section which displays your activity levels overtime, as well as a percentage detailing your daily goal completion average.

If you need to look back on any previous activity, head to the Training section of the app. You’ll get a simple calendar view on the top of the screen, where you can navigate to a specific day and get detailed information on each one of your workouts.

Aside from the few hiccups here and there, we’ve been huge fans of the M600’s software package overall. The combination of Polar’s robust fitness tracking features and Android Wear make for an all-around great fitness tracking experience.

Gallery

Should you buy it?

Polar M600 review

The crux of the M600 is how it fits into the giant world of fitness trackers, and unfortunately that’s the device’s biggest downfall. Without looking at its price point, the M600 is a well-performing fitness smartwatch that’s packed with features. Not only does it offer up an accurate heart rate monitor and GPS capabilities, it’s also compatible with tons of third-party applications thanks to Android Wear. While the software package as a whole may be a bit buggy sometimes, the software package overall has impressed us over the past few weeks.

In a world where Garmin's vívoactive HR is available for around $200, it's tough to recommend the M600

We also need to talk about the M600’s price point, though, and the fact that it costs about $80-$100 more than some of the higher-end fitness trackers out there. The Polar M600 is available for $329.95, and there are a few reasons for that steep price tag. GPS fitness trackers always cost quite a bit more than ones without this feature. Plus, since this is an Android Wear smartwatch, that also warrants a higher price tag. But in a world where Garmin’s vívoactive HR is available for a little over $200 and boasts just about the same feature set (minus the Android Wear part), it’s tough to recommend the M600.

It’s also hard to recommend this watch to anyone that is already a part of the Polar ecosystem. Sure, there might be users out there who will really want Android Wear on their existing watch, and that’s quite literally what the M600 is. But in the scheme of sheer fitness tracking, the M600 doesn’t offer anything too different from the company’s existing trackers. Because of that, any current Polar users will probably find the price way too high to change it up.

If you’re looking for a true fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid and don’t mind paying upwards of $300 to get that experience, you should absolutely buy the M600. But if you’d rather save some money and don’t mind living without Android Wear, we’d recommend passing on this one and going for the vívoactive HR.


What are your thoughts? Does the Polar M600 have you interested? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Next:

The best smartwatches

3 weeks ago

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

I hope you have enjoyed our reviews of the Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL, however since this is the first time that a phone has had the words “Phone by Google” engraved on it, I think it is worth taking another look at the Google Pixel, not to look at the user experience (which we have already covered) but to take a look at the technology, the geeky stuff, that Google has put into these devices.

To do this I am going to delve a bit deeper into the display, the SoC, the battery, the camera and the software of the Google Pixel. I will be using the smaller Google Pixel for my tests, however a lot of what I cover will also be applicable to the larger Pixel XL. Want to know more? Let’s go.

Specifications

A quick look at the table below will reveal just how much tech has gone into the Pixel and Pixel XL. Hopefully we can expand on this list of specifications a bit and get to understand the significance of some of these items:

 Google PixelGoogle Pixel XL
Display5.0-inch AMOLED
1920 x 1080
441ppi
Fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating
Gorilla Glass 4
5.5-inch AMOLED
2560 x 1440
534ppi
Fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating
Gorilla Glass 4
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 821
2.15Ghz + 1.6Ghz, 64Bit Quad-Core
Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
2.15Ghz + 1.6Ghz, 64Bit Quad-Core
GPUAdreno 530Adreno 530
RAM4GB
LPDDR4
4GB
LPDDR4
Storage32/128GB32/128GB
MicroSDNoNo
Cameras12.3MP rear camera with f/2.0, 1.55μm large pixels, Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF), Laser Detection Autofocus (LDAF), 4K (30fps) video capture, HD 240fps (8x), Full HD 120fps (4x) slow motion video, broad-spectrum CRI-90 dual-LED flash

8MP front camera with f/2.4 aperture, 1.4 µm pixels, Full HD video capture (30fps)
12.3MP rear camera with f/2.0, 1.55μm large pixels, Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF), Laser Detection Autofocus (LDAF), 4K (30fps) video capture, HD 240fps (8x), Full HD 120fps (4x) slow motion video, broad-spectrum CRI-90 dual-LED flash

8MP front camera with f/2.4 aperture, 1.4 µm pixels, Full HD video capture (30fps)
BatteryNon-removable 2,770mAh
Fast charging: up to 7 hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging
Non-removable 3,450mAh
Fast charging: up to 7 hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging
MediaSingle bottom-firing speaker
Adaptive audio amplifier
3 microphones (2 front, 1 rear) with noise cancellation
Single bottom-firing speaker
Adaptive audio amplifier
3 microphones (2 front, 1 rear) with noise cancellation
Wireless and location4G LTE with 3x Carrier aggregation
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO, dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS and GLONASS
Digital compass
4G LTE with 3x Carrier aggregation
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO, dual-band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS and GLONASS
Digital compass
NetworkWorld-wide network/carrier compatibility with:1
GSM: Quad-band GSM
UMTS/WCDMA : B 1/2/4/5/8
CDMA: BC0/BC1/BC10
TDS-CDMA: N/A
FDD LTE: B 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/20/25/26/28/29/30
TDD LTE: B 41
LTE 2xCA: B2+B2, B2+B4, B2+B5, B2+B12, B2+B13, B2+B17, B2+B29, B2+B30, B4+B4, B4+B5, B4+B7, B4+B12, B4+B13, B4+B17, B4+B29, B4+B30, B5+B30, B7+B7, B12+B30, B25+B25, B29+B30, B41+B41
LTE 3xCA: B2+B2+B12, B2+B2+B13, B2+B4+B4, B2+B4+B5, B2+B4+B12, B2+B4+B13, B2+B4+B29, B2+B5+B30, B2+B12+B30, B2+B29+B30, B4+B4+B12, B4+B4+B13, B4+B5+B30, B4+ B7+ B12, B4+B12+B30, B4+B29+B30, B41+B41+B41
Pixel is an unlocked phone and works on major carrier networks.
World-wide network/carrier compatibility with:1
GSM: Quad-band GSM
UMTS/WCDMA : B 1/2/4/5/8
CDMA: BC0/BC1/BC10
TDS-CDMA: N/A
FDD LTE: B 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/20/25/26/28/29/30
TDD LTE: B 41
LTE 2xCA: B2+B2, B2+B4, B2+B5, B2+B12, B2+B13, B2+B17, B2+B29, B2+B30, B4+B4, B4+B5, B4+B7, B4+B12, B4+B13, B4+B17, B4+B29, B4+B30, B5+B30, B7+B7, B12+B30, B25+B25, B29+B30, B41+B41
LTE 3xCA: B2+B2+B12, B2+B2+B13, B2+B4+B4, B2+B4+B5, B2+B4+B12, B2+B4+B13, B2+B4+B29, B2+B5+B30, B2+B12+B30, B2+B29+B30, B4+B4+B12, B4+B4+B13, B4+B5+B30, B4+ B7+ B12, B4+B12+B30, B4+B29+B30, B41+B41+B41
Pixel is an unlocked phone and works on major carrier networks.
PortsUSB Type-C
Nano SIM
3.5mm audio jack
USB 3.0 data transfer
USB Type-C
Nano SIM
3.5mm audio jack
USB 3.0 data transfer
SensorsPixel Imprint
Accelerometer/Gyroscope
Magnetometer
Barometer
Proximity sensor/Ambient Light Sensor
Hall sensor
Android Sensor Hub
Pixel Imprint
Accelerometer/Gyroscope
Magnetometer
Barometer
Proximity sensor/Ambient Light Sensor
Hall sensor
Android Sensor Hub
OtherRGB LED notification lightRGB LED notification light
Wireless chargingNoNo
Water resistanceIP53IP53
SoftwareAndroid 7.1 NougatAndroid 7.1 Nougat
ColorsVery Silver, Quite Black, Really Blue (Limited Edition)Very Silver, Quite Black, Really Blue (Limited Edition)
Dimensions and weight143.8 x 69.5 x 8.6mm
143g
154.7 x 75.7 x 8.6mm
168g

Display

The Pixel comes with a 5 inch Full HD AMOLED display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 4, while the XL has a 5.5 inch Quad HD AMOLED display also protected by Gorilla Glass. There is no doubt that the displays on both Pixel devices are first class and are a pleasure to use. Looking at some of the tech, we noted in our full review that the display on the XL has a slightly cooler color temperature of 7859 Kelvin, which essentially means the screen has a blue tint. When the display is set to the standard mode (rather than the default adaptive mode), the colors are warmer at 7131k.

This seems also to be true for the Pixel. In terms of color accuracy the display on the Pixel tends to be skewed towards blue when it is displaying green. Notice the top set of vertical points on the graph below, they are left of the pure green target line. The reds, blues and purples however are quite accurate, but not strictly uniform when it comes to the various brightness levels.

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

Talking of brightness levels the Pixel’s display has a maximum of 410 nits. That is what you get when the display is on auto brightness and you shine a torch into the light sensor. If you switch to manual mode and crank it up to 100% then the brightness is marginally less at 406 nits. 50% is 208 nits and as you can see from the graph below the brightness profile is quite uniform:

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

The System-on-a-Chip (SoC) in the Pixel and Pixel XL is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821. The 821 is the successor to the Snapdragon 820, Qualcomm’s popular SoC which is found in lots of Android devices including some variants of the Samsung Galaxy S7, the LG V20 and the OnePlus 3. The 821 tweaks the design of the 820 to improve power efficiency while increasing performance.

At the heart of the Snapdragon 821 are the quad-core Kryo CPU and the Adreno 530 GPU. Plus there are loads of other bits and pieces including Qualcomm’s Hexagon 680 DSP and the X12 LTE Cat 12/13 modem. You can see from the specification table above that the Pixel supports and impressive number of 2G, 3G and 4G network frequencies.

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

The Snapdragon 820 could be clocked at a maximum of 2.2GHz, however the 821 has been designed to go as high as 2.4GHz. Qualcomm isn’t too forth coming about the architecture of the CPU, however Google has published information which says that the Snapdragon 821 in the Pixel uses 4 Kryo CPU cores, two clocked at 2.15GHz and two at 1.6GHz. The 821’s quad-core setup is what is called Heterogeneous Multi-Processing (HMP).

In general, the quad-core processors found in desktops and laptops have a set of cores which are all equal in terms of their performance and power consumption. In a HMP SoC, not all the cores are equal (hence, heterogeneous). In the Snapdragon 821 the 2.15GHz cores are tuned for performance while the 1.6GHz are tuned for efficiency. When tasks are run on the 1.6GHz cores they use less power, they drain the battery less, however they may run a little slower. When tasks are run on the 2.15GHz cores, they finish sooner but they use more power to do so. Here is where it gets complicated. A task that finishes quicker but uses more peak power to do so, may actually use less energy as it completed the task in a short amount of time. However a task which uses less peak power may use more energy as it took longer to complete.

The ideal situation is where the smaller cores run tasks which don’t use much power but need to run for a long time (like handling the CPU aspects of streaming video). As you can imagine the hardware and software combination needed to make HMP work well is complicated. ARM has done a lot of work in this area with its big.LITTLE system including contributing code to the Linux kernel. As such ARM is quite open about its HMP efforts, however Qualcomm is less so. If you want to know more about big.LITTLE then please read how the Samsung Galaxy S6 uses its octa-core processor.

When it comes to performance the Snapdragon 821 is a beast! Here is a table of some common benchmarks scores for the Pixel:

BenchmarkScore
AnTuTu141092
Geekbench 4 (single core)1500
Geekbench 4 (multi core)4139
Sling Shot using ES 3.12583
Quadrant31389
Basemark OS II2331

To put those numbers into some context, the Pixel scores higher on AnTuTu than the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the Huawei Mate 9. However it scores lower than the Mate 9 for both Geekbench and Basemark OS II.

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

I also tested the Pixel with my own set of custom benchmarks which I have used to test various SoCs in the past including the Kirin 950. The first of my custom benchmarks tests the CPU without using the GPU. It calculates 100 SHA1 hashes on 4K of data and then does some other CPU stuff, I call it “Hashes, bubble sorts, tables and primes. The Pixel gets the best score from any Android phone I have tested!

The second benchmark uses a 2D physics engine to simulate water being poured into a container. Two drops of water are added every frame and the app is designed to run at 60 frames per second. The benchmark measures how many droplets are actually processed and how many are missed. The Pixel scored 10178, which is a good score, but it isn’t the best. The current record holder is the Kirin 960 in the Mate 9, which scores the maximum of 10800.

My third benchmark is written in Unity3D. It is a terrain flyover that yields a frame per second score for a pre-programmed pass over the rendered world. The Pixel scored 37.3 fps, which is again the best score to date.

Battery

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

The Pixel comes with a 2,770 mAh battery while the Pixel XL has a 3,450 mAh unit. According to Google that means the Pixel has a 3G talk time of up to 26 hours. Josh, Lanh and Nirave found that during day to day usage you can expect around 5 hours of screen on time. According to my testing with a mixed usage of web surfing, gaming and watching video will give you 5hr 13mins of screen on time, which matches what Josh et al saw.

Google claim that you can get 13 hours of video watching out of the Pixel, but the search giant doesn’t say how bright the display is during the tests. However it does say that “uses that involve an active display will use battery more quickly.” So I guess the brightness level for those tests are low (and fixed). I tested how long the phone can play a looped video from local storage with the display at 47% (i.e. 200 nits). The result was an impressive 10.5 hours!

If you are wondering how much the brightness level affects battery life, well so did I! I re-run my video test, this time with the display at 100%, that’s over 400 nits. The result was an equally impressive 8.5 hours. So upping the brightness can cost you as much as two hours of screen on time for easy tasks like video.

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

As for charging, you can charge the Pixel from < 5% to 100% in just over 1hr 40 mins, while to get to 50% takes less than half an hour and to get to 80% takes an hour. If you are in a mad rush then you can get 25% charge in just under 15 minutes! As with all quick charge system, the initial charging is much quicker than the final phase above 80%. For example the Pixel uses half of the charging time to go from 70% to 100%.

Camera

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

The specifications of the camera on the Pixel are excellent: 12.3MP rear camera with f/2.0 and 1.55μm large pixels. There is Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) as well as Laser Detection Autofocus (LDAF). It can record 4K @ 30fps and HD @ 240fps. On the front is an 8MP sensor with f/2.4 aperture and 1.4 µm pixels.

So I thought it would be interesting to see how the Pixel compares to a DSLR! So I took four pictures in controlled conditions (with a lightbox) to see how each one fared. My DSLR is a Canon EOS 700D. As you can see from the pictures below the 700D makes better pictures in good light. The colors are truer, there is more color depth and nuance. However for the close up of the Tardis door I would say that the Pixel did a much better job than the Canon. The text is clearer and there is less stippling. Also in low-light I would also say that the Pixel won. The EOS picture didn’t come out quite right because it is out of focus and maybe with more work I could have made it better.

Software

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

The Pixel and Pixel XL run Android 7.1 Nougat which brings with it a number of new features including Google’s new Pixel Launcher and the Google Assistant. The former is an incremental update to the standard Google Now Launcher which does away with the app drawer by making the installed apps available by swiping up from the bottom. The latter is Google’s new AI-based voice assistant, the same one in Google Allo, but now available throughout the whole Android interface.

In terms of storage and RAM, fresh out of the box the Pixel uses about 6.5GB of internal storage for Android and the default apps etc., which means there is around 23GB of free space. Both the Pixel and Pixel XL come with 4GB of RAM and from a fresh boot the phones uses around 1.3GB of RAM. During my testing (which was mainly running benchmarks, taking photos, playing videos etc.) I haven’t seen the average RAM usage go over 2GB.

Besides these two big ticket items there are lots of smaller changes including launcher shortcuts,  a new storage manager called Smart Storage, GIF support in the Google Keyboard, and improved VR thread scheduling:

  • App Shortcuts – These allow users to access key actions within an app directly from the launcher. You just long-press an app’s launcher icon to reveal the app’s shortcuts, then tap on a shortcut to jump to the associated action.
  • GIF support in the Google Keyboard – Android 7.1 supports the new Commit Content API, which provides a universal way for keyboards to send images and other rich content directly to a text editor in an app.
  • Smart Storage – If an app requires more space than is currently available, it can use the Smart Storage page to let the user delete unneeded apps and content to free up sufficient space.
  • Improved VR thread scheduling – Android 7.1 provides new features to improve VR thread scheduling. Apps can now designate one thread as a VR thread. While the app is in VR mode, the system will schedule that thread more aggressively to minimize latency.

Wrap-up

Google Pixel review: a technical deep dive

There are many non-technical factors to choosing your next Android smartphone including price, availability, branding and long term support. However if we push those to the side for the moment at just look at the tech, it is clear that the Pixel and Pixel XL are leading edge devices. Here we find AMOLED displays and not LCD, plus the XL sports QHD resolution.

The SoC is the best Qualcomm has to offer today and the benchmarks show that it is the best in its field (in the majority of cases). You also have excellent cellular support with the X12 modem. On top of that you have a good camera, an above average battery, an option for 128GB of internal storage and the latest version of Android.

What we don’t have is an SD card slot, wireless charging, optical image stabilization, front facing speakers or proper waterproofing (like IP67). So while everything that the Pixel does include is top of the range, it might be what it doesn’t include that could be the deciding factor for you! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

When major versions of Android are announced, it normally takes third-party OEMs a few months to update their devices with the latest version. Motorola and LG are normally two of the first manufacturers to release updates to their devices, while others, such as HTC and Samsung, tend to lag behind a bit.

This year, though, Samsung began rolling out a beta version of Android 7.0 Nougat to its flagship Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge devices before many other manufacturers could. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these devices and are wondering what to expect, we’ve got you covered. Let’s take a look at Android 7.0 Nougat (beta) on the Galaxy S7 Edge.

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Android 7.0 Nougat review: an Android version for Android fans

October 21, 2016

First thing’s first – want to test out Android Nougat on your S7 or S7 Edge? You can! Just make sure you have an active Samsung account and the Galaxy Beta Program app installed (it can be downloaded through Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store). Alternatively, users can download the Samsung Members app which is available in the Google Play Store or Galaxy Apps depending on the region. Once you’re signed up, just wait for a software update to arrive for your device. That’s it. Once the update is complete, your device will be running the latest version of Android.

Before we get into what’s new in Nougat, let’s first talk about something many users are curious about:

Just how stable is Android 7.0 (beta) on the Galaxy S7 Edge?

Very. Unlike the experience you’d get with other software preview programs, this build (NRD90M to be exact) is extremely stable. Personally, I’ve found day-to-day performance to be a breeze, and I haven’t experienced much lag at all.

With that said, if you do opt to test it out, don’t be surprised if an app crashes here or there.

Now let’s talk about what changes Nougat brings to the table. To start, let’s focus on improvements in the user interface:

UI improvements galore

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Nougat on the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge brings along with it a good amount of improvements and tweaks throughout the user interface. New animations, a completely revamped settings menu, and a new font are just some of the things you’ll notice right off the bat.

Samsung has been changing the way it approaches its TouchWiz interface for years now, and we’re seeing even more changes to the interface with Nougat. Everything is cleaner, simpler, and much more easy to use, which is a huge step up from TouchWiz in years past.

Pulling down the notification shade for the first time, you’ll notice a lightly-colored row of quick settings below the date and time. Pulling down once more will open the quick settings menu, which is now completely customizable. Why is this good news? If, for example, you don’t want to keep a rarely-used quick settings tile (like Smart View or Ultra Power Saving Mode) front and center, you can now remove it.

Blue Light Filter

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Ever since the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, Samsung has been working hard to bring a number of features found in the Note 7’s Grace UX to the S7 lineup. One of the most useful features Samsung was able to bring over to the S7 line is the new blue light filter. In case you’re unfamiliar, blue light filters reduce the amount of blue light emitted from your screen, which allows for less eye strain particularly at night.

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

You can toggle the blue light filter on and off by tapping the quick settings tile. A long-press of the quick settings tile will take you to the blue light filter settings, where you can change the opacity and set which time you’d like it to turn on or off. You have the option to set a custom schedule for the filter, or it can turn on and off automatically with the sunset and sunrise.

Revamped settings menu

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Gone are the days of giant, confusing settings icons.

One other stark change with Nougat is a revamped settings menu. The entire menu is now in list format, which makes the menu much easier to navigate. Each category is listed in bold font with a short description of what you’ll find in that category. For instance, under the Display category, you’ll find “brightness, blue light filter, font” settings and more.

One other notable addition to the settings menu: if you’re looking for a particular setting but can’t seem to find it, you’ll get little suggestions at the bottom of each settings page that will help point you in the right direction. If you’re in the Display category, for instance, and can’t seem to find what you’re looking for, you can find a small prompt at the bottom of the settings page with suggestions. Simply tap on one of those suggestions to jump right to that page.

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

SamsungOne

You might also notice the font looks a bit different. That’s because the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are now using the company’s SamsungOne font, which was unveiled back in June 2016. Samsung says SamsungOne isn’t just a font; it’s a family of scripts that covers 26 writing systems, more than 400 languages and over 25,000 glyphs. Overall, the font seems clean, legible and Samsung-y. For reference, check out the image of Google’s Roboto font compared to SamsungOne:

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

New animations

The S7 Edge’s user interface has been quite snappy overall, and that’s thanks to the new animations Samsung threw in with Nougat. Below we’ve attached a short video showing these new animations in action:

Device Maintenance

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 EdgeSamsung also included a new Device Maintenance tool, which can be found in the device’s settings menu. What does it do, exactly? If your phone is running slowly, draining battery too quickly or experiencing any other normal smartphone problems, this new tool will help find the culprit. Once you open it up, it’ll automatically begin running a test. Your device will then be given a performance score out of 100. You can choose the Optimize now button which will fix the errors, or tap on the separate categories at the bottom of the screen to get more granular information.

In my experience, this new Device Maintenance tool has done a good job at finding the obvious things. Most of the time it will offer up suggestions to close background apps, clear cached data, or some other semi-obvious outlier. This feature won’t be for everyone, but it’s there if you need it.

Also, if you need help remembering to clear these things out regularly to help with device performance, you can add a Device Maintenance shortcut to your home screen.

Performance Mode

Since none of us use our phones in the same way, Samsung has added in a few new modes that will cater to those who spend more time gaming, watching videos, and more. Your Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge should be in Normal mode by default, but you can easily switch to a different mode that will better suit your needs by heading to the Device Maintenance app and tapping on Performance Mode.

Depending on which mode you select, your phone’s settings will change to better cater to that profile. For instance, choosing Entertainment mode will result in your display increasing to 100% brightness, your screen resolution increasing to WQHD, and your video enhancer and UHQ upscaler being turned on.

New display settings

Samsung is giving users the option to scale down their displays to a lower resolution

With Android 7.0 Nougat, Samsung is giving users the option to scale down their displays to a lower resolution. Under the Display portion of the settings menu, you can opt for the full WQHD (2560 x 1440) resolution, or bring it down to FHD (1920 x 1080) or HD (1280 x 720). This feature first debuted on the Galaxy Note 7, which offered users more screen resolution options as part of the phone’s Power Saving Mode.

It’s worth noting that the latest Android 7.0 beta scales down the display to 1080p by default, so you’ll need to manually change it back to Quad HD if you’d like to take full advantage of the high resolution display.

See also:

Latest Nougat beta for the Galaxy S7 defaults to 1080p display

5 days ago

Improvements to Always On Display

This is Nougat on the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Last but not least, Samsung included some improvements to the Always On Display that makes it a little more functional.

Samsung’s Always On Display has been one of the most customizable implementations among Android manufacturers, though it’s been pretty useless if you need to actually interact with anything on your screen. Previous versions of the Always On Display would show when your phone receives a new notification, but there was no easy way to jump to that notification if you wanted.

Now Samsung’s Always On Display can jump right to a notification with a simple double-tap. It took a pretty long time for this feature to arrive, but I’m really thankful it’s finally here.

Other Nougat goodness

There’s a lot more where that came from. Samsung packed a lot of good stuff in this update, some of which we’ve already talked about in our Android 7.0 Nougat review. With Android Nougat, you’ll see improvements to multi-window and the ability to quickly switch between apps with a double tap of your recent apps key. You’ll also be able to directly reply from notifications without jumping into the app, as well as take advantage of bundled notifications.


Overall, I’ve been enjoying Android 7.0 Nougat on the Galaxy S7 Edge. Not only has Samsung brought its users a solid, feature-rich beta experience, but the company is building this version with user feedback. It’ll be interesting to see what features make it into the final, consumer-ready version of Nougat, and what features are left out.

Are you liking what you see so far with Nougat on the S7 and S7 Edge? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

ASUS first unveiled the mid-range ZenFone range of smartphones in 2014, and with ZenFone 3, the company wants to break away from the budget segment and is looking to increase its market share in the premium segment where it competes with the likes of the impressive OnePlus 3 and Honor 8 for example.

Available in two variants – one with a 5.2-inch display (3GB RAM/32GB internal storage) and the other with a 5.5-inch display (4GB RAM/64GB internal storage) – the ZenFone 3 packs mid-range innards into an all-new glass chassis and holds no qualms about its higher pricing.

Is it worth the price and does ASUS deliver on its marketing pitch of a ‘premium’ mid-range smartphone? We find out in this, our review of the Asus Zenfone 3.

In this review, we’re focusing on the smaller Zenfone 3 ZE520KL variant, which has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The other one is ZenFone 3 (ZE552KL), which has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The two variants differ in size and memory departments only while packing in the same processor, camera and overall experience.
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Design

The ASUS ZenFone 3 is a refreshing change from the common, and increasingly boring, all-metal design of smartphones in the market.

The ZenFone 3 sports 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass on the front and rear held by a metal frame. It’s stylish, sturdy (and can easily take random knocks on the glass), and quite attractive. The polished metal chamfers on the front and rear and the absence of antenna lines at the back are nice touches, and a testimony of the company’s focus on elegance here.

The compact size and the 7.69mm slim profile combined with the rounded edges makes it a delight to grip in the hand (How I miss smaller smartphones!). At 145 grams, it’s not the lightest smartphone out there, but is comfortable to hold. The all-glass design though means that it is a tad slippery, and I’d avoid holding it carelessly. Also, as one would imagine, it is a fingerprint magnet – the smudges being more prominent in the black variant I reviewed than in other colors I’d assume.

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

Yet it’s not all hunky-dory. The capacitive navigation buttons below the display are not backlit. Sometimes you’d end up fumbling to find them in the dark, and although it becomes an impulsive thing after few days of usage, this is a poor design element in a smartphone at this price.

Most people complain about the protruding rear camera too. Yes, it does not sit flush with the back, but I really didn’t mind it much, and it doesn’t hurt the aesthetics of the device. ASUS claims that the sapphire lens on the ZenFone 3 provides protection from any type of scratch, which is a constant worry with a protruding camera bump, and it certainly seems to live up to Asus’ billing.

This time around, ASUS has shunned the utilitarian design of the older ZenFone smartphones and has upped the ante for the ZenFone 3. The glass and metal design looks striking and exudes style in all four color variants – Shimmer Gold, Moonlight White, Aqua Blue, and Sapphire Black. It impresses at first glance, and helps the Zenfone 3 stand out in what is becoming an ever-increasingly homogenous industry.

Display

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

The 5.2-inch Full-HD IPS display on the ZenFone 3 is incredibly sharp and offers crisp visuals and good clarity. It’s vibrant, offers rich colors, and it is a treat to watch high-res videos or play games on it. The touch response too is smooth and fluid. The ZenFone 3 features high brightness level of 600nits and therefore sunlight legibility is pretty good. The viewing angles are great too, and the display supports touch recognition through gloves.

You can control the display settings with the built-in Splendid app that allows you to choose between Balance, Bluelight Filter, Vivid, and Customized color modes. The Bluelight Filter mode cuts out the blue light so that the display is easier on the eyes.

Performance

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

The ASUS ZenFone 3 is powered by Snapdragon 625, a mid-level processor, and packs in 3GB of RAM in this variant. On the specifications sheet, that makes for a modest entry. Several smartphones in this segment offer flagship processors from Qualcomm bundled with up to 6GB of RAM. Also, some of the budget smartphones pack in similar internals for half the price.

Yet, how a smartphone performs is not always reflective of the internal specs. The ZenFone 3 performs like a breeze with no apparent lags in multitasking or navigating across the UI. Even while playing graphic-intensive games, there was hardly a performance issue or overheating and no dropped frames. Overall, the ZenFone 3 is zippy and smooth when used as a daily driver, and can give other devices with similar specs a run for their money.

The fingerprint sensor on the ZenFone 3 has a quick response and is quite good. In most cases, it recognizes fingerprints even with wet fingers on the first try. You can also tap and hold the fingerprint sensor to answer a call or double tap it to launch the camera (and take a photo with just a tap when the camera app is on).

Interestingly, one of the highlights of the Snapdragon 625 chipset is less power consumption compared to previous generation chipsets. The 2650mAh battery on the ZenFone 3 (3000mAh on the other variant) might just look average on paper, but combined with the SoC and software optimizations, the smartphone offers impressive battery life easily lasting me through the day on heavy usage.

Hardware

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

The ASUS ZenFone 3 packs a 64-bit octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor clocked at 2GHz with an integrated Adreno 506 GPU. Since it performs quite well, one would be less inclined to go for the higher spec’d variant (4GB RAM versus 3GB RAM) unless there is a preference for larger display. There’s 32GB of internal storage, with about 23.5GB was available out of the box, and there’s also support for microSD cards of up to 2TB for expansion. ASUS is also offering 100GB of free cloud storage space for two years, in collaboration with Google.

The ZenFone 3 sports a hybrid SIM slot that can take in a Nano SIM along with a Micro SIM or a microSD card. While both SIMs support 3G/4G, only one can connect to 3G/4G networks at a time. If you prefer lot of storage and use two SIMs every day or while travelling, you might want to go for the 64GB variant. For most people though, 32GB is good enough, and of course, if you use only one SIM, you can always expand storage via microSD card.

Camera

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

ASUS pitches the camera on the ZenFone 3 as one of the highlights of the smartphone. While the optics are solid on paper, the real magic – or the lack of it – obviously lies in the software processing the data from the camera sensor. That’s the company’s PixelMaster 3.0 at play.

The 16-megapixel rear camera has an f/2.0 aperture and packs in 6P Largan lens, and focuses on the subject really quick. According to ASUS, the TriTech auto-focus technology on the ZenFone 3 combines laser, phase detection, and continuous autofocus allowing the device to focus in just 0.03 seconds in all conditions. There’s also Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) as well as Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) which are quite handy while shooting videos and still shots in difficult light conditions.

Outdoors, the rear camera on the ZenFone 3 of course performs great. Consistently. The colors are vibrant, and the photos include a great amount of detail and accuracy. The color reproduction too is excellent whether it’s the landscapes or the close-up shots. However, in low-light conditions while most of the shots are quite decent, often some noise would creep in and there would be a loss of detail. Although, I often managed to get blur-free shots in poor light conditions, validating the ZenFone 3’s camera creds.

In fact, it’s the 8-megapixel front camera on the ZenFone 3 that surprised me with the sharp and detailed selfies that I took, even in low light conditions or when indoors.

The camera app on the ZenFone 3 packs in a lot of options and camera modes to choose from. There’s also a manual mode for tinkering with the DSLR-like camera settings as well as a low light mode that enhances light sensitivity for clearer and brighter low-light shots. With the Super Resolution mode, you can take composite images at up to 4X resolution, and then wonder why would you need it. Not from a review perspective, but I ended up using the GIF animation mode a lot for random fun GIFs converted from a series of captured images. Maybe that’s why there was a delay in publishing the review!

For better or worse, the camera on the ZenFone 3 builds on the precedent set by the earlier generations of ZenFone. It’s not perfect, and serious photographers would find few limitations here and there, but for most regular as well as power users, it works great.

Software

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

The ASUS ZenFone 3 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box with the new version of the company’s proprietary ZenUI 3.0 on top of it.

Right up, that’s a good thing. The older versions of ZenUI were plagued with bloatware and gimmicky UI elements that marred the overall user experience. The latest version is a complete makeover, and offers a clean UI with subtle animations. There are several nifty utilities, but there’s still a plethora of ASUS-branded apps that I’ve hardly seen anyone using really. Unfortunately, only a few of these can be uninstalled and while you can disable most others, they still occupy storage space on your phone.

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

ZenUI 3.0 features an app drawer, and there’s a built-in search functionality. You can swipe down the screen and search the Web or your apps and contacts, and view your frequently used apps. There’s an all-new Theme Store from which users can download free as well as paid themes, wallpapers, icons, and ringtones to customize their smartphone.

One of the neat features of the ZenUI is ZenMotion which allows configuring a variety of touch and motion gestures like double tap to wake or flipping the phone when you get an incoming call to enable silent mode. It also allows you to enable the one-handed mode that shrinks the display to one corner of the screen for easy, one-handed usage when you’re on the move.

Of course, the most useful app from the entire ZenUI suite is the Mobile Manager. With slick animations and intuitive UI, the app offers quick ways to free RAM and storage space, and manage apps as well as app permissions. It’s a sort of one-stop destination for managing your phone’s performance.

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

For gamers, ZenUI offers Game Genie which pops up automatically when you start playing a game and allows you to record your gameplay and broadcast it live on YouTube or Twitch, search for tips, and boost gaming performance. It’s a neat, little addition that gamers would appreciate.

The latest version of ZenUI on the ZenFone 3 is fluid and aims to offer stock Android-like experience while adding additional functionalities. And, it succeeds in doing that. But the excess of bloatware is disappointing, and shows that the company has learnt nothing from similar criticism in the past.

Specifications

Operating SystemAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow with ASUS ZenUI 3.0
Display5.2-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) super IPS+ | 2.5D contoured Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Processor64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon Octa-Core 625 2.0GHz | Adreno 506 GPU
RAM3 GB
Internal Storage32 GB; expandable up to 2TB with microSD card
Battery2650mAh
Rear Camera16 MP PixelMaster 3.0 camera | f/2.0 aperture | Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) | Dual-LED real tone flash
Front Camera8MP | f/2.0 aperture | 84˚ field of view
Dimesions146.87 x 73.98 x 7.69 mm
Weight144 grams

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

ASUS ZenFone 3 review

At $320 (₹21,999) in India, the ASUS ZenFone 3 is not cheap. The higher spec’d variant is in fact priced at roughly $409 (₹27,999) which is very similar to the OnePlus 3. Yet, there are a lot of things going for the ZenFone 3. One, ASUS serves broader audience by virtue of being available both online and offline and secondly, it looks so damn good.

It’s a reliable daily driver and doesn’t break a sweat while pushing for performance or gaming. The camera is very good, and the battery life is exemplary.

It looks modest on the specifications sheet, but it's a mistake to judge the ZenFone 3 purely on its specs list

. Once you take it for a spin, it impresses, even if we wish the price could’ve been a little lower. In fact, the lower spec’d variant, because it performs very well, offers more value for money and is the recommended buy, as long as you’re happy with the smaller display.

Asus isn’t officially selling the regular Zenfone 3 in the US but it is already available via a marketplace seller on Amazon if you’d rather have the regular Zenfone 3 over the more illustrious (and higher priced) Zenfone 3 Deluxe. What do you think of the Asus Zenfone 3 and do you plan to buy one? Let us know your views in the comments below!

LeEco Le Pro3 review

LeEco is making it abundantly clear – they are here and are looking to really disrupt multiple segments of the tech world. They have a car concept that turned heads, bought Vizio so that they could really capture the television market, and even a smart bike that runs Android. But it all ties back – as it should – to a phone.

In Jan this year, the LeEco Le Max Pro made a splash as one of the very first phones to sport the latest Snapdragon 820 processor of the time, but now their latest outing claims to be more than just a phone and more of an ecosystem in and of itself. Does the result spell greatness for this burgeoning brand? Let’s find out in our review of the LeEco Le Pro 3.

Design

To any avid smartphone fans, the Le Pro3 may look a little too familiar – it is honestly just too hard not to think that this phone greatly resembles the OnePlus 3, right down to the antenna lines and the lens popping out at the top. Users might actually mistake the two if they happen to have them lying side by side. We just really felt the need to call that out, so with that out of the way, we can step back and explore the cues.

LeEco’s phone has a metal body with a very glossy look and feel, which puts a fingerprint reader on the back in lieu of capacitive buttons underneath the screen. With a 5.5 inch screen, the phone is not at all hard to manoeuvre in one hand and it helps that the body is a bit thicker than most of the slim profiles we’ve gotten this past year. The glossy material does take to fingerprints rather quickly, but not egregiously.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

One main aspect to note is that there is no headphone jack found on this phone – an adapter has to be used in order to port the USB-C. Speaking of audio, a bottom mounted speaker is accompanied by the phone speaker that works double time for calls and media.

Overall, it is good looking phone that is mostly hindered by the fact that the design is a bit too much like something that we have seen before. It begs the question – besides the different ‘Le’ logos that are on the back and serves as the home capacitive button, what defines LeEco’s design language in this smartphone cycle? Granted, the phone looks and feels quite good, but starting things off with a derivative style may foreshadow the rest of the story that is the Le Pro3.

Display

LeEco Le Pro3 review

A 5.5 inch screen helps in the handling experience, though an affordable phone like this had to cut a few corners to keep the costs down. As such, this is an IPS display that comes with an unsurprising 1080p resolution. As an IPS display, it does get plenty bright even in broad daylight, but it seems a bit muted in its colors, noticeably lacking in vibrancy and saturation. This is in the standard LeEco color mode found in the display settings, even though there is a vivid mode that is available for that extra bit of punch.

The easiest problem to see at first glance is the sizeable bezel that is around the entire display. It can almost be considered the mark of a budgeted phone and it is plain to see in the Le Pro3. Pixel density is obviously not as high as it would have been if this were a Quad HD screen, but it is still plenty for text and general sharpness. Reading text and websites is not difficult, and games are still fun to play despite the need for a little better coloration.

That all said, this display is about as standard as you can get. In the grand scheme of affordable flagship phones, there are definitely better display experiences. For its affordable price point, general users won’t find too much to hate about the Le Pro3’s screen, aside from maybe the bezel.

Performance

LeEco Le Pro3 review

We have to preference the performance aspect of this review by saying that the EUI LeEco put as the software is mostly to blame for the hiccups experienced on this device. The Snapdragon 821 has already proven itself a few times over as a powerful and reliable processing package, meaning that high performance tasks from productivity to gaming are actually about as good as they should be. Unfortunately, that is assuming the software can stably get from one place to another without messing up.

I did play some good games on the Le Pro 3 that included The Trail, one of the more lag-prone gaming experiences available right now, and it was not any worse than on other Snapdragon 821 performers like the Pixel. 4GB of RAM in the base model is adequate for general multitasking, though a 6GB model is available at a premium and should help the phone along a bit more. That said, jumping in and out of applications using the recent apps screen is smooth, as is going through the multitudes of homescreens that users will inevitably have because there is no app drawer.

Overall, having the Snapdragon 821 as the processor on this phone, which is meant to be quite affordable, is definitely one of the better aspects of the Le Pro 3, even if the hardware and software experience doesn’t quite live up to that offered by other Snapdragon 821-powered smartphones.

Hardware

LeEco Le Pro3 review

Which brings us to the hardware, where we’ll start with the good parts of the experience. Calls on the Le Pro3 are adequately good, with no real problems on either end of the call and with few dropped calls on the T-Mobile network. Sound, in general, is actually a bright spot for this phone because of the dual speakers – when watching YouTube or playing games, we didn’t feel too bad about the lack of a headphone jack because the audio coming out of the phone was pretty dang decent to begin with.

Speaking of the headphone jack, it does suffer from the iPhone 7 or Moto Z problem in that an adapter has to be used in order to connect wired headphones to the phone. This adapter is really small and can be easily misplaced, which is something that already happened to me on a couple of occasions. Bluetooth headsets are probably the best way to go for the sake of convenience, though it is an adjustment that many still have to get used to.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

On a somewhat related note, getting certain Bluetooth speakers and other peripherals connected to the Le Pro3 ranged from decent to anger-inducing experiences. The main issue was with NFC connections, which were highly inconsistent and had trouble connecting to my Bluetooth speakers. Even then, the Bluetooth connection to one of my speakers cut out a few times, which was frustrating.

Another point of real contention is that the Le Pro 3 wasn’t able to work with Android Auto in my car. Connecting the phone using a USB-C cord took multiple tries because the phone kept trying to connect via Mirrorlink rather than Android Auto, but that is yet another mark against the software, admittedly. However, even when I did get Android Auto to work, it would lose connection every couple of minutes to the point of it being completely useless for my driving. As an everyday user of Android Auto, this took away a key portion of my daily requirements for any phone.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

One last inconsistency came from the fingerprint reader. It often felt like I needed to hit it multiple times just to get it to trigger, making it a little annoying to wake and unlock the phone on more than a few occasions. It may be fixed with a future update but the fingerprint sensor definitely requires refining further and doesn’t have the responsiveness offered by other OEMs.

32GB of storage is available with the base model of the LeEco Le Pro 3, but 64GB and 128GB are also available at a further premium. Our unit has 64GB, which gives enough space for plenty of applications and media, but without expandable storage, you’ll want to ensure you pick up the right storage option for you. If you opt for the variant with 4GB of RAM, you can choose from either 32GB or 64GB storage while for those wanting 6GB of RAM, you storage options are doubled to 64GB and 128GB.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

Battery life is dependant on the 4070mAh battery, which is a higher capacity than found on most flagship devices. Our Android Authority battery testing app showed a possible screen on time of 9 hours, with the gaming test managing to bring the phone from 100 to single digits in about 7 hours. While on paper it certainly seems like the battery can go the distance, using the phone as my daily driver made the battery life range from 3 and a half hours of screen on time to an upper limit of 5.

That is pretty good battery life, even if it is not particularly overachieving and that upper limit is somewhat expected for a 4000+ mAh unit. If users are itching for power despite the possibility of a solid full day of battery with some change, Quick Charge 3.0 is able to get the phone up to 50% battery in around half an hour.

Camera

LeEco Le Pro3 review

The camera of the Le Pro3 is a 16MP shooter capable of 4k video recording and has a few different modes available. Before we get to that, the front facing camera does have a beauty mode that is on by default and smooths out details in selfies taken using the 8MP sensor. Selfies taken on the Le Pro3 are decent enough, though even at the middle setting, the beauty mode is a little too aggressive and makes pictures look a bit too soft. It is also quite slow to focus, which takes away from the selfie experience.

The app in general is not the fastest one out there, mainly in the sense that the shutter-to-file time is a little too long for our tastes. There is no problem changing to the different modes and activating different features, but the one big issue we have with it is that HDR is not a setting but rather a feature. This means that users would have to actively open it up in order to give pictures a little more punch and better highlight and shadow rendering.

As such, the pictures coming from the Le Pro3 are actually not all that bad. Though they won’t really blow anyone away, the pictures are all very serviceable with a good amount of detail in the right lighting situations. The noise, of course, comes out more in the lower light shots but at least it doesn’t look incredibly smudgy. All in all, it is a camera experience that you would expect from a sub-$400 handset.

LeEco Le Pro3 camera samples:

The colors are what make us give the camera a nod, with a slight bump up in saturation making pictures look more vivid and pleasing to the eye. Interestingly enough, this didn’t seem to be the case when looking at the pictures on the screen of the phone itself. This is likely due to the screen being a bit muted, as we mentioned in the display section earlier on. General users will be able to enjoy their smartphone photography on the Le Pro3, though prosumers will probably wish that there was more speed in the app and a few more options to get even better shots.

Software

LeEco Le Pro3 review

And finally, in software, the EUI brings its Asian styled flavor of Android; this means no app drawer and potentially a few different features that aren’t typically found in western versions of Google’s OS. EUI starts off pleasantly enough, with good design cues that are decidedly smaller in overall elements than other Chinese operating systems, perhaps as a way to avoid anything bleeding over their boundaries (as is rather common with overtly long translations in localized versions of Color OS and such).

The lack of an app drawer is a polarizing choice, with some users really hating the omission and others finding it rather refreshing. I am the former, but I understand that it doesn’t truly change the overall Android experience that much. LeEco, to their credit, tries a few different things in their skin, with the quick settings showing up above the recent apps screen, and the notification shade showing only notifications and a large button on the bottom to manage said notifications, even if it won’t be pressed all that often anyway.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

Where LeEco hopes that the EUI will separate itself is through its ties to the LeEco streaming services. LeEco did well to get quite a few different partnerships with networks like SeeSo and Showtime to bring a lot of content to the masses, but it requires subscription and monthly payments to the EcoPass, which has its own digital currency called the EcoPoints which can be used in lieu of cash towards options in the LeMall.

Take a deep breath.

LeEco Le Pro3 review

A lot of that content is found in the Le app, but in place of where the app drawer button would be is a wholly different application called Le Live, which brings users to a 3×3 grid of content distributors that all stream content straight to the phone on an ongoing basis. This can include the aforementioned SeeSo but also includes some Asian channels, Vice, and a few smaller outlets like TasteMade, which you might recognize from their Facebook ads or Snapchat. Basically content is consistently played and scheduled at certain time intervals, and is a portal to a lot of different streaming content that is curated, only somewhat expansive, and honestly a little hard to make sense of – the average user will probably be a bit confused and overwhelmed by the experience, especially considering there isn’t a whole lot of documentation or even built-in advertisement-style tutorials to guide the user.

What if users want an affordable Android phone, but aren’t open to getting inundated with Le’s all over the place?

SeeSo, Netflix, and Showtime are examples of subscription-based services that are all a part of the Le ecosystem, but they are paid addons on top of the already existing subscription service. While there are a few perks like 5TB of photo and video storage included, it is a little tough to recommend a whole new bill payment just to enjoy what is supposed to be the biggest part of the Le Pro3. What if users want an affordable Android phone, but aren’t open to getting inundated with Le’s all over the place? Of course, they can install a new launcher but the question bears statement.

Gallery

Specifications

Display5.5-inch IPS LCD display
1080p resolution, 403 ppi
Processor2.35 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
Adreno 530 GPU
RAM4/6 GB
Storage32/64GB (4GB RAM)
64/128 GB (6GB RAM)
non-expandable
Camera16 MP rear camera, 1.12µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, dual LED flash
8 MP front-facing camera, 1.4µm pixel size
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.1
GPS + GLONASS
NFC
IR
FM radio
USB Type-C 1.0
Battery4,070 mAh non-removable
Quick Charge 3.0
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
eUI 5.8
Dimensions151.4 x 73.9 x 7.5 mm
175 grams

Price & Final Thoughts

LeEco Le Pro3 review

Another perk of being part of the LeMall and the Le ecosystem is that members can get the Le Pro3 at a pretty deep discount that makes this phone one of the most affordable devices available today. Starting at $399, the phone can be put on flash sales resulting in discounts of $100, making the phone potentially $299 if you wait for those days to come. This is undoubtedly a wonderful price, but as we have found in this review, you kind of get what you pay for.

And so, there you have it. The LeEco LePro3 – a phone that has all of the tools to be competitive but is bogged down by inconsistent performance that we only really see in phones at its price point. This doesn’t come at much of a surprise, but the phone does prove to be a reminder that value and money can sometimes be an inverse proportion. For it’s price, the LeEco Le Pro 3 is a solid device, but it only really makes sense as a recommendation if acquired at the $299 price, which we haven’t seen since the days of the OnePlus One.

And for its full price, there is competition like the OnePlus 3 to consider – it is, after all, the phone that the Le Pro3 somehow manages to look incredibly similar to. It brings an inconsistent experience overall with Le features and software that aren’t particularly useful for anyone that just wants a reliable Android experience at a good price.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Xiaomi made quite a splash with what they called a ‘concept phone”; a phone that, they hope, will give us a glimpse into a future where smartphones are slabs of glass that project the magic that lies within. Considering we don’t have the technology (yet) that can make our phones achieve this, they went with the best we can do right now – a phone that is all display, all the time.

I’ve been using it for some time now, trying to figure out if a phone that is basically entire display actually makes sense for our daily lives. After all, doing this to a phone means that some changes have to be made to the very way that we see and use our smartphones. Does it work and is this the future of smartphones? Let’s find out in this, our Xiaomi Mi MIX review.

This concept phone is only available in China and this means certain parts of the phone will only work in that market and were not applicable to our review process as a whole. These differences will be called out in their respective areas. Also, the phone is only made in small batches, so its availability is limited, which means the majority of you readers probably won’t be able to buy one. With that in mind, this review will focus less on how this particular phone would work on the daily and instead how the features that are being introduced by this phone might actually factor into what could be our smartphone future.
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Design

To make room for the massive display, Xiaomi had to move many of the current conventions of the smartphone around, but to make the shell holding it all together just as appealing, the company made this large 6.4-inch phone utilize full ceramic for its material. The result is a very shiny, very sleek block that is highly eye-catching and, honestly, really slippery. I’ve almost dropped the phone multiple times as a result. It seems a little ironic to me that this phone is supposed to be all about the display yet it can be broken quite easily due to its large size and slippery body.

Luckily, there is a premium leather case that Xiaomi made a big deal of, citing its high quality and the premium price for it. Even more luckily, it is included in the box. There was little time between my actually using the phone and then sliding it in the case for safety.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

That said, plenty of what makes a smartphone recognizable remains, at least on the sides and the back. Prominent power and volume buttons on the side are easy to feel for, and the rear elements of the camera and the fingerprint reader are a bit lower on the upper third than might be typical. This phone does come with a headphone jack up top and the USB-C port on the bottom is flanked by the microphone and surprisingly good speaker.

It’s when we get to the front of the phone that we see where things have been shifted around. The top of the device is where some of the magic of the display takes place, as there is virtually no bezel around three sides of the screen. The parts of a phone that we are used to seeing up there are moved either underneath the screen or to the bottom. And below the screen is, mainly, the front facing camera – the location of this camera is not the most ideal, not only because the upward angle isn’t the most flattering for selfies, but also because thumbs and palms might show up in the corner of the frame.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Otherwise, the proximity sensor is now sonar based, which will figure when the top of the phone is close to a subject. And the phone speaker is now a piece of ceramic just below the screen that emits sound through vibrations. Both of these will be considered further in the hardware section.

it seems like this phone is a great concept for not just phones but also for tablets

Overall, this is a sleek device that is brought down in the handling department mostly by its size. The phone is very hard to use comfortably in one hand, and the ceramic exacerbates this even when using both hands. For that reason, it seems like this phone is a great concept for not just phones but also for tablets – this is a point that we’ll get into when we talk about this massive, beautiful display.

Display

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

The IPS near bezel-less display has one big caveat right off the bat – it is only a 1080p display. Technically, it is actually 2040×1080, which makes it have an aspect ratio of 17:9 and slightly wider than the typical video frame. Though this almost Full HD is not bad by any means, flagship devices have made this kind of choice feel like more of an aberration than it probably should be. For a phone like the Xiaomi Mi MIX, Quad HD would have really elevated what is already a sight to behold.

With a 91.3% screen to body ratio, there is so much real estate for just about any form of entertainment – or work, if that is what you want to do – and everything displays really well. The IPS screen gets quite bright even under daylight, but there is also a lot of control over the backlight that Xiaomi put in because bringing the brightness down to 0 seemingly shuts it completely off. Its saturation has also been bumped up a bit to make it a little more pleasing to the eye. As a result, gaming and streaming YouTube videos on the Xiaomi Mi MIX has been very enjoyable, to a fault.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Let’s go back, for a second, to the resolution and some of the issues that it presents. As mentioned before, Full HD is not bad, but 17:9 has proved to be a little problematic. Videos are, typically, 16:9 aspect ratio and when they are viewed on any display that is higher in ratio, letterboxing occurs. This is the case and problem I found on the MIX. YouTube videos, in particular, show small black bars on the sides of the video, taking away from the immersion that the bezel-less construction is supposed to provide. So, with that in mind, the magic of having almost no bezel is replaced by the simple but common enjoyment of having a large screen.

The opposite is true for many games that I played on the MIX, because they are coded to ‘best-fit’ the aspect ratio the display – and in most cases, the elements on the very edges of the HUD bleed just past the boundaries of the screen.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

And finally, having a 1080p display on such a large display makes for a lower overall pixel density, which means a bit of loss in sharpness. This is less a problem for static content and more of an issue with motion, as there is an apparent motion blur as text scrolls and in many videos and games there is just enough of it to remind me that this is not a Quad HD screen. Again, there is no problem with having Full HD in general, but the MIX seems to have missed an opportunity by omitting it.

Does this kind of screen really work for a smartphone? It totally can, but the compromises that it requires are the pain points. Without a phone speaker, the vibrating ceramic underneath was Xiaomi’s alternative and it honestly does not do the job nearly as well. The proximity sensor becoming a sonar sensor works pretty well, and the bottom mounted front facing camera is a compromise that can be solved by holding the phone upside down.

But for a whole different segment of the space – the tablet – the bezel-less display could be one of the best and widely sought after features. A tablet doesn’t quite need all of these features that had to be shifted around in a smartphone – the entire front of a tablet can become ‘all display, all the time’ when the proximity sensor, the phone speaker, and even the front facing camera can all be left out. Perhaps Xiaomi had this in mind when designing this phone – after all, they believe that if this phone is successful, the concept can become real for future devices. Not just their phones, but their future devices.

Performance

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Despite all that this phone is trying to introduce outside of the typical smartphone box, much of what we would expect remains. The Xiaomi Mi MIX (and the Mi Note 2) sports the Snapdragon 821 and either 4 or 6GB of RAM depending on the version (and price). As a result, the MIUI speeds through all of elements smoothly and without stutters or issues in and out of applications. Though MIUI (and – if I may have some candor – many Chinese Android iterations) is not my favorite experience, I cannot deny how well it is presented and how easy it is to enjoy all of my apps despite the Xiaomi UI that splatters it all over its homescreens and not in an app drawer.

As a small aside, I would like to give credit to Xiaomi – and, indeed, to Chinese manufacturers at large these days – for putting higher capacities of RAM in their new phones. Though the version that I have is the 4GB RAM edition, having a couple more should only mean better performance in terms of recent apps caching and multitasking.

Hardware

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

And to that end, the higher capacity for the RAM is helped by another big addition – larger storage. The base model of the MIX comes with an 128GB of onboard storage to make up for the fact that it does not have a microSD card slot. Go up to the more premium 6GB edition and that amount gets even larger at 256GB! This is something that definitely needs to become more common, even in this current landscape where microSD cards are more common and Google wants to make you pay for more storage or just use their cloud backup services.

Another good portion to the hardware was a little surprising – the speaker. Audio through the headphone jack is already standardly good, without the extra power of an amp or the customization options that can come with a dedicated DAC. However, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the bottom mounted speaker next to the USB-C port was pretty loud and had some body to the sound. While this is not a particularly common situation, I found myself watching or playing content on the MIX without any headphones connected, simply because the screen was the focus of my testing. But when doing so, I got accustomed to just relying on the speaker and didn’t find myself really reaching for my earbuds. It isn’t super loud and won’t do particularly well in very high noise environments, but indoors and in typical situations at home it was definitely more than adequate.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Speaking of the USB-C port, charging the massive 4400mAh battery that comes in the MIX is a pretty standard, fast charging affair. Despite the claims of the phone getting up to 83% in about half an hour, the reality for me was actually closer to 70% with a full charging time of around 2 and a half hours. However, the big story here is that huge battery, which is helped primarily by the Full HD resolution in the screen.

Despite the very large display, the big battery does a great job of making the phone go the distance, as I found my typical usage (a lot of audio playing, some YouTube, GPS navigation, a bit of gaming, and a lot of productivity app usage) to yield up to 7 hours of screen on time. In our testing using the Android Authority Battery Tester, the Xiaomi Mi MIX scored a very respectable 9 hours SOT in our gaming test. Battery life is one of the best parts of this phone, even if it is partly due to the Full HD display and the fact that this phone does not connect to LTE networks in the States (or pretty much anywhere in the West, really).

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

Which finally brings us to the main hardware changes in this phone, the phone speaker and the proximity sensor. As mentioned earlier, I did not find any issues with the sonar detector that replaces the usual proximity sensor – the phone performed properly during calls, as the screen turns off when the phone is at my ear.  Speaking of calls, there is really no other way to put it – the ceramic vibration that replaces the phone speaker is just not a good alternative. Not only because of the nature having just one piece of vibrating material, but also because it is tucked below the layer of screen and ceramic.

There is simply not enough sound emitting from the top of the phone to make calls comfortable to listen to, much less in loud environments. I moved the phone around a lot because I thought I was just landing it improperly on my ear, but it was just not loud enough for my calls. Though the sonar worked well and the bottom mounted front facing camera can be made to work, this vibrating ceramic needs to go back to the drawing board or there must be a better way to make calls work on a device like this. (If anything, see my previous remarks about this bezel-less concept working on a tablet.)

Camera

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

The camera spec of the Mi MIX are less important for this concept phone compared to where they were located, at least in the case of the front facing camera, as we have mentioned it a few times already in this review. That said, the specs are nothing to snooze on – the main camera is a 16MP shooter at f/2.0 aperture while the front facing camera is a 5MP shooter and is located below the screen this time.

We have had a couple examples in the past of bottom mounted cameras, so this isn’t exactly a new thing. However, the tradeoffs for this location are apparent the moment the camera is opened – an upward angle is just not great for selfies. And even then, when reaching with, in particular, one’s right hand in order to hit the shutter button, one’s thumb gets right in the field of view and ruins the picture. These are annoyances, sure, but at least Xiaomi understood this and made the camera app always reversible. Just turn the phone upside down and it’s like a regular smartphone for selfies. All things said, the front facing camera is decent, not very high achieving, and has the pretty aggressive beauty mode on at default.

The app, in general, is a pretty standard affair – some controls are available and there are quite a few modes that can help the creative smartphone photographer. HDR is auto-capable, though its effect is not too aggressive and does more to add a little saturation to the photo rather than really bringing back the highlights in an otherwise blown out shot.

With so many good cameras coming out this year, it is harder to excuse a camera that does a good job rather than a great job. The picture quality of the MIX is adequate but definitely didn’t blow me away. The app and the processing is, as usual, the achilles heel for this camera because it tends toward pretty flat colors and lacks detail in even well lit situations.

Getting closer into the pictures shows that there is a significant noise reduction that makes photos lose their sharpness and this only gets much worse in lower light situations. Videos don’t seem to suffer from these issues, since that software processing is not something that can be done on the fly during recording – at 4K, I actually thought the videos looked better than the photos.

Also, it still looks pretty damn cool when the viewfinder shows up across the entirety of the screen.

Xiaomi Mi MIX camera samples:

This review is supposed to posit the potential for the new concepts as the future of smartphones, but it is disappointing that the camera is still a sore point for Xiaomi. Perhaps if the ‘all display, all the time’ concept becomes a reality for more phones, the next step is for these companies to really up their game in the camera department.

Software

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

And finally, we have software, which is actually very much affected by the fact that this phone is only available in China. Not only did that mean HSPA+ for my mobile data, but also a translated but not localized version of the MIUI. Xiaomi was able to get Google Play Services installed on this and any other Western review units, but because the phone is not meant for our markets, there will be no global MIUI to review here.

With that in mind, we take a look at what we can in the MIUI – the app drawer-less version of Android that is actually very popular in the Chinese market. Xiaomi evolves their operating system based on user feedback quite frequently, and the result seems to be a pretty smooth iteration of the Android ecosystem. While the tedium of putting all my applications in folders strewn about the homescreens is something I may never get used to, actually getting around the interface was a largely painless experience.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

The notification dropdown shows the quick settings on the side and provides a lot of options, while the setting area is robust and includes a number of features that we don’t get in Western UIs. For example, the Dual App feature which virtualizes a second space or account and allows certain applications to be accessed in two different states. Using Facebook as an example, one can be signed into the app with one account and then turn it on via the Dual App area – another iteration of the Facebook icon shows up in the homescreens (which means more organization required, ugh) and when opened, it is like a freshly installed version of the app.

This, interestingly enough, can be done with many applications and is a small taste of a bigger feature called the Second Space. Instead of just one application being duplicated, one can create a whole new interface much like the Spaces in Windows or the Workspaces in Mac OS, in which one can have certain apps and setting put into one and other available in the other. The Second Space can be accessed and moved out of via a notification in the dropdown, and it’s an interesting take on dual accounts without actually having dual accounts installed in Android at large.

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

As far as other features go, it is important to note that while a screen like this (and the curved display of the Mi Note 2, for that matter) can mean new and different features that leverage their construction, there are none found in their newest phones. Xiaomi did say that this can change in the near future, however.

Overall, the MIUI is a different take on Android that doesn’t hinder or really add too much to the experience of Google’s OS as a whole. While there are a couple features that MIUI users (and users of other Chinese interfaces) enjoy compared to their Western counterparts, they do not make or break what is otherwise a standardly useful affair.

Specifications

 OnePlus 3T
Display6.4-inch IPS display
1920 x 1080 resolution, 362ppi
Processor2.35GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
GPUAdreno 530
RAM4GB / 6GB
Storage128GB with 4GB RAM
256GB with 6GB RAM
MicroSDNo
PortsUSB Type-C
Dual nano-SIM slot
3.5 mm audio jack
AudioSpeakers: Bottom-facing speaker
CamerasRear: 16MP, f/2.0 aperture, EIS (gyro), phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash

Front: 5MP
SensorsFingerprint, Accelerometor, Gyroscope, Proximity, Compass, Barometer
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
BatteryNon-removable 4,400mAh
Quick Charge 3.0: 83% charge in 30 mins
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
MIUI
ColorsBlack
Dimensions and weight158.8 x 81.9 x 7.9mm
209g

Gallery

Conclusion

Xiaomi Mi MIX Review – all screen, almost all of the time!

So, does this mean that the MIX is the future of smartphones, or perhaps the future of personal devices? Yes and no.

Chinese users will get a big kick out of using this phone on the daily, especially those that consume and stream media a lot (a highly common occurrence in the East). And for a concept phone, it is surprisingly affordable – the RMB price roughly converts to just over $500 in the base model. This is mostly due to the small quantities that Xiaomi is actually manufacturing – they want to get the phone in as many hands as possible without creating so many that the price needs be higher to cover those costs.

A global version of a phone like the MIX could indeed make a splash here, but this one in particular has a few too many tradeoffs.

But for everyone else, this phone is nothing more than a glimpse into the kind of out-of-the-box thinking Chinese companies tend to have, despite never really penetrating the Western market. A global version of a phone like the MIX could indeed make a splash here, but this one in particular has a few too many tradeoffs.

There are definitely some great experiences to be had with the MIX, especially from a media consumption standpoint. The bezel-less screen is a sight to behold and still proves to be rather exciting even after the time I have used it. But there are some drawbacks that affect its nature as a smartphone – the phone speaker is the biggest pain point, because the alternative presented by Xiaomi is simply not good enough. And because media at large is set up in a particular way, the immersion factor of the big screen can break rather easily. And finally the sheer size of this phone makes it rather impractical for anyone that does not enjoy hand gymnastics.

The Xiaomi Mi MIX is, at best, a glimpse into our future. At worst, it might be a look into how that future is further than we hope.

We, like Xiaomi, long for the future when the entire slab of technology in our hands is, itself, also the entire display. Had this phone been instead a 7 inch tablet that made the rather bold move of omitting the front facing camera, this probably could have been realized, albeit not in the right competitive space. The Xiaomi Mi MIX is, at best, a glimpse into our future. At worst, it might be a look into how that future is further than we hope.

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

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Earlier today, Vivo announced the launch of their mid-range flagship device in India. The Vivo V5 packs in an unprecedented 20MP front camera and wraps it with mid-level internals in a stylish metallic chassis.

Vivo V5 Specifications

  • Operating System: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Funtouch OS 2.6
  • Display: 13.97cm (5.5-inch) HD (1280 x 720) | 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla Glass
  • Processor: 1.5GHz octa-core 64-bit MediaTek MT6750
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Internal Storage: 32GB; expandable up to 128GB with microSD card
  • Camera: 20MP rear camera | 13MP front camera
  • Dimensions: 153.8 x 75.5 x 7.55mm
  • Weight: 154g
  • Battery: 3000mAh

Design

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

The Vivo V5 looks like a regular slab of metal – the unibody design that we see too often, and yet it does not look bad. The metallic construction with a matte finish at the back and an engraved Vivo logo gives it a premium look, but of course, it does not stand out. It’s slim, and the curved edges makes it quite ergonomic to grip in the hand.

The 5.5-inch display with Corning Gorilla Glass protection is brilliant. It’s bright and vivid, the viewing angles are great, and it impresses, even though it is a tad reflective and struggles in bright outdoors.

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

The joy of the nice display is, however, short-lived as you realize it’s only an HD display, quite a disappointment for a phone at this price. Unless you look close enough, the 294ppi display does not look pixelated, but it’s a definite mishit on the specifications sheet.

Despite the protection on the glass, the out-of-the-box unit comes with a tempered glass protector applied on it that I took off as soon as I could. There’s also a silicone back cover bundled in the box.

Hardware

Powered by the 1.5GHz octa-core MediaTek MT6750 chipset with Mali 860 GPU, the V5 makes up for the mid-level processor with a generous 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.

In the little time I spent with the device, the phone performed okay with no apparent lags even during multi-tasking. Of course, that could change as we install and use more apps, and try out those graphic-intensive games.

The V5 also packs in the custom built AK4376 Hi-Fi audio chipset that promises an immersive audio experience by giving a signal-to-noise ratio of up to 115dB. It’s loud, and not rash, in the couple of songs I heard on it during my time with the device.

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

The fingerprint scanner is placed below the display on the front of the device (doubles up as the home button), and unlocks the device in quick time without any issues each time.

The phone boasts of a 3000mAh non-removable battery. It’s good enough, but there’s no fast charging, yet the box includes a 5V/2A charger. Also, the phone includes microUSB port for charging the device, while I would prefer USB Type-C on all smartphones going forward.

I’d expect better battery performance with an HD display instead of Full HD, but we’ll know better only when we test the phone for a longer period of time.

Software

Out of the box, the Vivo V5 comes with the company’s proprietary Funtouch OS 2.6 running on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Like is the case with most custom Android implementations, there is no app drawer here, but is otherwise a straightforward and plain, vanilla UI.

Camera

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

Of course, the highlight of the Vivo V5 is the 20MP front camera with Moonlight Glow technology for better selfies. The few selfies I clicked gave mixed results. Some were pretty good and seemed to validate company’s tall claims of balanced illumination and no noise, but few ended up being too over exposed for my liking.

The 13-megapixel rear camera performed quite okay in daylight, but indoors or in poor light conditions, the noise was very apparent. Of course, these observations are from a limited photos I clicked without being specific of test shots and ambient scenes.

Summary

Vivo V5: Hands on and first impressions

If you take out the front camera from the equation (for those who’re still not in on the selfie craze), the Vivo V5 is a tad uninspiring smartphone. However, with that marquee feature and good-looking metal body, and the fact that the V5 is available in physical retail stores across the country, unlike a lot of its competition, the company might be on something interesting.

The Vivo V5 is priced at ₹17,980 ($265) in India, and goes on sale on November 26. Let us know your initial thoughts about the phone with ‘Moonlight Camera’ in the comments below.