Reviews

Reviews

BLU Life Max Review

0

There are two things you really need to know about Life Max from BLU: it has a great battery life and it’s cheap.

For some, that will be reason enough to consider a purchase, especially as it does also come with a 5.5” screen, fingerprint sensor and dual sim functionality. But as with any budget device, you’ll need to be willing to make some rather large compromises to get that low price.

This is the Life Max, let’s see if the trade-off makes sense for you and your wallet.

See also:

Best cheap Android phones (February 2017)

2 days ago

Design and Build

The Life Max features a no-frills, budget-friendly build. It has a large 5.5” screen, no physical home button and blackish dark blue colorscheme.

The best thing I can say about it is that at first pass, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was budget phone.

Whether or not you like the design of the Life Max is likely to hinge on how you feel about the faux leather back panel. That’s the most noticeable design feature here and to be honest, it’s a lot better than you’re probably expecting. It’s rather understated and actually nicer than the feature found on the Galaxy Note 4. That said though, this is definitely still an acquired taste and won’t be for everyone. And you’re not going to be mistaking this for real leather anytime soon.

One thing about the design that we don’t like so much is the crazy positioning of just about everything.  It’s all topsy-turvy with the microUSB port (not USB-C) on the top of the device and volume rockers on the right above the power button. Neither of these things are the end of the world, but it’s confusing and can be irritating – especially changing the volume. Presumably this was something to do with cost-saving, as it’s hard to imagine anyone thought this would be an improvement.

BLU Life Max Review

The device feels pretty cheap too. Despite being fairly large, it’s incredibly light and it probably wouldn’t take too much force to snap it in half. Without the battery in, it feels like one of those plastic place holders you find in stores.

But while it might not be the most logical or premium build, the best thing I can say about it is that at first pass, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was budget phone. For the asking price, that’s pretty impressive.

BLU Life Max Review

Display

That IPS LCD screen is also pretty average. At 5.5”, it will give you plenty of real-estate for a variety of tasks and it is fairly bright too. At 720p (720×1280), it’s certainly not as crisp as many others, though you need to look closely in order to tell. It should be fine for consuming media, even if it’s not top of the line.

One feature that BLU seems keen to highlight is the ‘3D glass’ but it’s an incredibly tenuous claim and not one you’ll notice during use; it’s just that the screen is very slightly raised.

BLU Life Max Review

Hardware

What will also define your media experience are the speakers and these leave something to be desired. The odd placement of the USB means that there’s plenty of space for the two speakers along the bottom. Except when you inspect more closely, you’ll realize that sound only actually comes out of one of them and is very tinny. In fact, this is one of the most ‘budget feeling’ aspects of the phone and it is a bit of a let-down when you’re watching YouTube or playing games.

BLU Life Max Review

What’s a little less budget feeling is the inclusion of a finger print sensor round back just below the camera. This is nice to find on a phone of this price and it’s increasingly useful for a range of apps and services these days.

Except when you inspect more closely, you’ll realize that sound only actually comes out of one of them and is very tinny.

Another very nice feature is the inclusion of a dual SIM slot. This is a rare option that will be very welcome for some users I’m sure. The phone comes unlocked which is a big bonus and I’ve had no problems with call quality or signal.

Performance

Speaking of games and performance in general, the Life Max is certainly no powerhouse. Processing is taken care of by a quad-core 1.3GHz CPU with a basic 2GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by the Mali-T720 GPU, which is a popular choice for budget phones coming out of China (BLU is based in Miami but its hardware is currently produced in China).

Benchmark scores put it significantly below even a Samsung Galaxy S5, so the CPU is far behind modern flagships. But for people who will just be using their device for Twitter and Facebook, this hardly matters. Mobile gamers will still be able to play most titles on the Play Store but should expect occasional stutters and lower framerates when playing the most demanding 3D games on high settings. I also had a few games fail to launch that run fine on my other devices.

BLU Life Max Review

I will say that rummaging through the UI isn’t the most buttery smooth experience, either. You do get the occasional lags and there’s a minor perceptible pause when trying to scroll through images in the gallery or switch between apps. It’s certainly not futureproof but for those mostly passive users, it should suffice. What’s going to be more troubling for a lot of people is the measly 16GB of storage, only around 10GB of which is free to play with. Thankfully, the Life Max comes with expandable storage but you’ll still need to be prepared to do some juggling if you want to store lots of large media files on here.

Some benchmarks for those that are interested:

 

BLU Life Max Review

BLU Life Max Review

Battery

The battery is where things get a little more interesting, as the Life Max sports a very impressive 3,700mAh battery. This puts it ahead of even BLU’s own higher-end offerings, such as the Vivo 6, or much more demanding phones like the Galaxy S7.

BLU Life Max Review

When you combine this impressive battery size with the modest screen resolution, good software optimization from Google and a lack of fancy gimmicks, you have a phone that really can last a decent amount of time before giving up the ghost. BLU claims that the phone can last 3 days with normal use. With my normal use, it’s closer to two but that’s still very impressive compared with most other handsets and it’s something I really wish that other manufacturers would prioritise.

As a phone that is named for its longevity, it’s a shame not to see quick-charging here. What is nice though, is the replaceable battery for the times you need a bit more juice or your phone has decided to freeze and refuse to turn off.

Camera

The camera is often one of the first casualties of cheaper phones and unfortunately, the Life Max doesn’t do much to buck this trend. Here you get an 8MP rear shooter and 5MP selfie camera. The inclusion of a front facing flash for the selfie camera wins points, although I can’t see anyone wanting to use this for much other than Skype calls.

The rear shooter meanwhile is a mixed bag. One the one hand, it produces photos that look washed out, struggles in anything other than perfect lighting and takes a very long time to take thanks to noticeable shutter lag (worse of course with HDR turned on). Photos often come out overexposed and a little lacking in detail. That said, if you’re willing to put the effort in and get creative, it can still produce some decent end results, especially once you have your Instagram filters in place.

Auto focus is surprisingly capable, even producing some decent macro effects without having to tap to focus. The camera app also has a few nice options, including controls for white balance, exposure and ISO, as well as some fun features like smile detection.  Just be prepared to work for it and don’t go on holiday thinking you won’t need to take a separate camera. This isn’t great but I’ve seen worse.

Just be prepared to work for it and don’t go on holiday thinking you won’t need to take a separate camera…

Software

The Life Max comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow installed out of the box. One nice thing about BLU’s phones is their lack of bloatware or unwanted customizations. This is a very vanilla Android experience, which is great news and helps tremendously with the performance and lifespan. Android 6.0 is a very user-friendly OS and one that technophobes should have no problem finding their way around (which is a potential market for a phone like this).

BLU Life Max Review

Updates for budget phones are always a question mark though and I wouldn’t hold your breath for Nougat.

Specifications

Display5.5-inch 720p LCD display
Processor1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6737
GPUMali T720 GPU
RAM2GB
Storage16GB
MicroSDYes
Dual SIMYes
Camera8MP main cam, 5MP front
BatteryLi-Po 3700 mAh, removable
SoftwareAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Dimensions154.5 x 77.1 x 8.7 mm
Price$109.99 / £89.99

Conclusion

As a phone that’s available for an extremely pocket-friendly price, it would be unfair to compare the Life Max to flagship devices that cost hundreds of dollars. The question we should be asking is whether it is good value for money and the answer to that has to be yes. At such a low cost, you really can’t go wrong and when you consider the massive battery, fingerprint sensor and dual SIM slot, you’re actually getting more than the bare minimum here. This actually isn’t BLU’s cheapest phone – that honor goes to the R1 HD! BLU is a dab hand when it comes to budget, entry-level smartphones and the Life Max is just further evidence of this.

BLU Life Max Review

This is not a phone for anyone who loves smartphones though. Gamers should probably look elsewhere too, as should anyone who likes having the latest gadgets. This is a device for someone who wants a basic phone that offers some smart functionality on top, and won’t break the bank – you probably already know if that’s you. Just make sure that you’re happy to forego features like fancy cameras, top-end performance, good quality speakers or a 1080p resolution. Oh, and be prepared to be confused by odd placements for buttons and ports.

This is a device for someone who wants a basic phone that will act like a phone and won’t break the bank – you probably already know if that’s you.

That said, I can also see other scenarios where someone might want to pick up a phone like this. If you want a backup phone for taking on long trips, then the cheap price point and great battery will make this a strong choice.

The Life Max is available in the US for $109, and it’s available for just £89.99 in the UK until Monday March 6th. If you’re looking for a cheap phone, then this might be a good time to look into the Life Max.

Buy now on Amazon

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

Chromebooks have been rising in popularity for quite a while now. They come in many different form factors and specs, but can all achieve essentially the same thing. Running Chrome OS, these notebooks can surf the web, use Chrome applications, and use Google apps in the specialized dock to do many of the things you would be able to do on a Windows or macOS notebook. Because of this, Chromebooks have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, which is why they’ve made their way into the education sector, something that the Chromebook N22 was designed for in particular.

Read: Chromebooks vs other laptops – which should you get?

This is the Lenovo Chromebook N22 review.

Body

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

The Lenovo Chromebook N22 is made of a thin black plastic material, and weighing just 2.7 lbs, can be thrown in a backpack without having to worry about ruining your back. It uses a clam-shell form factor which houses the keyboard and screen, which is relatively recessed into the top half of the notebook. One thing to note – this is not the thinnest computer in the world. It is  bulky for a reason, likely due to the fact that it was made for younger students in education, who are not particularly careful with their hardware.

The Lenovo Chromebook N22 has a webcam built into the top of the device which can rotate 180 degrees. This allows users to show those they are chatting with what the world is like around them, though the video quality is not exactly great. It uses a 720p sensor, so one would likely be better off using their phone camera if they want to show things off, but it can still be helpful in a pinch, especially for younger students who may not have a smartphone of their own.

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

The body comes in at a footprint of 11.83″ x 8.35″ x 0.86″, so while it is relatively small in overall form-factor, it is a bit thick. For what it’s worth though, the size is made less important by mere sturdiness and lightness, so as long as you’ve got enough room in your bag, it shouldn’t be a worry to haul around. There is also a handle built right into the top of the device, which is really nifty, and should be useful for school kids moving it from class to class. Was in necessary? Probably not. Is it cool? Heck yes.

Keyboard

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

I have to admit I am extremely pleased with the keyboard on this device. There is a decent amount of travel on each key, and the ‘snap-back’ feeling is very welcoming to the fingertips. This keyboard is anything but quiet, however, so if you’re someone that needs something that doesn’t wake the dogs at nigh, this might not be for you. If you love the sound and feeling of a loud snappy keyboard however, this thing delivers.

If you’re a heavy typist, the keyboard will express a decent amount of flex, but if that doesn’t bother you, it should do just fine. Each key is pretty tall and separated, so it is pretty easy to feel what you are typing, and your fingers should not get too tangled. This would be a great keyboard to help students learn typing on however, which again is what this laptop is really designed for.

I/O

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

The Lenovo Chromebook N22 comes with (2) USB 3.o ports which each offer data and charging. There is a 2-in-1 card reader present so you can transfer photos to your Google account and edit them with online tools, and HDMI port for video out, and a combo 1/8″ stereo headphone output port.

We’re actually quite impressed with this selection of I/O present on the device, as it allows for file transfer, traditional image input, video output, and a simplified audio jack. This is essentially everything one would need for daily work and school, so as long as you’re not someone who needs more than 2 USB ports, this should suit you just fine.

There is Bluetooth 4.1 built into the device, so you can use things like exterior speakers and headsets, as well as a mouse. Since it uses 2 x 2 Intel WiFi a/c, you’ll have a decent connection wherever you are, but don’t expect the absolute fastest speeds.

Screen

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

The screen in the Lenovo Chromebook N22 is an 11.6″ TN panel with touch compatibility. It looks pretty great especially for the resolution (1366 x 768), but it’s touchscreen abilities is pretty lacking. The sensitivity of the touch is pretty low quality, and sometimes I felt like I was pressing into the screen before it would actually register.

As mentioned before, the screen is slightly recessed into the body. This is likely to save it from drops or impact, but it does look a bit weird and makes the bezel more noticeable. Overall though, the quality is fine for the price, and gets plenty bright when you need to turn it up. It is also anti-glare, meaning you should be able to use it outside with no issues.

Battery

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

The battery life on the Lenovo Chromebook N22 is fantastic. Lenovo touts up to 14 hours, and I have to say I reached about 11 hours every  cycle. This was with watching videos and writing articles with multiple chrome tabs open however, so if you’re a lighter user you may get even more time out of this thing.

The device charges at a moderate speed, but it’s not going to shock you with how fast you can top it off. It uses a 45W charging bring from Lenovo which has a decently slim profile, so you should be able to carry it with you without issue.

Performance

Lenovo Chromebook N22 review

Consistent performance was the biggest issue for me when using this device. The notebook uses an Intel Celeron processor at 3 slightly different tiers, which is not exactly the highest performing chip in the world. Obviously it does quite a number for battery life, but performance is limited, especially since the notebook only comes with 2-4GB of RAM. Chrome is not exactly the most well optimized browser in the world, as it can use a huge amount of RAM and CPU usage. This is a pretty big issue in a lot of these notebooks, but especially using a processor like this can cause quite a bit of lag and stuttering. The first time I logged into Chrome, the device froze and wouldn’t do anything. It wouldn’t even turn off, so I had to wait for it to die to restart it. Fortunately, I never had this issue again, though I did experience some stuttering when I had too many tabs open.

For those using the notebook just for internet tasks, this will probably serve you well. If you’re a writer like me or a power user however, this laptop is probably not going to cut it.

Read: What are the best budget laptops?

Wrap-up

The Lenovo Chromebook N22 is a pretty decent device at an amazing price. The highest end model with 4GB of ram and 16GB of storage comes in at just $179.99, or you can pick up the slightly lower end model for $149.00. If you just need something to browse the web that is light and portable, this is a fantastic choice. Though it is designed for early education, it could be a great addition to anyone who uses their phone for most things but would like something to use that has a big bigger screen and they can type on at a coffee shop or while they’re out.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

0

In the world of smartwatches, Android Wear and the Apple Watch tend to be king. Despite the efforts of Samsung and their Tizen powered wearables, we have few other third parties that actually make a splash and end up on users’ wrists. Especially with the recent loss of Pebble in the market. They do still exist, however, and one that we are looking at here is a successful Kickstarter device that tries to marry premium features with a not-so-premium price. Does this smartwatch actually tickle our fancy? Let’s find out in this review of the Ticwatch 2.

Despite all that makes this smartwatch different, there is plenty that is familiar. The Ticwatch 2 is very display forward, putting its 1.4 inch OLED display as the bulk of the watch’s face. There are a few different versions available but the one we are working with is the Oak edition, sporting a stainless steel construction and a nice brown leather band that fits right into the standard 20mm lugs on either end of the body.

On the back side is the heart rate sensor that can be used at will or during workouts when using the watch on the go. Notice that there are no charging contacts on the back – this is because the Ticwatch 2 uses wireless charging, of which can be done via two different charging docks. The one that comes with this Ticwatch is flat and relies heavily on the magnet to keep it in place, as it is pretty easy to make it move when it is sitting on the charger.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

You might notice that the crown is in a different spot than other smartwatches or even watches in general – that is because its location on the left allows for the touch-sensitive area on the right to be open for ‘tickling.’ Touching on the right side yields a different form of navigation, and it works pretty well despite some sensitivity issues. It doesn’t seem to respond as consistently as we would like, compared to just touching right on the screen itself. However, after a couple of swipes up and down the rhythm and pressure required is easy to acquire – even better, you’re scrolling through the operating system without covering anything. What’s nice is that in the Ticwear settings the effective location of the crown can be changed if that is better for the user.

The only place that we can feel a little differently about the Ticwatch 2 quality is in the weight of the body, as it feels a bit lighter than other wearables that are similar in dimension. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this watch definitely sports its lower price in a pretty premium way.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

As mentioned before, the 1.4 inch OLED display mostly makes up the size of the Ticwatch 2. It comes in 400×400 resolution, which is plenty for a smartwatch and provides good sharpness for all the text you’re inevitably going to read on it. We’ve had very few issues with the display in bright daylight, too. The Ambient Display mode is nice, making watchfaces go into a lower state that is still readable and useful. The only problem with it is the hit it makes on battery life.

That battery life is based on a 300mAh unit that is a little paltry compared to some higher spec smartwatches we’ve seen this year. The result is a watch that can go for a day and a half if Ambient Display is turned off and notifications are kept at a minimum, like with Do Not Disturb or Airplane modes activated. That is a bit of a bummer but not something that we are totally surprised by considering the price of the Ticwatch 2.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

Performance, on the other hand, has been reliable and smooth. Though it doesn’t have the unabashed snappiness and low touch latency of devices like the Samsung Gear S3, there is really little to complain about when it comes to notifications and navigation, especially when the touch-sensitive side works well. There is the matter of the low amount of apps in the Ticwatch ecosystem – the lack of extra applications means that users won’t be installing a lot on the watch and thus potentially overloading it. This is something that we can only test as the Ticwatch gets more developer support.

One surprise for users might be the extras that are installed in this device, like the 4GB of RAM that can be used for mainly playing local music files and listening to them via Bluetooth headphones connected straight to the Ticwatch. GPS is available for use in mainly the fitness tracking applications, and it works in conjunction with the pedometer and the heart rate sensor to provide information during and after workouts.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

Even more rare to find at this price bracket is a microphone/speaker combo – this is, indeed, one of the only smartwatches I have ever used that uses notification sounds on top of the vibration feedback that is normally relied upon. Getting that audible ding from my wrist was a different experience, and though I think it’s nice to have, switching to vibration-only mode happened fairly quickly.

The combo is also useful for taking calls on the watch – yes, you can take calls on the Ticwatch 2, a sub $200 wearable! With the audio coming through the Bluetooth connection, the dialer app just pulls recent calls and gives a full number pad. The quality of the calls is good enough, considering the small speaker that is on the Ticwatch – we expect that if you have your phone nearby, you would just be reaching for it anyway, but in a pinch it can prove to be a useful feature. The sound could use a bump up, as I felt like I had to yell at my wrist, despite my voice coming in pretty clear on the other end.

Ticwatch 2 review – Will this be your first smartwatch?

And finally, the software, which is a full version of Android morphed into what is called Ticwear. The app in the Play Store is simple enough to set up, as the watch connects to the phone just like any other smartwatch. Once connected, Ticwear provides a good hub for changing the different settings and features of the watch, but all that the user can do in the app is limited by the very low amount of watchapps currently avaialble. Ticwear is a very young ecosystem, and though there are a few to choose from in the Mobvoi Store, the only additions that we’ve seen since getting the watch are more watchfaces. Without app developer support, the Ticwatch 2 is more or less a capable notification hub that happens to take calls.

Speaking of notifications, they are all bundled together in the watch via a swipe up from the watchface, where they are lined up much like they would be in a regular Android iteration. Actions and responses on these notifications are similar to Android Wear – canned responses or voice dictation are the main methods of response. Quick settings are available via a swipe down and getting to either the voice control or the installed apps requires swipes from the left or right, respectively.

Though we would love to see more development in the Ticwear ecosystem, we don’t think it hinders the core experience of the Ticwatch 2 that much. It manages to get the basics down pretty well, with many of the features that you’d expect in a premium wearable coming at an affordable price. There are even a couple of surprising additions like the built-in ability to take calls and get notification sounds on top of vibrations. For those reasons, we think that the Ticwatch 2 is a very worthy selection for anyone looking for either their first functional smartwatch or an alternative to the Android Wear devices that we see all the time. For what it’s worth, Ticwear works on iOS as well, making this one of the only cross platform smartwatches you can get today.

The Ticwatch 2 does a great job of providing much to users who want to spend little

And all that comes in at a starting price of $179, for the base Charcoal edition. This Oak version is priced at $249.99, though the price is a little lower on Amazon and looks to be staying that way. With all its features to boast, the Ticwatch 2 does a great job of providing much to users who want to spend little. It isn’t the best smartwatch we’ve used mainly because of its lack of developer support, but what it manages to do for the core functions that users want puts it pretty high up in our list of wearables that you should consider. If you are looking for a new smartwatch in the new year, you might want to take a good look at the Ticwatch 2.

 

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

Smartphone technology has come a long way in the past few years, but there is a lingering issue that is taking time to evolve – battery life. Sure, batteries are getting bigger and phones more resourceful, but many of us still have a problem keeping our devices alive.

One solution is to charge your phone throughout the day, something that proves to be an issue when there is no outlet around. The next best solution is to buy yourself a nice portable battery pack to charge on-the-go. With so many options around, we know it’s hard to find the best units in the market. This is why we have curated a list with our very favorite battery packs!

Shall we get started and show you the goods?


Anker PowerCore 20100 – $40

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017) You’ll notice the Anker PowerCore series shows up three times in a row on this list, and for good reason — Anker has proven itself both reliable and affordable. This particular model is obviously more than a little hefty, but you certainly won’t be running out of juice anytime soon thanks to the massive 20100 battery size. The pack doesn’t support Quick Charge tech unfortunately but it does utilize PowerIQ and VoltageBoost techs over its two USB type-A ports to deliver a reasonably fast charge — just not Quick Charge fast.

At only $10 more ($4o) than the 10,000 mAh model, this is a no-brainier if you don’t mind bulk and are looking for something that can last for long camping trips, emergencies, and so forth.

Buy on Amazon

 


Anker PowerCore 10,000 – $30

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

At 10,000 mAh, this PowerCore model is the perfect choice for those that want plenty of juice without tons of bulk. This particular model supports Quick Charge 3.0 technology via single USB Type-A port. While Anker doesn’t have the flashiest designs, if you want something reliable that can charge a single phone two to three times with ease, this is certainly a worth option.

Pricing isn’t bad either, at just $30. Sure, there are probably cheaper 10,000mAh options flooding Amazon and other e-tailers, but Anker knows what it is doing when it comes to designing quality packs and so they are pretty easy to recommend.

Buy on Amazon

 


Anker PowerCore+ Mini – $9.99

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

Have little space in your pockets thanks to that hefty wallet, phone, and keys? The Anker PowerCore+ Mini is very small and happens to be the cheapest option in this list. It is about the size of a lipstick container at 3.5 × 0.9 × 0.9 inches, and can fit in any pocket. It’s also no slouch with 3,350 mAh of battery capacity.

The Anker PowerCore+ Mini’s build won’t disappoint, thanks to its compact size and aluminum body that should result in a pretty durable pack that can handle a few bumps and clanks while in your pocket.

Buy the Anker PowerCore+ Mini

RAVPower 20,100 mAh Portable Charger – $59.99

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

This RavPower battery pack tackles two issues – speed and capacity. Not only does it provide an insane amount of juice with that 20,100 mAh battery, but it can charge your devices super fast. It supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, which is said to top up devices 4 times faster than conventional chargers.

The design is nothing special, but it is a sleek charger with a smooth, plastic body. There’s 4 LED indicator lights, a 2.4A USB port, a Quick Charge 3.0/2.0 port and even a USB Type-C port. This bad boy is fast, powerful, safe, simple and future-proof.

Buy the RAVPower 20,100 mAh Portable Charger

Lepow POKI Series – $29.99

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

The Lepow POKI Series 5,000 mAh battery pack also gets our love thanks to its looks. It is portable and sleek looking, with an ergonomic design you won’t often find when it comes to battery packs. 5,000 mAh may not sound like much when compared to the batteries listed above, but it is enough to charge an average phone from 0% to 100% at least once, and then some.

The company claims this charger is thinner than 90% of all 5,000 mAh batteries. It doesn’t seem like an unrealistic claim, as it measures only half an inch in thickness and weighs only 5 ounces.

Buy the Lepow POKI Series 5,000 mAh battery pack

EasyAcc Solar Power Bank – $39.99

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

There are some very unique battery packs in this list, and we are starting with the EasyAcc Solar Power Bank. As its name implies, this charger can run off solar energy, making its juice practically endless, as well as green.

Packed inside is an 8,000 mAh battery, an LED flash light for those dark camp nights and a 2.1A USB output. It charges at up to 350mA under direct sunlight. Play your cards right and you may not even need to plug to an outlet anymore! Just keep in mind the solar charging is significantly slower than tapping off the battery via a traditional outlet.

EasyAcc Solar Power Bank

Zendure 2nd-Gen A8 Pro Portable Charger – $69.41

It’s time to start getting tough. The Zendure A8 Pro is made of crush-proof composite material, dual-injection molding and a shock-absorbing central belt. It is strong and happens to feature a whopping 25,600 mAh battery. The battery pack series comes from a very successful Kickstarter campaign, meaning Zendure has a strong background in the world of crowdfunding and has actually done a good job at delivering its goals.

Buy the Zendure A8 Pro

EasyAcc Rugged Outdoor Power Bank – $49.99

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

EasyAcc is the only company that made it onto this list twice, and that’s because we just couldn’t ignore a truly rugged battery pack. Think about it: these batteries are meant to go wherever you go. Especially when that’s places with no outlets, which could be rough terrain.

You don’t need to worry about this battery thanks to its IP67 certification. It is weatherproof, shockproof, dustproof and can be submerged under 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It also helps that it has a large 20,000 mAh battery and a flashlight for emergencies. There are 2 charging ports in this EasyAcc rugged battery pack; one charges at 1A while the other goes up to 2.4A.

Buy the EasyAcc Rugged Outdoor Power Bank

PowerAll Supreme – $96+

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)

Starting at $96 for the 16,000 mAh version or $137 for the massive 32,000 mAh model, the PowerAll Supreme not only offers two 2.1A USB ports for charging up your phone and tablets, but it can even jump-start a vehicle thanks to included battery clamps. There’s even a few cool extras such as an LED flashlight.

If you’ve been thinking about the perfect pack to keep in your vehicle for emergencies, you can’t do wrong here. Sure, it’s not exactly cheap, but the price is actually not half bad when you consider the capabilities it provides.

Buy on Amazon

 

Best Portable Battery Packs (January 2017)
4 Port Quick USB Car Charger
4 ports charge all your devices at the fastest speeds possible. Let's face it we all want our phone charges as fast as possible. Well you need not to worry. Our car charger has the BEST and LATEST technology. Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 & 2.0 means you can charge your devices up to four times faster than conventional charging. The USB Type C charging port is perfect for all the new upcoming tech that is launching with USB Type C.

There you have it, guys. Those are our favorite battery packs currently available! Now hit the comments and let us know which is your favorite. Do you have any other options you think your fellow Android fans would like?

OnePlus Bullets (V2) Earphones review

If you’re in the market for a pair of affordable earphones, most of the options are just about average – both in form and function. There’s cheap in-ear design and bass-heavy music that makes you question your love for music, and gives masses the perception that you need to spend big bucks for a great audio experience.

OnePlus wants to change that. Just like with the OnePlus 3/3T, the operative word for the company is ‘best value’, and while they’ve been successful in delivering that with smartphones, are they third time lucky with headphones?

The $49.99 OnePlus got all the hype, but didn’t impress many. Then there were the OnePlus Silver Bullets. Both of these weren’t bad earphones, mind you, but weren’t groundbreaking either. That changes with the second-generation Bullets, the OnePlus Bullets (V2).

OnePlus Bullets (V2) Earphones Specifications

  • Impedance: 24Ω
  • Coil Material: Copper-clad aluminum
  • Diaphragm: Aryphan Polyarylate
  • Wire Core Material: Enamelled copper wire
  • Driver Unit: 9mm dynamic
  • Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <1% (1000Hz, 1mW)
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 107dB
  • Rated Power: 3mW
  • Frequency Range: 20 – 20,000Hz
  • Cable Length: 1.25m
  • Weight: 14g

OnePlus Bullets (V2) Earphones review

Design

At first glance, the Bullets (V2) absolutely impress. From the elegant packaging to the fact that how well made they are, it looks like a pair of premium earphones. The brushed metal finish with the aluminum casing sporting chamfered edges is stylish and classy.

The silicone tips fit nicely and the earbuds are very light – I could wear them for long stretches without any discomfort or them falling out. The in-line remote has large, practical buttons with a fine tactile feedback. It looks like it’s nicely built, and can last much longer than most headphones.

The Bullets (V2) sport flat cables that are generally tangle-free. However, it tends to retain the bends when I take them out of my backpack’s pocket. The bends don’t straighten out by themselves, while the cable keeps picking up new ones. Also, the 3.5mm plug is a straight one instead of an L-plug. I don’t mind it, but I know a lot of people prefer the latter.

Overall, the OnePlus Bullets (V2) are nicely made, and can take a stretch here and there. They fit comfortably and look quite good.
OnePlus Bullets (V2) Earphones review

Performance

The Bullets (V2) look great, yes, but the performance is what blows your mind considering the price they come at.

They offer a well-balanced audio experience and exhibit a wide soundstage. There’s a restrained bass that allows the mids and highs to shine through without being overshadowed. The sound envelops the listener with its richness, and offers a fair bit of detail.

The Bullets (V2) are one of the most natural sounding earphones out there, and you can listen to practically any kind of music on these, and it offers a very enjoyable experience. For any price range, that is.

OnePlus Bullets (V2) Earphones review

Summary

The OnePlus Bullets (V2) offer a terrific sound signature, and are one of the best affordable earphones out there. That they come for only $19.99 (₹1,199 in India) is indeed incredible value, and you should just order one for yourself while I hit publish and get back to listening some classic rock on these. Come as you are.

Buy OnePlus Bullets (V2) at OnePlus Store

HTC announces the mid-range HTC U Play

0

https://youtu.be/kQ_lPUdKFIE

Editor’s note: HTC did not allow us to record any footage of the HTC U Ultra and U Play due to the non-final software.

While the new HTC U Ultra is certainly the star of the new U line-up, the U Play is the perfect mid-range device for HTC fans that want something a bit smaller and don’t mind less aggressive specs as as result.

Read: HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

Not only is the HTC U Play smaller than its more powerful brother, it also offers a somewhat different take on design. While both phones swap metal for glass this time around, different camera shapes and other refinements make it pretty easy to tell the two models apart, in addition to the obvious size difference.

On the spec side of things, the HTC U Play is powered by a MediaTek Helio processor and offers a more modest 5.2-inch 1080p display. Other specs include 32 or 64GB storage with microSD for expansion, a 16MP rear camera, a 16MP front cam with UltraPixel switching tech, and a 2,500 mAh battery.

HTC announces the mid-range HTC U Play

The specs here obviously aren’t as premium as the U Ultra, but they are still pretty solid, including little extras like high-quality sound and USonic adaptive sound that figures out the optimal sound conditions for your ear based on the noise around it.

HTC announces the mid-range HTC U Play

For a full look at what is under the hood, check out the spec sheet below:

Display5.2-inch Super LCD display with 1920x1080 resolution
ProcessorOcta-core 64-bit MediaTek Helio P10 processor
RAM3/4 GB
Storage32/64 GB
expandable via microSD card up to 2 TB
Camera16 MP rear camera, OIS, PDAF, f/2.0 aperture, dual tone LED flash
16 MP front-facing camera
ConnectivityWi-Fi®: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS + GLONASS
USB Type-C (USB 2.0)
Battery2,500 mAh
SoftwareAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Dimensions145.99 x 72.9 x 3.5-7.99 mm
145 grams

On the software front, the HTC U Play offers Android 7.0 Nougat with Sense on top. That also means you get the brand new Sense Companion, just like the HTC U Ultra.

HTC announces the mid-range HTC U Play

What is this companion feature exactly? Basically it is a personal assistant that HTC is always learning from your habits and can remind you of all sorts of things like if you need to give your phone a little extra charge to make it through the day depending on your schedule, recommending restaurants, warning you to leave for work early based on weather and road conditions, and more.

Not much is known about the pricing or release details for the HTC U Play just yet, other than we can expect it in “select global markets” in early 2017. What do you think of the mid-range U Play, would you consider picking one up if the price is right? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

0

It is no secret that HTC has had a rough couple of years, despite once being one of the great kings of the Android world. While the HTC One M7 and One M8 were both positive steps in the right direction for HTC, the HTC One M9 was arguably a pretty big stumbling point for the company, with many criticizing its design, camera, and more. Last year HTC attempted yet again to turn things around with the HTC 10. It’s true that the phone was better received than its predecessor, but unfortunately it largely failed to make the mark that the company was hoping for.

Enter the HTC U family.

Arriving significantly earlier than previous HTC flagships, the HTC U family has two different models, the high-end U Ultra and the mid-range HTC U Play. In this post we’ll be focusing on the former.

Read: HTC announces the mid-range HTC U Play

Editor’s note: HTC did not allow us to record any footage of the HTC U Ultra and U Play due to the non-final software.

It’s still unclear whether the HTC U Ultra is meant to replace the HTC 10 or is merely a new lineup and a bit of a stopgap until their next flagship, though given its larger overall size, we’d say it probably is meant to compliment HTC’s smaller flagship range. That’s all unconfirmed at the moment though.

So what does the HTC U Ultra bring to table? Let’s dive in and find out.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

HTC U Ultra specifications

Display5.7-inch Super LCD5 display with Quad HD resolution
2.0-inch secondary display with 160 x 1040 resolution
Processor2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor
Adreno 530 GPU
RAM4 GB
Storage 64/128 GB
expandable via microSD up to 2 TB
Camera12 MP HTC Ultrapixel 2 camera, 1.55μm pixel, laser auto focus, PDAF, OIS, f/1.8 aperture, dual tone LED flash
16 MP front-facing camera
ConnectivityWi-Fi®: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
GPS + GLONASS
USB Type-C (USB 3.1)
SoftwareAndroid 7.0 Nougat
Battery3,000 mAh
Dimensions162.41 x 79.79 x 3.6-7.99mm
170 grams

While it would have been nice to see the HTC U Ultra launch with the brand new Snapdragon 835, the phone still rocks pretty solid specs including a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, 4GB RAM, and either 64 or 128GB storage, as well as microSD expansion up to 2TB. However, one of the biggest spec standouts is the display.

The HTC U Ultra’s screen is significantly larger than the HTC 10’s 5.2-inch display at 5.7-inches with a resolution of QHD. Even more interesting, HTC  has seemingly taken a page from LG’s playbook, introducing a 2-inch secondary display above the main one, with a resolution of 160 x 1040. As you’d imagine, this second display is for notifications, contacts, reminders, and even certain special apps.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

Under that display is a button configuration that is very familiar to those who used the HTC 10 or the A9. With the HTC U Ultra you once again get a home button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner, which HTC promises is as fast and efficient as ever. And on top you’ll find a front facing 16MP camera that also can be easily switched to “UltraPixel” mode, giving you “unparalleled light sensitivity” or a high resolution, depending on your situation.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

Moving around back, you’ll find a 12MP UltraPixel 2 camera sensor with laser autofocus, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization (OIS), a 1.55µm pixel size, and an f/ 1.8 aperture. At least on paper, this camera sounds very similar to the HTC 10, but considering the 10 had a pretty solid camera, this certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Just like the HTC 10, you get a non-removable 3000 mAh battery, though it’s hard to say what this means for battery life, considering the display is a great deal larger than the 10. Of course you still get Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 so you can charge your phone back up in a hurry, even if you do end up running it down.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the spec sheet, but we have to point out one area that isn’t so positive: the headphone jack is gone. As we saw with Apple last year, HTC has removed the headphone jack to save on a little internal space. Whether this is a deal breaker or not probably depends on your own personal tastes and needs.

HTC U Ultra design, features, and software

After years of offering a metallic design, HTC is finally making a massive switch with the HTC U Ultra. This time around, HTC opts for a 3D contoured glass design that we can’t help but feel is quite familiar to what we’ve seen from companies like Samsung and even Honor. Of course the overall look still has some traditional HTC flair, but in a package that certainly is quite a bit different than year’s past. Whether this is an upgrade or downgrade in design is largely a subjective matter, of course.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

HTC is well-known for its audio prowess and this continues here with the U Ultra. The iconic BoomSound Hi-Fi speakers are present here, wit ha tweeter above and a woofer below, as well as four omnidirectional mics that capture positional sound. There’s also a unique new HTC U Sonic feature that reportedly analyzes your inner ear with sonar-like pulses, and then attempts to your ears to optmize the headset sound and quality specifically too your ears. Like HTC says in its official press release “Whether you’re in a library or at a party, you can adapt your headset to suit noise levels around you.”

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

Without a headphone jack, HTC leaves out one area it is known for, though we imagine that its wireless sound support is also top notch, and you can, of course, except some kind of USB-C audio adapter for those that want to use existing wired headphones with the U Ultra.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

On the software front the HTC U Ultra runs Android 7.0 Nougat with Sense technology. While we can’t speak much on all the features found in the latest version of Sense just yet, HTC is highlighting some new AI/Assistant features. The brand new Sense Companion is a personal companion that always is learning from your habits and can remind you of all sorts of things like if you need to give your phone a little extra charge to make it through the day depending on your schedule, recommending restaurants, warning you to leave for work early based on weather and road conditions, and more.

HTC U Ultra hands-on: a major change for HTC

HTC says that this technology is made to evolve the more you use it, and the company will also likely continue updating and upgrading its function set in the months (and years) to come. In addition, the HTC U Ultra features advanced voice recognition, responding even if your phone is asleep, letting your rject calls, take calls, dismiss alarms and more — all from your voice.

HTC U Ultra pricing and availability

The HTC 10 Ultra will go up for pre-sale later today, exclusively at htc.com. No word on exact pricing just yet, though we’re sure details will surface very soon. As for color choices? While we imagine not all colors will be offered in every market, the currently announced choices are Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White,  and Sapphire Blue.

With an all new design and plenty of special features, the HTC U Ultra certainly stands apart from its past brothers, but is this enough to make it a success? Let us know what you think down in the comments below.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

This post was originally published on TabTimes.com.

Acer has been focused on bringing consumers plenty of solid, affordable Chromebooks over the past few years, and that’s still very prevalent today. With the launch of the Chromebook 11 N7 (fancy name, huh?), the company plans to bring a durable, compact and spill-resistant computing solution to classes around the world.

Join us as we go hands-on with the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 at CES 2017!

Don't miss:

Samsung Chromebook Plus & Pro hands-on

1 day ago

First, let’s talk about software. This is a standard Chromebook though and through, so anyone familiar with Chrome OS will be right at home with the N7. A simple, clean, no-frills software experience is what you’ll find here, which is perfect for students in the classroom. And that’s a good thing, too, because those are the exact people Acer is targeting with this new device.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

As for aesthetics, you’ll notice the N7 sports a soft, somewhat rugged-looking exterior, and that’s because this device is rugged. Not only is it built to MIL-STD 810G spec, it’s also been drop tested to 48 inches, and it sports a spill-resistant keyboard. Again, perfect for kids.

The N7 can handle up to 132 pounds of downward force on the top cover, thanks in part to the reinforced case and hinges. Acer designed the N7 with a corner shield structure and rubber bumper keyboard to add some extra protection to this Chromebook, too.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

Let’s not forget about the spill-resistant keyboard. The keyboard, which is flush with the rest of the device to prevent keys from being removed, will provide protection against spills of up to 11 fluid ounces of water. Underneath the keyboard and touchpad are gutter systems and drains which route water away from the internal components and out the bottom of the chassis. Pretty awesome.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

Around the sides of the device you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, an HDMI port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and an DC-in jack for AC adapter. Unfortunately this Chromebook doesn’t feature a USB Type-C port for charging, so you’ll need to use Acer’s proprietary cable for your charging needs.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

Under the hood, the N7 features a dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 processor, 4GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 16 or 32GB of on-board storage. Intel’s N3060 chip is a little old at this point, which is something worth taking into account if you value speedy performance. It also comes with a 4,090mAh battery, which Acer says will be able to get you 12 hours of use on a single charge.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

Up front sits the 11.6-inch TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1366 x 768, which comes in both touchscreen and non-touchscreen variants. The coolest part of the display, though, is that the hinge can bend down to 180 degrees, allowing you to lay the Chromebook completely flat to more easily share content on the screen with others.

Hands-on: Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is made to withstand abuse

The Acer Chromebook 11 N7 will be available to education and commercial customers in North America in January 2017, with prices starting at $229.99. It’ll also be available to EMEA customers in February with prices starting at €299.

All in all, this seems to be a fantastic device for students and first-time computer owners alike. What are your thoughts on the latest from Acer? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Next:

The best Chromebooks

August 10, 2016

Here’s the gorgeous Xiaomi Mi Mix in white

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

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

Here’s the gorgeous Xiaomi Mi Mix in white

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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