Ron – Droid Life https://www.droid-life.com An intense Android news community bringing you the latest in phones, rooting, apps, and reviews. Fri, 15 Dec 2017 23:48:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BlackBerry Priv Review https://www.droid-life.com/2015/11/25/blackberry-priv-review/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/11/25/blackberry-priv-review/#comments Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:55:41 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=178327

The BlackBerry Priv is, in my opinion, the most important phone of the year. That’s not something I say lightly. The Priv gets so many things right and has a uniquely beneficial experience that you can’t get on any other device, but like every other phone there are flaws. Is the Priv the phone of … Continued

BlackBerry Priv Review is a post from: Droid Life

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The BlackBerry Priv is, in my opinion, the most important phone of the year. That’s not something I say lightly. The Priv gets so many things right and has a uniquely beneficial experience that you can’t get on any other device, but like every other phone there are flaws. Is the Priv the phone of the year or just another nail in BlackBerry’s (née RIM) coffin?

This is our BlackBerry Priv review.

The Good


The Display

The display on the Priv is visually great. Colors are accurate, text is crisp, and the curve along the edge of the display makes Android’s slide out menus feel more real. My unit’s screen did have a little give in it towards the middle, but it didn’t seem to affect anything and hopefully was just a defect on my unit. The display is able to get very dim, but I have definitely seen displays that get brighter, meaning you may have some issues in direct sunlight.

The screen, of course, slides up to reveal the keyboard. It is not something you can make happen with a flick of the wrist (although with enough momentum in the right direction it is possible) because the locking mechanism doesn’t allow for it, which is a good thing. If the screen is off you can simply slide up by pressing at the bottom of the display to open it, but obviously that gesture is a bit of an issue with the screen on. In that situation there is a little raised edge along the bottom of the display, but above the speaker that is perfect for you to place your thumb under to slide up, even in one hand. The vertical slider isn’t a new form factor, but it is good to see a company execute it well.

My only complaint with this implementation is that you can’t slide down the slider to end a call. I have vivid memories of friends hanging up calls on their LG Chocolate feature phones. It seems like an obvious thing to add, but like the Pre, it isn’t there. Oh well.

Hardware Design

The Priv feels like a tank. A plastic tank, but a tank nonetheless. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t expect the Priv to delicately slide into your pocket. I actually found myself favoring placing the phone in the back pocket of my jeans while walking around. While the Priv is thick by today’s standards (and thin by 5 year ago’s standards), it is by no means unwieldy. The Priv always felt solid in hand and the grippy back made me feel very confident to hold and use the device in one hand. The body looks downright handsome in its stealth black paint. Where other phones look delicate with their bendable aluminum bodies and glass backs, the Priv feels like a solid, well constructed pocket computer.

The right side of the phone has the volume up and down keys and in between them is a button to switch between Do Not Disturb, Priority, or Normal notification levels. Unfortunately, repeatedly pressing the button does not cycle through the options nor can you use the volume keys to cycle between them. Also, the button doesn’t work with the screen turned off, so it’s really just a slightly faster way to get that screen up before you have to reach up to touch the display again. That said, the buttons do feel pretty solid if a little wobbly.

The power button is on the left. It too feels a little wobbly. I don’t know why BlackBerry didn’t put the power button on the right and the volume on the left like most manufacturers are doing now. Maybe the CEO is left handed? Regardless, double tap to wake is here and unlike the HTC A9 it works consistently.

The body of the Priv is curved to match the sloping glass on the front, but the middle edges are flat so that the phone is easy to grip. There are two logos, one in the back with just the logo and one at the front top of the device with the logo and the word BlackBerry. Both are in silver and are relatively unobtrusive, but I do wish manufacturers would stop stamping their names on the front of the phone. Like almost every other flagship phone there is a camera hump, but I rarely noticed it.

The bottom of the phone has a micro USB port (shame) at the center and the headphone jack on the right. It looks downright sparse and I love it. The placement of the headphone jack makes it relatively easy to find with a cursory brush against the bottom of the device.

The top of the phone features a micro SD card tray and the SIM tray. For whatever reason the SIM card needs to be placed on the bottom of the tray (facing the back of the phone) instead of on the top. This isn’t a big deal, but it is an odd design that was confusing at first.

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The Keyboard

The keyboard on the Priv is probably my favorite thing about it. Can I type faster on a software keyboard? Yes, but I can’t help but feel more productive on the Priv. If you have never used a phone with a hardware keyboard then it might take you longer to adjust, but I found that by the end of my first day with the Priv I had restored my old habits again.

My favorite use for the keyboard, though, isn’t typing. It’s scrolling. When I’m in Talon or Instapaper I adore being able to scroll with the keyboard. I find it’s akin to scrolling through text on a tablet where you have as much screen real estate that you can scroll with your thumb in the margin without noticing it’s there or, or course, to scrolling with a mouse. You can also use the trackpad to move the cursor around by double tapping and holding and then swiping to wherever you want the cursor. It’s not an easy to find gesture, but it’s better than the software version of pecking at the screen until it moves the cursor to the right spot. I do wish the trackpad feature was a little more robust so I could use it to swipe between panels in an app like Tweetings, but it goes a long way towards making the overall experience with text much better. If you’re able to focus on typing, though, it can be a wonderful, focused experience.

As you’re typing suggestions will pop up just above Android’s navigation keys. You can select these suggestions by tapping on them or by swiping towards them on the keyboard. Most Of the time I found myself just backspacing a correcting a typo when I saw it if autocorrect didn’t get it on its own, but for one handed typing it is useful. There is a dedicated symbol key that pops up a keyboard window with symbols that are then mapped to the physical keyboard, but I found it faster and easier to access this menu by simply swiping down on the keyboard instead of hitting the dedicated button.

As long as you’re using the stock launcher you can also set shortcut keys for individual presses or long presses on the keyboard. These shortcuts can be actions (like call so and so or turn off WiFi or add a new contact) or to launch apps. For example, I have T set to launch Talon, I Instapaper, G Inbox, M Apple Music, and K to speed dial my wife. I found this to be incredibly geeky and lovely. This is why nerds like us loved devices with keyboards.

Another related feature that I loved was the ability to jump to the top of an app by pressing T on the keyboard or the bottom by pressing B. Strangely this didn’t work in Chrome, but it did work in Instagram and Twitter apps like Talon, Fenix, and Tweetings. Being able to jump to the top of a list has been built into iOS for years, so having a hardware shortcut that works in many apps is nice to have.

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The software keyboard is about as good as any other, although the lack of swipe support will make it a tough sell for some. Rather than suggestions lining up above the keyboard words are placed all over the keys. Once you find the word you’re trying to type you swipe up over the word to insert it. It’s an interesting design, but I found most of the time it was faster for me to just type out the word.

I’m definitely faster at typing on the software keyboard that BlackBerry provides than on their hardware keyboard. Does that mean the whole conceit of the phone is useless? Absolutely not. It isn’t just about being able to type on the device, but rather about what kind of experience that affords. I love being able to look up at the screen and confidently type on the physical keys. I do that on a software keyboard all the time, but having that physical feedback still feels more reassuring. I do wish the keyboard had some of the improvements I mentioned, but the lack of those features is not a deal breaker at all. The Priv gives you options that you can’t find on any other flagship; that’s pretty surprising in 2015.

The Software

The Priv runs an almost stock version of Android 5.1.1 (that’s right, no Marshmallow on the most secure phone in the world), but there are a few changes to note. Notifications can be bundled by app, so if you have a ton of new notifications, but you really just want to see your emails you can tap on your email app icon and only see those in the notification shade. BlackBerry includes a Peek menu on the edge of the display to quickly see your calendar, favorite contacts, messages from Hub, and tasks. You can adjust the transparency of the menu and switch it to the right if you prefer or turn it off altogether. I did like being able to quickly see calendar events and favorite contacts quickly, but most of the time I forgot it was there. There are also little tweaks to the launcher like the ability to launch an app’s widget from the home screen by swiping up over it or a long press of the home button letting you swipe into Google Now, BlackBerry Hub, or Device Search.

BlackBerry Hub is an app that summarizes your communications for you. All of your emails and texts and calls and even social media bits can be found in one place. I can see this being really helpful for someone who either needs or wants a summary of their day regularly or who wants a notification center to go to because they find the notification tray too limited or lacking context.

Device Search is a limited replacement for Google Now that allows you to search your device or, if you don’t find what you want, you can tap a button to search the web or Drive or any other app listed under Extended Search. When you’re on the home screen if you start typing on the keyboard it will ask if you’d like to use Device Search or Google Now. Normally I’d say you should select Now, but that depends on the kind of searching you do. If you’re usually just wanting to search for an app or a contact then device search is fine. More importantly, if you use Now with the physical keyboard from the home screen you’ll find a frustrating delay. If I start typing my wife’s name, Katelyn, device search will type the whole thing. With Now, there is a delay between the first character and the app launching so that it misses the next two characters and types ‘Kelyn’ instead. If you wait for the app to launch after typing the first letter or your query then you’ll be fine, but that annoying delay led me to use Device Search for local searches and then launch Chrome for a Web search.

One change that I love on the Priv is the layout for multitasking. Instead of showing a vertical stack of cards, BlackBerry designed multitasking to show a grid of apps in varying sizes. Think of it like the Windows 8 Start menu for apps you already have open. Hitting the multitasking button and then thumbing through the list of apps on the keyboard’s touchpad feels like magic. Compared to the stacked card interfaces of Android Lollipop and Marshmallow and iOS 9, Blackberry’s implementation is a breath of fresh air. You can see more than one app with its preview clearly. It’s one of the biggest things I’ll miss when the Priv goes away.

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Somewhere-in-the-Middle


Security and Privacy

One of the things that BlackBerry prides itself on is security and privacy. The Priv is one of the worst devices of the year with regard to these two features for three simple reasons.

The first, and most important, is that the Priv lacks a fingerprint scanner. The Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, HTC One A9, Galaxy S6, and Note 5, all feature fingerprint scanners without being advertised as “secure” or “private” devices. Seriously, BlackBerry, what do I need to do for the privilege to have a fingerprint scanner to secure my device in 2015? It’s neat that I can type in my password or pin on a keyboard, but I’d much rather just wake and unlock my phone with a quick scan of my thumb and only type in that code at boot.

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The second is that DTEK thinks it’s secure for me to have a password or PIN that locks my device after 10 minutes. If I were to allow that setting then I could, in theory, unlock my phone to check Instagram and then set down my phone. From that point there is a ten minute window for someone to steal my phone and gain access to all of my accounts because he or she has access to my email. BlackBerry should not be giving that default setting a passing score. I also love that DTEK has a section that says that my device is secure because it is a BlackBerry.

The third is that the Priv runs Android 5.1.1. While this shouldn’t be too upsetting for users considering Marshmallow is only just over a month old, from a security standpoint it is a bit of an issue. Maybe BlackBerry will be quick with updates, but there’s a good chance that unless BlackBerry picks up the pace the OS itself will become a security issue.

Performance

Performance on the Priv was great. Between the Snapdragon 808 and the 3 GB of RAM apps launched quickly, ran well, and stayed in memory for plenty of time. The device does run hot when under the stress of a game (which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering this year’s Snapdragons) and battery life definitely takes a hit. That being said, the Priv took everything I threw at it with aplomb. If you live in a cold area and like having a warm phone with a physical keyboard then the Priv makes for a nice solution.

Audio

The front facing speaker on the Priv is great to see. It’s not a Boom Sound speaker or anything, but it’s plenty loud for speakerphone calls or listening to music in an otherwise quiet room. I put The Beach Boys on while washing dishes and I could hear Brian and the gang perfectly well. I do wish the volume got louder with headphones, though. With headphones the audio is certainly audible, but my iPhone and the Galaxies are able to get several clicks louder.

The Not-so-Good


Pricing and Availability

The BlackBerry Priv is available right now at AT&T for $24.67 per month on a payment plan or $249.99 on a 2 year contract. You can also buy the Priv directly from BlackBerry for $699.99. The model from BlackBerry will work with AT&T or T-Mobile. Verizon has promised that they too will carry the Priv, but I wouldn’t expect to see it until sometime next year (February is my guess). This isn’t the best availability we’ve seen on a phone, but my guess is that BlackBerry got a little kickback for being exclusive with AT&T for a bit. I’m also not a huge fan of the pricing, but remember most top tier phones have been within $50 of this price point until very recently. The reality is BlackBerry knows they aren’t going to reach Apple or even Samsung sales with this phone, so their average selling price needs to be higher in order for them to stay in business. I think that’s a fair tradeoff for those who want a BlackBerry (those people are still out there, trust me).

Battery Life

Battery life on the Priv was less than stellar. Like most of the phones we’ve seen this year, fast charging is a nice workaround for the same problem. The Priv actually has a decent sized battery in it and compared to its thickness I expected better results. On my first full day with the phone it lasted until 3:30 PM when it was around 10%. That morning I caught up on Twitter, streamed music to work, and worked on this review. On my second full day the phone was at 25% by 3:15 after some Twitter, gaming (Spider-Man Unlimited), taking some photos, checking Instagram, and working on this review. On the third day I managed to get to 4:15 before the phone hit 15%. As the week progressed I continued to get similar battery life, meaning you will almost certainly need to charge in the afternoon unless you don’t use your phone much. If you’re interested in the Priv the good news is that this news probably won’t dissuade you from getting the phone seeing as battery life is a problem on most Android phones.

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Cameras

The front facing camera on the Priv is good in bright light. In anything other than bright conditions you’re going to want someone else to take your selfies for you unless you love blue/green hazes over your photos. The fact that BlackBerry shipped a front facing camera this bad in 2015 just goes to show how little they care or know about what people want in a smartphone.

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The rear facing camera on the Priv takes good shots. The dynamic range was surprisingly good in shots where the light differed and it performs well enough in low light situations. I loved being able to frame a shot and pressing the spacebar on the keyboard to fire the shutter. That led to an experience a bit more akin to shooting with an actual camera and I felt like I was able to stabilize the shot better than I can if I have to push in a volume button or peck at the screen.

The frustrating and ultimately disappointing part about the camera is that it is downright slow. If you have children and don’t use a dedicated camera like a Fuji X100T to take pictures of them, don’t get this phone. For more relaxed shots like those in the gallery below it’s more than capable, but you will miss everything from your daughter’s basketball game with this camera. If you press down on the shutter (software, volume, or space) then you can shoot a burst of photos that will capture the moment (here’s a GIF to show how fast burst shots are), but there is always a bit of a delay that almost certainly ensures you’ll miss whatever you were hoping to capture at first and then everything after. In short, if you want to shoot photos of fast moving things be ready at any moment or do the responsible thing and get a better camera to capture those important moments. One other issue is that there can be some glare in shots with more direct sunlight (as seen in the image below with the Christmas tree), but that’s to be expected with most cameras. All in all I think the Priv’s rear facing camera is up to snuff to be your daily camera unless you take pictures of fast moving objects like children or dogs.

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Full Resolution: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

Video


Gallery


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The Verdict


In so many ways the Priv feels like everything the Palm Pre would have become. It makes me wonder if Palm would have done better if they had bet on large screens instead of tiny ones. The Priv features a lot of really good software ideas with interesting hardware, but the lackluster battery life and poor camera performance make it hard to recommend to anyone but the biggest keyboard nerd. If you don’t use your phone to take a lot of pictures and you don’t mind having to charge your phone then the Priv is worth looking at. This is heartbreaking to write because the Priv does so much so well and, most importantly, actually offers something you can’t get on any other Android phone.

As the year ends we like to look back and think about what phone was the phone of the year. I think the Nexus 6P is the clear answer for Android phones, but as I think about that answer it feels so boring. What makes the 6P the best phone? It has a good camera, runs stock Android, features a great fingerprint scanner, has good battery life because it is the size of a human baby, and features a premium design. Those are great reasons for it to be phone of the year, but there’s nothing really special about that. It’s the best because it does what every phone should do in 2015, but most still don’t.

The closest runner up is probably the Galaxy Note 5, but that’s not because of the Note’s main differentiator: size and stylus. The size of the Note 5 is in some ways a detriment because that size doesn’t translate into phenomenal battery life anymore and the stylus, while somewhat useful, will remain in its silo for most people either because they inserted it the wrong way or because they just don’t have a use for it.

If the Priv had a stellar camera and a fingerprint scanner then I think it would be a shoo-in for phone of the year, even with its mediocre battery life. Why? Because the Priv actually offers something that is different from any other phone (like the stylus on the Note), but it actually does some really useful things. Being able to quickly launch apps with shortcuts or call contacts is nerdy, but it’s easy to teach and incredibly useful. The multitasking menu is a breath of fresh air that looks nice and places function over form without sacrificing the other; something Apple and Google appear incapable of with their implementations. Being able to scroll over text isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, but it creates a less busy interface that helps the user focus on the content instead of trying to read around their thumb.

This is what differentiation is supposed to look like. It isn’t just making the software look different like we saw every OEM trying to do in the beginning of Android (and Windows Mobile) and it isn’t tacking on hardware with limited function. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the stylus on the Note 5, but it was nowhere near as functional or helpful as the keyboard on the Priv. Should every Android phone have a keyboard? Nope, but I would love to see manufacturers take inspiration from BlackBerry and actually try to differentiate their devices with interesting hardware that is focused around helping people use their devices better.

I’m really glad that BlackBerry made the Priv. I hope they sell enough devices to keep in business and keep trying to innovate themselves out of the hole they made for themselves. I never thought I’d say those words, but it’s true. We need better competition in Android because we don’t all need black slabs that do the same thing with slightly better battery life or slightly better cameras to differentiate. I want to see more than that, and I think the Priv is a great first step towards that reality.

BlackBerry Priv Review is a post from: Droid Life

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HTC One A9 Review https://www.droid-life.com/2015/10/30/htc-one-a9-review/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/10/30/htc-one-a9-review/#comments Fri, 30 Oct 2015 21:51:41 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=176772

The HTC One A9 has received a lot of attention for looking a lot like the iPhone, and rightfully so. It looks a lot like the iPhone, but there’s a lot more to the phone than that. This isn’t an iPhone running Android; it’s an HTC phone through and through. The A9 feels like the … Continued

HTC One A9 Review is a post from: Droid Life

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The HTC One A9 has received a lot of attention for looking a lot like the iPhone, and rightfully so. It looks a lot like the iPhone, but there’s a lot more to the phone than that. This isn’t an iPhone running Android; it’s an HTC phone through and through. The A9 feels like the culmination of everything that HTC began to do back in 2013 with the release of the original HTC One (M7). HTC has come a long way since then and it shows in the A9.

This is our HTC One A9 review.

The Good


Camera

Camera

HTC has had a mixed legacy with their cameras. If you’re reading Droid Life then you probably know that history so I won’t rehash it here. The One A9 does not continue that legacy. The A9’s camera is totally worth being your everyday camera if you’re the kind of person who publishes your photos on Instagram and Facebook and only ever looks at them on your phone. If you’re the kind of person who wants to have amazing photos that look great on large prints or blown up then you’re better off using an actual camera, but that will always be the case. Smartphones are great everyday cameras, but they’ll never be used for serious photography like weddings or baby pictures.

HTC has done a good job to simplify its camera app over the years and it does such a great job with lighting and white balance that I was never tempted to use third party camera apps. Macro shots are easy to take with excellent depth of field. While there is a lot of vignetting when taking macros it only serves to better highlight your subject. In incredibly low light conditions you won’t be able to take a great image, but that’s the case with any camera; cameras capture light. I did find that HTC’s phase detection works pretty well, but it did have more trouble in lower light situations and sometimes with macros. After a little hunting you’re usually able to capture a spectacular shot, though. All in all I think this is one of the best cameras available on an Android phone. I would definitely stack it against the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6.

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The front facing camera is also excellent, beating out that found in the Galaxy Note 5 and S6. Where selfies on the Galaxies tend to look overly smooth even with “Beauty Mode” turned off, the A9 looks sharp. The rear camera on the One A9 performs well in great light and it does an admirable job in low light. The phone defaults to capturing 10 MP images at 16:9 ratio, but you can switch it to 13.1 MP with a 4:3 ratio. I would lean towards using the higher resolution and then cropping afterward so you make sure you get everything you want in the shot and then some. The one problem with the camera on the A9 is if there is a bright source of light in the shot then the shot gets washed out. Below you can see a comparison of how the iPhone handles having this lamp in the shot on the left and how the A9 handles it. This isn’t a new problem (it’s a result of the A9 trying to take in as much light as possible), but it’s disappointing to see that the issue still hasn’t been resolved.

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Video, which is limited to 1080p, looks great on the A9. While some other phones include higher resolutions for video, I think 1080p is still fine for today, especially with sensors this size. Optical image stabilization helps keep videos smooth and HTC has included Hyperlapse, which can speed up a longer video to make it easier to share (view a sample here). Unfortunately Hyperlapse only goes down to 2X meaning you can’t use it like Instagram Hyperlapse to downsample super smooth video, but it’s still a handy addition to the camera software.

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Display and Size

The A9 sports a 5 inch 1080p display. It turns out it’s pretty hard to ship a phone in 2015 with a bad display. The viewing angles are great, colors look accurate, and pixels are impossible to see. I never had trouble reading the display unless I was in very bright, direct sunlight, but that’s the case for pretty much any display. Even though the One A9’s display isn’t an eye-piercing 5K, it’s great for a display of this size.

The size of the A9 is pretty typical for Android phones today: it’s big. While taller than the iPhone 6s, I actually found it was just as easy to use. In short, if you’re used to large Android phones then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the A9. Tap to wake is available on the device, but I found it worked inconsistently. If you just want to unlock your phone I’d recommend just using the fingerprint scanner; if you want to view notifications hit the power button or tap the fingerprint scanner quickly to get the screen to light up but not unlock.

Fingerprint Scanner

The fingerprint scanner setup looks and feels like most other implementations. When you enable it you’re required to have a pin or password as a backup security method and then you press your finger on the scanner about a dozen times. Once set up the fingerprint scanner works incredibly fast. I’m glad HTC finally got this right. This wasn’t their first fingerprint scanner, but it is definitely their best and on par with the competition from Samsung, the Nexus 5X and 6P, and iPhone 6s.

You can decide if you want the fingerprint scanner to wake up the phone or not and whether or not you want it to act as a home button. If you leave the option to use the scanner to wake the phone you may find that the phone sometimes wakes on its own depending on how thick the inside of your pants is. I never found this to be annoying, but the phone did wake from sensing my leg a few times.

I absolutely suggest leaving on the option to use the scanner as a home button. If you’re used to a Samsung or OnePlus phone then you might have a hard time adjusting to the home button not being flanked by capacitive buttons. I got used it to pretty quickly because I’m used to pressing the home button to wake and unlock on my 6s and from my time with the Note 5. I also loved having the reflex to press the capacitive home button in situations where the on-screen buttons were not present (like in a game). I’ve never liked having to press around where the buttons would be and then tapping again on the software home button. This means there’s some more chin to the device, but it also means you don’t have to play the “Guess what hidden software button I want to press” game.

Speaking of chins, HTC has a long history of including chins on their phones that people don’t want, specifically in the form of a black bar. The A9 has a chin on it, but it actually serves a purpose besides reminding you that you’re indeed using an HTC phone. Below the screen there’s the HTC logo and then the fingerprint scanner. That gap between the screen and the scanner makes it near impossible to accidentally touch the screen when you’re trying to use the scanner as a home button or when you’re unlocking the device. I found myself accidentally touching the bottom of the display on the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Note5 all the time because the button was right below the display. Some might think the gap is an eyesore, but I actually appreciated it.

Sound

HTC made a big deal about BoomSound when they first announced it and while it’s still a marketing term used for the A9, it only applies to the sound coming from the headphone jack. What this means is that you’ll be able to get great sounding music if you have a great set of headphones plugged in. HTC does not provide headphones with the A9 so you’re on your own to pick up a pair.

If you’re just using the speaker on the phone itself it’s about on par with what you’d get on a top tier smartphone. My iPhone 6s has more pronounced bass and the drums sound crispier, but I can only note that listening to the same track on both devices at the same time. I think it would have been better for HTC to provide dual speakers on the front of the device, but most people probably won’t care much unless they’re coming from an HTC phone with traditional BoomSound speakers.

Performance

The performance of the A9 was a little sluggish while my apps were downloading and installing, but once that initial setup finished I found the A9’s performance to be great. The phone features the Snapdragon 617 processor, 3 GB of RAM, and 32 GB of internal storage. Apps loaded quickly, the device remained responsive, and loaded quickly even after they had been removed from RAM. Because the body is aluminum you will feel some heat in the body during processor intensive tasks, but it was never uncomfortable to touch. If you’ve used an aluminum phone before then you’ll know the feeling. I did get an occasional “This app has stopped responding” error on apps that I don’t usually see crash, but a software patch seems to have eliminated those bugs entirely. Overall the phone was able to keep up with everything I threw at it. In a lot of ways this phone reminds me of the 2013 Moto X: it demonstrates that the specs on paper don’t always mean everything.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

One of the really great things about this phone is that it comes with the latest version of Android, Marshmallow, out of the box. That means you have access to new features like Doze, per-app permissions, and of course, Google Now on Tap. On top of that HTC is promising to have updates rolled out to the A9 within 15 days of Nexus devices. That’s a big promise to keep, but if they can it’s a great way to satisfy any Android fan.

Availability

The One A9 will be available in November on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint and on Verizon in December. The unlocked model works with AT&T and T-Mobile. Essentially, if you want to get this phone you should be able to, which is great to see. The phone is available for $399.99 until November 6th ($499 afterwards) which puts it initially in competition with the Moto X Pure Edition and the Nexus 5X.

Somewhere-in-the-Middle


Hardware Design

The A9 looks like an iPhone 6 from afar and while on first impression I felt a lot of differences, after some time the differences became less apparent. Just this moment I picked up the A9 and thought it was my iPhone until I felt the fingerprint scanner. The A9 has more squared off edges than the 6 which makes it easier to hold despite the increased height, but for the most part it feels the same. The power button’s jagged edges make it easy to discern from the volume rocker, but the button is far too easily depressed.

Let’s talk about the asymmetry of the A9. While the use of micro USB makes it easy to find a charging cable, USB-C would have looked better and provided a better charging experience. The headphone jack is off center on the bottom of the device which makes the port bleed into the back of the phone. The speaker grill doesn’t look like that of an iPhone (it turns out there’s more than one way to drill into aluminum), but it also isn’t aligned with anything at the bottom of the phone.

Bottom Ports iPhone and A9 copy

Then there’s the front of the device. As I mentioned earlier I like what HTC did with the placement of the fingerprint scanner. At the top of the device there’s the call speaker, the front facing camera, and the proximity and ambient light sensors. None of these are lined up with each other. The camera is just slightly higher up than the speaker and the sensor is up at the top lining up with absolutely nothing.

Looking at the rear of the device we see the same antenna lines we’ve seen before. The camera is lined with the center of the device with the dual tone flash to its right. There isn’t a great way to place two items like this, especially when they’re different sizes. The back of the iPhone looks weird with the camera and flash off to the left side and the One A9 looks odd with the camera centered and the flash to the side. I don’t know that there’s a way to solve this outside of separating the flash colors on either side or moving the flash under the camera. The larger issue is that with the camera hump in the back the phone rocks on both sides instead of just one like on the iPhone. Plenty of Android phones do this (like the just released Nexus 5X). It’s a design compromise. It doesn’t ruin the experience of using the phone on a table, but it does make me appreciate what Huawei did with their elongated camera hump. Some may not like the look, but that design deals with the rocking issue.

Is the lack of symmetry on the A9 a deal breaker? Absolutely not, but HTC shouldn’t talk about how great their design is that Apple stole and then do a worse job with it. Whether or not it bothers you to have an Android phone that looks a lot like an iPhone is up to you. I found myself flopping back and forth about it because it does look a lot like an iPhone, but it also looks and feels a lot like something different. Whether or not the differences make it seem like an iPhone knockoff or the steady evolution of HTC’s design is a matter of perspective.

Sense

HTC made a big deal about toning down Sense and focusing on the kinds of value adds that HTC can bring while letting Google’s software do what it does well. While we still have Sense icons and Settings is changed up and all that, for the most part I think this is a step in the right direction. HTC’s skinned apps work just as well as the stock versions and their design doesn’t get in the way. I was quick to remove Blinkfeed from my home screen, but I can see why some might find it appealing. In the end I actually found myself enjoying Sense, which is something I’ve never said about another Android skin.

One thing I need to criticize, however, is their software buttons. Google implemented a triangle for back, circle for home, and square for multitasking back in Android Lollipop. HTC is using the old style icons with a house, curved back button, and square in square for multitasking which I can maybe see them justifying as easier to understand for normal users. You can actually change what these buttons look like by downloading a theme or creating your own, but HTC doesn’t offer the standard buttons. They offer three designs that are close to Google’s version, but two versions swap the circle for multitasking and the square for home. Why? These designs weren’t a secret to HTC and they’re now more than a year old.

Screenshot_20151029-191821 Screenshot_20151029-191837  Screenshot_20151029-191847 Screenshot_20151029-085022 Screenshot_20151029-191902

The Not-so-Good


Battery Life

Battery life on the A9 is abysmal. There’s really no other way to put it. I guess if you give this phone to someone who only uses their phone for phone calls, texting, occasional web browsing, and only listens to and watches cached content then you might be able to make this phone last a day. The “good” news, or rather, the compromise, is that the A9 supports Quick Charge 2.0 and will support 3.0 soon. With a normal charger the A9 takes around 3 hours to fully charge, so be sure to use a Qualcomm Quick Charger.

The A9 will automatically switch to Power Saver mode when the phone hits 15%. Power saver does what you’d expect: limits CPU, GSP, turns off vibration feedback, and reduces the screen brightness. You can adjust to have this turn on at 5% or never instead, though I’d recommend leaving it at the default. HTC also includes an Extreme Power Saving Mode which can also be scheduled to be enabled at 20%, 10%, or 5%. I would not recommend using this unless you really need it; while in this mode you really can’t use your phone for much and you actually won’t be able to track or remotely wipe your phone if you lose it.

I initially had the phone without a SIM card installed and it made it to about 3PM using WiFi only at which point I plugged in the phone to charge it enough to install a software update. At that point the phone was down to 12% with 2 hours and 15 minutes of screen on time. I charged it to around 40% and the phone was back down to 5% around 8PM. The following day I charged the phone completely and installed my T-Mobile SIM. I took the phone off the charger around 6:30 AM and by around 11:00 AM the phone was at 26% with 1 hour and 51 minutes of screen on time. Between 6:30 and 11:00 I used the phone to catch up on Twitter, I streamed music during my 30 minute run, took four photos, browsed the web, and conversed on Hangouts. To lose 75% battery in less than 5 hours is completely unacceptable. By noon the phone had dropped another 10%. On days when I didn’t run the phone would be in the 40% range by the time it was noon after being on WiFi the whole day. In other words, like the latest flagships from Samsung you’re going to have to charge after lunch to get through the rest of the day. This isn’t a new problem for flagship phones, but it is annoying to see another manufacturer promise good battery life and then deliver quite the opposite.

Screenshot_20151027-150038 Screenshot_20151027-150044 Screenshot_20151027-150052

Screenshot_20151028-225636 Screenshot_20151028-225646 Screenshot_20151028-225658

Screenshot_20151029-201208 Screenshot_20151029-201220 Screenshot_20151029-201231

Video


Gallery


Bottom Ports copy Power and Volume copy SD and SIM copy Top copy Scanner copy

Home copy iPhone A9 Rear copy DSC04416 copy Shooting DSC04387

The Verdict


If you saw the announcement for the HTC One A9 (I can’t blame you if you decided to pass on it) then you know how desperate HTC is. They called out Apple for taking Zoe and calling it Live Photos and for stealing their design. They claimed “we invented Android customization when we released HTC Sense with HTC Hero in 2009,” which is nothing short than revisionist history (they were the first to release a customized version of Android, but they were also the first partner and were building that off of TouchFlo, which they used to customize Windows Mobile like all the other manufacturers did). “In recent years our competitors have started customizing Android too.” In recent years, you say?

HTC is so desperate to gain customers that they’re using the T-Mobile handbook: calling out their competitors by name (although in a less abrasive way) in the hopes that people will realize that they’re actually the ones innovating, not those other companies like Samsung and Apple who keep selling phones to your friends and family. Whether or not that strategy will work for HTC I don’t know, but I certainly have my doubts.

That being said, I think the One A9 is a great phone and possibly a contender for phone of the year. If you’re looking for an unlocked phone in this price range and you don’t mind having to charge during the day (which seems to be the compromise on most Android phones today) then this could be the phone for you. Between the great camera, good build, the latest version of Android, a fingerprint scanner, NFC, an SD card slot, and more, the HTC One A9 is a very well rounded device that is absolutely worth considering as your next phone.

HTC One A9 Review is a post from: Droid Life

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Why the Blackberry Priv Matters [Opinion] https://www.droid-life.com/2015/10/26/why-the-blackberry-priv-matters-opinion/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/10/26/why-the-blackberry-priv-matters-opinion/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 21:43:23 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=176468

I’ve never been a Blackberry fan. Before I ended up getting an HTC Touch Pro 2 I had considered getting a Blackberry Storm because Verizon was offering a buy one get one free deal. I was too young to know that was a bad sign, but eventually I ended up doing more research before landing … Continued

Why the Blackberry Priv Matters [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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I’ve never been a Blackberry fan. Before I ended up getting an HTC Touch Pro 2 I had considered getting a Blackberry Storm because Verizon was offering a buy one get one free deal. I was too young to know that was a bad sign, but eventually I ended up doing more research before landing on the Touch Pro 2.

Since then I’ve continued to do what most smartphone fans have done regarding Blackberry; I’ve ignored them until a press release reminds me that they haven’t been sold to someone or finally closed up shop. I remember laughing to myself that the company who prided itself on having a stellar email experience (which, by the way, was not the case if you were a business that used Microsoft Exchange) didn’t have an email application for their first tablet. I remember reading about how the company was so baffled that Apple had made an honest to God smartphone that they thought Apple had faked the whole thing until they could get their hands on one. Blackberry has always been a joke to me, but the Priv is different.

In a world where every Android manufacturer is struggling to make money, where Samsung and HTC are fighting to copy Apple better and faster than the other, where LG refuses to make a good looking and functional Android skin, where Motorola has gone through multiple acquisitions and appears to have lost its mojo, where Sony has made fantastic phones year over year that aren’t available in America and feature the same seven year old design… We’re in desperate need of change. We need research that goes forward in motion. We need someone, anyone to break from the mold.

What makes the Priv that special something that we’ve needed? The Priv could be a terrible phone. I would not be surprised if the camera is mediocre, the speaker is disappointing, and the keyboard feels like little more than a relic, but it represents the kind of innovative spirit that seems to have left the industry.

No one is willing to try anything different anymore. Everyone is releasing gigantic phones in the same shape and size as everyone else. Part of that process was the standardization of the black slab as the form factor for our pocket computers, but that was really driven by a desire from carriers and manufacturers to differentiate based on software. The assumption was that if everyone is drawing from the same pot of components then hardware differentiation becomes less and less important. So we saw Blur and TouchWiz and Sense and Facebook Home and CyanogenMod and all sorts of other ways to make phones look and work differently. Custom ROMs mattered as hardware became nothing more than a spec war. How much RAM is in my phone or how many GHz my processor can run up to or if my phone has USB-C with only 2.0 speeds or USB 3.0 with a weird charging cable or blah blah blah. The spec war has been boring for years and the software differentiation served only to confuse users, annoy Android purists, and force Google into doing better design than HTC, Samsung, LG, Huawei, or Sony could ever dream of doing. OK, that last part was good, but the rest of it was maddening.

blackberry priv hub

IMAGE: Blackberry

So, again, what makes the Priv so special? Why does it matter? The Priv defies those categories. It has the nice specs out there for the nerds to ogle at, but most importantly it runs what appears to be close to stock Android with meaningfully differentiated hardware. We’ve seen phones with keyboards before, sure, but when was the last time there was a flagship with an actual slide out keyboard? It was so long ago even Wayback Machine doesn’t know. And while a front facing speaker certainly isn’t revolutionary, it also still isn’t the standard even though having front facing speakers empirically provides a better experience. I’m not a fan of the Galaxy S6 Edge because the edge is a little too steep in my opinion, but I do like curved displays, which the Priv features. The Priv’s camera also includes optical image stabilization, which doesn’t promise perfect pictures, but it should help in low light situations. What does all of this add up to? A phone that is actually unlike everything else out there.

I don’t expect the Priv to be the phone of the year, but I’d love to see it be a contender. After all, isn’t hardware differentiation something we all pine for as Android users? We loved the original Droid not just because it did things the iPhone didn’t, but because the hardware was special. We’ve gone so far in the other direction to the point where using metal instead of plastic is a meaningful differentiator. I’m all for using better materials, but I’d so much rather see manufacturers take some risks and try something new instead of watching all of them die trying to do the same thing their dying competitors are doing.

With Chinese manufacturers on the rise who are able to do what the best of Android’s manufacturers do, but cheaper, I think hardware differentiation becomes a valuable asset. There are so many different things that could be done with a mobile computer’s hardware. Keyboards are great, but what about things like a killer slide out controller for gaming or having a screen on the back of the device or the ability to slide on a battery pack that is flush to the device or whatever else. No one seems to be trying something new. Maybe it’s just that candy bar phones are all we need, but maybe, just maybe, Blackberry is serving as a reminder that hardware design not only matters, but can serve to make the product different in meaningful ways.

Why the Blackberry Priv Matters [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Thoughts on the Galaxy Note 5 from an iPhone User [Opinion] https://www.droid-life.com/2015/09/09/thoughts-on-the-galaxy-note-5-from-an-iphone-user-opinion/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/09/09/thoughts-on-the-galaxy-note-5-from-an-iphone-user-opinion/#comments Wed, 09 Sep 2015 20:50:17 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=173980

Late last year I was sitting in my car playing with my tiny iPhone 5c. I had just finished reviewing the Sony Z3v and it dawned on me. I missed Android. I started messaging with everyone at Droid Life and within a few minutes I decided I was going to switch to Android. I have … Continued

Thoughts on the Galaxy Note 5 from an iPhone User [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Late last year I was sitting in my car playing with my tiny iPhone 5c. I had just finished reviewing the Sony Z3v and it dawned on me. I missed Android. I started messaging with everyone at Droid Life and within a few minutes I decided I was going to switch to Android. I have an upgrade coming up in October so I figured I would upgrade to the Note 5 since it would be the latest phone out then. Then I got to spend some time with the Galaxy S6. It was a great phone with some shortcomings, but surely the Note 5 would be the phone for me.

More time passed and I continued to evaluate. Would the Note 5 meet my needs? Can I live with a more advanced OS that doesn’t get apps or updates first? Can I give up iMessage for SMS? I had lots of questions and few answers. Read on to get my impressions of the Galaxy Note 5 and what I decided. 

S Pen

The Good


S Pen

I don’t think I need a phone with a stylus, but whenever I used it I enjoyed it. Most of the time I used it just to mess around or as a workaround for the lack of a TweetShot app for Android. Right before we recorded an episode a podcast I co-host I needed to jot down some questions. I immediately went for the S Pen, opened S Note and started scribbling. Could I have just typed the questions? Sure, but I’m about as fast on a tiny keyboard as I am handwriting nowadays and it worked perfectly. So again, while the S Pen is far from essential in my book, like NFC it can be a cool tool to use when appropriate.

The Rear Camera

Samsung has been putting out phones with stunning cameras for several generations now and this is no exception. While the shots are sometimes a little too low in contrast that’s nothing a little editing can’t fix. Overall the Note 5 has an incredible camera that launches quickly and takes great pictures with little effort. That’s all I need.

Display

The display on the Note 5 is amazing. It has incredible brightness levels that make it usable in all but the brightest direct sunlight and it also gets incredibly dark for those low light situations like getting some reading done while your child sleeps next to you. The only downside to this display is that the colors were sometimes too vivid for my eyes, leading me to choose a more muted wallpaper.

Performance

The Note 5 never stuttered or hiccuped for me once. Maybe it’s the processor. Maybe it’s the RAM. Maybe it’s the toned down TouchWiz. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Whatever it is, it’s working. This phone flies with everything you throw at it.

S Health

I think MyFitnessPal is a better app overall, but S Health is incredible as a built-in fitness app, especially when compared to Apple Health. With S Health you can count your calories, track your steps, check your heart rate, track and log exercise, and more. There are better apps out there with more restaurants for calorie counting, but if you just need the basics for watching what you eat and exercising S Health works great. The only thing I dislike is when I’m going for a run and I’m at the last bit and the phone says, “Almost there. You can do it” in the most monotone, robotic voice possible. If you’re going to throw in an encouragement like that record it with some inflection!

Somewhere in the Middle


Fingerprint

Big Phones Still Have Big Problems

I’ve actually been really happy with the size and feel of the Note 5. I even went running with it regularly with the Note in one hand and my dog’s leash in the other. The problem I have is that most of Android is still designed to have a lot of the UI on the top of the display, which is unreachable for normal people with a phone this big, never mind with something like the Nexus 6.

As I’ve been using the Note 5 and trying to reach taller areas with one hand I’ve wished not only that apps would start moving UI elements to the bottom of the screen, but also that things like notifications would sit there too. I’m using Nova Launcher so I’m able to set the notification tray to come down with a swipe down on my home screen, but when I’m within apps I’m stuck doing dangerous shimmies or using two hands.

Matias Duarte has continued to pull over more and more bits of webOS during his tenure at Google; why not bring over webOS notifications too? On the Pre they made sense because the top of the phone was harder to reach with the keyboard extended; we have the same problem today, but no one has done anything to solve it. I don’t think big phones are going to go away, so it would be nice if Android as a whole moved towards making these giant phones easier to wield.

Design

The Note 5 is a big phone, but the curved back makes holding the device not only enjoyable, but less of a nuisance. I wish Samsung would have kept the slight curve they included on the front of the S6 (and even enhanced it a bit), because without it the Note 5 looks like every other Samsung phone before it. I also wish Samsung would have used a recessed speaker grill like Sony has done in the past instead of the flashy silver grill. The metal trim around the edges is nice and gives the phone just enough grip. The camera protrudes just a bit from the back of the shell, but not enough to make the phone easy to wobble when placed on a table. It’s a good design, but it’s nothing amazing. I’d love to see Samsung step this up even more, specifically with the face of the device.

The Front Camera

The front camera on a phone is becoming increasingly important. Most of the time I think it takes a nice shot, but especially in low light I feel like it is doing too much processing or something. Details often look soft like the ‘beauty’ feature got stuck on max. In great light it works great, but otherwise it’s just ok.

Fingerprint Scanner and Home Button

The fingerprint scanner works most of the time, but it’s been a mixed experience for me. First of all, it’s a rounded rectangle which makes it harder to place my whole thumb or finger over it at certain angles, leading to me having to re-scan my thumb far more often than I have to do on my wife’s iPhone 6. The button is also placed very closely to the bottom of the display, which has led to errant presses far more than I have on the Moto X with its software buttons. I get why Samsung is still using physical buttons like this and I think fingerprint scanners are a must-have for any flagship, but I think a little more space between the button and the screen would help.

Android Apps

There have been plenty of think pieces about the differences between Android and iOS apps. Heck, I’ve written several of them, but with the Galaxy Note 5 so many of my hunches and feelings have been solidified. To be clear, most apps work just as well as their iOS counterparts, but there are some that have strange behaviors that seem inexcusable in 2015.

For example, I love reading comics in Marvel Unlimited, but the transitions between pages are jarring. When I swipe between pages the motion is smooth as I touch the screen, but as soon as I let go it jumps to the next page instead of completing the smooth transition. Is that so terrible that I just can’t use the app? No, but it’s the kind of detail that matters in an app where one thing I’ll definitely be doing often is swiping between pages. This isn’t an Android problem, either. Comixology, for example, scrolls totally normally between pages. Marvel has just decided that its Android users don’t deserve as good an experience as their iOS users.

It isn’t just Marvel Unlimited, either. Many Android apps are still second to get features that premier on their iOS counterparts. Again, for most users this isn’t a deal breaker, but it doesn’t make me want to jump ship to Android when it’s been demonstrated time and time again that many (not all) developers consider it a second class platform. If you’re already on Android then this isn’t a new problem, but as a potential returner to Android this was a big hurdle.

The Not So Good


S Health

Volume Level Warning

I complained about this in my thoughts on the Galaxy S6 and I still found it to be a maddening issue with the Note 5. When you plug in headphones and adjust the volume it sometimes warns you about excessive volume levels. I get having that warning, but the reality is the software has no idea what the levels of the media are that I’m listening to. The warning actually didn’t do it the first time I went above volume it deems safe, but it popped up within a day or two. Then it went away for a few days and then it came back up on top of the notification screen. After that I never saw it again. Again, I get why this is there, but it really isn’t helpful or accurate.

Volume Level Consistency

This is another complaint that I mentioned with this S6. I’ll be listening to a podcast or music and then need to pull my headphones our tape adapter out of the phone momentarily. When I plug the headphones in again, even if it’s only been one second, the volume level has dropped. I imagine this is part of Samsung’s well meaning safe volume level campaign, but if I set the volume to a certain level I don’t want it reset when I plug my headphones back in. On iOS the volume level stays the same (it is separately saved for with headphones and without, though, which is nice) no matter how many times I plug or unplug headphones; Android should do the same.

I also had a weird issue on two runs while I was listening to music. It was fine for the whole run and then when I got to a certain location at the last bit the volume would dip and then soar back and forth which was annoying and painful. I’ve never had that issue with my iPhone using the same wired headphones and I have no idea what caused it, but it happened twice at the same place.

Media Playback Controls on Headphones

Another repeat, but absolutely worth repeating. On iOS if I triple tap the mic button it goes back a track. If I double tap and hold it fast forwards; triple tap and hold it rewinds. I’d love to have those controls built into Android. It makes controlling media while driving so much easier.

Location, Location, Location… Location. Location.

The Galaxy S6 had a bug where it would display a “Location Found” notification far too often. When I was using the device it was new so I figured they would fix the problem with a software update in the future. The Galaxy Note 5 has the exact same problem. Most of the time it pops up and goes away and it isn’t an issue, but on one afternoon it popped up over and over and over again for a good two hours, making notifications inaccessible and unusable. The only option that I can find to fix this problem is to disable location altogether, but I’d really rather just disable the notification. I’m glad it found me, but I don’t need to know every 2 seconds.

Battery-life.com

The battery life on the Note 5 is about as good as it was on the Galaxy S6 in my experience. That means with heavy usage I’m charging in the afternoon to get through the rest of the day. I sort of understood that with the Galaxy S6 even though it was bigger than my two year old iPhone 5c that did about as well, but the Note 5 has no excuse. This thing is massive – where’s my massive battery?

My worst day with the Note 5 should have been my best day. On my way out to church I listened to music and then the phone sat in my pocket for the next few hours unused while I helped set up the stage, ran rehearsal, led worship, and cleaned up the stage. I jumped into my car and discovered the battery was in the 40s. Normally my 5c (which is also on Verizon) would be in the 80s at worst. The week after the same thing happened. I suspect the poor service in the building may be part of the problem, but there’s no reason why a phone with half the battery size (1507 mAh) of the other (3000 mAh) should last substantially longer in the exact same conditions.

On the bright side the Note 5 charges incredibly quickly, which doesn’t make up for the average battery life, but it helps.

Decisions


Ending

After spending the last two weeks with the Galaxy Note 5 I’ve decided to get an iPhone 6s. I still love Android and I have plenty of issues with the iPhone, but I have more with Android. I wish the iPhone had a better built in health app and wireless charging and fast charging and better notifications and came with more built in storage and didn’t bend, but I also know that I prefer to have the best apps first over the most featured operating system.

The Galaxy Note 5 is a great phone that I will happily recommend to my friends on Android who don’t mind the less than stellar battery life in exchange for a great display, great performance, a fingerprint scanner, and a great camera. We may not have the perfect phone still, but the Note 5 is still one of the best devices in 2015.

Thoughts on the Galaxy Note 5 from an iPhone User [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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DL Favorites: Gallery Apps https://www.droid-life.com/2015/08/17/dl-favorites-gallery-apps/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/08/17/dl-favorites-gallery-apps/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:10:21 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=172331

DLF, or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we … Continued

DL Favorites: Gallery Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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DLF, or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at Droid Life’s favorite gallery apps.

Even though we call the tiny computers in our pockets “phones,” I like to think of them as communications devices. I use my “phone” almost exclusively as a means of communication. Sometimes I use my voice, sometimes text, sometimes I’m receiving messages from others, and a lot of the time I’m taking, viewing, and sending pictures. Below are my favorite apps to view and organize my pictures and videos.


Google Photos

It should come as no surprise that my favorite way to view my photos and videos is with Google Photos. Google Photos is more than a gallery, of course, allowing you to upload all of your photographs to the cloud for free at high quality or you can pay to upload everything in full quality and pay for the Google Drive storage you need. It’s a fantastic deal, but that alone would only make it comparable to all the other photo services out there. Google Photos isn’t like everything else, though; Google Photos is magic.

I’ve spent hours and hours organizing my photos in Dropbox only to find a month later that even more organization is needed and it’s still difficult to find the picture I really want to see. Google Photos solves all of those problems and more. To try and put it lightly, Google Photos is one of the best products to come to market in the last ten to twenty years. That’s how good it is.

So what makes Google Photos so good for browsing and organizing? In order to browse photos you usually have to decide what you’re looking for specifically and then find it based on how it’s organized. Most people probably organize their photos based around date and then maybe break photos into folders for location or events or months. With Google Photos you don’t have to do any of this. Just tap search and select what you want. Want to find pictures of dogs? Type dog. Pictures of your sister? Tap her picture under the people section. Pictures from your vacation in 2004. Type vacation 2004. It’s that simple and yes, the vast, vast majority of the time it really works. Are you a photographer who shoots in RAW? Google Photos will actually show you those files, something the competition (read Dropbox) doesn’t do on mobile or web.

If for some reason you’ve been holding back and haven’t tried Google Photos, stop what you’re doing and start using it. I would still recommend keeping a second copy of everything (either by also using something like Dropbox or remembering to download a copy of everything new every so often if you have lots of free time), but make Google Photos your primary photo solution now.

Play Link

Photos3


Focus

Maybe you like Google Photos and use it, but you want a way to browse and categorize photos on your phone locally for a specific project. Or maybe you just hate the cloud and want to sync your photos locally but still have a nice way to browse and organize photos. If that’s you, take a look at Focus.

Focus is a brand new gallery app that automatically organizes your photos for you under tags. It defaults to using tags like Camera, Videos, Download, Instagram, etc. but you can add tags like Family, Art, Food, Nature, Travel and more. Focus also allows you to view full EXIF data for photographs.

In addition to this, if you unlock the Premium features for $3.79 you can add custom tags to your photos for organization (think Gmail labels for your photos). This is vastly superior to folder organization because you can label a photo with multiple tags. For example, I can label a photo from my brother’s birthday party with “Calvin’s Birthday Party 2014” and “Calvin” and “Cake” and then find that photo with any of those tags.

Focus has a few other great Premium features. Focus lets you set a passcode for the app for when you want to show a friend a photo without having to hand over all of your photographs. You can even manage your tags so that the app only shows you the tagged photos, or collections, you want to see. So, for example, if you never want to see screenshots you can remove those from the normal gallery view. Premium also unlocks a night mode and gives you access to future features like Google Photos integration. Focus is free on the Google Play Store.

Play Link

Focus1


Between Google Photos and Focus you should be able to organize your photos in a breeze. Let us know in the comments how you organize your photos.

DL Favorites: Gallery Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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Near Future Consternation [Opinion] https://www.droid-life.com/2015/08/04/near-future-consternation-opinion/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/08/04/near-future-consternation-opinion/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 17:30:06 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=171794

A lot of people seem to be upset that the OnePlus 2 does not have NFC. As we all know, OnePlus likes to talk a big game. They are the ones who “#neversettle,” after all. But how can this flagship killer actually kill flagships without NFC? Why not just include it? Here’s the thing – … Continued

Near Future Consternation [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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A lot of people seem to be upset that the OnePlus 2 does not have NFC. As we all know, OnePlus likes to talk a big game. They are the ones who “#neversettle,” after all. But how can this flagship killer actually kill flagships without NFC? Why not just include it?

Here’s the thing – Near Field Communication, or NFC as the kids are calling it these days, simply doesn’t matter in 2015. I want you to come with me on a journey back to yesteryear. No, literally, think back to 2014. Everyone thought that once Apple added NFC to the iPhone, NFC would become a big deal. The teens would be bumping their phones to exchange contacts, every single store in America would support mobile payments, and all of the big issues plaguing our country would be solved.

Well, it’s been almost a year since NFC was added to the iPhone exclusively for contactless payments and you can still hardly use it anywhere. Even major businesses like Starbucks are continuing to use barcodes for payment like it’s 2011. And it isn’t just Apple’s problem. While Android phones have been able to pay for things with Google Wallet and myriad of other services, most stores still want a credit card.

But isn’t this all going to change in October when stores are going to be held liable for fraudulent transactions if they don’t have chip and pin systems in place? That will almost certainly increase the chances that merchants will upgrade to hardware that also supports NFC payments, but experts believe only half of banks and merchants will have the new systems in place by October, and only 70% of credit cards and 40% of debit cards will have microchips. If those estimates are accurate then the roll out will be relatively fast, but it won’t be complete for a long time. Think of it like getting the latest version of Android – it will come eventually, but don’t expect every device to get it right away (or ever).

And sure, you can use NFC for all sorts of fun things like transferring content from your old phone to your new phone (which is really only useful if you have multiple Google accounts, otherwise signing in on the phone is just as good) or send information and actions quickly to your phone, but again, these things are rarely used and are unlikely to become popular in the US without Apple opening NFC to developers.

So let’s get back to the OnePlus 2. Should we really be upset that a phone that costs a little over $300 off contract, has top tier specs, great design, a fingerprint sensor, mute switch (finally!), and a reportedly good camera doesn’t have NFC? Probably not. Could they have just thrown it in for fun? Sure, but why bother when the main reason to use it, contactless payments, isn’t going to be prevalent for at least another year? Why not use resources towards other innovations like being able to reach in your pocket and slide a switch to mute your phone (seriously – after fingerprint sensors this needs to be on every phone)? Even if NFC becomes a huge deal over the next year — which, again, it probably won’t — you’ll be able to buy a new OnePlus 3 at an insanely low price in a year that will probably have NFC when it matters.

Of course, if it’s really that big of a deal you can always buy a different phone that settled for a different set of compromises too.

Near Future Consternation [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Pebble Time Review https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/29/pebble-time-review/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/29/pebble-time-review/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 19:43:55 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=169864

The Pebble Time is an important product for a few reasons, but the most important is that it is the only serious contender for the space on your wrist besides Android Wear and Apple Watch. For most users, Android Wear and Apple Watch make more sense on their respective platforms. Really, the only reason the … Continued

Pebble Time Review is a post from: Droid Life

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The Pebble Time is an important product for a few reasons, but the most important is that it is the only serious contender for the space on your wrist besides Android Wear and Apple Watch. For most users, Android Wear and Apple Watch make more sense on their respective platforms. Really, the only reason the Pebble Time exists is because the original Pebble did a lot of what many users wanted in a smartwatch far before Android Wear and Apple Watch were a thing nerds argued about and normal humans looked at briefly as they passed through their mall.

Now that Android Wear and Apple Watch are here, though, can Pebble stay relevant with the Time?

This is our Pebble Time review.

The Good


Pebble - 6

The User Interface

Designing a fun to use, beautiful user interface is incredible difficult, but I think Pebble did a great job with this. They took a technology that Amazon has managed to make feel exhaustively slow and made it display text and iconography in a magical way. Text and icons fly on and off the screen, watch faces smoothly animate, and while the colors are limited, they feel native to the device. In short, the user interface feels delightful to use.

The new timeline interface is great, particularly if you schedule a lot of your life. With a simply press of the bottom button I can see what’s coming up next in my schedule, when and where. I can press the middle button when an event is at the top to see even more detail and with a press or two of the left button I’m back at right now with my watch face. I think that mental model works really well. Even if you don’t schedule anything you can use timeline to see upcoming weather and sunrise/sunset times.

Water Resistance

This may not be the most important feature to everyone, but I think it’s really nice to have a smartwatch that I don’t have to worry about taking off. Being able to just jump in the pool or rinse off after a run is pretty freeing. It’s also nice to know that if you have an Android phone and a Pebble Time you can still send voice replies to texts while you’re in the pool. Life changing? Maybe not, but definitely convenient.

Battery Life

Pebble still promises up to seven days of usage with the Time. My original Pebble never lasted for seven days and the Time still doesn’t either. With normal usage I think it’s safe to expect three to four days of battery life, which is definitely better than any other smartwatch available on the market. With that battery life come plenty of trade offs, but it’s there if that’s more important than, say, legibility.

The Band

The band on the Pebble Time is great. It feels like it’s a slight revision over the original with more flexibility. I liked the band on the original and I like this one too. The really nice thing about the band is how easy it is to remove. Pebble added quick release pins, which means you can very easily slide the pins out and replace the band with something else. Normally you need a removal tool to swap these out and you will probably want one if you’re going to put a normal watch band on your Pebble Time, but at least the stock one removes easily.

Somewhere-in-the-Middle


Pebble - 18

The Display Resolution

One of my biggest complaints with the Pebble and Pebble Steel was that the display had too low of a resolution. Pebble tried to make that work to their advantage by featuring iconography and watch faces that looked like they could have been taken from a Sega Genesis, but on any watch face that features a second hand (an important feature to many, including myself) it just looked bad. I don’t want to see pixels in 2015 and neither should you. The Time does not fix this issue at all, featuring a still too low for this age resolution screen of 144 x 168. While many watch faces look fine at this resolution (especially if they feature larger elements that don’t have many angles), classic watch faces and smaller information elements like the date or weather just look bad. Pebble uses a good font so everything is legible, but you never get the sense that this is something that is designed to look good, which brings us to the rest of the hardware.

Color Display

Pebble Time features a colored e-paper display (64 colors to be exact). This is an improvement over the previous displays in the right lighting, but its also a detriment in the wrong lighting. Because lighting is such a huge factor with e-paper displays, there are times when colors work against legibility on the Time. With the backlight on in the right lighting it makes watch faces look much more appealing and adds to the experience by allowing users to more easily differentiate different parts of the watch faces when allowed by the face designer. One of my favorite watch faces, TH3, allows you to change the color of the hour, minute, and second hands as well as the color of the dials, day, and date. That kind of customization is great, especially with colors, but I found myself limiting the colors I used because so often some of them made the face harder to read due to lighting.

The Hardware

I don’t want to say the hardware on the Pebble Time is bad, because it isn’t. It’s fine, but compared to something like the Moto 360 or the Apple Watch, its glaringly cheaper between its plastic body, dim, low resolution screen, and large bezel. While the battery life makes the Pebble Time a better fit for users who want longer battery life than the competition can offer, I wouldn’t wear the Time when I’m going to a function where I want to look good. Is that a problem for Pebble? Perhaps not if the Pebble was marketed more as a fitness device, but much like the original Pebble I don’t always feel comfortable wearing it in public because I’m not confident in its looks. It’s not just that it’s obviously made out of plastic, but also that it doesn’t look serious. I usually wear a $50 Seiko watch. It doesn’t look expensive, but it does look like a serious watch whereas the Pebble looks like a toy I got out of my cereal box.

Pebble - 19 Pebble - 23 Pebble - 20 Pebble - 21 Pebble - 22

Pebble Time App

The Pebble Time app for iOS is useful for finding watch faces and apps, although it is a drag to use since it’s essentially a web wrapper. The Android app features a lot more functionality, but browsing apps and faces is still not as good as it should be. With the Android app you can set a default music player (which should be Google Play Music unless you’re a monster) and even canned responses for replying to messages.

Apps

Pebble has a small ecosystem of apps that allow you to use your watch instead of your phone, but like most things on the Pebble the functionality is limited. This isn’t always Pebble’s fault, but rather a limitation of what you can really do on a device this size. The best apps, not surprisingly, are fitness related, although there are some decent check list apps out there as well. Essentially, if you want to use a lot of apps on a smartwatch look elsewhere.

Watch Faces

There are some good watch faces for Pebble, but the vast majority of them are garbage. That’s to be expected when you have a free-for-all with the content created. The vast majority of apps on iOS and Android, for example, are garbage, too. I found myself using TH3, Revolution, and FIWatch most of the time.

Voice Replies

In their launch video Pebble revealed a new voice feature which allows Android users to send replies to certain notifications with their voice (Pebble has promised this will come to iOS in a future update). Voice replies worked decently in my experience, but the lack of integration with Google Now or Siri (something Pebble says they’re experimenting with) means this is a function that will enjoy little use from most people. It’s also not nearly as quick and easy to use as demonstrated.

To use voice replies you press the middle button on a notification, select Reply, and select Voice (note: some Google apps like Hangouts require that you have Android Wear installed in order to use this feature). Pebble will then say that it is listening and you can dictate your response. After dictating, the Pebble will transcribe the response and display it to you before sending. If you’re good with the response you can press send. I adore the send animation (a paper airplane flying away). Several times I tried to send a reply it would say that an error occurred, but whenever I retried it would get it right. Some responses took longer than others to transcribe, but that’s par for the course for transcription. Every time it worked, however, the transcription was accurate.

For Voice Replies to be truly useful, Pebble should have implemented their own phrase to initiate a reply. As it stands you have to press too many buttons just to get to voice reply and then hope that it all works after that. At the bare minimum Voice Reply should be accessible with a long press of a button. Right now it’s just not seamless enough.

The Not-so-Good


Pebble - 1

Display Brightness

The display brightness on the Pebble Time is abysmal. On my drive home today my wife was calling me. The Time started vibrating and it was displaying who was calling, but I couldn’t see who it was. I shook my wrist, thinking the brightness might increase enough so that I can read who was calling, but to no avail. Finally I just looked at my phone, which was plenty bright so that I could see it was my wife and I answered the call.

There have also been plenty of times when the watch is simply illegible, especially in low light conditions. When you turn the light on in dark conditions the screen is easy to read and in direct sunlight it’s legible, but in low light and at various angles it is incredibly difficult to read. When I walked my dog this morning I was able to see the display fine, even in the shade, but in the office and on the drive into work it was very difficult to read, even with the back light on.

Display Glass

There are two problems with the glass. First, the glass is a smudge and fingerprint magnet. I’m constantly having to swipe the screen to improve its already abysmal legibility. Second, the glass is super reflective, which again, makes legibility difficult in certain scenarios. That’s going to happen with any object with a glass face, but it affects the Pebble Time even more than it ought to.

Display Lamination

Wow, Ron, you sure are talking about the display a lot. Yes, because it’s the most important part of this product and it’s not very good. On top of the poor resolution, brightness, glass, and endless bezels, the display is not laminated very close to the glass. Why does this matter? I want to look at my watch from multiple angles. When I’m typing with my Seiko I can move my wrist just a bit to quickly see the time. With the Pebble, I have to move it even more. Now granted, the screen brightness has a huge impact on legibility already, but if the display was laminated closer to the screen it was save me some millimeters when I need to glance at my wrist.

Video


Gallery


Pebble - 5 Pebble - 16 Pebble - 14 Pebble - 11 Pebble - 4

The Verdict


So who should buy this watch? Most people should pass on this watch. If you use an iPhone you should absolutely not get the Pebble Time because none of the advanced features work on iOS yet and they may never work. If you have an iPhone, get an Apple Watch; you’ll be much happier. If you use an Android phone then the only reason you should get the Pebble time is if you want a smartwatch that lasts longer than Android Wear watches and you’re always in very well lit rooms or very dark rooms. In other words, most Android users would probably be happier with an Android Wear watch.

I enjoyed using the original Pebble, especially when I just wanted to know why my phone was buzzing, but it didn’t age well (mostly due to the plastic screen), I couldn’t wear it when I needed to look nice, and it didn’t integrate with my iPhone very well. The Time doesn’t solve any of those problems. Even though the Time is more capable on an Android device, the realities of using an e-paper display make it so difficult to recommend, especially when you get get an Android Wear watch that will look just as good for less money or better for the same or a little more money.

If Pebble had increased the resolution, changed the display technology or dramatically improved it, and worked with Google to make Google Now integration work then they may have had a compelling product, but as it stands it feels like Pebble just wasted their time for the past year. They had their opportunity and they did pretty well despite the limitations of the first Pebble, but I don’t think e-paper screens are the future of smartwatches, which means Pebble probably won’t be a part of that future either.

Pebble Time Review is a post from: Droid Life

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Why is Android Still the Second Platform Developers Work On? https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/24/why-is-android-still-the-second-platform-developers-work-on/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/24/why-is-android-still-the-second-platform-developers-work-on/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 15:58:25 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=169351

Every year we see the same promise: this is the year that Android-first development will become a reality. At the same time we see big companies like Instagram repeatedly introduce new apps that are iOS-only. Android has been able to tout more market share than iOS for quite some time, but that doesn’t seem to … Continued

Why is Android Still the Second Platform Developers Work On? is a post from: Droid Life

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Every year we see the same promise: this is the year that Android-first development will become a reality. At the same time we see big companies like Instagram repeatedly introduce new apps that are iOS-only. Android has been able to tout more market share than iOS for quite some time, but that doesn’t seem to have translated into app developers releasing Android apps at the same time as their iOS counterparts, much less Android-first. Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking with developers and researching why this is still the case.

Limited Resources


We see example after example of apps and new features launching on iOS before Android from large companies like Instagram, Facebook, Nike, and even Google. Usually these companies can’t claim that they don’t have the resources or enough potential users of their product, but what about smaller independent developers?

NeuBible is a Bible app from Kory Westerhold and Aaron Martin. NeuBible entered a relatively crowded market of Bible apps on iOS, many of which are free. I don’t know if NeuBible will be a financial success, but I can say that within seconds of using the app it became my default Bible app on iOS. The one word that precisely describes my experience with the app: delightful.

NeuBible, like so many other apps, launched on iPhone first, but unlike many other apps, came with a promise to come to Android soon. Westerhold says that he and Martin had planned on releasing NeuBible for iPhone, iPad, and Android, but the massive costs of development forced them to start with iPhone only (the duo actually paid for the app’s development out of their own pockets – a testament to how passionate they are about the app!).

Westerhold was quick to point out that NeuBible didn’t launch iPhone first because he doesn’t like Android. Quite the contrary; he actually thinks NeuBible’s aesthetic fits Lollipop even more than it does iOS 8 and loves using the Nexus 6 and Moto 360. Despite his love for Android, he and Martin were hesitant to launch on Android first:

“Everything we’ve read, every number we’ve seen shows that it’s really difficult to get people to pay for apps on Android. We didn’t think we could release a paid app on Android and create something sustainable enough to fund further development.”

Westerhold isn’t the only developer concerned about the costs associated with Android development. Dave Feldman, co-founder of Emu, a third party messaging app, actually bucked the trend of iOS first and launched Emu on Android in late 2012. By April of 2014 Emu was pulled from the Play Store and launched on iOS. Developing Emu for Android hit a lot of issues working with SMS/MMS, dealing with Eclipse, and, of course, device fragmentation.

Feldman told TechCrunch, “We were finding Android in general to be a slower platform to move on. There’s more time spent dealing with fragmentation bugs. There’s more time spent dealing with testing and debugging, and we would rather spend that time building new functionality.”

According to Feldman issues they faced with fragmentation were particularly perplexing:

“On a Galaxy S4 with Samsung’s Multi-Window feature enabled, Emu’s popup windows are squished by the keyboard. This doesn’t happen on the Galaxy S4 sold by Google, without Samsung’s software modifications; or with the Multi-Window feature on the Galaxy S3. We’ve investigated, but because it relates to Samsung-specific functionality, we probably can’t fix it without direct cooperation from them.”

and…

“On some Galaxy Nexus phones, when you’re listening to Pandora and get a notification sound from Emu, Pandora’s volume drops. This doesn’t happen with other apps’ notifications, nor does it happen with streaming apps other than Pandora, nor does it happen on any other device.”

Cameron Henneke, the developer behind GQueues, had a very different experience than the folks developing Emu. GQueues was originally just a web app, but in 2013 Henneke released iOS and Android apps. While Henneke had some previous experience developing games on iOS, this was his first Android app. So of course there was a huge learning curve and massive fragmentation issues that made him curse Andy Rubin, right? It turns out Henneke managed to develop the Android version faster than the iOS version (about 870 hours to develop the Android version versus 960 hours on the iOS version).

So what can we conclude from these very disparate results? Depending on the kind of app you’re making it might be far more difficult to launch on Android, or it might actually be easier. There are enough variables between funding, the size of the team, skill set, etc. that make it impossible to say developing for iOS first makes sense for everyone, but it certainly might make sense for a small team with limited funding.

Is it really that easy to make money on the App Store?


One of the big reasons often cited for app developers going to iOS first is that the App Store is where the money is. Android users are cheap and iOS users can’t stop spending money on apps, right? That idea has certainly been promulgated by plenty of people and it certainly has been backed up by analysts, but is it really that easy to make money on the App Store?

The economy of the App Store appears to be in flux. Independent developers are finding it more difficult to make enough money on the app store to sustain development, even with plenty of good press about the app. The race to the bottom for pricing apps is beginning to take its toll, forcing independent developers to adjust their monetization model.

Independent developer Marco Arment’s apps Instapaper and Overcast are fantastic examples of what pricing models used to work in the App Store and what the reality is today. When Arment first launched Instapaper on the App Store in 2008 he sold it for $9.99. On July 16th, 2014 Arment released Overcast, his third major iOS app. Overcast is available for free with a $5 in-app purchase to unlock features like Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Arment said the following about making Overcast free with IAP:

“I’m not that confident in the market for a paid-up-front app anymore, especially because I wanted to charge a good price for it. … If I launched today in the App Store I’m sure my day one sales at $5 would be decent, but, first of all, I know I got way more people [to try my app with] this model than I would have with [the paid up front] model. Second of all, I know over time that [the paid up front model] would be very hard to sustain because once the initial PR is over, and once all your friends and all your blog readers have bought it, and once everyone who’s going to write about it has written about it, then the sales of every app just tail off like crazy. They just drop. If you look at the graph it looks like a roller coaster. … If your app is paid up front that happens faster and it happens more severely.

“I’ve seen this happen. Instapaper was that model the entire time I owned it. It’s still that model today. I know that model very well. … I also know that in today’s App Store in a competitive category where I don’t even have the most features and people are very, very picky with what they want and what they don’t want, I knew that a $5 paid up front app was not a good long-term solution. … I saw with Instapaper there were so many people who I would come in contact with (in real life even, even family friends) … still using Instapaper Free, even two years after I discontinued it. There are so many people who … don’t pay for apps.”

Jared Sinclair, developer of apps like Riposte for App.net, Timezones, and Unread, faced these market pressures in particular with Unread. Unread was a well designed iOS RSS reader that launched at the sale price of $2.99 before being raised to $4.99. Sinclair worked tirelessly on the app: “I estimate that I worked sixty to eighty hours a week every week from July 2013 up until the launch of Unread for iPhone Version 1.0 in February 2014.” The app was covered by prominent Apple blogs and was even featured in the App Store. Despite the great coverage, hard work, and great app, Sinclair only made about $21,000 after taxes and expenses. Eventually Sinclair decided to sell Unread. His latest app, Time Zones, is free on the App Store with advertisements, though a $4.99 in-app purchase makes Time Zones ad-free.

John Gruber of Q Branch (and, of course, Daring Fireball and The Talk Show) recently opened up about why he and his colleagues raised the price for Vesper, the note taking app that I’m using to write these very paragraphs. Vesper launched in the summer of 2013 for $4.99, but had been on sale for $2.99 from the summer of 2014 until this winter. With the release of iPad support for Vesper Q Branch decided to raise the price to $9.99. John Gruber explained the pricing change, saying:

“Put another way, we’re going to charge something sane or die trying. We tried following the iOS App Store trend by pricing Vesper at just $2.99 for months. It didn’t work. Prices like that are not sane, and not sustainable, at least for well-crafted productivity apps. So Q Branch is drawing a line in the sand, and we hope other iOS developers will follow.”

These developers are attacking the same problem from different perspectives. Arment and Sinclair saw the trend in the App Store towards free with in-app purchase and adapted the pricing models for Overcast and Time Zones accordingly. Q Branch, on the other hand, is trying to reverse the trend. Both models are compelling, and more importantly, both models point to the realities we’ve seen on the Play Store for some time.

What Kinds of Apps Are Successful on Android?


While Android may not be known for being the platform that many developers work on first, it is a platform that has a vibrant development community with plenty of developers that are able to make a living from their Android apps. The key is finding the right app category and the right business model.

AgileBits is a great example of a developer that was primarily Apple focused, but recently brought 1Password to Android in full force. To be clear, AgileBits had an Android version of 1Password as far back as 2010, but the app only allowed users to read their usernames and passwords, not add any new credentials (or any of their other more advanced features). The app stayed in that condition for almost four years before being relaunched in the summer of 2014 with a complete redesign to better match Android’s aesthetic and add full functionality to the app.

“We wanted the app to be accessible to everyone,” says CEO Jeff Shiner. “We know many people have multiple devices on different platforms. We want them to be able to secure their passwords everywhere from an app that feels like 1Password, but that also feels native to the platforms they use, whether they be OS X, Windows, iOS, or Android.”

Part of making the app accessible to everyone meant AgileBits changing their monetization strategy. Starting with their Android release AgileBits made 1Password completely free to use with a one time $9.99 in-app purchase to unlock pro features (the iOS app soon followed suit with the same pricing strategy). Users are able to try the premium features in the app for 30 days before it reverts to read-only functionality.

The most famous example of a developer succeeding on Android is Shifty Jelly. Shifty Jelly, which is behind the popular podcast client Pocket Casts, hasn’t been successful on Android just recently either. Way back in December of 2011 Shifty Jelly’s Russell Ivanovic reported that the company was making the majority of their sales for Pocket Casts on Android. By 2013 Ivanovic reported that Pocket Casts had sold 5 copies on Android for every copy they sold on iOS.

What made Pocket Casts successful on Android where other apps have failed? I think the major reason is that Shifty Jelly made a killer podcast app on a platform that was in desperate need of a decent podcast app. Google provided Listen for a few years before discontinuing it in late 2012. Listen was never a good podcast app, but it was good enough to get the job done. Pocket Casts, on the other hand, was a great podcast app and has continued to iterate and improve to the point where I consider it to be the only podcast app to consider on Android.

The other reason I think Pocket Casts was successful is that it is sold for a fair price. Though that price has shifted over the years, it was high enough to support development and the expansion of Shifty Jelly’s team, but low enough that it seems reasonable to many. Pricing is always a tremendously difficult part in releasing and selling an app and Shifty Jelly did well in this regard.

Shifty Jelly shows that there is absolutely a market for paid apps on Android, but you have to make something that people want and sell it at a fair price. Determining those factors is incredibly difficult, but that’s been the reality on iOS and Android for years now. The days of selling software for $50 are gone. Freemium and cheap paid apps are here to stay as are the millions of users for each platform.

Does it really matter?


For smaller development teams the cost of supporting Android up front may be prohibitive, but there is simply no excuse for large companies like Facebook who have large development teams and effectively endless resources to bring their products to both platforms simultaneously. Companies like Shifty Jelly make it clear that success can be found on the Play Store just like it can be found on the App Store, but developers for both ecosystems need to be cautious with pricing in order to maintain enough income to continue development.

But what about for users? Does it really matter that Android users tend to get apps later than iOS users? This is a tough question to answer because it varies by experience and priorities. Having lived on iOS for the past four years I can say that I’ve enjoyed having access to pretty much every app I want, but I also can’t think of many apps that I can’t get on Android. I can, however, think of plenty of features and options that I can’t get on iOS.

While it’s not an intended compromise, I do think that is the compromise users have to consider. What’s more important to you: having the latest apps first or having the best features first? Most of Android’s best features eventually make it over to iOS and most of iOS’ best apps eventually make it over to Android too, so which do you want first?

Why is Android Still the Second Platform Developers Work On? is a post from: Droid Life

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Can We Get a Better Digital Assistant Without Violating Our Privacy? [Opinion] https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/08/can-we-get-a-better-digital-assistant-without-violating-our-privacy-opinion/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/08/can-we-get-a-better-digital-assistant-without-violating-our-privacy-opinion/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 19:40:45 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=168666

AI, or artificial intelligence, is an old idea, but it’s still probably the most important technological leap that we’ve yet to make. We’ve been inching closer with things like Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, but we are still so far away. As we inch closer, though, there’s an implementation battle happening. The question we have … Continued

Can We Get a Better Digital Assistant Without Violating Our Privacy? [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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AI, or artificial intelligence, is an old idea, but it’s still probably the most important technological leap that we’ve yet to make. We’ve been inching closer with things like Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, but we are still so far away. As we inch closer, though, there’s an implementation battle happening. The question we have been asking for the past few years is whether Google will get better at design faster than Apple will get better at web services. I think the new question we need to wrestle with is, can Apple make better apps and services without violating our privacy faster than Google can do so by hoarding all of our information and possibly violating our privacy?

Apple introduced us to the idea that we could have a personal, intelligent assistant with us on our phones with Siri in 2011, but Google took things a step further in 2012 with Google Now. With Siri, we could ask our phones for information and to do things for us, but Google made it so that our phones (or more accurately Google’s servers) would do things without us even asking for them. When Now works properly it is brilliant, but when Google pretends to not know something about you it can be incredibly frustrating.

When I was reviewing the Galaxy S6, I told Google Now to call my wife. It asked me who my wife is. Google doesn’t know a lot of things about me, but Google absolutely knows who my wife is. There’s a plethora of information indicating who my wife is on Google’s servers, but with this request Google pretended it didn’t know. To make matters worse, Google asked me if I wanted it to remember that she was my wife; I said yes, but the next time I asked Google to call my wife it asked who she was again. Granted, that may be a bug, but it’s built on a foundation where Google is still pretending to not know much about us.

I get it. Google doesn’t want to seem any more creepy than it has to to stay competitive. Most people don’t realize just how much information companies like Google and Facebook have about us. When Google first unveiled Now there was a bit of shock. How can they know about this kind of stuff? They know where I work and when I should leave? Is this not violating my privacy? Then most users settled in and let Google take control, because for most people convenience is more important than privacy.

For a long time I have been assuming that Apple’s future may be in trouble, not because they will stop making amazing products, but because of their stance on privacy. Then WWDC 2015 happened. Apple announced a bunch of Siri integration that does a lot of predictive work to guess what information you might need or want and all of it is done without storing your data in the cloud. It’s nothing short of astonishing, not because of the features, but because they are doing this without a gigantic database of information about you.

Throughout the WWDC keynote, Apple announced several new features and ended with the refrain, “You’re in control.” It’s another obvious shot at Google, but I think it’s an important one. While Google has made it much easier to control what personal data of mine they retain to use their services, I honestly had never considered if Google could make just as powerful of services without my information. I was assuming it was impossible until now. I still think it’s incredibly difficult, but maybe we can keep control of our data and still have incredibly helpful AI, too.

I think Google Photos is Google’s first way of showing how they can use their search technologies to actually make a superior product without tying it into the rest of Google. Photos shows incredible reserve on Google’s part because they recognize that privacy is a huge obstacle they face with maintaining trust with their users. I don’t think Google is going to do that with products like Now, though. The opportunity to leverage our information to make better educated guesses about what we need is too great.

Apple has always been more privacy focused than Google (and even privacy focused as a means to communicate a competitive advantage against the search giants), which is good for consumers, but ultimately bad for them if Google gets there first and is able to convince the vast majority of users that trading their information for features is a fair exchange. Part of me thinks that it is absolutely fair, but the other part of me wants to see Apple meet Google’s challenge and create something that is just as capable of helping me without me having to trust someone to keep my information safe on their servers. We need that kind of assistant so that we can live more present lives that allow us to use technology when it’s appropriate and let it work for us in the background otherwise.

The question is, can we get there with our privacy still in tact?

Can We Get a Better Digital Assistant Without Violating Our Privacy? [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Google Photos: Privacy Nightmare or Memory Bliss? [Opinion] https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/04/google-photos-privacy-nightmare-or-memory-bliss-opinion/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/06/04/google-photos-privacy-nightmare-or-memory-bliss-opinion/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 20:11:50 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=168563

Google announced a lot of neat things at Google I/O last week, but the most news worthy item, in my opinion, has by far been Google Photos. The app/service is stunning for its ability to not only store all of your photos and videos for free, but also for creating animated GIFs, highlight videos, collages, and … Continued

Google Photos: Privacy Nightmare or Memory Bliss? [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Google announced a lot of neat things at Google I/O last week, but the most news worthy item, in my opinion, has by far been Google Photos. The app/service is stunning for its ability to not only store all of your photos and videos for free, but also for creating animated GIFs, highlight videos, collages, and most importantly, letting you search through your images based on the content. It’s an insanely great product, but all of those features have been decried by some of the media over privacy concerns. Sure, Google lets you search through all of your photos based on the location, people in them, objects in them, etc., but that just means Google will be selling advertisements based on your photos, right?

Google Photos does a lot of really great things. First, you can upload your entire library of photos and videos for absolutely free. Have 1 TB of photos? Free. 1 GB. Free. In a world where Apple charges users $2 per month for an additional 15 GB of iCloud storage, free is pretty amazing. Of course, free has its limits (16 megapixel images and 1080p video), but for the vast majority of users, Google Photos will more than get the job done for free. If you are a professional photographer or you just want to have full quality copies of your images on Google’s servers, then you can upload at full quality using your Google Drive storage (which is super cheap at $2 per month for 100 GB and competitive at $10 per month for 1 TB).It’s not just all the storage that’s a big deal, though. The problem with pretty much every online photo service is that they let you get all of your stuff up there, but it’s still up to you to organize and catalog it. Some people like that (I used to love adding metadata to my iTunes library), but with pictures and videos, you are dealing with a ton of data that isn’t quick to categorize because it is not obvious how to do so. Should you organize photos by date, location, event, or just scroll until you find something?

Google takes care of this for you by giving you the power of Google Search for your photos. You can search for the place you took a photo, person in it, a particular object, or the date, making the task of finding photos so much easier. Google also makes GIFs out of burst shots, which brings life to moments that otherwise made me want to try and pick the best shot and lose the rest to the ether.

It’s not all GIFs and rainbows, though. There are videos, too. Google Photos automatically makes compilation videos that you can edit with different music and clips. During the upload of my priceless memories, Google made a music video out of the videos I took Christmas morning two years ago. I sent it to my family, which illicited responses like “I just died. I watched it three times,” and “I’m tearing up in public. This is too good.” I think I removed one clip and adjusted the music. Google did the rest. I would have probably gone back to watch those videos again, but I wouldn’t have put them together like that and I probably wouldn’t have felt compelled to share them with my family, which means those moments, despite their documentation, would have been mostly lost to them.

That’s the key to realizing what Google is offering here. It isn’t just free (or affordable) storage. It isn’t just a pretty app. It isn’t just the ability to quickly and easily categorize your photos. It’s the ability to relive and share memories in a way that requires little to no effort on my part at tremendous reward. No one else is offering this. Not Apple, not Samsung, not Dropbox, not Microsoft, or any of the myriad of failed and purchased photo services. Google nailed what Photos is about. Go take pictures and we’ll bring those moments back to life.

Now, the big question – Are there privacy concerns associated with giving a search engine/advertising company all of your precious memories? There has been a ton of speculation and outcry about using Photos, especially from the Apple community. Recently, Tim Cook railed against Google Photos, saying, “I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be. … You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose. And we think someday, customers will see this for what it is.”

Ignoring that Cook incorrectly alleges that Google is going to advertise against your photos, he has a good point, right? Google is just out there trying to trade our personal data for services instead of selling them to us for an honest dollar like Apple does. Except for one small detail: the kind of services Google is offering can’t be purchased for money. No one is selling something like Google Now. You know why? It’s not because Google has all the good engineers on their payroll. Apple can’t sell you something like Google Now because Apple doesn’t have access to your data and they never will. You need personal data to have something like Google Now, where a computer uses information it already has about you to guess what other information you might like to see without you asking for it. You would certainly never see anything like Now on Tap, because that would violate the users’ privacy (maybe you could see a local version of Now on Tap that never leaves your device like fingerprints on iOS, but that may limit its use too severely).

Let’s take these privacy fears seriously for a moment, though. Google is not planning on using this information to sell advertisements, but let’s suppose they did decide to sell advertisements against photographs using their free tier. What would the result be? Google would use that information about your photos to sell you targeted advertisements. You would then have advertisements based on a huge swath of information about you. Creepy? A little, but also potentially very useful.

Google would know, for example, that every year you have a family trip to Georgia. Maybe shortly before that trip, Google shows you advertisements for ticket deals. Google would know that you have been taking pictures of different houses as you go house shopping and shows you advertisements for realty agencies, or furniture, or moving companies. Again, creepy? A little, but potentially helpful and certainly superior than seeing random advertisements that have nothing to do with anything you care about.

There will always be products that are sold for money and others that are sold for your information. The question is, who do you trust? Are you willing to see more personalized advertisements in exchange for being able to just type vacation 2007 and seeing all those photographs instantly without any organizational work on your part? Right now you are not even seeing ads for that, but that’s the “nightmare” future we are worried about. Google is not using this information to track you down and kill you; they are selling advertisements.

Personally, I think there is value to seeing advertisements for things that I actually like. When I watch Broad City on Hulu, I see ads for the Lexus IS and some Mountain Dew energy drink. I feel like those are for slightly different demographics (although admittedly I love the grill on the IS and my wife and I dance whenever that song comes on from the Mountain Dew commercial, so maybe Hulu knows me better than I know myself). A good advertisement might get me to buy something, or at least consider it or make me feel nice things about a company (which is not a person no matter what our government says). Having better ads that are actually appropriate for me sounds like it might be a good thing, especially on top of these computing services that know me and can help me get things done faster and better than I ever could before. I hope Google doesn’t ever sell advertisements against my photos. I’d rather those stay private forever, but I would definitely consider having those advertisements so that I can instantly find a picture and have compilation videos made for me to relive my favorite moments. That’s worth a lot to me.

Let us know in the comments if you are using Google Photos. If you are, what do you like about it? If not, is it because of privacy concerns or are you just happy with another product? If you’re not backing up your photos, shame on you.

Google Photos: Privacy Nightmare or Memory Bliss? [Opinion] is a post from: Droid Life

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Thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S6 from an iPhone 5c User https://www.droid-life.com/2015/05/07/thoughts-on-the-samsung-galaxy-s6-from-an-iphone-5c-user/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/05/07/thoughts-on-the-samsung-galaxy-s6-from-an-iphone-5c-user/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 20:32:06 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=166887

For the past two weeks, I have been using the Galaxy S6 and I have loved it. Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty I don’t like about the phone, but there is so much to love that the annoyances are easy to overlook. Reviewing the Sony Xperia Z3v made me think hard about switching … Continued

Thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S6 from an iPhone 5c User is a post from: Droid Life

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For the past two weeks, I have been using the Galaxy S6 and I have loved it. Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty I don’t like about the phone, but there is so much to love that the annoyances are easy to overlook. Reviewing the Sony Xperia Z3v made me think hard about switching back to Android, but the Galaxy S6 convinced me. This isn’t another full review (read our full review here), but rather my thoughts about the S6 as an iPhone user who still loves Android and misses it dearly.

The Good


Display

The display on the S6 is stunning. The viewing angles are superb and it can get darker than my iPhone and brighter than it, meaning I can use it in pretty much every scenario throughout the day. I love the little curves on the edges of the display, especially when compared to the slopes of the Galaxy S6 Edge. While I still prefer the curves of the iPhone 6, these curves are delightful in their own subtle way. The display is certainly large, but I can reach the notification tray without risking dropping the device, which is good enough for me. The color accuracy is great, I can’t see any pixels, and there is a good balance of bezel surrounding the display.

The Body

The body of the phone feels fantastic. It’s incredibly similar to Sony’s Xperia line, which I love. While we are on the subject of comparisons, there has been a lot of talk about the Galaxy S6 looking like an iPhone. It certainly is reminiscent of the iPhone 5, 5c, and 6, but only in fleeting ways. If you have ever picked up an Xperia device I think you will find far more similarities between the S6 and it than an iPhone, between the round metal frame that is flattened on the left and right edges, and the edge-to-edge glass that bleeds into those edges. All of that to say, the phone feels great to hold if just a little too thin.

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The Camera

The camera on the GS6 is nothing short of stunning as well. Between the toned down software and the helpful modes (especially selective focus), Samsung knocked it out of the park with the camera. Oh, and it launches incredibly fast. Speed isn’t everything, but I love knowing that I can have the camera launched in under a second. That said, I have mixed feelings about how Samsung implemented the quick launch feature. It’s too easy for the camera to be launched in your pocket, but the feature is too convenient to turn off. The camera takes gorgeous images

Somewhere in the Middle


Hardware Design

The camera hump on the back of the phone is alarming at first. I set my phone down multiple times a day and I want my camera to still work great after two years of setting the phone down. I don’t want to be worried about the lens cracking or catching or getting dusty. That being said, I’ve found the lens and the edge around it to be very durable. I would still heavily consider getting a case or a skin for better protection, but I imagine it should hold up fine with normal use. The use of a chrome speaker grill on the top of the phone is disappointing – I strongly prefer the look of Sony’s recessed speakers, but the speaker is loud and works fine despite being an eyesore. I also wish Samsung would stop placing their logo on the top of their phones. That little details and the overall shape of the device makes the Galaxy S6 look just like every other Galaxy despite its glass and metal adornments.

Software

TouchWiz is toned down across the device, but it’s still very much present. I was able to hide its more troubling parts with Nova Launcher and Audax, but the fact that things like S Voice still exist is a bit troubling. The phone comes with tons of bloatware installed, some of which can be uninstalled, some of which can be disabled, and some of which you’re stuck with. Most annoyingly, Samsung’s keyboard insists on re-enabling itself over and over no matter how often I turn it off. Once you disable all the garbage and get everything set up the device flies and feels great to use, but admittedly I’d rather Samsung just leave that junk out of the device in the first place. This is an old complaint, but it’s stuff like this that makes me hesitate to recommend a Samsung phone to a friend over an iPhone. Apple cares about their users too much to put this garbage on the phones. I get that Samsung and the carriers get a kick back for adding this software to the device, but is it really worth it? It’s an obviously worse experience. Android phones don’t have to be the Windows laptops of phones.

galaxy s6 review-6

Fingerprint Reader

Samsung finally implemented their fingerprint reader in the best way possible, but they did so with a thin, wide home button that makes for a poor surface for scans. When the reader works it works quickly and effortlessly. When it doesn’t, it’s maddening. I seem to have good days and bad days, but more good than bad which is why this is somewhere in the middle. By the second week I was consistently able to unlock the phone with my right thumb, but my left thumb always had trouble, even after redoing the scan setup process. Between the bad days and the limit of four fingerprints to be stored I think Samsung still has plenty of room to grow, but they have me sold on having a fingerprint reader on any phone I buy in the future.

Performance

The Galaxy S6 launches apps incredibly quickly, shows the multitasking cards instantly, and responds immediately to every tap and swipe. That said, I did see some hiccups. For example, when I would blow up a lot of stuff on Sky Force the frame rate would drop. It’s a small detail, but it was noticeable. Then there’s the memory management. The Galaxy S6 comes with 3 GB of RAM, but my iPad 3 with a measly 1 GB of RAM keeps tabs and apps open for longer (which is not saying much since it reloads tabs and apps regularly, especially after it upgraded to iOS 7 and 8). From what I’ve seen the HTC One M9 does not suffer from the same memory issues with indicates that either HTC patched a Lollipop issue or Samsung needs to work on their memory management; either way Samsung needs to fix this issue.

Audio Playback

I have a commute every day and I’m a worship leader at my church, so I listen to a lot of podcasts and a lot of music, which means the audio experience is very important to me. Some of my complaints here might seem nit picky or obvious, but remember the name of this site is Droid Life, so if there’s a place to be nit picky and nerd out on the little details I think this might be it. For whatever reason everyone agreed to using the same 3.5mm headphone jack, but not the same headphone wiring. Why? I don’t know, but it is truly maddening. If I plug my Apple EarPods in (yes, I use them and no I don’t mind them) then I’m able to hear everything and control play/pause, but I can’t control the volume. I can, of course, use Samsung’s included headphones (not everyone includes headphones, but they should) or bluetooth headphones, but not being able to use the ones I like (and that fit my ears better) was a mild annoyance.

Then there’s the volume control. Every time I plugged the headphones in and started playback the volume would be too low, so I would crank it up and then have to tap OK on a pop-up warning me about the dangers of high volume to my hearing. While I appreciate Samsung looking out for my hearing, they clearly have no idea what audio levels are appropriate because they don’t know the levels of the audio I’m listening to. For music their safe levels are fair, but for podcasts the audio varies depending on the producer, so the warning is often a moot point. To Samsung’s credit, but the second week I stopped seeing this warning. Also I’m completely deaf in both ears (just kidding).

When plugging in headphones I had to reset the volume level every time. On my iPhone it remembers the volume level without headphones and with, which is fantastic. I can deal with setting the volume, but it was particularly annoying when I would disconnect the headphones for a moment and then reconnect them a moment later and the volume had reset to a “safe” level.

The Not So Good


Color Options

The Galaxy S6 comes in a few colors, but pearl white is the only good looking option. I think the black sapphire is too blue, the gold platinum is too creamy, and the blue topaz is too… topaz. Then there’s the Edge’s green option. Will anyone get that? Yuck. I love my blue 5c and I wish Apple would bring color options like that to the whole iPhone line, but I also wish Samsung (and other manufacturers) would make their phones in appealing colors. Not everyone likes the bright colors of the 5c, I know, but give me better options than something that is two toned with one good color and one bad.

galaxy s6 gold-6

Battery Life

Maybe it’s Samsung’s software, maybe it’s Android 5.0.2, maybe it’s the smaller battery, but the battery life on the Galaxy S6 is atrocious. Again, I say this as an iPhone 5c user. The battery in 5c went from getting me through most of a day to getting me to 1 or 2 o’clock after a year and a half of heavy usage. The Galaxy S6, brand new out of the box, usually survived about twelve to thirteen hours. Support for fast charging certainly helps alleviate that in day to day usage (I’m still surprised when I plug the phone in and a moment late it’s at 50-60%), but I had higher expectations for a phone of this size. I understand why my tiny iPhone 5c can’t get my through a day after a year and a half, but the Galaxy S6? What’s its excuse? Maybe a future update will improve the battery life, but as it is I think the Galaxy S6 definitely has disappointing battery life. It isn’t bad enough to write off the phone, but it is concerning.

Non-Removable Battery
Speaking of bad battery life, not having a removable battery makes me worried about the longevity of the battery. The poor life means more charging which means more wear on the battery. Fast charging means I’ll be able to get my battery charged fast, but if it discharges too quickly then it really isn’t helping me any.

Conclusions


Like we’ve said plenty of times before, if you’re looking for an Android phone this is the one to get. If I had an upgrade right now (and I don’t) this device would be at the top of my list. I think the Galaxy S6 will easily be the phone of the year unless Samsung outdoes themselves with the Galaxy Note 5. As for me, I’ll be back to my minuscule iPhone 5c until October. Then we’ll see what happens.

Thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S6 from an iPhone 5c User is a post from: Droid Life

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DL Favorites: Podcast Apps https://www.droid-life.com/2015/05/07/best-android-podcast-apps/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/05/07/best-android-podcast-apps/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 18:49:57 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=166895

[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorite, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we … Continued

DL Favorites: Podcast Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorite, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at Droid Life’s favorite podcast app.

I listen to a lot of podcasts; twenty-two to be exact. I drive for at least an hour total commuting to and from work and I usually take an hour lunch break, so I always have at least two hours a day to fill with podcasts and music. Because I spend so much time listening to podcasts, it’s really important to me that I have a good looking, well designed podcast app.

I started listening to podcasts way before Serial made them “mainstream.” When I started listening to podcasts on Android my app of choice was Google Listen, an app that Google rarely updated and eventually abandoned. Today there are tons of podcast apps, but only one of them is really worth your time and money.


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I love Pocket Casts. I love the developers behind Pocket Casts, I love the design of Pocket Casts, and I love using Pocket Casts. It’s the best (Not only in a, “Wow, this app is really great,” kind of way, but also in a “You’re my best friend” kind of way.).

Pocket Casts features Material design with delightful animations, especially the play/pause transition. At first it might be a little confusing where to go to actually listen to stuff once you’ve subscribed to some feeds. The app defaults to the Podcasts tab, which shows the artwork for all of your shows. If you want to find a specific show and listen to its episode or browse through previous episodes, this is the place to go.

If you just want to quickly jump into an episode, though, then the Audio section is where you want to be. Audio lists every single one of your episodes in chronological order. I’m in Audio 90% of the time. The app also has Unplayed, Video, and Downloaded sections, but Audio is probably where most people will spend their time. You can also create an episode filter, which would allow you to set up a custom section say for your favorite shows that you want to listen to as soon as they drop regardless of where you are in another show.

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When playing an episode Pocket Casts starts playback with the mini player at the bottom of the display. Tapping on the mini player brings up the full playback controls and show art with a background that matches the coloring of the show art. Swiping from right to left reveals the Up Next section. Up Next is basically a way to create a quick podcast. Usually I’ll use this when I’m about to drive somewhere and I want to finish an episode, but I know I’ll still be on the road when it finishes. I’ll start the episode I want to finish and then tap and hold on the next episode I want to listen to and select Add to Up Next. You can add as many episodes as you want, which I prefer to making playlists (although you can make playlists if you prefer). Swiping from left to right on the album art reveals the show notes for the episode you’re listening to.

Pocket Casts also allows you to adjust the playback speed, remove silences from a show, and boost the volume. These settings can be applied per podcast or across all shows. When turning on Remove Silences the app will immediately tell you how much time you’ll save, which is a nice feature.

All of these great features are nice for your phone, but what if you want to listen somewhere else? Shifty Jelly has you covered. Pocket Casts works on Android tablets, the web, and iOS devices. All of those devices sync your episodes and playback times so you can jump between devices without issue. Oh, and it has Chromecast support so you can kick the episode you’re listening to over to the TV if you’d like.

Now, maybe you’re reading this and thinking that you like the idea of listening to podcasts, but you don’t know where to start. Let me help! Below are some of my favorite shows to listen to:

  • The Droid Life Show is our semi-regular show where we discuss the Android news from the week. Usually it’s Tim and Kellen, but sometimes I’m able to make it on as well. If you want to get more of our off-the-cuff perspective on the news then be sure to subscribe!
  • Lore is a new show that explores the strange and supernatural. From vampires to ghosts to elves, Lore has you covered with short, but action packed stories with tons excellent show notes to fill in the details and haunting music to accompany the tales. Be sure to check this one out!
  • The Christian Nerd is a show by my friend Scott Higa and me. As you may have surmised from the title, we talk about nerdy things like comics and Star Wars from a Christian perspective. It’s a new show that we only started this week, but we’ll have new episodes every Monday. We’d love for you to check it out.
  • Game Show is a podcast that features multiple nerdy game shows. My favorite shows that they’ve done so far have been playing Family Feud from the actual board game from the 70s and Inconceivable, which asks ridiculously nerdy questions about Star Wars, Dr. Who, Marvel and DC comics, Star Trek, etc. to two teams.
  • The Talk Show is John Gruber of Daring Fireball’s podcast. Gruber describes the show as a director’s commentary of Daring Fireball, which is an apt description. Ever week Gruber has a guest on to talk about Apple news. While I don’t always agree with Gruber’s assessment of things, I think he’s a really smart guy and I enjoy hearing what he has to say about Apple and his meanderings into things like Star Wars and even baseball.
  • Tomorrow with Joshua Topolsky is another new show that I really like. It’s worth a listen just for the intro music alone. Each show delves into technology and culture topics with a new guest every week.
  • Turning This Car Around is a show about fatherhood with John Moltz, Jon Armstrong, and Lex Friedman. I’m not a dad, but I know plenty of dads and I served in student ministry for seven years so I like hearing about parenting from these guys’ perspectives.
  • The Dadcast is another fun show about fatherhood and parenting from Nik and Shawn. Every episode features a top five list, like the top five ways to entertain your kids on a rainy day or the top five things you want to say to your kids but shouldn’t.
  • Welcome to Macintosh is a new show that began by exploring Apple’s history but has since seemed to pivot to exploring histories of people and things that were a part of Apple’s history, but not their history proper. It’s a fun show with good music and interesting topics if you like Apple.
  • You Look Nice Today has been retired for some time now, but whenever someone asks me what podcasts they should listen to YLNT is at the top of my list. The show features Merlin Mann (of Back to Work and 43 Folders fame), Adam Lisagor (of Sandich Videos fame), and Scott Simpson (of Twitter fame) talking about all sorts of random funny things. It’s a hilarious show that I re-listen to in its entirety once a year. Begin with episode one and enjoy.

Pocket Casts is far and away the best podcast app in every category conceivable. Seriously, don’t even bother looking at the other apps out there. It’s not worth your time. There’s a reason Pocket Casts is making so much more money on Android compared to iOS: they don’t have any serious competition on Android. Even on iOS, where they do have serious competition, they’re a serious contender for the best app. If you listen to podcasts on Android, this is the app you need. Go get it.

Pocket Casts is $3.99 on the Play Store.

Play Link

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DL Favorites: Lock Screen Replacements https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/20/dl-favorites-lock-screen-replacements/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/20/dl-favorites-lock-screen-replacements/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 17:27:28 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=165752

[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we … Continued

DL Favorites: Lock Screen Replacements is a post from: Droid Life

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[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at Droid Life’s favorite lock screen replacement apps.

Your lock screen is one of the most personal and important parts of your phone. It’s the gateway to your device, often adorned with an image of loved ones or fan art for the new Star Wars movie. But sometimes, the lock screens that come on our phones are annoying to use, limited in features, or just get boring after a while. I tried a ton of different lock screen replacements from Google Play, looking to shake things up, and these three are my favorites.


SnapLock

Snaplock by Wandou Labs, at this moment, is my favorite lock screen replacement. The default lock screen shows the time, date, battery life, and a camera shortcut. Swiping up from anywhere will unlock your phone. A swipe from left to right reveals the weather for the day, your upcoming calendar events, and shortcuts to your favorite apps. Snaplock also supports using a pin or a pattern as authentication methods.

From the settings you can select to have a different wallpaper every day or use your own, toggle between showing the status bar or not, showing the battery percentage or not, and more. The app shortcuts can be customized to your liking or you can let Snaplock adjust the shortcuts based on your usage. You can also toggle between having the display light up with each new notification.

The main reason I enjoy Snaplock is because of the great attention to detail. Snaplock is full of little touches such as showing your wallpaper everywhere in the app, but with a black and white filter. When you play music, controls show up on the lock screen and circular album art spins next to the controls like a record player. Those little details add up to a fantastic experience.

Snaplock is free to download on Google Play.

Play Link

Snaplock 1 Snaplock 2 Snaplock 3


AcDisplay

AcDisplay by Artem Chepurnoy has been featured by Droid Life plenty of times and it is still one of our favorite lock screen replacements. AcDisplay mimics Motorola’s Moto Display (née Active Display), but with its own twist. When you have notifications, you can press and hold on it, and the details will appear, including actions like Archive for emails. If you want to dismiss a notification, simply swipe down on it. If you want to open it, swipe up. Just make sure you don’t ignore your phone for a while or you might see this. Please note, AcDisplay does not support any form of authentication, so if you want to secure your device, don’t use this lock screen replacement.

AcDisplay has an active mode, which when enabled, will try to detect when you are pulling the device out of your pocket. This works consistently for me on the Galaxy S6, but I can’t guarantee it will work consistently on every device (my experience was hit and miss on the Sony Xperia Z3v, for example). You can also decide if you want the app in full screen mode, whether or not you want it to have a wallpaper or keep the screen black like Moto Display, toggle unlock animations, and toggle emoticons. Most importantly, you can go through each app on your phone and decide if you don’t want to see notifications from the app at all, silence notifications so that they don’t wake AcDisplay but will show up when you look at your lock screen, or show on-going notifications like services.

AcDisplay is free to download on Google Play.

Play Link

AcDisplay 1 AcDisplay 2 AcDisplay 3


ZUI Locker

ZUI Locker is the most customizable of our favorite lock screen replacements. ZUI comes with thirteen different layouts for your lockscreen. Some of these layouts include weather information, which requires having Amber Weather installed. Most of the unlock animations feature a blurring animation, though some include sliding animations for the time and other lock screen details. ZUI Locker supports using a pin or a pattern as authentication methods.

ZUI requires a little more set up than the others for notifications. By default it will select certain apps, but you can (and should) go into settings to customize this so that you see the notifications you want to see. ZUI defaults to lighting up when you receive a new notification. Swiping the notification to the left dismisses it, but to the right opens it. Swiping from the bottom of your lock screen reveals shortcuts to your favorite apps, settings for the lock screen such as wallpaper, as well as toggles for WiFi, sound, flashlight, brightness, etc. Tapping and holding on the lock screen reveals shortcuts to your dialer, flashlight, wallpaper, and settings.

ZUI Locker is free to download on Google Play.

Play Link

ZUI 1ZUI 2ZUI 3


These are our favorite lock screen replacements. Of course, if you have a phone like the Galaxy S6 or the HTC One M9+ then you should use the built in lock screen with fingerprint reader support for the best security.

What lock screen do you use and how do you feel about it?

DL Favorites: Lock Screen Replacements is a post from: Droid Life

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DL Favorites: Twitter Apps https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/14/best-twitter-apps-android/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/14/best-twitter-apps-android/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:30:26 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=165441

[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at … Continued

DL Favorites: Twitter Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at Droid Life’s favorite twitter apps. 

I really love Twitter. I love Twitter so much I bought some Twitter posters to hang in my apartment (you can buy them here). There are a lot of Twitter apps out there for Android, but these four are my favorite.

Tweetings 1 Tweetings 2 Tweetings 3

Tweetings for Android is my absolute favorite Twitter app for three main reasons: it has real push notifications, it has a beautiful parallax preview type for inline media, and it has a distraction-free reading view.

Real push notifications are a big deal. When someone follows me, or replies to me, or sends me a DM I want to know right away. There are other third party apps out there that offer push notifications, but they’re usually implemented in a way that drains battery on your phone. Tweetings handles push notifications from their servers, so your phone doesn’t have to burn away its battery searching for those notifications.

While you’re scrolling through your timeline on Tweetings you’ll quickly notice that images slowly scroll from top to bottom in their preview panes. This isn’t something that will change your life forever, but it is the kind of detail that I love (if you have bad taste and don’t like this you can always change it in settings).

Speaking of scrolling through your timeline, something I do all the time is see an article that I might want to read. With Tweetings I have two options: I can tap on the link and Tweetings will load the article with the in-app browser (or the browser of your choice) or I can tap on the tweet and Tweetings will load the article text below the tweet so I can start reading right away in a distraction-free format. I love that second option because it enables me to quickly glance through an article and decide if I want to read it and then shoot it into Instapaper for later.

While these are some of my favorite features, Tweetings also has support for GIFs, multiple photos, streaming, quickly selecting the last image in your gallery, themes, drafts, multiple accounts with unified timeline, muting, interactions (notification summary), Twitlonger, and Android Wear. Oh, and of course it has Material design. Tweetings supports Android phones and tablets and even has apps for iPhone, iPad, OS X, and Chrome OS so you can use it almost everywhere. Tweetings is $2.99 on the Play Store.

Play Link


Falcon Pro 1 Falcon Pro 2 Falcon Pro 3

Falcon Pro 3 has come a long way since it launched back in January. When the app launched it felt a little too rushed with basic third party features missing, but the developer, Joaquim Vergès, was quick to add new features to the application. Four months after release updates have slowed, but Falcon Pro 3 has become one of my favorite Twitter apps to use.

Falcon Pro 3 has an innovative notification system that is slow to buzz you if you haven’t used the app in a while, but picks up speed as your usage increases. Since Falcon Pro 3 does not have access to push notifications through the Twitter API, this model is undoubtedly designed to save battery life while still offering fast notifications when the app is under heavy use. Personally, I prefer to have push notifications, but I think this is a smart way to work around the limitations in place.

Falcon features a landscape mode that displays two columns at the same time on your phone. The text and media previews for each column are responsive so it’s easy to read from either column. I found this feature especially helpful for browsing through timelines on two separate Twitter accounts.

Falcon has an interactions menu that serves up a lot of regularly accessed data. Swiping in from the left edge reveals the interactions menu which shows your current follower count, the number of people you’re following, and the number of new DMs you have at the top of the menu. If you have a new follower then there will be a +1 next to your follower count (or a -1 if you lost a follower). Below this top menu is a list of all of your mentions as well as your favorites and retweets. You’re able to view these details on a per account basis by tapping on the appropriate avatar.

Falcon Pro 3 features tablet support, Material design, world trends, mute, delete RT, GIF support, scrolling to the top by tapping the top of the column, and many more features. Falcon Pro 3 is free to try with a $3.99 in-app purchase to unlock your first account. Each additional account costs another $1.99 to unlock.

Play Link


Fenix 1Fenix 2Fenix 3

Fenix by Matteo Villa is the app of choice for Kellen and Tim. One of my favorite features about this app is the compose gesture. From any column you can swipe in from the right edge to initiate the compose view. You can, of course, use a traditional compose button if you prefer, but I enjoyed being able to swipe to send a tweet.

The main menu is accessed from a swipe in from the left side which lets you quickly jump to mentions, activity, messages, etc. It also allows you to quickly see your lists, add a new list, and view saved searches.

Fenix is a well made app with plenty of great features, but I find myself missing push notifications and a medium option for inline media previews. Fenix does make up for push with an option to enable real time updates, but I’d recommend you save this for when you’re on WiFi and feeling careless about your battery life. Fenix of course features GIF support, multiple images in tweets, quickly scrolling to the top of a column by tapping the top, and my favorite, an activity column for viewing all those RTs, favs, follows, and mentions. Fenix is $4.99 on Google Play.

Play Link


Talon 1Talon 2 Talon 3

Talon by Klinker Apps is a beautiful Twitter app with Material design. My favorite thing about Talon has to be just scrolling through the app. Once you open the app and it refreshes the column you’re on you’ll see a tally of the tweets you have left to read and a button to jump to the top appear next to the compose button. As you scroll all navigation slides away, allowing you to focus in on the tweets you’re reading. It’s a gorgeous, distraction-free reading interface.

Talon also features Talon Pull, a way to work around the Twitter API’s limitations. Pull enables your device to listen for new tweets on Twitter. Not surprisingly, Pull can be hard on battery life (especially on Lollipop), but it at least enables you to keep up with Twitter if you’d like.

If you’re a fan of muting, Talon has you covered with a plethora of configuration options. You can mute users, retweeters, hashtags, clients, and expressions. Talon also has a muffled option, which removes the majority of their tweets from your timeline, but still shows you the user and a brief preview so you can decide if you want to see the full tweet from a glance. Talon is $3.99 on the Google Play Store.

Play Link


Third party Twitter app developers are working in a very competitive market with a limited number of clients thanks to Twitter’s hostile attitude towards the developers and community that made it what it is today. While that is frustrating, I still love the service because of the people and the conversations that happen there. Between these four options you should be able to find an app that meets your needs and matches your aesthetic. These developers put in a lot of hard work and it shows.

Feel free to share what your Twitter app of choice is and why you like it in the comments.

DL Favorites: Twitter Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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DL Favorites: To-Do List Apps https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/07/best-android-to-do-list-apps/ https://www.droid-life.com/2015/04/07/best-android-to-do-list-apps/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 23:53:25 +0000 http://www.droid-life.com/?p=164803

[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at … Continued

DL Favorites: To-Do List Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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[DLF], or Droid Life’s Favorites, is a series of articles reviewing our favorite apps in a given category. The goal of these articles isn’t to extensively review every single option out there and determine which is “the best,” but rather to give you a few of our favorite apps in a category. This week we look at Droid Life’s favorite to-do list apps.

I’m almost always busy. My week is packed with my normal day job, my part time job at church, writing for Droid Life, and spending time with friends and family. It’s a good life and I like it, but if I don’t keep track of what I need to do then I end up remembering at the last minute and having to rush to get something done at the last minute or completely forgetting and having to disappoint someone. Having a good to-do list app is critical for me. Read on to see my recommendations for to-do list apps on Android.

Swipes Text

My Favorite Simple To-Do List App: Swipes

Swipes has been available on iOS for some time, but it finally made its way over to Android. As you might have guessed from the name, Swipes is a swipe-gesture based to-do list app. If you’ve ever used Mailbox (which Swipes pre-dates, by the way), then you’ll be familiar with the interface. The middle column is what you have to do today, swiping from left to right reveals your tasks that you’ve set for sometime later, and a swipe from right to left reveals your finished tasks. One of my favorite touches about the app is that as you swipe between these columns the navbar changes colors from yellow to red or yellow to green.

When you add a task you’re given the option to add a workspace such as home or shopping. You can then filter your tasks between those workspaces. This is especially nice if you want to quickly set up your day by entering tasks to do at work, then at the grocery store, then at home and then filter through those tasks as you go throughout your day. You can set reminders for tasks just like in Mailbox: Later Today, This Evening, Tomorrow, Next Week, Unspecified, etc. Tapping and holding on any of these options will let you select a specific time for that day. You can also set tasks to repeat on certain days, Monday through Friday, every week, every month, or every year.

Swipes also has Evernote integration so you can sync all of your notes with checkmarks (called action steps in Swipes) into Swipes. When you mark a checkmark done in Evernote it syncs in Swipes and vice versa. Swipes is also in the process of adding Mailbox (and Gmail) integration, which will let users send emails to swipes as tasks. Google Calendar and Dropbox integration are coming soon, too.

Between the great design, cross platform apps, and easy to use navigation Swipes has been my favorite to-do list app by far and it keeps getting better. The nice thing about Swipes is you can use it for simple to-do list items like I do, or you can integrate it with Evernote and make it even more comprehensive and powerful. The app is totally free to use and doesn’t require an account, but you’ll want an account if you want to have your tasks sync to their web app, Evernote, or their iOS app.

Play Link

Swipes 1 Swipes 3 Swipes2


 

Wrike Text

My Favorite Advanced To-Do List App: Wrike

Wrike is one of those apps that can be used for simple things or really, really complicated things. Wrike has a web app, iOS app, and Android app that are all free to use, including five contributors. $50 per month gives five users advanced features like sub-tasks, mass actions with tasks (like mark all as done), a customizable dashboard, email client integration, reports, filters, and more.

Like every other to-do list app out there you can add tasks and set due dates for those tasks. Because of Wrike’s built in collaboration features you can also do things like assign tasks to people. People can then add comments to the task as it is worked on. While I don’t have a lot of tasks that demand collaboration in my personal life, I could see this being powerful, especially since it’s free for small teams. Personally, I like being able to add comments to my own tasks as I work on them.

The app has a nice workflow where you swipe between Today, This Week, Next Week, Later, and Completed. Tapping and holding on a task lets you move it between those fields. You can also attach pictures or files (from local storage, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box) to your tasks. Finally, Wrike includes a notification widget that shows you the total number of tasks you have for the day and lets you add a task for the day from said widget. If you like organizing your tasks by week or want to collaborate with some others on tasks Wrike is worth taking a look at.

Play Link

Wrike 3 Wrike 2 Wrike 1


 

Keep Text

The Most Disappointing To-Do List App: Google Now/Google Keep

Google Keep should be the best app on this list for one reason alone: You can use Google Now to set reminders. The problem is, like the Google+ Photos and Google Drive divide that is only now falling apart, Google Keep and Google Now don’t totally talk to each other. If you set a reminder in Google Keep it will show up in Google Now, but if you set a reminder in Google Now, it will not show up in Google Keep. This is a huge oversight.

If I want to quickly remind myself about something then I want to say, “Okay Google Now, remind me to pick up dog treats for Barnaby tonight at 7” and have it show up in Google Keep, where I have the rest of my notes and reminders. If I can’t quickly get a reminder in Keep like that then I may as well use a better to-do list app.

Adding reminders with my voice alone is what makes me use Reminders on iOS. Reminders is not a great app. The UI is confusing and the functionality is limited, but when I tell Siri to remind me to do something it goes to one place every time. Having everything in Google Now is nice, but with Keep being the more functional and dedicated app, reminders should show up there as well.

Play Link

Keep 2 Keep 3 Keep 1


Feel free to share what your favorite to-do list app is and why you like it in the comments.

DL Favorites: To-Do List Apps is a post from: Droid Life

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