The Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ are finally announced!

One of the best things to come out of Samsung’s announcement today is that the constant leaks of these two devices can STOP, finally.  With that said, it looks like the leaks were mostly correct.

Here is a good way sum up these two devices:

  • Note 5 – A blown up Galaxy S6 with a stylus.
  • S6 Edge+ – A blown up Galaxy S6 Edge.

From my tone, you’ve probably guessed that I’m underwhelmed by this announcement.  But this article is not going to be a rant against Samsung not listening to its customers (although, it’s true).  I’m going to focus on a summary of what we’ve witnessed.

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Samsung came on stage talking up the evolution of the Note line, as expected.  They touched how it has improved into the beautified mold of their current metal/glass design.  But when it came on the screen, all I kept thinking regardless of their talk, is how it simply looks like a larger S6.  And I don’t think I was the only one.

Fortunately, they didn’t leave it at that and threw a couple bones.  The stylus is spring-loaded and satisfyingly pops out of its hole.  You can start writing notes on the screen right away, you don’t even have to turn the phone on.  And that keyboard case.

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While I shrugged at the keyboard case in the leaked images (it looks is fairly dated in appearance), in action it looks like a promising accessory.  Especially when you recall that the Note line has been traditionally aimed at power users.  Cleverly, the keyboard section of the case can pop off and be attached to the back of the case until you need it again.  Fantastic considering that the keyboard takes up a good chunk of screen real estate when you’re using it.

As far as the S6 Edge+ goes, I think Samsung could’ve just said one sentence and been done with it:  The Galaxy S6 Edge+ is a larger S6 Edge.  That’s all there is to it.  And yes, I’m ignoring those minor software tricks on purpose.

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Since Samsung didn’t have much to offer in terms of hardware, they also threw in their rollout announcement of Samsung Pay.  Yay, more fragmentation.  In a nutshell, Samsung feels they’re big enough to justify their own mobile payment platform.  And they think that they can succeed where Google has failed, to make mobile transactions available “virtually everywhere”.  Personally, I’m still on Google’s side and awaiting the rollout of Android Pay.

Lastly, because Samsung had to move up the launch of their phablets (to avoid mixing in with Apple’s September launches), they teased the overdue Gear S2 smartwatch.  This one is still okay to announce at the typically venue at IFA in Berlin.  And the new watch will follow the popular, circular design trend.

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To end, I think a lot of Note fans are not too happy right now.  The Note line has traditionally been for power users, who put function or fashion.  Samsung had molded the Note line into the workers phone.  And now they killed it, cold turkey.

There is neither a removable battery nor microSD card slot.  And to put icing on the cake, there is only a 3,000 mAh battery.  Only 400 mAh more capacity from the poor battery life performer of the Galaxy S6.

But hey, fast wireless charging is cool.  Now if only their vision for a cordless-free future was closer than further…

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I joined T-mobile’s Jump! On Demand, here’s what I’ve learned

If you haven’t been in the loop with T-Mobile’s new Amped campaign, they hit it off by upgrading the Jump! program, which lets you lease a phone.  While I was enticed by the first iteration of the program, I was not yet convinced.

But that changed when Jump! On Demand was introduced.  In a nutshell, the changes made were 3x upgrades a year (instead of 2) and no more fee to use the program.

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Sweet.  But there must be a catch, right?  Well, on the surface, not really, but if you dig you find little minute details which may be annoying.  So that’s what I want to cover here today:  How the sign up process went, what I’ve found, and if I plan to continue it.

First, let’s start with the phone choices.  This is a sensitive part of the whole deal, to me.  You see, it’s all dependent on what phones they deem as part of the program.  In other words, it’s not free game for any phone.  However, they promise that all ‘superphones’ will be offered.  Here’s the initial roster:

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Do you see any problem here?  Here’s a hint:  Although, HTC kinda sucked this year, they’re still in the game aren’t they?  So where’s the One M9?  While they spectrum seems to cover the big hitters, I have to say this the fact that they’re missing a key flagship player has me a little worried about the future.

However, it wasn’t enough to deter me, I was willing to give it a shot and picked up a Galaxy S6 Edge.  I’m mesmerized by those radical edges…shutup.

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Anyways, the price is top of the list, at $32.  How does that work, for the sign-up process and the future?  When you sign up, it’s best to think as the plan and phone separate.  I think that’s what T-mobile is going for here, simplicity.  You chose a Simple Choice plan, I went with the mid-range $60, 3GB data, plan.  Then you add on the monthly price of that particular phone on the program, $32.  So we’re at $60 + $32 = $92.  I added in insurance (which we’ll talk about in a second), which is $8.  Then with all the little tax and federal/state fee additions, my total bill is $112.

Now, I’ve come from prepaid, at $30/month.  But I was expecting the bill to be $100 from my calculation and willingness to begin leasing a phone rather than buying/selling it constantly.  But I was not anticipating the fees to add as much as $12/month to that…but I probably should have.  Bummer.

There are some things I want relay now:  1) What happens when you change phones, for instance, with a cheaper monthly price, 2) Is the insurance as simple as, break your phone, get a new one, and 3) What if you want to leave?

1)  Remember when I said the phone price is independent of the service?  Think of it this way:  That impact to your total bill will fluctuate as the monthly price of the phone you have does.  Thus, if I got a phone in the future that is $22/month, my bill will go down by $10.

2)  No, it’s not that simple, unfortunately.  Again, it’s my fault, because I made an assumption here instead of researching.  There are actually deductibles associated to how high end of a phone you have.  As the S6 Edge is part of the highest-end offerings, it has the highest deductible of $175.  This made me question if I want to continue the T-mobile’s insurance program or not.  This is a pretty high deductible.

3)  Here’s something really important you need to know about this program, you’re actually signing a 18-month contract.  *Surprised face*.  T-Mobile, contract!?  Yeah, I know.  But, hold on, it ain’t a contract like you’ve known it.  The contract covers the cost of the phone (remember, phone and service are handled separately).  It’s an 18-month commitment to pay monthly for the phone.  If you cancel, you simply pay the remaining balance for the phone’s total price.  Which totally seems fair, especially since T-Mobile doesn’t hike up the price of the phone just because they can.  But bear in mind, just like any sale, that monthly cost can change from time to time, just like that $15/month iphone 6 promotion.  So don’t be mad if someone happens to be paying less than you for the same phone.  It’s the same if you paid retail for an item and someone was lucky enough to catch it on a sale.

All in all, I’m sticking with it.  I mean, getting a different phone every 4 months and not having to buy/sell full price phones is pretty sweet.  Yes, everything is not as simple as it seems, but I’m not in a pool of regret either.  I hope this information helps those who are on the fence.

Program details: T-Mobile

New position at AndroidGuys!

For those who have been following me, you might have noticed that I haven’t been keeping up with my tech blog lately.  This week I accepted a writing position at AndroidGuys.com, reporting on Android-relevant news and rumors. I will be doing a lot more coverage there (so far have written 9 posts in two days), so if you enjoy my writing, I encourage you to follow me over there: http://www.androidguys.com/author/josh-noriega/ I will still post stuff in this blog from time to time, but sparingly, as I’m kept pretty busy at AG. Thanks for following, and I hope you enjoy the writings to come!  You can also follow me at my G+ page: google.com/+JoshNoriega

Google I/O 2015 Impressions

Google’s I/O events are always an exciting time for Google/Android fans wanting to know what Google has been up to and what’s coming next.  Like usual, this year we got some impressive goodies in part of Google’s plan for world domination, rooted from advancing the role technology can play in our everyday lives.

Here are my impressions of the most memorable moments:

Android “M” Preview

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Android M annoucement [via theverge]

Android M was the kickoff topic of the event, and not unexpected.  The preview version of the not-yet-named next version of Android was briefly shown, which looked a lot like Lollipop.  This is not a surprise, as Lollipop still has some growing to do, Android M will be a refinement of it.  Google stated that their focus with “M” is quality, along a number of improvements and added features:

  • App Permissions improvement – More concise app permissions and the specific permission can be requested in the app upon action to use that device function.
  • Chrome Custom Tabs – Links to websites inside apps (such as Flipboard) launch in a Chrome tab that is skinned to match the app’s appearance, for a seamless experience.
  • Android Pay – Simplified experience to pay, just unlock and tap.  Can use to pay in apps.  Can use fingerprint (on supported devices) to authorize purchase.
  • Power & Charging – Smarter power management.  Feature called “Doze”, in which device can tell when it is left unattended for a period and go into deep sleep to save battery.  Future devices will use the new USB Type-C standard, which will have faster charging, flipable charging port insertion, and ability to charge another attached device using the phone as the power source.

I kind of disagree with the move to another dessert already.  In the past, Google has waited until bigger Android overhauls to move on to a new name for the OS.  I don’t see how these improvements to Lollipop justify moving to “M”, doesn’t seem big enough.  But whatever.

Android Wear

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, speaks during the Google I/O 2015 keynote presentation in San Francisco, Thursday, May 28, 2015. Google's next version of its Android operating system will boast new ways to fetch information, pay merchants, and protect privacy on mobile devices as the Internet company duels with Apple to make its technology indispensable. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Senior Vice President, Sundar Pichai, talking about Android Wear [via sfgate]

The Android smartwatch interface is constantly being improved.  Google is adding the following capabilities to Android Wear:

  • Always On – Ability for app to go into a low-power state and still show information.  This would be useful having the time shown (like a normal watch) or keeping a grocery list shown without having to keep turning the watch on.
  • Wrist Gestures – You can scroll up and down on the interface by twisting your wrist up and down.
  • Draw Emoji –  This one is minor but fun, you can send someone an emoji by drawing it out.

I was disappointed to not hear about any new Android Wear products this time around.  At last year’s Google I/O, the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live smartwatches launched, and a date for the Moto 360.  There was no mention of any devices here, only software 😦

Google Apps

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The new Google Photos [via yahoo]

  • Google Now – Google Now is being improved to get you information you’d potentially want even quicker.  Google introduced a feature called “Now on Tap”.  When you’re reading something in an app and hold the home button, Google Now reads what’s on the screen and presents you information and links on certain things it can flag, such as a person’s name or a movie.  Further, using that concept, you can simply ask Google a generic question, such as “What is this?” or “Who is he?” and it’ll link the question to the subject that it recognized in the text.  Creepy?  Yes.  But cool?  Definitely!
  • Google Maps Offline – This one I see a bigger deal to those who travel.  Before, if you saved an area in Maps to use offline, you could only really zoom in and out and view the area.  You couldn’t search places in that area or request directions within that area.  I’m happy to report that Google recognized the limitation and added these abilities to offline Maps.  It even saves reviews of places within the saved area!
  • Google Photos – If you’re on stock Android, you most likely use Google’s Photos app to look through your images.  For these of us, I think we can agree that Photos was pretty bare-bones, not having much functionality and resulting in a lot of scrolling.  Google focused on bringing it up to speed with today’s standards, adding the following features:
  • Timeline date grouping – You can zoom in and out to view images taken within a week, month, or year.
  • Searchable organization – You can search a keyword to bring up that particular set of photos/vids.
  • High-res, free and unlimited picture and video cloud backup.  Up to 16MP pictures and 1080P video.  Pretty insane.

Other notable mentions were:

  • Project Brillo – Aimed to connect our devices and our home, a step forward from the capability of the Nest thermostat.  And example of this is unlocking your front door with your device.
  • New VR Cardboard – supports larger phones and easier to assemble.
  • True-to-scene image/video capturing – Google is developing technology to stitch together depth in large-space photos, for the user to be able to move and really see the scene.  Also, together with GoPro, they built a prototype contraption to record a 360 degree video.

I wonder why Android Auto didn’t have a highlight, maybe it’s not ready for prime time?

Were we all satisfied with the announcements at this year’s I/O?

Next-Gen Smartwatches, Where Art Thou?

So I have a confession to make.  I don’t own a smartwatch.  Yes, I know, pathetic.

But wait, is it pathetic, really?  I’m the kind of person that looks at both sides of the coin.  On one side, we have the tech geek, who puts practicality aside and buys a device because it’s new and cool.  On the other side, we know from experience that first-gen products have pretty big compromises and don’t end up worthy of their large price tags.

The first batch of smartwatches out the gate did not impress me one bit, such as the Samsung Gear line, Sony Smartwatch, or LG G Watch.

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Really LG? [via Slashgear]

Right as we were getting used to more premium smartphones, we’re knocked right back into uninspired designs.  Manufacturers were essentially attaching a rubber strap to a square block and calling it a day.  I’m as much a tech geek as the next guy, but I’m not giving my money to someone who doesn’t try.

But alas, out of nowhere, Motorola stepped up to the plate and gave something worthy to place on our wrists, the Moto 360.

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The original Moto 360 [via Motorola]

I can without a doubt say that the Moto 360 set the standard of what a smartwatch should be, and it unarguably blew the competition away.

So at this point you probably have this question for me:  Why don’t you have one?

Although the Moto 360 looks just about perfect in the press images, everything ain’t flowers and rainbows in real life.  And forgive me in advanced if this nit-picky, but I feel I have enough of an argument.  Enough of an argument to settle my geeky-side down and wait for a product that more meets my standards.

Build-quality-wise, Motorola nailed it.  The press images don’t lie, this thing is beautiful in real life.  And all the different strap choices are fabulous.  However, when using it, these concerns show their faces:

  • Size/Thickness:  Probably less a problem for larger folk, you’ll certainly notice it on your wrist and other people will too.  Now, this might be something you like, maybe you want to stand out.  But generally, with watches, we’re used to a certain proportionality.  This guy sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • Resolution:  The 205 ppi resolution on the Moto 360 just doesn’t cut it.  This was the first thing I noticed when I played with it the first time.  I could see the pixels.  With 1080p and QHD resolutions in current smartphones, the super low res on the Moto 360 hit me hard.
  • Speed (or lack of):  I was disappointed when I learned that the Moto 360 was using such an old SoC:  Texas Instruments OMAP 3, from a few years back, instead of the current Snapdragon 400.  But I dismissed the thought, saying “How much power does a smartwatch need anyways?”.  Well, I was wrong.  Its slowness does clearly show around the Android Wear interface.

If you think I’m being harsh, you won’t want to hear what I have to say about the competition.  Like I said before, I praise Motorola on setting the standard of the smartwatch design with the 360.  And this was their first crack at it!  Bravo, but there’s still lots of work to do.

So where are we currently in 2015?  Well, waiting for manufacturers to step up and fill in what was missing from their first-gen smartwatches.  And also, for new ones to come in, following Motorola’s lead, such as the Huawei Watch announced earlier this year:

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Huawei Watch [via Huawei]

My money will go to the one who nails design and specs.

Do you agree?

Thought of the Day: The Earpiece Speaker

Gotta get something off my chest.  Yes, very serious.  Not really.  Well, depends.

Let’s take a trip back to 2013.  Yes, it doesn’t seem that far ago, but in the tech world, a lot happens in 2 years.  The first HTC One (M7) was announced and they did something no one did in a smartphone before, dual front-facing speakers.

I would say it was a pretty successful gamble (at the risk of design compromise and extra bezel).  We’re up to the One M9 this year and BoomSound is still going strong.  This is unlike other things HTC has tried in the past that didn’t go very far, like 3D or the depth of field camera.

But this isn’t an article to talk up BoomSound, but rather, a concept that BoomSound introduced, a speaker in the earpiece.

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HTC One (M7) top speaker [via AnandTech]

So I get that there’s some manufacturers that don’t care about front-firing speakers, or rather, they don’t think there’s enough market that cares about external audio enough to change the design.  Like with the two big hitters of today, the Samsung S6 (bottom speaker) and LG G4 (rear speaker).

But we have already had a speaker, since the beginning of cell phones, by which we hear phone calls.  So simply, why not make it louder and able to output any of the phone’s audio?

This would essentially kill two birds with one stone:  You don’t have to make a redundant speaker on the rear, bottom, etc. and the speaker would be facing in the right direction.

I just don’t get why this isn’t a thing.

Do you agree?

Microsoft Surface 3 Hands-on Impressions

Microsoft has made quite a standout with its Surface line of tablets.  No doubt, it has had a bumpy start.  The “RT” version of the Surface didn’t work out, nor did we expect it to.  I remember back when the original duo were released, the Surface RT and Surface Pro, and thinking “OMG, we have something promising and something…well, the opposite”.  Not to mention that the RT was gonna confuse a market that was used to simplicity, which Apple defined the tablet world to be for most people.  RT was kind of Windows but not?  What exactly could it do and what couldn’t it??

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Surface History [via Microsoft]

So it took Microsoft til the third iteration to fix the problem, with the Surface 3:

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Surface 3 [via Microsoft]

Mind you, it’s the “Surface 3”, sans the “Pro” in the name.  And this time, we have the full Windows operating system (Windows 8.1), not a mobile version of it.  So why does the Surface 3 even exist then?  Why not just the Surface 3 Pro?  Well, because the Pro is too expensive, and Microsoft is clearly saying that that’s not going to change.

So the question then becomes, what does the vanilla Surface 3 compromise on?

For starters, instead of using a full PC CPU (Intel Core i3/i5/i7) like the Pro does, Microsoft is taking advantage of the cheaper, low-power Intel Atom line.  Now, “Atom” may not bring up pleasant memories (recalling the netbook days), but it has come a long way.  The re-introduction of the line with the slew of Win8 tablets a couple years ago has proven that it is very well capable of casual computing and HD playback, just don’t expect to play Crysis.

We also have a slightly smaller screen, at 10.8″ vs. the 12″ of the Pro.  Here is the full spec list:

  • Display:  10.8″ 1920×1280 (3:2 aspect ratio) IPS LCD
  • SoC:  1.6 GHz Intel Atom x7-Z8700 (quad-core)
  • Ram:  2GB or 4GB
  • Cameras:  8MP rear and 3.5MP front
  • Battery life rating:  10 hours
  • Storage:  64GB or 128GB, expandable with microSD slot
  • OS:  Windows 8.1 (Windows 10 in near future)
  • Chassis:  Magnesium alloy with ceramic finish

The pricing is set at 2 tiers: $499 for 2GB Ram with 64GB Storage or $599 for 4GB Ram with 128GB Storage.  Comparing to the cheapest Surface 3 Pro at $799 for 64GB and 4GB, I would say the pricing is pretty justified.

The build closely resembles the Surface 3 Pro, and that’s a very good thing.  Microsoft has always shot towards “premium” in their designs.  Simple, solid, and premium.  And being that the Atom SoC is low power and does not require a fan, the Surface 3 is thinner and lighter.

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Surface 3 (top) vs Surface 3 Pro (bottom) [via Pocketnow]

It’s a funny thing though, when I first picked it up, I thought the chassis was plastic.  Unfortunately, the light weight and finish makes it feel that way.  This was before I read up and saw that it wasn’t.  It’s quite ironic that they put effort into better material, but the end result isn’t that different.  I do believe it’s a solid product, and not flimsy.  I just wish the feel would confirm that, it doesn’t.

The kickstand is of course present.  However, it’s not the same as with Surface 3 Pro.  A compromise was made here as well.  Where the kickstand on the Pro is friction-set at any position, the non-Pro has the pre-set, clickable positions, like past Surfaces.  But we do have 3 positions to choose from this time.

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The 3 different kickstand positions [via Microsoft]

Here are the available ports:

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Surface 3 Port Layout [via Microsoft]

On the front:

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Surface 3 Features [via Microsoft]

I must say that the dual front speakers took me by surprise, pleasantly.  They’re inconspicuously placed as slits on the bezel and can get plenty loud.

So you’re probably thinking, cheaper model = poor display.  I’m happy to report that looks as gorgeous as a Surface product should.  I have always praised the Surface displays for their vibrancy and viewing angles, I feel quality when I look at them.  I’m glad Microsoft made the right choice here, a tablet is essentially a big chunk of screen after all.

Many would argue that’s there no point in getting this tablet without the keyboard attachment.

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Surface 3 Type Cover [via Microsoft]

While I wouldn’t go that far (especially since this cheaper model is more play than work), I will say this is one of the best soft keyboard implementation I have seen.  It attaches via strong magnetic connection (and props up to a slant via magnetic as well – very clever Microsoft), is backlit, has a touchpad, and serves as a screen cover.  Just don’t expect much of a tactile key-press response, this is a thin keyboard for obvious reasons.

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Type Cover Attachment [via Microsoft]

Unfortunately it comes at a price, $130.  Ouch.

The other renowned Surface accessory is the Surface Pen:

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Surface 3 Pen [via Microsoft]

And this one ain’t as simple as it sounds either.  The Surface Pen is cased in aluminum, inputs to the Surface wirelessly via Bluetooth, and has a clicker and eraser.  Also, together with the Surface screen tech, your palm can touch the screen without interfering with the Pen input and screen press sensitivity is detected.  Pretty fancy, huh?  The Surface Pen goes for $50.  Tip:  The Surface 3 Pro Pen is the same, it goes for $35 on Amazon.

So with all that said, is the Surface 3 worth it?  As I love to say, it depends on you.  As with Android, what I love is all the choice we have (yes, this is partly a knock on Apple).  You can get a full Windows tablet no matter what your budget is.  Such as a Dell Venue 8 Pro for around $150 or a performance tablet such as the Surface Pro 3 (i5 with 128GB storage) for $1000.  The vanilla Surface 3 is a middle-ground, for those who don’t need need a high performer but want the premium quality.  I think Microsoft finally made the right move for the cheaper Surface variant.