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Get Your Game On With Sony’s Xperia Play Android Phone

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 29-05-2011

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Where most slider phones have a keyboard, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play sports Playstation controls. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com.

Mothers, lock up your gamers. The PlayStation phone has arrived.

And while it’s a bit on the chubby side, we think that, for Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play, big is beautiful.

You could almost call the Xperia Play the shorter, fatter cousin to the svelte Xperia Arc, which Sony Ericsson once described as the “world’s thinnest smartphone.” At .62 inches, the Play looks positively bulky compared to its Xperia-line relatives — a veritable Jan Brady to the Arc’s Marcia.

But Sony Ericsson had to make some trade-offs in size in order for the slide-out frame to hide the PlayStation controller underneath. If you’re a gamer, it’s worth it. We felt right at home with the familiar PlayStation controller configuration — D-pad on the left, with the square, circle, triangle and X buttons on the right.

And unlike other, flimsier slider phones, the plastic hardware isn’t chintzy. The Play still feels sturdy in hand, even in its open position, and most likely won’t break under the pressure of an excited gamer’s grip.

Instead of the centered joysticks found on a PS3 controller, two pressure-sensitive touchpads take their place. So rather than hog up precious screen real estate steering with your fingers on games that require touch-sensitive direction, you can use the two physical touchpads. It’s a nifty concept, and fairly well-executed. The games I played that utilize the pads were decent enough in reaction time, though I found the sensitivity a bit wanting.

The phone comes bundled with seven games, though only one was exclusive to the Play: Crash Bandicoot. It’s a PS One classic, and I was psyched to see it on the roster. But if I’m buying the long-awaited PlayStation phone, I want it to be running PlayStation games. Plural.

When I asked if Sony Ericsson would continue publishing PlayStation classics to the Xperia Play, the answer was cagey, though promising: “It’s the first step we’re taking down this path.” I’ve got my fingers crossed for a Twisted Metal port by the end of the year.

I actually enjoyed the experience of gaming on the Play. For the first time, I didn’t feel like I was playing a game slapped onto a phone interface. It feels like a standalone portable gaming device. That’s no easy feat to accomplish.

Polygons rendered beautifully on the Play’s 4-inch capacitive touch screen, which was plenty big enough to view the games we played. I did wonder if I’d be wanting more screen surface area while playing a first-person shooter like Call of Duty (or if we really wanted to get old school, Doom) — but since those games aren’t available for the Xperia Play, it’s a moot point for now.

You might think the Play is underpowered, given that its processor is a single-core, 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, not the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor found in many recent smartphone and tablet offerings. But that’s not the case: the Play ran games and rendered menu screens like a charm. We didn’t experience any noticeable lag while gaming, nor while running Google’s proprietary smartphone apps like Gmail or Calendar.

Oh, and did we mention that the Xperia Play is also an Android phone? Because it is, and not a shabby one at that. Over the five days we spent with the phone, Verizon’s network coverage was ample. From Seattle to San Francisco, we didn’t experience any dropped calls or have much of a problem finding a signal. One big bummer, however: The phone uses Verizon’s 3G network, not the newer, faster 4G network.

Like many other smartphones, it’s got two cameras — VGA on the front as well as a 5-megapixel back-facing brother — but they’re not the greatest. The few shots I took looked washed out, a bit grainier than I would have liked. But as far as camera phones go, they’ll get the job done.

But let’s be honest. Cameras aren’t the reason you’re buying this phone. It’s a gamer’s toy, and bells and whistles like front-facing cameras should be judged with that in mind.

Our verdict after a week with the Play?

Game on.

Wired: Unskinned version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) makes us happy. Sturdy hardware stands up to a frustrated gamer’s kung-fu grip.

Tired: Lacks 720p video recording capability, now a standard in smartphone releases. Wireless data is slower 3G standard, not 4G. Only one PlayStation title available at launch.

Speed Bump: Samsung’s Galaxy Phone Gets Upped to 4G

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 13-05-2011

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It’s official: 2011 is the year of incremental progress. Mobile handsets have settled into a groove featurewise and are now gently nudging their way upward in speed, power and capabilities.

If we’re going to be stuck in a climate of baby steps, at least Samsung’s Galaxy S 4G is an example of baby steps done right.

From the moment I got my mitts on the S 4G, something felt eerily familiar. I’d seen many of its elements before — the unsettlingly light chassis, the glass and faux-chrome accents, and even the flashless 5-MP camera. As it turns out, the feeling of déjà vu was completely warranted.

The S 4G is essentially a mildly tweaked Samsung Vibrant with a couple of extra goodies. For those keeping score, a lot of the Vibrant’s perfectly serviceable features (1-GHz processor, 4-inch 800 x 480 AMOLED screen, 720p video recording) are back.

So, what’s new? Android 2.2, for starters. Also, as the phone’s awkward moniker boasts, this handset brings T-Mobile’s particular brand of 4G (HSPA+) to the fold.

I honestly wasn’t expecting too much given the piecemeal rollout of this next-gen data network, but the difference was noticeable immediately. Heavy hitting image-rich sites like (ahem) Wired.com loaded with virtually no hesitation, and raining down large file downloads from Dropbox produced nary a stutter.

Converting the phone into a hot spot was also one of the more useful data-centric features, though the option is strangely buried within the menu tree. Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface has never been especially appealing, and this is another nail in that coffin.

Yet another addition is the S 4G’s front-facing VGA camera. Though it’s perfectly poised for video conferencing, I was a little underwhelmed by the options on the app side. Getting the service up and running is simple enough thanks to a preloaded Qik app, but the occasional stutter and noticeable lag left a lot to be desired.

Lack of polish aside, I can’t really fault the VGA camera in terms of functionality. I was able to make and receive video calls just fine. They just resembled fireside chats with Max Headroom.

Other goodies include a copy of Inception offered from Samsung’s Media Hub storefront. Normally I’m prone to ignore extras like this entirely, but watching the film on the S 4G uncovered some interesting tidbits. Due to the smart combination of a workhorse battery and a power-sipping display, the film’s hefty 2-hour-28-minute run time only slightly dented the Galaxy’s gas tank.

As the movie finished I noticed that only 20 percent of the battery had been depleted. It’s doubtful that I would ever force myself into a back-to-back four-peat viewing of Inception, but it’s good to know that Samsung realistically views the S 4G as an entertainment device.

If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that incremental improvements are incredibly easy to flub. Even with our lingering gripes with the S 4G, we can’t give the phone too much guff.

Samsung managed to transform an already well-appointed blueprint into an even stronger contender. Sure, it’s not the overwhelmingly overhauled quad-core beast of our dreams. But even incremental progress still counts as progress.

WIRED Stronger iteration of a solid design. Mostly smooth navigation thanks to a humming 1-GHz processor. Great call quality. Awesome battery life and power management. Gorgeous high-def 720p video (in well-lit environments). Ready for downloads and app-tion thanks to an included 16-GB memory card (expandable to 32 GB).

TIRED Accessing the movie storefront requires a tedious login process. Bloatware aplenty. Where’s my HDMI out? HSPA+ service is fantastically fast (where available). 4G to 3G to EDGE handoffs are often slow. White backgrounds often produce the dreaded “screen-door effect.” Froyo is already old hat — give us Gingerbread!

Photos by Jim Merithew/Wired.com

The iPhone Is Now a Phone. Who’da Thunk?

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 10-05-2011

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After years as an iPhone customer on AT&T, I forgot what it was like to have a reliable, working phone.

But over the weekend, when I called buddies with both an AT&T iPhone 4 and subsequently a Verizon iPhone 4, we could immediately tell the difference.

“Holy crap, you sound so much better,” a friend said after I switched to the Verizon handset while walking through downtown San Francisco. “That’s amazing. I can actually hear you.”

Now I really know what “network congestion” means. Switching from an AT&T iPhone to a Verizon iPhone is like finally being able to breathe clearly after years of battling allergies. People can hear you better, and you can hear them better. It’s that simple. That’s the key reason so many people have clung to Verizon while resisting the shiny allure of the iPhone.

As we all suspected would be the case, the iPhone is a better phone on Verizon than it is on AT&T. It is not, however, a superior media-consumption device.

That’s simply because Verizon’s 3G-transfer rates are slower than AT&T’s. For the few days I’ve had the Verizon iPhone, I’ve been riding my motorcycle all around San Francisco to test its performance against the AT&T iPhone. The AT&T handset on average scored significantly better in speed tests: 62 percent faster for downloads and 38 percent faster for uploads. (If you’re curious about test procedures, check out our explainer and our interactive map on Gadget Lab.)

In real-world use cases, the Verizon iPhone’s slower transfer rates are noticeable. Netflix streaming is smooth on both devices, but on the Verizon iPhone, compression artifacts are more apparent: The video stream is adapting to the slower transfer rate (compare the screenshots in the gallery at the top, or see them here: AT&T, Verizon). Loading websites in Safari was faster on the AT&T iPhone, and so was installing apps.

However, the AT&T iPhone completely failed multiple tests when it could not connect to the network, whereas the Verizon iPhone was able to successfully get a connection in every location and complete every test. That’s important.

Notably, there were two persistent AT&T dead zones in San Francisco where the AT&T iPhone repeatedly failed to place a call or transfer any data — Gestalt bar in the Mission District and Velo Rouge cafe in the Inner Richmond district — while the Verizon iPhone was able to make calls and perform our bandwidth tests at each location with zero problems.

This all corroborates results of earlier independent studies comparing 3G networks: AT&T has a faster network, but Verizon has more coverage and therefore a more-reliable network.

The question remains whether the iPhone will inundate Verizon’s CDMA network as it did AT&T’s GSM network. That could ultimately degrade the service quality and make it a crappy phone all over again. But there are already a ton of Android customers on Verizon’s CDMA network, and the upcoming Android phones will be compatible with the next-generation 4G network, so I’m guessing the Verizon iPhone will remain a superior phone in terms of reliability and call quality.

And so far, the Verizon iPhone is pretty damn reliable. It has a hot-spot feature to turn the handset into a Wi-Fi connection to share with multiple devices. I used the hot spot to do work on my laptop for six hours without getting disconnected. (It was plugged in — no iPhone’s battery would have lasted that long on its own.)

However, earlier in the morning when I received a phone call on the Verizon iPhone, I was booted off the hot-spot network. This is a limitation of Verizon’s CDMA network: It does not support simultaneous voice and data transmissions, which may be a big minus for some customers, especially business-oriented “power users.”

Otherwise, the Verizon iPhone is the same smartphone we’ve all grown familiar with since the iPhone 4’s debut in summer of 2010. It’s got the same glass body, a 5-megapixel camera and a front-facing camera for FaceTime, which all work the same as its AT&T counterpart.

However, I did notice one odd difference when holding the Verizon iPhone next to multiple AT&T iPhones. The AT&T iPhone’s screen is a little bluer, and the Verizon iPhone’s is a little whiter. Both look great, but personally I prefer the whiter Verizon iPhone display. This is only a minor difference, though.

If you have the liberty to choose between AT&T and Verizon to buy an iPhone, your best choice depends on what you value. If you enjoy making phone calls, the Verizon iPhone is the obvious winner. Or if you’re an AT&T iPhone customer and your reception is just pathetic wherever you live, then by all means, pay the price and jump ship to Verizon.

With all that said, if you use your iPhone more often as a general computing device rather than a phone, then the AT&T iPhone’s faster transfer rates should serve your needs.

WIRED It’s a better phone, period. More likely to pull a signal, even indoors — this could change the way we converse at bars. Hot-spotting is well-integrated and very easy to use. Has a whiter, slightly better-looking display.

TIRED Slow data transfers compared to the AT&T iPhone. Sluggish app installs take away from the App Store’s instant gratification. Video streams are compressed more heavily, so Netflix and YouTube are uglier. No simultaneous voice and data transmissions thanks to the limitations of CDMA.

Photos by Jonathan Snyder/Wired.com

HTC Inspire Is Short on Looks, Big on Everything Else

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 09-05-2011

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I’m not always sure where HTC draws its inspiration from. But the new Inspire, the latest top-tier Android phone offered by AT&T, definitely filled me with a sense of déjà vu.

Like HTC’s EVO 4G and HD2 before it, the Inspire is a hefty, slate-style smartphone. Below the huge 4.3-inch 480 x 800 WVGA touchscreen lies the usual strip of capacitive navigation keys. Centered on the upper portion of the phone’s back is the standard protruding camera lens. Everything else — from the brushed aluminum body to the recessed volume and power buttons — follows the same pragmatically drab blueprint. Snore.

Though my inner phone fashionista was a little deflated, there’s actually very little to knock. Save for eyesores like a finicky battery door and an oddly placed headphone jack, the Inspire is extremely responsive, easy to use, and, even with the exceedingly large screen, it’s comfortable in the hand. Like most slate phones, its overall looks are designed to take a back seat to the big screen, where all the e-mailing, browsing, YouTubing and sexting happen, so we can’t fault it too much for being a wallflower.

On a similarly predictable note, the Inspire’s vitals are what we’ve come to expect from modern Android devices: a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, 4 GB of onboard memory (with an 8-GB card included), a sharp 8-megapixel camera, and even a little Dolby sound.

So the main differentiating factor here is the software, and HTC has wisely overhauled its Sense UI for the device. The response when switching between tasks is noticeably faster, and even boot times are speedier. Pinch-to-zoom is snappy and web pages scroll smoothly. It’s still a bit of a nightmare for the widget-averse, but otherwise everything works swimmingly.

Of course, the other big draw is the Inspire’s speedy 4G data and hotspot capabilities. (For those keeping score, the Inspire cruises on AT&T’s HSPA+ flavor of 4G and not LTE. Be sure to check out our primer on the fundamental differences over at Gadget Lab.)

Though it isn’t bleeding-edge fast, the Inspire’s connection speed is a noticeable improvement from what we’re used to seeing on AT&T’s network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paired with the Inspire’s ability to spread the love with up to five other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, I was pretty much sold on the whole package.

To be fair, I did have a few complaints. It was a struggle to get the phone to last for an entire day without a recharge. And Android’s weak video chops — in this case, I used Blockbuster and a live TV app — are made painfully apparent by the phone’s gorgeous, sharp screen.

Despite these minor quibbles, I can’t really dis a serviceable, feature-filled, sub-$ 100 smartphone of this caliber. Would I brave a snowpocalypse full of wolverines to get one? Absolutely not. But with its balance of value and power, you can’t deny the Inspire’s appeal.

WIRED Powerful phone at a great price. Lookit that screen! Dual mic noise canceling keeps calls clear. Overhauled Sense UI is snappy. Finally, a camera worth using. Built in DLNA for streaming media to home theaters.

TIRED Accessing the battery results in broken fingernails. Hotspot occasionally drops devices (like they’re hot) and tethering service will cost you extra. Headphone jack is woefully located at the bottom of the phone.

Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired

Double Feature: Motorola’s Phone-Laptop Combo Is a Mixed Bag

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 08-05-2011

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All the high-end phones coming out these days match up pretty closely on features. So how about something totally different — a phone that doubles as the guts for a full-sized laptop?

The Motorola Atrix is a 4G Android phone for AT&T that performs well enough on its own, but it’s also available with one crazy-unique accessory: a laptop-shaped dock. There’s no additional processing power in the laptop, but with the phone piggybacking on the laptop’s rear hinge, your tiny device instantly gains a much more human-sized interface: a big keyboard and a big screen.

It turns out this is better in concept than in execution, and the dock is a bit too expensive for most, but we give Motorola points for going against the grain.

First, the phone. The Atrix is one of the nicest Android phones I’ve used. As a piece of hardware, it’s marvelous. The back is thin plastic, which may turn some off, but I found the weight and feel to be just about perfect. The screen could be bigger, but at 4 inches, it’s certainly big enough. The image is bright and sharp. And it’s Gorilla Glass, so it has a pleasing feel. Perhaps most importantly, the Atrix passes the pocket test — it’s comfortable in my front pocket and my keys couldn’t scratch it up.

There are two cameras, of course, with a 5-megapixel sensor and an LED flash on the back. The quality of photos and HD videos is only OK, not spectacular but about as nice as others in this generation of smartphones.

The sleep/wake button is at the very top-center of the phone, and — this is very cool — it doubles as a fingerprint sensor. To my surprise, it actually works quite well. You can set it up to unlock the screen with a swipe of your left or right index finger, and most of the time, it recognized me on the first swipe. I passed it around to friends every change I got, and nobody else could unlock it.

Inside, there’s a 1 GHz dual core processor, which supplies some serious brawn. Scrolling through apps and web pages is very fast, and with very few exceptions, the response time for the pinch-to-zoom and double-tap-to-zoom interactions is the fastest I’ve seen on an Android phone. I installed mobile Firefox, and even though the pre-release browser is sluggish on other phones, it was snappy on the Atrix. Video playback is flawless. It’s only running Froyo (Android 2.2), so you’ll have to wait for that Gingerbread update.

Motorola has loaded its Motoblur skin on top of Android, and it adds some nice customizable conveniences like the ability to see recent messages and social updates inside little widgets on the phone’s desktop. You can also set up one-tap tweeting, automated photo publishing, quick access to media playlists and a stack of favorite contacts. Motoblur does bake the social experience into the phone on a deep level, so you can kill the widgets if the social web isn’t your bag.

Now, about that HSPA+ 4G radio: Your results will obviously vary depending on where you live and the availability of 4G in your neck of the woods, but even here in San Francisco where our AT&T network is notoriously sucktastic, I got data speeds noticeably faster than my iPhone 4. It also held calls better — no drops! — and calls connected in just a few seconds. I took it with me on a trip north into the wilds of Marin county, and even in places where the iPhone 4 and other AT&T 3G phones couldn’t get a signal, the Atrix showed two bars and had no problem completing calls or sending and receiving data.

The Atrix can also be used as a mobile hotspot, which works exactly as advertised, though AT&T tacks on an additional $ 20 monthly fee to your data plan. To access a piece of functionality that’s built into the phone, that’s super weak.

We did our standard battery run-down test — playing a video on a loop with the brightness cranked and all the radios on — and the Atrix lasted a little over six hours. It was the same when slaved to an HDTV via the phone’s HDMI port. Just making calls, browsing the web, using apps and talking to some Bluetooth speakers, it lasts well into the second day without needing a recharge.

So here you have a solid phone that’s well worth the price: $ 200 with a 2-year contract, $ 600 on its own.

There are a few docks available — a multimedia dock, the big laptop dock and an automotive dock (which we didn’t test).

The multimedia dock seems superfluous. It has an HDMI port and USB ports for a keyboard, but you get an HDMI cable with the phone, and you can just as easily use a Bluetooth keyboard, so really, the dock mostly just props your phone up while it charges. It does come with a remote you can use to browse your multimedia when you have the Atrix connected to an HDTV, but you can also use the phone’s touchscreen. The dock costs $ 130, or you can buy a version that comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse — both of which are quite nice — for $ 190.

The laptop dock is more exciting, but it’s $ 600 — or $ 500 if you take advantage of the Atrix’s launch promotion, which requires you to buy the phone and the dock together and sign up for the top-tier $ 45 monthly data plan.

Whether or not that’s a good deal depends on how you work, what sort of software you require, and what you like to carry when you travel.

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The Year in Android Phones — So Far

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 06-05-2011

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We’ve seen a flood of Android phones so far in 2011. We got our first whiff of the coming deluge in January when we went to the Consumer Electronics Show and saw around a dozen really impressive models on the show floor, all with big displays, 4G radios, beefy processors and promises of epic battery life. Some had interesting add-ons, like big physical keyboards for thumb commandos, or the Motorola Atrix’s whacky full-sized laptop dock.

Some of these Android handsets have since arrived, and there are plenty more to come.

This collection represents the best Android phones we’ve received to test here at Wired over the past few months. So, if you’re in the market for an Android phone, start with this short list of our recommended picks.

Of course, there are older phones on the shelves that are still great options, like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, the HTC EVO 4G and the Samsung Epic 4G. But in these pages, you’ll find the newest generation — the head of the class of 2011 so far, and a couple of standouts from the end of 2010.

Photos: Jim Merithew and Jon Snyder/Wired.com

HTC ThunderBolt Launches on Verizon’s 4G Network With a Bang

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 05-05-2011

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If I told you I test-drove a Lamborghini Aventador, what features would you most want to hear about? The feel of the perforated leather steering wheel? The purr of the 700-horsepower, 6.5-liter V-12 engine? Or would you rather hear a poetic description of the gas in the tank and the highway I raced it on?

Indeed, the HTC ThunderBolt is an excellent piece of hardware. It’s not quite the Lamborghini of the mobile phone world, but it certainly tops every other 4G device currently available from HTC, and it’s the first phone to run on Verizon’s 4G LTE network (That’s the “highway,” and don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a minute).

Unlike HTC’s EVO or Inspire, the ThunderBolt’s 8-megapixel camera sits flush against the back of the device. It’s a perfect gesture of form and function, which vastly improves the feel of the phone, and also prevents the lens from scratching. There’s also a front-facing camera for video chat. The optics are satisfying: The dual-LED flash was surprisingly effective, even in pitch dark. The 720p video quality and color saturation were solid.

The ThunderBolt’s brushed metal kickstand is as well-constructed as it is practical: I used our ThunderBolt like a Chumby — to stream e-mail or RSS while working at a desktop. And the phone’s vivid, oversized 4.3″ WVGA TFT touchscreen was also fantastic for video playback.

Under the hood, too, the ThunderBolt is no slouch. The 1-GHz Snapdragon processor is zippy, to say the least. It comes loaded with Android 2.2 and with version 2.0 of HTC’s own Sense user interface on top.

OK, so what about that highway? The ThunderBolt is the first phone to run on Verizon’s 4G LTE, a network which — up until now — was reserved for laptop data cards or dongles. The short of it: LTE is really, really fast. While web-browsing, I experienced minimal clipping. Pages loaded, at times, in a matter of half-seconds. On average, downloading apps took about 10 seconds, literally.

We ran a few side-by-side speed tests in various locations throughout San Francisco. LTE mightily outperformed the other networks. In one instance, we tethered an iPhone 3GS on AT&T to the ThunderBolt. According to SpeedTest.net’s latest app, the Wi-Fi clocked in at 5.77 Mbps (down) and 3.15 Mbps (up), whereas prior to tethering, the iPhone only logged 0.14 and 0.03 Mbps, respectively. In another instance, we fired up an HTC EVO 4G on Sprint. The absolute best (4.862 down, 1.025 up) was no match for the ThunderBolt (7.529 down; 6.261 up).

Of course, it’s worth wondering whether LTE can continue serving up the same speeds as more users flock to the network. Because, hey, a newly paved backcountry road can’t stay traffic-free and smooth forever, right? But if you’re considering this phone, you should take solace that Verizon is expanding its 4G network to 147 cities this year.

So, what’s not to like about the ThunderBolt? Test-driving the device felt a lot like racing a sports car with a 3-gallon engine. The high speeds are alluring, but really punching it means you won’t get nearly as far.

When tethering the phone and streaming music via Rdio, the 1400-mAh battery served up a measly 2 hours, 45 minutes. That said, dialing the data usage back down to basic web surfing and e-mail, along with reducing the screen brightness, granted us closer to 6 hours. Sure it’s no fun driving a car 35 mph when you know you can get up to 125. Then again, it beats walking.

WIRED An ample 8 GB of on-board memory (woot), plus a whopping 32 GB microSD included (WOOT!). At 0.56 inches, profile is trimmer than a supermodel. Front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera makes you look good when chatting. Standard-sized 3.5-mm headphone jack. 2750-mAh battery upgrade available. Prestocked with apps like Adobe Reader and Kindle.

TIRED Battery tended to heat up faster than a car with a faulty radiator cap. A tad on the heavy side at 6.23 ounces. Loudspeaker is rather tinny — and hidden behind the kickstand. Flash content cannot be viewed while Wi-Fi hotspot is in use. No HDMI port.

Photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

Sidekick 4G Brings Legacy Smartphone Up to Speed, Sort Of

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 04-05-2011

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You could say the original Sidekick was the first shot fired in the smartphone revolution.

With a flip of the thumb, you could expose the physical keyboard hidden behind the screen. It was aligned horizontally to make typing easier, but it wasn’t too bulky. And the large screen — bigger than most other phones in 2002 — made tasks like browsing the web and writing e-mails on your phone actually seem like ideas worth getting used to.

Over the years, the Sidekick and its successors ended up losing out to the newer breed of smartphones ushered in by the iPhone — devices with advanced operating systems and apps, and with touch displays in place of physical keyboards.

So, can the Sidekick make a comeback? Samsung hopes so: The latest iteration of the old classic, the Sidekick 4G for T-Mobile, stays true to its heritage while bumping up its specs and adding a host of media and entertainment perks.

It’s an Android phone built for the 4G now, but it has some hardware and software quirks that make it feel several steps behind.

Samsung stuck with the traditional Sidekick silhouette, with two buttons placed on either side of the 3.5-inch 480 x 800 resolution touchscreen. A Home button and Jump button grace the left side. A Menu key and Back key are situated on the right, with a small optical track button sandwiched in the middle.

Being right handed, it took a while to get used to this button placement. I really wanted the Home button to be on the bottom right when it’s held in landscape orientation, with the Back button above that and the Menu and Jump keys on the left. My thumbs got lost often.

The phone has about the same heft as an iPhone 4, but is slightly longer and about 50 percent thicker. It fits in a front pocket, but it is a bit chunky. That thickness comes from the physical keyboard under the screen. The Sidekick’s screen slides out using a unique “pop-tilt” mechanism, revealing the display’s sassy pink underside, after it’s snapped into a comfortable viewing angle.

Sliding the screen out takes a bit of practice: You need to use both thumbs, applying pressure to the crack between the screen and keyboard. But all you have to do is nudge it free of the body, and the screen springs out the rest of the way on its own. You can’t apply the force horizontally, which is a departure from other slide-out keyboards, and from the swivel screen on older Sidekicks.

Also, the volume rocker and power button sit just a hair below where you need to place your thumbs to push the display out. This leads to a lot of unintended volume adjustments, screen shut-offs and other accidental button-presses when flipping the screen up. Sliding the screen back in without pressing any of the buttons also takes some getting used to.

For my dainty lady thumbs, the QWERTY keyboard was a little uncomfortably spaced out, dropping my texting speed a few notches. Male friends with longer — normal-sized? — thumbs thought the keyboard size was just right.

The Sidekick 4G comes with Samsung’s Kick UX skin for Froyo onboard. It’s less than intuitive — there are three ways to access just about every app or feature of the phone, which can be a little confusing. But it’s fine once you find one method you prefer over the others.

The Jump key (a Sidekick legacy) was particularly handy in this respect: It lets you switch from one recently used application to another while bypassing the home screen. It’s not exactly multitasking, but it is a timesaver.

Once inside an app or widget though, you lose those options. With some apps, like the Facebook widget, you have no choice but to use the Back button (heavily) to navigate. That’s a bit of a shame on a touchscreen device. And although the handset is clearly meant to be used primarily in landscape mode, several apps and functions require it to be in portrait orientation.

The Sidekick 4G stays true to its chat roots with a slew of messaging options, including Google Talk and the phone’s signature Group Text and Cloud Text Features. Group Text provides functionality similar to that of other app- or web-based group texting services like GroupMe, allowing you to create and manage a group of contacts and send mass SMS messages. This is great for getting a message out to a specific group of people (your family, your co-workers, a circle of friends) speedily and easily.

But those subscribed to limited texting plans may not appreciate the barrage of texts that result from the reply-all nature of the service. Cloud Text is similar, but works across platforms, so you can text from your PC or the Sidekick.

There’s a VGA front-facing camera you can use to video-chat through Qik’s service. Around the back, there’s a heftier 3.2-megapixel camera. That’s subpar by today’s standards, but the software offers multiple settings that photo geeks can use to tweak images. You can shoot photos in black and white, sepia and panoramic modes, and adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Video quality is nothing special.

If you actually use your phone to make calls, you’ll be happy to hear that the call quality is superb. The phone’s noise cancellation is so well-implemented that during a lull in conversation with my dad on my bus ride home, the line became so silent that he thought the call had been dropped.

During my testing, I found T-Mobile’s network speeds — HSPA+ 4G or otherwise — to be generally good. The latest episode of 30 Rock downloaded in minutes, and web pages loaded at least as quickly as on comparable smartphones. T-Mobile says you’ll get 5-to-10-Mbps download speeds wherever it can connect to 4G, and I found no reason to dispute that claim. The Sidekick will also act as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices.

Overall, the Samsung Sidekick 4G gives a modern update to the traditional look and feel of the old Sidekick handsets, but it suffers a bit from some odd hardware-design choices, and from software quirks. Viewed as just another Android phone, it’s tough to recommend it over other Android handsets out there. However, longtime Sidekick users or Blackberry owners transitioning to Android will like the Sidekick’s big keyboard, and they should be pleased enough with the user experience.

WIRED Physical keyboard will keep thumb warriors happy. Tons of media options and chat features keep you entertained and connected. Speedy 1-GHz Hummingbird processor gets things moving: Games like Angry Birds Rio don’t stutter in the slightest. Battery life easily lasts all day for normal mixed usage. Background noise? What background noise?

TIRED Screen-popping mechanism is a bit tricky. Button placement is downright poor. The mix of onscreen-touch and physical-button navigation is perplexing and redundant. It takes a lot of work to get a good photo –- if I wanted to mess with that many settings, I would have gotten an actual digital camera.

Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired.com

LG Pulls Out the Big Guns With Dual-Core Android Phone

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 03-05-2011

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Like some geekier version of the Cold War, the mobile phone arms race of 2011 has manufacturers stockpiling as much brawn as possible into the limited space of a handset.

And with its G2x Android smartphone, LG has outed itself as a superpower.

LG’s flagship phone is running on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual-core 1-GHz processor. Are two cores really better than one? After playing with the G2x, I sure think so.

Right off the bat, the power of this chip is noticeable. Switching back and forth between different menu screens is seamless, and speedier than ever. Scroll downward through the pre-loaded catalog of apps, and the icons cascade like a waterfall. When I played the Halo-esque game that comes with the phone — a taxing first-person shooter in HD — it ran with minimal choppiness while handling some fairly intense animations.

With such a powerful processor at work, it’s a bit surprising the phone only comes with 512 MB of RAM installed. That might not prove to be enough for any especially resource-hungry apps and games that will arrive in the future. But for now, the phone ran the apps I threw at it like a charm.

One downside to all that power is that the back of the handset tends to get toasty after extended periods of use. So, unless you frequently suffer from cold ears, this is probably not a desirable attribute.

The phone’s 4-inch capacitive touchscreen displays color brilliantly, though I couldn’t help but wish for a larger screen for gaming. HDMI-out is always an option, and full HD mirroring lets you use the phone as a gyroscopically sensitive controller while playing on your big screen. But an extra half-inch or so of pixel real estate would have sated my thirst just the same.

The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera takes some of the clearest, crispest photos I’ve seen on a smartphone, while the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera worked well enough for chats. My biggest camera gripe: The delay between hitting the photo button and the “shutter” closing is far too long to accurately capture that spur-of-the-moment goofy face your friend is making.

LG went with a stock version of Android 2.2 Froyo for the G2x. Frankly, not having to deal with another manufacturer’s skin is a big plus: Interfaces like HTC’s Sense or Motoblur just feel chunky compared to the bare-bones version of the OS (and to Android purists, they’re practically a sin). Although it’s not running the latest version of Android (Gingerbread) quite yet, this phone is slated to receive the OS update sometime this summer.

T-Mobile’s network performance on the phone was adequate, but left me wanting. T-Mobile markets its HSPA+ as “4G” — a term which has grown quite murky — with “theoretical peak download speeds reaching 21 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.7 Mbps.”

But you probably won’t be seeing those speeds. Over the course of two weeks of testing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I averaged download speeds ranging between 2.5 and 5.5 Mbps, and upload speeds anywhere from 0.2 Mbps to 2.2 Mbps.

My only major quibble with the hardware design is the phone’s backbone: It’s got too damn much of it. A thin metal strip tapers up the back of the handset into the edge of the camera. In theory, the edge works perfectly as a rest for your index finger while taking a call. In practice, it just feels freaking weird.

But my minor complaints about the G2x are far outweighed by its superior under-the-hood firepower. If this is the direction that LG is taking its phones — stock operating system, beefy hardware specs, peripheral-friendly — we’re eager to see more.

WIRED HDMI-out and DLNA compatibility make for cozy communication with peripherals and HDTVs. Expandable micro SD to 32 GB leaves room for tons of tunes.

TIRED Non-skinned interface without the latest version of Android (Froyo, not Gingerbread) makes us sad. Screen forebodingly froze up on us twice during testing, requiring reboot.

Photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

Let’s Get Small: HP’s Tiny WebOS Smartphone

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 03-05-2011

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The Veer is ridiculously small. Almost Zoolander ridiculously small.

When you first grip the thing in your hand and try out the keyboard, you think, “Oh man, this is never going to work.” But after a few initial typos, it’s actually not that bad at all.

At 3.25 inches long, the Veer is tiny, stealthy and unassuming. It’s so small, it’ll even fit in the coin pocket of your jeans. The back of the black model has a rubberized texture that keeps your brain from mistaking it for a large, smooth pebble.

The 2.6-inch touchscreen is minuscule compared to giant 4.3-inch stunners like that of the HTC ThunderBolt. But as long as you’re not dead set on streaming a lot of movies or TV onto your device, it’s just large enough to do most anything else.

The phone’s screen-sliding mechanism feels solid, but it is still easy enough to operate with one hand or one thumb. And although the super-small keyboard takes a bit of practice — and a lot of trust, because your thumb covers up half the keyboard — I was surprised at how often I was able to compose typo-free messages and e-mails on the raised keys.

Palm’s webOS really shines on a device with such a small form factor. Instead of the standard menu screens seen on other smartphones, webOS uses an array of cards that can be accessed with a single tap on the gesture pad, located right under the display. Opening a new instance of an application creates a new card. A swipe upward removes the card from the deck, otherwise it’s there waiting for you when you want to return to it. Related cards (like multiple Facebook pages, for example) stack on top of one another.

Unfortunately, the implementation suffers from a few unpleasant hiccups. Finger flicks need to be deliberate, or they won’t be registered by the device. While scrolling through the photo roll, images take a second to deblur. App loading occasionally stutters, and sometimes freezes — I found this particularly true when loading the web browser. Since games and apps functioned perfectly fine once opened, this seemed like more of a software issue than a problem with the Veer’s 800 MHz Snapdragon processor.

The HP Veer comes with a couple useful features baked in: integrated messaging and Just Type, which is standard to all webOS devices. Integrated messaging allows conversations with the same contact on different services, for instance, on Google Chat and SMS, to be synced up and displayed in the same timeline, providing a seamless record of your chats. And if you don’t feel like flipping through your cards or scrolling through your apps, you can use Just Type to begin typing an app name or search item, and the phone will bring it up for you.

The Veer can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five wireless devices on AT&T’s HSPA+ 4G network. It also takes decent photos with its 5-megapixel camera — as long as there’s not excessive sunlight, which made my shots look overexposed and washed out.

The HP Veer is a pretty great phone, despite its diminutive appearance. Wired’s first impressions of the device were spot on: This would make a great phone for a teenager or anyone who wants to stay connected, but doesn’t need a large, super-crisp display for video playback.

WIRED Fantastically small form factor fits comfortably in almost any pocket. Magsafe-style charger — why isn’t this standard on all phones yet?

TIRED If the box didn’t say 4G on it, I never would have guessed. Palm’s app store has a woefully dismal selection — only the biggest names are there. The battery is non-removable.

Photos: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Curvy, Slim Xperia Arc Is the Leggy Supermodel of Smartphones

Posted by admin | Posted in Gadget Reviews | Posted on 01-05-2011

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Undeniably attractive and super skinny, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc is ready for a career as a runway model.

This fashionable specimen measures a mere 0.46 inches thick at its thinnest point, the middle of the concave arc that runs vertically down the back of the phone. It manages to make my iPhone 3GS look almost obese in comparison.

Slimness is a virtue in devices, as it reduces that embarrassing Visible Phone Line in your pocket. But premium phones usually have a bit of heft to them, and in that respect, the Xperia Arc feels a little too thin. Flimsy, even. At 4.13 ounces, it’s incredibly lightweight, thanks mostly to the removable plastic rear cover that gives access to the battery, SIM card and SD memory card.

Fragile as it seems, it’s a solid, well-performing Gingerbread phone with an excellent camera and a beautiful screen. There are some problems with the software, and a few head-scratchers in the design, but overall, I can recommend it. The phone is scheduled to arrive in the United States this summer, most likely on AT&T or T-Mobile networks.

The design generates plenty of interest during bourgeois dinner parties when it’s time for the ubiquitous “pull out your iPhone” ceremony after you run out of HBO shows to talk about. The Xperia Arc isn’t an iPhone, and its looks are definitely eye-catching.

Cool tooling aside, the backlit 4.2-inch “reality display” is reason alone to consider the Xperia Arc. The LED touchscreen is powered by Sony’s mobile Bravia engine, a descendant of what the company uses in its HDTVs. It has excellent color reproduction and brightness, even during sunny days.

The iPhone 4’s screen has better resolution — 960 x 640 pixels compared to the Xperia’s 854 x 480 pixels — and is better overall, but the Xperia Arc screen is lovely to behold. When you need a bigger screen for gaming or watching movies, the Xperia Arc has enough power to drive an HDTV using the HDMI connector that Sony Ericsson supplies with the phone.

The camera was probably my favorite feature. The phone sports a Sony Exmor R sensor for its camera and a bright, f/2.4 lens. The images it produces are sharp, fairly noise-free and have great color and contrast. Overall, it takes some of the best photos I’ve seen from a mobile phone.

I shot some test images to compare the Xperia Arc to the current cellphone camera king, the Nokia N8. With its 12-megapixel sensor and f/2.8 Carl Zeiss lens, the Nokia should win this match. But images from the Xperia Arc have better contrast and richer colors. The Xperia’s camera is quick too, unlike the N8s, which needs thinking time as it processes images.

Thanks to the Exmor sensor, the Xperia Arc does very well in low-light situations. This is great because the LED flash is too powerful, often bleaching out the subject you’re photographing, and should be used with caution.

Video clips look good in 720p HD, but the Xperia Arc’s microphone picks up sound in the opposite direction of where you’re pointing the camera, so you’ll get a lot of extraneous noise in the recordings. What a shame.

Another failure with the camera is the shutter button. It’s stiff and small with very little travel — a bit like the Power button, which also suffers from the same awkward size and action. It’s easy to blur images because you have to press so hard on the button, so I resorted to tapping the screen to take pics instead.

Camera-lens placement is also an issue. It’s easy to cover it up with the fingers of your left hand because the lens is right where you’d hold the phone. And where’s the front-facing camera for video calling?

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