Google’s Nexus 7 – great in size, but is there any substance?

nexus-7frontArriving in time for Christmas to round off its smartphone range alongside the Nexus 5, Google’s Nexus 6 fills that all important “phablet” niche with a device that’s as big on features as it is on size. If you’ve found a way to carry a big-screen handheld around with your comfortably, you’ll have this on your radar already, and given Google’s history we’re not exactly expecting them to drop the ball. Is it enough to trump the competition though?

First up, the specs. There’s a 6” display of course at a resolution of 1440×2560 and a whopping 493 ppi. It runs on a 2.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage but there’s no microSD for upping the capacity. On the front is a (relatively meagre by selfie standards) 2MP front camera with 13MP round the back and of course it sports Google’s newest OS, Android Lollipop.

The response so far has been pretty positive, though Forbes’ intriguingly titled “Nexus 6 Review Long Term: A Big, Brilliant Mistake” does have some issues with the design. The main ones, perhaps unsurprisingly, are with the size – it claims the comfort threshold has now been crossed and “Motorola may have done a great job with the bezels, but the Nexus 6 is still too big.” It’s all-round big as well – height, width and depth contribute to the fact that it’s difficult to actually wrap your hand around to operate it comfortably. Another problem here is weight distribution – it’s uneven and top-heavy apparently, which further increases the risk factor of one-handed use.  There are some positives though, including the fact that the thin bezels make it little bigger than the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus and Note 4, and that it feels very solidly built thanks to a metal band around the edges.

So the first hurdle you need to jump is comfortable operation, and if you can overcome it there are some nice treats in store.  Engadget looks at some core hardware including the display, which it says is about on-par with the Note 4 for clarity and offers an auto-brightness setting that comes in very handy when trying to read in the dark and some nice touches such as the ambient display mode:

“When you pick up the device off of a flat surface or whenever a new notification arrives, the display shows your notifications in a very dim white glow. This is a nice feature that lets you see what just showed up without having to activate the entire lockscreen each time the phone buzzes or beeps, which hopefully helps conserve battery life and makes it less distracting and more convenient for the user.”

When it comes to the camera Engadget was presently surprised when taking into account Motorola’s less than stellar history in this area. In fact it points out that “Google did a better job with the imaging experience overall, compared to the Nexus 5 “ and is impressed by an auto-mode that does an excellent job at “point and shoot”, though isn’t as capable at night without using the dual-LED to brighten shots.

To get a better idea of how the Nexus 6 performs and what you can do with it we’ll turn to TechRadar, who is typically detailed in its analysis. It hails the device as Google’s standard bearer for others to follow, and loaded with Lollipop this should be the most effective way to showcase the OS – stock Android avoids all of the often unwanted third-party overlays, plus of course you get updates before anyone else.

Some important features are welcomed, such as Lockscreen notifications for email alerts, text messages etc., Priority Mode t silences the device indefinitely or for set intervals, whitelisting lets key contacts through and there’s more intuitive access to key functions. One particularly appealing feature is the Turbo Charger that’ll juice up the phone for 6 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes, and can also be connected to a Nexus Wireless Charger or any Qi inductive charger.

TechRadar concludes by saying that “Nexus 6 proves that Google’s Nexus program is not only far from dead, it’s alive and kicking with a powerful 6-inch phablet” but stops short of claiming that it’s a better all-round device than the Note 4, which still seems to be the one to beat.

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The Nexus 6 is available now in midnight blue and white for £499 SIM-free, with contract deals for a free handset at around £35 per month also doing the rounds.

In Other News… Samsung Unpack Galaxy Note 3

galaxy-note-3-review

While the highlight of last night’s Samsung Unpacked was the Samsung Gear, we also had the chance to get hands on with the newest edition of the Note family. The Galaxy Note 3 has a more premium feel than the previous model, having a stitched leather back – rather than plastic. It is available in several colours and has two flip cover styles, one with a window.

The Note 3 has maintained its slim profile, being 8.3mm deep. However it’s still very much a phablet, rather than phone, coming in at 5.7 inches long. The bright clear super AMOLED screen is 1080p and the Note 3 also features a 13MP camera.

The S Pen has increased functionality based around a dot, circle and square system. Hover the pen and you will see a dot and by clicking the S Pen’s button you get the air command menu. This includes action memo, scrap book, s finder and pen window.

Action memos can be typed, handwritten or photos. Scribbled phone numbers can be easily added to your contacts and meeting dates/times added to your calendar. The scrapbook tool is a great way of collecting content from various websites, emails, etc. and can be organised into your own folders. You simply draw a circle around the content you want, including text and images and it will save it for you. We found this easy to use but it did tend to grab more information than we wanted.

The Note 3 colour range
The Note 3 colour range

The S finder search function should be great, Samsung claim it can search not only typed data but also your handwritten notes – we found it struggled with this, but perhaps that was because it wasn’t calibrated to our handwriting!

The pen window enables you to draw a shape, which gives you an area to display any of your most used apps. So you can draw a calculator the size you want, where you want, and it will then appear overlayed on your current screen. Again, we found this a little limited, with it refusing to create a window if the box was too small.

Overall the Galaxy Note 3 continues to offer increased functionality (largely thanks to the S Pen) compared to most other phablets and it’s more stylish to look at. However we found some of these new features fiddly to use and it may be the case that Samsung should now focus on refining these features before launching any new ones.

The Note 3 has been designed to complement the Galaxy Gear watch and it will be interesting to see how well they work together, watch this space for more on that.

  • ZTE Grand Memo Smartphone: Ghetto Phabulous

    ZTE-Grand-Memo

    ZTE has recently introduced the Grand Memo, its latest smartphone, or should that be tablet? With a whopping 5.7-inch screen, the device is being entered into the phablet market due to its expansive display and processing ability.

    The Grand Memo features a high definition 720 x 1280 display, an impressive 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 8000 processor and 2GB of RAM. Other notable aspects include a 13MP rear-facing camera with the ability to shoot 1080HD video, Dolby Digital Plus Surround sound, a 3,200mAh battery and Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean OS.

    Comparisons to other similar products on the market are likely to be drawn, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and to some extent LG’s Optimus G Pro sharing certain design aspects. A factor both manufacturers’ legal teams might like to take into consideration. Nevertheless the Grand Memo is aesthetically pleasing, if a little uninspiring.

    “We have really tried to make this device fun for use at home, and practical for use in the office. By combining both of these factors, we have created a well-rounded large-screen handset that is suitable for any situation.”

    He Shiyou, ZTE EVP and Head of the Mobile Devices Division

    In my opinion, as a mobile phone the Grand Memo is gratuitously large, with the device likely to attract unwanted attention on public transport but unlikely to fit in one’s pocket. As a tablet, I’m not sure it possesses the characteristics to deal with any worthwhile tasks, such as productive word processing or comfortably reading an e-book.

    A hands on review from techradar.com noted that the device’s size made it “a little unwieldy in the hand and we found ourselves really having to stretch our fingers to properly grasp the Grand Memo.” The reviewer also went on to mention that “the screen itself is bright and clear, although on closer inspection its not the most detailed of displays we’ve had the pleasure of ogling.”

    Therefore it looks like the Grand Memo might struggle against its more established and higher quality rivals. However if it comes in at a lower price, it could enjoy some moderate success. For the now ZTE’s latest offering will only be available in Europe and China, but customers in the US and elsewhere still have plenty of other phablet alternatives to choose from.