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Hands-on review: Updated: PlayStation VR

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Hands-on review: Updated: PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR

VR isn’t exactly mainstream, but on the PC we’re getting to the point where the major headsets are now available to buy off the shelf with a minimum of fuss.

The same can’t be said for consoles, which have yet to see a compatible headset of their own.

This is all set to change in October with the release of Sony’s PlayStation VR headset, which for the first time will allow gamers to get a full virtual reality experience with their PS4 rather than a beefy gaming PC.

I was initially sceptical that the console would be powerful enough to cope with a fully-featured VR headset, but after having experienced it for myself at GDC 2016, my fears were finally put to rest

But, before I dive into the strangely wonderful world of first-person gaming, let’s get a few of the facts out of the way.

First off, know that PlayStation VR hasn’t lived its entire life by that moniker. Up until the 2015 Tokyo Game Show, PS VR was better known by its codename, Project Morpheus.

The headset itself has undergone a few iterations since its first unveiling back at GDC 2014 but, as of Sony’s GDC 2016 PS VR event, we can now definitively say that we’ve touched the finished product.

The unit will start shipping on October 13, 2016 for $399 / £349 / AUD$549 / €399, which is a bit more than we’d like honestly, but considerably less than its two rivals, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

PlayStation VR

Sony Group CEO Andrew House was the one to make the announcement at GDC and added that PlayStation VR would ship with a single game for free: The Playroom in VR, a spin-off the tech demo that shipped with the PlayStation Move.

House said to expect over 50 games to become available sometime this year for the system, some of which will be developed in-house, although many will come from indie and third-party studios.

House claimed there are over 200 developers with dev kits who are actively working on titles to supplement the first 50 games, and that gamers could expect to see a good mix of genres when the unit ships in the fall.

Finally, and this is important, the PlayStation VR requires a PlayStation Camera to function, although you won’t find one in the box of a new PS VR. Some games also require a set of PlayStation Move controllers – again, not included.

What you will get in every box is a headset, a processing box, power cable, earphones, dual HDMI connector that links the headset to the PS4, an HDMI cable and a micro USB cable.

It’s a far cry from a complete package, but for $200 less than an Oculus Rift, I’m not complaining.

PlayStation VR

How does PlayStation VR work?

Since its announcement, we’ve gotten our hands on (and heads in) Sony’s VR headset a few times, and each time has been better than the last. Sony has been cracking away over the past two years to improve the user experience as much as possible before release. And its early efforts have resulted in one of the most comfortable VR headsets around, even for those of us who wear glasses.

Like other virtual reality headsets on the market, PlayStation VR has the arduous task of completely immersing you in a video game by producing two images simultaneously. But unlike the competition who require expensive graphics cards to get the job done, PS VR can do it using only a PlayStation 4 and a small black box that sits between the headset and the console.

The early tech demos we’ve seen through PlayStation VR have impressed, too. Simply put, they’re as awesome and zany as you would hope they’d be. We’ve been in a shark cage, we’ve held up a bank and we’ve done street luge, dodging cars while going downhill faster than the speed limit. If Sony can continue to corral this kind of massive developer support for PS VR, gamers will be in for a treat that keeps delivering when it launches.

PlayStation VR

As much as we like what we’ve seen of PlayStation VR, however, there are still some quirks to work out before launch and important details that Sony needs to fill in. Some of our editors encountered a bit of nausea during their time with PS VR, which is one of the biggest challenges that VR developers have to surmount.

Design

PlayStation VR isn’t a wild reimagining of the VR headset, but it’s one of the most attractive efforts that we’ve seen so far.

The head-mounted display (HMD) screams minimalism with a tag team of black and white matte plastic touches. Its most recent iteration is interspersed with seven blue lights that the PlayStation Eye picks up to track your location and head movement. It’s a pretty elegant and accurate head-tracking solution.

The design of the PlayStation VR’s strap looks good and. thankfully, also yields comfort, which is a crucial box that not enough VR headsets can tick.

Inside the headset is a 5.7-inch OLED screen with 1920 x RGB x 1080 resolution, which comes out to about to 960 x 1080 for each eye. The PlayStation VR offers a 100-degree field of view and a 120Hz refresh rate.

PlayStation VR

Latency is less than 18ms, which means that in theory it’s less nausea-inducing than the previous model that had a higher latency and a slower refresh rate. There’s also a jack for headphones and support for 3D audio, which will come into play later.

The PS VR’s secret to comfort is that it hangs all of its weight at the top of your dome, putting pressure on the bridge of the nose and the forehead.

Additionally, a single white matte strap stems from the top of the HMD and wraps around your head seamlessly, coming together in the back, and can be adjusted to your liking. For games that require you to turn around, Sony stuck two more blue lights on the back of the strip bringing the total number of trackable lights to nine.

The PS VR’s control scheme utilizes a combination of head movements made with the HMD, along with the PlayStation Move controllers and DualShock 4 controller that you may or may not be familiar with. The Move controllers had their first run when they were introduced alongside a few Wii-like titles on the PlayStation 3, and while they worked well there, it wasn’t until PS VR that we saw a true purpose for them.

PlayStation VR

The wands felt a little half-baked on the PS3, or at least as if they existed solely to have a hand in motion-controlled gaming, but they feel right at home with PS VR. Other games with more complex control schemes – like a game called RIGS that we’ll discuss in a minute – will use the DualShock 4 wireless controller that comes shipped with the PS4.

If it hasn’t already been made explicitly clear up to now, I’ll break the most disheartening news to you now: the PS VR is not a wireless headset. While the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard can get everything they need from your mobile device, PlayStation VR will need to be tethered to your system at all times.

Performance

VR competitors like Oculus and HTC have set the bar quite high for how a good VR experience should look and feel – which, considering these two options require a seriously powerful gaming rig that costs two or three times as much as PS VR, makes sense.

With its two 1080p 120Hz OLED screens, Playstation VR is no slouch in the hardware department, but this advanced hardware might cause issues if it’s being powered by a three year old console which normally outputs just 60fps to a 1080p screen.

Recently a senior source working within the industry was recently quoted by Edge magazine as saying that the headset would be "terrible" on the PS4 as it currently exists.

Sony’s response has been to develop a new PS4, a PS4.5, which is rumored to be launching alongside the headset. This new console will offer amount of power needed for a full VR experience without any compromises.

The takeaway? Don’t make any assumptions about your current PS4’s ability to run Playstation VR, and if you don’t currently own one then hold off until Sony makes an official announcement.

From our hands on experience with the hardware so far, it feels like Sony’s PS VR comes close to the graphical prowess of its two closest competitors, but it’s never been exactly clear how this performance has been achieved.

Previously it was speculated that a mysterious black box was buffering frames and allowing the experience to run at a silky smooth 120Hz, but it’s not currently clear whether this will be present in the final consumer edition, or whether consumers will need to be running Sony’s upgraded PS4 hardware.

Speculation aside, the experience I’ve had using the headset has improved each and every time I’ve had the chance to put it on.

PlayStation VR

Many of these experiences have been demos or concept games that have been specifically and carefully crafted to show off one specific function of the headset, but thanks to the event at GDC 2016 I can now say that I’ve tried full-on games, too.

The experiences have varied in levity from casual, playroom escapades to hyper-intense combat and even a horror game for added measure. The system and its specs lend itself to more light-hearted fare rather than the fast-paced, high-intensity ones, honestly, and while the latter is passable it’s prone to making you feel more nauseated than impressed.

Here are a few of the experiences – both demos and games – I’ve tried over the past two years:

Eve Valkyrie: Hurtling through space, admiring the view of giant ships as you pass under them, dodging your way through asteroid fields – this is exactly the kind of stuff we all dreamed about when we were younger.

PlayStation VR

The Deep: But as great as space was, it was exploring the ocean depths that really set the pulse racing. The game begins with you in a diving cage, floating near the surface of the ocean. I could look around me was holding a flare fun that would move with my real hands thanks to the motion-enabled Dualshock 4. As it turned out, the flare gun was about as effective as a bacon sandwich when the shark started ripping into the cage. But it was fantastic way to experience VR, especially with the lack of any form of HUD.

Street Luge: Where The Deep represented pure fantasy as only a faux-holodeck experience could provide, the Street Luge stood out for its ability to make me cringe, wince, yelp and ultimately feel like I was on a roller coaster without the intense wind and bodily sensations. It started slow, allowing me to get used to the controls – lean left to drift left, lean right to go right. Then came my first car. I dodged left and, in doing so, earned a small speed boost. There was a timer ticking in the corner of my screen that I hadn’t noticed before; this was one of virtual reality’s first time trials.

PlayStation VR

Morpheus Castle: Morpheus Castle is a smack-’em-up title that served to demonstrate how Move can be used so brilliantly with PlayStation VR. By pressing the back triggers you’ll curl your fingers into a fist. Extend them rapidly and you’ll throw a punch. Your target? A hanging dummy. Complete the task and you’re rewarded with your first weapon, a sword. This was a smooth, seamless experience and gave me hope that the Star Wars game we’ve always dreamed of – the one where lightsaber duels are not only plausible, but an enjoyable part of the game – are within arm’s reach.

RIGS: Mechanized Combat League: The best way to describe RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is by labeling it as a Titanfall-esque shooter imbued with the adrenaline and setting of a professional football game. During a brief demo, two friends and I took our RIGs into the arena to test the mettle of opponents in a three-on-three battle royale that had us blasting each other to bits, picking up the pieces and then jumping through a hoop in the middle of the map to put points on the board. It was fast-paced and highly detailed – probably a bit more than the PlayStation VR could handle. A limited field of view made it hard to see everything happening in my peripherals, and the fast-paced nature just about ruined my lunch.

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksgkB23h0nc

PlayStation VR Social: While RIGS knocked the PS VR down a few pegs in my book, PlayStation VR Social raised it back up. Essentially a social experiment that puts multiple PS VR users in one world and has them solve puzzles and play together, PlayStation VR Social is wonderful, colorful, wacky and flat out weird.

In terms of pure pixels and graphics, the PS VR isn’t a powerhouse. There are a few jagged pixels here and there and any object located far off in the distance is blurry beyond much recognition. A smaller field of view, even by 10 degrees, means that it’s less immersive and more nausea-inducing than either the Oculus Rift or Vive.

Early verdict

PlayStation VR is inspiring. As a whole it’s incredible, even if there are some hang ups here and there. After trying it for yourself you’ll want to experience something like BioShock Infinite or GTA V in VR, and the first few demos and games will give you a little sneak peek of what gaming could be like five years from now.

I say sneak peek because the PlayStation VR isn’t quite complete. Tracking still isn’t one-to-one and there’s still work to be done on the image quality – edges are rough and objects seemed a little less clear than their HD display – but Sony seems clearly determined to iron these out before it comes to market.

For now it’s an excellent, if not absolutely perfect, experience that will be fun to show off to friends or play with yourself for in half-hour increments. It might not be the best for long term use, but that’s a decision we can visit again when the PlayStation VR comes out in October.

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Review: Updated: Moto 360 Sport

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Review: Updated: Moto 360 Sport

Introduction, design and features

Update: Moto’s sportier take on the regal 360 has earned a spot on our list of best Android Wear smartwatches. Its rugged build, built-in GPS and rather affordable price make it an easy choice for fitness-focused people.

Original review follows below.

The Moto 360 Sport looks like a ‘sporty’ version of the Moto 360 (2015), but it’s much more than that. This is only the second Android Wear watch to have GPS, and the tech is much better implemented than it was in the first, the Sony Smartwatch 3.

It also has a new kind of screen – and it’s one that we’re likely to see plenty of others emulate in the future because it works so well on a smartwatch, with its style changing depending on how bright the conditions are.

However, it doesn’t have the good looks of the Moto 360 (2015), and for the price you can get a much better run-tracker. It marks progress, but not quite enough to make jaws drop.

Moto 360 Sport review

The Moto 360 Sport costs £219/US$299 (around AU$359), right where you’d expect a high-end Android Wear smartwatch to land.

Since release in the US the company has also dropped the price of the Moto 360 Sport down to US$199, but it’s still a lot of money to spend on wristwear. Does it feel high-end enough to justify that price tag?

Design and features

Motorola’s smartwatches are usually very pretty, style-oriented things. At launch the original Moto 360 seemed an almost sci-fi take on the smartwatch, while the Moto 360 (2015) brought it into the present with a more practical – frankly more normal – yet still stunning look.

The Moto 360 Sport is different, though. While the round screen and dimensions are comparable to its predecessors, this watch looks plainer and more ordinary.

It has a chunky rubber strap built in, and you can’t swap it for something sleeker or slimmer; the design inspiration is less Cartier, more TomTom Runner. There’s nothing wrong with that when this is meant to be a smartwatch/runner’s watch hybrid, but the strap design could be a bit smarter.

Moto 360 Sport review

Motorola has peppered the strap with ventilation holes, but the silicone used doesn’t feel anywhere near as nice as that used in, for example, the Garmin Fenix 3. This is higher-friction material, with a more rubbery feel; it’s not flat-out uncomfortable, but it picks up a lot of dust and dirt, and causes undue marks and sweating on my wrist when it’s done up as tightly as it needs to be for the heart rate sensor to work.

You can tell that Motorola hasn’t been working with rubber watch strap designs for as long as more established sports watch makers – but it’s not as comfortable as the Moto 360 (2015) either.

The Moto 360 Sport is certified to IP67 standard, meaning you can wear it in the shower – I have, and it’s still working. However Motorola says it’s not meant to be used while swimming.

To quote the Motorola website: "Withstands immersion in up to 3 feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. Not designed to work while submerged underwater. Do not use while swimming, or subject it to pressurized streams of water."

Moto 360 Sport review

If there’s a major design win for the Moto 360 Sport it’s that it doesn’t attract too much attention. Wearing the Sony SmartWatch 3 earned me flat-out ridicule from friends, while this device barely got a reaction at all. People are more accustomed to smartwatches these days, sure, but this is also a pleasantly innocuous visual design.

The two slightly awkward features of the design are only noticeable on closer inspection. First, there’s a plastic cut-out in the rubbery side, which is where the mic lives, and second, Motorola still uses the same ‘flat tire’ screen style as on other Moto watches.

This looks pretty bad if you’re flicking through Android Wear’s white-background apps menu, or if you use a white clock display, but in other respects the screen is unusually good.

Display

The Moto 360 Sport has what Motorola calls an AnyLight display, and it’s pretty clever. This looks like a normal LCD display when you’re actively using the watch in normal light, but switches to a Pebble Time-like transflective style when it’s very bright, or when the watch is idle and just displaying the time.

I’ve found this to be a near-perfect combo, at least in terms of how the screen looks. It doesn’t seem dim or colour-sapped indoors, like a Garmin Fenix 3 or Pebble Time Steel, and is entirely clear when you’re running, or when you just want to check the time, outside on a sunny day.

The Moto 360 Sport switches between its two screen styles abruptly – there’s no half-way setting, but it chooses the right point to switch over, and does so without any awkward delays. This AnyLight ‘switching’ screen is the one good excuse for the screen cut-out down the bottom, as it’s where the ambient light sensor lives.

Moto 360 Sport review

One issue with AnyLight is that when it switches to the ‘outdoors’ display, which feeds off ambient light rather than a backlight, it’s very nearly monochrome. The tone is sepia-tinged, with just the slightest suggestion of color tones, but it’s nothing like the colors you get with a Pebble Time.

After struggling to see the time at all on a normal LCD Android Wear watch in the past, though, this is a big improvement.

Performance

Along with the battery life, the other major performance caveat is that the Moto 360 Sport’s tracking is rather basic compared with a sports watch costing half the price. With so few Android Wear watches offering GPS, the big running apps have, sensibly, not piled thousands of hours into making their Android Wear apps work well without a phone attached.

Runkeeper does, but the UI still plays as though it’s piggy-backing off a phone, which isn’t really good enough.

For now your best bet is to use the Moto Body Running app, which comes pre-installed. This lets you choose between running indoors or outdoors, the former mode using accelerometer data and the latter using GPS. You can then choose either a workout goal in distance or calories, or select quick start to ‘free’ run.

Moto 360 Sport review

As you run you can check your pace, how far you’ve run, how fast your heart is beating and your split times. There are no multi-sport functions, and no tracking of more advanced metrics like VO2, but I can imagine this being a good fit for the 5K weekend runner who wants more than what a ‘dumb’ fitness tracker has to offer.

It’s easy, it’s quick and the Moto 360 Sport also hooks onto GPS satellites very quickly, usually in well under 30 seconds in my experience – it seems that Motorola uses both a faster and less power-sapping GPS chip than Sony does in the SmartWatch 3.

Run data is transmitted to the Moto Body app on your phone, from where you can look at maps of your route, pace graphs and even check your heart rate throughout the workout. It’s not bad.

Moto 360 Sport review

The Moto 360 Sport’s software won’t be enough for everyone, though, particularly as you’d have to log cycle rides and walks as ‘runs’, but it’s doing the trick for me.

Motorola’s issue is that while the running watch market is fairly mature, the runner’s Android Wear smartwatch market is not, and you feel this in both the hardware and the software.

GPS tracking accuracy is decent but not mind-blowing. It might put you on the wrong side of the road, for example, but your total distances and speed figures should be fairly accurate. It’ll certainly blow any Fitbit-style device out of the water as a training device.

Moto 360 Sport review

However, the heart rate sensor is poor, as is the norm for Android smartwatches. It works well enough if you’re perfectly still, but as soon as you start moving its accuracy plummets.

The Running app tries to get around this by using an intense predictive algorithm that seems to have as much say over the reading as the sensor itself. This enables it to produce post-workout graphs that look about right, but comparing the results to those of a sensor at the gym shows the results are consistently off.

It’s about as good as the heart rate sensor of any Android Wear watch: not very.

Software and specs

Aside from all the bonus fitness features, the Moto 360 Sport seems much like any other Wear watch in use. The UI is determined by Google, and the watch face selection is much the same as on other Moto watches – I’ve been using the default sporty one, but you can switch to a more conventional one with a quick gesture if you prefer.

The Moto 360 Sport has a Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. This gives you enough space to store a few music tracks if you want to listen to some tunes while running, though you’ll need Bluetooth headphones for this, of course.

It also has Wi-Fi, enabling the watch to receive notifications even if it’s not in range of your phone.

Moto 360 Sport review

With core hardware just like much of the recent competition, Android Wear feels fairly responsive here. However, after being spoilt with the intuitive speed and simplicity of Android Marshmallow in phones, it’s a shame Google’s watch software hasn’t progressed more in the past year.

It’s still a gesture-heavy, not 100% responsive system that can feel fiddly as soon as you try to do anything more than just checking out the latest notification beamed over from your phone. This applies to all Android Wear watches, of course.

I’ve still had a pretty good time using the Moto 360 Sport, but predominantly just for notifications and occasional tracking of gym sessions, runs and walks.

Moto 360 Sport review

As ever with an Android Wear device, only Android phone users should seriously consider buying a Moto 360 Sport. iOS support is fair, but the features available in third-party apps will be limited. There’s also no version of Moto Body for iOS at the time of writing, making the Sport pretty rubbish as a run tracker.

Battery life

The great thing about some transflective displays is that they use very little power. However, AnyLight doesn’t seem to do the Moto 360 Sport’s stamina any favors. You’ll get a day’s use out of a charge if, say, you map a 20-minute run, or a day and a bit if you don’t.

Quite a few Android Wear watches manage to last for two days even without any miraculous battery-saving tech, making the Sport’s performance in this respect pretty depressing.

Moto 360 Sport review

The Moto 360 Sport has a 300mAh battery, as in the Moto 360 (2015), and you’ll need to charge it every day. This involves putting the Moto 360 Sport onto a Qi wireless charging dock seat, similar to the one used by other Motorola watches.

With GPS in use the Moto 360 Sport will last for around four hours, which is going to be enough for most 5K weekend runners, but not for cyclists, hikers or serious runners. The £100/US$90/AU$150 TomTom Runner lasts for 10 hours of GPS tracking, making it suitable for even the slowest of marathon runners.

The competition

If you’re looking for a running watch, the Moto 360 Sport may not be for you. Here are some of the competitors you may want to choose instead.

Microsoft Band 2

Microsoft Band 2

Microsoft’s latest wearable device may be a better choice for you than the Moto 360 Sport. It’s cheaper and comes with a curved design that looks quite different to a traditional watch.

The design of the Microsoft Band 2 looks smart and it offers a longer battery life than most wearables that have to power screens. It’s not waterproof and doesn’t come with GPS technology like the Moto 360 Sport, but if that’s not something you need then maybe it’s a good choice.

This is especially the choice to go for if you need a wearable that will connect up with a Windows Phone.

Moto 360 2015

Moto 360 2015

If you like elements of the Moto 360 Sport but think there’s a lot left to desire in the design, the Moto 360 2015 may be the watch you should buy. This is one of the best looking smartwatches on the market and loses the plastic design of the Moto 360 Sport.

Performance wise it’s an impressive set up compared to some other smartwatches on the market. It’ll even work with your iPhone and comes with comfortable straps to switch to when your wrist doesn’t feel right.

Battery life still isn’t that impressive on the Moto 360 2015, but it’s still a worthwhile purchase at $299 (£229, AU$329).

Samsung Gear S2

Gear S2

Not a fan of Android Wear? You may be better off grabbing the Samsung Gear S2. This smartwatch comes running Tizen software, which looks different to Android Wear and offers up an entirely different platform.

The Gear S2 is one of the best looking round smartwatches and it doesn’t offer the flat tyre look of the Moto 360 watches.

Running Tizen does mean you won’t get Android Wear apps, but apart from that this is a solid alternative to the Moto 360 Sport.

Sony Smartwatch 3

Sony Smartwatch 3

This smartwatch isn’t particularly new, but the Sony Smartwatch 3 was the first Android Wear watch to come with GPS tracking built-in. The Moto 360 Sport is better at doing that, but the Sony Smartwatch 3 is still a solid GPS tracker watch that may suit your needs.

It has a slick performance and a great screen, but it’s not as stylish as the Moto 360 Sport. It features a square design that you may like too.

The real highlight is that the Smartwatch 3 is now cheap compared to the Moto 360 Sport. Read through our review below and you’ll know whether you want a Smartwatch 3 or a Moto 360 Sport.

Verdict

It’s refreshing to see an Android Wear watch that doesn’t feel exactly like every other Wear watch apart from the look.

However, as there are issues with it both as a smartwatch and a running watch, Motorola hasn’t yet cracked the complete package.

We liked

The Moto 360 Sport gives you more accurate run tracking than almost every other Android Wear watch; it’s a genuine running watch, even without a phone in tow.

Its screen is perfectly suited to outdoor use too, able to switch between a colourful LCD screen and a muted but clear-in-sunlight one. It’s a great solution that makes for a clear display 24/7.

We disliked

The Moto 360 Sport lacks the arm candy factor of the standard Moto 360, and some of its comfort too.

Much of this comes down to the strap, as the rubber isn’t high-grade, and it picks up bits of fluff and dust as if it’s making a nest out of the stuff.

Moto 360 Sport review

The other day-to-day disappointment is battery life, as while the screen sounds like it’ll be super-efficient, you’re still only going to get a day’s use out of a charge. Pure GPS stamina is also a lot worse than in cheaper running watches.

Verdict

The Moto 360 Sport is more than just another Android Wear watch. With its dynamic screen and GPS there’s an appeal here that other Android Wear watches just don’t have.

However, this seems like yet another smartwatch design that isn’t quite there yet in enough respects to recommend it to many buyers in the real world. Its somewhat rudimentary tracking and poor battery life put cheaper dedicated runner’s watches in a good light, while it also lacks the gadget-lust factor of non-GPS alternatives.

Great strengths and serious weaknesses make the Moto 360 Sport a somewhat awkward product, like quite a lot of other smartwatches.

First reviewed: May 2016

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Review: Updated: iPhone SE

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Review: Updated: iPhone SE

Introduction: a new / old era for Apple

Why should you care about the iPhone SE? It’s a phone that’s in an identical chassis to the one released three years ago, and beyond a new color it’s impossible to know which model is which. It’s the iPhone ‘Special Edition’.

Then I look around the train carriage on the way to work and count the amount of iPhone 5S and 5 devices that are being prodded quietly all around. The number is staggering, and it easily dwarfs the amount of iPhone 6 or iPhone 6S handsets on show.

Has Apple been smart here? Looked at the way people are using phones and realised there’s a massive market for a certain form factor – a smaller handset that you can easily reach across the whole screen with one thumb but still has some decent power?

iPhone SE review

The SE is a hark back to a long-forgotten era in smartphones, like Apple slit time in two and pulled a phone back through, and charged US$399 (£359, AU$679) for the 16GB model (or US$499, £439, $AU829 if you choose the larger 64GB option)

That’s a surprising price for Apple to hit: it’s lower than the main phones, and the price of the contract for this phone is cheaper than many flagships from 2015.

The SIM-free price isn’t cheap, but it’s more affordable than a ‘new’ iPhone has ever been.

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVySR-qjH-4

But enough about the price – usually, people that are embedded into the iOS ecosystem struggle to leave it, and are willing to pay whatever’s necessary to get a decent new phone.

iPhone SE review

So what about this decision to re-re-release the iPhone 5? Has Apple zigged when the rest of the world has zagged, and come up with the direction everyone has been clamoring for, making a powerful-yet-palmable phone?

Or is this a company arrogantly believing it can churn out the same phone design for the third time and hope the world will consider it different enough to be worth the upgrade?

Key new features

Besides price (the iPhone SE is the cheapest Apple handset on the market, after all) the key selling point with this new phone is the design. The chassis, as I’ve mentioned above, is precisely the same as on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, and beyond coming in rose gold, doesn’t offer anything new at all.

That said, so many people are looking at the iPhone’s evolution to the 4.7-inch display of the 6 and 6S and scrunched their noses up a bit, not wanting to make the leap to the larger size of screen (and that’s before we even get into the iPhone 6S Plus’ mega size).

The new phone is designed to be easily operated with one hand, the 4-inch screen sitting just at the edge of a thumb stretch, and Apple is banking on this fact keeping the handset current.

However, internally things are genuinely supercharged, a world away from the innards stuffed into the handset from a few years back. The camera has had one of the biggest overhauls, now coming with the 12MP iSight sensor found in the current flagship phones, and offering the same array of tricks.

iPhone SE review

That means Focus Pixels to offer clearer and faster autofocus, the improved two-tone flash and Live Photos, where a small amount of video is captured with every photo taken. 4K video recording and ultra-slo-mo movie modes really help sweeten the deal too.

The power of the iPhone SE is something to behold as well – it’s as powerful as the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus thanks to having the new A9 chip, the M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM.

Compare that to the A7 chip with a measly 1GB of RAM from the iPhone 5S and side by side they’re absolutely night and day in terms of speed and battery life management.

The M9 co-processor is an important element too, telling the phone when it should be heading into a dormant mode thanks to being sat quietly on a desk or in a pocket, which prevents the battery-hungry pings that lead to the red line of doom and you needing to reach for the charger at 6PM.

Battery life is impressive on the phone, especially when you consider there are only a few mAh added in here, from 1560mAh to 1624mAh, and with no increase to the size of the chassis at all, this is a really impressive feat and addresses one of the key concerns I had with the iPhone 5S.

Design and screen

The design of the iPhone SE, as you’ve probably already guessed, is identical to that of the iPhone 5S. That means you’ve got the same compact chassis that fits perfectly in one hand, the chamfered edges to provide a different texture and comfort to the edge of the phone and the same overall boxy design from the days of yore.

In fact, visually the only difference is the thing now comes in rose gold. That’s it.

The phone does indeed fit well in the palm, with almost no stretching needed to get to all parts of the screen. What’s surprising is how Apple hasn’t drawn in any design elements from the iPhone 6S, keeping things like the ‘battery-like’ + and – icons on the volume keys, the larger drilled holes of the speaker grille at the bottom of the phone and the power button living on the top of the handset.

iPhone SE review

It makes sense, I guess. After all, they were well made then, and they’re as premium-looking now. The finish on the metal chassis is always impressive from Apple, and combined with the new rose gold color always makes me feel like I’m looking at a high end phone when glancing at the display on my desk.

What’s funny is that one of the same issues I had with the older model, which I thought was just a slight manufacturing defect, is back once again. If you shake the phone at all, something will rattle – the power button doesn’t seem properly attached on some level.

Clearly this is a design point Apple is fine with, else it would have been eradicated a few years later when rebooting the phone’s design – it’s irritating though, as it diminishes the iPhone SE’s premium feel.

I do like the smaller design though, despite the fact I’m firmly a fan of larger phones these days. It’s almost a novelty having something so capable that I can use one-handed, and it’s surprising that so many brands have shied away from doing the same thing.

iPhone SE review

In terms of weight, it’s super hard to even tell you’ve even got the phone in your pocket, thanks to it being 113g light. That’s a whole 1g more than the 5S, but it’s impossible to tell the difference.

The ‘click’ and pressure needed on all the buttons remains perfect, with the feedback feeling like it’s the result of months (or in this case, years) of honing.

From the mute rocker switch to the volume keys, I’m a real fan of the way this phone has been put together (although I wish it wasn’t just one mono speaker firing out the bottom of the phone.)

However, my biggest bugbear with Apple (and phone brands in general) is that this is a backwards step in terms of phone design. Yes, it’s a popular shape (as the quick survey on the train proved), but the identical iPhone SE is nothing but a ‘bonus’ version of the 5S.

I’m fully behind Apple’s decision to bring the raw power of its flagship phones to the smaller form factor, but it could have rebooted the design quite easily. Why are we not seeing a smaller phone with the same curved edges of the iPhone 6S, a smaller, pebble-like experience in the hand? Now that would have been exciting.

It’s easy to see why the form remains though: the brand has surely invested in the manufacturing processes to create the iPhone 5 and 5S, and rather than cover them in a dust sheet has cranked them into use once more.

It’s a great exercise in cost saving, and while you can ask why one of the richest companies in the world needs to keep its margins as high as possible when it could afford to take this hit… well, there’s a reason it’s so wealthy.

iPhone SE review

That said, I firmly believe that every phone, to be considered a success and a step forward, needs to be obviously different from its predecessor, to make the user feel like they’re getting something new for their money.

The angled sides seen on the iPhone SE were brilliant in 2010 when they appeared on the iPhone 4, but they’re tired now, so the SE will always feel like only a small, if powerful, update.

Screen

Another issue I’ve got here with the new iPhone is the screen – like the chassis, it’s straight out of 2012, coming as it did with the iPhone 5. While you could just think that it’s simply a smaller version of what’s on the current iPhone duo, in truth it’s rather old in terms of spec.

Of course it’s a Retina display, Apple’s shorthand for a phone that hits a certain sharpness at a certain distance from your eyes – but in a 4-inch display, there’s a noticeable lack of sharpness here.

iPhone SE review

Apple’s always focused more on the quality of the display than pixel density – its iPad range is industry-leading when it comes to having a great-looking screen, rather than shoving in more pixels for the sake of it.

But when Samsung is easily making the best smartphone screens in the world, and the iPhone 6S is stuck on a 720p display, I’d have hoped for a little bit of an upgrade for the iPhone SE. Instead it’s used the same LCD and digitizer layer as found on the older models (again, likely to save money on production) and as a result it’s clearly less sharp and lower quality than the flagship brands.

The key thing for any brand in making a quality phone is making sure four pillars are present and correct: great design, non-annoying battery life, good camera and quality screen. After all, it’s the bit you stare at most.

Apple’s not stupid though – this display is more than good enough. The lower contrast ratio (800:1 is quite far behind some of the top phones on the market right now – the new iPhone 6S duo included) is probably the most irksome element, but in terms of sharpness the 4-inch display handles the 1334×750 resolution adequately.

One thing I didn’t miss a jot was 3D Touch. I still like the idea of a screen that has levels of pressure response baked right in, but I constantly forgot the feature was there on the larger iPhone. While it would have been nice to have the option on the SE, it’s not like I ever felt the experience was compromised by its omission.

And when viewing Live Photos in the gallery app, the simple long press on the screen activated the mini-video just fine. On the iPhone 6S you need to prod the screen a little harder to get the motion going – it just seems like overkill when it’s so easy to do without the technology on the SE.

Movies, music and gaming

The main issue I encountered with the iPhone SE’s screen was when watching movies. The Retina display can’t even display the lower end of HD movies… but that does make buying them a little cheaper, I guess.

The sharpness looked OK actually – better than I was expecting / remembered from the iPhone 5S. But I’ve become used to a much more vivid and visible screen, and watching any kind of ‘atmospheric’ (read: a bit darker) movie meant I had to fire the brightness right up.

As you’ll see in our battery tests later, this had far less effect than on older Apple phones as the improved internals help improve power management on the iPhone SE, but I’d rather not have to fire the brightness right up on my phone just to watch a movie.

iPhone SE review

Gaming was a similar experience, with the power of the iPhone SE easily taking on any title that needed a bit of raw grunt to run smoothly. Real Racing 3 still looks great – and is a great benchmark to test whether a lot of fast action can be handled on screen at once.

But other games, like Warhammer 40,000 Freeblade, ran super smoothly even with loads going on throughout the screen – it’s weird to see such a thing, like a Ferrari engine shoved into a small Fiat but somehow fitting in well.

In short, the performance of the iPhone SE is astounding given the size and what Apple’s had to fit in the smaller chassis.

iPhone SE review

And that includes the excellent audio reproduction I’ve come to expect from the Cupertino-based brand. I’ve not got the audiophilic ears that some of my techradar colleagues possess, so my main rule of thumb is usually ‘does it sound SUPER TERRIBLE Y/N?’

But a couple of times, paired with some decent Marshall headphones, the iPhone SE caught me by surprise with the audio clarity of just listening to average quality songs on Spotify. Apple’s iPod heritage is still going strong here, despite the lack of overt support for the new wave of Hi-Res sound files.

Specs and performance

Are you wondering how impressive the iPhone SE is under the finger? Well, the answer is simple: very good indeed. There are a number of factors at work here, from the fact it shares an A9 chipset with the latest iPhones to the doubling of the RAM seen in the iPhone 5S – everything is much faster than expected.

The graphical upgrade is probably the most marked improvement – it’s a six-core chip that dwarfs the power of the iPhone 5S and even the iPhone 6, making me wonder why anyone would buy 2014’s iPhone other than wanting the larger screen at a lower price.

GeekBench 3 benchmarking offers some interesting stats: the iPhone SE matches the 6S duo almost perfectly, and slightly outdoes them, in fact. The result of 4438 is a shade ahead of 2015’s flagships, likely to do with having to power fewer pixels, and is almost twice as good as the performance from the iPhone 6 – this really is an impressive amount of power for the small phone.

iPhone SE review

The other performance indicators – movies, gaming and audio output – have all be covered in the section above, and while the screen does mar the film-watching experience somewhat, the sheer quality of the images whether from the camera or on the display is impressive.

If you’re wondering how much storage you’ve got to play with here, the bad news is that AGAIN Apple has gone with a 16GB base model size, with only 64GB on offer if you want to play it a bit safer in terms of bytes you can pop in your pocket.

Considering nearly every flagship around at the moment in the Android world has 32GB minimum, this is a bit irritating. The system nabs about 7-8GB before you’ve even started the phone up, so with only 8-9GB to work with on the smaller model you might find yourself making decisions about the content you want to save on the iPhone SE during the two years of your contract.

Touch ID

Another curious / money-saving move from Apple is the use of a last-gen Touch ID sensor, which means it’s not quite as fast as the latest option on the newer phones. It’s an odd choice, given it surely can’t cost a huge amount to offer the functionality, but then again given this phone has a lower cost than the iPhone 6S, perhaps Apple’s looking to shave every margin it can.

iPhone SE review

It’s another example of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make if you go for the iPhone SE over the larger model – nothing major and it won’t bug you too much, but not as good as it could be. It’s worth noting the speed of opening is pretty fast still, and you’d only notice if you came from one of the newer iPhones.

And this Touch ID is still good enough to enable Apple Pay, so you’ll be easily able to use the small phone to pay for goods wherever contactless is enabled. And the smaller size seems to make it easier to find the trigger point for the NFC chip, as it was a complete cinch to pay for a few beers with this thing. Worryingly.

Interface

It’s hard to talk about the interface on an iPhone because, well, I’d be hugely surprised if you don’t know it already. Most people reading this article will already be iPhone users, and those that aren’t will probably know how one works, such is its iconic status in the smartphone world.

I will say that the 4-inch screen is the perfect portal for iOS though, with the one-handed nature of operating the iPhone SE perfect for doing EVERYTHING from checking notifications to turning on the torch or activating flight mode.

The simplicity of the system seems to fit better in one hand – when you start employing a second palm to navigate around a phone, I think you’ve got more license to get a bit more complex in your tapping patterns.

iPhone SE review

One area that is a slight concern – and one that I’m struggling to work out if it’s just a worry because I’m used to much larger phones these days – is the keyboard.

It’s fortunate that Apple’s upgraded its default keyboard in recent years, as the older version was just terrible. Add to that the cramped conditions on offer with the iPhone SE’s smaller screen and I found typing very difficult on this phone.

You can, of course, download a new keyboard from someone like SwiftKey, and this will add in the ability to swipe your words out – I wish the default Apple keyboard had this, as it would be perfect on the smaller iPhone SE screen here.

But overall, it’s hard to fault Apple’s OS in terms of raw predictability and speed. I’ll never be happy until Cook’s Crew finally gives us contextual menus (I mean, SURELY it makes more sense to put the ability to change the camera settings in the camera app itself?) but beyond that it’s hard to say there’s much wrong with iOS.

It’s only those that like the idea of customisation, to change nearly every element of the phone, that sneer at the platform – and for them, Android is just perfect.

Battery

As I mentioned earlier, the iPhone SE somehow manages to not only build in a much better battery than the iPhone 5S, but it does so with no extra chassis space to cram extra electrons.

Despite that, Apple has managed to shrink down some of the components inside to plop a slightly larger power unit inside the SE, up from 1560mAh to 1624mAh (and that’s more impressive when you consider the iPhone 5 had a 1440mAh power pack).

In my testing though, it was a mixed bag. While it’s hard to truly remember how much battery I used to get through on an average day with the iPhone 5S, I do remember it being rather terrible a lot of the time.

iPhone SE review

It’d regularly be down to 20% by the evening when leaving work – enough to be in the red zone at times – which was a terrible performance for any phone, let alone a top-end flagship handset.

The good news is the iPhone SE is much more capable – but then again, you’d expect that from a phone that’s had two years of development, a leaner operating system and the M9 co-processor all to ease the strain on the troubled power unit.

That said, it’s fairly easy to run it down quickly, with some days seeing me need to switch on Low Power Mode early at 35% to make sure I made it through the day.

It’s fair to say these are the higher-usage days, with things like tethering an iPad and a couple of hours of video watching at full brightness in the mix, but the new glut of flagship handsets are all capable of easily lasting a day with such pressure put on the battery life, and it puts the performance of the iPhone SE into the spotlight.

iPhone SE review

You’d think the above scenario, where watching video at such a high brightness, would be the obvious reason of the battery diminishing so much – nope, not in this case.

While a trip into the battery settings tries to tell me that video is the biggest battery guzzler out there, the phone was charged to 100% at 10.30AM, a 90 minute Full HD video was run at full brightness and the iPhone SE was left on a desk.

It only dropped 20% in that time – and while that’s far from the best performance we’ve seen (I’m still struggling to explain the 6% the LG G Flex 2 managed – it’s an obscenely good result) the iPhone SE managed a score that’s slightly above average, which is a damningly good result for an iPhone.

So why did it need such massaging come 18.00 that evening? It seems that, despite the co-processor trying to manage down battery life, the iPhone is still a bit chatty when it comes to battery consumption, pinging a little bit here and there and gradually dribbling down.

However, I’m keen to reiterate that this was a heavy day on the phone – in the week I’ve had with it, it’s generally been capable of lasting more than long enough for me to not get annoyed.

If you’re upgrading to this phone from the iPhone 5 or 5S, you’ll be in dreamland with the battery life, trust me.

Camera

The 12MP camera on the iPhone SE is a marked upgrade from that in the 5S or 5 in a number of ways, not just the boost in megapixels.

It’s imbued with all manner of fancy technology that you just wouldn’t have found on the earlier models – and, in fact, is another perfect example of Apple giving iPhone SE users the same toys as found on the larger 6S.

iPhone SE review

Firstly, the 12MP sensor comes with Focus Pixels, which are a secondary layer within the camera that works out what the phone is being pointed at and sharpens things up rather quickly. It’s not the best in the industry, but it’s more than quick enough and if you’ve got a millisecond to hold the camera steady you’ll generally get a sharp snap each time.

Live Photos is added into the mix too, and while I was sceptical when I first saw the feature on the 6S, I can’t deny that it does enhance some snaps (there’s a surprise foam party that wouldn’t have been the same without the feature).

It’s also the sapphire covering on the camera that’s a decent upgrade too – so many pictures on older phones are now fuzzy and seemingly covered in a smeared layer, such are the micro-scratches that festoon the cover.

By making this stronger Apple has removed one of the big issues that can plague the iPhone SE in its later life, and I love that it’s now flush with the chassis thanks to being a little thicker. It’s hard to say why, but the clean lines on the back are so much more pleasant.

Settings-wise, the iPhone sticks to simplicity, keeping only the options you want front and center. That means you can toggle on HDR or Live Photos, toggle the timer or flash and add an effect. Square mode remains for easier Instagram pics, and the video and slo-mo modes are within an easy swipe.

When using the camera there’s only so much you can change when you’re snapping – there’s no professional setting to play with. When tapping the screen to focus a simple slide up or down with your finger will alter the exposure, but if you’re looking to change color temperature or aperture speed, you’ll need to install a specific app.

iPhone SE review

I’m a fan of the way Apple does things here. Cameras should be simple first and foremost, getting out of the way to let you take the best snap possible, rather than worrying you that you’re not using the right settings in the correct places.

HDR becoming automatic really makes a difference too – while the mode has less of an effect now the iPhone packs a rather decent camera and usually captures more tone and detail than in previous years, I still got improved pictures when it fired automatically.

Let’s get onto the actual camera quality. It’s, obviously, pretty good – and I say obviously because the iPhone 6S’ camera has already been dissected and impresses, so I was fully expecting the same to be happening here.

Apple’s phones always err on the side of natural pictures – which sounds like a great thing, but I’m not always so sure. While it’s great to have natural skin tones and more neutral colors to match more closely to what the eye is seeing, other phones add a slight richness to snaps that makes them ‘pop’ off the screen.

I’m not saying that this will be the sort of thing many people like, but I kept feeling like the pictures I was getting off the iPhone SE were a little muted in comparison to something like the Samsung Galaxy S7.

The iPhone SE also has a decent low-light mode, although again it’s not the best around. It is, however, still brilliant at getting pictures in darker scenes, and for that alone it gets a big tick from me.

My only bugbear with this camera really comes from the size of the phone. I found that it was too small to properly wield when framing a shot – while it was easier to hold, and thus more steady, I really pined for a larger viewfinder to see what I was going to be capturing.

I maintain that a good photo is the one that you want to share, and the smaller 4-inch display meant I wasn’t always sure I’d got something brilliant, having to zoom in and out to check clarity etc.

The smaller screen also made it harder to use the volume-down key to take pictures one handed, as I kept covering a portion of the screen with my palm. It’s not a big deal, and one that I probably wouldn’t feel if I wasn’t coming from a larger phone.

But in this instance I think it’s worth pointing to the larger phones as a superior photographic experience – in terms of holding the phone if you’re thinking of sticking with the iPhone, or just checking out the brilliant snapping ability of the Galaxy S7.

Camera samples

iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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iPhone SE review

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Verdict

This review is directly aimed at those upgrading from one of Apple’s smaller phones from a few years ago, because that’s clearly who the brand made the iPhone SE.

It sees the older form factor as a beloved chassis that many people will be loath to give up, and is trying to convince them that the iPhone SE is the perfect port in the Storm of Myriad Smartphones, the obvious upgrade.

iPhone SE review

Writing an iPhone review is different to other handsets. You’re generally writing for an audience that has little interest in comparable Android phones as they’re ‘locked in’ to the ecosystem, and price is generally less of an issue too, users prepared to pay more to get the iPhone.

So with that in mind – has Apple made the perfect iPhone for the niche of people that have been holding off buying a bigger handset for as long as possible?

We liked

The iPhone SE’s biggest draw is its size – and I know, that’s obvious. But if it weren’t for the fact it’s so easily operated one-handed, it would be impossible to see why Apple made this phone at all.

The smaller size definitely feels great in the hand and the pocket – and whether you’re slipping it into a bag, a running armband or just holding it gripped while walking along it’s a much more palatable design.

Obviously the power the SE’s been imbued with is impressive too – and considering the amount of grunt Apple’s managed to stick into the smaller phone, I’m surprised it doesn’t run hotter or have a poorer battery life.

While it’s not industry leading, it’s an iPhone with a good battery life, which many will love – it’s not as good at holding battery as other iPhones for watching media, but it’s a step forward over the 5S generally.

The camera is powerful and sharp too – again, for the upgraders out there they’ll be astounded by the changes (my friend recently couldn’t stop taking side-by-side pictures with the SE and an old 5, such was the difference).

iPhone SE review

We disliked

The design of the phone isn’t ‘iconic’ – it’s dated. There’s no reason Apple couldn’t have created a smaller version of the iPhone 6S other than saving money – while that cost has been passed onto the consumer, it would have been amazing to see a new phone in this space.

The screen technology is what irritates me the most – and yes, I know it’s a price tradeoff. But, bar some small tweaks, this is a very similar display to what we saw on the iPhone 5 from 2012. Nearly four years old, and it’s being reused here – and it’s how things look on the screen that matters.

It’s adequate – but compared to other phones you can get for the price (and I know, they’re a lot less wieldy) the difference is marked.

Whatever you do, don’t look at the iPhone SE’s screen then the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for example. You’ll be a bit sad.

Verdict

With the iPhone SE, Apple’s fixed a big problem: price. Given the internals on offer here, this would have been close to a perfect phone if it weren’t for a few glaring omissions.

Firstly, we needed a new design for this to be seen as the next step in the 4-inch phone cycle. And it’s not like Apple doesn’t have a perfectly brilliant design just waiting there to be retooled, rounded edges combined with a more palm-friendly shape. Man, that would have been amazing.

The screen also had to be better for this to be seen as a brilliant phone. It’s fine, and in some instances still looks sharp. But compared to the rest of the market, it’s been left behind – but then again, Apple needed to make some savings to keep its high margins on the iPhone, and this was clearly one of those (the cost of making those screens is reportedly a lot lower than it was a few years ago as processes have improved).

Will the iPhone SE pull in any Android users fed up with having to wrap their hands around devices they consider too big? Actually, yes – such is the clamour I hear from people not wedded to any particular brand for a phone that ‘I can use one handed’.

Phones like the Nexus 5X tried to solve this itch, but are nowhere near the compact dimensions of the SE.

There are two ways of looking at this phone from Apple: on the one hand, it’s the perfect 4-inch phone, coming with so much power, a great camera and improved battery life, all wrapped in Apple’s well-crafted iPhone chassis and delivering true simplicity with iOS. I know that combination will have people falling over themselves to buy the phone.

On the other hand, it’s just 2011’s design rebadged and a new engine put inside. Far from being a new phone, it’s the iPhone 5SS, another iteration on an old design – but one that’s a lot cheaper to buy. It’s also got a much smaller screen, where it’s proved that larger displays are the popular choice now, with apps in particular making use of the extra space.

Ultimately, Apple’s given consumers a great choice here and actually for a half-decent price. The iPhone SE is a brilliant phone for those that want something smaller in their pocket and don’t care about tired design – and I suspect there will be quite a few of those buyers out there.

First reviewed: April 2016

  • Not convinced this is the phone for you? Then these are the ones to check out:

iPhone 6S

iPhone 6S

If you’re wondering whether the iPhone SE is for you, then you’re thinking one of two things: whether you want a new iPhone, or you fancy a smaller handset.

If it’s the former then the iPhone 6S is your obvious other choice – it’s got all the same power but in a bigger (and sleeker) frame, with the curved edges sitting nicely in the hand.

However, the screen sharpness isn’t improved (although it’s brighter and clearer overall) and you’ll be paying more for the privilege – but that screen size is important to a lot of people.

Sony Xperia Z5 Compact

Z5 compact

So it’s not the iPhone you’re after – it’s the power in the smaller package. Well, if you’re into the Android ecosystem, we recommend the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact.

It’s got nearly all the same impressive innards as the Z5 ‘normal’ – a 720p screen aside – which means you can take superb photos and still get the same amount of whizz under your finger.

It’s a little older – no more so than the iPhone 6S though – but it’s the only option here that’s waterproof.

Nexus 5X

Nexus 5X

The Nexus 5X feels like a separate phone, one that’s firmly in the shadow of the larger Nexus 6P. It was released to be a more palm-friendly device.

However, with a 5.2-inch display it’s nowhere near the compact nature of the iPhone SE – it’s has the same power under the hood though, and by being a ‘pure’ Nexus device it offers a similarly slick experience to Apple’s miniature handset.

It’s also on the cheaper end of the scale, sp if you’re looking for pure Android it’s one to consider.

iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S

OK, we get it. You want the iPhone, but you want the smaller size. The issue you’ve got is with the higher price. Well, in that case maybe you should look at the iPhone 5S – still on sale in many places despite being launched in 2013.

It’s got the same chassis and screen technology as the SE, but it’s in the speed and battery life areas that this phone will struggle – then again, if you’re not revving it with loads of apps or relying on it to entertain you all day then you’ll probably be OK.

Best to buy it SIM free though – this thing might not be supported by Apple in a couple of years.

Samsung Galaxy S7

Samsung Galaxy S7

This phone doesn’t fit into any of the categories above: it’s not an iPhone, it’s not a small phone and it’s not cheap. But it is one of the very best handsets around at the moment, with a superb camera, loads of power and the ability to charge on any wireless pad you happen to have lying around.

The design is rather neat too, with the back of the phone curving away nicely thanks to a new ‘3D thermoforming’ process.

In actual fact, I think the Galaxy S7 Edge is the better phone, but chose this one as the Edge is an even bigger device – it’s worth checking out though.

View the original article here

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Review: Updated: Nexus 5X

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Review: Updated: Nexus 5X

Introduction and design

Update: Our Nexus 5X review has been updated with details of the Android Nougat beta update you can now download, and talk of the upcoming new Nexus devices.

What’s the sound of one hand clapping? It’s a Nexus 5X owner giving praise to Google and LG for remaking their palm-friendly Android phone while effortlessly holding it in the other hand.

Yes, Google’s Nexus handset now comes in two sizes, and this 5.2-inch phone is for those non-giants out there who literally can’t handle a 5.7-inch Nexus 6P or last year’s 6-inch Nexus 6 phablet.

Meaty paws need not apply, and neither does a big budget. The Nexus 5X price now starts at $350 (£260, AU$579) for the 16GB model and $399 (£280, AU$659) SIM-free for the 32GB version. In the US and UK, that price has dropped from the initial $379 (£299) 16GB and $429 (£339) 32GB asking price during the first four months.

The larger Nexus 6P costs $499 (£449, AU$899) and Nexus 6 started at $650 (£499, AU$870). The 5X now matches the Nexus 5 price, and is a smidge more expensive than the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5X is more than just a normal-sized phone at a smaller price, though. Its 12.3MP camera is able to capture quality low-light photos, and the specs are just fast enough for most people.

Its reversible USB Type-C port provides quicker charging, its fingerprint sensor is yet another way to effortless unlock your phone, and it’s pre-loaded with Android Marshmallow. Better yet, runs Google’s Android Nougat update right now in beta if you download Android Nougat.

Nexus 5X review

Compromises and competition mean Nexus 5X isn’t for everyone. The Nexus 6P requires two hands to operate, but it isn’t a stretch to hold in one, making its size difference tighter and all-metal design and more powerful specs tempting. There’s also the option to wait for the Nexus 2016 phone sequel which should be with us very soon.

The Nexus 5X, made of plastic, also faces stiffer competition than the Nexus 5 did back in 2013, namely from the iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 – although the latter two have since been replaced by the meatier Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5.

It’s also not quite as fast as any of these phones when under pressure. Multitasking with the GPS and playing music, for example, is going to see some slowdown. The same happens when the camera app loads while you’re switching from other heavy-duty applications. It’s noticeable, but occasional and by no means a deal breaker if you’re on a budget.

Easy-to-hold, priced right and feature-packed, this is the Nexus 5 reborn as the Nexus 5X, but over two years have gone by. Is it still a worthy stock Android phone at an unbeatable value? Let’s break it down.

Design

The Nexus 5X looks and feels like the Nexus 5 adapted for modern times. It’s lightweight and, with a 5.2-inch display, my fingers can barely reach all the way across the screen. That’s what I want.

It appropriately pushes the limit of a one-handed phone with dimensions of 147 x 72.6 x 7.9mm, making it taller and broader, but ultimately skinnier than the idolized phone from 2013.

Nexus 5X strikes the right balance: a screen size that’s maximized, but still operable in one hand. It’s still light, too, at 136g. That’s a modest gain from 130g.

Nexus 5X review

I didn’t exactly want a camera bulge around back, which is what happened to the center-located rear snapper, but I’d rather have that than a weaker camera. It’s a fair trade-off and camera bulges are coming commonplace among today’s smartphones.

Thankfully, the camera protrusion isn’t as significant as we saw in leaked prototypes, and it at least gives me a landmark when trying to find the new, oddly-placed fingerprint sensor on back.

The 5X owes its lightweight design to LG sticking to a polycarbonate back and thin metal frame. This bucks the trend of moving away from plastic and going with all glass or strictly aluminum.

Nexus 5X review

For this reason, it doesn’t feel different from the hard plastic of the Nexus 5, although you won’t find the soft touch coating of the black Nexus 5 here. It’s more of an egg shell texture.

There are three Nexus 5X colors again, but this time it’s Carbon Black, Quartz White and Ice Blue, doing away with red. All three come with a black front, however. You won’t find an all-white Nexus 5X.

The black-and-white combination makes my white Nexus 5X review unit look like a delicious ice cream sandwich more than a phone. While not as stylish as Motorola’s curved Moto X design, it’s mostly flat and functional.

Nexus 5X review

In fact, the only glaringly impractical design choices here are the power button and volume rocker located on the right side. They’re small, feel cheap and the power button isn’t riveted.

That’s a design choice I appreciate in recent phones like the Moto X Style and Nexus 6P. At night, it’s easier to tell a power button accent with rigids from a smooth volume rocker.

There is a pulse notification light here. It hasn’t been omitted, it’s just tucked inside the speaker grill located at the bottom front of the phone and, rudely, turned off by default.

Whether or not you’re ready, the Nexus 5X includes the USB-C port on the bottom of the frame instead of micro USB, and it’s joined by a never-changing 3.5mm headphone jack.

Nexus 5X review

As future-proof as this Android phone tries to be, it doesn’t take advantage of Gorilla Glass 4 like the Nexus 6P does. Instead, it sticks to Gorilla Glass 3 like the curved LG G4.

The LG G4 gets away with this in my book because of its protective, curved design. The Nexus 5X has only a small lip around its display bezel, so you may want to opt for a case.

Luckily, the Google Play Store is ready in this department. I’m more of a fan of the official Nexus 5X cases with a microfiber back and what looks like the Amazon Web Service logo (awkward).

I have this official Nexus 6P case, but got stuck with the Speck CandyShell case for my 5X. It has military grade drop protection, but really drives the point home that it’s unflattering rubber.

Display, fingerprint sensor and USB-C

The average acceptable phone size has increased over the last two years, but I feel as though a 5.2-inch display is the limit for hands. It’s not going to change unless we all grow longer fingers.

It’s therefore no coincidence that the Nexus 5X keeps up with today’s ideal Android phone size, with a 5.2-inch LCD, up from the two-year-old Nexus 5 that was technically 4.95 inches.

Little else has changed here. It’s uses the same IPS LCD screen technology and 1,920 x 1,080, and the resolution is now 432 pixel per inch.

Nexus 5X review

Pixels are less densely packed given the increased display size but same exact resolution, yet you won’t notice a difference. You will, however, notice five apps now fit across the screen instead of just four.

Google and LG vetoed making a Quad HD display for the Nexus 5X, which would have been a bit more meaningless given the smaller size of this phone. It would just suck more battery life. There’s very little chance Nexus 5X will be compatible with the high-resolution-requiring Google Daydream VR initiative. Sorry, folks.

Instead, the duo gets the more important things right: brightness, uniformity and functionality. With the default "adaptive brightness" turned off, it was plenty bright for outdoor use.

Color accuracy is also more on point than the oversaturated Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P AMOLEDs. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and Note 5 remain the best overall displays in brightness and color.

Nexus 5X review

The Nexus 5X inherits the Ambient Display setting of the Nexus 6. It wakes up the phone with a grayscale notification screen whenever the device is picked up or a notification arrives. Newer Apple phones like iPhone 6S have a similar "raise to wake" feature now too thanks to iOS 10.

This isn’t as effective as the double-tap-to-wake functionality found in the HTC One M9 and LG G4, and that’s a shame for 5X owners especially. It would’ve fit, given the flimsy power button on the side and fingerprint sensor on back.

I’m also a fan of Motorola’s Moto Display, which uses IR sensors to detect your presence and show interactive notifications in a limited state. That’s not what Ambient Display does, sadly.

Fingerprint sensor

The Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P introduce Google’s first fingerprint sensor, or what it calls the Nexus Imprint. Don’t let the fancy name fool you.

It works like every other phone-based biometric fingerprint sensor out there, except it’s on the back of the device right below the camera, not around front acting as the home button.

Nexus 5X review

There’s no physical home button on the Nexus 5X, just extra screen space, so this placement makes sense. It did however take some getting used to, but I now accidentally try to unlock my other Android phones this way.

While Google says that "this is where your finger naturally falls," I still felt like I had to genuflect my index finger to unlock the phone. I also smudged the nearby camera a bunch of times. For this reason, the Sony Xperia Z5 fingerprint sensor, on its side power button, is a better idea.

The good news here is that the Nexus Imprint fingerprint sensor is fast, accurate and easy to set up. It took me eight seconds to register a finger and half a second for my phone to unlock.

Nexus 5X review

Apple’s iPhone 6S Touch ID setup is painstakingly slower and requires too many taps and too many seconds in between taps. I found Nexus Imprint to be just as accurate with six simple taps.

Android phones and tablets offers a number of different unlock methods, and this my favorite and the most secure so far. It’s built for Android Pay and web sign-ins too.

I still found myself needing to use my traditional pattern unlock, however. Whenever the phone is on my desk, it’s the only way to bypass the lockscreen without picking up it up to then reach for the back fingerprint sensor.

USB-C connection

Get ready to retire the dozens of micro USB cables you’ve collected over the last half decade, because the 5X and 6P also introduce USB-C to the Nexus line.

The advantage here is that the cable connection is reversible on both ends. It’s easy to plug in without looking, now that there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s USB in its finest form yet.

It’s more than just a convenience, though. The Nexus 5X USB-C port offers for faster charging (data transfer speeds appear to be at normal pace in our testing).

Nexus 5X review

Juicing up the phone via the included Type-C 15W (5V/3A) charger for just 10 minutes makes it last four hours. I could also charge via other USB-C devices, like my Nexus 6 or new MacBook.

The drawback is that most Nexus 5X owners will have just one USB-C cable (yet dozens of micro USB cables) and only one USB-C charging block. Lose either and you’re in serious trouble.

Newer USB-C Android phones like the LG G5 and Huawei P9 at least come USB-C-to-normal-USB cables as well as charging blocks that accept normal USB. That’s tremendously more convenient, not to mention logical.

Nexus 5X is also a pain because your computer likely uses USB, unless you have the new MacBook or Chromebook Pixel, and now you have yet another cable type lying around. It never stops.

Google’s Nexus 6P actually includes a USB Type-C to USB Type-A plug, but you won’t find that in the box of the Nexus 5X. It’s an additional price via the Google Play Store (or anywhere else, really).

The future is certainly USB-C, but it’s going to be a rough 2016 adapting to this early adopter technology. Every time you’re at a bar or in an Uber, and you need a quick charge, expect them to look at you funny when you ask if they have USB-C.

Specs and performance

You can’t peel off the Nexus 5X back cover (without voiding the warranty), but we already know what’s inside when it comes to the phone’s specs.

In fact, it turns out we were already familiar with the Nexus 5X specs as soon as the LG G4 launched. LG took several cues from its own product line for this Google commissioned phone.

The 5X uses the same with the same Snapdragon 808 processor with a 64-bit hexa-core CPU that’s a combined 1.44GHz quad-core chip and 1.82 GHz dual-core chip. A matching Adreno 418 GPU is also integrated into this processor.

Nexus 5X review

There is a difference when it comes to memory, which, among other things, dictates how many apps you can have open at once. The Nexus 5X has just 2GB of RAM, while the LG G4 takes advantage of 3GB of RAM, as does the Nexus 6P.

The 5X is behind similarly-sized Android phones featuring a more comfortable 3GB and 4GB of RAM. Some phones, like OnePlus 3, and Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe top out at a massive 6GB of RAM. 5X isn’t so future-proof after all.

You’re out of luck if you’re looking for a microSD slot, too. It hasn’t been a part of Nexus phones for several years and, despite the Android Marshmallow Flex Storage feature that makes expandable storage adoptable and easier to use, it’s not part of this phone either.

Instead, the Nexus 5X relies on internal storage of either 16GB and 32GB, depending on how much you’re willing to pay. That means, like with the iPhone 6S, I don’t suggest spending less than US$399 (£280) for the 32GB model.

Performance

The Nexus 5X performance reflects the horsepower of the LG G4 minus the extra RAM offered by the South Korean manufacturer’s true Android flagship.

It begins fast enough with a Geekbench score of 3,504, which is the exact speed readings I get from the LG G4. So far so good. Running it a few more times does shows slowdown, however.

When under pressure by running back-to-back Geekbench tests, the Nexus 5X speeds dropped to 3,025, then 2,439, giving me an average of score of 2,990 after three tests.

Waiting some time between tests and closing other apps, it bounced back to 3,460, then 2,884, then 2,061. In contrast, the LG G4 was always stayed steady at around 3,500.

These inconsistent results are what I’ve seen from the troubled Snapdragon 810 processor, not the purposely slower and theoretically more stable Snapdragon 808 chip.

I noticed this sputtering score reflected in real-world performance. Specifically, the camera was slow to load when I wanted to take a picture of the sunset as it disappeared into the ocean. Running the GPS chip with Google maps while also playing music through the phone also gave it some literal pause.

Opening multiple apps also showed the 5X lag behind the Nexus 6P in some, but not all cases. Android menus remained flawless, likely due to Android 6.0 Marshmallow being so refined.

This slowdown is nothing too determinantal right now. I got my sunset phone. But if you’re going to hold onto this phone for two years, it may start to show its age faster than you’d expect.

Nexus 5X review

I didn’t have a problem with the faster Nexus 6P and LG G4, which are a better options if you want phones that are more future-proof and 32GB at their entry-level price.

One chip the LG G4 doesn’t have is Google’s Android Sensor Hub for activity monitoring that’s akin to the powers of Apple’s iPhone motion co-processor. This helps with battery life.

Its uses the gyroscope, accelerometer and other sensors to save power and still detect motion for orientation and waking the Ambient Display, all without utilizing the main processor.

The Android Sensor Hub, combined with Android Marshmallow’s battery-saving Doze software tricks, is a bigger benefit down the line than the CPU drawbacks. Way more than phone speed, I always hear about battery life problems from people, and the 5X tilts in the direction of battery life, not chip performance.

Phone call quality

When is comes to call performance tests, I found the Nexus 5X to be loud and clear enough compared to the competition, including its bigger Nexus counterpart.

Holding the phone to my ear and using the speakerphone at a normal distance, voices came in clear and I found the same response from the people I talked to on the other end of the line.

That’s surprising because the Nexus 6P sounds slightly more muffled on both ends in my tests, which may be in part due to the microphone being a tad further away from me face.

It’s also surprising, as the Nexus 5X has shoddy multimedia speakers compared to the 6P. It’s more than just speakers on trial, though. Some phones are better with reception than others, and that’s what’s evident here.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow and apps

The Nexus 5X runs Android Marshmallow, but you would hardly know it. That’s because most of the changes aren’t as (literally) colorful as last year’s ostentatious Android Lollipop revamp.

Instead, behind-the-scenes tweaks to battery life and app permissions make this new operating system update smarter, not necessarily prettier with new Material Design schemes.

The interface and the apps don’t change very much. It comes pre-loaded with Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, Contacts, Calendar, Hangouts, Drive, YouTube and Photos, and more apps can be downloaded via the Google Play Store.

You do have more say over the volume, thankfully. The physical volume rocker can now set the volume all the way down to Do Not Disturb. In Android Lollipop, Google made the lowest setting vibrate, essentially eliminating the ability fully silence a phone via the rocker.

Nexus 5X review

Google realized its mistake, and now not only can the Nexus 5X be silenced completely without having to fiddle with on-screen touches, the volume menu overlay that does pop up contains a triangle for a dropdown icon. Tapping it breaks down the volume settings, so you can set the phone, alarm and multimedia volume independently. This is something Samsung, LG and HTC have included for years, and it’s a welcomed addition to stock Android.

The standout menu change (and best Android Marshmallow feature) is Google Now on Tap. It scans what you’re reading, watching or listening to whenever you hold down the home button.

The results include more information or related apps about the subject. For example, reading an Elon Musk interview on WaitButWhy told me a bit about the "business magnate" and displayed icons to a Google search, Wikipedia, Twitter and Instagram or to see a fan-compiled YouTube playlist (since he doesn’t have a public account).

Nexus 5X review

This works even better in Android’s Messenger app. Confused about the team, actor and place someone just brought up? Holding the home button for Google Now on Tap brings up the sports team’s score, the actor’s IMDB bio or the restaurant’s location.

Google Now on Tap is a shortcut the same way Apple uses 3D Touch as a contextual menu hidden from the normal screen. It’s a convenience for sure, but not life changing.

Likewise, the app drawer – where every app you download is located – now scrolls up and down, not right to left. The bigger deal is that five of your recently used apps appear at the top. No, there’s no way to hide Tinder or other dating apps. You’re caught.

Nexus 5X review

What I appreciate most about all Nexus phones is that they run stock Android, the way Google had intended. There are no junk or sponsored apps that seem worthless.

For example, when I redownloaded my past apps from the Google Play Store, I skipped 24 junk apps in a row. "When did I download these awful apps on another device?," I wondered.

Turns out, they were all required apps that came with my Asus Zenfone 2, which was loaded with two calendars, two to do lists, two browsers, etc. Needless to say, I didn’t redownload these dirty two dozen, and am thankful Google doesn’t pull the same junk-app-drawer stunt.

Android Nougat

Owning a Nexus device does have its advantages. The key one is priority access to the latest version of Android, meaning, with the 5X you can try out Android Nougat before it even launches.

Google has made it easy to download Android Nougat beta and install it on Nexus phones. It’ll hold you over until the Nexus 2016 phones arrive with the final Android Nougat build. It’s a free download and it will give you a glimpse into the future of Android.

A word of warning though – this is a beta build of Android Nougat, and thus it won’t work perfectly. A few apps don’t work (BBC Sport and NFL Mobile) – so be prepared to be without some of your favorites – but the majority run without issue.

There’s already been several updates to the beta, bringing additional features and a more stable build, but quirks can still occur.

Messaging

This is the second year in a row that Google included Messenger in a Nexus phone when it has Hangouts pre-loaded already. I find Messenger easy to use, but incredibly redundant.

I caught some flak last year for listing this as app "con" on the Nexus 6 review. My reasoning was that this SMS app came out of nowhere, and yet Hangouts was left underdeveloped.

Nexus 5X review

Hangouts has been redesigned, thankfully, and you can do logical things like start typing a message, THEN attach a photo (seriously, you couldn’t do that before two months ago because the attach icon would turn into the send icon as you started typing).

Both are good choices now, but I still prefer the cleaner Messenger app between the two texting apps, and more than anything, remain a fan of how Apple combines iMessages seamlessly across platforms.

Google, it’s 2015. You have an excellent keyboard. Please fix Messenger and Hangouts. My Nexus 9 tablet is lonely without proper SMS. The Hangouts revamp was a good start.

Movies and Music

The 5.2-inch display of the Nexus 5X is a better fit for watching HD movies in its 16:9 aspect ratio when compared to the Nexus 5 from two years ago.

No, the screen size isn’t as big as last year’s 6-inch Nexus 6, but the color is more accurate. I don’t find the hues to be overly saturated, though some people may find this to look washed out.

Nexus 5X review

Really, you can see the difference in side-by-side comparisons of actors faces. Orange is the new tan, or at least that’s what it looked like when I rewatched the movie Big on the Nexus 6P.

This phone doesn’t have the artificial pop of the Nexus 6P and doesn’t boast a quad HD display, but it’s more true-to-life. Nexus 6P, however, beats the 5X when it comes to sound quality.

Listening to music and movies is a bit one-sided on the Nexus 5X. The speaker for all media is located in the bottom of the phone, whereas the multimedia-friendly Nexus 6P has stereo speakers at the top of bottom.

Games

The Nexus 5X could handle all of the game apps, with no discernible slowdown or imperfections in the graphics and color. Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8: Airborne chugged along just fine.

Nexus 5X review

Slight variations between Nexus displays favored the Nexus 5X when it came to movies starring real people, but game apps I tested looked like a tad more muted in color on this phone.

Bezel has become a bad word among smartphone, but I found games in landscape mode easier to control thanks to the slightly thicker bezel of the Nexus 5X (the same is true of the Nexus 6P).

Camera

Google proclaimed that the Nexus 5X (as well as the Nexus 6P) has the best camera it has ever put into a Nexus. That’s not saying much, given the very average Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 photos.

Loading up the default Google camera app, I quickly realized how much it lives up to its Nexus-beating hype, thanks to the 1.55-micron pixels that do well in low light.

These are larger than normal pixels, and therefore can capture more light for stronger indoor photography. I found the Galaxy S7, LG G5 and Moto X Style to snap bright photos, too, so it’s really going to come down to a personal preference in some cases.

Nexus 5X review

The camera sensor here is 12.3MP, a lower number than its top-performing Android rivals in 2015. But the Nexus 5X is able to to use that extra light for superior low-light images. A whopping 80% of photos are taken in low light, according to Google.

What better place is there to test it out than your local bar during trivia and karaoke night? I took the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, iPhone 6S Plus and Galaxy Note 5 out of the lab to the closest pub.

Nexus 5X review

A bar is a common environment for photos to be taken with friends, but among the toughest due to often poor lighting conditions, and the Nexus 5X did fine in low light. Not perfect, but almost as good as its competition most of the time. Samsung and LG still have it in 2016.

In case you’re wondering, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P’s 12.3MP sensors are exactly the same. I noticed that image processing is a little slower on the Nexus 5X, especially for photos using Lens Blur mode, but the results were the same, or close to it, via the rear camera.

I actually had to double check that I wasn’t accidentally looking at the same files when comparing the two.

Nexus 5X review

This rear camera records video in 4K at 30 frames per second, while the front-facing camera is 5MP with the normal 1.4 microns and the same f/2.0 aperture. You can definitely tell the selfie quality between it and the 8MP Nexus 6P camera, though the iPhone 6S, with its "Retina" flash, beats both of them.

Google’s camera software has improved since the Nexus 6 debut. It no longer hides all of the important options like the timer, HDR+ and the selfie toggle. They’re all on-screen when you need them the most.

Likewise, switching between snapping photos and recording video is now a matter of swiping left and right, and the only hidden options in the side menu are returning modes: Lens Blur, Panoramic and Photosphere.

Nexus 5X review

Don’t go into this expecting all of the nifty Samsung and LG options, which include the ability to shoot in RAW, gesture control to trigger selfies and wide selfies to capture group shots.

This is just a basic camera app, but one that fully harnesses the phone’s low light photo capabilities. It’s the best Nexus camera next to the Nexus 6P, and there’s even more hope for Nexus 2016 phones now.

Camera samples

Nexus 5X review

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Nexus 5X review

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Nexus 5X review

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Nexus 5X review

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Battery life

The Nexus 5X battery life gets me through the day with heavy use, and that’s about it, which is to say that it’s on par with past Google-made phones that have average battery life.

It contains a 2,700mAh battery, giving it a nice boost considering the 2,300mAh capacity of the Nexus 5. Alas, running multiple battery life tests shows little has changed.

Watching a looped HD movie for 90 minutes wore the battery down from 100% to 77% when the screen was lit to full brightness in adaptive brightness mode.

Turning off adaptive brightness to make the display brighter and running the same 90 video all over again took it down even further to 68%. Through these tests, it performs worse than every new Android phone but the LG G4.

Nexus 5X review

However, in real-world wear-down tests, I found that the Nexus 5X is still able to go the distance of a full day because of Google’s software tricks like Doze mode and App standby. As long as you’re not expecting a multimedia powerhouse, it’ll perform just fine.

Doze and App Standby are Android Marshmallow features that reduce battery life consumption by putting the phone into a quasi-sleep mode. Running multiple battery life tests in which the screen is on doesn’t really capture this battery important new conservation trick.

Here’s the even better news about the Nexus 5X battery. Once it finally does deplete, it quickly charges back up thanks to its USB-C fast charging capabilities.

I was able to restore 25% of the battery in just 22 minutes, and 70% in an hour. It was at 90% in 1 hour and 20 minutes and a full 100% in an 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Nexus 5X review

The reason it doesn’t take just 88 minutes (multiplying 25% achieved in 22 minutes) is because fast charging its magic when the phone is at its lowest. The last 10% takes the longest to fill.

All of this is actually slower than Samsung’s Fast Charging and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 standards that use a micro USB cable along with a larger-than-normal charging brick.

Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Note 5, for example, fill back up in 1 hour and 20 minutes, whereas the Nexus 6P sets the record for USB-C so far with 1 hour and 37 minutes. Thus, USB-C is almost as fast with the added benefit of being reversible.

The Nexus 5X also doesn’t have any sort of fast charge capabilities through a wireless charging pad. In fact, it has no wireless charging powers at all. That Nexus Qi charger? Useless here.

That’s a shame, because Samsung just launched its "Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad" that takes just 120 minutes to charge its newest phones. A reversible, quick charging USB-C port is a convenience but not "so convenient" (as a Google rep said to me) that it’s enough to drop wireless charging.

Verdict

When I first heard the name Nexus 5X, I was worried that Google wanted to take its beloved Nexus 5 to an unnecessary extreme. However, this is a phone update within reason.

The real "extreme" turned out to be last year’s phone. Although I adjusted to the Nexus 6 size and appreciated its larger display at times, bigger isn’t always better. The Nexus 5X proves this.

We liked

The 5.2-inch display is the tipping point for one-handed Android phones. Reaching icons all the way across the big screen doesn’t require two hands. It’s not really a phablet, but it’s close.

That’s how I’d describe its performance against its closest rivals. It’s not the best, but close. It has a fast enough Snapdragon processor and an above average camera that stands up to low light, a fight it wins more than any other phone.

Low light photo quality is subjective at this point. So is the quick and accurate fingerprint sensor being on back. It has reasonable all-day battery life and charges quickly via USB-C. There are better options out there that use micro USB if you’re not ready to upgrade your cable collection.

We disliked

Then there are the things that haven’t changed but should have. With 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage for the entry-level price, you’re likely to max out both forms of memory more than a few times over the next year or two.

The 2GB of memory affects performance, even if our tests prove it’s minimal now, that can be a problem 12 to 23 months after launch, right before you upgrade. All of a sudden, you’ll turn into that person who says, "I can’t wait to get rid of this phone." You can solve the internal space dilemma by springing for the more expensive 32GB Nexus 5X. It’s worth it.

The Nexus 5X doesn’t have wireless charging capabilities (for no reason, I might add – it doesn’t have a metal wireless-charge-blocking back like the Nexus 6P), so that Nexus Qi Wireless Charger is an expensive paperweight for some owners. Good recently stopped selling it in its store. Out with the new, in with the old way of doing things, unfortunately.

Final verdict

Google modernized the its normal-sized flagship for modern times with a slightly larger display, a faster processor and reversible USB charging method.

It’s still inexpensive, and the fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. I found relief switching back to this smaller, lighter and substantially cheaper phone. Your pocket is going to appreciate it in more ways than one.

No, The Nexus 5X isn’t the best phone you can get – it’s not even in the top 10. It’s not even the best Nexus anymore due to the Nexus 6P being the bigger and faster of the two. It’s more like the the perfect fit for one hand and the closest thing to a five-finger discount given the specs.

Competition

Nexus 6P

Nexus 6P

The Nexus 6P is the 5X’s big brother in both size and price, coming in at 5.7 inches and £449/$499. That all means it’s not really a direct competitor to the Nexus 5X, but as both phones run stock Android Marshmallow they could both be considerations.

The Nexus 6P is far more of a flagship than the 5X, as you’d expect given the price. It has a QHD display, an octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM, plus a metal shell which leaves it looking far more premium than the plastic-clad 5X.

OnePlus 2

OnePlus 2

In the world of affordable flagships the OnePlus 2 perhaps stands out the most, as at £219/$299 it’s even cheaper than the Nexus 5X. Yet with a 5.5-inch 1080 x 1920 display, an octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor and up to 4GB of RAM it’s a lot higher spec.

Like the Nexus 5X it also has a fingerprint scanner, though there’s no NFC here, so it’s not quite as well equipped to take advantage of contactless payments.

Moto X Play

Moto X Play

Like the Nexus 5X the Moto X Play is just shy of being a flagship. An octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor and 2GB of RAM keep it chugging along, which if anything makes it slightly lower end than the 5X.

It’s bigger than the Nexus 5X at 5.5 inches and it packs in some features that phone lacks, such as a water repellent coating and a massive battery, but it’s missing a fingerprint scanner.

It is however a little cheaper than the Nexus 5X and with the juice to keep on going all day and beyond it’s better suited to power users.

First reviewed: October 2015

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Review: Download review: ClipGrab review

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Review: Download review: ClipGrab review

How many times have you watched a video on YouTube – or another video site – and wished you could save a video to watch at a later time? It might be that you want to watch it when you know you’re not going to have a connection available, or it could be that your connection is so slow that you’re getting frustrated by constant stuttering and buffering.

Download ClipGrab freeThis is where ClipGrab could help you out, as it lets you download streaming videos from a wide range of sites including Vimeo, YouTube and Dailymotion, converting to key formats in the process.

You should only download videos when you have the copyright owner’s permission – the terms of service for all popular video hosting sites prohibit unauthorized downloading.

ClipGrab format options

User experience

There are several ways you can use ClipGrab, making it a very flexible tool that will suit many different style of working. The built-in search is the first thing you see when you fire up the program, but if you’ve already found the one you want, you’re most likely to copy and paste specific URLs into the app.

ClipGrab quickly analyses the links you add, and asks you to specify a format for the download. As well as WMV, MPEG4 and OGG video formats, you also have the option of downloading audio-only versions of files. In the case of videos, you can also choose the quality you would like to download – great if you want to save space on your phone by downloading a lower resolution version of a video you want to watch on the move. If you opt to convert videos to MP3, ClipGrab can take care of the business of adding ID3 tags using video metadata – but this is entirely optional.

The whole experience is very approachable. Downloading videos and selecting formats could be confusing for inexperienced users but, ClipGrab does an excellent job of making it all straightforward.

ClipGrab settings

We liked

One of the highlights of ClipGrab is the integrated search feature. While this might seem like quite a minor thing, it’s something that other similar tools overlook, which is a shame as it provides such a quick and easy way to find a video you want to download without having to switch to your browser.

Another neat touch – particularly if you are planning to download a lot of videos – is clipboard monitoring. If you copy a video link to the clipboard, ClipGrab can automatically download the associated video, saving you the hassle of manually switching to the program time and time again.

ClipGrab YouTube search

We disliked

Strangely, the highlight of ClipGrab – the built in YouTube search function – is also one of the program’s slight disappointments. Unfortunately, the search feature is not quite as advanced as might be hoped and this means that after you have entered your search terms, you only see the top 12 results and there is no way to increase this. While this is not a major problem, it’s something that could have very easily been addressed, transforming a useful tool into something truly indispensable.

Conclusion

Download ClipGrab freeA very quick and easy way to grab videos from YouTube and other sites. If you’re looking for a tool to allow for offline viewing, ClipGrab is the one for you.

Specifications

Developer: ClipGrab

License: Adware

System requirements:

  • Operating system: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10
  • Processor: Not specified
  • RAM: Not specified
  • Disk space: Not specified

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