Tech Tools review: Moto X Play

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

“We’re really excited about this phone and we hope you are too,” the notice said, as published by Phandroid. “But we have some not-so-great news: It’s going to take a little longer to get the 6P to you than we would have liked.

The latest version of Google’s Android operating system, 6.0 Marshmallow, feels like it was written to address some things that annoyed users, and some things that irked Google. It shares some of the features of the higher-end Moto X Style – a 21 megapixel camera, for example – but it bumps down some of the specs to make it more affordable.

Following Motorola last time round, this is the first time Google has partnered with rising Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei and the results are excellent. For users, it’s a sensible update that banishes many of the real groan points about Android, such as its flawed way of handling microSD memory and overactive apps that devour battery life. For your trouble, Google will refund $25 as soon as the phone ships. “We’re working hard to meet the strong demand we’re seeing for the color and memory size you ordered, and we promise it will be worth it,” Google continued. The all-metal and glass phablet has a plain front – a glass screen with a pair of stereo front-facing speakers at the top and bottom and a notification light in the top left – but the back is relatively unusual. That said, one big problem still remains: A persistent fragmentation problem makes it likely that you will never see Marshmallow on your current device.

The top bulges in thickness slightly, forming a glass window that contains the camera, as well as NFC and other sensors that don’t work well through metal. That’s because, for more and more people, their handheld devices are their primary computers, and Linux-based Android powers everything from $50 burner phones to enterprise tablets that cost more than most desktop PCs.

But it’s the software is what sets the Moto X Play apart from other Android phones – specifically, the fact that it is really close to stock Android, with little extras. The unlocked Nexus 6P ($499, 32GB) isn’t perfect, but it’s the closest Google has come to fulfilling the wish list of Android users who want a true flagship-level Nexus smartphone.

That means no annoying bloatware that you can’t get rid of, any currently included programmes such as Moto Assist look likely to be left out of the next version of the operating system Android Marshmallow. Email addicts, IT managers, and mad multitaskers will find much to love in BlackBerry 10, the new OS from the once-leading smartphone firm that drags the venerable BlackBerry line into 2013. You can also tell the phone how to behave when you’re driving, instructing it to read text messages to you or announce the name of callers so you don’t take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road.

Adding the meeting setting and you can set the phone up to auto reply to missed calls in your favourites list You can set a launch phrase that will activate the phone, prodding it into life even if the screen is switched off. But BlackBerry 10 tends to lack many game and entertainment service apps that are available on other platforms, and it isn’t as user-configurable as Android or Windows Phone. It’s also colourful and bright, but not quite as vibrant as Samsung’s highly saturated AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S6 series, which some may prefer. On top of these upgrades, you also get a fingerprint scanner, a USB-C port with quick charging, dual front-facing speakers, and a crisp 5.7-inch AMOLED display. In other devices, notably especially the Sony Xperia Z3+, the processor has a tendency to overheat, making the phone overly hot and reducing its performance.

It easily lasted the day, and more often than not stretched into a second day, even with the kind of use that depletes the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge in less than a day. That’s before you start relying on battery-saver mode, which will knock off the background data and location services to eke out a little more battery life.

It measures 6.27 by 3.06 by 0.29 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.28 ounces, putting it roughly on par with Apple’s iPhone 6s Plus, which measures 6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches and weighs 6.77 ounces. If you’re doing something, and you want to do something else, you swipe up, minimizing your app, to return to the Active Frame where it’s easy to jump into another app. But the curved back that makes it fit so well in your hand adds a bit of bulk, and the two front-facing speakers, while delivering better audio than if they were placed elsewhere, add to the phone’s height. I spent 2.5 hours browsing in mixed connectivity conditions, four hours listening to music via Bluetooth headphones, around 20 minutes of gaming and a couple of photos per day.

BlackBerry OS 10’s home screen, to some extent, customizes itself: Those eight recently used apps can update their pages as new information comes in, potentially making them a little like Android’s widgets or Windows Phone’s Live Tiles. On the icon pages, you can move the icons around and form folders just like in iOS, but you can’t add widgets or individual contacts as icons the way you can on Android and Windows Phone. Wireless charging and two-day battery life would be nice, but Google’s new Doze power saving system will make it last considerably longer if you leave it idle on a desk for most of the day. I find the inability to “arrange my furniture” on BlackBerry 10 frustrating: I always want to be able to see the weather at a glance and to be able to text my wife easily.

It uses tap to shoot, which means if you try to tap on the screen to change the focus or exposure you can end up with the intended subject out of focus. It’s not very noticeable on the graphite phone, but it will definitely stand out on the aluminum and white models, so keep that in mind if it bothers you. It’s not immediately obvious, but swipe in from the right and you get extra options that allow you to control focus and exposure, and toggle the HDR on and off, among other things. One very short standard USB-A to USB-C for plugging the phone into a computer or battery backup and one longer USB-C to USB-C cable for plugging into the charger. It’s recessed, so your finger naturally falls into it when you pick up the phone, and it’s easier to seek out than the dimpled scanner on the Nexus 5X.

You can turn it on by going into your phone settings, but if you want full control of it, you’ll need to download a third-party app like Light Flow, which is used to set different color flashes and blink intervals for various types of notifications. Few other than BlackBerry is doing high-end phones with physical keyboards, and the short time I’ve spent with the Q10’s keyboard make me think it’ll be the best of its kind. Huawei does try to help you distinguish between the two with feel—the Power button is ridged, while the Volume rocker is smooth—but I prefer to have those two controls placed on opposite sides of the device. I have two Google Apps accounts, a personal one and a corporate one; the latter had to be set up as a Microsoft ActiveSync account to work correctly here. The Nexus 6P supports GSM/EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS/WCDMA (1/2/4/5/8), CDMA (0/1/10), and LTE (2/3/4/5/7/12/13/17/25/26/29/30/41) networks, so it will work optimally on all four major U.S. carriers (including faster carrier aggregation speeds on AT&T and Sprint).

In addition it has a smart burst feature that captures a run of photos at 30 frames per second and automatically picks out a collection of eight photos including what it thinks is the best shot, which invariably I found it was. USB-C is also a lot less fiddly to use and battery life is good enough to see you through one heavy day with enough juice to see you home from a night out. The 6P has the full set of connectivity bells and whistles, including a sensor hub (which powers Doze, the power-saving feature in Marshmallow that puts apps into deep sleep when unused), an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a barometer, a proximity/ambient light sensor, a hall sensor (to detect magnetic fields), dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, and a compass. There’s single nano-SIM slot on the left side and a 3.5mm audio jack up top, which offers good sound quality, free of crackling, pops, and skips when connected to wired headphones.

In my tests, the OS was able to draw and merge contacts from my various email accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but image support was uneven: It grabbed some contacts’ Facebook profile pics but not others. An Updates tab on each contact card shows their most recent social-networking updates, while a useful “activity” tab runs down your most recent correspondence. There’s a “reader” mode that strips out ads and formatting from articles, and—whoa!—the browser supports Flash, smoothly, by default, without complaining.

Evening shots in Manhattan, as in the image above, were clear and surprisingly bright, though there was some unavoidable grain at the margins of the image. You can sync a bunch of ways: by removing the memory card and plugging it into your PC, with a USB cable via USB Mass Storage, over Wi-Fi as a shared drive, or with BlackBerry Link software. Running BlackBerry Link on both Windows 8 and Mac OS X 10.8, I easily synced music, videos, and documents, but note that it can’t be used to sync PIM data locally. Slow motion capture occurs at higher frame rates, 120fps for 1080p video and up to 240fps at 720p. video was gorgeous, even in low-light settings, but a lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) reared its ugly head from time to time in the form of some blurry movement.

Facial features and skin tones come across clearly, and the lens is able to capture background detail without suffering from the washed-out look that can plague selfies taken outdoors. Here’s the problem, though: Outside BlackBerry’s own selection of movies, music, and TV shows, there are none of the popular U.S. media stores or streaming services. With 32GB ($499), 64GB ($549), and 128GB ($649) storage options at relatively reasonable prices, the lack of expandable storage shouldn’t be a problem for most users. I’d love to see this as the first of several computational photography options, like the “lenses” available for Windows Phones, but the OS doesn’t seem to be extensible beyond this.

BlackBerry Safeguard includes remote device location, locking, and wiping, along with parental controls you can alter even at the individual application level. It uses maps and directions from TCS, which provides Verizon’s well-respected VZ Navigator service, so the free, voice-guided GPS driving directions should be accurate.

One of the greatest advantages is that there is no bloatware, which helps keep the phone light and lean, and the best representation for Google’s vision of Android. Along with a bloatware-free experience, Google promises a minimum of 14 months’ worth of Android updates, though it has supported devices like the Nexus 4 for nearly 3 years. The Facebook app lets you look at groups, lists, and photos, but I’m confused by the news feed; it isn’t in chronological order, and I can’t figure out why.

We’ll have a full review of Marshmallow up soon, but here’s a quick feature rundown: Google Photos automatically handles pictures, backing them up for you. We’ve already touched on Doze in the battery section, but App Standby limits the number of times apps can access the Internet if the app hasn’t been used recently, saving you both data and battery.

That’s a useful feature that Samsung has put on its devices for some time now, so it’s disappointing that we still don’t see it on stock Android, especially with so many large-screen devices on the market. In general, App World seems to have a higher proportion of paid to free apps than any of the other major stores; many apps also advertise that they have in-app purchases.

Devs can write for a native SDK, Adobe AIR, HTML5, Android Java, and for all we know there’s an SDK involving construction paper, tongue depressors, and string. The company is also enticing developers, saying that if they submit an app that passes certain criteria and makes $1,000 but not $10,000, BlackBerry will pay them the remainder of the $10,000. For most people, one-handed use isn’t possible with this phone; you can’t reach across the screen with your thumb, so actions like pulling down the notification shade and accessing the Settings menu will require the use of a second hand.

Peek and Flow make it easy to flip between apps and the Hub, but it’s much easier to set up quick access to your most-used contacts and items on Android. If you’re all about texting, calling and emailing, you’ll appreciate the excellent touch keyboard on the Z10, the physical keyboard on the Q10, and the BlackBerry Hub. Noise cancellation is decent, dampening background sounds like music and traffic, but there’s the occasional distortion when loud noises are continuous.

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