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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology

The Mad King

| Posted on in music, politics

They said that we should be silent
They said that it was their turn
They said that only they could fix the mess we made
We watched the world burn

They started to dismantle
They were viciously relentless
They culled our liberties. Our institutions under siege,
We became feckless

They closed their eyes as the mad king built his throne
We covered our hearts as they slowly turned to stone
They abandoned all pretences as our consciences grew numb
When it came time to change save the world we’d scatter and succumb

If only we were stronger
Or their ideas weren’t discordant
They built walls to hoard their gold, their stomachs full, our children cold
We found their avarice abhorrent

We tried to get them to reason
They had no reason to care
We explained how we could bring an end to all the suffering
They didn’t think it’d be fair

Beans, beans, beans

| Posted on in farming, life

We sure went from getting-stuck wet to can’t-get-the-drill-in dry in a very short time.

Finished wheat harvest on Friday. The combine was a champion this year… couple belts and hoses but no major problems…ran last 30 hours without a care in the world.

The drill had a bushing freeze up on a row unit Saturday just as I was getting ready to start drilling soybeans. Cost me the whole day and a smashed thumb. I’m hoping my fingernail gets malformed so I can carry on the family tradition started by my grandfather of telling each grandchild a different tall tale about why it’s that way.

Water in basement

Yesterday I got in the cab and got a call from home that a pipe had burst in our basement. I took care of that and got 18 acres drilled yesterday before a tractor hose burst. My tractor never breaks down.

Finally got a good day in today, but I’m wondering if I’d be better off baling my crab grass instead of drilling beans into the pavement-hard ground. It’s time for new blades from Shoup…Shoup…Shoup…shoup-bay-doop…

Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S8+ is huge but elegant

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews
Samsung Galaxy S8+
Samsung Galaxy S8+

My friends at Verizon sent me the Samsung Galaxy S8+ I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. It’s Samsung’s first flagship phone since 2011’s Galaxy Nexus that hasn’t had buttons on the front and it’s a breath of fresh air from a company that’s been stubborn about that poor design choice it’s made for the last several years. The S8+ is extraordinarily powerful while also achieving unmatched elegance in design.

Specs

The Galaxy S8+ feels great in the hand. It’s a premium phone that’s big and extremely fast. With what I understand to be the fastest processor on the market and 4 GB of RAM, there should be no task it can’t handle with ease. I didn’t notice a difference in performance between the S8+ and the LG G6. It comes with 64 GB of storage and an SD card slot, which made it easy for me to pop in my storage card with my podcasts.

Fingerprint button next to camera
Fingerprint button next to camera

The USB Type-C port is next to the headphone jack on the bottom. The right side has a power button and the left side has the volume rocker and Bixby button. Unfortunately, the fingerprint sensor is placed adjacent to the camera on the back. While it’s fast and accurate, it’s also difficult to use without touching the camera, especially without a case.

The best part about the Galaxy S8+ compared to Samsung phones made in the last five years is the lack of physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. Samsung made what at the time was the perfect Android phone when it made the Galaxy Nexus, but every phone it’s made since has had the cumbersome, clunky physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. The S8 and S8+ shed these unnecessary complications in favor of the virtual buttons that have been the staple of modern Android phones since 2011.

Instead of physical buttons or relying on double-tap-to-wake like other phones, Samsung has introduced a force sensor where the home button would normally be. The phone can be turned on by pressing hard in the general area of the home button. The phone then turns on as it responds with a vibration. It’s an interesting feature, though sometimes I had trouble knowing immediately which end was the bottom of the phone.

Bluetooth

S8+, LG G6, LG V20
S8+, LG G6, LG V20

Perhaps my favorite feature of the Galaxy S8+ is Bluetooth 5. I spend most of every day with podcasts playing through my LG Tone headsets and I’m always excited about advancements in Bluetooth technologies. Bluetooth 5 brings increased range and additional functionality including the ability to pair with and stream audio to two devices simultaneously. In my tests, there can be a slight delay between the two devices, so it doesn’t work to have a separate device for each ear. However, a great use case would be two people watching the same video or listening to the same song. For me, I like to be able to stream to my LG Tone and the receiver connected to the sound board at my desk so I can easily switch between my headset and my studio monitor speakers without having to mess with Bluetooth settings.

Screen

The S8+ is a monster phone, with a 6.2″ screen. While that number dwarfs even the Nexus 6, which had a 5.96″ screen, the S8+ is significantly narrower than the Nexus 6 due to the change in screen dimensions. Like the LG G6, the S8+ is much taller compared to its width than phones have traditionally been, so it’s fairly easy to use even though it’s so big.

The screen is, unfortunately, curved on the sides similar to recent Samsung phones like the S6 edge+. This gimmick is a deal breaker for me, as the complete lack of border on the sides makes the phone unusable without a case. Don’t get me wrong, the phone looks great — I just can’t hold on to it. I grabbed a $10 belt clip case and it made the phone easier to hold, but the curved screen still makes me frustrated when I’m doing anything other than showing it off. It also makes using a tempered glass screen protector — something I consider a must for any device with a screen — much more difficult.

It’s an AMOLED screen, so it doesn’t use much power and the contrast is extremely good. It also has the best looking always-on clock display when the power’s off that I’ve seen since the always-on screens became a common feature.

Battery

I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life on the Galaxy S8+. It would last me easily through business hours. Using the moderate power saving mode, I didn’t notice any reduction in function but was able to get the phone to last more than 12 hours. The battery isn’t upgradable, but the fast charging is extremely effective.

I do like having the built-in options for power management. It’s something that users shouldn’t have to think about, but if manufacturers aren’t going to allow battery upgrades it’s nice to be able to have some control in the rate the battery is used. The S8+ has settings for both performance mode and battery saving mode. Performance mode can be set to optimized, game, entertainment or high performance. Power saving mode can be set to off, mid and max. Each of these settings has presets for features like screen resolution and brightness, always-on display and a CPU speed limiter.

Camera

Samsung makes great cameras and camera software, and the S8+ is no exception. Here’s a comparison of low light photos taken with the S8+ against shots with the LG G6 and LG V20.

Here’s another comparison of pictures from the three phones taken outside. All photos are unedited. The resolution is set to high. HDR and flash are set to auto to simulate common real-world point-and-shoot phone photography.

The camera software is intuitive. The shutter button doubles as a zoom slider, swiping left reveals filters and effects and swiping right exposes the different shooting modes. Here’s a panorama of a canola field.

270 degree panorama of canola field
270 degree panorama of canola field

I wasn’t impressed with the video stabilization on the S8+. It didn’t seem nearly as polished as the effect found on Google’s Pixel XL, and I wish I’d turned it off for all the video I shot with the S8+ which otherwise takes fantastic UHD video. Here’s a video of an airplane applying insecticide to my canola field. Make sure to select high quality in YouTube’s settings.

The camera software on the S8+ also includes Bixby Vision, which is reminiscent of Google Goggles. It’s essentially an image search that’s accessible from the camera, making it easy to shop and search for things by taking pictures of them.

Software

Samsung keeps getting better at reducing the impact of the software layer. There’s the standard pre-installed apps and games from Samsung and Verizon that are best uninstalled or disabled, but overall the software experience isn’t nearly as bad as the Samsung software experience of a few years ago.

By far and away the most notable software addition to Android Samsung has made with the S8 and S8+ is Bixby. Bixby is a virtual assistant in the same vein as Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri. It’s activated by using the dedicated button on the left side of the phone or swiping to the left home screen in the TouchWiz launcher. Bixby is a screen very similar to Google Now, displaying what it thinks are relevant cards from the apps on your phone based on your location or the date and time. It seems really limited compared to Google Now, though, and I’m glad that replacing the launcher lets me put Google Now back on the left home screen.

Galaxy S8+ summary

All told, I’m sure Samsung will sell a ridiculous number of the S8 and S8+ phones. It really is a work of art, with all the speed and a great camera we’ve come to expect from Samsung. With the elimination of the physical buttons and larger screen, as well as the software refinements and enhancements, it’s a big improvement on previous Samsung phones.

If I were to own an S8+, I’d have to invest in a great case to make the curved screen easier to hold and use as well as ease the challenge of finding the fingerprint reader with my finger. I’d replace the keyboard and launcher with Gboard and Action Launcher 3. Mostly, I’d enjoy the big screen, fast camera and amazing performance of Samsung’s greatest phone to date.

Photos

As always, here’s a collection of unedited photos taken with Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S8+.

Verizon’s LG G6 has excellent fundamentals with no gimmicks

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

It seems phones are all about gimmicks these days, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Moto Z has Moto Mods. Samsung has been putting curved screens on its phones like the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and now the Galaxy S8. LG’s G5 has Friends and LG’s V10 and V20 have a second screen. In a world where every phone has a gimmick, sometimes you just want a simple phone that executes perfectly on the fundamentals. My friends at Verizon let me spend a few weeks with the LG G6 and I’m convinced that’s exactly what it does. It’s a fast, straightforward phone with a large, single, flat screen and excellent cameras. And I love it.

Hardware

The G6 has the same large 5.7″ screen as the V20, which is significantly larger than the G5. However, the G6 packs this extra screen into a body that’s actually slightly narrower and shorter than the G6. It does this by nearly eliminating the bezel — the plastic border between the screen and the edge of the phone — as well as making the screen taller than normal.

LG V20, LG G6, Samsung Galaxy S8+
LG V20, LG G6, Samsung Galaxy S8+

The phone is extremely fast and I never found it to lag. It comes in 32 GB and 64 GB versions and thankfully supports SD card external storage for those of us with ridiculous amounts of podcasts. The power button doubles as a fingerprint reader and is located in a great spot on the back below the camera. Volume buttons are on the left side. The speaker is on the bottom next to the USB Type-C port and the headphone jack is on the top.

LG G6 battery usage
LG G6 battery usage

The battery is 3300 mAh and it’s not removable. In my real world usage, playing podcasts all day with Bluetooth, it lasted me from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That’s great for someone with a desk job. On the farm that means I’d have to look for a charger in the middle of the day. LG has done a great job with fast charging, and I’m excited that they brought back wireless charging that was sorely missing on the G5 and V20. I do wish they’d have given the G6 the removable back and upgradable battery that made the G3, G4, V10 and V20 so wonderful.

The bezel reduction makes the phone somewhat more difficult to type on. Indeed, I found it almost challenging to use without a case. I grabbed an Oeago case from Amazon. While it doesn’t have a belt clip, it makes the G6 much easier to hold and use and, for under $6, is quite a bargain.

Cameras

The G6 has the same dual camera configuration that was found on the G5 and V20 — a standard lens next to a wide-angle lens. Where the V20 had a 16 MP primary sensor and an 8 MP wide-angle sensor, the G6 has 13 MP sensors for both the standard and wide-angle lenses. I’m a huge fan of the wide-angle pictures, so the big jump from 8 MP to 13 MP is something I really like. Here’s a comparison set showing pictures of canola with the standard lens and wide-angle lens.

While the standard lens resolution is lower with the G6, the picture quality is as good or better than the V20. Here’s a comparisons of an inside shot in uneven low light between the V20, G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8+.

Here’s another comparison of the three phones taken outside. All photos are unedited. The resolution is set to high. HDR and flash are set to auto to simulate common real-world point-and-shoot phone photography.

Software

LG keeps getting better with their software. The G6 has the usual pre-installed bloat that comprises some games and Verizon apps, but those can be easily uninstalled or disabled. The additions to Android aren’t nearly as obnoxious as they were in previous phones and the experience feels fast and clean. I especially like the design of the in-call screen, which feels more modern than previous LG versions.

LG G6 review summary

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The only feature missing that would make the G6 the perfect phone is a removable battery. It ticks every other box — beautiful, large, flat, IPS screen; SD card expansion slot; fast processor with enough memory to remain snappy for years to come; and the wonderful wide-angle secondary camera.

I admit that I have a soft spot for LG phones. I carried the G3 for three years until this January when I upgraded to the V20. Last year, I bought my wife the G5 before I even sent my review G5 back to Verizon. LG makes terrific phones and the G6 is no exception. Instead of trying to find a new gimmick, the G6 simply executes on the goal to build a high quality, straightforward smartphone.

Photos

As always, here’s a collection of unedited photos taken with the LG G6.

Verizon’s Moto Z Force Droid and Mods

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

In spring 2016, LG announced the G5, which was the first consumer phone that featured a modular design. You could remove the battery and plug in a camera enhancement or an audio system upgrade. The G5 was a great phone, but the add-on ecosystem never really took off. Last summer, Lenovo announced its take on the modular smartphone with the Moto Z. My friends at Verizon recently let me spend a couple weeks with a Moto Z Force Droid — and a few Mods — and I’m convinced that Lenovo’s approach to add-ons is the right one.

Moto Z Force Droid
Moto Z Force Droid

The Moto Z Force Droid Edition isn’t the fastest or biggest phone on the market, but it’s not far from the top. It has a relatively large 3500 mAh battery supporting the sizable 5.5″ ShatterShield screen that’s guaranteed not to crack. The phone only comes in a 32 GB version, which isn’t enough for podcast addicts like me, but it does have a micro SD card slot so that storage isn’t a concern. The camera is nice, too, at 21 MP with optical image stabilization and laser autofocus. I especially like the low light performance.

The power and volume buttons are on the right side of the phone. There’s a fingerprint reader below the screen on what seems to be a needlessly large lower bezel. I’d prefer a fingerprint reader on the back, but considering the interchangeable backs of the Moto Z, it’s understandable that they had to put it below the screen.

The biggest problem I had with the hardware is the lack of a headphone jack. When I heard the Moto Z was the first phone to ditch the traditional 3.5 mm audio plug, I didn’t think it’d be a problem since I nearly always wear a Bluetooth headset. However, I needed the headphone jack three times in the two weeks I carried the Moto Z Force — once when my headset battery ran out and I didn’t have a spare, once when I was wanting to play music through the PA system before an auction and once when I was using the projector to display a basketball game and I wanted to play the audio through my sound system. While there’s a USB Type-C headphone jack adapter in the box, I’m not going to carry it around in my pocket when I may only need it once or twice a week.

The Moto Z Force without the back cover, showing the connection pins
The Moto Z Force without the back cover, showing the connection pins

The software on the Moto Z is very similar to the Moto X and Droid Turbo. There are a lot of Verizon apps preinstalled, but the actual Android experience is about as close to stock as you can find without buying a Nexus or Pixel phone. Motorola is really good about only adding beneficial enhancements and otherwise leaving Android alone.

All these things considered, the Moto Z Force Droid is a solid flagship release. What makes it shine, though, is the implementation of Moto Mods. These attachments have strong magnets that snap to the back and connect through a number of pins. There are several currently available, and Verizon sent me a battery, camera and projector to try.

TUMI Wireless Charging Power Pack Moto Mod

TUMI Wireless Charging Power Pack Moto Mod
TUMI Wireless Charging Power Pack Moto Mod

While the 3500 mAh battery might get an average user through a day, on my farm my experience has shown me that it’ll last me until about 3 p.m. I hate trying to find a charger in the middle of the day, so I won’t carry a phone without the ability to add additional battery capacity. Most phones have done away with upgradable batteries, so the only option for most phones is a clunky battery case. The TUMI Wireless Charging Power Pack Moto Mod provides an additional 2200 mAh and also supports wireless charging. It can be used to keep the phone battery at 100% as long as possible, or used in Efficiency Mode which keeps the phone battery at 80% for as long as it can. Unlike battery cases, it looks like part of the phone. Worrying about the level of charge for two separate batteries isn’t quite as convenient as a single battery upgrade on a phone with a replaceable battery, but if I was going to own a Moto Z Force, I’d definitely get one or two of these Mods to get myself through the day.

Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod
The 21 MP shooter on the Moto Z Force itself is pretty good. However, like cameras on most smartphones, it lacks optical zoom and even basic hardware camera controls. The Hasselblad True Zoom Camera Mod features a real 10x optical zoom, bright xenon flash and physical buttons for the power, shutter and zoom. The sensor is only 12 MP, though, and while it works great in sunlight I found it tough to keep in focus at 10x zoom on an overcast day. For shots that don’t need zoom, I got much better pictures by pulling the Mod off and using the camera on the phone.

Motorola Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod

While the battery Mod is essentially crucial for day-to-day use and the camera Mod has a very specific utility that could be extremely valuable for certain use cases, the Motorola Insta-Share Projector Moto Mod is either really fun or really important for business. I thought it was a gimmick, but the first night I had it I found myself using it at a meeting after someone literally said “…if we only had a projector.” It’s extremely easy to use, with just a power button and a focus wheel. I really wish it had a headphone jack so I could have played the audio over my PA at the bar while I was watching the KU basketball game before my show. The battery lasted only through about the first half of the game, even though I had the phone plugged in to a fast charger. Even so, I can see how great this projector would be to show video clips to a group of friends or pitch a presentation at a board meeting.

In summary, the Moto Z Force Droid Edition is a very solid flagship phone that has a killer feature — an open ecosystem of modular add-ons that adds real functionality to an already premium smartphone.

Here’s a picture comparison taken of some canola with various cameras.

Here are a few pictures taken with the Moto Z Force Droid and some with the Hasselblad Mod.

Scatter and succumb

| Posted on in politics

More and more, I keep thinking about the line from the beginning of The Newsroom, “If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?”

Because we’re spineless and apathetic. We give in or stay home. We don’t do a good job of picking our battles. The battles we choose to fight last just long enough for something shiny to come into view, then it’s time to retreat to fight on the next front. The rhetoric is all about our hair being on fire, while we move from outrage to outrage, never caring enough to finish the job.

Is the problem that there are simply too many battles to fight? Are we rocked back on our heels from the whiplash generated by the shock and awe of the incompetence demonstrated in the first week of the walking conflict of interest who is our newly elected baffoon-in-chief?

Conservatives rally around five or six fundamental ideals. We scatter. Like a clowder of cats, we pick one of 60 causes to care about and join the six others who agree with us and fight really hard, but there’s just not enough of us focusing on any one issue. We get steamrolled.

We’re winning the war, if you look at long-term trends. There’s no question that the current administration is the last gasp of a party that is out of touch with the populous and on the wrong side of history. Like an old gas engine that’s been running poorly for a long time, shutting it off produces a loud backfire. That’s what the Trump administration is – the backfire explosion created from turning off the ignition on the engine that was the GOP.

Unfortunately, instead of sitting back in the pocket and executing our offense, we’re consistently on defense. We think that if we yell loud enough, it will change minds. It works on Fox News, why shouldn’t it work with our neighbors?

Take today’s email from the feckless DNC about Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch. Instead of seeing the whole field, we’re stuck in the weeds of petty, spiteful retaliation against the horseshit Republican tactic of not confirming Garland. Would it feel good to block Gorsuch? Sure. Would it be smart? No. We could do much worse, from what I understand. It’s hard to imagine that Gorsuch could be worse than Scalia. If we blow out our voices on this fight, one that would preserve the balance of the court, then we won’t have any fuel left for the next fight, when it comes. It’s the next fight that could radically shift the balance of the court, not this one.

There are other battles that need to be won, battles that should be fought to reduce suffering. Currently among the battles at hand are the travel ban, the wall, the repeal of the ACA without a suitable replacement – Americans will suffer. Just wait for the battle over the next farm bill and see how the newly-emboldened GOP will try to cut SNAP. Americans will suffer more. Drug testing for assistance? Cutting Medicare? Privatizing the VA? School vouchers? Americans will suffer…bigly.

We have to execute from a unified playbook in order to stop it and I simply don’t see anyone calling plays.

The LG Stylo 2 V is a large value phone

| Posted on in reviews

I’ve honestly never given the “budget phone” category much thought. The only experience I’ve had with them in the past is helping friends and family clean up enough storage so they can take a few more pictures before they get home to transfer their photos to their computers. Not only do these phones never seem to have enough storage or move from one screen to another without a perceptible delay, but their displays are of such a lower quality that they’re frustrating to use.

My friends at Verizon recently suggested I spend a few weeks with the new LG Stylo 2 V.  It’s a large, relatively inexpensive phone with a stylus, and I was pleasantly surprised with its build quality and performance.

The LG Stylo 2 V hardware

LG Stylo 2 V on Verizon

I’d never before heard of the Stylo 2 V, but it’s quite an impressive device for the price. At 5.7″, the display is larger than most phones. The lower 720 x 1280 resolution is noticeable, but I never found it to be a problem in everyday use. In fact, more than once I found myself wishing other phones were as easy to read.

Like last year’s product line, LG has placed the volume buttons with the power button on the back of the device. That’s the best place for buttons, and it’s a shame LG moved the volume buttons to the side on their other new phones this year. The power button has a fingerprint reader, and while it always worked okay it didn’t seem as fast or as accurate for me as the readers on other recent phones.

The Stylo 2 V comes with 2 GB of RAM, which is fairly limited by today’s standards. However, I never felt it lag or in any way seem to slow down during use.

Back of Stylo 2 V

It has a 13 MP camera on the back and a 5 MP camera on the front. The headphone jack and Micro USB port are on the bottom of the phone and a single speaker faces the back.The stylus fits in a slot at the upper right corner and makes a pleasant clicking feeling when removed or inserted that’s augmented by a sound from the speaker.

The phone is thin. It’s not measurably much thinner than the V20 or the Pixel, but it’s so wide that the tapers on the edges make it feel like one of the thinnest phones I’ve ever held.

Software

Stylus software on the Stylo 2 V
Stylus software on the Stylo 2 V

The Stylo 2 V features similar Android enhancements to what LG ships on other phones. Most frustratingly, the LG UX 5.0 Home Screen eliminates the app drawer, placing all apps on different panels of the home screen. It’s an easy fix in settings to restore the app drawer. Better yet, install Action Launcher 3 – and the Google Keyboard – to get the best software experience.

The stylus software is simple and powerful. Using the stylus makes cropping screenshots and pictures really fast, and taking handwritten notes on the screen couldn’t be easier.

Camera

The 13 MP camera works fine, but it’s tough not to compare it against cameras on flagship phones. It’s simple to use and fast to operate, but it doesn’t even compare with the 13 MP camera on 2014’s LG G3, to say nothing about the cameras on other phones this year. You can see in the example below how it stands up to the camera in the LG V20. Remember, however, that the LG Stylo 2 V is currently less than half the price of the V20.

Here’s another camera comparison, this time including 2014’s Nexus 6.

Storage

Stylo 2 V with stylus
Stylo 2 V with stylus

The Stylo 2 V comes with 16 GB of storage. After installing my standard set of apps – which don’t include any games – that left under 3 GB available. I never carried the phone as my daily driver, since it didn’t have room for my 6 GB of podcasts. Luckily, the Stylo 2 V supports external storage, so a strong recommendation for anyone getting the phone would be to install an SD card so as to not have to worry about space for podcasts or photos.

Summary

Stylo 2 V is inexpensive, large, modern phone
Stylo 2 V is inexpensive, large, modern phone

Unlike other budget phones I’ve played with in the past, the Stylo 2 V never felt sluggish at all. While it’s only available with 16 GB of built-in storage, it supports SD cards to mitigate storage issues caused by taking pictures. The camera is adequate for a phone in this price range, and the solid build quality and large size make it a very respectable choice for someone looking for a fast, modern phone without breaking the bank.

The Stylo 2 V is currently $240 at Verizon.

The HTC 10 on Verizon

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews, technology

Last month, I traveled to Grand Rapids for the 67th International Auctioneers Conference and Show. My friends at Verizon sent me the HTC 10 with an Ice View case to play with during the trip. I found it to have a good camera, a solid build quality and a clean software implementation that’s the best I’ve ever seen from HTC.

HTC 10
HTC 10

Hardware

The HTC 10 has a an aluminum body with chamfered edges that give it a premium feel that’s comfortable to hold. The power switch and volume rocker are on the right side. The 5.2″ screen is slightly bigger than the HTC One M9, with a much higher resolution display than its predecessor.

The HTC 10 has capacitive buttons on the bottom of the screen. I’m not a fan of physical buttons, and I frequently complain about Samsung’s insistence on using them. HTC didn’t have buttons on it’s previous flagship phones, but has elected to use them on the 10. I will say that HTC has done a much better job of implementation than Samsung. Samsung’s buttons are in the wrong order compared to the rest of the Android world, and the center button on Samsung phones actually moves down when pressed. HTC’s buttons are in the correct order and the center button is capacitive, responding to touch but not actually moving. The center button also features a fingerprint reader which seems to work as fast and as accurately as any other I’ve used.

When I returned from NAA’s Conference and Show, I found myself in the tractor drilling my cover crops and quickly found a drawback to the HTC 10. I don’t wear my contacts when I’m farming; instead, I wear prescription polarized sunglasses. Unfortunately, the HTC 10’s screen is polarized such that I couldn’t see the screen in portrait mode with my sunglasses.

HTC 10
HTC 10

Camera

I found the camera to be really good. It’s a 12 MP sensor with optical image stabilization and laser autofocus. I especially appreciated the outdoor performance when I took some pictures of the opening ceremony in Grand Rapids.

Battery and charging

Like many of the phones released this year, the HTC 10 ditched Micro USB in favor of USB Type-C. It’s a much better cable, but it means that old chargers and cables from other Android phones won’t work with the 10.

HTC 10
HTC 10

The battery isn’t removable or upgradable, which is disappointing but not surprising. Because of polarization problem, I wasn’t able to use the HTC 10 as my primary phone while I was farming and, thus, wasn’t able to get any Bluetooth battery life tests. The battery life felt similar to what I remember from the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5, but I don’t have any charts to back up that anecdote.

While the HTC 10 doesn’t have wireless charging, it does support Qualcomm Quick Charge 3, which means that it’s among the fastest charging phones made when paired with a compatible charger.

Software

HTC Sense is the customization layer that HTC installs over Android. I usually complain about the drawbacks that these customizations needlessly add to the Android experience. The HTC 10 has Sense 8.0, which is one of the least intrusive manufacturer overlays I’ve seen. The notification shade is essentially stock, and replacing the launcher and keyboard yields an experience that’s as clean and fast as any pure Android phone around.

IMG_8280
Ice View case

Ice View case

The Ice View case is a flip case with a translucent front and a magnet in the corner so the phone can tell when the front cover is open and closed. The cover is translucent, so the phone can display notifications without waiting for the cover to be opened. It’s an interesting idea, but I found it to be more interesting in concept than practice. If I was in an office environment all day, it’d be a great choice, but I’d probably opt for something more rugged with a belt clip on the farm.

Summary

Like Samsung, it seems HTC is working to make refinements and improvements on a proven design. It doesn’t have any particularly innovative feature like a second camera or second screen, nor does it support add-ons or modifications. The HTC 10 is simply a well-rounded, premium smartphone.

As always, here’s a collection of unedited photos taken with the HTC 10.

Mophie powerstation plus 3x battery

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

My friends at Verizon sent a couple devices for me to take along to the 67th International Auctioneers Conference and Show held last month in Grand Rapids. Knowing the demands a week-long convention would place on the batteries in my mobile devices, they sent the mophie powerstation plus 3x with Micro USB Connector.

mophie powerstation plus 3x
mophie powerstation plus 3x

I’ve used external battery packs before – I currently have a stack of five on my desk. However, I’ve never seen any that has the build quality or premium design aesthetic as the powerstation. It’s completely self contained, sporting only an input cable with a USB type-A plug and an output cable with a Micro-USB plug. These two cables fold up into a slot underneath the hinged cover when not in use. Pressing the button on the end of the unit triggers the four lights to display current charge status.

Battery capacity is measured in milliampere hours, or mAh. The powerstation plus 3x has a capacity of 5000 mAh. For context, most phones have batteries in the 3000-3500 mAh range. The Zerolemon battery on my LG G3 that I’m currently using has a capacity of 9000 mAh, so while the powerstation couldn’t charge it completely, it would give it a big boost. Most phones could take more than a complete charge from the powerstation.

mophie powerstation plus 3x
mophie powerstation plus 3x

While it doesn’t support Quick Charge, the powerstation advertises a 2.4 amp output, which is the most I’ve ever seen on a portable power pack and also more than the majority of wall and car chargers I’ve seen.

The mophie powerstation 3x with Micro USB Connector is elegant and convenient, though the minimalist design comes at a cost. It doesn’t require additional cables in order to charge the device or charge a phone, but it unfortunately doesn’t support charging anything other than a single device with a Micro-USB connector.

mophie powerstation plus 3x
mophie powerstation plus 3x

After the conference was over, our return flight to Kansas was cancelled. We ended up renting a car and driving all night back from Grand Rapids. While the powerstation worked great to charge my LG G3, I couldn’t use it to charge the HTC 10, which has a USB Type-C connector, nor my friends’ iPhones. I was lucky I had another battery pack that had traditional USB ports with me that I could toss in the back seat for them. mophie does make a version of the powerstation that has a Lightning connector instead of the Micro USB cable, but I would prefer if they’d simply add an additional port on the unit that could be used to power a second device using any cable.

If you only have devices that use Micro USB, it’s going to be tough to find a portable battery pack that’s as well built or simpler to use than the mophie powerstation plus 3x.

The LG G5 – pick your camera

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of LG phones. I still maintain that the LG G3 combined with the Zerolemon battery is the perfect combination for farming. I’m still using it as my daily driver this summer, but only because Zerolemon doesn’t make a belt clip that works with the G4 and V10 battery upgrades.

0705161855I was disappointed to hear of the changes LG made to the latest offering in its G line of devices, but I still jumped at the chance when Verizon offered to let me try out the new G5 over wheat harvest. I found a phone that takes some steps back from the features of the LG G4, but it makes one monumental leap forward – so much so that I immediately ordered one for my wife Diane.

There are four areas where I see the G5 as not as good as the G4. The G4, like the G3 before it, has volume buttons next to the power button on the center of the back of the device. It’s a design unique to LG that I’ve learned to love; the G5 keeps the power button on the back but disappointingly returns the volume rocker to the left side of the phone.

0705161859Secondly, the G5 has a slightly smaller screen. The G4 and G3 had 5.5″ screens while the G5 has a 5.3″ screen. It might not seem like much of a downgrade, but for those of us who like big screens, it’s enough to notice and to miss.

The G4, like the G3 before it and the V10 after it, featured a removable back and upgradable battery. The option to replace the paltry factory battery with an extended battery is an upgrade I’ve cherished since my Galaxy Nexus. I upgraded to Zerolemon batteries on my Galaxy Note 3 and then my LG G3. These 10,000 and 9,000 mAh batteries, respectively, would let me skip a night of charging during normal use or run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight during heavy harvest use and not have to worry about finding a mid-day charger. The G5 has a solid back. While you can replace the battery, it’s done by sliding the battery out of the bottom, which means it’s unlikely anyone will make a replacement battery that’s much bigger than the 2800 mAh factory battery.

0705161856The last major area where the G5 let me down is the most important – it doesn’t support wireless charging. It’s 2016, and I don’t want to plug my phone in to charge it like an animal. The G3 and G4 each had pins under the removable back that would support the upgrade for wireless charging. While I might be able to live without volume buttons on the back or a battery that lasts past 2 p.m., I don’t know that I can go back to using a cord for charging.

With these three steps back from the G4, what feature was upgraded enough to cause me to reflexively throw money at the internet to get a G5 for Diane? The cameras. Oh, my goodness – the cameras.

The G3 and G4 had amazing cameras. The optical image stabilization and laser autofocus on my G3 kept it competing neck and neck against cameras on phones that were released a full year later. I liked the camera on the G3, released in May 2014, better than the 21 MP camera on the Droid Turbo 2 which was released in October 2015. The G4 was the first camera that gave Samsung’s flagship at the time real competition. The V10 introduced a unique second front-facing camera, one with a wide-angle lens that made taking selfies with friends or, in my case, children much easier and more fruitful.

The G5 keeps the wonderful 16 MP rear-facing camera with optical image stabilization and laser autofocus, but it also adds a second, wide-angle camera on the back. It’s tough to describe how powerful this feature is. I found that I use the wide-angle camera about twice as frequently as I use the normal camera.

Screenshot_2016-06-10-14-16-01I found overall battery life to be similar to the other phones I’ve reviewed recently. Like the  S7 and PRIV, the battery on the LG G5 lasted me about 8 hours of working and podcasting. There were a few days during harvest when I left the house at 5:30 and was just hoping that the battery would last until I got done servicing the combine so I could get to a charging cable. While it’s nice that the G5 supports quick charging, speed of charge is no substitute for duration of discharge.

The G5 retains the expandable storage option. Other manufacturers have been flirting with removing the optional external SD storage, and I’m glad LG decided to keep that option. As many pictures as Diane is taking with her G5, she’d fill up the internal storage in no time if we didn’t have an SD card in her phone.

The G5 uses the new USB Type-C cable, which means that the old micro-USB cables from older phones won’t work. It’s a great cable, though, as it doesn’t matter which way the cable plugs in to the phone.

The V10 featured a fingerprint reader on the power button, but it didn’t work very well compared to the Samsung readers at the time. The G5 has a fingerprint reader that actually works just as well and as fast as the other fingerprint readers I’ve used.

The software design aesthetic on the phone is similar to previous LG phones, with one notable exception. LG has inexplicably removed the app drawer from the launcher – every app is now on the home screen. I’m very meticulous about my home screens, and this arrangement makes me crazy just trying to think about it. Luckily, installing Action Launcher 3 is an easy fix.

LG’s big push on the design overhaul of the G5 has been to facilitate a selection of add-on devices they’re calling friends. Some friends are simple accessories, like the LG 360 CAM that I reviewed yesterday. Some are actual hardware modifications to the phone itself such as the CAM PLUS, which replaces the bottom of the phone with a thicker camera grip and supplemental battery. I understand that LG is trying to encourage third-party development of these add-ons, and I suppose it would be possible for someone to solve most of my complaints about the G5 by making a big battery friend that supports wireless charging, but I don’t have high hopes of that happening.

0705161853
LG G5 with Otterbox Defender case

Knowing I’d be using the G5 during harvest, Verizon sent an Otterbox Defender case to keep the phone safe and secure. I was glad to see it didn’t suffer from the same design flaw as the Note5 Otterbox case which raised up so prominently at the top of the screen that it was hard to trigger the notification shade. I had no problems using the G5 in the case.

If it seems like I’m being overly critical of the G5, it’s because I have such an enthusiasm for LG phones and extremely high hopes for all their new releases. As it is, the G5 is still the best phone I’ve seen so far this year – Samsung’s S7 and Note5 still have the annoying physical buttons on the front and neither has a replaceable battery. The PRIV is interesting, but the specs and camera simply aren’t as good as the G5.

The LG G5 takes away some of the features I loved with the G3 and G4, but adds a killer dual camera feature. It’s a great phone for someone who doesn’t need wireless charging and loves taking pictures.

Here’s a gallery of pictures I took with the LG G5. Unedited, except in a couple cases by phone software for sharing to social media.