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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.

Panoramic pictures and video with the LG 360 CAM

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

The nascent world of virtual reality is buzzing. It seems every major consumer electronics company is releasing a VR headset like the Samsung Gear VR I reviewed in April. The ability to watch immersive content is great, but being able to create it is even better. That’s why I was excited when my friends at Verizon offered to let me play with the new LG 360 CAM during harvest. It’s a small, tower-shaped device with two 13 MP fish-eye cameras on either side of one of the ends. It takes 360 degree or 180 degree pictures and records video – and it’s a ton of fun.

LG 360 CAMThe camera can be triggered by the button or through the LG CAM Manager app. Using the app keeps your arm and fingers out of the shot, and the standard camera mount on the bottom of the device makes it compatible with any number of tripods or camera clamps and clips.

I had the opportunity to play with the LG 360 CAM on the combine, in the backyard and at a couple music concerts. Rather than describe the experience, it’s best to demonstrate. Here’s a sample of some of the photos. If the photo doesn’t work when it loads, click on it to turn on the rotation.

Harvest 2016 with the LG 360 cam #vzreview
Family wheat harvest

That face you make when your drone starts chopping tree leaves...
Mounting the camera on a Phantom 3 quadcopter

Ben Nichols live acoustic in Wichita, Kansas
Testing low light at an acoustic show in Wichita by Ben Nichols from Lucero

LG 360 CAMThe still pictures are tough to share. Not all photo sharing services support displaying them properly. Facebook only seems to work if you upload from the LG 360 CAM Manager app, but once it’s uploaded, Facebook does a good job of displaying the 360 images. Here’s the example image from above shown on Facebook.

Video is similarly easy to take but difficult to share. When I would copy the video file from the camera and then upload it, there was a weird black stitching effect that was introduced. I thought it was a limitation or a problem with the device until I tried to upload directly from the app – it worked great with both YouTube and Facebook. YouTube even enables the Cardboard viewing ability when it recognizes a 360 video, so you can view the videos on your computer screen, phone or Cardboard viewer.

Here is an example of using the LG 360 CAM on my combine during wheat harvest.

Here’s a demonstration of the 360 CAM at a concert. I was skeptical that the microphone would record anything when I sat it on top of the speaker, but it actually did a good job considering the ear-splitting sound levels at the show.

Of course, I can’t test a small, portable camera without strapping it to my drone. Here’s some footage of the LG 360 CAM mounted to my Phantom 3 Professional quadcopter at a backyard barbecue. Don’t forget to look up!

Here’s my YouTube playlist containing several different combine videos I took as well as a video of loading seed wheat into a grain bin.

Since taking 360 video is more a novelty than an industrial application, I didn’t pay much attention to battery life. I can’t imagine an instance where it’ll be used consistently enough during a day where battery life would become an issue – I certainly didn’t have problems recording as much as I wanted after I pulled it off the charger.

The bottom hatch on the LG 360 CAM reveals the SD card slot and USB Type-C port
The bottom hatch on the LG 360 CAM reveals the SD card slot and USB Type-C port

Note that there is no SD card included, which is a good thing. It keeps the cost of the device low and bundled storage cards are never big enough for me anyway. 360 video creates big files. A nearly 7-minute combine video was nearly a gigabyte, while the still images were between 4 and 6 MB.

The 360 CAM also uses the new USB Type-C cable, which is great because it’s fast and doesn’t matter which way the cable is turned when you plug it in. It’s inconvenient only because it means none of your old cables will work with the 360 CAM.

The difficulty showing off the content is likely only a temporary downside. As more services support 360 images and video, I’m sure it’ll get much easier to share content without being forced to use the app. Facebook and YouTube already support 360 video, and Facebook, Flickr and a few other services support 360 photos, so if using the app on the phone to share isn’t a deal breaker, you’ll have no problem finding a service that supports the content.

Overall, the LG 360 CAM is a really fun device. You can pick it up at your local Verizon store or online for $199.

BlackBerry PRIV on Verizon is innovative and fun

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

I love the BlackBerry PRIV. It brings innovation to the Android world at a time when most new phones are simply slightly faster and have slightly better cameras than previous years’ models. When Verizon offered to send me the PRIV to review, I couldn’t have been more excited. Here’s what I found.

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BlackBerry PRIV

I was an early adopter of the Palm Pre – so early, in fact, that I temporarily left Verizon because Sprint was the exclusive carrier at the time. I quickly came back to Verizon when Verizon released the Motorola Droid and I realized just how bad Sprint’s network was in rural Kansas. I did like WebOS, but more importantly, I loved the portrait slider form factor. A portrait slider is a phone that has a sliding keyboard that slides down when holding the phone vertically, like the Pre, instead of horizontally, like the Droid. We’ve seen a few Android portrait sliders, but they’ve always had mid-range specs that made them unappealing. I always swore that I’d be first to jump on the first flagship phone that had a portrait-sliding keyboard.

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BlackBerry PRIV

BlackBerry’s first phone running Android is the PRIV. It was released last fall and is the first Android phone I’ve seen that has a portrait-sliding keyboard and competitive specs. In addition to keyboards, BlackBerry is known for its security and productivity, so the PRIV has software enhancements aimed at making Android more secure and business easier to conduct.

I really like the size of the phone. The 5.4″ screen is big enough to not feel cramped, and the phone gets significantly taller when the keyboard is slid out, making it easier to hold while reading and browsing. The glass on the screen is curved slightly on the edges, similar to the S6 edge+, but as far as I can tell it’s just the glass and not the display itself. It adds elegance to the design without the troubles inherent to the curved display that I mentioned in my S6 edge+ review.

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BlackBerry PRIV with keyboard

The keyboard is the most innovative feature of the PRIV. When I’m typing a long message, I can slide it out and compose text without having to worry about accidentally touching the wrong part of the screen. If it’s a short message, I can use an on-screen keyboard for a quick reply. The best part of the keyboard, though, is that it functions like a touchpad for scrolling. Dragging a finger vertically or horizontally across the keyboard will scroll the screen. I don’t really know why, but whether I’m reading RSS feeds or browsing social media, it’s much nicer to scroll with the keyboard out than to have to touch the screen to scroll. Typing on the keyboard from the home screen immediately launches Device Search, which is a global search that finds contacts, apps and app content that matches what you type.

Comparing the size of the Galaxy S7, LG G4, BlackBerry PRIV, Nexus 6
Comparing the size of the Galaxy S7, LG G4, BlackBerry PRIV, Nexus 6

The PRIV is only available with 32GB storage, but that’s not a problem because it offers an SD card slot, allowing me to store all the podcasts and pictures I want without having to worry about filling up the phone.

At 18 MP, the camera is on the larger end. I found that it took beautiful pictures, likely due to the optical image stabilization and large pixel size. It didn’t feel as fast as what I’ve seen on Samsung phones, but it was fast enough to not be a problem. I found the camera app to be the best on any device I’ve seen. I know most smartphones now allow manual control of the camera, but the BlackBerry camera app has a nice slider at the bottom that pops up on launch reminding me to adjust the exposure before taking the picture. I wish I could use it on other phones!

Here are a couple side-by-side comparisons of the camera on the PRIV with the camera on the Samsung Galaxy S7. The PRIV pictures are larger since it’s a larger sensor.

s7xPRIV_thumb Galaxy S7 left, Blackberry PRIV right

The PRIV and S7 handle colors slightly differently, but not in a bad way.

S7 left and PRIV right Galaxy S7 left, Blackberry PRIV right

IMG_5070The PRIV’s battery is 3410 mAh, which is larger than most phones released recently. Even though it’s a 13% bigger battery, I found the battery life of the PRIV to be on par with the Galaxy S7. I got between 7 and 10 hours of podcasting use on the farm, as shown in the battery graphs below. I’m guessing that once the PRIV gets the upgrade to the newest version of Android, battery life will get longer. Unfortunately, the sliding keyboard makes me skeptical that a third party will be able to make a battery case that can give the PRIV enough juice to last through the day without charging. Luckily, the PRIV supports both wireless charging and quick charging. Another neat feature is the charging line, which is a colored line that appears on the edge of the screen while it’s off and charging, showing the battery percentage.

batterypriv

Verizon sent an Incipio Octane Pure case for the PRIV, which snaps on the back. It worked well to protect the back of the phone while not adding any appreciable bulk. If I bought a PRIV, I’d also want a tempered glass screen protector, which I was surprised to find they do indeed make for the PRIV with the curved class on the front.

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BlackBerry PRIV with Incipio case

BlackBerry did a great job with the software on the PRIV. The notification shade is nearly stock Android, and the launcher is also clean and reminiscent of the stock Google launcher found on the Nexus 6. There’s an overlay that’s always available by swiping from the side that allows quick access to calendar, messages, tasks and contacts. They’ve included custom apps, but they’re optional and stay out of the way if you don’t want to use them.

BlackBerry included Password Keeper, DTEK, BBM, Hub, Device Search and Notes. Password Keeper does what it says, though I’d recommend Lastpass. DTEK monitors the apps and security settings on the device to show any problems with a quick glance. BBM, BlackBerry Messenger, is BlackBerry’s bread-and-butter messaging service that should be familiar to anyone whose ever owned a BlackBerry from the past. Hub, also familiar to previous BlackBerry users, is a central location to manage multiple email and social media accounts simultaneously. I already mentioned Device Search, and Notes looks like a simple notes app that can sync with Microsoft Exchange.

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You can use an on-screen keyboard with the BlackBerry PRIV

If I could change anything about the BlackBerry PRIV, I’d give it an upgradable battery and make it just a little bit faster. Speed wasn’t a problem during daily use, but there were a couple of times when I pushed it hard enough to notice it lagging a little bit.

In summary, I love the BlackBerry PRIV. The touchpad functionality of the keyboard makes it the perfect device for reading and consuming content, and the keyboard itself is a welcome alternative to the limitations of the traditional on-screen keyboards. BlackBerry fans will like the productivity apps, and anyone who is security-conscious will appreciate the enhancements BlackBerry’s made to make Android more secure. When I finish farming and put my LG G3 away for the winter, I’m going to have to take a hard look at the BlackBerry PRIV.

Here’s a gallery of photos I took while reviewing the PRIV. As always, they’re unedited.

I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 on Verizon

| Posted on in gadgets, reviews

I feel like I’ve been on a Samsung binge recently. So far this year, I’ve reviewed the Galaxy S6 edge+ and the Galaxy Note5. Verizon recently offered to let me take an extended look at the new Galaxy S7 and they even threw in a Gear VR, the review for which I posted earlier this week.

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Galaxy S7

The S7 is very similar in design to the Galaxy S6. They’re essentially the same size, though the S7 is thicker to support a bigger battery. That thickness makes the protrusion on the back for the camera much less pronounced. The back is still unfortunately glass, but the edges are rounded in a way that makes it feel less slick than the S6 – the S7 feels like the premium phone that it is.

The S7 has the same top-of-the-line performance, beautiful screen and shockingly fast camera that you’d expect from Samsung’s latest flagship. It’s water- and dust-resistant, but that’s not exactly a feature I wanted to test. The S7 features the same fast and accurate fingerprint sensor found on the S6 – so accurate, in fact, that I used it for a couple weeks before even peeling the plastic sticker off of the home button.

IMG_4956The biggest improvement of the S7 over the S6 is the SD card slot. The 32 GB on the phone simply isn’t enough for my podcasts, and the expandable storage means I don’t have to write mean things about it being a missing feature like I did with the S6! Samsung is also unfortunately still using a physical home button with capacitive back and recent apps buttons that are reversed from standard Android configurations.

Another new feature is the always-on screen. The phone always shows the date, time and battery charge, even when it’s turned off.

Example podcast battery curve
Example podcast battery curve

I’m still disappointed that the battery in recent Galaxy phones is no longer upgradable. The battery on the S7 is 3000 mAh compared to the 2550 mAh on the S6, but it’s still not enough to make it through the day. In fairness, the performance is much better than the S6, but I want a phone that I can pull off the charger at 6 a.m. and play podcasts until I come in from the field at 10 p.m. Here’s a battery curve for the S7 showing that it lasted from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in my real-world podcast test. It’s a problem that could be solved with a third-party battery case, but an external battery cases doesn’t work as well as a single, larger battery.

Samsung partially makes up for the lack of an expandable battery by making it easy to charge the S7. It supports fast charging as well as wireless charging, which means the only reason to plug the phone in is when you’re in a hurry or to transfer pictures.

Speaking of pictures, the camera on the S7 is pretty stellar. It has fewer, larger pixels than Samsung’s previous cameras, which means better low-light performance. As usual, I’ll include a gallery at the end of this review, but here are side-by-side comparisons of the Galaxy S7 (left) and the Blackberry PRIV (right). The PRIV has more pixels, so the images look bigger. These are thumbnails, but the originals are on the attachment pages if you click on the images to see the comparisons in detail. As you can see, the color response on the S7 seems much more realistic.

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Galaxy S7 left, Blackberry PRIV right

This second side-by-side shows how much more vibrant the colors are on the S7 than the PRIV.

S7 left and PRIV right
Galaxy S7 left, Blackberry PRIV right

The video camera has fun shooting modes as well. Here’s an example of the slow motion video capture.

Samsung’s software is still a little frustrating, but less so than on previous Galaxy smartphones. It still warns me about listening at high volume whenever I turn my headphones up loud enough to hear them, which is frustrating. It also displays a notification on each reboot telling me I have an SD card installed. The launcher and keyboard are less obnoxious than previous Galaxy iterations, but not good enough to prevent installing Action Launcher 3 and the Google Keyboard.

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The S7 with the CandyShell Grip case

The S7 isn’t as thin and hard to hold as the S6, but it’s still not something that would be easy to use without a case. Verizon sent me a speck CandyShell Grip case with the S7. It’s a great addition that makes it much easier to hold and use. Since that case didn’t have a belt clip, I grabbed a Bentoben case with belt clip from Amazon. While it was a cheap way to get a belt clip for the S7, it’s a very bad design because the soft shell is simply way too soft.

Top three reasons to buy the Samsung Galaxy S7

  • It’s a fast phone with an amazing camera
  • Premium build quality
  • Features – water resistance, fast charging, fingerprint reader

Top three reasons to pass on the Samsung Galaxy S7

  • Physical, backwards buttons on the front
  • Non-upgradable battery
  • Not large enough
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The Samsung Galaxy S7

Granted, these are personal preferences. I happen to like big phones without buttons on the front. However, I’ve also told multiple people that this is the first Samsung phone I’ve actually thought about buying for myself in years because it’s just that good.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 is currently $672 from Verizon, which is running a limited time, buy-one-get-one-free offer.

Here’s the photo gallery. As always, they’re unedited.