Apps That Save the Day

There are fun apps, apps that track your cat, your kids, your life, and your favorite sports addiction. But, these are the apps that we feel save the day. Those apps that help us transition from one phone to the other or even better, save us from those unfortunate times when our phones give up the ghost. With that in mind, we give you TWCG’s list of apps that save the day.

  1. Google Photos. Google Photos app gives unlimited standard definition storage to every phone — Android and Apple — and Google gives its own Pixel users get unlimited high definition storage (though you probably can’t tell the difference in standard and high def on your phone). Just download it and make it the main storage location for photos and you’ll never have to worry about losing them again. Get a new phone? Install the app and there they all are. Need to print or store them locally? Sign into your account on your PC and download a copy. A much better alternative than continuing to up your iCloud storage plan paying someone to store them in the cloud for you. The trade off is you might have to start in the app to send pics via email or text as the stock apps are generally mapped to the shortcuts. A small price to pay.
  2. SMS Backup & Restore. Use this app to set a daily schedule to back up your text messages and even call history, if you want. Set it to upload a copy to Google Drive, Dropbox, One Drive, etc. and whenever you need to restore past messages, you just install the app and restore the last backup from your storage location of choice. We recommend setting the backup to run during a time when you would normally have your phone awake vs. overnight — although new phones and versions of the app can temporarily disable sleep mode, it works best if the phone isn’t in sleep mode. Set your backup to only upload on WiFi to save your data. Be warned, though, you should still be in the habit of deleting old threads that you haven’t used in 6 months or more or you will end up with a monstrous backup file with over 30k messages.
  3. Android Messages. Although this one doesn’t really help transition, it is a lot better Message app than anything installed by stock on most phones, especially Samsung’s Messages app. With a quick QR bar code scan, you can use the app on your PC to send/receive, and sync all your messages.
  4. Outlook Mobile. Granted all phones come with a stock email app that the phone manufacturer suggests for you. But we like Outlook Mobile. With more companies moving to Exchange Online or Office 365 platforms, the app built by Microsoft themselves seems to handle these accounts better than the stock apps. And we haven’t found an app that handles multiple Exchange accounts better than Outlook — with up to 5 email accounts in one app without an issue.

We will update this list as more apps are discovered.

Galaxy S10 — 10th time is the charm

March brings us the 10th anniversary edition of the Galaxy S lineup — and boy have things changed. This time around, we get 3 variations — there is the budget “friendly” S10e that starts at $750, the standard S10 starting at $900, and the S10+ starting at $1,000. The S10e has a 5.8″ Full HD+ screen, the S10 a 6.1″ Quad HD+ screen, and the S10+ a 6.4″
Quad HD+ screen. With the full edge to edge screen technology, you get a massive and beautiful screen to use.

For the cameras, the S10e has 2 rear 12 MP cameras, while the S10 and S10+ add a third 16 MP telephoto camera on the back. All have a 10 MP camera on the front and the S10+ throws in a 2nd selfie camera on the front. The big difference in this year’s front camera is the small “punch hole” location to the right edge of the upper display vs. the “notch” we’ve seen in past phones. And Samsung even designed some of the included wallpapers to kind of hide the punch hole. In the end, as with the notch, once you are used to it, you don’t see it.

Samsung has moved away from a physical fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone like we saw in last year’s S9 and Note 9. Instead, it is embedded under the glass. It hasn’t been the easiest of features to get used to. However, it is worth mentioning that the face recognition software is so improved, it is usually unlocked by that before finding the right spot to place your finger — and it works with or without glasses, which is a nice touch.

Finally worth mentioning is the battery life. While this is a huge sticking point for most, they just keep getting better and better. Not surprisingly, the battery specs have improved on all 3 models. Most of our testing has been done on the S10+, and with a 4,100 mAh battery in the S10+ promising 12.5 hours of usage, we can say that is is getting us through every day without the need for any power saving mode. Even the Note 9, with a 4,000 mAh battery, wasn’t doing that for us.

There are other useful features worth quickly mentioning. They upped the memory, and depending on model you can get anywhere from 128 GB to 1 TB of storage space and they kept the expandable memory. It supports fast wireless charging, better WiFi standards, can share it’s charge with another device capably of wireless charging (so you can boost up your partner’s phone when it’s dying at the end of the day, and still has a headphone jack.

Is it perfect? Not quite. We really wish the fingerprint scanner was better and there are better camera’s out there (looking at you Pixel 3 XL). But, it is the best smartphone in the last year and that only makes the rest of the offerings coming in 2019 even more exciting.

Screen Caller is a Telemarketer’s Worst Nightmare

Well, we have reached the last of the 2018 phone offerings.  The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL were released by Google in October.  I have been a fan of the Pixel line since the first one came out and Google just keeps making them better.  Both phones grew a little bit this year.  The Pixel 3 is up to 5.5″ (from 5″) and the XL is up to 6.3″ (from 6″).  But you can hardly tell the size difference.

The phone has a gorgeous display and has no problem with being used on a sunny day, provided you have the brightness all the way up.  And they just feel great in the hand.  They kept the fingerprint sensor in the center of the back of the phone, right where your finger wants to land when you pick up the phone.  After a few tries, by the time you’ve got it settled in your hand, it’s already unlocked and ready to use.  A nice design features Google added  for the music lover is the Pixel 3 features dual front-facing speakers which are easily able to fill up the room with sound — Google says they are 40% louder than the Pixel 2.  And when you aren’t wanting to blast your tunes to the neighborhood, Google was also kind enough this time to give both USB-C earbuds in the package — they look just like the Pixel Buds, but are not wireless — as well as a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter for those of us that prefer our existing headsets.  The dreaded notch that started with the iPhone X pops up on the larger 3 XL to accommodate the dual front facing 8 MP camera, but you’ll hardly notice it after the first day.  The back cameras check in at 12.2 MP this time.  Other hardware upgrades to this model are the wireless charging (about time!) and the IP68 water resistance that can now go deeper at up to 6 feet for longer up to 30 minutes.

But what makes this phone standout is the software.  Google added AI to the phone for many purposes.  The first is how it adapts the camera to get the best shot.  Top Shot allows you to backup or advance a photo after it has been taken to find the best option on the photo — right before someone blinks, or the kid goes running off, etc.  The dual front 8 MP cameras allow for a wide angle to fit more people into a selfie.  Combined, these are some of the best cameras in a smartphone yet.  It also has a 2x digital zoom that the AI stabilizes the picture before snapping it.  And finally, Motion Auto Focus, which when turned on will follow a moving object to keep it in focus.

Android 9.0 Pie adds a slew of cool new features — a few of the most used is the ability to swipe up to display open apps, then swipe them up to close them.  It is a much faster way to close apps.  And you can scroll all the way to the left to close all.  Also, the ability to long press on an app to see options for shortcuts, like press the Phone app and see the first 3 favorites to quick call, or Messaging to respond to recent texts or launch a new conversation.  You still have Google Assistant available by voice or with a quick squeeze at the bottom of the phone.  But now with Duplex, the advanced Assistant, it can make calls for you to get information, book appointments and reservations, and a lot more that aren’t quite ready to test yet.

Finally, the best AI feature on this phone is the Screen Call.  When you get a call from an unknown number, you have the option to Screen Call.  When pressed, Google answers the call and reads a script saying that you are using a Google Screen Calling app and asks them to state their name and the reason for the call.  Then, when they respond, it types out their response in a very accurate transcript.  You have the option to ask for more information, ask for a call back, answer the call, decline the call, or report as spam.  In real life usage, though, I have noticed a lot of people don’t pay attention to the initial recording and think they are leaving you a voicemail — and since there is no record of it after they disconnect, getting a call back number can be hard if you didn’t answer the call.  That is not a fault of the phone, but is certainly a downside to the feature.  However, I’ve found that if it is a robo call, they either disconnect immediately, or when I read that they are calling to reduce my credit debt or offer insurance, I can easily decline.  And if it is a real person, I have usually picked up before they get done with their “message”.

All told, late 2018 brought us a slew of great phones.  Google being the last to the party allowed them to put out a near perfect phone.  Now, how about some truly wireless headsets and a watch, Google?

iPhone Upgrades are here! And the masses rejoice!

OK, so maybe at $1,000+ not all the masses rejoice, but the masses of teenage girls located in this house who know they are eligible to upgrade certainly are.  The price tags are probably our only complaint right now.  The Xs 64 GB starts at $999.99 retail and move up to a whopping $1,449.99 for the Xs Max 512 GB.

Other than that, these are gorgeous phones to hold in your hand.  The materials on the body are all premium, meshing glass with a stainless steel frame and an edge to edge OLED display.  The display is probably the first thing that jumps out at me when I powered them up for the first time.  Yes, the “s” versions are generally small improvements over the original model released last year, but Apple certainly went all in with the Xs this year.  They do mirror the overall design of the X (and from a price standpoint, with a price drop on the X, that is probably still the better value for most users), but there are some minor improvements.  First, the wireless charging is a touch faster and the Face ID also seems a little bit quicker to recognize and unlock the phones.  Face ID works the best in the iPhone over anything Samsung or anyone else has tried to duplicate.  I get way fewer fails, glasses on or off, than with other models.

The second feature that we went right to test is the camera.  And this camera does not disappoint.  Dual 12 MP cameras on the back with an image stabilization that helps when your holding the phone to make sure the shot is perfect.  And then the iOS 12 software kicks in and takes a bunch of smaller shots to merge them into the perfect shot.  Whether a selfie, a portrait, or a nature shot, everything the camera shoots looks amazing.

The Xs is really just an improvement on the X, which we’ve already posted about.  So, we’d like to spend the time looking at the Xs Max, which is the defacto replacement for the Plus model.  The physical size is actually smaller than the 8 Plus, but it is slightly heavier.  But with the edge to edge tech, we get a 6.5″ screen, which is massive, yet the phone in hand doesn’t feel massive.  It is an impressive combination Apple has come up with.

Is it a perfect phone?  No, but for all those Apple juice drinkers, it certainly is.  We don’t love the price point, we would prefer to see USB C charging over the lightning charger and fast charging that is found on all the top of the line Androids.  And, for a trillion dollar company, they couldn’t throw in a headphone adapter for us?

Note 9 — Bigger Better Screen

Well, it’s time (or a little past time) for the 2018 slew of new phones.  The first out of the gate is the Samsung Note 9.  This isn’t the phone for everyone — the Note line never has been.  But it is where Samsung stuffs all the new cutting edge tech to see how it fares in the real world before deciding what filters down to the Galaxy lineup.  I would say that the Note 9 polished up the Note 8 rather than took giant leaps forward in tech.

So, here are some of the highlights of what they updated.  The first has got to be the S Pen.  Admittedly, I have no artistic skills, and in the month long test of the Note 9, only pulled the S Pen out once to jot down a recipe that a waitress was giving me.  But in a pinch, jotting a note vs. trying to type quickly as someone rattles off a list of instructions was handy.  But, the thing I did use the most with the S Pen was the ability to use it as a remote control — specifically for taking selfies.  Just hold the phone up, click the button on the S Pen, and the camera snaps the shot.  You can also use it for presentations, skipping around while playing music, and more.

Speaking of the camera, they have built AI into the dual camera so it will automatically adjust the settings to get the best shot, able to recognize many different types of scenes (people, nature, food,  etc.).  The dual 12 MP camera on back and 8 MP front took better pictures than any other phone in our group.

Next up was the massive battery.  As my testing was done while traveling, the huge 3,300 mAh battery held up until the end of the day almost every day.  And when it did drop to 5%, the battery saving mode helped get the last few hours until I could find a charger.

Finally, one of the better changes is the ability to hook the phone up to your PC and run it that way without dropping any money on the actual DeX station — all you need is an adapter and an HDMI cable.  For those wanting a little more screen, plugging into a laptop but running your phone on it could be a big benefit.  We did not have time to test this option ourselves.

One final note, they moved the fingerprint reader to the center of the phone below the cameras for a much more natural feel when trying to unlock via fingerprint.  The Note 8 had it off to the side and it was more likely you’d stick your finger over the camera or flash first before finding the reader.  This new location is much improved.

As we said, this isn’t the phone for everyone, but for those looking for a huge screen and especially those who would benefit from the S Pen, this is a worthy upgrade.

iPhone 8/X

We had some technical difficulties with the website, but we are back up and running now.  Our first new review is for the iPhone 8 and X.  The iPhone 8 is just the iPhone 7s, but they skipped this in the numbering system for the 10th anniversary.  With minor improvements to the camera, processor, and software, the only thing that differentiates the iPhone 8 from the iPhone 7 is wireless charging — but at a hefty price of $130 for the correct cable and wireless pad from Apple.  But is that enough to justify the $150 price jump?  In our opinion, no.  Other than wireless charging, they did change the memory scheme from 32, 128, 256 GB in the 7 to 64 or 256 GB only in the 8 or 8 Plus.

They kept the same camera at 12 MP from the 7 and the dual cameras in the Plus model.  iOS 11 added the ability for the AR Emoji which allows you to animate yourself with a range of characters from a dog to a purple unicorn — great for the teens, not so useful in the business world.  The battery still performs as well as the 7, with all day support for most users.  Unfortunately, there still is no rapid charging support.

One big downside is the glass back, which is necessary to support wireless charging.  Apple tells us that the glass is stronger than the previous versions of the glass back, but who hasn’t seen someone with a broken back of their phone?  We’ve already had a report of at least 1 breakage to the back glass.  An unfortunate downside to the progress they made with the wireless charging.

We’ll keep the same 85 score on this one as the 7s models.  Wireless charging is nice, cancelled out by the potentially fragile glass back.

But, wait!  The iPhone X (read iPhone 10) is where Apple really spend all it’s R&D money.  The X ditches the home button completely (a shock to long time Apple users) in favor of a swipe factor.  Swipe up to close an app, swipe down from the “notch” at the top (a virtual notch in the screen where the front camera lives) to pull up your notifications, swipe down and left from the upper right corner to pull up your settings shortcuts, long touch an app to share it, short touch an app to open the ability to move/delete apps.  It all takes a little bit of getting used to.

Hardware features the same 12 MP camera, but gives you the dual cameras of the Plus models.  However, the edge to edge screen gives you a 5.8″ Super Retina screen while giving you a smaller phone than the iPhone 8 Plus at 5.5″ screen.  And the screen is the first OLED screen in an iPhone and is super bright.  The thing we’re most impressed with is the face-unlock.  It performs flawlessly every time in every lighting situation we tried it in.  Sadly, that’s not true for other phones.  Wireless charging is another feature in the X.

Unfortunately, the iPhone X price tag is a hefty one — $1,000 for the 64 GB and $1,150 for the 256 GB version.  That being said, this is the one that changes it up if you want a truly new iPhone experience.

We’ll give it a slight bump to 88 on the score as the innovations and especially smoothness of the face unlock are impressive.  Only that price tag is holding it back.



Google Pixel and Pixel XL – How did we live without Google Assistant?

2016-11-02 Sorry, this is a long one, but there’s a lot to cover with a new phone and a new OS. Stay with us to the end, you’ll be rewarded.

Having tested the last two Nexus phones, with Verizon, T-Mobile, and the Nexus 6 hooked up to Project FI (which is awesome for what it does BTW), and the Pixel Tablet, we were excited to get our hands on the Pixel — and it didn’t disappoint. Pixel is the first phone completely made by Google. The Nexus line was Android from Google paired with a hardware manufacturer like Motorola or and got the new releases of Android OS as soon as they were released.  But only sold by Google and not carriers.  For the Pixel, Google brought the hardware in house as well, so now it’s 100% Google and currently a Verizon exclusive, although you can buy from Google and put it on your carrier of choice.  And let us just say, thanks to Big Red for only putting 3 bloat apps on it, making those able to be uninstalled, and getting out of Google’s way and releasing OS updates in live time with Google releases!  The Pixel is one of the first to run Android 7.1 Nougat, which is by far the snappiest Android version yet – you’ll be jealous if you test it but don’t have it on your phone, trust us — though Nougat will soon be coming to some of this year’s biggest releases from other manufacturers.

The hardware. Both the Pixel at 5.0″ and it’s bigger brother Pixel XL at 5.5″ sport aluminum frames with Gorilla Glass 4 screens. They feel fantastic in the hand, even if they are the prettiest of designs. Color options are Very Silver, Really Blue, and Quite Black, though the Really Blue only comes in 32 GB and not the bigger 128 GB size, which we were quite bummed about as we’ve grown tired of the standard black, silver, and gold phones – give us something new! We don’t particularly care for the glass panel on the upper 1/3 of the back panel because it gives it a two-tone coloring to the back – the Really Blue and Quite Black are matte on the lower and shiny blue/black on the upper while the Very Silver looks more white than silver with the glass. The look of the back would have been better as just a single piece of aluminum, but it probably has something to do with either the antennae signal or the camera operation. Then again, if you get it from us, it’s likely going to be in a case so you won’t even notice the back coloring. The overall size of the XL is smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus and slightly bigger than the Galaxy S7 Edge, both 5.5″ screens.  If you have small hands you’ll need to use them both most of the time to operate the XL version unless you just use the Google Assistant all the time (more on that later). The Pixel, on the other hand, is a great fit for one-handed use. Both are extremely light and slide easily in and out of pockets. The AMOLED screen has quad HD resolution and is fantastic to look at, especially with the built in live wallpapers by Google. The battery for the Pixel is advertised as up to 22 hours’ usage and 19 days standby and the XL up to 27 hours’ usage and 23 days standby. As we’ve been using the XL primarily, we will respectfully disagree with the usage time given our mix use of a lot of email, a little voice, some texting, and app usage with the brightness all the way up. On the plus side, we charged the Pixel 2 days ago, have the brightness at 50%, one email account that gets little traffic, and it’s only dropped 22% in 2 days while mainly sitting idle on the desk.  Unfortunately, the phone’s battery setting estimates we have 8 days remaining, far short of the 19 days advertised. However, we are probably always going to disagree with the “up to” of every phone because we know we and our client’s don’t use their phone in the same way they test them. It does boast rapid charging via the provided USB C to USB C head or other rapid charging heads, so even a brief 15 minutes on the charger gets us though until bed even on the heaviest days. USB C is apparently here to stay so get ready to replace a lot of cables in the future. A bummer for our backpacks and offices with micro USB in every nook and cranny. The Camera, at 12.3 MP rear and an 8 MP front, produces some stunning pictures and is especially good in low light. As has been the case for the last few phones, double tapping the home button opens the camera app for you; since the Pixel doesn’t have a home button, they moved this to the power button as well as adding a shortcut on the lock screen so you can get to the camera quicker to capture those fast moving moments. Admittedly, this is potentially dangerous when your child grabs your phone for some distraction as you’re waiting to be seated at your favorite restaurant. It opens in a blink on every method to launch the camera, plus has some neat features and tools built in, like slow motion and panorama. Lens blur is probably the coolest we’ve tested, blurring out the background so the image you focused on takes center stage. Add in the fact that Google is giving Pixel owners unlimited storage for photos and videos in the Google Photos app, you can maybe even exist on the 32 GB version. It is worth noting that, side by side with an iPhone 7 Plus, the same picture added some color making the blue stand out more where the iPhone took a truer to life photo, so they’ve built in some eye pleasing adjustments to your photos.

The software. Qualcomm’s top processor is built into this phone and it handles everything we’ve thrown at it with ease, giving us better pictures and quicker wireless speeds. We love the very responsive fingerprint reader on the back, and it makes unlocking it a breeze and, as opposed to other phones, makes us feel that finally fingerprint is your best bet for security. One annoying thing we’ve noticed is that the notification bar doesn’t clear the email count even if those emails were dealt with on your PC or tablet. It is kind of disconcerting to look down and see 20 new emails listed only to unlock the phone and open the app to find there aren’t any new. This is a first in our experience; normally, hooked to Exchange, once read on one screen, the phone will take the notification away once it realizes it’s no longer new, though you can easily swipe them away and they don’t come back up. This may be because we only use 3rd party email apps for Exchange so this might be different using Gmail or the stock email app. A huge improvement on Android 7.0 is the removal of the app drawer. Instead of 4 dedicated buttons on your home pages + an app to open the apps, you now get 5 on the bottom and you simply slide up from the bottom of the phone to open all apps. It is marked by a ^ in the center above the dedicated buttons, but after so many years of being conditioned to open via a app “button”, we still are looking for that app drawer first. It will take some time to adjust. Another great feature we discovered is that Google Wallpaper is built into the Settings and has a Daily Wallpaper setting that will download a new wallpaper every day from Google’s Pixel store and set it for you — variety is always nice. Fear not, this app is available for almost all Android users in the Play Store, just without the unique Live Wallpapers you get in the Pixel. Probably the best new feature is how Google Now has morphed into Google Assistant. It is still launched with the standard “OK Google” command, which made at least 4 devices perk up in our offices while testing, but the improvements are worth doting on here. It’s faster, more accurate, and easier to understand. Speed is always good. But the accuracy – wow! It is much better at translating speech to text, leading to more accurate search results and less correcting of your text and email dictation (admit it, you dictate when driving, so accuracy helps us all — we see you swerving on the highway!) Plus, it is consistently better about understanding what we’re saying without having to resort to that choppy stunted speech pattern on older phones and works better in noisy situations. It blows Siri away – by a long shot. The actual voice isn’t as robotic and it sounds more like an assistant talking to you over a speaker, plus it reads the results to us at a quicker clip. What all can it do? Add events to your calendar, set an alarm or reminder, dictate and send texts or emails, launch and play your playlists, get directions, get Yellow/White Page results, launch Maps, book reservations at hotels and restaurants, and so much more.

Overall we give it a 93/100. The only knocks, other than battery (and everyone gets a knock on the battery from us), are the design of the back, lack of a memory card (we’re fans and will always complain about this), and the lack of water resistance — although one You Tube testers submerged the phone for 30 minutes and it escaped unscathed and another 1 hour and only the speaker performance was affected, the paper durability rating would mean it has no protection so don’t chance it! There are better looking phones on the market, but we care more about what our phone does than what it looks like. So, with rapid charging, a fantastic camera, unlimited photo storage, the best processor yet, and the Google Assistant, we think this is just about the perfect phone.

What’s the verdict? This should be at the top of your wish list if you want a high-end phone. Starting at $660 for the Pixel and $780 for the XL, and jumping $100 for more storage, they are right in line with iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge pricing while giving you so much more. Have we mentioned Google Assistant?

Each comment or Tweet @twcg9 during November gets a free Tempered Glass screen protector when you order your Pixel from TWCG (we told you it was worth sticking to the end)! 

iPhone 7 — No headphone jack, no problem!

We’re looking at the iPhone 7 today. I have to admit, I’m not much of an Apple user, so I reached out for help with this one. Thanks to those who submitted their feedback.

Following the popular move with the iPhone 6, we have the 7 at 4.7″ and the 7 Plus at 5.5″. As many of you and your users are aware, when first announced everyone wanted the Plus model — then held it in comparison to the long standing 4″ model and said it’s too big and went with the regular 6. Fast forward 2 years, now that you’re used to the 4.7″, jumping to the 5.5″ isn’t as big as a leap. I think we’ve moved from 90/10 split on sales to 60/40 at this point just about a month in. Additionally, Apple finally got with the program and ditched the worthless 16 GB model and now we have a base at 32 GB which jumps to 128 then 256 GB. Don’t worry, though, the basic pricing structure stayed the same at +$100 per memory upgrade although the starting price on the Plus model is now $20 higher than the standard model. They changed the color scheme a bit too. While Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold stayed around, Space Gray was jettisoned in favor of Black (commonly referred to as “flat” Black) and the fancy new Jet Black — a high-gloss finish made in a 9 step anodizing and policing process that leaves the surface bright and shiny, but Apple warns it is prone to show micro-abrasions more than other surfaces. And you have to up your memory to 128 or 256 to get Jet Black — and be prepared to wait as those are still kind of scarce right now!

What’s under the hood? They kept the camera at 12 MP from the 6s (up from 8 MP in the 6), but with it’s 1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization it still takes some fantastic pics that rival better MP cameras in other smartphone manufacturers. And with the Plus model, you get dual cameras — a wide angle as well as telephoto. They added in a HD Retina display, stereo speakers, and it comes pre-loaded with iOS 10, although don’t be surprised if you’re doing an OS update right out of the box as they’ve tweaked some bugs. And finally they added a new A10 chip set to run the shiny new iOS.

So how does it fare in the real world? The battery improvements are the most noticeable feature out of the box. Although Apple says it is 2 hours on the 7 and 1 hour on the Plus over the 6s versions, out in the real world our users are getting all day out of the new 7 Plus vs. dead by lunchtime on the iPhone 6 – granted, that is a 2 year old device vs. a new device, but since most of us only upgrade every 2 years, we all are dealing with sub-par battery performance on our 2 year old phones. But going from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and coming home with 25% charge is still pretty nice to have in today’s world. And although it doesn’t support rapid charging per se, users are telling us that it is pretty zippy, charging to full in less time than older models.

And of course, the dual camera in the 7 Plus is making people smile providing a better quality of pictures, whether they are taken farther away or taken at night, where the lighting is minimal. Not only is the resolution and quality better but no more blurry pictures when you zoom in! Low light pictures are way better quality and the flash is brighter but doesn’t blind you.

For Apple, it’s always been about the music. The stereo speakers are noticeably louder and while you might not think so at first we compared it to an Android running through a Bluetooth speaker and the music came across clearer and louder. Fair comparison using 2 different hardware manufactures? When we tell someone to turn on their phone as we turn off our Bluetooth speaker, we think that speaks volumes.

Other noticeable improvements come from the A10 chip and iOS 10 which allows for faster internet loading, quicker responses to text messages through 3D Touch, and all around an easier time using the phone.

You might be concerned with the decision to leave out a traditional headset jack and although you get new Apple headsets with the lightning plug as well as an adapter to use your old headphones, the concern will be that you can’t charge and listen to music at the same time. As one of our reviewers quoted “most people charge their phone in their room so … just play your music out loud” and as for keeping track of the adapter “just keep it plugged into your headphones. So overall the no headphone jack life is all okay and I promise you, you will survive.” Especially since the improved battery means you’re not as tied to recharging as before.

Overall we give it an 85/100 score. What’s the verdict? If you’re an Apple fan, let’s face it you’re going to upgrade anyway, no matter what we say. If you’re coming from a 5s or just love your Beats headsets, we say save $100+ and go with the 6s, which dropped in price with the 7 launch as well as coming now with 32 GB as the base. But if you need battery, want the better camera, and better speakers, take the 7, but you should go with the Plus since the 6s and 7 have the same basic camera.


Moto Z Force — It’s All About the Mods

I spent a couple months with the Z Force and came to the conclusion that it is all about the Mods. I was fortunate enough to get all of the current Mods they had– the JBL Soundboost Speaker, the Hasselblad True Zoom camera, the Moto Insta-Share Projector, and (unfortunately) the Incipio offGRID Power Pack. Here’s what I thought:

Moto Insta-Share Projector:
By far the coolest of the mods. The ability to find an empty wall of any size and throw up a movie, or football game is incredible. All you need is a stable platform and the projector took over. It was easy to zoom into focus so even the score in the corner was readable. And it seemed to fit itself to the space — if I pointed at a big wall, it filled the wall and then if I flipped it to a smaller open space it fit down. I would use this often for presentations as well as fun. And surprisingly, it’s quite comfortable to lay on a couch and project up the the ceiling. Sound is a little iffy only using the phone speakers — someone suggested I figure out a way to combine the speaker with the projector. Now that would be cool!

JBL Speaker:
They rock. And the kickstand was great to set it on the counter, point the speakers towards me, and just rock out. And with separate charging capabilities and a 10 hour battery, the phone wasn’t sucked dry doing it. If the Mod gets low, it will draw from the phone. When charging with the Mod in place, it fills the phone first, then works on the speaker. I found that even overnight charging with both dead, wasn’t enough to fully charge both. But that’s where the separate charger comes in since I didn’t need the speaker all day. The first call I took with the speaker blew me away — I took the phone off speaker. These are definitely for music. It makes the phone very heavy. It is not a Mod you would leave on all the time and carry in your pocket.

Hasselblad Camera:
While visiting the Moto booth at CTIA, they had the newly released camera, but no live phones, so I popped it onto my phone (which freaked the Moto rep out) to try it before ordering it. Let me tell you, it is an impressive camera. The 10x True Zoom really came in close and sharp. The pictures were incredibly clear and true to life image quality. I would have preferred the ability to tap the phone screen to capture the picture rather than the camera button, but I understand it is designed to be a digital camera first.

Incipio offGRID Power Pack:
Unfortunately, before we got this, our Moto Z Force was not making it through the day. Sad to say, in today’s smartphone battery world. But then again, with 8 email accounts syncing on the device, my battery experience is never the same as the average user. I have always contended that Moto overstates their battery life — and even their own site admits it is tested in prime circumstances — but I was not coming close to 29 hours of use or 20 days standby. Maybe 10 hours off the charger, and not all of that in use as it sits idle on the desk. But once I got the power pack, I never struggled again. Most days the power pack itself never drained out. The say up to 22 hours on the mod — I’d say 14 hours. Either way, it did the trick. It adds some weight (79 grams) to the phone and not much bulk (6.2 mm thick) — noticeable but not a deal breaker.

How much will all the cool gadgets set you back? A whopping $770 for everything (plus $720 for the phone currently) — $60 – $90 for the power pack as wireless charging option ups the price $20, $80 for the speaker, and $300 each for the camera and projector. Another $20 each if you want swappable backs to customize it.

How’s the phone? I’d give it a 82/100 a solid B-. The lack of juice without the power pack was less than desirable for me even with the Turbo charging. And until USB C is in more phones and we all have a pile of extra cables sitting around, it will continue to haunt. When I landed at CTIA, I discovered I had no USB C cables for the car charger solved by a quick trip to Best Buy and $30 later I had a lovely baby blue cord setup in the rental. And no headphone jack meant using the adapter they give you or going wireless — if you go with the standard plug, you won’t be able to charge the phone at the same time. However, it does have it’s upsides. A 5.5″ AMOLED display with 2560 x 1440 resolution was great. Surprising how quickly I’ve jumped from the 4.7″ GS4 which I thought was big to wanting the 5.5″ screen real estate. Guaranteed shatterproof display backed by Motorola – and it did fall off the bike while moving at around 20 MPH with no cracks, but did scratch. Side note -as we experienced with another Moto device, that means shipping it to them for repair and being without it for 2-3 weeks or paying $25 and a variable hold for them to send you the replacement first. Water-repellent coating — didn’t put this to the test, why risk it? It is important to note, as opposed to the Samsung phones which say they are waterproof, Moto used a nano coating to resist splashes but are not submersible. And a 21 MP rear 5 MP front camera gave me all the camera I could use for a normal smartphone. And thankfully, expandable micrroSD card with up to 2 TB support, allowed me to setup and go with relative ease. The processor and 4 GB RAM are top-tier and the phone moved along smoothly through all the apps.

What’s the verdict? If you have a desire for any of the Mods, then this is the phone to go for — just expect to spend more. Otherwise, there are better performing phones for the $720 price tag or less.