BlackBerry Leap Review Video

BlackBerry tried to reinvent itself with its new touch-optimized operating system, BBOS 10. It came alongside the first all-touch phone since the Storm – the Z10. But sadly, since then, it’s still the devices equipped with the physical keyboards that are selling which makes the company’s decision to launch the Leap quite intriguing. At $275/£199 it’s priced like a low/mid-range phone. But is it worth buying?

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Design

Unlike every other current BlackBerry, the Leap looks like a standard smartphone. It’s a rectangular device with nothing but screen on the front. Just a straight, no-frills, flat glass panel accompanied by a front facing camera, earpiece and LED notification light.

At 9.5mm thick, it’s not the thinnest smartphone in the world, but it’s far from being too thick. What’s more, the slightly curved back – near the edges – and the grippy, dimpled rubber on the back make it comfortable and pleasant to hold. Although this finish doesn’t exactly make the device seem luxurious or high-end, I still like it. Instead of being delicate or pretentious, it says “let’s get to work”. Like it wants to be picked up and used. Not left on a surface or held out in full view to be admired. It’s a work phone. Not a poser’s phone. It feels pretty solid too, despite being made primarily from plastic.

The only buttons are the usual, volume up and down buttons separated by BlackBerry’s special quick-access key which launches BlackBerry Assistant as default. Just like the Classic and Passport, the Leap has a non-removable battery. This means external entry ports for your Micro SIM and Micro SD card, placed – rather unimaginatively – behind a flimsy plastic flap on the left edge.

Saying that, I appreciated its overall build quality and pocket-ability. And while its bezels a necessarily large to cater for the built-in touch sensors, it’s not a bad looking device either.

Display

In today’s competitive mid-range market, it’s commonplace to see 1080p screens being used at the $250-$300 price point. Think of devices like the OneTouch Idol 3 or OnePlus One. Both with big, full HD displays. That’s why it’s a little disappointing to see a 720×1280 resolution 5-inch LCD panel on the front of the BlackBerry. At 294ppi it’s still plenty sharp enough, but you’d expect more for this price nowadays.

Content on screen is generally sharp and clear at arm’s length, but bring it closer to your eyes, and you start to notice flaws. Fine text looks jagged, as do the “rounded” corners of app icons. Granted this is nit-picking, but in today’s market, I think that’s perfectly acceptable.

All in all though, this screen has its qualities. Colors seem natural enough and contrast levels are respectable for an LCD panel. In fact, it’s nowhere near as washed out as I’d expect. Still, the overall tone is a little cool for my liking. Overall imagery has a blueish tint. It’s only very slight, but I noticed it. Thankfully, you can change its white balance if you so wish.

I was also surprised by just how bright it could be. I barely needed it above 60% to meet my needs. Sadly though, its daylight visibility isn’t the strongest. But, being 5-inches diagonally, it’s plenty big enough (and more importantly – the right shape) to enjoy media. For the BlackBerry loyalists who want a great movie-watching or gaming experience, this is really the only option out right now and is easily the best for that. Square screens really don’t lend themselves to multimedia consumption.

Performance and Battery

Those of you familiar with BlackBerry OS 10 will know that it’s designed to be quick and snappy. Getting to your home screen is one swipe away virtually regardless of where you are in the phone’s interface. The hub where all your notifications sit is a swipe from left to right. It doesn’t matter where you want to go, you’re almost never more than two swipes away. For iOS and Android users, it could take a little time getting used to, but once you do, you’ll realize exactly how fast it can be and how intuitive it is. Not to mention, you’ll probably spend less time in between apps and screens, and more time being productive. What’s more, BlackBerry’s software keyboard is one of the fastest around – again – once you get used to its method of predicting words.

As you’d expect from a BlackBerry device, it handles its operating system with ease. There’s no noticeable lag when moving in between layers of the UI, or scrolling up and down through lists and messages. All the important stuff is swift and painless. When you consider that it’s only using a Dual-Core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, that’s pretty impressive. That said, there is noticeable sluggishness when loading games. At least, during the actual initial loading stage. Once your game gets started – I used Asphalt 8 to test – the Leap handles it surprisingly well. I didn’t notice any severe frame-dropping, stuttering or freezing.

Things get even better when switching to the discussion on battery life. The 2,800mAh battery inside the Leap is fantastic. In fact, I’d almost go as far as saying it’ll give you similar performance to the Passport. On a full charge, I regularly got to the end of a second day’s usage without even trying. If you’re a heavy user you should be confident of getting to the end of your workday without needing to top it up later on in the afternoon. Some might complain that you can’t remove it, but when performance is this good, you really don’t need to.

Camera

The camera, like the display and design, isn’t particularly noteworthy. As things go, the 8MP shooter is good enough for taking shots in good daylight to share on social media. Unless all your friends are particularly judgmental and overly critical photographers, you’ll be fine. Colors are good, and sharpness to and it has just the right amount of options to ensure you can get a decent shot. It even suggests when you should switch HDR on if it detects appropriate lighting contrast.

That said, there’s a flip-side. Using the camera can be a frustrating experience. Getting it to focus where you want can be a challenge and takes more than one go, particularly if – like me – you love shooting up close and personal. If you love macro, you’ll hate this.

Wrap Up

As an overall package, it’s hard to recommend the Leap at this price. Unless you’re an absolute BlackBerry diehard fan who won’t buy any other manufacturer’s products, it’s hard to see the value in the Leap. Its display and camera are poorer than a handful of great Android smartphones like the Idol 3 or OnePlus One, and with it running on BlackBerry, you’re limited by the number of apps that run well.

For me, BlackBerry’s strength has always been creating devices that inspire productivity and don’t distract you. With the Leap, the company has succeeded with that. But I can’t help but feel they could have included a better display and camera to give regular consumers a reason to buy it. Right now, the only people I’d imagine buying a Leap are BlackBerry lovers who – somehow – hate physical keyboards. And I’m not sure those exist.

Youtube Video Here


Microsoft Lumia 640 review

The Lumia 640 was one of Microsoft’s announcements at MWC back in March this year and came alongside another phone, the 640 XL. The two phones shared a lot of similarities in terms of specifications, but as the name suggests, this is the non-extra large version of the latest budget-friendly smartphone from Microsoft. And it’s actually rather good.

It runs Windows Phone 8.1 with the Lumia Denim update, has a 5-inch screen and a quad-core processor. All in a phone that costs just over $100.

microsoft-lumia-640-Review

Design

Like almost every Lumia, the 640 has a completely black glass front surface with a more colorful, removable plastic shell. My model is the glossy cyan version, but you can get it in orange, white or matte black if you’d rather have something that doesn’t stand out as much. The corners are every so slightly rounded to give it a more approachable aesthetic, and its rear is very glossy, but thankfully it’s not slippery. That said, you might want to carry around a cloth with you if you’re particularly finicky about fingerprints.

As always, the overall appeal of the design is its minimalism. There’s the simple round hole for the speaker grille, the central placements of the camera and Microsoft logo on the back. Not to mention the lack of permanent capacitive buttons on the front and the almost invisible earpiece and microphones.

At 8.8mm thick, this is a pretty thin device, and it’s easily manageable in one hand thanks to the convenient buttons placed on the right hand edge. These buttons give a nice click when pressed, although they do have a slightly spongey weak feel. Interestingly, the edges seem to have an extra layer of plastic on them that’s slightly darker and translucent than the plastic on the back. This reminds me a lot of the finish on last year’s Lumia 635. The only thing I will say is that the rear shell doesn’t feel as tight-fitting as some other models. I sometimes felt it move and heard a little creak as I grabbed it.

Display

For a phone on the bottom end of the smartphone market, it’s impressive to see a display with a pixel density of almost 300ppi. At 294 pixels per inch, the resolution is high enough that distinguishing individual pixels is pretty difficult. It’s 720 x 1280 on a 5-inch IPS LCD panel, and it’s good.

Although it’s not going to compete with flagship screens, it’s more than adequate for its price point. The fact that it takes up almost 70 percent of the front panel adds to its qualities, as does its ClearBlack contrast. It’s a colorful display too. Saying that, blacks often appear more as really dark blues, but you really forget all its minor shortcomings when you start playing games or watching content on it.

Games are lively, although my eyes are used to looking at much sharper screens on higher-end phones, and sometimes I did find some of the graphics a little fuzzy around the edges. When I remember back to to the Lumia 635, this seems like such an improvement. It’s pretty bright too, providing you boost it all the way up to its highest brightness. To top it off, whites are generally crisp and don’t come off as overly warm or cold. The one biggest weakness of the Lumia 640 screen for me is viewing angles. Although it’s bright when looking at it head on, its reflective surface means it’s difficult to see from an angle, especially if you’re in a well-lit area.

Camera

Unlike the Lumia 640 XL, the 640 doesn’t have Carl Zeiss branding on its camera. And while you can tell, it’s still a decent enough snapper. At 8MP, it’s plenty sharp enough to take good photos and it’s not too slow, either. There’s also the Lumia camera software, which lets you set different functions, like white balance to manual, and change them to suit your surroundings.

I do sometimes struggle to get it to focus quickly, but end results are generally good. They might lack a little color, contrast and depth, but they’re sharp enough. Colors are natural and end results are hard to over-criticize. Sure, I might complain a little if I got these results in a flagship phone, but they’re impressive for a low-end device, it’s impressive.

Performance and Battery

General usage is mostly trouble-free and smooth. Windows Phone has a strong reputation for performing well on both high and low-end phones, and that reputation is still intact with the 640. There was the odd occasion, like when the phone was busy, that it showed signs of lag or stutter when switching between screens and apps or scrolling through lists. For the most part, though, it was quick and smooth.

And it’s no surprise. The ever impressive Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2GHz chip is what’s powering the Lumia 640 and alongside 1GB RAM, it’s plenty. The only times I noticed it being a little slow was loading web content and games. Touch screen responsiveness is good too.

If there’s one area of this device that’s remarkably good, it’s the battery life. Obviously, this depends entirely on your usage, but with 2500mAh capacity, the removable battery might even get you past two days of moderate use on a single charge. With around nine hours of video playback, the Lumia 640 is super efficient and has as much battery juice as a Galaxy S6.

I have reservations about the quality of its loudspeaker. It can get loud enough, but quality leaves a lot to be desired. It’s often fuzzy and unbalanced.

Wrap Up

Microsoft has done well releasing mid and low-end phones over the past couple of years. It has cemented itself as a solid option for the budget-conscious smartphone buyer. With the Lumia 640, that reputation is even stronger. This is an incredible phone for its price point. It performs admirably and it’s almost impossible to find compromises that are bad enough to persuade you not to buy it. Right now in the UK, you can buy a Lumia 640 for for £130 unlocked. In the U.S., Cricket Wireless is selling it for $130 and T-Mobile will launch it soon. If you’re looking for a low-priced handset running Windows Phone, get the Lumia 640. It’s fantastic. It’s easy to use, reliable, smooth and comes loaded with the latest version of the OS.

Android Circuit Samsung Galaxy S6 Review Sony Release Xperia Z4 In Japan Google Fights Verizon

Taking a look back at seven days of news across the Android world, this week’s Android Circuit highlights a number of stories including a review of the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera, pitching the Galaxy S6 in a head-to-head battle with the Galaxy Note 4 (and the Galaxy S6 Edge with the iPhone 6 Plus), Sony finally announces the Xperia Z4, Mountain View’s MVNO plans announced, Android Wear updates, and how Outlook is winning the Android email client battle.Android Circuit is here to remind you of a few of the many things that have happened around Android.

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Galaxy S6 Ready For Your Close-Up

Since Nokia’s departure from mainstream mobile phones a few years ago, Apple has been seen as the leading smartphonein terms of image quality through the smartphone camera. At the launch of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Samsung’s JK Shin suggested that the S6 family would claim that crown from Cupertino. Was he right? I took a closer look this week:

What’s clear looking at all the comparison images I have from both the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 is the advantage in the increased amount of light that the Galaxy S6 can capture. More light means more information, more information means the imaging software has far more data to work with, and more data means the pictures are better. The engineering to gather more light at similar camera speeds is not easy, but if there’s anything that easily stands out it is this.

Pair up the extra light falling on the more sensitive sensor with the improved lens, and the simple argument is that you get more detail in your images. It’s not just a simple matter of scaling up the megapixels, it needs to be in tandem with the lenses and filters already in place, and to work with the software processing, but Samsung has achieved all of this.

The Bullpen Smartphones Go Head-To-Head

While the Samsung Galaxy S6 is clearly up against the Apple iPhone 6 in terms of comparison reviews, but this week I took a look at the secondary handsets – Apple went large with the iPhone 6 Plus while Samsung focused on design and innovation with the S6 Edge. But which is ‘better’?

Apple has taken the available hardware it has on the shelf and made the best phablet it can make, without disrupting the iOS ecosystem or the user base. Cupertino has maximised the available resources and if it wants to build a next-generation phablet, it’s going to have to release and sell a new model. That might be great for business, but it leaves consumers looking at the iPhone 6 Plus in an awkward place.

Samsung has taken the opposite approach. The curved screen has been put in place, the basic functionality has been added to the software, but there remains a huge amount of optimization that could be done to make the S6 Edge worthy of the ‘edge’ moniker. The question for me is when will that optimization will come? The Galaxy S6 Edge has far more promise than the iPhone 6 Plus, but with the iPhone 6 Plus it’s clear what you are getting in the package and it’s easy to predict what functionality will be available as a two-year contract approaches its end. The same cannot be said of the S6 Edge.

Go Large Or Go New?

Staying with comparisons, Samsung stuck with the 5.1 inch screen size for the Galaxy S6 family, which means phablet fans need to look at the older Galaxy Note 4. How does the new cutting-edge handset measure up against one of the best Android phablets on the market? Gordon Kelly investigates:

what makes the S6 look great results in a loss of practicality and functionality that the Note 4 simply doesn’t have to stomach. Consequently the Note 4 may have a plastic back, but it is less slippery to hold, actually feels more durable and means you get both the upgradeable microSD storage and removable battery the Galaxy S6 gave up in its quest for style.

I’ll see how this settles for me, but right now this isn’t the walkover I expected. The Galaxy S6 looks the part, but the Note 4 has far more substance to it.

Sssh, Or You’ll Miss The Sony Xperia Z4

Sony’s mobile division has not been having a great time of it during 2015. With huge staff reductions, targets missed, and rumors that the division could be sold, keeping the focus on the mobile hardware has not been easy. The expectation has always been that the Xperia Z4 Android flagship would be announced at some point this year, but the reveal – through a blog post – on Monday was anti-climatic and felt like a company trying to hide a product rather than promote it strongly to every potential buyer:

…The new flagship won’t be immediately available internationally [it is currently limited to Japan – Ewan]. I reached out to Sony for more information but was told nothing other than there’s “no press release at this time”.

As expected, the Xperia Z4 is small upgrade on the Z3, which was released last September. Sony has continued with its partial-improvement policy of making minor changes to its main-line of smartphones with the Z4, save for the new Snapdragon 810 processor.

The Z4 keeps the same shape and design as previous models but weighs in at a slightly lighter 144g, compared to the Z3’s 152g. It’s also marginally slimmer at 6.9mm.

Google Reveals Its MVNO For America

It’s taken longer than some analysts expected, but Google has finally showed its hand in terms of becoming an MVNO and providing cellphone services to customers. Project Fi will allow customers two switch between Wi-Fi, Sprint, and T-Mobile for voice and data, at a competitive price in the US market. Pricing starts at $20/month for the basic package that includes unlimited domestic texts and calls, and data is priced at $10/GB.

Brad Reed has posted his take on it at BGR, including the limited support for handsets:

The most intriguing part of this is that Google will refund you for data you don’t use every month. So let’s say you buy 3GB of data for $30 in a given month and you only use 1.4GB of it. Instead of taking all your money, Google will actually give you back $16.

Right now Google isn’t launching the service for everyone but is instead offering interested prospective subscribers the opportunity to participate in its Early Access Program, which will be by invitation only. What’s more, you’ll only be able to access Project Fi at first if you own a Nexus 6, which Google specifically developed with Motorola to use with its service. There’s no word yet on when Project Fi will be open to more users.

Android Wear Updates

In the week that Apple shipped the first Apple Watches, Google rolled out an update to Android Wear – its vision of a mobile OS for wearable devices. It includes improved wrist-movement gestures, the ability to sketch emoji with Android Wear’s OS choosing the closest character, an improved ambient mode expected to help with battery life, improved launching of applications, and further use of standalone Wi-Fi support.

These are all minor issues, and Kyle Wiggers thinks that the big changes are being held back for Google’s I/O Developer conference in a few weeks time:

While Android Wear devices can undoubtedly count value in their favor — the average price for a smartwatch hovers around $250, while the cheapest Apple Watch is $350 — they haven’t quite achieved feature parity with Apple’s offering. Notably missing is support for payments, NFC and otherwise. But Google’s big developer conference is right around the corner, and it’s almost a sure thing we’ll learn more about big Android Wear plans then.

How to submit an app for review

So you want to have an app reviewed by Android Central? Great! ‘Cause we love reviewing apps. But as you can imagine, there are a lot of apps out there, and only so many hours in the day. Here are a few suggestions to make sure your app gets noticed.

How to submit an app for review

1. Include your contact information. At the very least, an e-mail address.
2. Skip the wind-up. What’s the name of your app, and what does it do? We appreciate brevity.
3. Include a link to your app. If it’s in the Android Market, include the Market link.
4. Screen shots are a plus. And first impressions are everything. Make sure they’re good.
5. And if you’re showing us a demo video, make sure it’s not of the same app on an iPhone. We’ll reject those on principle, ya know?

Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G vs Micromax Yu Yureka in quick review

For those that are looking for an affordable, but premium smartphone and don’t mind importing one from a different country, we may have something for you.

The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G is a very popular handset on the market this month and now we offer a quick comparison with a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G vs Micromax Yu Yureka review – likely to be one of Xiaomi’s biggest rival handsets.

Both are very capable in terms of hardware performance, with the Yu Yureka specs being arguably better as it’s the newer out of two.

At a glance, we can see that both are equipped with a 5.5-inch display screen with the same resolution too – 720 x 1280 pixels.

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Both have a 13 megapixel camera on the rear and both also have a high quality 5MP camera on the front as well which is great. The Yu Yureka is a running on a Quad-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon 615 CPU with 2GB of RAM, but in comparison the Redmi Note 4G differs slightly with a Quad-core 1.6 Snapdragon 400 with 2GB of RAM.

The graphics capability of both handsets are different too. While the Redmi Note is built on the Adreno 305 GPU, the newer Yu Yureka comes with the latest Adreno 405 system.

Both will obviously play any Android game that the Play Store offers, but the Yu Yureka will offer that extra bit of performance that a game may require.

Elsewhere, the Yu Yureka comes with 16GB of internal storage, whereas the Redmi Note 4G only comes with 8GB – both devices have the ability to expand storage with MicroSD card.

As you can see, both smartphones feature similar specs but the Redmi Note 4G may still be more desirable due to a lower price on the market.

Nokia Wireless Charging Plate DT-903 review

When your phone is low on juice, nothing could be simpler than tossing it onto a wireless charger to power-up on impact. Microsoft’s Nokia Wireless Charging Plate, also dryly known as model DT-903, attempts to smarten up the straightforward wireless charger with some LEDs that light up when you have an incoming message or alert.

Several settings let you customize things like which apps you want to alert you, and which house the charger should go dark, making it a better bedtime companion. Unfortunately, because this charger requires the phone to have both Qi wireless charging and the Lumia Denim software upgrade, it’s limited to the Nokia Lumia 830 and 930 handsets, though not Verizon’s Lumia Icon in the US.

It’s also on the pricier side: $60 (which converts to £40 and roughly AU$70) at the Microsoft store and online. Overall, I appreciate that Microsoft/Nokia has tried to give us a wireless charger that does more, but the small handset pool keeps it niche, and I’m unconvinced that the alerts do much to help me out. This Charging Plate is on the right track, but needs more flexibility in programming LED patterns before I’d truly sing its praises.

Specs and compatibility
The Nokia Wireless Charging Plate uses the Qi wireless charging protocol (pronounced “chee”) to do its thing. I tested it in green, but the device also comes in white and orange.

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Even when it isn’t emitting light, the oblong charging plate is pretty nice to behold. It’s got a smooth, pill shape that’s about 6.3 inches (159 mm) long and 3 inches wide (76 mm). It’s also pretty thin, at 0.35-inch (8.9 mm), though it does stand higher off a table than that. A short foot elevates the device from the surface so you can see the light streaming out. The Wireless Charging Plate weighs 5.3 ounces (150 g).

Now, even though it’s called a “wireless” charger (since it charges the device on contact and not through a plug), you still have to supply this puck with power. There is of course still one cable sprouting out from the bottom. The idea is that you can position the plate to hide the cable, which you never have to worry about moving around, since the Plate itself is meant to remain more or less where it is.

At a little more than 4 feet (121 cm), the cable ends in a USB plug you can stick into your laptop, for instance, or a spare charging brick. The box unfortunately doesn’t pack in one of its own, a real problem if you also want to keep a more conventional wired charger somewhere else.

Bright lights ring the bottom of the charging plate. They spring to life in three circumstances: first, to indicate an awaiting message or alert (even if the phone is off the charger); second, when you place the phone on the charger; and third, to remind you to charge your phone when the plate detects that your battery is low. The glow will stop when the phone is fully charged (and you have no other alerts), and when you dismiss an alert through the notifications shade or else open the notifying app.

How does the plate know all this? Easy: you’ve paired the accessory with your device with a simple tap. The NFC, or near-field communication, protocol instantly pairs the two through Bluetooth 4.0 The result is a fast, seamless pairing.

Customize away
You have your choice of five apps to trigger a quick “pulsing” pattern. This feature supports any app that also works with the Windows Phone notification center. You can set these up by opening Settings and then selecting Device Hub from the list. Click on Wireless Charger, then slide from the Overview screen to Settings. You’ll turn on the Apps Notification slider and choose from your long list of top apps, like email and Skype, or a social-media app.

While you’re here, you can turn the battery notification on or off and adjust the brightness of the LED (it’s set on high by default). If you plan to keep this in your home at all, especially in your bedroom, engaging night mode is a must. Just set the start and end times, like 10:00pm to 6:00am. That’ll put the bright lights to bed right along with you.

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Pros and cons
I like the concept behind this wireless charger, but would also like a little more flexibility when it comes to programming the pad. The pulses can get a little bit annoying, and there doesn’t seem to be any syncing that tells the phone to dismiss the alert if you read a Facebook message on your computer, for instance, instead of on your phone.

I’d also love to be able to pick my own pulse pattern for different apps, or maybe introduce other color option to differentiate one type of alert — say a missed text message — from another kind of notification.

I’d also like to be the one to determine which level of battery drain triggers the charger to light up as a reminder. I may not want to be bothered until it’s dire, say 10 percent or less. As it stands, there’s no visibility into the level that the accessory thinks is too low.

Although the Wireless Charging Plate will charge any phone with Qi, the extra lighting features are restricted at this time to those Lumia 830s and 930s.

Worth the buy?
The Nokia Wireless Charging Plate is a bright idea that could still benefit from a little more work. To be truly useful, it needs to pair with more than two devices, and it should include some finer controls over those app notifications and the way you’d like to be alerted. On the plus side, Night Mode is key.

From a price perspective, you can get a smaller, more basic Qi charger to wirelessly top up your phone for cheaper than this $60/£40/AU$70 plate. For the notifications, you’ll need to pay a premium. If you have an 830 or 930 and like the idea of seeing alerts from a glowing charger, then this one does what it says. If you want more control over the finer details, though, you should wait for an update — which could very well come through the software itself, rather than require a hardware refresh.

Sharp Aquos Crystal Review

Welcome to future, and it’s brought to you by a midrange phone from a company whose last U.S. handset came in 2012. As ridiculous as that may sound, with its bezel-less display, bone-conduction speaker and unusual front camera placement, the Sharp Aquos Crystal for Boost Mobile is one of the boldest smartphones of the year. Although its internals aren’t the latest and greatest, the Aquos combines an entrancing 5-inch bezel-less display and $150 price tag (off-contract) for a phone that offers 2018 good looks at a price you can afford now.

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Pricing and Plans
On Boost Mobile, the Aquos Crystal costs $150 upfront, with the choice of three tiers of plan pricing. The lowest $35-per-month plan features unlimited talk, and text with 1 GB of 3G/4G data. The next plan up costs $45 a month and increases the data to 5 GB per month, while the most expensive plan costs $55 a month for 10 GB of data.

Design
I love the way Sharp pushes innovative design with the Aquos Crystal, and its appearance is nothing short of first class. The bezel-less display feels like one of those infinity swimming pools: the screen goes on and on until it suddenly disappears. The Crystal is sleek and modern in a way that satisfies contemporary aesthetics and the sci-fi-inspired future I dreamed about as a child. And the fun doesn’t stop with the display.

Since the screen is bordered on three sides by nothing but air, there’s no room for an earpiece at the top of the phone. Sharp turned the entire 5-inch display into a bone-conduction speaker. Even though it feels a little strange at first, calls sounded crisp and clear, like a voice beamed straight into your head.

The back features a removable white plastic cover with an eggshell-like texture. Going behind the cover reveals the microSIM and microSD card slots, although the battery remains hidden behind a black adhesive shroud.

At 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.39 inches and weighing 4.97 ounces, the Aquos Crystal is noticeably smaller and lighter than the HTC One M8, despite both phones having 5-inch screens. The Crystal is also smaller than the Moto X 2014 (5.2-inch screen). It’s even smaller than the 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.27-inch and 4.6-ounce iPhone 6, despite the iPhone’s smaller 4.7-inch display, although the Sharp is a little bit thicker and heavier.

Display
Sharp saved some coin on the Aquos Crystal’s 5-inch screen by using a 1280 x 720 display, as opposed to the more common 1920 x 1080 displays seen on the Moto X and the HTC One M8. While images and videos aren’t quite as crisp as I would have liked, this concession is understandable considering the price.

When I watched Marvel’s trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, I noticed a slight orange tint to both Iron Man’s shiny red armor and Hulk’s normally pea-green skin when compared with other phones. Aside from that, the display features strong blacks, although sometimes images bordered on being a bit too dark. My only other complaint is that at certain acute angles, you can see the white backlight peeking out from the edges of the screen.

At 337 nits, the Aquos Crystal is brighter than the Moto X (268 nits) and the Moto G (300 nits), but falls short of the smartphone average of 366 nits. The HTC One M8 (368) is brighter, while the iPhone 6 shines at 559 nits.

The Aquos Crystal’s panel recreated 85.6 percent of the sRGB spectrum on our testing. It’s a little disappointing, as Sharp is best known for its display technology. The Moto G (94.2 percent), the HTC One M8 (116.1 percent) and the Moto X (164.7 percent) all do a better job of displaying a wider range of colors.

The Aquos’ color accuracy is also slightly below average. Its Delta-E rating of 5.6 (zero is best) is slightly behind the smartphone average of 4.3, the HTC One M8 (4.1), and the Moto G (4.5), and even further behind the iPhone 6 (3.0) and the Moto X (2.5).

Audio
The Aquos Crystal’s rear-mounted speaker isn’t very loud, producing just 68 decibels of volume when measured from 13 inches away. That’s nowhere near the volume produced by the HTC One M8 (86 dB), the Moto X 2014 (86 dB), the Moto G (84 dB), or even the IPhone 6 (81 dB).

When I listened to Justice’s “New Lands,” the highs sounded tinny, with an airy quality that made the music sound vague and indistinct. The sound effects for the brutal hits and tackles also lacked the impact I heard on the One M8 and the iPhone 6.

OS and Interface
The Aquos Crystal runs a fairly standard version of Android 4.4.2, which is now two versions old. Sharp swaps out the standard toolbar for the Lumen toolbar located in the settings, along with a few superficial changes to the UI. You can still access notifications and quick settings with a quick swipe down from the top of the screen, but it takes a couple extra presses to disable features such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, compared to more recent versions of Android.

The home screen is pretty standard, with a toolbar across the bottom for commonly used apps, and a preloaded widget for weather. I would have preferred not to have the Boost Mobile Top Apps widget throwing useless apps in my face, but a simple hold-and-drag is all that’s needed to remove it.

Performance
The Aquos Crystal wasn’t designed to win any speed contests, but its 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core CPU and 1.5GB of RAM had no problem streaming 720p videos from YouTube or playing casual games like Plague Inc. The Crystal also comes with just 8 GB of onboard flash memory, which can be expanded by 128 GB via the microSD Card slot.

As expected, the Crystal’s synthetic benchmark scores weren’t stellar but fairly good given its low price. On Geekbench 3, which measures overall system performance, the device scored 1,152, far short of the category average (2,183), but the same as the $180 unlocked Moto G (Snapdragon 400 and 1GB of RAM), which scored 1,153.

The Aquos Crystal fared similarly on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, posting a score of 4,712. That’s just a third of the category average, but similar to the Moto G’s score of 4,717. This means games like Candy Crush or Dots work just fine, but playing more graphically intense will be more of a challenge.

The Sharp struggled on our video-editing test, taking nearly 11 minutes to convert a 1080p video clip to 480p using the VidTrim app. That’s faster than the Moto G’s 11:42 but still longer than the 7-minute average.

Camera
The Aquos Crystal features two cameras: an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and a 1.2-MP camera up front. The rear camera surprised me with sharp, crisp photos on a par with competing phones like the Moto X, despite having fewer megapixels. The only issue I ran into while shooting was occasional confusion with white balance.

The front 1.2-MP camera struggled even with simple shots in good lighting. In a self-portrait, rainbow speckles appeared throughout the picture, while the rest of the photo lacked detail in my hair and shirt, and there was too much softness. And because of the front camera’s placement below the display, Sharp suggests you rotate the phone 180 degrees, which is awkward and annoying.

The rear camera also shoots 1280 x 720 videos at 30 fps. In my clip of New York City traffic in the rain, the camera had difficulty maintaining consistent focus, and overall quality was a little softer than I’d like. I liked being able to see raindrops splash on the puddle in front, but audio sounded vague and with too much echo.

Boost Mobile 4G LTE Performance
The Aquos Crystal is exclusive to Sprint and its associated network of carriers, such as Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile. Our Aquos Crystal on Boost saw 4G LTE data rates of 8.8 Mbps down and 3.2 Mbps up at our office in New York City’s Flatiron District. This is somewhat faster than what we traditionally get from Sprint; we’ve seen other handsets barely muster 3 Mbps up or down.

Apps
The Sharp Aquos Crystal comes with a few useful apps, such as Clip Now and Office Suite 8. Clip now embeds URLs into your pictures and screen shots, making it easy to share photos on the Web, and Office Suite 8 lets you view and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

Less practical are SpeakToIt Assistant, which serves as a digital assistant. Voice replies sounded very robotic, and getting it to record notes and events was a hassle.

There’s also the airG app, which is a chat and instant messaging network, but it’s riddled with popups that require an additional payment to make them go away. Alarmingly, there is a forums section filled with topics such as “Truckers looking for fun.” Parents will want to remove this app as soon as possible.

Finally, apps like Scout GPS, Boost Music and Boost Wallet play the role of unneeded carrier bloat, just sitting on the phone taking up space. Boost Zone is the only useful carrier app, which provides easy access to your account so you can check your minutes and check out billing info.

Battery Life
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over 4G at 150 nits), the Aquos Crystal lasted just 7 hours and 8 minutes. That’s more than an hour less than the smartphone average (8:30). The Moto G had worse battery life, lasting just 6:30, but the iPhone 6 on AT&T (7:40) and the Moto X on AT&T (7:33) lasted longer.

Sharp’s Aquos Crystal is a simply stunning smartphone, offering a sci-fi chic design for a low price. I love the bezel-less display, and I was pleasantly surprised by the 8-MP camera. Although this handset doesn’t have the fastest CPU, it generally provided smooth performance. There are some flaws, such as its below-average battery life, weak speaker and limited onboard storage, but the Aquos Crystal has something you rarely find in a phone at any price: personality.

Nokia Lumia 930 review like the Icon

Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is now bearing fruit, but as often happens when big companies merge, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. More than 10,000 former Nokia employees are due to be laid off by the end of the year, but their legacy will live on for a time in the Lumia 930: one of the last all-Nokia creations. If you live in the UK, then you already know where to get the flagship Windows Phone, but the more important question is whether you want one. We’ve already taken a deep dive on the 930 in our review of the Lumia Icon, which is essentially the same phone, just exclusive to Verizon in the US. Let’s revisit the good, the bad and the competition.

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SummaryThe Lumia 930 is arguably the best Windows Phone on the market, with a brilliant camera and top-end specs. It’s also an improvement over the US version, the Lumia Icon, thanks to broader LTE band support and a free wireless charger in the box.

The Lumia 930 won’t leave many wanting when it comes to raw specs, but it could leave the more design-focused buyer a tad underwhelmed. It’s a fairly inconspicuous marriage of Gorilla Glass 3, aluminum and polycarbonate, with the latter adding a dash of Lumia color to brighten up the proceedings. If you’re not a fan of Nokia’s more playful, plastic-clad models, then the 930’s utilitarian look might be right up your alley. The aluminum band spanning the perimeter of the phone is a nice reminder you’re dealing with a top-end device that deserves a dose of premium materials. A slight pillowing of the back panel makes the 930 comfortable to hold, and with a 5-inch display, it has much more agreeable dimensions than the 6-inch Lumia 1520. The smaller device is still relatively heavy at 167g (or sturdy, depending on how you look at it), but well within most people’s tolerances.

The Lumia 930 launched already running Windows Phone 8.1, but the Icon, its US doppelganger, was built before Microsoft eased up on design requirements with the release of 8.1. As a result, the 930 is probably the last phone you’ll see with capacitive navigation keys and a physical camera button alongside the standard power and volume rocker arrangement. Undoubtedly, one of the best bits of the external hardware is the 5-inch display: a 1080p AMOLED ClearBlack panel nestled under a sheet of Gorilla Glass 3. It’s hard to fault, what with its great sunlight readability, viewing angles and color saturation.

You can check out our Windows Phone 8.1 review if you’re unfamiliar with what the latest update to Microsoft’s mobile OS brings, but the biggest features to note are the addition of a notification center and virtual assistant Cortana. The latter is still in beta in the UK, but that in itself means we shouldn’t be far from a consumer-friendly release. Aside from the two main highlights that make for a much more competitive OS, the keyboard now supports swipe-based typing, and there are various other improvements to the core experience, like a new battery saver mode and redesigned calendar app, among others.

Being a Lumia, the 930 also reaps the benefits of Nokia’s Cyan update on top of Windows Phone 8.1, which includes enhanced Camera, Creative Studio and Storyteller apps. Packing the heaviest hardware in Nokia’s lineup, the 930/Icon and 1520 get some special treatment, like the Living Images photo feature that creates multi-frame moving pictures. Then there are the improvements to sound-recording quality when shooting video, as well as color temperature, low-light capture and autofocus when using the camera in general.

On the imaging front, the 930 has a more-than-capable 20-megapixel PureView camera with f/2.4 aperture. It’s not quite on the level of the Lumia 1020, but it’s also not as inferior as the raw specs would suggest. Low-light performance is especially good, and Nokia’s Camera app allows you to tweak deeper settings like white balance, ISO and shutter speed straight from the viewfinder — things you may actually find yourself doing on a mobile with such a large sensor. While picture quality may be impressive, video is of a slightly lower standard. The overly skittish autofocus noted in our Icon review is much improved with Windows Phone 8.1, but auto-exposure compensation is still somewhat overactive. The audio that accompanies the video is basically as good as it gets, thanks to four microphones that focus on the sound in front of the lens and while canceling out what’s behind it.

There’s nothing negative to be said about the overall user experience. Windows Phone is designed to run smoothly on super-cheap hardware configurations, so with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM to work with, the 930 does it better than any. All that power isn’t at the expense of running time, though, and the 2,420mAh battery will keep the 930 chugging along happily for at least a full day, even with intensive use. You can also juice it up wirelessly thanks to an integrated Qi coil — every 930 comes with a wireless charger in the box, too, which isn’t the case with the Icon. Incidentally, the Icon also doesn’t support any form of LTE roaming, making it well and truly a Verizon-exclusive handset. The 930, on the other hand, works on bands 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20, which should take care of all needs, foreign and domestic.

For now, the Lumia 930 is simply the top of the pile when it comes to Windows Phone handsets, and with flagship status comes flagship pricing. Unlocked, you can currently pick up a 930 for £395 in the UK, but search around and you’ll find the Apple iPhone 5c, HTC One M8, LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 all within roughly £50 of that price. As Verizon called dibs on the Icon, it’s unlikely we’ll see US carriers ranging the 930 any time soon. That said, if you’re keen on the 930’s wider LTE frequency support, unlocked models are available on Amazon from around $580.

Chances are you might not want to pay up front for the handset in the UK, and should you journey the contract route, there’s almost no delineation in prices across the top handsets. For around £30 per month, you’re free to pick your poison. And if your poison happens to be a top-spec Windows Phone with unmatched performance, a great display and a camera that’s practically as good as they get, well, prepare to get very sick indeed.

Lenovo A8 Review

The Lenovo A8 is an affordable Android tablet with a nice display, long battery life and design that feels nicer than the $150 price suggests. This 8-inch tablet runs Android 4.4, offers 16GB of storage and the ability to add a Micro SD card for more storage.

Overall this is a good budget Android tablet, but savvy shoppers should compare this to other devices on the market with higher resolution displays.

Lenovo sells this cheap Android tablet direct for $179. It is also available at Best Buy and on Amazon where it is often on sale for around $150. The Lenovo A8 tablet goes by several other names as well, including the Lenovo Tab A8, Lenovo IdeaTab A8 or Lenovo A8-50. Is this Lenovo tablet worth buying in 2014? Here is a closer look.

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Lenovo A8 Display

The Lenovo A8 includes an 8-inch HD display, but it’s not as high-resolution as the Kindle Fire HDX and the Nexus 7 2013. Instead, it is a 1280 x 800 resolution, short of the 1920 x 1080 found on many more expensive tablets. Even though it falls short of Full HD, the Lenovo A8 display looks good overall. At 8-inches, the display is larger than the 7-inch screen size found on many cheap tablets and it offers good viewing angles, making it possible to share a photo or video with a friend.

Reading ebooks in the Kindle app, playing a few casual games and watching Netflix on the Lenovo A8 is a good overall experience.

In addition to the lower resolution, one downside to the Lenovo A8 display is that there often looks like a gap between the glass on the front of the tablet and the screen, which makes the content seem to float behind the glass.

Lenovo A8 Hardware

This budget Android tablet doesn’t feel like a $150 tablet. Although you don’t get a metal back like the iPad mini Retina or the LG G Pad 8.3, the midnight blue back offers a solid soft touch that is great to hold for long sessions.

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Glass covers the front of the tablet, meeting a black border that runs along the edge before intersecting the midnight blue back. While not as solid as an iPad mini, the Lenovo A8 offers good looks and a nice design at a much more affordable price.

There is a speaker on the front of the tablet, but there is only one, even though the design makes it look like there should be a second one at the top. There is a Micro SD card slot underneath a cover on the left side. This cover is the only part of the tablet that feels cheap. A small gap makes it easy to accidentally open while holding the tablet. The power and volume buttons are on the right side and the Micro USB charging port and headphone jack are on the top of the tablet.

There is a 5MP camera on the back of the Lenovo A8 and a 2MP camera on the front. These are capable in good light, but most smartphones will take better photos indoors. The front facing cameras is well suited for video chat with Google Hangouts and other apps.

Lenovo A8 Performance & Software

The Lenovo A8 is a capable Android tablet that runs any game or app we tried to play on it. Although Netflix stuttered and jumped around on one occasion a restart solved that problem and left us with an enjoyable experience once again.

Games like ShadowGun and Asphalt Airborne 8 run well on this tablet, which is a good sign that pretty much any Android game will run on the Lenovo A8. For games and entertainment this is a capable tablet for the price.

Android 4.4.2 runs on the Lenovo A8, and while there are several small versions of Android that came after this, it is running a very recent version of google’s Android software. There are some Lenovo additions to the software, but overall this is a pretty stock version of Android, although without an app drawer.

The Lenovo A8 battery life is good , easily hitting 8-10 hours of web browsing, video watching and other common tablet tasks. The tablet also performs well in standby, keeping power for a week or so with minimal use.

Users get navigation software, Accuweather, a file browser, FM radio app and an Office app to handle basic Word, Excel and Powerpoint editing needs.

The single speaker is loud enough for watching a movie or playing a game, but headphones or a Bluetooth speaker are high on the recommended accessory list.

Is the Lenovo A8 Worth Buying?

At $150 the Lenovo A8 offers a lot of value in a package that feels like it should be on a more expensive tablet. It is not perfect, but it is leaps and bounds better than many other cheap Android tablets on the market.

Lenovo offers double or quadruple the storage and a larger, higher resolution screen than we see on most $100 and $200 Android tablets at most retailers.

There are better Android tablets available on the market, but the Lenovo A8 is a standout value for shoppers on a budget.