LG G Flex 2 is A Beauty – Smaller, Faster, and Prettier

LG has kicked off its CES with a stunner – the LG G Flex 2. While many believe that flexible display is the future of mobile, last year’s LG G Flex was at best a cool tech demo with unrealistic pricing and not so great specs. With the second iteration LG is hoping to have a genuinely compelling and unique smartphone.

LG G Flex 2

The biggest improvement in the G Flex 2 is the display. The display size has been reduced from the gigantic 6-inch to a more manageable 5.5-inch, while resolution has been bumped up from 720p to 1080p. The display is also supposed to be a lot brighter than before. The phone measures in at 5.87 by 2.96 inches and doesn’t feel massive thanks to the narrow bezels. The screen is curved to a 700 mm radius. LG claims that the glass is 20% tougher than Gorilla Glass 3. The G Flex 2 houses a 3000 mAH battery, which can be charged from 0 to 50% in just 40 minutes.

One of the unique features of the G Flex was a self-healing back, which allowed the back cover to it to ‘automagically’ repair bending as well as scratching. However, it often took up to 3 minutes for the phone to heal itself. With the G Flex 2, LG is promising a drastically faster heal time of 10 seconds at room temperature.

Under the hood, the LG G Flex is powered by Snapdragon 810 – the latest and greatest from Qualcomm. There’s 2 gigs of RAM, and the device will launch with Lollipop out of the box. There will be 2 variants with 16 and 32 GB of internal storage. Both will support expandable memory up to 128 GB. It will be available in two colours – Platinum Silver, Flamenco Red.

The camera seems to have carried over the enhancements introduced in LG G3. It’s a 13 megapixel with dual-LED flash, Laser Autofocus, and OIS+ (optical image stabilization). The 2.1 megapixel front camera boasts of Gesture Shot while is helpful while taking selfies.

The G Flex 2 ticks all the right boxes, and is undoubtedly a drool worthy device. However, the pricing will ultimately determine its popularity, and LG is keeping mum about the cost for now.

Nexus 6 is Fantastic, but it’s Not the Smartphone I Want or Need

Google launched the Android 5.0 (Lollypop) powered Nexus 6 yesterday. The new Google flagship is manufactured by Motorola and boasts of top of the line specs. Yet, for more than one reason, it’s not quite the device I was expecting from Google. In fact, it’s the most anti-Nexus device yet from Google.

Nexus 6
Nexus 6

The Nexus line started with the Nexus One released in Jan 2010. Google hoped to revolutionize the US smartphone market with the One. Its ambitious goal of ditching carrier lock-ins and getting people to buy phones online at full price didn’t find many takers. Nexus One was a commercial flop. The price tag of $529 dissuaded most buyers. However, it was well received by Android enthusiasts and critics. Google scaled back its ambition and partnered with carriers for the following devices. The Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus by Samsung fared better. However, the first major success in the Nexus line-up was Nexus 4. With Nexus 4 Google managed to deliver flagship quality hardware in a mid-range price bucket. Nexus 5 kept up the same tradition and delivered a comfortable and beautifully designed phone with great hardware at just $349 (16 GB). However, the Nexus 6 marks a stark departure from the LG Nexus phones.

To begin with, the Nexus 6 has a six inch display. This firmly puts it in the phablet category, and it’s technically incorrect to even call it a phone. In fact, it’s about half a centimetre taller and wider than the Galaxy Note 4. Have a look at the comparison below. The Nexus 6 is appreciably taller and wider than all the devices in the list, and two of the devices in the comparison are phablets, and the other two are phones that are already too big to be comfortable. It’s worth noting that in response to the user feedback, One Plus is considering reducing the size of its next flagship. Forget about single handed operation, the Nexus 6 might even be too wide to grip comfortably while talking.

Nexus 6 Size Comparison
Nexus 6 Size Comparison

The next major issue that I have with the Nexus 6 is the price. At $649, it’s almost twice as expensive as the previous Nexus devices. I wouldn’t call it overpriced – not when Apple is charging upwards of $749 for the iPhone 6 Plus. The Nexus 6 boasts of top of the line specs including a 2K display and Snapdragon 805. However, the question that needs to be asked is do we really need the 2K display? I haven’t used the Note 4 or the new Nexus, but I did review the LG G3. While the increased resolution was noticeable, its impact was limited. You won’t feel the difference during most of your day to day activities.

For the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5, Google took flagship devices from LG, found areas of compromise (like the display size and camera), and produced a top performing device with enough restraint to be affordable. For the Nexus 6, Google took Motorola’s sensibly priced Moto X (2nd gen), and amped up the specs to give us a Nexus that beats every other device in the market in terms of specs, but quite possibly not in terms of the overall experience. May be Google has decided that Android is now popular enough that it doesn’t need to sell low-margin devices. May be it wants to make Android smartphones an object of desire like the iPhone. Or maybe, Google feels that current gen smartphones are mature enough to have a two year shelf life. It has not discontinued the Nexus 5. Future Nexus phones might alternate between a smartphone and a phablet. Whatever be the case, Nexus 6 isn’t the smartphone that I want or need.

One Plus One Coming to India Soon, One Plus Two Coming in Q2-Q3 2015

One Plus has managed to generate a lot of publicity and interest for a brand new company. Their first device – the One Plus One, was dubbed as the “Flagship Killer”. Extremely limited availability has prevented the device from registering even a blip in the world wide sales figures. However, the One did receive widespread acclaim for its high quality hardware and extremely competitive pricing. Today Carl Pei and David S from One Plus One answered questions from Redditors in an AMA. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits from their AMA.

One Plus One
David and Carl

On India Plans

One Plus had earlier indicated that it’s interested in following Xiaomi’s footprints and selling its devices in India. Although, Carl didn’t provide firm dates, he did promise to “have more concrete plans” in a few weeks. “We are aiming at doing so (launching in India) before the end of this year”, confirmed David.

On Android L

One Plus and Cyanogen intends to begin working on Android L as soon as the source code is available. “Earlier, we promised to have it done within 90 days of receiving the source”, noted Carl.

On One Plus One Successor

One Plus Two is expected to be released in the second or the third quarter of next year. The One Plus One is a really big smartphone that’s almost impossible to use with just one hand. In fact, that’s my single biggest gripe regarding the hardware. The good news is that a smaller device might be in the works. “We’ve seen a lot of people asking for a smaller device, and want to let everyone know that we hear you”, wrote Carl Pei. “We’re thinking about it.”

One Plus One
One Plus One

On Other Feature and Product Requests

Responding to a request from an user to include wireless charging, Carl ruled out including it in the immediate future. “I’m not impressed by today’s wireless charging technology. Its slow speeds lead to a subpar user experience, especially considering the huge capacity of our battery.”

One Plus will also not be making tablets anytime soon. “The Nexus tablets are pretty good. We don’t think we can make anything significantly better in the near future”.

One Plus has been teasing a big reveal this Friday. Many had speculated that they might be finally gearing up to ditch the invite system. However, David confirmed that One Plus will not be taking pre-orders anytime soon.

Andrognito Can Encrypt and Hide Any File on Android

Everyone has something to hide. With smartphones becoming deeply integrated with each and every facet of our life, it’s only but natural that they’d contain sensitive data. And, as the recent iCloud breaches have shown us, some times it’s better to have private stuff on your device and within your control, instead of cloud storages that can be hacked remotely.

lock

Andrognito is an Android app that can hide and secure any file on your Android smartphone. The developer — Aritra Roy from Kolkata, India – named the app as a fusion of the words Android and Incognito. The app applies a 3 step process to hide and lock your files –
i) It randomly assigns a new name to the file and appends a period (‘.’) to the beginning of the file name to prevent it from being indexed by Android media library.
ii) It places the file in a wrapper called ADG container, and encrypts it using AES-256.
iii) It applies a strong password to the container, and renames it once again.

The algorithm used by Andrognito is device specific, so simply copying the Andrognito container (.adg) to a different device won’t work. However, on the same device, Andrognito encrypted files can persist through factory resets and rom changes. The only catch is that you shouldn’t delete the ADG files and the “Andrognito/Backups” folder.

Andrognito -Setup Page
Andrognito -Setup Page

Andrognito is pretty straight forward to use. You are presented with a brief tutorial slide when you launch the app for the first time. After that you are presented with the File Explorer, which allows you to select files that you want to hide. Applying AES encryption makes the file almost impossible be crack. However, it can take a fair amount of time. Hence, Andrognito also has a Flash mode, which skips the encryption, and simple repackages your content to hide it from your file manager. However, files in this mode may be viewable in other apps. Files hidden by Andrognito can be accessed from the ‘Files’ tab in the app. If you end up hiding a lot of stuff, you will find ability to filter based on file-type and add to Favourites certain files handy. Andrognito app itself is protected by a 4-digit pin.

Andrognito - Guide
Andrognito – Guide

The app has a couple of other tricks in its sleeve. The first of them is a fake Vault. You can set a dummy pin, which when entered will open a fake vault (with 0 files). This can obviously be handy if you have a particularly nosy significant other or parents. The other neat feature is to hide Andrognito itself. If you turn on the Invisible mode, the app will be removed from the app drawer. You will be able to launch it only by dialling your pin from the phone dialler. The app also prevents brute force attacks by automatically locking itself for 15 minutes after 3 failed attempts.

Andrognito - Select Files
Andrognito – Select Files

Andrognito is currently in beta, but worked without a hitch for me. Go ahead, and take it for a spin. There are other similar apps, but Andrognito strikes a nice balance between simplicity and security, and is completely free.

[ Download Andrognito ]

[ Image courtesy Scott Schiller ]

Xiaomi Redmi 1S Review

A few months back, the name Xiaomi would have drawn blank stares from most Indian consumers. However, the ‘Apple of China’ has become the darling of India thanks to its superbly priced devices. The Redmi 1S was launched in India less than a month back, and has been selling out in a matter of seconds every week. On paper, the Redmi 1S appears to be a stunning bargain. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 powered smartphone with HD display and 8 mega-pixel camera at just ₹ 6000 is a steal. However, specs can often be deceptive. What matters in the end is its real life performance. Read on to find out if the Redmi 1S is as good as it seems.

Appearance, Display, and Battery

I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to the packaging, but Redmi deserves a special mention due to two things – both good and bad. On a positive note, the box is compact and well designed, is eco-friendly, and feels premium. However, unlike most other smartphones, the Redmi 1S doesn’t ship with an earphone. I don’t consider this to be a big deal, as most bundled earphones sound worse than something you can buy separately for less than ₹ 500. But, the omission of such a standard accessory can unpleasantly surprise some buyers.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Box
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Box

At this price point, functional design is what you should expect, and the Redmi 1S delivers on that front. It doesn’t have the sleek curves of the premium droids, but it is not ugly by any means. The plastic rear cover has a nice lustrous appearance, but is a smudge magnet. Smudge is a problem with the front too, which sports a 4.7’’ HD (720p) display with capacitive buttons accented in red. The LED indicator is placed just beneath the Home button. The Redmi has pretty wide bezels, which adds to its dimensions. At 137 x 69 x 9.9 mm it’s only slightly smaller than the Mi3 or the Mi4. It’s also fairly heavy, weighing in at 158 g. However, the overall build quality is pretty solid, and it avoids looking like a brick. In fact, the Redmi 1S looks quite better than a lot of the other phones in this price range.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Front View
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Front View

The 4.7-inch IPS display has a pixel density of 312 ppi, which is excellent for a low-end phone. Colour reproduction is on the saturated side, but contrast and brightness are good. However, the glass panel is highly reflective, and hampers outdoor visibility. Even at maximum brightness it can be challenging to read text under the sun.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Back View
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Back View
Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Side View
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Side View
Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Battery
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Battery

The Redmi’s back panel covers an eye-popping red coloured 2000 mAh battery, which is user replaceable. MiUi has a reputation of being a battery eater, but the Redmi still manages to last through the day with moderate usage.

Hardware

The hardware of a budget phone is always a delicate balancing act. The manufacturer has to make the right compromises to make sure that the end product still performs satisfactorily. The Redmi 1S is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 MSM8228 chipset, which houses a Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A7 CPU and Adreno 305 GPU. This almost the same unit as in the more expensive Moto G (actually Redmi is clocked slightly higher). However, synthetic benchmarks suggest that the Redmi is actually slightly slower than the Moto G. This might be due to the older version of Android, as well as the custom MiUi skin. The Redmi 1S has 1 GB of RAM, which sounds decent enough, but MiUi is a memory hog, which eats up a major chunk of the available memory. In fact, the Redmi failed to execute the Vellamo multicore test due to insufficient memory.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Benchmark (AnTuTu)
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Benchmark (AnTuTu)
Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Benchmark (Ice Storm)
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Benchmark (Ice Storm)

There are also reports on MiUi forums that the Redmi can get uncomfortably hot. While the Redmi did become warm after ten to fifteen minutes of usage, it was not astoundingly hot. The plastic at the back doesn’t seem to be a very good insulator, which does amplify the issue a bit, but the front didn’t get any hotter than I’ve experienced an LG G3 or an Xperia Z2 get. Perhaps Xiaomi could have done a better job with the heat dissipation due to the larger housing available to it.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - CPUZ
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – CPUZ

A budget smartphone is not expected to be a brilliant gaming device. However, it’s always nice if it can handle some casual gaming. I played Angry Bird Stella for extended periods of time, and the Redmi had no problems. However, things were a bit different with Gameloft’s Spiderman Unlimited. The Redmi started off smoothly, but after about fifteen to twenty minutes of gaming, began to stutter randomly, leading to a really frustrating experience. Once the Redmi gets hot, it throttles the CPU, and performance can suffer noticeably. This is something I didn’t experience with the Moto G. In spite of having slightly better specs than the Moto G, the Redmi 1S doesn’t perform as well in the real world. However, to be honest, if you ignore gaming, the overall experience is pretty smooth. You will experience an occasional lag, but it’s not frequent enough to become annoying. The device has 8 GB of internal memory, out of which only four and a half gigs is available to the user. That space can fill up pretty soon if you install a lot of apps, and that’s definitely going to have an impact on the performance. There is also no easy way to move apps to the SD card on MiUi.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Available Storage
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Available Storage

There is no 4G or NFC, but the Redmi 1S supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0 (including low energy mode), and USB on the go. One surprising issue that I faced with the Redmi is with the GPS sensor. On several occasions, it had trouble accurately pin pointing my location.

Software

Software is undoubtedly the most unique aspect of Xiaomi phones. Redmi ships with MiUi 5, which is based on Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean). MiUi 6 (KitKat) has been announced, but Redmi users might not get it before next year (beta testing is slated to begin towards the end of this year). I’m not a big fan of the MiUi launcher, which gets rid of the app drawer, and instead puts all your apps on the home screen. But, I love most of the other stuff about the UI. In fact, even the home screen that I tend to quickly replace also has its redeeming aspects. Moving apps between screens is remarkably easy thanks to the ‘Move Apps’ feature which allows you to select multiple apps and then swipe to the screen you wish to place them in. You can even shake your phone to automatically organize your icons.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Home
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Home

MiUi is vibrant and colourful, with nice subtle transitions and effects. There are tons of themes, which change everything from wallpaper and ringtones to lockscreen and notification bar. However, MiUI’s enhancements are not just skin deep. There are numerous additional features and apps that you’ll begin to appreciate as you spend time with the device. In fact, there are so many small enhancements littered across the user interface that it is impossible to over them all in this review. However, I’ll be quickly going through some of my favourite aspects.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Permissions Manager
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Permissions Manager
Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Privacy
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Privacy

Although Redmi was in the news last month due to allegations of data theft, MiUi actually offers excellent security features out of the box. Permission Manager lets you know when an App tries to request a potentially dangerous permission. Spam filter, antivirus, and firewall is also built in. There’s also a Blacklist to block people you want to avoid, a bandwidth monitor to keep track of your data usage, and a disk cleaner to reclaim free space.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Security
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Security
Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Security Scan Results
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Security Scan Results
Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Bandwidth Meter
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Bandwidth Meter

The music app has several tricks up its sleeve, including automatically downloading and applying album arts, fetching synchronized lyrics, and playing songs from the Billboard Top 100. You can also tap on circle in the lockscreen icons to control the music (Play, Previous, Next) without unlocking the phone. While you are on the lockscreen, you can also long press the Home button to turn on the flashlight.

There are tons of customization options, and you can change tons of stuff like LED notifications and what long pressing each of the capacitive buttons does, without needing to root your phone.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S -  Quick Settings
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Quick Settings

Xiaomi also provides a full-fledged backup option powered by Mi Cloud, which can sync everything including Contacts, SMS, pictures, Call Log, Notes, and Wi-Fi Settings.
The Redmi’s battery life is pretty decent, but you can give it a further boost with the Power Management app. This app features three pre-set modes – Default, Marathon, and Sleep. The Marathon mode disables data, which sleep mode disables pretty much everything other than the alarm clock. If that sounds too extreme, you can create your own configuration, and program it to be automatically applied when the battery falls below a certain threshold.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Power Options
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Power Options

If you prefer to keep things simple, then there’s also a Lite mode, which gets rid of all the customizations and settings. Instead, you will get a page with big icons giving you access to the most important apps and contacts.

Multimedia

The Redmi 1S sports an 8 mega-pixel rear camera, and a 1.6 mega-pixel front camera. Under proper lighting, the Redmi 1S performs commendably when it comes to imaging. The auto-focus works well, and the images have good detail and colour balance. However, things go downhill under low light. Very little detail is preserved, and the amount of noise is simply too high. Even HDR doesn’t seem to be of much help. The LED flash almost always ends up overexposing the picture. Video is captured at 1080p, and once again, under proper conditions, the Redmi performs really well. I didn’t witness any frame rate drops, and the amount of detail rendered is impressive.

Uncompressed Redmi 1S Camera Samples

The camera app itself might seem simple at first. However, if you want to have more manual control, you can simply enable Advanced mode to get access to the various settings.

Xiaomi Redmi 1S - Camera UI
Xiaomi Redmi 1S – Camera UI

On the whole, the Redmi’s camera performs quite well and is better than what you would expect from a budget phone.

Conclusion

The Xiaomi Redmi 1S doesn’t quite live up to its specifications. It tends to get heated quickly, which hurts the performance. MiUi also has its own disadvantages, including high memory usage, and an older Android version. However, the OS itself is updated every week, and brings with it tons of cool features. The camera is great for the budget segment, and the display is also better than what you would get in a lot of other similarly priced phones. Don’t expect too much from your Redmi, and you will be a happy buyer. The phone offers a pretty compelling package at just ₹ 6,000. As always, there are compromises. But, the compromises don’t get in the way of having an enjoyable experience with the device.

LG G3 Review

LG has come a long way since its initial clunky Optimus handsets. The first two flagships in the G series did a lot to improve consumer perception about LG smartphones. It didn’t hurt that Google also placed faith in LG and assigned it the responsibility of developing the Nexus devices. The Korean electronics giant is going all out with the new G3. Launched and promoted by Amitabh Bachchan, it certainly has the specs to turn heads. But, how does it perform in real life? Did LG bite off more than it can chew? Keep reading to find out.

Appearance, Display and Battery

LG G3 Front
LG G3 Front
LG G3 Back
LG G3 Back

The headline grabbing feature of the G3 is undoubtedly the quad-HD display. The 5.5’’ IPS display boasts of a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels, which equates to an insane 534 ppi pixel density. LG obviously doesn’t believe in Apple’s claim that it’s impossible for our eye to discern improvements in pixel density beyond 300 ppi. After, using the G3, I am inclined to agree with LG. Some of the preloaded content looks absolutely breath-taking. Even the YouTube videos at a 2K resolution looks splendid. Unfortunately, most of the content that you are going to come across will not be able to take advantage of the G3’s superior display. We expect apps and videos to catch up at 2K becomes more prevalent, but by then the G3 might already be old. Compared to the G2, both contrast and saturation seems to have suffered. LG has shifted from natural looking displays to dialling up the saturation to make the colours pop. Another area where LG has compromised with the display is outdoor visibility. It’s not as good as before, and is made worse by the fact that in order to prevent overheating, the phone automatically restricts the maximum brightness to 90% after a few minutes of usage.

LG G3 Brightness Limitation
LG G3 Brightness Limitation

The size of the display puts it firmly in the phablet category. In fact, the LG G3’s display is a couple of inches bigger than the first Samsung Note. However, the G3 is still appreciably smaller than the Note N700 in almost every way. The G2 has impressively thin bezels, but the G3 cuts down even further. The almost edge-to-edge display lends the G3 a majestic appearance that none of the other flagships manage to pull off. In spite of the heft, the G3 is the easiest to handle among similarly sized devices. This is largely due to the fact that the G3 is not as wide as many of the phablets, and has a curved back that is easy to grip. This is only a relative thing though. Like all current generation flagships, the G3 is simply too big to be comfortably used with one hand. The G3’s rear is plastic, but polished to give a metallic appearance. The plastic feels cheap, but also has the advantage of making the phone lighter.

Smartphone Size Comparison
Smartphone Size Comparison

The back cover is removable and the battery is user replaceable. The 3000 mAh battery offers enough juice to last through the day. I didn’t conduct any benchmarks, but the battery life seemed to be on par with other flagships. LG has done a few under the hood tinkering to make sure that the massive display doesn’t hurt the battery life, and the tweaks seem to have worked.

LG G3 Battery Options
LG G3 Battery Options

Hardware

The G3 is powered by a Snapdragon 801 chipset that includes a Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330. As you can expect from such mighty hardware, the performance is great. The G3 maxed out the 3D Mark – Ice Storm Extreme benchmark, and is certainly among the best performers you can buy right now. Heating can be a concern, as I mentioned earlier, but at least the G3 doesn’t completely disable critical functions (Camera) like the Z2 does when its gets heated.

LG G3 Geekench Score
LG G3 Geekench Score
LG G3 Basemark X Score
LG G3 Basemark X Score
LG G3 3D Mark Score
LG G3 3D Mark Score

The G3 comes with 16 or 32 gigs of internal storage. The latter has 3GB RAM while the former has only 2 GB. External memory cards up to 128 GB are also supported.

LG G3 Storage Availability Out of the Box
LG G3 Storage Availability Out of the Box

The G3 unit in India is 4G-enabled, and supports all common connectivity options including Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/f/n/ac, and NFC. Wireless charging (Qi) is also supported.

LG G3 Network Settings
LG G3 Network Settings

Software

One of my pet peeves with LG has been its silly, childish icons. I’m glad to report that they are finally gone. In fact, LG has embraced the flat design concept, and tastefully reskinned its entire interface. Bright, primary colors have been replaced with more subdued tones. But, LG has ensured that the UI doesn’t become boring with the help of quick animations peppered through the interface. However, all is not rosy. The notifications pane still has way too many things going on. I like the scrollable, quick toggles section, but the audio control is pointless since that can easily be done through hardware keys. Also, in its attempt to simplify the Settings pane, LG has removed a lot of the neat options it had before. Important settings like switching between Network modes (2G/3G/LTE) seem to have disappeared. However, the G3 is still one of the most customizable Android devices out of the box. You can change your phone’s appearance by changing home screen themes, tweaking fonts, and switch animation effects. There are tons of free themes available for download in LG’s app store (SmartWorld).

LG G3 Home Screen
LG G3 Home Screen

There are also heaps of software enhancements. My favourite among them is Knock Code. One of the potential issues with having the power button at the rear of the phone is that it becomes impossible to unlock the phone without picking it up from your desk. To get around this problem, the G2 introduced Knock On, which allowed you to wake up the phone by simply tapping on the screen twice. Knock Code is a further enhancement of that. It allows you to define a custom pattern of taps (combination of Up, Down, Left, and Right). You can directly wake up and unlock your device by tapping your Knock Code. This is actually a faster and easier than pattern unlock. It’s also a lot harder for bystanders to figure out.

LG G3 Knock Code
LG G3 Knock Code

Another new inclusion is LG Health, which tracks your steps without requiring any additional hardware or using too much battery. However, like most such apps it’s likely to be more gimmicky than useful. The data it reported varied wildly with the data reported by Sony’s Smart Band, which itself doesn’t agree with the Fitbit.

LG G3 Smart Bulletin
LG G3 Smart Bulletin

LG also made a lot of fuss about its keyboard. I like that fact that you can adjust the height and there is a dedicated numpad. However, like all other OEM keyboards, it is no where near as good as Swype or Swiftkey.

LG G3 Keyboard
LG G3 Keyboard

Perhaps my least favourite new feature is Smart Notice, which is more annoying than useful. The only reasonable advice I received from it is to carry an umbrella based on the weather forecast. When you already have something as good as Google Now, it’s stupid to a similar but vastly inferior app.

LG Smart Notice
LG Smart Notice

LG’s note taking app QuickMemo is still there, but doesnt have a dedicated button like in some of the older models. Other typical LG features are also there including Smartseek (displays YouTube like thumbnail preview in the video player when you seek), QSlide (opens app in a floating mini-window with adjustable transparency), Guest Mode (restricts access to apps and data), and Cliptray (clip board manager providing access to data you have previously copied).

LG G3 Bundled Apps
LG G3 Bundled Apps
LG Smart Cleaner
LG Smart Cleaner
LG G3 Display Settings
LG G3 Display Settings
LG G3 Guest Mode
LG G3 Guest Mode

Multimedia

The G3 ships with a 13 mega-pixel camera with Optical Image Stabilization and Laser Autofocus. The latter is another LG innovation. As soon as you hit the capture button, the G3 emits a laser beam, which acts like a SONAR and helps it determine the distance of objects in the frame. LG claims that it allows the G3 to focus faster and more accurately in varied conditions. Although, the benefits weren’t as dramatic as advertised by LG, the G3 did manage to focus quickly and reliably even under poor lighting conditions.

The camera itself is excellent. Although, it looks inferior to the Sony Xperia Z2 on paper, in reality I struggled to find a difference. In fact, in some cases, the G3 returned better results. LG has dramatically simplified the camera interface. Manual mode as well as multiple scenes are now a thing of the past. There are three basic modes – Auto, Magic Focus, Panorama, and Dual. The Magic Focus mode snaps multiple pics at different focal lengths and allows you to change the focus of the picture later. The Dual mode fires both the front and rear cams together to make sure that you aren’t missing from all your photo. Photosphere (or VR Camera as LG used to call it) has been axed, presumably because it’s too complex to be used in most situations. The amount of detail in the images was good with low noise and vibrant colours. LG’ flagship is way ahead of HTC, and on-par with everyone else.

[ Download Uncompressed Images ]

The 2.1 mega pixel front-camera is capable of shooting full HD videos. There’s also a selfie mode, which allows you to trigger a 3-second countdown timer by clasping your palm. This is neat as having to tap the camera button while posing for and taking a selfie can be a bit tricky. There’s also an option to use the light from the display as a secondary light source. The overall quality of pics captured from the front cam, however, is nothing particularly impressive.

The G3 supports 4K video recording, but as in other devices it’s more of a gimmick. It’s usable for short periods of time, but generates way too much heat and takes way too much space to be usable for longer videos. However, the quality of recorded video is great for a smartphone, and the microphone does a good job at removing background noise.

LG has also worked on the loudspeaker, which is often ignored in smartphones. The speaker is rated at 1 Watt (1.5W with Boost Amp), and is quite loud. Of course, if you keep the phone on a flat surface, the sound is going to get muffled. LG still can’t match up to the quality of the sound produced by HTC’s front-facing stereo speakers, but its loud speakers are no pushovers. In all likelihood, LG was forced to put the speaker in the rear as front-facing speakers would have added to the dimensions of the G3.

Conclusion

The G3 is a phenomenal device. It’s not perfect. It’s too big to be comfortable. The faux-metal back cover looks good, but doesn’t feel as great. And, the ultra-high resolution display comes with its own set of compromises. However, these are small grievances. LG gets most of the things right. It packs in a bigger display than others, while keeping the phone size in the same ballpark. The resolution is, of course, a generation ahead of everyone else. The camera is as good as others, if not better. And, some of its innovations like the Rear Key and Knock Code are simply brilliant. There’s little to separate the flagships from Samsung, HTC, Sony, and LG. The G3 is also priced competitively. It’s cheaper than the Z2, in the same range as the One M8, and a bit more expensive than the Galaxy S5. A lot depends on your personal preference. However, LG G3 is my favourite device of the season. This is a phone that’s really hard to not like.

Three Android Apps That Will Help You Snap the Perfect Selfie

Selfies have already taken over the world, and this pop culture phenomenon is showing no signs of slowing down. Now, mobile manufacturers are also jumping on the selfie bandwagon with special selfie oriented devices like odd looking Xperia C3. However, you don’t need a brand new device to snap some kickass selfies. Here are three apps that’ll help you take the perfect selfie from your Android.

Best Selfie Camera Apps for Android
Best Selfie Camera Apps for Android

Bright Camera

Bright Camera - Selfie Cam
Bright Camera – Selfie Cam

This camera app comes with tons of filters, effects, frames, and test effects. However, what sets it apart from many other similar apps is that everything was created with selfies in mind. Several of the effects and frames are paid; however, there are plenty of free ones to keep you happy. It also features tight Facebook and Instagram integration including a photo stream.

Bright Camera - Selfie Editor
Bright Camera – Selfie Editor

[ Download Bright Camera ]

Selfie Studio

Selfie Studio - Overview
Selfie Studio – Overview

Selfie Studio lives up to its name and offers a wide range of features to appeal to the selfie addicts. Since almost all phones don’t have a flash for the front camera, Selfie Studio allows you to use the display as a secondary light source. You can easily tweak the color of the display to get the look you want. You can snap pics in either Instagram like square (1:1) or usual rectangular (3:4) aspect ratios. Other features include auto-reverse and countdown timer.

Selfie Studio - Selfie Cam
Selfie Studio – Selfie Cam

The bundled editor is powered by Aviary and offers gazillions of options. You can enhance and adjust the pic as well as apply effects, frames, and stickers.

Selfie Studio - Selfie Editor
Selfie Studio – Selfie Editor

[ Download Selfie Studio ]

Frontback

Front Back - Image Stream
Front Back – Image Stream

Frontback is not your typical selfie app. This app takes two shots – one with the rear cam and one with the front cam, and merges them. However, unlike other similar apps, it doesn’t tuck away the selfie in a tiny rectangle at the side of the screen. Instead, it gives both the pics equal amount of space. This simple change can allow for some truly mesmerizing photos. You can view some of the best creations over here. The app is simple, and has very few options to tinker with. However, it works well. My only gripe with Frontback is that the app can’t be used until you signup for a free Frontback account.

Front Back - Selfie Cam
Front Back – Selfie Cam

[ Download Frontback ]

Image Credits: Freepik

Three New Free Android Apps to Boost Your Productivity

As per AppBrain, there are over 1.3 million apps in the Android market with about a thousand new ones being added every day. Among the scores of wallpaper, ringtone, and other low quality apps, it’s not easy to find out the ones that are truly useful. I’m always on the lookout for apps that’ll make my phone easier and faster to use. Here are three of my favourite free productivity apps that were released in the last couple of months.

Android Productivity Apps

Better Open With

Better Open With - File Types
Better Open With – File Types

Unlike many other platforms, Android allows you to install third party apps to replace several key stock apps and functionalities. However, the process for managing the default app for every aspect of the operating system isn’t exactly very intuitive. There is no single utility or settings page to handle all of your app defaults. Instead, you need to navigate to the Apps page within Settings, select the App that’s currently set as default, and then ‘Clear Defaults’ every time you want to change the app associations. Better Open With is a brand new app that offers a bit more flexibility. The app currently handles default file associations for seven types of content including audio, video, and the web. These cover most of the most common file types; however, I am hoping to see support for more in the future.

Better Open With - Select App
Better Open With – App Selection

Setting up Better Open With (BOW) involves two steps. First you need to open the app and select the default app for each category. After this, you need to set BOW as the default app for each of these categories. BOW gives you the option of either opening the default app straight away, or presenting you with a list of options similar to the one you get by default in Android. The big advantage with BWO, however, is that you can set the app selection screen to be dismissed and the default option to be automatically selected after a predefined amount of time. I absolutely love this option as it provides the flexibility of changing the app on the fly, but still doesn’t force you to tap and select an app every time.

Better Open With - App List
Better Open With – App List

[ Download Better Open With ]

Copy Bubble

Copy Bubble
Copy Bubble

One of the many neat features of Microsoft Office is the Clipboard, which allows you to not just paste the most recently copied content, but from as any as twenty four items that you’ve copied recently. Copy Bubble provides the same functionality on Android. As a name suggests it’s a tiny bubble that floats on your screen. Every time you copy something, Copy Bubbles stores a copy of it. If you want to access anything that you had previously copied, all you need to do is tap on the bubble and select from the list of saved clipboard items. These items are available to be directly shared or copied to the Android clipboard. The bubble size can be configured and it is by default small enough to e not too obtrusive. It’s also easy to dismiss the bubble when you don’t want it, but the only way to bring it back is to launch the app again.

Copy Bubble - Floating Bubble
Copy Bubble – Floating Bubble
Copy Bubble - Clipboard
Copy Bubble – Clipboard

[ Download Copy Bubble ]

Heads Up!

Heads Up notifications is among the many new features of Android L. When a new notification arrives, the notification is displayed in a floating window on top of the active app. This allows you to quickly get a glimpse of messages and other important stuff even when you are watching a movie or playing a game. The code for this was already present in KitKat, but this feature wasn’t enabled by Google. There’s an Xposed Module to enable this on KitKat systems; however, there’s an easier way that also works on devices without root.

Heads Up!
Heads Up!

The ‘Heads Up!’ app ports the heads up notification feature from Android L, and makes it available to devices running on Android 4.3 and above. Heads Up! allows very granular control over which apps should trigger a heads up notification. It also allows you to control the position and transparency of the floating notification toast as well as the automatic dismiss time.

Heads Up! - Notification
Heads Up! – Notification

Heads Up! is a paid app in the Play Store, but you can download a free copy from the XDA forums.

[ Download Heads Up! ]

Ladoo Offers Free Mobile Recharges for Engaging with Advertisers

Platforms like Tapjoy, which incentivize app downloads, have earned Apple’s wrath in the past for messing up App Store rankings. Critics say that these apps inflate download counts and manipulate app store rankings. However, there’s no denying that a lot of users and advertisers love incentivized download platforms. Hence, it’s not surprising that Airloyal is attempting to bring the same concept to India.

Ladoo - Earn Free Mobile Recharges

Airloyal’s Ladoo app for Android offers free mobile recharges to users for completing simple tasks. Almost all of the tasks that I saw on Ladoo’s offer wall involved downloading and installing free apps from Google Play. The reward amount depends on the advertiser, all of them ranged between ₹2 and ₹8.

Ladoo - Get Free Mobile Recharges

The name Ladoo is meant to symbolize the spirit of gifting and celebration. “If you think about it, you would have never really paid for the Ladooos you have eaten”, remarked Raja Hussain, Founder and CEO of Airloyal.

Ladoo Team
Ladoo Team

Airloyal’s company structure is based out of Singapore, but currently all the team members are in Chennai and Bangalore offices. Having raised funding from Australia’s tech millionaire Zhenya Tsvetnenko, Airloyal is looking to expand quickly and launch in a couple of South East Asian countries before the end of the current quarter. Ladoo claims itself to be profitable and is in the process of raising its Series A round. “When there is an ‘apple’ from the US that the world loves, why can’t there be a Ladooo from India that the world can enjoy?” quipped Raja Hussain.

Ladoo - Offers Wall

Mr. Hussain informed me that a dedicated user can earn over ₹ 500 in rewards every month. My own estimate based on what I’ve seen over the past week is a lot less. However, Ladoo features geo-targeting, which means means that everyone wont see every offer. Although, Mr. Hussain declined to give concrete user figures, he did reveal that within the first ninety days of its launch, Ladoo managed to register several thousand new users every day, with more than 40% daily retention, and generated almost 1 million instances of guaranteed engagement for brands. More than 40,000 offers are being completed every day.

Ladoo - Typical App Offer

The usage figures are quite good for a new app with minimal marketing capabilities. Ladoo is quite obviously offering something that a lot of users want – free talktime. However, the bigger question is how valuable are they to the brands? Currently, most of the apps advertised through Ladoo are good apps from big brands that I don’t mind having on my phone. Brands like Flipkart, Myntra, Snapdeal, Quickr, Tata, BookmyShow, and Airtel are driving downloads to their app through Ladoo. The quality of advertisers is a lot higher than that in other similar apps. Ladoo claims that early clients like TicketGoose are happy with the results and have continued to work with them. Ladoo’s biggest challenge will be continuing to deliver high quality leads even as the number of users increase. Quick downloads are a great way to climb through Play Store rankings and get your apps discovered. However, an engaged user base will enable Ladoo to retain the bigger players who often have higher rewards and offer better experiences.

Thomas Was Alone Comes to iOS and Android

The BAFTA award winning indie platformer Thomas Was Alone is now available on Android and iOS. The game garnered critical acclaim for its PC, Mac, and PS3 editions, and is now promising the same emotional journey to mobile gamers.

Thomas Was Alone - Title Card

Unlike many recent indie platformers that focus on bringing back the 80s style challenging gameplay, Thomas Was Alone focuses on keeping things simple. A majority of the fifty levels in the game are simple enough for even the most casual gamers to enjoy. The protagonist of this game is Thomas – a self-aware AI created accidentally. Thomas is represented as a simple red rectangle, and all he can do is move and jump. Over the course of his journey he meets up with other AIs, who are also represented as quadrilaterals. By combining each character’s unique ability you need to traverse each level and reach the portal that’ll take you to the next one.

Thomas Was Alone - Game Commentary

Mike Bithell – the creator of the game, introduces enough variations and novelties to keep you engaged till the end, but the gameplay is still fairly basic. What elevates this game to greatness is the atmosphere. Thomas’ journey is expertly narrated by Danny Wallace, whose humorous and quirky comments establish an emotional connect that’ll leave you thinking about the game long after you have finished it. David Housden’s minimalistic background composition suitable complements the level design and the narration.

Thomas Was Alone - Platforming

I played the Android version of the game and did notice one annoying issue with the port. The option for switching between the characters is on the left and right edges of the screen, which makes it very easy to accidentally hit the Home button. Switching between characters requires too much attention and precision and often distracts you from the game. Hopefully, the developers will tweak the control scheme to address this issue. Other than this the game worked flawlessly, without any performance issues.

The game is available during this weekend at a 33% discounted price of $3.99, which is a steal for a game of this calibre. To make the deal even sweeter, the Bossa Studios has included the Benjamin’s Flight DLC pack with twenty additional levels in the mobile version of the game. Thomas Was Alone is a mesmerizing experience that I can’t recommend enough.

[ Download Thomas Was Alone from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store ]