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IFA 2015 preview: what to expect from Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, and more

The third and final big consumer electronics trade show of the year is almost upon us, and despite Apple once again looking to outshine the IFA festivities, we expect Berlin to bring us a slew of exciting new Android gadgets.

IFA_2015

CES 2015 back in January was the glamorous stage of LG G Flex 2 and Asus ZenFone 2’s introductions, among others. A couple of months later, Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress acted as the debut setting for Samsung’s radically redesigned Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

Between then and now, of course, the Android landscape was filled with your LG G4s, upgraded Motorola Moto Gs, OnePlus 2s, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Note 5, as well as an abundance of mostly lackluster but low-cost tablets, and futuristic wearables like the LG Watch Urbane.

IFA-Berlin

What’s next? Let’s take the main prospective IFA 2015 exhibitors one by one, and put them under the microscope:

Samsung

With 2015’s second batch of Galaxy phone flagships already out, and the new Super AMOLED Tab S generation up for pre-orders stateside, you’d think the Android manufacturer rulers more than filled their H2 high-end release quota.

Samsung Gear S2

But that’s what makes Samsung a force of nature – its seemingly limitless resources. Now, the Gear S2 smartwatch technically runs Tizen, not Android Wear, so it’s out of our scope. Yet the circular timepiece shall work alongside Android, not Tizen handhelds, so it’s very much of interest for us all. Especially when it looks so cool, and reportedly supports standalone cellular data.

IFA is too prominent an event for the Gear S2 to fly to Germany solo, so something tells us that recently teased Edge tablet wasn’t a hoax. Alas, pricing it will be a challenge, since even the non-edgy Tab S2 feels a little steep at $400 and up.

Sony

It’s high time this once promising Japanese heavyweight contender puts one in the win column, following more flops than we can count. How about three simultaneous hits? The Xperia Z5, Z5 Compact and Z5 Plus, aka Prime or Premium are sure shaping up to be remarkable, with unrivaled cameras in tow, fingerprint scanners across the board, and high-res screens.

Sony-IFA

The Z5+ could even break new ground as far as mobile display resolution is concerned, skipping Quad HD and leaping straight to 4K, i.e. 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Don’t rule out one or two new slate launches either, as the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact turns one soon, and jumbo-sized “Pros” may catch on before long.

Then you have your obligatory SmartWatch 3 sequel, hopefully round-shaped and more “premium” this time around, like the LG Watch Urbane and Samsung Gear S2.

LG

“Super premium” or not, the G4 Pro is coming, possibly carrying a gimmicky Duo Camera arrangement, fingerprint sensor, Snapdragon 810 SoC, 4GB RAM, 5.8-inch QHD panel and familiar plastic-and-leather build.

LG G4

LG is yet to confirm its very presence in the capital of Germany next week, but if the Korean underdogs aren’t waiting for Snapdragon 820, why wait until October in the first place? The holiday season isn’t far away, and preceding the iPhone 6s announcement, even by a couple of days, could be vital.

Will we also find Nemo at IFA 2015? Perhaps, including in a variant tailor-made for Verizon Wireless.

HTC

HTC A9

A “streamlined” product portfolio and increased emphasis on the high-end market segment to improve profitability. Those are this struggling company’s short-term goals, suggesting all or nothing for IFA. Either an iPhone-aping A9 hero, or diddly squat. Unfortunately, the latter theory seems more plausible at the moment.

Asus

Asus-ZenWatch-2

The Taiwanese PC specialist aims to put smartphones first, traditional computers second on its list of priorities, but chances are everything you’ll see at their booth in Berlin will feel familiar. Because it’s all been unveiled before.

The ZenFone Zoom, ZenFone Max, ZenFone 2 Laser, ZenPad S 8.0, even the two-size ZenWatch 2. They’re official already, and you’ll merely get further details on them, as well as pricing and availability specifics.

Lenovo

Lenovo-VIBE-P1

For what’s ultimately a Snapdragon 615 mid-ranger, the Vibe P1 or P1 Pro sure looks enticing. The sub-$350 price and humongous 5,000 mAh battery in particular sound great, with 3GB RAM, 4G LTE connectivity and 13 MP dual-LED flash rear camera additional deal sweeteners.

Let’s not forget the Vibe S1, tipped to pave the way for dual front cam-sporting smartphones… for some reason, and, well, we should probably tackle Motorolas separately.

Motorola

Moto 360 2

They say IFA 2015 will be the expo of Android Wear smartwatches, with the second-generation Moto 360 arguably the pack’s headliner, considering the original’s decent mainstream appeal. A more refined design is what everyone’s craving for, plus higher endurance numbers and maybe, just maybe, a newer SoC onboard. Enough TI OMAP nonsense!

ZTE

ZTE Axon

More or less like Asus, this rising Chinese star intends to re-introduce the world to already launched, regional products. The Axon should spread its wings to the old continent, as should the Nubia Z9 and Blade D6. Oh, come on, ZTE, show off a brand-new smartwatch, a 4K Star 3 phone, a tablet, anything!

Huawei

Huawei Watch

At long last, the Huawei Watch looks ready to go on sale. Stateside and in Europe, presumably, at $300 max. Please, Huawei, tell us you won’t charge a penny extra after all this time! $250, of course, would be ideal, but it’s a stretch. Meanwhile, the Honor 7 literally just went on sale from London to Rome, and the Nexus 6 (2015) must wait.

Acer

In a surprising twist, the Liquid Jade Z and Liquid Z410 have yesterday gone official… for the US. Odd timing, but Acer no doubt has something up its sleeve for its loyal European customers as well. More affordable Liquid phones, we’re guessing, and dirt-cheap Iconia Tabs.

Archos

There’s always one OEM that realizes the week before an event of this magnitude it doesn’t stand a chance holding onto the product announcements until the actual show starts. As such, the Diamond S and 50e Helium handhelds, plus the Diamond Tab have jumped the gun over the past 48 hours. They’re obviously not very special, but inexpensive and two of them quite handsome.

That’s a wrap… for now, and we’ll reconvene after September 9 to round up all the Android-powered and Android-compatible scene-stealers. Stay tuned!

Best premium metal Android smartphones available today

You can defend plastic handheld construction all you want, but like it or not, “polycarbonate” is a word mobile enthusiasts will soon forget. And thank God for that, since this writer became tired of being fed the most ridiculous excuses from lazy, profit-driven manufacturers years back.

Metal Android

Admit it, everybody, metal is better, and the only reason Samsung & co. opposed design evolution for so long was indolence. Yes, it’s trickier and costlier to build gadgets out of robust materials like aluminum or steel, but you have to spend money to make money.

Besides, a “premium” smartphone doesn’t need to be all about the metal. In theory, that would be ideal, yet in reality, some of the world’s handsomest, sturdiest devices are merely metal-framed, with hard as nails glass used to finish the first-class assembly.

htc-one-m9-rear

They say aesthetic judgment is subjective. So, you may not entirely agree with our following selection of the best metallic Android smartphones around, ordered by price, from the extravagant to the cost-conscious. Still, we dare you to question the prime build quality and overall attractive nature of these bad boys. If not the very finest, they’re among the best-looking:

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge – $700 unlocked; $300 with Verizon and Sprint contracts

Galaxy S6 Edge

Granted, the alloy employed to enclose the Gorilla Glass 4 rear of the dual-edged Samsung flagship isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking “man, is that phone sexy.” But it definitely helps send a top-drawer vibe, and unless you’re the YouTube destroyer type, shields the GS6 Edge from catastrophic damage on moderate impact with hard surfaces.

Given a “Plus” version is probably around the corner, Amazon has finally started to ask a reasonable price for the Quad HD 7 mm slim 5.1 incher. Not quite affordable yet, but reasonable nonetheless.

HTC One M9 – $585 factory unlocked; $200 with Sprint or Verizon pacts

HTC One M9

They say you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, and despite public outrage murmurs of disapproval, the struggling Taiwanese OEM basically came out early this year with the same high-end blueprint as in 2014.

If you choose to ignore this nagging little detail though, you’ll find yourselves mesmerized… again by an award-winning execution of a rather sensitive concept. The M9 is the hallmark of unibody mobile designs, with five-star aluminum everywhere, “sophisticated curves” and a breathtaking gemstoney finish.

Sony Xperia Z3 – $465

Sony Xperia Z3

Another company that refused to change its ways for the sake of change, yielding indifference more than indignation. The problem is the Xperia head of the family looks nowhere near as impressive as the last two HTC One installments, with a combination of metal and glass that Samsung effortlessly managed to surpass in wow factor.

Affordability and water resistance thus become Z3’s only real shots at a saving grace. And the former is meh, considering we have six more contenders to the title of heavyweight metal champ to go through.

ZTE Axon – $450 on pre-order

ZTE Axon

Wait a minute, where exactly did this flamboyant 5.5 incher come from? And how come it’s so cheap, with Quad HD screen resolution in tow, octa-core Snapdragon 810 power, 4 GB RAM (!!!), a dual lens rear camera arrangement, Hi-Fi audio and “clean” Android 5.1 Lollipop experience?

Right, it’s because the ZTE name doesn’t inspire trust, let alone excellence stateside. And the exterior perhaps needed further refinement work. It’s a decent blend of metal and glass, don’t get us wrong, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Some razzle-dazzle, if you will.

Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – $440

Huawei Mate 7

It’s big, probably too big for many, and tries too hard to replicate Apple and HTC’s visual magic to retain an identity of its own. At the end of the day though, it’s both stylish and muscular, measures 7.9 mm thick, can scan and recognize your unique fingerprint and sports a record-setting 83 percent screen-to-body ratio, according to its designers.

Other sources say 78 percent or so, which is still mouth-watering. So long, bezels, hello to you, borderless aluminum skeleton.

HTC One M8 – $420 unlocked; $70 on-contract at Verizon

HTC One M8

We already pretty much covered what makes the M8 stand out by summarizing its successor’s key appearance selling points. Wondering about the aging 5 incher’s insides and their capacity to keep up with the times?

Well, the quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor is adequate for the price range, and the same goes for the 2 GB RAM or Full HD LCD panel. Alas, the dual 4 Ultrapixel main photographic unit is a disaster, no matter how you look at it.

Samsung Galaxy A7 – $399.90

Samsung Galaxy A7

Will the improved, larger, fingerprint-IDing A8 make the 5.5-inch A7 obsolete? Not a chance, given the latter’s outstanding all-metal build, skinny 6.3 mm waist and 72 percent+ screen-to-body ratio. No bezels + economical MSRP + 64 bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 SoC + 2 GB RAM + 13 MP LED flash cam = must-buy.

Lenovo Vibe Z2 – $245

Lenovo Vibe Z2

We bet prior to this charming 5.5-inch 720p hunk, you thought it was impossible for a household name in the industry to charge a penny under $400 for a matte-finished, metal-covered phablet. Entirely enveloped in vigorous aluminum, mind you, with minimal screen bezel and a triumphant business demeanor.

Of course, the hardware isn’t exactly premium, and on the software side of things, you’re stuck on 4.4 KitKat. But we can all agree a quad-core S400 chip, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB internal storage, 13 and 8 MP shooters and 3,000 mAh battery are competent enough tools, all things considered.

BLU Vivo Air – $179

BLU Vivo Air

Mark our words, Motorola, Sony, Samsung, HTC and whoever else feels cash-strapped buyers don’t deserve superior build quality. This is the low-cost future! The 5.1 mm gaunt, 91 grams light Vivo Air, made of an aluminum magnesium alloy and glass, with sharp edges, a clean, polished guise, octa-core processing power, 16 GB ROM, 1 GB RAM, 8 MP LED flash rear camera, 5 MP selfie snapper and 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution AMOLED display.

Do we need to get nasty and point the obvious? If you’d slap a Samsung logo on the Vivo Air, Amazon would likely sell it at close to $300. Time to rethink pricing strategies for big brands!

Best Android-powered selfie smartphones: updated for June 2015

Typically, we’d wait a little more than nine months to bring an old listicle up to date. But Android device release cycles in general have shortened lately, and when it comes to trendy smartphones endowed with skillful front-facing cameras, a year changes everything.

Best Selfie Phones

ImgAmazon.com LinkBrandProductAmazon.com LinkPrice on Amazon.com
HuaweiHonor 7 Octa Core Dual Sim474
SonySony Xperia XA Ultra299.99
SamsungGalaxy J7 Dual Sim299.97
HTCDesire EYE 4G LTE GSM279.01
SamsungGalaxy J5 SM-J500 GSM189.99

Selfie

Even six months flip over selfie hierarchies, which is proven by the fact only one of last September’s narcissistic-targeted “magnificent seven” endured age and booming competition, winding up in our top ten for June 2015.

And on the horizon, there’s the front dual-LED flash-sporting Asus ZenFone Selfie, as well as Samsung’s most gifted handhelds yet in this department, the low-cost Galaxy J5 and J7. Let’s not obsess with the future, though, stay in the moment and check out the best of the best selfie soldiers available today stateside, ordered by Amazon’s no-contract price tags:

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $565 factory unlocked; $200 with Verizon or Sprint pacts

Far from a specialized gadget, the G6 is what you’d call the ideal multitasker, always ready to play the part of cameraphone, a hardcore gamer’s wet dream, diminutive media streamer, prodigious web browser and, last but not least, super-sharp selfie producer.

Granted, next to the Quad HD AMOLED display, octa-core Exynos 7420 SoC, 3 GB RAM and 16 MP OIS rear cam, the secondary 5 MP snapper feels like a trivial selling point. Yet the wide-angle lens supposedly “changes the way you take selfies” completely, fitting everybody and everything into the same frame. Technically therefore, the Galaxy S6 is an excellent “groupie” phone, but you know, potayto, potahto.

LG G4 – $565 factory unlocked in leather brown; $200 with Verizon or Sprint contracts

LG G4 selfie

Another multi-purpose flagship rather than a niche product, once again a bunch of specs more glamorous and eye-catching than the 8 MP front shooter. But, ahem, 8 megapixels! Also, Gesture Shutter, Gesture View and a “soft selfie light that brightens around the border of the photo preview window.”

Sooo, mostly gimmicks, except for the rear camera-grade megapixel count. That’s one thing you can’t argue with.

HTC Desire Eye – $414 unlocked; starting at $0 down with device financing for AT&T

HTC Desire Eye

Forget the overpriced, boring, underwhelming One M9. The Desire Eye is true flagship material for self-portrait fanatics, despite a chintzier plastic build, with a 13 MP camera on the back… and another on the front. Both offering autofocus, dual-LED flash and BSI sensors for exceptional low-light clarity.

Oh, and you can even strike a pose underwater, as long as you keep the Full HD 5.2 incher above 1 meter depth for less than 30 minutes.

Sony Xperia C4 – $379

Sony Xperia C4

Yeesh, that’s expensive for a 5.5-inch phablet with octa-core MediaTek power, 2 GB RAM, 16 GB internal storage, a 2,600 mAh battery, 13 MP main photographic unit and “just” a 5 MP 720p LED flash selfie pro. The thing is Sony hasn’t released the “explosive” C4 stateside yet, so basically, you’re also paying import taxes.

On the bright side, the costs should go down very soon, and Sony has a slew of software tricks up its sleeve to polish your prettiest duckface. Plus, natural light-mimicking LED prowess.

Lenovo Vibe Shot – $378

Also not technically launched in the States, the imported Vibe Shot is a slightly better deal, thanks to a more “mainstream” Snapdragon 615 chip, 3 GB RAM, 32 GB ROM and especially 16 and 8 MP cameras.

Lenovo Vibe Shot

Clearly, the former is the standout performer, with OIS and triple-LED flash, but the latter is no slouch either, with handy gesture controls, advanced voice commands and various post-processing effects and ploys to make you look your very best. Probably better.

HTC Desire 820 – $319 unlocked

We’re trudging on decidedly affordable turf now, so you might expect a share of compromises. Guess the 720p resolution of Desire 820’s 5.5-inch panel fits the description, and the 2,600 mAh battery sounds like a featherweight as well.

HTC-Desire-820

Not the 13 and 8 MP cameras, though, even if the selfie specialist lacks flash. Such a shame US carriers, including prepaid operators, have so far avoided picking up the budget-friendly 2014 giant.

Huawei Ascend P7 – $279

Huawei Ascend P7

And here’s our beloved veteran and sole survivor of last year’s selfie rampage. Turned one already, the P7 still runs Android 4.4 KitKat… and still impresses with a potent 8 MP “secondary” camera. Of course, you can do better (cough, Desire Eye, cough), but not at sub-$300, with steel and glass all over and a 441 ppi IPS LCD screen.

Sony Xperia C3 – $239 factory unlocked international

There’s no comparing the decrepit C3 to its remarkable follow-up, however for a touch of nostalgia… and tight budgets, a 720p 5.5-inch display, quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 1 GB RAM, 2,500 mAh cell, 8 MP and 5 cams will do.

Sony Xperia C3 selfie

No ordinary 5 MP front shooter either, but one with a “soft” LED flash headlining its bag of tricks, alongside a 25 mm wide-angle lens and very convenient Superior Auto mode for automatically adjusting to the perfect settings for the perfect situation and environment. Yeah, yeah, you know better to manually prepare everything, but why refuse professional help?

BLU Selfie – $218

BLU Selfie

Tacky name, sleazy design, unimpressive 4.7-inch 720p screen, fairly meager 2,300 mAh battery, antiquated KitKat software, but boy, what amazing cameras for the price point! 13 megapixels on the back, 13 on the front, a dual-LED flash plus a single LED flash, autofocus and something called BLU Bright + Technology for “consistent quasi-professional lighting.” Also, “an instant image enhancer that gives you multiple levels of beautifying effect”, dubbed BLU Final Touch Software.

Photoshop? Who needs that anymore to look like a model with minimal makeup on? Facebook and Tinder hook-up perspectives: unlimited.

Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime – $170 factory unlocked

Before the J5 and J7 drop, we’re afraid you’ll have to settle for this bag of 960 x 540 pix res/1 GB RAM/8 GB ROM mediocrity. If you absolutely need to buy Samsung, that is, and can’t spare over $200. Now, repeat after me – it’s only $170, it’s only $170, only $170… And again, and again, and again.

Samsung-Galaxy-Grand-Prime

Otherwise, you won’t be able to make all the compromises. Including the non-LED 5 MP front camera sacrifice. Good thing the 85 degree wide angle lens can capture the entire family for the occasional group portrait.

HTC One M9 – Complete US availability and pricing guide

It all looks like a no-brainer. Essentially each and every Android power user in the market for a new “handheld PC” seems to be after Samsung’s Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge. The LG G3 is dated, although not by much, the G Flex 2 continues to keep an inexplicably low profile, while Sony’s Xperia Z3 started out obsolete last fall. No wonder carriers are already nixing it.

HTC One M9

But what about HTC’s One M9? Sure, the S6 pair prevailed in our head-to-head specs comparison, yet the all-aluminum, “dual-toned” HTC had a few things going for it. On paper. Now that it’s out, and the odds-on heavyweight title favorites as well, it’s time to further explore the make-or-break elements derived from reviews and whatnot.

There’s also the key question of availability and pricing, plus a detail we didn’t take into account up to this point. Without further ado, here’s why you should still consider the M9, why you shouldn’t, and every place, store and website you can pick it up from stateside.

Reasons to buy the HTC One M9

  • Uh-Oh protection plan

Face it, there’s no such thing as an unbreakable slab, no matter if it’s made of metal, glass, plastic or clay. So, why worry when you can get a free replacement in case of screen rupture or water damage? No catches, no strings attached.

  • Benchmarks

We’re well aware of the vexing performance gap reported by Geekbench back when both the S6 and M9 were in final stages of market preparation. But now GFX Bench, a just as reputable speed evaluator, puts the two fully polished devices on mostly equal grounds.

HTC One M9 vs Samsung Galaxy S6 benchmarks

HTC’s gold medal contender is actually better in “long term performance”, “battery lifetime”, plus T-Rex and Manhattan, two very trusted graphics inspections. Bottom line, the Snapdragon 810/Adreno 430 CPU/GPU combo looks at least as capable as the Exynos 7420/Mali-T760 MP8 dyad.

Why not to buy

  • Average cameras

If there’s one thing M9 reviewers agree on, it’s the 20.7 MP rear snapper’s mediocrity. Oh, so it wasn’t all the fault of Ultrapixel technology.

HTC-One-M9_camera

  • Overheating concerns

They’re gone, but they’re not. And for all we know, they could always make a comeback. After all, why would LG test the Snapdragon 808 waters for their soon-to-be G4?

  • Bland, way too familiar design

If HTC can’t tell the difference between an M8 and M9, how do they expect us to distinguish the two?

Where to buy

Amazon

HTC One M9 gold on silver

Best Buy

htc-one-m9-gunmetal

Verizon

verizon-htc-one-m9

  • Available April 10, up for pre-orders at the moment in silver gold or metal gray at $24.99 a month on Edge, $200 with carrier agreements, $599.99 full retail.

AT&T

HTC One M9 gunmetal gray

Sprint

  • $0 down, $20 for 24 payments with lease
  • $0 down, $30 for 12 payments with lease
  • $0 down, $27 a month with two-year Easy Pay
  • $199.99 with 24-month service agreements
  • $648 upfront
  • Two-five business day delivery promised
  • $50 off Harman/Kardon One speaker when paired with the HTC One M9

HTC One M9 music

T-Mobile

HTC online store

HTC_One_M9

  • In addition to all the above carrier possibilities, gathered here together, the M9 can also be bought unlocked or in a Developer-ready edition, aka with the bootloader unlocked out the box.
  • Developer version – $649 in gray or silver/gold, in stock
  • Unlocked model – $649, in stock, except for the amber gold flavor, listed as “coming soon”

Target

  • Backordered online, not yet available in physical stores, starting at $200 with Verizon, AT&T or Sprint pacts in gunmetal gray

 

Right, so clearly, if you’re just making a decision now, it’s easier to swiftly score the M9 than the hugely in-demand GS6 or S6 Edge. It’s worth emphasizing you’ll be eligible for Uh-Oh protection regardless of the retailer or carrier you choose to do business with.

Galaxy S6 vs HTC One M9

Also, if you’re holding off for the 64 GB variant, well, don’t. We’ve no idea when, or if, it’s headed to the US. But hey, 32 gigs of internal space is plenty when there’s a microSD slot endowed with up to 128 GB support.

Interestingly enough, T-Mobile’s free Netflix and Best Buy’s complimentary wireless charging pad GS6 promos have no equivalent in the M9 camp. Still, the new One is overall cheaper, and if you take good care of it, HTC will give you 100 bucks toward the purchase of a sequel.

HTC-One-M9-in-hand

Last but not least, it’s a little odd no smaller service providers have joined the launch party yet. No US Cellular, no MetroPCS, no nobody besides the “big four”. Point Samsung there, as USC sells the S6 along with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mo.

At the end of the day, we don’t want to tell you what phone to buy and where from, but we strongly believe it’d be foolish to rule out the One M9 without proper consideration. 

Best water-resistant and waterproof Android smartphones money can buy

For the first time in many years, mobile consumers seem to overwhelmingly approve of a next-gen Samsung flagship. The Galaxy S6 and particularly the S6 Edge are (almost) all they could have been, with metal frames (finally!), robust Gorilla Glass back covers, uber-crisp displays, powerful yet frugal processors, highly competent OIS cameras and smoother than ever software.

Android water

Still, haters gonna hate. Fueling the muffled criticism, Sammy removed external storage support, shrunk down battery capacity and, above all, “forgot” water protection. There’s no word on an “Active” variant on the horizon either, at least not yet, so if toilet bowl slips are your worst fear, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Luckily, respectable, “mainstream” liquid-proof Androids can be easily found on Amazon these days. Thanks chiefly to Sony, but also Samsung, they’re not as restrictive, rare and, well, crappy as a few years back.

water splash with bubbles isolated on white

In fact, believe it or not, we had trouble narrowing down our selections for today’s list. And because the final drafts are too different, we’ll give them to you in no particular order. Here are the best water-resistant Android smartphones money can buy in March 2015:

Sony Xperia Z3 – $534 unlocked international; $70 and up on Verizon

If your gadgets keep collapsing after accidental dives into pools and, ahem, restroom commodities, who you gonna call? The veteran water-busters from Sony, clearly. The Japanese have been dishing out semi-rugged mobile products in their homeland for many years, only recently getting the idea to transport some of the magic across the borders. And it worked.

Sony Xperia Z3

Now, a slew of Western Xperias offer various degrees of shelter, and cover different price ranges and performance classes. Probably the most advanced, in every aspect, is this 5.2-inch bad boy, what with its Full HD screen resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 801 chip, 3 GB RAM, 20.7 MP rear camera and IP68 certification.

IP68, for those of you not fluent in Ingress Protection code, essentially means the Xperia Z3 is “dust tight” (6), and all guarded against “continuous immersion” in water beyond 1 meter and 30 minutes (8).

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – starting at $420 unlocked

As the name suggests, the only difference between this and the “full-sized” Z3 is the footprint. Well, that, and display clarity, RAM count, and battery capacity. But what you should take into account first and foremost is the 4.6-inch 720p Z3 Compact also carries an IP68 stamp of approval. Meaning it too can theoretically lie in a body of water for hours and hours without cracking.

Xperia Z3 Compact

Sony Xperia Z2 – $403 free of contractual obligations

Another Sony Xperia? What can we tell you, they’re the best of the best at this. And incredibly enough, the one year-old Z2 doesn’t show signs of aging. The familiar-looking 5.2 incher (the Z3 is a near-identical copy on the outside) is IP58 licensed.

Xperia Z2

That may sound vastly inferior to the IP68 credentials, but it’s actually the same thing as far as liquid contact is concerned. Remember, the 8 designates resistance under 1 m and above 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the 5 refers to dust “collision”, and entails partial protection. In other words, you’ll want to keep the Z2 out of harm’s way when traveling the Sahara Desert by foot.

The good news is, with the Z4 close by, you can probably expect massive Z2 discounts. And at, say, $300, the 1,080p panel, quad-core S801 CPU, 3 GB RAM and 20.7 MP camera will get really hard to turn down.

Samsung Galaxy S5, S5 Active and Sport

Samsung-Galaxy-S5

How could Samsung abandon rugged and semi-rugged functions after so much effort put in the GS5 family? It boggles the mind, but maybe it’s not over yet. For the time being, your choice of a waterproof top-tier Galaxy is between the conventionally designed S5, the slightly quirkier Sport and uber-muscular Active.

One very interesting tidbit is all three are IP67 authorized to deal with dirt no matter what and H2O in small doses. Specifically, up to 1 meter and half an hour. In addition to that however, the Sport rocks “Side Grip enhancements” for a better, stronger hold, and the Active survives transport and thermal shock, as well as solar radiation and vibration with ease.

galaxy-s5-active

Hardware-wise, they’re practically identical, featuring S801 chips, 2 GB RAM, 2,800 mAh batteries and 5.1-inch Full HD screens.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active – $420 factory unlocked

Let’s be sincere, the only reason this aging fellow may tickle your fancy over the S5 or S5 Active is the lower price. The thing is, it’s not low enough. IP67 certified and nothing else, the 5 incher carries a quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor under the hood, alongside 2 gigs of RAM and a 2,600 mAh juicer. Yawn!

galaxy-s-4-active

Kyocera Brigadier – $100 with two-year Verizon contracts; $450 outright

A living legend and instant classic, the Brigadier shined in our best rugged handheld roundup back October, holding its own now despite the advanced age. With an almost extraterrestrial design language, both IP68 and MIL-STD-810G creds and respectable mid-end specs, this is so much more than a stellar waterproof smartphone.

Kyocera-Brigadier

It’s a powerhouse, it’s a fashion statement, and it’s a trend defier, looking like nothing else you’ve ever seen. In numbers, it’s 13 mm thick, tips the scales at a whopping 187 grams, measures 4.5 inches in diagonal, and features a 1,280 x 720 display pixel count, quad-core 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 400 SoC, 2 GB RAM and 8 MP camera.

Kyocera Hydro Life – $99 for T-Mobile with no contract

Unusually cheap and more “classically” handsome than the Brigadier, the Hydro Life is drop-proof, shock-proof and waterproof up to 3 feet, courtesy of IP57 and MIL-STD-810G authorizations. Obviously, it’s no Galaxy S6 “killer”, but at $100 it delivers impressive value for money.

kyocera-hydro-life

The 4.5-inch IPS LCD screen is tolerable, at 960 x 540 pixels, the pre-loaded 4.3 Jelly Bean software… not that old, and the 1.5 GB RAM ideal for smooth multitasking.

HTC Desire Eye – $419 factory unlocked

Hold on, since when does HTC produce water-resistant gear? Since a few months ago, apparently, though you should probably not expect the world from the Desire Eye. The rookie stab here tends to miss the mark more often than not, and we’d call this 5.2 incher anything but robust-looking.

HTC Desire Eye

At the end of the day, it vows to withstand short immersions up to 1 meter deep, and it’s also KitKat-powered, Snapdragon 801-packing and 1,080p LCD-sporting. Not the worst deal you can make at 420 bucks.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs Galaxy S6 Edge vs HTC One M9 – Specs comparison

Judgment day is here at last. The clash of the H1 2015 Android titans went down live on the Barcelona stage at the Mobile World Congress, and now it’s time to give the winner its well-deserved crown.

Galaxy S6 One M9

Wait a minute, we don’t have a winner yet. Yes, Samsung snatched the spotlight and far more headlines than HTC with a two revolutionary designs, plus its typical marketing juggernaut behavior. But the One M9 is still in this fight, and hopes to win the whole thing.

After all, Sammy reformed GS5’s bland look because it had to, whereas HTC, say many, merely settled for not messing with perfection. Meanwhile, sans Note Edge’s functionality add-on, the GS6 Edge is a doomed gimmick, according to Android conservatives.

Galaxy S6 S6 Edge

Finally, as far as the numbers race is concerned, the Galaxy S6 puts its creators in the ideal position to hit a home run, but (there’s always a but) a few of the specification upgrades are deemed unnecessary by some.

Here at The Droid Guy, we like to stay as objective as possible, so today, we’ll pit the One M9 against the S6 and S6 Edge, offer both sides of the “who’s best” debate, and leave the verdict all up to you.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs. S6 Edge vs. HTC One M9 – design comparison

While we’ve certainly had our fair share of evenly-matched contests in the past, this three-way aesthetic duel takes the cake. Good thing we’ve already warned you we won’t pick a victor.

Galaxy S6 vs HTC One M9

With plastic now a distant, lamentable memory, Samsung can match up at last to HTC’s exquisitely robust constructions. This is an aluminum vs. aluminum bout, though the S6 and S6 Edge blend metal with glass for a swankier, glossier vibe.

In the opposite corner, HTC does what it knows best – refinement work. The M9 is essentially a polished copy of the M8, which in turn looked a lot like the M7, just slightly more premium. The S6 Edge of course adds dual curves in the equation, and is therefore bound to catch the eye of fashionistas and people seeking attention in general.

Galaxy S6 Edge slim

At 6.8 mm, the standard S6 is the slimmest of the three, the S6 Edge affixing an unnoticeable 0.2 mm on top of that. The M9 measures a chunky 9.6 mm in depth, and is unsurprisingly 19 and 25 grams heavier than the S6 and S6 Edge respectively, at 157 grams. If you ask HTC about it however, they’ll tell you all that fat has all the noble goals in mind – extra strength and higher battery capacity.

Display showdown

On paper, M9’s screen doesn’t even play in the same league as the impeccable Super AMOLEDs on the GS6 duo. At approximately equivalent diagonals, the former delivers 1,920 x 1,080p resolution, and the latter(s) turn heads and break records with 2,560 x 1,440 pixel counts.

HTC One M9

Resulting density? 441 vs. 577 ppi. A no-contest triumph for the next big thing(s)? Not so fast, as HTC will argue the human eye can only perceive so much clarity and pixel mass.

In other words, they’ll tell you the Quad HD panels on the S6/S6 Edge are overkill. Can you dispute that? Not really, at least not until we see all three phones in the flesh playing vids and games at the highest quality they’re capable of.

Processing speed clash

Say what you will about Samsung, but it took guts to give Qualcomm the cold shoulder and go the Koreans’ own way out of the blue. Will the Snapdragon 810 – Exynos 7420 swap pay off? Preliminary benchmarks are looking good, but it’s way too early to write the S810 off.

Exynos 7420

Besides, Exynos production has been in full swing for a few years, but until now, it’s never had to deal with global Galaxy S demand. Ergo, there’s a chance the OEM’s chip-making division won’t handle the extra workload very elegantly.

The S6 Edge in particular is in danger to hit delays or limited, staggered launches. But if everything goes according to plan, the 7420 has energy efficiency as a big advantage at the very least. It’s a 14 nm-based piece of silicon, so put simply, it’s more frugal than the 20 nm 810.

Snapdragon 810

Both are octa-core big.LITTLE concoctions, with separate clusters for high-power and lighter tasks. And they’re naturally both 64-bit-capable.

RAM and storage

Despite rampant speculation in the months leading up to the announcements, no one went overboard in the memory department. 3 gigs of RAM is enough for Android “computing”, and we’re glad Samsung and HTC acknowledged that.

HTC One M9 microSD

But boy oh boy, did the mobile champions from Seoul goof up storage options. We get it, you had to seal the battery up, and bolt down the rear cover. But there are ways to do all that and permit microSD expansion, you know? Just look at HTC for “inspiration” next time.

Good thing you can at least get local 64 or 128 GB space on the GS6 and S6 Edge, although we don’t want to imagine how much the highest-capacity “edgy” handheld might cost. 1,000 bucks? 2,000? Why even toy with such a crazy concept when you could purchase the 32 GB One M9 for $650 or so, and throw in a cheapo 64 or 128 GB external card.

Samsung Galaxy S6 vs. S6 Edge vs. HTC One M9 – software and battery life

Don’t you just hate it when rumors spoil a delightful surprise like the TouchWiz bloatware dilution on the S6/S6 Edge pair? Granted, early demos and hands-on previews star a UI still a little stuffier than purists would like.

Galaxy S6 Edge software

But the evolution and simplification are obvious, and for once, TW completes Android instead of suffocating it. Android 5.0 Lollipop, of course, the same software iteration found on the M9 alongside Sense 7.0, the prettiest yet possibly most intrusive version of HTC’s proprietary UI to date.

Back to Samsung’s particular set of skills goodies, let’s underline (again) the S6 Edge has far fewer aces up its sleeve than the Note Edge, but can still display things like a night clock on the curves without having to unlock the main, central screen.

HTC rapid charger

As for device autonomy, like raw speed and display excellence, we’ll need to wait and see how the three behave in real-life conditions. In theory, the M9 should prevail, with a 2,840 mAh cell that’s a massive 300 mAh or so larger than the tickers inside its two main rivals. HTC has the “edge” in fast charging tech as well, while Samsung counter-attacks with wireless charging.

Cameras, sensors and prices

We’re likely about to badly piss you off, but the camera fight can’t be settled just yet either. It’s simply too close to call it. On one hand, HTC has the superior megapixel count – 20.7. But Samsung is close enough, at 16 MP, to make up lost ground with optical image stabilization.

htc-one-m9-camera

Interested in selfies first and foremost? You have another tough choice to make – 4 Ultrapixels or 5 megapixels?

Alas, HTC has no answer for Samsung’s vastly improved, PayPal-certified, touch-based fingerprint sensor, or the heart rate monitor on both the S6 and S6 Edge. Then again, the Taiwanese may come out on top with off-contract affordability, and a swifter turnaround.

Galaxy S6 back

The One M9 is expected out later this month starting at roughly $650, while the S6 and S6 Edge should cost north of $700 and $800 respectively and roll out in April. Overall, do you think timing and a familiar, acclaimed build will help HTC dominate, or is Samsung unbeatable, thanks to the risks they’ve taken?

Images via PC Mag, Pocket-lint, The Verge, Digital Trends

MWC 2015 preview – Samsung vs. HTC for the heavyweight title

Despite Sony and LG’s best efforts, the 2014 Mobile World Congress was the classic one-man show scenario. Samsung came to Barcelona, saw what the competition had to exhibit, scoffed and conquered the event.

MWC_2015

The Galaxy S5 quickly fulfilled its destiny, and sold in tens of millions of units, although ultimately, it came short of breaking GS4’s sales records. The phone’s striking iterative upgrade aspect no doubt played a central role in its overall underwhelming box-office performance, but at the same time, LG and HTC obstructed the 5.1 incher’s rise to fame with two very solid contenders.

The One M8’s success gave HTC a much-needed ego boost, and now, the Taiwanese are looking to steal GS6’s MWC 2015 thunder with an even stronger M9. Meanwhile, LG is choosing to play it safe, leaving the door open for a slew of Android underdogs to challenge the show’s bronze medal.

Mobile-World-Capital-Barcelona

Lenovo and Huawei are among the higher-profile names also confirmed to swing by Catalonia in a little over a week, whereas BenQ is by far the most surprising and exotic near-certain conference participant. Without further ado, here’s what we expect to go down on the Android front between March 2 and 5, at the 2015 Mobile World Congress:

Samsung MWC preview – the perennial favorite strikes again?

What can we tell you about gossip darling Galaxy S6 that you don’t already know, or can’t find out from our recent comprehensive rumor roundup? Well, it’s bound to go for iPhone 6’s jugular in terms of slimness, at the prospective expense of battery life and build quality.

Samsung

Bendgate part 2 approaching? Hopefully, not, and the metal set to yield the “next big thing” will be capable of extra resistance. Okay, what else? There’s the as-yet unsolved Galaxy S6 Edge equation, with the dual-curved handheld possibly en route to a limited number of markets.

The Exynos 7420 processor inside both flagships is guaranteed to give the much larger Apple A8X chip under iPad Air 2’s hood a healthy run for its money. And as for ETAs, we believe the standard S6 could roll out commercially by the end of March, with the S Edge hot on its heels, in April.

Samsung_Galaxy_S6_S6_Edge

All done? Not so fast, since Sammy has made it a habit of pairing every high-end smartphone with a new wearable right off the bat. Unfortunately, the looming “Orbis” smartwatch is likely powered by Tizen in lieu of Android Wear. Next!

HTC at MWC 2015 – an honorable number two or distant runner-up?

However you might personally feel about the construction and looks of HTC Ones, the numbers don’t lie, and recent sales results simply cannot allow this beautiful dark horse to dream of defeating Samsung. At best, they can secure a key advantage over LG or Sony, which don’t plan to out their next-gen top dogs until April, at the earliest.

HTC MWC teaser

Can the One M9, aka Hima, pull such a feat? Of course, as long as the Full HD screen resolution is its only compromise. And as long as Snapdragon 810 works, matching the incredible raw speed of the Exynos 7420.

HTC probably needs the affordability upside as well for the M9 to at least play in the same league as the S6. And as far as the “Petra” smart band is concerned, we’ll be frank – we’re not overly optimistic. Rumor is the activity tracker will borrow some, but not all of the typical features of fancy smartwatches, and run a basic proprietary OS of sorts. Boooring!

Lenovo MWC preview – no Motorola, no chance?

It’s entirely possible a second-generation Moto E will (properly) break cover in Barcelona, alongside the 4G LTE-enabled 2015 Moto G that also got an odd, low-profile semi-unveil in Brazil. But there’s no new X or Turbo on the horizon.

Lenovo-Vibe-Shot

Just a few semi-flagships carrying Lenovo branding and thus due chiefly for Asian launches. The Vibe Shot is intriguing… if you’re into taking snapshots with your very short-lasting phone, while the Vibe X3 might actually be the all-round spearhead.

With a 5.5-inch Quad HD screen, octa-core Snapdragon 810 CPU, 3 GB RAM, 20 MP camera and so on and so forth. A trio of upper mid-rangers are also tipped for debuts over the next few weeks, although it’s unclear if they’re all headed to MWC.

Lenovo Vibe series MWC

The Vibe P1 Pro is all about that bass 5,000 mAh battery, the P1 will itself pack a gigantic 4,000 mAh cell, and finally, the S1 seems targeted at fashionistas, courtesy of many possible colorful exteriors, smooth curves and slim profiles.

Huawei

This up-and-coming Chinese underdog is weird. I mean, we’ve been expecting it for eons to get serious about its world domination prospects, and once again, Huawei employs a timid baby-step approach. No high-end Ascend smartphone is on its way to Barcelona, but instead one or two budget-friendly tablets will be taken on the plane from China to Spain.

Huawei MWC teaser

Also, and this is where things get (marginally) interesting, a standalone LTE-capable smartwatch. With Android Wear pre-installed, presumably, and a much lower price tag than Samsung’s Gear S. Too bad it’s probably not circular, albeit a curved design would also do.

BenQ (?!?)

First of all, who or what exactly is a BenQ? According to Wikipedia, it’s a 2001-founded Taiwanese multi-national seller and marketer of various consumer electronics, computing and communications devices. Another tidbit you might be interested in is BenQ apparently employed 1,300 people in 2013. 1,300!!!

BenQ-F52

And they’re thinking of visiting the world’s most glamorous mobile exhibition with a Snapdragon 810 5.2-inch powerhouse running Android 5.0 Lollipop on a 3 GB RAM system?!? That takes courage, we’ll give them that.

Aaand… that’s it? Nah, that can’t be it. For crying out loud, both Samsung and HTC want to whip out their big guns on March 1, so before the show actually begins, leaving us hanging for four frigging days after.

ASUS-MWC-2014

There must be other product announcements cooked up. Asus should have something wacky and original to showcase, like maybe a new PadFone or Transformer Pad. Or how about a bigger-battery ZenWatch 2?

Meanwhile, we know LG and Sony will insist on keeping their high-end cards close to the chest, but that doesn’t mean they need to do the same with their upcoming low to mid-end entries. Time for a proper Xperia M2 sequel, Sony, and perhaps a T3 refresh too. And you, LG, we want more than a “luxury” take on the G Watch R. Some new G Pads would be nice and, oh, F-series smartphone rehashes.

ZTE MWC 2013

Alcatel? Acer? BLU Products? ZTE? Archos? They rarely miss these kinds of shindigs, but they also rarely stand out with something other than ultra-low-cost gear that walks the thin line between utter crap and tolerable, lackluster machinery.

So yeah, overall, this is shaping up to be a Samsung/HTC double feature, with very few potential spoilers. Still a spectacle to look out for, starting March 2 1, only on The Droid Guy.

HTC One M9 ‘Hima’ rumor roundup and preview

It’s been a lackluster past few years for stumbling mobile giant HTC at the global box-office, and if the Taiwanese are ever to spark up a comeback, the next three to six months may well be critical. For the company’s stability on the whole and future prosperity.

HTC-One-M9

Clearly, the One M9 could take the role of saving grace, but the M8 sequel has to hit the nail on the head in everything from release timing to build quality to sheer power. Where its predecessor excelled, the Hima has to shine brighter, and where it failed to impress, this bad boy needs to step it up.

M9’s triumph also markedly depends on Samsung’s Galaxy S6 upgrading efforts, though it’d be exceedingly simplistic to surmise that if the S6 flops, the M9 rises, and the other way around. For the greater good of the industry, we obviously hope both will knock our socks off with innovation, progress and hefty hardware advancements. And then, may the best man PR department win!

HTC-One-M9-Concept

For now, since we already put the Galaxy S6 under the microscope, it’s time we took the HTC One M9 for a similar spin. A speculation-fueled spin, that is, as there are still plenty of question marks hovering around the elusive “Hima”.

M9 rumor roundup – the “when” of the equation

A timely introduction and swift turnaround do not a sales hit make, but they’re clearly the first essential step towards achieving success. It’s ergo crucial for HTC they come out with the M9 before Samsung rolls out the S6, which may not be as simple as it sounds.

HTC MWC 2015

The first battle’s been won, and HTC’s MWC press event is scheduled for March 1, 24 hours before the GS6 debuts. But that’s not going to mean a darn thing if Sammy eludes Qualcomm’s oft-rumored Snapdragon 810 overheating glitches by equipping the S6 with a homebrewed octa-core 64-bit Exynos CPU.

Meanwhile, HTC has no in-house 810 alternative, so if the processor is indeed delayed, they’ll just have to wait it out. Until April, maybe May. What an ominous prospect!

One M9 design preview

HTC is a construction champion, there’s no denying that, but again, their success seems to depend a whole lot on the competition’s moves. If Samsung makes the S6 all-metal, HTC’s one and only ace up the sleeve so far will be canceled.

HTC One M9 vs One M8

Or maybe not, as aluminum should meet a compound called silicon carbide for Hima’s case. Don’t let the “silicon” in the name fool you, this is to further improve the robustness and durability of the already strapping M8. On the not so bright side, the reformed build could reflect poorly on weight and thickness.

As far as the overall design language goes, live photos leaked online this past week suggest no major changes are in store. With a few worthy exceptions (rear camera, bezels), the M9 will be an exact replica of the M8, and we’re totally fine with that.

Display questions – Full or Quad HD?

This dilemma is said to be causing a stir in Sony’s camp as well, whereas LG and Samsung aren’t even considering it. It’s QHD, aka 2K all the way for the two Korean titans.

HTC-One-M9-prototype

From Taiwan, we’ve heard many different stories, circling numbers as diverse as 5, 5.2 and 5.5 for screen size. Needless to say that the latter would definitely warrant a move beyond 1,080p, while 2,560 x 1,440 pixels on 5 inches of glass is probably overkill.

Processor, RAM and battery capacity

Could HTC be seriously thinking of sticking to a Snapdragon 805 CPU if the 810 is really in trouble? We wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s a long shot. After all, it might mean getting left behind in the spec race… again.

For crying out loud, there’s no comparing the two, as the 810 is an octa-core, 64-bit-capable beast built on 20 nm architecture. And it should be quite frugal as well, which is why a 2,850 mAh cell would suffice to keep the lights on for hours and hours and hours. Especially on a 5-inch FHD panel.

Qualcomm Snapdragon

Remember, the 5-inch One M8 packs a smaller 2,600 mAh juicer, is also Full HD and can last a staggering 20 hours or so between charges in continuous talk time.

The RAM affair is simpler, and no one seems to deem HTC as bold as LG or Asus. So, yeah, it’s 3 gigs here 100 percent. Make it 95. Miracles are known to happen, right? They’re rare, but they do happen.

Camera preview – bye, bye, UltraPixels

Wait, hold on, not so fast. We mean, bye bye, UltraPixel rear snapper, as the front cam is tipped to preserve the controversial technology for an as-yet unrevealed pixel count.

HTC One M9 back

The main photographic unit however should evoke no quality debate, and blow our minds with 20 megapixels of snapshot potency. Optical image stabilization too? Perhaps, plus Eye Experience software add-ons and numerous other tricks we can’t be privy to just yet.

Software – a “sensible” Lollipop experience

Let’s not kid ourselves, even if Samsung plans to trim the fat off TouchWiz and come closer than ever to stock Android on the standard S6, HTC’s Sense UI is here to stay. In the same relatively intrusive form as before, with a bigger emphasis on BlinkFeed, increased customization, better use of battery-saving functions and the works.

Lollipop

We’re being vague, and we apologize for that, but in all honesty, we know very little of Android 5.0’s specific look with Sense UI 7.0 on top.

Audio, storage and others

HTC’s high-end trademark, front-placed BoomSound stereo speakers, isn’t going anywhere either, and it might gain Bose sound improvements, plus Dolby 5.1 surround technology.

Boomsound

MicroSD storage expansion should be at your disposal for the second year in a row, despite the sealed rear cover, and internally, digital hoarders will get 32, 64 or 128 gigs of space to cultivate their disease passion.

An interesting rumor that just popped up says the HTC One M9 could also recognize fingerprints for online payments and easy device unlocking, although ultimately, the feature (gimmick?) is likely to be saved for a future Max-like rehash, dubbed M9 Plus or Ultra, and also set to sport a 5.5-inch Quad HD display.

HTC Under Armour

To challenge Samsung, Sony and LG on all fronts, HTC is expected to bring its first ever wearable to Barcelona in March. This ain’t a fancy smartwatch, rumor has it, but rather a more trivial fitness band developed in cahoots with Under Armour.

Aaaaand that’s a wrap, ladies and gents, at least for the time being, with all questions to be answered in the following 40 days or so. 40 days and 40 nights of patience and Droid Guy scrutiny, that’s all that’s left.

CES 2015 recap: All the new Android smartphones showcased in Vegas

Don’t let your calendars fool you. Even though the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show is technically scheduled to run through January 9, the glamorous unveiling festivities are very much over.

CES

And I know what you Android addicts are thinking. Man, this was a disappointing trade fair. No next-gen Samsung Galaxy S flagship, no LG G4, no HTC “Hima”, and not even a new member of the high-end Sony Xperia Z family, despite all signs and teasers. By the way, that was so not cool on Sony’s part.

But we digress, when the fact of the matter is the show wasn’t all that lacking in high-profile Android announcements. The world’s first 4 GB RAM-packing phone debuted on the Las Vegas stage, the first truly exciting curved handheld too, and smartwatches and fitness trackers were flying all over the place.

CES LG booth

A fair share of smaller industry actors shined in Sin City as well, and we’re here to give them the attention they deserve. This is the ultimate CES 2015 recap, where you’ll find all the sizzling hot, spanking new Android smartphones… that count:

LG G Flex 2

Endowed with a “modest” 3 gigs of random-access memory, the second-gen “banana phone” was hands down the biggest show-stopper at CES 2015. Need reasons? There are countless, and they’re detailed here, but by far, the number one feat pulled off by LG is that unbelievably complex self-healing back cover.

lg-g-flex-2

The flexing battery too, and the design on the whole is just mouth-watering. Too bad you’ll probably have to pay an arm and a leg to get an early ticket to the future of mobile.

Asus ZenFone 2

Let’s be realistic. There’s really no current smartphone use scenario that could require or benefit from a PC-busting 4 GB RAM. But soon enough, we may well need the extra memory for further multitasking improvements and whatnot.

Asus ZenFone 2

It’s why Asus fully deserves all the praise it’s getting, and more. Future-proofing your devices is the first step towards showing you’re serious about real progress and innovation.

Asus ZenFone Zoom

We’ve been warned for months, maybe years 4 GB RAM handhelds were coming, but this? This was a little harder to anticipate. Sure, Samsung slapped an amazeballs camera with optical zoom on phones before (or rather a so-so phone on an exceptional point-and-shoot).

ZenFone Zoom

The difference lies in the execution, which is much smarter and a lot more practical on the ZenFone Zoom. It looks like Asus’ shaky experiments are finally done, and the company is ready to seize and stay in the spotlight.

HTC Desire 826

Sorry, power users, the One “M9” must wait. But while waiting, maybe HTC can interest you in one of the greatest upper mid-range phablets around. Yes, the Desire 826 feels familiar, a little too so, highly resembling the 820.

htcdesire826

But that UltraPixel front camera is a beaut. And don’t get us started on the near-flawless overall quality-price ratio. This is smart, HTC, going after the budget crowds with much better hardware than the competition.

Lenovo Vibe X2 Pro

A selfie “pro” and aesthetical standout, the Vibe X2 Pro, much like the Desire 826, stuns with exceptional hardware at a reasonable price point. What Lenovo’s low-cost soldier has going for it is a sturdier construction, with aluminum everywhere, and impressive screen-to-body ratio.

Lenovo-Vibe-X2-Pro

The octa-core 64-bit Snapdragon 615 processor, though soon to become standard in the price range, is another one of X2 Pro’s key fortes. On the not so bright side, US availability seems out of the question, so the world conquering bid of the 5.3 incher is quashed right off the bat.

Lenovo P90

Shall we even say it? Fine, if you really want to twist the knife, here it goes – the P90 isn’t headed stateside either. And no, this bad boy ain’t as stylish as the X2 Pro. It’s perhaps just as zippy though, with quad-core Intel Atom power inside, and it’s a battery champ, thanks to a gigantic 4,000 mAh cell.

Lenovo P90

It truly boggles the mind why Lenovo’s so reluctant to take a leap of faith with high-tech-seeking American audiences. You’ve even got Motorola in your corner, guys, why so shy?

ZTE Grand X Max+

A marginal upgrade over the not-so-old first-gen X Max, the Plus subtly improves everything that didn’t quite work on the OG, yet somehow keeps the price bar low, at $200 off-contract on Cricket Wireless. The Cricket exclusivity that’s shaping up is a major inconvenience for most US mobile consumers, but making the sacrifice and settling for the minuscule prepaid carrier may well be worth it.

zte-grand-x-max-plus

For crying out loud, ZTE’s selling here what its more established rivals are charging nearly double for – 6 inches of beautiful 720p glass, a quad-core Snapdragon 400 chipset, 2 generous gigs of RAM, a 13 MP rear camera, 5 MP front snapper, 3,200 mAh battery, and Dolby Mobile sound enhancements.

Archos 50 Diamond

Speaking of what two Benjamins can buy these days, meet the 5-inch, 1,080p, octa-core Snapdragon 615-powered, 2 GB RAM-touting, 16 and 8 MP camera-sporting 50 Diamond. No typos, no jokes, no strings attached.

archos-50-diamond

That’s what French budget guru Archos is planning to offer at a “sub-$200” price point (read $199.99). And no, the pre-installed Android 4.4 KitKat isn’t ideal, but with such an amazing 64-bit-supporting chip under the hood, 5.0 Lollipop is certainly nigh.

Alcatel One Touch Pop 2 family

It’s hard to imagine these humble Alcatels will ever set foot on US soil, and even if they were to roll out globally, there’s no way they could be priced competitively, given what the $200 Archos 50 Diamond and ZTE Grand X Max+ bring to the table.

alcatel-pop-2

Of course, nothing’s impossible in the beautiful Android universe, and the race to the bottom could always heat up with, say, a $100 or so 5-inch 720p gizmo running 5.0 out the box, and packing Snapdragon 410 heat.

The Pop 2 5 Premium would qualify for that slim possibility, with the lower-end Pop 2 4.5 and Pop 2 4 then dangerously close to be given away for free. Yeah, no, we don’t see that happening, so maybe try again, Alcatel.

Alcatel Pixi 3

And try they did. The Pixi 3 trio is just as mysterious in the retail cost department, and keeps the secrecy going as far as tech specs go too. Their key selling point is a one-of-a-kind disbelief in OS fidelity, with the choice between Android, Windows Phone and Firefox OS left entirely to Pixi 3 buyers.

alcatel-pixi3

How will that work exactly? And is it really a selling point, or a weird way to secure 15 minutes of fame before going the DOA route? Only time can tell, but at the moment, let’s say we’re intrigued. Curious, at the very least.

Kodak IM5

Once upon a time, there was this photo and printing titan that managed to completely monopolize the industry. But the digital revolution came, and Kodak barely survived it. Now, whoever’s left spooning water out of the sinking ship is trying to milk the erstwhile celebrated name, and bring it to the 21st century with a timid stab at the lucrative smartphone action.

Kodak IM5

Now, the IM5 isn’t necessarily a crappy device, it’s simply lackluster and bland, with a price tag of $250 and overall ho-hum features: 5-inch HD screen, octa-core MediaTek processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB internal storage, 4.4 KitKat pre-loaded, 13 MP and 5 MP cameras. Call a time of death already, Kodak, and move on.

BLU Vivo Air, Studio Energy, Studio X and X Plus, Studio G and Life One series

When you can’t shine with quality, at least make a splash with quantity. That seems to be the motto of BLU Products, a fledgling Miami-based mobile phone manufacturer that’s starting to make a name for itself in the budget unlocked mobile arena.

blu-life-one

On their way to Amazon in the coming months, all these new BLU handhelds are fairly respectable, but once again, there’s something missing. A sense of pizazz. The slightest hint of originality. But hey, the 5-inch, quad-core Studio G is set to cost $89 unlocked, and you probably don’t need a lot of razzle-dazzle to seal that particular deal.

And so our coverage of Android smartphones introduced at CES concludes, but stay tuned for a recap of all the tablets and wearables brought to light these past few days. We’ll be back!

Best Android smartphones for selfies – top front facing camera options

Whether you consider them to be in poor taste, a passing fad or a key element of today’s pop culture, selfies are unquestionably at the peak of their popularity.

selfie cat

The most retweeted image ever is a self-portrait photograph of a cluster of celebrities, the Oxford English Dictionary awarded the term, which wasn’t previously listed in the glossary, the 2013 word of the year prize, and yes, even Russian dictator Vladimir Putin occasionally strikes a selfie pose.

Not to mention the leader of the free world, who infamously made waves with much too cheerful selfies during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, or Pope Francis, who recently helped press coin a new term relating to the tireless trend – “usies”.

You also got groupies, groufies and wefies, but no matter how you call them, one thing’s crystal clear: selfies are here to stay. So instead of vainly opposing the furor, why not go with the flow, embrace it and make the most of it?

Oscars selfie

That’s what smartphone manufacturers are trying to do, and the good news is they’re treating the newly created market niche very seriously. So seriously that most current contenders for the title of world’s best front-facing camera-toting handheld are much more than just solid selfie-centric slabs.

Cutting to the chase, we’ve rounded up seven Android phones with some of the most capable front snappers attached, as well as an array of impressive other features. As usual, we’ve only selected gadgets readily available stateside, and designed by OEMs we can vouch for. Here we go:

7. BLU Life Pure – starting at $252.45

First of all, yes, we can vouch for BLU Products. The Miami-based mobile phone producer has been around long enough to earn our trust, and lately, the budget specialist has begun cranking up its marketing and advertising efforts too.

BLU_Life_Pure

Now, BLU’s very rich roster includes a number of devices packing 5 megapixel front shooters, but the Life Pure ultimately made the cut thanks to its sensible price point and solid bang for buck factor. The imaging department in particular is thrilling, with a 13 MP cam slapped on the 5 incher’s rear. And then you have Full HD display resolution, quad-core power, 2 GB RAM, as well as DTS Surround sound enhancements.

6. Huawei Ascend P6 – $270 in an unlocked flavor

Ah, yes, the one-year-old Ascend P6 is a classic heavyweight of the selfie scene, being one of the very first Androids to come towing an impressive 5 MP front camera. Aimed squarely at teenagers with an eye for fashion, this upper mid-range 4.7 incher measures a record-breakingly slim 6.2 mm in depth and is capable of shooting HD videos with the 5 megapixel secondary snapper.

Huawei Ascend P6

The Beauty Shot mode is bound to further increase the handheld’s appeal among youngsters, while the 8 MP primary cam doesn’t sound very impressive at first, but it does feature autofocus, LED flash, plus 1,080p video recording capabilities. Not bad for less than three Benjamins, eh?

5. HTC Desire 816 – $230 on Virgin Mobile prepaid; starting at $370 SIM-free

The Desire 816 wins precious points with its larger-scale availability, relative affordability and dedicated Selfie mode, but at the end of the day, we feel the 5 megapixel selfie-centric camera comes up short in a toe-to-toe battle with the following four title contenders.

HTC Desire 816

It just does, although 1,080p video shooting is supported, and outside of the photographic field, the specs are quite decent too: 5.5-inch 720p screen, quad-core 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 1.5 GB RAM, 2,600 mAh battery.

4. Lenovo Vibe Z – starting at $303

Forget “decent” specs, the Vibe Z is one of the most underrated powerhouses of late 2013. With a skinny body, uber-crisp 5.5-inch FHD panel, 2 whopping gigs of RAM under the hood and a zippy quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, this baby almost doesn’t need top-level cameras to appeal to the young, hip crowd.

Lenovo Vibe Z

Yet it carries them anyway, sporting 13 megapixels on the rear and 5 on the front, spiced up with add-ons like autofocus, LED flash, touch focus, face detection and an 84-degree wide-angle lens and FHD video recording respectively. Duckfaces have never been clearer. Just don’t forget to edit out all the pimples.

3. HTC One M8 – available for between $50 and $100 with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint contracts; $650 unlocked

The selfie bronze medalist is one of Android’s all-around greats, and the all-aluminum beaut settles for the last spot on the podium only due to an inferior megapixel count when compared to the silver and gold winners.

HTC One M8

Sorry, HTC, the 5 MP sensor is amazeballs, especially when paired with a wide-angle lens, f/2.0 aperture and the now iconic Selfie Mode, but it’s simply not the greatest. And we know full well megapixels don’t always tell the full story, but here, we think they do.

That being said, if you’re not just interested in taking vain photos of yourselves eating out, get the M8. It’s gorgeous, punchy and a battery life beast.

2. Meitu 2 – starting at $395.99

You know how we promised to list solely smartphones from well-known, reliable manufacturers? Let’s take a short break from that, and consider this nugget: the no-name Meitu 2 (horrible name, by the way) features a, wait for it, 13 MP front camera. And a 13 MP rear camera. That’s… just… crazy.

Meitu 2

Even crazier, the dedicated Fujitsu Milbeaut professional image processor, which takes care of a number of complex editing tasks once the rough selfies are taken. You can clear out skin imperfections, change the color tone, lighting and even make yourself look skinnier. Sure, it’s cheating, but so is Photoshopping pics. The difference is the Meitu 2 makes photo editing as easy as ABC.

Oh, if only we’d know a thing or two about the obscure Asian company.

1. Huawei Ascend P7 – $415 with 4G LTE in factory unlocked version

No, the P7 is no hardcore, professional selfie machine. It lacks the built-in image processor of the Meitu 2 (seriously, what’s up with that name?), and the 8 MP front cam sensor pales in comparison with the 13 megapixels mentioned above.

Huawei Ascend P7

But still, 8 MP is pretty nutty. And the Panoramic Selfie feature is a home run. You also get 1,080p video support, and outside of the vanity photo realm, a 13 MP rear-facing camera, 5-inch Full HD IPS LCD screen, 6.5, yes, 6.5 mm profile, 2 GB RAM and quad-core 1.8 GHz HiSilicon Kirin 910T SoC. In short, the absolute best you could hope for at less than $450.

Back to school shopping guide: best Android smartphones for students

Things just got real. The start of the new school year is less than a week away, so it’s high time you stopped daydreaming about the good old early days of summer. But September 4 doesn’t have to be a time of grief and sorrow.

smartphone students

Not entirely. You might as well embrace the beginning of the rest of your life, and make the most of it. And what better way than loading up on sizzling hot Android gear to ensure you’ll stand out from the crowd once that first bell rings?

Already stacked on tablets, convertibles, laptops and/or multi-purpose Android PCs? Then let’s get you a pocket-sized computer too, and kick the school year into gear in style. We’ve rounded up the best options for every budget, unlocked, on prepaid plans and with standard contracts, and without further ado, here they are in no particular order:

Motorola Moto E

We realize it’s cool to hate on your parents, and them getting you cheap, sub-par mobile equipment for back to school season is always a great pretext to let the rage flow. But would you cut them some slack? They probably work hard for every penny they earn, and besides gadgetry, they have to take care of feeding, clothing you and shipping you off on all those spring break vacations.

Moto E

Besides, say what you will about the Moto E, but Motorola’s budget champion is anything but sub-par. In fact, it offers one of the best bang for buck values around, it’s petite, decently punchy and up to date software-wise, plus the wet dream of any geeky stock Android aficionado. No reason to hide, we know you’re out there.

Motorola Moto G

Be honest, you don’t really need all the “premium” features high-end Androids accommodate. But maybe Moto E’s low-res display, dual-core chip and scanty 4 GB of internal storage space don’t entirely fulfil your needs either.

MOTO_G_4G

Enter the Moto G, the perfect low-cost, mid-range smartphone, with a perfectly sized, one-hand-friendly 4.5-inch 720p screen, beefy quad-core processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 gigs and up of on-board storage, plus microSD support and 4G LTE connectivity in a model available at a sensible $220. No strings attached and free of any and all contractual obligations.

HTC One M8

But mom, all the cool kids own these metal beauties called iPhones, and I want to show them off by getting an even more gorgeous, larger, zippier all-aluminum slab. Cheaper too. The answer to your iPhone slaying dilemmas is the One M8, and if your parents can afford it, don’t think about it, just buy, buy, buy.

HTC One M8

And the greatest advantage of the metallic design isn’t the visual effect and the envy it’ll breed in the schoolyard (although that’s nice too), but the robustness and durability of the chassis. Plus, the M8 is a selfie beast, courtesy of a 5 MP front-facing camera, and a battery champion.

LG G3

Where to even begin? The LG G3 is such a stunning little portable PC that it would honestly be easier to list the reasons it’s not the top choice for students. But let’s focus on the good and try to keep it short. First, the design. No metal, no deal? Think again, because the G3 ain’t a phone, it’s a fashion statement.

LG G3 Verizon

And then you have the state-of-the-art 5.5-inch Quad HD display, the explosive quad-core 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU, massive 3,000 mAh battery, 3 GB RAM and beautiful 13 megapixel rear camera. This, my friends, is the textbook definition of a powerhouse, and at least until the Galaxy Note 4 drops, it’s the all-around best Android handheld. Besides, it’s really not that pricey either.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active

So you want something a little more outdoorsy and capable of keeping up with the challenges of being young, always on the move, always ready for everything. But conventionally ruggedized devices feel bulky, look fugly and lack that certain je ne sais quoi in the performance department.

galaxy-s5-active

All hail Samsung then, which have finally brought rugged into the mainstream. Sure, the S5 Active can’t exactly take a bullet for you, but it can swim, it dismisses dust contact, rain, vibration, solar radiation and thermal shock like it’s nothing.

And the beauty of it is the 5.1 incher measures a measly 8.9 mm in thickness, tips the scales at 170 grams and packs (almost) everything that makes the standard GS5 so great, quad-core S801 SoC, 16 MP camera and heart rate monitor included.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Okay, guys, play is over, it’s time to look at an option good for the classroom too. The thing is the Note 3 is really the best of both worlds, supporting your creative and learning-thirsty side with S Pen support and offering bleeding edge specifications, from an outstanding 5.7-inch Super AMOLED Full HD screen to 3, yes, 3 gigs of RAM to a 3,200 mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

And yes, we’re fully aware a drastically improved sequel is on the way, but this OG is available for free on carrier agreements and $520 outright, whereas the Note 4 will probably start at $300 and $800 respectively.

HTC Desire 816

Given the recent rise of prepaid carriers and plans, it’d have been a terrible shame to wrap up our little back to school shopping guide without offering an option for folks who are opposed to contracts, but also unwilling to drop a fortune on an unlocked, SIM-free gizmo.

And Virgin Mobile’s Desire 816 is a prepaid instant classic. Clearly targeted at budget-restricted phablet lovers, this Herculean fellow will no doubt cater to the needs of photo buffs as well, thanks to a 13 MP rear-facing snapper and, yes, a 5 megapixel front camera.

htc-desire-816

But that’s not all. The design is a winner too, despite the somewhat chintzy plastic, you get a generous 1.5 GB of RAM and, last but not least, Android 4.4 KitKat with Sense UI 6 on top.

That’s a wrap, boys and girls, and it’s now time for the tough decisions. Regardless of what you end up buying though, this is shaping up to be an epic school year. Keep at it.

Best inexpensive Android phablets: bigger + cheaper = better

Bigger is better. That’s a nutshell description of the recent mobile market trend favoring size over palpable “innovation”, which some tried to enforce as a rule for future “evolution”. But it didn’t really catch on as an ultimate dictum.

Phablet head

Instead, many nuanced it, envisioning a world of not just super-sized gadgets, but giants with a gentler, more sensible side. I’m talking of course about cost friendliness, and while the above mentioned motto isn’t a foolproof recipe for success yet, the following equation is truly infallible: bigger + cheaper = better.

Oh, yes, cutting-edge phablets continue to command extravagant prices of $500, $600, even $700 upon launch. And some keep the bar of expectations high-reaching long after they’ve made their society debut. But others target stingy sensible folks right off the bat, or lower the ask in no time to handle increasing competition.

Phablet

Without further ado, here are the 10 best jumbo-sized Android smartphones you can buy nowadays for less than $400:

10. LG G Pro Lite – $201

Okay, so the G Pro Lite is quite clearly not the world’s punchiest phablet. But it’s by far the cheapest that made our top ten, and that’s got to count for something. Available from various (trusted) third-party Amazon sellers for between $201 and $215, Optimus G Pro’s less gifted cousin packs a humble dual-core 1 GHz Mediatek chip and 1 GB RAM.

LG G Pro Lite

The 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen is outright cringe worthy, at 960 x 540 pixels, but the 8 MP rear cam with LED flash and 3,140 mAh battery are not bad. Not bad at all, and the amazing thing about the G Pro Lite is it runs Android 4.4 KitKat starting a month or so back.

9. Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8 – $325

Not another underwhelming dual-core behemoth with a qHD (no, not QHD) panel. And it’s fairly pricey too. Also, it still runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. And the extra screen real estate (5.8 inches) is a double-edged sword, offering, well, extra real estate, but lower ppi caused by the meager 960 x 540 pixel count.

Galaxy Mega 5.8

So wait, why is the Mega 5.8 better than the G Pro Lite again? Basically, because it’s handsomer and much zippier, thanks to a 1.4 GHz Broadcom chip and 1.5 GB RAM. It’s also easier to procure, with US retailers, as always, more open to selling Sammy-made gear.

8. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo – $410

I know, I know, I promised I’d settle for sub-$400 options, but really, what’s 10 bucks more? Let me rephrase: what’s 10 bucks more when you can get an almost exact replica of the GNote 3 design-wise, with S Pen support, 5.5 inches of HD Super AMOLED glory, a unique hexa-core Exynos CPU, 2 GB RAM and massive 3,100 mAh battery?

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-3-Neo

Such a pity the rear snapper sports a middling 8 megapixel sensor and Android 4.3 runs the software show. And for the record, most stateside retailers charge north of $450, in which case the bang for buck factor ain’t that outstanding anymore.

7. Lenovo K900 – $292

I hate downgrading amazing gear on account of its manufacturer’s inability to properly advertise it, but that’s just how it goes. Strictly looking at K900’s numbers, and its price on Amazon, you’d think you’re dealing with our all-around inexpensive champion.

lenovo-k900

However, the K900 is so hard to come by, it’s almost not worth the effort. Almost. Because, at the end of the day, those 5.5 inches of Full HD beauty, the dual-core 2 GHz Intel Atom processor, the 13 MP dual-LED flash camera, 2 GB RAM and metallic exterior warrant all the sacrifices (and risks) in the world.

6. Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3 – $0.00 with AT&T contracts, $0.01 on Sprint, $400 factory unlocked

This is exactly what I was talking about. Were it not for Samsung’s omnipotent distribution muscle, the Mega 6.3 would easily get lost in the crowd. But when you can find the 6.3 incher on both AT&T and Sprint, you clearly take notice.

Galaxy Mega 6.3

Don’t get me wrong, the bigger Mega is no pushover. Its gargantuan screen boasts HD resolution, there’s a vigorous 1.7 GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 chip inside the hood, plus 1.5 GB RAM and a spacious 3,200 mAh battery. Oh, yeah, and KitKat is around.

5. Sony Xperia T2 Ultra – $340

As we enter the first half of our affordable heavyweight chart, expect the number of flaws to decrease exponentially and the upsides to multiply. Case in point, the T2 Ultra. Any weaknesses? Sure, but only a couple: 1 GB RAM and a humdrum quad-core 1.4 GHz S400 SoC.

Xperia T2 Ultra

Strong suits? Where to even start? Well, the Triluminos 6-inch display is pretty great, although it’s not Full HD. Then you have on-board KitKat, a skinny 7.7 mm profile, bitching 13 MP main camera and hefty 3,000 mAh battery. Now that’s the stuff!

4. HTC Desire 816 – $385

Told you we’re going to run out of things to bitch about. I mean, sure, the Desire 816 ain’t flawless, what with its fairly steep price point, quad-core 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor and skinny 2,600 mAh cell. But boy, is the 5.5 incher a looker!

HTC-Desire-816

Fast too, courtesy of 1.5 GB RAM and pre-loaded Android 4.4. And photo buffs start drooling in 3, 2, 1… as HTC’s inexpensive giant touts 13 and 5 megapixel (!!!) rear and front cams respectively. Did someone ask for super-crisp selfies? You got it.

3. Huawei Ascend Mate 2 – $300

I know the name Huawei doesn’t inspire a lot of trust on the Western hemisphere, but sooner or later, it will. If they keep up the outstanding work, that is, as the Ascend Mate 2 is a whopper, with a 6.1-inch 720p IPS+ screen, 13/5 MP dual cameras and, get this, a 4,050 mAh ticker.

Huawei Ascend Mate 2

No wonder the bad boy weighs 202 grams, which is one of the main reasons it had to settle for bronze medal. Well, that, and Jelly Bean.

2. LG Optimus G Pro – $0.01 with AT&T contracts, $330 unlocked

It’s amazing how the one-year-old G Pro stood the test of time, costing now less than half of what it did back in the day while rocking aging but bitching specs: 5.5-inch 1,080p IPS Plus panel, quad-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 600 chip, 13 MP rear camera, 2 GB RAM, 3,140 mAh juicer.

att-lg-optimus-g-pro

LG’s timely update to KitKat sure helped the contender age gracefully, albeit for the time being, US owners need to make do with Jelly Bean.

1. Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $335

Look, I realize a 6.4-inch “tabphone” tipping the scales at 212 grams may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ll just give the Z Ultra a chance, you’ll never look back to sub-6 inch handhelds. Measuring an astonishing 6.5 mm thin, the titan rejects all contacts with water and dust, boasts Full HD screen resolution, a top-of-the-line quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 SoC and 2 GB RAM.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Oh, oh, oh, and it challenges the productivity of Galaxy Notes too, interacting smoothly with whatever stylus, pen or pencil. And did I mention the battery’s capacity is a whopping 3,050 mAh, despite the Z Ultra being the supermodel of phablets? Yeah, no, you can’t do better than that at $335. 

Samsung Galaxy S5 mini vs HTC One mini 2 vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – Specs comparison

Bigger is arguably always better, but small doesn’t need to be poor. It’s what many an Android top dog have comprehended of late, selling bundles of compact, reasonably priced, reasonably specced flagship clones.

Galaxy S5 mini vs Xperia Z1 Compact

It’s easy to explain the appeal of a well-thought “Mini” device, and it’s no surprise the battle for supremacy in the mid-range arena is about to reach the level of intensity and competitiveness of the high-end war.

Maybe we’re not there yet, particularly as OEMs like LG continue to deliver ill-advised mini efforts such as the much too large, much too low-end G2 diminutive sibling. But Samsung, HTC and Sony are already engaged in gripping, ruthless, high-stakes combat, and the outcome of the conflict is likely to go down to the wire.

Galaxy S5 mini vs One mini 2

Or will it? Let’s pit the just announced Galaxy S5 mini against the two-month-old HTC One mini 2 and veteran Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and find out:

Design and build quality comparison

Old habits die hard, especially when they’re remarkably profitable, and Samsung unsurprisingly went the plastic route again in conceiving the S5 mini. After all, it’d have been mighty awkward for the “full-sized” S5 to boast a plastic exterior, and the low-end, low-cost kin to rock metal.

Samsung_Galaxy_S5_mini

As thing stand, just like higher on the totem pole, Sammy has nothing on HTC in terms of sheer elegance and robustness. On the bright side (for Galaxy fans), the S5 mini is 1.5 mm thinner and a whopping 17 grams lighter than the One mini 2, all while sporting the same usable screen footprint.

HTC-One-mini-2

Adding the Z1 Compact in the mix only makes it harder for the S5 mini to stand out, although the latter again prevails in the dimensions tussle, with an 0.4 mm and 17 grams edge. And granted, Sony exaggerated with bezels a little, but glass beats plastic any day of the week.

Display showdown

Design might ultimately be a matter of personal taste, but panel efficiency is certainly not. Numbers rarely lie when it comes to a screen’s preeminence, however you’ll be hard pressed to call this particular brawl anything else than a three-way tie.

Galaxy S5 mini vs HTC One mini 2

The Z1 Compact wins the pixel density challenge, but solely due to its more cramped 4.3-inch display. Meanwhile, the S5 mini and One mini 2 are tied in size, resolution and ppi: 4.5 inches, 1,280 x 720 pixels, 326. And yes, Super AMOLED technology is technically superior to LCD, yet until seeing the GS5 mini in action I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions.

Processing speed, RAM and storage

Widely believed to be packing a run-of-the-mill (for mid-range standards) Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip, the Galaxy S5 mini ultimately came equipped with a homebrewed quad-core 1.4 GHz Exynos 3470. A newbie in the SoC décor, that should outdo One mini 2’s 1.2 GHz S400 in raw speed. Z1 Compact’s 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800? No way in hell.

Samsung_Galaxy_S5_mini-back

The RAM hierarchy is identical, with Sony at the very top (2 gigs), Sammy up next (1.5) and HTC at the bottom (just 1 GB), whereas storage is way too tight to call. In fact, it’s not tight, it’s deadlocked. All three contenders carry 16 GB internal, and support for an extra 64 GB via microSD.

Galaxy S5 mini vs One mini 2 vs Xperia Z1 Compact – software and battery life face-off

TouchWiz vs HTC Sense vs Xperia UI. Now that’s a toughie. Clearly, Sony’s specific bells and whistles set is less diverse than Samsung and HTC’s goodie packs. Sadly, that doesn’t make Z1 Compact’s software experience closer to stock, so the other two will be clashing for the gold medal here.

Samsung-GALAXY-S5-Mini

Both run Android 4.4.2 KitKat out the box and take a number of precious cues from their big brothers. You’ve got Ultra Power Saving, S Health, Private Mode, Kids Mode on one side and BlinkFeed and Zoe on the other. Told you it’d be tough to call it. Ah, to hell with it. I’ll go out on a limb and give it to Samsung, mostly for those wicked battery optimizations.

Speaking of battery, I fully expect S5 mini’s 2,100 mAh juicer to last longer than One mini 2’s 2,110 mAh cell despite the overall hardware configuration being a wee bit zippier on the former. But let’s not overlook Sony’s beefy big small guy, which has plenty of spunk in it, courtesy of a 2,300 mAh ticker.

Cameras, connectivity and sensors

It’s really ridiculous smartphones with 20.7, 13 and 8 MP rear-facing snappers respectively are considered members of the same class, but hey, it’s not all about taking photos, recording vids and whatnot. If it would be, we wouldn’t even have this discussion. The Z1 Compact would crush the competition, probably followed by the One mini 2.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Definitely followed by it, if we take into consideration the all-metal lad’s beautiful selfie-friendly 5 MP secondary cam. The S5 mini? I’m afraid it’s average, on the front and rear.

Good thing (for Samsung) it’s not average in the sensors department, incorporating fingerprint recognition and heart rate tracking in a pocket-friendly package. There’s also water and dust resistance, only tied by Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact, while connectivity-wise the rivals are three peas in a pod: 3G, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, etc., etc.

Pricing, availability and wrap-up

Even knowing full well Samsung’s generally farfetched profit margins, S5 mini’s MSRP still came as a bit of a shock: €479, or $650. Of course, that’s valid for European markets, and stateside, it should translate into a much more sensible $500, maybe $450 price tag.

Galaxy S5 mini in hand

Beginning in a few weeks, we’re hearing, which is a pretty decent turnaround. But why wait when the SIM-free Sony Xperia Z1 Compact can be had today for a measly $420? With a beefier processor and battery, extra RAM, sensational camera and an overall more premium vibe to its exterior design.

At $490 unlocked, the One mini 2 doesn’t feel like a real title challenger, in spite of the breathtaking all-aluminum chassis. The specification set on the whole is simply too underwhelming, with an average CPU, scanty RAM and solid but not outstanding main camera. All hail Sony!

Why is nobody talking about the game-changing HTC One (E8)?

When rumors of a possible plastic-made, low-cost but otherwise top-shelf HTC One M8 counterpart first cropped up, most of us laughed. No way could HTC afford shrinking their profit margins so drastically, we thought to ourselves.

HTC One E8

After all, build materials, no matter how “premium” or shoddy, make up merely a tiny piece of a smartphone’s overall bill of materials. Not to mention the BOM doesn’t account for the actual manufacturing costs and marketing, with the two sometimes doubling a gizmo’s base valuation.

Bottom line, it was really, really, reheheheally difficult to buy that HTC would just replace aluminum with plastic and cut M8’s retail price in half. It sounded way too good to be true, and more often than not, that makes a story, well, not true.

When fantasy meets reality

Yet one quiet, peaceful morning a couple of weeks back, the OEM’s Chinese arm dropped the bombshell. The One E8, aka M8 Ace, aka M8 Vogue Edition broke cover with surprisingly little fanfare. But rumor was we were looking at a China-only handheld, so even if HTC wanted to make a fuss about the launch, no one would listen. Well, except for folks over in the Middle Kingdom. Hope you know how lucky you are.

HTC_One_E8

The story’s twists however didn’t end there, so a second, slightly noisier announcement came, telling us to expect the E8 “globally” in “select markets” starting early June. Um, what? In “select global markets”? Isn’t that kind of a contradiction?

No matter, the important thing is this budget-conscious flagship is headed for certain non-Asian markets. Some European countries probably, and maybe even America. And what do you know, the pricing speculation was spot-on, as the MSRP over in China is around the equivalent of $450.

Meanwhile, the all-aluminum M8 costs roughly $850. So HTC basically did the impossible, lived up to a fantasy we never thought would become reality, and yet no one’s talking about the One E8. Not really.

HTC-One-E8-vs-HTC-One-M8

Sure, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find the occasional hands-on preview here and there. And pretty much everyone covered the breaking news about the international release last week. But where are the glitzy, expensive, high-concept promos and teasers? The hype-building opinion pieces? Yo tech bloggers, you’re always looking for the “next big thing”, so why not admit this could be it and let the entire world know?

Well, let’s take the matters of contention one by one.

HTC One E8 – a trailblazer like no other

First off, is the E8 truly a game-changing device? I mean, when it comes down to it, the 5 incher looks exactly like the original One M8, and the first-gen One before it, only chintzier. There’s no “hook” in its spec sheet, no unique software features, no hardware innovations. In a way, it feels right to ignore it.

htc-one-e8-back

But let me ask you a question. How do you define mobile innovation in 2014? That’s a toughie, eh? And don’t even think about answering with fingerprint recognition or heart rate monitor BS. Nope, “true” octa-core chips, 64-bit architecture and 4 GB RAM aren’t satisfactory answers either.

Battery life breakthroughs? Now you’re talking, but I’m afraid everyone from Samsung to Apple is stuck in that particular department. Flexible displays? I’m with you there too, but we’re still a few good years away from real advancements.

htc-one-e8

Which brings us to affordability. Bang for buck, if you will. Sure, it’s nowhere near as spectacular as what most of you have in mind when thinking “innovation”. But look around you. It’s all about saving a buck nowadays, and getting as much as possible for your expense.

And the E8 offers basically everything the Samsung Galaxy S5 does… at a fraction of the price. It’s that simple.

Boot Iron Man, stop living in the past, step it up, HTC

Look, I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but we’re living in an unfair world. A world that money makes it go round maybe more than ever. And where money brings more money, and more, and more. They say you have to spend to make, and HTC doesn’t have but a tiny fragment of Samsung or Apple’s dough to invest in marketing and advertising.

Iron Man

And the thing is marketing tends to be particularly scanty when there’s peanuts to make off selling a product like the E8. So you can understand why HTC is reluctant to aggressively promote the polycarbonate powerhouse.

Then again, at this point, gambles and long-term investments with high risks are the only chances HTC’s got to survive. Screw Tony Stark and Commissioner Gordon, no one’s going to buy a phone just because they say so.

htc-quietly-quiet

Instead, make your voice heard, HTC, and make it clear Samsung, Apple, LG, Sony, none of them have a high-end gizmo as spectacularly cheap as this thing. Buy TV publicity space, put up billboards, product placement, whatever it takes. Just don’t let the E8 go unnoticed, no matter the short-term financial losses. You’ll win ten times as much in the long haul if you pull it off.

What about the media?

Without pointing any fingers, I must say I’m terribly disappointed about One E8’s media reception so far. Granted, HTC isn’t helping its own cause, but isn’t it our duty as bloggers, journalists, “influencers”, whatever to send people on the right path?

htc-one-e8-hands-on

How long have we been complaining that high-end gadget prices are too damn high? Well, this is our chance to change all that, and instead of uniting to support HTC’s initiative, we give it the cold shoulder. Why? Because some of us have personal beef with the mobile phone maker, while others are hardcore Samsung enthusiasts. There, I said it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think there’s an avalanche of hateful comments to come, so I should probably enjoy my final moments of peace and quiet. By maybe replaying Engadget’s hands-on HTC One E8 preview. Who knows, maybe others will follow their suit after all and build the buzz the affordable 5 incher deserves.