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This week’s best deals on phones, tabs, wearables and accessories: July 6 – 12

With the Fourth of July weekend regrettably behind us, it’s time we evaluate our losses and… allocate a bit of extra cash for more shopping. Worry not, you won’t end up on the street, living in a cardboard box while obsessively building mighty new “Minecraft” castles.

Bargain

That’s because we only have extreme bargains to recommend after scouring the discounted depths of Amazon, with a bunch of low to mid-end and mid to high-end Android smartphones leading our deal list for the week, joined by respectable tablets, fancy smartwatches and a slew of perhaps modest yet oh-so-convenient mobile accessories. Here goes:

Handhelds on the cheap

 

Motorola Moto E second-gen 4G LTE – $99.99 unlocked

Do we even need to highlight the limited and time-sensitive nature of this promo? Well, to better understand just how much you’re saving, let us mention the non-LTE original E still costs $84 in a US GSM configuration, and $92 global GSM.

Moto E LTE

Of course, there’s a lot more separating the two Es than merely 4G connectivity. The 2015 edition is larger, punchier, offers twice the internal storage space, an improved rear camera and VGA front snapper. Also, a considerably heftier battery. Overall, if the Independence Day celebrations left you with a Benjamin in the bank, the wisest way to spend it is the advanced Moto E… if you can get it.

Huawei Mate 2 – $260 factory unlocked

We’ll be honest, for a second there (or a million), we lost all hope the otherwise venerable Mate 2 would ever be brought (relatively) up to date software-wise. But credit where credit is due – Huawei delivered on their ancient promises. Big-time!

Huawei Mate 2

Now, with Android 5.1 Lollipop on board, the big-battery 6.1 incher is maybe more enticing than it ever was. Especially at $40 off its list price, 720p screen resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip, 2 GB RAM and all.

LG G3 Stylus – $200 unlocked international

To make it clear off the bat, this isn’t the G4 Stylus, aka G Stylo. It’s a 2014 precursor, with decidedly 2014 mid-range material, including Android 4.4, 1 GB RAM and 8 gig ROM. Alas, the 5.5-inch 960 x 540 panel is quite crappy, but on the plus side, the 13 MP LED flash cam and 3,000 mAh cell… aren’t. And neither is the pen support.

Motorola Moto X second-gen – $299.99 GSM unlocked in white/bamboo, black soft touch or black leather

Moto X second-gen

5.1-upgradeable and due for a hardware renovation before long, the X+1 has plenty of juice left in the tank, but it might be discontinued any day now. Perhaps not altogether canned, but if it becomes really hard to score, its tariff could jump back up to over $400. The clock’s ticking, y’all.

Hisense HS-U688 – $155 factory unlocked

Hisense? What the fudge is that? Actually, it’s a decent Asian brand, with a history of nearly half a decade in the electronics industry, although obviously, not a stellar background in the Android niche.

For a little over a Benjamin and a half, the Chinese OEM offers an uber-stylish, 0.31-inches thick 6-inch phablet capable of sharp 720p images, crisp sound, 3,000 mAh endurance and 8 megapixel stills.

This week’s best tablet deals

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 – $199 in smoky blue

Galaxy Tab A 8.0

Not exactly a first-class iPad mini 3 rival, Sammy’s newest 8-inch budget soldier at least mimics the 4:3 display aspect ratio and squeezes it into a slender 7.4 mm frame. Plasticky but fairly fashionable. Meanwhile, under the hood, you get quad-core power, 1.5 GB RAM and 4,200 mAh battery juice, which isn’t half bad at $30 off the $230 list tag.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 – $265

Essentially the same average slate, only bigger. And $65 pricier, which is $35 off. Oh, and the screen-to-body ratio hits a sweet 72 percent, albeit at the expense of clarity. Come on, Samsung, 132 ppi?!?

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 – $232

An oldie but goldie, the 8.4-inch Tab Pro is stuck on KitKat. Otherwise, it’s so much better than the Tab A 8.0 that the very comparison feels ridiculous. 359 vs 160 ppi panel, 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800 vs… 400, we presume, 2 vs 1.5 GB memory, 8 vs 5 MP cam, 4,800 vs 4,200 mAh pacemaker. Shall we go on? Probably not.

Lenovo IdeaPad S8-50 – $169 certified refurbished

Lenovo IdeaPad S8

It’s pre-owned, which is never ideal, but boy, are those specifications impressive for sub-$200! 1,920 x 1,200 IPS panel, Intel Atom inside, 8 MP rear camera with f2.2 lens, 2 GB RAM, 7-hour battery. Too bad Lollipop seems but a sweet, distant dream.

Discounted Android-compatible wearable devices

 

Motorola Moto 360 – $149 in black or stone grey leather

Reduced at all major US retailers, the OG 360, like the Moto X2, is waiting on a sequel. Prettier, more powerful and, hopefully, longer-lasting. Also, a lot costlier. Hence, this remains a smart buy, at least until we can thoroughly gauge the value and performance gap.

Pebble Steel – $176

Pebble Steel

It’s a good time to be in the market for upgraded versions of the smartwatch classics, including the Pebble Time and Time Steel. But it can be thoughtful to turn to the actual classics too, particularly if they stand the test of time as robustly as this black matte, full-week, metallic, waterproof, iOS and Android-supporting wrist-clock.

Fitbit Flex – starting at $84

The savings are by no means massive (a humble 15 bucks), yet the resulting deal is virtually unrefusable for fitness nuts who don’t need a fancy screen, complex smartphone notification pushing and the works to reliably monitor the things that count: steps, general distance covered, calories burned, active minutes, sleep duration and quality.

Accessories steals

 

Samsung Galaxy S6 case armor – $5.99

It’s no secret the GS6 can crack under the “right” amount of pressure, so in the spirit of safe before sorry precautions, a “heavy duty” cover feels obligatory for folks who tend to frequently drop their precious gadgets. At the price of a couple of Happy Meals, the “dual layer” case on hand provides “maximum drop and scratch protection”, with rubberized edges and flawless shock absorption.

Motorola Droid Turbo rugged protective case with built-in kickstand – $5.95

Droid Turbo rugged case

It’s basically the same thing, only it fits the Turbo best and vows to shield its already muscular exterior and gigantic 3,900 mAh battery from harder contacts against tougher surfaces, scratches, crashes and… bullets? Probably not, but close enough.

Sony MDRXB950 extra bass Bluetooth headset – $158

You had to be very thrifty during the recent extended national holiday period to save money for a pair of high-end wireless headphones. Or take advantage of Sony’s promotion, and cough up $40 less than usual for Electronic Bass Boost circuitry, 40mm drivers, ergonomic, stylish design, and up to 20-hour endurance.

RND Ripple Bluetooth speaker – $28

RND Ripple

A couple of front speakers, subwoofer, microphone, 8 to 10 hours battery life between charges, NFC capability up to 30 feet distance, and universal Android compatibility. In other words, the basics at a more than reasonable price. Definitely not an audiophile’s wet dream, though.

Everything you need to know about Motorola’s 2015 product release plans

With only a second-gen $120 Moto E launch and limited second-gen G 4G dispatch to its name in 2015 so far, it’s crystal clear the year is barely starting for Lenovo’s new daughter company. And boy, will things get crazy on the Motorola-branded product introduction front over the next couple of months, if rampant rumors pan out.

Motorola-a-Lenovo-Company

We’ve already tackled the juicy 2015 Moto X gossip, at least the parts that transpired until a few weeks ago, but of course, “Lenovorola” has several different market segments eyed for imminent aggressive charges and diversification.

Arguably their most thrilling facelift of a (semi-) successful 2014 device should see the 360 timepiece reach its full potential, going up against the quickly rising Apple Watch with an improved design (hopefully), and longer battery life (pretty please).

Cash-strapped smartphone buyers, meanwhile, are probably bursting with excitement at the mere thought of an even better Moto G. And then you have the tricky high-end handheld niche, where the third-gen Moto X will likely receive aid from a pair of Droids, at the very least. But let’s not spoil all the surprises so early, and take these strapping Android soldiers one by one:

Moto X 2015

When – any day now. Literally, the formal announcement could go down tomorrow. Or next week, or next month, or at worst, sometime in September. By the end of the first fall month, the 5.2 incher should also go on sale, at north of $600 outright, if last year’s hardware compromises are indeed left out.

Moto-X-2015

What – a highly customizable Quad HD powerhouse with Snapdragon 808 inside to expunge overheating concerns, optional leather and wood construction, standard plastic exterior, 3 or perhaps 4 GB RAM, 16 MP OIS rear camera, 5 MP secondary selfie shooter.

Still not enough to give the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 a run for their money, let alone the S6 Edge Plus, Note 5 or G4 Pro? Keep in mind Lenovo will be in charge of advertising and marketing this time around, so gear up for fancy billboards everywhere, TV and film product placement, as well as viral online campaigns.

Moto X 2014 leather

While you wait – the 2014 edition costs $299.99 GSM unlocked in black leather or white/bamboo. Must… resist the urge! Or not.

Moto G 2015

When – roughly a year on the heels of its non-LTE-capable predecessor, so likely in September too. Maybe August.

moto-g-2015

Whatit essentially looks the same, save for the snazzy rear camera – M logo connecting metal… thing, and it’s only supposed to marginally upgrade the processor and snappers without bumping up the RAM count, screen size and resolution or battery capacity.

But here’s the (delightful) kicker: it should offer 4G LTE connectivity as standard, and cost no more than $250. $200 is an outside possibility, while $220 feels like a reasonable guess.

Moto G 2014

For now – you can purchase the unlocked 8 GB G+1 for $175, the original starting at $139, or the high-speed 2014 version by coughing up $176. Oh, oh, oh, and the OG prepaid Moto G is an unbelievably low $38 with Verizon, but no microSD external storage expansion.

Moto 360 second-gen

When – hard to say, given the erstwhile rowdy “361” rumors suddenly went quiet recently and were never kicked back into gear. Technically, September would seem like the safest bet here as well.

Moto 360 2

But why uncover everything you’ve got up the sleeve all at once and basically hinder your own spotlight potential? It doesn’t sound wise, so don’t be surprised if the 2015 360 enjoys a “premature” debut, as soon as this month.

Whatno “flat tire”, a “perfect” circle, Android Wear 5.1.1 software pre-installed, standalone Wi-Fi functionality (no free web access, though), Snapdragon 410 processing power, sharper, always-on screen and upwards of two days’ worth of cell endurance.

It’s not a fanboy’s utopian wishlist, it’s a feasible inventory of features for the sequel to perhaps the most lauded first-wave Android smartwatch. Fingers crossed this time stellar reviews translate into satisfactory sales numbers. Otherwise, Cupertino may gain an early and authoritative domination over yet another industry sector.

Moto 360

While you wait – not long ago, the “imperfect” first-gen 360 was reduced to an all-time low price of $150. $175 is clearly a worse deal, but compared to, say, the $300 and up LG Watch Urbane, it’s still a bargain. With a cheap stone grey leather band, obviously, as the dark and light metal variants fetch an extra $50 and $85 respectively.

Or you can go the flamboyant cognac leather route, in exchange for $231. Last but not least, swanky champagne gold metal configurations will set you back $260. Being fashionable is expensive, what can we say?

Droid “Kinzie” and “Clark”

When – would you find it annoying if we ventured a September guess for the umpteenth time? Okay, then how about October? That’s when the Turbo turns one, and with the recent Android 5.1 Lollipop update delays, we figure Moto and Verizon can’t quite speed up the follow-up’s R&D.

Droid Turbo

Whata Turbo 2 and… Mini 2? Ultra 2? Tough to anticipate once again, as 2014 saw Big Red settle for the one Droid roster addition. Personally, I’d like to believe compact flagships have a bright future ahead of them not only as far as Sony is concerned. So, a Snapdragon 808 sub-5 inch Droid Mini 2015 with Full HD display res sounds positively ravishing.

It’d certainly be nice for both new Droids to get global spreads soon after their VZW releases, albeit the so-called Kinzie might cannibalize third-gen X demand with similarly top-notch specs: Quad HD 5.5-inch panel, octa-core Snapdragon 810 SoC, 3 GB RAM, 20 MP/5 MP cams.

Droid Mini

Right now – the 3,900 mAh Droid Turbo goes for $49.99, $149.99 or $199.99 with two-year pacts in 32 GB metallic black, 32 GB black ballistic nylon and 64 gig black ballistic nylon configs respectively. Or $50 in metallic red. Or between $600 and $650 outright. Not bad as Lollipop further smooths out the zippy Snapdragon 805 chip, 3 GB RAM and 21 MP photography beast.

Perhaps surprisingly, the two year-old Droid Mini is also available at $0.01 on-contract or $400 sans carrier obligations. Worth it? Absolutely not! Just wait.

Best business-friendly and enterprise-ready Android smartphones money can buy

Browsing the web, social media activities, taking the occasional selfie, playing mostly rudimentary but highly addictive games, loading up on YouTube cat videos and catching up on one’s favorite TV shows while away from a larger screen.

Business smartphone

For many of us, those are the essential purposes of a smartphone, and if it can adequately tick all the boxes, it’s a must-buy. Even better if it doesn’t cost a fortune. But then there is this particular category of mobile consumers, with a particular set of needs and requirements, which Android device manufacturers seem to be largely ignoring these days.

Not us, though. We’re here to make sure every specific necessity is fulfilled, so we’ll do our best to dig up your top options for work projects. Enterprise users, listen up:

LG Enact – $0.01 with Verizon contracts, $360 outright

  • The typing crackerjack

LG Enact

It’s beyond sad professional typists have to settle for a two-year-old with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean pre-loaded, no KitKat, let alone Lollipop update hopes, a cringe worthy 4-inch 800 x 480 touchscreen, laggy dual-core 1.2 GHz CPU and crappy 5 MP rear camera.

Not to mention the preposterousness of that no-contract price tag! But until BlackBerry goes for broke with a Google-endorsed, Samsung-co-manufactured slider, we’re afraid the Enact has to do. Oh, well, purely as far as text message and e-mail writing goes, the entry-level handheld is the closest you can get to a powerhouse. So, so depressing!

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – $545 unlocked; $0 with AT&T financing; $200 and up at Verizon

  • The big, bad, ultra-secure, multi-purpose juggernaut

Galaxy Note 4 S Pen

If answering to urgent e-mails as fast as possible is only part of your job description, the Note 4 offers a huge on-screen keyboard, plus a host of extra business tricks. You have your S Pen always handy for note taking, a security-enhancing fingerprint sensor, full Knox compatibility and stellar multitasking prowess.

The non-optional stylus accessory needs no introduction, your unique fingerprint can be used to unlock the phone if PINs don’t feel safe enough, Knox services let you easily switch between personal and work modes and keep everything separate, while the large 5.7-inch display and generous 3 GB RAM ensure seamless running of multiple apps at once. Which you often yearn for when juggling various documents, files and projects.

Samsung Galaxy S5 Active – $0 and up with AT&T agreements; $559 unlocked

  • The bulletproof outdoor companion

Galaxy S5 Active

Travel a lot? Involved in construction or other potentially hazardous line of activity? Simply worried you’ll drop your precious, and both your personal and professional lives will spin out of control? Perhaps the S5 Active can’t take a bullet per se, but it’ll definitely survive a few bumps and contacts with hard surfaces, as well as up to 1 meter/30-minute swims.

Too bad Knox doesn’t work on the AT&T exclusive… for some reason, and despite the hefty price, there’s no fingerprint authentication provided either.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – starting at $380

  • The cheaper, more condensed nature-loving alternative

Xperia Z3 Compact

As tough as the S5 Active looks, it’s also short of portable excellence, which for many is probably a deal breaker. Enter the waterproof but not shock-proof Z3 Compact, endowed with advanced Smart Lock functions after a recent Lollipop update.

This fast and furious munchkin tips the scales at 40 grams less than the GS5 Active, and is far shorter and narrower for easier pocketability, all while handling everything you throw at it with grace, courtesy of a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and 2 GB RAM.

Motorola Droid Turbo – $150 and up on-contract; $650 outright for Verizon

  • The heavyweight battery champion

Droid Turbo

We can’t think of anything more annoying than remembering to take your charger or an external power bank on all your business travels, and always getting interrupted by skimpy cell capacity. Well, the Turbo is made of an entirely different mettle, with a gigantic 3,900 mAh pacemaker under the hood rated at a staggering 48 hours of continuous 3G talk time.

The design is ideal to complement your classic, classy, businessy look, with sharp edges, an overall industrial vibe, robust ballistic outer shells and a splash-resistant chassis. Last but not least, the 5.2 incher can go from 0 to 60 percent juice in half an hour, thanks to Quick Charge 2.0 technology.

Motorola Moto G (2nd generation) – $175 unlocked

  • The ultra-affordable option

Moto G 2nd generation

Not everyone is lucky to have their employer offer them gratis gadgets or start at a six-figure salary allowing them to score the costliest “tools” off the bat. So, provisionally, the 2014 G can get the job done.

It’s not any more secure than other Android soldiers, but on the plus side, runs a silky smooth, modern, near-stock OS iteration. No bloatware means fewer security risks, less chances of random system crashes or reboots, as well as vital data loss.

Blackphone – $629

  • The untraceable, privacy-first phone

blackphone

Listed as “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon, but likely to come back soon (hopefully, before the sequel drops), the extravagantly priced 4.7 incher protects your online anonymity like no other, through VPN.

Then you have a slew of privacy-centric functions for phone calls, emails, texts and even cloud backup, some of which unfortunately expire and require additional payments after a year of undercover use. Paranoid individuals will no doubt find extreme happiness in Blackphone’s arms, although we have to underline Android here is essentially unrecognizable, due to severe customization and “PrivatOS” forking.

Samsung Galaxy S6 – $590 factory unlocked; $200 with Verizon or Sprint pacts

  • The one you may not need, but really want

Samsung Galaxy S6

Today’s mainstream top dog isn’t specifically targeted at enterprise users, with a tiny, non-removable battery and sealed internal storage hands down its biggest flaws. Also, there’s no protection against liquid interaction whatsoever, let alone more advanced ruggedness.

Ergo, the S6 could break, fall apart or shut down on account of low battery in the middle of the most important video conference of your life, or while out on the job. But think about how good it’ll make you look in the eyes of your clients, partners and even superiors.

After all, your image is key for your deal-sealing abilities. Besides, it’s got touch-based fingerprint authentication, the most complex Knox support available and device protection-adding Android 5.1 software in certain territories, with others on the way.

Motorola Moto X 2015 preview and rumor roundup

It’s high time Motorola stepped up its game and stopped catering merely to cash-strapped audiences or power users on Verizon. That’s not only our view, and everyone else’s in love with the company’s unique designs, dedication to customization or stock, clean as a whistle Android.

Moto X 2014

Lenovo’s big cats, including CEO Yang Yuanqing himself, have recently made a point of getting that exact message across, teasing a number of “exciting” future Moto launches. Of course, one of those will likely be the second-generation 360 smartwatch, and for many, a new Moto G phone with a similarly low price as last year’s version, but higher-end specs would definitely qualify as exciting.

At the end of the day though, the most thrilling 2015 addition to the American-based yet China-owned product roster should be a sequel to the 2014 Moto X. Ideally, accompanied by global Droid Turbo and/or Ultra follow-ups. Alas, that latter part is a stretch.

Moto X

Fortunately, a premium third-gen X feels extremely feasible, on the back of a steady stream of fantasy-stimulating leaks and rumors. Here’s a quick roundup of all the inside information purportedly revealed, as well as hunch-reliant confidence ratings:

Late summer announcement

The OG Moto X, available in a developer factory unlocked GSM edition on Amazon at $299.99, went official in August 2013 and hit (some) stores the same month. More than a year later, a vastly improved 5.2 incher went on sale, now going for $399.99 and up.

Moto X august

A logical sequence of events would call for a September or maybe October X+2 unveil/commercial rollout, especially since the second-gen was far less of a dud than its predecessor. Only new management has new, bolder goals, and they likely require speedier development, swifter turnouts and wider spreads. Hence, we feel like August is the most plausible ETA. July is also possible, but we’ll grade the final month of summer with 7 confidence points out of 10.

Revamped design; but how so?

There’s probably no reason to go nuts with aesthetical changes, despite both Samsung and LG having drastically renovated their flagships recently. People love metal, but they also dig wood and leather… and choice, so perhaps more options would be better.

Moto X 2014 options

How about an all-aluminum Moto X 2015 variant and a few plastic models with swappable back covers? One can certainly dream, though lacking any substantial visual evidence makes us rate our (semi-) educated guesses a four. Five, tops.

Snapdragon 810? Red alert

Look, we have nothing personal against Qualcomm (though we’d have liked it if they didn’t monopolize mobile chip supply), but when you mess up, you mess up and you won’t get a free pass from us just because you knocked it out of the park so many times before.

qualcomm-snapdragon-810

Ah, the good old days of fast and furious yet cucumber cool Snapdragon 800, 801 and 805. Now, it’s S808’s moment in the spotlight, like it or not, with system stability a bigger focus than scorching raw speed. 7 confidence points for Snapdragon 808.

Also, 6 for 3 GB RAM and 4 for 4. Not only as it sounds fitting, but because Asus hasn’t managed to convince us phones need so much random-access memory. For what, simultaneously playing Angry Birds, Temple Run and Cut the Rope?

Quad HD overkill? So what?

Unlike 4 gigs of RAM, mobile consumers have started warming up to tiny, pixel-packed 2,560 x 1,440 screens. And since Motorola Lenovo will probably go with a sizable 5.2-inch piece of AMOLED glass here, there’s almost no alternative to 2K resolution.

Moto-X-2014-Display

What’s that, 1,080p is better for battery juice conservation? Maybe, but no one will get to find out, judging from HTC One M9’s disappointing box-office performance.

No more crappy cameras

Quick, what’s your number one gripe with the first two Moto X editions? Well, sure, lack of software support as far as the original is concerned, but next up, we bet it’s underwhelming photography prowess.

Motorola-X-back-camera

It’s embarrassing how far behind the S6 or LG G4 the 13 MP rear shooter on the X2 is, but luckily, a more than welcomed upgrade to 16 megapixels is being cooked up in addition to OIS inclusion and dual-LED flash enhancements. Also, you’ll get 5 MP for selfies. Trust us on that, we’re 90 percent certain of the cam improvements.

Give them the finger

So, HTC squarely treats its Chinese fans to biometric authentication functions, LG acts like they’re not a thing, and Samsung almost never mentions Galaxy S6’s fingerprint sensor in promotional materials. Tough one to predict, so let’s say there’s a 50 – 50 chance Motorola will integrate a fingerprint recognition solution somewhere underneath the 16 MP camera, possibly as part of the Batman-like M logo.

moto-x-3rd-gen

Iris, retina or any other kind of eye identification? You can file that under too soon to support technologies, next to reversible and universal USB Type-C connectivity. They’re simply not ready for mobile primetime yet. Iris recognition, definitely not, USB C, probably not. Let’s give the latter a 4 trust level, so as not to shatter all your sweet fantasies. It’s not impossible, it’s just unlikely.

Turbo-like energy? In your dreams

Camera notwithstanding, we’ll bet second-gen Moto X proprietors are peeved most by below-average autonomy. With a skinny 2,300 mAh cell backing a Snapdragon 801/FHD system, what do you expect? Once again, Lenovo has its sights set on big revisions, albeit X3’s ticker will still fall short of Droid Turbo endurance figures.

Droid Turbo

At roughly 3,300 mAh capacity, rumor has it, you should get a nice couple of work days’ worth of continuous life. Particularly if Android 5.1 Lollipop smooths out the UI, which will 100 percent be the case.

Any bad news to wrap up the Motorola Moto X 2015 preview and keep your feet firm on the ground? Sadly, microSD storage expansion capabilities and a user-removable battery remain hundred-to-one shots. More like ten-to-one, but you get the picture.

Best affordable Android smartphones already on Lollipop

According to official Android distribution numbers harvested by Google during the week leading to May 4, a measly 9.7 percent of all devices with the world’s most popular mobile OS inside run 5.0 or 5.1 Lollipop.

Android Lollipop

That’s certainly disappointing, given 5.0 source code was freely disseminated back in early November 2014 and Android M’s “final” release is a few months away, tops. Ecosystem fragmentation clearly remains an issue, nay scourge in dire need of a universal cure.

But alas, there’s no such thing. The best we can do to fight the widespread epidemic is probably not commit to a handheld or tablet for over a year, and replace them as soon as they show their first signs of wear, tear and imminent software oblivion.

Lollipop

Either that, or resign ourselves to the lag of fresh OS flavor distribution. Not in a million years? We didn’t think so, which is why we’ve compiled a list of ten low-cost phones flaunting Lollipop goodies today. All available under $300 off-contract stateside, these can be replaced with M-powered newcomers in the fall or winter sans remorse:

10. Samsung Galaxy S4 – $290

Well, hello there, old friend! Good to see you looking so young past your conventional prime, despite launching when Jelly Bean was still a thing. We wouldn’t hold our breath for a forthcoming 5.1 update, but 5.0 will do, as long as memory bleeds are a thing of the past.

galaxy-s4-lollipop

Remember, the GS4 is a couple of generations behind the times, so it can’t afford to waste a single MB of RAM. It’s “only” got 2 gigs in total, plus a decrepit octa-core 32-bit Exynos 5410 chip in tow.

9. Samsung Galaxy Alpha – $284 AT&T unlocked

Something old, something new, something metallic, something… dazzling white. Pre-installed with 4.4 KitKat, but upgradeable to 5.0.2 Lollipop worldwide. Endowed with a generous 32 GB of native storage space, though unfortunately short of microSD external expansion possibilities.

samsung_galaxy_alpha_lollipop

Still a great bargain, offering fingerprint recognition support, octa-core Exynos 5430 power, 12 MP photography skill and a wasp 6.7 mm waist.

8. Sony Xperia Z Ultra – $280 factory unlocked

As is the case with most gizmos on our list today, the Z Ultra has recently begun its global Lollipop spread, so certain territories may need to give it some time. A few weeks, worst case scenario. LTE-enabled on US GSM networks, the 6.4 incher was a big deal, literally and figuratively, when it debuted on store shelves.

Xperia Z Ultra

Almost two years ago, that is, so part of the phablet’s mojo dwindled. Not the Snapdragon 800 muscle, IP58 waterproof robustness, 6.5 mm delicacy or stylus, pen and pencil functionality. Bottom line, it’s a must-buy for folks who believe size matters.

7. Sony Xperia C3 – $255

It really would have been outrageous if Sony squarely brought Lollipops to Xperia Z family members, considering the C3 is one of the most feature-packed phablets in its price range. 5.5-inch 720p screen, 8 MP rear cam, 5 MP selfie shooter, quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC, 1 GB RAM, microSD card slot.

Xperia C3

What more could you want at a little over a third of Galaxy S6’s no-contract costs?

6. Sony Xperia T2 Ultra – $235

To answer our own question, 13 megapixel camera dexterity is certainly better than 8 MP, and many will also favor T2 Ultra’s gigantic 6-inch IPS LCD panel over C3’s “minuscule” footprint. Of course, this is no selfie champ, with a humble 1.1 MP snapper slapped on its face, and the odds of scoring a 5.1 promotion, let alone 6.0 (5.2?) Marshmallow seem microscopic.

Xperia T2 Ultra Lollipop

5. LG G2 – starting at $208

A fellow Galaxy S4 classic, LG G4 and G3’s ancestor is rapidly closing in on its demise, so don’t be surprised if the handful of lingering Amazon listings begin to vanish before long. The rear physical button pioneer, this ultra-compact 5.2 incher that’s nearly 76 percent screen is at the end of the software support road, so in a way, it’s the perfect transitional device while you wait for “Macadamia Nut Cookie” treats.

LG G2 Lollipop

4. Asus ZenFone 2 – $199 with 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage; $299 in 4/64 gig configuration

First, a piece of advice. If you can afford to choose, go with the upper-tier version. It’s totally worth it, sailing through multiple graphics demanding games at once like no other Android soldier before it. Besides, 300 bucks is a ridiculously low tag for what’s ultimately a high-end product.

Asus ZenFone 2

Full, not Quad HD, with frugal Intel Atom inside, a 13, not 16 or 20 MP camera, but the best multitasker the mobile landscape has to offer at the moment. And yes, guaranteed to jump on the M bandwagon soon after merely seeing the light of day last month powered by Lollipop.

3. Motorola Moto G (2nd generation) – $179.99

Budget mobile tech consumers, things can’t get much better than this. Stock, up-to-date software, the solid promise of additional support, wide American carrier compatibility (no 4G LTE, though), spacious and sharp 5-inch HD display, punchy quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1 GB RAM, microSD capabilities, 2,070 mAh battery juice.

Moto G 2014 Lollipop

Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go ahead, buy the 2014 G, get one for your parents, GF and best friend. It’s so cheap yet so awesome that you won’t spend much, but still look like a hero.

2. Motorola Moto E (2nd generation) – $143

Willing to trade screen real estate and great pixel count for “universal” LTE connectivity? Meet the 2015 4.5-inch 960 x 540 E. Already upgradeable to Android 5.1, this is no doubt on its sure way to battery efficiency-enhancing M.

Moto E 2015

Not that it needs radical autonomy enhancements, what with its more than respectable 2,390 mAh cell. Granted, the cameras are pretty crappy (5 and 0.3 MP), but on the bright side, the S410 processor is 64-bit Lollipop-ready, contributing to superior speed and system stability.

1. Motorola Moto G (original) – $139.50

Bet you forgot all about the non-expandable 8 GB storage-packing 4.5 incher released in late 2013. We don’t blame you, and while it’s not inexpensive enough to return under the limelight… yet, it definitely has more discounts in the pipeline.

Moto G

Then, at, say, $120, maybe $100, you’ll surely move past the 5 MP cam, 2,070 mAh battery and outdated design inconveniences. Remember, 720p display resolution, Snapdragon 400 heat and AT&T and T-Mobile 3G access.

Best sub-$100 unlocked Android smartphones

It’s odd, but while a Benjamin can buy a pretty well-balanced tablet from a few manufacturers everyone’s heard of, finding a solid ultra-low-cost Android smartphone is still tricky business. Sure, there’s always the prepaid route, not to mention the possibility of signing two-year contracts to slash prices north of $500 to sub-$100.

Android-Unlocked

But it goes without saying both those paths come with bumps on the road, lengthy obligations, or uncomfortable restrictions. And until the fully unlocked policy of America’s big four carriers is settled, many will need to pay an arm and a leg for total freedom.

Or settle for crappy, unreliable, China-made technology. And yes, trustworthy OEMs such as Meizu or Xiaomi dish out bang for buck champions like crazy, but for the most part, they remain exclusive to Asia and, at best, parts of Europe.

Motorola Moto E

When they do ultimately swing by the States, their advanced age and exorbitant import taxes kill any shred of appeal. But don’t despair, as we’ve rounded up nine (half-) decent sub-$100 unlocked handhelds nonetheless, available for your convenience at Amazon. There were supposed to be ten of them, however we simply couldn’t find another to recommend to even our worst enemy.

9. Samsung Galaxy Pocket 2 – $99.95 with GSM HSPA+ support

We’ll be frank, the only reason the Pocket 2 made this list is its tender age. Launched in September 2014 with KitKat onboard, the cringe worthy 3.3 incher may even be in line for a Lollipop update… in a year or two.

Samsung Galaxy Pocket 2

Ah, who are we kidding? We’d rather go back to the days of Java-sporting feature phones than check out the stuttering of L’s normal silky smooth nature on a 320 x 240 pix res screen, “driven” by a 1 GHz Cortex-A7 chip and 512 MB RAM. Next!

8. Samsung Galaxy Star Pro Duos – $89.98 with 2G only

And Sammy wonders why, oh why they’re doing so bad in the low-end niche. It’s out-and-out shameful 2G-only “smartphones” are still being sold in this day and age, and although the mobile phone producer probably has nothing to do with Amazon’s third-party Star Pro listing, they should use their influence to nix it. Today!

samsung-galaxy-star-pro-duos

But hey, at the end of the day, despite the connectivity shortcomings, horribly dated pre-installed software (4.1 Jelly Bean, really?), and dreadfully laggy 1 GHz Cortex-A5 processor, the Star Pro Duos looks better than the Pocket 2, thanks to a far superior 4-inch 800 x 480 pix res panel.

7. LG Optimus L5 II Dual – $98.78 factory unlocked

Still hard to recommend to a friend, this humble 4 incher offers 3G support and, though stuck on 4.1 Jelly Bean, has 4.4 KitKat on the way. It’s also rather stylish… considering, with a slim 9.2 mm profile, and packs a sizable… again, considering 1,700 mAh battery.

LG Optimus L5 II

Oh, oh, oh, and the 5 MP rear-facing camera boasts LED flash. Downsides? Everything else, from the sluggish 1 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU to 512 MB RAM, no front cam and 4 GB internal storage.

6. BLU Advance 4.0 – $75.71 and up

Compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS, Cricket Wireless, and any other GSM service provider you can think of, this baby easily achieves HSPA+ speeds and is a powerhouse compared to the snails above, with a dual-core 1.3 GHz MediaTek MT6572 processor under the hood.

Blu-Advance-4.0

Now, granted, we wouldn’t exactly call the 4-inch Advance a looker, as it’s just 56 percent (!!!) screen, and the rest bezels. Also, it’s a chunky monkey, and uselessly so, measuring 12.4 mm thick, and yet packing a 1,600 mAh cell. But all in all, it’s an okay choice for the money. Not the best, not the worst.

5. Huawei Ascend G520 – $99.90

Our first quad-core contender, the G520 was never meant to reach Western shores, so 3G coverage may be a little on the patchy side. We don’t particularly trust the seller either, and there’s no KitKat bump in store, which explains why Huawei’s large 4.5 incher isn’t a podium threat.

Huawei Ascend G520

Nevertheless, it’s a handsome, beefy, smooth devil, with Jelly Bean onboard, a 5 MP LED Flash snapper slapped on its back, 9.9 mm thin waist, and 1,700 mAh ticker. It’s worth the risks ergo, if our following four budget throne candidates fail to hit the spot.

4. BLU Studio 5.0C – $88.32 and up

For a company with a measly five years of experience in the field, BLU Products sure knows how to make its gadgets attractive. The Studio 5.0C, for instance, is not only uber-cheap, but extremely fashionable, with a wide array of colorful paint jobs available and neatly compact body.

Blu Studio 5.0C

As the name suggests, this a borderline phablet, but the big-ass display is a lemon, with a sub-par 854 x 480 pixel count. Good thing you get pre-loaded KitKat, dual SIM support, a 5 MP rear cam with flash, and GSM compatibility nationwide.

3. BLU Dash 5.0+ – starting at $94 with 4G HSPA+ speeds

Another BLU? These guys are something else, and for 95 clams, offer quad-core speed, KitKat software, dual cameras, and a design worthy of a higher price tag. Once again though, it’s the 5-inch screen’s resolution that makes the Dash fall short of affordable perfection.

BLU Dash 5.0+

Well, that, the 512 MB RAM, and skimpy 4 GB native storage.

2. Alcatel One Touch Fierce – $84

Okay, now we’re talking! Once upon a time priced at over $160, the 4.5-inch Fierce is nowadays available for half that dough. Confirming size isn’t everything, the compact handheld delivers 960 x 540 pixels resolution for 245 ppi, and is a multitasking champ, courtesy of its generous gigabyte of random-access memory.

Alcatel One Touch Fierce

A quad-core 1.2 GHz MediaTek SoC also helps it tower above all its rivals in raw speed. Such a shame it runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and Alcatel remains mum on a possible KitKat promotion. Lollipop? It feels but a sweet, distant dream.

1. Motorola Moto E – $99 in black global GSM unlocked variant

It may not sound wise to purchase the first-generation E when a sequel is likely right around the corner, but if you think for a second Motorola will ever lower the ask further, you’re, well, delusional.

$99 is already incredibly low, and $30 off list, and charging, say, $90 or $80 would be almost like giving the phone away for free. Smaller than the Fierce, it’s got the same exact screen resolution and thus superior pixel density.

Moto E

And no, perhaps the dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 200 processor isn’t ideal. But paired with 1 GB RAM, and near-stock Android 5.0 Lollipop on the software side of things, it makes this thing fly. Then you have a 1,980 mAh battery that helps it last like a little Energizer bunny, and microSD support in case 4 gigs of space isn’t enough.

The king of the sub-$200 space (all hail the Moto G) strikes again.

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.

HTC One mini 2 vs Motorola Moto G vs Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – Specs comparison

As if the mid-range, budget-friendly Android smartphone scene wasn’t crowded, competitive and spicy enough, the past 48 hours have seen Motorola upgrade their already beloved Moto G with the only two features it was missing to aspire to perfection, and then HTC issue a new, compact edition of its crowd-pleasing all-metal One series.

HTC One mini 2 vs Moto G

Obviously, some may argue the Moto G, even in its LTE-enabled variation, and One mini 2 target different slices of the mobile pie. And in a way, I totally agree. But we’re all the same, we’re all equal in our undivided love to all things Android, so at the end of the day, the two, just like the now OG Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, cater to the needs of a condensed public.

Depending on how much one is willing to spend and exactly what he’s looking for in a slab of silicon, the three, which technically challenge the same throne, shall each find fans and followers. The question is what are their strengths and weaknesses? Well, let’s find out by comparing and contrasting their every tidbit:

HTC One mini 2 vs Moto G LTE vs Xperia Z1 Compact – design face-off

Yes, I’m fully aware the reasons the G can’t hold a candle to the other two build quality-wise are, um, reasonable and objective. But people have a right to know the full picture. And leaving costs aside for a moment, the One mini 2 and Z1 Compact win this battle by a landslide.

Xperia Z1 Compact vs Moto G

As for which of the two is most elegant and beautiful, I guess it depends on your definition of the words. The Z1 Compact is shorter, narrower, thinner, more, well, compact and it rocks a glass chassis that’s fairly premium-looking… until you get your fingerprints all over its rear.

Meanwhile, the One mini 2 is amazingly not heavier in spite of its superior footprint and the aluminum frame needs no introduction or description. It’s simply… HTC.

Display comparison

4.5-inch 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution vs. 4.5-inch 1,280 x 720 vs. 4.3-inch 1,280 x 720, and clearly, declaring a winner here is a matter of examining real-life pictures and videos with a magnifying glass. Which I don’t intend to do, as the results of such a test would have little worth for the everyday mobile user.

htc-one-mini-2

Sure, if you insist on bullying me to pick a victor, I’d probably go for Z1 Compact’s slightly superior ppi – 342 vs 326 vs 326. But another guy may choose size over pixel density, and who am I to tell him he’s wrong?

Processing speed, RAM and cameras

It’s a no contest. A first-round one-punch knockout victory. A coup de grace, and I could go on with the metaphors. The point is the Z1 Compact is hands down the zippiest device here, packing a quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 chip and 2 GB RAM.

It’s also got the best rear-facing snapper – a powerhouse 20.7 MP unit with autofocus and LED Flash. Of course, these are the main reasons the punchy munchkin is by far the priciest of the three, though we’ll get to that later.

Sony-Xperia-Z1-Compact

For now, let’s mention the One mini 2 and Moto G are deadlocked in processing speed and multitasking, thanks to identical CPU/GPU/RAM configurations – quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400/Adreno 305/1 GB.

The cameras though are a different kettle of fish, with HTC crushing Moto. In fact, the One mini 2 even trumps the Z1 Compact in the selfie skill department (5 MP front cam vs just 2), sitting right between its rivals when it comes to taking photos of something or someone else than the phone’s owner. Hello there, 13 megapixel (not UltraPixel, thank God) rear shooter.

Software and battery life comparison

Well, this is odd. As much time and money Sony and HTC invested in their “mini” flagships, the software running on the upper mid-rangers can’t come close to the smoothness of Moto G’s pre-loaded Android 4.4 KitKat.

moto-g-home-screen

The G features no bells and whistles on top of KK, making Android purists purr with satisfaction. Then again, stock software isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In which case you can go for Z1 Compact’s relatively unintrusive Xperia UI-skinned Android 4.4 copy, or One mini 2’s highly forked, highly modified Sense-flavored KitKat.

Be sure to weigh in the absence of Zoe but presence of BlinkFeed on HTC’s power Liliputian in your final decision, as well as your odds to score subsequent major updates on each device in a timely manner. FYI, that’s 100 percent on the G and let’s say 50-50 for the other two.

htc-one-mini-2-ui

Battery life? Don’t really want to jump to conclusions, so I’ll call the battle a three-way tie for now. Z1 Compact’s ticker is the largest (2,300 mAh) but it has to handle the fastest CPU, then the One mini 2 and Moto G are practically tied, with 2,110 and 2,070 mAh respectively.

Storage, connectivity and… yes, pricing

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Motorola will sell the 4G Moto G starting at $220 in June, which is less than half of what the Z1 Compact goes for. The One mini 2 is currently without an official price tag, but clearly, it’ll be closer to the diminutive Z1 than the G. My guess is… $400. Maybe $450.

moto_g_4g

Now, are the all-metal and glass fellows really worth the premiums? Well, they have nothing extra to offer connectivity-wise now that the G supports LTE, and even the expandable memory gives them no edge any longer.

They do start at 16 GB built-in storage space, compared to 8 for Moto’s G, plus all the strong points listed above – higher-class cameras, CPUs, (much) better build quality. Which still doesn’t answer the key question. Are… they… worth… it? Well, you don’t really expect me to just solve all your puzzles, do you? Where’s the fun in that?

Is Motorola’s Moto E the best budget phone around? Here are its top five contenders

Made to last, priced for all. That’s how Motorola teased its latest entry-level, low-cost Android effort a little while back, delivering roughly 24 hours ago when the Moto E broke cover.

moto-e

Obviously, it’s way too early to rate E’s durability and, with no Kevlar backing or “premium” build materials apparent, it’s entirely possible the “made to last” buildup was merely advertising mumbo-jumbo.

Unless Motorola referred to software, as the Moto E is destined to stand its ground, being guaranteed to get at least one major update beyond KitKat.

Moto E intro

As for the “priced for all” aspect, do I need to spell it out for you? The E may just be the cheapest half-decent smartphone around, and it’s deemed by many the dumb phone’s executioner. You had a good run, clamshells, candybars and feature sliders, but now it’s over, you’re done.

Meanwhile though, a few budget contenders are bound to put up a fight against the Moto E, and here they all are, rounded up and ready to tussle:

Nokia X vs Motorola Moto E – a no contest

The X clearly has nothing on the E, you don’t have to be an expert or mobile “power user” to tell that, but since it’s relatively new and relatively popular in certain parts of the world, it deserved a chance to challenge the low-cost throne.

Nokia X vs Moto E

Unfortunately for Nokia, their first stab at Android is not affordable enough. Nowhere near enough, at $130 or so, with a cramped, crappy 4-inch 800 x 480 pix res display, sluggish dual-core 1 GHz Snapdragon S4 Play chip, sub-par 512 MB RAM, 3.15 MP rear camera, tiny 1,500 mAh battery and, last but not least, laggy “X platform 1.0 UI”.

That’s a highly skinned, highly forked copy of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, for the record, and I hope I don’t need to tell you why it can’t even play in the same league as Moto E’s near-stock 4.4 KitKat. Remember, the E costs $130 stateside, so just as much as the X with far superior specs in each and every department.

Nokia Lumia 520 vs Moto E – closer but not close enough

To show you we’re not prejudiced, we’ve decided to give another Nokia a shot. This time, a Windows Phone. The cheapest of them all. Sure, we could have taken the upgraded 525 for a comparative spin, however at the moment, the 1 GB RAM-touting little guy is a smidge too expensive.

Nokia Lumia 520

The 520? It’s $65 (!!!) with AT&T GoPhone prepaid plans, $80 on T-Mobile via Amazon, and $105 unlocked and SIM-free. Sooo, cheaper than the E all-around. Plus, it has a few things going for it. Like twice E’s built-in storage (8 gigs). A slightly superior 5 MP cam too, and a skinnier profile.

But alas, the 512 MB RAM, 4-inch 800 x 480 screen, dual-core 1 GHz CPU and 1,430 mAh battery can’t compete with E’s 1 gig, 4.3-inch 960 x 540, dual-core 1.2 GHz and 1,980 mAh juicer. And don’t get me started on WP’s lack of apps. Sorry, Nokia, but keep trying. Preferably, with Android.

Sony Xperia M vs Moto E – a fair fight, a clear winner

Oh, it’s on now! You didn’t think Sony would go down without putting up a fight, right? And the 9-month-old Xperia M, while stuck on Jelly Bean and roughly 20 bucks pricier than the Moto E, is a worthy rival.

Sony Xperia M

A mighty worthy rival, thanks mostly to cameras. The rear snapper features LED flash and there’s even a secondary VGA cam. The design is pretty cool too, and something tells me the Xperia M is “made to last” longer than the E.

In the end, what keeps the E ahead, aside from more aggressive pricing and up-to-date software, is the larger panel, slightly punchier processor and comfier battery.

LG Optimus F3 vs Moto E – nothing to choose between… for now

LG’s best budget bet is a fairly atypical, refreshing low-cost effort, as it cares primarily about autonomy. Courtesy of modest specs but a mind-blowingly huge 2,460 mAh ticker, the 4 incher is rated at 16 hours of continuous talk time use and up to 460 hours (!!!) on stand-by.

LG Optimus F3

But wait, there’s more. Like the Xperia M, the F3 carries dual cameras, one with 5 megapixels and LED flash and the other a VGA unit. The cherry on top is the on-board dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 chip, no doubt zippier than Moto E’s S200.

And get this, you can score the Optimus F3 through Virgin Mobile for $80 and MetroPCS at $99. Game over for the E? Not so fast. Sure, right now, it’s more expensive. But I bet Motorola has plans to bring it to Verizon or AT&T and slap it with a $50 or so prepaid price tag.

Moto E-2

In which case it shall prevail, also aided by its larger, higher-res screen and newer, smoother OS.   

Moto G vs Moto E – a Cain and Abel story

Will Moto E’s own brother stab the 4.3 incher in the back? Don’t rule it out, as the G is hands-down the better all-around slab, basically trumping the E everywhere. Superior processing speed? Check. Higher-caliber rear camera? You got it. Larger, higher-res display, more storage wiggle room, extra-spacious battery, prettier exterior? Check, check, check, check and check.

motorola-moto-e-vs-motorola-moto-g

Granted, in its standard variation, the G lacks expandable storage options. And it’s costlier, at $180 unlocked. But the Moto E needs to pull off a mighty low prepaid price tag if it wants to fend off a five-star mid-ranger Verizon sells for $90.

Bottom line, if there’s one device the Moto E has to fear, it’s the Moto G. But you see, for Motorola, this is a can’t-lose situation. Bravo, Moto, bravo!

Moto X+1 or Droid Ultra sequel? Motorola XT912A surfaces with Snapdragon 800

It’s no secret Motorola means business in spite of an impending Lenovo acquisition with still hard to guess ramifications, as an eclectic blend of ultra-affordable Moto devices and high-enders have been tipped of late for 2014 introductions.

moto-x

The leathery X+1, LTE-enabled G and dirt-cheap E are among these forthcoming potential box-office hits, with Droid Ultra, Maxx and Mini follow-ups also implied. And let’s not forget the 360, Motorola’s first foray into the booming wearable market sector and one of the first smartwatches built on Android Wear.

Also, the XT912A handheld. Wait, what XT912A? Well, the XT912A revealed in a GFX Bench test moments ago. Now, it’s virtually impossible to guess the phone’s future market name based solely on that confusing model number, but looking at the specs disclosed I think I’ve narrowed down the list of suspects to a couple.

My hunch and nothing but my hunch tells me the XT912A is… drum roll, please… either the X+1 (which I secretly hope will end up being called something else), or some kind of Droid Ultra sequel. Or who knows, a flagship device part of a different family and set to roll out internationally.

Nah, my money’s on the X+1. I mean, the hardware is high-end, but not too high-end, just like with the first-gen X. The 5.2-inch display sports 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution, which is an obvious progress from 1,280 x 720, but nowhere near Oppo Find 7 and LG G3’s 2,560 x 1,440.

Motorola XT912A

The chip taking care of the speed business is a quad-core 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800, not a 2.5 GHz S801. Then you have 2 GB RAM, not 3, a 12 MP rear-facing camera, not 16 or 21, and finally 32 GB built-in storage (24 user available), signaling the absence of a microSD card slot.

On the software side of things, this X+1 prime candidate runs Android 4.4.3 KitKat, which is yet to roll out in an organized fashion to a single gadget out and about. One more reason to doubt we’re dealing with a Verizon-exclusive Droid Ultra Plus, Droid Ultra 2 or whatever.

Back to the cryptic XT912A designation, let’s mention it smells a bit fishy, as last year it was allocated to a Moto X test build that, as far as we know, never became reality. Digging even further, we can track an XT912 model number associated with Verizon’s 2011 Droid Razr, meaning this XT912A might be part of the Droid family after all. Or a very complex hoax. Or another prototype doomed to never see daylight.

Damn it, there are just too many variables to the equation! But the bottom line is Motorola is alive and kicking. 

Via [GFX Bench]

Presumed AT&T-bound Motorola Moto G benchmarked as ‘Peregrine’

Available for a while with Verizon and Boost Mobile and recently released on US Cellular and Aio Wireless, Motorola’s crazy cheap, crazy solid Moto G smartphone may soon add another name to an already pretty impressive roster of US network partners.

motorola-moto-g

As its GoPhone prepaid lineup continues to suffer in terms of media visibility and all-around mainstream popularity, AT&T probably sees the Moto G as the ideal solution for a sudden acclaim boost. So there you have it, a win-win situation, for both the carrier and handheld.

Maybe also for prospective Moto G buyers so far holding off on a purchase due to the 4.5-incher being, well, connectivity challenged. You know, since it’s got 3G support only. Which is fine for its price range, don’t get us wrong, but a little diversity never hurt anyone. Ergo, a slightly pricier G with 4G LTE might go a long way for Motorola Lenovorola.

Long story short, an LTE-enabled G would be positively dreamy, and, though the evidence is slim, we believe such a model may have been tested in GFX Bench. The benchmark authority’s database shows an enigmatic Motorola XT1045 packing a quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 chip, which just happens to be the same CPU found inside the G.

Moto G AT&T

This XT1045, codenamed “Peregrine”, also sports a 1,280 x 720 pixels resolution display (another coincidence?), plus runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat. So it’s definitely a Moto G. But why do we think it’s an AT&T-destined G?

Simple, the Android OS Build Product string reads “peregrine_att”. Now, the LTE part I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch, as GFX Bench never lists these details, yet remember the scoop from last Friday. Coincidence again? I think not.

Still, a grain of salt nearby is always recommended with rumors, let alone speculations and assumptions. Besides, Aio Wireless is a subsidiary of AT&T, so maybe we’re getting worked up over nothing, and actually dealing with a non-LTE Moto G version already out and about. Everything’s possible, right? Including Moto working on a high-speed G set to cost, say, sub-$200 with AT&T’s GoPhone prepaid plans.

Via [GFX Bench]

Mysterious Motorola handheld visits FCC, could it be an LTE-enabled Moto G?

Puzzle fans, Sherlock Holmes wannabes, and Agatha Christie aficionados, listen up, as we have a riddle just for you. What cryptic Motorola device passed FCC’s certification on February 12, complete with 850/1700/1900 MHz WCDMA support and LTE connectivity on bands 2, 4, 5 and 17?

moto-g

For the record, that makes the phone a prime candidate for T-Mobile and AT&T commercial launches. Sounds intriguing enough? No? Then how about this for a clue: the thing’s battery code is SNN5932A, used to our knowledge so far only on the Moto G.

Oh, now we’ve piqued your curiosity? Good, though I’m afraid FCC’s approval documents reveal little else on the gizmo. You know, except for predictable Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, GSM, GPRS/EDGE, and Bluetooth 4.0 support.

As for the handset’s FCC ID, we’d probably need a master decoder to help make some sense. IHDT56PG1? Sorry, but it sounds like something the army uses in wartime to communicate without the enemy tracking them down.

Bottom line, evidence is thin, circumstantial, far-fetched almost, yet the signs (indirectly) point to Motorola working on a 4G LTE-enabled Moto G. Besides, even if we rule out the battery code proof as inconclusive, what else could there be on the horizon for Lenovo’s future subsidiary?

A second-gen Moto G? Too soon. Some sort of Droid refresh? That family is dead, and Lenovorola knows it. Meanwhile, the only thing that could make the stunning G even harder to refuse would indeed be an LTE radio.

Can you picture it? Spacious 4.5-inch 720p display, zippy quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip, 1 GB RAM, comfy 2,070 mAh battery, silky smooth, vanilla Android 4.4 KitKat, and LTE. Let’s just hope Motorola doesn’t put a premium on the added connectivity option. I mean, sure, they’ll up the pricing ante, but please Moto, keep it modest. Say, a $30 bump? $50, tops.

Via [Reddit], [FCC]

Google, Motorola, Lenovo and Samsung: The Motivation Behind an Unexpected Deal

If anyone had told me six months, 12 months, 18 months back that everyone involved in or passionate for mobile technology would be raving about Lenovo today, I’d have probably called them crazy. Drunk. High. Stupid.

Lenovo-Motorola-logos

I mean, who is Lenovo after all? The global PC market’s silver medalists two years in a row and the new leaders starting in the second quarter of 2013, sure, but they don’t know the first thing about phones, smartphones or Android. Or so it seemed.

The deal of the century: context and background

Basically, since HP and Dell’s efforts to break into the mainstream mobile décor failed so miserably, why should we have expected any better from Lenovo? Well, I’ll tell you why. It has a little to do with their headquarters’ location and a lot with the Chinese government’s involvement in the company’s management.

Lenovo-Motorola-deal

Technically, Lenovo is a private enterprise, but on the down low, word has it domestic political authorities control it. So what does that have to do with anything? Let’s just say, if the world’s second-largest economy by nominal total GDP and the number one exporter and importer of goods wants to take charge of a certain market bad enough, it’ll find ways.

Lenovo’s quest for world domination

First try, a BlackBerry acquisition. Cut off by the Canadian government, yet key for Lenovo’s decision to ultimately go after an Android juggernaut. Or, in Motorola’s case, a former juggernaut yearning for the fame, respect and financial prosperity of time passed.

Shocking move? Only if you underestimated Lenovo based on their mobile track record so far. Which, by the by, is not as bad as people think. Granted, folks on the Western hemisphere are unlikely to have ever seen, touched or held a smaller Lenovo gizmo than, say, a ThinkPad laptop, but the OEM’s Asian sales helped it reach global number four in Q4 2013.

Lenovo-Motorola-2

Ahead of, you guessed it, Motorola and behind Samsung, Apple and Huawei. Added together, Lenovo and Moto’s shares take the two-headed enterprise to the last spot on the podium, albeit still well behind the two frontrunners.

Lenovo’s motivation

Need me to spell it out for you? Fine. Regardless of how ambitious or apt for success Lenovo’s execs and employees might be, in spite of their computer expertise (which make no mistake, counts when smartphones are less phones and more tiny PCs), and how they can probably already build better hardware than Moto at lower costs, they’d have never made it stateside sans the backing of a brand Westerners recognize and somewhat trust.

Of course, Motorola isn’t the ideal “partner”. Its reputation has taken hit after hit in recent years, until Google bought it and in part turned things around, thanks to the unsung hero that is the Moto X and the outlandishly cheap, ridiculously solid G.

Lenovo-Motorola

So you see, when Larry Page started to ask around about potential buyers, Lenovo couldn’t have missed the opportunity. Especially as the purchase costs are ridiculously low compared with the prospects. $2.91 billion, of which just $660 million cash upfront? Frigging Nest was pricier, at $3.2 billion.

Google’s motivation

Sounds a little like Google got the short end of the stick there, huh? After all, the search giant secured Motorola for a whopping $12.5B in 2011, plus between then and now, Moto’s revenues accounted for extra losses of hundreds of millions.

Now I’m not great at math, but overall Big G lost roughly… a gazillion smackeroos. Or did it? Well, not quite. First of all, the point of Google’s initial purchase was not to build exceptional hardware with Moto’s aid. It was to seize a cluster of patents, which were essential for avoiding lawsuits like the ones Apple and Samsung continue to be involved in.

google-motorola-patents

Of those patents, Lenovo will only get a small part. Presumably, the less valuable papers. That’s one. Also, the Advanced Technology group and Project Ara are staying in Mountain View. Not sure exactly how much they’re worth, but they must benefit Larry Page & co. somehow.

Let’s keep in mind Google unloaded Moto’s set-top box unit a while ago too, for north of $2 billion. So all in all, the losses are not so extreme. But more than the financial aspect, the Samsung factor was likely crucial in the decision to go through with the deal now, almost at all costs.

Samsung’s motivation

Wait, why was Samsung a factor again? It’s simple, really. When Google began to directly invest in hardware manufacturing through Motorola, several third-party Android device makers, including Samsung, rebelled.

samsung-tizen

How can we expect Google to treat us all the same software support-wise when they have a skin in the hardware game, they asked. Due to its power as the world’s undisputed heavyweight smartphone champ, Samsung was however the only player capable of getting Mountain View to listen.

And they did, putting a lot of pressure on Android with rumored Tizen development. At the end of the day, Google couldn’t risk losing its one big client, so instead, it sacrificed Motorola. Was that the plan all along?

Maybe, as again, Moto’s appeal lied in its patent portfolio first and foremost. But it’s not entirely out of the question for Page, Brin and the others to have actually considered following up themselves on the Moto X and G’s somewhat unexpected success.

samsung-galaxy-s4-google-play-edition

Now let’s hope the $50 phone is still coming, along with a series of Moto Maker customizable tablets and X and G sequels. No matter who designs them or where they are built.

As for Samsung, the Tizen nonsense is almost definitely a thing of the past, so fingers crossed for the love affair with Google to last and result in TouchWiz’s death. Google Play Edition Samsung Galaxies for the win!

Motorola Moto G vs Moto X vs Nexus 5 vs Galaxy S4 Mini vs HTC One Mini – Specs and Pricing Comparison

Are the mobile spec wars over? Probably not, as much as certain OEMs (I’m looking at you, HTC and Motorola), unable to keep up with the competition in regards to “cold numbers” and specs, would like to think.

moto_g

Then again, at least one of the two hardware manufacturers singled out above is making efforts and even huge strides to shift the direction of the war. It’s still about specs and will be for time to come, but most importantly it’s about specs in relation to pricing. Value for money, if you will. Bang for buck.

And on that note, Motorola’s Moto G looks like a genuine game-changer on paper. It’s no Samsung Galaxy S4 “killer”, so it wouldn’t be fair to pit it against that beast, or Sony’s Xperia Z1, or HTC’s One, or LG’s G2, but looking a bit lower on the totem pole, it’s practically impossible to find a device the Moto G can’t take down in bang for buck.

Motorola-Moto-G

Is it? Challenge accepted. Here’s how the Moto G measures against four contenders perceived as mid-rangers or upper mid-rangers nowadays:

Moto G vs. Moto X – specs and pricing comparison

Friendly encounter between two close relatives? Dream on, X. Now granted, as far as raw speed is concerned, the G has nothing on its “cousin”. But it’s to cost $200 with 16 GB storage, whereas a similar Moto X version is roughly 500 bucks outright.

Besides, the display resolution is identical on the two and, since the G is a little smaller, at 4.5 inches, the resulting pixel density is actually higher – 326 ppi vs. 312. What else? Oh, yeah, don’t think for a second G’s quad-core Snapdragon 200 CPU is a pushover, albeit it’s probably ever so slightly laggier than the custom-made dual-core processor inside the X.

moto_x_vs_moto_g

Then there’s software, where the X and G are to be on even terms soon enough, courtesy of Android 4.4 KitKat updates. Meanwhile, battery life, multitasking and imaging are clearly superior on the Moto X, thanks to a 2,200 mAh cell, 2 GB RAM and 10 MP rear-facing snapper.

And the bigger guy has the upper hand in the design department as well, with extra customization options, slimmer waist and less bulk. Still, 300 clams extra? Forget about it!

Winner in bang for buck: Moto G hands down

Moto G vs. Nexus 5

Now this is one smackdown to look forward to. The performance gap between the G and N5 is clearly much, much larger than with the Moto X, plus the latest “pure Google phone” is incredibly cheap, starting at $350.

So does the G have the upper hand here? Well, yes and no. Believe it or not, Motorola’s biggest ace up the sleeve over parent company Google, despite the G not being up for grabs stateside yet, might be availability.

Nexus5-MotoG

The elusive N5 is backordered via the Play Store and will likely remain that way for many months, so the best chance you got of scoring the bad boy is through T-Mobile or Sprint at $450. Only at $450, the Nexus is more than twice Moto G’s price and so the value for money clearly weakens.

Despite the 4.95-incher boasting a stupendous Full HD screen, packing quad-core Snapdragon 800 heat, 2 GB RAM, 8 MP main snapper with optical image stabilization and measuring 8.6 mm in thickness, all fantastic features the G really can’t match. Not even close.

Moto G VS Nexus 5

Winner: Nexus 5… if you can find it

Moto G vs. Galaxy S4 mini

Charging north of $400 for a meager device like the Galaxy S4 mini was preposterous enough without the Moto G out and about, but right now Samsung risks an abundance of public ridicule if it doesn’t lower the pricing bar.

I mean, come on, GS4’s 4.3-inch 960 x 540 pix res screen is laughable when compared with G’s 720p 4.7-incher, Android 4.2 is passé and there are only 5 GB of user available storage on the Galaxy. Then there’s a dual-core Snapdragon 400 SoC that’s clocked higher than the quad-core on the G (1.7 vs. 1.2 GHz), but it’s just a dual-core. Plus, a minuscule 1,900 mAh battery.

Moto G Galaxy S4 mini

At the other end of the spectrum, Samsung wins precious points with sleek design and thinness, as well as an extra 512 MB RAM, superior 8 MP camera and microSD support. Enough for at least an honorable tie? Not sans a 30% price cut or so.

Winner: Moto G by a mile

Moto G vs. HTC One mini

Shall I even start? There’s not much to choose between the One mini and S4 mini, so it’s pretty obvious HTC’s number one mid-end contender, also up for grabs for 400 bucks give or take, has no chance whatsoever of prevailing in a face-off against the Moto G.

In short, here’s why: dual-core Snapdragon 400 CPU clocked even lower than the S4 mini (1.4 GHz), the same 1 gig RAM as the G, teenie weenie non-removable 1,800 mAh cell and pre-loaded Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

Moto G HTC One mini

Sure, the One mini has its upsides, winning the design battle incontestably with sleek aluminum unibody and 9.3 mm waistline, boasting superior 342 ppi pixel density (even though some may argue G’s extra screen real estate is the true advantage) and touting booming, vibrant, crystal clear audio thanks to a pre-loaded Beats Audio system.

Yet on the whole, the G probably takes this duel with the most ease, since the One mini can’t put microSD in the win column, also packing a rather underwelming 4 “UltraPixel” cam.

Winner: Moto G by TKO

Wrap-up

Moto-G-Side

In lieu of the typical conclusions, as I really have nothing to add to emphasize the unbelievable value for money of the Moto G, I’d like to remind you the handheld is making its way to Europe and South America as we speak, with North America set to follow suit as early as next January. Huh, that’s certainly one way to make tech-savvy folks want the holidays to go by as fast as possible for a change.