Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ on Verizon

We auctioneers love our phones. We like fast phones with great cameras. Some of us consider our phones to be fashion statements. I was excited when my friends at Verizon gave me the opportunity to play with the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ for a few weeks. I wanted to see if this it could be both stylish in a unique way as well as powerful.

IMG_4741Let’s get one thing out of the way. The edge display is a gimmick. But it’s a really cool gimmick. Not only do the edges of the screen curve, the software allows it to display content like the time or a sports ticker while the main screen is off. It’s not as functional in my opinion as the secondary screen on the LG V10, but it’s neat nonetheless. I took the edge+ to a couple different auctioneer conventions and was frequently asked about it, with comments ranging from how thin the phone is to how slick the curved screen looks.

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The edge+ display can show time and notifications even when the rest of the screen is off.

The glass back and metal edges make the S6 edge+ feel like the premium phone that it is. It takes most of its design cues from the Galaxy S6, which I reviewed last spring, which is smaller and lacks the curved edges on the display. It has the same camera and internals, but boasts an extra gigabyte of memory. It’s remarkably fast and I couldn’t find any instance of lag or a time when I wished it were faster.

Like the S6, the S6 edge+ has a fast and accurate fingerprint reader and a stunning camera that’s both extremely fast and feature rich. I’ll post some pictures I took with the S6 edge+ at the end of this article. I found myself taking more pictures with this phone than I normally do. I honestly think that it was because the camera is so much faster that I didn’t mind using it more.

I prefer to stream auctioneer competitions to YouTube when I have my computer, but I’ve been forced to use UStream at the Kansas State Fair since YouTube doesn’t support streaming from phones. The camera on the S6 edge+ actually does support streaming directly to YouTube, which could lead to a much better experience watching our state auctioneer championship this fall.

I was very surprised with the battery life on the S6 edge+. The original S6 had atrocious battery life. The S6 edge+ does have a slightly bigger battery, but I assumed that it wouldn’t hold up to the big, beautiful screen. I was wrong. The battery life seemed on par with my Nexus 6, lasting the better part of a work day. While the S6 edge+ unfortunately doesn’t have a removable battery, Samsung did include both quick charging and wireless charging, so at least it’s convenient to charge and can be charged in a hurry when necessary.

Nolan playing with Verizon's Star Wars Cardboard viewer

Nolan playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer

The S6 edge+ is a great all-around device, pairing quickly and easily to my Zenwatch and LG Tone headset army and various other devices. Nolan sure enjoyed playing with Verizon’s Star Wars Cardboard viewer that they sent us to play with ahead of the release of the new film.

While there are many reasons to love the S6 edge+, there are some things that Samsung could do to make me love it even more. I’m actually not a fan of the glass back, which becomes a fingerprint magnet. It’s not really an issue, however, because there’s no way I could use this phone without a case. It’s simply too thin. It’s so thin that it’s actually not easy for me to pick it up when it’s laying flat on the table – I found myself looking for things to lean the phone up against so it would be easy to pick up. I ordered a $9 belt clip case from Amazon, and while I was waiting on it I printed one from Thingiverse. Putting a case on the phone is undesirable because it takes away from the beauty of the edges and actually makes it harder to type on the keys at the edges of the screen.

IMG_20151228_184137 Samsung is known for installing extra software and apps, and they did again with the S6 edge+. Luckily, these apps are fairly easy to disable. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to fix the physical buttons, which are switched from every other modern Android device. The biggest single improvement Samsung could make would be to simply remove the physical buttons like other phones.

Backwards physical buttons and the extra software notwithstanding, the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+ is an absolutely beautiful piece of hardware. While the edge display probably isn’t my cup of tea, the phone is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to make a stylistic statement without compromising on features.

Here’s the photo gallery – as usual, I’ve made no edits to these photos. They’re straight off the camera.

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Internet auction bidding units cancel

unitsHow’s that for a click-bait title? As many of you know, I farm during the summer and fall and work in the auction industry during the balance of the year. As I was doing the math this summer for seeding rates and fertilizer application rates, I noticed some parallels between converting gallons per minute to gallons per acre and deciding what changes to make when going from an in-person auction firm to one that implements Internet bidding.

We learn in algebra that we can convert one value to another by using a unit multiplier. If I want to convert 5 miles per hour to feet per second, I have to multiply 5 miles/hour by 1hour/60min by 1min/60sec by 5280ft/mile.

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We can cancel one unit in the numerator with the matching unit in the denominator, leaving us with (5 x 5280) / (60 x 60) = 7.33 ft / second. We use minutes in our math, but we don’t have minutes in the original problem or the solution because they cancel out.

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When auctioneers begin to consider implementing Internet bidding in their auctions, many wonder about changes they’ll have to make in their business model, advertising methods and data management processes. Changing a variable as important as the way bids are collected in an auction must mean fundamental shifts to many other parts of the business.

In fact, nothing should change as a result of taking Internet bids. Advertising should always be based on the asset type and the appropriate demographic, not the way in which bidders are expected to participate. Data management processes for a good in-person auction marketer should already be based on taking pictures of individual items and listing them separately. The business model of a professional auction firm is no more tied to bid calling than my farm is tied to which crops I produce or which equipment I use to do it. If changes must be made to advertising, data management or a business model due to changing the way bids are accepted at an event, something more fundamental is wrong in the operation that won’t be fixed by flipping the Internet bidding switch.

I’ve found that bidding type doesn’t actually matter much to the rest of the operation. If the auction business were a long equation, bidding method would cancel out. Internet bidding is like the minutes used in our algebra example. We need it to get the desired result, but it’s not something that we use when identifying the problem nor do we expect it to be present in the solution of a successful event.

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The LG Watch Urbane is a beautiful smartwatch

I’ve been an Android Wear enthusiast for over a year now. I ordered the Samsung Gear Live when it was announced and shortly thereafter upgraded to the ASUS ZenWatch. Both of those watches are rectangular, and I never had the opportunity to use a round Wear device – until now. My friends at Verizon let me spend the last several weeks with the LG Watch Urbane. While the specs are very similar to my ZenWatch, it’s clear that the Urbane is designed with an emphasis on style.

IMG_3454Android Wear works better on rectangular devices; there’s no way around that. While a round watch is best for displaying an analog watch face, every other use I can imagine involves interacting with text or images. These interactions are inherently less efficient if the image or text is reduced in size or cropped to fit a round display.

Unlike rectangular Wear watches, however, the Urbane doesn’t make me feel like I’m that guy wearing a calculator watch. It gets noticed as a watch first and a computer accessory second. It also has a completely round display, unlike LG’s competition in the round Android Wear arena, the Motorola 360, which has a notch out of the bottom of the screen that’s commonly referred to as a flat tire.

IMG_3455Android Wear performs great on the Urbane. Interactions are snappy and it’s great to be able to delete emails and dismiss other messages without having to take out my phone. The button on the side brings up the launcher, allowing a quick way to launch common or recently used Wear apps.

The stitched leather strap that came with my silver Urbane demo watch looked nice but seemed somewhat difficult to latch and unlatch. Perhaps that’s something that would break in over time, but the Urbane supports standard 22mm straps for easy and inexpensive customization.

The charger on the Urbane is much better designed than the Wear watches I’ve owned in the past. Other watches utilize a clip-on charging cradle that can break or be arduous to attach every night. The Urbane has a dock that weighs enough to sit on a table and stay put when you lay the watch on top of it at night and remove it in the morning.

The Urbane is a little thicker than I like, and I’m not sold on the round shape as the most efficient display for day-to-day functionality. However, if I wanted a fashion accessory that was also a smartwatch, it’d be difficult to imagine a more stylish way to carry Android Wear. The LG Watch Urbane is a really good looking round watch that runs Android Wear very well.

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The LG G4 on Verizon is the perfect phone for 2015

It’s been a fun year for phones. I wrote about my Nexus 6 in March. My friends at Verizon let me spend some time with the Samsung Galaxy S6 in April and the HTC One M9 in May. Each phone had strengths and weaknesses, but when I needed to select a phone to use this year on the farm, I bought another LG G3. When Verizon offered in June to let me try out the new LG G4, I was excited to see how it would perform against the Nexus 6, the S6, One M9 and, most importantly, the G3.

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The LG G4

The G4 is the perfect size. The gorgeous 5.5″ screen is significantly bigger than the S6 and M9, but pleasantly smaller than the Nexus 6. The G4 is slightly larger than the G3, and features a slight curvature that’s stylish enough to be neat but no so pronounced that it’s annoying. The plastic back doesn’t feel quite as good as the aluminum of the One M9, but it’s much better than the glass back on the Galaxy S6. The power and volume buttons are located on the back of the phone just below the camera, like the G3, which makes them easy to access regardless of which hand is used or how it’s held.

The 16 MP camera on the G4 is the best camera on a phone I’ve seen so far. I don’t have a lot of requirements in a camera nor do I use many of the advanced features, but I do want a camera that’s fast and produces great pictures. I love the laser autofocus and optical image stabilization on the G4, two features that allow the 16 MP camera to outperform the 20 MP camera on the M9. The pictures from the G4 seem as good if not better than the pictures I took with the S6. The G4 also has a huge 8 MP front camera. I’m not big on selfies, but it also takes great pictures.

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Power and volume buttons are located on the back below the camera

The G4 is fast and cool. I notice no appreciable difference in performance among the flagship phones. While the One M9 had a tendency to get hot when charging and while under heavy use, the G4 doesn’t seem to get nearly as warm. I did, however, have the G4 turn off on me once. I was working outside when the temperature was around 100° and had the phone in a holster on my belt. It’s unfortunate that the thermal protection kicked in due to the outside temperature, but it’s not an environment that the average user will likely encounter on a regular basis.

IMG_2204I selected the Customerfirst LG G4 case as an inexpensive belt holster case and it worked very well. I received my G4 just as I started drilling milo and I immediately transferred my Google Voice number and podcasts to it in an attempt to use it as my primary phone. Unfortunately, I found the battery life to be only slightly better than the S6 and One M9, lasting me only from about 6 a.m. to just after noon on the farm. I got a good 8 hours or more out of the battery using it around the house. I wish the G4 would have shipped with wireless charging, but the availability of aftermarket Qi charging stickers makes that oversight easy to fix. The expandable battery means that the G4 is the only one of the recent flagship phones that I’ll actually be able to use on the farm without worrying about finding a charger during the day. The expandable storage means I’ll be able to use an SD card to hold all the podcasts I want without having to worry about filling up phone.

IMG_2205The software on the G4 is definitely colored by a custom overlay on top of Android. It’s not as intrusive as Sense on the M9 or TouchWiz on the S6, but it’s definitely not as clean as the stock experience on the Nexus 6. As with any non-Nexus device, I recommend immediately installing the Google Now Launcher and SwiftKey to get a jump on creating a clean and productive Android experience.

I really like the G4. It’s the perfect size and has the best smartphone camera I’ve ever used. The expandable storage and upgradable battery make this phone far superior for my needs than the S6, M9 and Nexus 6. I’ll be upgrading as soon as a company releases an extended battery for the G4 so I can get through the whole day.

As always, here’s the gallery of unedited images taken with the G4. You can easily download the original from the attachment page by clicking on the dimensions link above the picture.

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HTC One M9

HTC One M9

HTC One M9

It was about a year ago when Verizon let me review the HTC One M8. It was a great phone with an interesting camera approach. I’ve used quite a few phones since then, including the recently released Samsung Galaxy S6. I gladly accepted Verizon’s recent offer to spend a few weeks with the new HTC One M9 to see how it stacks up.

The M9 features perhaps the best build quality I’ve seen in a phone to date. It’s an aluminum unibody, with two color schemes – gold on silver or gunmetal grey. The aluminum back is much easier to hold than the glass backs found on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Sony Xperia Z3v. The edge around the screen seems sharper than the M8. This edge initially seemed awkward, but has grown on me as it seems to make the phone easier to hold. It actually feels really good in the hand. The power button was on the top on the M8, but it’s on the side of the M9. It’s now so close to the volume buttons that sometimes I get them confused. The M9 has the now-common double-tap to wake feature, so the power button position isn’t a problem.

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Battery lasted from 9 a.m. to about 6 p.m. The only significant screen time was about 30 minutes, shortly after noon. The rest of the time I was listening to podcasts over Bluetooth with the screen off.

The 5″ screen on the M9 has the same 1920×1080 resolution as was on the M8. As much as I squint, I can’t tell a difference in clarity between the screen on the M9 and the higher resolution screens on the LG G3 or the Nexus 6. By bucking the trend of manufacturers racing to the highest pixel count for their latest flagships, HTC should garner significant improvements in battery life. However, they’ve packed the M9 with the latest 8-core processor and 3 GB of RAM. These specs make it amazingly fast but also fairly battery-hungry. The Galaxy S6 had pretty short battery life in my tests, and the HTC One M9 seems to actually fair worse. Unfortunately, the battery isn’t expandable. Luckily, HTC built in Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 so it recharges in a flash – so long as you can find a place to plug in during the day.

HTC One M9

HTC One M9

Last year’s M8 tried a new approach to the rear camera, using two cameras instead of one. The primary Ultrapixel camera was only 4 megapixel, but its pixels were much larger than cameras in other phones. The secondary camera on the M8 sensed depth to create special effects. I found the Duo Camera to be quite good in the M8, but many found it inferior to other competing phones. HTC has ditched the larger pixels in the M9 and rejoined the spec race with a 20 megapixel camera that is a higher resolution than the Galaxy S6, but it lacks optical image stabilization. I found the M9 camera to be good, but not quite as good as the S6. Here are a couple of comparison shots showing the M9 against the Nexus 6 and the LG G3. No editing, other than cropping, has been performed on the images.

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HTC One M9, on the right, does a better job with the colors of the sky

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Nexus 6, left; HTC One M9, middle; LG G3, right

The back of the HTC One M9

The back of the HTC One M9

The software on the M9 is the latest version of HTC’s Sense overlay, version 7. I remarked in my M8 review how Sense 6 was beautiful and stayed out of the way. While Samsung’s latest TouchWiz has reduced its footprint, the new Sense seems to have become more invasive. It’s mostly fixable with the installation of the Google Now Launcher and SwiftKey keyboard, but the larger footprint reduces the storage available for content. I’ve got about 15 GB of podcasts to catch up on, and after I installed all my apps and synced DoggCatcher, Evernote and gReader, the phone was complaining that it was running out of storage space. Indeed, PhoneArena notes that the user storage available on the 32 GB M8 was 24 GB and is down to 21 GB on the M9. Fortunately, the M9 features expandable storage, so the problem was easily fixed by throwing in an SD card.

The one aspect of the phone that I really appreciated was call quality. I don’t normally remark on call quality, since I don’t really take calls and those I do are on my LG Tone. However, there were a couple calls I took on the phone itself when my headset wasn’t connected. The calls were loud and crystal clear, thanks to Verizon’s new Advanced Calling feature.

The HTC One M9 is a solid phone. Having spent time recently with both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the M9, I’d definitely prefer the M9 to the S6 for the build quality and expandable storage ability. They’re both great phones. The camera on the M9 isn’t quite as good nor the software as clean as the S6, but the M9 just feels better in the hand and looks better to the eye.

As usual, here are some additional video and pictures taken with the HTC One M9.

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