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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The best podcatcher is DoggCatcher

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

I’ve been addicted to podcasts for the last eight years or so. Earlier this year, a couple of events made me really think about podcasts – partly about how create them but mostly about how I consume them. First, a question from a viewer of the Auction Video Podcast episode 15 asked about the hardware setup I have for recording commercials and podcasts, leading to the post describing it. Second, my appearance on the Fast Talking Podcast episode 49 led me to think about the more than 50 podcasts to which I subscribe, as well as how I consume them.

I remember hearing about podcasts for years before I actually began listening – for some reason, I perceived a barrier to entry that simply wasn’t there. For anyone unfamiliar with podcasts, the concept is dead simple. Episodic content is delivered to a mobile device that you can listen to on your own schedule. While you can listen to or watch them on your computer, it’s much more convenient to consume on the go.

A podcatcher is any app that will allow you to subscribe to podcast feeds and automatically download them so they’ll be ready to play at any time. While it’s possible to stream podcasts and play them on the fly, it’s much better to set your phone to download them ahead of time while it’s plugged in and on wifi so it doesn’t drain your battery or use up your data. It’s also quite frustrating to stream a podcast and have it quit when cellular data coverage fails.

As I was thinking of the way I consume podcasts, I realized there are several requirements I have in a podcatcher and that not all podcatching apps satisfy all requirements nor are the requirements satisfied in the same way.

Custom listening speed
Most podcast apps these days allow the listener to increase the speed of playback. When I used to listen on Apple products, the built-in podcast app would let me toggle 2x listening speed,  but it was really 1.25x on iPods and 1.5x speed on iPads. Any good podcatcher should let the user enter a custom speed and actually playback at that speed without altering the pitch of the recordings. I listen at 1.75x to get through the large number of podcasts I consume regularly. I find that I pay more attention and retain more of what I’ve heard than listening at normal speed, which now seems way to slow.

Sync to multiple devices
I have a lot of devices, and I frequently review devices for Verizon both here on AuctioneerTech and on my personal blog at aarontraffas.com. When I stop listening on one device, I want to be able to pick up another device and begin listening exactly where I left off. Many podcatchers advertise a way to sync between devices, but not all of them will actually do it right. Pocket Casts, for example, is a very popular podcatcher that doesn’t get it right. It will sync playback progress, subscriptions, filters and starred episodes, but it doesn’t actually sync the podcasts. When I asked the developer what good the metadata was without the data, I was told that if they synced the podcasts it would download each episode more than once. That’s the whole point! Sync is worthless otherwise. Each episode should sync to each device so it’s ready to play. After an episode is completed on one episode, it should be automatically deleted from the other synced devices.

Virtual feeds
A virtual feed turns a directory on a phone into a podcast episode list. There are some podcasts to which I pay for a subscription that aren’t delivered by a standard podcast feed. In this case, I download the episodes to my phone manually. Some podcast apps don’t support playing manually from a folder on the phone, so they simply don’t work for these types of podcasts.

Episode pinning
Some podcast feeds artificially limit the number of episodes they make available. There are some feeds that only make one episode available each day and remove all previous episodes from the feed. If you miss listening to an episode and try to get it later, it’s gone for good. Episode pinning is a setting, specific to each podcast, that keeps the episodes from these feeds saved on the device until they’re manually deleted. Sometimes I fall behind on podcasts, like the Mike O’Meara show, for more than the 20 episodes they make available in the feed. Episode pinning lets me make sure I don’t get so far behind that the old episodes disappear before I get the chance to listen.

DoggCatcher is the right answer
doggcatcherThe only podcatching app I’ve found that satisfies all my requirements in the correct way is DoggCatcher. It may not be the best looking podcatcher, but it is by far the most feature complete. It has a very large directory of podcasts and supports searching and browsing for new podcasts in several ways, making adding new subscriptions trivially easy. It also allows manual podcast feed additions for podcasts that aren’t yet listed in its directory as well as creating virtual feeds from folders on the phone itself. The Cloud Sync feature works just as it should, automatically downloading and deleting episode files on all devices.

Development is quite active, with updates to the app bringing new features very regularly. I recently had a question for DoggCatcher support regarding some user interface changes, and the response was back to me within minutes. The only feature I wish it supported was a web player or computer client of some kind so I could play my podcasts from my computer when I’m at my desk, but that’s a small feature request for what is truly a feature-complete Swiss army knife of podcatcher apps. DoggCatcher is available for less than the cost of a beer at an auctioneers’ conference, and you can pick it up in the Google Play Store.

Do you have other requirements for your podcast consumption or other features that you’ve found useful? Do you have a better app that you prefer to use? Let me know in the comments.

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Samsung Galaxy S6

Samsung's Galaxy S6Samsung recently released the latest smartphone in its popular Galaxy S series. I’ve previously owned the Galaxy Note 3, and had a fairly poor experience with it, so when Verizon offered to let me spend a few weeks with the new Galaxy S6, I jumped at the chance to see if Samsung’s latest flagship solved the challenges I experienced with the Note 3.

The first thing I noticed about the S6 is the premium build quality. Gone is the plastic, removable back from previous generations, replaced by a glass back. The phone is so thin that the camera module actually protrudes from the back in a way that made me nervous when setting down the phone. I like large phones, and at 5.1 inches, the S6 isn’t one. However, it’s big enough and long enough that it’s comfortable to use and hold.

The hardware changes did prove a little inconvenient for me at times. Samsung’s packed a huge, beautiful screen in a small device by minimizing the bezels, or the borders around the screen. I occasionally found myself triggering unintentional screen presses on the edges when I was using the phone with one hand. The glass on the back also makes the phone slippery and difficult to hold. The first night I was leaned back and playing with the phone with my six-month old son next to me the phone slipped out of my hand and hit him. I immediately ordered a Fintie Guardian Series case, which turned out to be a great belt-clip case for about $7. It made the phone much easier to hold and also solved the problem of the accidental touches around the screen edge.

The camera protrudes from the back of the extremely thin Galaxy S6

The camera protrudes from the back of the extremely thin Galaxy S6

The physical buttons on the bottom of Samsung phones have always frustrated me. The S6 still has them, and the back button is still annoyingly on the wrong side, but the home button now features a fingerprint reader. It’s the first phone I’ve used that had one, and I found it to be amazingly accurate and consistent. It works quite nicely with Lastpass. It also works as a screen lock, but there were times when I was in a hurry and didn’t know if I needed to use my fingerprint or just swipe to unlock and the few extra seconds of indecision were inconvenient. I also spent a fair amount of time during my review fixing fence on the farm, and taking my gloves off to authenticate was frustrating when all I wanted to do was to switch from music to podcasts. It’s certainly not the phone’s fault, but I always forgot to change the lock screen before going to work.

Galaxy S6The S6 is really fast, but it’s also really thin. This combination makes good battery life difficult to achieve. I attended a wedding in an area with 3G coverage and sent perhaps 10 pictures by email. I pulled the fully-charged phone off the charger at 3:30 p.m. and by 6:30 p.m. was down to 20% remaining. This 80% drain in three hours example is extreme, but under normal usage I wouldn’t expect to get more than six or eight hours out of the S6. It’s not a huge problem for anyone within frequent range of a desk or a car, as Samsung’s built both fast charging and wireless charging into the S6, so finding a power refill during the day is as quick and convenient as possible.

Previous generations of the S series have had removable backs and expandable storage. The S6 doesn’t, so getting an extended battery or adding an SD card are no longer options. My review unit was the 32 GB model, and by the time I had my podcasts synced, I had about 1 GB remaining. Not everyone is as addicted to podcasts as I am, but shutterbugs can use up storage space in a hurry, so anyone purchasing an S6 should definitely opt for at least the 64GB version.

My biggest complaint with the Galaxy Note 3 was the antenna. I’m in an area that has spotty coverage, and service on the Note 3 was markedly poorer than the HTC One M8, Moto X, Kyocera Brigadier, Droid Turbo, Sony Xperia Z3v – basically every other phone I tested greatly out performed the Note 3 in this area. The Galaxy S6 performs much better than the Note 3 in this regard. It’s not quite as good as the Nexus 6 – the S6 seemed faster to drop to 3G than the Nexus 6 and didn’t seem to perform as fast once it did – but it’s definitely not plagued with the antenna problems of the Note 3.

Samsung has always had great cameras, and the camera is definitely the best feature of the S6. At 16 megapixel with optical image stabilization, it’s really very difficult to take a bad picture. It’s fast to launch, too, especially with the double-tap shortcut on the home button. As usual, I’ll have some real world examples in the gallery at the end of this article, but here are a few comparison pictures against the Nexus 6. No resizing or editing has been done – they’ve only been cropped so that the dimensions are the same size. In every example, the S6 pictures are brighter and more vibrant. Guess which side the S6 images are on.

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In each example, the pictures from the Galaxy S6 are on the left, while the images from the Nexus 6 are on the right.

I’ve always found TouchWiz, Samsung’s customization layer that it installs over Android, to be frustrating, ugly and cumbersome. While it’s not gone in the S6, it’s toned down substantially – much improved over the mess of previous generations. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to launch Google Now – neither swiping up nor swiping to the left worked, which are the most common ways – so I installed the Google Now Launcher as usual. This was the first time I didn’t replace the default keyboard with SwiftKey, as I found the Samsung keyboard to be surprisingly good.

I did have problems copying files to the phone. I plugged it in by USB, but I was always presented with an error when trying to copy my podcasts to the device. No amount of searching yielded a solution, so I was forced to find a wireless transfer method. It was much slower than transferring by cable, but it worked. I had no problems copying photos from the phone to my computer.

The S6 performed flawlessly with a range of activities and accessories. I listened constantly to podcasts and music through my LG Tone, as well as used it with my Asus ZenWatch and to pilot my DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter. I did have problems installing Google Fit from the Play Store – it said it wasn’t compatible with the device – but manually installing the APK seemed to work fine.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is a very solid device that will probably be one of Samsung’s and Verizon’s best selling phones. It’s sad to see Samsung do away with the expandable battery and storage, and I can’t use it or even hold the S6 without a case. However, the S6 is a great choice for anyone who wants an amazing camera on a fast, beautiful and stylish smartphone.

Picture gallery

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The Google Nexus 6 on Verizon

IMG_1395I’ve been using the Google Nexus 6 on Verizon since November 17. You can read yesterday’s post entitled Android, Nexus and Verizon to learn the backstory about why I’m a huge fan of the Nexus program, how I was excited to learn that the Nexus 6 would work on Verizon and why I purchased the phone outright many months before the expected Verizon Nexus 6 launch date.

Hardware
The latest flagship phone from Google in the Nexus line is made by Motorola. It’s huge. Featuring a 5.96″ screen with a quad HD 1440 x 2560 resolution AMOLED screen, this dreadnought is definitely the largest phone I’ve ever held. I used the Galaxy Note 3 for the better part of last year. It felt big initially, but I got used to it. Likewise, I’m slowly getting used to the size of the Nexus 6. This phone is .3″ bigger than the Note 3. The iPhone 6 Plus is only 5.5″, so the Nexus 6 is a full half-inch bigger than Apple’s largest phone.

IMG_1391-001The Nexus 6 is rocket fast, with plenty of memory and a top-of-the-line processor that makes using the pure version of Android Lollipop smooth and seamless. Front-facing speakers make it really loud. The speed and sound quality are quite nice, especially for someone who likes to watch a lot of basketball this time of year when I’m away from a TV.
The phone looks like a cartoon sized version of the 2014 Moto X. That’s not a bad thing, as the Moto X is an absolutely beautiful device. The power and volume buttons are on the right side and easy to get to. The micro-USB port is on the bottom and the headphone jack is on the top. With wireless Qi charging and Bluetooth 4.1 built-in, I really don’t find myself using either the USB port or the headphone jack.

Expandability
The only downside to the Nexus 6 is expandability. The aluminum body contains a sealed battery and no slot for a memory card. My unlimited data plan means the lack of expandable storage doesn’t bother me, but the non-expandable battery is unquestionably the biggest problem with the Nexus 6. The battery will last all day at my desk, but only a few hours in the spotty coverage at the farm. The phone does support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, which will allow the included Motorola Turbo Charger to charge the phone much faster than traditional phones and chargers, but it’s still a drag to have to worry about a phone that won’t last all morning, much less all day, in a real world work environment.

The power button and volume rockers are easy to get to

The power button and volume rockers are easy to get to

Camera
The camera is good. It’s not as good as the camera on the LG G3, but it does have optical image stabilization on a 13 MP sensor. The new Lollipop camera software allows third party apps to take advantage of advanced features of the sensor, and there are some users taking extraordinary photos with the Nexus 6. For my uses, the stock camera is quite sufficient. I posted pictures comparing the Nexus 6 and the Sony Xperia Z3v in December’s review of the Z3v.

Problems
My experience with the Nexus 6 wasn’t without a few difficulties. Shortly after it arrived, I began to encounter random reboots of the device. It would simply restart. Occasionally, it would turn off and take as many as 30 minutes before it would turn on again. I also rely heavily on the wireless hotspot feature when I travel, and I had a very obscure and annoying problem with the wireless network created by the Nexus 6 hotspot disappearing frequently. I would start the hotspot and connect my computer, and then, within a minute or two, the network would seem to disappear. The computer would disconnect and I’d have to refresh the network list to find the hotspot again. This flaky wifi teather problem made using the phone as a hotspot essentially useless.

The reboots and the hotspot problem caused me to work with Motorola to obtain a replacement device. The replacement phone has only rebooted once or twice since I received it, so I consider that particular problem fixed. However, the hotspot issues persisted on the new device. With the help of a user on Reddit, I finally was able to track the problem down to an app called Automatic. Once I removed Automatic from my phone, the hotspot works like it does on all other phones.

Cases
I purchased two cases for my Nexus 6, the SUPCASE belt clip holster case and the Spigen gunmetal bumper case with clear back. I use the Spigen case when I’m on the road traveling to auction conventions and I use the belt clip case when I’m on the farm. I’m quite happy with both of them – pictures of each can be found in the gallery at the end of this post.

Summary
It may sound silly to drop $650 just to get a phone on Verizon that doesn’t come with NFL Mobile. For someone as passionate about pure Android as I am, it makes perfect sense. The Nexus 6 is simply the perfect Android experience, and using it on Verizon means I don’t have to compromise by downgrading to a shoddy network.

As I write this article, rumors are that Verizon might launch the Nexus 6 this week, with their devices sporting Android 5.1 and VoLTE calling. I can only hope that the software upgrade path for my Nexus 6 purchased directly from Motorola will be quick and painless. It would be very unfortunate for Verizon to punish us early adopters by not allowing us to get the VoLTE upgrade.

If you like big phones, the Nexus 6 is, without a doubt, the best phone on the market. If a huge phone isn’t your preference, here’s to hoping that the next Nexus will be slightly smaller, more expandable and supported by Verizon.

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