Sony Xperia Z3v is stylish with a great camera

I’ve never owned a Sony phone. I’ve honestly never considered purchasing another Sony device after their long track record of horrible products in the early 2000s – remember the MiniDisc, Mavica and Memory Stick? However, I figure I’ve held that grudge long enough, so when Verizon offered to let me spend a few weeks with the new Sony Xperia Z3v, I jumped at the chance.

Sony Xperia Z3v

Sony Xperia Z3v

The Xperia Z3v is a Verizon exclusive version of the popular Xperia Z3 that Sony released to other carriers. The Z3v is slightly larger than Sony’s Z3, though the screen is the same 5.2 inches on both versions. The shape of the phone feels great. It feels longer and narrower than most phones I’ve used recently, which is a welcome change. It’s got glass on both the front and the back, which is also a design approach I haven’t felt before. While the dual glass construction makes the phone harder to hold, it does convey an impression of solid build quality. If I owned the phone, I’d have it in a case anyway, so the back glass isn’t a problem for me.

The phone features a micro-SD slot, which is great, but the battery isn’t upgradeable, which isn’t so great. Flaps cover all the ports, providing water and dust resistance, and Qi charging is built in so it’s possible to never need to open a flap during normal usage. It has a volume rocker next to the power button in the middle of the right side, right next to your thumb or index finger as you would hold the phone, so there isn’t any awkward reaching for volume while you’re on a call. It also has a dedicated camera button which can launch the camera app and then functions like the button on a point-and-shoot camera – hold it halfway down to focus, completely down to take a picture.

Side view shows the buttons

Side view shows the buttons

The camera is probably the most attractive feature of the Z3v. It’s a 20.7MP sensor that takes very, very good pictures, even though it lacks optical image stabilization. I’ll show a few unedited pictures in the gallery at the end of this post, but here are a couple side-by-side comparisons against the camera on the Nexus 6. The Z3v is on the left in each of these shots while the Nexus 6 is on the right. I left everything on auto and tried to take pictures like most general consumers would. You can zoom in if you like by viewing the original from the link on the attachment page.

The Z3V seems to capture colors much better here.

The Z3v seems to capture colors much better here.

The Nexus 6 seems too dark, though the colors on the Z3V don't seem as rich.

The Nexus 6 seems too dark, though the colors on the Z3v don’t seem as rich.

The colors are more rich on the Nexus 6, and the background is more focused, but the Z3V seems more accurate here.

The colors are more rich on the Nexus 6, and the background is more focused, but the Z3v seems more accurate here.

The Z3V seems to handle the contrast between sunlight and shadows better than the Nexus 6.

The Z3v seems to handle the contrast between sunlight and shadows better than the Nexus 6.

I do like Sony’s camera app. Not only does it make it easy to take great automatic pictures, it offers manual controls for exposure and white balance. It also features myriad effects – not filters – that can allow you to stream video to YouTube, take time-lapse video, shoot panoramas, use augmented reality and much more. They even offer the ability to download additional camera apps. Next to Motorola’s smart apps, the Sony camera ecosystem is probably the best example of a positive manufacturer enhancement to an Android device.

Glass back of the Z3v

Glass back of the Z3v

As good as the camera app is, the rest of the software experience on the Z3v isn’t great. It’s not as bad as TouchWiz, but it’s still an unnecessary layer on top of Android. The phone is fast, but there’s definitely some lag when moving home screens in the Xperia Launcher that comes installed on the phone. Most of the software issues can be fixed by installing the Google Now Launcher and SwiftKey, but you’re still left with Sony’s notification shade customizations as well as unnecessary apps for Sony-specific music and media.

Overall, I had a good time with the Sony Xperia Z3v. I’m not wild about Sony’s software customizations or the lack of an upgradeable battery, but I’d recommend it for anyone who wants a fast, uniquely stylish phone with an amazing camera.

The pictures below are unedited.

Posted in Android, gadgets, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , , |

The professional email signature

There was a discussion on Facebook a while back about what is and what isn’t appropriate to include in an email signature. It’s so easy, yet many auctioneers fail at creating a signature that is simple and professional. Let’s take a look at what we should include, what we should omit and how we should present our email signatures.

Include
Your email signature should be used sparingly to brand yourself and your company. Make it easy for someone to, at a glance, know who you are, what you do and how to contact you. The first line should always be your name and professional designations. You paid money for these designations, and your email signature is a perfect opportunity to leverage them to potential customers – everyone you communicate with should be considered a potential customer.

Email signature should be short and simple

Email signature should be short and simple

Directly below your name and designations should be your email address. That’s the most relevant contact method, since we’re talking about email to begin with, so that’s what the person you’re corresponding with should see first. Some people might argue that it’s not necessary, but if you’ve branded yourself properly, your email address should include your website and it’s a great opportunity for a branding impression. If you have a mobile phone number that you want to include, it should tag along with your name and email address here.

Company information comes next. I like to separate the company block from the personal block with a blank line. Include your firm’s name and, if you need your mailing address, you can include it, too. I think the physical address adds extra weight to the signature and is rarely needed, so I omit it, but I can’t fault someone for including a company address. Your company’s public phone number and website address go next.

You can include social media links, but only include links – never icons – and make sure to include only links to profiles that are active. Don’t include a link to your YouTube page unless you offer value there and post frequent videos. Just because you have a social media presence somewhere doesn’t give you license to include it in your email signature.

Omit
Never include images in your email signature. Don’t do it. Ever. I don’t want to have to click the extra button in my email client to display images that I think might be relevant to the conversation, only to find out that it’s your company logo or, worse, social media icons. Also don’t include a vCard. It causes the same problem as images, but is even more arduous to deal with.

It’s not necessary to include patronizing labels for the components of your signature. We know what a website looks like; we know what a phone number looks like. You don’t need to label what they are in your signature. The possible exception is disambiguating a fax number from a phone number, but if you’re including a fax number in your signature you need to have a long conversation with yourself about what decade you’re living in.

Don’t include a quote. You might have a saying that feels good to you, but its rare that an inspirational quote won’t offend someone somewhere. It’s usually me, so leave it out. It’s unnecessary and unprofessional.

Leave out the confidentiality notice. Every article I’ve ever read about confidentiality notices in email signatures says that they’re not enforceable. Why add all the extra garbage that nobody reads or cares about?

Lastly, leave out the stock closing message. Including “Thanks,” or “Cheers,” or “Respects,” as the first line of the signature to make it look like you typed it works only the first time. The second email in an exchange will out you as simply lazy.

Professional presentation
Stay away from HTML. I’ve railed for years on the benefit of plain text email for bulk email newsletters, and we can argue about the benefits of pictures and fonts for advertising and marketing purposes, but when it comes to correspondence between two people, there’s absolutely no call for HTML email. It’s simply unprofessional and adds junk that can only take focus away from the conversation. Fonts and colors have no place in email.

Use plain text to arrange your signature in such a way that it’s easy to read and takes up as few lines of vertical space as possible. I like to use the pipe as a way to include more than one piece of information on the same line, but make sure to keep the number of characters per line under 72 so it doesn’t break in weird places. As an example of pipe usage, here’s my personal three-line signature, which includes my name, email address, two social media accounts and three websites. Remember that pretty much all email clients will turn the plain-text links into the active, clickable links.

Aaron | twitter.com/Traffas
[email protected] | facebook.com/traffas
aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com | auctioneertech.com

Here’s my professional signature which includes my name, designations, company name, website, profile page and two social media accounts. We have many more social media presences, but someone interested in me or the company can learn everything possible from the few links I’ve included in my signature.

Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES
[email protected]
Purple Wave, Inc. | purplewave.com | purplewave.com/aarontraffas
twitter.com/purplewave | facebook.com/purplewaveinc

In summary, a professional email signature is simple and short, doesn’t include images or formatting, and contains just the right amount of appropriate information.

Posted in advertising, theory | Tagged , , , |

Motorola Droid Turbo from Verizon

Verizon's Droid Turbo

Verizon’s Droid Turbo

Let’s get one thing clear, right off the bat. Not all Android phones are Droids, but all Droids run Android. A Droid is one of a line of phones exclusively from Verizon, but not all Android phones from Verizon are Droids. I just wanted to get that out of the way, as it greatly frustrates me to hear many in my social circles using Droid to refer generically to any Android phone from any carrier.

I haven’t owned a Droid since the original Motorola Droid. It was a great phone which, especially after my brief stint with the Palm Pre, solidified Android as the mobile operating system for me. It had a very clean Android experience, but future Droids from Motorola came with Motoblur, an overlay on top of Android which soured me on the entire Droid line. Until now.

Verizon’s latest addition to its Droid line is the Droid Turbo from Motorola. Verizon let me spend the last few weeks with one, and it became immediately clear that this is Verizon’s best phone to date.

In a nutshell, the Droid Turbo has the interface of the Moto X, the bleeding edge specs of the Nexus 6, a 21 MP camera and a battery that’s bigger than anything we’ve seen so far.

The screen is a QHD behemoth packed in to a 5.2″ size. Quad HD is 2560 x 1440, so the number of pixels per inch is 565. By comparison, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have 326 and 401 pixels per inch, respectively. I do wish they’d have made the screen a little bigger and used standard on-screen buttons rather than putting a row of three capacitive buttons at the bottom of the device. Google has been trying to move away from hardware buttons for a few years now, and the reason Motorola went with permanent buttons on the Turbo is honestly a head-scratcher.

The Turbo is fast. As I write this review, phoneArena.com lists the Droid Turbo as one of the fastest phones on the market. It’s by far the fastest of the major brands’ flagship devices, easily besting the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, HTC One M8, LG G3 and, of course, the Moto X 2014. With one of the fastest mobile processors I’ve seen yet in a phone, combined with 3 GB of RAM, the Turbo never lags or slows down, even while driving that massive screen.

The 21 MP camera is supported by a dual-LED flash. Even though it lacks optical image stabilization, it’s a very good camera, especially in daylight. The full 21 MP resolution is only available in a 4×3 aspect ratio, but that’s what I prefer anyway. I found the flash really helps low light performance. I’m not a fan of the camera app that ships with the Turbo, as the slide-out settings wheel is frustrating and confusing. I want buttons on the camera screen for settings and shutter, but the great thing about Android is that I can install a third-party picture app that will add those features. The Turbo does seem a little slow to take pictures when you have it on the highest of the automatic settings, but I’m hoping the upgrade to the newest version of Android called Lollipop will help the speed issue dramatically. I’ll post some example pictures at the end of this review.

The software on the Droid Turbo at launch is nearly identical to that of the Moto X. Motorola included Assist, Actions, Display and Voice that were found in the Moto X, as well as the Droid Zap app from Verizon that lets Droid users share files with one another in proximity. The relatively clean version of Android that’s on the Turbo is a joy to use, and the few additions from Motorola contribute in a good way to the user experience.

Reception with the Turbo was very good. I’d say it might be just a touch better than the G3 in areas of weak coverage. Motorola is my favorite manufacturer with regards to antenna performance, and the Turbo doesn’t let me down.

The Turbo is the first phone with a stock battery big enough to get me through the day. The second day I used it, I had 15 hours and 32 minutes off the battery with 8 hours 37 minutes of screen on time. For a stock battery, those are some amazing numbers. The shortest time I had from fully charged to dead was just over 9 hours, which means my phone was dead at 5 p.m., but it’s still drastically better than the battery life of any other stock phone I’ve tested. I still wish they’d have built the Droid Turbo with a removable back so that I could put a bigger battery in it and truly get the two-day battery life they’re advertising.

Charging the Turbo during the day is not something an average user is likely to have to do, but it does feature Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology, which boasts 8 hours of battery life from only 15 minutes of charge time.

All in all, the Droid Turbo is the best phone Verizon has ever launched. I’m honestly going to miss it when I send it back to Verizon, and I’m sure I’ll feel silly waving my hand over other phones in hopes it will wake them up or twisting them with my wrist to launch the camera. My only complaints with the Turbo are the lack of an upgradable battery and SD card slot, the capacitive buttons on the screen, the lack of optical image stabilization in the camera. It’s super fast and has a gorgeous display, smart software additions, a solid camera and a big battery. Once it gets the Lollipop upgrade, it’ll be even better. If you’ve been looking for a phone with amazing specs that doesn’t have a huge screen, the Droid Turbo is absolutely the phone for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Droid Turbo, I spent an hour talking in-depth with Joe Maring and Tony McAfee as a video podcast for their Mobile Cup of Joe show. Here’s the full video.

Finally, here are some sample pictures taken with the camera on the Droid Turbo. They’re unedited, and you can view the original by clicking the full size download link from the attachment page. Enjoy!

Posted in Android, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , , |

The folly of the artificial bidding window

You’ve just signed the contract for a large estate auction. The lead was given to you by your cousin in a neighboring town, who had a neighbor – your new seller – who was interviewing different auctioneers for the job. Your cousin, a long-time evangelist for your services, found out and basically sold the seller on your services before you got there. All you had to do was walk in and sign the deal.

On the way to your car, your cousin sees that you’ve got your briefcase and a smile and comes over to congratulate you on booking the auction. He’s dismayed when he learns that he’ll be on vacation on the day that you’ve booked the event. “That’s too bad. I really wanted to bid on the collector car that I’ve been eyeing over the fence for the last few years. What do you say you let me place an absentee bid right here and right now on it?”

What do you do? Do you say, “Sure! What’s the highest you’ll bid?” Do you say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t bid yet. I won’t let you tell me how much you’ll bid until a week before the auction.”

bid_deniedThere is a disturbing practice in the auction industry that I absolutely can’t wrap my head around. There are auctioneers who, when it comes to Internet auctions, choose the second of the two options in our scenario above. They won’t accept bids on items that are legally booked into an auction. I’m going to leave that period there to let this concept soak in.

Historically, before the Internet, we might have a few absentee bids turned in by phone, on paper or in person by someone during an inspection, but we were pretty much limited to the bids we could find during a live auction. Before the Internet, I don’t know that I ever heard of someone turning down a paper bid because it wasn’t close enough to the auction.

With the advent of Internet bidding, however, I’ve started to see auctioneers who will wait until a bidding catalog is complete before turning on bidding for any of the items. I’ve even seen auctioneers who will have a complete catalog advertised on the website for days or even weeks, waiting to turn on the bidding until a week or a few days before the auction. Because it builds excitement. No, it doesn’t. More on that fallacy later.

As auctioneers, we have a fiduciary obligation to our sellers. Once we’ve signed the contract, it’s our job to take bids. That’s what we do. Our attitude should be one of desperation for any bid we can find – we should be looking in every nook and cranny, behind every door and under every rock, hoping to find a bid that we can gobble up in hopes to add to the running total that is the current bid for each and every item in our auctions. We shouldn’t care how or when a bid comes in, we should only be thankful that it came before we said sold.

With that attitude in mind, once we book an auction that has Internet bidding in any form, it should be a race to get the items listed on our website. Popular financial talk show host Dave Ramsey uses the expression gazelle intense to describe the necessary urgency of getting out of debt. I submit that we should be gazelle intense about getting the items in our auctions up on the web so that we can begin taking bids as soon as humanly possible.

Could there be a benefit to waiting on a catalog to cook before turning it on? Does it build excitement? No. It actively depresses bidding activity. Have you ever been excited to wait for something that you wanted?

I buy a lot of things on the Internet, but I’m frugal about it. I’m an avid subscriber of Amazon Prime, and I frequent eBay and have a slew of browser plugins like PriceBlink that let me know for sure that I’m paying the lowest price for an item. The only thing that trumps price is time. I don’t like to spend a lot of time hunting for something. If I can perform an action and be done with the task of buying something, at least done enough to move on with my day, I’m going to opt for the fastest experience before necessarily the lowest price. What this means is that I want to do something right now, even if it means I’m not going to make the purchase right now.

If I find a widget that I want on your auction site, and I can’t bid on it yet because the magic bidding window hasn’t arrived yet, am I going to be excited to come back? Nope. I’m going to go back to Google and click on the next link down. Only in the rare case that you’re selling something that is very hard to find will I create a reminder of some kind or remember to come back. And when I have to take that extra step and wait, I’m not going to be happy about it. My opinion of your company is not going to be favorable because you’ve hijacked my time, which is often more important than the lower price that I’ll get to pay because you didn’t take bids from everyone else who saw unavailable bidding and didn’t come back.

Not allowing Internet bids until a certain date is like booking an auction but walking around with your fingers in your ears until a week before the event. Creating an artificial bidding window violates the trust of our sellers, depresses bidding activity and is deleterious to a passionate buying community that we should all be trying to build for our companies and the auction profession.

Do you disallow bids until a short time before the auction closes? Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments to this post, not on Facebook, so everyone can see what you think.

Posted in theory | Tagged , , |

New Moto X is smartest of current smart phones

Moto Display on the Moto X

Moto Display shows time and notifications on the Moto X without turning on the whole screen

The original Moto X, released in 2013, was the first phone designed and built by Motorola as a Google property. As such, it featured an interface that was remarkably clean and close to the stock Android experience, with a few custom features for good measure. Unfortunately, while I loved the user interface of the original Moto X, the hardware was mid-range at the time it was released and so buying the original immediately felt like a compromise.

The successor, the new Moto X, is essentially a straight-up hardware upgrade from last year’s model. Verizon let me spend a few weeks with this new Moto X, and it’s quite definitely the best user experience of any Verizon phone I’ve used.

The hardware improvements are primarily in the areas of size, speed and camera. The phone is simply bigger, faster and has a better camera than the original X. However, the strength of the Moto X is definitely in the user experience, and by addressing the primary complaint filed against the original Moto X – that the hardware just wasn’t good enough – Motorola can now compete with the flagship devices from other manufacturers.

The software is beautiful. It’s clean and as close to a pure Android experience as anything you can currently find on Verizon. The notification shade is bereft of the clutter found in Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense. The addition of the Google Now Launcher creates a nearly Nexus-like experience.

Instead of cluttering up Android by making changes to the interface itself, Motorola has instead focused creating useful, innovative apps. They’ve included Moto Assist, Moto Actions, Moto Display and Moto Voice.

Moto Assist allows the phone to sense the current conditions and adjust automatically. It silences itself and keeps the screen off while you’re sleeping. It can read text messages and automatically connect to Bluetooth when it notices that you’re driving. It can mute notifications or send automatic responses when it knows you’re in a meeting. In short, Moto Assist pays attention to what you’re doing and makes adjustments accordingly.

Moto Actions allow you to interact with the phone by gesturing in front of the custom infrared sensors on the front. You can wave to silence alarms or phone calls or twist the phone to open the camera. Also, the phone senses when you’re reaching for it so that it can trigger Moto Display before you even touch it.

Moto Display leverages the AMOLED screen to display notifications without waking the phone. AMOLED can fire specific pixels without the battery cost of turning on the whole screen, and Moto Display makes use of this ability to fade in and out the time and notification icons intermittently. It’s actually creepy how the phone seems to know when you’re looking at it and lights up spontaneously.

Moto Voice is always listening. Using a low power part of the processor, it can be triggered without first waking the phone. Simply initiate it with “okay, Moto X” or other custom launch phrase and then talk to it as it sits on the table.

The new Moto X with bamboo back

The new Moto X is available with a bamboo back, but not a removable back

Unfortunately, the second generation Moto X does have some drawbacks. It does have a 13 megapixel camera, which is a big improvement from the first generation X and the same size found in the current crop of flagship phones, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the camera in my LG G3, possibly due to the lack of optical image stabilization in the X. It’s a good camera, and I’ll include some shots at the end of this article, but I don’t know that it’s the best on the market.

The biggest disappointment I have with the Moto X is the battery which is not upgradable. Motorola’s done a good job building a phone that doesn’t use a ton of power, but the bigger screen and faster processor were accompanied by only a tiny increase in battery size from the original Moto X, which had a pretty cramped battery to begin with. The battery on the new Moto X got me through about six hours of moderate use. I could stretch that runtime to eight hours or more by compromising on features – turning down location accuracy, reducing notification frequency and using Greenify to hibernate apps that didn’t need to run in the background. As long as you’re prepared to charge the phone once or twice throughout the day, or you don’t need Bluetooth, GPS and real time notifications from all your apps, the small battery shouldn’t be a big concern.

All in all, the Moto X is a phone with competitive hardware and, in my opinion, the best Android experience on Verizon. The clean interface, coupled with the truly helpful Motorola apps, creates an experience that feels not like working with a phone but, instead, using a phone that is working for you.

Moto X camera examples

Posted in Android, gadgets, hardware, reviews | Tagged , , , , |