TIME Smartphones

Review: Lollipop Makes Your Android Phone Way More Beautiful

Google Nexus 6 Google

Android is getting a massive visual overhaul

This review originally appeared on Trusted Reviews

Android 5.0 Lollipop is the latest version of the Google mobile OS. It takes over from Android 4.4 KitKat and is likely to be the last major revision we see of the system until well into 2015.

Lollipop is the future, in other words, but is it really worth getting worked-up about? We’ve been using Android 5.0 with the Nexus 9, one of the devices launched alongside the software. Here’s what we think.

Android 5.0 Lollipop: Material Interface

Having used Android 5.0 Lollipop for a while now, we think perhaps the most significant change for now is the way the software looks. Not every change made offers a dramatic shift in the way Android feels, but the interface design does.

Google calls it Material, and aside from freshening-up the look, it’s meant to add “responsive, natural motion, realistic lighting and shadows.”

First, let’s take a look at the new design. Here are your home screens:

 

Android Lollipop Home Screens Trusted Reviews

You’ll notice everything is looking familiar, but a little different. Google has redesigned the soft keys — which now have a PlayStation-like flavor— and the Google app icons are different now.

It’s innocuous stuff, but tells you a lot about the aesthetic direction in which the system is heading. Android 5.0 Lollipop is all about friendly curves and shapes that have no intrinsic or obvious relationship with technology. They’re a circle, a square and a triangle: you don’t get much more basic than that.

Android Lollipop Soft Keys Trusted Reviews

We assume the idea is that they’re friendly compared with the rather more complicated soft keys of Android 4.4 KitKat. Despite their simplicity, the functions of two are pretty obvious even to relative technophobes.

The triangle already forms an arrow sign, and the circle is just like the Home button on an iPhone. When in doubt, copy Apple. The one on the right is called Overview these days, but it has much the same function as before: it brings up the multi-tasking menu.

The movement of the homescreens has changed. The animations are a bit less severe, with greater variance in their speeds and a greater sense of inertia. Android 5.0 Lollipop is all about shaving off that geeky exterior Android is still seen as having in some quarters.

You’re also likely to see a whole lot of the two headline backgrounds of Android 5.0. These are designed to look as though they’re made from real materials with clever use of textures. Once again, it’s a step away from the sharp technical refinement that has been more a clearer visual feature in previous Android UI elements. These backgrounds are still precise and geometric, but the textures are intended to ground them in the “real.”

It’s not so much “less geek, more chic,” but “less geek, more family-friendly.” Its no wonder Google has opted for this style, with tablets like the Tesco Hudl 2 plugging away at family buyers hard.

Is the new look good? Yes, it’s great. We already liked the Google Now interface used in some Android 4.4 phones, though, including the Nexus 5 and Moto G 2014.

The use of the real-time shadows/lighting promised on Google’s website is pretty subtle too. Those expecting jaw-dropping visual flashiness may be disappointed by this lack of bravado. Where you see the these live shadows most obviously is in the multi-tasking menu, which, as usual, is accessed using the right (square) soft key. Multi-tasking has gone 3D, folks, and each pane casts its own shadows. These are “design” shadows rather than realistic ones, mind you, and again are pretty diffuse. We like the look…

For the full Android 5.0 Lollipop Review, visited Trusted Reviews.

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Google Nexus 6 Hands-On

Google Nexus 9 Review

iPad Air 2 review

TIME Smartphones

Hands-On With Google’s New, Insanely Huge Nexus 6 Smartphone

Google Nexus 6 Google

Bigger might not mean better

This hands-on originally appeared on Trusted Reviews.

In recent years, Google’s Nexus smartphone line has become synonymous with high-end functionality and great value for money. The Nexus 6, however, is something of a curve ball, and a massive one at that.

It’s a phone brimmed with high-end components – a 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, QHD display – but one which has overlooked mass market appeal in favor of a phablet dwarfing 6-inch form factor. As the phone’s size has gone up, so too has its price. The handset will set you back $649 or $699 depending on your choice of internal storage – 32GB or 64GB.

Nexus 6: Design

There is no getting away from it, the Nexus 6 is huge. At 159.3mm tall, 83mm wide and 10.1mm thick it dwarfs flagship phones such as the Galaxy S5 and LG G3. Although it features an overall footprint not much larger than the iPhone 6 Plus or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, it doesn’t carry its size as well as either rival.

I found the phone to feel bulky and cumbersome from the start. Its considerable 184g weight is distributed well across the phone’s sizeable form, but unlike some overweight handsets, the Nexus 6 does little to hide its size. It’s wider than the 6 Plus, less graceful than the Note 4 and fatter than both — it’s an awkward, gangly teenager of a handset.

Visually, the Nexus 6 is basically an oversized Moto X. It’s not ugly phone, but it lacks the refined simplicity of the Nexus 5 and certainly can’t match the iPhone 6 Plus or Note 4. The two-tone colour scheme is easy on the eye and the metallic blue edges give the phone an air of elegance, but this is overshadowed by the phone’s cheap-looking – and feeling – plastic back.

Further highlighting the Nexus 6’s awkward design are the phone’s physical buttons – a power key and separate volume rocker. Both feel dwarfed by the handset’s overall size. They are well located in the centre of the phone’s right-hand edge, but are small and fiddly to operate.

Nexus 6: Screen

As with the phone’s overall look and feel, the Nexus 6’s screen fell slightly short of expectation on first use. While the handset’s 5.96-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel QHD panel is sufficiently sharp and detailed, it lacks the pop and vibrancy of either the Note 4 or 6 Plus.

Unusually for an AMOLED panel, I found the Nexus 6’s colour range to be a little subdued. Hues aren’t exactly muted but neither do they wow. This ran throughout all elements of the Nexus 6 from the new Material OS design to web pages and the image viewer.

Where visuals were slightly off, the screen’s touch capabilities and performance were on point. Screen transitions were smooth, swipe gestures fluid and all multi-finger commands handled with ease. Brightness levels are also hard to fault. The phone’s screen adjusted elegantly to bouts of direct sunlight and periods in a shadowy corner.

We’ll need more time with the Nexus 6 to judge the screen definitively, but it doesn’t wow as much as the raw size and resolution suggest…

For the full Google Nexus 6 Hands-On, please visit TrustedReviews.com.

See more from Trusted Reviews:

iPad Mini 3 review

iPad Air 2 review

Amazon Fire HD 6 review

TIME Gadgets

Everything You Need to Know About Google’s New Nexus 9 Tablet

Google Nexus 9 Google

How does Google's new flagship tablet stack up?

This review originally appeared on Trusted Reviews.

The Nexus 9 is Google’s new lead tablet, the first to launch with Android 5.0 Lollipop and the first of the Nexus troupe to use a 4:3 screen rather than a widescreen one.

People hoping for a tablet with which to replace their Nexus 7 may be slightly disappointed by the price, though. At $399, it’s not the market-defining bargain that the earlier Nexus was. Given the little issues here and there, it’s not as complete or coherent a device as the iPad Air 2. There’s a slight spark of magic missing that means it probably won’t go down in history as an all-time classic.

However, what’s commendable is the direction it demonstrates. 8-inch non-widescreen tablets like this will no longer be ‘non-canon’ third-party oddities, and that’s a very good thing. We don’t think it’ll take the Nexus 9 18 months to be topped for value, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is already a fairly compelling alternative. But for a larger device, the Nexus 9 offers up a solid ‘go-to’ standard.

Nexus 9: Design

The Nexus 9 sets itself up for criticism. Its style and shape are pretty similar to the iPad Air 2, a departure for the Nexus series. This in itself is a good move. Larger tablets feel a lot more natural when they adopt a less-widescreen aspect: both the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 are 16:10 ratio, whereas the Nexus 9 is 4:3.

However, the Nexus 9 doesn’t offer quite as impressive build quality as an iPad, and when the design similarities are so clear, it’s hard not to compare the two directly despite their differing platforms. You may bring up price difference ($100 more for the iPad Air 2), but also consider that the still-pretty-great first-gen iPad Air costs now exactly the same amount as the Nexus 9. To explain, let’s look a little closer at the Nexus 9’s hardware design.

Much like the Nexus 7, the Nexus 9 uses a plastic back cover, one that that’s firmly strapped into a metal frame that runs around the tablet. It’s a fairly innocuous design, and despite using a very mild soft-touch textured finish, it still feels conspicuously like plastic.

We’re also slightly disappointed with some of the finishing elements, given how much more expensive this tablet is compared to the Nexus 7. The plastic rear flexes at certain points, even producing a slightly disconcerting clicking noise towards the top of the tablet, and there’s a roughness to the metal frame as it pokes ever-so-slightly above the screen glass.

The volume keys too feel a little cheap, the action slightly misjudged and shallow, even if they are metal. This may be us simply grasping for explanations, but HTC’s relative inexperience may be to blame: it makes the Nexus 9 and hasn’t released a tablet since the 2011 HTC Flyer.

While we have no particular worries about the longevity of the Nexus 9 – it doesn’t feel poorly made, just not all that well finished – it seems like a bit of a middleweight contender for what is meant to be the standard-setting Android tablet flagship. We’ll see other elements that suffer from this sort of vibe later on.

It’s not just the iPad Air 2 the Nexus 9 needs to compete with, either. The Nexus 9 is 7.9mm thick and 425g (Wi-Fi), a load heftier than the 6.6mm thick, 294g Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 – the Samsung is smaller, but still a good size. The Nexus 9 is arguably just not leading the pack in the way it really should be.

However, cast away those comparisons and in real-life use the Nexus 9 is pretty good. The non-widescreen aspect is great, there’s just enough side bezel to rest your thumb on, and it’s very comfortable to use, especially if you have both hands spare or are sitting down.

Like the iPad Air 2, which is a somewhat-similar weight, you can use it one-handed for a while without discomfort, but it’s far off the feather-lightness of the 8.4-inch Samsung or the iPad Mini 2/3 (we recommend the former, by the way).

Just like the Nexus 7, the Nexus 9 leaves out a microSD card slot. There are 16GB and 32GB versions of the tablet, with a slightly disappointing $80 gap between the two. That’s even more than Apple charges: you get a bump up from the 16GB iPad Air 2 to the 64GB model for $100. Who’d have thought Google would charge even more than Apple’s often notoriously-pricey upgrades?

Step back a minute, and we can see the factors behind the Nexus 9’s failing to offer the market-defining package we’re after. It doesn’t offer class-leading value or class-leading design, and doesn’t have all the geek-friendly features that might excuse these two points.

The hardware spec list is relatively simple too. There’s no IR transmitter, for example – something found on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4. If this is all sounding terribly negative, you need to understand it in with context of the weight of expectation laid on the Nexus 9. It’s not just meant to be ‘an’ Android tablet, it’s meant to be ‘the’ Android tablet.

So far: good, not superb.

Google is also to offer a Nexus 9 folio keyboard case, which comes with solid keyboard action even if typing on it can feel a little cramped. It’s not cheap at $130, but bumps up the tablet’s potential as a portable productivity tool.

Nexus 9: Screen Quality

The Nexus 9 has an 8.9-inch screen. That’s a fair bit smaller than the 9.7-inch iPad Air, but it still feels much, much larger than the Nexus 7 – far closer to the iPad’s league.

What’s important to note here is the screen shape. A 4:3 aspect isn’t so hot for widescreen movies, but it’s great for just about everything else. Browsing, (most) gaming and a great many kinds of apps feel more at-home on this shape display.

Unlike an iPad, relatively few Android apps will have been made with this squatter screen shape in mind, but then most are created with a great deal of scaling versatility in mind: they have to cater for screen from three inches to 23 inches, or even more when you factor in things like Amazon Fire TV.

We love the shape, and while the extra portability of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is handy, a straw poll of the Trusted team sees most of us side with the squatter Nexus 9 style.

Thumbs-up for the screen style, but how are its tech chops?

The Nexus 9 has an 8.9-inch 2,048 x 1,536 pixel IPS LCD screen. That’s the same resolution as the iPad Air 2 crammed into a smaller space, getting you pixel density of 281ppi.

It’s enough to ensure you get nice, sharp images and text. Pixel peepers will be able to see a wee bit of jaggedness right up close, but if that’s an issue, get the higher-res Galaxy Tab S 8.4 or an iPad mini 3. Or, more to the point, get your priorities in order. There are issues with the Nexus 9’s screen, but a lack of resolution is not one of them.

The first thing you might want to worry about is black level. It’s decent, but only for an LCD screen. This wouldn’t have been an issue to raise until recently, but Samsung’s Tab S tablets offer reasonably priced, high-quality AMOLED screens that let you opt out of the insanely saturated colours that used to come as part of the OLED package. These screens offer much greater contrast. We think it’s only seriously worth worrying about if you’re going to watch films on the tablet in lower lighting.

Any lack of contrast or limit to the black level is a symptom of an IPS LCD screen, not a particular failing of the Nexus 9, though, and IPS comes with benefits too. Colours are excellent — vibrant without being remotely radioactive (as the Samsung Tab S tablets are in multiple display settings) and viewing angles are good.

There is the odd sign that this isn’t a real top-notch screen in QA terms, though. First there’s fairly significant backlight leakage at the top of the screen. This is basically where you can see the effect of the side-firing backlight LEDs, making one edge of the screen significantly brighter than the rest of the display. It’s a fairly common occurrence, but one that we’re disappointed to see so clearly in a tablet of this grade.

Our particular Nexus 9 sample also suffers from a spot of backlight bleed. This is where parts of the screen are lit-up slightly more than others, another form of backlight leakage. It is only very minor, though, and unlikely to be noticed unless you like staring at screens of dark greys and have — like us — acquired a certain degree of irritating tech pedantry.

Despite its issues, the Nexus 9 screen is certainly one we’d happily watch films on. Just make sure that backlight leakage isn’t going to get on your nerves too much.

Nexus 9: Speakers

The front stereo speakers are an obvious choice for movies too. Coming from the HTC design labs, they bear the same BoomSound branding as the HTC One M8 speakers. These speaker outlets sit at the extreme ends of the Nexus 9, just as the screen cover meets the metal band that rings around the tablet’s perimeter.

We were initially worried that these speakers might be a bit easy to block when holding the tablet, but they’re virtually immune to it actually. Clever internal design means you need to block the entire speaker port for it to have any detrimental effect on the sound, something that can’t be said for the speakers on the bottom of an iPad. Care-free stereo is a big win for a tablet, and is obviously great for games as well as films.

It’s just a pity, then, that sound quality isn’t quite as on-target. The Nexus 9 tries desperately to offer beefier-than-average sound, but it doesn’t really have the hardware to do this in style. As revealed in the Nexus 9 ifixit teardown, the tablet has fairly small driver units, and you can hear this effect. The output of the tablet is subject to fairly extreme compression and equalization in order to squeeze as much power out of the tiny little speakers as possible, but it results in rather forced sound that just isn’t particularly pleasant to listen to.

It’s warmer than the tablet norm, which is good. However, we can’t help but feel HTC could have done better. It’s no doubt a symptom of fitting the tablets into such a small front cavity, and potentially a cost issue too. There are much worse tablet speakers out there, but the Nexus 9 is outclassed by the iPad Air 2, which offers greater top volume and less processed sound.

Audio quality through wireless speakers and headphones is much better. The Nexus 9 supports aptX for higher-quality wireless streaming and the output from the headphone jack is excellent.

Nexus 9: Android 5.0 Lollipop Software

No matter how many unfavorable comparisons we may make to other Android and Apple devices, we can’t take away that the Nexus 9 is the first tablet to launch with Android 5.0 Lollipop.

It’s a major update, one that brings a whole new look and a bunch of behind-the-scenes features. However, anyone who has used an Android device in the past few years will find it terribly familiar, and a good deal of the added features have been seen before in custom Android interfaces.

This being a Google release, though, everything in the Nexus 9 is executed with an extra kick of class and cohesion that these custom Android interfaces generally lack. It also seems to want to add a bit of texture and depth to Android. The texture comes largely from the two rather lovely ‘torn’ paper default wallpapers, but there’s also a little bit more depth to some of the interface. Most of it is aesthetic – different animations here, some slightly clearer drop shadows there – but it works. Google calls the new look Material.

It also involves a tweaked colour scheme. Bold colours have been given a pastel inflection that provides the whole system a slightly more lifestyle-friendly look. Where the Android 4.4 KitKat look was bold and a little cartoony, the new look makes Android 5.0 easier to accept for those who might still consider Android a bit geeky next to Apple’s iOS devices.

But what’s actually new and, well, useful? There’s a bunch of alterations, but most are things we’ve seen before. For example, you can now check out your notifications very easily in the lock screen, and there are easier-access feature toggles in the notifications menu. You just drag down once more from the notifications screen to access them. It’s a great improvement for vanilla Android devices, but is nothing new in more general terms.

Cross-device support has been improved too. You can resume content between, say, an Android 5.0 phone and tablet, although this will naturally only apply to apps that have this support built in. Without a whole swathe of Android Lollipop devices to switch between, we have a little while to wait and see what this really feels like.

Other important elements of Android Lollipop live under the surface, and are things most people do not need to consider. For example, it’s the first version of Android to offer native support for 64-bit CPUs like the Nexus 9’s Nvidia Tegra K1. It also sees Android switch to the ART runtime from the DALVIK one, a measure designed to speed-up overall performance at the expensive of a little storage space. However, at present the difference is not really noticeable.

Nexus 9: Performance

The issue is that for all its power and its bleeding edge software, the Nexus 9’s performance is not impeccable. On occasion, elements that should scroll smoothly show a bit of judder and app load times are frequently a little longer than we’d like in such a new and important piece of hardware. We experiences a few jarring glitches too.

For all the pre-release promise of Android 5.0 Lollipop, it doesn’t have the immediacy of iOS 8 on a latest-generation iPad. Yet. We’re willing to chalk these minor niggles down to Lollipop being brand new and still a few tweak-heavy updates away from full speed. This is supported by the fact that we didn’t experience any of these issues on the Nvidia Shield Tablet that has similar innards.

The Nexus 9 uses the Nvidia Tegra K1 CPU, a dual-core CPU. The performance of just one of these cores isn’t far off the full capabilities of 2013 flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. It’s very powerful indeed. This is the second version of the K1, using a more advanced architecture than the A15-based version used in the Nvidia Shield Tablet.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark, it scores 3562 points total, and 2038 per core. That’s an extremely good score, besting the Snapdragon 805 version of the Galaxy Note 4. That’s better than the similarly priced iPad Air but a lot less than the iPad Air 2 scores.

It’s the GPU power of the Nexus 9’s Nvidia K1 that’s truly exciting, though. It uses the same 192-core GeForce Kepler GPU as the Nvidia Shield Tablet, and can benefit from some of the optimizations made for that model. Nvidia even got Half-Life 2 working for the tablet, although that’s not available for the Nexus 9 at present.

The big deal here is that it uses the Kepler architecture, the same used in some dedicated GeForce graphics cards. It’s designed for ‘proper games,’ as some gaming snobs might describe them. We’re already starting to see some of the benefits, such as in Dead Trigger 2, which offers snazzier water effects than with other devices.

However, how far will it go? Development for Kepler on mobile devices has been pushed along by Nvidia to date, but longer-term momentum has yet to be proved. It seems likely to be end up a game of lowest common denominator bingo, with the other players being Qualcomm’s 805 and successive chips. The future shows exciting promise, but is uncertain.

Nexus 9: Battery Life

The Nexus 9 has a 6700mAh battery, a good deal smaller than the 9000mAh one in the old Nexus 10, but smaller display size and improved efficiency means the Nexus 9 doesn’t need as many milliampere hours as that mostly-forgotten minor classic.

When playing a 720p MP4 video on loop with brightness at mid level, the Nexus 9 lasts for 11 hours 25 minutes. That’s an excellent result for an Android tablet, whose stamina rarely matches up to Apple’s tablets: this still doesn’t, but it’s close. The tablet comes with just a 1.5A charger, which is a little low-powered for a device with as chunky a battery as this. It takes more than four hours to charge – not terrible, but could be a bit better.

It’s battery stamina that matters more in our book, though, and here the Nexus 9 performs very well.

Nexus 9: Cameras

Shall we leave the best bit to last? No, of course not. The cameras are something of a weaker point of the Nexus 9. Hardware specs sound perfectly fine: it has an 8-megapixel rear camera with a flash, and a 1.6-megapixel front unit. For a tablet, that’s a perfectly respectable higher-end setup. But in person it’s nothing too impressive.

The Nexus 9’s autofocus is pretty remedial, being relatively slow to lock on, and with a clear back-and-forth motion that, while part of any contrast detect system, is more laborious and obvious than most. Image quality is not terrific either. Hand it an unchallenging scene and it’ll come up with decent result commensurate with the 8-megapixel resolution – colours will be fine too. But that’s not what being a good camera is about.

The Nexus 9 suffers quite badly from light bloom when there’s a strong source in or just outside the scene, and poor dynamic range tends to leave you with shots that are either a bit dull-looking or washed out and overexposed in parts. Unfortunately, there’s no HDR mode to help out. And predictably, lower-light photos aren’t too hot. Unlike some phone cameras, the Nexus 9 doesn’t radically brighten-up dark scenes to make what’s going on clearer. Unless you use the flash, you’ll end up with murky shots. Flashes can upset the look of shots a bit, but even having one is pretty great in a tablet – many don’t.

The Nexus 9 reportedly uses the same camera sensor as the HTC Desire 610, but as we saw with the Nexus 5, its implementation could do with some tweaks. However, for a tablet this sort of performance is perfectly passable.

Google has redesigned the camera app a bit for Android 5.0 Lollipop, but the core features remain pretty similar. You get Panorama, Photosphere (360 degree panorama), Lens Blur and video capture up to 1080p.

Anything Else to Consider?

The Nexus 9 comes in 4G and Wi-Fi varieties — we’ve been looking at the latter here. Getting mobile Internet costs you an extra $120, which isn’t too bad when Google asks you to pay $80 just for a measly 16GB of extra internal storage.

There’s one other hardware omission not talked about that often, too. In the push to get us all to use Chromecast, the Nexus 9 does not appear to support either MHL or SlimPort, used to transmit video over HDMI through a microUSB port.

Should I buy the Nexus 9?

The Nexus 9 is an important tablet for Google, for HTC and for Android in general. And it doesn’t manage to make quite the impact the Nexus 7 had in 2012, and in 2013 with its follow-up.

At a time when Apple is offering pretty compelling value with its legacy models, Samsung has significantly upped its game in the tablet field, and new players like Nvidia are bringing releasing tablets, the Nexus 9 doesn’t really set any new standards. And that’s a shame. However, it is a very good tablet in its own right, especially if you’re willing to forgive the little failings in its screen and other hardware elements.

We do think that the Nexus line needs a new lower-cost entry to recreate the vitality it had back in 2013 with the Nexus 7, though. While the Nexus line was perhaps never intended to be a paragon of value, a high-value, low-nonsense approach is what we’ve loved about the best Nexus devices. It’s something the Nexus 9 doesn’t quite have enough of.

Verdict

The Nexus 9 is a powerful, handy tablet that’s fun to use, but it feels a little more like a suggested starting point for other manufacturers than a device that’ll stick on our most wanted list for 18 months.

See more from Trusted Reviews:

iPad Mini 3 review

iPad Air 2 review

Amazon Fire HD 6 review

TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014

Samsung

Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted Reviews.com.

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Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

TIME Phones

These Are the 9 Best Android Phones of 2014

Samsung

Here's how to choose the best phone for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted Reviews.com.

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The “big four” high-end Android smartphones are the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 the Sony Xperia Z2 and the LG G3. But then there’s a whole host of cheaper, smaller and, in fact, bigger alternatives too, and they come from all manner of different manufacturers. It seems like everyone is making a Google-running phone these days, which makes the selection process even more of a headache.

If you are happy to spend big on a monthly contract or buy a high-end Android smartphone outright, then you’ve plenty of options and you‘ll get the hardware that pushes the operating system to its limits. Think lightning-fast quad-core processors, huge HD touchscreens and the kind of camera that means you can finally ditch the compact. Some of these handsets are even waterproof now.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can save yourself several hundred pounds and still get a great Android phone – one that is a more pocket-friendly size and runs on a slightly older version of Android. Crucially though, it will still let you play games, watch YouTube videos, check Facebook and browse the web.

The Android operating system has been praised for letting you truly customize your phone. It has for some time though lacked the polished, good looks of Apple’s iOS. Google has upped its game recently, though, and in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and more recently Android 4.4 KitKat we have the cleanest and most user-friendly version of the operating system since it was released back in 2008.

If you really don’t fancy owning an iPhone 5S or a Windows Phone 8 phone, then maybe it’s time to go Google. Hunting out the top rated high end and mid-range handsets, we’ve selected the 10 best Android phones to buy right now.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Originally reviewed by 27 September 2013

Best Big Android Phone

Key features:

  • 5.7-inch 1080p Full HD screen
  • 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash
  • Best stylus experience on a phone
  • 32GB of storage with microSD card support

The big phone that keeps on getting better, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is once again equipped with the excellent S-Pen stylus and is laden with features to make it a tech head’s dream.

Featuring a 5.7-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, the Note 3 is powered by a Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz CPU and has 32GB and 3GB of RAM to take care of multitasking. The key design change from the Note 2 is the leather-effect battery cover which is purely cosmetic. There’s a 13-megapixel main camera to shoot photos and 1080p video, putting it on par with the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The S Pen is once again the star of the show and has more apps to utilize its stylus powers. If you are after a big screen Android phone to get creative with, the Galaxy Note 3 is the best to go for.

Google Nexus 5

Originally reviewed by 04 November 2013

Best Google Experience Phone

Key features:

  • 5-inch full HD 1080p screen
  • 8-megapixel camera with decent low-light camera performance
  • Runs on Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Powerful enough to run apps smoothly

The Google Nexus 5 is the current Google-branded phone that replaced the Nexus 4. It’s cheaper SIM-free than all the other Android big hitters like the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. It’s an excellent performer overall, has a smart design and is undoubtedly one of the best Android phones you can buy, even if it is getting a little old now.

Designed by LG, the Nexus 5 is just 8.6mm thick and has a super-slim bezel making it far from a chunky affair. The screen is exceptionally sharp and viewing angles are perfect making it primed for movie-watching.

It runs on the latest Android 4.4 KitKat operating system and will always be the first to get the latest updates, while users of other Androids may have to wait months for the latest software to arrive.

It will give you around a day’s battery life, which isn’t quite up there with the best, and the camera doesn’t quite compete either but it still has everything to make it a high-end Android phone bargain.

For the rest of the list, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

 

 

TIME Video Games

The Only Guide to PS4 vs Xbox One You’ll Ever Need

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FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP/Getty Images

How to choose, how to choose... This is how

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at TrustedReviews.com.

By Larry Kim

Both the Xbox One and PS4 have been around for enough time to give us a solid grounding for the strengths and weaknesses of each. Whether you go for the people’s favourite, the PS4, or opt for the potentially more well-rounded Xbox will be decided on your preferences. The decision is not clear cut. To help you work out which console is right for you we’ve compared each aspect so you can safely decide between the PS4 or Xbox One.

As well as covering all the hardware angles we’ll also checking out the games that are already out and the games coming to the two consoles thanks to E3 2014.

Xbox One vs PS4 – Price and Release Date

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In a suprising, but honestly refreshing, turn of events Microsoft has made some major changes to the way it has been marketing the Xbox One. There were a few new things to note If you were looking to buy a PS4 or Xbox One a while back.

Most shocking of all is that the Kinect is no longer tied to the Xbox One – Microsoft has announced its plan to release a Kinect-free console for $399. That’s the same price as the PS4 without any games.

Whereas before the cost factor was a major issue when choosing between the two consoles, now they have reached parity.

Some of the restrictions that seemed to penalise Xbox One owners have also been restricted. You don’t have to purchase and Xbox Live Gold membership to access things like Netflix, which is a big bonus for those looking to make their console act as a home entertainment unit.

The Xbox One is now a lot more like the PS4. And in this case, that’s a good thing.

The Xbox One’s original ‘RRP’ was $499, where the PS4 has sold for $399 since it launched November.

However, we have already seen a bit of Xbox One price erosion, where most places still seem to sell the PS4 at its original price. Amazon currently sells the Xbox with Kinect for $499, just a little more than the proposed price of the console without Kinect. We’d probably take the Kinect for just $50.

Of course, most of you will likely want to buy a console along with a game, and that changes things significantly. Here are the current bundles you can order with the consoles:

bundles
Prices are based on what we could find from reputable retailers at the time of writing

Lots of the launch bundles are becoming scarce as they are replaced with newer games. The logic is pretty obvious – once a game’s price drops a few months after launch, it loses its bundle appeal.

The most up-to-date of the game bundles are the Titanfall Xbox One package and the Watch Dogs PS4 deal. Until recently the Xbox Titanfall package (which includes Kinect) was available for $499, but most of those deals have dried up.

SEE ALSO: Best Games of 2014 Round-up

Xbox One vs PS4 – Best Current and Future Games

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The most important factor with any game console is games. Forget graphical fidelity and looks, above all else, you should go with the console that has the games you want to play.

Many of this generation’s games will be available on both consoles which makes choosing between them that much trickier. This was true with the last generation too, but the Xbox One and PS4 make it easier than ever for developers to produce games cross-platform.

Let’s have a look at the top games that are already available, and those that are coming out for each console.

Best Future Xbox One Exclusives
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Halo 5: Guardians
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PS4 games 4What is it? Halo, naturally
Release date: 2015

At the moment we know very little about Halo 5: Guardians, aside from the name and that it’s coming to Xbox One next year. It’ll serve as the sequel to Halo 4, and be one of the leading Xbox One games for 2015.

The story is largely a mystery, but you can expect to see the same sort of fast first-person action seen in all the previous core Halo games. Are we excited? Yes. Do we need to know more about Halo 5? Definitely. We’ll be back with more details soon.

Halo: The Master Chief CollectionBlue line

Halo collectionWhat is it? Old Halo, made new
Release date: November 2014

As a way to bridge the gap between now and the release of Halo 5, we have Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It’s a pack of the four previous ‘core’ Halo games, all revved up for the Xbox One with 1080p, 60fps visuals.

The multiplayer has been reinstated too, including absolutely reams of maps from all four games. As part of the collection, you’ll get beta access to Halo 5: Guardians too, making it a must for Halo die-hards.

Forza Horizon 2Blue line

PS4 games 5What is it? Open-world racer
Release date: September 30 2014

The Forza series has split into two halves. There are the core Forza Motorsport titles and the rather less serious Horizon games, which have a free-roaming element.

Forza Horizon 2 takes place in Southern Europe, letting you roam in the area around a music festival, taking part in the usual dazzling array of races. This should prove to be a good visual showcase of what racers should look like on Xbox One, more so than the early Forza Motorsport 5.

Project SparkBlue line

PS4 games 6What is it? Game-creation tool
Release date: TBC

Project Spark is an intriguing game creation tool that will let you make full games, by the looks of it. Think of it as Xbox One’s alternative to Little Big Planet 3 and you won’t be too far off the mark.

It appears to let you make 3D adventures, 2D platformers, racers and puzzle games. But will it give you real scope? Will it be too difficult and time-consuming? Either way, we’re looking forward to finding out. While an Xbox One console exclusive, Project Spark will also be available on Windows 8.1.

Sunset OverdriveBlue line

PS4 games 8What is it? An OTT action game
Release date: TBC

People have been turned into mutants, thanks to an evil energy drink. The city is in chaos. And you are the hero who has to sort it all about.

Sunset Overdrive is a bit like Infamous, but with a sense of humour and a proper colour palette. This game could be bags of fun, especially if you’re after a game whose focus is pure fun, but that isn’t just aimed at kids.

Best Future PS4 Exclusives
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Little Big Planet 3
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PS4 gamesWhat is it? A platformer and game creation tool
Release Date: November 2014

Little Big Planet has become one of the defining series of the modern PlayStation era. And while it no longer attracts as much attention as something like Uncharted, it attracts kids and adults like almost nothing else.

It’s a cutesy platformer, but also a full game creation tool. You can really let your creativity rip with this Little Big Planet 3, and make games with no real knowledge of coding. To an extent it’s more of the same, and LBP3 is compatible with levels already in the LBP universe – of which there are more than 8.5 million

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s EndBlue line

PS4 games 1What is it? The PS4’s lead adventure title
Release Date: 2015

A Thief’s End is the first Uncharted game to come to PS4, and once again it’s a Nathan Drake Adventure. The Uncharted series offers some of the most cinematic experiences in gaming, and Uncharted 4 is no different.

It’s a “globe-trotting” adventure in which you’re looking to uncover a “historical conspiracy”. We don’t know a great deal about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Yet. But we expect great things. Sony says it’ll have more to tell us in the coming months.

BloodborneBlue line

PS4 games 2What is it? A game from the makers of Dark Souls
Release Date: 2015

We don’t know much about Bloodborne yet, but there’s a reason to be excited already – it comes from the man behind the Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls games – Hidetaka Miyazaki.

As you’d expect from the creator of those grim classics, Bloodborne is not a barrel of laughs. It’s about a virus transmitted through the blood, something that turns people and creatures into horrific things. And it is horror, rather than fantasy, that is the theme this time around. For many, this will be one of the most exciting games of the next 12 months.

The Order 1886Blue line

PS4 games 3What is it? Action-adventure set in London
Release Date: 20 February 2015

It’s not often we get to see games set in London that aren’t racing titles. The Order 1886 is set here, and it’s an action adventure where you play a knight who is part of an order tasked with taking down a horrible breed of werewolf-like creatures.

Expect bad English accents, lots of moody, foggy environments and loads of shooty action. It’s getting pretty positive previews at present, although as a new IP we’ll have to wait to see if this is the real deal.

Best Current Xbox One games
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PS4 and Xbox One games 8
Titanfall
Available: NOW

The most exciting early Xbox One console exclusive is Titanfall. It is a sci-fi shooter, and it’s not afraid to be grim and serious, with a darker tone than the cross-platform Destiny.

Unusually, there’s no single-player mode in Titanfall, but there will be single player-style story elements weaved into the action to give play more meaning than the average multiplayer blast-fest. It sold 700,000 copies in its first week, but some have criticised it saying it looks like a last-gen game.

9/10 – Read our Titanfall review

PS4 and Xbox One games 1
Dead Rising 3
Available: NOW

Like the previous Dead Rising games, Dead Rising 3 is a third-person action game set around a zombie invasion. Its world is much larger than that of the last two games, though, based in a city rather than a specific location within a city.

It’s not the best showcase for next-gen graphics and it doesn’t have quite the spark of inventiveness seen in the former games. But it’s a launch line-up highlight, and something a little different.

7/10
– Read the full Dead Rising 3 review

PS4 and Xbox One games 3
Forza Motorsport 5
Available: NOW

The game that marks the Xbox One as the racer’s favourite at present, Forza Motorsport 5 is a semi-serious racing game that looks and feels great. Match it with something like the Mad Catz Pro Racing wheel and you’ll be in heaven.

However, it’s not the ultimate racing game, lacking some of the structural brilliance of the last game in the series, Forza 4. Still, for now it’s the best next-gen racer if you don’t want a pure arcade experience.

8/10 – Read the full Forza 5 review


SEE ALSO: Best Xbox One Games

 

Best current PS4 games
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PS4 and Xbox One games 6
Killzone: Shadowfall
Available: NOW
The single notable ‘gamer’s game’ that the PS4 had over the Xbox One at launch was Killzone: Shadowfall. It’s a grim first-person shooter set in the future, and a pretty good way to see what your shiny new console is capable of, compared to the PS3.

It’s not a shooter you’re likely to have fond memories of for years to come, but it’s a good job the PS4 had it to rely on given how many of the console’s other games were pushed back into 2014.

7/10 – Read our full Killzone: Shadow Fall review

PS4 and Xbox One games 5
Infamous: Second Son
Available: NOW
Infamous is a superhero game that’s not tied to a superhero license, and that’s a good thing in this case. You’re not tied to a famous character’s intentions, letting you play the good guy, or the bad guy. And your actions dictate the sort of powers you develop.

In style, it’s similar to the previous Infamous games, giving you an ‘open world’ city in which you can wreak havoc. This is the first major 2014 PS4 exclusive, and it has us a good deal more excited than Killzone: Shadow Fall.

9/10 - Read our full InFamous: Second Son review

SEE ALSO: Best PS4 Games

Best cross-platform games
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PS4 and Xbox One games
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Available: Now

One of the most-anticipated recent games is Call of Duty: Ghosts. It’s a first-person shooter, just like the other games in the series.

If you don’t like the genre, or have been unimpressed with the previous CoD games, it’s unlikely you’ll get on with this one. However, for fans of the series it’s a treat. It’s just not a particularly inventive or dynamic entry in the Call of Duty line. The ‘ghosts’ of the title are a special band of US forces who have to combat a group of terrorists trying to use a galactic superweapon to try and take down the US. It’s also the first Call of Duty game to feature a dog as part of your squad.

7/10 – Read the full Call of Duty: Ghosts review

PS4 and Xbox One games 7
Need for Speed: Rivals
Available: Now

The Need for Speed series has some serious ups and downs, but we’re happy – and surprised – to report that Need for Speed: Rivals is a highlight. As with the other games in the series, it’s an arcade racer rather than one that tries to be in any way realistic.

Its world is open, and it blends multiplayer and single player modes into a single environment for a seamless feel. It’s bags of fun, and the game that ensured neither console was without a good racer at launch.

9/10 – Read the full Need for Speed: Rivals review

PS4 and Xbox One games 2
Destiny
Available: September 2014

Destiny is a ‘new IP’, a game not based on an existing series. People are still extremely excited about it, though, because it’s made by Bungie, the development studio behind the first Halo games.

It’s a science fiction shooter that merges multiplayer and single player play styles – something we’re likely to see an awful lot of this year. What’s getting us more excited, though, is that it looks fantastic and offers grand vistas to explore. This game will come to previous-generation consoles as well as the new guard.

Read more about Destiny

Games – Conclusions

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At present, the Xbox One has a slightly better game line-up, and in the near future it has more significant exclusives. However, the series that came to define console exclusives in the PS3/360 era will remain the same. So if Uncharted means way more to you than Halo ever will, think carefully before dismissing the PS4.

We’ll find out a lot more about the future games coming out for these consoles during E3, which takes place in June.

Further on this feature we’ll look into every bit of each console in depth, but if you want a quicker read, here are the top reasons to buy each console.

There’s a lot more to making this decision. For the rest, go to TrustedReviews.com.

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