TIME Smartphones

Review: The S6 Edge Is One Of Samsung’s Best-Looking Phones Ever

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But the two curved edges may not be worth the extra money

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

When I picked the S6 Edge up a few weeks ago at Samsung’s launch event in Barcelona I was divided by the smartphone with the two curved screen edges. This is one of the best looking phones Samsung has built and it’s something the Korean company should be truly proud of.

From a practicality point of view and knowing how expensive the S6 Edge is going to be, I remain unconvinced two curved edges is really worth the extra money you’ll have to pay over the Galaxy S6.

My initial reaction on the design hasn’t really changed. The Gorilla Glass 4 back marries well with the screen and doesn’t have any of the slippery issues I’ve encountered with Sony’s flagship. It’s slim at 7mm thick and weighs just 132g so it’s lighter than the S6 and just ever so slightly thicker than Samsung’s other flagship, but not enough for you to notice. The buttons are well positioned and easy to reach while the improved Touch-ID style fingerprint technology packed into the home button are all welcome changes.

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Did Samsung have to make such a radical change with the design? I’m not so sure. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy A5 has since proved that small changes can make the world of difference and I would have been happy with something in the mould of Samsung’s most recent phones.

It’s holding the handset where I take issue with the S6 Edge. Everyone will inevitably experience the initial awkwardness gripping the Edge, especially when we are so used to feeling the smooth metal trim of an iPhone or One M8. Unlike the Note Edge, the curved screen is now on both sides and is less prominent curving inwards into the body. It feels strange to hold and not as comfortable as the curved body on the LG G Flex 2, which sits more naturally in my hand. Some will inevitably grow accustomed to it, but I’m not the biggest fan.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs S6 Edge: What’s different?

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I have less of an issue with the decision to abandon a removable back and removable 2,800mAh battery to accommodate a sleeker, slimmer design but it’s the missing microSD card support that’s surprising. Samsung has decided to take the Apple approach by offering three storage options. However, there’s only a 64GB and 12GB models for the S6 Edge where the S6 has a cheaper 32GB option.

Something Samsung is really nailing is its smartphone screens. The Note 4 is one of the best phone screens I’ve seen and the S6 Edge builds on that with its 5.1-inch ‘2K’ QHD AMOLED screen. That sees a move from 1080p Full HD resolution to a 1,440 x 2,560 resolution with an impressive 577 PPI pixel density. It’s a gorgeous screen with great vibrancy, sharpness and delivers those deep blacks for movie watching. Compared to the HTC One M9’s screen, it’s certainly brighter and colors are more vivid. Both phone have great displays but the S6 Edge edges it for opting to include something more innovative. As a bonus, Samsung is also introducing a Gear VR headset that’s compatible with the S6 Edge and the S6, which should be launching some time this year.

Read more: Samsung Gear VR headset for S6 and S6 Edge hands-on

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Away from the main screen are those curved edges. This builds on the design featured on the Galaxy Note Edge only this time you can assign features to either edge. Samsung has pared back some of the modes featured on the Note Edge for a simpler integration with the operating system, but has kept elements like the Information Stream. I’ve gone into detail about the uses of the curved screen on the S6 Edge and while some of the uses are clearly very gimmicking and likely to be untouched by most, there’s some that do add nice touches. Like the Lighting and the People Edge modes which can be combined to uses different colors to indicate when assigned contacts are trying to get in touch. The night clock mode is handy as well but the swiping gesture required to view notifications and information streams is temperamental.

Samsung has made some positive changes to its software. The S6 Edge runs on the latest version of Android 5.0 Lollipop with TouchWiz on top and the bloatware has finally been stripped back. Kid Mode, S Health, S Voice, and S Planner are there as well as, oddly, a Microsoft Apps folder. You can still swipe all the way to the left for the Magazine UX, but that’s about it. Samsung is also adding its Samsung Pay platform powered by the acquisition of LoopPay. Most importantly, Samsung has listened and kept bloatware to a bare minimum. Finally.

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One of the big talking points with Samsung’s flagship phone launch is the decision to move from the Snapdragon-based processing power used on the S5 for the Korean company’s own custom built 64-bit Exynos octo-core chipset to sit alongside 3GB of RAM and a Mali-T760 GPU. The cores are not all utilized at the same time, but dedicated to different tasks to offer a more power-efficient performance. The big difference here with the Snapdragon 810 is the 14nm manufacturing process, compared to 20nm for the 810. In theory this makes the chip more efficient, though it bears closer inspection in real world use.

Read more: Octa core vs Quad core: What’s the difference?

General navigation is very positive. There’s no signs of lag, which is helped by the more streamlined TouchWiz UI and gaming holds up as well. Running the Geekbench 3 scores against the S5 and the One M9, you can get an idea of the kind of upgrade this is on last year’s flagship and how it compares to HTC’s flagship running on the new Snapdragon 810 chipset.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge benchmark scores
Geekbench 3 multi-core score: 4,152
Ice Storm Unlimited score: 21,829

Samsung Galaxy S5 benchmark scores
Geekbench 3 multi-core score: 3,029
Ice Storm Unlimited score: 19, 523

HTC One M9 benchmark scores
Geekbench 3 multi-core score: 3,800
Ice Storm Unlimited score: 21,625

Evolution of the  Galaxy S
SamsungEvolution of the Samsung Galaxy S

What the numbers suggest is that the S6 Edge is great deal more powerful than its predecessor and also comfortably outscores the One M9 at least in the multi-core benchmark tests. In the Ice Storm tests, which analyses graphical rendering and how well the phone copes when the CPU is overloaded, there’s not as much between them. Ultimately, the S6 Edge is a powerful phone and should be one and the decision to abandon Qualcomm might not be a bad decision after all.

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Moving to the camera and the S5 has arguably one of the best all-round cameras out of the 2014 flagships and the same can similarly be said of the Note 4, which inherited the same optical image stabilization. The S6 Edge matches the S6 for camera features with a 16-megapixel main camera and five-megapixel front-facing camera both with f/1.9 lenses to improve low light shooting. That’s aided by the inclusion of optical image stabilization and a new real-time HDR mode. For video, you can shoot at a maximum 4K resolution, but like the HTC One M9 and the LG G Flex 2, you can only shoot for five minutes at a time.

I’ve had some time to take a few sample shots up close and from a distance against the S5 in good lighting conditions to give you an idea of how it compares. As the images show below, there doesn’t appear to be a significant upgrade in image quality. You still get good levels of sharpness, vibrant, accurate colours and not too much noise. The real improvements should be more apparent in low-light shooting, which will be covered more extensively in the full review.

S5 vs S6 Edge: Close-up image samples

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S5 vs S6 Edge: Landscape image samples

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TrustedReviewsSamsung Galaxy S5 landscape sample
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TrustedReviewsSamsung Galaxy S6 Edge landscape sample

Read more: Where can I buy the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge?

Early Verdict

The S6 Edge is undeniably going to be the more memorable of Samsung’s two flagships. While one looks like an iPhone imitator, the other is trying to offer something radically different. The curved edged screen from a design and practicality perspective is still very unconvincing and I don’t think everyone will like how it feels to hold and use. Dropping micro SD card support is disappointing as well while I’m intrigued to see what the battery life is made of and hope it performs better than the One M9 in general day-to-day use.

What’s more concerning is the price of the S6 Edge. It’s going to be one of the most expensive phones on the market whether you buy it SIM-free or on a monthly contract. It’s going to be a hard sell justifying paying significantly more than it costs to buy an S6 or pretty much any other flagship phone currently available for a nicer-looking curved screen. Where the 32GB S6 cost $679.92 from T-Mobile, the 64GB S6 Edge costs a massive $779.76. If Samsung decides to introduce a 32GB model then it this could be the more desirable of the Samsung flagships, but right now, it’s going to be an expensive investment.

 

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

Read next: You’ll Be Freaked Out to Learn How Often Your Apps Share Your Location

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TIME Smartphones

Review: HTC One M9 Chooses Evolution Over Revolution

Front and rear views of the HTC One M9 smartphone.
HTC—AP Front and rear views of the HTC One M9 smartphone.

The HTC One M9 shows how far HTC has come in the last few years

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

What is the HTC One M9?

The HTC One M9 is a crucial phone for the Taiwanese manufacturer. The One M8 and original One were fantastic handsets, arguably better than their Samsung and Apple counterparts. The competition has caught up, though. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have sold by the bucket-load and Samsung appears to have put its flimsy-design woes to rest with the glass and metal Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

How does the One M9 compare? HTC has opted for evolution rather than revolution this time. The design closely resembles its last phone and the screen is almost the same. A new camera, processor and larger battery provide the bulk of the hardware changes, while HTC’s version of Android has had a facelift with Sense 7.

This all leads to a great phone that still has some areas of improvement. The rear camera doesn’t live up to its promise, and neither does the One M9’s battery life. And that really is surprising.

However, this is still one of the best phones you can get and it just goes to show how far HTC has come in the last few years that we hold its products to such lofty standards.

Watch the HTC One M9 hands on video:

Related: HTC On M9 Tips, Tricks and Secrets

HTC One M9: Design

Think about the HTC One M9 like an S version of an iPhone. It shares the same basic design and screen as the One M8, but some minor tweaks differentiate it from last year’s model.

The first, and most evident, is the new two-tone design. Where the back of the previous One curved round to the screen, the M9 has a ridge that connects the front to the back. It looks as if the front of the phone has been shoehorned into the rear, the benefit being that HTC has managed to remove the thin plastic edge between the screen and frame.

It’s a fussier design and one that’s highlighted by the fact that the front metal is a goldish-silver (in this case), while the edge is gold. Turn the phone around and it changes again to – this time to a more traditional silver finish. Not all colors are as glitzy. The gunmetal grey version is dark and broody instead.

Related: HTC One M9 vs HTC One M8

Do any of these changes make it better? Not in our opinion. The HTC One M8 has a classier air about it – it’s like comparing an understated Breitling to a gold Rolex. Both are well-made, but which one you’d grace on your wrist depends entirely on your taste.

This is a little harsh on the M9. It’s a good-looking phone, full of slick design touches and craftsmanship – a word HTC keeps using, and with good reason – but we like the M8 more.

The one upside to the ridge is it makes the M9 easier to grip – it’s less slippery than the M8 and other curved phones like the iPhone 6. It’s easier to hold one-handed, too, though it’s a smidgen less comfortable to hold.

Related: 17 Best Smartphones and Mobile Phones

In every other respect the design of the HTC One M9 is a triumph. This isn’t a thin phone, but neither does it feel porky – it’s 0.2mm thicker than the M8, but almost 1mm narrower. The back curves into your hand and the metal feels solid – more so than the previous model even though it’s a few grams lighter at 157g. That weight gives it a good heft – the One M9 is well balanced, if a little bottom heavy. It feels like you’re holding a quality phone, not a toddler’s toy. We like that.

One major new design improvement is the feel and location of the volume and power buttons. Previously plastic and along the top, the power button was a struggle to reach. It’s now in a far more sensible position, on the right hand edge, just below the volume buttons. It’s also been upgraded to metal and comes with a light etch so you can tell the difference between it and the volume buttons. These have had a tweak too. The buttons are a mite firmer and feel that bit better to press.

Related: 10 Best Android Phones and Smartphones

This is a tall and narrow phone so the new button position means it’s easy to reach with your thumb, if you’re using it right handed, or with your left hand’s index or middle finger. What’s still an issue is reaching the top of the screen.

It’s a real stretch to get your thumb to the browser back button or search box. Apple has gone some way to solving the issues that come with handling a large phone by dropping the screen with a double-tap on Touch ID. Samsung has as well, to a lesser extent, with one-handed mode. HTC hasn’t addressed the problem at all. If you’ve got average or small hands, you will need to juggle the phone to reach certain areas of the screen when you’re using it one-handed.

In most other respects the HTC One M9 is what you’d expect from a flagship phone. The microUSB and 3.5mm headphone jack are at the bottom, while there’s a pair of fine grilles at the front which house the new BoomSound speakers – we’ll cover those in more detail later.

Almost the whole top edge is covered with translucent black plastic. This is there to accommodate the infrared blaster that lets you use the M9 as a TV or home cinema remote.

Related: The Best Android Apps

The only other difference between the One M9 and last year’s phone is on the back. Rather than a round camera that sits flush to the body the M9 has a square one that’s slightly raised. Rounded edges ensure the phone doesn’t snag when you’re sliding it into a tight pocket.

All in all the design changes HTC has made to the M9 are positive. The ergonomics have improved thanks to the new power button and narrower body, but some of the aesthetic alterations are less of a success. HTC could have left well enough alone, but there’s no denying that the HTC One M9 is dashingly handsome.

The M9 is available in three colors at launch: Gunmetal Grey, Gold on Silver, and Gold on Gold. Read on to find out about the HTC One M9’s screen.

For the rest, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

TIME Reviews

The New MacBook Is Perfect for the iPad Generation

The new MacBook is the hybrid iPad that Apple will never make

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

First you’re in awe of how thin and light it is. Then you’re amazed that it’s totally fanless. Next you’re floored by its beautiful screen. You’re intrigued by its innovative Force Touch trackpad; envious of its flawless design; impressed that it’ll still last nine to ten hours on a full charge.

But then you start to think about the practicalities of Apple’s new MacBook, announced Monday. It doesn’t have a normal USB port. There isn’t even a microSD slot, let alone a proper SD card slot like almost every other laptop on the planet. If I wanted an iPad, I’d buy an iPad. In fact, I already own one! What am I supposed to do with this?

 Apple Inc. began showing off features and applications for its first new device in five years, a smartwatch designed to put information on peoples' wrists and break open the fledgling market for wearable technology
David Paul Morris—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LPThe new gold edition Macbook laptop is displayed during the Apple Inc. Spring Forward event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, March 9, 2015.

And there’s the key point. The new MacBook will replace the iPad for some people. Indeed, when you look at it closely, it has as much in common with an iPad as it does a laptop.

It has a Retina screen like an iPad. It has a single connection for power and video out like an iPad. Its only other connection is a headphone jack just like an iPad. Here’s a great stat for you: the new MacBook is only 0.1mm thicker than the original iPad! Yes, seriously.

Now let’s flip that around – what similarities does the new MacBook have with a typical laptop? It looks like a laptop. It has a keyboard like a laptop. It runs a laptop operating system and, well, that’s all I have. By my count, that’s a draw.

That’s why I think the new MacBook is, in effect, an iPad-MacBook hybrid. It’s just not a hybrid in the way the Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid. It combines the spirit of the iPad and MacBook into one, not their incompatible designs. It is, in other words, the perfect laptop for the iPad generation.

Some of you are probably thinking I’ve drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, that I’m a rabid Apple fanboy and my opinion isn’t worth jack. I urge patience. It’s true that all the things that make the new MacBook wrong for me (and you) are deeply annoying. Just try and remember that there’s a large body of people out there for whom none of those things matter.

Let’s start with that SD card slot business. Have you seen camera sales recently? Every month the good folks at Gfk UK send me a report that shows the sales trends across various markets. I can’t remember the last time the photography market wasn’t 20% to 30% down year on year. That 20% to 30% are the people for whom a phone is the only camera they need, and whose photos sync wirelessly as they go.

Next, let’s talk USB. USB is great and this new USB Type-C connection is a special thing – I recommend you read Edward Chester’s guide to USB Type-C when you get a spare moment. But even I don’t need USB ports that often – I most often use them to access press kits I’m given on a flash drive.

For many people, a USB flash drive is a quaint tradition, though. They also don’t use printers, or at least use them wirelessly. They don’t have external hard drives. For the once in a blue moon that they’ll need a USB port, Apple will sell an adapter that includes video and USB connections. It’ll sit in a drawer for most of its life, I’ll wager. It’ll probably cost $70 or so, but does that matter when you’re buying a $1299 laptop? It’s a bit like agonizing over spending pocket change on a mobile app.

It’s a similar story for video out. I bought a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable when I bought my MacBook Air back in oh, 2011/12. I still haven’t used it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I just don’t need to plug my MacBook into screens anymore. Ordinary users need to do so even less than I do.

And this is why the new MacBook is Apple’s hybrid. Anyone who’s ever bought a keyboard for their iPad is looking at the new MacBook very hard right now. If you can live with an iPad paired with a keyboard, you can live with a proper laptop with iPad-like restrictions.

Moreover, so much of the software on Macs is now just like it is on iPads – the new Photos app, currently in public beta, is a near carbon copy of the iPad version. It’s increasingly true across the whole operating system, and that integration and homogenization is only going to increase.

Related: Intel Core M: How it makes the new MacBook possible

So, when a friend or relative expresses an interest in buying the new MacBook, remember that the things you care about probably don’t matter to them anymore. They’re a member of the iPad generation. They are, to use Steve Jobs’ brilliantly ambiguous term, “Post-PC”. And, for them, the new MacBook is everything they need in a laptop.

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

Read next: Hands-On With Apple’s Stunning New Gold Laptop

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TIME Gadgets

The Pebble Time Smartwatch Is a Massive Leap Forward

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Pebble Pebble Time

Hands-on with Pebble's new color smartwatch

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

Sitting in the TrustedReviews office, I stared in amazement at the Kickstarter page for the Pebble Time as it rapidly soared past its funding goal in a matter of minutes. Now I’ve got to play with the Time, I understand why there was all that excitement – it’s a massive leap forward from the original Pebble smartwatch.

Watch our Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel hands-on video

SEE ALSO: Pebble Time Steel hands-on

The big change is the more streamlined design, which actually reminds me a little of Swatch watches. It’s smaller and more elegant than the first Pebble and the more neutral look means it’s truly unisex. It’s also waterproof to 5ATM, so you take it in the shower and even go swimming with it.

It’s light as well. I strapped one around my wrist and it’s neither as cumbersome nor chunky as most Android Wear watches I’ve tried. It’s not really a watch you’d imagine someone sitting in a business meeting with, though. The plastic body gives it a more playful look, but Pebble now has the Pebble Time Steel to cover the more serious watch-wearing demographic.

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The 22mm silicone straps are surprisingly comfortable and use a new quick-release strap, so you can use other similarly sized straps to mix the looks up. At the moment, there’s not a massive amount of color options for the straps and watch bezels at launch. There’s red, white and black, but I did get to see one with a purple strap, so this may expand.

For a battery top-up, you still need a charger that magnetically connects to the left of the watch. No change there.

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Pebble has made the rather radical move, though, to swap its trademark monochrome display for a color one. Crucially it’s stuck with the same E Ink technology, so you still get good visibility and less drain on the same 5-7 days of battery life offered by the original and the Pebble Steel. I moved through the interface using the buttons on the side of the screen and had no problem viewing the screen. The true test will be taking it outside in the sunshine though.

The last big physical change lies around the back. When Pebble launched its latest Kickstarter campaign, it made some vague reference to connecting sensors to the back of the watch to add extra functionality. Now it’s confirmed that it will support smart straps, which can connect to what looks like charging pins to add heart-rate sensors or even support for NFC payments. Pebble’s opening the platform to developers, so it will be interesting to see whether there’s an appetite to make these smart straps and what interesting uses third-party companies will come up with.

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Before the Pebble Time was announced, Pebble’s CEO Eric Migicovsky spoke about the dramatic overhaul of the software. According to Pebble, user feedback suggested people were complaining of a constant stream of notifications, so now it’s come up with something that reduces that overload and only gives users information they need at that exact moment.

It sounds a lot like Android Wear and it works in a similar way. You still have all the smartphone companion features as normal, but now you’ll also be able to see what’s coming up in your day, whether that’s meetings or events. Unlike when you dismiss notifications in Android Wear, you can go back 24 hours on the Pebble, in case you missed an email from the previous day.

Pebble is also adding voice support, but it’ll only be used for recording voice memos and offering quick responses to texts or leaving a message when you’ve rejected a call.

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Early Verdict

If you compare the Pebble Time to the original Pebble, it’s like night and day. It’s better looking, it now has a colour screen and the new smart strap feature has the potential to make this the most versatile smartwatch around.

I’m beginning to see why Pebble has been able to fight off Android Wear and other rival platforms, because it’s listening to what its users want. And I think those loyal users are going to be very happy with what the second-generation Pebble has to offer.

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

TIME Smartphones

The Galaxy S6 Is Samsung’s Best-Looking Smartphone Yet

Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S6 was announced Sunday amid trouble for the company’s smartphone division. The Galaxy S5 didn’t sell as well as expected, and competition from HTC and Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi and OnePlus has also had an impact on sales. To rub salt in the wound, Apple has gone from strength to strength since the release of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Samsung went to great pains during its Mobile World Press press conference in Barcelona, Spain to convince the world the Galaxy S6 is better than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A reference to Apple’s possibly overstated troubles with bending iPhone 6 Plus units and side-by-side comparisons of photos taken with the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy S6 were heavy-handed examples of Samsung’s efforts here.

So the Galaxy S6 is Samsung’s great white hope – well, it comes in “Gold Platinum,” “Black Sapphire” and “Green Emerald” as well. And this time around, Samsung has changed its approach. Instead of packing every feature under the sun onto its flagship smartphone, Samsung has focused on design and desirability.

That’s not a totally unexpected move. Both last year’s metal-framed Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Alpha hinted at things to come. There’s no denying it — the Galaxy S6 is a good looking phone, far nicer to hold and look at than any of its predecessors, although it feels a little too light. It looks like a cross between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 4 – two design classics, but it doesn’t quite have the right heft and feel. It’s undoubtedly made of high-quality materials, but like previous Galaxy phones it doesn’t exude class when you hold it.

Samsung has realized that people want more than a functional phone: They want a desirable one, too. But has it gone too far? The S6 is handsome. A smooth metal frame is sandwiched between two pieces of the latest and toughest Gorilla Glass 4. The back is surprisingly grippy for glass, but it’s also a magnet for fingerprints. Every use required a wipe to remove the fingerprints while we were filming. That’s not something you want to see on such an expensive handset.

With the Galaxy S6, plenty has been sacrificed in the name of design. Gone is the removable back cover and with it the replaceable battery. That won’t be missed by too many. What will be missed is the microSD slot. This is one differentiating feature that Samsung fans had to lord over iPhone owners, but no longer. Instead, the Galaxy S6 comes in three storage variants: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

There’s a lot more to talk about than the design. A brand new camera has been fitted to the back that packs 16 megapixels and optical image stabilization – a feature that helps you get better shots in the dark. Selfie-lovers are well catered-for too, with a five-megapixel front-facing camera.

The front camera has larger pixels, like the HTC One M9, and we were pleased by the test shots we took. Less convincing was the rear camera that protrudes significantly from the rear of the phone. The image quality of our shots was a little blurry – on first impressions the HTC One M9 may well have the better camera.

We haven’t had a chance to fully test the capabilities of the Galaxy S6 yet, but early signs are promising. A brand new eight-core processor manufactured by Samsung powers the S6, helping it zip through menus and opens apps instantaneously. It’s probably quicker in benchmark tests than Apple’s iPhone 6, and perhaps quicker than its other great rival announced just hours before – The HTC One M9.

(Read more: The HTC One M9 Could Be One of the Best All-Around Phones of the Year)

It’s efficient, too. Samsung claims the S6’s guts are 30% more efficient than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor on the Galaxy Note 4. Combine that with quick charge technology — Samsung says the S6 will fully charge in half the time it takes the iPhone 6 to do the same — and wireless charging, and the S6 should last a while and be easy to charge on the go.

One area that makes the Galaxy S6 stand out is its glorious screen. With a pixel-packing 2K resolution, it’s far sharper than the iPhone 6 or HTC One M9. Is all that sharpness necessary? Arguably not. But both its competitors are plenty sharp. Where the S6 really pulls ahead is with dark scenes and colors. These look fantastic on the S6’s 5.1-inch AMOLED screen – far better than the LCD screens on the One M9 and iPhone.

The fingerprint scanner is now a match for Apple’s Touch ID, too. On the Galaxy S5, it was a clunky affair that only worked with precise swipes. Now simply resting your thumb on the home button springs the S6 to life. We didn’t get a chance to see quite how well it works for ourselves, though.

The Galaxy S6 also packs Samsung Pay, a variant on Apple Pay that looks like a winner. It allows payment through the magnetic strip used in older card readers, so doesn’t just rely on Near-Field Communication (NFC) like the iPhone and Apple Watch.

And now to an area that has traditionally held Samsung back: TouchWiz. TouchWiz is Samsung’s interface – a layer that goes over Android (5.0 Lollipop, in this case) to make Samsung phones look and feel unique. It’s not bad, but it’s never been as slick as Apple’s iOS operating system or HTC’s Sense layer.

Samsung has rebuilt TouchWiz from the ground up, attempting to make it a better all-around experience. Has it succeeded? It looks a lot better. Once again, Samsung has emulated Apple, so icons have become text buttons. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of use, we got a faint indication of the annoying momentary lag we’ve experienced with TouchWiz on previous Galaxy phones. It’s too early to reserve judgment now, though.

Has Samsung done enough with the Galaxy S6? That’s the big question. It may have gone too far in its attempt to emulate Apple, and could alienate the very fans that bought a Galaxy phone for the sheer amount of features they provide. The behemoth Samsung marketing machine will go into overdrive to ensure the S6’s success, and on first impressions there’s no reason it shouldn’t do well. This is a good-looking phone that packs top-notch specs.

Finally, Samsung also announced a Galaxy S6 Edge variant at Sunday’s event. The Edge packs the S6’s features into a phone with a screen that curves around the edges. It’s pretty, but the side screens aren’t as useful as they are on Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge. It’s a little difficult to hold a phone with narrow sides, and the extra functionality the edges provide here – notifications when the phone screen is off and quick access to up to five contacts – feel like a solution waiting for a problem. Add a few hundred dollars to the cost and there’s no reason to opt for the Edge over the S6, unless you really want to be different.

 Galaxy S6 Edge
SamsungSamsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Both devices will be released in the U.S. and 25 other areas on April 10. Pricing has not yet been confirmed, although rumors suggest the S6 Edge will cost significantly more than the S6.

For Trusted Reviews’ full hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S6, visit Trusted Reviews.

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TIME Smartphones

The HTC One M9 Could Be One of the Best All-Around Phones of the Year

But it isn't a radical upgrade from the HTC One M8

HTC announced its new flagship Android smartphone, the HTC One M9, at the annual Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Spain on Sunday.

You might think it’s boring — the HTC One M9 doesn’t do things radically differently to its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. This could be one of the best all-around phones of 2015.

If you’re not aware of the One range, think of it as Android’s equivalent to the iPhone. Made of metal and sporting design aesthetics that Apple would be proud of, the HTC One M9 looks almost identical to its predecessor, the HTC One M8.

That previous HTC flagship phone had a few drawbacks, though. The most glaring was the rear Duo camera that felt like a bit of a gimmick. It just didn’t provide the level of performance HTC promised, especially when compared to Samsung, LG or Apple’s finest. That aside, it was a solid phone, with a great 5-inch screen, ergonomic design and outstanding battery life.

HTC has kept everything that was good about the One M8, improved the Boomsound speakers to provide a surround sound-like effect, and fixed the rear camera. It’s not a revolutionary handset, but the hour or so we had with it left us with a very good impression indeed.

What’s new

The HTC One M9’s rear camera now has a more traditional 20-megapixel sensor, which should provide much more detail than the previous 4-megapixel “Ultrapixel” camera, which sacrificed the sheer number of pixels in favor of making each pixel larger to capture better shots in low light. HTC hasn’t given up on that idea entirely — the Ultrapixel camera has shifted to the front of the phone, perfect for party selfies in dark bars and clubs.

The One Gallery app now pulls together all the photos you have from Facebook, old phones, Flickr and more into, unsurprisingly, one gallery on your phone.

The M9 packs a Snapdragon 810 processor, one of the fastest mobile processors we’ve ever tested. This is a high-performance phone. The experience was butter smooth when flicking through menus, and quick when opening apps. The model I had in my hands was a pre-production sample, though, so there’s plenty of testing to be done before we know exactly how well it performs. Suffice to say, just like the best phones on the market right now, it will be plenty fast for the majority of people.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the HTC One M9 is its operating system. Its foundation is the latest version of Android – 5.0 Lollipop – but it’s been heavily customized with what HTC calls Sense UI (user interface). More often than not, the UI skins that manufacturers place on phones are more hassle than they’re worth. Not so with Sense. It looks smart, it’s easily customizable and, crucially, provides a smooth and coherent experience.

The M9’s Sense 7 is HTC’s latest version of the software. It comes with Blinkfeed, a service that aggregates all your news and social media updates in one place. That’s been around for a while. What’s new is Themes, an app that customizes the look and feel of the M9 from the lock screen all the way to the fonts. Have a favorite picture? Themes can examine it, pick the colours, and design a phone UI to match – all in just a few seconds. It worked really well in our tests.

A feature that might prove more irritating than useful is Sense Home. This adapts your homescreen to an experience that’s tailored to your location. Want to use the HTC One M9 as an IR remote to control your home theater setup? The app will pop up as soon as you walk through your front door. We’ll have to wait and see to find out if this is more confusing than helpful. Thankfully, you’ll be able to permanently pin your most important apps where you want them so they won’t move around.

Early verdict

It’s easy to like the HTC One M9 right off the bat. It does what a good phone needs to do, and with aplomb. If you want to be critical, you might say that HTC has played it safe. But that’s no bad thing – “innovative” features are often of questionable value. Innovative or not, the One M9 could be the best all-around phone we’ve ever seen.

Will it be enough to tempt Apple fans away from their beloved iPhones or damage the prospects of the Samsung Galaxy S6, also about to be revealed at Mobile World Congress? We’ll need to test it further to figure that out.

The HTC One M9 will be available in the U.S. on all major carriers in early Spring. HTC will sell an unlocked version directly through its website.

For Trusted Reviews’ full hands-on with the HTC One M9, visit Trusted Reviews.

TIME Gadgets

You’ll Be Able to Get Your Cheap Apple Watch Gold-Plated

Apple watch is displayed in a shop in Paris, France.
Loic Venance—Getty Images Apple watch is displayed in a shop in Paris, France.

Here's how you can avoid paying for the gold Apple Watch Edition

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

Several companies have revealed to us that they will be offering gold-plating services for the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch.

One such company is Goldgenie, a UK-based company that already offers paid-for gilding of Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed to TrustedReviews that it would be offering that very same service for both the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. This will result in a cheaper mark-up than the expected Apple Watch Edition pricing.

We will be offering a gold-plating service for the standard Apple Watch, and can offer finishes in rose gold, platinum, as well as 24-karat gold,” the source explained. “The service will cost approximately £1,250, ex. VAT.”

While prices won’t be confirmed until the launch, the spokesperson said the rose gold version was likely to cost £1,300, and £1,350 for the platinum version, not including the cost of the actual device.

Just last week, we saw estimates that put the actual price of 18-karat gold on the Apple Watch Edition at a raw value of around $900 (£585).

Apple, meanwhile, is expected to retail its Apple Watch Edition at anywhere between $5,000 (£3,250) and $10,000 (£6,500) – that’s over five to ten times the raw gold value.

If third-party companies are going to take a $349 (£225) Apple Watch Sport, and then gild it with £585 of raw gold, they will be able to undercut Apple pricing while still achieving huge profit margins.

Goldgenie also says that its technicians will use at least 5 microns of 24-karat gold for the plating, which it says is ‘significantly higher’ than the average 2-3 micron thickness of most gold-plated products. The actual value of raw gold in the process is still unclear.

Another company offering a similar gold-plating service is the UK-based Gold Status.


We spoke to the company’s director Luke Paul Waterhouse, who admitted that while Gold Status wasn’t currently planning to offer Apple Watch gilding, he would consider it if there was enough consumer interest.

“If we got a lot of enquiries, we may decide to customise the Apple Watch,” Waterhouse explained. “We would customise the aluminium versions only.”

Unfortunately, Waterhouse wasn’t able to tell us how much the company would charge for such a service.

“We couldn’t estimate a price at this time as we do not have an Apple Watch to take apart and trial.”

It’s not yet clear whether Apple would have any legal recourse against companies looking to woo potential Apple Watch Edition customers with gilding services.

We’ve asked Apple for comment, and we’ll update this article if we receive a response.

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

TIME Smartphones

Review: Lollipop Makes Your Android Phone Way More Beautiful

Google Google Nexus 6

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:

 

Trusted ReviewsAndroid Lollipop Home Screens

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.

Trusted ReviewsAndroid Lollipop Soft Keys

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.

See more from Trusted Reviews:

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 Google Nexus 6

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 Google Nexus 9

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

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