Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Lg Stylo 5 form factor: good and bad

I like how big the screen is. No question, it looks great.  The borders and bezzles are reasonably slim, too. But the phone is so big, and pretty heavy too. I actually have found myself gravitating back to my Stylo 3 because it's so much lighter and fits in my hand better.

 It's definitely not a one-handed phone. Even when using both hands I find it more comfortable to cradle it in both hands, like a book. For typing this is a very ergonomic approach. And the keyboard is so wide that two thumb typing is a pleasure. In fact I'm using it now to write this and while it's nowhere near as fast as a desktop keyboard it's the first time I've found soft-key typing to be pleasant. No reason to dig out the stylus. Just tap away with your thumbs.

What's much less ergonomic is holding the phone with one hand and navigating apps/the web with the other. The weight, width, and depth just don't combine pleasently in my average-sized hands. Mostly, it's that the phone is so deep (thick) and the edges are close to square. Combined with the weight, the result cramps my hand. This is the largest phone I've used so I can't make good comparisons, but I know the Stylo 3 was just fine.

I'm also really disappointed about the stylus slot in the 5.  Unless you have unusually large nails it's lodged too deep in the phone to remove. I find myself just not using it at all. I didn't pull the stylus out of the 3 all the time but I did use it (it was really nice for some games and for drawing). It's just not worth the trouble on the 5. Partly because the screen is so large. UI widgets and virtual keys are so large you just don't need it.

The speaker volume is good, and the sound is clear enough. I'm glad it's bottom firing, as opposed to on the back - you can set the phone down and not muffle it any.

Lg Stylo 5 sample photos

Pretty good details in this high contrast outdoor shot.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

LG Stylo 5 vs the Stylo 3: a quick review after 1 full week of use

I've had a Stylo 5 for a full week. It's natural to compare it to my Stylo 3, which I've had for over a year. My Stylo 3 has been a better phone than it deserved to be for the price ($50), and I've only grown more fond of it over time. If it were just a bit faster and had a decent camera I'd be happy to use it as my primary phone. 

Enter the Stylo 5, which on paper is both those things. (I skipped the Stylo 4 because it was too expensive for most of its life for what it offered). What follows are my hands-on experiences with the 5. All numbers are self-measured, using calipers or other fine instruments. Lots of websites publish inaccurate measurements. These are at least accurate to the sample I own!

So what's it like? Lots has changed, not all of it good. The screen is much taller (142mm vs 126mm).  Part of that is smaller bezels, but also the phone itself is slightly taller (161 vs 155mm). The screen is the same width in both cases: 70mm (the 5's body is 79mm wide and the 3 is 80mm). A little taller doesn't count for much, but the phone is also noticeably thicker (9mm vs 7.9mm). That doesn't sound like a lot but it feels like it. Perhaps the 3 has a more gently rounded back cover? Whatever. In your hand the 5 feels much thicker. Finally, weight. The 5 is much heavier: 180g, vs the 3 at only 149g. This I also really feel. Combined, the weight and thickness of the 5 really makes the "hand-feel" much less nice than the 3. I actually can feel my hand getting tired holding it for extended periods of time. Sorry, I guess I'm just a weakling. Maybe with time I'll grow used to it, but this is definitely the most disappointing aspect of the 5.

Let's counter that with the most impressive aspect: the screen. It's super high res, at 1080x2160, vs 1280 x 720 for the Stylo 3. That makes a difference you can definitely see in terms of sharpness. While a flagship might be even sharper, the returns are surely diminishing.  It's also plenty bright and colorful.

Performance is great. Websites load quickly and scroll smoothly. We have finally reached the age where a budget chipset is more than enough. That said developers at Google and elsewhere are always hard at work adding bloat. Luckily, the Stylo range never gets OS updates so you'll never have to experience added bloat. But you say, who cares about how it "feels". What about cold hard benchmarks? The Stylo 5 gets a geekbench score of 753 (single), 3789 (multi) when plugged in. My Stylo 3 gets 649/1815. I'd say the multi-core score is more reflective of the actual experience.

Storage. The Stylo comes with 32gb of storage. Sounds like a lot but after uninstalling what Boost bloat you can, only 14gb are available for you. In fact Boost isn't adding that much - the OS takes up a full 16gb. Thanks, Google. It's sad to think how much baggage the Android OS drags around now. Overdeveloped. That's Android. So much has changed since KitKat, and so little of it for any good reason.

Not that 14gb is so little space to play with. Certainly enough for your apps. And there is a SD card slot, so while the wastefulness of Android is offensive, in practice just spend $10 on a SD card for your music and photos, etc.

So that's my 1 week review. I'll post another more fully developed review in another week or so.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bubble Counter floats above other apps

This app makes it easy to count something (reps, in my case) while using any app. If it looks familiar, it's because I previously reviewed an almost identical app that differed in how you closed the bubble and reset the count. I like the gesture based interface of this version better. The picture at right shows the settings but to be clear after you close that the green counter remains for you to position where you please. Free/no ads, but there's a paid version with more features which you should probably buy to support the developer!

Bubble Tally Counter (0.1MB, $0.0)

Excellent scientific calculator, free no ads

The android OS has a very basic calculator built in, but it's pretty lacking. I really like this one, which has all the normal scientific calculator features you'd expect, a good history display, and puts commas after every 3 digits, like a good little calculator.

No ads, no nags. There is a paid version for $1 that adds some features that frankly I don't miss. But it's probably worth supporting high quality work like this one.

CalcTastic Scientific Calculator (3MB, $0.00)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Samsung Galaxy J7 Sky Pro: a nice mid-range phone but no flagship like the S7

Specs: 5.5" LCD, 2GB RAM, 9GB free storage, Android 6, 3300mAh battery.

The Samsung J7 Sky Pro is a mid-range option from tracfone; I purchased a refurb unit from them and it only cost $60, which is a pretty good deal. The refurb quality was excellent: I couldn't tell it from a brand new phone except that it shipped in a white box. No scratches, or marks, and it appears to come with a brand new battery.

With a name like "J7" it seems particularly appropriate to compare this to another Samsung phone: the S7, which just happens to be my primary phone. I'll also compare to an LG stylo, another "phablet" that's closer in price to the J7.

Body. At  152x76.2x7.6mm the phone is large but not painful by any means. One handed use is possible, but doesn't exactly make my thumb happy. I prefer the S7 in that regard, which is only 70mm wide. The J7 has .4" larger LCD, so that extra width (and height) is necessary. The J7 is noticeably smaller than the Stylo 3 (155x80x7.4mm), even though the LCD is only 0.2" smaller, so they did a pretty good job of fitting a large LCD into a small package. Furthermore, the J7 has a hardware home button and back buttons, so the USABLE LCD is actually slightly larger on the J7 than the Stylo. Well played, Samsung. The J7 has a removable back cover, and behind that is a removable battery. It's not clear how much deeper you could go as there are no screws revealed, but I suspect the phone is nonetheless more repairable for it. The back of the phone also has a lightly grippy rubber finish that feels good in my hand, kind of like the old Moto X2 "soft touch" model. I don't want to oversell this: there are definitely more grippy cases out there, but out of the box the J7 is nicer to hold than most glass-covered or metal flagships (such as my S7). Phones are getting more and more alike with every day, so it's nice to see something different, and the J7 is just slightly different, IMHO for the better. A-.

LCD/display. The IPS LCD is bright and has great viewing angles, and the color looks good. It only runs at 720x1280 but text was plenty sharp and clear. Compared to the OLED S7 the blacks weren't as dark, but for an LCD it actually had great contrast. There's no ambient light sensor, so you'll have to manually adjust how bright the screen is. Kind of amazing they left that out.

 I tried to compare how much more you could see on a 5.5" LCD than on my S7's 5.1", and found it difficult. It seems that the phones have rather different ideas of how larger text should be scale in chrome and elsewhere. While both the J7 and S7 feature settings sliders to scale interface elements up or down, setting the J7 to the minimum didn't result in the same text density that I've grown to prefer on my S7. Thus you see less text on the J7's larger screen! I'm starting to wonder if this is a tracfone thing, since several of their phones seem to err on the side of oversized text/UI. Nonetheless the difference isn't a big deal.  B.

Performance. With a Snapdragon 625 and 2GB of RAM I had decent hopes for this. And indeed, it was good enough. Chroming around the web was perfectly pleasant. Scrolling felt smooth and page time loading was fine, even though I'm accustomed to the S7, which according to benchmarks should be amazingly more snappy. Speaking of benchmarks: Geekbench single core 648, Multi 1696. My S7 turns in 1720/3900, but certainly doesn't feel 3x faster. No doubt I would always choose the S7 but the J7 is fast enough.  This was my first time with the 625, and I was expecting it to be faster than the equivalent 400 series CPU, but benchmarks didn't agree. My Stylo 3 has a 425 and it gets 649/1815. B.

Multimedia: Youtube video was stutter free. The only speaker fires out the right side of the phone which is very odd. And unbalanced. Not that the standard bottom firing speaker of the S7 is really any less "balanced", except that we have all become used to "bottom heavy" sound, not sound biased to the left or right of the screen. Actually, hold on - flip your phone into landscape mode and your "bottom" firing speaker is now a right side speaker. So I think it comes down to taste, and nothing more. The speaker is (very) loud and clear and even has a hint of bass. And the 3.5mm headphone jack provides a much preferable alternative to dongle-land a la Steve. A.

OS/software. It runs Android 6.0 and has most of the same Samsung tweeks that my S7 does, despite my S7 running 7.1. I felt at home and didn't miss anything from the newer OS releases. All the settings and apps I was used to on my S7 were there. So if you like the Samsung Way, this phone delivers. 6.0 might seem like an old OS but nothing really important has changed in a long time in Android and indeed some of the changes in 8.0 are back-steps if you are a power user. So I'm 100% ok with the software as provided. Some bloatware was also installed but nothing major, and "OK Google" support was also good. B.

Camera. Without a doubt the biggest sacrifice on budget phones these days is the camera. If you've ever looked inside a phone you'd see the camera hardware is tiny and just plugs into the motherboard, suggesting that user swappable cameras would be possible in an alternate reality. I'd certainly pay for another S7 camera to install in my Stylo 3, for instance. Esp. since they should be dirt cheap on the used market given the age of the S7.

The J7, being a more mid-line model, does better than the cheapo budget phone. Let's compare it to the Stylo 3 and S7. In this high contrast Xmass shot the J7 and Stylo are nearly tied, and the S7 looks fantastic as always. Note: photos are cropped to show more of the fine detail you would see when zooming about 2x into your photos.

What about lower light photography? Here the J7 does seem to pull ahead of the Stylo 3, providing  higher contrast and more natural colors, but not really more detail.

But excuse me for a second while I fall in love with my S7 all over again. I mean there's no comparison. Detail, color, contrast. All so much superior. 

Given how little improvement the J7 is over the Stylo I'm just going to show two last sets of S7 vs J7 shots. J7 on the left, S7 on the right. But if you forget, just assume that whichever photo looks best must be the S7. 

Actually... With lots of light the J7 does just fine on this comparison. Extreme dark and light detail are lost, but the overall photo looks good. 

The cat looks pretty good in either photo, so I guess the J7 is Cat Certified and good to go! But what about those barrels in the back? That home depot orange really shines thru in the S7, whereas the J7 completely overexposes it. I mean, both cameras took a good photo of what you really care about here. Unless maybe you work in construction...

Overall camera rating: C+. Better than the worst budget shooter, but not much better than the average $100 phone.


I liked this phone, but not so much the camera. As a budget model it delivers as well as any other phone in the $100 price range, but with a bigger (effective) LCD than average. As long as you ignore the camera this phone will certainly do the job for most folks but it's a long way from being flagship class, even when compared to the flagships of 2016 (the Samsung Galaxy S7).

Saturday, November 3, 2018

LG Rebel 2: hands on with a decent super-budget phone (lgl58vl)

Specs: 5" IPS LCD, Snapdragon 210 CPU with 1GB RAM, 3GB usable storage. 

This budget phone lists for $40, but a refurb that looks 100% like new cost me $10. It's locked to tracfone, but they aren't a bad budget provider. I didn't use there service so I'm only reviewing the phone here. I'm generally pretty hard on it, but of course for $10 it is actually quite fabulous compared to any other $10 tech device that isn't a phone. Of course that's because phone economics are pretty crazy and because tracfone surely subsidizes the price.

It runs Android 6 (marshmallow) which is old but it really that doesn't matter much - any app you care about will be written to work all the way back to 4.4. I'm sure they made that choice because marshmallow is less resource intensive.

Shape: It has a removable plastic back, a removable battery, and fits nicely in your hand(73x144x8 mm). The back has a pleasing texture that makes it nicer to hold than most flagships. I prefer the feel of the Motorola G3, and perhaps even the ZTE Majesty ProPlus since both are a bit more gripy, but this is good too. Under the removable back are actual Philips screws, so you could disassemble this pretty easily (such as to replace the screen). The bezels are as large as $10 predicts and while there's plenty of space for hardware home/back buttons, they insist on wasting valuable LCD space instead. It continues LG's odd choice of power in the back, but also supports double tap on/double tap off, which works well. A-

Storage is mediocre with only 3GB free. There is a SD card slot, but the phone only supports it as portable storage (not adoptable), meaning you will have to install all apps to internal memory and then cross your fingers that you can move them to the SD card (many won't). C

Performance was OK. Webpages loaded much slower than my S7, depending on complexity, sometimes taking more than a second. But some webpages are pigs. If you didn't have a flagship phone to compare to, you'd still probably wish it was faster, but it's certainly usable. Once the page loaded scrolling was smooth - unless the page was busy loading advertisements and running complex java-script, in which case there were certainly hiccups. The modern web is an insult to the hypertext aspirations of the 90s. Interestingly, the LG actually rendered JPGs in chrome faster than on my S7. It turns out I hadn't updated chrome in a while, and after addressing that the S7 again won, though by a smallish margin. Good code maters.

With only 1GB of RAM, switching between apps was slow too. Not unusable, but certainly very noticeable coming from the S7.  Well, maybe learn to multi-task less. It's probably good for your brain. Or maybe look for lighter apps? If only the play store also factored efficiency into the rankings...

But enough about how it performs in real life - what about benchmarks?! Everybody loves benchmarks. The CPU is a lowly snapdragon 210 4core at 1.1ghz. Geekbench 4 reports 392 single/ 900 multi-core. That's about what other 210-based phones get, if perhaps a little low on the multi-core. Let's compare that to the LG Stylo 3, a 'dragon 430, which gets about 600/2500, which most people would also say is a low score, but is a pleasure to use as long as you don't compare it directly to my Samsung S7. To sum up: the synthetic benchmarks agree this is a slow phone. B-

The LCD is reasonable, at 5" diagonal, 854 x 480. Yes, it's IPS, so the viewing angles are good. On some webpages it seemed like faint lines got washed out, but viewing full-color high saturation photos everything looked fine. I decided to pit it against my Samsung S7, a fair comparison if ever there was one ;-). Amazingly, the S7 didn't always look better when viewing photos, though it frequently came out on top. It took extreme viewing angles (70+ degrees off normal) for the S7 to clearly win. Reading text at arm's length (~1ft) everything looked good and my visual acuity was more of a limit than screen resolution. At 0.5ft or less the grid of pixels started to be faintly visible producing a mild screen-door effect. I've used other low-resolution phones like the LG Volt and not had this problem, so I suppose there may be a tiny amount of space between the pixels. You get use to it and it never interferes seeing whats on the screen, but it's another mild reminder of the budget nature of this phone. A- (but read on)

One much more unfortunate aspect of the phone is that the default text size and icons seem to be too large by a significant amount - as though this is a phone for grandma (no offense!). Compared to a Moto G3, for instance (the same size screen), everything is just too big. Given how giant everything looks, I think this might actually be a bug. You can adjust the text size under settings but it doesn't scale the rest of the interface so you end up getting silly things like menus with tiny text and huge amounts of white space above and below each line. There is a fix, which is to change the DPI, which changes all display elements, not just text. But LG didn't make this available under settings, unlike other phones I've used.

Luckily there's a method to change your DPI using ADB (no root required!). If that sounds like gibberish then this probably isn't for you. Read the link for the details, but if you already know all about ADB, here's the relevant command to scale everything properly: adb shell wm density 200 (the default is 240).  The screenshots below compare the default to density 200. And good news: this setting survives between reboots.

See how a tiny change in scale almost doubles how much of the conversation you can read? That said hangouts is a particularly bad user of screen space, clearly designed for premium phablets, not 10 dollar phones for the masses.

It's not just hangouts. Using the default DPI the screen feels much smaller than it is really, almost as cramped as a 4" screen,  though most apps are not as bad as hangouts. Unless you have bad vision, or know how to ADB, it's hard to recommend this phone. You might say it's a small issue that I've overblown, but recall there are thousands of phones out there. Why choose one that's fundamentally flawed? To me the crampedness is much more an issue that some tiny LCD issues or the rather slow CPU performance. F-. OTOH, it's fixable for the techies. A-

Now that I've "failed" the phone it seems silly to spill to many more pixels, but since the DPI can be fixed, let's also check out the camera. Cheap phones always have a hard time with low light so let's look there first. Below is the Rebel2 vs the Samsung S7, a top performer of it's time. To compare I'm showing a crop at original resolution (the actual picture is about 2x wider/taller). The rebel can't handle the dynamic range or dark detail very well, and it's notable less wide-angle. But actually it does kindof OK here, since there's not much detail to see anyway.

 This bookcase shot, also low light, really shows how bad the Rebel is. Since there's absolutely no comparing the detail level to the S7, I also added the LG Stylo3, a mid-range phone which can't hold a candle to the S7, but absolutely destroys the Rebel2. Note that all photos were taken at the same resolution, from the same spot, so the difference in scale is due to how wide-angle the lens is. You can certainly see more if you don't "Rebel" (again?).

Maybe a well lit indoor shot will do ok? This next photo was taken right under a skylight. Indeed, it may not be too dark, but boy is it blurry.

Ok I'm a horse torturer. Lets move on to an outdoors shot where the Rebel has enough light to "shine" (ha, ha).  Actually I'm quite surprised how bad it does here too. There's just no detail even when you have tons of light. I was expecting something closer to the Stylo 3: No S7 but tolerable. But the Rebel is a mess. Blurry nearly everywhere, no shadow detail, just yukkk.

The specs claim 5MP, but I suspect it's really much lower and has digital scaling applied. Even for a budget phone this is really bad. But it probably beats my first digital camera from 2001, for one 40th the price. Progress! I mean, I'd use this instead of nothing, and I'd be glad to have it. But you'd have a hard time finding worse sold today. D+

To conclude: This phone is everything you should expect for $10. That's not even a decent meal, anymore. I'd much rather be pleasantly surprised rather than have my expectations fulfilled, but for all my whining this is actually probably a good value for the price. But oh my goodness you could do better.