Digital Thingamajigs
Get the scoop on the latest mobile and handheld devices, high-tech gadgets, phones, gaming devices and more as well as computer-related tips and tricks. Keep up with tech trends, gaming software and check out some of the newest innovations that are turning heads in the electronics industry.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sonim XP3400 Armor reviewed

When you first open the box that holds the Sonim XP3400 Armor phone, you’re greeted with the phrase: “Sonim: Built for Life.”  

I’ll admit, when I first glanced at that phrase, I was skeptical and passed it off as just another exaggerated marketing tactic. And like most corporate slogans or mottos, I just glossed over it and didn’t give it much thought.

However, after a few weeks of handling the Sonim XP3400 on the nTelos Wireless network, I can see that a lot of research and effort have been put into making a phone that will last a long time. 

I’ve been reviewing phones now for a few years, and while I’m always amazed at how far phones have advanced technologically in the past decade or so, I’m also somewhat disappointed in the lack of variety in most of today’s mobile phones. After using the Sonim XP3400 Armor phone, however, that’s no longer the case.

This is not your average mobile phone. This thing is tough. The first thing you’ll notice is that the phone looks nothing like today’s mobile phones. It’s thick, heavy and has a tough outer shell that serves to protect the electronics inside. These external elements give the phone a very classic look, akin to phones of the early 2000s. 

On the back of the phone are two screws that hold part of the hard plastic and rubber battery case to the phone, which gives you a sense of just how rugged this phone is.

How rugged is it?

Well, you can try throwing just about anything at it and it won’t skip a beat. Since this was a loaner phone, I was a little hesitant to throw it in the Ohio River or run it over with my truck, but something tells me that it probably would not have hurt it. 

The phone is rated to withstand water continuously or for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 2 meters, or about 6 feet. 

The list of elements the Sonim XP3400 can resist is impressive: dust, water, shock, falls, vibrations, extreme temperatures, pressure and crushing, punctures and petroleum oil, just to name a few. 

Because of its unique qualities, the Sonim phone is probably not for everyone. It’s obvious the manufacturer was targeting the tough crowd with this phone. The rugged, durable qualities of the Sonim are best suited for the blue-collar crowd, such as construction workers, laborers or anyone who does a lot of work outdoors or around lots of water.

And while the phone’s processing power can’t really compare to an iPhone or Galaxy S III, it does come with enough basic features to make this serve as your only phone. One of the most impressive features is its battery life, which is rated at 24 hours of talk time or 8,000 hours of standby time. I went about two weeks without having to charge the phone, which was a nice change of pace considering I have to charge my iPhone almost every day.

The phone’s audio quality was clear and loud over the nTelos Wireless network. And the volume of the phone’s built-in speaker was impressive. 

For capturing quick snapshots, the Sonim also comes with a 2 megapixel camera and LED flash. The camera was a little slow, but I was pleased with the sample photos I shot. There’s also a camcorder mode as well. And up to 8 GB of photos and videos can be stored on a microSD card in the phone.

Other features of the Sonim XP3400 include an FM radio, built-in GPS, Internet access, a very loud built-in speaker, accessible keypad, a 240 X 320 display, and what may be the most impressive feature of all: a three-year comprehensive warranty. Any company that would stand by its product with a three-year warranty must feel pretty confident about that product. And as a consumer, that makes me feel pretty good.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

High-Tech Holiday Happy Hour

If you're a tech enthusiast, entrepreneur or just looking to get out and mingle in the Huntington area, the hosts of SuperTalk 94.1 FM's Insider Sportsline — Paul Swann and Woody Woodrum — will host a High-Tech Holiday Happy Hour from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe in downtown Huntington.

This event will give Tri-State residents a chance to eat, drink and socialize with the voices behind Huntington's airwaves and check out some of the latest gadgets from Verizon Wireless, such as new smartphones and tablets. New accessories like the Zepp GolfSense Sensor will also be available to check out.

Verizon Wireless plans to provide appetizers and two drink tickets for all event attendees. Registration is limited to the first 50 guests to RSVP.

To register for the event, log on to and sign up.

Check out more information on Twitter at: @VZWLaura, @PaulSwann or #vzwholiday.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Motorola Razr M reviewed

Bigger isn’t always better.

Yet, by looking at today’s smartphones manufacturers, you wouldn’t know that. Today’s phones just seem to be getting bigger and bigger. Even the latest incarnation of the iPhone — the iPhone 5 — is bursting at the seams and stretching in size.

The Razr M is .33 inches thin.
The Droid Razr M by Motorola bucks that trend — a stark contrast to the last phone I reviewed, the Samsung Galaxy S III, which stands in at a towering 5.38 inches tall. That’s just shy of the largest Android phone, the Galaxy Note, which clocks in at a whopping 5.7 inches tall with a 5.5 inch screen. The Razr M’s 4.7 inch body is rather small in comparison.

Motorola’s Razr line of phones has been around for several years. Back in the mid 2000s, if you owned a cell phone, chances are, it was a Motorola Razr flip phone. The original Razr was so popular back in the naughts, that it eventually sold more than 130 million units, making it the best-selling phone of its kind in the world.

So, it’s no wonder Motorola decided to revive the wildly popular line of phones. However, it is refreshing that Motorola has chosen to do so at a time when being thin and tiny is not cool.

While not as compact as the iPhone 4, left, the 
Razr M, right, is dwarfed by the much larger Galaxy S III 
by Samsung. (Image courtesy of

The first thing I noticed when picking up the Razr M was how nice it felt in my hand, which was the common response when any one of my friends first held the Razr M. The size isn’t overpowering and the sturdy Kevlar splash-proof body just oozes quality when you’re holding it. Cool to the touch, the frame of the Razr M is as solid as on any phone I’ve ever held — even more so than the metal rim of the iPhone 4.

Upon first turning on the phone, you’ll notice a handy feature that allows you to immediately access your camera, texting or phone or just unlock the device depending on which way you slide the lock icon. Although the ability to customize which features you can unlock would have been nice, I really can’t complain since this isn’t even an option I’ve seen on other phones.
Despite the small size, the Razr M 
comes with a 4.3 inch display.

Despite the Razr M’s small package, it’s jam-packed with the same impressive features as other top of the line Android phones.

The Super AMOLED Advanced display comes in at 4.3 inches with a sharp 256 ppi pixel density. The 540 X 960 pixel screen looked just as smooth as other AMOLED-based Android phones — more crisp, dark blacks and eye-popping, highly saturated colors.

The phone comes with a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. Internal storage is only 4.5 GB, but it can be expanded up to 32 GB with the built-in microSD and microSDHC expansion slots. The phone was very responsive and apps loaded quickly via the dual-core processor.

Figure A: Three different samples of 
nighttime photos with the Razr M.
As is standard with almost all smartphones now, the Razr M comes with an 8 megapixel HD camera, capable of shooting high-definition video. I took quite a few pictures with the phone and had a mixed reaction to the quality. I was highly impressed with the video quality of the Razr M, which shot nice high-definition video. However, I was less than impressed with the results of the still camera, especially when shooting in low-light situations. While shooting at night, photos were all saturated with large lens flares and halo effects from any lighting source (see Figure A). While a little bit of this is to be expected, I was unable to tone it down, despite adjusting the white balance and trying several different options. Granted, I'm not a professional photographer, and I didn't have a lot of time to practice with the phone's camera. Still, I did expect better.

Also standard on most Android phones today is 4G access through Verizon’s fast LTE network. It’s nice to have broadband speeds in the palm of your hand. And, the Razr M doesn’t disappoint here. I was able to get downloads of between 14-15 Mbps consistently on Verizon’s 4G network in Huntington, W.Va.

The Razr M comes standard with Android’s 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, operating system. As I mentioned earlier, the multi-function unlock feature is the first thing that greets you on the phone. When you unlock the Razr M, you are then brought to a unique interface with three interactive buttons at the top of the screen: one with a clock, another with the temperature and a small battery level indicator. A simple flip of any one of these allows you to customize them even further. Flip the clock to switch from analog to digital, flip the temperature icon to change the city or flip the battery indicator to launch system preferences. The customization options and user-friendliness of this phone is unbeatable.

And as is standard with most Android phones now, the Razr M comes pre-loaded with several apps from the phone manufacturer, Google and your carrier. Some of the apps, such as the Navigator, which offers turn-by-turn GPS navigation, were very useful — others, not so much. However, it is possible to disable some of these lesser-used apps.

Overall impression
The Razr M bucks the popular trend of bigger is better in the Android world. But, don’t let the small size fool you. The Razr M is just as powerful and loaded as any other smartphone on the market. Its impressive display and processor make for a smooth experience, and its Kevlar body and size just feel right in your hand.
Five years ago, a phone of this size would be considered large. In today’s world of smartphone behemoths, the Razr M is quite compact. To me, however, it’s just right.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III reviewed

There’s a battle raging among the smartphone manufacturers, and it’s not about to let up. New phone models are being released constantly, and you can’t walk a block or open a new browser window without seeing an ad for a new phone.

And for consumers – and blog writers like me – that’s great news.  It helps keep the prices low and the quality high.

So, I was glad to get back on my blog and try out Samsung’s latest salvo in the smartphone battles – the Galaxy S III.

At first glance, I noticed that the GS3 wasn't like other Android-based smartphones I've reviewed. This is the first Android-based phone that I have used that wasn’t black — it was white — and the GS3 had a large, white button at the bottom of the device. The white border on the front was accompanied by a pure white back with black Verizon and Galaxy S III lettering. The phone is also available in black, blue, brown, red and gray. These subtle changes let you know immediately that this phone is a little bit different.

Whether you like it or not, Android-based phones are starting to evolve. Each phone is starting to take on its own identity. The ubiquity of the phones is waning, and a unique quality is starting to emerge. Gone are the days of four touch buttons at the bottom of the screen for home, menu, back and search. One thing that Samsung has done better over Apple is listen to its users and work hard at implementing the most-requested features and canning the least-liked ones.

Physically, there hasn’t been much change from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4S. The same can’t be said for Android smartphones. The new features may not be for all. It took me some getting used to. But, I do like to see manufacturers evolving, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

So, we’ve got a look at the body. Now, let’s take a look under the hood.

Have you ever been to a car show and spotted that classic Shelby or Stingray that just beckons you over? And when you walk over, the owner pops open the hood and flashes a polished chrome engine that just says “bling!” Well, that’s how I felt when I took a look at the specs of the Galaxy S III.

The smartphone comes standard with a quad core (that’s right – quad) 1.4 GHz ARM Cortez A9 processor. And if you’re a novice to processor terms like most of us, let me just do a little translating: Quad 1.4 GHz=FAST! This processor is probably faster than the desktop computer you were using in 2005. It’s also packed with 1 GB of RAM, a graphics co-processor and 32 GB of internal storage. You also have the ability to upgrade to 64 GB of storage via the expansion slot, which takes microSD, microSDHC and microSDXC.

Still not impressed? How about an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera and HD video capabilities of up to 1920 X 1080 (1080p)?

The phone itself weighs about 4.7 ounces and comes with a 4.8 inch Super AMOLED display. If you’ve read any of my other smartphone reviews, then you’ll know how I feel about Super AMOLED screens: I’m in love with them. Apple can talk all day about retina display and super-high definition screens, but when it comes down to it, nothing compares to these AMOLED screens. As I’ve said before, it’s nothing that can be described. You have to see the screen in action for yourself. I’ve held these AMOLED screens up to iPhone and iPad screens many times, and my friends and I are always amazed at how much better AMOLED looks. The bright, crisp colors and dark blacks are just more natural and pleasing to the eye.

In addition to those features, the phone works on Verizon’s super-fast 4G LTE network, which is up and running in Huntington and Charleston. I tested the Galaxy S III’s download speeds over the network several times and never received a speed under 10Mbps – much higher than the 2 or 3Mbps I am getting on my 3G service.

All of this power-hungry hardware comes at a price, however. And, in my experience, that price is battery life. The phone is rated at 22.5 hours of talk-time and 34 days of stand-by time, with an average of 20 days. Yet, if I didn’t charge my phone every 3 days, it would be so drained that I would have to charge it for 15 minutes just to turn it back on.

The GS3’s software is on the cutting edge of smartphone technology. The phone comes pre-loaded with Google’s Android 4.0 – or ice-cream sandwich – operating system. As with the hardware, the software on the phones is starting to evolve as well.

Android 4.0 is a perfect match for the GS3’s super-fast processor as it makes multitasking much easier. There is a recent apps button, which allows you to switch from one task to another as well as resizable widgets. There’s also a new look to the home screen and many other new features.

Overall Impressions
When it comes to shopping, choice is a good thing. But, if you’re anything like me, the more choices you have, the longer the decision-making process can take. I like to read all I can about a product first and try to shop around for the best price. Well, the price part is taken care of. The Galaxy S III starts at $199 on contract. If you’re looking for an unlocked phone, you may want to shop around. With an unlocked GS3, expect to pay upwards of $600.

The Samsung Galaxy S III is definitely the Cadillac of Android-based phones. If you’re not a big gamer or you just use your phone for the occasional text message or Google search, then you may want to consider other options as this might be too much phone for you. However, if you’re looking for some of the best features you can own and you like a little chrome on your engine, then the Galaxy S III is probably a good fit.

Monday, May 28, 2012

iPad 3 reviewed

The iPad 3 comes with an amazing 2048 X 1546 pixel Retina Display. 

I know I shouldn’t start off with a cliché, but you really do get what you pay for. During my time on this planet as an American consumer, I have found this proverb to be especially true in two areas: toilet paper and electronics.

And fortunately for you, I am not reviewing Charmin.

I was, however, finally able to grab hold of the iPad 3; and in short, it doesn’t disappoint.

The latest version of the iPad continues Steve Jobs’ legacy of creating very user-friendly products in an extremely simplified package with the best components on the market. And to top it off, the Verizon version of the iPad — which I tested — had access to the company’s blazing-fast 4G service, which makes the iPad a complete package.

At first glance, the iPad doesn’t look much different from previous versions. It still comes with a single button on the bottom, a headphone jack and power switch on top and volume buttons on the side, but Apple was able to squeeze all of this into a remarkably thin design. 

Measuring less than .37 inches in thickness and just slightly thicker than the previous iPad, the iPad 3 is one of the thinnest tablets I’ve ever used. I am amazed at how they are able to fit all of that technology into such a small package — a package that gets smaller with each generation. My only complaint about the design is that, because it is so thin, it can be difficult at times to plug your cable into the dock connector. The connector is not flush with the side of the iPad as it was in the original version. The connector is at a small angle, which means that part of your cable is actually sticking out slightly when it is fully plugged into the port. It takes some getting used to.
The iPad is about .37 inches thick.

Under the hood, this puppy is loaded. The statistics on the processor are somewhat tame, with a 1 GHz dual-core processor, but it’s the supporting cast that makes this star shine. The iPad 3 is loaded with a quad-core graphics processor, which allows for lightning-fast draw times and super smooth graphics on the new Retina display.

Speaking of the display, you just can’t get a more defined picture than with what the iPad can give. The Retina display’s 2048 X 1546 pixel depth is second to none and gives you an extreme amount of detail – even when you are holding the iPad very close to your face. There is also 1 GB of RAM and built-in storage of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. Couple that with Apple's cloud-based storage and you have plenty of storage options available. In addition to the processor and storage, the iPad also comes with the other standard options, such as built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, accelerometer, gyroscope and front- and rear-facing cameras (5 and .3 megapixels, respectively). All that, and it weighs in at a little over 23 ounces.

There are very few things the iPad lacks, but Apple’s insistence on keeping things simple means there are a few bells and whistles you won’t find on an iPad that you do find on Android-based devices. For example, there is no HDMI output to connect your tablet to a large screen HDTV. You have to buy a rather expensive video cable from Apple and use the dock connector to get the same results. There also is no microSD slot for expanded storage.

Another missing feature that some people have complained about is a USB port, which could connect to your computer. However, because it uses the basic same cable as Apple’s iPod and iPhone, I already had a ton of those cables lying around, so I don’t really miss a USB port.

Despite all of these impressive features, what might be my favorite piece of hardware is also the biggest: the battery. Routinely, you can get 9-10 hours of life out of your iPad on a full charge. This is amazing. I rarely found myself needing to charge my iPad, but when it would start to run around 35-40 percent, I would just plug it into my computer for a few hours, and it was back up to 100 percent.

One of the biggest advantages Apple has had and continues to have over Android and Blackberry is software. Apple’s App Store has the largest selection of applications available for tablets and continues to add more constantly. 

There are myriad apps available for iOS 5.1, which comes pre-loaded on the iPad. Many of those apps are free, but of the paid apps, a boatload of those are priced at $.99 or $1.99. Some exclusive titles such as GarageBand make it hard for competitors’ to match the iPad’s fun-factor. I found myself playing with GarageBand for hours and was able to make my own short song in about 45 minutes.

And despite the fact that there are so many apps available from the App Store, one of the things I like about the iPad was the absence of apps when you first start it up. Many Android-based phones come pre-loaded with tons of unnecessary apps that are put there by the phone manufacturer, service provider or from Google itself. The iPad, however, comes with about a dozen or so basic apps that you need to get started — a Web browser, email, iTunes

Overall impressions
Although the newest iPad looks very similar to previous incarnations of the popular device, it’s what’s inside that counts. And, Apple has packed a lot inside this little machine.

The attention to detail and care that was taken by Apple to make one of the best tablets on the market is very clear. Apple has gone above and beyond to create the best tablet they could make, and they continue to outdo themselves with every new generation released.

You might pay a little more for the iPad than what you would for a Kindle Fire, but what you get with the iPad 3 more than makes up for the difference in price.