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, August 29, 2011

The Droid Charge reviewed

The Droid Charge has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen.


If you’ve never heard that term before, you soon will.

In technical terms, it stands for super active-matrix organic light-emitting diode.

In simple terms, it’s a very pretty display.

I had a chance recently to try out some of that newer technology via the Samsung Droid Charge smartphone on Verizon's 3G/4G network. And in a nutshell, it’s impressive.

Charge: First impressions
At first glance, the Charge is very similar in shape and appearance to other “candy-bar” style smartphones. As with most Android-powered phones, it has the typical four button layout on the front for “menu,” “home,” “back” and “search.” The phone, while large in size, is surprisingly lightweight, which may be due to the plastic shield that protects the back of the phone. Some may see the cheap material as a negative, but it definitely keeps the phone light. The 4.3-inch screen, while much larger than the iPhone 4, is similar in size to the LG Revolution I reviewed last time, but that’s where the similarities end and Super AMOLED comes in.

If I had to sum up the Charge's screen in one word, I'd have to say "juicy."

The Droid Charge’s 4.3-inch display is capable of reproducing the most brilliant colors I’ve ever seen in a display. The reds, greens and blues are so rich and vibrant it’s difficult to describe. I guess if I had to sum up the colors in one word, I’d say "juicy." It’s almost as if you could squeeze the phone and watch the digital juices drip from the screen. The end result is pictures that more closely reflect real-life and colors that capture the nuances of skin tone, hair and the environment.

The Super AMOLED technology is an improvement on basic AMOLED technology in that it allows the touch-sensitive layer of the display to be built into the screen, reducing glare and screen thickness. AMOLED also functions without a backlight, which means it can produce true blacks and give you a very high level of contrast. That same high contrast along with the rich, “juicy” colors can be seen from almost any angle that you view the phone. The only negative with the Charge’s screen is that — even though it is larger— the resolution (480 X 800) is still lower than that of the iPhone 4 (640 X 960).

The Charge's 8 megapixel camera
is the best I've seen on a smartphone.
Click here to see more photos I took.
Another bright spot of the Droid Charge is the camera. As is standard with most smartphone’s today, the Charge comes with a front- and rear-facing camera for taking portraits and landscapes or using video chat. The great thing about the Charge’s rear-facing camera is its 8 megapixel resolution. The high resolution coupled with the superb display makes for some breathtaking photos, even for an amateur.

The phone comes with Android 2.2.1 installed, a 32GB SD card for plenty of storage, a mini USB port for charging and syncing and a mini-HDMI port to connect video output to a larger screen device, such as a computer monitor or HDTV. Other features include the obligatory built-in Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, Bluetooth, mp3 player and a mobile hot-spot feature.

Phone quality is on par with other smartphones I’ve tested. I experienced no dropped calls and was able to pick up a relatively strong signal as long as I was in a city or close to a major highway.

I was able to get blazing-fast
4G speeds out of the Charge.
If you’re looking for high-speed Internet access in a small package, the Droid Charge delivers. While I didn’t have very much luck getting up to speed with the LG Revolution, I had no problem getting advertised 4G speeds on the Droid Charge.

My 4G tests ranged from a low of around 4.5 Mbps all the way to 18.5 Mbps. But overall, the Charge averaged around 11 Mbps download speeds on Verizon’s 4G network, well within the provider’s advertised 5-12 Mbps. Uploads peaked around 4 Mbps.

The Charge comes pre-loaded with several basic apps, and downloading more apps is a cinch. I was able to download Netflix, Speed Test and several other apps very quickly and set up my Gmail account very easily. The only thing I would like to see would be a more updated version of Android, as the Droid Charge only comes with version 2.2.1.

Final thoughts
Overall, the Droid Charge is one of the best phones I’ve been able to get my hands on. The incredible screen, high-quality camera, light weight package, high speed Web access and other features make it one of the finest smartphones on the market. The drawback to that, however, is the price. The Droid Charge checks in at $299 with a contract. However, I have noticed some retail outlets selling the phone at $199 with a contract recently. Keep in mind that the back of the phone is made of plastic, which might be a turn-off for some, but also gives the phone a lightweight feel. Overall, if you’re looking for one of the best all-around packages in a smartphone, and you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, then the Droid Charge could be right up your digital alley.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

LG Revolution reviewed

The LG Revolution comes with a large, 4.3-inch display.

LG Revolution
In the ultra-competitive world of smart phones, being first means everything.

Verizon has accomplished that in West Virginia with its 4G LTE service, which is now available in the Charleston area — and coming soon to Huntington. With advertised download speeds of 5-12 Mbps, compared to .6 to 1.4 Mbps with 3G, Verizon’s 4G network is around 10 times faster than 3G. And with smartphones becoming much more versatile, the need for speed is more important than ever, and it’s easy to see why 4G is becoming a much-desired service.

So when given an opportunity to try out Verizon’s 3G and 4G service for the first time, I jumped at the chance. And I’ve always had a good experience with LG products in the past, so I thought I’d give LG's Android-powered Revolution phone on the Verizon network a test drive.

The Revolution is here: First impressions
Upon opening the box, the first thing that struck me about the LG Revolution is its size: It's big. Since the 1980s, we’ve watched mobile phones go from the size of a breadbox to the size of a deck of cards. The Revolution bucks that trend of going smaller, but with positive results. The 4.3-inch screen dwarfs the 3.5-inch display of the iPhone 4. And though LG’s screen resolution is lower (800 X 480) than iPhone’s Retina Display (960 X 640), there’s definitely something to the phrase “bigger is better,” especially while trying to watch a TV show or check out a GPS map while in your car (not while driving, of course). There are two cameras on the phone — a front-facing camera for video chat and a rear-facing camera with a more than adequate 5 megapixel resolution.

Side by side, the LG Revolution, left, is much larger than the iPhone 4.

One of the highlights of the Revolution is its connectivity. In addition to the two cameras, the phone comes with the standard headphone jack, a mini-USB port for charging and a mini-HDMI port, which allows you to connect your phone to a monitor or HDTV and watch your videos in high-definition (720p) in a much larger setting.

The photo quality of the Revolution
is excellent. This photo was taken
from the rear-facing camera.
The phone’s overall voice quality is average to above-average. I had no dropped calls or signal noise. I was also never out of service range for voice or data from New Boston, Ohio, all the way to Charleston, W.Va. And while this may seem a no-brainer, my AT&T iPhone 4 regularly drops calls at my home in New Boston, and I sometimes lose 3G service on both my iPhone 4 and the iPad while at home. 

The photo quality is excellent, and the camera allows for several manual adjustments, such as ISO, white balance and a timer. There are several modes for panorama or continuous shots, and you are given the option of auto or manual focus. The Revolution also comes with a high-intensity LED flash, which won’t light up a gymnasium, but is adequate for small rooms or to shed light on a subject’s dark face. You can also capture high-definition video with the phone’s camera.

Among other phone features include a tethering mode, Bluetooth capability, built in Wi-Fi, a built-in 1GHz processor, GPS services and a micro-SD/SDHC slot allowing up to 32 GB of storage.

The fastest 4G speed I could get from
the Revolution was 2.367 Mbps.
Since the 4G service was only available in the Charleston area, I had very little experience with it. I did make a trip to Charleston to test the 4G speeds, but unfortunately was unable to get the advertised speeds from the phone. After pulling my car into a drug store parking lot downtown, I logged onto to test the speed. After running about six or seven tests, I was unable to achieve anything faster than 2.367 Mbps. In comparison, I tested my iPhone at the same time and place and was able to get 2.23 Mbps speed in 3G mode. While the results did leave me a bit disappointed, they could be contributed to a temporary glitch in the network or inaccurate results from the website, since I was unable to test it again later. Therefore, I will reserve my judgment on Verizon’s 4G service until I’m able to further test it out with other phones.

The LG Revolution, which uses the Android operating system, version 2.2.2, was simple enough to use. Being my first time using Android, I had no problem finding my way around the phone. Setting up various email accounts on the Revolution was easier than on probably any other phone I’ve ever used. I was able to set up my Gmail, Yahoo and Facebook accounts in a snap and remove then just as easily.

As for navigation, the touch gestures are intuitive, and there are short instructional videos to give you quick navigation tips for the phone. Aside from the 4.3-inch screen, the Revolution also has a power button on top, volume controls on the side and four capacitive-touch context buttons along the bottom: menu, home, back and search. In addition to apps such as Facebook and Netflix, the phone comes pre-loaded with Microsoft's Bing search engine.

The Revolution comes pre-loaded with the Bing search engine.

Final thoughts
Overall, I was left with a positive impression of the LG Revolution. It’s a solid phone with many impressive features and a nice, big screen for viewing the pre-loaded Netflix app and games. And although my first experience with 4G service wasn’t the greatest, I’m looking forward to the day when 4G coverage extends to Huntington and beyond — something Verizon has said should happen by around 2013. Until then, the phone’s 3G service is more than adequate for streaming movies, watching TV or surfing the Web to read Digital Thingamajigs.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Nintendo 3DS reviewed

I recently bought my son Fletcher a Nintendo 3DS for his 11th birthday, which he’d been wanting for a while. He had the original DS, DS Lite, DSi and was ready to move up to Nintendo’s next big – er, little – gaming device. So after using it for a few weeks, I asked him if he’d like to write a review for it and share it on my Thingamajigs blog. Fletcher is wise beyond his years and is a great communicator so I knew he would excel at the task. And that he did.

Below is the review he wrote on the Nintendo 3DS with VERY little help from me. So, if you’ve ever wondered how a review would read written straight from the mind of an 11-year-old – or if you haven’t – here’s your chance. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. He never ceases to amaze me.

Software: (B+)
The 3DS interface has been upgraded quite a bit from the original DSi, as the DSi was to the original DS. The 3DS’s interface makes it simple to find what you’re looking for. Having a choice of stylus, touch screen, buttons in any combination allows each user to have his/her own unique experience.

The software that comes with each 3DS includes a camera, voice recorder, activity log (with pedometer to track your steps and play time), Mii Maker, StreetPass Mii Plaza, Face Raiders game, augmented reality games, Web browser (with update), but no email application.

As for selection of retail games, options on the 3DS are very limited right now. Some of the publishers for the 3DS seem to be holding off, waiting for 3DS’s sales to rise. But that could soon change. Analysts predict that an Aug. 12 price drop from $249 to $169 announced by Nintendo would help support sales. The $249 price tag seems to have scared off some potential buyers as only 194,000 units were sold in April, according to MarketWatch, compared to 400,000 units sold the first week it was available in the U.S.

Hardware: (A-)
The dual screen has been a staple of the DS, but has been around since the Game & Watch era. The beauty of this screen is the 3D (three-dimensional) effect, hence the name 3DS. The unit has three cameras: one front-facing and two rear-facing. The rear cameras are used to take 3D photos. The quality is comparable to the DSi – having a resolution of only .3 megapixels (or 640 X 480 pixels) on all cameras. The front camera is for self portraits (in 2D only). And speaking of 3D, quality varies from game to game. The effect is huge in some games, while in others, the 3D just helps with depth perception, but overall it works pretty amazingly.

The processor has been upgraded from the DSi and will run all original games at the intended frame rate. But the 3DS has the impressive ability to run graphics comparable to consoles such as the PlayStation 2 or the GameCube. The hinge is similar to the DS Lite, which could cause similar problems some users had with the top screen tearing apart from the unit.

Sound: (A-)
The quality of sound on the 3DS is very clear. The two built-in speakers are sufficient under normal circumstances or in a quiet room, but you may need to plug in headphones in a noisy environment. There is no mute button on the 3DS, but there is a volume slider on the bottom left of the device.

Connectivity: (B+)
The 3DS has several connection options, including an 1/8-inch headphone jack, power adapter jack, an SD card slot (2 GB card included) and a connector for a strap, similar to those used on Wii remotes. But, there’s no USB jack or wired Internet options. The 3DS has built-in Wi-Fi with 802.11b/g, which is not the fastest wireless, but is sufficient for its purpose. There is also a slider on the bottom right of the unit, which can be used to easily turn Wi-Fi on or off. The Web browser, which came with an update on June 6, is simple, but easy. There’s no Flash, tabbed browsing or HTML 5, but it is sufficient for everyday Web browsing.

The 3DS also has features called StreetPass and SpotPass. StreetPass allows you to interact with other 3DS users who may be walking past by giving you the option to be teammates in games or receive special items or characters from the other user. SpotPass allows you to receive notifications about games, such as DLC (downloadable content) features or game updates.

Overall grade: (A-)
Well, that's it. Overall, I would definitely recommend the 3DS, but if you're thinking of buying, you might want to wait until Aug. 12, when the price will drop from $249 to $169. 
BTW Dad, can I do more of these reviews in the future?