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25 min ago

Hands on with Nokia's new Android phones: the 3, 5, and 6

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The rebirth of another storied smartphone brand begins. This time it's Nokia.

Nokia is still a company that is focusing on their core business: networking technology. They're quite good at it; there's a good chance you're using Nokia tech on a regular basis through your cellular network, even if it's not a Nokia. But the Nokia brand? That's all about smartphones. And while Nokia knew that, they also sold their phone business to Microsoft in 2015 (which Microsoft has struggled to turn into a successful business as well). So with no phone business of their own and a bunch of disgruntled former Nokia/Microsoft employees, HMD was born.

HMD is licensing the Nokia brand to produce phones bearing the Nokia name, look, and spirit (much as BlackBerry has licensed their brand to TCL and produced the BlackBerry KEYone). Nokia's new phones are a departure from the old ones in one very important way: gone is Windows, all hail the new Android-powered Nokia.

While Nokia might come out with some higher-end devices in the months and years to come, the Nokia 3, 5, and 6 are decidedly low-end phones. But don't let the low-end specs or prices fool you — these are shockingly nice phones.

Nokia 3

On the bottom rung of the new Nokia smartphone line-up is the Nokia 3. This 5-inch phone is powered by a lowly MediaTek 6737 processor (a quad-core 1.3GHz chip) and sports 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, plus microSD expansion support. It's certainly not a powerhouse phone, nor should you expect it to be. The IPS LCD is a respectable 1280x720 (that's 294ppi at 5 inches), while the cameras are 8MP on the front and back — both are ƒ/2.0 lenses with 1.12um pixels.

This phone has a two-part construction that will be familiar to most Nokia fans, with an aluminum unibody frame and a polycarbonate back plate. It's fairly reminiscent of the old Nokia 925. It feels really solid and comes in your choice of a silver+white, black, dark blue, and a sexy copper frame with a white back. There's no fingerprint reader here, and there's a trio of capacitive navigation buttons under the display.

Software-wise, the phone's running Android 7.0, and aside from the custom camera app is "pure" Android, down to using the same launcher as the Pixel phones. Despite the low-end hardware, in poking around the phone it was actually nicely responsive. Just goes to show what kind of experience you can get on even middling hardware when you don't load it down with bunches of poorly implemented customizations.

The phone itself measures 8.48mm thick (so not the thinnest, but also not bulky) and packs a Cat. 4 LTE radio and 2650mAh battery. The only real knock against the phone is one that's somewhat understandable, given the price point, and that's the Micro-USB port instead of the modern USB-C. But at just €139, there's only so much you can ask for.

Nokia 5

The Nokia 5 comes in a bit larger and a bit more powerful. It bumps up to a 5.2-inch IPS display, though still with a 1280x720 resolution (that's 282ppi at this size) and swaps the MediaTek processor for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 chipset. It has the same 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal storage, microSD expansion, and Cat. 4 LTE support. The rear camera in the Nokia 5 has seen an upgrade, jumping to 13MP, though still with 1.12um pixels and an ƒ/2 aperture lens. Again, the Micro-USB port makes a sad appearance, providing power to a 3000mAh cell.

A fingerprint sensor sits front-and-center below the display, taking the place of the home button, though it's still flanked by capacitive back and multitasking buttons. The body of the phone is a single piece of machine aluminum, coming in silver, black, dark blue, and copper, though all have black glass fronts with lightly curved edges. While it's hard to do a machined aluminum phone without making it look like an iPhone, HMD set the Nokia 5's antenna cutouts along the top and bottom of the phone — as if the iPhone 7's plastic-inlay strips had been shifted slightly off the backside.

The end result is a phone that simply feels and looks great, and at €189 it's an easy sell.

Nokia 6

The current top end of HMD's smartphone line-up is the Nokia 6. This phone was actually launched in early January 2017 in China, but is now making its global debut at the starting price of just €229 in matte black, silver, copper, or "tempered blue".

For that price, you're actually getting a really decent phone. Running on top of a Snapdragon 430 CPU with 3GB of RAM and a 32GB internal storage drive (plus microSD expansion) is a 5.5-inch laminated IPS LCD panel with a full HD 1920x1090 resolution. While it looked a little yellow, it was admittedly hard to judge in the blue-hued light of the event venue.

The rear camera's been bumped up to a 16MP sensor (with smaller 1.0um pixels) behind a ƒ/2 lens, along with a dual-tone LED flash. The machined 6000-series aluminum body is simply beautiful and solidly built (as one would expect from a phone bearing the Nokia name).

Like the Nokia 5, you're looking at a bottom-front mounted fingerprint sensor flanked by capacitive navigation buttons and antenna cutouts that have been pushed to the very edge. The curved edges of have been swapped for more angled ones, with the front sporting a crisp chamfer.

Nokia 6 Arte Black

You like your black aluminum Nokia Android phones shiny? Then you'll want Arte Black edition of the phone. They've taken the aluminum body and polished it five times over and then anodized it black twice. Oh, and they upped the RAM to 4GB and the internal storage to 64GB. Otherwise, it's the same phone, just a shiny blank fingerprint magnet.

Want one? That'll be €299.

Android 7

HMD has taken a very spartan approach to the software; the Nokia series of phones is running Android 7 Nougat with barely any customizations — the only visible non-Google app was the camera app, which isn't a bad thing considering how minimal the Google Camera app is.

They're committing to staying on top of security and OS updates, which should be made easier by having stayed on the light side for their customizations and standardized as many components between the devices as possible. It's a question of if they'll be able to deliver, however. Nokia is merely the brand, and while HMD is full of veterans from Microsoft and Nokia, they're also a small and new company with limited resources. At least they won't have to worry about managing an entire manufacturing supply chain as Nokia did — HMD has outsourced their manufacturing to Foxconn — the same company that makes the iPhone (no wonder the Arte Black Nokia 6 looks familiar).

The trio of Nokia phones will be launching globally in the second quarter of 2017, with HMD putting special emphasis on getting the new phones into the developing markets where the price-to-performance ratio will be most appreciated.

Oh, and there's a brand-new Nokia 3310 feature phone coming and it's simply adorable.

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1 hour ago

Everything you need to know about the Gear VR Controller

The Samsung Gear VR finally has an official contrtoller.

Through Samsung's partnership with Oculus, the Gear VR was the first smartphone-based VR headset with controls built right into the side of the body. This design enables a lot of unique control mechanisms, which has turned into hundreds of fun games and apps every user can enjoy.

In much the same way the headset itself has changed and grown from generation to generation, this control mechanism has been improved to keep things interesting. But it still had its limits, most of which have been addressed by buying a separate gamepad to bring with you when you wanted to play. Now Samsung has a more portable alternative called the Gear VR Controller, allowing for even more flexibility in games and apps.

Read more at VR Heads!

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2 hours ago

Official: Samsung Galaxy S8 lands March 29!

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New flagship breaks cover in just over a month.

Samsung's 2017 flagship phones are about to move beyond mere rumor and speculation — Samsung is teasing the arrival of the Galaxy S8 on March 29 through invites sent out to press, in addiiton to a teaser at the end of its Mobile World Congress 2017 press conference. In it, the company invites customers to "unbox their phones," an apparent reference to the GS8's super-slim bezels.

The launch event will take place in New York City, with satellite events likely to take place around the globe.

In any case, the Galaxy S8 just became a whole lot more real.

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2 hours ago

Samsung Galaxy S8 expected to come with AKG headphones, audio tuning

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You just can't stop the rumors.

We were on hand to watch Samsung unveil its new Galaxy Tab S3 tablet here in Barcelona, which includes audio tuned by AKG. And while we were taking in all of the latest news, an interesting side comment really caught our attention: when talking about the audio tuning and headphones included with the Tab S3, it was mentioned that "our next flagship smartphone" will also have AKG headphones and audio tuning.

Well, that would be the Galaxy S8, wouldn't it? It sure is.

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2 hours ago

Best 360-degree Cameras

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There are a lot of 360-degree cameras out there, and there are going to be more. These are the best we've used.

This is going to be a big year for 360-degree cameras. And we don't mean big 360-degree cameras. Rather, we're talking about consumer-friendly cameras that are as easy to use as they are affordable. Cameras that can fit into a pocket or purse, and won't bust your wallet in the process. These are cameras that connect to your phone for remote shooting as well as sharing. These are cameras from mobile companies you know, like LG and Samsung, and others that you might not, like Ricoh and 360fly.

And there are a lot of cameras out there already, and so many more to come. We're going to take a look at as many as we can and rank them here.

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2 hours ago

Samsung's new Gear VR includes Oculus gesture controller

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New 2017 model Gear VR comes with new battery-powered touch controller.

Samsung has announced an updated Gear VR headset and controller combo at its Mobile World Congress press conference in Barcelona, Spain. The new 2017 Gear VR comes with a Daydream-style controller that allows for touch input, as well as pointing and dragging, tilting and shooting within the virtual world.

The headset itself looks near identical to the previous Gear VR, released alongside the Note 7 in late 2016, right down to the optics of the lenses and the dimensions and weight. Like that model, the new Gear VR supports the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S7, S7 edge, S6 edge+ and Note 5.

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3 hours ago

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 hands-on preview: The ghost of the Note 7 lives on in this tablet

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This svelte tablet is not only a performer, but it comes bundled with the software tricks and S Pen that made its phablet predecessor so popular.

I always say that the last great, fully-featured Android tablet was Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 because it fulfilled all the right criteria: it was stylish, thin, extremely light and came equipped with a vibrant Super AMOLED display that was really quite perfect for binge watching video.

That was nearly two years ago. Now we have the Galaxy Tab S3, Samsung's third-generation premium tablet. It's heftier, comes with an S Pen, and is covered in a premium glass finish that hearkens back to the Note 7 release that went terribly, terribly wrong. In this way, Samsung keeps its design prowess lingering on, as if to remind us that it's still innovating. And that's what the Tab S3 is anyway, right? A holdover launch to keep us salivating until the next eventual Galaxy smartphone release?

Let's get acquainted with Samsung's latest big tablet.

Galaxy Tab S3 Hands-on video

We have yet to spend too much time with the Galaxy Tab S3, but if you want to see it in action we have a great preview video for your enjoyment. Watch above, then read on for further impressions of the new tablet!

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3 hours ago

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 specs

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The Galaxy Tab S3 is the first major premium Android tablet in a while and it's geared up with flagship-worthy specs.

Like the Galaxy S7 edge and Galaxy Note 7 before it, the Galaxy Tab S3 is essentially repurposed smartphone parts shoved into a 9.7-inch chassis. And that's not bad at all -- the Snapdragon 820 helped introduce Vulkan API to Galaxy S7 users and it's on the Tab S3, too. Charge those Bluetooth-connected gamepads and get ready to play with your new mobile entertainment system.

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3 hours ago

Samsung introduces Galaxy Tab S3 at MWC 2017 with 9.7-inch display, S Pen

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The 9.7-inch premium tablet is made of glass and metal and features last year's favorite mobile processor. It's also the first tablet in years to have an S Pen.

It's not the flagship we typically expect from Samsung around this time of year, but it's a Samsung debut nonetheless. The company has just introduced the Galaxy Tab S3, a 9.7-inch Android tablet that's the successor to the well-received Galaxy Tab S2.

The Galaxy Tab S3 runs on a Snapdragon 820 processor, the same chip fueling many top-end smartphone favorites from 2016. It's the first tablet to come equipped with the Vulkan API, which was a major selling point for both the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7 (RIP). The Galaxy Tab S3 is also paired with 4GB of RAM and a 6000mAh battery, which is powering a 2048x1536 Super AMOLED display, and it features AKG-tuned quad speakers that can adjust the sound direction based on the tablet's orientation.

The Galaxy Tab S3 only comes with 32GB of storage space, though it offers an expansion slot that's compatible with microSD cards to alleviate the storage anxiety. There are also two cameras on the Galaxy Tab S3: a 13-megapixel one on the back with an accompanying LED flash and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls or the occasional awkward tablet selfie.

More: Galaxy Tab S3 hands-on preview

If you were hoping for a productivity device, the Tab S3 is a worthy consideration. It's the first Galaxy tablet to come with an S Pen in tow since the Note 10.1. However, in this reprise the S Pen isn't dockable inside the device, and it's been tweaked so that it's thicker in an effort to make it easier to maneuver on the Tab S3's large glass display. It comes loaded with all the software features made famous by the Note 7, too, including the instant animated gif feature, PDF annotation and Screen off memo, which allows you to take a note by simply touching the S Pen to the screen. If you desire a keyboard, you can purchase the additional keyboard cover, which features chiclet keys for typing long drafts.

The Galaxy Tab S3 will be on sale later this season. Pricing and official release date are yet to be confirmed.

Press release:

Samsung Expands Tablet Portfolio with Galaxy Tab S3 and Galaxy Book, Offering Enhanced Mobile Entertainment and Productivity

New tablets demonstrate Samsung's continued heritage of delivering best-in-class Galaxy technology

– February 26, 2017 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. today announced the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and the Samsung Galaxy Book, stylishly designed tablets with advanced computing technology offering a premium mobile experience. For digital content enthusiasts, the Galaxy Tab S3 delivers superior video and gaming experiences along with versatile usage as a productivity tool, while the Galaxy Book gives professionals enhanced computing power for work and play.

The Galaxy Tab S3 comes with a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display and the Galaxy Book is offered in a 10.6-inch TFT LCD version and 12-inch Super AMOLED version.

The new tablets unveiled at Mobile World Congress provide premium Galaxy technology including:

  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) Video Content: Galaxy Tab S3 and Galaxy Book 12-inch support videos in HDR (10bit colored) for true-to-life colors and vivid digital content.
  • Samsung Flow: Samsung Flow makes working on the go seamless. For a safe and secure login, Samsung Flow uses biometric authentication to log-in and can wirelessly tether compatible devices to transfer documents from a mobile device to a tablet. It also syncs message notifications so users never miss an important text message whether they're using a smartphone or their tablet.
  • Refined S Pen*: For a natural writing experience, the S Pen has a smaller 0.7mm tip and increased pressure sensitivity. The S Pen also includes convenient features such as Screen Off Memo to quickly jot down notes, PDF Annotation for easy editing and professional-level drawing with Advanced Drawing Tools.

Both tablets deliver on Samsung's legacy of innovative Galaxy technology including a 13-megapixel rear camera which includes auto focus and a 5-megapixel front camera for high-quality photos. The tablets also include expandable storage** and more power efficiency with fast-charge capabilities, supporting up to 12 hours of video playback on the Galaxy Tab S3 and up to 10.5 hours of video playback on the Samsung Book (12-inch). Both devices also support Pogo keyboards with no separate charging or pairing required.

"At Samsung, we are committed to expanding the boundaries of the mobile and computing experience by providing best-in-class products that satisfy mobile users' diverse needs and demands," said DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics. "Our new tablet portfolio is built with premium technology that delivers a productive and versatile experience to consumers, designed for users at home, work or on the go."

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3: Optimized for Entertainment yet offering versatile usage

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 takes mobile entertainment to the next level providing a cinema-like experience with 4K video playback and a stunning Super AMOLED display. In addition, the Galaxy Tab S3 is the first Samsung tablet to feature quad-stereo speakers tuned by AKG by HARMAN for premium visual and listening experiences. And with content partners like Amazon, enjoy instant access to HDR original videos.

Optimized for gaming, the Galaxy Tab S3 includes Vulkan API for superior graphics and Game Launcher for an enhanced user interface and personalized gaming experience, as well as modes like Do Not Disturb for uninterrupted gameplay.

With an enhanced S Pen, the Galaxy Tab S3 allows users to be more productive, creative, and do multiple things at once. The Galaxy Tab S3 is designed to keep users always connected with faster charging and longer battery life.

Samsung Galaxy Book: Enhanced Power and Performance in a 2-in-1 Design

Available in 10.6-inch and 12-inch models, the Samsung Galaxy Book caters to productive on-the-go professionals who are looking for a powerful computing device that isn't tied to the desktop. The Samsung Galaxy Book is lightweight and has a versatile form factor, easily transforming from a tablet to notebook.

For enterprise-grade performance, the Samsung Galaxy Book 12-inch is equipped with a 7th Generation Intel® CoreTM i5 processor, Dual Core 3.1GHz and the 10.6-inch with an Intel® CoreTM m3 processor, Dual core 2.6GHz.

Built on the Windows 10 operating system, the Galaxy Book offers the full desktop Microsoft Office experience for maximum productivity. It also features a keyboard that is larger and more tactile with discernible keys so users can comfortably type just as they would on a traditional computing device.

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3 hours ago

Samsung at MWC 2017: Galaxy Tab S3 livestream at 1:00 p.m. ET Feb. 26!

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 Galaxy Tab S3 liveblog

The latest from Samsung is set to be unveiled.

Even though we know the Galaxy S8 won't arrive until April, Samsung is well overdue for a tablet lineup refresh and that's what we're expecting to see at its MWC 2017 press conference. In particular we're looking at a Galaxy Tab S3 of some sort to replace the well-aged Galaxy Tab S2 series, and though we have a few details via leaks we don't know the whole story just yet.

Samsung could surely drop some interesting unexpected announcements on us as well, as is often the case at these big shows.

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4 hours ago

Motorola launching an Alexa-powered speaker Moto Mod with Amazon

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Amazon Alexa is expanding into phones, and Motorola's implementation is definitely the most interesting.

Motorola is set to launch a new Moto Mod for its Moto Z line that sits on a bedside table or at an office, providing Amazon Alexa connectivity through a Harman-branded speaker while docked.

Announced at the company's press conference for the Moto G5, Motorola says that its Moto Mods will take three forms in the future: first-party, collaborations, and full third-party creations. Motorola's head of Mods, Dan Dery, reiterated that the company is dedicated to the platform indefinitely, and that is may not need to launch phones as often in the future because Mods are so good at augmenting new features launched annually with phone refreshes from other companies.

The Alexa Mod, which doesn't have a release date, works as a dock, offering always-on listening and a loud Harman-made speaker to answer questions while the Moto Z is docked. It holds the phone at an angle for easy reference, and the company hinted that this wouldn't be the last partnership between the companies.

Dery also announced a few new Mods that will be launched in the coming months, including updated battery Mods, a small accessory to charge other Mods, a wireless charging attachment, and a game pad (which is my personal favorite).

He also outlined a number of prototype or concept Mods that may not see the light of day, such as a portable printer that connects to the phone, a multi-SIM card holder, and, most impressively, a robot building kit for kids.

Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play

Motorola Verizon

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4 hours ago

Nokia is back with three new Android phones, launching globally!

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Nokia at MWC

New Nokias will have 'pure Android' and Google Assistant.

Nokia already tipped its hand earlier in the year with the launch of the Nokia 6 in China, and now the handset is getting a global release, joined by two more affordable offerings, the Nokia 3 and Nokia 5, announced in Barcelona at its MWC 2017 press conference today.

The Nokia 6 is the same handset we've seen for the Chinese market, only with software geared towards the West. That means "pure" Android Nougat with Google Assistant, and a commitment to frequent automatic updates. Like its Chinese counterpart, the Nokia 6 includes a 5.5-inch Full HD display with 2.5D curved glass, a Snapdragon 430 SoC, 4GB of RAM, 64GB storage, microSD slot, dual-SIM connectivity, 16MP rear camera with PDAF (phase-detection autofocus), Dolby Atmos sound with stereo speakers, Bluetooth 4.1, LTE, 3000mAh battery, and a fingerprint sensor.

In Europe, it'll sell for €229, while the special black glass model will run €299 when it's available in the second quarter of 2017.

Nokia 6

The Nokia 5 steps down to a 5.2-inch display and 2GB of RAM with 16GB of storage, with a 6000-series aluminum body and antenna lines top and bottom, as part of a curved metallic design for €189. And at the entry level, the polycarbonate-backed Nokia 3 runs quad-core MediaTek chip and packs a 5-inch display, with RAM and storage configurations identical to the 5, priced at €139.

Nokia is clearly going after the entry-to-mid-range segment with its new handsets, with a handful of standout design features, and slick software that may tempt more tech-savvy users. What's more, the brand recognition of this veteran manufacturer shouldn't be underestimated.

We'll have more on all of Nokia's new Android phones from MWC 2017 landing shortly, so stay tuned!

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4 hours ago

Huawei P10 hands-on: Smaller, slimmer, smarter

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Huawei P10

Huawei's mainstream flagshi for 2017 builds on the solid foundations of the Mate 9 with upgraded cameras, a slim form factor and AI-powered performance — in two sizes.

Huawei's steady improvement throughout 2016 culminated in the Mate 9, a phone which remains our pick for the best big Android phone. Now, a little earlier in the year than usual, it's time for a new mainstream flagship from the Chinese firm.

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4 hours ago

Balance, simplicity and a tall screen: How the LG G6 was made

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LG G6

Over a year of development and testing went into the most substantial update to the G series since its inception.

With the amazing amount of coverage and information out there surrounding every smartphone launch today, everyone is quick to over-analyze and jump to conclusions about every minute aspect of a device. It has always been the purpose of our reviews to give context to all of the parts of a smartphone and how they all influence one another, but it's a rarity that we can tell a deeper story about the chain of thought that went into creating a new top-end phone came to be. The decisions before the decisions, if you will.

In mid-February, Alex Dobie and I had the unique opportunity of meeting several of the people deeply involved with the design, development and creation of the LG G6, including specialists in hardware, design, cameras, software and testing. Naturally the discussion centered around the latest top-end device from LG, giving us insights into the thought process and development of a complex smartphone, but the discussions also gave us great insight into just what it takes to design, build and launch a smartphone today.

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5 hours ago

Moto G5 + Moto G5 Plus hands-on: A little less convention, a little more action

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The Moto G line gets another solid update, but a few confounding choices keep it from perfection.

There is no doubt as to whether the Moto G5 and its larger, more powerful sibling, the Moto G5 Plus, are the most attractive in Motorola's four year-old series. Incorporating subtle curves into aluminum, the devices are comfortable to hold, easy to use in one hand, and belie their entry-level prices.

But when you dig into the phones themselves — especially the more expensive Moto G5 Plus — you come away with the impression of yet another safe and data-driven upgrade in a series that continues to be Motorola's, and increasingly its parent company Lenovo's, most important mobile asset.

Specs

Category Moto G5 Moto G5 Plus Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat Display 5-inch LCD 1920x1080 (441 ppi) 5.2-inch LCD 1920x1080 (424 ppi)
Gorilla Glass 3 Processor Snapdragon 430 1.4GHz octa-core
Adreno 505 GPU Snapdragon 625 2GHz octa-core
Adreno 506 GPU Storage 32GB (LATAM)
16GB (ROW) 32/64GB (U.S.)
16/32GB (APAC)
32GB (LATAM/EMEA) Expandable microSD card up to 128GB microSD card up to 128GB RAM 2GB (CA, LATAM, IRL, AU, JP, NZ)
3GB (IN, TR) 2GB (LATAM)
3GB (EMEA)
3/4GB (APAC) Rear Camera 13MP, f/2.0, 1.1-micron pixels, PDAF 12MP, f/1.7, 1.4-micron pixels, dual AF pixels Front Camera 5MP, f/2.2, 1.4-micron pixels 5MP, f/2.2, 1.4-micron pixels Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band
Bluetooth 4.2 Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC (except U.S.) Battery 2800mAh
Removable 3000mAh
Removable Charging Micro-USB
10W rapid charger Micro-USB
15W TurboPower charger Water resistance Water-repellant nano-coating Water-repellant nano-coating Security Fingerprint sensor Fingerprint sensor Dimensions 144.3 x 73 x 9.5 mm 150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm Weight 144.5 g 155 g Colors Lunar gray, fine gold, Sapphire blue (EMEA) Lunar gray, fine gold

Moto G5

The smaller of the two phones has made the transition to metal this year, and has been graced with a front-facing fingerprint sensor that looks considerably better than the square obstruction on the Moto G4 (and Moto Z line) from last year. Indeed, that the G5 is physically smaller is a diversion from 2016's Moto Gs, too— the Moto G4 and its Plus variant both sported 5.5-inch 1080p LCD displays, whereas the Moto G5 has been compacted, reportedly at users' requests, to five inches.

The screen, though 1080p, is not great: you can visibly see the lines that make up the panel when the screen is off, and brightness is not going to win awards. It also eschews the Gorilla Glass of the base Moto G4 for, well, nothing. There's glass, for sure, but it's not branded and may not hold up to scratch scrutiny, though we'll have to see.

Inside, Motorola has shifted the base Moto G to a different chip than its Plus variant, further separating the two devices in their assumed demographics. Now with a Snapdragon 430 — an octa-core chip potentially slower than last year's Snapdragon 617, though freer of overheating issues — clocked at 1.4GHz, it should be sufficient for most tasks, but it's clear that the 2017 Moto G is slowly encroaching, or it means to, the same market as the Moto E.

The Moto G5 looks a lot nicer than last year's model, but internally it's a lateral move.

That's not a bad thing. At €199, the Moto G5 is a good deal more expensive than what we've come to expect from the Moto E (which technically still exists, but only in certain markets), and with a metal frame it's going to come across to the average consumer like a much more high-end device, despite the hit in specs. And like previous models, the amounts of RAM and storage differ between markets — 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of storage — but I think most people are going to be pretty happy with the finished product.

If you turn the phone over, the 13MP camera shows itself embedded in a new, circular module that looks akin to the one found on the popular Moto Z line. That brand symmetry is purposeful, but while Motorola wouldn't confirm it, the actual 13MP sensor and f/2.0 lens appears to be the same as in last year's Moto G4. The phone's back cover is also removable, a concession made to people that still want to replace battery cells — there's a 2,800mAh cell in here — though the two metal parts click in place with satisfying precision.

Moto G5 Plus

This is the phone that has received the bulk of the improvements this year. A much-nicer 1080p panel at 5.2 inches keeps the body size down and screen density up, while inside the Snapdragon 625 is an enormous bump in performance and efficiency from last year's Snapdragon 617. Having used the same chip in the Moto Z Play, most G5 Plus owners are going to be very happy with this development.

Like the smaller phone, the Moto G5 Plus is mostly metal — and without a removable backplate — and the 3,000mAh battery should go further than last year's already-efficient G4 Plus. That Snapdragon 625 is paired with between 2GB and 4GB of RAM, depending on the market, and between 16GB and 64GB of storage (though most markets, including the U.S., will have 32GB base). The number of variants is dizzying, and speaks to the data-focused approach the Motorola team took when designing and building this global device.

It's time to suck it up and change the Moto G line to USB-C.

The U.S. is getting two versions of the Moto G5 Plus — the smaller G5 is only coming to Canada in North America — one with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and the other with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Starting at $229, that's not a bad deal, especially for an entry-level device that should be a contender for one of the longest-lasting handsets in its price class.

And then there's the G5 Plus's camera which, though lower-resolution at 12MP, is a considerable upgrade over the 16MP shooter in the premium version of Moto's 2016 variant. While Motorola isn't sharing the exact part, we know that the sensor has 1.4 micron pixels, which should make it much better in low light, aided by an f/1.7 aperture, phase-detection and laser-based autofocus, and a color-balancing dual LED flash.

Moto G5 Plus, indoors

Jargon aside, I found the rear camera to be reliable in most lighting situations — and impressive when holding on to light indoors. Still present is the Moto Action everyone loves, the double-twist-to-camera which, along with the speedy camera interface, should make for the Moto G5 Plus's marquee feature. The front-facing camera, a 5MP sensor with 1.4 micron pixels and a wide-angle lens, appears to be identical to last year — the same as on the smaller Moto G5 — and certainly passable.

Some Moto G5 Plus camera samples.

A 3,000mAh battery rounds out the important bits of the spec list; the same-sized cell should get considerably more uptime thanks to that Snapdragon 625.

I do have some quibbles with the Moto G5 Plus, especially the one coming to North America. First, like its smaller counterpart, it's still using Micro-USB. That's increasingly an aberration in phones of any cost, and while Motorola may be stuck with additional implementation fees, it's a bandage the company will have to pull at some point. The official line is that it ensures compatibility with accessories used for years by Moto G users, and that's fair, but the line won't hold forever.

Second, there's no NFC in the U.S. variant of the phone — the rest of the world gets it — which is an odd omission for a market looking to increase its uptake of mobile payments. Sure, the uses for NFC are limited, and the justifications for cost savings considerable when the U.S. dollar is strong and the pressure to keep prices low is the top concern, but at this point the radio seems like it should be table stakes alongside things like Bluetooth and GPS.

The design, too, plays it safe. I like the offbeat, confident appearance of the Moto Z line — though I'm glad to see Motorola has conceded to a rounded fingerprint sensor — but the Moto G5 Plus is now yet another rounded metal smartphone, a design-by-committee approach to pocket computers. It's not ugly by any means, but it makes little impression.

Software touches

Both Moto G5 variants run Android 7.0 out of the box, and while there are few remarkable things about the software — a good thing, in my opinion, since Motorola keeps things close to Google's idea of what Android should be — the company has made some notable additions.

First, there's Google Assistant, the second (and third) devices beyond the LG G6 and the Pixels themselves that have it built in. The feature wasn't implemented in the demo units I played with, but retail versions will have it.

Motorola has also spruced up the initimable Moto Display feature, adding support for more colors, a more attractive circular time widget, and a very helpful new shortcut feature that jumps right into parts of an app — a specific email, say, instead of just Gmail — that will inevitably save people time.

Finally, there's this neat new feature called One Button Nav that, while probably never going to be a mainstream choice, eschews the traditional virtual navigation keys on Android for a gesture-based system that relies on the fingerprint sensor.

A swipe left is back, a swipe right, multitasking, a press-and-hold becomes Google Assistant and a touch remains home. It's something Lenovo has been noodling with for a while, and though I don't think it's a particularly necessary feature, it's one the company says proved very popular in beta testing, especially when these devices have smaller screens than their immediate predecessors.

A natural evolution

As I am every year, I'm impressed with Motorola's ability to shuffle cards around to make it appear like its latest Moto G product is a bigger upgrade than it is in reality. The Moto G5 is, in some ways, a lateral move, opting for higher build quality over better specs. Users likely won't notice any performance improvements over the previous generation — in daily tasks, it may even be slower — and the smaller battery won't do it any favors, either. But the addition of a fingerprint sensor is important to the company's messaging, and it does feel much nicer in the hand than the plasticky Moto G4.

The Moto G5 Plus is a bit more complicated to talk about. There are real, substantive improvements in every major area, including display, camera, performance and design. I'm happy with the decision to reduce screen size in favor of a phone that is more easily usable in one hand, and the 12MP camera sensor should please everyone invested in the Moto G ecosystem. But the decision to stick with Micro-USB, and the lack of NFC, feel like concessions that shouldn't be necessary in 2017.

But the Moto G line, while popular in the U.S., is tailor-made for countries still building their mobile ecosystems, and these devices show leadership in almost every area. Motorola surveyed thousands of people, and used purchase data from every market, to determine what to upgrade and where to cut and, as usual, it appears they made the right decisions.

The Moto G5 and G5 Plus will be available beginning in early March in some markets. U.S. availability of the Moto G5 Plus has yet to be determined.

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