Galaxy S7, Android 8.0 Oreo (My Next Phone: Revisited)

Recently, I hit the 1.5yr mark with my Galaxy S7, and wanted to give you an update of how it’s being going.

Wear and tear

As I’ve always had my phone in a leather flip case, my S7 is showing barely any signs of wear and tear.

However, there is some paint chipping on the home button – it still works, but my constant use of the screenshot feature may have caused this extra wear/tear.

Performance

Phone also performs well, just as speedy as when it was new. I do keep it on Power Saving mode to prolong battery life when out and about, but when I occasionally bring it out of PS mode, it’s incredibly fast and capable of everything I throw at it.

Gaming – tick.

Movies – tick.

Battery Life

I recently updated my S7 from Android 7.1 Nougat to Android 8.0.0 Oreo (SM-G930F, EE, UK).

Battery life has taken a slight hit during constant daily usage (I’m what’s known as a ‘heavy user’), but nothing too drastic if it’s in my pocket and not being used a lot.

For example, last week I volunteered at a beer festival for 9 hours. As a testament to the quality of the device and battery, from a full charge, I used the camera a bit and did some social networking while at the beer festival. When I got home at midnight, the battery still had 58% capacity remaining. Impressive, given that my device is now almost 19 months old.

Camera

Camera has been okay for past 19 months. Haven’t really used selfie camera at all, but when I have, results have been varied – photo quality is okay during daylight, but at night and indoors, photo quality isn’t great at all. Beauty mode seems to be on by default – even if I toggle the switches to turn it off. The front flash – basically, the screen flashing white – does help, but both these things I hadn’t realised until very recently.

Otherwise, camera does a decent job. Personally I prefer 16:9 photos, even if that means a drop to 9 MP. However, I have been using the upper, 12 MP setting at 4:3 scale, for a few months now – results aren’t bad. I’ll leave a few photos on here for you to judge for yourself.

Game Launcher

Game Launcher is really useful, keeps games separate from other apps, meaning less of a decluttered apps drawer. Also helps to add Netflix (etc.) to it, as GL stops all pop-up notifications – they’ll still be there, but in background, meaning I can watch my favourite shows undisturbed.

Music

I’ve had to resort to using the default, Samsung Music app, which is actually pretty good, and everything that I want in a music app.

I wanted to use PowerAmp, like on my previous Android device, but a constant SD card removal/discovery pop-up notification on boot-up of phone – I’m assuming a software problem is responsible for this – means PowerAmp playlists kept resetting every time I turned my phone on/off. Therefore, the default Samsung Music app has been my mainstay for the last 1.5 years.

Samsung Music can also play FLAC and WAV files, so that’s a plus.

Accessories – GearVR

GearVR is also really good. I got a cheaper, older model – one that was made for the S7/Edge model year, and cost me just £30 from Amazon.

VR picture quality is surprisingly good, a lot better than what I was expecting – especially given that my previous experience of Virtual Reality was limited to a cheap copy of Google Cardboard.

However, VR is not perfect, wears the battery down like there’s no tomorrow and sometimes stops working because it reckons my device is ‘too hot’ – something I’ve been able to confirm as untrue when I remove the phone from the headset.

Original USB Charging Cable

Original cable lasted less than 12 months, and I resorted to safety tape to repair it.

However, I then went and bought a few replacements from Amazon, as well as a spare Quick Charge 3.0 adapter. These all work very well with my S7, with no problems whatsoever.

Wireless Qi Charging

This feature I’ve never used. The reason? If you still have to plug the wireless charger base into the wall (and then place the phone on the base), to my mind it’s still technically-speaking ‘wired.’

Most options I’ve seen, including Samsung’s own wireless chargers, don’t get great reviews, and take longer than wired cables to charge the phone to 100%. Therefore, I’d be paying for a luxury that (in my opinion) doesn’t really exist.

I have, however, been looking into 10W dual- or triple-coiled Qi chargers, as these promise faster charge times, similar to Quick Charge. And if they could work like portable batteries, in that they’re ‘portable’ and can be used away from mains sockets, then I’d consider a purchase.

But in their current form, wireless chargers are a waste of money for me – especially as I’m likely to always be sitting right next to a wall socket at home or in the office.


That’s all for now, more in a bit.

– Chris JK.

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My Next Phone: Revisited – Android OEM Skins (née ‘Flavours of Android’)

I wrote this post around November, 2016, when I was deciding between phone manufacturers and comparing Android skins (the User Interface and manufacturer-specific ‘skin’ on top of stock Android) from each of those OEMs. I’ve updated it a little, to reflect my newfound experience with the Galaxy S7.


Now that I’ve decided what Operating System I’ll be going with for my next phone, it’s time to look at the different skins, or what I call ‘flavours,’ of Android. I’m not talking about OS updates (e.g. Lollipop, Marshmallow or Nougat), but how different phone manufacturers take the Android OS, give it a dose of their own branding and change the user interface to make it their own.

Many will argue that the best skin is stock Android – Android as it was intended, in its bare minimum form. But stock Android only comes on a selected number of devices, including the old Nexus and Pixel/2 phones.

For the majority of people who don’t get a Google Pixel/XL or Pixel 2/XL, a new phone will come with a pre-installed skin and, traditionally, lots of bloatware (pre-installed apps that you can’t uninstall). The bloatware is there for a few reasons – mostly, for advertising, and also because that advertising subsidises the cost of the phone, thus reducing the overall price – sometimes, networks have their own pre-installed apps on phones too, which can be especially annoying for consumers.

You may like the OEM skin, but you also might not, and that’s where downloading a custom launcher will come in handy. For that stock look, the Google Now Launcher is your best bet, although many more are available such as Nova Launcher or Action Launcher 3.

But a custom launcher won’t get rid of the bloatware, or the default skin. It will be layered on top. To be able to uninstall the default skin, and/or bloatware apps which can only be disabled, you’d need to ‘root’ your phone – this would, however, likely void your phone’s warranty, and isn’t something many people will be able to do.

While it is fairly a technical process, with a lot of essential reading involved, it’s not impossible to root your device – I was able to successfully root my HTC Wildfire a few years ago, and install a custom ROM – but it’s not something I’d want to be doing with a brand new phone on contract.

Therefore, knowing what’s available, and choosing wisely, is the difference between phone heaven and phone hell.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the Android landscape and analyse the pros and cons of the different skins available, from HTC’s Sense UI to Samsung’s TouchWiz.


HTC: Sense UI

Sense UI has been around from the start. I remember the first time I experienced Sense UI – with my HTC Wildfire running Android Gingerbread, which seems like a dinosaur compared to the modern roster of smartphones. And to tell you the truth, Sense UI felt much the same on my HTC Desire Eye. Sure, there’s been a few enhancements in the looks department, it’s very efficient and simple, the way Android should be – but for me, there’s no fizz. It’s flat. Too flat. Like flat Coca-Cola. It looks like Android Marshmallow, it feels like Android 6, but it lacks feeling.

After initial use in-store of a One A9S and HTC 10 (Nov 2016), there’s nothing to keep me glued to Sense UI. And here’s why:

When I first got my Desire Eye, I loved it, I loved the new developments with Sense, and I loved the user experience. Sadly, however, I’ve seen how that user interface has slowly diminished.

The much-touted Blinkfeed feature, once advertised as a social and news congregator that could be set as the default screen, or which sits just off to the left of your homescreen, was fantastic when it was first launched, but now it’s little more than a social feed that lacks the customisation settings I used to toggle, and riddled with adverts left, front and centre. The only purpose of Blinkfeed now seems to be to show us a ‘last success,’ a feature of the distant past which has now been updated and ruined. Why fix what isn’t broken?

The home screen, while customisable with the ample collection of free themes from the Themes store, still has a basic 4×4 grid layout that’s rather plain, dull and drab compared to other Android skin variants (the vivid TouchWiz comes to mind). If anything, it reminds me of the boxed notepads we used in school in Mathematics lessons – the worst part being that you can’t change the size of the grid. It’s 4×4, on every screen, for app icons and widgets.

I want a device to look great from the offset, without me having to download a custom launcher like Nova and apply my own choice of icons, grid size and layout. The HTC experience feels too limiting, too restrictive. From what I’ve seen of Android 7 on HTC devices, it doesn’t look like much of an improvement either.

To top it off, the devices aren’t great from HTC this year (2016). If I’m ‘upgrading,’ I would like to replace my Desire Eye with a superior phone, but a quick look at the specs sheet of many of HTC’s current crop of devices, not including the HTC 10, shows that in fact I’d be exchanging my Desire Eye for a newer, albeit much inferior HTC device.

I guess that’s why I’ve effectively already decided My Next Phone will not be a HTC. I’ve made the decision to jump ship, especially while I still think highly of HTC.

Maybe I shall return to the brand again in the future – that is, if they’re still around, and hopefully they are, because the new Google Pixel phones, manufactured by HTC, while way too expensive for my budget, look and feel great. You just know those chamfered edges are HTC’s own curves!


Huawei: EMUI

I’ve heard and seen this skin compared to iOS, and I must say I’m impressed. Sure, the lack of an app drawer is a small annoyance, but I hear you can now enable this in the Settings in more newer versions of the EMUI skin. However, the otherwise lack of an app drawer in the default skin is one disadvantage I would be willing to accept for the best of both worlds – the sleek sexiness of iOS, coupled with the functionality and customisability of Android.

I guess it helps that I was, and still am, absolutely in love with the Huawei P9, despite its shortcomings on camera/video capture. It’s metal body was so premium, it’s dual lens camera system unique despite facing stiff competition from the LG G5, G6, newer Moto phones and the hugely more expensive iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, but it even felt great in the hand – as does it’s younger siblings, the Huawei P10 and Honor 9.

I can’t see myself using the knuckle screenshot feature a lot, and can see myself parting ways with a few pennies for an ad-free screenshot app, but I love the EMUI skin. It’s everything I want in a phone. Huawei, and the EMUI experience, are unsurprisingly at the top of my list at the moment, and it will take a lot to knock them off the top spot.


LG

Which is where LG comes in. Again, it helps that I like the unique wide angle lens setup of the G5, and the system UI is great too. On the UI/skin side of things, I haven’t had much experience with LG’s skin, however, from my various trials with demo devices in store, it certainly seems up to scratch and very comparable to the TouchWiz experience from it’s bigger South Korean tech giant rival, Samsung.


Samsung: TouchWiz

I’m sure this is something I don’t share with others, but I’ve had a great experience with TouchWiz in the past. Despite the general consensus being that it was clunky, too vibrant and too bloated, my Galaxy Tab Pro came with TouchWiz (Android Jelly Bean, and later, Android 4.4 KitKat) and I found it to be easy to use and functional. To this day (Feb 2018), it remains a reliable 3rd device, despite having problems with the battery life, and is ultimately the device responsible for me choosing Android over another Windows Phone (which was also due to specific apps) and the budget 16GB iPhone 5S.

After initial use of the updated TouchWiz on an S6 Edge in my local store, it felt functional despite being vivid – it still had that annoying, bright turquoise blue and green colour combination, something which I know has gone on the S7, replaced by a more eye-friendly white and blue colour combo. It’s also customisable thanks to a Themes store, similar to HTC’s, although sadly most of the Themes on Samsung’s Themes store app are paid options, all ranging around the £2.50 mark.

Still, it’s nice to see customisation in areas where it previously wasn’t available. From initial looks, it appears you can also change the colours of the Settings app.

There are a lot of Samsung apps as well, something which many people would brand as blatant Bloatware, but it doesn’t seem too bad compared to previous editions of TouchWiz. Also, unlike many of HTC’s own apps, which I never used and found to be taking up valuable space on my 16GB Desire Eye, Samsung’s own branded apps feel useful. Each app is so functional, that I feel no need to download individual applications, such as Calendar or Contacts.

After a few uses, I can see myself getting very used to the Samsung interface, although at this stage, the S7 and S7 Edge are way too expensive for my budget (correct as of Nov 2016, although as I’ve already said in my last post, this changed after a phone call to my network, EE).

Whereas the S7 and S7 Edge benefit from expandable storage, the S6/Edge didn’t come with the Micro SD card slots, so I couldn’t see myself going for the older, cheaper flagship models either. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but if I was rating these UI’s, I’d put Sense UI in 5th/last place, Sony in 4th, LG 3rd, TouchWiz 2nd, and Huawei’s EMUI in 1st. (NB: this ranking has changed after extensive use with my Galaxy S7 – I had originally ranked TouchWiz in 4th, with LG 2nd.)


Sony

Why did I rate Sony’s Android skin higher than Samsung’s TouchWiz, I hear you ask? For the simple reason that you get the simplest Android experience while still getting a great looking interface.

Also, you get the best of Sony as well. Music app? Walkman. A great name and an even better brand of devices. I’ve owned a Sony Ericsson phone and two Walkman MP3 players – I still have one of the MP3 players, it still works, and the sound quality is still miles better than my old iPod Touch (which I no longer have, since it needed a battery replacement and the repairs so costly that it was cheaper to get a new ‘iTouch.’ So, as it was insured, I used the value-of voucher issued to me against a 2-in-1 ultrabook, which is half laptop and half tablet. It’s proved much more useful than another annoying iFruit.)

Camera app? Yep, Sony’s experience with digital cameras and user interfaces is included here as well. It’s not the best camera app I’ve ever had the pleasure of using, but everything that needs to be there, is there: HDR mode, Selfie mode, Manual mode, plus a roster of extra, downloadable camera modes and apps that you can open and use within the main Sony Camera app.

The UI is great too. It’s got the flair of stock Android that’s hard to replicate, with custom flashy icons that seem to stand out against any wallpaper without being too obtrusive. It’s unique and flashy, and yet it’s also subtle. For me, it’s what HTC’s Sense UI should be, but isn’t.

Speaking of which, Sony still offers just enough colour and vibrancy in their UI, and functionality in their user experience, to keep me interested in their phones. The Xperia lineup, while not the most popular, offers a wide range of phones to suit my budget and liking.

Back in December 2016, I found myself seriously considering the Xperia X Compact, the smaller and cheaper sibling to the Xperia X. Despite its body being made of a cheap feeling plastic, I loved it. I still love it. It felt like it would survive a fall without incurring too much damage, all while still looking great. It had curves in all the right places, it was small and was very easy to use one-handed. If I hadn’t been persuaded that the Galaxy S7 was the best device, and older flagship considering the Galaxy S8 was due to be released, I probably wouldn’t have made that aforementioned knee-jerk reaction to get the S7 over the P9. I’d like to think that I would have gone for the Xperia X Compact, and might still do in the future.


Conclusion

I think that about sums up the main Android skins currently available, but an honourable mention must be given to OnePlus, whose devices and software/Android skin has been hailed as one of the best, if not even better and more functional than stock Android (by the likes of Android Central, Mr Mobile and Unbox Therapy, among others).

The only reason I didn’t include OnePlus in my comparison is that, at the time when I was trying to get my new, ‘Next Phone,’ OnePlus phones weren’t readily available on contract in the UK. Only one major network had recently been signed up to supply OnePlus phones at the end of 2016, and that was O2 (formerly known as BT Cellnet before the business was sold by BT to Spanish company Telefonica).

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll recall how my personal experience with O2 wasn’t great and I didn’t fancy going back to them, either. As I didn’t have the budget to buy the phone outright, and my only option to get a OnePlus on contract was with O2, I didn’t see why I should get my hopes up with the advantages of OnePlus’ UI when there was no possibility of me walking away with a OnePlus phone. Thus, I left it out of my reviews. I would, however, consider a OnePlus device in the future if the contract situation was to change.

-Chris K.

My Next Phone: Revisited – How I chose the Galaxy S7

I’d had my heart set on the Huawei P9, which had beaten the LG G5 to the top of my list. I wanted my next phone to be superior in all areas than my current device, and the Huawei P9 fitted the bill.

While the Huawei P9 was fantastic with taking photos – the dual lens setup working to its advantage – slow motion video clips on YouTube, which had been shot on the P9, proved to be more blurry and pixelated than slow motion videos shot on my HTC phone. That left me feeling disappointed and let down.

In what was, I suspect, a knee-jerk reaction, I went hands down for the S7 – the mix of OIS/video stabilisation, and capability to shoot high quality slo-mo videos, had impressed me.

It was then just a matter of the cost – which was easily resolved after a few phone calls to my network/carrier, EE, who brought the monthly price down to a more manageable figure, bundled with a few extras including 3 times as much data per month than I had before.

Within a few days, the Galaxy S7 was delivered to my house, and after I popped in my new SIM card, I was now holding ‘My Next Phone.’

On reflection, it was a very spur of the moment decision – a knee-jerk reaction – to seeing poor quality videos on YouTube which had supposedly been captured on the Huawei P9.

In hindsight, it could’ve ended badly, although I’m happy to report that this is not the case. I’ve had this Galaxy S7 now for 1 year and 2 months, and it still feels like new. It’s got enough features to keep me happy, something which I found was lacking on my HTC Desire Eye after the same amount of time.

Also, after a quick look at the current crop of new smartphones, I can honestly say I’m still happy with my Galaxy S7 as my main phone and daily driver, with my HTC Desire Eye proving to be a useful ‘second device’ – which I’ve used on numerous occasions when trialling a new Launcher, for example.

I’ll be talking about both devices in more detail in an upcoming post, but I think I’ll end this post here for now. Thanks for reading!

-Chris K.