Can you make a gif of your eyes bleeding for me?
Those who’ve never been to Engadget HQ have never gazed upon our vast storage archives, full of strange, lost artifacts from forgotten eras, not unlike the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. When the HDX arrived, we did some digging and happened upon the device’s ancestor, a utilitarian rectangle from the prehistoric days of 2011 that looked to be birthed from the same assembly line as BlackBerry’s first tablet. Amazon might make its money through selling content, (as Bezos told us last week, his company “make[s] money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices”), but the company is keenly aware that being competitive in this arena requires cutting-edge specs and the occasional hardware rethink. At least as far as budget 7-inch tablets are concerned, Amazon’s delivered here.
The Kindle Fire is looking fairly svelte this time around. Amazon’s continued to shave a few more fractions of an inch from all dimensions. The 7-inch HDX comes in at 7.3 x 5.0 x 0.35 inches, down from 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4 on last year’s model. It’s also noticeably shorter and just a touch thicker than the new Nexus 7, which measures 7.87 x 4.49 x 0.34 inches. The Fire’s diminished waist size has helped it shed a few precious ounces as well, shrinking from 13.9 last year down to 10.7 for the WiFi-only version (that’s 11 ounces on the 4G version). All told, then, assuming you get the WiFi model, it’s just a little heavier than the Nexus 7, which weighs in at 10.2 ounces. It’s light enough for those late-night Under the Dome marathons — don’t be ashamed, we’re all friends here — but still feels reassuringly solid.
The display is glossy. Really glossy. Just try taking a picture of the thing outside without catching yourself in the shot. It’s not easy. Believe us. Amazon lists “reduced glare” among the HDX’s features, but the company also quickly points out that if you’re looking for a device to do some reading on out by the pool, well, it’s got this thing called the Paperwhite you might want to check out. Once again, there’s a webcam front and center here. The company’s not talking megapixels on this one, but it does say that the camera can shoot in 720p, just like its predecessor. That means it’s sufficient for video calls (Skype is available through the Fire’s app store), but it isn’t ready to replace your point-and-shoot. Unlike the Nexus 7, which sports a 5-megapixel main camera, there’s no rear-facing shooter here. For that kind of dual-camera action, you’ll need to upgrade to the new 9-inch Fire.
The HDX’s body sort of splits the difference between its predecessors. It’s not nearly as boxy as the first generation and it’s not quite as rounded as the HD. The rear retains the soft-touch feel of its predecessor, with some slight angling along the edges. On the left is a big volume rocker and on the right is a large power button. The buttons feel solid and are big to save you some time when fumbling around in the dark to turn the tablet on.
Along the top is a glossy black plastic band that houses a speaker grille on either side. Last time around, we questioned their placement on the middle of the back cover; you couldn’t really avoid muffling the sound when holding the device. Amazon apparently listened to popular feedback: it moved them to the top, a spot that also makes sense with the optional Origami cover. Like the new Paperwhite, Amazon’s ditched the subtler Kindle logo for the familiar Amazon “A to Z” in glossy black plastic, smack-dab in the middle of the back. We’re fans of subtlety when it comes to device branding, but as we said in the Paperwhite review, the vast majority of the time the tablet’s in use, the logo is going to be covered by your hand, a case or both. And hell, it’s Amazon. We’d be surprised if it didn’t use the available real estate as some sort of a billboard. Be thankful the company isn’t advertising Fifty Shades of Grey back there.
On the right side, you’ll find the headphone jack, for those times when the rear-facing speakers aren’t situation-appropriate. Believe us, no one else on your morning commute is quite as psyched about the new Sebadoh album as you are. Along the top, you’ll see two centrally located holes that serve as the dual microphones, a key hardware element of the company’s new Mayday software offering. More on that below. On the left side of the player is the micro-USB port — not MHL, micro-USB. There’s also no HDMI out. Again, the justification for that will be made clear in the software section of this review.
There’s no microSD slot, either — though we don’t have to wait for the software section to explain that. For starters, Amazon provides plenty of cloud-based storage for all of the content you buy through its site. Over the past few years, Amazon’s cloud services have been a wholly integrated and essential leg of its device strategy. Also, the company’s never been a particularly big fan of letting people side-load content onto its devices; it really, really wants you to get everything through its own storefront. And with a business model that doesn’t actually pull in any revenue from hardware sales, can you blame Bezos and Company?
Another big sell from Samsung, is Group Play - and again we can’t really see the point for certain elements. Yes, we know this is getting to be a theme with the phone, but bear with us here.
One of the most popular functions Samsung was keen to talk about was the music sharing - the idea being that if you’ve got more than one Galaxy S4 kicking around (presumably not by yourself) you can set up a Group Play group by making a Wi-Fi hotspot and stream the music to all phones at once.
The clever idea is that multiple phones can connect, and each can have their own speaker setting in a surround sound setup. The downside is that you’ll never have that many Galaxy S4s in one place, and even if you did, a single small speaker at the back is hardly going to be enough to wipe out your home speaker system.
We can see this being useful going forward though, as if you have other devices with Group Play functionality - such as wireless speakers - you can easily create a virtual surround speaker system using just the Galaxy S4.
One other thing that REALLY annoyed us was the fact that Group Play on the likes of the Galaxy S3 or Note 8.0 is a completely different app, despite having the same name and icon. You can’t do anything we mentioned above with these devices - you can barely connect the two together.
It seems an oversight from Samsung to remove this function, as many people will already have bought heavily into the Samsung ecosystem.
Building neatly on from the WatchON app, we’ve got the all new Samsung Hub ready and waiting to be played with. This is a much better idea than before, where all the disparate entertainment sections were scattered around the phone.
With this attractive hub, Samsung is looking to take a real crack at iTunes by making a holistic experience, whether it’s games, music or video you’re after. The UI, as we mentioned, is really nice, with swipes enabling you to get through all the content, and a home screen that throws up all the different kind of content it thinks you might like.
It’s not got a universal appeal, as even though you’re paying a high dollarpound price for the latest blockbuster, you can’t watch move that content onto your larger screen without a HomeSync device. Connecting to a TV or streaming using AllShare won’t let you play video you’ve purchased from the Samsung Hub, which feels like a massive trick missed here, although Samsung tells us it’s due to a licensing issue.
HTC Watch can do it, and the prices are often cheaper. What gives, Samsung?
It’s not really a great place to get all your content thanks to the really high price, and it would be excellent to see a wider remit by including third party apps to supplement the lack of functionality in places.
For instance, and we’re sure there’s a licensing reason for this, how great would it be to see Netflix in the Video Hub to enable instant streaming, rather than having to pay £10 or so just to get a video in SD that you can only really watch on the phone?
When it comes to ‘things you can put on the Samsung Galaxy S4' the Korean brand has gone all out with some ideas.
We’ve got covers, holders, things and stuff all over the shop - and we’ve got our hands on the Flip Cover to start with.
While we were given the delightful pea green colour, there are white, black, yellow and blue options as well, to give you that touch of class when protecting your new handset.
The cover is made from a fairly strong material, and adds rather a large amount of depth to your Galaxy S4. For some reason it is thicker than the main cover plate, which means when you fold the front around it makes a much larger phone than you’d have expected.
One of the main problems some people would see is the cover closing properly - it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t have a magnet to hold it closed, but it doesn’t ever stay open when flat on its back, as the soft material will always relax.
In terms of the ‘mini mode’ of the S4 when the cover is closed, it’s a mixed bag. The small clock mode is cool, and being able to answer and end calls with the front closed is nice, but the speed with which the S4 reverts to mini mode is poor, which takes away from the effect.
In short: the Flip Cover is much better than the standard option, as the little window is genuinely useful while keeping your screen safe. But it does add heft to your ultra-slim Galaxy S4, and doesn’t always work as quickly as it should.
For those of you who are new to price matching, it means you can get an item at Walmart for the same price as a current competitor stores printed advertised price for that identical item.
If you are price matching, make sure to have the current ad, with the date on it, ready to hand to the cashier BEFORE they ring up the item you are price matching.
I like to place the items I am price matching (especially if I’m using multiple ads) on the belt last and lay the ad on top of them so I don’t forget to tell the cashier! Have your Price Matching Policy handy just in case!
The Walmart coupon policy states:
“If a coupon value exceeds the price of the item, the excess may be given to the customer as cash or applied toward the basket purchase.”
So, if you use a $3.00/1 coupon on a $2.00 item, that item will be free, plus tax. The $1 difference is considered overage and will go towards the rest of the items you are purchasing in that transaction (like milk, produce or whatever!) If you are only buying that one item and nothing else, they should give you the $1 difference back in cash. Basically, you are entitled to the entire face value of the coupon, whether the item costs more or less than the coupon.
The big issue here is T-Mobile’s impending purchase of MetroPCS, which would take effect in mid-2013. On day one of the merger, the combined company will start selling T-Mobile-compatible phones and shift its focus to folding the MetroPCS network into T-Mobile’s.
CDMA phones like the GS3 wouldn’t stop working. LTE coverage and speeds will actually get better as they join T-Mobile’s new LTE network, and as MetroPCS’s CDMA voice network slowly gets turned down, voice calling will switch over either to Sprint’s network or to MetroPCS/T-Mobile’s own voice-over-LTE system. So your Galaxy S III’s coverage won’t get any worse with time; it’ll actually get better.
Considering MetroPCS’s spectacular LTE service plans (including $55 for unlimited talk, text, and data), that doesn’t mean shunning MetroPCS between now and then. But I think that if you’re buying a MetroPCS phone now, you may want to save your pennies and get a less expensive smartphone like the LG Spirit 4G or the Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G $229.99 at Let’s Talk, socking away the remaining cash for a killer phone on a growing network in 2013.
All of the Galaxy S III models look the same, except for the carrier logo on the back panel. MetroPCS’s model comes in white plastic. At 5.4 by 2.8 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and 4.7 ounces, the GS3 is a large phone, although it no longer looks ridiculous in the age of the 5-inch HTC Droid DNA and 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note II. That said, this is not a phone for folks with small hands.
Solidly built, and light despite its size, the Galaxy S III is dominated by its 4.8-inch, 1,280-by-720-pixel Super AMOLED HD screen. Yes, it’s PenTile, which can sometimes look slightly pixelated, but, no, you probably won’t notice. Below the screen, there’s a physical Home button, as well as illuminated Back and Multitasking buttons that start out invisible, so you have to memorize where they are or change a setting to keep them lit up. The 8-megapixel camera is on the back panel.
The default Automatic Brightness setting makes the screen too dim. Kill it and pump up the brightness and it’s fine, even outdoors. It’s not as bright as the LG Connect 4G's $259.99 at Amazon Nova screen, but it’s fine.
Taking off the back cover reveals the removable 2100mAh battery and a microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 64GB. Talk time was excellent at 12 hours, 15 minutes on MetroPCS’s 4G network.
Network and Call Quality
The Galaxy S III performed very well on MetroPCS’s LTE network in New York City. Reception was quite strong, and call quality was unusually good for MetroPCS. As with all Galaxy S III phones, you can tune the call audio to the frequencies you best hear, a nice touch. The speakerphone isn’t quite loud enough to use outdoors, but it’s fine for the car or a boardroom. The microphone does a good job of cancelling background noise. Bluetooth headsets work fine with Samsung’s S-Voice voice dialing system.
Calls get enhanced by Joyn, the first voice-over-LTE service in America. Joyn isn’t seamless to start—you have to download an app from Google Play and run it—but after that, it always launches at startup. Joyn’s top improvement is clear Wi-Fi calling when you can’t get MetroPCS signal. That’s a big benefit. If you know other people with Joyn phones, you can also stream live video to them and get an improved SMS experience with read receipts.
The service supports two-way video calling, but only over Wi-Fi. At that point you might as well use Skype or ooVoo and get a larger potential audience.
Here’s the thing, though: Joyn works on a bunch of MetroPCS phones, not just the Galaxy S III. It runs on both the LG Spirit 4G and Samsung Galaxy Attain 4G, so you can get these features on less expensive phones than the GS3.
I got very good Internet speeds with the Galaxy S III, with an average of 7Mbps down and 3.4Mbps up. Metro’s network has actually been getting faster with time, and that will get even better after the Metro/T-Mobile merger, as phones like this will be able to access both Metro’s existing LTE network and T-Mobile’s new LTE network.
The Galaxy S III also has Wi-Fi on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, and NFC. Google Wallet comes preloaded on the phone.
Software and Performance
The MetroPCS Galaxy S III runs Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” and Samsung has said an update to 4.1 “Jelly Bean” is coming. Check out our full reviews of Android 4.0 and Android 4.1 for more information.
The 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 chip in here isn’t the most powerful on the market any more, but it still performs very well, and it’s the fastest thing MetroPCS has to offer. For more on the phone’s apps, camera and media playback, take a look at our review of the Sprint version of the Galaxy S III; this one performs pretty much the same.
MetroPCS and Samsung have added their own apps to the usual Galaxy S III build. Other than Joyn and Google Wallet, the most interesting is Easy WiFi, provided by DeviceScape. This is a nifty client which runs in the background and auto-detects and logs into public Wi-Fi hotspots. I’m always surprised to see how well it works. Otherwise, the phone is larded down with applications and media stores from both Samsung and MetroPCS.
The Samsung Galaxy S III is the best and most powerful phone MetroPCS is selling right now, which is why it gets a rather qualified Editor’s Choice award. But if $500 is a serious chunk of change to you and you have the time to wait, I’d see what kinds of devices appear with MetroPCS plans after the T-Mobile merger. I suspect some impressive phones will appear, so that may be the time to plunk down big bucks. In the meantime, seriously consider the slightly less powerful, but much less expensive LG Spirit 4G as an alternative.