It’s 2014 and the heat is on: you’re likely going to have a bigger workload than ever when you get back into the classroom, and that means you’ll need the right tools for the job more than ever starting with your phone.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. For the Galaxy Note line of handsets from Samsung, they're hoping that the S-Pen is mighty enough to sway you into buying the new Galaxy Note 3. Thanks to a few little tweaks and changes, this is the first handset where a stylus actually makes sense.
The Galaxy Note 3 is a huge uppercut to the competition. It packs a huge hardware punch with a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, super-fast Category 4 LTE/4G capabilities, all hiding beneath a beautiful 5.7-inch Full-HD Super-AMOLED display. The battery is more juiced than ever with 3200mAh taking you from the start of classes to the end, as well as a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera to capture all those important memories, assignment notes and lecture slides along the way.
All this power and beauty has been packed into a smaller footprint than ever, with the device measuring in at a svelte 8.3mm case, weighing just 168 grams.
The refinements to the S-Pen really make the Note III something that could be used for hardcore school and uni productivity every single day. The new Air Command feature paired with the S-Pen will turn the Samsung-branded stylus into something you need, rather than something you use in meetings to impress that girl sitting next to you (don't ever do that to impress a girl, by the way).
The Air Command feature refers to a a radial menu that anchors in new apps designed to leverage the Note 3′s giant screen and handy power: Scrapbook for web clipping, Action Note for powerful handwriting tools, S-Finder for looking around your device, Screen Write for doodling on screenshots and Pen Window for putting hovering apps over any screen.
Air Command is fast, fluid and incredibly functional. Pen Window allows you to drop funky widgets on your existing multi-window layouts, bringing the power of three tasks at once — be it notes, email and live messaging — onto the single, 5.7-inch screen. You don’t notice any slow-down the more you throw at the device: it welcomes the challenge and excels.
Likewise with Scrapbook, Action Memo and S-Finder. These are three incredibly useful features that can only be accessed with the S-Pen. It’s now something you need everyday.
Scrapbook is a fun little feature that lets you circle just about anything you can find on the Galaxy Note 3 from either the web or inside another app. Whatever you put in your selected area gets clipped, Evernote-style, into a centralised Scrapbook for you to access later. That's awesome if you're the kind of person losing your notes all the time.
Scrapbook also pulls out the contents of said webpages, for example, and embeds the content in a new page so you can watch that YouTube video or listen to that lecture your teacher posted on Soundcloud inside the app without having to bounce out to your browser.
Action Memo is the natural evolution of the S-Note app that Galaxy Note users know and have come to love, only this time Samsung has done a great deal to make your handwriting meaningful and useful this time around. You can now create "Actions" from your handwriting, which uses optical character recognition-style software to encircle your text and turn it into something that other apps can use. Got an address written down? Open it up in Maps with an Action to see where you need to go rather than writing it out again. Need to call that girl who left her number in your phone because you're the smoothest dude around picking up chicks with your Note 3? Just Action her number into your phone and ask her out to dinner. Sadly, the Note 3 can't help you with that unironed shirt hanging in your wardrobe you need to wear.
That OCR-style software comes in handy with the new global device search feature known as S-Finder, too. Not only can you now search for stuff on your handset better than ever before, S-Finder also looks at handwriting as well so that note you scribbled in a tutorial won't be lost forever. You can also add filters for time-specific searches and even location specific searches. If you were on campus recently for a class and took a few photos, too, you can look for those specifically by your geotag.
All these features turn the Galaxy Note 3 into a really different handset than we've ever seen before. The previous generations of Notes were just big Galaxy S handsets with a pen attached. This one is the first productivity partner you could actually see yourself living with everyday.
Sony has been on a Renaissance of sorts lately, revitalising its handset line-up into something you might actually buy. Continuing on with this spiritual reawakening is the Xperia Z Ultra: probably the best big phone on the market right now.
The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4-inch 1080×1920 (1080p) beast of a phone, packing a 342ppi into the display. You’ve also got TRILUMINOUS Display technology built-in for better colour saturation, an X-Reality for Mobile engine and an OptiContrast panel for deeper blacks. Coincidentally, that OptiContrast tech features the same algorithms, colour maths and software Sony uses in its 4K TVs, which are fabulous.
Under the hood you’ll find a knockout Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of on-board storage, expandable up to 64GB via microSD, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facer. It’s all kept alive by a massive 3000mAh battery crammed into a tiny 6.5mm thin body.
Sony knows this phone is giant, and as a result, it’s doing everything it can to win you over.
For example: sure, it’s huge, but it’s also magnificently slender as well. It’s thinner than the iPhone 5, slimmer than the Galaxy S4 and even tinier than its smaller sibling, the Sony Xperia Z and Z1. Considering the monstrous specs and impressive battery Sony crams into this thing, it’s phenomenal to think that it’s thinner than just about everything on the market while still maintaining what we think is one of the best screens on the market right now. It's also great because who wants a phablet you need a second bag for at uni?
Speaking of, that 6.4-inch monster screen is mind-blowingly clear and crisp. Colours are bright, blacks are deep and the pixels are barely visible.
The handset also makes great use of the power under the hood, too. Our benchmark tests bring it in at a dual-core score of 2809. That’s just shy of the Galaxy Note 3 (which has been accused of inflating its benchmarks) at 2875 and even closer to the 64-bit iPhone 5s at 2530. It’s worth keeping in mind that this handset has 2GB of RAM where the Note 3 has 3GB, while the iPhone has even less, coming in at just 1GB. The Xperia Z Ultra can certainly hold its own. You'll never be short of multi-tasking power when flicking between notes apps, video apps, music apps and your camera on campus.
On top of all this, the Xperia Z Ultra continues to pack in dust-proof and water-proof certifications so you can be a little rougher with it than you would with the more precious competition. Despite the waterproofing, Sony has included a magnetic connector on the side of the device so you can easily clip it into a handsome-looking dock on your desk in your dorm. No flaps to fiddle with in that case, and that’s a great idea.
There’s no pen or stylus included in the Xperia Z Ultra, but the screen is such that you can use any pen or graphite pencil you like, which dramatically improves the accuracy for sketchers and art students. It’s also pretty boss to whip out an attractive looking pencil and use your device rather than pull a pokey stylus out.
Want something large but also futuristic? How about a phone that bends? That, my student friends, is the promise of the P-OLED-packing, curved G-Flex from LG.
The G-Flex is a 6-inch Android 4.2.2 device from LG packing a 1280×720 screen (244ppi), a speedy quad-core 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of non-expandable storage. It’s all powered by a 3500mAh battery to keep you going and going and going.
Oh yeah and it’s curved, like most gadgets and TVs strive to be these days. It’s the latest headline-grabbing gimmick, but unlike most gimmicks, it does actually make some sense here. It’s not quite a Bananaphone in its curve, instead it’s an elegant sway.
The LG G-Flex packs one of the first OLED screens to go into a smartphone, and even without the device being a curvy monolith, it’s still excellent to look at, provided you’re indoors. Blacks are rich and deep and colours are shockingly vibrant. You can even up the saturation so those colours pop even more.
LG has made the G-Flex based on the same principle it makes curved OLED TVs: it’s more immersive for media, making it a great phone for presentations or just watching video between classes. The curve probably isn’t enough to draw you deep into the action on screen because of its relative size compared to a TV, but it’s one of the better phones we’ve seen for watching stuff on.
There’s a UI tweak in the version of Android LG ships with the G-Flex which allows you to swipe horizontally outwards from the lockscreen, and go straight into a dedicated media mode for your movies, music and images. It’s one of the best gestures the G-Flex has going for it, because it actually makes sense.
It still packs the same minimalist design as LG's G2 when it comes to buttons, with on-screen soft keys taking over the navigation on the front, while a vertical three-button array for volume and power sits around the back, naturally resting underneath your finger whenever you go to hold your phone. Those buttons are no longer flat like they were on the G2: they now have more tactile feedback to let you know what you’re clicking.
Those buttons, paired with the subtle curve, means that the device fits you better. It curves around your face nicely while you’re taking calls, contours to your butt when you stick it in your back pocket and moulds to your hand when you pick it up. LG has also designed the device cleverly so that it doesn’t rock when placed flat on its back. Instead, it rests upon the volume rocker so as not to bounce around.
The G-Flex is also packing the self-healing back plate, because we all know you're rough with your phone on those nights out. It’s coated in a material that “bounces back” when scratched lightly by keys in your pocket or handbag. Self-healing materials are a good idea, but if you scratch the cover with something more serious, therefore breaching the protective plastic layer, you’ll be in the same position you would be with any other device: left with a big ugly scratch on it.
LG has made some tweaks to the software meaning it gets out of its own way a little more, but there are still a few problems which we’ll cover in a moment. It’s still fairly zippy to use, with it acing Geekbench 3 tests for a final score of 2257, making it one of the most powerful Android devices on the market right now.
On the device front, the 3500mAh battery is phenomenal. I got three days of constant use out of the G-Flex before it started complaining for its charger. That’s three times longer than my iPhone lasts, and even a day longer than the battery-sipping Nexus 5 lasts. It makes sense given the lower-resolution screen, but it’s still impressive. What’s more impressive is the fact that all that power comes from a curved battery developed in-house by LG Chem; one that flexes with the device as you bend it.
Speaking of such hardware innovations, that’s the other best bit: this phone represents more than just an attempt at getting with the curvy gimmick. It’s packing hardware innovations which will pave the way for the next generation of phones you’ll definitely want to buy.
Last year at CES we saw OLED TVs with a fixed curve. This year we have TVs which can curve on demand. Presumably, the idea for a curved phone display came out of the TV arena, so hopefully curved-on-demand and even flexible devices are on the way over the next two years.
Self-healing plastics are the new waterproofing, and should be on every device ever made given the way people treat their phones these days.
LG has a slew great ideas bolted onto the G-Flex, and it’s great to see a company putting something this innovative out on the market for people to buy and call their own.
The Lumia 1520 is the biggest and the best Windows Phone on the market right now.
It’s a 6-inch phablet with a beautiful 1080x1920 (1080p) screen with 367 pixels per inch, a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, microSD compatibility (huzzah!) and a giant 3400mAh battery.
Every Lumia feels like a little piece of modern art you can actually use everyday. Coloured red, yellow or white gloss polycarbonate or black matte aluminium enshrines the edge-to-edge glass, nestled above a gorgeous high-resolution screen filled with equally bright colours. The Lumia 1520 is no different: the front of the device is almost uninterrupted glass from edge-to-edge with only the Nokia logo and a 1.2-megapixel camera to interrupt the beautiful flow.
The Lumia 1520 is more than just a big screen, however: it’s also packing great speakers, an amazing camera and the Microsoft Office productivity suite built-in for doing your work on the go.
While not the most elegant of the HTC One family, the One Max is device packing the largest screen, which makes it perfect for doing stuff on the go.
The HTC One Max is the gigantic follow-up to the HTC One mini and the HTC One, both released in the last seven months.
The HTC One Max has a giant 5.9-inch 1080×1920 (1080p) screen at 373 pixels per inch, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor clocked at 1.7GHz of quad-core grunt, 2GB of RAM and a 4-megapixel camera with Ultrapixel technology.
It comes with 16GB of internal memory, expandable up to 64GB thanks to a microSD card slot hidden under the removable back cover. Despite the cover, however, the 3300mAh battery is still integrated into the handset.
HTC has teamed up with Google this time to bundle extra cloud space into your handset purchase, offering up to 65GB of additional Drive storage.
Telstra will be getting an exclusive on the device, offering the One Max on a rather expensive plan. It will run you an extra $4 per month on the $80 Every Day Connect plan, which includes $800 worth of calls and MMS, unlimited SMS and 1.5GB of data. That’s on a 24-month contract. Not a fan of contracts? No problems: Telstra will be offering the HTC One Max outright for $816.
The HTC One Max packs in a lot of great stuff that made us fall in love with the original HTC One. Instead of leaving it alone, however, HTC has tweaked and upgraded the experience through Sense 5.5 to make life just that little bit better on your smartphone.
Sense 5.5 and the accompanying Blinkfeed news/social/everything river is designed to surface your content immediately, without making you have to dig into separate apps to get to it. Cute idea, and it’s one that continues to pay dividends. Blinkfeed is the ultimate widget.
By using Blinkfeed, it means you can sound like the smartest and most relevant person in your tutorial group without actually having to read a thing.
All your content like assignments, presentations and spreadsheets looks amazing on the 1080p Super-LCD3 panel, with text appearing crisp and clear, with your high-definition content looking and sounding great too thanks to the two massive front-facing Boomsound speakers under sexy front grilles. Seriously, why don’t all speakers face towards you on smartphones and TVs these days? Der.
The giant 3300mAh battery will have you going for around two days before you scramble for a charger, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s a case accessory for sale which boosts the phone’s battery up by another 1100mAh. That's great because it can get you through around two days of full classes and pub sessions before having to recharge. Handy
What’s your favourite big phone for getting stuff done? Let us know in the comments.