Samsung Galaxy S6

Samsung's Galaxy S6Samsung recently released the latest smartphone in its popular Galaxy S series. I’ve previously owned the Galaxy Note 3, and had a fairly poor experience with it, so when Verizon offered to let me spend a few weeks with the new Galaxy S6, I jumped at the chance to see if Samsung’s latest flagship solved the challenges I experienced with the Note 3.

The first thing I noticed about the S6 is the premium build quality. Gone is the plastic, removable back from previous generations, replaced by a glass back. The phone is so thin that the camera module actually protrudes from the back in a way that made me nervous when setting down the phone. I like large phones, and at 5.1 inches, the S6 isn’t one. However, it’s big enough and long enough that it’s comfortable to use and hold.

The hardware changes did prove a little inconvenient for me at times. Samsung’s packed a huge, beautiful screen in a small device by minimizing the bezels, or the borders around the screen. I occasionally found myself triggering unintentional screen presses on the edges when I was using the phone with one hand. The glass on the back also makes the phone slippery and difficult to hold. The first night I was leaned back and playing with the phone with my six-month old son next to me the phone slipped out of my hand and hit him. I immediately ordered a Fintie Guardian Series case, which turned out to be a great belt-clip case for about $7. It made the phone much easier to hold and also solved the problem of the accidental touches around the screen edge.

The camera protrudes from the back of the extremely thin Galaxy S6

The camera protrudes from the back of the extremely thin Galaxy S6

The physical buttons on the bottom of Samsung phones have always frustrated me. The S6 still has them, and the back button is still annoyingly on the wrong side, but the home button now features a fingerprint reader. It’s the first phone I’ve used that had one, and I found it to be amazingly accurate and consistent. It works quite nicely with Lastpass. It also works as a screen lock, but there were times when I was in a hurry and didn’t know if I needed to use my fingerprint or just swipe to unlock and the few extra seconds of indecision were inconvenient. I also spent a fair amount of time during my review fixing fence on the farm, and taking my gloves off to authenticate was frustrating when all I wanted to do was to switch from music to podcasts. It’s certainly not the phone’s fault, but I always forgot to change the lock screen before going to work.

Galaxy S6The S6 is really fast, but it’s also really thin. This combination makes good battery life difficult to achieve. I attended a wedding in an area with 3G coverage and sent perhaps 10 pictures by email. I pulled the fully-charged phone off the charger at 3:30 p.m. and by 6:30 p.m. was down to 20% remaining. This 80% drain in three hours example is extreme, but under normal usage I wouldn’t expect to get more than six or eight hours out of the S6. It’s not a huge problem for anyone within frequent range of a desk or a car, as Samsung’s built both fast charging and wireless charging into the S6, so finding a power refill during the day is as quick and convenient as possible.

Previous generations of the S series have had removable backs and expandable storage. The S6 doesn’t, so getting an extended battery or adding an SD card are no longer options. My review unit was the 32 GB model, and by the time I had my podcasts synced, I had about 1 GB remaining. Not everyone is as addicted to podcasts as I am, but shutterbugs can use up storage space in a hurry, so anyone purchasing an S6 should definitely opt for at least the 64GB version.

My biggest complaint with the Galaxy Note 3 was the antenna. I’m in an area that has spotty coverage, and service on the Note 3 was markedly poorer than the HTC One M8, Moto X, Kyocera Brigadier, Droid Turbo, Sony Xperia Z3v – basically every other phone I tested greatly out performed the Note 3 in this area. The Galaxy S6 performs much better than the Note 3 in this regard. It’s not quite as good as the Nexus 6 – the S6 seemed faster to drop to 3G than the Nexus 6 and didn’t seem to perform as fast once it did – but it’s definitely not plagued with the antenna problems of the Note 3.

Samsung has always had great cameras, and the camera is definitely the best feature of the S6. At 16 megapixel with optical image stabilization, it’s really very difficult to take a bad picture. It’s fast to launch, too, especially with the double-tap shortcut on the home button. As usual, I’ll have some real world examples in the gallery at the end of this article, but here are a few comparison pictures against the Nexus 6. No resizing or editing has been done – they’ve only been cropped so that the dimensions are the same size. In every example, the S6 pictures are brighter and more vibrant. Guess which side the S6 images are on.

s6n6-1
s6n6-2s6n6-3s6n6-4

In each example, the pictures from the Galaxy S6 are on the left, while the images from the Nexus 6 are on the right.

I’ve always found TouchWiz, Samsung’s customization layer that it installs over Android, to be frustrating, ugly and cumbersome. While it’s not gone in the S6, it’s toned down substantially – much improved over the mess of previous generations. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to launch Google Now – neither swiping up nor swiping to the left worked, which are the most common ways – so I installed the Google Now Launcher as usual. This was the first time I didn’t replace the default keyboard with SwiftKey, as I found the Samsung keyboard to be surprisingly good.

I did have problems copying files to the phone. I plugged it in by USB, but I was always presented with an error when trying to copy my podcasts to the device. No amount of searching yielded a solution, so I was forced to find a wireless transfer method. It was much slower than transferring by cable, but it worked. I had no problems copying photos from the phone to my computer.

The S6 performed flawlessly with a range of activities and accessories. I listened constantly to podcasts and music through my LG Tone, as well as used it with my Asus ZenWatch and to pilot my DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter. I did have problems installing Google Fit from the Play Store – it said it wasn’t compatible with the device – but manually installing the APK seemed to work fine.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 is a very solid device that will probably be one of Samsung’s and Verizon’s best selling phones. It’s sad to see Samsung do away with the expandable battery and storage, and I can’t use it or even hold the S6 without a case. However, the S6 is a great choice for anyone who wants an amazing camera on a fast, beautiful and stylish smartphone.

Picture gallery

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The Google Nexus 6 on Verizon

IMG_1395I’ve been using the Google Nexus 6 on Verizon since November 17. You can read yesterday’s post entitled Android, Nexus and Verizon to learn the backstory about why I’m a huge fan of the Nexus program, how I was excited to learn that the Nexus 6 would work on Verizon and why I purchased the phone outright many months before the expected Verizon Nexus 6 launch date.

Hardware
The latest flagship phone from Google in the Nexus line is made by Motorola. It’s huge. Featuring a 5.96″ screen with a quad HD 1440 x 2560 resolution AMOLED screen, this dreadnought is definitely the largest phone I’ve ever held. I used the Galaxy Note 3 for the better part of last year. It felt big initially, but I got used to it. Likewise, I’m slowly getting used to the size of the Nexus 6. This phone is .3″ bigger than the Note 3. The iPhone 6 Plus is only 5.5″, so the Nexus 6 is a full half-inch bigger than Apple’s largest phone.

IMG_1391-001The Nexus 6 is rocket fast, with plenty of memory and a top-of-the-line processor that makes using the pure version of Android Lollipop smooth and seamless. Front-facing speakers make it really loud. The speed and sound quality are quite nice, especially for someone who likes to watch a lot of basketball this time of year when I’m away from a TV.
The phone looks like a cartoon sized version of the 2014 Moto X. That’s not a bad thing, as the Moto X is an absolutely beautiful device. The power and volume buttons are on the right side and easy to get to. The micro-USB port is on the bottom and the headphone jack is on the top. With wireless Qi charging and Bluetooth 4.1 built-in, I really don’t find myself using either the USB port or the headphone jack.

Expandability
The only downside to the Nexus 6 is expandability. The aluminum body contains a sealed battery and no slot for a memory card. My unlimited data plan means the lack of expandable storage doesn’t bother me, but the non-expandable battery is unquestionably the biggest problem with the Nexus 6. The battery will last all day at my desk, but only a few hours in the spotty coverage at the farm. The phone does support Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, which will allow the included Motorola Turbo Charger to charge the phone much faster than traditional phones and chargers, but it’s still a drag to have to worry about a phone that won’t last all morning, much less all day, in a real world work environment.

The power button and volume rockers are easy to get to

The power button and volume rockers are easy to get to

Camera
The camera is good. It’s not as good as the camera on the LG G3, but it does have optical image stabilization on a 13 MP sensor. The new Lollipop camera software allows third party apps to take advantage of advanced features of the sensor, and there are some users taking extraordinary photos with the Nexus 6. For my uses, the stock camera is quite sufficient. I posted pictures comparing the Nexus 6 and the Sony Xperia Z3v in December’s review of the Z3v.

Problems
My experience with the Nexus 6 wasn’t without a few difficulties. Shortly after it arrived, I began to encounter random reboots of the device. It would simply restart. Occasionally, it would turn off and take as many as 30 minutes before it would turn on again. I also rely heavily on the wireless hotspot feature when I travel, and I had a very obscure and annoying problem with the wireless network created by the Nexus 6 hotspot disappearing frequently. I would start the hotspot and connect my computer, and then, within a minute or two, the network would seem to disappear. The computer would disconnect and I’d have to refresh the network list to find the hotspot again. This flaky wifi teather problem made using the phone as a hotspot essentially useless.

The reboots and the hotspot problem caused me to work with Motorola to obtain a replacement device. The replacement phone has only rebooted once or twice since I received it, so I consider that particular problem fixed. However, the hotspot issues persisted on the new device. With the help of a user on Reddit, I finally was able to track the problem down to an app called Automatic. Once I removed Automatic from my phone, the hotspot works like it does on all other phones.

Cases
I purchased two cases for my Nexus 6, the SUPCASE belt clip holster case and the Spigen gunmetal bumper case with clear back. I use the Spigen case when I’m on the road traveling to auction conventions and I use the belt clip case when I’m on the farm. I’m quite happy with both of them – pictures of each can be found in the gallery at the end of this post.

Summary
It may sound silly to drop $650 just to get a phone on Verizon that doesn’t come with NFL Mobile. For someone as passionate about pure Android as I am, it makes perfect sense. The Nexus 6 is simply the perfect Android experience, and using it on Verizon means I don’t have to compromise by downgrading to a shoddy network.

As I write this article, rumors are that Verizon might launch the Nexus 6 this week, with their devices sporting Android 5.1 and VoLTE calling. I can only hope that the software upgrade path for my Nexus 6 purchased directly from Motorola will be quick and painless. It would be very unfortunate for Verizon to punish us early adopters by not allowing us to get the VoLTE upgrade.

If you like big phones, the Nexus 6 is, without a doubt, the best phone on the market. If a huge phone isn’t your preference, here’s to hoping that the next Nexus will be slightly smaller, more expandable and supported by Verizon.

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Android, Nexus and Verizon

Android cake image from Tama Leaver on Flickr

I want my cake and to eat it, too
Picture by Tama Leaver on Flickr

Hello. My name is Aaron, and I’m a rabid Android fanboy. I write this post while perched high on one of my favorite soap boxes. This is the back story to the review that I will post later this week of my Google Nexus 6 smartphone that I’ve been using for the last four months on Verizon.

There’s nothing more refreshing than a pure Android experience, free of the bloat that is frequently installed by manufacturers or carriers. I’ve spent many hours of my life installing custom ROMs on my phones and deactivating apps for friends and family in order to make phones easier and cleaner to use.

Modern versions of Android have made removing the junk from phones easier, as most apps can now be deactivated from the app info screen. Installing the Google Now Launcher from the Google Play Store now makes it easy to remove a big chunk of the problem of manufacturer overlays such as TouchWiz and Sense. While these tweaks can make phones usable for most people, it’s just not good enough for me. I want a phone that I don’t have to root to remove all traces of manufacturer and carrier interference between me and my Android experience. I don’t want to have to take the step of deactivating the Amazon App Store or NFL Mobile to get them out of my app tray.

I live in a rural area and am stuck on Verizon. There are so many phones I’d like to try, from manufacturers such as Blu and OnePlus, but because Verizon must pre-approve each device, I’ll never get to try them. I’ve tried other carriers, specifically AT&T and Sprint, but their networks simply don’t cover my farm.

Google knows how good vanilla Android can be, even while they tolerate the manufacturers and carriers adding junk to Android in order to differentiate themselves. To that end, they created the Nexus program, wherein they partner with manufacturers to create Google-branded phones that have the pure Android experience that I – and many others – crave.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

I was a huge fan of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It was the first Nexus device on Verizon, and I bought it when my original Motorola Droid finally died. I wasn’t excited about it, as I’d always loved Motorola phones, but it was the best option available at the time. I wasn’t aware how amazing the Nexus program was until my Galaxy Nexus died and I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I’ve written before how horrible the Note 3 experience was. I longed to be able to use another Nexus phone, but resigned myself to the prevailing wisdom at the time that Verizon would never again allow a Nexus device on its network.

Last fall, I’d heard rumors of the next Google phone. It was to be huge and made by Motorola. It was to be the first phone running the latest version of Android, Lollipop. Knowing I’d never get the opportunity to use the Nexus 6 on Verizon, I reluctantly ordered an LG G3. I was really happy with the G3, as I’ve written earlier. What I didn’t know was that the biggest part of the Nexus 6 announcement was that it would work on all four major US carriers – including Verizon.

I was with Alltel when it was acquired by Verizon. Before that, I was with Kansas Cellular when it was acquired by Alltel. I don’t change plans or carriers frequently, and I’m still grandfathered into my unlimited data plan. Because Verizon will force a plan change if I buy a new phone with a subsidy, I’ve been paying outright for every phone since they eliminated their unlimited data options.

Nexus 6

Nexus 6

Because I knew I would pay full price for my Nexus 6, I didn’t have to wait for an official release by Verizon. I knew from forums that the phone should work with any preactivated nano-SIM from Verizon. I set out to be one of the first to get the phone, which was plagued with supply problems. It would go on sale for a few seconds at a time each Wednesday, starting on October 29, on the Google Play store. I tried and tried, but wasn’t ever successful. I finally got lucky ordering directly from Motorola on November 6. When I saw that I was able to add one to my cart, I pulled over to the side of the road and could not enter my credit card number fast enough on the order page.

From reading the forums, I was one of only a few who was successful at making the purchase. My Nexus 6 arrived on November 17. I inserted my SIM and crossed my fingers. It worked perfectly. Check back tomorrow for the review of the Google Nexus 6 on Verizon.

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Auction Video Podcast – 15 – Auction marketing innovation

I had a great conversation today with Russ Hilk from WaveBid, Daniel West from Auction Method and Dwayne Leslie from Global Auction Guide about Auction Guy, Every Single Auction and LotNut, as well as social media and other technology issues. Enjoy!

If you have comments, or have suggestions for the next episode, drop me a line in the comments below.

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Podcasting hardware

After the Auctioneer Crosswalk video call last month, I received a question about the hardware I use to record podcasts. I spend a fair amount of time each month recording commercials, as well as Purple Wave’s Auction Podcast, so I’ve done a fair amount of research, mostly through trial and error, about the best way to setup a home studio without breaking the bank. While I’m always looking for ways to improve, here’s a look at the hardware I’m currently using and why.

Battlestation - my podcasting workstation

Battlestation – my podcasting workstation

Overview
The goal of any audio recording is low noise and high control. The software is outside the scope of this article, but the requirements of the hardware are to record separate sources at the highest quality and lowest noise possible. When recording a commercial or a podcast without a guest, one computer is sufficient. I’ve found, however, that when recording a call, making the call and recording the call from the same computer is tricky. For that reason, I always use a laptop to run Skype or, now that Skype no longer works well, Google Hangouts, and I connect it to the desktop computer that will be recording the caller and my voice separately.

Microphone
The first thing every auctioneer is going to ask about is the microphone. When I first started recording the AuctioneerTech Auction Podcast in 2008, I used an ART USB Dual Pre and a Shure SM57 microphone. The SM57 has a much more favorable frequency response than the more popular SM58, and the Dual Pre let me record two sources separately.

The Dual Pre worked great under Linux, which is what I used to record at the time, but as I moved away from Linux I found that using the Dual Pre under Windows introduced a significant amount of noise. I decided to try to simplify my setup, so I ordered a Samson G-Track, which has a built-in USB interface. It worked well under Windows, and I used it for several years. It had a line-in that let me record and monitor the sources separately from the mic itself, which made it a better choice for recording calls than other USB mics. It’s still the USB mic I’d recommend to anyone looking to find a decent quality and simple podcast recording setup as cheap as possible.

While the G-Track worked, it was still a consumer USB mic. The noise floor was better than the Dual Pre, but it still wasn’t as low as I wanted. I wanted a professional, large diaphragm dynamic microphone. I found the Heil PR40 and I love it. There are definitely better microphones, but the PR40 strikes a balance of extreme quality, great sound and a still somewhat reasonable price. If you’re lucky enough to have your own desk, splurge for a swing arm – you won’t regret it.

Heil PR 40 microphone with optional pop guard

Heil PR 40 microphone with optional pop guard

Console
The PR40 is not a USB mic. It has an XLR output, which means I need a recording interface. I’ve always used a console to control the sound around my desk, and I decided it was time to ditch my rickety old board and get a new one that had a USB interface built in. I initially tried a Behringer XENYX X1204USB. It simply didn’t work the way I wanted it to work. It would record just fine, but there wasn’t an easy way to use headphones and my speakers simultaneously. After being frustrated with the Behringer for months, I broke down and traded for a Mackie ProFX8. It’s the perfect console. The USB interface works great and features a ridiculously low noise floor. The inputs and outputs make sense, and I can use headphones, speakers or both and effortlessly switch between the two.

Mackie ProFX8 has the right amount of inputs and a USB interface

Mackie ProFX8 has the right amount of inputs and a USB interface

Preamp
While the PR40 works fine running directly into the ProFX8, the output of the PR40 is low enough to justify a preamp. I found a budget preamp, that also has a compressor, in the ART TubeMP/C. A compressor is an audio circuit that reduces the dynamic range of a signal. It’s used, for example, to prevent equipment or hearing damage caused by auctioneers who yell into the microphone by automatically reducing the volume of loud sources while not reducing the volume of normal sources. I don’t use the compressor when I’m recording podcasts, as I prefer to apply compression with software, but it’s going to be very valuable when I stream auctioneer contests at state association conventions.

IMG_0683

Headphones
Headphones are crucial to any recording, and even just for a computer call or conference. I’ve sat through a hundred calls that are ruined by the echo caused by someone who doesn’t know better or who thinks he’s to cool to need headphones. For normal commercials and podcasts, I like the Sony MDR-7506 reference cans that I’ve had since college. They’re comfortable and easy to take on and off. When video is involved, however, you don’t want to be the dork that looks like he’s in a sound booth at a radio station. Any set of noise-cancelling in-ear monitors will work, but I like the Westone UM Pro10 for their balance of comfort, sound quality and price. I’ve tried both Shure in-ears and generics on stage in the Aaron Traffas Band, and the Westone are definitely my favorite. However, if the $150 price tag isn’t in the budget, the MEElectronics M6 are an attractive alternative that’s nearly as comfortable.

Video
Any off-the-shelf USB webcam will work for podcasting and video calls. Look for anything that’s widescreen 1080p for the best quality. I have the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. More important than the choice of webcam is the placement of lights. It’s crucial to light yourself well from the direction of the camera. As you can see in the picture below, the camera is above the monitor on the left. I have two lights on swing arms that can be easily positioned between the camera and me whenever I turn on my webcam.

Lights on swing arms allow easy positioning for optimum video podcast lighting.

Lights on swing arms allow easy positioning for optimum video podcast lighting.

Software
I’m not going to get too deep in software, as there are a ton of different options. I like Cakewalk Sonar X3, as that’s what I’m used to using to record music. Audacity is a free and open source tool that I’ve also used in the past. The point isn’t that a specific software is better, but that whatever software you use, make sure to record each source separately. Separate tracks allow compression and equalization and other effects to be applied appropriately.

There is no right way, but this is my way. Do you have a better way or a suggestion for improving my setup? Please let me know in the comments.

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