The best Echo device deals right now

It’s time to save some money on a new Echo device.

An Amazon Echo device is one of the easiest ways to make your home smarter. From super-affordable options like the Echo Dot to the luxe models like the Echo Show, you have a wide variety of choices. All that smart home goodness can put a hefty dent in your wallet, but luckily we’ve rounded up the best Echo device deals that are available for Black Friday. Get ready to say “Hello” to Alexa and “goodbye” to spending tons of money.

Echo Dot Black Friday Deals

This compact speaker is the most affordable Echo device option. It gets you all of the functionality of the other devices, but in a smaller form factor. The speakers are still surprisingly decent, especially on the new third-generation lineup, and you’ll gain access to all the fun stuff. Music streaming, checking the weather, or asking for a fun fact will all be possible with just a few spoken words.

Echo Black Friday Deals

The Echo is essentially a taller, louder Echo Dot. There are seven microphones and beamforming technology, meaning the device will hear you even over loud music, which is an area where the Echo Dot can fall short. It also features dual speakers, which is another feature the Echo Dot lacks.

Echo Plus Black Friday Deals

Echo Plus features the most premium sound out of the device family. It also has a built-in smarthome hub, meaning it’ll pair right out of the box with things like the Philips Hue bulb or your smart plugs.

Echo Show Black Friday Deals

Echo Show takes the existing Echo ecosystem and adds a screen. You can use it to display lyrics in case your kids forget the words to “Baby Shark”, show step-by-step recipe videos in the kitchen, or play beauty tutorials while you’re getting ready. Of course, you could also just binge-watch Netflix on a new screen instead of the same old TV or smartphone.

Echo Spot Black Friday Deals

Take the Echo Show. Shrink it down. Bam, you have the Echo Spot. It’ll show you video flash briefings, weather forecasts, shopping lists, and more, but with a counter-friendly footprint.

Xiaomi simultaneously opened 500 Mi Stores in India, claims Guinness record

The back of the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro.

  • Xiaomi simultaneously opened 500 Mi Stores in India last month.
  • The achievement earned Xiaomi a Guinness World Record for most stores opened simultaneously.
  • The manufacturer says it’s aiming for 5000 stores in India by the end of 2019.

Xiaomi may have started as a largely online-focused brand, but the company knows offline stores are necessary for growth in some markets. The firm has opened numerous stores in India over the past year or two, though it may have outdone itself in recent weeks.

The Chinese brand announced that it simultaneously opened over 500 Mi Stores in 14 states across the country on October 29. This figure is pretty mind-blowing, as even Apple has 198 stores in the U.S. by our last count. So it’s not surprising to hear that Xiaomi earned itself a Guinness World Record for the most stores launched simultaneously.

According to Xiaomi India managing director Manu Kumar Jain, the manufacturer is targeting 5000 stores by the end of 2019, creating 15,000 jobs in the process.

Editor’s Pick

Offline expansion has become a key battleground for manufacturers in India, especially in rural areas where connectivity might not be guaranteed. Aside from facilitating sales, these stores also allow people who aren’t familiar with a brand to go hands-on with its products.

In addition to Xiaomi, we’ve seen OnePlus launch plenty of offline stores in India over the past year or two. And with Realme reportedly investigating physical stores, it seems like India will have no shortage of offline mobile retailers.

Are there any other brands you’d like to see launch an offline store in your country? Give us your answer in the comments!

NEXT: Acer Chromebook Spin 13 review — The best Chromebook, but at what cost?

Samsung’s mobile division is in ‘crisis,’ Galaxy S10 and folding phone to rescue it?

  • Samsung’s mobile division DJ Koh has reportedly said the unit is in “crisis.”
  • Koh apparently wrote this in an internal message to colleagues, citing the upcoming Galaxy S10 and foldable phone as potential opportunities to recover.
  • Samsung’s major new smartphones are tipped for launch next February.

Samsung’s mobile division is in “crisis,” according to recent comments made by its mobile unit CEO DJ Koh (above). Koh said the company was looking to next year’s flagships to redeem it.

Koh made the comments in a recent message to executives and employees, according to The Korea Herald.  Koh reportedly wrote he was “sorry about the currently struggling status of the Samsung smartphone business and will do my best to overcome the crisis with the upcoming Galaxy 10 and foldable phones.”

Samsung’s mobile business is facing strong competition, particularly with the rise of Chinese manufacturers like Huawei. Its Q3 2018 operating profit was down ~$399 million compared to Q2 2018 (2.67 trillion won vs 2.2 trillion won), though it usually sees a drop at this time of year with the release of the Apple iPhones. However, Samsung does remain the number one global smartphone manufacturer for the time being.

Samsung Foldable Phone

From the outside, the current situation doesn’t look like a disaster for the South Korea manufacturer but the company’s acting chief Lee Jae-yong has also apparently criticized the competitiveness of the mobile division’s (presumably recent) smartphones.

Samsung’s folding phone (potentially called the Galaxy F) in particular represents a big comeback opportunity. While rumors suggest the Galaxy S10 will be another predictable flagship — it may include three cameras on the back and an in-display fingerprint sensor, but we’ve already seen these on smartphones — the folding phone would be part of an entirely new product category.

Editor’s Pick

Samsung is expected to be one of the first major brands to market with such a product, which could give it a significant boost in earnings. The foldable phone is tipped to be launched in February or March next year.

As Samsung nears the end of the year, the company is expected to make some organizational changes; The Korea Times speculates DJ Koh may leave or be removed from his position. Koh has been Samsung’s mobile president since 2015 and held the position when Samsung was forced to abandon the Galaxy Note 7 over safety concerns. If Lee hasn’t seen great improvements since then, Koh’s time may be up.

Best of Android 2018: Best battery life

Battery life is a difficult thing to contextualize, and fraught with issues in testing. How do you use your phone? How can you compare it to other phones in a meaningful way?

There’s a lot of questions to tackle, but to figure out which smartphone has the best battery life, they’re questions we’re forced to answer. You can read more about this in our how we test page. For those unwilling to click, it’s as simple as:

  1. Charge the phone to 100%
  2. Set the display to 200cd/m2 brightness
  3. Open our custom battery app
  4. Let it run a test until exhaustion
  5. lather, rinse, repeat.

Okay, so that last bit is a joke, but it’s a fairly straightforward test that simulates normal use of a phone. It’s probably the most time-consuming part of our lab testing, but it gives us a good approximation about how long a phone will last under a given set of circumstances. We specifically test WiFi browsing, video playback, and mixed use with a proprietary app that you can’t get on the Play Store.

The size of the battery doesn’t matter as much as you think

Before diving into this, I feel like I have to mention the size of the battery isn’t the only thing that determines the battery life. If that were the case, the RED Hydrogen One would have been our winner without doing anything else, and that phone only narrowly beat the 2018 average in our tests. How the phone’s software allocates the use of its hardware matters a lot more.

Battery capacity

Higher is Better

The Huawei P20 Pro dominates battery life in 2018

This competition was interesting, but it wasn’t close at all. Huawei’s Kirin 970 processor is very aggressive when it comes to saving battery (to the point of impacting performance in other areas), but the P20 Pro has the advantage of an ample power cell as well.

The Huawei P20 Pro in a new gradient color.

Boasting the best battery life of the class of 2018, the Huawei P20 Pro is a force to be reckoned with.

Left to right, the bars in the chart below represent our general use battery test, our video playback test, and then the Wi-Fi browsing test. As you can see, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Vivo V11 Pro can really hold a candle to the longevity of Huawei’s P20 Pro.

Battery rundown tests

Higher is Better

It’s not often you get results as clear as this, but when every single phone was tested on the same network, in the same conditions, and with the same display brightness, it’s tough to argue with the results. However, your usage will undoubtedly vary from ours as well. If you place more strain on your processor, or alter the screen brightness: you’ll get different results. But still, gaining an extra couple hours over the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in terms of video playback is insane.

We were surprised the Huawei Mate 20 Pro didn’t have a better showing with its massive battery, but if I’ve learned anything in my years of testing: phones will often surprise you in the real world. This result could be due to some software love needed by the new Kirin 980, or it could be any one of a number of background processes we couldn’t kill. It’s a little strange, but not out of the ordinary to see a phone with a big battery fall short of where you expect. You can always turn down the brightness or toggle battery saver to squeeze out more life — and believe you me, that helps more than it sounds it would.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the fastest charging phone in 2018

Where the Mate 20 Pro doesn’t disappoint is its charging speed. I don’t know if it’s safe or responsible to send 60+mAh per minute to a battery like that, but I have never seen a faster charging phone. It also has the ability to charge wireless accessories — even other phones.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs P20 Pro Camera

Huawei’s P20 Pro might have the best battery life, but the Mate 20 Pro has the best charging speed of any phone this year.

It’s bonkers. In our charging test, we noted how much power the cell retained per minute. Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro almost doubled the average rate of power transfer, which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor of Home Improvement fame to love. The Oppo R17 Pro comes close, but it still falls a little behind.

Battery charge speed, (mAh/min)

Higher is Better

Of course, that’s just the rate of charge. What we’re interested in is just how long it takes to get a full charge on that cell. Here’s where it gets fun:

Battery charge speed, charge to full

Lower is Better

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro charges almost twice as fast as the Google Pixel 3 XL. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, you could get a decent charge with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but the Oppo R17 Pro laps at its heels. From left to right, you can see how much charge you get at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, then 60 minutes.

Battery charge speed, Percent

Higher is Better

Neat! Lots of phones handle quick charging quite well in our tests. We have the data for all phones in our database, so leave a comment if you’d like to see how another phone stacks up!

Final thoughts

While most phones don’t deviate too far from the 2018 average, it’s cool to see models out there really pushing things to accommodate the power-hungriest users. However, because the fastest charging phone and the best battery life don’t exist in the same phone: you’re probably going to want to find a safer middle ground like the Oppo R17 Pro. That model charges quickly, but it also lasts quite a while in our tests. Doing something the best is fine, but you want your phone to do both fairly well. In this one metric, the “best” might not be best for you — just something to keep in mind.

Here’s the list of the top 9 phones in terms of battery life and charge speed:

  1. Huawei P20 Pro
  2. Oppo R17 Pro
  3. Vivo V11 Pro
  4. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
  5. Xiaomi Mi 8
  6. OnePlus 6T
  7. Xiaomi Black Shark
  8. Vivo Nex
  9. Xiaomi Pocophone

Huawei has produced the fastest charging device AND longest lasting battery in 2018… just not in the same phone

We have the data for all the phones discussed here, but we’ve highlighted select models to compare. If there’s interest for more, we can accommodate readers in the future. Please let us know if there’s any other metrics you’re interested in seeing!

 

Best desk lamps that also can charge your phone

No matter if you work from home or are drowning in homework, a good desk lamp is a great way to tie your entire workspace together. Better yet, a desk lamp that can charge your phone adds a wonderful level of functionality that any workflow can benefit from. Without further ado, these are our favorite desk lamps that also serve as phone chargers.

Fast wireless charging

TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp

This first desk lamp from TaoTronics has a very modern design that’s super sleek and highly customizable. The LED light has five color modes and seven brightness levels that can be changed at any time using the touch controls at the base. There’s a wireless charger that supports up to 10W speeds and a USB port for 5V/1A charging.

$38 at Amazon

The simple choice

Limelights Brushed Steel Lamp

Limelights’ lamp has a much more traditional design that’s simply timeless. The fabric lampshade is available in a variety of colors and the brushed steel base looks fantastic. You’ll only find one USB port for charging, but at just $20, that’s to be expected.

$20 at Amazon

Past meets present

TaoTronics LED Bedside Lamp

Our next pick combines a homey aesthetic with wireless charging support and a dimmable light. Your phone rests on the base of the lamp for up to 10W charging speeds, there’s a built-in USB port for 5V/1A wired charging, and the light can be dimmed using the control knob.

$50 at Amazon

Does it all

Gerintech LED Desk Lamp

Going back to lamps with more quirky designs, Gerintech’s lamp is all about being as functional as can be. This thing has a dimmable LED light, alarm clock, USB port for 5V/2A wired charging, pen/pencil storage, temperature reader, and the front LCD display even shows the current date.

$39 at Amazon

So classy

Aooshine Table Lamp

Don’t need all of those bells and whistles and just want a lamp that looks darn good? Enter Aooshine’s lamp. The wooden base looks downright gorgeous, and when paired with the fabric shade, results in a seriously good-looking lamp. The USB port allows for 5V/2A charging and your purchase is backed by a 90-day warranty.

$30 at Amazon

Do the twist

Omnilight LED Desk Lamp

Our last pick is the Omnilight desk lamp. The unique gooseneck design allows the light to be folded and bent in a virtually endless number of ways, while the light itself shines brighter and covers more surface area compared to competing options. As for charging, there’s one USB port.

$34 at Amazon

We’ve previously been impressed with TaoTronics’ affordable Bluetooth headphones, so if you want to pick up something you know you can rely on for a long time to come, you can’t go wrong with the company’s Desk Lamp or Bedside Lamp. Alternatively, if you want something more affordable with a classier look, Limelights’ lamp is another great choice.

Realme U1 teased with ‘most powerful selfie camera ever’

The Realme U1 teaser. Amazon India

  • Realme and Amazon India have teased the Realme U1, a selfie-focused smartphone.
  • Oppo’s sub-brand claims the new phone will also have “the most powerful selfie camera ever.”
  • The device will have a Helio P70 chipset and waterdrop notch, according to the teaser.

The Realme series might be the breakout brand of the year, delivering a family of affordable phones. We’ve seen quite a few entries this year already, but it looks like the Oppo sub-brand isn’t done just yet.

The Realme Twitter account, in conjunction with Amazon India, has teased the arrival of the Realme U1. And Realme says the new phone will be the first device with MediaTek‘s Helio P70 chipset.

MediaTek’s latest processor is essentially a minor upgrade over the Helio P60, featuring slightly higher CPU and GPU clock speeds, for one. Nevertheless, the Helio P60 was a pretty capable mid-range chipset that offered AI silicon too, so an incremental improvement isn’t a bad thing.

A teaser for the Realme U1 notch.
A teaser for the Realme U1 selfie camera.

The Realme U1 teaser also reveals the phone will have a waterdrop notch, which will play host to “the most powerful selfie camera ever.” Does this mean it’ll be the highest resolution selfie camera or that it’ll simply take the best selfies? I’m leaning towards the former, as Realme parent company Oppo has been touting a 25MP AI-powered selfie camera this year. Hopefully Realme puts the megapixels to good use if it indeed takes this route.

Editor’s Pick

We don’t know much else about the new smartphone but, if it’s like previous Realme devices, we’d expect a few compromises of some kind. After all, the Realme 1 offered powerful internals and a full HD+ screen, but lacked a fingerprint scanner. The Realme 2, on the other hand, delivered a fingerprint scanner but served up a 720p display and weaker, Snapdragon 450 chipset.

We won’t have to wait too long for a full reveal, as Realme will host a November 28 launch event in India at 12:30PM (2AM ET). What would you like to see from the Realme U1? Give us your thoughts in the comments section!

NEXT: Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro hands-on — Progressive iteration

Black Friday pricing takes $300 off various Google Pixelbook models

The best prices we’ve ever seen on these high-performance Chromebooks.

Amazon is offering a number of Google Pixelbook models on sale in its Black Friday deals week, with up to $300 off and prices starting as low as $699.

The laptop-tablet hybrid is thin, light, and futuristic in design with ultra-powerful internal specs that allow the Pixelbook to work great as a laptop or mobile device. There’s even support for a dedicated Pixelbook Pen for drawing and writing on-screen with a natural feel.

Google’s Pixelbook with Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD is the most affordable in this sale. It’s down to $699 — its lowest price to date. For the last few months, the price has fluctuated between its full MSRP of $999 and a $925 sale price, and we’ve never seen it drop below $749 before making now a great time to pick one up. If you need more internal storage, the 256GB capacity model is also $300 off, bringing its price down to $899 for a limited time.

If you want the tricked-out model, this is your chance to save on it. With a 7th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage, the top-spec model in this sale is down to an unprecedented low price of $1,349 which is — you guessed it — $300 off its retail price. This Pixelbook model has never dropped below $1,395 — a price it has only hit once — and sells for around $1,550 on average.

These prices are only available for a limited time and while supplies last. If you’ve been holding out for Black Friday to grab a Pixelbook, your time is now!

As we count down to the big day itself, we’re bound to see more brands and retailers drop prices and push promotions on products you care about. We’re rounding up the best deals to make it easy for you to keep track of deals to take advantage of, and deals to ignore, this shopping season.

Best of Android 2018: the best audio

We’ve subjected the best Android devices of 2018 to a slew of testing and can confidently inform you of what the best sounding phone is, as well as list other standout products with excellent audio. While we’ve only highlighted one phone, a handful of options produce perceptually perfect audio when it comes to noise and dynamic range. Aside from the models that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, we’ll also address a few other phones that perform well but not perfectly.

What makes something the best sounding phone?

Best sounding phone: Red Hydrogen One headphone jack

As more and more flagships drop the headphone jack, its presence has become a sought-after feature for audio junkies and is required to be crowned the best sounding phone.

As writers from our sister site SoundGuys will tell you, audio is both a subjective and objective experience. While the subjective, experiential part is valid, we’re here to highlight some of the more scientific bits to get you on your way.

When looking for a phone that produces excellent sound quality, there are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Noise levels should be under -96.6dB for CD-quality music.
  • Dynamic range should similarly be at or over 96.6dB.
  • Frequency response shouldn’t ever deviate from 0dB in either direction, but you won’t hear it if it’s less than 0.5dB.
  • Smartphone speakers suck.
  • Headphone jacks are the only way to ensure high-quality audio.

Only three phones tested exhibited audible errors

If you were to take a look at our huge, color-coded results spreadsheet, you’d notice right away how most smartphones in 2018 exhibit no audible flaws. When it comes to figuring out which smartphone is better than others for audio quality, only two things separate them: features (like a headphone jack), and Bluetooth.

We don’t like shaming phones around here, but these are the offending models:

  1. RED Hydrogen One
  2. Huawei P20
  3. Huawei P20 Pro

SoundGuys noted some irregularities with the Huawei phones when it came to AAC, but also noted every Android phone has errors with that finicky codec. The phones listed here can handle SBC, LDAC, aptX, and aptX HD on-spec. Additionally, the errors exhibited by those phones are unlikely to be heard by over 70 percent of the population, so be sure to temper outrage on that front.

However, the RED Hydrogen phone has frequency response errors of over 7dB, meaning you’ll absolutely hear it affect your music. It’s the lone “bad” phone for audio here.

The tests tell a very rosy story

We were surprised to find that noise wasn’t really a factor in differentiating phones, as most phones did a great job with it, however, there were a few shortcomings in other areas that thinned the herd considerably.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

While it’s important for smartphone audio to minimize noise, high dynamic range is just as crucial. Although we’re accustomed to seeing the acronym “HDR” in photography, auditory dynamic range is the ratio of the quietest sound to the loudest sound a device can produce.

Dynamic Range

Higher is better

Speaker loudness might mostly serve to annoy the crap out of everyone around you, but sometimes you need a little boom in your mobile to catch a call or watch a YouTube video with a group. This purely tested how loud a given smartphone’s speaker can get and didn’t take into account distortion. We see quite a bit of difference between our top contenders, with the Nokia 7.1 and LG V40 ThinQ leading the pack.

Speaker Loudness

Higher is better

A fourth metric brings us back to the fundamentals of audio: frequency response. Although consumer headphones and earbuds tend to alter sound with a brand’s specific “house signature,” if you’re looking for accuracy, you want a device’s frequency response to be as neutral as possible. Though much hay is made over the high-end DAC assemblies of the LG V40 and Samsung phones, the truth is most handsets can decode and output a decent enough signal for even picky listeners. Only five phones crossed our +/- 0.5dB barrier, three of which are listed above. 

This is particularly pertinent, as it applies to the best sounding phone. By producing a neutral frequency response, a smartphone minimizes harmonic distortion at the source. Any issues with the DAC’s ability to reproduce an accurate, high-fidelity response may be amplified down the line when you plug your headphones in.

An accurate, neutral-leaning frequency response is imperative for any phone to be considered as the best sounding phone.

Most phones deviate less than 0.5dB in either direction, and score nearly perfect in this regard. Any of the phones listed today are essentially indistinguishable from one another performance-wise, making each smartphone an excellent choice when considering audio quality. While we can easily get lost nitpicking smartphone audio performance, the fact of the matter is smartphones handle audio exceptionally well. Generally speaking, you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between the top 10 smartphones for audio.

However, that brings us to a funny artifact of our scoring: only phones with a headphone jack could top our list. Dongles are a death sentence for our awards.

The current state of smartphone audio

Best sounding phone: The LG V40 ThinQ and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 standing next to each other on a shelf.

Smartphone audio has come a long way, and we’re confident that any of the notable phones mentioned today will be satisfactory.

Listen to the SoundGuys podcast: The state of smartphone audio

Yes, 10 phones is a lot of models to be indistinguishable — it serves as a testament to how far smartphone audio quality has come. Now, what makes each phone a top contender is its ability to exceed the limits of human hearing.

Human hearing ranges from 20Hz-20kHz — hence why you see that range brandished all over headphone packaging — but this range assumes a young age and unsullied ear mechanics. Most of our hearing abilities degrade naturally by the time we hit our early- to- mid-twenties, which you can put to the test here. If you find that you can’t hear a few of those files, try applying a filter in your phone’s settings (found in Samsung, LG phones). You might be surprised at the improvements you can get.

What’s more, if you’re streaming over Bluetooth, even the highest quality codec can’t keep step with wired listening. In fact, LDAC 330kbps showed itself less reliable than SBC, the lowest-common-denominator of codecs. So, the assumed codec pecking order been skewed up until now. AAC diminishes audio quality a bit when streamed over an Android device, and aptX is what listeners should be sticking to. Even then, however, wired remains king of quality.  

The LG V40 ThinQ has the best sound quality of any handset in 2018

After subjecting each of the 30 contenders to a battery of tests and analyzing the data through our in-house scoring algorithms, the LG V40 ThinQ narrowly reigned victor over the Asus ROG Phone and Samsung Galaxy phones. These phones actually beat out the V40 in some cases, but because many of those measurements lie outside the realm of human perception, they didn’t give those phones an edge with our scoring methods. The LG V40 ThinQ’s headphone jack, Quad DAC, and internal amplifier is a winning combination that’s yet to be bested.

Best sounding phone: LG V40 ThinQ camera

The LG V40’s 32-bit Hi-Fi Quad DAC in tandem with the retention of the headphone jack makes it the best sounding smartphone of 2018.

It’s that internal amplifier that makes the LG V40 ThinQ a special phone. Where LG’s V-series has had it for a long time now, no other phones offer a 2V output, which means you can use power-hungry high-end headphones without breaking a sweat. Though it’s probably not the most practical idea to listen to a pair of planar magnetic headphones on the town, the fact is the LG V40 ThinQ is the only phone that’s going to let you do that. The Quad-DAC certainly sounds flashy, but the power behind the headphone jack is what makes the LG V40 ThinQthe best phone for audio. 

Editor’s Pick

Although it’s important to acknowledge the winner’s weaknesses, we tip our headphones to the LG V40. It — along with the Asus ROG Phone, Vivo NEX, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — outperforms its smartphone brethren in dynamic range. Additionally, the V40 frequency response deviates just 0.07dB, outperforming all other potential picks.

Although the V40 can’t outperform its competition in every metric, the top-notch power output makes it the best sounding smartphone of the year.

This year, there’s a wide selection of excellent phones out there for listeners who prioritize audio quality. All of the listed candidates are within a few meager points of one another and remain perceptually indistinguishable — unless you have a set of high-impedance headphones that require a lot of juice.

  1. LG V40 ThinQ
  2. Asus ROG Phone
  3. Nokia 7.1
  4. Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
  5. LG G7 ThinQ
  6. Samsung Galaxy S9
  7. Vivo X21
  8. Vivo Nex
  9. Xiaomi Pocophone
  10. Samsung Galaxy Note 9

One more thing about testing

Best sounding phone: focusrite scarlett 2i2 connected to a smartphone.

We use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to conduct our smartphone audio tests.

Any of the nine alternatives are very close to the LG V40. We understand if you want a more financially viable choice, or a battery that’s not going to quit after a few hours. In that case, the Xiaomi Pocophone, and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus remains standout performers. Though they’re technically not the best sounding phones, they’re sure to satisfy any enthusiast’s ears. We’ll have future comparisons coming down the line to help inform you on future smartphone-related decisions.

Although we’re not yet publishing our internal scoring, we implore our readers to learn about how we conducted our testing, and the philosophy behind it. We want to ensure our data tells a story and informs our audience of relevant information. What’s more, we want our data to be accessible to a wide array of readers, be it the computer engineer or the average consumer.

Come back throughout the week for more Best of Android 2018 coverage as we have plenty more to share with you.

Next: Best of Android 2018: The best displays

eSIM: Pros and cons of the new way to connect

Infineon The eSIM chip itself is tiny, and is installed directly into the smartphone’s circuitry

SIM cards have been in our cellphones for more than 25 years. The only thing that’s really changed over the decades is the size of the card itself. SIM cards have made it somewhat cumbersome to connect to a service provider, given the need to have them physically present, plus they’re easily damaged and lost.

A new system’s been around for a little while and smartphone industry players are starting to get on board — enter the eSIM.

Android Authority‘s Bob Myers did a great job running through the history of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM), along with the new eSIM, where the “e” stands for “embedded,” meaning the SIM function is embedded into the circuitry of the smartphone. This was set down by the GSMA, the international association of cell network operators and related businesses. The eSIM might be a chip, but it works more like temporary storage now. It’s reprogrammable, and can be provisioned over the air without any physical modifications.

There are some major pros and cons to the new eSIM approach, mainly where we consumers are concerned. Let’s take a look.

eSIM Pros:

It’s more reliable

You can’t lose your eSIM, it doesn’t need to be cut to an exact size, and it won’t wear out. You don’t need to go to a store to buy one, or even pay for one, like the bad old days when companies would charge for SIM cards. No need to wait for a company to send one out either.

Remote provisioning

People have been using eSIMs in the wild for a little while now and experiences have been good. With the Google Pixel 2, Project Fi activates almost instantly. Switching between networks that support eSIMs, which are increasing, means no need to switch between old SIM cards and new SIM cards. Remote provisioning make the switch quick and painless.

A closeup of the SIM card tray seen during a OnePlus 6 teardown.

One less ingress point, plus space saving

This one benefits makers directly, but it will flow down to consumers as well. Manufacturers have gradually cut down SIM card size, using the saved space for other useful components. Removing the components to read a SIM card, and the SIM card slot itself, removes a handful of complexities in smartphone design, and removes a big hole in a device.

Switching to eSim means there’s one less places to worry about water and dust resistance, which helps improve IP ratings and general water splashproof-ness. Companies justified removing the headphone jack for space reasons, so removing the physical SIM card space may give us more room for new technology.

MIKI Yoshihito

You don’t need the little SIM-ejector anymore

With a few billion smartphones now in existence, there’s also a few billion of those little pokers for ejecting physical SIM cards. Even with so many around, you can never find one when you need it. Even the guy who normally carries around a bunch of them has lost them gradually over the years, stolen by those he thought he could trust. Now that’s not an issue!

Oh, and there won’t be a need to jam other sharp objects in your phone when you lose the poker too.

eSIM Cons:

Switching phones is a little more complicated

Tech reviewers will change SIMs at the drop of a hat between phones, and for everyone else, it’s always been useful to pull out the SIM card and remove a significant amount of personal information. Of course, phones these days are full of images, video, music, photos, passwords, notes, settings, and so on, but the SIM had plenty on it as well. Disposing of a phone or passing a phone down the line to friends or family will take a little bit more effort in order to wipe the eSIM properly.

Currently, there aren’t any dual eSIM phones either — just support for a normal SIM and an eSIM. Dual eSIMs seem likely in the future, but we haven’t seen any yet.

Android 9 Pie review Quick Settings Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular, Vibrate

No disconnection from cellular networks

Now that an eSIM is always present, you’ll always be connected to a network once you’re provisioned. That makes phones far more trackable. Any device with just an eSIM will constantly be active and on a network. For most law-abiding people of democratic states that’s not an issue, but there are plenty of regions in the world where people may not want to be tracked by governments or intelligence. Yes, it’s a little bit far removed from what most people deal with, but it could be a problem.

Hacking

Another problem for some will be hacking. I don’t pretend to know where the battle between hackers and eSIM security stands. Embedded though it may be, an eSIM is a physical chip, which makes hacking it very difficult. However, operators will need to be concerned about provisioning and exchanging configuration data between their network and the phone, even if it is encrypted. An eSIM offers one more potential exploit for a hacker, even if it’s a tiny one.

Overall

The move towards the eSIM is another sign of the times, where technology could improve our lives — with a few side effects. It won’t be too long before explaining to another generation how physical chips were necessary to receive 180-character text messages will make it seem like we lived in the dark ages.

Have you tried an eSIM yet? Are you wary, or ready for the new technology?

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display front size

There are now a few choices if you’re in the market for a new smart display. The JBL Link View, Amazon Echo Show, Lenovo Smart Display, and the new Google Home Hub all pair the convenience of a voice assistant with the utility of a screen for even more useful features.

Lenovo recently rolled out an update to its Smart Display that includes much of the Google Home Hub’s functionality, including the Home View dashboard. With software parity now on the cards, which of these two Smart Displays is the better buy?

Spec showdown

  Google Home Hub Lenovo Smart Display
Display 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 resolution 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 resolution
10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution
SoC Amlogic CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 624
(Android Things)
Speakers 1x full range speaker, 80dB SPL @1KHz 1.75″ 10W Full Range Speaker, 2 x Passive Tweeters
Microphones 2x mic array 2x dual mic arrays
Camera No 5MP wide angle, 720p video call resolution
Wireless Bluetooth 5
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 4.2
802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi
Dimensions 178.5 x 118 x 67.3mm
480g
263.2 x 142.2 x 111.4mm /
311.4 x 173.9 x 136mm
1kg / 1.2kg
Colors Sand, Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal Grey / Bamboo
Price $149 $199.99 / $249.99

At $149, the Google Home Hub is much more affordable than the larger Lenovo Smart Display. As such, it’s a little more basic in terms of specifications, with a smaller, lower resolution display, a more basic speaker setup, and no camera for video calls. I would argue just $50 more for the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display offers good value for money, but $100 more for the 10-inch model feels a little expensive. The sheer size may also make it trickier for some people to find a good home for Lenovo’s behemoth.

Read: Google Home Hub review | Lenovo Smart Display review

The Home Hub comes in a wider range of colors, so you can probably find something you like to fit into your home. Lenovo is more limited here, locking the grey or bamboo options exclusively to the different sized models.

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display back design

Look and feel

There’s no escaping the large 10-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution display on the bigger Lenovo Smart Display model — it takes over any room it’s in. The high pixel density lends itself nicely to displaying Google Photos in Ambient Mode and playing back videos with crisp clarity. Colors pop, brightness is great, and the 86-degree viewing angle makes sure you can see the display from virtually anywhere in a room. The smaller 8-inch version makes do with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, which still handily beats out the Google Home Hub’s 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 panel.

The Lenovo Smart Display is elegantly designed, boasting a curved bamboo back that lets you stand the display vertically as well as horizontally. Don’t let that sell you on this, though — the UI doesn’t shift into a portrait mode when the hub is on its side apart from when making video calls. This makes the whole design pretty much useless as I can’t see people flipping the hub up just to make video calls. I wonder if Lenovo had thought it might have been able to do more with the UI at some point in early development.

If you’re primarily looking for a picture frame or small castable TV, the Lenovo’s superior display makes it the better choice.

Lenovo’s design certainly won’t be for everybody, but I prefer it to the Google Home Hub’s functional white plastic. The partially textured look will be familiar to anyone who owns other Google Home products, but if you’re not a fan of pastel colors, the design won’t be for you. Fortunately, the Google Home Hub is nice and compact, making it much easier to find space for — it sits nicely on a desk or side table. You definitely need to set aside some space for Lenovo’s model.

Smart Home Multi Room audio settings menu

Music and video all-in-one

Integrated Chromecast functionality is a major win for both the Lenovo Smart Display and the Google Home Hub. You can broadcast music and video from a wide variety of apps straight to the speakers with minimal hassle. Unfortunately, Netflix casting support is still absent from both products, but app support is otherwise the same as a regular Chromecast. Again, the bigger size and higher pixel density of Lenovo’s displays make them better products for watching back video, though the Google Home Hub is more than good enough for playing back YouTube music videos or following along with recipes in the kitchen.

Editor’s Pick

Speaking of streaming, both products now support multi-room music streaming. These display can be added to home groups, along with other cast enabled Home smart speakers. Speaker quality differs between the models though.

On the front on the Lenovo Smart Display there’s a large speaker grill housing the 10W full-range and dual passive radiator to direct sound out towards you. The speaker is loud, crisp, and packs plenty of bass. It’s certainly better than the regular Google Home, I wouldn’t recommend it over a decent hi-fi setup if you’re really into your music. The Google Home Hub still packs a decent punch for its little size and I’d ballpark the speaker quality in the range of the regular Google Home. It will certainly suffice as a basic home speaker, but the Lenovo has a slight edge.

One feature separating the two is the Smart Display’s inclusion of a front-facing camera for video calling. It’s nice for those that use Duo, which I personally don’t. The Google Home hub handles regular calls, sans video. Lenovo also included a shutter slider to block the camera, which the privacy-conscious will appreciate.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it a definitive edge.

The Google Assistant you know and love

If you’re familiar with Google Assistant, you’ll know what to expect from these Smart Displays. The familiar timer, weather, commute times, reminder, news, music casting, YouTube streaming, alarms, and other features are identical between the two Smart Displays. I might not be the most demanding smart home user, but I couldn’t find any unsupported common commands on these products.

At launch, the Lenovo Smart Display was missing a number of key Assistant features found in the Home Hub. As well as the aforementioned Multi-Room Audio feature, Lenovo didn’t have Continued Conversations and the Home View dashboard for managing other smart home products. Fortunately, these are all now accounted for and Lenovo has also increased the number of third-party smart home products supported by its Smart Display.

There are a few subtle software differences, such as Google implementation of a small LED to display when the mic is muted, while Lenovo sticks a black bar across the screen. Lenovo offers variable volumes for audio and alarms, while Google sticks with just a single setting. Even so, the software of these two Smart Displays offers the same core features, UI, and Assistant experience.

Google Home Hub showing feature menu
Lenovo Smart Display Speaker grill front

Google Home Hub vs Lenovo Smart Display: Which is worth a purchase?

I prefer the Lenovo Smart Display to the Google Home Hub, owing to the larger display for pictures and video, and the better-sounding speakers. The design certainly won’t suit everybody and the size means it can’t be a discrete part of your home, but overall I think it’s the nicer one.

As a home entertainment system, the Lenovo Smart Display’s better specs give it an edge.

If you’re looking for  extra multimedia capabilities, then Lenovo Smart Display is certainly worth a look. Thanks to a recent update, Home View isn’t an exclusive selling point for the Home Hub anymore, either.

However, those looking for a cost-effective, small panel from which to manage their existing smart home will still likely find the Google Home Hub a compelling purchase.

Ultimately, the right one for you will come down to how much you want to spend on a Smart Display. The Google Home Hub is the more attractive entry point for those dipping their toes into their first smart home purchase. Don’t count the JBL Link View out either, if you’re after something a little more music oriented.

What do you think? Which Smart Display would you buy?