Monthly Archives: December 2016

Best of Android 2016 – Audio

What is Best of Android?                

In Best of Android, we take the most important smartphones of the year and compare them side-by-side and in-depth. This year, with so many good phones available, we’ve stepped things up a notch and brought the 10 biggest Android phones of the year to the competition.

Read more about Best of Android and thanks for being such a valuable part of the Android Authority family!

Up next in our Best of Android 2016 series is some audio testing. We’ve seen manufacturers increasingly boast about the HiFi playback capabilities of their smartphones this year, and better quality audio components. So let’s see if the hardware has what it takes.

DAC Signal to Noise

If you’re looking for a smartphone capable of playing back audiophile grade files, then you’ll definitely want to take a look at the signal to noise ratio of the handset’s DAC. There’s a very important relationship between noise and audio file bit-depth. The bit-depth tells us the level of the quantization error when rounding values to their nearest digital value. A 24-bit file offers a maximum signal-to-noise ratio of -144dB, compared with -96.3dB for a 16-bit file. Although there’s more to this discussion that we’ll have to save for another time.

Regardless, if you want to maximize the available quality of these files, then we need a physical DAC and amplifier output stage that is just as noiseless as the audio files. There’s no point in listening to a 24-bit file through a system with a 50dB SNR. A higher SNR also means that quality should be retained better as we turn the volume down, as there additional headroom before we hit the noise floor, and gives us an idea about how clean the audio signal path is inside the smartphone. We certainly don’t want to be picking up noise from processors or charge pump circuits.

The clear leader this year, and by some margin, is the HTC 10, with an impressive -105.5dB. This result begins to push up against the limits of our testing equipment and offers plenty of headroom for detailed listening at lower playback volumes. Other notable entries include the OnePlus 3T, Google Pixel XL, and the Moto Z Force Droid, which all pull in at just under -100dB, but any benefits from 24-bit files will be impossible to distinguish without the volume cranked all the way up. The Huawei Mate 9 and LG V20 are also quite good and come in at just above CD quality SNR, and should still provide a good representation at lower listening levels. The Xiaomi M5 and Sony Xperia XZ will be disappointing from an audiophile perspective and certainly don’t appear to be worth wasting time playing back 24-bit files on. Although a score around -90dB is still good enough for reasonable sounding playback, it just won’t satisfy those looking for the highest quality option.

The ZTE Axon 7 is a clear anomaly in our testing, and a SNR of just -79.6dB is rather poor and well behind the competition. We re-ran the test multiple times and repeatedly saw similar results, so we either have a bit of a dud handset or there’s something really wrong with the way that the audio signal path has been laid out on the motherboard.

All of that being said, there’s more to a good sounding representation above and beyond just SNR, and it’s unlikely that casual listeners will be disappointing in the sound available from any of these handsets. To help build up a bigger picture, we’ve also tested the voltage output of the headphone amplifiers. This gives us an idea about how much power we’re able to obtain from each amplifier, but this will vary considerably based on the headphones that you have connected, so it’s more of a rough guide.

Voltage

OnePlus 3T .829 Google Pixel XL .99
Huawei Mate 9 .347 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge .76
Sony Xperia XZ .382 LG V20 1.009
ZTE Axon 7 1.21 Xiaomi Mi 5 .18
Lenovo Moto Z Force Droid 1.45 HTC 10 1

 

Based on this data, the Moto Z Force Droid is a standout performer for output power, followed very closely by the ZTE Axon 7. The LG V20, HTC 10, and Google Pixel XL all offer up virtual identical output voltages too, and shouldn’t have too much trouble driving even the lowest impedance headphones with adequate volume.

The Sony Xperia XZ, Huawei Mate 9 and Xiaomi Mi 5 seem to offer considerably lower output voltages and may struggle to offer up as much volume as other headsets, and there’s a greater risk of small signals coming closer to the noise floor. That being said, current is an equally important factor when it comes to headphone power.

Speaker Volume

As well as headphone playback, we’ve also testing the loudness of each handset’s speaker to give you a feel for the maximum volume you can achieve while playing back videos and music to friends and family. The test is simple, we stood back exactly 1 meter from the handset’s speaker with our decibel meter and took some measurements.

The top three loudest speakers comprise of the Google Pixel XL at 77.8dB, followed by the ZTE Axon 7 on 76.6dB, and the Xiaomi Mi 5 at 75.6dB. All three of these will provide plenty of volume for playback, even is busy environments. The top three are followed closely by the HTC 10, Moto Z Force Droid, and the Huawei Mate 9, all of which will still provide plenty of volume for most playback scenarios.

At less than 70dB, the OnePlus 3T, LG V20, and Samsung Galaxy S7 edge are notable quieter than our leading handsets. Although it’s the Xperia XZ that is notably the worst for playback volume. Remember that decibels are a logarithmic scale, and a 10dB increase doubles the perceived loudness. So the Xperia XZ at just 58.9dB will sound only a quarter as loud as the Pixel XL at this typical listening distance. Or you could view this as the Pixel XL being able to put out four times the volume as the Xperia XZ.

Conclusion

For headphone playback, the HTC 10 edges out in front, followed closely by the Moto Z Force Droid, Google Pixel, and OnePlus 3T. HTC’s entry also offers up one of the louder speakers out of the handsets in our test group, making it the best all-rounder. However, it’s the ZTE Axon 7 and Google Pixel which offer the loudest presentation when playing back content through the speakers.

Audio enthusiasts have plenty of good options to chose from from this year’s Android flagships, but it’s the HTC 10 and Google Pixel that top our testing. The Xperia XZ is probably a handset to avoid if audio is going to be your primary use.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the other categories in the Best of Android 2016 series.


Credits

Tested by: Gary Sims, Andrew Grush, Nirave Gondhia, John Velasco, Joshua Vergara, Lanh Nguyen
Series Contributors: Rob TriggsEdgar Cervantes, Kris Carlon
Series Editors: Nirave Gondhia, Bogdan Petrovan, Andrew Grush

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The worst blunders of 2016 (besides the Note 7)

Speedpropertybuyers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In 2016, mobile technology hit new heights and Android was at the center of it all. But you can’t have progress without missteps, and 2016 was marked by an assortment of bad ideas, questionable business decisions, and some truly embarrassing blunders.

See also:

2016 in review: 10 defining moments in the world of Android

3 days ago

Time to talk about the 2016 moments tech companies would like us to forget. Let’s get to it!

When Samsung set its reputation on fire

In the “So Big, Non-Nerds Know About It” category, Samsung somehow managed to turn its best shot to finally outshine Apple into a hugely embarrassing, massively expensive, still-not-fully-explained disaster of a phone launch.

Years from now, people (normal people, not us tech freaks) will still be talking about that time Samsung phones kept catching fire. At Samsung HQ, news of burning cars and cancelled flights will trigger PTSD attacks forever, or at least until a new generation of fresh-eyed execs takes over with no memory of that dreadful day in 2016 when DJ Koh had to recall the Galaxy Note 7.

The Blunder of the Year award definitely goes to Samsung. Hell, everything else on this list combined was not as bad as the Note 7 fiasco. It was just that embarrassing.

When Blu got caught red handed

In the “We Didn’t Know, We Swear!” category, several Blu smartphones were found to be secretly sending user data to servers in China every 72 hours. That included text messages, call logs, and contacts. Yep, we’re talking about manufacturer installed malware here, the last thing you’d want on the cheap phone you bought for your mom or your kid.

To its credit, Blu came clean pretty fast and updated the six models in question – a total of 120,000 units – to remove the spyware. The manufacturer assigned the blame to a Chinese partner, but let’s face it, this is the kind of story that proliferates the belief that Android is insecure. And that’s not good.

When Google tried messaging, again

In the “We Only Wanted Proper SMS Integration” category, Google tried for the umpteenth time to deliver a communication service that people would, you know, actually want to use. In fact, it was two services this time, Allo and Duo. Both were hyped at Google I/O, but by the time they were released this fall, it was obvious that they were not ready to take on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage.

Allo in particular was a disappointment, as it lacked key features like full SMS support or a web client. Assistant, its one standout feature, was not enough to make people install and use yet another messaging service.

Perhaps in 2017 Google will turn Allo into a true WhatsApp or iMessage competitor. Or maybe not. Who knows.

When LG introduced us to its weird Friends

In the “Hey, At Least They Tried Something New” category, LG really wanted to impress us with its new flagship, the G5. It pulled all stops: metallic construction, user-replaceable battery, a fancy wide-angle camera … and modules – several weird, expensive, unpractical modules some marketing genius decided to call “Friends.”

As it turned out, the world just didn’t want to meet LG’s Friends. The idea was a dud and the LG G5 went down with it. To be fair, we have to commend LG for showing the real courage of betting its flagship on a wild idea.

When Cyanogen put a bullet through its own head

Cyanogen

In the “Too Cocky For Their Own Good” category, Cyanogen Inc. squandered any trace of goodwill it had left after the infamous 2015 comments of its then-CEO Kirt McMaster. Far from putting a bullet through Google’s head (sorry, Kirt, we just can’t let it go), Cyanogen alienated its partners, fired staff, and abandoned a once-promising business idea in favor of… we don’t know exactly what.

As of December 2016, Cyanogen OS is dead, CyanogenMod is dead, and Cyanogen Inc. is probably looking for someone to put it out of its misery. The silver lining? Lineage OS will – hopefully – carry on the great legacy of CyanogenMod.

When LG phones got their loopy reputation

In the “We’re Still Looking Into It” category, LG completely failed to give a good explanation of what’s going with its phones. Starting with the LG G4, and throughout 2016, numerous reports emerged about LG devices going through sudden, unfixable bootloops. We’re talking about flagships here, the phone you would expect to be rock solid.

LG only admitted issues with the LG G4. But scores of user reports about the G5, V10, Nexus 5X, and even the new V20 paint a different picture. Even if it’s all in our head, LG’s lack of transparency here was a big mistake.

When Apple showed #courage

In the “Well, That Backfired!” category, Apple exposed itself to ridicule when it boasted about the “courage” it took to remove the 3.5 mm audio jack from the iPhone 7. Snarky Twitter users had a field day, as #DongleLife became a trending hashtag.

Apple tried to paint its actions as some sort of righteous gesture it made in the benefit of customers. But the actual benefits of abandoning the ubiquitous audio jack are questionable, at best. And thanks to Apple’s massive influence on the industry, the #DongleLife could creep deep into Android territory in 2017.

When someone asked for $7.5 billion to sell a $4 phone

In the “Stranger Than Fiction” category, an Indian company called Ringing Bells (the name alone should’ve rung the alarm) announced an Android smartphone that would retail for just Rs. 251 or about four bucks. The “$4 phone,” as the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 came to be known, was simply put, too cheap to be true. “Prototypes” of the device that were shown to the press were off-the-shelf phones that had their manufacturer logos hidden with correction fluid.

The shady Ringing Bells collected tens of millions of registrations, but ultimately failed to deliver on any of its promises. It’s not clear what the plan was (Ponzi scheme? publicity stunt?), but the $4 phone saga hit a ridiculous tone when Ringing Bells sent a letter to the Indian government asking for no less than $7.5 billion in order to put a Freedom 251 in the hands of every Indian.

As of December 2016, Ringing Bells is close to shutting down.


A few dishonorable mentions: Google shut down the beloved Nexus line; Yahoo got hacked, hard; Facebook turned into a shameless Snapchat copycat; Pebble disappointed backers when it sold itself to Fitbit; Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot went haywire; and Lenovo made a mess out of Motorola.

What’s the biggest mistake mobile tech companies made this year?

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OnePlus 3T Nougat beta goes live, OnePlus 3 and 3T stable updates roll out tonight

It looks like OnePlus is working down to the wire to release its promised Android 7.0 Nougat stable updates for the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T by the end of 2016, at least in some time zones. The company has a Nougat beta update available to download for the 3T right now, and OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei stated via Twitter that the stable over-the-air Nougat update will begin to roll out tonight for both the 3 and 3T phones.

See also:

Android Nougat on the OnePlus 3 is impressive, even in beta

4 weeks ago

The OnePlus 3T beta update is the first, and likely only, OxygenOS 4.0 beta for that phone. The older OnePlus 3 phone has received 10 beta updates over the past several weeks. In his Twitter posts, Pei said the Nougat stable OTA update for the 3 and 3T will be a “gradual” one, so not every owner of those phones will likely get access to it tonight.

OnePlus promised that those phones would get Nougat before the end of the year. In follow-up posts on Twitter, Pei stated, “Many members of our R&D are not taking any time off to celebrate New Year. But we all feel proud to finally deliver on our promises. Thanks for all the support in 2016. I promise we’ll come back stronger in 2017, see you next year!”

Get OxygenOS Open Beta 1 for OnePlus 3T

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Airtel and Vodafone carrier billing goes live on Google Play Store in India

Looks like carrier billing for Airtel and Vodafone is going live in India for Google Play Store. Google had officially announced the partnership at the Google Playtime event in India in October, but didn’t share any timeline. In May this year, Google had announced carrier billing with Idea Cellular, although the service wasn’t rolled out immediately.

Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) allows you to buy apps, music, books, and movies from the Google Play Store while the cost is reflected in your postpaid mobile bill or taken off your prepaid balance.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the roll-out has been underway since last few days, but I can confirm now that it is working for me. I just set it up, and made the first purchase. You can set up carrier billing under the ‘Add a new payment’ option. It was seamless, really. To use the integrated billing system, each time you need to make a purchase, simply choose ‘Bill my Airtel Account’ on the payment method prompt.

Interestingly, Microsoft was the first to enable carrier billing in India. Idea Cellular had enabled carrier billing on Windows Store in December 2014.

Is carrier billing working for you on the Google Play Store? Tell us in the comments, and share which carrier are you on.

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LG posts info on January 2017 Android security updates

While we still have a few more hours until 2016 reaches its end, LG has decided to go ahead and post the patch numbers on Google’s January 2017 security updates for Android. LG’s website also has information on some patches that are specifically for the company’s handsets.

See also:

Google to roll out January’s Android security update next week

3 days ago

The website says there will be a total of 73 security patches on the Android side in January, with seven of those updates labeled as “critical”. In addition there will be eight more updates that are just for LG’s smartphones like the LG V20. While there’s no specific info for the Google security updates, other than their identification numbers, there are more details on the eight LG patches. One of them is labeled as “critical” and specifically affects devices that use chips from MediaTek. LG says the patch is to get rid of the MTKLogger application which can log “personal information to storage without user consent” and  “can be started by third-party application without user consent.”

Google should start rolling out the Android January 2017 security updates sometime next week. The LG-specific patches will likely follow suit, although their release dates will be influenced by specific carriers who may wait to test the updates on their network.

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