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Samsung’s new galaxy

Galaxy S9This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Verizon Wireless sent me a brand new (not yet released at the time of my writing this) Android phone to test out recently, the Samsung Galaxy S9.

This is Samsung’s flagship phone for 2018, and it is quite a phone. I have been a fan of Samsung for years, and this phone shows why. Samsung also happens to be the largest mobile manufacturer in the world!

The specs are all state of the art with the newest chipset available for Android, the latest version of Android, expandable storage, wireless charging, waterproofing, headphone jack, Dolby Atmos sound with stereo speakers and more.

The 12-megapixel camera is great and has a variable aperture system that can seamlessly adjust the camera from f/2.4 to f/1.5 in low-light conditions. Colors are sharp and details are crisp.

There are neat features such as selective focus, which allows you to focus on a specific object and slightly blur out the background. When I tested the selective focus on some flowers, the photo came out great; the focus made the picture look like I knew what I was doing with photography.

For security, it has a fingerprint reader on the back. But more fun than that is the Intelligent Scan function, which uses facial recognition combined with iris scanning to unlock the phone. The only time I found that the Intelligent Scan didn’t work well was in a very dimly lit room with my glasses on; once I removed my glasses it worked fine.

While I think the Intelligent Scan is a very cool feature, it is slower than the iPhone X’s facial recognition and still requires a screen press prior to the Intelligent Scan before unlocking the phone.

Price appears to range from $720 to $800 depending on where you pick it up, but there are great trade-in offers from Samsung, Verizon and others as well. That is a great price point for a super-premium phone.

While I did not get a chance to check it out, I have read that the larger Galaxy S9+ model has more RAM (6 GB versus 4 GB), better cameras (the S9+ has the highest-rated camera ever, according to testing site DxOMark) and stronger Wi-Fi performance, according to PC Mag.

Both the S9 an S9+ have an OLED edge-to-edge “Infinity Display.” The Galaxy S9 has a 5.8-inch screen, while the S9+ has a 6.2-inch screen and dual rear cameras and costs about $120 more than the Galaxy S9. Both have a display with a ratio of 18.5:9.

I find the S9 to be a bit small for my liking. If I were to buy this phone, I would opt to pay more for the S9+.

I should point out, though, that I like large phones, and the S9 is small enough that it can be used with one hand. The S9+, like the Galaxy S8+ before it, requires the use of two hands to reach across the screen at times.

There are some innovative features — like the augmented reality stickers that you can make with your own face or the dual screen option that allows two apps to be open at the same time — but these are not features that I would use.

All in all, this is an excellent smartphone, albeit a bit small, with all of the bells and whistles you could hope for. The price is good and build quality is solid.


Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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A lesser-known flagship phone
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A lesser-known flagship phone

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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For my column this month, I have a smartphone review for you.

The friendly folk at Verizon Wireless sent me the LG V30 to check out. This is a flagship phone from LG with solid reviews, and I was looking forward to playing with it. A couple of months ago I wrote about the Google Pixel 2 XL which happens to have been built by LG, so I was hoping for this to be a sort of cousin to the Pixel 2 XL.

LG is a major Android smartphone manufacturer, but they don’t do as well marketing their phones and tend to be eclipsed by Samsung, the 800-pound gorilla. They have the hardware and software to keep up and still provide solid phones, but their reputation could use some help.

While the size is similar to the Pixel 2 XL, the LG V30 is its own phone. The 6-inch design of aluminum and glass does not feel as big as it sounds and instead rests nicely in the hand with a large screen including the now common 18:9 dimensions. It has an OLED display with Quad HD (four times as many pixels as a 1080p full HD display). The screen looks sharp and vibrant.

It has some nice features, including waterproofing, wireless charging, expandable microSD storage and more, such as a headphone jack. The phone has all of the features that I would look for in a smartphone, so it definitely has that going for it as far as a flagship smartphone. Waterproofing is a great safety feature, wireless charging is incredibly convenient and expandable storage means you are not limited to the phone’s built-in storage.

Even though the trend is that wired headphones seem to be going away, the LG V30 is getting quite a bit of attention for including the jack along with QuadDAC (digital-to-analog converter). LG claims it “sounds louder, cleaner, and more accurate — like the original live performance with the 32-bit QuadDAC.”

The LG V30 does not come with headphones, and all that I have on hand are inexpensive earbuds, but in testing it out, the sound was crisp, clear and rich and would no doubt sound even better with good headphones. Even when recording audio and video, it uses three separate microphones to maintain true sound for videos.

How are the photos? According to LG, “similar to DSLR cameras, the LG V30’s standard camera features a wide f/1.6 aperture and a glass lens, resulting in impressive low-light performance and improved color clarity.”

I noticed that colors looked warm and rich. Because of the dual cameras on the rear, zooming allows you to zoom in on any area of the image, and then you can control focus from there.

One thing that bothers me on this phone is the lack of an app drawer as part of LG’s own flavor of Android. An app drawer is a slide up or menu item that lists all of your apps and then allows you not to have them all displayed on pages like your home screen. It’s common for Apple to do this, but with Android I am used to only putting out the apps that I use on screens and leaving the rest in the app drawer. Not a major issue, but worth writing about.

A nice little bonus is that on top of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty, LG provides a second year of warranty upon registration. That definitely says something for LG believing in its build quality.

Additionally, the price is well below some of the newer flagships. The list price is about $840, but there are big incentives from the major mobile carriers, and it can be found for under $700 online.

All in all, the LG V30 is a solid phone that has the features most would be looking for. I may well consider this for my next phone.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Pixel 2 XL vs. the iPhone X

iPhone XThis post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Flagship phones are meant to represent the best that phone makers have to offer. I definitely found this to be the case while I testing out some demo units from Verizon Wireless.

They sent me the Android-based Google phone, the Pixel 2 XL, and the iOS-based Apple phone, the iPhone X (pronounced ten). I also got to try out the Bose SoundSport wireless headphones with each of the phones.

First off, I am an Android guy, but I love the iPhone X! Compared to the iPhones that I have been working with for the past few years, the iPhone X is a true upgrade with a new feel to the operating system since losing the home button. After using the iPhone X for a few minutes, it became very easy to navigate and swipe up on the screen to close apps and return home.

Before I lather all my praise on the iPhone X, I want to point out that the Pixel 2 XL is the best Android phone I have ever used and I am smitten with this phone too. There was nothing new to use on the Pixel 2 XL as far as operating system, but it is a fast phone and the display is crisp and clear.

Security on both phones is impressive. The Pixel 2 XL uses a fingerprint reader that is quite comfortably placed on the back and easy to access as you pick up the phone. It reads the fingerprint quickly and opens the phone all in one go.

The iPhone X uses FaceID, Apple’s facial recognition technology. FaceID was also incredibly fast and easy to use. I could be in a dimly lit room and it still read my face quickly and accurately.

As is currently popular, neither of the devices have a headphone jack. I rarely listen to music through headphones, so this was not a major loss for me. However, when I listened to music on both phones with the Bose SoundSport bluetooth headphones, the sound was great: robust, full bass and clear sound.

Google Assistant and Siri are the digital assistants on the phones, and both were easy to use. On the Pixel 2 XL, I could either say “Hey, Google” or simply squeeze the bottom of the phone to trigger it. For the iPhone X I could either say “Hey, Siri” or press the dedicated button on the right hand side of the phone. Both were responsive and helpful.

Both cameras are touted as the best cameras out there and I certainly had no complaints. Both were quick to take pictures, and photos looked sharp. Portrait mode is a feature on both phones that blurs out backgrounds and makes the main subject stand out clearly. On both phones, the portrait mode photos looked great.

The iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL are both built very well and feel solid in the hand. Personally, I like the larger size of the Pixel 2 XL. Even though the iPhone is the smaller of the two phones, the screen sizes are about the same due to the iPhone having such small bezels.

The iPhone is covered in glass, which would prompt me to get a case for it. Then it would start to bulk up in size. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, has a matte coated aluminum backing that feels good and also makes one think a case may not be needed.

It comes down to the fact that, if money were no object, the Pixel 2 XL is the Android phone to get and the iPhone X is the Apple model to get. Both phones are pricey, with the Pixel 2 XL currently coming in at $775 and the iPhone X at $1000.

I plan to stick with Android, but the iPhone X sure is tempting. The easy holdout for me is that Apple phones are built for the Apple ecosystem and therefore have default apps (calendar, contacts, etc.) that are baked in to be used for system functions.

I can still download Google apps (again, like calendar and contacts), but they do not get the same attention as the built-in system apps do. Google phones are meant for Google’s ecosystem but allow a lot more choice in selecting the default apps to use.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Playing with possibilities

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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This past month, Verizon Wireless sent me a fun phone to try out: the Motorola Z2 Play.

Overall, it is a nice phone to play around with. The phone itself is an upper mid-range phone, but the range of possibilities it offers is the fun part.

Let me explain. The phone’s functionality is all around solid. In my use, it was speedy, lightweight, had great battery life of more than a day and had a very nice looking display. But my primary focus in testing the device was not really based on the phone functionality itself. Rather, I was in it for the Moto Mods (think modifications). This is where the fun part comes in.

I got to try out three of the different mods: a speaker, camera and projector. The mods attach via magnet and easily snap on or off. Other available mods include a gamepad, extra battery, 360-degree camera and more.

The mod for the speaker was the Soundboost ($79.99) made by JBL. Once attached, the speaker mod made the phone quite a bit chunkier, but it was better than carrying around a separate bluetooth speaker. It has a kickstand, and when in use it adds a nice full sound to the music being played.

Using the mod over a standalone bluetooth speaker is a slight convenience — one less thing to carry with you — but I didn’t find myself taking the speaker mod out of the house, even, as I was not listening to music through a speaker on the go.

The camera mod was the Hasselblad 4116 True Zoom ($199.99). Hasselblad is a well respected camera company founded in 1841. Once you click on the mod, it transforms the phone into a digital camera with an expanding lens and dedicated zoom and shutter buttons.

A very nice feature is the 10x optical zoom. It provides much more clarity than a digital zoom, which is just software creating the zoom feature. The optical zoom is just like using a zoom lens on a film camera.

The pictures I took looked great when I saw the quick preview that pops up onscreen immediately after taking the picture, but when I looked at them later on the phone they did not have the vibrancy that I had seen before. This could be due to screen calibration and the fact that I viewed them later on a different device.

My favorite of the mods that I tried out was the Moto Insta-Share Projector ($299.99). Wow! This is a fun mod that allows one to project anything from the Moto Z2 Play screen (or other compatible Moto phone).

I tried it out on my ceiling and it looked great. I also took it camping and projected Moana on the side of an RV so the kids could enjoy a movie. (I am the Gadget Guy; of course I enjoy camping with technology!) The only complaint I had was that the sound was not robust enough for us to hear the soudtrack by the campfire. You can only attach one mod at a time, so the speaker mod could not remedy this.

In the future, I would know to bring a bluetooth speaker for the audio to work with the projector. The projector mod also has a built-in battery, so it extends the life of the smartphone battery while projecting.

My favorite thing to do with the projector was lay in bed and watch on my angled ceiling. It projects up to 70 inches and looks crisp with deep colors. My wife and I have avoided a TV in our bedroom, but on nights when we are exhausted (with young kids, that’s every night), it is a nice option to lay in bed and stream Netflix.

The projector is a must-have if you get the phone, but the mods only work with the Moto Z line. If you want flagship phones by Apple (iPhones) or Samsung (their latest being the Galaxy S8 and Note 8), you are out of luck using the mods.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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