I was not aware that game developers were legally permitted to make action on mobile games that’s as good as the fighting in Bleak Sword. When it comes to games, touchscreen controls are a thing that we just kind of deal with in the hopes that someone comes up with an ingenious use for them, like with The Room series of games. Barring that, most just settle for fine—rare is the truly bad touchscreen control scheme these days, but few are exceptional. This is doubly true for precise, intense action games—touchscreens are just not the best input medium.
At least that’s what I used to think before Bleak Sword, an Apple Arcade game so good I’m furious I have waited so long to upgrade my old-ass iPhone, with its battery that lasts maybe three hours if I ask nicely. Developed by Spanish developer Luis Moreno Jimenez, also known as more8bit, with music by Jim Guthrie and sound design by Joonas Turner, Bleak Sword is a black-and-white (and a little red) action game that casts you as a little pixelated warrior in small isometric arena, assaulted by all manner of horrible monsters. Defeat them all, and you move on to the next level, earning experience, leveling up, and finding items to give you stat boosts. Lose, and you drop your items, lose any experience that hasn’t already been applied to your next level-up, with one chance to try again and win it back.
It’s got a killer pixel-art style, with an aesthetic that seems in step with Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, only more grotesque and in monochrome. But again, what really elevates Bleak Sword are its tight, impressive controls. There are two schemes, a two-handed one and a one-handed one, both in portrait orientation. In the former, tapping the left side of the screen is devoted to attacking—you tap it to parry, or touch and release to swing your sword. A brief touch is a light attack, and a longer touch charges a heavy attack. On the right side, you swipe in any direction to roll and dodge.
In the one-handed control scheme, all of this is done regardless of what part of the screen you touch; you just have to make sure you’re making the right gesture. So you swipe to roll in one direction, tap to parry, and make short or long touches to make your desired attack. This is my preferred control scheme, not just for convenience, but because it makes Bleak Sword’s combat feel more rhythmic, like a dangerous dance with a zombie that also wants to eat you.
This, combined with stamina the game’s stamina meter, works to means every foe has to be taken seriously and the space of each stage navigated mindfully. And those stages are much more varied than their simple looks might make you think: Maybe you’ll find yourself staring down skeleton soldiers on a bridge, or dueling through a swamp full of tentacles that spring up out of nowhere. Dealing with map hazards as well as foes with their own attack patterns helps Bleak Sword keep things fresh, even though it’s got combat so rock-solid it could probably sustain less variety with no complaints from me.
And boss battles? They’re real good.
I’m very sorry, but I’m going to compare Bleak Sword to Dark Souls—but only because Bleak Sword truly seems to be aiming for an experience best described as Dark Souls: Mobile. It’s got the fraught risk and reward of that game’s combat, but in bite-sized combat dioramas. It’s also incredibly responsive in a way that’s actually too fluid for the Dark Souls comparison, but necessary for imprecise nature of touchscreen controls. It’s extremely good, and I can’t get enough of it, at least until my battery dies. It’s probably time for me to get a new phone.
Picking a smartphone to accompany you through life isn’t just about choosing between iOS and Android: It’s also about deciding which apps you’re going to pick for your emails, your driving directions, your music and so on. Having used both sets of native apps for years at this point, here’s our definitive verdict on the state of play in 2019.
For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on the iOS experience for the Apple apps and the Android experience for the Google apps. Though they don’t stand alone. Google’s apps are all available on both iOS and Android and it is much better at building web apps to accompany their mobile version. Apple lacks broader support but promises to hold a much tighter rein on your privacy.
These extra factors will play into your decision about which apps you’re going to use but we’ll save those discussions for another day. Here we’ll look specifically at what the user experience and feature set is like for each app on its native platform.
Apple Mail vs Gmail
It’s hard to see past Gmail here, with its slick sorting algorithms, modern-looking interface, intuitive use of labels, inline attachment previews and more besides. Gmail is full of useful features, like the option to only receive notifications for emails that Google’s algorithms deem to be important to you (Apple Mail has a sort-of manual equivalent with its VIP lists).
Apple Mail is by no means terrible—both apps let you manage multiple accounts with relative ease, group conversations into threads, swipe through your inbox to archive messages, and generally get your inbox business done—but there’s a reason a lot of third-party apps have tried to improve the emailing situation on iOS.
From scheduling emails to go at a certain time to snoozing conversations until later, Gmail has more features, as well as implementing most of the basics (such as adding attachments) in a smarter way. Plus, the searching and sorting are lightning fast, as you would expect from Gmail.
And the winner is… Gmail
Apple Maps vs Google Maps
All joking aside, Apple Maps is getting better than it used to be—hey it’s getting Street View in September—but that seven-year head start Google Maps has had is still showing. It has quite an extensive list of features that Apple Maps doesn’t, including cycling directions, multi-stop navigation, and manual offline map downloads if you know you’re going to be without an internet connection ahead of time.
Aesthetically there’s not much to choose between the two—greens and blues and browns abound—and they’re both fast to load and responsive. It’s difficult for us to compare the mapping data between these two apps across the entire planet, though both Apple and Google are heavily investing in this. Chances are one works better than the other in your part of the world, and you’ll know which one that is.
Google Maps is better at recommending new places and surfacing extras like warnings of traffic on your commute to work—because it knows more about you, natch—and also lets you leave reviews, photos, and ratings of the places you visit, which may or may not be important to you. This head-to-head is closer than it used to be in the core areas, but Google Maps still offers more overall.
And the winner is… Google Maps
Apple Music vs YouTube Music
Apple Music has the distinction of being the only Apple app for Android (besides the Move to iOS app…) and after a few teething problems now does a decent job of mixing a local iTunes library with an on-demand streaming one—or letting you stick to one or the other. In terms of recommendations, lyrics, playlist management, online radio and more, it’s one of Apple’s most impressive apps.
YouTube Music is very much a work-in-progress, with Google Play Music slowly getting pushed out. While it’s good enough as a music player, and can now play local files stored on an Android device, perhaps the only area where it beats Apple Music is in support for music videos… as you would expect it to.
It’s the Google Maps and Apple Maps comparison but flipped: Apple has much more experience and expertise in building music apps and working with digital music libraries, and it shows. From the design and feel of the app, to building up playlists and queueing up tracks, Apple Music wins out (even if you don’t pay the $10 a month and stick to your purchased MP3 collection).
And the winner is… Apple Music
Apple Safari vs Google Chrome
We have to confess to having a slight preference for Chrome over Safari on the desktop, just because of the way it looks and works, and how everything is tab-based. It feels more modern than Safari does, even if it is prone to slowing down once you’ve got a few dozen different tabs loaded up.
On mobile, those interface differences matter much less, which means Safari ends up being our favorite on a smaller screen. Everything feels a bit easier to find, from bookmarks to navigation buttons to private mode, and given Safari’s continued push for limiting how much you can be tracked online, Chrome has some catching up to do.
This is one area where your choice really is going to depend on what other apps and services you use—if you use Chrome on the desktop, for example, you’re going to default to it on mobile too—but taking everything but the core of the app out of the equation, we’d say Apple is ahead here.
And the winner is… Apple Safari
iOS Messages (and FaceTime) vs Android Messages (and Duo)
This is a head-to-head that comes with numerous caveats—like how many of your friends are also on iPhones—but in terms of the core messaging experience, it’s the Apple app that wins out. If you’ve got iMessage enabled, the difference is particularly stark: End-to-end encryption, Animoji and Memoji, dozens of useful apps… Android just can’t compete at this stage (and has only ever really got close with Hangouts).
Besides the problems Google has had getting the SMS successor RCS adopted by carriers, the Android Messages app is clunky and basic by comparison. It’s showing signs of improvement—GIF support, location sharing, and more comprehensive search options are slowly rolling out—but it’s a long way behind still.
The Apple FaceTime vs Google Duo contest is a little closer, with both offering a polished and straightforward video calling experience, with support for group video calls too. Again, FaceTime just about has the edge, but Duo has a few neat tricks of its own (like previews of who’s calling before you answer).
And the winner is… iOS Messages
Apple Photos vs Google Photos
Apple Photos and Google Photos really show the two tech giants playing to their strengths. Apple’s app is neat and tidy, with an increasing number of useful editing options, and some handy features for highlighting your best photos and videos. Google’s app goes big on the search and AI features (like face and object recognition), without as much attention given to edits or visual appeal.
It’s a tough one to call because both apps work well on their native platforms. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Google Photos offers unlimited storage for free, if you can put up with a bit of resizing and compression, or own a Pixel phone. Neither company charges exorbitant rates for cloud storage, but if you want an online backup without paying anything, Google Photos fits the bill.
Having used both apps extensively, it’s fair to say Apple Photos is the best option for iOS users and Google Photos is the best option for Android (or multi-platform) users. Options like sharing, searching, and editing are pretty evenly matched, or not different enough to make one stand out against the other. Look for a constant barrage of improvements in both these services going forward, as well.
And the winner is… a draw
Apple Notes vs Google Keep
Apple Notes has been given a series of useful updates over the last few years, and there are more coming with iOS 13: Visual thumbnails for notes, shared folders, improved searching (including searching within images), new checklist options and more. It’s grown from offering the absolute basics to something much more Evernote-esque.
Google Keep has also developed from humble, simple beginnings into a comprehensive tool for note-taking. Features such as note tags, searching within images, support for reminders and shared notes, and an appealing interface have helped make it one of the best apps Google has to its name.
A very close call in this round then, but we reckon Apple Notes just about edges Keep out in terms of overall polish and usefulness. It’ll be interesting to see how Google responds to the changes to Notes arriving with iOS 13.
And the winner is… Apple Notes
Apple Calendar vs Google Calendar
Both Apple Calendar and Google Calendar benefit from years and years of development—they’ve both grown into very capable, very solid calendar apps with all the features you’re going to need, from recurring events to sharing calendars with others to getting alerts when it’s time to leave for an appointment.
We think Google wins it in interface terms, as its Calendar is one of those apps where the Material Design really pops and works well—the use of color and space is a bit easier on the eye than in Apple Calendar, and the use of stock imagery behind months of the year and regular appointments (like the dentist) is a nice touch.
Google Calendar also incorporates Goals (like exercise) and Reminders very neatly, which are features Apple’s developers haven’t gotten around to yet. You may prefer one or the other based on a particular feature or integration with a particular service (such as Gmail or Apple Mail), but taken on their own, Google’s is the better-looking and more functional calendar app of the two.
And the winner is… Google Calendar
Apple News vs Google News
The news apps from Apple and Google continue to evolve and change with the times, both offering up a selection of popular trending stories as well as articles personally recommended for you. You can dig into news based on topic or region in both these apps, though it’s slightly easier in Google News.
Apple News makes more of an attempt to create a Flipboard-style interface that’s pleasing to the eye, and when it works, it works very well—though when it doesn’t work it looks rather ugly. Google News is happier just to lift content straight from the web, which means it’s often both faster and less aesthetically consistent.
It’s another tight round because both Apple News and Google News do a decent job of serving up headlines for you and personalizing content, and both these apps can look stylish on one screen and disjointed on the next. We have a slight preference for Google News, just because it’s more natively welded to the web, and better for it.
And the winner is… Google News
And the rest…
That’s probably enough comparisons for now, but there are several more apps where Google and Apple are directly competing against each other. With its TV app, Apple seems to be moving ahead of Google in terms of how well it delivers movies and TV shows, for example, just as it has the lead in music too.
We can probably all agree that Google Drive is a more comprehensive and capable offering than iCloud Drive at the moment, with Apple still finding its feet in the cloud storage stakes (you’ll actually be able to share an iCloud folder before the end of the year). With apps like Reminders and Contacts, meanwhile, they’re pretty much even.
If you’ve been keeping score you’ll notice that Apple and Google are locked level on points after our rundown of their app offerings, but of course you’re going to have a mobile platform of preference and that’s going to influence your own picks for your favorite apps—you might even overlook a few failings as long as a particular app integrates well with whatever OS your phone runs.
Like a well-chosen keyboard shortcut, a button combination can save you some serious time on your phone—whether you want to snap a photo, launch a digital assistant, or take a screenshot. What you might not know is that you can change these button combinations to suit your own needs.
We’re mostly talking about Android here, which is unsurprising given Apple’s reluctance to let third-party apps really dig deep into the fundamental workings of the iPhone. The best you get on iOS is the Change with Buttons toggle switch in Sounds & Haptics in Settings, which sets whether the volume buttons change the overall audio volume level or just the volume level of calls and alerts.
On Android, it’s a different story, both in terms of what you can do using the OS that comes with your phone, and what you can do with some third-party software. We’ll cover both remapping options here.
Remapping Android buttons with third-party apps
You’ve got a few options for third-party apps. First, and this is perhaps our favorite, is Button Mapper: To begin with, you need to grant it access to Android’s accessibility framework, which gives it the permissions it needs to work properly, and then you’re ready to start customizing.
The app lists all the buttons on your device, so that’s typically the volume buttons and, if you have them, the button on a connected pair of headphones. You might also see extras like Active Edge, if they’re supported by your phone. There’s no option to remap the power button though—it’s just not possible on Android.
To change what a button does, tap on it then pick your preferred function. Available options include going to the home screen, going back a screen, returning to the last app, taking a screenshot and turning the flashlight on. You can also mute your phone, skip through audio tracks, or launch something in Tasker (which lets you automate a variety of tasks on Android).
Separate actions can be set for a single tap, a double tap, and a long press on each button. If you’re prepared to pay $3 to unlock the Pro version, the app gives you access to a few more button choices (mostly of interest to developers) and a pocket detection feature that stops buttons getting activated while your phone’s in your pocket.
So, to give you one example, you can tap Volume Up, then Customize, then Double tap to choose an action—Mute volume, maybe, or Split screen. The newly remapped function stays in place until you change it again, turn customization for the button off, or uninstall the app from your phone.
Besides the lack of access to the power button, the app is restricted in that remapping won’t work while the screen is off, unless you’re prepared to use some developer tools on your computer to get deeper hooks into Android—you can find instructions for that here.
Buttons Remapper is also worth a look and works along similar lines to Button Mapper. In this app, you need to tap the Plus icon (lower right) to start remapping, then choose your key and the action that’s associated with it. Again, there’s a lengthy list of actions available, from launching the web browser to changing the screen brightness.
Like Button Mapper, Buttons Remapper can handle short and long presses, but it doesn’t do double taps. Unlike Button Mapper, this app can remap software buttons as well as hardware buttons, and it can also set up combinations of key presses—though that last feature requires a $1 one-off upgrade.
Everything considered Button Mapper is the friendlier and slightly more comprehensive of the two apps, though Buttons Remapper has some unique tricks up its sleeve that Button Mapper can’t do. There’s no harm in giving them both a try. Just perhaps not at the same time, lest your device get confused.
If your device has a dedicated Google Assistant button, then Assistant Shortcuts will let you remap that specific button to something else if you can’t already do it natively (also some Samsung and LG devices don’t play nicely with the app). If it works on your phone, it’s a capable option to have.
There is a caveat, which is you need to set Assistant Shortcuts as your actual assistant app on your phone, replacing Google Assistant. If you choose to do this though, you can do everything from open up the notification panel to taking a quick note with the dedicated button on your device.
We also like the look of Keyboard/Button Mapper, though it’s still in the early stages of development and hasn’t yet been officially released. As well as remapping the hardware buttons on your phone, it can also work with connected keyboards, and a long list of triggered actions are included. It’s one to keep an eye on while it’s developed.
Remapping Android buttons with built-in options
The Android OS that comes with your phone may well have some remapping options built into it. If you’re using a recent Samsung phone, for instance, you can remap the Bixby button: from Settings tap Advanced features then Bixby key. Options include using the button to launch a quick command inside Bixby, or another app entirely.
If you’ve got a Pixel phone with Active Edge capabilities, you can disable or modify the squeeze-to-launch action by heading to Settings and choosing System, Gestures, and Active Edge. You can squeeze to launch the Google Assistant, or to silence your phone. Those of you on HTC handsets, where the feature is called Edge Sense, can make changes via Edge Sense then Customize squeeze action in Settings.
OnePlus gives you several options in its own OxygenOS version of Android—you can, for example, use a quick press on the power button to launch the Google Assistant. To see the available options, which include software key customizations, open Settings on your phone then choose Buttons & gestures.
You’re out of luck if you’re using an LG handset though (at least as far as native options go): The dedicated Google Assistant button that recent LG phones come with can’t be remapped. You can turn it off the functionality if you definitely don’t want to use it though—from Settings choose Extensions and then Shortcuts to find the options.
The most common alternative use for the volume buttons is of course to take a photo in camera mode, and most Android phones will let you adjust this setting. On stock (Pixel) Android, if you tap More, Settings, and then Gestures on the camera screen, you can adjust what the volume keys do with a press or a double tap (switching between front and back cameras and zooming are among the options).
This may well be different on whatever handset you happen to be using, such is the variation in Android devices: On recent Huawei handsets, if you tap the cog icon on the camera screen to bring up its settings, you can go to Ultra snapshot and then configure the volume buttons to take photos from the lock screen.
Despite how you might feel about its ties to the Chinese government, Huawei has undeniably made some of the most technologically advanced phones of the last three years. Huawei released the first handset with triple rear cameras and reverse wireless charging, while also beating its biggest rivals Apple and Samsung to the market with phones featuring in-screen fingerprint sensors and dedicated neural processing units. But for Huawei’s latest flagship phone—the P30 Pro—Huawei was faced with a difficult challenge.
Traditionally, Huawei P-series phones have pushed camera innovation. But after leveraging AI to help tune camera settings and putting three cameras on the back of its phones, what else was there left to improve? Sure, Huawei could have kept increasing the number of cameras on its phone like we’ve seen on the Nokia 9, but in some ways, that feels a bit too obvious. So instead, Huawei chose to completely re-engineer the way camera sensors work to achieve better low-light performance. Then Huawei tacked on an unprecedented 5x optical zoom lens just for kicks.
You see, inside almost every modern digital camera, there’s an image sensor with a Bayer filter, featuring a repeating four pixel grid that uses two green pixels, one red pixel, and one blue pixel to capture light and color. It’s a fundamental system employed by practically every camera company not named FujiFilm, but it’s not perfect. For the P30 Pro, Huawei changed up the formula by replacing the green color filters in a Bayer filter with yellow ones, with the reasoning being that yellow is a lighter color than green, which allows more light to pass through the filter and hit the sensor behind it. More light means brighter images, which when you’re out and about snapping pics in low light is precisely what you want.
However, while that might sound like a simple switch, it’s really an enormous amount of work. Once you change the way a camera’s color filter functions, you need to redesign its image processor (the thing that interprets the data the camera’s sensor captures), how those images are shown on a display, all of the camera’s various photo modes, and a bunch of other stuff. So has all of Huawei’s effort paid off?
Actually, yeah. With its new sensor, the P30 Pro on auto mode can more or less match the excellent low light capabilities of Google’s Night Sight processing, without any extra tuning or special settings. That also means less hassle too, because now you don’t have to pause and hold the camera steady for four or five seconds as you do for with most dedicated Night Modes. Just tap the shutter, try not to shake your hands for a beat, and that’s it.
When you compare shots from the P30 Pro to phones like the Galaxy S10 or Pixel 3, the difference is obvious. For example, in a nighttime shot at a nearby park, while a photo captured by the Galaxy S10+ looks alright because the S10 needed to set the shutter speed at 1/9th of a second, even with the phone’s optical image stabilization, objects in the S10’s pic appear significantly blurrier.
Meanwhile, a face-off between the P30 Pro on auto and the Pixel 3 without Night Sight turned on shows how much of a head start Huawei’s new sensor really provides. If I didn’t know better, someone could have easily fooled me by saying the P30 Pro’s shot of this scooter on auto mode was taken on a sunny afternoon, and not almost midnight, which is when I snapped the pic.
And even after I enabled Night Sight on the Pixel 3, the P30 Pro’s picture still featured sharper details and captured an image that looked more accurate to what I saw with my eyes. While the Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode did a good job of removing the heavy color cast that came from nearby streetlights, the P30 Pro’s photo is superior in almost every other way. Of course, Huawei has its own dedicated Night Mode as well, which adds an extra level of detail to challenging low light shots. Though I found that because the P30 Pro’s auto mode was so good, I didn’t feel the need to use it nearly as much, compared to the Pixel 3, which basically necessitates the use of Night Sight when the lights go down.
That said, Huawei’s new sensor isn’t perfect, because while it has dramatically improved the P30’s Pro’s low-light performance, it seems to have slightly negatively impacted the P30’s Pro’s bright light shooting. When compared to both the Galaxy S10 and Pixel 3, a daytime shot of some flowers from the P30 Pro had way more blown out highlights and more muted colors in the surrounding greenery.
I suspect this is something Huawei can improve over time, as this could be an effect of Huawei having to re-design its camera stack to accommodate that new sensor, but at least right now, there is a trade-off. Also, I should mention that Huawei only uses its custom RYYB sensor on the main camera, not the P30 Pro’s 20-MP ultra-wide camera or its 8-MP telephoto cam. It’s an understandable move, though it can be a bit jarring when switching between lenses, especially if you’re shooting video.
Now, if the only thing Huawei had done was upgrade the P30 Pro’s main camera sensor, that would have been enough. But it didn’t, because for the P30 Pro’s telephoto camera, Huawei added a new system with a 5x optical zoom, what Huawei claims is a 10x lossless zoom, and a bonkers digital zoom that goes all the way up to a 50x magnification.
This level of magnification blows past competing phones, which for the past few years, have been stuck with 2x or 3x zooms. The problem for phones is that unlike a normal camera lenses, there’s almost no room to fit all the glass and optics needed to deliver a really long zoom. So to solve the problem, Huawei installed a mirror similar to a periscope to lets the phone bend light down into the phone’s body, which lets Huawei use the length of the P30 Pro to squeeze in optics, instead of its thickness.
Frankly, this is a development I love, because until now, big camera zooms were something you only found on proper standalone cameras. But with the 5x/10x zoom on the P30 Pro, you get so much flexibility to get closer to the action. To test this out, I took the P30 Pro and some of its rivals to Madison Square Park and then tried to snap pics of the Empire State Building from almost 10 blocks away. And the results? Well, they speak for themselves.
At 5x and 10x zoom, the P30 Pro delivered fantastically sharp images, though as you get closer to 50x, it starts suffering from the issues inherent with digital enhancement. But the real eye-opener is how much more reach the P30 Pro’s telephoto cam offers compared to the 2x zoom you get on a Galaxy S10+. It’s quite a shock.
OK, enough about cameras, what’s the rest of the P30 Pro like to use? At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but the P30 Pro is a premium device from top to bottom. The P30 Pro is stuffed with all sort of techy solutions such as both wireless and reverse wireless Qi charging, IP68 dust and water-resistance, 15-watt fast-charging (and reverse wired charging as well), and the best color options you can get from any smartphone maker today. The P30 Pro even has an IR blaster, which is a feature almost every other phone maker has dropped from their flagship devices.
And with a seriously big 4,200 mAh battery, the P30 Pro offers ridiculous longevity. On our video rundown test, the P30 Pro lasted 15 hours and 24 minutes, the second longest runtime we’ve seen yet, behind only the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s time of 17:06.
However, if I can nitpick a bit, I’m still frustrated that Huawei didn’t make room for a 3.5mm jack on the P30 Pro, as that’s a feature you do get on the vanilla P30. Aside from the unnecessary bloatware, Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 skin continues to be a relatively inoffensive take on Android, but at the same time, its somewhat cartoony look and occasionally overly simplistic UI is hard to love.
And while the P30 Pro’s 6.5-inch OLED screen is impressively bright and colorful, it does suffer slightly from having less overall resolution than you get on a Galaxy S10. It’s not a dealbreaker, but with a screen that big on a phone that costs close to $1,000, if you have good eyesight, you can sometimes notice when text and images don’t look quite as sharp as they could.
But the P30’s real downside is that it’s not really officially supported in the U.S. While you can get an unlocked P30 Pro from third-party retailers like B&H for just $900 ($100 less than the most similarly equipped Galaxy S10+), the P30 Pro isn’t compatible with CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint. And if you ever run into a situation where you need customer support, you can’t expect the same kind of care you might get from an Apple or Samsung device.
But the impact of what Huawei has done on the P30 Pro is undeniable. If you frequently shoot photos in bars, restaurants, or similarly challenging environments, the P30 Pro’s low light capabilities are quite convincing. Meanwhile, that 5x optical zoom periscope breaks through to new levels of magnification for smartphone cameras.
Also because some of the tech used in the P30 Pro’s zoom system comes from Corephotnics, a company recently acquired by Samsung for $155 million, you better believe that 5x zoom is something we’ll be seeing on a lot more phones in the future. For the P30 Pro, Huawei set out to push the boundaries of smartphone photography, and on not one but two counts, it did.
At 15 hours and 24 minutes, the P30 Pro has the second longest battery life we’ve ever tested.
While you can buy an unlocked version of the P30 Pro from third-party U.S. retailers, the phone doesn’t support CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint, and there’s not much in the way of local customer support.
Huawei starts a new era of smartphone photography by putting a 5x optical zoom on a phone.
Almost any feature found on any other high-end premium phone—the P30 Pro has too.
In a lot of ways, doing a traditional review of the $2,000 Samsung Galaxy Fold is pointless. Anyone who buys one isn’t doing so because it’s a good value or a sound purchasing decision. It’s not. They’re buying one because it’s new, innovative, and exciting. Besides, pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold have already sold out, so even if you want one, it’s probably too late. And yet, for a product with many flaws, even in its current state, the Galaxy Fold presents a vision that makes a ton of sense, and it’s one of only a handful of gadgets that you can call a game changer and mean it.
The Galaxy Fold by the numbers
The Fold is truly an outrageous gadget. Weighing in at 9.3 ounces and measuring just over 17 millimeters thick, the Galaxy Fold is almost twice as heavy and more than double the thickness of a standard Galaxy S10.
Sure, it might fit in your pocket, but you’re never going to forget it’s there, and if your pants are loose or you forgot to wear a belt, you’re going to be at risk of randomly dropping trou throughout the day. You can’t stash the Fold in a breast pocket either without looking like you’re trying to smuggle a bar of gold out of Fort Knox.
But the real sticking point for most people is Fold’s $2,000 price tag. For the same money, you could almost buy four OnePlus 6Ts, a phone that can generally do the same stuff the Galaxy Fold can. Or you could buy everyone in a family of five plus weird Uncle Jerry their own Nintendo Switch, and still have some cash left over.
On the flip side, the Galaxy Fold is a spec monster boasting six cameras, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and two displays: a 4.6-inch “cover screen” on the outside, and a flexible 7.3-inch screen on the inside. Compare that to an iPhone XS Max which has a screen that tops out at just 6.5-inches and costs $1,450 when kitted out with the same 512GB of storage. Suddenly, the Galaxy Fold’s price doesn’t seem quite as preposterous. And that’s before you consider the Fold comes with a pair of Galaxy Buds and a Kevlar-like case included.
Then there’s the Fold’s 4,380 mAh battery that delivers incredible longevity on a charge: Using its big folding screen, on our video rundown test, the Galaxy Fold lasted 17 hours and 6 minutes, which is the longest runtime we’ve ever seen on a phone.
What’s the point of that big ‘ole screen?
Aside from all the trouble people have wrapping their heads around Galaxy Fold’s price, the other main question I get about the Galaxy Fold is: What the hell are you supposed to do with a screen that big? It’s a fair question, especially considering apps like Twitter, Instagram, and others don’t function any differently on the Fold than they do on other phones. Things just look bigger, similar to what you’d get if you were using a tablet. Phrased like that, the screen’s an underwhelming gimmick.
But if you’ll allow me to generalize for a bit, you know who loves tablets? Grandparents. For them, the bigger screen makes it easier to tap icons and read text, while the ability to fold the thing in half means you can take the Fold places a tablet might not usually go. Forget that abstraction, though, because that’s not what I love about the Galaxy Fold. To me, the Fold’s big, bendy screen means it can consolidate multiple devices into a single gadget. It’s tech simplification at its finest.
Instead of using a tablet to read comic books, the Galaxy Fold delivers an experience that’s just as good or maybe better. Same goes for ebooks. By installing the Kindle app and setting the background color to black, I can turn the Fold into a high-quality reading device. That’s two entire devices I no longer have to worry about again. How’s that for savings?
That big screen is useful for everyday stuff too, whether it’s watching videos on the train, looking for nearby attractions in Google Maps, or playing mobile games like PUBG or Auto Chess. With that much real estate, getting a wider view of all your units is more engaging, and hitting headshots is legitimately easier too. And if you like watching stuff while you work out, the Galaxy Fold’s screen is nearly as big and a lot damn sharper than any screen built into an exercise machine not made by Peloton.
When you put all of these functions together and then add the ability to multitask by having three or more apps all open at once, while other handsets have tried in the past, the Galaxy Fold feels like the first real phone for power users.
A combination of high tech and nifty software
The way the Fold goes about all of this is also pretty slick. Using what Samsung calls App Continuity, the Fold can switch seamlessly between apps on the cover screen and apps on the inside display. Just flick the Fold open, and that’s it. Not every single app works perfectly, but Samsung has worked with Google to make sure all the first-party Samsung apps and essential Google apps work as expected.
And despite full support for flexible screens built into Android (which isn’t scheduled to arrive until Android Q), even less popular apps usually don’t run into problems.
One of the few exceptions to this is YouTube. Instead of being able to crop in to fill the screen or stick with the video’s native aspect ratio, YouTube videos almost always default to 16:9. In landscape, this leaves letterboxes at the top and bottom, which are fine, but not ideal. The bigger problem is that no matter which way you hold it, there will always be a cutout for the Galaxy Fold’s cameras. What makes this even stranger, is that this doesn’t happen in YouTube TV or other video players.
Six cameras might be too much
Speaking of cameras, the Galaxy Fold’s six shooters are probably a bit much. I know why Samsung does it, as the cameras on the front and inside are mostly reserved for taking selfies and face unlock. But at the same time, I would be totally happy if there weren’t any cameras on the inside of the Fold at all—though with the sheer number of selfies people take nowadays, that’s probably not going to happen. At the very least, positioning the two inside cameras vertically (in portrait mode) instead of horizontally would let Samsung hide the cameras inside the letterboxed portion of the screen.
As for the Fold’s triple rear cameras, they appear to be the same sensors and optics you get on a standard S10. There’s a 12-MP primary lens, a 12-MP 2x telephoto lens, and a 16-MP ultra-wide angle lens. There are no real surprises here. All of them are quite sharp, but in a pure image quality face-off, Samsung’s cameras are still often edged out by what you can get from a Pixel 3. However, since the Fold has two extra lenses that the Pixel 3 can’t match, the comparison is basically even.
A bent beginning
By almost any metric, the Galaxy Fold’s early days have been troubled. Samsung should have told reviewers not to peel off the Fold’s polymer layer. The Galaxy Fold box reviewers received is different from standard retail packaging, which contains explicit instructions not to go digging your fingernails into the Fold’s delicate gadgetry.
Regardless, you can’t go back in time, so those stumbles are things Samsung has to live with. To Samsung’s credit, the company recently issued a statement saying it’s delaying the Galaxy Fold’s launch to address early concerns about the phone’s durability.
More pressing issues
The first thing most people point out about the Galaxy Fold is its crease. You can see it, you can feel it, and it can be distracting, but after using the Fold almost non-stop for a week, the crease is really just the Fold’s fourth or fifth biggest problem.
To me, the Fold’s greatest shortcoming is the size of its 4.6-inch cover screen. It’s just too small. It’s fine for quickly scrolling through texts or emails, but the second you start typing a reply, the frustration begins. Due to the cover screen’s extra tall aspect ratio, there’s not much room for a keyboard, which makes things feel exceedingly cramped.
Furthermore, when you think back on how much work Samsung has done to eliminate bezels on previous Galaxy phones, the cover screen appears even more awkward. With that much-wasted space around the outside, the cover screen looks like a guy wearing a t-shirt three sizes too small.
Then there are the obvious concerns about the Fold’s durability. Samsung says its flexible screen should be able to handle thousands of bends, but the real answer right now is that we just don’t know. One reviewer encountered issues after something got stuck under the Fold’s screen and caused the display to malfunction, while at least one other Fold bugged out for seemingly no reason.
That said, even though our review unit is a European model, the Fold has functioned without issue since we received it, and that includes surviving a two-foot fall onto hardwood without a case. Still, considering the Galaxy Fold’s price, any bugs or defects feel even worse than they might on a regularly priced device.
I also have questions about a potential point of weakness on the Galaxy Fold: the intersections at the top and bottom of the flexible screen where the display meets the hinge. There’s a small gap that seems like a possible vector where the Fold might collect small debris that could eventually cause some damage. Or maybe I’m just overly cautious. Once again, we don’t know.
There’s also the Fold’s overall weight and thickness. It’s manageable, but not ideal. It’s something Samsung will almost assuredly improve in future generations, but if anyone said the Fold’s size was a deal breaker right now, it’s completely understandable.
The Fold’s flexible screen is still a work in progress too. Samsung’s flexible displays don’t quite live up to the industry-leading screens found on other phones equipped with Samsung display. The Fold’s screen is without a doubt bright and vibrant, but with a 2,152 by 1,536 resolution that has to span 7.3 inches of screen, the Galaxy Fold’s pixel density is almost 30-percent lower than what you get on an S10+. That means if you pixel peep, you can sometimes see text that doesn’t look as sharp as it would on a typical high-end phone.
The Fold also suffers from a slight wobble or unevenness while scrolling, where the left side the screen moves just barely ahead of the right side. It’s very subtle and something most people probably wouldn’t notice unless it was pointed out to them, but it’s there.
All told, Samsung has work to do for the second-gen Fold. As daunting as they may sound, none of these problems stopped me from enjoying the hell out of the Fold. It’s thick, but it also feels substantial. The magnets hidden inside the screens deliver a reassuring snap every time you close the phone, while that big screen makes everything on it more enjoyable.
So should you get one?
In almost all every scenario, the answer is no. Are you someone searching for an affordable phone? Then don’t buy the Galaxy Fold. Do you want something durable? Don’t buy the Fold. (Unlike the IP68 rating for water and dust resistance that’s become standard on almost every flagship handset, the Galaxy Fold has nothing.) Do you not see the point of having a huge screen on a phone? The Galaxy Fold is not for you. Do you hate reading instructions, researching a device, or testing out something experimental? Then definitely don’t get the Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy Fold is undoubtedly an impressive piece of tech, but it hasn’t been perfected, and to expect immaculate performance out the gate is a bit unrealistic. If the Galaxy Fold doesn’t interest you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Don’t buy one.
This might sound damning, but that’s the way things go for revolutionary gadgets. The original iPhone opened eyes and minds, but the iPhone 3G was actually the one you wanted to buy. It was a similar situation for the first Surface. The blueprint for an entirely new class of laptop was there, but the keyboard and the OS didn’t really feel complete until the Surface Pro 3. And that’s probably how it will go for the Galaxy Fold.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a big bendy screen that still fits in a pocket or clutch but are scared of first-gen tech, just wait. In a couple of years when the Galaxy Fold 2 or 3 comes out, many of Samsung’s growing pains could be distant memories. Right now, the Galaxy Fold is for people who can handle some rough edges in exchange for trying out a gadget that’s unlike anything else on the market.
The Flexible Future
With a price this high and ambitions this big, a lot of people are positioning the Galaxy Fold as the phone of tomorrow. But that’s only partially correct. The Galaxy Fold isn’t the future, it’s just one branch of it. The Galaxy Fold can coexist with traditional phones, it’s not a bendy screen assassin, at least not yet.
However, despite all of its caveats, there’s one thing I found telling. Anytime I had to put the Fold down to run a test or perform some other hands-off activity, more than any other phone in recent memory, I couldn’t wait to ditch my daily driver so that I could use the Galaxy Fold again. The Galaxy Fold won’t strike everyone the same way, but for the people who get it, it hits really hard. The Galaxy Fold is a device that’s hard to appreciate until it’s actually in your hands, and while Samsung has work to do, even this early, folding is believing.
It might seem like a gimmick, but having a phone with a screen that big has the power to make secondary devices like a tablet or e-reader obsolete.
Unlike most modern Samsung phones, the Galaxy Fold doesn’t have water-resistance or a headphone jack, and its long-term durability is questionable.
If you have any concerns at all about the Galaxy Fold’s tech, its durability, or its price tag, don’t buy it.
Despite its flaws, the Galaxy Fold remains an incredibly engaging device.
While the avalanche of announcements may have made it seem otherwise, today officially marks the first day of Mobile World Congress 2019, and aside from all the ambitious, weird, and sophisticated new handsets on display at the show, without a doubt the other big topic for the show is 5G.
5G is supposed to mark the 5th generation of mobile communication, and with it, tech companies have been making lofty promises about what cell networks could offer in the not-too-distant future. We’re talking about mobile data speeds potentially in excess of one Gbps, latencies of less than five or 10 milliseconds, and networks robust enough to handle the quickly growing number of IoT devices.
But before anyone goes HAM on a 5G tech spending spree this year, there are three big things that have me feeling bearish on 5G between now and 2020.
5G is barely available
The first problem is the limited availability of 5G networks. It’s true that depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to have 5G coverage in your area. If you look at the list of cities with 5G coverage, outside of places like New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and a handful of metro areas in Texas, there’s very little 5G signal to be found. (Just take a look at these maps for a general sense of where 5G coverage is really at.)In fact, right now Sprint doesn’t have 5G coverage of any kind and will be starting from scratch when it launches 5G in nine markets beginning as soon as May.
AT&T is doing a bit better with 12 cities that have 5G coverage of some kind. But if you read carefully, it’s important to note that even AT&T says 5G+ (which is AT&T’s nonsense term for real 5G) is only “available in select areas” within these locations. Translation: You shouldn’t anticipate reliable 5G coverage even if you’re in these places. So you’ll need to figure out if your home is covered as well as other places you frequently visit to ensure you get the full 5G experience.
Verizon started its push into 5G late last year when it introduced what are essentially 5G hotspots meant to be used in homes, while also building out its mobile infrastructure in preparation for the arrival of 5G-ready phones in 2019. Currently, Verizon’s in-home 5G is available in “limited areas” or LA, Sacramento, Houston, Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, due to T-Mobile’s disdain for Verizon and AT&T’s 5G pucks, the carrier chose to skip making 5G hotspots and instead deploy 5G on its 600 MHz spectrum in a smattering of cities. In contrast to the millimeter wave 5G installations favored by AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile’s low-band 5G offers better range and signal penetration into buildings. However, those benefits come with the downside that low-band can’t quite hit the one Gbps data speeds or super fast latency that a lot of people think of in regards to the potential benefits of 5G. And while the company has pledged to bring 5G to 30 cities by the end of the year, even T-Mobile itself admits it won’t have nationwide 5G until 2020.
5G phones will be way too expensive
The second concern for 5G is all the money you’ll need to spend upgrading your tech. Unless you are the unicorn that bought a Moto Z3 last year hoping to be the first kid on the block with a 5G mod, anyone even thinking about trying out mobile 5G will need to buy a new phone. That’s means at minimum, you’re looking at spending at least $500 on a new phone, plus whatever the cost of the Moto 5G mod will be.
Alternatively, if you’re thinking about buying a more “traditional” 5G-ready phone that doesn’t need separate attachments, consider this: Back in December, OnePlus founder Carl Pei said that he expects the company’s upcoming 5G phone to command a $200-$300 premium over a normal 4G LTE phone. That’s a lot of extra dough to spend on a phone for somewhat nebulous benefits.
Meanwhile, even though Samsung listed prices for the new $750 Galaxy S10E, $900 S10, $1,000 S10+, and the painfully expensive $2,000 Galaxy Fold, Samsung did not provide pricing for the Galaxy S10 5G. But if we do some rough math and use the S10+ $1,000 price tag as a starting point, and then factor in the S10 5G’s giant 6.7-inch screen, its two depth-of-flight cameras, and its all-important 5G modem and antennas, we’re looking at a phone that could easily cost $1,500 or more.
It’s a sort of similar situation for LG’s V50 5G because even though it was announced, neither LG nor Sprint (the V50’s first 5G carrier) has announced pricing for the phone. Additionally, it seems like phone makers know these phones will be hard to move based purely on the inclusion of 5G, so both LG and Samsung added things to their 5G phones like depth-sensing cameras or a dual-screen accessory to help increase their value.
In short, anyone thinking about getting a 5G phone in 2019 will need to have more than $1,000 to burn, and that’s not even considering if 5G phone plans will likely cost more than normal, which is something carriers haven’t talked about yet.
5G’s coolest applications don’t exist yet
Finally, for most people, the speed isn’t worth it. At least not yet. That’s because one of the promises of 5G is the ability to have all sort of devices like drones, cars with cell connections, TVs, and more, all connected to each other all the time so that they can communicate on a super fast wireless network. The problem is that all those various 5G-devices and 5G apps don’t really exist yet.
Right now, if you were to have a 5G phone attached to a 5G network functioning at peak speeds, what would that actually give you? You could probably download a ton of movies and music real quick, but if you’re thinking about streaming, it’s not like there’s an abundance of 4K content to watch.
At Samsung’s booth at MWC, the company demoed an S10 5G running off of what was purportedly a live 5G network that was displaying a stream of an MLB game where you could control the video feed from a number of different cameras. It’s a neat application of the massive bandwidth 5G offers, allowing you to switch from the camera behind home plate to one pointed at first base. But the app was a one-off creation, not something any baseball fan can get just by purchasing a 5G phone.
And with the possibility of sub 10ms latency on 5G, you might be able to play multiplayer games like PUBG, or Smash Bros or Apex Legends (via mobile tethering) with the same kind of lag-free experience you get on wi-fi at home. But that’s about it. The power of the so-called 5G revolution only happens when every device can tap into those kinds of speeds, not just a single device.
As far as 2019 goes, the main groups that might be able to use mobile 5G effectively are businesses that can take advantage of all that bandwidth to send massive files securely back and forth between various off-site locations.
5G is still the future
Now all this doesn’t mean I’m down on 5G, as the tech has tons of future potential. Testing out new tech is fun, and being an early adopter gives you first-hand experience observing how new platforms ecosystems develop over time. But for 2019, it’s important to realize what mobile 5G really is: a glorified beta test. At best, it’s like pre-ordering something or funding a Kickstarter, both of which are moves fueled more by hopes and dreams than anything based in reality.
So if you’re someone with spare cash lying around, and you are curious about 5G—or are the kind of person who likes posting “First” in YouTube videos—go ahead, dive into 5G. But for everyone else, you’ll save a bunch of money by waiting, and with 5G adoption rates for phones only expected to hit 0.4 percent in 2019, you won’t miss out on much either.