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September 20, 2013

AP reviews new smartphones: new iPhones and more

The new iPhones being released Friday follow a slew of Android smartphones from Apple's competitors, including Samsung, Motorola and HTC. Which should you buy?

Here's a summary of recent phone reviews by The Associated Press.

The iPhone 5S and 5C go on sale Friday at 3:01 a.m. EDT through Apple's website and at 8 a.m. local time around the world at Apple retail stores. Wireless carriers and other retailers plan to sell them, too. Initially, they're available in the U.S., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

— IOS DEVICES:

IPHONE 5S, APPLE INC.

It's the first time Apple is releasing two different iPhone models at once. The pricier one, at $199 with a two-year contract, sports a fingerprint sensor, a better camera and a faster processor. The fingerprint sensor alone is worth the $100 more you'll pay over an iPhone 5C. It encourages you to keep phones secure. Instead of typing in a four-digit passcode, you can just tap your finger on the home button most of the time. If there's a match with the finger you scanned in earlier, the phone will unlock. The improved camera, meanwhile, offers better shots in low light, thanks to larger individual pixels and a wider shutter, even though the resolution remains at 8 megapixels.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

IPHONE 5C, APPLE INC.

The 5C model is largely last year's iPhone 5 with a few extras. The most noticeable is the choice of five colors — green, blue, yellow, pink or white. The housing is made of plastic instead of aluminum and glass. The plastic doesn't feel cheap and offers the slippery feel of a shiny ceramic tile. The 5C has a better front-facing camera than the 5, but it has the same A6 processor and the same rear camera lacking the 5S's improvements in low light. The 5C does come with a newer operating system, iOS 7, but older phones including the iPhone 5 can get the upgrade for free. The 5C costs $99. Unless you really want the colors, paying another $100 for the 5S is worth the investment.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

— ANDROID DEVICES:

GALAXY S4, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS CO.

The S4 is an excellent device from a hardware standpoint. Its 5-inch screen is larger than its predecessor, yet it's a tad lighter and smaller. The display is sharp, at 441 pixels per inch. Samsung packed the Android device with a slew of custom features, including new camera tools and the ability to perform tasks by waving a finger over a sensor. Many of the features, however, make the phone more complicated to use. In some cases, custom features work only some of the time. In other cases, you're confronted with too many ways to do similar things. The S4 might be for you if you don't mind spending time customizing it. Otherwise, you must bypass all the gimmicks to get to what otherwise is a good phone.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

HTC ONE, HTC CORP.

The One is a phone that can match Apple's standards of feel and finish. Plastic and metal are joined together so well that you can't tell by feel where one ends and the other starts. The 4.7-inch screen is also quite a sight, its 468 pixels per inch among the best. Two front-facing speakers give you real stereo sound when turned sideways to watch a movie. HTC's camera has a lower resolution than most. Promises of better low-light shots from its larger sensors only partly delivered. Like other Android phone makers, HTC adds confusion by customizing the interface. There are four different "home" screens from which to launch apps, for instance. The One is worth checking out as an alternative to the Galaxy S4 from Samsung, which also adds complication with its custom features.

— Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer

MOTO X, GOOGLE INC.'S MOTOROLA MOBILITY

What's really special about the Moto X has nothing to do with making calls, checking Facebook or holding it in your hands. Rather, it breaks from the pack by allowing for a lot of customization. You can choose everything from the color of the power button to a personalized message on the back cover. To make those special orders possible, Motorola is assembling the Moto X in Texas, making it the first smartphone to be put together in the U.S. The Moto X also offers the ability to get directions, seek trivia answers or set the alarm without ever touching the phone. There's good hardware, too, including a body fits well in the grip of your hands. The Moto X is the first phone designed with Google as Motorola's new owner. It could make Motorola, the inventor of the cellphone, a contender again.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

XPERIA Z, SONY CORP.

The Xperia Z mostly catches up with offerings from Samsung and HTC, but one feature stands out: Its water-resistant shell means you can submerge the phone at least 3 feet deep for up to 30 minutes. Making water resistance a standard feature is something more phone makers should adopt as phones become companions to our active lives. Sony also enhances Google's Android system, without overly cluttering the phone. Enhancements include battery-saving features. The Xperia also brings a lot of features from Sony's stand-alone Cyber-shot cameras, while letting you highlight only the ones you actually need. Sony's new phone offering is impressive for a company better known for TVs, cameras and game machines.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

GALAXY NOTE 3, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS CO.

Samsung is giving its latest Galaxy Note smartphone a stylish makeover. The Note 3 has a soft, leather-like back. It feels like you're holding a fancy leather-bound journal. Grooves on the side of the big-screen phone make it easier to grip. But the new phone is complicated to use. There's too much going on. Between Scrapbook, My Magazine, Air Command and dozens of other functions, it might take even the most experienced smartphone user several hours to figure out. Once you get past that, though, you get new features such as the ability to quickly access the calculator, clock and other apps simply by drawing a box on the screen with the included stylus. The display measures 5.7 inches diagonally. That's larger than the Note 2, yet the new phone is lighter and thinner.

— Joseph Pisani, AP Business Writer

GALAXY MEGA, SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS CO.

The Mega shouldn't even be called a phone, if it weren't for the fact that it makes phone calls. With a screen measuring 6.3 inches diagonally, the Mega is more like a small Android tablet computer. It shares the tablet's advantages in showing more detail in photos and video. Text is larger and easier to read, too. You can read small print on websites without zooming in, and you make fewer mistakes when trying to click on buttons and links. That doesn't make the Mega practical, though, for many people. It's huge and difficult to grip tightly. It could appeal to those who are willing to carry along a tablet computer but don't want to carry a second device — the phone. For everyone else, small is the way to go.

— Anick Jesdanun, AP Technology Writer

 

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