Lumia 830 review: bringing the Icon down to the mid-range

When Nokia released the Lumia Icon earlier this year, it took its polycarbonate design philosophy and went a bit metal -- aluminum, specifically. The result was a premium phone with a fancy body to match. But the Icon's exclusivity on Verizon limited its appeal, and its sibling, the Lumia 930, has yet to make it to US shores. Into that void comes the Lumia 830, from the freshly minted Microsoft Mobile.

With the Lumia 830, priced at $100 with a two-year contract on AT&T ($450 contract-free), Microsoft looks to bring the metal frame and PureView camera branding of high-end Lumias down to the mid-range smartphone level. Of course, there's always the risk of making the wrong sacrifices when trying to lower the price, so did Microsoft shave too many corners off of the 830's aluminum body? I've spent the past week with the global version of the phone as my daily driver to find out.

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Apparently I'm a masochist.

That's an odd way to begin a review. But to give BlackBerry's latest handset, the Passport, as thorough a review as possible, I decided to type the entire thing from the phone itself. My twisted idea came from a realization that this (mostly) square oddity is the first phone with a physical keyboard that I've used since the Motorola Droid 4 in 2012 or the BlackBerry Q10 in 2013. It's not even a normal keyboard by modern smartphone standards -- it's a flattened, hybrid setup with both physical and virtual elements and a curiously placed space bar. Needless to say, it's an odd device, one that truly deserves the ultimate test: Can I use it to crank out several thousand words of text?

Of course, there's more to the Passport than just its odd shape and the company's desire to resurrect a now-antiquated smartphone feature. I'm going to dive into what sets this phone apart from the hundreds of others already on the market -- that is, if my thumbs hold up through the experience.

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Nokia Lumia 735 and yours truly

Last year's Lumia 720 was an awkward middle child. It was more powerful than its 620 cousin, but not so much so that you'd consider it over the 820 unless you just had to have the first budget Lumia with LTE. If you're going to pay a lot more, why not get a lot more? Flash forward to 2014, and the Lumia 735 follow-up (along with the dual-SIM 730) appears to have more of a reason for being -- namely, catering to a selfie-loving public. With a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, more powerful internals and a €219 ($279) price, the 735 promises great self-portraits without decimating your bank account. But is it necessarily your best choice for those "I was there" photos? And more importantly, is it worth buying over both other Windows Phones and the other devices in its price class? You're about to find out.

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It's a conflicting time for Apple. On one hand, it's a joyous occasion for the company because its latest iPhones, which come in larger screen sizes than the last, set new sales records worldwide; but on the other hand, its lineup of iPads just experienced its third straight quarterly decline. Coincidentally, this comes just a week after Apple announced its annual tablet refresh, which includes a thinner and more powerful version of the iPad Air along with a Touch ID-enabled mini with Retina display.

Just because it's down doesn't mean it's out. Giving up on a product category isn't really Apple's style, and last week, it offered up the Air 2 as exhibit A. The company made it clear that making a solid top-of-the-line tablet is on the top of its to-do list, so naturally the new 10-inch device got plenty of upgrades in nearly every aspect of its design. Curiously, it didn't give the mini lineup the same kind of treatment: The mini 3 got so little love this time around that the best news about it is the fact that last year's version is now $100 cheaper. Should the new iPads still get a place in the consumer's backpack? Read on to find out.

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Apple's latest desktop operating system, Yosemite, is available today as a free download for anyone with a reasonably new (or not-so-new) Mac. Here's the thing, though: Many of you are already using it. In an unusual twist, Apple not only gave us a sneak peek of the software, but also allowed a large section of the public to take it for a spin while it was still in development. Though the company has declined to say how many people signed up for the beta program (there were a million available spots), we're sure many of you are running it right now, and don't even need to read a full review.

That said, I wanted to finish what I started. Back when I posted my initial preview, I was able to discuss lots of things -- the iOS-inspired design, the new Safari browser -- but certain stuff wasn't ready for prime time. I'm talking about iCloud Drive, Apple's new cross-platform storage service, as well as "Continuity," a set of features that allow Macs to better integrate with iOS. Think: the ability to receive calls on your Mac, or to start reading an article on your iPad and finish it on your laptop. Now that the software is final -- and now that I've had a chance to test all the features -- I'm ready to weigh in. Suffice to say, it's clear that to make the most out of Yosemite, you need an iDevice to go with it. But even for Mac users who don't also own an iPhone (guilty!), this is still a solid upgrade. Read on to see what I mean.

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Smartphones are getting bigger with every generation, every new model. Even Apple, champion of the small screen, has finally caved to the trend. Over the past few years, however, some of the major smartphone players have taken to creating "mini" versions of their top handsets to satisfy those who still crave a smaller device. While these petite imitations benefit from shared design and branding, their hardware specifications are usually no match for the flagships they mimic. Sony does things a little differently, though, shunning the "mini" moniker and preserving as many high-end features as possible in its smaller devices. Case in point: the new Xperia Z3 Compact, which crams the best of the 5.2-inch Z3 into a 4.6-inch body, and is basically everything you could want in a smaller smartphone.

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What began in 2011 as a brand-new phone category has flourished into one of the most popular in the world. Smartphones with big screens (phablets, to some) are now ubiquitous, but it all started with an odd device called the Samsung Galaxy Note. At 5.3 inches, it was a behemoth for its day -- and yet, it sold like hotcakes thanks to its unique S Pen stylus, which provided users with extra functionality, and a copious amount of screen space.

Four iterations later, the Note series has continued to grow, mature and dominate the genre. Not only does the latest version, the Galaxy Note 4, come with the snazziest spec sheet on the market, but it also ushers in a fantastic new direction in Samsung's design. It sure sounds like an improvement over last year's model, and it is. Now that Apple's ready to tackle the Note with a large-screen phone of its own, however, is Samsung's baby still the best in its class?

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Pop quiz, hotshot: When's the last time you saw a Sharp phone in the United States? The Sharp FX from years back? Maybe the FX Plus? If you're anything like me, your mind will hearken back to chunky clamshell classics like this one. Long story short, it's been ages since Sharp has had any kind of mobile presence around these parts. That's something the Japanese company is finally ready to change, and it's aiming to do it with a splash. Enter the AQUOS Crystal, one of the most striking phones you'll ever see. It's finally available for $149 on Boost Mobile now and Sprint will get it come October 17th, but we have questions -- so many questions. Has Sharp figured out a way to crack the all-too-fickle US market? Are we looking at a classic case of style over substance?

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When a company names one of their products after the first letter of the Greek alphabet, it means business. Take Samsung's Galaxy Alpha: The name alone exudes confidence. Although the term typically signifies the first in a series, the Alpha obviously isn't Samsung's inaugural Android phone; rather, it ushers in a completely new design direction for the company. It's not a top-of-the-line flagship device on the inside, but what matters is that it actually looks like one on the outside, thanks to its premium aesthetics, metal frame and sleek body. Samsung has every reason to be confident in the Alpha's design. As always, however, there's more to a device than meets the eye.

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When you're trying to compete in the phone-making game, there are certain challenges. On the one hand, you want to dazzle customers with innovative features. On the other hand, you want to keep the suit-wearing shareholders happy with growth and strong, continued sales. The bottleneck in this equation is often technology. You can't force it to progress. So once you've more or less caught up, you're left with a choice: Innovate with software/hardware design, or take a risk with gimmicky features. Any of the above will do in lieu of the (unspeakable) alternative -- not releasing a new model this year.

We're not trying to preload this review of Sony's new Z3 flagship, which arrives barely six months after its predecessor. Or maybe we are. What we're definitely doing is spelling it out right here in the intro: The Z3 looks a lot like the Z2, and after a quick glance at the spec sheet, you might argue it sounds a lot like it too. This is pertinent because, by its own admission, Sony isn't doing very well at competing in the phone-making game. Given the above, is the Z3 going to tempt existing customers to upgrade? Or perhaps lure those over from other brands? T-Mobile will be stocking it this fall, though the price isn't yet known. Currently it's £550 in the UK -- a touch above the HTC One and Galaxy S5. Let's have a look, shall we?

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Whether it's government agencies, identity thieves, opportunistic hackers or marketers, everyone wants your personal data. As we live more of our lives than ever online, we're increasingly aware of how much data we produce, and the need to protect it. With smartphones playing a key role in our always-connected lifestyle, there's a new breed of services and devices for consumers who want to stay off the grid without going offline. Leading the charge is the Blackphone, a $629 handset that prioritizes privacy over everything else. Running a custom, secure version of Android and shipping with a wealth of privacy tools preinstalled, it claims to be an "unparalleled product" where data protection is concerned. Thanks to the awesome folks at online retailer GSM Nation, who were kind enough to send one for review, I've been getting to know the device and finding out how it keeps data safe from prying eyes.

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Moto G review (2014): still the best budget smartphone

Last year's Moto G took us all by surprise. Sure, we knew Motorola wanted to reinvent the cheap smartphone experience, but the very first device in the company's cost crusade was even better than we expected. Let's be honest, though: The G's greatest asset was its small, small price tag. For $180 off-contract, it became awfully easy to forgive the thing for not being the quickest, the prettiest or the smartest. Still, it was one of those gadgets that wound up being more than just "good enough"; between the price and performance, the Moto G was one of the best cheap smartphones you could own, period.

Here we are less than a year later, and we've got a sequel to play with (one with the same name, no less). If you took a quick peek at what it brings to the table, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Motorola wanted to play it safe the second time around -- the new Moto G isn't a game changer, and it doesn't have to be. Does this year's model clear the "good enough" bar once again? And just how far will $180 take you this year?

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Out with the old, in with the new. That was the theme of last year's iOS update, known as iOS 7, which ushered in a flat new design. Although Apple threw in some new functionality as well, it was clear the company was mainly focused on giving its mobile OS a face-lift and setting the stage for future updates -- the first of which is coming out tomorrow. iOS 8 builds on last year's software with a plethora of new features, including third-party keyboards, camera controls, widgets, home automation, health and fitness tools and the ability to interact with other apps. (Yes, it's hard to believe these are just arriving on iOS.) Here's what to expect.

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To say that Apple's doing things differently would be an understatement. With the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, the company introduced two new high-end phones at the same time, both with a complete redesign and a much larger screen size than any iPhone that came before. Gone are the days of 3.5-inch and 4-inch phones that, at one time, seemed to provide more than ample amounts of screen space. Now, the new iPhones make their predecessors look like the tiny handset Ben Stiller used in Zoolander. The market has changed, and it was high time Apple did the same.

Even though this is Apple's first attempt at building large phones, it's not breaking new ground -- in fact, it feels more like the company is catching up than innovating. To be fair, finding a fresh take is a difficult thing to do in this crowded space: Samsung's Galaxy Note series, which started out at 5.3 inches and is now up to 5.7, is selling by the millions, and most competing flagships aren't much smaller. Basically, Apple would be leaving money on the table if it didn't address this segment of the market. So how did the company do on its first try at large phones? Pretty well -- mostly.

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When it comes to wearables, fashion trumps function. That's the mantra Motorola went by when it designed and developed the Moto 360, and judging by the enthusiastic response the watch received when it was unveiled earlier this year, plenty of people agree. The Moto 360 is undoubtedly the best-looking of the three inaugural Android Wear watches (the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live are the other two), with its premium leather strap, chamfered glass and circular design. As Motorola designer Jim Wicks said in an interview, "We wanted to hit that 'Whoa!' mark." And so it did. But is that enough? In the past few days, I struggled to like this watch, even though it's the best Android Wear device available today. Allow me to tell you why.

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