Sony Xperia Z2

It's been nearly three years since I reviewed the Xperia Neo, manufactured by what was then Sony Ericsson. The Neo represented just the second generation of Xperia phones running on Android, from a period when Sony was finding its feet in the world of mobile and still chucking out plenty of duds (I'm looking at you, Tablet P). Fast-forward to today and things have changed dramatically under Kaz Hirai's stewardship. I'll tell you this right now: The Z2 is an easy phone to recommend, at least for those living in countries where it'll definitely be available (a list that includes the UK and Canada, but not yet the US). The only real caveat is the handset's huge, monolithic construction (a far cry from puny, 126-gram Neo). As you'll see, if you can get past its size, the Z2 addresses some of the most serious gripes we had with its predecessors, the Xperia Z and Z1, particularly with respect to its LCD display. In fact, in some respects, it's far ahead of any other Android phone currently on the market.

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KnowRoaming review: This SIM 'sticker' makes it easy for travelers to save on data

Thanks in no small part to T-Mobile's free global data initiative, US carriers have begun to lighten the fee load when it comes time to roam. But you'll still pay an arm and a leg in many countries, and discounted plans from AT&T and Verizon, while more reasonable than they once were, require a monthly subscription that can be a hassle to add and remove. If you're expecting to use gobs of data abroad, KeepGo's disposable-SIM program is probably your best bet, but an intriguing alternative from KnowRoaming will keep leisure travelers and other casual users connected in 220 countries without the need to worry about coming home to an enormous bill. That solution, an incredibly thin card with passthrough leads and an adhesive back, simply sits atop your existing SIM, springing into action whenever you arrive in a foreign country. Join me as I travel to Europe and beyond to see how well this sticker works.

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2013 was the year of the smartwatch. In promise, anyway -- maybe not delivery. Of the many, many different, colorful and unusual timepieces that would populate our blogroll, it was perhaps Samsung's Galaxy Gear that made the most headlines. Why? Partly because it was a new product from one of technology's biggest players, and partly because it was just so bad. Poor battery life, an unpopular design and limited apps meant that the $300 accessory never had a chance of catching on. But, resilient as ever, Samsung is having another crack at it. In fact, it's having another three cracks at it with the release of the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit smartwatches. The big question this time around: Is the second-gen Gear any better than its predecessor? Spoiler alert: Yes, it is. But enough that you might actually want one? That question is a little more complex.

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Windows Phone 8.1 review: Microsoft's mobile OS finally feels whole

Android, iOS, Windows Phone. Each of these mobile platforms had to start somewhere, and none were anywhere near perfect on the first try. Fortunately, each OS gets better with every iteration until, at some point, it all just clicks. Arguably, Windows Phone just came of age with its latest update, version 8.1.

Even before today, Windows Phone only had a few big holes remaining and indeed, 8.1 appears to fill those gaps. In particular, the OS now has a fancy notification center in addition to those signature Live Tiles; the keyboard now allows for swipe gestures; and last but not least, it now has Cortana, a virtual assistant to take on Siri, Google Now and Samsung's S Voice. The 8.1 update is a fairly significant one, and I got the opportunity to take it for a spin ahead of the official developer preview's launch. It may not be perfect yet, but it's clear Windows Phone has finally grown up.

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When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 and a trio of Gear smartwatches, the company made a big to-do about how it listens to its customers. We know, we know: Every company's supposed to be doing that. But remember, this is Samsung we're talking about. It dominates the Android market by such a wide margin that it makes rivals like LG and HTC look like quaint startups. Put it another way: Samsung could release a phone with no improvements, and it'd still sell millions.

At least, that's how it used to be. The smartphone market has seen a downturn of late and even mighty Samsung has been affected. Sales are down, and the manufacturer must now make phones that give people what they actually want (shocker, we know). So what can we expect from a humbled Samsung? A durable phone that brings a toned-down TouchWiz UI, a better camera, longer battery life, improved performance, a fingerprint scanner and enhanced health tracking. I received an unlocked review unit from GSM Nation, which was the first outlet to start shipping the phone in the US with AT&T- and T-Mobile-compatible LTE. Now that I've been testing it for a few days, let's see if the Galaxy S5 lives up to all those promises.

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The HTC One was one of our favorite smartphones of 2013. It featured a gorgeous industrial design, a fantastic display, great camera and top-of-the-line performance. HTC poured its heart into it, as evidenced by nearly every aspect of the device. The phone exceeded nearly all of our expectations, but that also left a big problem: We now expect history to repeat itself. After all, if the original One was such a great device, its successor should, in theory, be even better, right?

Of course it should be. But does this year's version of the One have what it takes? On paper, the answer is yes: It has a larger screen, offers two curious-looking rear camera sensors, boasts an improved version of HTC's Sense UI and features a chassis with even more metal. It appears, then, that there's a lot to love here, but it's difficult to take our breath away twice in a row. Here's what impressed -- and what didn't.

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The large-screen smartphone market is now one of the most fiercely competitive in the wireless industry. But even though nearly every phone maker has produced a competitor to the Samsung Galaxy Note, only a handful of products have actually been worth considering. LG's Optimus G Pro, a 5.5-inch flagship introduced last year, was one such exception. A year later, its 5.9-inch successor picks up where the first Pro left off, adding enough extra firepower to take on the Galaxy Note 3 spec for spec. The LG G Pro 2 may very well have what it takes to stand up against its big-screen rival, but it'll have to overcome a few minor obstacles in order to succeed.

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Oppo N1 review: a cameraphone that puts selfies first

If our articles have been tagged properly, the first mention of Oppo on Engadget dates back to August 2005. No one would have thought that this then-fledgling DVD player manufacturer -- a spin-off from Vivo's parent company BBK -- would end up making some interesting smartphones. It's funny how both of these Chinese brands have been getting our attention lately with top specs, nice designs and reasonable prices. However, in terms of global reach, Oppo is well ahead with its presence in Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam and India. Vivo, on the other hand, is preparing to break out of China sometime this year.

Following the Find 5, Oppo's latest flagship product is the N1, a 5.9-inch Android phone that's bringing back the once-common swivel camera. This device is clearly meant to meet the growing appetite for large phones and high-quality selfie cameras, especially in Asia. For those seeking a different kind of selling point, the N1 is also the first device to offer CyanogenMod ROM -- stock Android, but with neat enhancements -- and with Google's approval, no less. Thus, users get to choose between two officially supported ROMs. But what about the execution? And will these bonuses be enough to attract a global audience? Read on to find out.

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Nokia Lumia Icon review: a big step forward for Windows Phone

When Nokia came out with the Lumia 1520, we were treated to a new side of Windows Phone. All of a sudden, Microsoft's smartphone OS had come of age; it was using the best available hardware specs and a wave of big-name apps had finally arrived in the Windows Phone Store. Even so, we were concerned that the 1520's 6-inch screen size and AT&T exclusivity in the US would limit its appeal.

Last week Nokia announced the Lumia Icon, a new Windows Phone with nearly identical specs in a smaller, 5-inch frame. Finally, the perfect device for Microsoft to take on its high-end Android and iOS competition, right? Well, almost -- the Icon is a Verizon exclusive, arriving tomorrow for $200 on-contract (or $550 with no strings attached). Meanwhile, the other three major US networks don't offer anything comparable yet (outside of AT&T's 1520, anyway). That said, the Icon is still worth a look if you've already decided on Big Red.

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Last year, Sony finally reached the end of the alphabet with its Xperia Z. It wasn't just that the company ran out of letters, though: With the Xperia Z, we saw Sony streamline its scattered phone strategy, piping all its attention into a single high-end device. Then, it followed up with the Z1, which brought a massive 20.7-megapixel camera.

Today, we once again have a new phone to talk about, except it's perhaps not the device you might have been expecting. Nope, this isn't a Z2, and no it doesn't bring an even higher-resolution camera. Instead, Sony's joining the small-flagship club, with the Xperia Z1 Compact. Interestingly, unlike some of its rivals, Sony is promising that you won't have to compromise on features for the sake of a more pocket-friendly handset. At £440 SIM-free in the UK, that apparently includes a no-compromise price, too. By the looks of it, though, Sony has worked hard to stick with the same specs as the original -- bar, of course, the screen size. So, is this finally proof that "mini" doesn't have to mean mediocre? We put it to the test to find out.

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Smartwatches are supposed to be pieces of jewelry that are just as personal as the smartphones they're attached to, yet rarely are they thought of as fashionable. We've seen a handful (or is it wristful?) that are hip, ornate and sporty, but we've also admittedly endured plenty of ugly options as well. Sadly, none have successfully matched the opulence brands like Seiko, Rolex, Citizen and Victorinox are known for on the analog side. Granted, not many companies are in a position to even try this. Without a strong developer platform and guaranteed return on investment, few (if any) smart watchmakers want to take the risk.

It makes a lot of sense, then, that a company like Pebble is taking advantage of what appears to be a completely untouched segment of the smartwatch market. In just a short year, the nascent watchmaker quickly gained the experience, resources, platform and developer support required to even try tackling such a project. The result is the $249 Pebble Steel. It's designed to be a more elegant version of the original Pebble, with few changes to overall functionality. So, have we finally found a smartwatch that you can feel comfortable showing off to your business partners on the golf course?

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It's not too often we can legitimately say a device is in a league of its own, yet that's the only way we can describe Nokia's new low-end smartphone, the Lumia 1320. With a 6-inch screen, it arrives at the same time as more expensive Lumia 1520, which shares the same screen size and battery, but is exponentially better in every other category. There's nothing else quite like the 1320 on the market at the moment; we've seen plenty of large-screened Android phones already, but few of them have price tags as low as the $340 that the 1320 commands. Not only that, this is also the very first low-end Windows Phone with copious amounts of screen space.

The fact that this is the first of its kind doesn't make the 1320 an instant hit, though. While the cost is lower than most phones its size, it's still a high asking price for many people in emerging markets. A 6-inch size worked for the Lumia 1520, but does it make sense to come out with a stripped-down version for half the price?

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Fun fact: Engadget reviewed 176 products in 2013, and that's not even counting the umpteen times we got hands-on with stuff at tradeshows and press events.

In general, we try to review just the top-tier gadgets, but even then, some of it ends up being forgettable. (Can you name-check everything we tested from memory? We can't.) So, as the year draws to a close, we're taking a look back at the last 12 months of reviews, and this time, we're including only the products you'd have no trouble remembering. Across every category, we've noted the flagships everyone coveted -- along with the duds that could've been so much better. Oh, and you might notice that we included some numbered scores throughout. That's right; Engadget is bringing back numerical ratings, and they'll follow the same format as the critic score gdgt has already been using for years. Which is to say, each rating takes into account various criteria for a given product category -- things like battery life and portability. Wanna see how your favorite gadgets did? Meet us after the break for a walk down memory lane.

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We've long pondered the possibility of an e-ink phone. One that offers enough battery life to get us to the end of the day, or maybe even the End of Days, simply by being less reliant on the power-draining frivolity of an LCD or AMOLED panel. What we didn't envision, though, was that the first mass-produced attempt at such an idea would come from a Russian company we'd never heard of, or that it would take the particularly unusual form of the YotaPhone -- a device that does many things differently, not least in having a curved E Ink panel on its rear side. As you're about to see, a lot of these two-faced ideas have potential, but some of them need some work -- a lot of work, in fact -- before they're ready for prime time.

And then there's the price tag, which may come as something of a surprise in its own right given the YotaPhone's mid-range specs. It costs €499 in Europe, which equates to around $675 in the US (although the handset isn't currently available there). That means you could actually buy the Yota's two halves separately for a more affordable sum; for example, by getting a Nexus 5 and a Kindle. Nevertheless, the ability to buy the two-in-one YotaPhone is something we didn't have a year ago, and something that isn't offered by any other company, and so it's worth bearing that in mind as we proceed to lay out its many flaws.

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LG G Flex review: a promising phone, but not one you should buy right now

It's not too often we get to review a product with a completely new form factor, but we relish the opportunity when we do. This time, we're taking a closer look at the LG G Flex, one of two curved smartphones that have come out of Korea over the last two months. The idea of a curved device is enough to pique anyone's interest, but there's one thing holding it back from mainstream acceptance: the price. Retailing for the US equivalent of $940, this unique handset isn't for the budget-conscious, and it isn't going to make your every dream come true either. To most potential buyers, the return on investment is pretty low; it's high-end, sure, but is it worth paying a $200 or $300 premium just for the shape? We believe you already know the answer to that, but keep on reading to find out if we agree with you.

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