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Mike’s Tech Update: Switching Smartphones (Again)

| Updated Oct 30, 2016

As I seem to do about twice a year, I've switched mobile phones. I can blame it on my job.

I mentioned it in a Facebook Live report the other day and a bunch of you emailed me to ask why I did so…. so, let me explain:

Besides RV travel writing, I'm also a tech reporter for the 213 NBC-TV stations around the country (see my PC Mike Tech Blog) where I do weekly reports on the latest in apps.

Thus,  I need to try all the latest tech, right? Right! Well, at least that's what I tell Jennifer. Although I occasionally get a phone to review, for a limited time, I buy all my personal phones myself. By trading them in I am able to minimize the cost a bit but, yes, this is expensive and clearly not for everyone.

If I wasn't doing the PC Mike reports, I'd be much less apt to switch phones so often.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

So let me tell you abut my new phone.  I had been using the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I got it last spring and chose it primarily because I loved the quality of the photos it produced. Most of the photos on my blog reports here over the summer and fall were taken on the Samsung.

But last week, I put the Samsung aside in favor of the new iPhone 7 Plus. I won't bore you with all the reasons why I returned to Apple except to say that this choice, too, had everything to do with the advanced camera system on the iPhone 7 Plus. It has optical image stabilization, an ƒ/1.8 aperture, and a six-element lens to make it even better for shooting photos and videos in low light. The 12MP camera captures high-resolution video up to 4K.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus

That's true on both the iPhone 7 (which Jennifer has) and the larger iPhone 7 Plus.

But I chose the 7 plus because of advanced features that are not available on the 7. The  iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t have just one camera system — it has two. The same 12MP wide-angle camera that’s on iPhone 7 works with a 12MP telephoto camera lens that can get even closer. That means I can get higher-quality zoom from farther away. And with an all-new Portrait mode, portrait shots will look better than ever.

The dual lens setup on the iPhone 7 Plus

Thanks to the dual-camera system and new technology on iPhone 7 Plus, I can now get supersharp close-up photos and videos with optical zoom at 2x. And I get even closer with improved digital zoom that lets me shoot at up to 10x for photos and 6x for video. The 7 plus Portrait Mode automatically creates a depth-of-field effect that keeps faces sharp while creating a beautifully blurred background. This effect, also known as bokeh, was previously reserved for DSLR cameras.

In the iPhone 7, Apple did away with the standard headphone jack. They provide an adapter that works off the Lightning port but Apple clearly wants to push folks to use wireless earbuds. I'm not too keen on this but it is not a deal killer as I wanted that great new camera system.

I have added another gizmo to my photo bag, too. It's the Osmo Mobile,

Lately in our travels, we've been doing a lot of Facebook Live reports – live video and audio feeds from the places we visit. Facebook Live is an amazing feature. With my smartphone and a cellular connection, we can go “live” from anywhere. Video and audio, plus we can see and react to your comments and questions. The audience tunes in to the Roadtreking Facebook Group and can watch our reports live, or, via the recording automatically made and posted when the live part ends. In my TV days it used to take a small army of techs, a microwave tower and dish or a satellite truck to do this! Now, we can broadcast live with a smartphone! Amazing!

Osmo Mobile
Osmo Mobile

But, if you have ever walked around while shooting video with your smartphone, you will know how hard it is to keep your camera still. The video gets jerky and jumpy. That's where the Osmo Mobile comes in. It is a sort of steadycam, a handheld device that features a three axis gimbal that smooths out the video. It's made by DJI, the company that makes the popular Phantom drones that take such amazing video from the air. The Osmo Mobile is really a drone camera on a stick and it keeps your phone pointing in exactly the same direction even while you walk around.

It works with iOS and Android phones. I tried it with the Samsung and was pleased but it has more features that work only with Apple phones, like the ability to also go live on YouTube.

The Osmo Mobile is most useful for taking moving video. For standard photography, it lets you do some nice time lapse work but I don't see many reasons for anyone to spent the money to get it for just regular photo taking.

Up above, I mentioned that I occasionally get to temporarily check out a new phone for review purposes. I've just done that with another very advanced smartphone – the brand new Pixel from Google.

Google Pixel
Google Pixel

Available only from Verizon, this is the first phone made entirely by Google and sold directly by the company. Like the iPhone 7, there are really two Pixels, the regular 5-inch screen version and a larger 5.5-inch version called the Pixel XL. I've been experimenting with the XL. They are pretty much the same except for the size of their batteries, the resolution of their screens, and, of course, their prices: They range from $649 for a 32GB Pixel and goes all the way up to $869 for a 128GB Pixel XL. The unit I have tested is the XL.

These are not cheap phones.

Google claims the Pixel has the “best smartphone” camera, ever. I shot pretty much the same image under the same conditions with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, my new iPhone7 Plus and the Pixel XL. I'll be darned if I can tell any differences between the three. Which is to say it is very good. All three are very good.

Something else very good about the Pixel. It has Google Assistant, the Pixel's answer to Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa. It's claim to fame is that it creates “conversational interactions,” which means you can ask a question and then ask several follow-up questions, and Google Assistant will be able to keep track of the conversation, determine context, and audibly respond with the right information.

In my tests, it beat Siri hands down in speed and relevance.

I'd choose the Pixel for my personal phone over the Samsung Galaxy S7. Why didn't I get it instead of the iPhone 7 Plus? Because all my computers are Apple, my Tablet is the iPad, my Calendar and email are apple products and it just makes sense that my phone be on the same ecosystem. Besides, Jennifer is on an iPhone 7 (we share calendars), my kids and grandkids are on iPhones (we do a lot of family Facetime chats)  and my Osmo Mobile worlds best with Apple phones.

But for someone looking to get a new smartphone with a fantastic camera, any of the three would give you the absolute best in mobile technology: The Samung Galaxy S7 Edge, the Google Pixel or the iPhone 7.

The advances in mobile phone technology are pretty impressive. For me publishing primarily on the web and Facebook Live, the cameras now packed into these smartphones are more than adequate for regular use. They truly produce near DSLR quality.

The key word is near.

For landscapes and wildlife photography – my two photographic passions – I'll always go to my DSLR and its lenses first.

But for everyday use, that Apple 7 Plus is the one that, right now, best meets my needs. It's pretty darn impressive.









Mike Wendland

Published on 2016-10-30

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “Mike’s Tech Update: Switching Smartphones (Again)”

October 31, 2016at1:11 pm, HD Case said:

So for you, Apple’s product “family” strategy worked precisely as it was designed – convince you and your children to sink premium dollars into Apple phones/PC’s which then forces you all to use only Apple tools and stops you cold from buying the competitions products which don’t prevent people in any way from the buying of best of breed from whatever tech vendor you choose. This is why I’ll never own Apple products.

October 30, 2016at2:53 pm, Mike Stanley said:

So, Mike, is there any improvement in the performance of these devices AS PHONES? After all, they claim to be Smart PHONES. Could phone performance be a differentiator among the three?

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