With several hundred readers clamouring for a spot in the Testmodo challenge, only three readers -- Craig, Baij and Amanda -- could do us Giz lot out of a job by testing the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Nokia Lumia 1320, and HTC One M8 on EE's 4G network. Read their final thoughts on the challenge, below.
It has been a glorious ride as a self-confessed gadget junkie: three new phones and and superfast 4G throughout. As an opinionated phone geek I am yet to find any one phone to be perfect, though I have come surprisingly close.
Samsung Galaxy Note 3
First up was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I cradled it in my hands like a proud new father, wiped away a tear of joy and murmured, "Ooft that's a big one!" And it was, though only for a short time. Within a number of hours in its company I'd already grown used to its size. It had changed my perception of what's acceptable to carry in a pocket; it had changed me. 5.7" suddenly didn't seem to be a monstrosity; it was a thing of beauty. No one has ever looked at their TV and said "we'll get a smaller one next time," and the same applies to phones: always wanting bigger, never looking back.
The Note 3 isn't just big. It is bold. Its faux leather backing isn't for the faint of heart. Few phones sport a stylus yet this one isn't ashamed. Whether it be 4K video recording, 3GB RAM or its 13MP camera, this phone is loud, proud and utterly over the top. Unashamedly so. In terms of hardware specs there is no manufacturer pushing the bounds of acceptability quite like Samsung.
What Samsung gets right in hardware can be overshadowed by their software. It is overly ambitious. It is without focus. It offers you every feature that might be possible on a phone; not necessarily a useful feature, not usually a well implemented feature, but Samsung wants to offer it first.
Thankfully the gimmicks, bloat and mistakes in their software can be mostly swept away under the carpet. It does leave me a little uneasy knowing that somewhere in the beautiful mansion that is the Note 3 lies one room I will forever be unable to open. Inside, all of the Samsung software I'm too ashamed to let loose and unable to evict. Still, what a nice place to call home.
Nokia Lumia 1320
The Nokia Lumia 1320 is big. Whilst people may have looked twice at my Note, they positively stared when I pulled out my 6-incher. There is no getting around its size, but unfortunately, that is about the only thing it has going for it.
I wrote before how Windows Phone makes for a great introduction to smartphones yet most newcomers don't want a 6" phone. If you care about screen quality, you'll be left scratching your head as to why a 6" screen would be crippled by having only a 720p resolution. Why does it only have a 5MP camera? This is from the same company that created the amazing PureView 41MP smartphone camera!
I can't imagine quite who would desire this phone. If Windows Phones are your thing there are much better Windows Phones out there, mostly also made by Nokia. If big phones are your thing, there are much better big phones out there (see above). If this is your dream phone I'd love to know why, because I just don't understand why this phone exists. That's not to say I didn't have some fun using it, but it certainly isn't the phone for me.
HTC One M8
The HTC One M8 oozes style, class and charisma. The design quality of the hardware is evident from first instant; there is no doubt that this is a premium phone. Whilst HTC may not push their "quietly brilliant" slogan any more, they have not lost that design goal as the M8 is simply a sleek and beautiful phone. If Apple made Android phones, this is what they would look like.
Contrary to Samsung, HTC's software is rarely brash and is often useful. HTC truly seems determined to include features users want, instead of just features that no other manufacturer has done (yet). For the first time in my Android history I'm still using the stock HTC launcher. As a control freak and stock-Android zealot it is significant to highlight just how satisfied I am with the OS out of the box. It is a joy to use.
I began this by stating that I still haven't found my perfect phone. As I've written previously, I wish the M8's camera had more megapixels. Despite its beautiful, high quality 5" full HD screen I wish the screen size was closer to the Note's 5.7".
If the M8 and Note 3 could be meaningfully combined I would have my perfect phone. It would be 5.7". It would have a 13MP camera. It would run HTC software. Throw in some wireless charging and waterproofing and just take my money already!
As a final roundup it is only fitting to compliment the service I'd had from EE. I walked into #testmodo having never had 4G, and not convinced why I would ever bother. Sure, I thought, faster is always better, but isn't 3G fast enough? The truth is that whilst 3G is good, once you've had a taste of 4G it is hard to ever want to leave it.
How I managed a 80Mbps download speed over 4G when I can't achieve that at home using cables is a mystery to me. Upload speeds regularly surpassing 30Mbps is a modern wonder.
Smartphones have offered us new ways to entertain and connect but they are nothing without the backbone that is the internet. The fast, reliable 4G internet connection I've experienced with EE is the perfect companion to any modern smartphone. I say this with no contractual agreement to compliment them. I say this with no gun to my head -- I'm just genuinely impressed with what I've seen from EE.
I've been happy to have been the lucky recipient of so many nice mobile devices courtesy of EE and Gizmodo UK, and not so lucky to be on the receiving end of a few scathing comments due to some of my schoolboy reviewing errors. Ah well, you live and learn right?
The first device I had was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. This was an amazing device and I was instantly a fan of the S Pen, the large screen and the excellent battery life. Not so much a fan of the myriad of pre-loaded Samsung apps, as they were just so confusing. I would definitely recommend this device over other large-screen devices such as the Sony Xperia Z1 however, which I have previously owned.
The next device I received was the Nokia 1320. This was a beast of a device! Even bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. It's a cheaper device and this is reflected in the specs, 5MP camera, a meagre 8MB of internal storage and while a huge screen, not one with a great resolution. Come on Nokia, it's bad enough I have to switch to Windows Phone but at least give me some specs to shout about! The only redeeming features -- the excellent Nokia apps on-board, in particular the Here mapping/navigation apps and the fantastic battery life, which lasted two days -- I don't think I've seen any other smartphone do that.
The final device and the one I have absolutely fallen in love with was the HTC One M8. This device oozes quality, from the metal build to the excellent screen and the unique Ultrapixel dual camera. The only things that could have improved this device for me was a larger screen (even though this one is still pretty big by most standards) and a higher resolution camera, although it does take great pics anyway and I love the Zoe function.
The other part of this testing that has really opened my eyes is what EE's 4G can achieve. I hadn't really used 4G until I was asked to participate in this challenge as we didn't have 4G plans for our work devices until very recently (and I only had a work phone).
EE's 4G is very fast, at least wherever I have used it. I know there have been some negative comments about EE's speed and customer service, but since I use Vodafone for my work phone, I can tell you, the grass is not greener over there!
The fact that I can download a 120MB file in around 40 seconds is still amazing to me especially since my supposedly superfast fibre internet at home (albeit on Wi-Fi) doesn't give me anywhere near that speed. Time to investigate what's up with my Wi-Fi methinks (or switch back to a wired connection?)
The other time I was amazed with EE's 4G was at Heathrow Airport. I downloaded several music albums from Amazon in mere minutes. The only downside about all this speed is that you will eat through your data allowance in next to no time. Now if EE had an all-you-can-eat 4G data bundle at a reasonable price, I might seriously consider keeping two phones, one with an EE SIM and one with my company's Vodafone SIM. As long as they're both HTC One M8s, I'd be happy. (Well, at least until the LG G3 comes out!)
With Amanda taking ill after reviewing the Nokia Lumia 1320, it was up to me, Alex Purvey, to step in for the final test of the HTC One M8. Although I didn't get the chance to see the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Lumia 1320, I know I still would've got on with the One M8 the best -- it's such a slick little (well, comparatively) device, and you can really tell HTC's gone to great lengths to make Android as usable as possible.
Streaming movies or surfing the web just made me salivate on the bright 5" screen, and as you could tell in my previous Testmodo review, using EE's 4G service to do so was just a dream. I still can't get over that 20.68Mbps I saw in central London, and that it was on my phone and not over ethernet into my laptop.
Reading Amanda's earlier reviews, she raved about the Note 3's awesome battery life, commenting that she could get through almost an entire day, leaving work with over 40 per cent of her battery still intact. There's a common misconception about 4G, that it drains your battery far faster than 3G -- that's only true if your phone is struggling to find a 4G signal. Likewise, the same is true for 3G or Wi-Fi. If you're in an area of good coverage, you shouldn't see your battery sap much more faster than it normally would -- in fact, Craig did a really good test proving just that with the Galaxy Note 3, I see.
I know the Nokia Lumia 1320 got a bit of a kicking in comparison to the other two devices everyone reviewed, but I'm a big fan of WinPho -- I've got the 1020 on Three -- but even I must say that I can't imagine I would've got on much better with all 6-inches of the 1320 than Amanda, Craig and Baij did. Nokia's done an incredible job with the on-board apps which I can see Amanda enjoyed using too, but I still think they could do better at roping in developers to create the kind of apps you see iOS and Android flaunting.
While I was only part of Testmodo for the last device, testing 4G from EE made me realise just how pitiful Three's is in comparison. So while I don't pay any extra for "faster" speeds on that network, when my contract is up next year I'll be making the move -- once you go 4G you can't go back.
Our third reader, Amanda Foley, was unable to take part in this week's challenge due to illness, so South London-based Alex Purvey stepped in to cover for her. When he's not testing 4G speeds, he works as a charity fundraiser.
Testmodo Challenge #1: Three Readers Test the Samsung Galaxy Note 3's Battery Using 4GEE
While our three Testmodo winners get to keep all three phones, they have to sing for their supper first -- namely, by reviewing all of the devices for us. Their very first challenge? Testing the battery life of a Galaxy Note 3 using 4GEE. Read More >>
Testmodo Challenge #2: Three Readers Test the Samsung Galaxy Note 3's Features
For our Testmodo readers' second challenge, we set them the arduous task of looking at all the bells and whistles Samsung's added to stock Android. Read More >>
Testmodo Challenge #3: Three Readers Move to WinPho Using the Nokia Lumia 1320
Our three Testmodo readers' third challenge involved them scoping up how easy the transition from Android to WinPho is. Read More >>
4GEE Testmodo Challenge #4: Three Readers Test Nokia's WinPho Apps
For the fourth challenge, our Testmodo readers tried out the barrage of Nokia-made apps on Windows Phone. Read More >>
4GEE Testmodo Challenge #5: Our Readers Test the HTC One M8 Camera
Our fifth challenge saw our readers testing one of the key features of the HTC One M8, the Duo Lens camera. Read More >>
4GEE Testmodo Challenge #6: Three Readers Test 4G on the HTC One M8
The final challenge saw our three readers test EE's 4G network in a variety of scenarios, including streaming, downloading, and surfing. How did it fare compared to 3G and Wi-Fi? Read More >>