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Android One - smartphones for consumers in emerging markets

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For many, information and education are unobtainable. However, the internet has provided 'knowledge' to those who need it since its birth. It does not matter who you are - of you have an internet connection you can find out anything you want.

Android's new Android One initiative aims to help people in under-developed countries not only access the internet, but use it to its full potential.

At Mobile World Congress this year, Facebook's Mark Zuckerburg claimed most of the cost of accessing the internet is acquiring a data plan as opposed to an internet enabled device, and people are discouraged as they don't see the need for internet access.

But on the Android official blog, Android names hardware, software and connectivity are the main barriers to access. It aims to combat these by offering the Android One range - a set of smartphones with features such as expandable storage and dual SIM capabilities.

To ensure these devices suit the needs of the emerging markets, they will be made of affordable components from hardware partners Micromax, Karbonn, Spice and MediaTek, and gain regular Android updates from Google. To lower the price of data, those already using an Airtel SIM can download software updates from free in the first 6 months of phone ownership, as well as 200MB worth of Google Play apps.

Indian retailers are already selling the devices at a starting price of 6,399 rupees, and phone manufacturers such as ASUS, HTC and Lenovo have jumped on board.

Android aims to expand the programme into Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) by the end of 2014. 

Google launches new Nexus 5 smartphone with Android KitKat OS

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Google has revealed its new LG-made Nexus 5 smartphone, a lighter, thinner version of the previous Nexus 4. Despite the change in size, the touchscreen itself is actually bigger, and the device runs the new version of the Android operating system, 4.4 KitKat.

The new KitKat OS promises more Google features, including voice searching and the new Hangouts App which allows all of your messages to gather in the same place for easy access. Just say "OK Google" and you can send a text, Google search, play a song, or pretty much do anything you want.

The new Android OS also aims to use less memory on your phone to ensure that more smartphone users with lower-end Android devices can take part.

The handset is sleek and slim, and includes a 5-inch full HD display. It also claims to be the fastest Nexus yet, including 4G/LTE Wi-Fi and enhanced camera lens all for a starting price of £299.

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Image: LG

The Nexus 5 is already available in certain countries on Google Play, and soon it will be available from chosen retailers. Android KitKat comes with the new smartphone, and will soon be available for previous Nexus models and other smartphone devices.

Check back to Inspect-a-gadget at a later date for a hands-on review of the Nexus 5.




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MessagEase - the alternative touch keyboard

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We started off texting using a numerical keypad on our Nokia 3310s. Slowly and painfully keying out "How r u m8?" by repeatedly sequencing through a group of letters sharing a button with a number on your handset. 

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Next came predictive text, where our phones acted clever and would try to guess what you were typing through single key presses. But this didn't always go to plan. 

One of the decent things BlackBerry did was popularise the QWERTY keyboard, so we all went back to typing out full words on our smartphones, fingers frantically moving across the screens.

Now, there's MessagEase, a new text input technology designed particularly for smartwatches, smartphones, wearables, tablets, and smart TVs. The keyboard is designed for two finger usage - capitalising on new technology's small retail estate. 

The video below shows how the nine large keys can be used with only two fingers. It looks rather baffling - but so did predictive text messaging when it first came out.

Ready as an app for iOS, Android and Windows 8 tablets, the technology could revolutionise typing if it can get on the smartwatch bandwagon - a screen which is particularly smaller than what we are all used to. 
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Samsung Galaxy Gear watch: winners and losers

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According to the official press statement from JK Shin, CEO and President of IT & Mobile Division, Samsung Electronics, the Galaxy Gear is all about integrating smart device technology deeper into people's everyday lives, and bridging the gap between the mobile device and fashion worlds.

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But at 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm, it's pretty bulk as a fashion accessory. And at $299 it's not exactly cheap. For the same money you could probably buy a decent automatic watch rather than an 800 MHz processor with a wrist strap. Ah, but an automatic watch only does hours, minutes seconds and date...the Samsung runs Android apps.

I think the one area Samsung is likely to win some business is with sporty types. I own a Garmin 310 XT watch, which tells the time, but also monitors my heart rate, pulse, pace and, if I was on a bike, cadence (and if you're into triathlons, it is also waterproof). And at under $300, it's a great investment for fitness training, as compared to having a smartphone on an arm band or precariously mounted on a mountain bike's handle bars.

The quality of the apps will determine how good a sports watch the Galaxy Gear really is. But the two apps available at launch, RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal, are developed by third party apps companies.Unlike Nike and Garmin, which both have dedicated software for their sports watches, Samsung has given not indication it will be developing its own fitness apps.

Fitness functionality aside, I'm really not convinced of the Samsung Galaxy Gear's credentials as a watch. Remember the Casio calculator watch from the mid 1980s? Personally, I don't think I'd need to access an app on my wrist. Let's see what Apple brings out.

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Samsung launches the Galaxy S4

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Last night in a highly anticipated launch in New York, Samsung unveiled its latest flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy S4, which many are saying could be the iPhone's closest competitor yet.

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The device is running Android Jelly Bean and will offer peace of mind through its Knox security software.

The new device is closing in on the territory of the Galaxy Note II, with a 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen.

While the phone has joined the giant screen trend, it has not sacrificed this on the scales, weighing a mere 130g and with dimensions of 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm.

It's ready for 4G and EE have announced that it will be offering the device on its super-fast 4G network. It also holds a whopping 13MP camera with 4128 x 3096 pixels and an LED flash.

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The device runs on an Exynos 5 Octa 5410 chipset, and features a Quad-core 1.6 GHz Cortex-A15 & quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7

Smart Scroll

One of the big rumours around this device was its ability to recognise your eye movements and scroll through the page accordingly. This Smart Scroll feature was indeed announced last night, the software tracks eyes and wrist movement in order to scroll through emails. Additionally its Smart Pause functionality works in a similar way: watch a video and take your eyes away from the screen and it will recognise this and pause the content.

"The debut of nifty eye motion-sensitive controls to allow users to pause video and scroll through pages using eye movements alone is smart, and for commuters crammed in trains - or just those who love a bit of futuristic tech that makes their lives easier - this novel feature will really help the Galaxy S4 to stand out," said Ernest Doku, Telecoms from uSwitch.com

Is it nifty or just a consumer gimmick? And more importantly, will it truly work? We will have to wait to get our hands on a review unit until we can be sure. 

Translator tool

Business travellers will find the translator function useful. Samsung claim that its "S Translator" feature will understand and translate nine languages including Brazilian, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin American Spanish and Portuguese. This feature can translate from speech-to-text and text-to-speech, while also recognising 3,000 phrases stored in the phone, in case you are without data connectivity.

Added security

Businesses will also welcome the new built in Knox software to tackle the poor security record of the Android OS.

Knox provides securing booting when the S4 starts up, enhancements to Android that separate data from applications and Tima, a technology Samsung said offers continuous monitoring of the system. 

Knox also allows the IT department to separate work from personal use. The S4 presents the user with a different environment in work mode, which Samsung claims is separate from the personal use environment. It offers an encrypted file system, virtual private network and mobile device management support.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Tony Cripps, devices and platforms analyst at Ovum noted that, with Knox, Samsung is offering enterprise-grade mobile security, which makes it an alternative to Blackberry Enterprise Server.

"Samsung can also take advantage of any reluctance by businesses to deploy applications and data on Apple iOS devices," Cripps said. 

While the hype over recent innovative smartphones such as the BlackBerry Z10 and the Nokia Lumia 920, may have died down. It seems that excitement of the latest Galaxy may have continued the two-horse race between Samsung and Apple. But will the two companies put their patent battles behind them? I doubt it - it's just too easy to throw money around in the court room, than to spend it on actual innovation.

Available in white and black, the devices should be entering the market at the end of April.

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Luxury smartphone maker Vertu, chooses Android over Windows for its OS

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According to the BBC, exclusive smartphone maker, Vertu, has chosen Android over Windows for the operating system  on its new luxury smartphone costing almost £7,000.

The device comes with a titanium frame and sapphire screen. However, the designer told the BBC that it was not 4G enabled, which is not exactly a long-term investment. 

The company told the Beeb that it had chosen Windows over Android as it had a more established ecosystem. 

"Your device will have to integrate with other devices. I think the Windows phone will have success but it is still a relatively small market share. At the moment it doesn't have the global reach of Android - which is about 60% of the market," said chief executive Perry Oosting.

However, 7,900 euros (£6,994), is small change compared the Vertu Signature Cobra at £167,567. No camera, no touchscreen and only 1MB of internal memory. Not a good start. The Signature Cobra was designed by French jeweller Boucheron and only 8 were made. The phone features one pear-cut diamond, one round white diamond, two emerald eyes and 439 rubies, although if you aren't particularly fond of rubies, Vertu also offer a ruby free handset for £62,162.

The Vertu Diamond is another luxury phone from the company, which would have set you back around £63,620.

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Inspect-a-Gadget has previously investigated the world's most expensive mobile phones ranging from the Diamond Crypto Smartphone costing a whopping £827,060 to the much more reasonably prices BlackBerry Porsche Design P'9981 at £1275.

Read more:
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BlackBerry 10 hijacks your iOS and Android device thanks to Blippar

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This week BlackBerry are shining in the spotlight of the press in the mobile world, thanks to the launch of its new operating system, BlackBerry 10, and early indications seem that it is reviewing quite well.

Clever marketing from augmented reality company, Blippar, has allowed iOS and Android users to experience the BlackBerry 10 experience right on their handsets.

Using the Blippar app, I "blipped" a landing page, which then swirled and whizzed through space while loading. After about ten seconds I was redirected to my web browser which then offered me an interactive experience. 

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While BlackBerry 10 technically doesn't "hijack" your iPhone or Galaxy, it does provide a good insight into the perks of the new operating system.

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If you want to experience BlackBerry 10 first hand, without paying out the big bucks (yes, the handset does seem to be quite pricey), download Blippar on your handset, open www.bbtakeover.me on your desktop, and Blip away.
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CES 2013 VIDEO: Amzer screen protectors

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Would you risk hammering or drilling your smartphone?

In this video from CES 2013 in Las Vegas, Kyle Zurkan from Amzer, demonstrates the company's ShatterProof screen protection for smartphones.


CES 2013 HANDS ON: Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 and Toughpad JT-B1

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This week at CES in Las Vegas, Panasonic added to its line of rugged Toughpad tablets with the Windows 8 Pro 10.1-inch FZ-G1 and the Android 7-inch JT-BI.

Since 1996 Panasonic has been producing mobile computers for the mobile workforce who need to rely on a more study product that will resist dust, water, shocks when in use in the field. The two tablets join a 10.1-inch Android tablet which was broadly available last year.

Toughpads are designed for mobile workers in sectors such as military, government, construction, healthcare, public safety, utilities, retail, and maintenance to name a few.

The devices come with optional added extras such as heighten security features, electronic scanners and card readers. The new tablets are also splash proof and feature screens that are viewable in the sunlight, as well as being robust enough to survive drops and dust.

The Windows 8 Pro FZ-G1

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•             Operating System: Windows 8 Pro

•             Processor: 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3437U vPro™ 1.9GHz up to 2.9GHz with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology

•             Memory: 128-256GB SSD, 4-8GB RAM, optional micro SDXC

•             Rugged: MIL-STD-810G, 4' drop, IP65, 14° to 122°F (operational temp range)

•             Display: 10.1", sunlight viewable, touch screen and active digitizer, 800nit, WUXGA (1920x1200)

•             Battery: 8.0 hours (user-replaceable)

•             Dimensions: 10.6" x 7.4" x 0.75"

•             Weight: 1.1kg

•             Wireless: Bluetooth V4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional embedded 4G LTE or 3G

•             I/O: Full size USB 3.0, HDMI, optional micro SDXC, Full size USB 2.0, wired LAN, true serial port or dedicated GPS.

Panasonic claims it will survive a 4 foot drop and it wouldn't surprise me as this device, despite its rugged and therefore very clunky look, is surprisingly light at just over a kilogram, easy enough to carry about.

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The FZ-G1 comes with a barcode scanner and the option of adding on e-card readers and other types of bespoke enterprise technology. Its battery is also replaceable if you run out of the included 8 hours.

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The Android 4.0 JT-B1

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•             Operating System: Android 4.0

•             Processor: TI OMAP4460 1.5GHz Dual core

•             Memory: 16GB ROM, 1GB RAM, micro SDHC

•             Rugged: MIL-STD-810G, 5' drop, IP65, 14° to 122°F (operational temp range)

•             Display: 7", daylight viewable, 500nit, WSVGA (1024 x 600)

•             Camera: Front: 1.3Mp fixed focus, Rear: 13.0Mp auto focus w/ LED light

•             Battery: 8.0 hours - Large 5,720mAh battery (user-replaceable)

•             Dimensions: 8.7"x 5.1" x 0.7"

•             Weight: 0.54kg

•             Wireless: Bluetooth V4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional embedded 4G LTE + 3G

•             I/O: Micro USB

This device is a much smaller form factor, running Android's operating system, the device itself doesn't have the capacity to run Windows 8, so it's aim at those out in the field not needing quite as much power under the hood.

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This device is easily portable at half a kilogram, pop it straight into a laptop bag without noticing. It also is available with additional extras including different types of handles to grip securely to the device.

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The FZ-G1 will be available from March, starting at $2,899, and the JT-B1, will ship February, starting at $1,199. At these prices they are definitely aimed at large scale operations, as smaller businesses would be unlikely to kit out the entire workforce at pushing two grand per device for Windows.

Speaking to Kyp Walls, director of product management, at CES, I asked him how he thought the Windows 8 Pro version would fair in the enterprise space which is generally not looking to adopt the new operating system straight away.

He said, "Even though it has been built for Windows 8, a fair number of our customers will buy it with a Windows 7 downgrade."

Panasonic have a Windows 7 Toughbook on the market at the moment, but the convenience of buying the new FZ-G1 is that it is around a third lighter.  

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CES 2013 HANDS ON: Sony Xperia Z

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Sony has unveiled its new flagship smartphone handset at CES in Las Vegas, the Xperia Z. The smartphone comes with a full HD screen, Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor and it comes ready for 4G use.

It is also waterproof, so no need to worry about sending text messages from the confines of the tub. Sony claims the device will survive in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes, which would come in handy when you want to clean your phone - just rinse it in the sink.

The device screen is 5-inches, which borders on the phablet territory of the Samsung Galaxy Note, which stands at 5.5-inches. This is a screen increase of 0.4-inches from its predecessor, again being another screen in CES to be increasing in size rather than shrinking.

Despite its larger size, the device is nice and slim and feels great held in the hand. Its predecessor, the James Bond 007 device, aka the Xperia T, had a scalloped back panel and a matte finish. The scalloped back is now gone and the Z also goes back to preferring shine and fingerprints - I think this makes it classier and more modern looking.

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This picture shows the Xperia T on the left and the Xperia Z on the right 

The device also features NFC, opening up possibilities of the mobile wallet (once banks get their acts together to enable a service). While you wait for that to happen, you can use the device to eliminate wires while enjoying music, one tap and you can connect to headphones or your home entertainment system.

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Sony has included a few overlays to the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system that it runs on, such as hold the homescreen button to skip straight to Google, and quick start buttons for apps of your choice, such as notes. 

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Additionally, Sony has included a nice feature for quickly browsing images from your gallery while still on the homescreen - Timescape allows you to flick through images to easily access the one you need quickly.

This version of Android's operating system comes with Office Suite and I found the keyboard of the Z comfortable to type with.

Sony is hoping to regain some traction in the market, but will this device take attention away from Samsung and Apple? From my short-lived hands on experience, it's nice enough, but I don't think it has as many selling points as the flagship devices of its competitors to make a noise in the market.

The device is also available in as the Xperia ZL with a lower screen resolution and a matte finish on the backing. This is also not water resistant. 

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