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MWC 2014 FIRST LOOK: Nokia X and Nokia XL

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After all of the fuss that was made about Microsoft acquiring Nokia's mobile phone arm, the Finnish giants have gone and released a phone running Android as opposed to Windows 8 Phone.

Among the gasps at the announcement, there were also some murmurs along the lines of "that makes sense" - especially since the phone is aimed more at emerging markets that do not need the whole shebang of a fully functioning Windows experience.

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I took a look at the new Nokia X and Nokia XL at MWC, and the first thing that I thought was that the phone felt very square. The edges aren't rounded, and although this is unusual, it isn't uncomfortable, and still fits nicely in your hand.

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I've said before that I will always choose Apple products first, but Nokia devices always come in at a close second. And, even though the new 'Nokia X family' is aimed at entry-level markets as opposed to those wanting extreme gadgetry, I still found it a treat to test out.

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Some of the use of the phone requires some knowledge of already having used a smartphone, such as swiping to left and right in order to dismiss or open an application, which I thought was inconvenient in a phone designed for those just entering the smartphone space.

Again, the bright colours available appeal to me, and the outside casing has a similar light feeling to the iPhone 5C, but the plastic is matte instead of shiny.

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The Android interface is easy to use, and not that far off of the tiles used in the Windows 8 OS. As said by Stephen Elop in the release presentation, it offers new smartphone users an introduction to Microsoft without actually giving them a Windows Phone.

It has a lot of the Microsoft applications pre-loaded, such as Skype, as well as access to the Nokia app store instead of Google play.

The Nokia X fits perfectly in the hand, whereas the XL, as the name would suggest, is slightly bigger and is more in Lumia territory size-wise. It was therefore slightly too big to fit comfortably in the hand, but was still very stylish and offered the same user experience in terms of ease of use.

Although the X, XL and new Asha phones are always nice to see, there were no new Lumia models announced at MWC. Not to worry though, as you can read our review of the Lumia 1520 right here, and we hope to get the new devices in for a full review soon. 

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REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 1520

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The Lumia phones have always appealed to me because they were one of the first smartphones to come in a range of bright and cheerful colours (and I was slightly disappointed that the review copy we got was black, even though it was still very sleek).

Since I've always been an Apple fan, I have to admit when I first held this giant tablet disguised as a phone, it felt distinctly alien. The Windows Phone 8 OS was something I had vowed I would never get used to, and I'd never used a phone with touch-screen only buttons before.

After fiddling around with it for a while I realised it's not that different from iOS; there are tiles that open apps, there's a windows button that takes you to your home screen, and there's a back button that's actually easier to find than those included in most iOS applications. 

Then I got down to answering the big question: can this phone actually be used as a business device? 

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I whipped out the Microsoft Office applications and started giving them a good test. Because the phone has quite a large screen (6 inches!) it's not too difficult to work and type on. Creating word documents and the other necessary pieces of work you might need is easy, it was getting them off the phone that I found more difficult. You can plug the phone into your laptop and transfer them over that way, which would be quite useful if you were using your phone to finish things off on-the-go, then pop them straight back on to your laptop. You can also share them to other devices via Bluetooth and NFC. 

As always, the tablet and phone version of any desktop application is never quite the same as the real deal. In terms of using for work on a commute however, it was very handy, especially due to its size.

The Nokia Screen Beamer is quite a handy feature for business environments. It allows you to send what's currently displayed on your phone to another device connected to the internet. You go to https://beam.nokia.com/ on the device you want to share with, and then scan the QR code with your phone. Then, whatever is displayed on your phone can be 'beamed' to the other device. To update the remote screen, you shake your phone as if you're flicking the data over. Simple things please simple minds, but I thought this was hugely cool and useful. 

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Some of Nokia's own apps such as Nokia Music and Nokia Cinemagraph were extremely fun. My personal favourite was the Nokia Creative Studio, which allows you to edit pictures you have taken by blurring certain parts of an image, highlighting a particular colour in a photo, or creating collages of your favorite pictures. 

And of course the review would not be complete without mentioning the legendary camera. I used the Nokia Pro Cam software integrated with the camera. It allows you to use dial-shaped sliders on the screen to adjust the image before taking it. It takes a lot of fiddling, and seems to work better on close-ups than landscapes, but the images looked stunning on the 1080p full HD display. 

Although this phone performs tasks well, I couldn't help but feel like a fool when I held it up to my ear to make a call. It's huge, and holding a block the size of my face up for too long gave me an arm-ache. 

These phones are social and encourage a lot of creativity, they may not be marketed as business phones, but they can still be used as such. It does everything a normal phone will. It can sync calendars, create documents, and access emails. It's a good choice for a personal phone or a BYOD plan, but it still wasn't for me. 

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Nokia announces five new phones and a Windows tablet

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Today at the Nokia World event in Abu Dhabi, Nokia announced its new range of products, including three new members of the Asha family, two new Lumia "phablets" and a Windows tablet. Although the new phones have different screens and cameras to the previous models, not a lot has changed. 

Lumia 2520 Windows Tablet

The new Lumia 2520 is the first Windows tablet developed by Nokia, and it promises to work anywhere and offer the best indoor and outdoor readability on its 10.1 inch HD display.
 
As usual with the Lumia series, it's available in a range of colours including black, white, turquoise and red. Admittedly the Windows Surface also comes in different colours, but somehow this tablet looks sleeker; a cross between a Surface and an iPad for those who like to sit on the fence. 

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The camera is 6.7 megapixels (MP), which seems like nothing next to the 41MP of the Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone or even the 20MP of the new Lumia 1520. Some may argue that a camera isn't the main focus for a tablet, but when there's a phablet on offer from the same company that also offers a more powerful camera, which would you go for? 

It also has 4G LTE and Wi-Fi, as well as the ability to fast-charge, which might come in handy in the morning when you've forgotten to plug it in the night before. 

Lumia 1520 and 1320

The massive six-inch screen on these new smartphone tablets allows an extra column of icons to appear on the home screen, filling the navigation up with even more confusing imagery. The Windows Phone dashboard has always been a complicated mesh of colours, so nothing is different there. 

The high-end 1520 comes in yellow, white, black or glossy red, and has a 20MP camera with optical image stabilisation, which promises to produce sharp quality images even in the dark. It also has a 1080p full HD display to make it easier to read when you're out and about.

It has four built-in microphones for use with Nokia Rich Recording for better audio on video capture, as well as Microsoft Office. The downside though, is it's estimated to set you back $749.

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The lower-end model Lumia 1320 is estimated to cost around $339, but does have a lower resolution screen at 720p, as well as a smaller 5MP camera. However, it claims to be better in a business environment, including built-in Microsoft Office and applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Lync. 

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Available in orange, yellow, white and black, it still feels and looks like a Lumia, without the outrageous price tag. 

Asha 500, 502 and 503

The Nokia Asha family has been designed to offer a smartphone experience at a lower price. Perhaps the most innovative feature of these phones is the ability to use and swap between multiple SIM cards to allow the best tariff, meaning you could use one SIM for calling and one for data. 

The Asha 500 has a small 2.8-inch screen and a 2MP camera. Designed to be a cheap smartphone, it's estimated to be available for $69 in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. 

The Asha 502 is slightly bigger with a 3-inch screen and a 5MP camera to match the Lumia 1320. With a starting price of $89 in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Middle-East, it offers a slightly better experience than the 500, with only a small increase on the price. 

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Finally the Asha 503 also has a 3-inch screen and 5MP camera, but with 3.5G connectivity and Corning Gorilla Glass 2, it's a step up from the other Asha models. It's estimated at $99 in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Middle-East.

The announcement of these new Nokia products comes just ahead of Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's mobile phone business. 

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Gadget Guide: Smartphones

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Computer Weekly's Gadget Guide on smartphones gives you a round up of all the latest smartphone news, previews, and reviews from Inspect-a-Gadget.

If you're researching the wide range of smartphones in the market head over to our guide for the low-down on the devices you just can't live your life without. 

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Nokia announces mid-range Lumia 625 4G smartphone

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This is a guest blog by Clare McDonald.

It's been a busy month for Nokia. The firm has announced its latest 4G smartphone - the Lumia 625. The device was unveiled just a week after its new "camera phone" the Lumia 1020, and will aim to offer users superfast 4G at an affordable price.

Running Windows Phone 8 and featuring the new Nokia Lumia Amber update, the 625 is designed for users who want a simple smartphone experience, with the added bonus of a 4.7inch LCD screen. The screen will also feature Sunlight Readability Enhancement for those rare days of sunshine or to prevent glare from office lighting. As for the price, it was announced that the new addition to the Lumia family will be in the range of £200 before tax and other monetary additions, which definitely positions it as an "affordable" smartphone.

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The Nokia Lumia 625 will offer many of the features that the 1020 is set to have, including the Nokia Smart Camera app, which will allow you to take a picture at around 35 less megapixels than the 1020. This mid-range handset also has 4G, but has a great focus on speed and ease of use.

Specs:

·         Height: 133.25mm

·         Width:  72.25 mm

·         Depth: 9.15 mm

·         Weight: 159 grams

·         Display:  4.7 inch WVGA (800x480) resolution

·         Camera: 5 megapixel camera with autofocus LED flash, and a VGA front facing camera

·         Processor: 1.2GHz Dual Core Snapdragon S4

·         Memory: 8GB with ability to use 64GB SD card

With its 4.7-inch sharp display and fast internet access on Internet Explorer 10, this device might appeal to those wanting to spend their daily commute catching up on Game of Thrones or answering e-mails. The 625 will also boast the latest HERE Maps, HERE Drive and HERE Transit apps to direct lost travellers towards their destination. To top it all off, the use of Windows Phone 8 allows Lumia 625 users 7GB of SkyDrive storage for instant access to files from any location or device.

Those wanting to get their hands on this smartphone will have to wait for an official release date, but it is expected to be on sale in the UK later this year, and will be available in five different colours, complimented by the Windows Phone 8 'Live Tile' effect.

Upon release in the UK, the Nokia Lumia 625 will be available from Vodaphone, O2, EE, Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U.

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Nokia unveils Lumia 1020 smartphone

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nokia_lumia_1020_color_range1.jpgThis is a guest blog by Clare McDonald.

Nokia has divulged details about their new smartphone release, the Lumia 1020.

The future of the Finnish firm has been furiously debated, and it hasn't been looking good for the mobile giants, with shares falling after poor sales. But there may be hope on the horizon in the form of their new smartphone-turned-camera, which has been built with the social media generation in mind.

A handful of Microsofties have expressed their excitement about the 1020, and since it's a Windows Phone, that doesn't come as a surprise. The phone will boast the Windows Phone 8 operating system, and as well as coming equipped with MS Office will also feature Lumia extras such as Nokia Music, an app that gives you the ability to stream live music to your phone when out and about.

Nokia claims the camera allows you to take photos "like a pro".

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The 41 megapixel camera allows you to take photos that can then be cropped and framed accordingly. You'll soon snap through 7GB of cloud memory, but the device also comes with 32GB of internal memory.

The camera is also said to feature funky sliders which allow you to adjust the focus, shutter speed and white balance of a picture before taking it, meaning no need for filters before sharing images with clients and friends.

This 158g Lumia also has HD video recording with distortion-free sound feature, so you can capture the seminar you attended, or that special moment you never want to forget. Alongside the camera with Xenon flash, the 1020 also has a 4.5-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display with now standard touch screen technology.  

Throw in a dual core processor, 4G, NFC and wireless charging and Nokia's new flagship device may become a serious threat to market.

Nokia has decided to hedge its bets by developing a top of the range camera, but whether this will be enough to boost Nokia's declining sales still remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that this piece of kit will be a must-have for creative types who love to share their lives. With people's disappointment in the iPhone 5 maybe the new Lumia 1020 will provide a phone that people can really sink their teeth in to.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is available for pre-order in the UK through Clove and various mobile operators, although price has yet to be decided.

Clare McDonald

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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: Huawei Windows 8 phone and giant phablet

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Huawei launched a few devices at CES in Las Vegas this week, while none of them were confirmed with regions, dates or prices, two smartphones, which are expected to ship to China and then worldwide, caught my eye.

The Ascend Mate - giant phablet with the "worlds largest screen"

Again, a growing trend at CES this week has been a huge leap in screen size, be that in tablets, phones, monitors or TVs. Huawei's Ascend Mate is a monster. Huuuuge, at 6.1-inches of HD 1280 x 720 LCD touchscreen compared the 5.5-inch screen of the Samsung Galaxy Note.

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But tell me something, when tablets are generally growing to ridiculous sizes, but also shrinking to 7-inches, and smartphones are growing to 6.1-inches, where will the line eventually be in the phablet space? In six months time, what will be a phone and what will distinguish a tablet?

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I found the Android device surprisingly light in the hand. The rows upon rows of Android apps sitting on the screen could get very messy or be a joy to organise for someone as OCD as me.

The Ascent W1 - Huwaei's first Windows 8 device

This entry-level Windows 8 device looks much simpler than a Nokia Lumia 920 or a HTC 8X. It still has the insanely bright colouring of the other Windows 8 devices, however it doesn't feel as superior as the other devices did when I first held them.

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It's light enough, but still feels a bit chunky, like the Lumia. I found the back panel in the bright blue to look not very appealing in plastic, which made it look like a child's toy.

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The device was fairly responsive, with easy scroll feature, but not as light to the touch as the Lumia and HTC models. It also comes with the standard additional features of Windows 8, such as kids corner and this model also features NFC.

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As I said, no pricing or availability announced as yet. 

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Yahoo! Smart Phones, Smart Fun! - Not so fun for BlackBerry

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Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, has offered every Yahoo! employee a smartphone. "Choose from Apple, Samsung, Nokia, or HTC", she said, but specifically says "No!" to BlackBerry. 

It's another setback for BlackBerry which is trying desperately to cling onto its place in the smartphone market as the phone of choice in the corporate world. 

The memo which was leaked and picked up by the Business Insider, stated:

"We have a very exciting update to share with you today - we are announcing Yahoo! Smart Phones, Smart Fun!  As of today, Yahoo is moving off of blackberries as our corporate phones and on to smartphones in 22 countries*.  A few weeks ago, we said that we would look into smartphone penetration rates globally and take those rates into account when deciding on corporate phones. Ideally, we'd like our employees to have devices similar to our users, so we can think and work as the majority of our users do."

In response to the news that Yahoo! was going to spend a few million dollars on smartphones for all of its staff, a PR person for Nokia announced over Twitter that it would throw in a wireless charging plate with every Lumia 920 the company bought, claiming the phone is "worth the wait" - desperate not to be left out hey Nokia?

Mayer has called the programme, Yahoo! Smart Phones, Smart Fun!, but I can't see RIM's board of directors chuckling over their morning lattes.

Mayer's move shows the direction that businesses could potential go in when kitting out their staff with the latest technology. And this is in the completely opposite direction to BlackBerry. 

Blackberry Curve 9360.jpgHowever, among reports of doom and gloom for BlackBerry creator, Research In Motion (RIM), there is a small ray of hope behind Mayer's thinking. 

In her memo, she stated: "Ideally, we'd like our employees to have devices similar to our users, so we can think and work as the majority of our users do." This is clearly the reasoning she didn't want BlackBerry included in the line-up because its popularity with consumers has been dwindling significantly. 

As a consumer device, BlackBerry hasn't been able to keep up in the race, but it is still a key communication device in the business world and shouldn't be brushed aside as a has-been. That all said and done, it would be great to see some innovation from RIM in the next quarter, but with dramatic revenue losses and job cuts left, right and centre I'm not holding my breath.

*Computer Weekly can confirm that while according to Business Insider all of Yahoo's full time and part time employees in the US, were sent the memo, the staff in the UK are still patiently waiting for their emails from Father Christmas, er, I mean Marissa Mayer.


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Nokia Lumia 920 - sleek and sexy, but does it have the pulling power?

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Yesterday, at a press conference in New York, Nokia attempted to cling on to its place in the smartphone market by unveiling the Nokia Lumia 920

The device confirmed everyone's suspicions and was indeed running on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system, but Nokia managed to turn a few heads with some slick and sexy features such as wireless charging, augmented reality, near field communications (NFC) and an impressive camera.

Sadly, for the Finnish company, the news wasn't received with an immediate fanfare as its share prices plummeted 12% during the first hour after the press conference.

The new Lumia, running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip, has a 4.5in curved glass display with PureMotion HD+ technology, giving it a fast refresh rate, and a clear black display, which automatically adjusts to sunlight and removes glare. Its polycarbonate shell material prevents the bright colours of the handset being scratched off - which with the day-glow yellow colour, I think a few scratches wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. 

Once a market leader, Nokia is obviously trying very hard to attract users back, while teaming with Microsoft which has also seen difficulty taking market share away from Android and Apple - is this a recipe for disaster or success? Nokia may have gambled on the hype surrounding upcoming Windows 8 launch, but have they done enough

Let's have a quick look at the three things that make the Lumia 920 stand out from the crowd.

Wireless technology

The device has built in wireless charging, with an array of accessories including plates, stands and Fatboy pillows. You can just drop your device onto one of these accessories and it will start charging without the need for any wires or plugs.

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Nokia has also signed deals with Virgin Atlantic and Coffee Bean to provide charging pads within their lounges and stores, and hopes more retailers will get involved.  

There was also a glimmer of hope for NFC. During the demo the Lumia was playing music wirelessly via the connection, with JBL speakers - but sadly there was no hint of a mobile wallet for contactless payments. 

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Photography

The 8.7mp camera, comes with PureView technology which claims to take the best photographs and videos, and is '50% more effective than many of today's digital cameras.'

Taking photographs at night, using the device's floating lens technology, claims to produce fantastic clear shots without the need of a flash. This technology apparently counterbalances the minute movements in your hands to reduce blur, while the shutter stays open longer to let in more light. 

With many photography apps integrated into the device, it is very easy to select Photosynth to take a 360 degree panoramic image, add little bits of video or eliminate people from your snaps.

Navigation

Nokia has ramped up its navigation technology by describing it as a 'fully-fledge personal navigation device.' It has the capabilities to use the navigation technology offline, as well as functionalities which assess your daily commute for any traffic and adjusts the time you need to leave the house. Additionally Nokia transport works in a similar way and also provides indoor maps to help you make your way around train and bus stations. 

The advanced mapping technology, City Lens, is the navigation's showstopper. City Lens is an augmented reality app which overlaps information about restaurants, cafes and shops onto the surrounding area once you point the camera at a building or street. You can then easily select a restaurant's website or seamlessly ring to book a table.

Business use

As the device is running Windows Phone 8, the ability to sync content between the phone and Windows 8 PCs or tablets may be attractive to enterprise users who intend to upgrade to Windows 8 in the future. 

The operating system uses Internet Explorer 10 for 'faster, safer browsing' and has Microsoft Office apps built into the platform, although no details of the Windows 8 Office suite were discussed at the press conference. 

However, with the ability to access 100,000 of the existing Window Phone apps, I'm sure we can expect more information on business software at the launch of Windows 8 in October.

Available later this year in lipstick red, stunning yellow, and seductive grey. No prices have been disclosed as yet. 


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