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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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Review: G Tech OptaWind mouse

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To use a huge cliché, some of the best ideas are the simplest and I think this mouse proves that. 

What we have here is a normal optical sensor equipped computing mouse but with the addition of a cooling fan. The fan, which spins at 1500 rpm, aerates your hand, reducing sweating. 

Whilst it is a little gimmicky, almost the sort of item you wouldn't be surprised to pull out of your (albeit geeky) stocking early on a Christmas morning, it actually functions well and serves a purpose. 

The build quality and finish is far from awe-inspiring but it is far less likely to fall apart than any IKEA flat-pack wardrobe you've assembled yourself. 

It has a number of small holes toward the rear, where your palm rests, that the air is forced from and two intakes either side at the bottom of the device which suck air in. 

IMG_1410.JPG
It offers the usual left and right clickpads but with the addition of a bumper sized (and click-able) roller. All in all, a much better ergonomic design than the standard mice PCs are shipped with. 

To quote Gary Barlow, with a phrase he must have used at least 20 times when revealing his X Factor finalists on Sunday, "my main concern" with this mouse was that the fan may prove a noisy distraction to others in my office. 

My concerns were quickly rebuffed, though the fan does increase in volume the longer you have it on, it only culminates in a mild hum. This is almost completely drowned out by the usual office ongoings. 

In summary, if you have sweaty hands, buy one of these. It will help. 

Available for $22, or around £13.60 if you prefer paying with the Queen's face.

Four years in the making: The best of the best.

Faisal Alani | No Comments | No TrackBacks
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karate-kid2.jpgHaving created this blog and nurtured it for the past four years, I've decided to put the best blog posts/videos from the best on one page.

Diary of an outcast: Apple's Special iPad 2 Event
I will start with my favourite post, the infamous Apple event. I had been invited to Apple events before but somehow started getting missed off the list. I hate Apple so it was no surprise that they didn't want me there. Safe to say that after this post not only was I missed off the list but Computer Weekly never received an invite from Apple ever again.

iPhone Vs N97
This was the first big video project that me and David (video editor) put together. At the time I was so happy that I'd got the N97 I decided to make a video pitting it against the iPhone while mocking Apple's advertising campaign. Little did I know that the N97 would prove to be the worst purchase I've ever made in my life.




HTC Desire HD Review
David (who stars in this video) and I wanted to do something different and create a cool video review. This is what we came up with.

Sadly once we started recording David (and the department he worked for) were made redundant. It didn't effect the video but it wasn't a happy time for us. Having cleared out his desk he set up at home the next day to finish it. This was our last hurrah and the last video I made. Very proud of it.




What is the best mobile OS around?
At this point, no one wanted to be in any of my videos. The company was starting to cut back on them and so I tried to play four roles with four outfits and a moustache before I got told that what I was doing wasn't a productive use of my time. Honestly, how could they say that?

This video used to have a voting element that has since been removed because we couldn't afford to pay for the server the flash sat on.

The most ambitious video we ever tried.





Video: The future of business cards, I'm not taking the Poken
There was a girl I was desperate to go out with at my work. I needed to do a video to have a reason to talk to her but the only thing I'd been sent was a Poken. No phones or cool gadgets. Somehow I persuaded her to help me make this video. We're still together :)




Video review of the wiimote like Gyration Air Mouse
This video is pretty much when I realised that I can be funny. What people don't realise is that filming didn't take long but discussions between David and I on what was funny took forever.

He would stand there saying "That's not funny" every time I cracked a joke or did something stupid. Or one of my favourite lines of his was "You might think that's funny, but it isn't".




Video: Palm Pre vs the iPhone - The big debate
I had 2 weeks before Christmas to do a video armed with my wit and a white wig that was left over from a very bad 'Back to the future' spoof I'd made where I played the Doc. That video was so bad that the company we producd it for sent us a letter saying that if the video ever saw the light of day, they'd sue my a** off. 

David went on holiday with a week left of editing/filming to do so I didn't have anyone to tell me that what I was saying wasn't funny and some of the editing is a bit off. It's still a good video but we felt it was rushed.




Video: I heart iPad - Dating website matches man to iPad
What do you do when you get your hands on an iPad before the UK release? Write a review. Then what? Make a video about having a special relationship with it. Yep, not sure why.



The HTC and Google story: A love affair and a tragedy
Lord knows what compelled me to write this. Had I taken more time to craft it, I think it could've been great but when I read it now I feel it's rushed. Still good, where the idea came from I'll never know.

Video: Flip Mino HD review
This video took 84 takes. For no reason at all I couldn't stop laughing during recording. We got in trouble because it was meant to take a couple of hours but took almost two weeks.

Video: Zeemote review - Is this the future of mobile gaming?
I did this video because Zeemote said that they'd give me a free phone if I reviewed it. So...

GeeklyWeekly Sexy Halloween Special
Wow, how bad is this video? It doesn't even have anything to do with gadgets!!

Video review: Palm Pre 2 - too little too late or the start of something?

Faisal Alani | No Comments | No TrackBacks
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Palm Pre 2It's been a couple of years since the Palm Pre was released. Since then HP has bought Palm, then announced they wouldn't release any more phones and then released more phones.

So the biggest release of the current crop is the Palm Pre 2. Looking very much like the original Pre it sports WebOS 2.0.

Is the familiar boring or an old friend?

Hardware

The Palm Pre 2 comes with 7.9 cm (3.1 inch) multi-touch screen at 320×480 resolution. The screen is clear and the colours are vibrant.

Looking at pics and movies on the device is quite nice despite the small screen.

The camera gets an upgrade to 5 megapixels with LED flash which is welcome but not too impressive. The camera isn't bad but compared to Palm's rivals it's, like a lot of things on this phone, looking dated. Eight megapixels is becoming the standard.

Inside you're looking at a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 512MB of RAM. This is... about average sadly. The fact that the operating system is so quick and so good at handling multiple apps means that it rarely struggles.

Storage-wise the phones internal drive has been doubled to 16GB.

Overall you're looking at one average phone. Genuinely there's nothing to write home about here and while none of the internals will significantly harm your use of the phone, it's still a major factor hindering it from being one of the top handsets on the market.

Some of the issues with the original Pre have been rectified with the Pre 2. The battery life is significantly better lasting a couple of days compared to the original Pre's 'up to a day'.

The inductive back panel comes with the Pre 2 whereas you had to purchase it for the Pre but you still need to buy the Touchstone charger.


Looks

I hate to sound horrible (do I?) but this phone looks no different to the original Pre and then the Pre Plus. Seriously, my thoughts back then are the same as now.

The curved screen has been changed to a flat glass one and the slider is smoother and stronger.

It looks ok. Nothing special, not cool and kind of dated. The keyboard looks like a kid's toy, and I think the screen is too small.

I don't hate it. I just want so much more when I spend hundreds of pounds on a phone.

Why can't Palm come up with some new designs instead of tweaking the original? Surely we've got to the point now where they can make significant changes.

Granted some people like a QWERTY keyboard, similar to the Blackberry Torch with the slidey, but this is strictly a business phone. It's a smartphone still aimed at consumers.

The screen is, for me, too small. I find 4.3 inches to be a great size with 3.7" the minimum but this falls way too short at 3.1".

Watching movies is OK, but browsing the web is hindered.

Palm Pre 2
Software

WebOS is by far the best multitasking operating system there is. The thought put in by Palm to develop WebOS means that it's easier to use than any other.

The main strength is the fact that after opening an application, you hit the home button and then you have the apps appear as 'cards'. You can look through the apps and pick the one you want to use while the others stay running in the background.

In order to close an app, you simply flick the 'card' off the screen. It's that simple. The other thing is you can have around 8 apps running at a time before you start to feel serious lag and encounter problems. Something the iPhone wishes it could do.

The quality of the apps is up there with Apple, although the choice is still limited (see below). Nevertheless the apps that are available are of such quality that when you get a good one, you're not going to need to try many.

WebOS also has the ability to integrate information from different sources such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Outlook (via Exchange ActiveSync). The calendar is also clever and integrates calendars from multiple sources.

Compared to the other operating systems, WebOS is the one that I feel is easiest to use as well as being the most fun. I don't mean fun in a games or widget way, I mean fun in that the way you interact with the OS, such as flicking apps off the screen, is a joy and not a chore.

What's new in WebOS2?

There have been subtle improvements such as the ability to group cards, like adding them to a folder. It's just a neat way of organising your apps.

The menu also gets an organisational update with the ability to group apps onto different screes and you can also remove screens.

The biggest improvement is the 'universal search' which has been renamed 'just type'.

And it's exactly that, you just start typing from the home screen and the option pops up to search the internet, your contacts and any other data, create a text or email etc.

SO if you were to write an email you would just need to start typing instead of opening the app first, very neat!

Apps... or the lack of them

If you look in the app library, there aren't a lot of apps but the apps that are available are good quality, but you have to pay for them.

It's kind of crap really. There isn't a huge selection of free apps to choose from which makes it costly.

Palm have been trying to beef up their app library for a few years now, their latest attempt is to make it easier for developers to port apps onto Palm. But the real change will come with HP's muscle.

HP are determined to make this work not only for the smartphone series but also their tablet range. It remains to be seen what will happen but HP will pump money into this and populate the app library.

Conclusion

I know I have spent most of this review pointing out what's bad about this phone and how it's not as good as others but I do still love it.

I loved the original Palm Pre and despite things not changing much since, the simplicity of the OS makes it a joy to use.

Would I buy one? Hell no. This phone hasn't moved with the times and I want my phone to be powerful in every department, to have a library of apps that give me proper choice.

I like using this phone for a day or two but I couldn't swap it for a top of the range Android or an iPhone 4 simply because it's limited.

So to answer my question above, is it too little too late or the start of something new? Well, it's definitely too small and too late.

If the next Palm smartphone matches the top of the range Android in terms of hardware and the app library gets an influx (which it looks like it will) then it'll be a force to be reckoned with because the OS is fantastic.

Until then, nope.


Video review: HP Touchpad - Ready for launch!

Faisal Alani | 2 Comments | No TrackBacks
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HP TouchpadIt's been a while since we first saw a Windows HP tablet in the arms of Steve Ballmer back in January 2010 at CES.

There were lots of oohs and aahs back then as Steve basically laid down the guantlet to other companies. Since then it has gone very quiet, in fact nothing happened.

HP looked at developing a tablet or as they called it a 'slate computer' but nothing came of it. As we all know they then went ahead and bought Palm. Not because of their Pre range but because of the Linux-based WebOS operating system that HP identified as the future of their tablet range.

Fast forward to the present and I find myself sat holding the HP Touchpad running on a tablet version of WebOS and looking markedly different to the device Ballmer held high over a year ago.

BallmerSteve Ballmer with a HP device running Windows 7 back in CES 2010,
the device never got produced


Looks


All these tablets look the same to me. Mostly black with a big piece of glass.

Only difference with the Touchpad is that this is Gorilla glass (yeah I love the name too). So it'll stand knocks and scratches.

What is Gorilla glass? Well, it's chemically tempered glass, immersed it in a salt bath and stuffed with larger ions in all the surfaces and put under compression.

Wha? It's tough glass, just go with it.

TouchpadDoes it look as nice as the iPad 2? Probably not but it's still nice looking. Very clean and cool.

Moving on to the screen; a 9.7 inch XGA capacitive, multitouch screen with 18-bit colour, 1024x768 resolution display.

The screen is good but it isn't great, it's hard to say but the colours don't exactly jump out at you despite the picture quality being quite high. It's not better than the iPad 2 but it's still quite good.

We'll see tablets released with retina display and Super AMOLED screens soon so I'm not sure how the Touchpad's screen will fare in the future.

The Touchpad is a big boy at 770g. Compare that to the Playbook at 400g, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at 599g, iPad 2 at 601g and the iPad at 680g.

I'm not sure exactly why that is (maybe it's all that Gorilla who knows) but it's notably heavier than it's rivals.



Hardware

The Touchpad boasts a dual-core 1.2 Ghz Qualcomm CPU and has a dedicated graphics processing unit so graphic rendering is quick. Most tablets will come out with a dual core processor but Palm's WebOS is well known for being able to handle having lots of apps open at one time.

And that's certainly evident on the Touchpad as I had almost twenty apps open at the same time without any problems. I played a 3D flight simulator using the Touchpad's accelerometer and it coped very well as I plummeted to the earth with a keenness that only a kamikaze pilot would be proud of.

In terms of connectivity you've got a micro-USB port, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1.

Otherwise you get a pair of stereo speakers and a single, front-facing 1.3-megapixel webcam.

TouchpadSoftware

Oh WebOS, the only operating system that is easy, fun and incredibly unpopular. Now with HP's backing and a couple of new outfits to show off it looks liek it'll finally get the attention it deserves.

If you've ever used a Palm Pre, you'll know that apps are launched and then held open as 'cards' where you can dip in and out of apps with relative ease, flicking each one off the screen in order to close them. Swiping horizontally cycles between cards and tapping a card restores that app to full-screen mode.

It also supports HTML5 and Flash. Pretty nifty.

Where WebOS falls down is in it's app library where there are a measly 8,000 apps (compared to Android's 150,000 and Apple's 300,000). That can be a problem but the fact that there are a lot of really high quality apps in there helps a lot.

If you have a great app you usually don't need another of the same kind or indeed you would rarely change it for an alternative.

That is definitely the case or the Palm Pre, but the apps built for the Pre work well on only the Pre. On the Touchpad they're tiny and take up around a quarter of the screen which is really frustrating. How many of the 8,000 are Pre apps is a question worth considering.

Touchpad
Pre synchronisation

Having said that, if you own a Palm Pre and a Touchpad then you will revel in the seamless synchronisation of the two.

If you want to share a web page between the two, all you need to do is touch the Pre to the Touchpad and page will cross over.

At the moment, this works for very simple tasks but HP has plans to move music and even videos in the same manner.

It's also worth mentioning that the Touchpad will have seamless wireless printing capabilities with HP printers. Yet another nice extra worth considering.

Conclusion

All-in-all, the Touchpad is a fantastic device. HP have really thought about how  they want to market the Touchpad and that coupled with Palm's user-friendly WebOS makes this a match made in heaven.

Personally I'm a huge fan of the WebOS and I think HP have the drive to get people talking about it which was Palm's downfall.

Apps might be a stumbling block but you'll have to consider how many apps you need or even how many apps you use. Don't get me wrong, apps are important but the apps currently on the Touchpad are of a high standard despite the quantity.

If you're bored with the flood of Android clones and want something that isn't an iPad then I would strongly recommend looking at the Touchpad.

See also:


Palm WebOS - Rising from the ashes

Faisal Alani | No Comments | No TrackBacks
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Palm WebOS

Palm webOSThe sad thing is, Palm's WebOS could have quite easily surpass both Android and iPhone had it not been for poor marketing.

WebOS is by far the best multitasking operating system there is. The thought put in by Palm to develop WebOS means that it's easier to use than any other.

The main strength is the fact that after opening an application, you hit the home button and then you have the apps appear as 'cards'. You can look through the apps and pick the one you want to use while the others stay running in the background.

In order to close an app, you simply flick the 'card' off the screen. It's that simple. The other thing is you can have around 8 apps running at a time before you start to feel serious lag and encounter problems. Something the iPhone wishes it could do.

The quality of the apps is up there with Apple, although the choice is still limited. Nevertheless the apps that are available are of such quality that when you get a good one, you're not going to need to try many.

WebOS also has the ability to integrate information from different sources such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Outlook (via Exchange ActiveSync). The calendar is also clever and integrates calendars from multiple sources.

Palm PreCompared to the other operating systems, WebOS is the one that I feel is easiest to use as well as being the most fun. I don't mean fun in a games or widget way, I mean fun in that the way you interact with the OS, such as flicking apps off the screen, is a joy and not a chore.

Sadly WebOS fails due to the fact that the company, Palm, failed in its marketing and couldn't keep up with the big boys.

This meant Palm struggled and was eventually bought by HP. this uncertainty hindered Palm's progress and now HP look like they will use WebOS for devices other than phones.

This also meant that the choice of phone was limited. The Palm Pre and Palm Pre Plus were probably the best Palm phones with the Palm Pixi and the Palm Pixi Plus the only other alternatives.

The Palm Pre and the plus version are very good but, a difficult QWERTY keyboard as well as some problems with the build quality of the hinge keyboard slips out with.

WebOS is by no means far behind iPhone and Android, at the moment anyway. In a year or so we'll know exactly what HP has install for this fantastic OS.

See also:

Other articles:


Positives

Negatives

Quality of apps

Choice of apps

Multitasking

Palm's plight

Integration of apps

Choice of phones


 



Voting in the video and the poll below will still count to the overall result.


Video: Android, iPhone, Palm & Windows Mobile 7 Compared - The Ultimate Mobile OS Video Comparison

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A few years ago, mobile phones differed massively. You chose a phone for it's size, functionality, camera and user interface.

Then, on the 7th of January 2007, the iPhone was released and as Apple have told us repeatedly, it changed everything.

Touchscreen devices became the norm and therefore changed the user interface. The introduction of Apps meant that you could do more than ever before, making the phone closer to a small computer than a phone therefore the name 'smartphone' was introduced.

We've got to the point now that smartphones have started to settle a bit. Functionality is pretty similar between devices and, despite the consumer getting more choice; the actual hardware doesn't differ massively other than whether it has a QWERTY keyboard, screen size and how many megapixels the camera is.

The real decision is made when you decide which OS you want. We now have four contenders to the throne since Windows Phone 7 was released.

This article hopes to go through what the positives and negatives of each OS is in plain english without any jargon.

The video below is the first part of this analysis. Watch the video, listen to the cases made and vote on your favourite.

New Palm smartphone out next year, say HP

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palm-pre.gif"You will see us coming early next year with new phones," Senior HP Eric Cador said in Barcelona today.

So, there you have it. Finally some confirmation of a new Palm smartphone to be released since HP's acquisition.

As we all know, HP bought Palm for WebOS (the brilliant smartphone operating system) and not because of their phones, Palm Pre and Palm Pixi.

Rumours were circulating that this was just so that HP could use the software for a HP tablet and while that may still be the case, we'll also get to see some phones too.

The news of the smartphone comes ties in quite nicely to other rumours that the new Palm smartphone will drop the QWERTY keyboard and just use a virtual keyboard like on Android and iPhone.

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