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MWC 2014 FIRST LOOK: Samsung Galaxy S5

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Samsung has been very busy this year, having already launched a new range of products in January at CES in Vegas.

They definitely saved the best until last though, as the new Samsung Galaxy S5, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is an ultra-stylish and easy to use smartphone.

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As I approached the stands I had my usual sinking feeling when I noticed its size; it's another quite big smartphone, and I often complain that I find larger phones hard to use. Expecting the size to make it heavy, I used a considerable amount of force when picking it up, and then almost dropped it because it was actually extremely light.

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This, in turn, makes it easy to use, as it fits nicely in your hand, but gives you the opportunity to move your hand around a bit to cover the larger screen without fear of dropping it.

The interface is easy to figure out, and the buttons that you will need most, including the icon that switches the phone between home screen and app screen, are situated near the thumb so that they can be easily reached and pressed.

There are obviously the usual improvements on previous models, including a much faster and clearer camera and faster usage speeds. A few nifty features of the phone, though, include the ability to be totally emerged in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes, which is a nice step beyond basic splash-proofing.

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It also has a power saving mode for sticky situations, allowing you to shut off almost all functions of the phone, including the colour, and receive only calls and text messages. It may seem like a drastic step, but it will conserve the battery life for 5-8 days, which could be really helpful if you're stranded somewhere without a charger.

I received a practical demonstration of a new feature that allows the phone to use a combination of Wi-Fi and 4G in order to increase internet speeds. Considering the thousands of people using the Wi-Fi and data connection at the event, the web really did zoom.

It also has a new built-in heart rate monitor for use with sporting or whatever it is you'd want to use a heart rate monitor for. You simply hold your finger over the sensor for a few seconds and stand perfectly still until it tells you what your heart rate is. I have to admit though, and I'm not a doctor so I don't know how accurate it was, but when I tested it, my heart rate seemed a little lower than normal. Let's chalk it up to the noise level in the room interfering with the sensor.

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Finally I also got to take a little look at the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch, which has a new home button, which does what it says on the tin, a repositioned microphone so that the angle of the arm is more comfortable during calls, and the ability to be used as a remote control. It was easier to use than I expected. I had previously thought that smartwatches were not worth having, but this changed my mind.

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In summary, these devices are easy to use, and after a while using them I found myself happily browsing the apps and features without trouble. We're hoping to get these devices in for a full review soon, so please check back for more detailed specs! 

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CES 2014: Samsung announce new range of products

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Samsung has been a busy bee at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year launching products left, right and centre, including new tablets, additions to its current ATIV product range and even a new range of appliances for the home.

Galaxy NotePRO and Galaxy TabPRO

The new NotePRO and TabPRO each have 12.2inch screens with more than 4 million pixels, making them fully HD and a good platform for viewing pretty much anything, especially magazines, papers or ebooks. The dashboard can allow automatic feeds or news updates, allowing users to customise their experience.

With Samsung's CEO of the IT & Mobile division hailing 2014 the year in which Samsung will establish "leadership in the tablet market", we have high hopes for these sizeable tablets.

The new TouchWiz interface replacement, dubbed Magazine UX, sits on top of an Android 4.4 Mobile OS and utilises tiles for smoother user interaction. Add some new productivity software and these devices could make the perfect companions in the workplace.

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Specs

Display Size: 12.2-inch (10.1-inch or 8.4-inch also available for the TabPRO)

Resolution: 2560x1600 16:10 Widescreen

 

ATIV Book 9 2014 Edition

A Windows 8 machine with new and improved 14 hour battery life makes this device more portable, and it has a new Underwriters Laboratories certified keyboard to increase comfort while typing.

The device has two processors to choose from, so you can make sure that the performance is suited to your needs. It's small, light and comes in black. The display, which is 15.6 inches, is 125% clearer than the previous ATIV 9, and the device comes with SPlayer+ pre-installed allowing lossless audio playback along with a Wolfson DAC chip.

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Specs

Display Size: 15.6-inch FHD

Resolution: 1920 x 1080

OS: Windows 8

Processor: Core i5/i7 ULV

Memory: 8 GB

Dimensions: 374.3 x 249.9 mm


ATIV One7 2014 Edition

The new ATIV One7, which is being marketed as an "all-in-one" PC, allows better connectivity with mobile devices and an immersive multimedia experience.

The PC has 1TB of storage and can act as a secure cloud service for saving and accessing documents or photos through Samsung Link. Samsung SideSync can also be used via Wi-Fi or USB and the remote power-up feature ensures that you can access your data even away from home.  

With a 24-inch full HD screen and 178 degree viewing angle, this PC is perfect for work or play.

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Specs

Display Size: 24-inch LED full HD with 10-point touch screen

Resolution: 1920x1080, 16:9 with 178 degree free viewing angle

OS: Windows 8 64 bit

Processor: 4th generation Intel Core i3/i5

Memory: 8 GB

Dimensions: W 575.4 X H 345.4 X D 26.6mm


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The many shapes of smartphones - the reason businesses should redesign their mobile web platforms?

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Could variation in the screen size of tablet devices be making it difficult for brands to design web experiences for smart phones? Netbiscuits, a mobile web experience software solutions provider, believes so. In an analysis of global web-user trends, they've found that the mobile screens of web users range from 2.36 inches to 10.1 inches, with a range of 26 unique screen sizes recorded in total. 

Even Samsung and iPhone devices, two of the three most shipped smartphone devices in the third quarter of 2013, account for less than 47% of the Netbiscuits Cloud Platform traffic recorded during the analysis, which indicates the diversity of handsets being used to access the mobile web. 

Companies of all shapes and sizes are currently trying to adapt their mobile experience to best suit users, a subject that Coca-Cola CTO Kevin Flowers spoke about in detail at Apps World Europe 2013 in October. Netbiscuits believe that this means that developing apps and mobile browsing experiences focused on just the top 10 most-used devices just won't cut it anymore. 

In fact, they think that if corporations don't stop trying to be 'all things to all people' then global experience of mobile-web surfing will be impacted in 2014 due to the varying size and performance of mobile devices being used to access the web. 

Daniel Weisbeck CMO and COO for Netbiscuits advises: "Now is the time for brands to really wake up and execute effective adaptive mobile web strategies that work on every device for every one of their customers." 

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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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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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Samsung launches mobile wallet app, but my pocket is still not satisfied

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The last day of the mobile-fest that is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and Samsung have announced a mobile wallet app for users to keep all their coupons, vouchers, tickets and membership cards in one place.

When Apple launched Passbook there was excitement in the air (for all of 24 hours), at the thought that this was the mobile manufacturer's first tentative steps into the domain of NFC and mobile payments.

A safe option is to start with mobile couponing wallet, similar to Passbook, which is what Samsung has launched today at MWC. However, these schemes are only as good as the volume of partners and brands involved.

What is the point in having my Starbucks points in my mobile wallet, if my Costa card isn't? (Although, in regards to Starbucks, what's the point in having a mobile strategy with a postal service for your coupons?But I digress...

The same goes for flights, it's great to have my Lufthansa boarding card on my mobile ready to scan at the gate, but what if the following week I travel with a budget airline which doesn't? The CO2 I huff and puff while riffling through my draws for my travel wallet would probably equate to the CO2 I'm plunging into the atmosphere. But I digress again...

Samsung partners so far include: Belly, Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Lufthansa and Major League Baseball Advanced Media - that's not going to get you far in day-to-day life without your wallet? However, the company did say that they were still in development, so we can keep our eyes peeled for more announcements which will later go unnoticed as they won't make enough noise in the industry on their own. 

I understand that the concept of the "mobile wallet" doesn't necessarily mean leaving your traditional wallet at home (yet!), but surely we should be aiming high for that type of lifestyle, knowing that we will fall short, to what will hopefully be a happy medium with plenty of brands to choose from.

I know these things take time, but in the UK we're already so far behind in the realms of NFC, it actually seems like science fiction rather than possibility. 

Early this week at MWC, Visa announced a partnership with Samsung to accelerate mobile NFC payments. 

Visa will include its payWave NFC applet on the next generation of Samsung NFC-enabled handsets. As part of the alliance, Visa will also partner with financial institutions to push forward global mobile payment solutions.

Maybe we're starting to get somewhere after this week, but until then, pass me my Radley purse.


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CES 2013 REVIEW: Tech Tips precision stylus

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Pop the piece of plastic on the end of your finger tip and make sure you practise for a little while. It's a bit tricky to get the angle right in order to make a connection with the screen, but these Tech Tips from a US start-up company try to compensate for sloppy handwriting and difficulties when clicking on tiny webpage links while using your smart device.

This fairly good idea, if not quite implemented as well as I would have liked, trying the tips out on my iPhone with a screen protector, proved a little sluggish (see video). My colleague tried them on a Samsung Galaxy S3, which worked considerably better, however the hard keys at the bottom of the device - which still require sensitivity to work - didn't work as well as your actual finger when being used with the Tech Tips.


The tip of your finger gets a bit sweaty from the plastic and it is not that precise when writing - so my handwriting wasn't great, but it was better than when using your finger tip.

However, it is great when you're on a website which has not been optimised for mobile use and the hyperlinks are really tricky to select with the pad of your finger.

Another problem is, how do you measure your finger tips to know what size to ask for, small, medium or large?

Capacitive touchscreens do not actually detect touch, but instead detect the presence of an electrically conductive object. Tech Tips have included this technology into small pieces of plastic to produce an electrical conductor that smart devices will recognise.

The company is looking to have discussions with UK distributors in the coming weeks, and Tech Tips will also be available on Amazon within the months.

At this point the individual retail cost for a single Tech Tip stylus is $3.49n (£2.17) and $9.99 (£6.21) for a multi-pack of four.

The company has also demonstrated Nano Nails - fake nails which include this technology. I don't wear fake nails myself, but I can see these as a really great idea that could take off as my friends tell me how difficult it is to use their phones when wearing ludicrously long pieces of plastic.

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Image: Tech Tips Nano Nails

Still in beta mode, the Nano Nail doesn't have official pricing as yet, however, they are expected to be around $10-12 (around £7) for 4-5 pack of nails. The company is currently still in the process of testing out the technology, for instance a set of nails which were worn for a week needed touching up with the nail polish, and Tech Tips is currently looking to see how the technology withstands to nail polish remover.

What other objects conduct the electrical impulses needed to work a touchscreen device? 

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What I learnt at CES Las Vegas

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Spending a week in Sin City for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was surreal and exhausting. It never sleeps, and as a technology journalist in Las Vegas covering the biggest tech show of the year - neither do you.

So CES is over and now that I'm no longer jet lagged -proven by being able to make a cup of tea this morning, without adding coffee - I thought I'd piece together five lessons learnt from a week under the neon lights:

  1. Boundaries of the phabet are getting smaller and smaller. Phones are progressing to 6-inch screens, like the Huwaei Ascend Mate which was launched at the show. While tablets are also shrinking to 7-inches, where will the line be? I'm guessing we will find out at Mobile World Congress in February.
  2. Start-ups are way more interesting than the big players. Why spend hours queuing for the Samsung press event, which is basically just a glorified press release, when you can spend your time getting lost at the Eureka Park in the Venetian, chatting to start-ups? Much more interesting discovering something new and tangible than the massive big companies launching yet another degree of clarity for the television set.
  3. Massive SLR cameras and wheely bags should be banned from press scrums; unless you can remember you manners and not punch me in the face with your oversize camera, or PICK UP your tiny bag to avoid people tripping over it. Seriously, tripped over twice and my Welsh roots failed to help me rugby tackle journalists who thought that the possibility of breaking Lenovo's newest table pc two seconds before its major competitor was worth bruising me in the face for.
  4. Sparkly iPhone cases. This is consumerism at its highest. Almost blinded me as much as the gambling machines at the casinos, if I see another pink diamante piece of plastic, even this Disney Princess might throw up.
  5. Smoke and electric shocks. All that static built up from walking miles over carpeted floors has to discharge somewhere, when you open a door to a hotel you tend to get little shocks, which surprised me and soon got quite annoying. Also smoking isn't against the law in the city, combine that with the air con, jet lag and late nights and expect to have very uncomfortable eyeballs unable to withstand contact lenses. 
Well there you have it. Great week all around and CES, hopefully see you next year!
W

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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: 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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