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REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 930 first impressions

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In this guest post David McClelland gives his impressions of the Nokia Lumia 930,
the first high-end handset to launch with Windows Phone 8.1.

Hardware

The Nokia Lumia 930 is a substantial handset in more ways than one. First up, the body: Nokia has adopted a sturdy aluminium unibody for its latest flagship, but has still chosen to decorate its back with the signature polycarbonate - neon green and orange get the Lumia treatment this season, with white and black completing line-up. 

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The Lumia 930's Full HD 5-inch OLED screen is striking too: blacks are black, colours pop and despite the high-gloss it repels greasy fingermarks well, remaining readable even in direct sunlight. The bezel is narrow enough, and the curved edges of the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 screen lap onto the handset's chassis, mirroring the contours on the rear. 

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The volume rocker, power and camera shutter buttons all sit along one side of the handset. This keeps the aesthetic clean but means that securing the 930 into most after-market car kits will result in one or more buttons being permanently depressed. Form 1, Function 0.

Beneath the vibrant exterior sits a quad-core 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB storage. While the CPU is last-year's model it's certainly no slouch. Despite the missing MicroSD card slot Microsoft now bundles 15 GB of OneDrive cloud storage for free, and 1 TB if you've an Office 365 account.

Battery and Wireless Charging

As with other unibody handsets the 930's battery isn't removable, although I found the 2420 mAh unit lasted through the day. 

Having toyed with wireless charging on the Lumia 920, Nokia once again integrates the feature and this time includes an induction charger in the retail box. 

Disappointingly, I found it a bit flaky. On more than one occasion I left the handset atop the charger to find it hadn't charged the phone. Software bugs need to be ironed out too, with the 930 insisting it was still charging hours after its removal from the charger.

Wireless charging is seen as a panacea by some but until reliability is improved many might still prefer the reassurance of a cable over the questionable convenience of a mat.  

Also worth pointing out is that the chassis can get very, very hot on charge or in use.

Camera

The Lumia 930 features a terrific 20-megapixel PureView camera which makes shallow depth of field shots look natural without any clunky software processing. Optical image stabilisation, ZEISS 6-lens optics, dual-LED flash and lossless zoom top out the specs, but again the Lumia's screen steals the show, making pictures pop like a print.

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Software

Windows Phone 8.1 is the newest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system introducing features which many hoped might bring it in line with its competitors.

Action Centre apes the notification bars seen in Android and iOS. A swipe from the top of the screen recalls missed messages, a customisable quick menu and a shortcut to the phone's main settings. A welcome addition to the operating system.

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Swipe-style typing also debuts and, once you've the hang of it, is very accurate. However, Cortana, Windows Phone's answer to Siri, hasn't made it onto UK handsets yet - expect to see it (her?) on Windows Phones by the end of the year.

Email and Productivity Apps

For many email will be a main driver and Microsoft makes setting up accounts simple. I didn't get the chance to try the 930 with an Exchange mailbox, but it handled multiple outlook.com, IMAP, Gmail and POP mailboxes with aplomb.

Windows Phone 8 also does some useful things around the concept of the unified inbox. Instead of a single inbox encompassing all configured accounts, individual email accounts can be grouped or 'linked' together. This makes it possible to combine work email addresses into one unified inbox and personal accounts into another, each accessible through its own live tile.

The bundled Bing News and Bing Sport apps are intuitive and well designed pulling news from a variety of credible sources. Fundamentally, for a news app to succeed it needs to leave me feeling as if I've caught up - these do exactly that, with style, and allow custom feeds too.


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Microsoft Office connects you with documents stored on your OneDrive or Office 365 cloud as well as with email attachments. Excel, Powerpoint and Word are well executed apps, although losing what feels like two-thirds of the display to the over-sized on-screen keyboard is a shame.

Windows Phone UI

Microsoft's spartan UI works hard to differentiate itself from its identikit competitors and, in general, it works well. However, for the sake of productivity I'd prefer to see more actual content on the screen. 

A case in point is the official Twitter app - even with the smallest font I can see no more than three or four tweets per screen; similarly, the email app reveals up to six messages before scrolling. At 5 inches and 1920 vertical pixels there's a lot of screen real estate on the Lumia but the important apps just don't seem to fill enough of it.

Conclusion

Despite the '80s-styling on the rear the Nokia Lumia 930 is Windows Phone's most mature handset to date.  

Its productivity credentials are top notch, and OS integration with Microsoft cloud apps and services mean it's a capable business workhorse as well as a fun down-time device. 

All the Windows Phone ecosystem needs now is more apps, and with high-quality handsets such as this they'll be sure to follow.

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Specs at a Glance:
Nokia Lumia 930
    • Screen: 5-inch AMOLED 1920 x 1080 Full HD
    • Camera: ZEISS 20-MP PureView
    • Chipset: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 @ 2.2 GHz
    • Memory: 2 GB 
    • Storage: 32 GB (no expansion)
    • Operating System: Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1
    • Connectivity: LTE, HSPA+, GSM, WCDMA; NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

From free with a £28.00/month contract, or £438.16 SIM-free. Details correct at time of publishing (July 2014).*

Love your smartphone? Huawei thinks you could love it more

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At Huawei's most recent innovation day in Milan, there was a lot of talk about innovation in Europe, research and development centres, and the highly anticipated 5G. 

Quite clearly very passionate about the technology, chief Huawei device designer Joonsuh Kim told me that the main aim for him was to make people fall in love with Huawei devices. Kim hopes to provide consumers with something other than just technology.

He said: "Literally we are touching the consumer's heart. That means you can feel that you are emotionally engaged with a Huawei device."

To Kim, the device is all about user preference, and he believes that once consumers start adapting to their devices, they will want to use them for everything. 

He states that even though the Huawei brand may not be big yet, it's starting to get through to consumers. Its aim it to deliver users with a "pleasant surprise" through usability, comfort, and a perfect combination of hardware and software.

When building the concept for a phone, Kim considers several user scenarios to make sure there is always a device that caters to what consumers want - including the ability to have multiple SIMs, a more professional device which is lighter for increased portability, low-cost devices, or a personal-only device.  

The design team make sure that the hardware appeals to the user they are targeting, providing particular features to appeal to different types of audience such as business professionals, young users and entry-level users. 

Kim also believes that using Huawei's knowledge and connectivity in networking, it can be a leader in 5G when the time comes. 

During a presentation on device innovation, Kim used Angelina Jolie as an example of a perfect human being (following up by commenting that although she might have been considered the most attractive woman in the world, that was several years ago... ouch) and that aesthetics are very important when targeting the appropriate market. 

It just goes to show that even the smallest tweaks in design can make the biggest difference to consumer behaviour.

Amazon Fire smartphone - do we really need 3D?

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This week the first smartphone designed by online retail giant Amazon was revealed, and its Dynamic Perspective feature allows the screen to present images in 3D to the user based upon the position of their heads. The question is whether or not this is what people actually want or need. 

The Dynamic Perspective feature, which uses four front-facing cameras and infra-red LEDs all built into the screen of the phone, allows the device to perform functions such as automatic scrolling to prevent users from having to touch the screen, and screen tilt depending on the user's head position. 

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Photo: Amazon.com

Although these things may improve user experience, my main concern would be the feeling that you're being watched, as the phone monitors you to ensure that you are fully immersed in any activities you are taking part in, such as watching videos or playing games. 

Perhaps more worrying, then,  is the never-before-seen Firefly feature, which uses data that Amazon has collected on physical items, text, audio and text and audio recognition in order to allow users to scan products barcodes or QR codes in order to search on Amazon to allow purchases from its online store. 

This also works for TV programs or songs; Firefly will recognise things in the environment around you and allow you to buy it right then and there through the Amazon store. All through the touch of the built in Firefly button. 

Specs at a glance:

Amazon Fire

Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz 

Memory: 2GB RAM 

Display: 4.7-inch HD 

Camera: 13MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera.


Whether consumers will see this as a genius invention or a ploy to make them spend more hard earned cash where it counts has yet to be seen, but its other feature - the Mayday button - is similar to that on the Kindle Fire and allows the user to video chat with a helpline whenever they need assistance with the device, which contributes to a good consumer experience. 

The device will be available in the US by the end of July, exclusively on AT&T, at a starting price of $199.


Apple announces iOS 8 at WWDC 2014

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At this week's WWDC 2014 - the conference that tells developers everything they need to know about what Apple has planned for the future - Apple introduced its next mobile operating system iOS 8.

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The new OS brings with it over 4000 new APIs in order to allow developers more opportunity to make applications for Apple's flagship iPad and iPhone devices.

There was a focus on the new HealthKit API, which will allow developers to build apps directed towards fitness and health services. With speculation of an Apple wearable on the horizon, enabling applications such as this could be a step in the smartwatch direction.

Apple also took a leap towards the internet-of-things trend with its new HomeKit API, designed to allow developers to make apps that will allow communication with other devices around the home.

Finally, Apple lightened the restrictions on its touch ID technology, meaning that users will now not only be allowed to access their iPhone lockscreens with the touchpad, but also log into apps. This is of course only on the 5S at the moment, but may also be used with future iPhones.

Although this announcement isn't quite as exciting as the eagerly speculated iWatch, it still encourages the use of smartbands/watches with Apple devices in the future, and brings us one step closer to using our phones to control all things household.

Developers have access to iOS 8 now, but the rest of us will just have to wait.


MWC REVIEW: Tech21 Impact Band

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I picked this nifty gadget up during Showstoppers at the MWC conference in Barcelona. This phone case/band uses a substance called D30 to reduce impact to your phone when you drop it. 

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The band of D30 implanted around the case disperses the force of the impact so that the rest of your band feels the force as opposed to your phone. This video shows a demonstration of the D30 material:

The case did feel a little loose on my phone, but not loose enough that it would slip or fall off. As well as the band, the case comes with a plastic back cover to protect the other side of your phone, but this part doesn't seem necessary. When you're constantly travelling or multitasking, making sure you invest in a good case for those breath-stopping moments when your phone slips from your hand is vitally important.

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I did take the plunge and drop the phone with the case on, and the device survived intact with no damage, so it seems that Tech21 is on to a winner. The official price for this is around £18, but can be found elsewhere online for less, and as well as providing protection for your phone, it also looks pretty funky and comes in a range of colours. 

MWC FIRST LOOK: Sony Xperia Z2 and Sony SmartBand

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With Sony recently bowing out of the PC market in favour of pushing its smartphone arm, we expected big things from any new devices announced at MWC.

It seemed that the new Xperia Z2 is really an upgrade of Sony's previous phone. However, i's full little changes that make all the difference. For example, the Z2 uses a wider colour spectrum on its 5.2 inch screen than on previous devices. It uses TRILUMINOUS display technology to better show reds and greens, so images look really clear, and when next to an older smartphone, you can clearly see the difference in colour when looking at the same picture.

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It also has a capability called X-Reality which cleans up low resolution video by analysing a clip and filling in gaps and pixilation.

From a business perspective, the Z2 supports a new feature called Small Apps, which essentially allows the user to multitask by running an app in a small floating window, which could come in quite useful if you needed to look at two things at once in a meeting or presentation.

Obviously any Android business apps that take your fancy are available, as well as the Xperia calendar, Email and Contacts apps to keep everything in order. Plus, any data held on the internal SD card is secured by 256-bit AES encryption.

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It's still water and dust proof, it's light and thin, and it hits the spot for those in the market for a premium Android device. And the best bit? It also comes in deep purple. Perhaps Sony has made the right decision.

You can also use the new Sony SmartBand alongside the Xperia Z2, a life-tracking band that has an advantage over other health monitors.

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The band monitors pretty much everything you do in life and on your phone. It knows when you're walking, running, sleeping, cycling, gaming, driving, chatting. It has a small unit that sits in a rubber band which you strap to your wrist. The core unit can tell by your movement what action you're currently partaking in, and it monitors the applications used on your phone for data such as when you're talking or playing Angry Birds.


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The strap was slightly uncomfortable and a bit loose on my wrist, with two little prongs that press through holes in the wrist band to loosen and tighten the strap. The texture of the band was comfortable though, and it comes in a number of different colours.

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The core has to be taken out and charged once a week. The band is water proof, and the idea is to wear it 24/7 - even in the shower. As everyone in the world keeps getting busier, these devices that can tell us where we're going right or wrong are becoming increasingly more popular, and this band goes the extra mile in giving you more information about your day beyond how you slept, the steps you've taken and the calories you've burnt.

We're hoping to get these devices in for a full review soon, so make sure to check back. 

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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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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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Christmas gadget gift: Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e REVIEW

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Often if you work from home or spend a lot of time working abroad, you want a hands-free device for conference calls, interviews or even video calling. 

This portable Logitech speakerphone allows you to make and take phone calls on your smartphone, which can connect via Bluetooth and, according to Logitech, is the first mobile speakerphone to offer connection via NFC. 

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Pairing your smartphone or tablet with the speakerphone is extremely easy. Enabling the device via Bluetooth is really simple, and pairing via NFC is even easier once you locate the NFC logo on the side of the speakerphone device. Just touch and confirm then BAM, it's paired. 

The smart little gadget can provide up to 2 hours of calls with 15 minutes of charge, or up to 15 hours of talk time with 3 hours of charge, and the sound is extremely clear. The speakerphone has a series of lights on top of its smooth casing to indicate when it is searching for a Bluetooth device, when it is connected to a device, and when it is switching on or off. The top also slides back to reveal a handy stand, perfect for your smartphone or tablet.

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When your phone rings, you can use your handset to pick up the call or choose to use the speakerphone instead of the speakers on your handset. You can also use the answer and reject buttons on the speakerphone itself in order to connect the call. The device works with FaceTime on iPhone, and is also enabled for Microsoft Lync and Skype certified. 

The speakerphone has its own permanently attached power cable that folds away into a tidy underneath the device. This cable also acts as a USB connector so you can plug the device into a PC or Mac. As much as this is useful for storage, and allows you to charge the speakerphone via USB if you forget the plug adaptor, it needs to be a little easier to tidy away, as tucking the wire in so that the device sits flat on a table can prove difficult. 

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One minor annoyance I noticed when using the device was that when my iPhone was connected to it you could hear the tones and noises made by my phone during texting through the speakerphone, so I'd suggest turning the speakerphone off when not using it for calls. 

This handy little gadget comes with its own carrying case to make sure it doesn't get damaged during transport. It's the perfect present for anyone who works from home, travels for business, or doesn't have a conference system in their office, and is available for around £129.99. 

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Huddle Note - File sharing for the future

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Huddle has launched a new app for enterprises to use as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

We've talked about Huddle before, and how it allow teams all over the world to work collaboratively on projects by sharing files and comments in the cloud.

Huddle Note iOS Screenshot 1.pngThe new Huddle Note application now allows teams to create, edit and store any content in the cloud, making sharing and cross-platform use easier. As explained by Huddle CEO Alastair Mitchell, it's a way for employees to share ideas wherever they are in the easiest way possible, without having to use other application or software.

He said: "People don't want to waste time skipping between apps, battling with legacy word processors, and then uploading documents to the cloud to share them with co-workers - especially when they're quick notes such as brainstorm ideas and meeting minutes. 

"With Huddle Note, we're adding an easy-to-use and intuitive way to capture content in Huddle, giving people a simpler, faster, mobile alternative to Microsoft Office and other bloated legacy offerings."

New features in the app include: creating and editing documentation in the cloud, sharing any content instantly with others and commenting and feedback. The app also has Huddle security features and an audit trail of activity so you can see when your documents have been read by others.

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This move away from "Jurassic systems" (Mitchell's words, not mine) will give workers everywhere a chance to share their ideas and be more productive in an environment where there's proper support available. 

With the workforce slowly becoming more and more dispersed, with people working from home, abroad or even on public transport, it's exactly what people need.

The new Huddle iOS application is also free to download from the appstore, so why not give it a go yourself? 

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