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Bored of your gadgets? Trade them in at Argos

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Retailer Argos has partnered with the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to offer an "instant redemption" service for old unwanted gadgets.

The trade-in service will be available in its stores across the UK to allow shoppers to trade electrical products for an on-the-spot swap.

Registered waste reduction charity WRAP helped Argos to introduce the initiative in all of the retailer's 788 establishments following research that found UK residents are hoarding up to £1 billion worth of technology that's no longer being used.

The service currently stretches to mobile phones and tablets, and should stop products from being sent to landfill when they could be recycled instead, which preserves reusable materials used in devices that are disappearing.

Currently 40% of electrical products are thrown in the bin when they could instead be recycled, but two thirds of consumers would be willing to trade these products in if they could do so through a reputable retailer.

The initiative is part of WRAP's resource efficient business models, or REBus, project which is working with partners from the UK and the Netherlands such as Rijkswaterstaat, the Knowledge Transfer Network, The University of Northampton and the Aldersgate Group.

The project, which is backed by EU Life+ funding, aims to help businesses innovate to become more energy efficient and to provide pilots of more resource efficient business models.

Director of WRAP, Marcus Gover, says: "Our research told us consumers have an appetite for trading in and Argos is now providing a convenient and easy way for them to do just that and release the value from their unwanted gadgets."

Devices can be traded in for an Argos gift card which can then be used towards a new device or to get your hands on any of Argos' thousands of products.

The traded in devices then get recycled, or refurbished and resold.

Head of corporate responsibility at Argos, Amy Whidburn, says if this initial service goes down well with customers the company will think of extending it to other technologies in the future such as cameras, satnavs or laptops. 

Is the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua really waterproof? VIDEO

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These days it seems like every new phone that hits the market has to have a gimmick. For example the new curved Samsung Galaxy S6 or the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 with its fancy 'AnyPen' technology.

Well the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua is allegedly waterproof. It's the one you'll have seen being wielded by booth babes in scuba gear and a tank of water the last time you went to a trade show.

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Like this...

So I managed to get my hands on an M2 Aqua to try it out and the results were... mixed.


Branded with TT Charcoal & Teal. Related link and Similar Video filmstrip included.

Video by Tom Walker

The phone was functioning just fine before I put it into the tank of fresh water. I say fresh water because it's advised the device is only waterproof in saline water and not salt water, as I mention in the video.

Once I took it out of the tank it continued to work fine, and I was merrily taking photos of my colleague surrounded by dinosaurs using the Augmented Reality photobooth I had demoed on the Sony Xperia at International CES in January this year.

The device has CMOS Image sensor - Exmor RS for mobile and features ClearAudio+ sound improvement software to make sound on videos clearer if you want to upload them to the internet.

I left the device for a few days and the battery went dead - as you might expect. Then once I tried to charge it to test it further it started to act squiffy...

Sony Xperian M2 Aqua specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 149g
  • Dimensions: 140 x 72 x 8.6 mm
  • OS: Google Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Battery: 12 hours medium use, 641 hours on standby
  • Camera: 8 MP
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz Quad-core processor
  • Memory: 1GB RAM
  • Storage: 8GB Flash expandable to 32GB MicroSD


I left the phone on charge for a while but it still refused to turn on and gave me a battery warning every time I tried.

I attempted a different plug and nothing. I attempted a different cable and nothing. I left it 'on charge' for a few hours to mind its own business and it still refused to turn on.

Before anyone asks the obvious - yes all of the protective covers were properly shut, yes it was fresh water, and no, I didn't leave it in the water for more than 30 minutes - it was more like 30 seconds.

Whether there's a correlation between me dropping the phone in a fish-tank of water and it then failing to charge I'm not sure. But the fact of the matter is it was working before, and now it is not. 

Samsung edges ahead with the Galaxy S6

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Do Samsung's cutting-edge edges give it the edge?

After a disappointing run of results for its mobile division driven in part by indifferent response to recent product launches, Samsung needed to make a bold statement. 'Innovate, don't iterate', came the cry, 'but please, no more of those cheap plastic and leatherette backs, okay?'.  

The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge is that bold statement.  

Announced at Mobile World Congress alongside its flat-screened sister the Galaxy S6, the S6 edge confidently treads where no smartphone has ventured before.

Inevitably, the big draw is the display, the smooth edges of the rich 5.1-inch Quad HD screen lapping decadently around both sides of the handset's sharp metallic chassis. 

Thumbnail image for Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

The aesthetic is without doubt one of beauty - Samsung has stolen the Android industrial design crown from an HTC now falling into its own samey design trap. Build quality feels excellent, with Gorilla Glass 4 protecting both front and rear - that's right, Samsung has turned its back on the plastic back and, frankly, good riddance. 

Turning its back on the plastic back - Samsung Galaxy S6 edge

However, the function and practical benefit of the handset's key point of difference is somewhat less clear, leading many to ask: what is the point of the edge?

Truth be known, not a lot. In fact there's the inescapable smell of software features that have been built around the edges simply to justify their inclusion. People Edge does bring updates from friends a touch closer, and the edge notifications are well presented if clumsily executed.

Cutting edge?

However, many of these edge functions are fundamentally foiled by the revelation that the display's edges don't curve far enough around the phone's body to be able to read content side on. 

Unlike the lop-sided Galaxy Note Edge revealed last September, so subtle is the curve here that when the phone is face down you can barely perceive the edge. At nighttime the edge promises a discrete alarm clock, and indeed in an otherwise dark room there is usefulness here face up or face down, but forget any ideas about reading notifications on that edge alone.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge front on

Beneath the edge, the hardware stacks up well. First of all it's nippy: Samsung has eschewed the hot-to-handle Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset in favour of its own snappy octacore Exynos 7420 processor. Supported by 3 GB RAM and up to 128 GB of storage, the S6 edge is a powerful unit. 

Samsung has improved on its biometric home button: now, simply placing your thumb on the lozenge is enough to read and unlock, no need for grand sweeping gestures. KNOX, Samsung's enterprise grade mobile security, gets an upgrade too. And for the first time in a Samsung smartphone wireless charging is integrated, supporting all major standards. A wireless charging pad is not included, however they are increasingly inexpensive online.

The flipside of cramming all this tech into such a tight unit is the dispatch of some much appreciated features: water resistance takes a dive, expandable storage gets dropped and the removable battery is discharged. Inbuilt storage options up to 128 GB plus 115 GB of cloud courtesy of Microsoft OneDrive may satisfy some, but water resistance might be a difficult step backwards for others.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Specs at a glance:

  • Display: 5.1-inch Quad HD (2560x1440) Super AMOLED
  • Processor: 64-bit Octacore Samsung Exynos 7420 (4 x ARM Cortex A57 @ 2.1 GHz, 4 x ARM Cortex A53 @ 1.5 GHz)
  • Storage: 32, 64 and 128 GB options (no expansion)
  • RAM: 3 GB
  • Cameras: Rear 16 MP f/1.9 with Optical Image Stabilisation, front 5 MP
  • Power: Fixed 2600 mAh battery, integrated dual-mode wireless charging
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 GHz), HT80 and MIMO
  • Availability: The Samsung Galaxy S6 edge goes on sale on 10th April 2015.
  • Price: 64 GB from £760.00 inc VAT SIM free

Perhaps to compensate for the fixed battery Samsung is making much of its improved quick charging capabilities. The S6 edge, it is claimed, charges 1.5 times faster than previous S models, recouping 50% of its battery capacity with less than 30 minutes of charge, and four hours of usage from just 10 minutes.

Moving to the S6 edge's software, and the enterprise-friendly Android Lollipop 5.0 experience is responsive, clean and uncluttered. Samsung has significantly cut back on the bloatware that has blighted previous models, the TouchWiz UI now a help rather than a hindrance. Some core Microsoft productivity apps do get bundled, and McAfee VirusScan Mobile integration will be welcome to many.

Finally to the imaging hardware: a 16 MP camera with optical image stabilisation and fast f/1.9 lens stands proud from the rear of the handset, while a generous 5 MP sensor with selfie-friendly 120 degree spread hides on the front. Both are accessible in 0.7 seconds flat by a double tap of the home button.

Galaxy S6 edge software

With the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge you get arguably the best-looking and best-feeling Android smartphone to date, while under the bonnet it's one of the best-performing devices too. The much-lauded edges aren't genuinely functional in a way that will significantly change how you use the phone, however they will guarantee a steady stream of admirers eager to see, touch and feel it. 

If both brains and beauty are important to you then there's no better Android handset on the market right now; if looks can take a back seat then there's bags of personality both here and in the £100-cheaper, edge-less but almost identically-specified Samsung Galaxy S6.



Smart Kapp - An image capture dry-wipe whiteboard

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SMART technologies, the company which brought interactive whiteboards into our classrooms, has developed a new dry-erase whiteboard capable of sending images to your smartphone. 

 

The digital capture white board is designed to replace the paper flip-chart often seen in meetings and conferences. 

 

It comes with a dry-erase marker, a board rubber, and a power cable. And that's it. 

 

The setup was designed to be as simple as hanging a whiteboard in a meeting room. All that's needed to use the mirroring capabilities is for one person in the meeting to have a smartphone running Android or iOS. 

 

Windows phone is currently out of the loop, but images can be taken from the board via USB as well. Negotiations are currently taking place over the direction of using Windows Phone with the Kapp, so watch this space.


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One person takes control of the meeting by scanning the board's QR code through the dedicated app, or tapping the NFC spot. Once activated, anything on the board will appear in the smartphone session. 

 

Snapshots can be taken of the board at a specific point in time to ensure important information isn't erased, and people can be added to the meeting using links which are trashed after the meeting ends, or emailed images of the board while the meeting is in session.


The board is programmed to recognise the measurements of of a dry-wipe marker and mirrors any indication of pressure on the app. So technically, you could use a stylus with the same diameter as a marker tip to write secret messages on the board that would only register to smartphone participants. 


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In particular the company has seen great interest from the hotel industry for use in conference rooms, and hotels would no longer have to worry about providing paper.

 

But the most interesting thing about the board is the vast number of industries interested in this particular product - something unusual for a business-focused gadget.

 

"Dry erase boards are ubiquitous, there's no particular industry where you would say 'it's just for these guys and them only'." explains Christine Alford, manager of SMART marketing communications.

 

This week the company announced a huge 84 inch model of the board, the Kapp 84, which is now available on pre-order, and premium services offering a free upgrade to the smart mobile application to allow up to 250 participants per session.

 

The smaller version will set you back £599, while the 84 inch board is £849. 

CES 2015: Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge smartphone

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The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge's curved touchscreen is in my opinion one of the strangest design choices for a smartphone to date.

The device has been available for some time now, but seeing it in the flesh I was able to test this concept first-hand and I became aware of how difficult the device is to use.

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The curved screen real-estate itself is quite useful as it's easier to reach with your thumb, but it all depends on you holding the handset with your right hand.

So not only is the device inconvenient for left-handed people, but it's also too big. I would say if you're going to produce a smartphone with the purpose of having an easier-to-use touch screen you don't then develop a handset so big it doesn't fit in your hand.

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The curved part of the screen acts as a sort of notifications bar so you can easily access everything going on, similar to the pull down feature on an iPhone or in the new LG Flex 2.

On a positive note, the 5.6 inch screen has an AMOLED Quad HD+ display that is super sharp, and colours are really vivid.

One of the more useful features of the phone is the ability to multi-task with split screening allowing you to look at two applications at the same time, which could be quite useful if watching video or taking notes from a presentation or web page.

The device, which runs Android, has a 16mp camera and dual SIM ports, as well as 3GB of RAM and up to 18 hours of battery time during medium usage.

And the device comes with a "new and improved" S Pen for using the touchscreen.

The bad news? It comes in at around £700, but it was announced this week the phone is available for a slightly cheaper price tag through Verizon in the US. Better start saving. 

CES 2015: LG launches curved G Flex 2 smartphone

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Speaking to CES 2015 in Vegas, Frank Lee, head of LG mobile communications announced LG's new smartphone the G Flex 2.

The unique selling point? It's curved. Why is it curved? Well according to Frank it's because telephones have always been curved. This makes them more comfortable and easy to use apparently.

Running Android 5.0 lollipop, Frank claims the phone is made to enhance "design, innovation and convenience" and does that through the mantra of "beauty on the outside and a beast within."

And he's not wrong either, the 5.5 inch screen's shiny curves are extremely visually appealing, while the interior is powered by a Qualcomm snapdragon 800 processor for speed. 

Oh, and the phone also has a self healing back to prevent scratches, and can eliminate the appearance of scratches within 10 seconds of them occurring.

The screen is also more durable to avoid cracking, during videos of the drop test it looked like something about the curvature makes the phone bouncy.

Frank pointed out that the average smartphone user checks their phone every six minutes and so the G Flex 2 has a knock code and Knock on feature built in to provide summarised information to prevent having to fully unlock for every quick check.

The handset has a 1.5m camera designed for the all important selfie, and a prolonged battery life to last for out and about.

The handset can charge to 50% in 40 minutes, which is around half of the amount of time of a normal handset.

And to top it all off it looks like it also comes in a lovely red colour. 

Apple announces iPad Air 2

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Apple has announced the new iPad Air 2. We won't lie, we were expecting a more innovative name...

Somehow as soon as an Apple event rolls around, everyone already knows what's going to happen. As predicted, just a month after the release of the new iPhone 6 and iOS 8 operating system, Apple has announced its new iPad, the Air 2. 

Apple skeptics will be mockingly asking "but what's new about it?" and loosely quoting Daft Punk I'll reply: "it's smarter, better, faster and smaller." 

That's right, although the iPad Air 2 supports the same screen size as the iPad Air, it's thinner than it's ever been at just 6.1mm thick, and weighs less than a pound. Apple claims this is currently the thinnest tablet on the market. 

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Both the Air 2 and new iPad mini 3 have new retina display screens, making images look more crisp and real than real life, excellent for fuelling your Netflix addiction. Or, of course, viewing and writing documents and presentations when working on the move. 

As with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the new iPads come equipped with improved Touch ID for secure access and use of Apple Pay authentication within apps. 

The device still offers 10 hours of battery life, and it's internals support an Apple A8X chip to boost CPU.


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Sadly, although I'm sure these new devices provide a better user experience than their predecessors, it circles back to a concept I looked at earlier this year: how far can hardware innovation really go

Can devices only continue to get thinner and faster, or is there something more to look forward to? We'll have to wait to find out. 

In the meantime, the Apple iPad Air 2 is available to order online from a starting price of around $499 (approx. £309) 

Specs at a glance: 
iPad Air 2 
  • Processor: A8x 64 bit processor and M8 coprocessor 
  • Dimensions: 240mm x 169.5mm x 6.1mm
  • Capacity: 16GB, 64GB, 128 GB
  • Display: 9.7 inch Retina display 
  • Camera: 8mpx back mounted camera, 1.2 mpg front facing camera
  • Battery: 10 hours heavy usage

Is the meeting you're in right now pointless?

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Apparently something we've all been suspecting is true - a majority of the meetings we're attending are not worth our time or effort.

According to a recent survey by Ovum and LogMeIn, 92% of employees in the UK stated the number of meetings they attend is going up, but 70% of the meetings attended were marked as a waste of time.

Over the last few years, smartphone shipments have been steadily increasing. Firms have been warned that employees will find ways to use their devices at work, and 26% of employees have used a personal device to get round technology barriers put in place by organisations.

So it's hardly surprising that 30% of UK workers admitted to playing on their smartphone during face-to-face meetings. But this figure is higher in the UK than in other European countries.

Ovum and LogMeIn's research found that many believe collaboration will help to reduce this problem, and with Juniper predicting employee-owned smartphones and tablets used as part of bring your own device (BYOD) policies will increase to over one billion devices globally by 2018, a BYOD and collaboration strategy has never been more important.

The below infographic from LogMeIn explains how the UK compares to other European countries when it comes to attending meetings that aren't worthwhile:

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Android One - smartphones for consumers in emerging markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhone 6 - features and functionality

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Consumers and businesses alike have been waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the iPhone 6 and the constantly-discussed Apple Watch. We wrote our predictions about what we thought the new devices would offer, now it's time to fill you in on what the new iPhone is really capable of.

The iPhone 6 comes in two sizes, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which could be called large and extra-large.

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Image: Apple

The smaller model comes in at 4.7 inches, a whole 0.7 inches bigger than its iPhone 5S and 5C predecessors. The Plus hits phablet size at 5.5 inches, and both have Retina HD displays for pictures so high def, they look like real life.

The handsets look to be at their most curvy, and also claim to be at their thinnest at 6.9mm thick for the iPhone 6 and 7.1mm thick for the Plus. The space grey colour that I love so much also seems to have made an appearance on the devices, so they can perfectly match your iPad Air or iPad mini.

As predicted, the handsets are NFC capable, and this can be used for contactless mobile payments.

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Image: Apple

The chipsets promise high-powered performance, with 64-bit architecture propping up an A8 chip and M8 motion coprocessor driving data gathering from built-in sensors.

As well as everything else, the camera has received a makeover. The iSight is capable of faster autofocus, 240fps slow motion capture, and 1080p HD image capture at 60fps.

Finally, the Touch ID feature allows the user to access the device or purchase apps password-free using their fingerprint.

Specs at a glance:

iPhone 6

    • Capacity: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
    • Weight: 129g
    • Size: 67mm width, 138.1 mm height, 6.9mm thick
    • Display: 4.7inch 1334x750 resolution, 326 ppi
    • Battery: Up to 10 hours with heavy use, or 10 days on standby
    • OS: IOS 8

 

iPhone 6 Plus

    • Weight: 172g
    • Size: 77.8mm width, 158.1 mm height, 7.1mm thick
    • Capacity: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
    • Display: 5.5inch 1920x1080 resolution, 401 ppi
    • Battery: Up to 12 hours with heavy use or 16 days on standby
    • OS: IOS 8


Both devices are available in Silver, Gold and Space Grey. Check back to the Inspect-a-gadget soon for a full iPhone 6 review.

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