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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.

FIRST LOOK: Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch

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With Apple's big announcement approaching, there has been much speculation about whether the technology giant will be releasing its own smartwatch.

In the meantime, other innovators are speeding ahead with their version of the latest wearable trend, and Motorola is no exception.

The telecoms company, which was recently bought from Google by Chinese tech firm Lenovo, announced several new products last week, including its flagship Moto G and Moto X smartphone devices and of course, the Moto 360 smartwatch.

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I had a chance to try out the gadget, and apart from the fact it was a little big, I have no complaints. The watch face is touchscreen, and responds to similar swiping commands to smartphone - up for unlocking, left and right for opening and dismissing.

The watch has a choice of several available watch-faces to mirror your mood and is powered by Google. This means the device is Google Now enabled, so you can ask it anything you want, from when historical events took place, to reminding you to pick up some flowers for your parrot.  

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With a built in heart-rate monitor and pedometer for step counting, it also appeals to the health-conscious among us.

Although the device is quite chunky, the large face does make it more usable and easy to read. It comes in two models, with a starting price of £199 and is usable with Android operating systems 4.3 and up.

Specs at a glance:

Moto 306

  • OS: Android Wear
  • Dimensions: 46mm diameter by 11mm high, 49g
  • Battery: Full day use
  • Processor: TI OMAP™ 3
  • Memory: 4GB, 512MB RAM

 

The Moto 360 will be available from October this year, from O2, Tesco, Amazon and John Lewis. Check back to the Inspect-a-gadget soon for a full review.

REVIEW: Dux iPad Air case

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It's almost impossible to complete a daily commute in London without spotting someone using a sad looking phone with a badly bashed up screen.

Smashed iPads are spotted less frequently, but it has been done, and there's nothing sadder than squinting through a myriad of cracks as you try but fail to make out the latest episode of 'Game of Thrones' on the tube.

The Dux iPad Air case by STM bags promises military grade protection for your device to help you to avoid this very situation. This means drops from over 6 feet with no damage, and water resistance for clumsy days. It has been tested to 'meet or exceed' US Department of Defense Standard 810F/G durability tests, and hopefully that means it keeps your device totally safe.

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The case is quite heavy, and combined with the iPad feels weighty, but is still portable. It's very sturdy, and once you've put your iPad in it, there is no danger of it slipping out what-so-ever. The case adds a few millimetres to the outside of the device, but has very clear recesses exposing ports, speakers and microphones, and does not hinder their use. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the volume and power buttons, which are enclosed in the case and can be quite difficult to press at times.

This isn't too much of a problem in terms of the power button, as the felt lined protective screen flap switches the iPad on when opened and off when closed to preserve battery. This magnetic flap also wraps around the side of the case, making it less likely to pop open if dropped. Sometimes the flap doesn't lay snug against the case, but this is easily solved by positioning it properly. You can see the back of your iPad through the clear rear panel, and STM suggests using this as an opportunity for customisation by inserting pictures.

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I tested the case with my iPad Air, and was told by STM that they weren't able to reimburse me if I dropped my device and broke it whilst using the case - although they assured me that a breakage was very unlikely. I dropped it a couple of times, and was brave enough to drop it on its corner from desk height and everything was fine. The sturdy corners prevented any damage and the screen didn't crack. I didn't want to tempt fate any further, so that's as far as my testing went. There are videos of more rigorous tests on their website, and I've included one below to show how durable the case really is:


Video: STM on YouTube

One criticism of the case is that the folding flap isn't very sturdy when folding it back to stand the case up. The case is meant to fold back and clip magnetically to allow you to stand the case for watching videos or typing. This didn't really work for me, and the case fell over a few times. 

All in all if it's durability you're looking for this case lives up to its promise of protection, and would better suit an environment where users are out and about or in danger of dropping the device during use. 

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.


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