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Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2018 10:15:02 GMT

 



Review: Veho Endurance VPP-008-E

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 12:51:00 GMT

Having reviewed the EasyAcc 20000mAh late last year, it seems that rugged power banks are becoming more common, since there's now this, from one of my favourite accessory makers, Veho. The Endurance VPP-008-E is massively tough and perfect for hikers and other adventurers, and its internals are slightly newer than the EasyAcc's, with Type C input, though ultimately it too falls into the 'unambitious' class, if I'm honest. Here's the 'Endurance' then, looking rather majestic in the rain. Never mind the internals (I'll come to them shortly), the USP here is the thickness of the casing and materials used. Not too boxy, but just rounded enough - and of course very grippy - that it's secure to hold and not too large to fit in the average ruck-sack on a hike (for example). The Endurance isn't classed as fully waterproof - IPX4 basically means that it can endure spray and splashes but not a full immersion. At least not for a length of time - I'm sure it would be fine if dropped in a stream or similar and then immediately retrieved.  The pain points for waterpoofing (other than the energy stored in the Li-Ion cells) are the two rubber port covers, of course. These fit snugly but you can see that any immersion for more than a few seconds would indeed result in water gradually seeping in slowly.  Still, no complaints here, the worst such a power bank is likely to receive is rainfall or - more likely - getting damp as rain soaks through a coat or bag - and it will survive these easily. The LED torch activated with a double press of the main button and is modestly bright, though nowhere near as powerful as that in the EasyAcc accessory, which is a missed opportunity for an outdoor gadget like this. You'll notice the port configuration. Twin 2.1A (current is shared if both are in use at the same time), plus twin inputs - microUSB and USB Type C, both of which can accept charge at up to 2A, though not simultaneously. All standard fare for a low end power bank, though I'd hope for more in 2018. There's no Quick Charge compatibility here, no really high current option, no Type C output (though this can go wrong, famously, with the phone topping up a power bank, so I don't really miss this too much!) On the plus side, you do get the typical Veho Pebble digital readout on charge percentage remaining, which is pretty cool: In use, the Endurance worked well, charging every phone I tried, though that shared current has to be allowed for - so two phones will each only see just over 1A, which means long charging times indeed in 2018: But capacity is as advertised, I loved the form factor and finish, and the more waterproof our gadgets are the better. You're unlikely to drop this down a toilet, but the typical user might well get caught in a thunderstorm, and the Endurance VPP-008-E shrugs such splashings offf easily: Now to price. The Endurance VPP-008-E is currently listed on Amazon UK at something of a placeholder RRP price of £99, so give that a miss. What is the right price? Apparently it's £50, according to NDC, where it's also for sale now. I know this is a specialist accessory, but £50 still seems a bit high for the capacity and unambitious internals, so hopefully this will come down or so in short order.[...]



'Operation Elop' and the bungled transition

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 19:51:51 GMT

Authors Pekka Nykänen and Merina Salminen published a book in Finnish, back in 2015, about the fall of Nokia from 2010-ish through to the (then) present day, 2015. The central character in all of this was Stephen Elop, as you'll have guessed from my headline. It's a very long book, but it has now been translated into English and is available for free. See the quotes and links below. It covers the latter Symbian years, the still-borm Meego, the switch to Windows Phone and the eventual decline and sale of the vast Nokia empire.

(image) Having just finished speed-reading it, there's a lot of direct interest and a lot of sense talked in the analysis.

And at the risk of saying 'I told you so', the eventual conclusion by the authors and most contributors, after over a hundred pages (even in A4 PDF form), is that despite all the other issues Nokia and the industry was facing, the absolutely crucial mistake that Stephen Elop made was leaking the famous 'Burning Platform' memo, effectively shooting Symbian OS in the head and cutting off sales of Symbian-based phones to networks within days, leaving Nokia with a sales shortfall in the billions of dollars, rather than delaying the public cessation of Symbian commitment until Windows Phone-based Lumias were ready for sale.

Which is what I said, many times, on AAS and AAWP back in the day, in articles and on podcasts. Ahem.

But there's vastly more in the book. It gives all sides of the Nokia story over this period, it'll have you cheering for Elop one moment and villifying him the next. 

From the post at React etc.:

Now there is a translation of the book that is translated by a community and made available for free under the under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

The book is available in HTML format as well as suitable formats for Android, iPhone, iPad and Kindle formats. Operation Elop - Final years of Nokia Mobile Phones free ebook download:

There are masses of juicy nuggets and back-story that even I didn't fully appreciate, not least how close Nokia was to going with Google and Android back at the end of 2010.

If you have a spare afternoon then load this on your smartphone or Kindle and knock yourself out. You'll be better informed!




The Three Phases of PureView

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 16:35:27 GMT

A year or so ago I opined that Google's HDR+ software, the foundation of the cameras on the Pixel and Pixel 2 smartphones (and much cloned and hacked on other devices), effectively represents the next phase of the PureView idea pioneered by Nokia back in 2007 and eventually brought to market in the 808 in 2012. With commentary in video form, here's a comparison of results from three landmark phone cameras, which I'm dubbing PureView phases 1, 2, and 3. For those in the know, these ideas dominate the world of phone photography.

This video of mine was shot as part of my Phones Show, which you can find more about here.

As usual with video embeds, maximise the playback window or click through to YouTube, as appropriate, and make sure you're watching at 1080p in the Settings:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mIZhmMqmGs4?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

Comments welcome. 

The computational photography in the Pixel 2 XL certainly seems a spiritual successor to the Nokia and Lumia PureView concept, but as usual, with my AAWP hat on, I can't help but wonder what could be achieved if only there was a 2018 follow-up to the 950, with more modern internals!




'Symbian World' CFW for the Nokia N86 gets certs and fixes

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 13:24:14 GMT

Back in April, I linked to a new custom firmware for the venerable Nokia N86 8MP, and the guys behind it are at it again, with a big update, making the old N86 usable even in 2018! Details and links below. Over and above the original firmware (which had a huge changelog over the stock Nokia software), we now have: Fixed some bugs we found in original FW that was done by Nokia, for example if flash original last FW or make hard reset and after that open preinstalled Adobe PDF LE app, default zoom in settings will be about 5xxxxxx%, now that and some other faults fixed; The standard OVi standby mode is replaced by the more functional one from the Nokia 6760 Slide, where exist only application shortcuts, 8 calendar notes and E-Mail client, also exist some more standby modes to choose one that will cover all needs; Built-in with restriction on exceptionally viewing documents "QuickOffice v4.1.73", updated to full-featured retail version 6.2.217 from E-series phones, with the possibility of their creation and editing; To turn off the red LED during photo and video shooting, you need to activate the added "RemoveRedLED" patch in the built-in "ROMPatcher Plus v3.1"; Built-in full support for SHA-2 certificates and added new root certificates, which is necessary for full-fledged work in the modern Internet; SymbianWorld icon pack updated with some more icons for 3rd party apps. Now it's more complete and good looking; Original equaliser settings a bit changed. Now music in headphones sounds better than on default settings; For the flash use built-in program button "Flashlight". It's stable operation is guaranteed only when you activate and deactivate app from the menu, and only the central navigation key. If U want extra features go and buy PhoneTorch from Harald Meyer for OS9.3: http://www.phonetorch.com/wb/ CFW can be flashed via J.A.F. or Phoenix (just delete red content file in Phoenix settings, all CRC32 checksums fitted to original FW files, so Phoenix is ok too).   This is the final version of CFW for N86. On this build, N86 is now the most fast and powerfull cameraphone from all S60v3 OS9.3 device lineup also still good for Web browsing via Opera Mobile/Opera Mini.. :) Also, just s little note - SymbianWorld CFW was developed mainly for N86 White. Productivity of White/Indigo devices on this CFW is the same, the chosen Ui icons (theme) is a matter of taste.Original Nokia White and Indigo themes also exist. But for those who have N86 Indigo device for maximum expirience better use this theme: IND190.Midori.Blue.Pro.Theme.v1.00(0).SymbianOS9.X.Signed.zip  Here's official iND190 9.x build for S60v3/S60v5 and S^3 for those who care. The collage also inside. So, it's just a little bonus. :) To download this firmware for the N86, grab: Nokia_N86_8MP_(RM-484)_30.009_05XXXXX_CFW_Symbian_World_v2.0-BodyZ.zip   All bets are off in terms of tech support and help, mind you. It's assumed that you know how to use JAF or Phoenix and the requisite flashing tools. If you don't then.... best stay away!![...]



Testing smartphone audio capture in 2018

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 18:44:00 GMT

I go into some depth when testing smartphone (stills) cameras, I even occasionally test smartphone video capture. But I rarely test the audio that's captured. Whether you're videoing some live music in front of you or just shooting video at a party, the louder, clearer and higher quality the better - audio is often more important than picture quality, I contend*. Here's a quick test of seven contenders, back to back, play along at home and let your own ears decide!* one truism is that it's much easier to watch a video with poor picture quality and excellent audio than one with excellent picture and poor audio. Try it and see! Now, obviously, I can only test what I have to hand, so this isn't an industry-wide comprehensive test. But I have included: the all time classic, the Nokia 808 PureView (hence me posting this on AAS as well) the Lumia 950 XL (heck, any top end Lumia would have done here, they all have the same HAAC microphones, so I could equally well have put in the 1020 or 930, etc.) the Nokia 8, marking the return of Nokia to the flagship smartphone market and with 'Ozo' audio capture technology - can it live up to the standards of Nokias of old? the ZTE Axon 7, running Android. This is the Chinese version with quad-DAC and high end everything, including microphones. the Marshall London, running Android. The original audio-specialist phone, capable of recording Motorhead and playing it too through high fidelity speakers. the Google Pixel 2 XL, the very latest Android flagship, though lower end here as it only records audio in mono (like the iPhone), possibly for wind protection and noise cancellation reasons. the Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro, the highest end Windows 10 Mobile handset still sold. It has wonderful speakers, but the microphones are somewhat dull and unimpressive - as you'll see. As you'll have noticed, many of these phones have high end audio - mics and speakers - reflecting that I tend to hoard such beasts, to the exclusion of less capable devices for multimedia. Hence no Samsungs, no iPhones. Oh well. I'd been looking for a rock gig near me, even a pub band would have done, in terms of delivering a challenging volume to capture. But in the end I settled for the repeatable 'treat'(!) of my trusty 12 string guitar at point blank range (around 30cm), as you'll see and hear below.  I was looking to capture the guitar's sound without distortion and with good dynamic range, in terms of hearing all the various strings and frequencies. Finally, I was looking at captured and encoding volume, i.e. how loud and effective would the soundtrack be? And to that end, I've left the volumes 'as is' in the montage below, i.e. nothing's been normalised or tampered with. As you might expect, you'll need to watch/listen with good headphones on, to really appreciate the differences: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1k0w62T_HpM?rel=0" width="640" height="360"> Aside from my rough and ready scoring in the video, I did come to a number of conclusions: I was astonished that none of the phones showed any distortion. Do the same test on most phones from, say, 2013, and only the Nokias might have produced a clean recording. But microphones have definitely become more capable in time. The HAAC (high amplitude) mics used in the top end Nokias and Lumias are still hard to beat, but the competition is gaining. The clearest, most vibrant audio capture here was by the Nokia 8, which uses three microphones and some proprietary 'Ozo' algorithms to produce a 'spatial surround' effect. As with speaker tricks like Dolby Atmos, it's very slightly 'artificial', but there's no doubting how dramatic it sounds, as your own ears can attest. In the scoring above, I gave the Nokia 8 the same maximum score as the Lumia 950 XL, but I did toy with the idea of giving points for stereo separation and/or ambience. If I had, the Nokia 8 would have won out overall. With my Windows 10 phone hat on, the IDOL 4 Pro's audio cap[...]



Double-hinged and folding, aimed at business use - from 2007!

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 08:49:00 GMT

With all the recent renders and patents seemingly predicting a 'Surface Mobile' this Spring, with double-hinged design allowing use as a phone or mini-tablet, I thought it appropriate to look back into the past - such a double hinged design was seen before on a business-aimed smartphone, back in 2007, just over a decade ago. And thanks to a kind reader, I've got the Nokia E90 in front of my camera again. It's not much actual use in 2018, but it's extra food for thought.  Not least because there's a certain tactile pleasure in transforming a device. You may remember the old 'slider' T9 phones, also a decade ago? Anyone else remember sliding them open and closed, open and closed? Just because we could. It's the same with this Nokia E90, arguably the last of the Nokia 'Communicator' line of business-centric smartphones. It's impossible to hold it and not keep opening the hinge, enjoying the different angles, closing it again. Rinse and repeat. Admittedly there have been some laptop-size double-hinged designs in recent years, allowing 'tent', 'laptop', and other modes, but I'm struggling to think of any phones that included such design elements and ambitions.   One possible weakpoint of a hinged design is the data cables that have to pass through the hinges, of course - repeated bending might result in failure and repair. Yet this particular, rather battle-scarred, Nokia E90 is still fully working, ten years later, so maybe the wiring worries can be put to rest. Certainly the wiring in the Surface Mobile renders we've seen so far would have to be routed in a similar way.   Of course, one chief difference in form factor with the E90, compared to the modern day renders of a possible Surface Mobile, is that, when closed, there's an external phone-centric interface, plus when opened, there's a hardware QWERTY keyboard. Plus it's also important to note that the E90 wasn't designed to unfold further than 180º, unlike modern double-hinged devices, which usually wrap all the way around. Maybe I'm making too much of all this, but I did want to get the E90 in again (after so many years) just so that I could play with a double-hinged design in a phone form factor again. It's still satisfying, it's still sturdy, it's still flexible. Just imagine the same standard of hinge (only better and closer), with a slightly larger plan form factor for each device half, then think of thinner halves thanks to modern tech advancements, and finally 2018 internals and Windows 10 S as an operating system, with the 'CShell' Start UI.   All quite exciting really. If I was a betting man, I'd put the appearance of a Surface Mobile (other names suggested have included 'Surface Note', but I'm sticking with my original guess) in H1 of 2018 at 2:1 'on'. What about you? Anyone else remember the Nokia E90? Were there any other double-hinged phones you can think of? Let's take a short trip down memory lane together... and also into the future! PS. The Surface renders here are from the skillful CAD renders by designer David Breyer. Patent drawings are from the Microsoft filing here.[...]



Nokia camera 7 year challenge: Lumia 950 & Nokia 8 take on 2010's Nokia N8

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:42:00 GMT

8 versus 8, etc. I've lost count of the number of times readers have asked me to pit the new Nokia 8 against its namesake, the classic Nokia N8, from 2010. However much a monster the latter was, surely 2017 technology can trump it? I'm also including the reigning champion, the Nokia-designed (and Microsoft-made) Lumia 950. This will win out overall, but it's a useful modern age benchmark for the others - I'm genuinely curious to see how a 7 year old phone does! As usual, I've tried to match resolutions as much as possible, though in practice this only meant keeping the Lumia 950 in its oversampled 8MP mode, since the other two phones output naturally at 9MP. I'm not worried about shortchanging the 950 because it will pick up extra capability in this mode when looking at low light shots and when zoomed. It was suggested to me that I try the Nokia 8 with the 'hacked' Google HDR+ camera, sideloaded, but this is beyond the scope of this site. It's not trivial to find and install and that's best for Android die-hards. I often get criticised for using the Lumia's output as the basis for the 'overall scene' shot, so I've shaken things up here and used the Nokia 8's versions for the overviews. All photos were on full automatic, except where stated and all shots apart from the 'party' mock-up were handheld. Because I'm comparing the output of three phone cameras, not two, I can't use the AAWP comparator, so I'll use static crops - but at least your page will load more quickly this way! Test 1: Sunny suburbia Ideal conditions, and plenty of detail. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: Under such perfect lighting, there's not much in it here. The differences are mainly down to sharpening settings in the various camera applications. The Nokia N8 famously eschews ANY image processing - what you see in its JPGs are essentially what comes out of the Bayer filter on the sensor (with just JPG compression). Which is why its photos look immensely natural, yet not as 'clear' as with modern phones. It turns out that most people prefer a little colour enhancement, a little sharpening, and so on, to make photos 'pop'. I'm loathe to pick a winner here, though the Nokia 8's version is a notch down from the other two. Certainly the Nokia N8's photo is astonishing - look at the greenery on the right of the crop here, with no sharpening to make mess of detail. While the 950's photo stands out to the eye immediately. Nokia N8: 9 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts. Test 2: Sunny scene, into the light Ideal conditions again, but trying to make things slightly tricker by shooting half into the sun and with extremes of light and shade. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: No real problems for the three camera phones here, though the N8 was struggling with dynamic range in the brighter parts of the scene, plus the contrast was poor. Meanwhile the Nokia 8 does a pretty good job overall and the Lumia 950 tops the comparison again, with pin-sharp detail and good dynamic range. Nokia N8: 6 points; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Nokia 8: 8 pts. Test 3: Zoom test Good lighting, though the sun had now gone behind a cloud. I was aiming for a 2x zoom on the clock, though there's no exact UI gauge in any of these phones to get exactly 2x. Here's the scene from the Nokia 8: And here are crops from the photos taken by the Nokia N8, the Lumia 950, and Nokia 8, in each case click the crop to download the original JPG photo for inspection: In each case there was blocky digital zoom involved, of course, though slightly less on the Lumia 950, given its underlyin[...]



Behind the Gemini PDA - the Psion Series 5 reborn?

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:24:35 GMT

A shout out to a friend of the All About sites and an interesting podcaster, Marek Pawlowski, who's been trying out the new Gemini PDA and interviewing its designer, Martin Riddiford. Why am I mentioning this here on AAS and AAWP? Because the Gemini PDA, though dual-booting into both Android and Linux, is hugely based on the 1990s Psion Series 5 design, something close to the heart of many a smartphone (and especially a Nokia Communicator) fan. Martin designed that too, you see, 22 years ago, and he's back with a bang. The Gemini PDA has cutting edge smartphone specifications, but with the clamshell form factor and keyboard that we all loved two decades ago.


(image)

From the article introducing the podcast:

The Gemini PDA by Planet Computers brings a much loved form factor back to the world of smartphones – the clamshell, keyboard-based palmtop. In this episode, MEX founder Marek Pawlowski talks to Martin Riddiford of Therefore Design and Davide Guidi, CTO of Planet Computers, and hears the story of Gemini’s development and successful crowdfunding campaign. It is a tale which traces its roots back over two decades, to the days when British computing pioneer Psion was at the forefront of mobile innovation. The conversation explores how Martin’s design work on those Psion devices informed today’s rebirth as the Gemini PDA and looks at the design challenges Planet has overcome to bring this new product to market.

Now, bear with the podcast audio - get past Marek's introductory few minutes and then get past the echoey audio and occasional break-ups, because the content of the podcast is very interesting. Martin goes into detail about the design decisions that had to make when re-creating the Psion palmtop concept for 2017/2018. From thickness to keyboard to camera and telephony, it's all here in terms of the challenges faced.

Well worth a listen!

src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/367545113&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="no" scrolling="no">




Windows on phones stymied by moving goalposts... just like Symbian

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 07:23:00 GMT

The problem with the tech world is, from an operating system provider's point of view, that the goalposts keep moving. These perambulating pieces of wood killed Symbian, killed Blackberry, have almost killed Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, and, one day, may even kill iOS as we know it today. With hindsight, it's all too clear, but at the time OS coders were making sensible choices. I'll use Symbian as an example here, since this is being posted on AAS as well as AAWP. Back in 1998 when Symbian was being designed, and even in the early 2000s, when the first smartphones became available, the concept of getting 'online' was still quite new and connectivity certainly not taken for granted. In many cases, the connection was via GPRS and cost significant money. Which is why the only 'silent' connectivity was via Wifi and any attempt by phone software to start up a GPRS data connection was accompanied by (to paraphrase) an 'Are you sure?' message. This legacy impression of a 'nanny' OS stayed with Symbian for much of its life, right up to the end (in 2012, with the last Symbian device, the classic Nokia 808), though from about 2007 onwards the warnings were dialled right back as connectivity became ubiquitous and relatively inexpensive (or bundled). The goalposts that had constrained the OS had moved and the OS had to adapt - and it did, to a degree.  Another good example from the Symbian days is the Web browser. Much ridiculed today by many, this is unfair since back in 2006 when it appeared it was a superb example of a 'modern' Webkit-based browser, letting relatively tiny phones render full web sites (of the time) in a sensible way. There was nothing to touch it until the iPhone's Safari and far greater horsepower appeared in 2007 to take mobile browsing up a notch. However, the Web is a fast changing beast. Pages which were typically 50kb of HTML and 500k of images in 2006 have become 1MB of HTML and scripting, with 5MB of images, ten years later. At least a ten fold increase in size, plus an extra increase in terms of complexity and interactivity. The web was 95% reference ten years ago, and now it's 95% interactive. Those moving goalposts again. And so to today and this editorial in the context of Windows 10 Mobile being increasingly sidelined by the exact same phenomenon. I'll use two examples.  Firstly, mobile payments. This wasn't a 'thing' even five years ago, but the idea of using NFC for paying for things 'contactless' using a phone is now ubiquitous. In 2017, people expect to be able to pay for things using their watch, for goodness sake. Apple started things off with the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay, but Google was only a year or two behind with (wait for it) Android Pay. And any phone with a NFC antenna and some form of biometric authentication can now join in the fun. When Windows Phone was designed, back in 2008-2010, the very idea of using NFC for payments was unheard of - Nokia and others had been using the tech to pair phones to Bluetooth accessories, look up NFC tags, and 'tap to share' for years. But the goalposts were about to change again - and, despite numerous rumours, trials and public outings, 'Microsoft Pay' isn't ready. And for Windows on phones it's far too late now, of course. Secondly, compatibility with the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices across the world. In the home, at work, in hotels and garages. My eye was drawn by a recent commenter on an editorial here: "...it has no apps. I cannot use my lights, my heating, my speakers, my watch, Chromecast, my door lock...". Now, since when was it the function of a phone to control all these things? Moving goalposts again... Over the last 12 months, I gather, the phone is the control panel for many digital gadgets now - at least if you believe the smart home geeks. And I'll admit that it's true that [...]



The Nokia 8 takes on the Lumia 950

Mon, 13 Nov 2017 07:58:05 GMT

No, not the Nokia N8. This is the Android-powered Nokia 8, made by HMD Global, of course, in 2017. But it's still a phone that I've had lots of emails about, so I arranged a shootout over on AAWP here. Now, at some point I'll get the Nokia 8 in here, in the office, and the natural shootout would be Nokia N8 vs 808 vs Nokia 8 - all the 8s....!!! Watch this space.

In the meantime, here's some text from my conclusion:

This was one of the most requested AAWP phone camera shootouts and thanks to KF Chan for helping make this happen. One of the reasons why I'd not moved heaven and earth to get a Nokia 8 in for review yet (though I have been asking PR) was that I knew it would be something of a disappointment. And so it proved. Despite two cameras, OIS and ZEISS optics, HMD Global doesn't have anywhere near the same imaging expertise that the Nokia guys had back in the day (and at Microsoft until they all left or got made redundant), the Nokia 8 has sensors that are too small, no oversampling and no secret sauce (along Google Pixel lines) to rescue the results.

At some point, no doubt, I will get the '8' in for a full review and at that time I can do more head to heads with, for example, the Nokia N8 and 808 from the Symbian world, since those too have been requested. Can 'Nokia' (actually HMD Global) fix up the camera with updates or is the Nokia 8 destined to underperform? Currently I'd class the imaging as not worthy of the prestigious Nokia brand name - as someone who loved the N82, N8, 808 and 1020 before the 950, I hear 'Nokia' and I think 'amazing camera', and this simply isn't the case for the '8'. Yet.

Which would win of the Nokia 8, 808 and N8? That's actually a tougher call since the latter two predated the modern OIS era. So it all depends whether I allowed tripod use. Or had very, very steady hands for the low light test cases!




The Nokia 808 takes on the Sony Xperia XZ1 and the Galaxy Note 8

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:12:20 GMT

Reader Martin Roth runs a YouTube channel, in part dedicated to comparing camera phones - and he's now put up videos on the Nokia 808 PureView versus the Xperia XZ1 and Galaxy Note 8, both running Android. They're in German, but see below for how to get English subtitles!

Firstly the Nokia 808 versus the XZ1. Maximise the window and then dive into the YouTube player settings - set the 'subtitles' to be 'Auto translate' and then 'English' (or whatever):

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VfoIiNmPQmA?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

And then the Nokia 808 versus the Galaxy Note 8:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MRwTJzCVFGs?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

Comments? The subtitle system makes the videos something of a hard watch, not least because the videos flickered for me as a result, but hey... Some Nokia 808 content - in 2017!




Mini-review: Veho ZB-6 hybrid headphones

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:10:00 GMT

In this world where everyone's going wireless for their audio, it seems, I thought I'd profer a suggestion, and one that involves flexibility and yet intense luxury. I was sent the Veho ZB-6 Wireless headphones a while ago, but don't switch off, these aren't generic Bluetooth 'phones. These are true, supremely comfortable over-ear studio-class (at least to my ears) headphones that work over Bluetooth or via a standard 3.5mm lead. Battery life is off the charts, the feel on the ears and in the hand, is tremendous, and they even fold for easy storage when travelling. Top notch gear.I've used Veho headphones for a while, in fact, swearing by my Z-8 headset when podcasting since they're just so comfortable, hour after hour. The materials used (faux leather?) in the soft ear cushions, the cushioning itself, the rubberised ('Tacton') finish on everything, it all adds up to a premium experience. There's no bare plastic at all, and the only bare surfaces are metal, cold and polished. And it's the same with the ZB-6 here: Aside from feel and comfort though, the main thing to get across is the dual mode in terms of connection: Bluetooth or Wired. The pros and cons of each aren't quite as evident as you might think, so here's a little table: Headphones Bluetooth Wired Pros No wires to get tangled. Perfect sound quality, or as perfect as the DAC in your phone! No need to charge the headphones. Cons Audio quality has to 'compressed' again, so there's some loss in fidelity. You have to keep the headphones charged. A wire to get tangled or caught on things. The degradation in sound quality going from wired to wireless headphones IS noticeable - you can hear the way sound has less depth and fidelity as a result of the extra processing. Now, the ZB-6 doesn't support the advanced APT-X codec, which solves the quality problem, which is a shame. But you still get the option of wired use when you want maximum quality and wireless when you want maximum freedom. The charging here is via microUSB, with a cable supplied, the socket being underneath a rubber flap on the right ear-cup. The battery is (relatively) huge (90mAh) though, with Veho claiming 25 hours listening time on one charge. In practice (I can back this up), this means that they'll last a typical working/commuting week for most people and then need a top-up at the weekend. Very convenient and almost zero hassle. Pairing with my various phones (the Lumia 950 XL shown at the top) was painless and I liked the way that the headphones themselves announce, audibly, what's happening when you press or long press the multi-function button, e.g. "Powering on", "Pairing", etc. The + and - buttons activate next and previous track functions, with long pressing each adjusting volume, as expected. I couldn't find a button combo to bring up Cortana, but that's no big deal. Audio quality is excellent throughout though - while I can hear the difference between wired and Bluetooth audio (not all can), they're both enjoyable to listen to (unless you put on rap music - sorry, couldn't resist....!) and, as I say, supremely comfortable on/over the ears. I apologise if all this is sounding somewhat gushing (and yes, do see the disclaimer below) - I just happen to like the product a lot and remain a Veho fan. These are currently on offer on Amazon UK at £75 or so. Which seems a reasonable price considering the luxury and quality on offer*. * The obvious disclaimer here is that the review headphones were sent across free of charge. But these would still be on my radar if I was dipping into my own wallet.[...]



Review: Archeer A320 Bamboo Wireless Speaker

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 19:13:08 GMT

OK, we have a winner in the Bluetooth speaker stakes. Except that it's not as portable as you might think. Or as rugged. We're talking living-room quality bamboo cambinet, and zero protection from impact on the front, so consider this suitable for environments with no kids or animals! It's all worth it though - the sound quality from the Archeer Bamboo A320 is astonishing. 

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The secret here, other than sheer heft (the A320 weighs 1.4kg!), is the central 15W sub-woofer and bass reflex port on the back - these push around a lot of air. The upshot is that whether you're into classical music or rock, the fidelity is right up there with a dedicated living room sound system. Perhaps not matching proper hi-fi set-ups, but darned close considering that you can pick this up in one hand and move it to a different room in an instant.

I was testing this with my Lumia 950 XL and it paired easily and also reconnected automatically on subsequent play tests. Once playing, music (or YouTube, above) can be controlled from the phone's volume buttons or those on the fabric-covered speaker top:

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The craftsmanship that's gone into the bamboo machining and finishing is extraordinary - the A320 is currently £75 in the UK and it's worth every penny. I remember when a 'Jambox' speaker was over £100 and here we have something with five times the audio quality at a lower price, albeit in 2017.

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On the back of the A320, in addition to that bass reflex port, are the usual ports - 3.5mm Aux in, in case you don't want to use Bluetooth, microUSB for charging, though the internal battery is a whopping 5200mAh and we're six hours of playback into our family test and haven't needed to recharge it yet. Given the (relative) lack of portability, the odds are good though that this will be within range of a charger most of the time - we're not talking beach or hiking sessions here!

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Talking of beach and hiking, add in anything to do with water or physical attack - so that's kids and pets out. The exposed speakers cones look fantastic but aren't going to fare well if something hits or presses against them. Also avoid (steamy) kitchens and bathrooms! 

But, for the adult in a safe and secure living room or office, the sound quality from the Archeer A320 is unequalled in my Bluetooth speaker tests. A top product, beautifully crafted - just be careful where you put it!

PS. For anyone in the USA, here's the Amazon USA buy link, along with a discount code: GWZRR89M




Choosing a smartphone platform in 2017

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 06:31:00 GMT

So I've put forward the case for Windows 10 Mobile in video form, plus I've shown that W10M is still relevant in 2017. But - like any intelligent person - you'll have been looking around at other smartphone platforms, eyeing up shiny new phones. It's only natural. Which is why I wanted to set down my thoughts on how the three* main platforms compare - which way should you jump?* OK, so the 'third ecosystem' is only in contention numbers-wise if you include Windows 10 on all form factors, but it remains the only real alternative to the big two on mobile: iOS and Android. Writer's note: A casual perusal of the table below will show that there are many more positives than negatives for Windows 10 Mobile, with slightly more negatives than positives for the iPhone and iOS. Although I've tried to be objective below, I can't help a little personal subjectivity creeping in - this is AAWP, after all! And comments welcome below, as usual...   iOS Android Windows 10 Mobile Pros/advantages Good security, locked down Store and installation Wide application selection Network of Apple Stores worldwide for support and repair Ostensibly simple 'what you see is what you get' UI Good update prospects, typically 4 years per handset after launch Wide application selection Home screen interactive widgets microSD support (hardware dependent) Very wide variety of hardware to choose from MTP file access to desktops (in theory, doesn't always work IME) Standard USB Type C or microUSB compatibility Good security, locked down Store and installation UWP applications across form factors Plug and play file compatibility with Windows PCs Start screen and resizeable live tiles Virtual controls that can be dismissed completely for more visible content Continuum and external genuine secondary displays Monthly security and patch updates for two years per OS branch, so typically 3 to 4 years per handset after launch microSD support Standard USB Type C compatibility All phones ever made have 3.5mm audio out(!) Cons/disadvantages No microSD expansion Proprietary USB port (Lightning) Many models have no 3.5mm audio out, so dongles needed No back control in the UI, 'back' function varies according to application [gesture being added for iOS 11] Locked down file system, access only through very specific mechanisms Static and inflexible app launcher/home-screen Security worries if not kept 100% bang up to date or used properly (latest big scare here) Along similar lines, only flagships tend to get significant updates, and even then only for 18 months at most Lots of UI variations, all slightly different Vertical/boutique applications, social apps, all missing or less capable Very poor games and VR selections Very limited hardware selection for new handsets I think I've been pretty fair above. I've not been shy about both praising and criticising the iPhone and iOS in the past, while I use several Android smartphones in my day to day rotation/life. But however much I try and look away from Windows 10 Mobile and - specifically - the Lumia 950 XL, I keep getting sucked back by the pros/advantages above. They're genuine advantages too, as I've mentioned several times. Yet they're undermined by the three cons/disadvantages, which are - if I'm honest - rather huge. The app selection most people could work around (see our directories of general apps and imaging/reading apps), with third party applications and services accessed though the Edge browser. But the last one - limited new hardware is probably the killer in the wider phone market. Lumias are out of stock almost everywhere by now, the promised [...]



Inside camera phones, and Nokia through the ages

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 07:48:09 GMT

I'd just like to draw your attention to two specific podcast episodes that you might not have been aware of. Both aired in the last couple of weeks on brand new shows and both are of direct interest.

Firstly, Richard Yates is part of the team at a new podcast, 'The TechBox', based in the UK, and in episode 5 he's flying solo but his subject matter is his history with Nokia, the brand, the hardware and the company. Over the last 25 years. 

It's a good listen, with no real omissions as such, though it's assumed that you know some of the tech background, such as Microsoft buying Nokia's Devices division in 2013. Regular readers here will be able to fill in these contextual gaps though. Richard's been through many of the same devices as you and I, so it's refreshing to hear someone else's experience.

And yes, he cover's some of Nokia's mistakes, including not capitalising on their 'app store'. I'd go back further to Nokia's 'Download!' Store around 2005, but Richard's reference to the 'Ovi Store' (2009) only being for Nokia handsets as a 'mistake' doesn't quite ring true as a mistake since by then there weren't really any other Symbian licensees (just one Samsung handset that had much bigger issues). A bigger mistake, also identified, was general mis-management over the decade.

Richard highlights some of my favourite smartphones, in particular the Nokia N93, N8 and - of course - the 808 PureView.

You can subscribe to The TechBox here.

Secondly, I was a guest on Myriam Joire's new 'Mobile Tech Podcast' a few weeks ago, in episode 16, chatting about all aspects of camera phones. The chat was very much driven by Myriam, who wanted to explain in detail the various parameters that make up a good phone camera, but I think I held my own and managed to get in some chat about Xenon flash(!) and some classic Nokia PureView phones, the 808 and 1020. 

Myriam had been a guest on my own Phones Show Chat (now well into its 400s!) several times, so it was good to be invited back by her in return. See what you think. You can subscribe to her Mobile Tech Podcast via the RSS feed here.




Mini-review: Veho TA-1 Multi-region Travel Plug

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 13:20:36 GMT

I realise that travel adapters have existed since the dawn of time, but this one takes the biscuit. It's pass through, it has integral support for dozens of countries, it has four USB ports for gadget charging, and yet is only a few cubic inches. Amazing. If you're a regular traveller then this is one way to save space in your kit bag with an all-in-one gadget.

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The chunky control and the four USB ports impress at first glance - what on earth is this and how does it work?

Once unboxed, it all becomes clear - the main slider (which has to be depressed slightly before it moves, for safety reasons) pops out either European-standard mains pins:

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...or UK-style pins:

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...or USA-style pins. The first via a spring mechanism, the latter two by using the movement of the slider itself to push out the relevant pins. And, when the Euro pins are popped back, it's almost a perfect cube and incredibly neat!

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But there's more. On the cube's top face is a universal mains (female) socket, so that's where you plug your mains appliance. But while this is going on, the four USB ports can output a maximum of 3.5A (up to 2.4A maximum on the left hand 'smart' socket, which tries to supply current intelligently rather than rely on your phone/tablet managing charging):

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The possibilities from all this are almost endless. You can be almost anywhere in the world and one of the three plug styles will fit the wall sockets, while your (e.g.) laptop charges out of the top using your normal charging cables. And while up to four phones and other devices charge happily from the bank of four USB sockets.

The innovation here is in the compactness and lack of reliance on parts that snap off and on again (which will get lost or break) - and I was seriously impressed. What a neat solution.

I should declare that Veho sent this across for me to use freely (it's normally £30) and it just made my main go-anywhere kit case.




An hour of camera phone tech with Steve and Myriam

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 20:31:02 GMT

Just a podcast of interest - or at least a particular episode. I was the guest of Myriam Joire on the Mobile Tech Podcast this week - and, predictably, we chatted about smartphone imaging. For an hour. And could probably have gone an extra hour if time had allowed. We cover some of the past classics, such as the Nokia N8 and 808, we cover the Lumia 1020 and 950, but all in the context of today's Android-powered imaging flagships. And yes, I do mention Xenon. At some length 8-)

Here's the podcast, anyway, worth an hour of your time if you're really into your camera phones!

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We get a bit carried away and sorry for talking at top speed - if it's too fast for you then listen at 75% speed! That's what a little passion does for the recording process....

See also the home page for Myriam's podcast.




Mini-review: Romoss 2-in-1 Universal Cable

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 10:26:36 GMT

'Universal cables' have been tried before, of course, with multiple cabled heads. Plus you can buy simple adapters that convert one charging connector to another format. But the former is bulky, while the latter suffers from the inevitable 'lost adapter down the back of the sofa' problem. Enter Romoss with what is essentially a tethered microUSB to USB Type C adapter. Making it just about perfect for anyone spanning the old (Symbian, Windows Phone) and new (top-end Android and most Windows 10 Mobile) days.

I myself have a number of the old micro-to-C adapters. At the bottom of drawers and cases and never around when I need them. And they don't always support data as well as power.

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The Romoss cable aims to fix things and for £9 all in, which I think is quite reasonable. The double-head has the USB Type C cable tethered by strong plastic and so it can never be lost. And when you need Type C for hooking up to a PC or for charging, for a newer device, then just pop it over the microUSB connector and Robert's your father's brother.

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I tested this with an old Symbian phone, the Nokia 808, and saw data connection (mass storage) and charging, I did the same with a Lumia 1020 and 950 XL (both shown below) and then the new Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro, and finally an Android flagship with 'C' and in each case the cable performed as expected.

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The only caveat is that the cable is quite thin by USB Type C standards, indicating that it's current limited, and indeed only 2.1A is claimed (I tested it at length!), some way short of the full 3A or 3A 'Power Delivery' that's part of the Type C specification and that we're used to from the most capable in-box and aftermarket chargers. And not compatible at all with Qualcomm Quick Charge 2/3, should you have a phone with this onboard.

Still, 2A is still a decent charging current (and the convenience of bringing only one cable to handle all your phones is probably worth taking a small hit on maximum current.

Oh, and the cable's white, which I've grown to like as it stands out in my case or bag*.

* I don't use Apple phones or tablets so I don't have a load of white gear already!




Review: Nokia 6

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 06:06:00 GMT

What's this? A review of a smartphone that doesn't run Symbian on AAS? And that doesn't run Windows 10 Mobile on AAWP? Actually yes - it's my first look at the new Nokia 6, running Android. And it's here because it's the return of the classic Nokia brand that I've written about so many times on these sites. The personnel behind it are mostly different, the OS certainly is, but is it worth casting a look in the 'new' Nokia's direction? Probably not, though hopefully this mini-review will be of interest. This Nokia is still designed in Finland, it’s still made like a tank, but the actual firm behind it is HMD Global and all the manufacturing is in China. So take the ‘Nokia’ branding with just a pinch of salt. There's little DNA here from the classic Nokia designs of the past, though some visual clues have been taken from phones such as the Nokia N9 (running Meego, so that's the fourth OS mentioned in the last two paragraphs!), Lumia 800 and Lumia 920.  As a smartphone, the ‘6’ is well styled, I was enormously impressed by how solid it is, with slab aluminium sides and polished chamfered edges. It's heavy too, at almost 170g, almost in phablet territory with a 5.5” screen. The fingerprint sensor, down the bottom, is 100% accurate, but the specification here means that it takes a second from placing your thumb to the Nokia 6 being unlocked and the display powered up. Is a second too long? Not for the target market, though anyone exposed to flagships (think iPhone 7, Google Pixel) will notice a difference. Around the perimeter is a welcome 3.5mm headphone jack, all metal volume and power buttons, a speaker aperture (of which more later) and... a microUSB charging and data port. That’s right - microUSB on a £200 smartphone in 2017, rather than the now ubiquitous USB Type C. It feels very out of place and my theory is that the Nokia 6 design was actually finalised at least 18 months ago, back at the tail end of 2015, when USB Type C was still only on flagships (the Lumia 950 and 950 XL famously launched with this, among the first smartphones with 'C'). The delays HMD Global faced getting the Nokia 6 to market have left it with this single anachronistic spec point. Most users won’t mind, of course, microUSB jacks and chargers are everywhere still - and, to be fair, it’s just about the only major disappointment in the Nokia 6. For the price. On the back is the reassuring ‘NOKIA’ logo, just as on the Symbian phones and Lumias of old, plus a very ‘Nokia’ vertical raised camera island. I suspect that the raising is purely cosmetic, since there’s no reason for this pretty average phone camera to need the extra thickness. I’ll come back to the camera later on. The display is IPS LCD and 1080p resolution. With the RGB stripe (i.e. all pixels represented, unlike on AMOLED screens), the screen is extremely crisp and decently bright, though I noted that contrast levels weren’t brilliant in the sun.  The top earpiece is used as a ‘tweeter’ and piped the left channel for any stereo audio. This is - absolutely - a hack of the highest order. The results when watching Netflix or similar are a definitely imbalance in the sound, with 90% of the volume coming from the bottom firing main speaker and 10% from the earpiece. Much of the time this doesn’t really matter, but just occasionally something’s supposed to be happening in the left channel in terms of music or effects and… you can hardly hear it. With prope[...]



Looking back on 15 years of the megapixel race

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 06:57:45 GMT

I'm a sucker for smartphone retrospectives and also one for photography features. Put the two together and you've got a name-checking smartphone rundown from the last 15 years over on GSMArena that looks at how camera resolutions have changed in our phones. The highwater mark, of course, was the Nokia 808 PureView, from 2012, but the whole 'arc' is an interesting rogues champions gallery.From the GSMArena post: We've traced the rise of the cameraphone before, but since we're in a lull in the megapixel race, we wanted to look back and check the milestones reached along the way to the Nokia 808 PureView - the 41MP monster that (five years later) is still the phone with the highest resolution camera (and only matched by Lumia 1020 since). The Audiovox PM8920 may have been the first to cross the 1MP line with its 1.3MP camera in 2004. Niche brands aside, Motorola brought out the 1000 series phones that same year - the touch-focused A1000, the E1000 bar and V1000 flip. The Windows-powered MPx220 also joined in. Motorola A1000 • Motorola E1000 • Motorola V1000 • Motorola MPx220 Then in early 2005 Samsung unveiled the P850, a flip phone with a rotating screen and a 3.15MP camera. Sound familiar? You may be thinking of the Nokia N90 from a few months later and its 2MP camera (with Carl Zeiss optics). Before the year's end, the Nokia N80 matched Samsung at 3.15MP. And then looking ahead further in the article: There was a brief flirtation with 13MP by Motorola and Toshiba, but Nokia put an end to the debate in 2012 with, yes, the Nokia 808 PureView - one of the best cameraphones of all time. Its monstrous sensor was 1/1.2", the biggest we've seen on a mobile device. To put that in perspective, the sensor was 3 times the size of a 1/2.3" sensor like the ones we see in the Xperia XZ Premium, Google Pixel and a few others. The sheer size of the sensor meant that despite its massive 41MP resolution, pixels were still quite large at 1.4µm (the Nokia N8 was at 1.75µm pixels). But the genius of the phone was elsewhere - mature image processing and leveraging on that resolution to enable high-quality digital zoom for 8MP photos. Advanced image processing is at the heart of the best cameras today. Nokia kept things going for a bit longer, in 2013 it came out with the Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone). It kept the 41MP resolution, though it shrunk the sensor to a still huge 1/1.5" (pixel size went down to 1.12µm). However, megapixel counts dropped off quickly after that. The rise of resolution according to tech and then the fall again as other methods of achieving results came into prominence (e.g. what I've dubbed PureView take 2) is fascinating. Also of interest might be my own 'Top 10 phone cameras of all time', in which I put the Nokia 808 at no. 4 and the Nokia Lumia 1020 at no. 5. Interestingly, my no. 1, the Lumia 950, isn't mentioned at all in the source article, probably because it focussed (pun intended) on fine tuning the innovations from the previous few years rather than breaking new ground in terms of resolution or pixel size. [...]