Last Build Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 03:00:11 GMT
Tue, 07 Feb 2017 14:02:17 GMTThere's a fascinating (if understandably promotional) post over on Qualcomm's site, in which the imaging capabilities of the upcoming smartphone chipset, the Snapdragon 835, are discussed. See below for a few quotes. In summary, it's becoming increasingly evident that great smartphone imaging is just as much about processing power as it is about the raw optics and sensor size. The Nokia 808 PureView arguably started the trend, with a custom image processor, but with the likes of the modern Snapdragon 820/821 and now 835, we have even faster image processing and implemented so generically that it can be part of a great many devices and not just the one it was designed for.From the Qualcomm blog post: With traditional digital cameras, your photos and videos are only ever as good as the camera’s image sensor and lens, and whether the environment is just right. Often, what you get are shaky clips and blurry images due to low light, grainy zoom, and slow autofocus, among other factors. The way to overcome these limitations is through a technique called computational photography — clever computing algorithms and technologies designed to enhance image quality, ensure speedy performance, and add new imaging capabilities that previously weren’t possible. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor is packed with technologies engineered to turn your smartphone’s camera into a brilliant computational camera that delivers gorgeous photos and video. The Snapdragon 835 integrates more than just a CPU and GPU; there are many technologies working together. Here are some of the camera enhancements you’ll experience when your device is powered by a Snapdragon 835. The post then goes on to list the various ways in which a really powerful chipset can help, starting with better digital zoom: One of the biggest complaints about smartphone cameras is the ineffectiveness of the zoom. That’s because most phones use a digital zoom, which electronically crops and interpolates images. This is effective up to a certain point, but zoom too far and you’ll get too much digital noise (grainy or blurry images as a result of the loss in resolution and color). An optical zoom enhances details as you get closer, which means you have a better shot at capturing hi-res photos from far away. The Snapdragon 835 processor is designed to address the graininess problem by intelligently combining optical and digital zooms, so photos can be smooth, seamless, and lossless. The integrated Qualcomm Spectra 180 ISP (Image Signal Processor) is made to support up to a 32MP resolution at 30 fps with zero shutter lag on a single camera. In order to support dual cameras, one ISP per camera is required. In the case of optical zoom, Snapdragon 835 is engineered to support one for a wide angle lens and a second for a telephoto lens. And the processor’s heterogeneous computing capabilities are engineered to effortlessly bridge the different lenses to deliver both digital and optical zoom — a radical upgrade from the digital-only zoom. Ah, ok, so you do need two camera lenses then, but these set-ups do seem to becoming more common, albeit only Apple (with some ex-Nokia expertise!) has actually mastered it yet in my opinion. Then there's video stabilisation, I'm a fan of hardware OIS, as you know, though adding EIS on top does produce stunningly smooth results. Here's Qualcomm again: As with still photography, there are frustrations associated with capturing video on a smartphone. Shaky video can be literally sickening. Qualcomm Technologies is a leader in Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) technology, which is integrated in earlier generations of Snapdragon processors, to counteract this unwanted motion. Version 3.0 takes it to the next level, with support for 4K resolution as well as gyro-based pitch, yaw, and roll correction to help stabilize zoom while shooting video. EIS 3.0 also introduces trajectory smoothing algorithms to further assist in stabiliz[...]
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 07:13:11 GMTI seem to have become synonymous with various things, one being smartphone imaging and another being power bank reviews, with the flexible and future-proof Lumsing Glory P2 Plus being the latest and best. Yet the OUTXE (OUTdoor Xtreme Energy, apparently!) Rugged Power Bank offers a totally different USP - it's fully waterproof (to a maximum of IP67) and pitches itself as the ultimate accessory for the outdoor enthusiast, with a seven LED 200 hour floodlight that's perfect for camping or emergencies. In terms of form factor, this is pretty standard - a slender rectangle, around half an inch thick and encased in an aluminium tube. And with 10000mAh (at 3.7V) of Li-Ion cells inside and USB Type A output (at 2A) and microUSB input (ditto). So far so boring. But each end is enclosed in rubberised plastic and with tasteful red accents. And then you notice that one end has a large translucent panel - I've seen power banks with a single LED 'emergency torch' before, but never one with seven high intensity LEDs that can light up a room. Or, more likely for the target market, the inside of a tent. In fact, this gadget is just as much a microUSB rechargeable floodlight as a power bank. There's a 'dim' mode too, for gentle lighting through the long (tent) night. The official specifications quote 200 hours of light from one charge, in this mode, or 50 hours in the full (bright) floodlight mode, which is very impressive. Add in charging a smartphone a couple of times and the PCPB10000 should be about right for a long (3 day) weekend's camping, serving up all light and power needs. There's also an SOS mode, plus a constant blinking mode (not sure what this serves), all accessed by pressing the main power button a number of times - this also doubles as a check on the status of the internal battery, using the traditional four status LED system. But there's more, of course. You'll notice the chunky rubber flaps over the only two ports. When actually in use (i.e. charging something else or being charged itself), with one or both flaps open, the OUTXE unit is still IP54 ratified, so if the tent blows open and rain gets in or even if actually used in the rain then you should be OK. This itself is a step up from traditional power banks. But with the two rubber plugs pushed into place over the USB Type A and microUSB ports, the OUTXE PCPB10000 becomes IP 67 certified, i.e. dust and sand won't get in, the unit could be accidentally dunked in liquid and it would come out without harm. Now, there's the usual caveat wherein this only applies if the flaps are perfectly inserted and pushed all the way in, but in real world use all these IP numbers simply mean that you can take this out in your hiking rucksack or on your bike and it doesn't matter if you hit inclement weather, you won't have to worry about water getting into this particular piece of electronics. With the tethered plugs out, the out (left, above) and in (right) ports are exposed, each capable of handling 2A. Which should cover charging basics - there's no pretense here at Quick Charge compatibility, Power Delivery, and so on - just a solid charge into anything you can hook up via USB. The USP here then is to have the light and charge storage in a robust unit that's durable in an outdoor setting. And that makes it very interesting overall. This OUTXE accessory is available from Amazon UK currently at £26, which is decent value (you're paying a little extra for the water-proofing, which is absolutely fair enough), though apparently a USB Type C version is in the works, due for release in July 2017 - now that will be something jump on for many people reading this and wanting to be fully future (as well as weather) proof! PS. This is also available on Amazon USA here.[...]
Sun, 15 Jan 2017 16:12:36 GMT
One of the last great active Symbian developers, Marxoft is keeping on going, with streaming media applications that keep pace with API changes in Internet services. Today saw updated versions of the developer's SoundCloud client, along with associated modules and Internet Radio.
From the Marxoft web site:
Additional features in version 0.2.0 include:
The updated packages can be obtained from the Maemo5 extras-devel repository.
- Support for playing remote URLs.
- Recursive searching for music tracks when playing local folders.
- Option to save/restore playback queue.
- Sleep timer.
In addition to the Maemo5 update, MusiKloud2 is now available for the Symbian platform. Below are links to the SIS packages:
Comments welcome if you're using any of this as to how well it works. So many other Internet services are no longer fully compatible with Symbian apps, and with certificate issues rearing their ugly heads, it has proved unworkable for me as a primary phone, but I'm sure there are some people persevering!
Fri, 30 Dec 2016 11:35:00 GMTYesterday I looked at the arrival, in for review, of a rather rare thing - a Xenon-flash-equipped, zoom-equipped camera phone, competing (obviously) with such (also rare) Nokia classics like the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020. But never mind the bulk (in this case, removeable, but still...), never mind the form factor, how do these ultra-camera-phones perform against each other in a variety of challenging tests? Let's find out...As hinted in the original piece, I'm going to throw in a known data point, the current world champion of camera phones (in my opinion), the Lumia 950 XL. Not because it's good at zoom (it isn't), not because it has Xenon flash (it hasn't), but because behind all of the thoughts here about super-specialist camera phones is the reality that a traditional LED-equipped, solid state flagship smartphone is good enough for most people. I.e. what's interesting here is how far (or otherwise) the 950 XL is behind the specialists here, given the specific tests included. The 950 XL stands in here for the iPhone 7*, the Galaxy S7 and other top end consumer phones. * and yes, the iPhone 7 Plus now has a 2x zoom lens, though this isn't OIS-enabled and there's still just LED flash. I know, I know. See here for my iPhone 7 Plus imaging comparison feature. Things are complicated, in terms of comparisons, by the different capture resolutions here, so there will be a degree of mismatch in all the crops below: The Nokia 808 has an 8MP oversampled 'Creative' mode, with zoom to 1:1 on the sensor where needed. The Lumia 1020 is best in its 5MP oversampled mode, though as with the 808, for zooming purposes, the full resolution of the sensor is, of course, used. The Lumia 950 has its native 8MP oversampled mode, and again the fuller 16MP (in 16:9) resolution is used when zooming. The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom shoots in 16MP in 16:9, natively, and there are no useful oversampled lower resolutions, so we're stuck with this in terms of comparisons. Zooming is optical, so there's no change in resolution or sensor use here. The Moto Z Hasselblad shoots in 9MP in 16:9 mode, with the same note about optical zoom as above. In addition, the 2.5x (or so) lossless zoom in the Lumia 1020 (slightly less in the 808 in its 8MP mode and less still in the 950, with its lower resolution sensor) is no match for the true, optically stabilised 10x zoom in the Galaxy K Zoom and Moto Z Hasselblad mod, so these ultra-zoom cases are sometimes included separately - see the notes below, as appropriate to each test shot or use case. Note that I'm deliberately trying to push the boundaries in every shot below, as noted in each case, I wanted the phones to struggle - many of the photos wouldn't have worked at all on more conventional phone hardware. Test shot 1: Sunny churchyard The easiest shot here, I still presented a challenge by shooting into the sun and noting huge differences in light and shade across the frame, so this was a test of dynamic range. No zooming needed - yet! Here's the overall scene: And here are central crops from, in sequence, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom and the Moto Z with Hasselblad mod - in each case click the phone name to grab the original JPG for your own analysis. As expected, with such a relatively easy shot, there's not much to choose between the photos here, though the Lumia 950 clearly has the edge in terms of dynamic range, contrast and detail (especially because it has the full resolution 16MP mode up its sleeve too). This is fitting, the 950/XL remains the phone camera to beat in the world if you exclude zooming and Xenon flash, which is where this feature comes in, of course! Test shot 2: Sunny churchyard, clock zoom The clock tower remains a favourite subject of mine, here lit in bright sun, so there was plenty of light available. Here's the overall scene: And here are central zoomed crops from, in sequence, the Nokia 808 PureView, [...]
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 09:12:59 GMTI've periodically returned to the classic Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, highlighting the lossless 2.5x zoom and 'proper' Xenon flash, though there's been precious little to compare these with that's camera centric from the wider smartphone world in the last five years. Yet along comes something new, the Hasselblad camera mod on the Moto Z, a late 2016 Android smartphone. Along with the 808, 1020 and also ageing Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, I couldn't resist a quick photo comparison. No, not of results (that comes soon!), this time of the hardware itself...Why am I making a fuss over both zoom and Xenon flash? Because they dramatically enhance the range of subjects and scenarios for taking photos. After all, every standalone camera, every DSLR, all have both zoom and Xenon too - so it's puzzling that phone manufacturers have steered quite so far clear away from these technologies. I realise that there's a slight increase in bulk and power requirements, but I'd have still expected that there be a few more camera-centric smartphone offerings. Than four. Over five years. (I don't count units like the Panasonic CM-1 or the Kodak Ektra because they had neither zoom nor Xenon.) Why zoom? As in 'lossless' zoom, implemented on the Nokia 808 PureView (running Symbian) and Nokia Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1), and optical zoom, implemented here on the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom and Motorola Moto Z 'Hasselblad' (snap-on) mod. Because you can get optically closer to your subject, providing more detail and more intimate framing. Why Xenon? Because shots of pets and human beings in low light can come out perfectly sharp, 'frozen' in motion. I realise that this isn't always to everyone's taste, since the flood or pure white light can also affect the atmosphere (e.g. at a party), but sometimes when you're grabbing a moment at an evening event then only Xenon will do. Step one then - comparing the physical propositions. (Step two will be to take these camera phones out into the world and see how they perform relative to each other, and this will take a day or two.) The Hasselblad solution is by far the bulkiest, but this is natural because there's not only the bulk of a telescopic 10x zoom mechanism, there's also the added bulk from having separate phone and camera portions (the 'mod' pulls off and you can swap it for extra battery or a large stereo speaker etc.) Plan form factors aren't that different, apart from the oldest, the Nokia 808, with its relatively tiny 4" screen (by today's standards!), though all phones are presented here camera-side first: Aside from the 'DSLR-like' 'grip' on the Moto Z plus Hasselblad, the phone form factors don't seem too dissimilar at first glance. However, start to introduce a plan perspective and the difference in thicknesses is immediately apparent: And you thought the Nokia 808 was chunky back in 2012... In fairness, the detachable nature of the Hasselblad Moto Z Mod means that you're not holding the full form factor all the time. You'd typically carry the Mod in your pocket (it comes with a case) and clip it on when the time came to take some adventurous photos. Of course, if you're going to carry something in a pocket then why not a small standalone camera in the first place? You do get the immediate sharing via the Moto Z smartphone this way round, but the solution does seem a little overkill. The all-in-one Galaxy K Zoom seems svelte and elegant by comparison, while the Lumia 1020 is positively the looker in this group, offering a vastly slimmer profile with almost no compromises beyond that 2.5x limit on (lossless) zoom. (If you want - for personal preference - more of a DSLR grip for the humble 1020 then this accessory exists.) And - gulp - this is all with the cameras not activated. Boot the Camera apps up and the electronics swing into action. The Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 mechanical shutters power up and you can see the lenses, the Hasselblad[...]
Tue, 13 Dec 2016 07:48:00 GMT
In AAWP Insight #201, hosted by Steve and Rafe, we continue the Steve Litchfield 'origins' story (following Rafe's own Origins tale on the 361 Degrees podcast). This time we (mainly) cover the post-millennium years. This includes the All About era, Steve's database efforts (from Trivopaedia to a UK Pocket Directory), early device reviews and content, and the switch from Symbian to Windows Phone.
This podcast was recorded on December 12th 2016 with Steve Litchfield and Rafe Blandford.
Wed, 07 Dec 2016 03:52:00 GMT
In AAWP Insight #200, hosted by Steve and Rafe, we celebrate our 200th podcast by tackling (the much teased) Steve Litchfield 'origins' story (following Rafe's own Origins tale on the 361 Degrees podcast). We cover the early years (adventures in aerospace), the rise of Psion and the 3-Lib shareware library, Steve's app development efforts (from golf to GIS), the dawn of connected PDAs, and the beginning of the Symbian era.
There's so much to cover that we'll have to continue in a follow-up podcast, part 2 if you like - watch this space for a follow up episode. This will look at not only Steve's efforts in the Symbian era and beyond but also Rafe's, and those of the other characters involved in the 'origins' and deveopment of the 'All About' sites. We have plenty of anecdotes left to share - and this time Rafe can't use the excuse that he was still in school (etc!) so he'll be joining in with the reminiscences more!
This podcast was recorded on December 6th 2016 with Steve Litchfield and Rafe Blandford.
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 16:32:00 GMT
We're entering a strange new world of physical connectors. microUSB, which came in around 2007, is being supplanted in a big way now by USB Type C, a reversible, more robust and more capable alternative. Where does that leave you, with microUSB data leads for your phones in a world where Macbooks only come with Type C? Looking for adapters, that's where, as we go into 2017. And, thinking laterally, the same adapters also let you plug in standard USB flash disks into USB Type C-equipped smartphones. So a bit of a win then.
Now, I'm sure there are other brands out there, but Choetech were good enough to send over a couple of pairs of USB to Type C adapters, so it's theirs that I'm going to plug here. That they come as pairs is a very good thing because they're tiny and easy to lose - I've already lost one of the four adapters sent over a couple of weeks ago!
While you may have your own uses in mind for these adapters, the main one I have in mind is when trying to use a legacy phone, with its own USB data and charge cable, with a new 2017 laptop that only has USB Type C jacks. The new Apple Macbooks are the first such, but I'm sure others will follow - Chromebooks and, one day, even Windows Surface devices or laptops. Or perhaps the main USB port is occupied and you're having to use a secondary, Type C port?
Either way, you plug the USB cable into the back of this adapter and then the Type C end into the appropriate Type C (or, in Apple parlance, Thunderbolt 3) port - and you're off to the races.
Choetech says of the adapters: "Built-in 56k ohm resistor follow Type C standard specification. Support OTG, hot plug and play design. No external driver needed and without software installation." I've come to trust the Choetech kit and these certainly seem to work.
I also tested the other use mentioned above, that of plugging in standard USB flash disks to a Type C-equipped smartphone, and this also worked immediately (on Windows 10 Mobile, the USB flash disk mounts as just another disk drive on the phone).
The adapters are £6 for a pair on Amazon UK, which seems like decent value - expensive enough to guarantee that corners haven't been cut and yet still easily in impulse buy territory.
A very handy little widget for your briefcase or pocket going forwards then, into this brave new USB Type C world - it'll take up to a decade until the older USB-A really dies out, so you might want to snap up several pairs to tide you over!
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:37:00 GMTHaving set up expectations that Google's HDR+ computational photography in the new Pixel flagship can be considered 'PureView take II', or thereabouts, I thought it time to put this to the test. So I took three PureView flagships from various eras: Nokia 808, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 950 XL, and pitched them against the new Google Pixel XL. The aim, away from trivial sunny shots (hey, suits me, this is the UK in October!), is to really stretch the pixel combination systems, in reducing noise and finding detail and colour. Of course, the Nokia 808 PureView (running in 8MP 'Creative' oversampling mode) and Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1 and in its default 5MP oversampling mode) are here only for interest sake and for reference, since they're both obsolete in terms of anyone buying them. The Lumia 950 XL here is in its default 8MP PureView oversampling mode, matching the Google Pixel's 8.3MP HDR+ mode. In each case, all photos were snapped at 16:9 aspect ratio, in case you were wondering about some of those resolutions, though that's not that relevant since I'm mainly going to be looking at central detail. There are also minor differences in terms of how wide angle the optics are in each case, so the 1:1 crops below won't match exactly in terms of framing. Again, in contrast to other camera phone tests around the web, I'm deliberately trying to make things hard for the phone cameras and I am looking in detail and being picky. Let's see how the phone imaging hardware performs... Test 1: Landscape, daylight, heavily overcast My standard suburban landscape scene, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Not a glimmer of sun, thanks to the time of year! Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: There are few surprises above - the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, and don't knock the 1020 for detail, since it doesn't have a 8MP mode and so it's forced to work at 5MP (I guess I could have applied a little PureView zoom but that's hard to judge on the fly). The Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and processing, but then the effect is 'crisper' to most human eyes so you can see why manufacturers do this. Nokia 808: 9pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Google Pixel: 8pts Test 2: Landscape (lake), daylight, overcast Another landscape scene, somewhat prettier, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which again has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: Again the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, while the Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and heavy processing, to the detriment of the photo in this case - the Pixel shot in particular has ugly detail when you look up close, as here. Nokia 808: 10pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 8pts; Google Pixel: 7pts Test 3: Landscape (lake), overcast, zoomed in The same lake scene as above, but this time using the native zoom functions on each phone. Here's the overall zoomed scene, as shot by the Nokia 808: Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Note that because the latter two have no exact scale in their UI it was hard to judge how far in I'd zoomed, so the framing doesn't match exactly. You'll get an idea of zoom quality though. Click [...]
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:54:35 GMTDigiPassion reports the welcome news that Microsoft has updated the old Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) , thought abandoned, along with all some of the old Nokia Series 60/Symbian firmware images - and it all now works again, with images now firmly on Microsoft's servers! Guess Microsoft is not quite the 'evil empire' after all? Good news anyway, and this will breathe new life into quite a few older Symbian-based phones.From the DigiPassion piece: Good news for Nokia phone users! Microsoft recently released a new version of Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) for good old Nokia phones. In this release Microsoft has fixed the Nokia firmware download issue. As you may know Microsoft closed down all Nokia websites (including phone software repository) earlier this year. This rendered all the firmware downloading softwares (like Navifirm, Nokia Suite, NDPM, Nokia Care Suite etc) useless. This NSRT update makes it clear that (fortunately) Microsoft has not deleted the Nokia firmware files altogether. Rather they have just shifted the files to their own download servers. This shift resulted in change of firmware file URLs which can be accessed via new NSRT now. Hopefully other such softwares will also get updates in the future with access to new download URLs.... How to download Nokia phone firmware files using Nokia Software Recovery Tool? Download latest version of NSRT from here and install in your computer (compatible with Windows 7 or later OS) Launch NSRT and connect your Nokia phone (in switch ON condition) with computer using USB data cableWait for a while as NSRT detects the phone – it will show phone details at the left side and latest available phone software at the right-hand side Click “Install” button – read and agree to the terms – NSRT will start downloading firmware files – wait for the download process to complete If you just want to download the firmware files (and not want to flash the phone) then keep an eye over the download process and disconnect the phone just when the download finishes. Otherwise NSRT will start flashing the phone soon after the download process. You may then use these files later on to flash your phone via NSRT (or any other such software like Phoenix Service Software) in offline mode. Thanks to DigiPassion for spotting this welcome news. By the way, the 'here' link above is directly to the .exe file for Windows, so wait until you're on the PC that you're going to use until you hit it. Reports are in that only Symbian^3/Anna/Belle (upwards) devices are supported. So nothing for S60 5th Edition and before. At least, not yet. Not being able to 'recover' a messed up phone was a major pain in the Symbian world over the last year and many times I had to point people towards the Delight custom firmware pages. Delight is only available for a handful of phones and, of course, it's not exactly 'stock', so it's good to see that the official OS images are all back now online. Many people, including me back in 2014, had been downloading and stockpiling certain device firmware images 'just in case', but it seems now that this archiving wasn't necessary and that Microsoft still has every image needed. Of course, none of this helps fix other holes in Symbian's operation in late 2016, with gaps developing for social services, email, web browsing, and so on. There ARE workarounds for some things, feel free to share any of your favourite tips below or in an article submission to AAS. In an ideal world, I'd write them up myself, but I've moved on to Windows 10 Mobile and Android for my primary devices. C'est la vie.[...]
Wed, 12 Oct 2016 14:31:15 GMTThe recent stories surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, with it catching fire and even exploding, ostensibly due to over-ambitious use of space inside the phone applying pressure to the internal Li-Ion battery, caused me to mull over features in many past smartphones that seem - in hindsight - designed to specifically avoid a 'Note 7' style Lithium accident. Using the example of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 640 XL, I show how such an accident is far, far less likely. One thing had always puzzled me about Nokia (and then Microsoft) smartphones - almost every example with a replaceable battery (and that's most of them) had a foam pad stuck to the inside of the back cover. It's true that this is partly to stop the battery rattling a little when the phone is shaken, but the foam also serves another purpose, I contend. For starters, it allows for a little variation in battery thickness. No two cells are ever exactly the same thickness, and the last thing you want is a frame so tightly space controlled that a small percentage of batteries end up under physical pressure from any direction. Such pressure deforms the internal electrolyte layers and, in the worst case, can cause the battery to catch fire or explode - as we saw recently in the Android world. Now, I'd argue that the first design aim for any smartphone should be to have a replaceable battery in the first place, but the likes of the Apple iPhone and fashion have meant that many manufacturers have opted for a sealed design because it's prettier, lighter and... thinner. And yes, that latter constraint works against the danger here. The second design aim should then be to have some margin of error in the size of the battery - in checking the various smartphones around All About Towers, I noticed that quite a few had empty space around the bulk of the battery, up to a millimetre (in total) in some cases. This doesn't impact performance, since the battery contacts are 'pin and sleeve' and work at a variety of relative distances. But it does mean that if a battery is very slightly over-size (by a fraction of a millimetre) then it's not going to be a problem inserting it and there won't be any external pressure around the sides. The same applies, only more so, on the battery's exterior face, with at least a millimetre (and sometimes more) of empty space above it and under the removeable back cover. Ample room for tolerance errors in batteries, and yes, the foam pad is then needed to avoid mechanical rattles. The foam pad becomes even more important when the battery gets old, too. You see, when a Li-Ion battery gets old or has been misused (e.g. allowed to run down to zero charge and left there for a while), gases build up inside and the battery starts to swell - I'm sure most of us have seen examples of this. Eventually the battery dies, of course, and has to be disposed of responsibly. However, in the meantime, while it is swelling up (and in old phones this can happen while the phone is in daily use) the foam pad takes up all the initial swelling without stressing the battery layers too much. If the phone body was fixed and the battery wasn't replaceable then the swelling would apply serious pressure to the phone's structure, to its surrounding electronics and - most dangerously - to the battery's own structural integrity. I've argued many times (e.g. here) that the pros of replaceable batteries outweigh the cons but I never thought it would take a $17 billion industry loss to prove the potential dangers of going 'sealed'. Note that I'm not saying that all 'sealed' smartphones are inherently dangerous - just that unless the manufacturer leaves a little 'wiggle room' inside then the pressures on the cell when everything it screwed together can cause serious problems. I've taken iPhones a[...]
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 16:16:25 GMT
Nice find by the people over at Nokia Collectors, with photos of the unreleased Nokia 6770 Slide, pictured with the high end (but similar form factor) Nokia N86 8MP. So many memories of the form factor, even if the OS and Internet-facing services have been left behind in 2016.
Being shown off here is the Nokia 6770 Slide. It's a 'dummy internal developers's prototype'. Specifications, were this to have all working components, are quoted as:
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:59:00 GMTIt's a fair cop, my title was more descriptive than accurate - this little gadget is actually called, on Amazon, the 'EC Technology 5200mAh Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank', a typical SEO-heavy name that's not as interesting as the product itself. You see, this fills a very real need, at least in my household.Now, I know what you're going to say. "Yada yada, another blessed emergency charger, nothing to see..." But give this one a chance and hear me out. If you're a road warrior, of course, fully equipped to stay topped up all day long and with very well defined mobile needs, then you'll already have one of the various high capacity emergency chargers that I've reviewed on AAS and AAWP, e.g. here and here. And they're great - but also heavy and bulky. Then at the other end of the spectrum we have another of my favourite 'gadget' categories, 'wallet chargers'. These are ultra slim and small, fitting into (as the name suggests) a wallet card slot. However, the problems with these are that their capacity is necessarily limited, typically around 1400mAh at most (don't believe the ones that claim 2500mAh or more - battery capacity is 100% linked to physical volume, and 'ye cannae beat the laws of physics'), which is less than half the required capacity of a typical 2016 smartphone - times change, eh? Plus their output current is usually similarly limited, e.g. 1A. The final straw is that they usually have flying microUSB leads. This latter was a real blessing a couple of years ago, since it meant not having to remember to carry a charging cable too, but we now live in a world where USB Type C is ever more widespread and your family's iPhones use yet another standard, the Lightning port. The situation is, then, that you or I are out and about with family (partners, parents, kids, etc.) and someone, at some point, needs their phone topping up urgently. Heck, you probably agree with this need if it means trying to find them in an hour's time in a busy shopping centre. [Why do family not plan their phones' charges better? Who knows!] Yet the chances of their phone using the same physical connector as you are small. So you'll need to be flexible. And to provide enough capacity to charge more than one persons phone through a busy day out. And yet you don't want to have to carry a bulky and heavy duty power bank. This is starting to sound like a tall order, so let's crystallise the requirements for my (perhaps) mythical Swiss Army Charging Knife: Around 5000mAh of capacity Able to dispense current at (at least) 2A Easily pocketable, such that you dont notice the size or weight Can charge anything with microUSB, Lightning or USB Type C Durable, withstand daily throwing about But, as you'll have guessed from the existence of this review, I found a match. And no, this wasn't sent in for review, I researched this and bought it with my own hard earned money, in case you were wondering. I had to cheat very slightly, in that I also had to source very short USB Type A cables to go with it (it only comes with microUSB) - see the photo with all the leads at the bottom, but the central accessory is absolutely spot on. The EC Technology 5200mAh Portable Charger exceeds my capacity requirement, is so small in terms of volume that it fits inside my fist and only weighs 120g. Importantly, it can also not only be charged at a full 2A, but can charge other devices at 2A. So that would get a typical Lumia 950 XL class smartphone from empty to 80% full in around an hour and the EC charger would still have over half its charge left, ready for the next device. There's only the one USB Type A output, but that's all that's needed here, for family/casual use. You'll notice an extra, too. Ag[...]
Thu, 08 Sep 2016 06:54:29 GMT
Many of you will have seen Apple's launch of the iPhone 7 Plus yesterday evening - yes, it's iOS, but its camera is noteworthy - in part because its technical breakthrough owes a lot to a certain ex-Nokian, Ari Partinen, who moved to Apple a couple of years ago. Yes, I know that Apple has a big imaging team, but my suspicions that Ari played a significant part in Apple's new camera system were confirmed when the man himself retweeted me during the night (i.e. day time in San Francisco).
Here's my tweet:
With the iPhone 7 Plus having OIS, 'optical' zoom and quad LED flash, I have a sneaking feeling that Apple may be taking an imaging lead 8-)— Steve Litchfield (@stevelitchfield) September 7, 2016
So this was retweeted and 'liked' by Ari, I suspect that it's rather glad that this project is now out in the open. He'd previously been a driving factor in bringing 'Living images' from Nokia to Apple and now this dual-optics system seems set to take zooming, at least, to the next level in smartphones.
In case you've been living under a rock, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus has two 12MP camera, but unlike other manufacturers clumsy attempts at doing something similar (LG, for example, had the second camera be a wide angle lens, Huawei went for snapping two photos from the same optics and trying for refocus effects, or by making one sensor black and white), one of these cameras has a 2x 'telephoto' lens, meaning genuine 2x zoom, though of course the sensor behind this lens will be slightly smaller than traditional 2015/2016 flagship sensors.
This two-lenses approach to phone camera zooming is one that may even be licensed from Corephotonics, who have been touting this system around trade shows for a couple of years. It's certainly interesting and should provide better results when zoomed than the half-hearted effort in Windows 10 Camera, while at least equalling those from the older Lumia 1020 with its 41MP sensor.
All very interesting indeed - I'll have an iPhone 7 Plus in for testing next week and I'll be sure to do a number of comparison features with the best of both Symbian (Nokia 808) and Windows Phone (Lumia 1020 and 950).
Watch this space!
Tue, 06 Sep 2016 06:47:00 GMTAs an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?You'll have seen the tech news over the last year. Here's a typical (made up!) news post: Company ABC today is proud to announce two new phones, the XYZ Prime and the XYZ Prime Plus. With 5" and 5.5" 1080p touchscreens and Snapdragon 617 chipsets, these two new Android 6 smartphones wow with their metallic finish, 13MP HDR-capable cameras, 2GB RAM, and flexible storage, the second nanoSIM slot can double to accept microSD. It comes with a range of covers and comes in 'dark grey, silver and champagne gold'. Sound familiar? These devices will all look near identical too, touch slabs with iPhone-esque antenna lines, iPhone-esque curves and often with iPhone-esque UI nods too (Huawei/Honor even foregoes an app list/drawer). It's all a bit depressing. Not just for me or you, but for the industry as a whole - smartphones are now so similar that it makes very little difference which one you buy (away from the extreme bottom end) and the main differentiator is price, which doesn't bode well for anyone's profit margins. It also makes smartphones very hard to fall in love with. Yes, I know that's a strange statement to come out with, but I'm sure that everyone reading this has a favourite phone of days gone by, a phone which wasn't just a slice of high tech but seemed to have a character, a personality of its own. Something that you felt at one with, which you were happy to hold and cherish, more than a simple communications tool, a phone which fitted your needs better than anything else on the market? The motley selection above was gathered for a quick snap on the bed - I have something like 100 PDAs and smartphones from the last 25 years in my cupboards, but these will do to illustrate my point - there are some classics in the photo above. Let me pick out just a few which illustrate the 'character'/USP argument well: The Nokia N93 (top middle), with its 'TV mode', camcorder modes, flip phone modes, the N93 took lovely photos and video with stereo sound - too bad the actual smartphone experience was horribly crippled by the lack of RAM (a common Nokia trait, sadly). But nevertheless, every moment I picked up the N93 I had a sense of this being ultra-cool, of owning something exclusive, something special. The Marshall London (just below the N93) retains one of my main SIMs to this day, even though it's patently outgunned by everything else from 2015 and 2016, because of the rubberised case, the stereo speakers with incredible fidelity and, yes, the Marshall logos - on the front, back, and even on the battery. It's just such a cool phone to own and use. Any number of the Nokia QWERTY-keyboarded smartphones and communicators, but I'll pick out the Nokia E75 here (top right, in red!), the slide-out transformation from T9 candybar to QWERTY input was very well done and the keyboard surprisingly easy to type on - all in a very small physical form. As with most of the other phones here, it was also quite rare, so there was always the 'exclusivity' factor when typing on it in public! The Nokia N82 (just below the E75, top right) - famously featured in the Stavros parodies (oh, go on, watch them in y[...]
Sat, 03 Sep 2016 09:29:45 GMTWhen I emailed the article "Hello Android... but not goodbye Windows!" to Steve, I casually remarked that maybe I could pen an article comparing the Galaxy Note 7 to the Lumia 1520. Steve did not bat an eyelid and quickly snapped up the offer. I then stared at myself in the mirror and muttered, "What did I let myself into?" 14 days on...My Note 7 duly arrived from my operator on 19th August. Besides the usual retail package, it also came with the lens kit. The lens kit consists of a lens cover, telephoto lens and wide-angle lens. So it’s pretty good value. Gavin’s Gadgets has done an in-depth review of the kit, so I will not be doing a review of the Note 7 as such here. You could do well to begin with MrMobile’s video review. Instead, I will take a look at how Nokia’s one and only phablet compares with the current Android flagship, and in some way also Windows 10 Mobile (W10M) vs Android. Size and handling The 1520 is really a monster of a phone. I have pretty large hands but even I failed the Steve Litchfield test for one-hand operation. I just couldn't get my middle finger to touch my thumb, no matter how hard I try. But I have no such issues with the Note 7, with room to spare. Some more photos to illustrate the size comparison (by the way, all photos courtesy of my son’s Galaxy S6): The Note 7 is a head shorter than the Lumia 1520 While the Note 7 screen is 0.3" smaller than the Lumia 1520's, it demonstrates the amount of engineering that Samsung has done to squeeze the 5.7" inch display into such a small (sic) body. Obviously, the Note 7 wins hands-down in terms of one-hand operation. But the Lumia has a trick up its sleeve with the keyboard size – a long press on the space bar will enable the user to shrink the keyboard and even move it round the screen. While the Note 7 can shrink the keyboard too, it has to be done in the settings. Button placement is something which I have to get used to. For one, there is no longer the camera shutter button to wake and unlock the phone to take a snap. However the double-click on the home button works well too. Another are the volume buttons. I am very used to having them on the right of the various Nokias. So many times in the past 2 weeks, I have accidentally locked the phone instead of adjusting the volume. Notifications galore After I started to install apps, my notification centre was flooded with alerts left, right and centre and the phone was buzzing and beeping away like crazy. Both Android and W10M allow me to turn-off notifications by app. But W10M has finer tuning available – banner, sound and vibration. Hence I have it all turned on for messages but banner only for new tweets arriving. But I do agree that the Android’s notification centre is more feature-rich now – e.g. I can control podcast playing – but it means a very busy centre/pane. Android relies on the pane to keep the user informed. This why I prefer the way that W10M has taken… Live Tiles The implementation of Live Tiles means that, comparatively, my notification centre in the Lumia 1520 is comparatively sparse. I can pin Live Tiles for Twitter, calendar, to-dos etc. to the start screen, and I access the apps fewer times to get information that I need. This does mean that the Lumia’s start screen may have live tiles flipping and turning away but then again I can customise it to have just shortcuts. But I like the Live Tiles as information is always a glance away… Glance screen This has always been a Nokia trademark – despite other claims to have invented it! Samsung’s version has more [...]
Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:17:48 GMTProper (Xenon) flash has been something of a major bullet point for many Symbian and Windows Phone users over the last decade. From Nokia N82 to N8 to 808 to Lumia 1020, Xenon is where it's at if you want super-crisp evening shots of people (think parties, receptions, and so on). And yet Xenon has been very rare in the smartphone world generally, i.e. away from classic Nokias. Yesterday at IFA 2016 in Germany though, Motorola announced a new 'Moto Mod' from camera specialists Hasselblad that includes a Xenon flash and transforms a brand new Moto Z phone into a DSLR of sorts. Yes, it's Android, but this tech development is very definitely a 'link of interest' here, I think. To scale, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Moto Z Play plus Hasselblad 'True Zoom' Moto Mod... From PhoneScoop's coverage: First, the True Zoom is not an independent camera. You cannot use it without a Z Droid; it has no battery of its own and needs power from the Z Play. That's kind of a bummer. The True Zoom completely covers the phone's camera, where other mods leave the camera exposed. That means when the True Zoom is attached to the Z Play, you're using the True Zoom and not the internal camera to take pictures. Ironically, the True Zoom is about the same size as an independent camera. It snaps onto the back of the Z Play like any other mod. It fits firmly and won't fall off, despite its weight. Yeah, this thing is heavy. I don't have an actual number, but the phone+camera is weighty — and bulky — as hell. In fact, the combo was too big for my jeans. The added physical controls might be worth the bulk. The Hasselblad has its own shutter button, zoom dial, and power button. Pressing the power button turns on the camera and wakes the Z Play. Alternately, you can wake the camera directly from the app or the writ-twisting gesture common to Motorola phones. I love having the zoom dial and two-stage shutter button to focus and snap the shutter. The True Zoom has its own 12-megapixel sensor and xenon flash. The flash is hella bright, and images are automatically stored in the phone, not somewhere in the camera. What are the benefits of this mod? There are several. First, 10x optical zoom. You get the benefit of glass to help in and in so doing retain all the pixels of the image. Second, optical image stabilization. This helps reduce shake. The flash is much brighter than any available on a smartphone. Last,it can capture images in RAW format, which aids in editing after the fact. Which all sounds interesting, with the caveat that the snapped-on Mod is pretty huge - think a Lumia 1020 with the official DSLR Grip clipped on. Plus, as you'll see from Michael Fisher's hands-on below, the True Zoom mod is also incredibly slow at focussing, almost unusably slow - probably a byproduct of having to use the phone's CPU to do most of the contrast-based auto-focus, I suspect, and this through a pogo-pin interface. Let's hope that software updates can improve things. See the last section of Michael's review here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EI9dmj6eiVQ" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0"> It's all a tiny bit underwhelming, we wouldn't expect sub-Lumia 1020 focussing performance in 2016 tech. Even though Xenon fans will be waiting to see my own verdict on this when review loan hardware becomes available. PS. Here are the official specs of the Hasselblad True Zoom, is it wrong of me to say that I'd still much rather have a Lumia 1020, with much larger sensor, full OIS when shooting video? Dimensions 152.3 x 72.9 x 9.0 - 15.1 mm Weight 145g Sensor resolut[...]
Sat, 20 Aug 2016 06:55:20 GMT
In a break from traditional content, here's something that the 361 team recorded a few days ago... It's AAS & AAWP editor/publisher/owner Rafe Blandford's 'origin' story. Packed with details that even I didn't know and with a few chuckles along the way, this is a must-listen hour of chat for anyone who reads the sites.
From the 361 podcast description:
This week we put Rafe Blandford in the spotlight - his formative experiences with Psion devices (and broken limbs), founding the ‘all about’ empire, being a blogging pioneer and getting ‘inside Nokia’. Rafe shares his experience at the fore-front of online media, hitting 1m readers per month, ‘really big servers’, knowing more about Nokia than Nokia Execs and being laughed at by Steve Ballmer.
And here's the audio itself - a quick tip: listen after the closing credits - there's a bonus 10 minutes of reminiscences that you'd otherwise miss!
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Very interesting - even if I get the impression that the AAWP years were skipped over too much due to time constraints. Maybe this episode should have been an hour-long special?
You can subscribe to the 361 Degrees podcast here via RSS, of course, if you're new to it. And then, in case you want more of Rafe's voice, there's our own AAWP podcast. The AAS podcast finished at the end of 2014.
I was left wanting more though! More on the AAWP years, more on his view of the future, more on his love of walking in Wales, more on concrete, etc. If you have any extra questions or topics to ply at Rafe, maybe we can tackle them in a quiet week on the AAWP show!
PS. Then and now (below)! 2004 and 2016:
Tue, 16 Aug 2016 06:14:00 GMTNow, go with me on this. I'm contending that the current Microsoft Lumia 950 and the 2006 Nokia N95 have a lot in common - more than you might think. It's just that there was something about the 950 in my hand as my main smartphone that reminded me of a feeling I'd not had for a decade. Then it hit me. Ten years ago I'd had the ground-breaking N95....I still have the presentation box for that first Nokia N95 (from WOM World, as it was then), with the slogan on the top 'There's a thing in this box. But it's not one thing, it's many.' The idea of the Nokia N95 was that it was the first smartphone to really encompass all the emerging portable tech in one small gadget. High spec 1/2.5"-sensored 5MP camera, GPS, loud stereo speakers, and so on. Now, technology has moved on in the intervening decade and the N95's feature set is now commonplace - in fact, it's de rigeuer and exceeded in even budget phones in 2016. But the Lumia 950 gives me something of the same impresison. That of one smartphone that can do everything. OK, apart from most of the Google services. And Snapchat. And Pokemon Go. But again, bear with me. Here then are the main factors that make the Lumia 950 remind me of that original N95, a tech classic in its own right. Might the list also cause you to re-examine the 950 in a new light? MaterialsBoth are unashamedly plastic. I know the current fashion is for aluminium, but plastic has its advantages too - it can be formed into any shape, it's cheaper, it absorbs impacts much better and it's fully transparent to radio signals, so that's better reception for GPS, cellular and Wi-fi and the possibility of Qi wireless charging. FlexibilityNow, back in the day it taken for granted that every phone had a battery you could get at, replace, swap out, etc. Ditto a memory card that could be inserted and swapped. The iPhone, arriving shortly after the N95, changed the industry's thinking and now most smartphones arrive with a battery sealed inside and many also have non-expandable internal storage. Sadly. Like the N95, the Lumia 950 has a replaceable battery, plus you can put in as much storage as you like via microSD. Best kept secretNow, I know what you're going to say - the Nokia N95 sold in the millions across the world. But only over a couple of years - it was very expensive for its day - and even then only as part of a very small smartphone scene (less than 20% of all phone sales were smartphones then). And if you cut out the majority of N95 owners who bought it because it was the new tech on the block then you're left with an enthusiast tech community of fans who knew the device was the pinnacle of convergence and used the heck out of it. Now with the Lumia 950 and Windows 10 Mobile, with seemingly miniscule (5% or so even in main markets) market and mind share, so again we have something in your hand that makes you stand out from the crowd, the populace with their mass of iPhones and Android devices. Best camera phone in the worldIt really was. Back in the day - early 2007 - the Nokia N95's large 1/2.5" 5MP sensor ruled the imaging world. For phone-shot images, at least - we were still a long way from DSLR quality. The N95 was streets ahead of everything, I'd argue, with only a couple of souped up, imaging-centric feature phones as competition. And now in 2016 we have the Lumia 950 as - demonstrably - the best camera phone in the world, beating off the Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s/SE. Pricey at first but came down fast, similar at each stageThis is true of mos[...]
Thu, 11 Aug 2016 06:14:00 GMT
OK, so this is a little bit trivial - it's just a data/charge cable. But it's also rather cool, in that the connector works with both microUSB and Apple Lightning ports. "What!" I hear you exclaim. And I share your shock - how on earth is this possible? I show how below!
The ROMOSS RoLink Hybrid works brilliantly, as it turns out, a tribute to some clever micro-engineering. The starting point had to be an engineer looking at standard microUSB and Lighting jacks and noticing that they were roughly the same size - yet totally different in shape and configuration. But surely there had to be a way, however odd, of making the one cable fit both jacks? So that you could head out on a day with the family, for example, and only need to bring one charging cable with you.
Of course, the world's moving on, and USB Type C is the latest connector used across the flagships being announced in the industry, so presumably ROMOSS has its designers working overtime to try and do something with the new connector standard. And that may prove altogether trickier because the sizes are quite different this time round.
Anyway, on with the RoLink Hybrid:
Ah - the 'Gemini' connector, I get that reference(!) Essentially the central blade of the connector has the Lightning pins on one side and the microUSB on the other, with enough of a framework around the blade to help the jack fit snugly into either receptacle. Quite a feat of micro-engineering, if you ask me:
The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating. And the RoLink Hybrid worked flawlessly, without needing any extra force, in four smartphones with microUSB and two iPhones. Offering full data/sync and charge, so nothing has been skimped here.
The one caveat is that the Lightning jack use isn't double-sided, obviously, as in the Apple original. In fact, the idea here is that you plug microUSB in one way and iPhones/Lightning the other - the jack is clearly marked so that you don't (in theory) get confused. Though some Android smartphones use the microUSB port 'inverted', i.e. the wide part of the jack towards you, and this may indeed throw the unwary, since you'll then be inserting the jack with the 'iOS' legend upwards!
1m in length, the cable is durable and pretty flat, making sure it doesn't get tangled in transit (for example). The connectors are made in a 'chrome alloy' and seem extremely hard wearing, certainly compared to the usual plastic fare.
Great value around the $12 mark (depending on where you buy), in terms of travelling ultra-light, I think I may just have found my ideal link cable for all microUSB and Lightning device use.
PS. There's also a promo video:
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