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All About Symbian - General News

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Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 18:00:04 GMT


Apple strike out in imaging with the iPhone 7 Plus and ex-Nokian Ari

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:32:29 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:

Congratulations to him on the new job, though contrary to the usual 'gloom and doom' reports around the web, his departure from Microsoft won't have any real impact, since the top end phone camera components available to all manufacturers are now very close to the best of Lumia.

In other words, Juha and his team advanced phone imaging enormously from about 2005 to 2015, but the latter has definitely plateaued in recent months - I still rate the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, in development from 2014 and released late 2015, as the best camera phones in the world, but the margins are now so small that you really have to look down at the pixel level to establish the margin of victory. So a no-name manufacturer in China can look at the possible components from the top camera factories and pluck out (say) a 16MP unit with 1/2.4" sensor, OIS and multi-LED flash, and get results not too far off what Juha's last babies under Microsoft could achieve, all at relatively minimal cost and without any real R&D.

Of course, there's more to imaging than just the hardware, and we've seen software algorithms and image processing make quite a difference - and it's also here where the 950 and 950 XL score. But, thanks mainly to Juha and team, the hardware's 'done', the software's 'done' and there's not really anywhere else to go in terms of consumer smartphone imaging. If the rumoured Microsoft 'Surface phone' (what I've referred to cheekily in the past as a 'Lumia 1060') uses the identical camera units to the 950 and 950 XL then this will already be eminently 'good enough'. And then some.

So hats off to Juha and his team and we genuinely wish them well in their efforts to advance imaging tech on new fronts - just don't get too depressed that your existing Lumia's imaging is suddenly second rate!

Why are we stuck at 75% (screen-to-body ratio)?

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 16:41:00 GMT

Despite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...I'd like to start, as Jule Andrews once sang, "at the very beginning". In this case around the year 2000, when the first smartphones were starting to appear. I'll gloss over the Nokia Communicator line, since they were clamshell devices and once you introduce a hinge then all bets are off in terms of screen size analysis (the 2016 equivalent might be thinking about folding AMOLED screens, as rumoured in Samsung's line-ups). So, with a deep breath, and with a few notes and caveats: I can only fit a handful of example/classic devices on the chart because otherwise it would get far too busy I assume perfectly right angled device corners, i.e. a rectangular form factor, to simplify the maths (slightly - it still needs some trigonometry!) I also assume perfectly square pixel matrices, but this is pretty much a given as otherwise your images and content would be noticeably squished(!) I assume flat display fronts, something which you can't take for granted with the arrival of the Samsung 'edge' phones, whose display is genuinely wrapped around a little at the edges. So these end up with slightly higher ratios than for traditional flat-display phones, below. An obvious trend upwards, as you'd expect, as technology became ever smaller in terms of chipsets and components, while the cost of larger and higher resolution screens came down. There are some surprises along the way - who'd have thought that the screen-to-body ratio of the first smartphones was so low? 18% for the venerable Nokia 3650 (though its curved front rather messes up my rectangle-based maths, so take this with a pinch of salt)! At least the Sony Ericsson P800 and the Windows Mobile range led the way, with larger screens and relatively smaller bezels - though look at any of those early smartphones side on and you'd be AMAZED how thick they are. In 2016, if a phone is over 1cm thick it's pronounced as a 'brick' - smartphones in the early 2000s were regularly well over 2cm thick! The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 broke the 50% mark for the first time and clearly started something of a trend. Capacitive screens and who cares about the cost, etc... However, the cost came down quickly and the iPhone range got overtaken by first the flagships in the Android world: the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 5, and Nexus 6 all spring to mind in terms of large screens and small bezels for their era. And secondly, every other mobile OS/variant, of which Windows 10 Mobile is probably the most notable, with the Lumia 950 XL having an insanely high ratio, bettered only by the (cheating slightly) Galaxy 'edge' series. But what's curious is how the trend has flattened out at about the 75% mark. Now, given my assumptions above, not least about a device having 90° corners - which would be very uncomfortable (though the Lumia 1520 had a good try at this), plus the compulsory earpiece speaker and top-of-phone sensors, it's evident that getting close to 100%, i.e. all-screen, is never going to be possible. But why can't it get close to 90%? The old excuses were that there had to be space for physical controls down the bottom, and that you had to have somewhere to grip the phone 'down there'. But I don't buy these excuses anymore - the Windows controls are all virtual, while I can't see anyone ever gripping their 'phablet' using the bottom centimetre of glass below the display - modern phones are all so big these days that it's about cradling them with fingers, whether in two-handed or one-handed mode. Let's take the popular (ok, among Windows 10 Mobile enthusiasts, at lea[...]

AMOLED is better than LCD?

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 10:51:54 GMT

This will come as no surprise to anyone reading my writings on AAS and AAWP, but AMOLED screens really are prettier and more colourful. And thinner (than LCD). Which is why nearly all high end Nokia and Microsoft smartphones over the last seven years have used AMOLED technology. However, they also have much lower life, have to be produced with pixels in a pentile matrix, and can over-do the colour saturation to the point where things don't look realistic anymore. Very much a 'pros v cons' arrangement then. There's a new pro-AMOLED video embedded below, from Samsung, which is worth watching, but I've also included links to some relevant old articles of my own...Here's the video first - and note that I'm not decrying it - I'm an AMOLED fan - I'm just saying that you should take the colour and contrast comparisons with a small grain of salt: src="" width="960" height="720" frameborder="0"> Look at the video and you automatically assume that LCD is a very poor relation. However, from my own comparison article here, albeit from 2014: AMOLED (e.g. Lumia 1020, 735) LCD (e.g. Lumia 1520, 830) Pros Uses less power when displaying a dark-themed screen 'Blacker blacks' possible Glance screen has far less 'background' glow at night Display can be slightly thinner, since no backlight layer is needed Can be made flexible (ok, not relevant for smartphones in their current form, but worth mentioning!) Power drain doesn't vary wildly according to displayed content More accurate colour balance (including 'whiter whites') Higher brightnesses possible A full RGB matrix is almost always used, giving crisper results for a given, nominal resolution Screen 'burn in' is almost impossible Brightness stays constant across many years (dimming would require a decade of regular use) Tend to be cheaper to manufacture Higher densities/resolutions possible Cons Uses dramatically more power when displaying a white-themed screen At high resolutions, cost and longevity concerns means that a 'pentile' layout is often used, leading to slightly fuzzy text and a lower than nominal resolution In some cases, users have seen 'burn in' of UI elements, due to natural degradation of the organic polymers in the AMOLED pixels Brightness can reduce in time (several years) Tend to be more expensive to manufacture than LCD Limited in pixel density and resolution Glance screen has noticeable 'all over' glow when seen in dead of night Display has to be slightly thicker, due to the need for a backlight Refresh rates can be slower, leading to flickering or tearing in screen elements Admittedly both technologies have been improved in the intervening two years.  The Samsung Galaxy S7 AMOLED screens - and indeed the Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL AMOLED screens - have drawn praise, but then so have the displays on the likes of the HTC 10 - which are LCD. However, the predominance of AMOLED in the Symbian and then Windows Phone world, plus rumours that Apple are going to adopt AMOLED for either the iPhone 7 or 7s, mean that the momentum behind AMOLED is more or less unstoppable now. Which doesn't bother me, though I'd welcome your comments. My main concerns with AMOLED, from personal experience, are that the displays pale and degrade after a couple of years' use. Which won't bother enthusiasts and geeks, who change their phones more often than that, but it bothers me that the phones then don't have such a long life, i.e. passed down to friends and family. Ah well. An interesting video from Samsung, anyway, even though they didn't really need to create this - that AMOLED has brighter, more saturated colours is a bit of a given![...]

Whatsapp to stop working on Symbian at the end of 2016

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:46:10 GMT

Thanks to Lawrence W for the heads-up and photo below - it seems that Whatsapp, a faithful stalwart on Symbian for a decade, is to end support for the platform at the end of this year. One by one, modern services are ending support for Symbian - obviously by not coding for it anymore, but also - as in this case - by a physical break in service, probably because servers dedicated to handling Symbian-specific traffic are being reassigned or decommissioned.

Here's the message that Lawrence got:


Will this affect you? Do you still use Symbian for Whatsapp messaging? Comments welcome!

Mini-review: NaturalRays waterproof all-purpose speaker

Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:56:43 GMT

OK, I officially have a new 'go to' accessory for my 'ultra-light' man-bag. We've all seen a thousand Bluetooth speakers reviewed on sites and blogs, but this one's slightly different, both in form and, yes, function. You see, in addition to being a diminutive waterproof Bluetooth speaker, it also has an Aux in and cable to play music from any wired source, plus it even has music-playing smarts with an integral microSD slot to supply the tunes. Gulp. Quite a bit to get through then, below! Most of us, however good the speakers on our smartphone, would also carry around a decent Bluetooth speaker for those 'room-filling' moments - except that most speakers are too big to carry everywhere with you, even in a pocket. Now, truthfully, this doesn't really fill a room with sound as well as the bigger devices, but it's still pretty good and, best of all, it's tiny - around 47mm in diameter: The exact name of the product seems to be up for grabs slightly. 'NatulaRays' on the hardware is probably a stylised form of 'NaturalRays', but it's a touch confusing! Available in blue or green, it comes with a charging cable, but also a 3.5mm to microUSB lead (which seems topical in these days when 'digital audio' input and output seems to be a 'thing'): Turn the NaturalRays on and a lady's voice informs you that it is 'ready for Bluetooth pairing'. Very helpful. There's also a flashing blue LED built into the soft rubber stretchy hanging loop: The idea behind the loop is that you hang this in the shower or kitchen (being waterproof), from any convenient fitting. In the office, I hung it from a bookcase, but it's really up to you. On the front surface of the sphere are controls for power on, playback and volume. Again, they're sealed and waterproof. The electronic connections are under a flap on the back: And it's here that a 'What??!' moment takes place. Up until now this has just been a small and waterproof Bluetooth speaker. But there's a microSD slot here! Put in a card of music (the Chinese voice announces 'TF card mode'), close up the seal and then it'll play through your tunes in order with no need for a connection to a phone. You can skip tracks using long presses on the volume buttons and it's something of a handy backup music facility. You could even leave a 512MB card in, as I did, all the time, ready to be a family music player when camping, outside the tent or at an event, with no need to keep a smartphone nearby. The small hole is a reset button, by the way - given the music 'smarts', there's the potential for the basic OS to get confused - hence a way to reset it. The other main mode is 'AUX mode' - insert the 3.5mm-to-microUSB lead supplied and this activates automatically, letting the NaturalRays accessory become a conventional wired speaker, albeit without the waterproofing - obviously. The only functional hole is that this doesn't let you pick up phone calls - there's no microphone included. But that's being picky - how often do you pick up calls using a speaker? In terms of audio quality, I was impressed - there's obviously very less true bass, because of the speaker cone size, but the low-mid frequencies (e.g. on a male voice) were all there, as were the higher frequencies needed for true fidelity. The NaturalRays speaker is £22 in the UK as I write this and it's a cracking (genuinely) little product to add to your bag if you're trying to travel 'light'. PS. Watch this space for something similar that's even lighter and smaller - coming soon on AAWP![...]

Microsoft selling feature phone business to FIH Mobile (Foxconn) and HMD (in Finland)

Wed, 18 May 2016 10:50:16 GMT

Although not directly relevant to AAS or AAWP, this is certainly of tangential interest. Microsoft acquired the Nokia feature phone (i.e. extreme low end, below Symbian) business when it bought Nokia's Devices division, but it never really wanted it (no matter what it said at the time). It seems that now is the right time to sell it off this part of the company, in a complex deal, to a subsidiary of Foxconn, one of the largest OEMs in the world, along with a new company, HMD, based in Finland. The latter is partly made up of ex-Nokia staff and will provide the management and design, while Foxconn/FIH will provide the manufacturing and testing facilities. The Nokia-branded feature phones still sell in decent numbers, mainly to developing markets which either can't afford smartphones or don't have the infrastructure to make the most of them.From the press release: Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced it reached an agreement to sell the company’s entry-level feature phone assets to FIH Mobile Ltd., a subsidiary of Hon Hai/Foxconn Technology Group, and HMD Global, Oy for $350 million. As part of the deal, FIH Mobile Ltd. will also acquire Microsoft Mobile Vietnam — the company’s Hanoi, Vietnam, manufacturing facility. Upon close of this deal, approximately 4,500 employees will transfer to, or have the opportunity to join, FIH Mobile Ltd. or HMD Global, Oy, subject to compliance with local law. Microsoft will continue to develop Windows 10 Mobile and support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, and phones from OEM partners like Acer, Alcatel, HP, Trinity and VAIO. As part of the deal, Microsoft will transfer substantially all of its feature phone assets, including brands, software and services, care network and other assets, customer contracts, and critical supply agreements, subject to compliance with local law. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2016, subject to regulatory approvals and other closing conditions. As the release states, none of this has any impact on Microsoft's commitment to Windows 10 Mobile and its Lumia line - if anything, it's one less distraction for the company on the mobile front. PS. Before ill-informed commentators leap in, the sold-off handsets and division are the Series 40/S40/Asha (etc.) line and nothing whatsoever to do with Symbian. If I hear one more American podcaster mention "Symbian feature phones" I think I'll scream! PPS. There's also a press release up on Nokia's site, including: Nokia has announced plans that will see the Nokia brand return to the mobile phone and tablet markets on a global basis. Under a strategic agreement covering branding rights and intellectual property licensing, Nokia Technologies will grant HMD global Oy (HMD), a newly founded company based in Finland, an exclusive global license to create Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets for the next ten years. Under the agreement, Nokia Technologies will receive royalty payments from HMD for sales of Nokia-branded mobile products, covering both brand and intellectual property rights. HMD has been founded to provide a focused, independent home for a full range of Nokia-branded feature phones, smartphones and tablets. To complete its portfolio of Nokia branding rights, HMD announced today that it has conditionally agreed to acquire from Microsoft the rights to use the Nokia brand on feature phones, and certain related design rights. The Microsoft transaction is expected to close in H2 2016. Together these agreements would make HMD the sole global licensee for all types of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets. HMD intends to invest over USD 500 million over the next three years to support the global marketing of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets, funded via its investors and profits from the acquired feature phone business. So again, nothing to do with AAS or AAWP, but worth noting tha[...]

Video sound capture tested: 808/1020/950/Marshall

Fri, 13 May 2016 08:29:00 GMT

One of the requests in the comments recently was to test audio capture when shooting videos. And, as it happens, I'd been thinking about doing this for a while anyway. So I headed out with six smartphones and tried to shoot video and audio in as controlled conditions as possible: in a quiet garden, by a windy, noisy road, and in a rock-level music setting. That should be enough to set the best from the rest, I thought... Here are the six smartphones I took with me: Nokia 808 PureView Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1) Lumia 950 (running Windows 10 Mobile Lumia 950 XL (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone) Marshall London (Android 5.1) Lumia 930 (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone, but the slow ring) The inclusion of the Marshall London was because it claims stereo MEMS microphones, just like the best Lumias, i.e. is 'gig ready'. We'll see. And the order of the devices above was messed up slightly by me (ahem) forgetting to shoot with it at first. Oh well. Yes, there are a hundred other devices and OS combinations I could have tried, but these are only data points at the end of the day. What I was particularly interested in was how the various generations of Nokia/Lumia fared against each other - and also whether that Marshall phone could come close. My test video/audio settings were: sitting in my summerhouse, looking out on a quiet garden - listening for birdsong and, well, silence - is there too much hiss from the phone's audio capture system? by a breezy, fairly noisy road - here looking at how well the microphones in the phones resist/cancel out wind noise, mainly. in a gig situation (ok, a jam night), testing how well the phone's microphones stand up to rock decibels! And it was loud - very loud, I was sitting right in front of the PA and drum kit and my ears are still ringing 12 hours later! I then compiled the footage from all the smartphones into a montage, with comments below on how the various smartphones did. Bear in mind that the video below is hosted on YouTube, and so some of the service's compression will have been used, though I wouldn't expect that to affect audio much. Note also that the video side of things is deliberately only at 720p - I wasn't testing the picture side of things at all, so I kept things quick and light. src="" width="853" height="480"> Here's my assessment of how each smartphone did on the audio front. Note that this would be the point in a cross-device video capture comparison where I point out that the 'gig' bit is a non-starter for most smartphones because they simply can't cope with the volume - yet every phone here coped well, thanks to Nokia and then Microsoft (and Marshall's) use of MEMS high amplitude microphones. Amazing. Anyway, on with the verdicts: Nokia 808 PureView: decently low noise during video capture (and lowish frequency) - it's why I use it to film my Phones Show to this day; good wind resistance when shooting outdoors; exemplary gig recording at the loudest levels - the audio this produces would pass for a professional live album soundtrack.   Nokia Lumia 1020: slightly louder background noise and higher pitched (and so more noticeable); microphones pick up more wind noise, but not showstoppingly so; excellent gig recording, if not quite up to the 808's level of dynamics and crispness.  Microsoft Lumia 950: horrible left channel clicking artefacts are evident - I've been reporting these to Microsoft for months - it's definitely a software thing. I'm guessing an issue in the firmware; greater susceptibility to wind noise, not helped by the mike seal issues, plus note that audio from my voice was quiet because only the rear-facing microphones are used in video capture at the moment - again a software limitation; gig recording was 'OK', helped partly by a slightly mellower piece of [...]

Next time you get impatient with your phone web browser...

Thu, 12 May 2016 12:28:23 GMT

It's a theme I've been returning to over the years - that most users don't realise the work that happens behind the scenes when they call up a web page. What used to be (1995) 25kb of 'stuff' became 250kb around 2005 and now - 2015/2016 - a web page is more like 2.5MB, Per page. That's what higher resolution graphics, HTML bloat, scripting, trackers, animations and more do for the amount of 'stuff' that needs to come down the line. No wonder web pages still take a few seconds to render on a smartphone, even though the internal processor is many times more powerful than what we had a decade ago.This was never more exemplified than when S60 Web was launched around 2005 under Symbian. Hailed as a modern web browser at the time and working brilliantly for the pages of the time, within a few years (2008 onwards) Web was seen as slow and clumsy. Not because the code had changed, but because the Web itself was changing. Fast forward to a year or so ago and Internet Explorer under Windows Phone, making something of a meal of some web pages. Not because IE was horribly incapable. Like Web back in the day, it was doing its job, but the goalposts had moved and it was being asked to process more and more complex HTML and javascript - and a lot more of it. From this Register article, published recently, making the point about page bloat very eloquently: The average web page is now roughly the same size as the full install image for the classic DOS game Doom, apparently. This is according to Ronan Cremin, a lead engineer with Afilias Technologies and dotMobi's representative for the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). Cremin points to data from the HTTP Archive showing that, at 2.3MB, the average page is now the same size as the original DOS install of the id Software mega-hit. The HTTP Archive report places the average web page at around 2,301KB. This is smaller than Doom's 2,393KB footprint, but only slightly. Most of the page bloat is due to images, which take up on average 1,463KB of data. Next is script code, which occupies 360KB, followed by video, averaging 200KB per page. Cremin notes that the growing size of pages isn't exactly a good thing, and is an indication of how wasteful some sites have become in the era of prevalent broadband connections. "Recall that Doom is a multi-level first person shooter that ships with an advanced 3D rendering engine and multiple levels, each comprised of maps, sprites and sound effects," he said. "By comparison, 2016's web struggles to deliver a page of web content in the same size. If that doesn't give you pause, you're missing something." 2.3MB, just for one web page? The average user has no clue about bytes, of course - witness the number of people tying themselves in knots because they were 'just trying to send that funny video' as an email attachment or whatever. To them, a 'thing' is a 'thing', whether it's a blob of plain text (1kb) or a video (100MB, say, 100,000x bigger in terms of bytes!)  But you, as a tech-savvy reader, probably can see the craziness of all this. How on earth can web designers be so wasteful in terms of page size? The takeaway, of course, is that when you open a web page in Symbian Web, Opera Mobile, Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge and the downloading and rendering takes (say) 20 seconds, the browser's actually doing very well. Effectively it's having to download the equivalent of the full Doom game for every single link you tap on! [...]

Xenon or triple LED? Investigating camera phone flash capabilities

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:42:00 GMT

One of the most popular sub-topics in my features on camera-toting smartphones is low light and night time capabilities. Now, partly this is about arty shots of sunsets, churches and fountains, but more usually in the real world this is about friends and family in living rooms, pubs and events. Which usually means relying on your smartphone camera's flash. With LED flash now coming in 'triple' form and with many differences in processing capabilities under the hood, I thought some tests were in order. Will Xenon, the original winning tech, still come out on top? Some of the camera phone (flashes) tested! Of course, testing this without exposing real world friends and family is going to be tricky, and I can't rely on a pet since they never do remotely the same thing twice. So I reverted to the original best test of camera flash capabilities: a spinning fan in a dim environment. It's not a perfect simulation of snapping humans in low light but it should give us some interesting data points and insights. Here there are contender smartphones and cameras I used. I may add to this table in the coming weeks, depending on the other hardware arriving for review:   Flash tech Lights Stabilisation? Nokia 808 Xenon 1 none Lumia 1020 Xenon 1 OIS Lumia 950 LED 3 OIS Lumia 930 LED 2 OIS Lumia 640 LED 1 none Google Nexus 5 LED 1 OIS Google Nexus 6 LED 2 OIS Google Nexus 6P LED 2 none Apple iPhone 6 LED 2 none Apple iPhone 4s LED 1 none Xenon flashes should light my subject more fully and much faster, of course, with typical Xenon flash pulses lasting as short as 10 microseconds, which is why I love quoting the example of 'freezing' people dancing at a party or club. But there are other factors at play - larger apertures let in more light on the newer phones, meaning that shutter times for LED-lit shots can be shorter, plus the use of triple LED again adds less need for a long exposure (and thus a blurry subject). And then there's post processing, now very practical with such powerful modern chipsets in smartphones - so known colour balance issues can be corrected, noise reduced, details sharpened, and so on. Usually with good effect. So, my test shot then. A spinning fan, about 1.5 metre away (typical of many people/evening/candid shots), moving from side to side but caught head-on at each point in its cycle, against a white background, with just a 60W overhead ceiling light on and providing ambient lighting. I tried the shot several times, handheld, with each of the test smartphones and discarded any that looked like they were sub-standard - the crops here are the best the phone cameras could do. Here's the overall scene, (as shot by the Nokia 808 PureView and brightened slightly for this overview shot): And here are central crops, scaled appropriately (though not massively) so that the field of view is similar in each case. I'm marking each phone camera here on illumination, motion freezing (i.e. lack of blur in the fan blades and, in extreme cases, the fan body itself), and shutter lag (the shutter icon was tapped as the fan passed the central position in each case, but with flash turned on some of the phones acquired a definite 'lag' before the shot was taken: Nokia 808 PureView: Not bad, though ultimately darker than we're used to in these days of large apertures and OIS ('turning night into day'!) Perfectly frozen though, the 808 went with a shutter speed of 1/50s (aperture is fixed at f/2.4) but with the very bright Xenon flash nearly all the detail was captured in well under a microsecond. And there was instant capture, no lag at all. Illumination:  7/10; Motion freezing:  10/10; Shutter lag:  10/10. Total=  27/30 Nokia Lumia 1020: Brighter and with a typically (for an older Lu[...]

Of Cutler and kernels...

Sun, 17 Apr 2016 15:50:50 GMT

There's a fascinating read over on Microsoft's site this weekend, looking at the life and works of Dave Cutler in the USA. The history of Cutler's achievements is fascinating reading, not least because the VMS operating system he created (and on which I cut my own computing teeth in the early 1980s) became the inspiration and model for Psion's EPOC, which then became Symbian, that dominated the smartphone world through the 2000s. And things then come full circle in mobile, since Nokia, dominant in Symbian then picked Windows Phone for its next generation smartphones for 2011 onwards. And Windows Phone 7 gave way to Windows Phone 8 and that brought everything back on the same Windows NT kernel and codebase that Cutler created twenty years before. In other words, Cutler's work impacts directly (under the hood, at least) on almost everyone who's owned a Symbian or Windows phone in the last 15 years, making the article well worth a read over a cup of tea.

If you're short of 20 minutes to read it then there's a six minute video, which is an easy watch:

src="" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">

There's also a slight tease in the wording of one paragraph. From the article:

Cutler stopped managing the entire NT project in 1996, but continued to lead the kernel development until 2006.  In March 2005, he completed one of his “most gratifying pieces of work” at Microsoft when, partnering with AMD, he helped develop the AMD64 architecture (64-bit extensions to the 32-bit x86 architecture) and led the effort to ship the first two x64 64-bit Windows systems (workstation and server).  At the time, some questioned why Microsoft developed a 64-bit system; today most computers are 64-bit systems and even our phones will soon have a 64-bit operating system.

The wording is slightly ambiguous (does 'our phones' still refer to Microsoft-branded devices?) but it does seem as though the next logical step for Windows 10 Mobile is a 64-bit variant, to be shipped in next-generation hardware in 2017. Perhaps.

Anyway, make sure you read through the complete piece, it's fascinating background on the smartphone industry and one of its biggest characters.


Mini-review: Wisken Kit 4 X-Cable

Fri, 15 Apr 2016 12:30:21 GMT

Now this is a grand idea. Remember those Macbook Mag-dock cables, that snapped off when snagged rather than bringing your laptop tumbling to the floor? Well, Wisken has just taken the same idea and applied it to smartphone cabling. It has been implemented very well, though there are a couple of caveats that you should definitely be aware of.The Wisken Kit 4 X-Cable err.... kit comes with a 1m (high quality) cable, with USB Type A on one end and an Apple-ish aluminum mag-dock connector on the other. Of which more in a moment.  Also in the kit are a plastic extraction tool (mentioned below), a velcro cable-tie and then two microUSB 'male' jacks, each magnetic (obviously). In fact, there's no reason why Wiken couldn't do the same for Lightning or USB Type C connectors, but maybe it depends how well this kit sells.  You get two jacks because the idea is that these stay permanently in the smartphones that you're going to hook up in this manner, so at least this way two microUSB phones can be enabled.  These are also metal and push very securely and confidently into any microUSB socket, protruding a millimetre or so. On the test Lumia 930 here, which is also aluminium, the Wisken adapter looks pretty much at home and almost part of the device: The idea then is to use the supplied cable to dock with this, with the magnets holding the two halves in place. Happily, they're strong enough to 'snap' the cable together and yet weak enough to break if the cable's jerked suddenly. The connector is also reversible, so it doesn't matter which way 'up' you approach with the connector, so this is a step up over traditional fiddly microUSB. When in use (i.e. charging), there's also a white status LED that lights up. Not strictly necessary, but a nice touch. In use, the male end stays inside the phone, effectively converting it to a Mac-like Mag-dock system. Of course, at some point in the future you're going to want to remove the Wisken adapter, perhaps to transfer it to another phone, and it's then that the plastic tool comes into play, with a 'razor' on one end to help pry the kit up out of the socket and then the arms below to effect the final leverage: In practice, I found that on some devices I also needed to use my penknife blade, such is the 'comfort fit' of the jack within the smartphone. But it's do-able, even if not on a daily basis. Another reason you might want to remove the Wisken kit is when syncing or hooking up to transfer data, e.g. to a laptop. You see, only the charging pins are wired here. Now, connecting to a PC isn't exactly a daily occurrence in these days of Cloud-first, of online syncing, and of media streaming, but it's still something to be aware of. Update: it transpires that if you have the LED facing 'up' (or 'down', depending on device!) then data does work. But it's definitely a caveat to be aware of... At £15 all-in, the cable kit certainly isn't expensive and it may just solve a problem that you experience daily, especially if you have a busy or cramped office, or if you really struggle to plug in to charge at night in a dark bedroom and want an easier way of locating the charging jack. I'd be interested in seeing multi-tip accessory packs for this system though. For example one with a Lightning jack and a USB Type C, at (say) £5 for the pair. Maybe Clove can get back to Wisken on this?[...]

Shiny glass might look good, but it just doesn't bounce as well!

Tue, 05 Apr 2016 09:57:21 GMT

You may remember my lengthy editorial about smartphone design, robustness and reliability? If evidence were needed that (ahem) more of the latter two are a good thing, I thought you'd appreciate a link of interest over to a tale of plastic and modular heroics over at CoolSmartphone. Think phones flying out of fairground rides high above the ground and landing on tarmac. And surviving. Amazing.Yes, I know this linked article is about a two year old Samsung Android phone, but it could equally well be about any smartphone with plastic construction, removeable back and replaceable battery. It's a really interesting data point, anyway! From the article: My wife has a Samsung Galaxy S5. It was the last “plastic Galaxy” before the arrival of shiny glass and metal in the S6 and S7. Emily can upgrade, but she won’t. She stubbornly refuses to go for a newer phone. The reason? “It bounces well, I’m forever dropping the thing.” Plastic does have good points, and she’s never had a broken screen. You can put this down to sheer luck or a certain amount of “give” in the chassis due to the plastic construction. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two, but either way – despite a huge amount of scratches and dents in the outer casing – it survives.... I want you to be under absolutely no illusion about the sheer amount of abuse this thing has had. Waterproof it may be, but Emily dropped it into the toilet once and, even after fishing it out, the thing still worked. It’s fallen out of her pocket in the shops, out of the car door after parking up, onto the kitchen floor, the drive and has even taken a tumble down the stairs whilst hoovering. It’s got the battle-scars to prove it all as you’ll see later in this article, but it still works perfectly. We then pick up Leigh's tale as his wife and kid rode one of the more violent rides at a local theme park(!): When you get on a ride there’s plenty of signs to warn you about removing loose objects. Bear in mind that we’d already been on several thrill rides at this point and both of us had, like many, carried our phones and other valuables onto the ride. My wife, however (and I’m trying to be politically correct here), had chosen to place her phone in an open coat pocket instead of her jeans. The ride above, called “Air Ride”, was one of the last ones we went on and it proved to be… a problem. It may look nice and “friendly”, but this ride throws people around vertically and horizontally at the same time. Imagine sitting on the end of a baton as you’re spun and twirled around. It’s a lot like that. I’m not keen on things doing that – especially not so soon after I’d eaten – so I sat this one out and let my wife get on with one of the kids we’d taken to the park. Then, it happened. As the ride spiralled around and reached a fair old speed, I saw a white object spin high into the air. It was a stunning pirouette really, and the force of the ride propelled it skywards like an out-of-control rocket. A friend then asked me if that was Emily’s phone. I replied in a familiar resigned tone, “Yep, without a doubt”. It then came crashing down onto the concrete below, breaking into three pieces. Somehow it didn’t hit anyone else on the ride, and we have to thank the staff for climbing over the safety barrier to retrieve the battery and battery cover. Both of these bits ended up some distance away after springing off the ground and back into the air. The front of the phone was face-down under the ride itself. After everything had stopped Emily retrieved the front secti[...]

2012 vs 2016: Nokia 808 PureView versus Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Fri, 18 Mar 2016 17:37:24 GMT

Having shot a whole batch of test photos/scenes for AAWP, I couldn't resist including the venerable Nokia 808 PureView in the mix - I thought it would be interesting to see the imaging progress made by other manufacturers in the four years since the 808 was first announced.I should note, by the way, that the Lumia 950 and 1020 saw off the Galaxy S7 (edge), so the Samsung was coming in off a bit of a beating... Happily, the Nokia 808 is very happy shooting in 8MP in one of its 'Creative' modes, so I was able to match the output resolution pretty well with the S7 edge's, making direct comparisons easier. Following the same pattern as the AAWP feature and using my original Lumia 1020 images for overview/reference... As usual, my tests span a wide variety of subjects, distances and light levels, trying to really exercise the range of these devices. And as usual, click any 1:1 image crop in order to download the original JPG, e.g. for your own analysis. Plus I'm scoring each image/crop out of 10 as we go along, in order to arrive at a definitive winner. Test no. 1: Into hazy sun, landscape  A regular subject of mine, the Herald at my local aviation museum, here shot into hazy sun to see how the phone cameras would cope. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The images here do a good job of showing off the various imaging priorities, at least in terms of algorithms. The Nokia 808 PureView photo is very natural and realistic, while the S7 (edge) adds large amounts of sharpening - the aim for the latter is to look good on the phone screen, to the user, whereas the 808's shot looked dull on its own screen yet superior here on the level playing field of a web page. Scores: Nokia 808: 10 pts, Galaxy S7: 7 pts Test no. 2: Blue sky, natural detail Always a test of how good a smartphone camera's algorithms REALLY are, looking at the incredible textures and fragile detail in nature, here set against a pure blue sky. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The differences in algorithms are just as pronounced as for the plane example. Here you can see the effect of the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge's sharpening on a subject which has fine detail. When you look closely, the effect is really, really ugly. In contrast, the Nokia 808, even at pixel level, feels almost like you're looking through a window at reality. Scores: Nokia 808: 10 pts, Galaxy S7: 6 pts Test no. 3: Sunny macro A tiny, delicate flower, lit by the sun, very tricky to get the focussing right - the 808 was hardest because of the larger optics. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): Here are the crops from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: The 808 had to be backed away and PureView zoom used before I was finally able to lock focus, this is the Nokia 808's bête noire - and although it looks OK on the phone screen, you can see from the crop here that the focus still isn't perfect and that the white petals are over-exposed. The S7 took a couple of tries to get focus, but the result is outstanding. Perhaps over-sharpened still, but the subject needs it in this case, I'd argue. Scores: Nokia 808: 5 pts, Galaxy S7: 9 pts Test no. 4: Tricky macro, dew on spider's web Really, really hard to get focus on the delicate web and not on the background. Here's the overall scene (as shot by the 1020): And here are crops/links from, in order, the Nokia 808 PureView and the Samsung Galaxy S7: There's a certain artistic beauty to the Nokia 808's photo, but it's clear that focussing for this macro sh[...]