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Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 23:15:04 GMT

 



Review: EasyAcc MegaCharge D20

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 16:55:00 GMT

OK, I say this every time, but... we have a new winner. In the power bank stakes, at least. The combination of input and output flexibility, capacity, ruggedness, coupled with a camping-grade torch, all make the slightly cheesily named EasyAcc MegaCharge D20 the accessory to beat at the moment. Just a fabulous bit of kit. Arriving in a non-descript but clever box, the D20 (as I'll call it) is about the plan size of a modern smartphone, but obviously much thicker and heavier. It arrives with a couple of 0.5m  charging cables (Type C and microUSB, of which more in a moment) - and these turn out to be wired for data too, so are handy short cables for general use. In terms of technical specifications, the output ports are: USB A Quick Charge 3.0 (up to 18W) 2 off USB A 'Smart' output (up to 3A, i.e. 15W each) USB Type C 'Power Delivery' (up to 3A, also 15W) All of these can be used at the same time, though power is capped at 33W, so you won't get absolute full current on all ports if you're charging four things! The three USB-A ports are all labelled as 'Smart', so in addition to their peak charging rates (and voltages), they can all also scale back intelligently to the maximum capability of lesser devices. In short, the idea is that you don't worry too much when plugging in. The input system is smart too - you may remember that I've all sorts of issues with USB Type C working 'the wrong way', with the connected phone charging the power bank? Well, EasyAcc has fixed this by making the Type C port above output only. And then the inputs are on the side, with another Type C port for input only (at 3A), along with a microUSB port (2A). And, like the very best power banks, you can charge the device using both at the same time, i.e. at 5A, or 25W. Meaning that you can recharge the D20 in just over 4 hours, which is quick for a 20,000mAh capacity tank. OK, in daily life you're more likely to just stick the nearest cable by your bed into it and charge overnight anyway, but it's nice to have the extra fast charge flexibility. 'Doubin'? As in 'Double Input', geddit? 8-) Charging the D20 at a full 5A or so... Power banks, despite what you might think, each have their own quirks and USPs, along with a balance of size and capacity over design and weight - and this MegaCharge D20 is just about perfect. Its capacity is high enough to recharge even the hungriest smartphone well over four times (even allowing for transfer inefficiencies), or you can charge up to four family gadgets at once and keep everyone going on a busy day out (cables permitting - even iPhones!) Then, when there's a power cut or when you're hiking or camping and phone LED flashes just aren't enough, you've got the power LED floodlight here to rely on. The exact duration of this when the D20 is fully charged is quoted as 'over 100 hours', implying that it's so long that even the manufacturers haven't bothered to count or time it. Impressive. Yes, yes, I'm getting carried away over an accessory yet again, but I think this EasyAcc power bank justifies it. Obviously, I was given a review sample and it will cost you £39 of hard earned money - it's not the cheapest 20000 mAh power bank out there, but I believe it's the best. PS. EasyAcc's PR have suggested the promo code EAS30OFF for 30% off before May 31st, 2018. Let us know if this works![...]



A dozen smartphone 'hot potatoes'

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 14:15:00 GMT

Debates over spec points and bumps have raged since the dawn of the smartphone age (2000-ish) and they show no sign of letting up. But where would I draw the line in 2018, what's more or less essential and what doesn't matter? I tackle a dozen smartphone 'hot potatoes' in my latest (platform-agnostic!) Phones Show video, so I thought it worth highlighting here and embedding below.

As usual with embedded videos, either maximise in place or click through to the full 1080p experience, if you like, and according to your browser and platform:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-27SomhBS1A?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

In case you're wondering what the 12 are and haven't got time to watch the video (hey, it's only 12 minutes!), here they are in the presented reverse order and with comments relevant to the AAWP world, i.e. Lumie 950 range and the IDOL 4 Pro:

12. USB Type C hook-ups - covered

11. Fast and Qi charging - covered (PD and Qi on the 950 range, Quick Charge 3.0 on the IDOL 4 Pro)

10. NFC and 5GHz Wifi - covered (no NFC on the IDOL 4 Pro, though it's moot as there's no tap-to-pay system on Windows 10!), yes to faster Wifi

9. Card expansion - covered

8. Stereo speakers - covered on the IDOL 4 Pro

7. Waterproofing - not present on any Windows 10 phone other than the industry-focussed Elite x3. A big deal? Maybe. The 950 comes apart easily though, so it's hard to wreck even with total immersion

6. QHD and higher resolution - my video conclusion was that 1080p was the sweet spot, so covered here on both phones

5. AMOLED versus LCD - covered, and I haven't noticed any burn-in or degradation on recent Windows 10 AMOLED screens

4. 2:1 screens - not present, everything Windows 10 Mobile is 16:9. A big deal?

3. Biometrics - covered, fingerprint on the IDOL 4 Pro and iris recognition on the Lumia 950 range

2. Notched displays - not present, obviously

1. 3.5mm audio jack - oh yes, essential equipment, of course(!)

Do watch the full video though, if you have time, since I go into persuasive detail - I hope!




Roth camera comparison: Nokia 808 versus Apple iPhone 8 Plus

Sun, 08 Apr 2018 11:41:18 GMT

Reader Martin Roth runs a YouTube channel, in part dedicated to comparing camera phones - and he's now put up videos on the Nokia 808 PureView versus the Apple iPhone 8 Plus. Worth a watch as he goes into some detail, comparing shots like for like.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cUG6k1ZUvPg?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

There's also a chat in German, but to get English subtitles, maximise the window and then dive into the YouTube player  settings - set the 'subtitles' to be 'Auto translate' and then 'English' (or whatever):

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

Comments? The subtitle system doesn't work perfectly, but you'll get the gist!!




Zoom, zoom, zoom: by popular demand, the 808, 1020 and Galaxy S9+

Sun, 08 Apr 2018 06:52:00 GMT

Zoom is one of the few really diffentiating factors in phone imaging these days, with 'simple' photo taking now being mastered in almost all light conditions. However, no sooner do I mention a telephoto zoom lens in a smartphone, such as the iPhone X or (here) the Galaxy S9+, than people pipe up with requests for comparisons to 'zoom champions' of the past. I maintain that, classy though these might have been, there's an element of rose-tinted memories creeping in. But let's find out, with some examples of camera phone zoom under a wide variety of situations and use cases. As you can tell from my introduction, I'm trying to downplay expectations for the classics of times past. 2012 for the Nokia 808 PureView and 2013 for the Lumia 1020 are both half a decade away and tremendous progress has been made across the board since then in terms of sensor technology and, especially, in image processing.  Mind you, while newer is often better, the fact that it's taken that half decade for the Nokia classics to really get out-classed is testament to their class. I'm also going to throw in a third classic, from 2014 and running Android, the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, which features a genuine 10x optical zoom in the body of a phone - it's a stunning device that I really wish hadn't proved so unreliable and therefore dropped by Samsung in terms of development. Maybe such a large mechanical zoom really is a bad idea in a phone, which typically gets 100x the use of a standalone camera in terms of punishment and wear and tear? Meaning that of the four phone cameras tested here for their zoom capabilities, three of them are 100% irrelevant in terms of a 2018 buying decision! But the demand for a comparison is still there, as you'll have read in numerous article comments, so here goes... The methodology here was somewhat fluid, not least because of the differences in output resolution and zoom capability, but the idea in each test case was to get maximum detail and clarity on the chosen subject. Why zoom in the first place? Usually because the subject can't be approached closely enough. For example, when you can't physically get close enough to a subject, usually at an event or attraction, with people or barriers in the way. Or perhaps something's up high? Or simply far away and you want a tighter cropped scene with the subject larger? Or perhaps you're shooting people and you could move closer, but then you'd intrude on the moment, so shooting from further away gives you fuller resolution with a tighter field of view. But on with the tests. Because I'm comparing zoomed output from no less than four different smartphone cameras, I've adopted a grid of 1:1 crops approach, making it easy to compare the same subject detail from all four at the same time. Again, I can't emphasise enough that only one of the three phone cameras here is 'current' and that, in particular, the Samsung K Zoom is only here to show what a 'real' zoom can do. As detailed in my guide to PureView zoom, the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 both zoom to around 2.5x in their default 5MP mode, while the S9+ zooms to 2x in good light using its telephoto lens, though at 9MP, which shouldn't be too far off what the Nokia units produce in terms of resolution. In low light, the Nokia pair maintain their lossless zoom, though the quality loss from not having oversampling is then more obvious. The joker in the pack is the ultra-niche part-phone, part-camera K Zoom, which obviously goes up to 10x zoom even at its full 16MP resolution. And in most cases below I use it. Gulp. But don't take this data point too seriously - what most of you are interested in is how the S9+ zoom compares to the Nokia zoom champions of old! Test 1: The Island A good example of a subject which can't be approached for a closer shot. This little island is in the middle of my local park pond. Here's the overall (unzoomed, to give you a sense of the zooming and cropping used) scene: You can grab the original test [...]



Huawei's P20 Pro is launched, with 1/1.7" 40MP main sensor

Wed, 28 Mar 2018 08:12:57 GMT

AAS and AAWP readers will prize the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 highly - I already reported on the imminent launch of another super-sensored camera phone champion, from Huawei. And it's here, and shortly in for review and comparisons too. Some official details and quotes below.The P20 Pro was covered across the web, but from Gavin's Gadgets: The rear cameras feature a co-engineered Leica Triple Camera New AI-assisted camera system. The 3 lenses are as follows. A 40mp RGB sensor. a 20mp monochrome sensor and a 8mp zoom sensor. The P20 Pro can do 3 x optical zoom and up to 5 x lossless zoom. The front camera is 24mp. A huge 4,000mAh battery. 6gb ram & 128gb storage 6.1 inch full vision OLED display. Bluetooth codecs APTX, APTX HD , LDAC , HWA DxOMark's tests aren't 100% real world, but they're a benchmark at least. I won't dignify them by quoting them, but their site does give some tech details on the main sensor: However, Huawei hasn’t simply slapped a third sensor and lens onto its current dual-camera system. The new model stands out among its peers in several ways: At 1/1.78″, the main camera’s sensor is unusually large—approximately twice the size of the Samsung Galaxy S9’s 1/2.55″ chip. Despite a slightly slower f/1.8-aperture lens, the RGB main camera sensor of the  P20 Pro captures approximately 20 percent more light than the smaller sensors used in most competing models. This sensor is also helped by the B&W sensor which also catches a lot of photons. The main camera sensor uses a Quad Bayer structure with a total pixel count of 40Mp. It outputs data binned in 2 × 2 pixel units, resulting in 10Mp image output. With an equivalent focal length of 80mm, the P20 Pro’s optically-stabilized tele-camera offers a significantly longer reach than the 2x tele-modules in the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy devices. This is possible because the main camera in combination with the 20Mp monochrome secondary sensor is already capable of delivering decent zoom detail at a 2x zoom factor. As a consequence, the engineers have been able to focus on squeezing a longer reach out of the P20 Pro’s tele-lens. The Tele also outputs 10Mp image. Notably, the Lumia 1020 and Nokia 808 didn't just 'pixel bin' - they used a sophisticated oversampling algorithm. But it's also possible that this does too and that DxOMark are simplifying the P20 Pro's imaging workflow. In terms of stats and areas, the 1/1.78" (optical format) sensor seems huge by modern standards, but it's still small compared to the Lumia 1020's 1/1.5" and tiny compared to the Nokia 808's 1/1.2" sensors. Though, of course, sensor technology has come a long way since then - it's not all about physics, for once. In terms of zooming, back in my initial story, I said: The cornerstone of the PureView camera in the Nokia 808 (and, later, 1020) was a way to zoom in without needing a physical mechanism. Hence the idea of smart cropping into a massive 41MP pixel array. And, after a gap of five years or so (and two operating systems later, arguably), we finally have another smartphone which looks to use a similar system... Back in the day (2012), the Nokia 808 PureView had to manage with a custom ISP that did all the hard work of oversampling and real time zooming, with great performance, while the Lumia 1020 added OIS to proceedings but lost out in terms of speed, using the main Snapdragon S4 chipset to do the computations needed. The computing power (processor/GPU) in 2018 would have been unimaginable five years ago, but we've now reached the stage where three cameras can be used at the same time, one of which is a 40MP sensor, as per the quote below, and with the immense computing power handling the merging and interpolating needed. As a result, the (up to) 3x zoom possible on the 808 and 1020 (depending on settings and set-up) may now be [...]



PureView zoom ideas to return in the Huawei P20 Pro?

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 17:22:49 GMT

The cornerstone of the PureView camera in the Nokia 808 (and, later, 1020) was a way to zoom in without needing a physical mechanism. Hence the idea of smart cropping into a massive 41MP pixel array. And, after a gap of five years or so (and two operating systems later, arguably), we finally have another smartphone which looks to use a similar system. Allegedly, according to GSM Arena. Smart rumours point to the upcoming (only weeks away) Huawei P20 Pro having 'a 40MP sensor, plus 5x "hybrid zoom"'. 

Back in the day (2012), the Nokia 808 PureView had to manage with a custom ISP that did all the hard work of oversampling and real time zooming, with great performance, while the Lumia 1020 added OIS to proceedings but lost out in terms of speed, using the main Snapdragon S4 chipset to do the computations needed. The computing power (processor/GPU) in 2018 would have been unimaginable five years ago, but we've now reached the stage where three cameras can be used at the same time, one of which is a 40MP sensor, as per the quote below, and with the immense computing power handling the merging and interpolating needed.

As a result, the (up to) 3x zoom possible on the 808 and 1020 (depending on settings and set-up) may now be upped to 5x, thanks to fancy computational means. And all without needing a physically huge/deep camera unit. If Huawei pulls this off then the pixel size will be even smaller than that on the Lumia 1020, but sensors have improved so much and there's so much power available these days for image noise reduction, that it really shouldn't matter.

From the news article:

The triple camera has been the cornerstone of the Huawei P20 Pro marketing campaign, but concrete details have been scarce. The new camera, co-developed with Leica, may pack a 40MP sensor, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the PureView days. Here’s the breakdown.

(image)

The 40MP sensor will serve as the primary camera. Next to it is an 8MP telephoto camera with “hybrid zoom”. According to unconfirmed info this cam will provide 3x optical zoom, which along with info from the 40MP sensor will help achieve high-quality 5x magnification.

The third sensor will have 20MP resolution and will likely shoot in black and white as well as assist with bokeh effects. The triple camera will be assisted by Laser AF and an IR-RGB sensor. As for the slow-mo videos, the P20 will reportedly shoot 960fps at 720p (same as the Galaxy S9 phones).

Whatever next? Three cameras, OIS, massive processing power, laser autofocus, the Nokia pair now look somewhat 'simple' by comparison! They still compete, mind you, even in 2018, and I'm looking forward to pitching the Lumia 1020 in particular against an (alleged) new triple camera Huawei to see if the modern zoom implementation can match 'old faithful'!

(image)




Mini-review: the fast charging Blitzwolf BW-P6 power bank

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 12:53:06 GMT

I get many requests to review power banks but I only accept those which I think offer something new. In this case, the Blitzwolf BW-P6 has two claims to fame: it can be recharged at up to 18W, meaning that its 10000mAh capacity can be re-filled in around three hours (as opposed to overnight with many power banks); secondly, its materials and designed are optimised for small space and weight - despite the capacity, this weighs only 207g. In other words, light enough and small enough that you can keep it in a pocket without too much awareness or discomfort.

(image)

The look and feel is very much of something that's metal, then you pick it up and realise that it's lighter than you expected and that the casing is all tough ABS plastic and warmer to the touch than cold steel or aluminium. 

(image)

The design is familiar enough in form factor, with button on the side to check power levels and to kick off charging if needed, LEDs on the top, and a row of three jacks on one end:

  • microUSB input (up to 9V at 2.1A, i.e. 18W), equating to Quick Charge 2.0 (or 3.0) specs, though you'll need a mains charger capable of outputting this if you want to take full advantage. Blitwolf recommends its own BW-S5, BW-S6, BW-S7, BW-S9, BW-S10 or BW-S11, but you can use your own, of course.
  • USB-A 'smart' output at 5V and up to 2.4A, depending on device.
  • USB-A (green) Quick Charge 2.0/3.0, so up to 12V at 1.5A, or 18W.

(image)

Output is as advertised, though note that if you plug two phones in at once then maximum currents are reduced, for example both outputting 5V at 1.8A, or 36W for both ports. But what actually happens will vary according to what you plug in, of course. Still, it charges things at a rate of knots, which is what you need to know. For my IDOL 4 Pro pictured on this page, when plugged in on its own, it used Quick Charge 3.0 quite happily, with no 'slow charging' warnings.

(image)

The choice of microUSB for filling the BW-P6 is interesting in 2018, but in fairness there are a hundred times more microUSB chargers in the world than Type C still, plus there's also the matter of keeping the cost (as well as weight) down - it's £20 or so from Amazon UK, though you can get 15% off on this UK store with promo code VCGOTES8 (expires on 21st June 2018). 

I'd still have liked a USB Type C version though, maybe that'll be the 'P7'?! Watch this space...




Modern times: Why replaceable batteries went away

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 11:12:00 GMT

Sometimes you can't always get what you want, but.... you might just get what you need. So sang The Rolling Stones and a bit of a life lesson, but borne out by several technological trends, not least something that had been close to my heart, the subject of replaceable batteries in smartphones. See below for links, quotes, and current thoughts on the reality. The concept is sound enough, of course - let the user swap out a phone battery that has lost capacity. Or perhaps keep a spare in the car glove box for swapping in the event of an emergency. Yet, across the board, replaceable batteries have died out, causing me to wonder what went wrong, in the face of seemingly equal pros and cons... Quoting from my editorial 'Sealed vs user-replaceable batteries: is your phone battery doomed?' back in 2012 (and you'll note the article's age from the phone models mentioned!!), and highlighting the pane which needs expanding in green, for clarity:   Sealed batteries (e.g. in Apple iPhone, Nokia E7, X7, Nokia Lumia 800, HTC Radar)  (Traditional) Replaceable batteries (e.g. Nokia N95, N97, E6, 808 PureView, Lumia 710, HTC HD7)  Pros  Batteries can be custom designed/shaped to fit around other internal components, leading to greater volume and greater charge capacity. With no battery door, latch or sprung battery contacts, the phone can be simpler in construction and stronger. There's no possibility of the user putting in third party 'dodgy' batteries and thus compromising the rest of the phone's performance or risking fire etc. Batteries can be sourced relatively inexpensively, kept as spares in a pocket and swapped in and out as needed. When a battery's capacity has degraded significantly, you can just throw it away (safely) and buy/insert a new one.  In the event of a serious battery malfunction, you can spot the issue (probably early on) and prevent damage to your phone. In the event of serious software or hardware malfunction, you can 'pull' the battery to drain charge from the device and then restart it from scratch. Where safe to do so, third party batteries can be used to provide higher capacity within the same form factor. Cons  When the battery's flat, there's no alternative but to charge the phone directly, via mains, USB or a portable charger. When the battery's capacity has significantly decreased/degraded, you have to take the phone to an approved service centre and pay whatever the manufacturer demands to get the battery replaced. If the battery goes 'bad' and swells up or leaks, your device can be permanently damaged. On a long, demanding day out, you can't take a 'spare' battery (just in case). Battery tends to be smaller and capacity tends to be lower, due to the volume needed for the sprung contacts, support struts, battery door, latch, etc.  Batteries have to be (roughly) of standard shape, for ease of insertion and storage. You have to watch out for third party 'counterfeit' batteries, which may not provide what they say and may even be dangerous. [End of quote] I returned to this theme a number of times, most recently in 2015, in 'Does 'replaceable' matter in practice? A horrendously wasted opportunity...', which is a forerunner to today's ramblings. The thing is that I was absolutely right in my analysis - all the factors, the pros and cons, above, are still true and still relevant. Yet almost every smartphone produced in 2018 has a sealed battery. What happened? Looking at the three 'pros' for sealed batteries above, the first two are to do with design and robustness, and the trend to thinner, metal or glass unibody designs is inescapable, certainly above the budget phone price tier. Having a sealed battery is therefore a good thing and avoids having to compromise design or materials to accommodate a battery [...]



Jumping to Android? Coming from (e.g.) a Lumia, the S9 is the best bet...

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 16:44:09 GMT

If you're steeped in the Lumia 950 XL or similar, on Windows 10 Mobile, or perhaps the Nokia 808 on Symbian (this being cross-posted to AAS), then it's worth noting that I've been doing a LOT of testing of the new Samsung Galaxy S9. Almost uniquely in the Android flagship world, it has the full set of features (OS excepted!) that you might be looking for. So world class camera (and video camera), high quality DAC and 3.5mm headphone output, loud stereo speakers, expandable storage, and more. 

Anyway, the chances are that you've already jumped from Symbian to something else (maybe Windows?) or perhaps you're a hardened Lumia 950 or 930 user and are eyeing up where you could possibly go next, in the absence of any official Microsoft hardware (at least so far in 2018)? The Galaxy S9 is brand new and certainly has my attention.

So I've been reviewing and testing it. You'll have seen my side by side comparison with the 950 XL and the camera shootout? There's also now my video review, embedded below. Just click through to YouTube or maximise in place (depending on your browser) to see it in 1080p for best effect.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/01wlSdva-IA?rel=0" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0">

So pretty impressive. One thing I didn't test in the review above was video capture and microphone quality, so that's next, here. My 12 string guitar at point blank range is pretty darned loud. I've included some familiar devices in the test below, in this updated compilation. So put on headphones for this one and crank up the volume!

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HUJ5fBlFLw0?rel=0" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Very good indeed. For those interested, it looks like the S9 might be able to finally replace my old Nokia 808 as the phone that shoots my Phones Show video podcast, since it has volume, quality and (the weak point on the Lumias) a low noise floor.




A brief history of the most innovative camera centric phones

Sun, 11 Mar 2018 07:25:54 GMT

John Velasco, over at PhoneArena, has put together an industry wide, 16 year video overview of camera phones that's worth a quick look. It's not perfect and the Nokia N93 is a notable omission (IMHO), but loads of Nokia smartphones get featured, including the venerable 808 and 1020, of course.

If you want something more textual then see my own (and now slightly out of date) 'The Top 20 Phone Camera Innovations of All Time', from 2012, six years ago!

As usual with video embeds, maximise the window for best effect, or click through to YouTube directly, depending on how you're reading this article:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/O7OZTD-MEaM" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Maybe it's high time for me to update my 2012 article? Watch this space (for a rainy day, methinks....)!

PS. In search of more recent content here on AAWP along the same lines, there's also The 'SteveMark'(!) top 10 phone cameras of all time' and 'Nokia camera 7 year challenge: Lumia 950 & Nokia 8 take on 2010's Nokia N8'




Gemini: P for Productivity

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:28:13 GMT

Now, bear with me, since this doesn't run Symbian (AAS) or Windows (AAWP), but it does very much follow up on some of the ideas of Symbian (née Psion/EPOC) and Nokia over the years and it does very much emphasise productivity and that the smartphone should be a way to get more things done more efficiently, not just a place to waste time or spend money... This is the Gemini and I've been having a look at it on The Phones Show - hopefully it's of interest!

From the Symbian world, this is closest to both the original Psion palmtops (of course) and the Nokia Communicators, while in the Windows world we have the original HTC 7 Pro and the whole 'business and productivity' emphasis that's very much part of Windows 10 Mobile nowadays.

Here's the video anyway - enjoy.

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

It’s not that easy to buy yet, though. The Indiegogo page is still the place to get started but the very earliest backers, from the start of 2017, are only now starting to receive production Geminis. It’ll be a few months before the 4000 or so backers have all been serviced, so we’re not talking of a device that you can buy in your local tech mart. The eventual retail price will be in the £500 region for the Wi-fi plus 4G model, though an exact figure isn’t yet available. Interestingly, that would be the exact same pricing level as the Psion Series 5 was 20 years ago.

Comments welcome - if any of you were to consider switching to Android then would something like this be a good starting point?




Review: Veho Endurance VPP-008-E

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 12:51:00 GMT

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



'Operation Elop' and the bungled transition

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 19:51:51 GMT

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

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

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

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

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

From the post at React etc.:

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

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

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

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




The Three Phases of PureView

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 16:35:27 GMT

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

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

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

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

Comments welcome. 

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




Testing smartphone audio capture in 2018

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 18:44:00 GMT

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



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

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 08:49:00 GMT

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



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

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 08:42:00 GMT

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



Behind the Gemini PDA - the Psion Series 5 reborn?

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:24:35 GMT

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


(image)

From the article introducing the podcast:

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

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

Well worth a listen!

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

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 07:23:00 GMT

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



The Nokia 8 takes on the Lumia 950

Mon, 13 Nov 2017 07:58:05 GMT

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

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

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

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

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