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Last Build Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2017 20:45:05 GMT

 



Choosing a smartphone platform in 2017

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 06:31:00 GMT

So I've put forward the case for Windows 10 Mobile in video form, plus I've shown that W10M is still relevant in 2017. But - like any intelligent person - you'll have been looking around at other smartphone platforms, eyeing up shiny new phones. It's only natural. Which is why I wanted to set down my thoughts on how the three* main platforms compare - which way should you jump?* OK, so the 'third ecosystem' is only in contention numbers-wise if you include Windows 10 on all form factors, but it remains the only real alternative to the big two on mobile: iOS and Android. Writer's note: A casual perusal of the table below will show that there are many more positives than negatives for Windows 10 Mobile, with slightly more negatives than positives for the iPhone and iOS. Although I've tried to be objective below, I can't help a little personal subjectivity creeping in - this is AAWP, after all! And comments welcome below, as usual...   iOS Android Windows 10 Mobile Pros/advantages Good security, locked down Store and installation Wide application selection Network of Apple Stores worldwide for support and repair Ostensibly simple 'what you see is what you get' UI Good update prospects, typically 4 years per handset after launch Wide application selection Home screen interactive widgets microSD support (hardware dependent) Very wide variety of hardware to choose from MTP file access to desktops (in theory, doesn't always work IME) Standard USB Type C or microUSB compatibility Good security, locked down Store and installation UWP applications across form factors Plug and play file compatibility with Windows PCs Start screen and resizeable live tiles Virtual controls that can be dismissed completely for more visible content Continuum and external genuine secondary displays Monthly security and patch updates for two years per OS branch, so typically 3 to 4 years per handset after launch microSD support Standard USB Type C compatibility All phones ever made have 3.5mm audio out(!) Cons/disadvantages No microSD expansion Proprietary USB port (Lightning) Many models have no 3.5mm audio out, so dongles needed No back control in the UI, 'back' function varies according to application [gesture being added for iOS 11] Locked down file system, access only through very specific mechanisms Static and inflexible app launcher/home-screen Security worries if not kept 100% bang up to date or used properly (latest big scare here) Along similar lines, only flagships tend to get significant updates, and even then only for 18 months at most Lots of UI variations, all slightly different Vertical/boutique applications, social apps, all missing or less capable Very poor games and VR selections Very limited hardware selection for new handsets I think I've been pretty fair above. I've not been shy about both praising and criticising the iPhone and iOS in the past, while I use several Android smartphones in my day to day rotation/life. But however much I try and look away from Windows 10 Mobile and - specifically - the Lumia 950 XL, I keep getting sucked back by the pros/advantages above. They're genuine advantages too, as I've mentioned several times. Yet they're undermined by the three cons/disadvantages, which are - if I'm honest - rather huge. The app selection most people could work around (see our directories of general apps and imaging/reading apps), with third party applications and services accessed though the Edge browser. But the last one - limited new hardware is probably the killer in the wider phone market. Lumias are out of stock almost everywhere by now, the promised third party budget phones are still just IFA demo material and the Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro is effectively the only game in town, at least when wanting to pick up something brand new. For AAWP old hands, of course, you're wondering whether to stick with your trusty Lumia 830/930/950/whatever - in which case hopefully this table has given you food for thought[...]



Inside camera phones, and Nokia through the ages

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 07:48:09 GMT

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

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

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

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

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

You can subscribe to The TechBox here.

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

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




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

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 13:20:36 GMT

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

(image)

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

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

(image)

...or UK-style pins:

(image)

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

(image)

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

(image)

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

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

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




An hour of camera phone tech with Steve and Myriam

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 20:31:02 GMT

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

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

src="http://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/5688968/height/90/width/640/theme/custom/autonext/no/thumbnail/yes/autoplay/no/preload/no/no_addthis/no/direction/backward/render-playlist/no/custom-color/87A93A/" width="640" height="90" scrolling="no">

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

See also the home page for Myriam's podcast.




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

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 10:26:36 GMT

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

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

(image)

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

(image)

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

(image)

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

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

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

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




Review: Nokia 6

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 06:06:00 GMT

What's this? A review of a smartphone that doesn't run Symbian on AAS? And that doesn't run Windows 10 Mobile on AAWP? Actually yes - it's my first look at the new Nokia 6, running Android. And it's here because it's the return of the classic Nokia brand that I've written about so many times on these sites. The personnel behind it are mostly different, the OS certainly is, but is it worth casting a look in the 'new' Nokia's direction? Probably not, though hopefully this mini-review will be of interest. This Nokia is still designed in Finland, it’s still made like a tank, but the actual firm behind it is HMD Global and all the manufacturing is in China. So take the ‘Nokia’ branding with just a pinch of salt. There's little DNA here from the classic Nokia designs of the past, though some visual clues have been taken from phones such as the Nokia N9 (running Meego, so that's the fourth OS mentioned in the last two paragraphs!), Lumia 800 and Lumia 920.  As a smartphone, the ‘6’ is well styled, I was enormously impressed by how solid it is, with slab aluminium sides and polished chamfered edges. It's heavy too, at almost 170g, almost in phablet territory with a 5.5” screen. The fingerprint sensor, down the bottom, is 100% accurate, but the specification here means that it takes a second from placing your thumb to the Nokia 6 being unlocked and the display powered up. Is a second too long? Not for the target market, though anyone exposed to flagships (think iPhone 7, Google Pixel) will notice a difference. Around the perimeter is a welcome 3.5mm headphone jack, all metal volume and power buttons, a speaker aperture (of which more later) and... a microUSB charging and data port. That’s right - microUSB on a £200 smartphone in 2017, rather than the now ubiquitous USB Type C. It feels very out of place and my theory is that the Nokia 6 design was actually finalised at least 18 months ago, back at the tail end of 2015, when USB Type C was still only on flagships (the Lumia 950 and 950 XL famously launched with this, among the first smartphones with 'C'). The delays HMD Global faced getting the Nokia 6 to market have left it with this single anachronistic spec point. Most users won’t mind, of course, microUSB jacks and chargers are everywhere still - and, to be fair, it’s just about the only major disappointment in the Nokia 6. For the price. On the back is the reassuring ‘NOKIA’ logo, just as on the Symbian phones and Lumias of old, plus a very ‘Nokia’ vertical raised camera island. I suspect that the raising is purely cosmetic, since there’s no reason for this pretty average phone camera to need the extra thickness. I’ll come back to the camera later on. The display is IPS LCD and 1080p resolution. With the RGB stripe (i.e. all pixels represented, unlike on AMOLED screens), the screen is extremely crisp and decently bright, though I noted that contrast levels weren’t brilliant in the sun.  The top earpiece is used as a ‘tweeter’ and piped the left channel for any stereo audio. This is - absolutely - a hack of the highest order. The results when watching Netflix or similar are a definitely imbalance in the sound, with 90% of the volume coming from the bottom firing main speaker and 10% from the earpiece. Much of the time this doesn’t really matter, but just occasionally something’s supposed to be happening in the left channel in terms of music or effects and… you can hardly hear it. With proper stereo now on the HP Elite x3 and Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro (etc.) a mainly-right-channel hack just doesn't cut it. Still, for sat-nav, podcast and speakerphone use, the speaker combination is absolutely fine and pretty loud. Also on the audio front is a FM radio aerial built-in, not something you get on every phone nowadays, and indicating the Nokia 6[...]



Looking back on 15 years of the megapixel race

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 06:57:45 GMT

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



What's in Steve's must-have accessories toolkit?

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 07:06:00 GMT

Over the years I've reviewed dozens of smartphone accessories, maybe even hundreds. And I've reviewed a fair number formally here for AAS and AAWP. But, of this mass of plastic, metal and, often, lithium, which accessories really made the grade? Which ones do I personally carry around with me on any trip out of the house of more than a few hours? Here's a glimpse into my standard kit. Shown above really is my kit, it's the case I take more or less everywhere with me and the only difference is that: I've tied it for the photo! I've set the case code here to a dummy number to mask my real case unlock... I also often take either my Surface Pro (and Backlit Type Cover) or my Macbook, depending on where I'm going and what I'm doing - and these fit in the top document pockets of the briefcase. And their chargers would go in the main body if I was gone for longer than a day, of course. I've been asked numerous times what I really, truly use, so here it all is - I'll start with the stuff in front of the case - which normally goes in my wallet or in the case or in its document flaps, as appropriate. Working left to right: A short USB Type A to microUSB cable, Nokia-branded. Has never let me down, unlike many third party cables and adapters. Nokia knew how to build cables! A Tronsmart USB Type A to Type C cable (mainly because I lost my Microsoft ones!) An Olixar Wallet Ultra-slim stand - so slim I forget it's there, yet saves the day at least once a week! An Inateck Bluetooth keyboard - it's SO slim and yet SO useable. And no, I don't think you can buy them anymore, sadly. A microUSB to USB Type A (female) adapter - for plugging in flash disks to phones 'on the go', though I can't remember when I last actually did this! A multi-way USB Type A to microUSB/Type C/Apple 30-pin adapter. Just an extra option, and again it's small and light. Would be nice to have Apple Lightning on this too. I think this came with a power bank in the distant past! OK look, it's one of those lost Microsoft Type A to Type C cables after all - phew! Now for the case contents, and I'll try to work left to right again - you'll work out what's what! The AUKEY SK-S1, the best sounding Bluetooth speaker I've ever heard, bar none. It's biggish, but when you hear the depth to the sound, it's like having a hi-fi always with me. A Choetech USB Type C to HDMI adpter cable - not cheap, but a one-wire way to connect to Continuum (etc) displays. An old tin that's the perfect size for tiny things. So it's chock full of microSD cards, adapters, old SIMs, SIM tools, USB flash disks, and anything else that would otherwise get lost! My Marshall Mode in-ear headphones. Stunning bass and general fidelity, three way media controls, sturdy clip. Again, not cheap (£40?), but you get what you pay for. My Rolson Tradesman knife - cheap and yet very well made and simply to slot in new razor blades. Perfect for unboxing things?(!) A white 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable. Because you never know when Bluetooth is going to let you down and it's best to 'jack in'! Some emergency mundane things: rubber bands, a small notebook (for ideas?), paper clips, stapler, tissues, online banking access gadget. The Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter - because you can't always have cables trailing across living rooms and offices! Perfect for Continuum stuff as long as you don't mind a little lag here and there... An Integral SD card reader. Especially useful for getting photos onto - and off - awkward laptops. A Tronsmart mains-to-dual USB Type A 36W fast charger - hasn't let me down yet when there are multiple phones or tablets to charge A cheap and nasty USB current meter - sometimes this seems invaluable, other times I'm not sure I believe its readings. But better than nothing. Shout out in the comments if you have something reliable that you can recommend. [...]



PureView digital zoom is more common than you might think

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 07:03:00 GMT

Think back to one of the original tenets of Nokia's 'PureView' system, designed to accomplish lossless digital zoom using a high resolution sensor to 'smart crop' into, in a seamless way, exemplified in the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020, but also found in the Lumia 930, 1520 and 950 range. Is this all patented, or can other manufacturers and developers leverage the exact same idea? In playing with my Android-powered ZTE Axon 7, I discovered that the exact same idea is already used when zooming on non-Nokia/non-Microsoft phones, and it works just as well. Who knew?I mention all this in case users of any of the above-mentioned handsets were thinking of moving to Android and worrying about missing this zooming aspect, at least. From my own article here: So I set the camera to take photos at 4MP in 16:9, a nice compromise between file size and resolution/detail. In fact, it's similar to what that old Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 used to use. I wonder.... what happens if I zoom now on this Android phone? Will the 4MP image simply get blown up and blockily zoomed, or will the phone be clever enough to 'smart crop' into that high resolution sensor, just as the 808/1020 used to? So I did some tests. Here's a nice shot of some flowers, the original is at 4MP: And here's a 1:1 crop from that image at blog resolution: So a very tight crop and the resulting image is tiny, as you'd expect. Now, using multi-touch on the Android phone's Camera UI, I zoomed in to '2x' and took the photo again: A nice zoomed shot, but is this a genuine zoom, i.e. without loss? Let's now look at a 1:1 crop of the same detail as above: This is quite a bit more detailed, as you'd expect. You can read on in the full original article. Now, I can't guarantee that quality or indeed zoom factors will be as good on certain Android handsets as on the old Nokias, but I thought that other devices (can) behave in the same way was at least notable! PS. It's absolutely true that all of this is nothing more than smoke and mirrors on old and new phones and that you could just take full resolution photos all the time, but then you have to live with 20MP (etc) snaps all the time, where something much smaller would do, plus you also have to go back later and manually crop things.[...]



The GPD Pocket now available

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:25:47 GMT

It's not Symbian, it's not Windows 10 Mobile, heck it's not even Android, but the new GPD Pocket is now available (around £400) and offers a certain nostalgia for anyone brought up on Psion palmtops, Nokia Communicators and Windows Mobile clamshells. It's bigger, of course, but still miniscule compared to a traditional laptop. See the videos below.

WBI reports:

The mini-laptop GPD Pocket Windows 10 we talked about last February is finally available for purchase in some e-shops. After Win GamePad, a mini laptop Windows 10 dedicated to mobile gaming, the Chinese manufacturer GPD offers us another very interesting device, GPD Pocket. At the expense of size, this has technical specifications of all respect, better than many much more bulky PCs. It is a truly portable Windows 10 device...

  • Processor -  Intel Atom Z8750-x7
  • RAM -  8 GB
  • Internal Storage -  128GB
  • Display -  7Full HD 
  • Dimensions -  18 x 10cm , 7cm
  • Ports -  USB 3.0 , USB Type-C , HDMI
  • Input -  jack 3.5 mm
  • Battery -  7000 mAh
  • Operating system -  Windows 10 / Ubuntu 16 . 04

The Mini Portable Pocket GPD is available for purchase from Italy on Gearbest at a price of 437 € including shipping.

Looks very interesting indeed for road warriors everywhere, here's the product buy page. It's utterly traditional in one sense, mind you, it's just very small. We're expecting a 'Surface Phone' (or similar) to be smaller still but omit the physical keyboard in exchange for even more screen real estate, possibly using meshing dual displays.

Some video promos and demos of this new GPD Pocket, both from the IndieGoGo days:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/49o4yco9cyY" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l52WQ5VXcm8" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">




Screens and resolutions through the ages

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 08:57:00 GMT

This is the sort of feature I often create, but GSM Arena has done such a good job that I'll just link to them instead. They look at screen resolutions and sizes over the last decade - the trend is obvious, but it's always surprising just how far we've come.Of course, along side the increases are wholesale additions to what we use smartphones for. 'Smart' in 2007 meant Web browsing, email, music, photo sharing, etc. 'Smart' in 2017 includes paying for things, media streaming, live social activities, HD gaming, and more. Anyway, from the article: “The [2.8”] display truly looks larger than you might guess. The QVGA resolution stays the same and is adequate for providing great picture quality… “. It may seem like this statement is from another century, but it's just under 10 years old - from our very own Nokia N95 8GB review. And you can kinda see where we were coming from - the average screen in 2007 was 2.3" in diagonal and had less than 84,582 pixels at 171ppi density. And it got us curious so we decided to dig through our database and see how screens evolved through the years. We picked the 50 most popular phones for each year to analyze - those account for the vast majority of all sales and that way we avoid exotic devices skewing our stats. We chose 2007 as a starting point, the year Apple revolutionized the smartphone market by releasing its first iPhone. Back then the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen was considered huge and its HVGA resolution was close to the highest available - only devices like Nokia E90 and N800 had more pixels. The touchscreen revolution then quickly took over the mobile world and screens and resolutions started growing rapidly. In 2010 a couple of key launches happened and they sped up the process rapidly - Apple debuted the iPhone 4 with its Retina screen, while Samsung introduced the Galaxy S - a 4" WVGA flagship. The following year Samsung released the first Galaxy Note, which had a huge 5.3-inch screen of over 1 million pixels. At that point the 3.5" iPhone was already below average in size, but the Note got more ridicule for its size than praise. As phablets' popularity grew exponentially average screen size moved from 3.6" in 2011 to 5" in 2014. Even Apple couldn't resist joining the size race as the 4.7" iPhone 6 and 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus came to be. Resolution was growing even faster - by the end of the period Retina screens were only average in terms of pixel density. In 2015 Android flagships moved to QHD and we saw another huge spike in ppi. Sizes kept increasing as well and the average screen stood at 5.2 inches. And then everything changed when the mid-rangers attacked. Okay that might be an overstatement, but in 2016 mid-range handsets finally became good enough and they shot up in popularity, which explains the dip in the average resolution that year. There's more, including charts and tables, in the source article here.  The fashion in 2017 seems to be near bezel-less phones, made possible by virtual controls now being supported by most OS - we're getting ever closer to those Star Trek slabs of glass. Still, it's good to look back and I reckon that I've (mostly) owned or (in one or two cases just) reviewed all the handsets shown above. Heck, some are classics and they remain in my 'museum'! PS. Good to see the Nokia E90 and N800 get a mention, forgotten form factors and interfaces...[...]



Mini-review: AUKEY SK-S1, the 'Rolls Royce' of Bluetooth speakers?

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 14:17:56 GMT

Yes, yes, I've reviewed Bluetooth speakers in the past, most recently a rugged item from the same manufacturer, i.e. AUKEY, but the SK-S1 is different. In a world of Bluetooth speakers to provide decent audio from your smartphone, this one is the Rolls Royce. Far better sound, far louder, far better looking, yet with no sacrifice in playback time and little sacrifice in size. Meant to be together: the AUKEY SK-S1 and the Lumia 950 XL There's clearly some trickery going on here, because the effect of this 'Rolls Royce' speaker is that the whole chassis is aluminium, when in reality the huge grille, front and back, is aluminium-effect plastic. But don't hold that against the SK-S1 because the chamfered aluminium panel at the top adds a huge air of quality to proceedings on its own. And if all the grille was metal then weight would be another 20g or so. Not to mention the cost of drilling holes in that much aluminium! Regardless of the premium silver looks, what matters in any Bluetooth speaker is the sound, of course. I did note the cutaway diagram on the Amazon UK product page: If those speaker cones look like they mean business then that's because they do. Savour these specs: 8W per channel, with twin rechargeable cells inside in series, giving 7.4V at 2000mAh, with a typical playback time of around 8 hours and a typical volume of over 80dB maximum (at around 1m). So 16W total - and, ignoring that different manufacturers quote speaker power in different ways, once you get up in double figures you're talking about serious volume and fidelity. In this case, the acid test is listening. I hooked up my Lumia 950 XL (though any Bluetooth-capable smartphone will do here, of course) and played a variety of music types. As with other Bluetooth media solutions, the actual volume is a function of the volume setting on the phone and that on the speaker, i.e. the two are separate and get 'multipled' together. For most music types, I found that the volume output couldn't be kept at 100% on both, since the speaker was so loud that I was seriously worried about attracting the attention of all my neighbours and getting complaints! No, the speaker isn't pink - it's just shiny and reflective, and here it was in a bedroom with lots of pink around it!!! What's really impressive here isn't the volume though - it's the bass. With those serious speaker cones and with full reflex air movement out of the back of the SK-S1, the fulness of the bass is astonishing. In fact, never mind putting the AUKEY SK-S1 on a shelf or table - hold it in two hands on front of you and you can feel all the low end, vibrating through your hands and against your fingers from the back of the accessory. It's an amazing demo. The speaker's effective 4000mAh (at the more normal 3.7V) battery does take a while to charge up, at least 5 or 6 hours, so it's an overnigth job in reality. And it's via microUSB, which is a slight shame for anyone now standardised on USB Type C, though you of course get a charging cable in the box. In fact, you also get a line cable, 3.5mm to 3.5mm, in the box - and this means that you can dispense with the vagaries of Bluetooth encoding (aptX isn't supported, though A2DP HSP/HFP are) and simply wire your smartphone in, if needed. Controls are thankfully split out - previous AUKEY speakers have tried to combine volume with playback control, with disastrously confusing results. Here it's obvious what each button does: Priced at just over £30 at the moment, this is easily the most impressive Bluetooth speaker I have ever tried, yet is far from the most expensive. In fact, leaving aside the missing aptX (and aptX HD) support, this could be the bargain of the year in terms of (literal) bang per buck. In fact, as I write this, [...]



Volterman: the trackable, thief-proof, smart wallet that charges your phone?

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 10:17:34 GMT

You know me, I can't resist gadgets, powerbanks, adapters. And I've spotted this 'Smart Wallet' concept over on Indiegogo - it's already funded, so will definitely happen now. Essentially it's a range of wallets with a wireless (and wired) power bank built in, with GPS tracking (should it get lost), and with a camera to snap whoever opens it when it's 'lost'. Is it pricey? Heck, yes, but it's also unique and perfect for that Christmas 2017 present, surely?

From the Indiegogo listing:

Volterman® is the World’s most powerful smart wallet with 5 smart functions: •

  • Built-in Powerbank (from 2,000 to 5,000 mAh) 
  • Distance Alarm 
  • Global GPS Tracking 
  • Worldwide WiFi Hotspot 
  • Thief Detection Camera

With all the tech inside, Volterman® is slim and lightweight made from premium quality materials.

I have some questions, not least about the standby drain of the integral gadgets. It's also claimed that the power bank can wirelessly charge from your phone, but that would assume that your phone also had Qi coils and support for this?

There are several variants, with different sizes and capabilities:

  • Volterman CardHolder
  • Volterman BiFold
  • Volterman Travel

(image) More over at the full Indiegogo introduction page.

Naturally, there's a promo video too, deliberately cheesy and fun(!):

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WrslPHiz2mI" width="853" height="480" frameborder="0">

I'm looking forward to reviewing at least one of these variants in due course.




ZEISS returns to Nokia, abandons Microsoft

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 09:40:29 GMT

Totally off-topic for AAS and AAWP in a sense, because the end products won't be 100% relevant, but the news is very definitely of interest, with Carl Zeiss (later renamed just ZEISS) producing the award winning optics for every Nokia flagship from the early 2000s onwards, and ending with the last Microsoft Windows-running phones, the Lumia 950 range, at the end of 2015. And now ZEISS is back with 'Nokia' - not quite the same Nokia that had its Devices division bought up and then eventually gutted by Microsoft - but the Nokia name, even on Android OS, is notable and the presence of a ZEISS collaboration is a good sign that the company is back on track.  [Update] In addition, announced on Twitter, was that (no surprises, but...) there will be no more Microsoft branded devices with ZEISS optics - the original licensing deal, inherited with the Nokia purchase, has ended. See below for the full tweet.[Update] The smartphone cooperation between ZEISS and @Microsoft mutually ended with the beginning of the cooperation with HMD. — ZEISS Camera Lenses (@ZEISSLenses) July 6, 2017 Given that the Lumia 950 range was announced almost two years ago, this isn't really news, but interesting to have it confirmed. It also puts paid to the idea that a future Surface phone will re-use the camera from the Lumia 950, which is a slight shame... Anyway, from HMD: Espoo, Finland/ Oberkochen, Germany, 6 July 2017 – HMD Global, the home of Nokia phones, and ZEISS today jointly announced the signing of an exclusive partnership that aims to set new imaging standards within the smartphone industry. This long-term agreement builds on the shared history and expertise between ZEISS and Nokia smartphones. With a joint ambition to advance the quality of the total imaging experience on smartphones spanning the entire ecosystem from software, services, through to screen quality, and optic design, the partnership will see ZEISS and HMD Global co-develop standard-defining imaging capabilities and will bring the ZEISS brand back to Nokia smartphones. This pledge to constantly improve consumers’ imaging experience is a reflection of the shared values between both businesses – a single minded commitment to quality, true craftsmanship and a desire to improve real life experience. The relationship between ZEISS and Nokia phones began more than a decade ago, and is founded on a shared passion for innovation and always delivering the best for the consumer. The past collaboration saw ZEISS and Nokia phones driving technology innovations such as the world’s first multi-megapixel mobile phone and many more standard-setting devices, from the Nokia Nseries to those featuring Nokia PureView technologies. This renewed relationship is a long-term commitment to build on that technology innovation over the years to come. Will we ever again see mighty imaging flagships from Nokia that are as ground-breaking as the Nokia N93, N95, N86 (shown below), N8, 808 and Lumia 1020? Somehow I doubt it, the competition is largely 'catching up', but the ZEISS agreement is certainly welcome. PS. I've yet to even touch a Nokia-branded Android smartphone, but the '6' looks good and it's due out in the UK early next month. [...]



10 years of iPhone? Most of its 'innovations' came in with Nokia and others

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 10:08:00 GMT

The tech media has been falling over itself in the last week to talk about the ten year anniversary of the Apple iPhone, that moment when Steve Jobs revealed the shape of smartphones to come. All singing, all dancing? It really wasn't. Revisionist history says that the iPhone introduced all the features we see in today's smartphones, but that's not accurate...I guess I shouldn't get too worked up about people rewriting tech history - but as one of the writers behind All About Symbian (and now AAWP) I just can't help myself put the record straight. Tech journalists (mainly American) have been falling over themselves to praise the iPhone as the point where the modern smartphone was born, but they're only right in one small sense. And even that small sense is highly debatable. Think of the iPhone of 2007 and then today's phones and there's a clear sense of continuity of a full-screen experience with capacitive touch. Yet smartphones had been all-screen for years in the Windows Mobile world, with devices like the O2 XDA launching in 2002, a full five years before the iPhone, and based on the existing Windows Mobile PDAs of the previous few years. Even though the iPhone was absolutely to be credited for bringing capacitive touch to the mainstream phone world, it wasn't the first - the LG Prada had a capacitive touchscreen six months previously. Nokia N95 and the original iPhone, for comparison. Outstanding functions and capabilities versus outstanding ease of use? All other functions were represented in existing smartphones. Over in the Symbian world (the dominant smartphone platform from 2000 to 2009, a full decade), the Nokia smartphones - in particular the Nseries - had pioneered the inclusion of a GPS receiver, had introduced the use of accelerometers, with the N95 being the obvious model to point to, being launched at the tail end of 2006, the year before the iPhone's release. Then there are good cameras, with some of the Sony Ericsson 'feature phones' (culminating in the K850i from summer 2007) containing high megapixel units along with Xenon flash, though again it was Nokia that brought high megapixel imagery to the smartphone world with the N95 and N95 8GB, plus the N82 (again with Xenon flash). In terms of features, remember that all the early Nokia Series 80, Sony Ericsson UIQ and Nokia Series 60 (S60) smartphones from 2002 to 2006 had full operating systems, with vibrant third party application scenes, full file systems, copy and paste(!) and full web browsers (based on the same Webkit code as the iPhone). With hardware media controls, landscape UI, full file and office editing, advanced imaging functions, and an onboard application store - the Nokia N95 pretending it's a laptop (well, almost), and many months before the original, limited iPhone was even available.... Which doesn't leave much for the iPhone to have 'innovated' with. Today's iPhone ranges do include all of the above (great camera, GPS, sensors, applications, even - cough - copy and paste!), but it has taken most of the celebrated decade for the iPhone to have really caught up with the rest of the industry in terms of raw technology. Steve Jobs said at the iPhone's launch that it had 'Software that’s at least five years ahead of what’s on any other phone' - which is accurate in that the iPhone is rightly responsible for smartphone UIs that are intuitive enough not to need to ship a paper manual with each phone (remember those?!), but this quote is often mis-remembered as Apple saying that the iPhone itself was five years ahead. Jobs said 'Software', not hardware. And even then the original iPhone lacked third party applications and basic editing funct[...]



Today, June 15th: EU roaming charges now officially dropped

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 09:22:31 GMT

OK, this is as generic a phone link as I'll ever include, but it's worth noting that the EU's 'roam like home' mandate comes into force today - in theory anyone can move around within EU countries without incurring extra callular charges. See the quote below.From the EC article: Roam Like at Home rules enter into force on 15 June 2017. People will pay domestic prices, irrespective of where they are travelling in the EU for phone-calls, SMS and mobile internet. Read the background and step-by-step details on how the EU achieved the end of roaming charges. The gradual reduction of charges since 2006 results in the end of roaming charges in 2017. Roam Like at Home in a nutshell Phone calls, SMS and going online with your mobile device from another EU country will be covered in the national bundle. The minutes of calls, SMS and megabytes of data that a person consumes abroad within the EU will be charged the same as at home. People will not have bill shocks anymore. If a person has unlimited calls and SMS, he/she will get unlimited calls and SMS when roaming in the EU. However if a person has unlimited mobile data or very cheap mobile data at home, his operator may apply a safeguard (fair use) limit on data use while roaming. If so, the operator will have to inform the customer in advance about such a limit and alert them when they reach this limit. The EU rules ensure that such a roaming data limit should cover the normal usage patterns of most travellers. If a person reaches the limit, he/she can continue to use data roaming for a very small fee: up to 7.7€/GB + VAT, which is 6.5 times less than before 15 June 2017 and 25 times less than before that. As long as a person periodically travels and spends more time in his home country than abroad over any 4-month period, they will fully benefit from Roam Like at Home. If a person gets charged extra, he/she should first contest those charges with their operator, who should have a complaints procedure in place. If the operator persists, the person should refer to the national telecoms regulator, who will settle the case.   If a person stays in another country within the EU longer than in his home country over a few months, the operator may contact him and ask to pay more. More information can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). A very small number of operators in the EU have been allowed by the national telecoms regulator to continue applying a small roaming surcharge after 15 June, in order to avoid negative effects on very low domestic prices. Such surcharges will be significantly lower than the ones applied before 15 June 2017. There are some caveats above, sure, so do triple check with your operator before you travel. But mainstream operators in EFIGS will already have complied. Now, all that's need is to make sure that you're in a EU country. And if you are, make sure that some idiots in charge of your country haven't started to take your country out of the EU, because when that happens you'll be utterly scuppered![...]



My all-time 'SteveMark' camera phone top-ten list- but interactive!

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 16:39:36 GMT

You may recall that I picked my top 10 all-time best smartphone cameras a while back? Well, the idea's back and this time I've made it interactive (with a little help from Javascript wizard Indrek) - you can now put in your preferences and the top 10 will get sorted and ranked accordingly. Which phone camera (from this list, anyway) really is THE best for YOU?

To get started, head over to stevelitchfield.com/grid.htm and rate how important each of a zillion factors to you in terms of what you'd expect from a great phone-hosted camera. You can apply your own weightings, though, and the page will multiply everything up and work out rankings according to your stated criteria. Cool, eh?

I'd have hosted the grid here, but it's too 'wide' for Rafe's layout!

(image)

Comments welcome, of course. Which, in your opinion, smartphone cameras need adding to this table? I can do various additions and amendments in time!

PS. If you get my old 'smartphone features' grid on that same URL, then refresh the page in your browser. I re-used the URL because the old grid was so out of date, etc.

PPS. I wonder if any of the DxOMark people read my criticisms of their methods and results. I'd be happy to chat to them about all this, of course...

(image)




The 'SteveMark'(!) top 10 phone cameras of all time

Wed, 31 May 2017 07:35:00 GMT

With every rating that the much-quoted DxOMark site puts out for phone cameras, the more I think that it's missing a healthy dose of real world experience and use cases. Not to mention a few key phone models (e.g. Lumia 950). Given that I've tested the majority of recent smartphones for AAS and then AAWP, usually against the best of the competition, I wanted to aggregate my experience into my own 'Top 10' camera-phones of all time. 'SteveMark', if you will.Let's start with DxOMark's ratings though. Here's their all-time, current top (22) phone cameras: 1. HTC U11 2. Google Pixel/XL 3. HTC 10, Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7/Edge, Sony Xperia X Performance 7. Huawei P10, Moto Z Force Droid, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, Sony Xperia XZ, Sony Xperia Z5 12. Apple iPhone 7, LG G5, Galaxy Note V, Samsung S6 Edge 16. Huawei Mate 9, LG V20 18. Apple iPhone 6s Plus, Google Nexus 6P, Moto Z Droid, Moto G Plus, Moto Droid Turbo 2 Notice any omissions? No Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950, not even the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, which was ALL about the camera. In fact, you have to go way down to the 40s and 50s in their list to find any of the models just mentioned - if they're there at all (no 950, e.g.) Which is clearly wrong and misleading. So I thought I'd right this with my own all-time list. There are, as ever, some notes to read first: I'm mainly looking at image quality, though I do make some allowance for the speed of the photo-taking experience. It's a tricky balance. For example, it might take four seconds to take a photo on the Lumia 1020 (i.e. before you can take the next one), but if the resulting photo is ultimately of higher quality than that on (say) an Apple iPhone, which might have dashed off three photos (or more, in a burst) in the same time, then the 1020 gets the higher score in my book. Though what if the 1020 'missed the moment' while the iPhone grabbed it, despite ultimately slightly lower image quality? So I'm not totally disregarding speed in my list below.  I go further than DxOMark by putting in more 'real world' scenarios into my testing. So moving people in low light with flash; arty night landscape shots, handheld; using digital zoom; and so on. All staples in my tests. You can't just test a phone in a studio on a tripod, or just outside in the sunshine, you know.   Unlike DxOMark, I try to test phone cameras regularly well after their launch date, so early software issues have a chance to be resolved.  Unlike DxOMark, I'm not biased against Nokia or Windows Phone (and successors)! DxOMark hasn't even tested my number one pick below, 18 months after it was launched, so long that it's hard to even find it for sale now. Yet it appears nowhere in the DxOMark all time listings.  I haven't included any phone camera that I haven't personally tested. And yes, I'm aware that this introduces ironies ("Steve didn't even include model X!")! And so on to my 'SteveMark' top 10 of all time, with notes and explanation along the way. In order: 1. Lumia 950/XL 18 months on, I'm still staggered by the sheer quality of 8MP and 16MP shots taken with this phone camera. And it's quick too, since all post processing is shoved to the background while you get on with taking the next snap. The triple LED flash does a decent enough job on the whole, the OIS is top notch, and in 8MP mode there's even a little lossless zoom, which is handy. The only real Achilles heel is going beyond 'lossless' into 'lossy' zoom territory, since the old 'Lumia Camera 5' digital zoom algorithms are complete rubbish. 2. Apple iPhone 7 Plus The iPho[...]



Mini-review: AUKEY 3-port car Quick Charge 3.0 adapter

Sun, 28 May 2017 14:47:00 GMT

I've reviewed 12V adapters for smartphones before, of course. Back in the day there would be a single wire heading off to microUSB or similar. Then we saw twin USB port (e.g. here), slimline adapters - how did they fit the electronics into such a small inline plug? And now we have the logical end of the line, using just about all the frontal area of a 12V 'cigarette lighter' car socket - with three standard USB ports. Impressive. And one of them is Quick Charge 3.0-enabled, which is a useful nod to the future.

The density of electronics is getting higher and higher, with not only the mechanics of three full size USB-A ports but also enough safety circuitry to handle 42W of power. All in a couple of inches of glossy black plastic.

(image)

Usefully, AUKEY throws in a spare USB Type C cable in the box - you can never have too many of these and, being high current, these are more substantial and not as cheaply made as microUSB cables used to be.

(image)

And then we're onto the charger itself. The nominal specs are 2.4A (max) at 5V for the first two (green) ports, with the Quick Charge 3.0 port capable of '3.6V-6.5V at 3A, 6.5V-9V at 2A, 9V-12V at 1.5A', though the latter can also power traditional 5V USB devices, i.e. it's intelligent about what it supplies. All very neat.

(image)

I happen to own a USB ammeter and did some testing. It should be noted that the actual current drawn by any one device depends the current (e.g. phone) battery state and the charging electronics inside it, first and foremost. Plugging in one smartphone into a green socket, I measured 1.4A at 5V, ditto for the next one, and then ditto again, though at 6.5V, for a Quick Charge 3.0-compliant phone into the orange socket, all at the same time.

(image)

It didn't seem to matter about the extra load of the other outputs, showing that perhaps the current drawn is limited more by the phones themselves than by the output electronics here. (Or maybe my ammeter is broken and limited somehow?!) Regardless, all three smartphones (and I threw a few tablets into the three-at-once charging mix too) charged just fine, so I'm inclined to believe the AUKEY specs here.

£14 (on Amazon UK) including the extra Type C cable seems rather a bargain for this handy little car gadget, effectively giving you three USB-A outputs of very decent capacity yet with almost no space penalty.




No need to be ashamed - we've been Creators on mobile for a decade!

Fri, 05 May 2017 18:46:50 GMT

The naming of Microsoft's latest Windows 10 branch as the 'Creators Update' has been viewed from some quarters as somewhat hollow from the perspective of mobile, since the new 3D and Ink features are not mirrored on the phone. Yet in some ways, this is the desktop catching up - we've been 'creating' on smartphones for over 10 years now, I'd argue.The naming of any OS branch is somewhat of a gimmick, of course, since at the end of the day it's just an 'operating system' and 99% of what people do on their computers is down to the applications and services they choose. But marketing being what it is, it's undoubtedly friendlier to give an OS update a name, something memorable.  And, given the 'Ink' and Paint 3D extras thrown in with Redstone 2, the name 'Creators Update' seemed appropriate. However, over on the phone side of things, despite getting the exact same OS branch and build, the same core and 99% the same built-in UWP applications, the absence of Ink and Paint 3D (both of which make more sense on the much larger screens of a desktop) has made the marketing handle feel somewhat 'hollow'. But wait, isn't this just the desktop getting a taste of what we've had on mobile for a decade? Admittedly, the creating act is very different, but I'd argue that with the advent of the Nokia N93 (running Symbian) back in 2006, the smartphone became a very valid 'creation' tool. For the first time I could shoot TV/DVD-quality video, with stereo sound, ON MY PHONE. And I did. I shot numerous home movies on the N93, each of which made their way onto DVDs for the family to enjoy, mainly of my growing six year old daughter. The N93's 480p quality may seem quaint by modern standards, but was pretty close to the 576p of DVD, mainstream quality back in 2006, and arguably better than the interlaced grain of the traditional 'TV' of the day. So I was very much creating back then, eleven years ago. Movies, auto-focussed 3MP photos too, high enough resolution to print out at 8 x 6 and no one would notice that the shot hadn't been taken on traditional film or a standalone camera. The Nokia N95 and N86 followed, each increasing quality, though without the genuine 3x optical zoom that was special to that old N93. And across the rest of the mobile world cameras in phones started to improve, with Apple and then the various Android licensees getting into the game, and by 2011 just about any decent camera phone could shoot 720p HD video and take 8MP photos. Today we have 4K video and 20MP photos, good enough in most cases to pass muster on even the largest displays, and all this media created on people's phones. Then there's audio capture. I've recorded numerous podcasts and lectures or interviews on my various smartphones over the years, later editing things together in Audacity or similar on the desktop. I think that qualifies as creating too. Not to mention creating by crafting words. Emails, documents, notes, thoughts, all on the phone, either via an on-screen keyboard or, more usually, by using a Bluetooth keyboard. This very article was created on the phone. So let's have none of this 'mobile is an afterthought, where are the Creators features?' We've been immensely creative on our phones for a decade now! If you can think of other ways you've been creative on your phone in the last ten years then feel free to add them in the comments below![...]