Last Build Date: Tue, 06 Dec 2016 12:15:03 GMT
Thu, 17 Nov 2016 16:32:00 GMT
We're entering a strange new world of physical connectors. microUSB, which came in around 2007, is being supplanted in a big way now by USB Type C, a reversible, more robust and more capable alternative. Where does that leave you, with microUSB data leads for your phones in a world where Macbooks only come with Type C? Looking for adapters, that's where, as we go into 2017. And, thinking laterally, the same adapters also let you plug in standard USB flash disks into USB Type C-equipped smartphones. So a bit of a win then.
Now, I'm sure there are other brands out there, but Choetech were good enough to send over a couple of pairs of USB to Type C adapters, so it's theirs that I'm going to plug here. That they come as pairs is a very good thing because they're tiny and easy to lose - I've already lost one of the four adapters sent over a couple of weeks ago!
While you may have your own uses in mind for these adapters, the main one I have in mind is when trying to use a legacy phone, with its own USB data and charge cable, with a new 2017 laptop that only has USB Type C jacks. The new Apple Macbooks are the first such, but I'm sure others will follow - Chromebooks and, one day, even Windows Surface devices or laptops. Or perhaps the main USB port is occupied and you're having to use a secondary, Type C port?
Either way, you plug the USB cable into the back of this adapter and then the Type C end into the appropriate Type C (or, in Apple parlance, Thunderbolt 3) port - and you're off to the races.
Choetech says of the adapters: "Built-in 56k ohm resistor follow Type C standard specification. Support OTG, hot plug and play design. No external driver needed and without software installation." I've come to trust the Choetech kit and these certainly seem to work.
I also tested the other use mentioned above, that of plugging in standard USB flash disks to a Type C-equipped smartphone, and this also worked immediately (on Windows 10 Mobile, the USB flash disk mounts as just another disk drive on the phone).
The adapters are £6 for a pair on Amazon UK, which seems like decent value - expensive enough to guarantee that corners haven't been cut and yet still easily in impulse buy territory.
A very handy little widget for your briefcase or pocket going forwards then, into this brave new USB Type C world - it'll take up to a decade until the older USB-A really dies out, so you might want to snap up several pairs to tide you over!
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:37:00 GMTHaving set up expectations that Google's HDR+ computational photography in the new Pixel flagship can be considered 'PureView take II', or thereabouts, I thought it time to put this to the test. So I took three PureView flagships from various eras: Nokia 808, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 950 XL, and pitched them against the new Google Pixel XL. The aim, away from trivial sunny shots (hey, suits me, this is the UK in October!), is to really stretch the pixel combination systems, in reducing noise and finding detail and colour. Of course, the Nokia 808 PureView (running in 8MP 'Creative' oversampling mode) and Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1 and in its default 5MP oversampling mode) are here only for interest sake and for reference, since they're both obsolete in terms of anyone buying them. The Lumia 950 XL here is in its default 8MP PureView oversampling mode, matching the Google Pixel's 8.3MP HDR+ mode. In each case, all photos were snapped at 16:9 aspect ratio, in case you were wondering about some of those resolutions, though that's not that relevant since I'm mainly going to be looking at central detail. There are also minor differences in terms of how wide angle the optics are in each case, so the 1:1 crops below won't match exactly in terms of framing. Again, in contrast to other camera phone tests around the web, I'm deliberately trying to make things hard for the phone cameras and I am looking in detail and being picky. Let's see how the phone imaging hardware performs... Test 1: Landscape, daylight, heavily overcast My standard suburban landscape scene, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Not a glimmer of sun, thanks to the time of year! Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: There are few surprises above - the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, and don't knock the 1020 for detail, since it doesn't have a 8MP mode and so it's forced to work at 5MP (I guess I could have applied a little PureView zoom but that's hard to judge on the fly). The Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and processing, but then the effect is 'crisper' to most human eyes so you can see why manufacturers do this. Nokia 808: 9pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 9 pts; Google Pixel: 8pts Test 2: Landscape (lake), daylight, overcast Another landscape scene, somewhat prettier, with plenty of detail of all kinds. Here's the overall scene, as shot by the Nokia 808 (which again has the most neutral colours): Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: Again the original PureView pair do best in terms of a natural, real life look, while the Lumia 950 and Google Pixel both show signs of sharpening and heavy processing, to the detriment of the photo in this case - the Pixel shot in particular has ugly detail when you look up close, as here. Nokia 808: 10pts; Lumia 1020: 10pts; Lumia 950: 8pts; Google Pixel: 7pts Test 3: Landscape (lake), overcast, zoomed in The same lake scene as above, but this time using the native zoom functions on each phone. Here's the overall zoomed scene, as shot by the Nokia 808: Now for some central crops from, in turn, the Nokia 808, Lumia 1020, Lumia 950 XL and Google Pixel XL. Note that because the latter two have no exact scale in their UI it was hard to judge how far in I'd zoomed, so the framing doesn't match exactly. You'll get an idea of zoom quality though. Click the device names to grab the individual JPGs, in case you wanted to download and compare them yourself: Yet again the original PureView pair excel, thanks to the underlying high resolution[...]
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 06:54:35 GMTDigiPassion reports the welcome news that Microsoft has updated the old Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) , thought abandoned, along with all some of the old Nokia Series 60/Symbian firmware images - and it all now works again, with images now firmly on Microsoft's servers! Guess Microsoft is not quite the 'evil empire' after all? Good news anyway, and this will breathe new life into quite a few older Symbian-based phones.From the DigiPassion piece: Good news for Nokia phone users! Microsoft recently released a new version of Nokia Software Recovery Tool (NSRT) for good old Nokia phones. In this release Microsoft has fixed the Nokia firmware download issue. As you may know Microsoft closed down all Nokia websites (including phone software repository) earlier this year. This rendered all the firmware downloading softwares (like Navifirm, Nokia Suite, NDPM, Nokia Care Suite etc) useless. This NSRT update makes it clear that (fortunately) Microsoft has not deleted the Nokia firmware files altogether. Rather they have just shifted the files to their own download servers. This shift resulted in change of firmware file URLs which can be accessed via new NSRT now. Hopefully other such softwares will also get updates in the future with access to new download URLs.... How to download Nokia phone firmware files using Nokia Software Recovery Tool? Download latest version of NSRT from here and install in your computer (compatible with Windows 7 or later OS) Launch NSRT and connect your Nokia phone (in switch ON condition) with computer using USB data cableWait for a while as NSRT detects the phone – it will show phone details at the left side and latest available phone software at the right-hand side Click “Install” button – read and agree to the terms – NSRT will start downloading firmware files – wait for the download process to complete If you just want to download the firmware files (and not want to flash the phone) then keep an eye over the download process and disconnect the phone just when the download finishes. Otherwise NSRT will start flashing the phone soon after the download process. You may then use these files later on to flash your phone via NSRT (or any other such software like Phoenix Service Software) in offline mode. Thanks to DigiPassion for spotting this welcome news. By the way, the 'here' link above is directly to the .exe file for Windows, so wait until you're on the PC that you're going to use until you hit it. Reports are in that only Symbian^3/Anna/Belle (upwards) devices are supported. So nothing for S60 5th Edition and before. At least, not yet. Not being able to 'recover' a messed up phone was a major pain in the Symbian world over the last year and many times I had to point people towards the Delight custom firmware pages. Delight is only available for a handful of phones and, of course, it's not exactly 'stock', so it's good to see that the official OS images are all back now online. Many people, including me back in 2014, had been downloading and stockpiling certain device firmware images 'just in case', but it seems now that this archiving wasn't necessary and that Microsoft still has every image needed. Of course, none of this helps fix other holes in Symbian's operation in late 2016, with gaps developing for social services, email, web browsing, and so on. There ARE workarounds for some things, feel free to share any of your favourite tips below or in an article submission to AAS. In an ideal world, I'd write them up myself, but I've moved on to Windows 10 Mobile and Android for my primary devices. C'est la vie.[...]
Wed, 12 Oct 2016 14:31:15 GMTThe recent stories surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, with it catching fire and even exploding, ostensibly due to over-ambitious use of space inside the phone applying pressure to the internal Li-Ion battery, caused me to mull over features in many past smartphones that seem - in hindsight - designed to specifically avoid a 'Note 7' style Lithium accident. Using the example of the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 640 XL, I show how such an accident is far, far less likely. One thing had always puzzled me about Nokia (and then Microsoft) smartphones - almost every example with a replaceable battery (and that's most of them) had a foam pad stuck to the inside of the back cover. It's true that this is partly to stop the battery rattling a little when the phone is shaken, but the foam also serves another purpose, I contend. For starters, it allows for a little variation in battery thickness. No two cells are ever exactly the same thickness, and the last thing you want is a frame so tightly space controlled that a small percentage of batteries end up under physical pressure from any direction. Such pressure deforms the internal electrolyte layers and, in the worst case, can cause the battery to catch fire or explode - as we saw recently in the Android world. Now, I'd argue that the first design aim for any smartphone should be to have a replaceable battery in the first place, but the likes of the Apple iPhone and fashion have meant that many manufacturers have opted for a sealed design because it's prettier, lighter and... thinner. And yes, that latter constraint works against the danger here. The second design aim should then be to have some margin of error in the size of the battery - in checking the various smartphones around All About Towers, I noticed that quite a few had empty space around the bulk of the battery, up to a millimetre (in total) in some cases. This doesn't impact performance, since the battery contacts are 'pin and sleeve' and work at a variety of relative distances. But it does mean that if a battery is very slightly over-size (by a fraction of a millimetre) then it's not going to be a problem inserting it and there won't be any external pressure around the sides. The same applies, only more so, on the battery's exterior face, with at least a millimetre (and sometimes more) of empty space above it and under the removeable back cover. Ample room for tolerance errors in batteries, and yes, the foam pad is then needed to avoid mechanical rattles. The foam pad becomes even more important when the battery gets old, too. You see, when a Li-Ion battery gets old or has been misused (e.g. allowed to run down to zero charge and left there for a while), gases build up inside and the battery starts to swell - I'm sure most of us have seen examples of this. Eventually the battery dies, of course, and has to be disposed of responsibly. However, in the meantime, while it is swelling up (and in old phones this can happen while the phone is in daily use) the foam pad takes up all the initial swelling without stressing the battery layers too much. If the phone body was fixed and the battery wasn't replaceable then the swelling would apply serious pressure to the phone's structure, to its surrounding electronics and - most dangerously - to the battery's own structural integrity. I've argued many times (e.g. here) that the pros of replaceable batteries outweigh the cons but I never thought it would take a $17 billion industry loss to prove the potential dangers of going 'sealed'. Note that I'm not saying that all 'sealed' smartphones are inherently dangerous - just that unless the manufacturer leaves a little 'wiggle room' inside then the pressures on the cell when everything it screwed together can cause serious problems. I've taken iPhones apart, for example, and the batteries aren't pressured from all sides in the same way as in (presumably) the Note 7. (From the Bloomberg report into the affair: "a production fault had caused s[...]
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 16:16:25 GMT
Nice find by the people over at Nokia Collectors, with photos of the unreleased Nokia 6770 Slide, pictured with the high end (but similar form factor) Nokia N86 8MP. So many memories of the form factor, even if the OS and Internet-facing services have been left behind in 2016.
Being shown off here is the Nokia 6770 Slide. It's a 'dummy internal developers's prototype'. Specifications, were this to have all working components, are quoted as:
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:59:00 GMTIt's a fair cop, my title was more descriptive than accurate - this little gadget is actually called, on Amazon, the 'EC Technology 5200mAh Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank', a typical SEO-heavy name that's not as interesting as the product itself. You see, this fills a very real need, at least in my household.Now, I know what you're going to say. "Yada yada, another blessed emergency charger, nothing to see..." But give this one a chance and hear me out. If you're a road warrior, of course, fully equipped to stay topped up all day long and with very well defined mobile needs, then you'll already have one of the various high capacity emergency chargers that I've reviewed on AAS and AAWP, e.g. here and here. And they're great - but also heavy and bulky. Then at the other end of the spectrum we have another of my favourite 'gadget' categories, 'wallet chargers'. These are ultra slim and small, fitting into (as the name suggests) a wallet card slot. However, the problems with these are that their capacity is necessarily limited, typically around 1400mAh at most (don't believe the ones that claim 2500mAh or more - battery capacity is 100% linked to physical volume, and 'ye cannae beat the laws of physics'), which is less than half the required capacity of a typical 2016 smartphone - times change, eh? Plus their output current is usually similarly limited, e.g. 1A. The final straw is that they usually have flying microUSB leads. This latter was a real blessing a couple of years ago, since it meant not having to remember to carry a charging cable too, but we now live in a world where USB Type C is ever more widespread and your family's iPhones use yet another standard, the Lightning port. The situation is, then, that you or I are out and about with family (partners, parents, kids, etc.) and someone, at some point, needs their phone topping up urgently. Heck, you probably agree with this need if it means trying to find them in an hour's time in a busy shopping centre. [Why do family not plan their phones' charges better? Who knows!] Yet the chances of their phone using the same physical connector as you are small. So you'll need to be flexible. And to provide enough capacity to charge more than one persons phone through a busy day out. And yet you don't want to have to carry a bulky and heavy duty power bank. This is starting to sound like a tall order, so let's crystallise the requirements for my (perhaps) mythical Swiss Army Charging Knife: Around 5000mAh of capacity Able to dispense current at (at least) 2A Easily pocketable, such that you dont notice the size or weight Can charge anything with microUSB, Lightning or USB Type C Durable, withstand daily throwing about But, as you'll have guessed from the existence of this review, I found a match. And no, this wasn't sent in for review, I researched this and bought it with my own hard earned money, in case you were wondering. I had to cheat very slightly, in that I also had to source very short USB Type A cables to go with it (it only comes with microUSB) - see the photo with all the leads at the bottom, but the central accessory is absolutely spot on. The EC Technology 5200mAh Portable Charger exceeds my capacity requirement, is so small in terms of volume that it fits inside my fist and only weighs 120g. Importantly, it can also not only be charged at a full 2A, but can charge other devices at 2A. So that would get a typical Lumia 950 XL class smartphone from empty to 80% full in around an hour and the EC charger would still have over half its charge left, ready for the next device. There's only the one USB Type A output, but that's all that's needed here, for family/casual use. You'll notice an extra, too. Again potentially very useful on a day out with winter nights drawing in. Yes, most phones now have some kind of LED torch function these days, but there's also a LED torch built-in here, it's [...]
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:32:29 GMT
Many of you will have seen Apple's launch of the iPhone 7 Plus yesterday evening - yes, it's iOS, but its camera is noteworthy - in part because its technical breakthrough owes a lot to a certain ex-Nokian, Ari Partinen, who moved to Apple a couple of years ago. Yes, I know that Apple has a big imaging team, but my suspicions that Ari played a significant part in Apple's new camera system were confirmed when the man himself retweeted me during the night (i.e. day time in San Francisco).
Here's my tweet:
With the iPhone 7 Plus having OIS, 'optical' zoom and quad LED flash, I have a sneaking feeling that Apple may be taking an imaging lead 8-)— Steve Litchfield (@stevelitchfield) September 7, 2016
Congratulations to him on the new job, though contrary to the usual 'gloom and doom' reports around the web, his departure from Microsoft won't have any real impact, since the top end phone camera components available to all manufacturers are now very close to the best of Lumia.
In other words, Juha and his team advanced phone imaging enormously from about 2005 to 2015, but the latter has definitely plateaued in recent months - I still rate the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, in development from 2014 and released late 2015, as the best camera phones in the world, but the margins are now so small that you really have to look down at the pixel level to establish the margin of victory. So a no-name manufacturer in China can look at the possible components from the top camera factories and pluck out (say) a 16MP unit with 1/2.4" sensor, OIS and multi-LED flash, and get results not too far off what Juha's last babies under Microsoft could achieve, all at relatively minimal cost and without any real R&D.
Of course, there's more to imaging than just the hardware, and we've seen software algorithms and image processing make quite a difference - and it's also here where the 950 and 950 XL score. But, thanks mainly to Juha and team, the hardware's 'done', the software's 'done' and there's not really anywhere else to go in terms of consumer smartphone imaging. If the rumoured Microsoft 'Surface phone' (what I've referred to cheekily in the past as a 'Lumia 1060') uses the identical camera units to the 950 and 950 XL then this will already be eminently 'good enough'. And then some.
So hats off to Juha and his team and we genuinely wish them well in their efforts to advance imaging tech on new fronts - just don't get too depressed that your existing Lumia's imaging is suddenly second rate!
Thu, 21 Jul 2016 16:41:00 GMTDespite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...I'd like to start, as Jule Andrews once sang, "at the very beginning". In this case around the year 2000, when the first smartphones were starting to appear. I'll gloss over the Nokia Communicator line, since they were clamshell devices and once you introduce a hinge then all bets are off in terms of screen size analysis (the 2016 equivalent might be thinking about folding AMOLED screens, as rumoured in Samsung's line-ups). So, with a deep breath, and with a few notes and caveats: I can only fit a handful of example/classic devices on the chart because otherwise it would get far too busy I assume perfectly right angled device corners, i.e. a rectangular form factor, to simplify the maths (slightly - it still needs some trigonometry!) I also assume perfectly square pixel matrices, but this is pretty much a given as otherwise your images and content would be noticeably squished(!) I assume flat display fronts, something which you can't take for granted with the arrival of the Samsung 'edge' phones, whose display is genuinely wrapped around a little at the edges. So these end up with slightly higher ratios than for traditional flat-display phones, below. An obvious trend upwards, as you'd expect, as technology became ever smaller in terms of chipsets and components, while the cost of larger and higher resolution screens came down. There are some surprises along the way - who'd have thought that the screen-to-body ratio of the first smartphones was so low? 18% for the venerable Nokia 3650 (though its curved front rather messes up my rectangle-based maths, so take this with a pinch of salt)! At least the Sony Ericsson P800 and the Windows Mobile range led the way, with larger screens and relatively smaller bezels - though look at any of those early smartphones side on and you'd be AMAZED how thick they are. In 2016, if a phone is over 1cm thick it's pronounced as a 'brick' - smartphones in the early 2000s were regularly well over 2cm thick! The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 broke the 50% mark for the first time and clearly started something of a trend. Capacitive screens and who cares about the cost, etc... However, the cost came down quickly and the iPhone range got overtaken by first the flagships in the Android world: the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 5, and Nexus 6 all spring to mind in terms of large screens and small bezels for their era. And secondly, every other mobile OS/variant, of which Windows 10 Mobile is probably the most notable, with the Lumia 950 XL having an insanely high ratio, bettered only by the (cheating slightly) Galaxy 'edge' series. But what's curious is how the trend has flattened out at about the 75% mark. Now, given my assumptions above, not least about a device having 90° corners - which would be very uncomfortable (though the Lumia 1520 had a good try at this), plus the compulsory earpiece speaker and top-of-phone sensors, it's evident that getting close to 100%, i.e. all-screen, is never going to be possible. But why can't it get close to 90%? The old excuses were that there had to be space for physical controls down the bottom, and that you had to have somewhere to grip the phone 'down there'. But I don't buy these excuses anymore - the Windows controls are all virtual, while I can't see anyone ever gripping their 'phablet' using the bottom centimetre of glass below the display - modern phones are all so big these[...]
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 10:51:54 GMTThis will come as no surprise to anyone reading my writings on AAS and AAWP, but AMOLED screens really are prettier and more colourful. And thinner (than LCD). Which is why nearly all high end Nokia and Microsoft smartphones over the last seven years have used AMOLED technology. However, they also have much lower life, have to be produced with pixels in a pentile matrix, and can over-do the colour saturation to the point where things don't look realistic anymore. Very much a 'pros v cons' arrangement then. There's a new pro-AMOLED video embedded below, from Samsung, which is worth watching, but I've also included links to some relevant old articles of my own...Here's the video first - and note that I'm not decrying it - I'm an AMOLED fan - I'm just saying that you should take the colour and contrast comparisons with a small grain of salt: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6Gi1nHuo-wQ" width="960" height="720" frameborder="0"> Look at the video and you automatically assume that LCD is a very poor relation. However, from my own comparison article here, albeit from 2014: AMOLED (e.g. Lumia 1020, 735) LCD (e.g. Lumia 1520, 830) Pros Uses less power when displaying a dark-themed screen 'Blacker blacks' possible Glance screen has far less 'background' glow at night Display can be slightly thinner, since no backlight layer is needed Can be made flexible (ok, not relevant for smartphones in their current form, but worth mentioning!) Power drain doesn't vary wildly according to displayed content More accurate colour balance (including 'whiter whites') Higher brightnesses possible A full RGB matrix is almost always used, giving crisper results for a given, nominal resolution Screen 'burn in' is almost impossible Brightness stays constant across many years (dimming would require a decade of regular use) Tend to be cheaper to manufacture Higher densities/resolutions possible Cons Uses dramatically more power when displaying a white-themed screen At high resolutions, cost and longevity concerns means that a 'pentile' layout is often used, leading to slightly fuzzy text and a lower than nominal resolution In some cases, users have seen 'burn in' of UI elements, due to natural degradation of the organic polymers in the AMOLED pixels Brightness can reduce in time (several years) Tend to be more expensive to manufacture than LCD Limited in pixel density and resolution Glance screen has noticeable 'all over' glow when seen in dead of night Display has to be slightly thicker, due to the need for a backlight Refresh rates can be slower, leading to flickering or tearing in screen elements Admittedly both technologies have been improved in the intervening two years. The Samsung Galaxy S7 AMOLED screens - and indeed the Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL AMOLED screens - have drawn praise, but then so have the displays on the likes of the HTC 10 - which are LCD. However, the predominance of AMOLED in the Symbian and then Windows Phone world, plus rumours that Apple are going to adopt AMOLED for either the iPhone 7 or 7s, mean that the momentum behind AMOLED is more or less unstoppable now. Which doesn't bother me, though I'd welcome your comments. My main concerns with AMOLED, from personal experience, are that the displays pale and degrade after a couple of years' use. Which won't bother enthusiasts and geeks, who change their phones more often than that, but it bothers me that the phones then don't have such a long life, i.e. passed down to friends and family. Ah well. An interesting video from Samsung, anyway, even though they didn't really need to create this - that AMOLED has brighter, more saturated colours is a bit of a given![...]
Mon, 11 Jul 2016 10:46:10 GMT
Thanks to Lawrence W for the heads-up and photo below - it seems that Whatsapp, a faithful stalwart on Symbian for a decade, is to end support for the platform at the end of this year. One by one, modern services are ending support for Symbian - obviously by not coding for it anymore, but also - as in this case - by a physical break in service, probably because servers dedicated to handling Symbian-specific traffic are being reassigned or decommissioned.
Here's the message that Lawrence got:
Will this affect you? Do you still use Symbian for Whatsapp messaging? Comments welcome!
Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:56:43 GMTOK, I officially have a new 'go to' accessory for my 'ultra-light' man-bag. We've all seen a thousand Bluetooth speakers reviewed on sites and blogs, but this one's slightly different, both in form and, yes, function. You see, in addition to being a diminutive waterproof Bluetooth speaker, it also has an Aux in and cable to play music from any wired source, plus it even has music-playing smarts with an integral microSD slot to supply the tunes. Gulp. Quite a bit to get through then, below! Most of us, however good the speakers on our smartphone, would also carry around a decent Bluetooth speaker for those 'room-filling' moments - except that most speakers are too big to carry everywhere with you, even in a pocket. Now, truthfully, this doesn't really fill a room with sound as well as the bigger devices, but it's still pretty good and, best of all, it's tiny - around 47mm in diameter: The exact name of the product seems to be up for grabs slightly. 'NatulaRays' on the hardware is probably a stylised form of 'NaturalRays', but it's a touch confusing! Available in blue or green, it comes with a charging cable, but also a 3.5mm to microUSB lead (which seems topical in these days when 'digital audio' input and output seems to be a 'thing'): Turn the NaturalRays on and a lady's voice informs you that it is 'ready for Bluetooth pairing'. Very helpful. There's also a flashing blue LED built into the soft rubber stretchy hanging loop: The idea behind the loop is that you hang this in the shower or kitchen (being waterproof), from any convenient fitting. In the office, I hung it from a bookcase, but it's really up to you. On the front surface of the sphere are controls for power on, playback and volume. Again, they're sealed and waterproof. The electronic connections are under a flap on the back: And it's here that a 'What??!' moment takes place. Up until now this has just been a small and waterproof Bluetooth speaker. But there's a microSD slot here! Put in a card of music (the Chinese voice announces 'TF card mode'), close up the seal and then it'll play through your tunes in order with no need for a connection to a phone. You can skip tracks using long presses on the volume buttons and it's something of a handy backup music facility. You could even leave a 512MB card in, as I did, all the time, ready to be a family music player when camping, outside the tent or at an event, with no need to keep a smartphone nearby. The small hole is a reset button, by the way - given the music 'smarts', there's the potential for the basic OS to get confused - hence a way to reset it. The other main mode is 'AUX mode' - insert the 3.5mm-to-microUSB lead supplied and this activates automatically, letting the NaturalRays accessory become a conventional wired speaker, albeit without the waterproofing - obviously. The only functional hole is that this doesn't let you pick up phone calls - there's no microphone included. But that's being picky - how often do you pick up calls using a speaker? In terms of audio quality, I was impressed - there's obviously very less true bass, because of the speaker cone size, but the low-mid frequencies (e.g. on a male voice) were all there, as were the higher frequencies needed for true fidelity. The NaturalRays speaker is £22 in the UK as I write this and it's a cracking (genuinely) little product to add to your bag if you're trying to travel 'light'. PS. Watch this space for something similar that's even lighter and smaller - coming soon on AAWP![...]
Wed, 18 May 2016 10:50:16 GMTAlthough not directly relevant to AAS or AAWP, this is certainly of tangential interest. Microsoft acquired the Nokia feature phone (i.e. extreme low end, below Symbian) business when it bought Nokia's Devices division, but it never really wanted it (no matter what it said at the time). It seems that now is the right time to sell it off this part of the company, in a complex deal, to a subsidiary of Foxconn, one of the largest OEMs in the world, along with a new company, HMD, based in Finland. The latter is partly made up of ex-Nokia staff and will provide the management and design, while Foxconn/FIH will provide the manufacturing and testing facilities. The Nokia-branded feature phones still sell in decent numbers, mainly to developing markets which either can't afford smartphones or don't have the infrastructure to make the most of them.From the press release: Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced it reached an agreement to sell the company’s entry-level feature phone assets to FIH Mobile Ltd., a subsidiary of Hon Hai/Foxconn Technology Group, and HMD Global, Oy for $350 million. As part of the deal, FIH Mobile Ltd. will also acquire Microsoft Mobile Vietnam — the company’s Hanoi, Vietnam, manufacturing facility. Upon close of this deal, approximately 4,500 employees will transfer to, or have the opportunity to join, FIH Mobile Ltd. or HMD Global, Oy, subject to compliance with local law. Microsoft will continue to develop Windows 10 Mobile and support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, and phones from OEM partners like Acer, Alcatel, HP, Trinity and VAIO. As part of the deal, Microsoft will transfer substantially all of its feature phone assets, including brands, software and services, care network and other assets, customer contracts, and critical supply agreements, subject to compliance with local law. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2016, subject to regulatory approvals and other closing conditions. As the release states, none of this has any impact on Microsoft's commitment to Windows 10 Mobile and its Lumia line - if anything, it's one less distraction for the company on the mobile front. PS. Before ill-informed commentators leap in, the sold-off handsets and division are the Series 40/S40/Asha (etc.) line and nothing whatsoever to do with Symbian. If I hear one more American podcaster mention "Symbian feature phones" I think I'll scream! PPS. There's also a press release up on Nokia's site, including: Nokia has announced plans that will see the Nokia brand return to the mobile phone and tablet markets on a global basis. Under a strategic agreement covering branding rights and intellectual property licensing, Nokia Technologies will grant HMD global Oy (HMD), a newly founded company based in Finland, an exclusive global license to create Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets for the next ten years. Under the agreement, Nokia Technologies will receive royalty payments from HMD for sales of Nokia-branded mobile products, covering both brand and intellectual property rights. HMD has been founded to provide a focused, independent home for a full range of Nokia-branded feature phones, smartphones and tablets. To complete its portfolio of Nokia branding rights, HMD announced today that it has conditionally agreed to acquire from Microsoft the rights to use the Nokia brand on feature phones, and certain related design rights. The Microsoft transaction is expected to close in H2 2016. Together these agreements would make HMD the sole global licensee for all types of Nokia-branded mobile phones and tablets. HMD intends to invest over USD 500 million over the next three years to support the global marketing of Nokia-branded mobile [...]
Fri, 13 May 2016 08:29:00 GMTOne of the requests in the comments recently was to test audio capture when shooting videos. And, as it happens, I'd been thinking about doing this for a while anyway. So I headed out with six smartphones and tried to shoot video and audio in as controlled conditions as possible: in a quiet garden, by a windy, noisy road, and in a rock-level music setting. That should be enough to set the best from the rest, I thought... Here are the six smartphones I took with me: Nokia 808 PureView Lumia 1020 (running Windows Phone 8.1) Lumia 950 (running Windows 10 Mobile 10586.xxx) Lumia 950 XL (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone) Marshall London (Android 5.1) Lumia 930 (running Windows 10 Mobile 14xxx, i.e. Redstone, but the slow ring) The inclusion of the Marshall London was because it claims stereo MEMS microphones, just like the best Lumias, i.e. is 'gig ready'. We'll see. And the order of the devices above was messed up slightly by me (ahem) forgetting to shoot with it at first. Oh well. Yes, there are a hundred other devices and OS combinations I could have tried, but these are only data points at the end of the day. What I was particularly interested in was how the various generations of Nokia/Lumia fared against each other - and also whether that Marshall phone could come close. My test video/audio settings were: sitting in my summerhouse, looking out on a quiet garden - listening for birdsong and, well, silence - is there too much hiss from the phone's audio capture system? by a breezy, fairly noisy road - here looking at how well the microphones in the phones resist/cancel out wind noise, mainly. in a gig situation (ok, a jam night), testing how well the phone's microphones stand up to rock decibels! And it was loud - very loud, I was sitting right in front of the PA and drum kit and my ears are still ringing 12 hours later! I then compiled the footage from all the smartphones into a montage, with comments below on how the various smartphones did. Bear in mind that the video below is hosted on YouTube, and so some of the service's compression will have been used, though I wouldn't expect that to affect audio much. Note also that the video side of things is deliberately only at 720p - I wasn't testing the picture side of things at all, so I kept things quick and light. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mv_0D_UXcRU" width="853" height="480"> Here's my assessment of how each smartphone did on the audio front. Note that this would be the point in a cross-device video capture comparison where I point out that the 'gig' bit is a non-starter for most smartphones because they simply can't cope with the volume - yet every phone here coped well, thanks to Nokia and then Microsoft (and Marshall's) use of MEMS high amplitude microphones. Amazing. Anyway, on with the verdicts: Nokia 808 PureView: decently low noise during video capture (and lowish frequency) - it's why I use it to film my Phones Show to this day; good wind resistance when shooting outdoors; exemplary gig recording at the loudest levels - the audio this produces would pass for a professional live album soundtrack. Nokia Lumia 1020: slightly louder background noise and higher pitched (and so more noticeable); microphones pick up more wind noise, but not showstoppingly so; excellent gig recording, if not quite up to the 808's level of dynamics and crispness. Microsoft Lumia 950: horrible left channel clicking artefacts are evident - I've been reporting these to Microsoft for months - it's definitely a software thing. I'm guessing an issue in the firmware; greater susceptibility to wind noise, not helped by the mike seal issues, plus note that audio from my voice was quiet because only the r[...]