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Last Build Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 22:15:03 GMT

 



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’s potential markets, in countries where data isn’t ubiquitous and where FM radio is still a major source of news and enterta[...]



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.

(image)




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.

(image)

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...




SIStore now online - a Symbian software archive

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 09:33:52 GMT

OK, it's not quite a competitor for the AppList Store for Symbian, but SIStore is a valid on-device portal to a full archive of working SIS installation files. See below for the main link and screenshots.

You can find SIStore here, with a direct link to a self-signed installer for an on-device client, giving on-the-go access to obscure apps and games. Here's SIStore in action on my 808:

(image) (image)

The opening screen gives video links (which didn't work on my 808, but then that might be something my end) and new app highlights; (right) the applications tab starts you off with categories.

(image) (image)

Then it's into application listings, each (right) with screenshots, details and a 'Download link'...

(image) (image)

Downloads are served from a web page via HTTP but are routed straight to Symbian's installer. 

There's no checking for what's already on the phone, mind you, this is simply a SIS archive browser. So it's up to you to know what you have and haven't already got installed! And there's also no update mechanism, spotting new versions, of course. So all a little primitive, but at this stage in Symbian's life (i.e. it's been obsolete for almost half a decade) any activity and any archive source is helpful. Especially as there seems some impetus here from active Symbian users to find workarounds for things which have stopped working.

It's not clear how this will behave on phones with production firmware (my 808 has Delight CFW), so comments welcome, let others know how you get on!




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

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 17:32:29 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]

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!