Sunday, 22 June 2014

iWatch: It's a design dilemma

Rumours of Apple's iWatch are continuing to circulate and gain a lot of momentum. The latest reports are that there will be up to 20 different available designs for consumers and a whole host of sensors tracking your every move. In all reality, reports on Apple device releases are usually well off the mark. Remember how the iPhone 5 was due to have an inbuilt keyboard projector? Yeh - you get the gist.

I think we're all in agreement that Apple will produce an iWatch, but 20 designs? Samsung? Yes. Apple? No. That would represent a giant shift in Apple's approach to the production of consumer devices. Up until now, Apple have been steadfast in producing one design for the iPhone, one design for iPod etc upon each release. Would they really change that?

Let's assume there is the one iWatch. How do Apple approach it? So far, we've seen two companies get it right, Pebble and Motorola. Both companies have prioritised design, and this will help significantly in their attempts to penetrate the market. Motorola in particular are pushing the boundaries of design by opening up the look of the Moto 360 to the public via a competition. A couple of the best entries are below - but they range from classic to zany. With few exceptions, they all look very good.





Samsung have been a major letdown. I praised their work with the Galaxy Gear first edition because they were trying something different and pushing boundaries. After the experiment they should have learnt from it and adapted, however they appeared to have already started developing the Gear 2 without learning from consumers. The poor sales were not just because of the technology and capability, more important was the design and price.
     Pebble were far more intelligent. They looked at the product and gained feedback before designing the Pebble Steel - and look at the results! They've now produced a watch that people would buy - regardless of the smart capabilities!



























With this precedent, what will Apple do? The concepts to this point have headed in the futuristic direction, which makes sense with Apple's traditional style, minimalist and glossy. The Apple direction certainly doesn't shout leather strap. This example is far closer to what I'd anticipate from Apple, without a dramatic shift in the company outlook.



If this is how Apple are to approach it, they are making a major mistake - and following Samsung and LG into a tech (not consumer-led) direction. If smartwatches are to become a part of our everyday lives, then manufacturers need to conquer the most important aspect of a watch - it's appearance. It's a accessory, and an accessory must look good. The tech is secondary (however difficult that is for me to say).

Used a smartwatch? What're your thoughts on them and what's on offer?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The HTC One M8: Everything you need to know


So, HTC have launched their follow-up to the highly-acclaimed HTC One by launching the HTC One M8. In the words of HTC ‘The Best Got Better’, but exactly how true is that? I went hands on with the M8 over the course of a week to find out.

What’s new?

The externals
It's now a 5" HD-screened phone, which is certainly on the larger side. It shows off the screen beautifully, but in the same breath it can take two hands to operate at times. It’s bigger (by 0.3”) and noticeable in appearance but not in feel. The screen is even more shown-off than the HTC One and every comment from peers mirrors this. It's stunning.


I'll look at the appearance a bit more later in this review, but HTC have stuck largely with the shell of the M7 with a few tweaks to the front chassis by removing the off-screen buttons and rounding-off the edges. In short, the most beautiful phone on the market has been given a six-pack and a tan!

Under the bonnet
HTC have made a few upgrades in this department. The processor has jumped to 2.3GHz from the 1.7GHz on the One M7. It has also been boosted to 2GB RAM and now includes the new highly-rated Snapdragon 801 processor. Believe me, this thing will deal with anything you throw at it with the utmost of ease.

Gesture functions whilst the phone is sleeping:
A big change from HTC is the inclusion of a multi-gesture wake-up. This can be done from a double-tap and swipes left, right, up and down. All produce different results



I found the swipe to be a little redundant to be honest but this was because of the force of habit to simply swipe to unlock – not open to a new destination. A bit of customisation though, alongside training your mind to head straight to different areas of your phone, will make this feature quite handy.
      A great addition was the double-tap to wake. I’ve used this all the time as it feels like a natural movement and with a phone that's on the larger-side, not having to switch on from the top makes a difference. Another great addition is the quick photo gesture when the phone is in landscape mode and the user presses volume down.

Camera Functions
HTC have added a plethora of new post-edit options for the camera, and these all focus around the brand new, headline-grabbing ‘Duo Camera’ that brings a depth-sensor to a mobile phone for the first time. This depth sensor allows for one of the camera’s new headline features – ‘U-Focus’ which allows the user to post-focus an image to the foreground or background.

In addition to this, HTC have added ‘3D Dimension Plus’, which provides a slightly pointless ability to make a image 3D. It’s good fun, and one of those things you show-off once, but there really isn’t any use for it.
     I look at the Duo Camera as primed for developers to take it to a different level. HTC have started the job – the hardware is great but the result is probably a little gimmicky, but gives 3D developers, for example, a chance to use this and we could see some wonderful results. 

HTC have also added a new camera navigation that’s nice and simple. The quick choice between six options is a welcome upgrade to the unnecessarily convoluted M7 layout:
What's Improved?

Appearance
Let's not forget that the HTC One M7 was widely acclaimed for its appearance. It was regularly seen alongside titles of "Best Looking Phone". So how do you improve on that? At the launch event, HTC Head of Design, Daniel Hundt, said that the aim for this phone was to appear premium, yet approachable. Well it’s certainly premium. The beautiful brushed metal finish is spectacular and isn’t as slippy as expected – partly due to the lovely weight of the phone. 90% of the body now consists of the metal body, compared to 70% on the M7, and this allows for a lovely feel that sits comfortably in the hand as the sides have been further curved. 

Battery
Battery-life is up 40% according to HTC and after testing it's certainly improved, if not to quite that extent. The One M8 will still need charging every night at moderate-high use but that is to be expected in the modern-day smartphone market. HTC have improved on their power-saving mode however. The new 'Extreme Power Saving Mode' (inventive progression of name) only allows five essential functions on the phone (phone, SMS, mail, calendar, and calculator) to operate, which gives an impressive 30 hours of standby time in return for just 10% battery. This has been a lifesaver so far - really useful.

Camera
In addition to the new camera features, there have been upgrades on last year as well. Firstly, the autofocus and shutterspeed is now lightning quick, and more effective. This is aided by the depth sensor and the Ultrapixel technology that allows further light into the sensor. The main improvement has been in low-light, where all smartphones have struggled in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, but it’s markedly improved.
I’ve seen a bit of negativity about the camera in strong light, like blazing sunshine, but this wasn’t my experience. The camera operated superbly. HTC have stuck with the Ultrapixel technology (this allows more light into the sensor and provides more stability to an image) that seems to make sense on a technical level but hasn’t translated to consumers.
      Any complaints on the camera for the M7 were misplaced as it really is one of the best on the market – the M8 only improves on that opinion. 

BlinkFeed
BlinkFeed has improved. It now possesses customisable themes and allows for more content feeds such as Instagram. HTC have also opened it up to developers, which is exciting. BlinkFeed offers that short sharp snacking of content, and this works but can still improve. The open API will only help this. However, if BlinkFeed isn’t for you, then don’t worry – you can get rid of it.

HTC Sense 6
The smaller updates have followed on with HTC’s next version of their Sense UI. It’s now a bit cleaner, simpler, flatter and has a brighter appearance. This is only a good thing for HTC as they’ve moved more in line with the stock Android layout.

What's Returned?
MicroSD is back! A superb move from HTC who have listened to public opinion and included a hugely popular feature. This allows the storage of the M8 to be boosted from either 16GB/32GB to 128GB. This is something that I really missed on the One, and the One X, so I'm delighted to see it return. This isn't the only feature to come back. The multitasking windows button is apparent once more after it was replaced by a double-tap on the home button in the One M7. The buttons have now been moved onto the screen.

What's Disappointing?

Always Listening
I'm disappointed to see the 'always listening' Google Now feature not included in HTC devices. It's a real plus point to the Moto X. That being said, it takes a split-second to flick on Google Now and say 'Ok Google' to get rolling.

Nano Sim
Personally, I think the use of a Nano sim is frustrating. I know it doesn’t take a moment to sort out but I’m not that sure why HTC decided to switch to a Nano Sim when their previous phones have been consistently Micro-Sim. There appears to be no discernable benefit other than size – and let’s be honest, that’s not at a premium.

The Gallery
The Gallery is becoming a bit confusing. In HTC’s desire to make the Gallery a professional entity, they’ve focused more upon Zoe (which I’ve never been convinced by) and less on the simple folders that users want. In reality, I believe users just want to access a gallery of their photos easily – HTC seem keen to take consumers to a place they don’t seem to want to be.

Name
Name: Why? The HTC One M8? Just not a fan. No.

Headphone Jack
Finally (and this is definitely a case of personal preference) I'm not a fan of the headphone jack now appearing on the bottom. It works well on the top of the M7 - why change it? It just feels unintuitive. 

So where does the phone stand in the grand-scheme of things?

When I looked at the rumours before the launch, I'm not afraid to admit that I was a little disappointed. Each year we tech geeks look for something revolutionary - game changing. It just didn't feel like the M8 was that phone, and to be fair, it's not. However, when you look at it in context, its difficult to criticise.
      The biggest compliment that can be paid to the HTC One M8 is that it is better than its younger brother. The M7 was one hell of a phone. Without doubt the best phone on the market, and without the M8 it still would be. HTC have succeeded in refining the phone and taking it to the next level. That takes some doing, and they should be commended for achieving it. The M8 is not without fault - but it is as close to perfection as you will find in the mobile market.
So, what’re you waiting for? It went on sale straight away.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Oppo Find 7 - The best phone that you havent heard of?

Cheaper knock-off phones are continuously improving and the latest effort from Oppo is the most obvious example of that.

The Oppo Find 7 is Chinese-made and fits the bill of everything consumers wanted from the S5. Take a breath, read the below and try not to double-take... It's not easy...

Screen
The Find 7 screen is 5.5" wide and hits an incredible 538ppi. Nearly 100ppi more than its competitors. This screen resolution is 1440x2560 and is protected by Gorilla Glass 3.



Power
Simply - it's a 2.5GHz, quad-core processor with 3GB RAM behind it. That's some power to reckon with. It currently runs Android 4.3 (imaginably pretty smoothly!) and is likely to be updated to Kit Kat soon.

Storage
There seems to be a trend back in the direction of removable SD cards in 2014 and the Oppo Find 7 joins that trend. Whilst internally, the Find 7 boasts 32GB storage, it can store externally a whopping 128GB. (!)

Camera
By the Find 7's standards, the camera is a little average. That's not to say it's bad by any means. Oppo still boast a 13MP rear camera with a Sony sensor that allows for 4K video, and the front camera has a 5MP camera. Excitingly, the Find 7 has included a feature that merges five x 10MP photos to creat a 50MP 'Super Zoom' image.



Battery
With all this, you'd be safe to assume the battery-life would be pretty poor. Well, we're not 100% but Oppo have done their best to resist this issue by inserting a 3,000mAh battery and enabling quick charging to 75% in 30minutes. Impressive.

So, is there a problem? Well, the name. Horrible. But other than that? Very, very little. It looks good (though we don't know much about build materials or indeed quality) and under the chasis it will rival pretty much anything out there. So this is the point where I tell you that it'll cost £1,500, right? Wrong. It will retail at £388. Not at all bad.

Anything more, I'll get it to you. But here's the acid-test - would you buy one? Or are you too trusting of a brand name?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Everything you need to know about Android Wear and wearables

There was one obstacle between wearable technology and success - and that was style.

Now, thanks to Android Wear and the commitment from manufacturers, we've overcome that obstacle. On Tuesday 18th March, Google announced the first OS that makes wearables (smartwatches) really appeal to the consumer market. The OS (as seen below) maximises Google Now and we can now see how Google see Google Now in the long run.



Here's what Google say about Android Wear:
  • Useful information when you need it most. Android Wear shows you info and suggestions you need, right when you need them. The wide variety of Android applications means you’ll receive the latest posts and updates from your favorite social apps, chats from your preferred messaging apps, notifications from shopping, news and photography apps, and more.
  • Straight answers to spoken questions. Just say “Ok Google” to ask questions, like how many calories are in an avocado, what time your flight leaves, and the score of the game. Or say “Ok Google” to get stuff done, like calling a taxi, sending a text, making a restaurant reservation or setting an alarm.
  • The ability to better monitor your health and fitness. Hit your exercise goals with reminders and fitness summaries from Android Wear. Your favorite fitness apps can give you real-time speed, distance and time information on your wrist for your run, cycle or walk.
  • Your key to a multiscreen world. Android Wear lets you access and control other devices from your wrist. Just say “Ok Google” to fire up a music playlist on your phone, or cast your favorite movie to your TV. There’s a lot of possibilities here so we’re eager to see what developers build.

Despite only being announced on Tuesday, we've already seen exciting devices launched by Motorola and LG. We could also be looking at HTC's first entry when they launch the HTC One 2014 on Tuesday (which I'll be live Tweeting from) and we know for sure that Samsung and ASUS are soon to join the party.

So what have we got so far?

Moto 360

Launched by Motorola, the Moto 360 is perhaps the most exciting Android Wear launched this week.



Aside from being your everyday time-telling watch (and not a bad-looking one either), the Moto 360 will display everything Google Now would usually inform on: weather, live-scores, meetings and locations. Not only that, the Moto 360 will have Google Maps integrated and be able to provide turn-by-turn instructions, as well as delivering normal messages such as email, text and Google Hangouts.

Alongside Motorola, LG also joined the fun by announcing the LG G Watch.



LG have been very general on the details of the G Watch so far but here's what Dr Jong-Seok Park, LG CEO, said:

"The opportunity to work with Google on LG G Watch was the perfect chance for LG to really pull out all stops in both design and engineering.

With the LG G Watch, LG is continuing the milestones we’ve set in wearables following in the foot-steps of the world’s first 3G Touch Watch Phone in 2009 and the Prada Link in 2008. We’re confident that a well-designed device has the potential to take the smart wearable market by storm.”

Going off what we can see - LG seems to be heading along the lines of the Pebble and the Gear with the rectangle design. We can only assume that the OS will function in a similar way to the Moto 360 and Google Now integration.


Further additions to the Android Wear amoury will be added shortly and I'll update you when they're announced. 

To summarise all of this - the beauty of Android Wear (and in particular the work of the manufacturers) has suddenly made the smartwatch a desirable item. That's a big step.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Was this the biggest announcement at MWC?

The headlines of MWC were understandably drowned in the news of the Samsung Galaxy S5. However, something that went under the radar was a strong and positive piece of news for Microsoft and Windows Phone.
At the beginning of MWC, Microsoft announced that LG, Huawei, Lenovo (who have recently bought Motorola) and ZTE were to become partners of Windows Phone. This is a strong move from Microsoft - and a showing of Windows 8 intent from some big name manufacturers. Possibly the biggest signing for Microsoft will be Huawei, who will be looking for a strong 2014 - and that may be where Microsoft will be most pleased. With Nokia showing a bit of love for Android, Microsoft needed to make sure that attention didn't stray far from Windows 8.


Windows 8 is making steady progress in winning the hearts and minds of consumers, and that's no surprise. As a far-cry from the familiarity of Microsoft, it was always going to take time to mature. As I mentioned previously, with Microsoft's long-term goal of Windows 8 becoming a '360 OS', and the OS already set for the future, the steady progress will suit them. Microsoft need to focus on mobile, and let the tablets/desktops/laptops follow.

What do you think? Fallen in love with Windows 8 as yet?

Monday, 24 February 2014

MWC 2014: The age of mid-range smartphones

Not long ago, HTC announced that it was to pursue a line of mid-range smartphones to help stem the tide and turn around its business. At Mobile World Congress, they've officially announced the 610 and the 816 - the latter of which looks extremely promising for a mid-range device.




So, have they stolen a march on the opposition? No. Not at all. They certainly aren't alone in heading down that road. We've already seen mid-range smartphones from LG (G2 Mini, F70 and F90) and Sony (M2). This is sure to be added to by Huawei, Samsung and Nokia.
      Now I hear what you're saying, "All manufacturers are releasing mid-range smartphones". Yes, but there is a whole weight of more emphasis on these devices this year. The point is, in 2014 these devices have stepped up a notch and are operating at a vastly different level - and the manufacturers are pushing them that way. It's a competitive market where you could buy any of the aforementioned phones and be over the moon with it.

I suppose the real question to answer is whether there is actually a market for the high-end phone in 2014? Manufacturers are going to have to work especially hard in convincing the consumer to part with that little bit extra. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a poor attempt at this...

Thoughts?

Watch the 7pm GMT launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5, here

Samsung are aiming to usurp the MWC 2014 interest with an early event launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5. After the low-level improvements from the S3-S4, we're all hoping for something a bit more 'wow-factor' this time around. Watch it unfold from 7pm GMT below.