Sony Arc LT15 official ICS (Android 4.0.4) impressions


Sony had started rolling out the updates for the Sony Arc and the rest of the range that came during that period.  The good news is that the version uses the new build of Google ICS (4.0.4) which will be also be rolled out for the Arc S in due course.  So while the official update for the Arc is later than the Arc S, seems like it’s the better of the two updates!

Initially I updated my LT15 Arc with the official release for the Arc S (see impression blog at https://rayazmuthalif.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/sony-xperia-arc-ics-initial-impressions/).  While there were many good points, I felt that it had slowed down my phone though the scrolling and swipes were smoother.  Forums and reviews had loads of people complaining on the performance issues with 4.0.3 which Sony seems to have pushed quickly without sufficient tweaking and testing.  Several customers had even stepped down back to Gingerbread because of this laggy performance when using many apps.

So when I saw the new update I jumped and updated using Flashtool since the update for the Sony Arc is still not available for my region.

WOW, what a difference the 4.0.4 makes.  The interface is back to its nippy behavior with Gingerbread, with the smoother scrolling of ICS, cool J

  1. Interface is smooth, but can get laggy – SORTED, now the lag has all but gone, definitely much more optimized than before
  2. I sometime get the error saying the desktop (explorer) has stopped, or some app as stop, but if you select the wait option usually things get back into control.  I feel that the memory getting low also maybe a cause for this. – Not seen this issue with 4.04., good news J
  3. Fluffy (angry) birds (what i just tested was Rio) game does not work, though it gets launched i can’t touch and select any options, not sure how many other games and apps will have this problem.  – Angry Birds Rio, and Space both still have this problem, but World of Goo works fine.
  4. The camera takes ages to load compared to how it was with Gingerbread.  I have resorted to using CameraFX due to this, which works fine – The camera app now loads in around 2 secs (fast!) and works well.
  5. Overall app launch is a tad slower than what it was on gingerbread – No more, apps are launched as fast as the gingerbread version.
  6. Benchmarks – A bit better than the 4.0.3 here, so some tweaking has been done.
  7. The standard Music app crashes – Not seen this with the new update
  8. The time to make the initial connection and page load up times are slow , and this is also noticed when navigating within Google Play Store – Sorted, things are quick and nippy, nice

Kudos to the Sony team to making the new 4.0.4 version better optimized and stable, though why Angry Birds games does not work is a worry, and if the same will apply for any other games is a concern.

Here is a quick comparison of some tests.  The overall usability improved is noticed on the tests, but the impact on the graphical side is also noticed !

  4.0.3 (from Arc S) 4.0.4 (official for Arc)
Quadrant 1130 1257
Antutu 2.7.3 2834 (v 2.7.3) 2953 (v 2.8.2)
Nenamark 2 25.6 (v 2.2) 24.1 (v 2.2)

In case you want to do the manual update for your arc, here is a very good write-up that provides the process and the links to download the firmware and tools.  Be warned the process has to be done properly if not you will brick your phone, and by the likes of the forum several have, so it’s your decisions to take the risk!

UPDATE: Sorry missed providing the link, here is the link where you can find the download (links to the rest of the Xperia range is also available) – http://talk.sonymobile.com/thread/38251

There is a nice thread going which seems to have started off for the ARC S (LT18i) but seems relevant for other Xperia 2011 phones. Read the articles from the end as the initial ones are for the very buggy 4.0.3 update.  http://talk.sonymobile.com/thread/35431?start=135&tstart=0

Huawei Honor U8860 review


My sister who works at a leading Telco, got me an opportunity to directly contact the Huawei lead person for Sri lanka (Thanks Sis!). I mailed the contact, who goes by the name James and he was very positive on my mail about providing some devices for me to test and blog.

I subsequently met him and he provided me with the Huawei Honor which was the latest device they were about to start selling into the Sri Lankan market through the leading Telcos.

However he outlined that Huawei was very interested in the local market, and had over 80% market share in the 3G dongle market and Telco equipment space, and had also made good ground on the lower end of the smart phone market. The MediaPad had also done well and hence the decision to introduce the Honor, a high-end huawei smartphone to the Sri Lankan market.

I was provided a Honor for use for a period of 10 days, while not sufficiently long enough to really call a long term user review, i have converted it to my regular phone to see how it faired to ensure I did my best to see how it works out.

I was only provided the phone (the same one used by them for internal testing and demonstrations) and hence it came without any packing (no box or accessories). The phone was also provided with a lower 1200mAH batter, and not with the more stamina 1900mAH battery that the retail version will ship with.

Initial Impressions

The device seems very well built, and though a tad more hefty in weight than my Sony Arc, it was a very pleasing size and handled well. Meaning it really felt not too large and was quite well balanced. The device comes with Android 4.0.3 (ICS) as standard, and was very nippy and smooth, and the screen very glassy and vibrant. So let me now move on to my detail review based on the usage till date. Strangely the device sold locally still sells with Gingerbread, and the huawei official site it yet to make available the ICS ROM download. So i feel the phone i got is a running a pre-build that is about to roll out to customers.

Official page – http://www.huaweidevice.com/worldwide/productFeatures.do?pinfoId=3219&directoryId=6001&treeId=3745&tab=0

Display and Touch experience

The screen is a nice size at 4″ with a 854×480 high resolution screen which is in-line with the 2011 flagship pones. I am sure it would be liked by many as the craze for larger screens are making smart phones look more and more like small tabs than phones. However this is also attributed to the usage patterns where voice calls are not the primary use, but browsing, texting, gaming, video and running complex apps being vital. The screen has the same gloss effect as an IPhone, and just in case the pictures don’t tell the story the phone has more than a remarkable resemblance to the IPhone as well 🙂

The swipes were super smooth and the processor more than adequate to make ICS smooth. However one area that i felt the phone display lacked was its touch sensitivity. In some cases you had to tap twice to get an app started etc, and this comment i also noted in some reviews by popular sites. I am not sure if this is the Huawei implementation on the software side or a display issue.

The phone display performed reasonably well in direct sunlight but like all high gloss screens the reflections made it not readable. Applying a matt finish screen protector should improve this on this area.

The glass on the display is NOT Gorilla Glass, nor does Huawei mention if this is scratch proof. But justi like my experience with the MediaPad from Huawei the glass seems to be very durable and not easily scratched. The phone i received was a demo phone, and did not have a screen protector and did not have any scratches, and though i used it for nearly two weeks it survived the phone with keys in the pocket scenario several times, which means for everyday use test it passed with flying colors.

Interface

Huawei has not customized the ICS version much but has done several small tweaks.  One is the different themes, which have a major difference on how the screen looks like.  One theme in particular stops blending the icons with the background.  Overall the themes are pleasing.

You also notice that the ICS version has the new Kernel, something that you won’t find with the ICS versions, from Sony, Samsung for their devices which initially shipped with Gingerbread.  Supposedly the changes are high and the stuck with the 2.6 Kernel which to many means the ICS upgrade is not totally “new”.

Huawei has also shipped some apps that are required such as a File Manager, DLNA software, Office (reader only, the editing capable Yoko office has not been included here unlike in the MediaPad), a FlashLight application and so on.  Further some free widgets have been bundled in for weather and time.

Size and Handling

The phone is a tad heavy compared to the Sony Arc I use, but this can be attributed to the very robust build. Further the weight is not felt, and to me i felt it made the phone more hand friendly and usable.

Processing and Storage

I have now worked out that performance of a mobile device is greatly impacted by the internal storage, memory and also if you have a SD card attached. Hence i have now combined processing and storage as a single group when providing my comments.

Though a single processor unit, it performed quick snappily running Android ICS, an OS reputed to be resource hungry. The only place it started to lag a bit was when large number of apps were loaded, which is expected since it has only 512MB RAM, common among all 2011 flagships, with only the Galaxy SII coming with 1GB among the brood in 2011. Overall thought it ran very well, and impressed me.

The few tests i ran show that it had ample processing power, and the GPU (the Adreno 205) is sufficiently powerful and matches the configuration of the Xperia Arc S with identical hardware.  See the Benchmarks sections for more details.

One reason i feel the phone behaves fast is that Huawei has coupled a very fast internal storage device. The speeds shown by the test indicate this is over 2-3 times faster than what ran on most devices i tested, and even better than several expensive devices from Samsung. This decision is a good one as lots of people have commented that the Android performance has been hampered by the slow storage.

One area Huawei has touted in the web site is the “Fast Boot of 5 secs”, but I found the boot time to be nothing special and when I timed I got boot times closer to 25secs with fast boot enabled. However the quoted 5secs was for the Gingerbread version, which may have been tweaked, and the ICS release may still not fully tweaked on this areas.

Voice Quality

The voice quality from the phone was very good, with the ear piece very clear. However the built-in loud speaker was a tad short in power to my liking, and considering the device is super slim Huawei could have stuff a larger loud speaker to this unit. I also tried hooking my headphones, and the audio was decent, but definitely no match for something like an IPhone which has one of the best amps on the mobile area. Compared to my Sony Arc the unit was on par, with the Sony doing a bit better on the bass side, possible part of the XLOUD feature in the Arc.

I also used connected this into my vehicle’s Bluetooth, and one feature i found that worked exceptionally well was how quick the phone connected with the vehicle’s audio bluetooth, and the speed the call details were got synchronized.

Multimedia

The camera is a 8MP unit, a feature i am sure Huawei did to match their current flagship with the competitors.

The camera software that comes with the phone has very minimal customization from the ICS camera app from Google, with no customization except support for HDR (Panaroma being a feature that is support by the standard ICS camera software).

One thing immediately apparent was that the focusing seems a tad slow, and in-accurate under low light conditions but does well in good light.  I decided i will try a popular camera app from Google Play store. One camera app that really had got me interested and which i used on my Arc (which had a decent native app as well) was Camera Zoom FX. The change when using Camera Zoom was quite astonishing. The focussing was much faster, and accurate, and the overall image quality better, which i believe is due to better post processing and also a far superior focusing algorithm. I found that with this camera app i could pictures that even had got more accurate focus than my Xperia Arc.

So the camera while not an awesome unit, fairs quite decently when used with a third party camera app, but with the native app needs a bit more working. Huawei hope you put some effort on this, or bundle a good third party app as standard.

However the low light, night photos were an area that the camera proved to falter because the LED is very very weak. Pictures taken close up are lit but anything more you are asking too much since the camera sensor and lens don’t seem to have of anything special to fill in for the weak single LED flash.  One way you can test the performance of the flash is to use it with the flashlight application and you will notice how faint it is, reminds me of my old Sony X10i in power.

Video performance is decent in good light even with moving objects, but under low light the moving objects are blurrish but still the overall video thought grainy is pretty decent. Notable is that the sensor seems to be pick details well even if it cannot cope with low light that great. The flash can be used in torch mode when recording video.

Battery

I was given a battery 30-40% less than the one that will ship with the production unit, but surprisingly the unit with normal use can last close to two days easily. However if you do browse a lot the drain will be greater but with the larger batter than what you normally see it should definitely last more than a day.

Connectivity options

The phone surprisingly has only an micro-USB connector which is used to connect the phone to a PC and also charge the phone. However for most this should be find, but for some an HDMI connector may have been desired for a phone of this caliber.

Benchmarks

Vellamo popular to test the browser rendering and scrolling performance showed the phone perform VERY good and out performs many dual-core devices from leading vendors!

3D performance is decent and in line with a Tegra 2, and out does most other Adreno 205 units indicating the drivers are more optimized. Possibly the ICS graphic libraries are also better optimized which is the reason for the higher frame rate in Nenamark tests.

AnTutu is a good test to see the CPU scores and the storage scores. Here you can see the processing unit is definitely in the single core area, but at the highest end of the single core, which is expected as 1.4Ghz single cores are among the fastest in the single core market. The other key feature is the storage test which are far greater than average which is due to the fast internal storage device.

Software

The well featured and easy to use Huawei sync tool HiSuite had not got bundled though the ADB drivers were included when you hook the device into PC via USB. I also could not find it directly in the huawei site and after a few different google search results, XDA developer forum once again to the rescue. Surprise surprise, huawei actually has dedicated site to download for the software, why they don’t link it directly into the device support / downloads page remains a mystery.

http://www.huaweidevice.com/resource/mini/201105239635/hi_suite_en/index.html

Pricing – Sri Lanka

I am writing the pricing point purely from a Sri Lankan perspective here. Locally the phone was just released by 1-2 Telco’s and while its priced well compared to the Telco pricing for similar devices, the important part is how does it compete against phone retailers.

The local pricing of 48-52K rupees 360-400$ for an unlocked phone with some goodies such as free data, free connection, and free voice minutes makes the phone around $300-330 in price if you account for the annual benefit, and is near identical to the Telco pricing for the Sony Arc S with 8GB and a HDMI cable! In addition the price is higher than a new Xperia Arc S, Galaxy S Plus, Galaxy W  from phone retailers. Here you can see the comparison of equivalent phones available in the market from phone retailers for nearly the same price bracket.

http://www.phonearena.com/phones/compare/Sony-Ericsson-Xperia-arc-S,Huawei-Honor,Samsung-Galaxy-S-Plus/phones/6149,6153,5372

My sincere belief is that the price is way to high which may kill the sales of this device, and this would be sad since the device is more than capable of rubbing shoulders with the more popular brands such as Samsung, Sony, LG, HTC, etc in the Android market space. With some even more cool devices with the dual and quad core devices due from huawei under their Ascent brand line this year, i think good pricing is important as the hardware is ready for the big time, just the local perception has to be resolved and if Samsung can do it, Huawei definitely can.

Changes I would like that Huawei could do for the phone

1. Get the normal option for selecting the 3G mode like most other vendors, if not we have to resort to Anycut to ensure it stays in pure HSPA mode in Sri Lanka
2. Bundle HiSuite with the phone with the ICS ROM or provide a CD
3. Replace the LED flash with a better unit
4. Work on the touch issue that occurs sometimes

if you have any comments on this phone or any other huawei device go post your opinions on the http://www.facebook.com/HuaweiSriLanka facebook site, it will help make your Huawei device better. I got to know about this when i met James, until then i had been posting on the Huawei Malaysia facebook page.

Conclusion

I passed the phone around to many of my colleagues, and all were very impressed with the quality, and most of them were already using Samsung or Sony Android phones, and some were Nokia Symbian users (none were Apple users).  Many were running Gingerbread on lower hardware, and were very pleased by the overall performance.  However a key concern were them was the pricing, they felt if the pricing can be aggressively it will jump start Huawei, specially since the hardware and software was stable and pretty much equal to the competition.

From my point, after my very good experience with the MediaPad i was happy with the Honor, but felt that Huawei could have pushed harder, but then again this was a device launched late 2011 in the other markets, and the new devices being launched by Huawei seems ready to take on the big boys in style.

I like the size and feel of the phone, and the nippy interface bearing the quirk with the sometimes finicky touch.  The battery is good, the software running on it is up to date, and overall its a good phone but falls short on any innovative features such either an exceptional camera or higher res screen or special audio features, etc.

Photo Gallery (samples from the camera)

Photos taken with the stock camera app or Camera Zoom FX.

Photos taken indoors under fair light

Photos taken indoors under poor light

Acer Iconia A500 Official ICS brief review


Acer was haggled and hassled over the delayed availability of the ICS build for the Acer A500.  However when you look at the market for devices that originally came with Honeycomb 3.0 (and subsequently updated to 3.2), only a handful of manufacturers have rolled out their updates for tablet devices.  Samsung for instance has yet to roll out their update.

One of the first to provide this was ASUS for the TF101 Transformer, and oh boy did they screw it up.  The tablet to this date after many patches is still having a big problem where the device goes into a continuous restart loop when left idle so much so that the  power drains overnight.   In addition the cool feature of the TF101 transformer was the keyboard dock, but it seems the critical bug where once the dock battery had depleted, and the dock starts using the tablet battery has not had a proper fix and also requires you to return the dock for some part replacement.  I nearly went to get a TF101 tab as a stop gap purchase until the new quad core devices became “affordable” but sadly this issue put me of big time.

With this in mind, I was a bit skeptical updating the tab since it was owned by a friend of mine.  While i saw many providing sufficiently positive responses on the update, i went ahead and i was pleased to say Acer definitely has done a fair job with the ICS update that i have not had any issues.

Will post some screen shots and benchmarks, but here are some initial impressions.

1. The interface is now a lot more nippy compared to Honeycomb, with swiping now being super smooth.  Another friend who also brought the A500 and update from 3.2 to ICS was extremely pleased how much more smoother and nippy the device was with the ICS update.

2. No issues of battery drain when left idle with WIFI switched off.

3. No issues with WIFI signal loss which was an issue for some, turns out this was for the folks who manually updated their tabs with the US firmware for devices used in Europe and Asia.  Channel 12 and 13 are disabled for US devices by regulations and this was causing the problem based on the forum feedback.

4. Some of the cool features such as the Acer Ring which available with the ICS for the newer Acer tablets is not included with the ICS build for the A500.

5. The new stock browser is a lot faster, though i prefer to use Opera Mini or Mobile for my light browsing and opting for stock or Dolphin for any more complex browsing purposes.

6. Benchmarks have improved, and so has the real life usage performance.  The good news is that the Acer A500 is not impacted by the more demanding ICS on hardware.  The larger memory and dual core configuration definitely being more than adequate for ICS.

7. No restarts since installing ICS, which is great since it has been over 2 weeks since i ran the update.  This is truly great since none of my other devices had this level of stability after installing ICS.

Vellamo a test run to see how the scrolling and web performance, indicates with ICS the upgrade has improved and so has the driver maturity for Tegra 2.  Even with a higher screen size it is able to out perform the Galaxy Nexus and the Note which are running newer hardware.  What is also interesting is how close it it performance to the quad-core Transformer Prime!

 

Here are some screens with the Acer A500 running ICS.  Unlike the updates for the Huawei MediaPad and the Sony Arc, Acer has modified the release to restrict some of the developer options in the settings menu.

Sony Xperia Arc (s) ICS 4.0.3 initial impressions


[UPDATE: I have replaced the Arc S 4.0.3 firmware with the official 4.0.4 update for the Sony Arc, the difference between the two versions are immense, please see my new post on that to get the real ICS impressions for the Sony Arc]

Sony Ericsson, who are now simply Sony once again have worked very hard to rebuild their bad reputation over software updates issues they had with their 2009/2010 phones.  With the Sony Arc and the new models they have done a job that has been even better than Samsung, which has reflected well in the higher sales of they very cool looking mobile devices.

Sony for some reason has always been one step behind on the hardware side compared to leading competitors like Samsung, HTC, etc but have managed to counter with excellent design, great multimedia and most importantly well optimized software that ensured you did not feel the hardware was lacking.

However with ICS, they seem to have faced the challenge and they had to delay the original roll out plan.  The much awaited ICS updated for the Arc and newer phones were due in April was delayed, and now only the newer Arc S and the Neo V and Ray got the update, while the older models only getting June or later.

However the Arc and the Arc S are from a hardware point pretty much identical, with the key difference being the higher clock processor (overclocked possibly, since the processor definitely can be pushed beyond the 1Ghz speed) on the Arc S.  Even the battery is the same which is why the Arc S has less standby time than the Arc.

I did not want try a custom ROM on my phone, since i like my main phone to be “available” and hence experiments were controlled.  However I was keen to see if ICS would improve things , and thanks to Xperiablog.net (http://www.xperiablog.net/2012/04/15/install-official-android-4-0-ics-update-to-your-xperia-arc-guide/) i went and flashed it with the nordic ICS firmware for the Arc S which they had found works perfectly fine with the Arc 🙂

Tips when flashing

Word of warning if you look at that article in Xperiablog.net you will see a lot of people have bricked their phones, so follow the instructions carefully.

1. Backup your device using App Backup & Restore, do not that this App does not back all apps, so as a secondary option also use the Google backup option for apps.

2.  The update went smoothly but i had faced one twist when trying get the phone recognized.  This is what i did,

  • The flashtool continued to report that drivers were missing, though i had updated the PC companion to the latest and tested that the phone was being detected.
  • I then installed the drivers from the flash tool, and faced the same issue, but then found that you also have to check “Flashmode drivers” when installing the drivers in addition to the arc drivers.  Once i did this the detection when smooth and the update completed

Once i had flashed the application the only issue was i had a free upgrade.  In my about the device is now listed as an LT18i :), no sadly the processor does not get  overclocked to 1.4Ghz like the Arc for that you need to root and see how much you can push your CPU.  I am not trying that on my everyday phone!  I can live with that until the Arc specific firmware will come, by which time i am sure Sony would have optimized the ICS build further and fixed any defects.

I have now been using the phone for over a week, and these were some observations, some I believe will also be applicable for Arc S users since ICS is a bit of resource hog and seems to have been designed with higher memory, graphics and multi-core capabilities in mind.

  1. Interface is smooth, but can get laggy, the reason i found is that the memory usage is higher on ICS, so you have to keep an eye and close apps to ensure you have enough to keep the phone going smooth.  I have just 1-2 small widgets running, and just having these and the email, FB and gmail apps brings the memory down to just 36MB remaining.  Below is the memory usage with most apps closed and just the OS, and standard apps running.
  2. I sometime get the error saying the desktop (explorer) has stopped, or some app as stop, but if you select the wait option usually things get back into control.  I feel that the memory getting low also maybe a cause for this.
  3. Fluffy (angry) birds (what i just tested was Rio) game does not work, though it gets launched i can’t touch and select any options, not sure how many other games and apps will have this problem.  Since Rio worked fine on my MediaPad and Acer A500 devices, this is definitely an issue with the Sony ICS build.
  4. The camera takes ages to load compared to how it was with Gingerbread.  I have resorted to using CameraFX due to this, which works fine
  5. Overall app launch is a tad slower than what it was on gingerbread
  6. Benchmarks indicate no significant change in performance, though i was expecting much better performance :(
  7. Make sure the face book app is closed when not needed, as that can hog your system.
  8. Media Go sync seems to have problems and seems to freeze when sync’ing your photos and videos
  9. The standard Music app crashes

Key areas i saw improvements

1. The overall touch and swipe actions are lot smoother

2. The standard keyboard for the first time is actually pretty decent, even though its not as intelligent as SwiftKey X.

3. Browser seems more nippy

4. Video playback seems more smoother

5. The ICS feature on how you can close the app (swipe right after selecting the home button) is cool and easy (wish Windows 8 consumer edition had this feature)

I saw on a recent blog that a more newer firmware was already provided some regions, so will wait and see if these fix these issues.   One thing that has changed is that Sony has now removed the custom screen capture feature they had when you pressed the power button and now use the ICS screen capture feature.  This is done by pressing the power and volume down button for around 10+ secs which takes a screen shot, takes a while to get used to but once you do its fairly effective.

Benchmarks

Did not notice any great improvements, and overall its here and there on the overall “benchmarks”.  If i recall correct performances seems to have gone down!

Here are some screen shots, immediately noticeable is the new font which makes things look a bit nicer.  I have included things that have changed in ICS or look different.

         

Huawei MediaPad ICS official build now available for download


Unlike many other bigger name manufacturers Huawei has been pretty involved in providing updates to their device and though slightly late than the original planned day, they have now made available the official release of ICS for the MediaPad.

Direct download is available at http://www.huaweidevice.com/worldwide/productFeatures.do?pinfoId=3135&treeId=3290&directoryId=5011&tab=0.

Please see my article on the MediaPad to see how you should backup your device.  In addition Google now has the feature to backup your apps and data.  Do note though that when you enable this, you may have issues if you are running apps that you installed “personally”, so be cautious since Google ain’t very nice on the way they go about things.  Recently they had removed over 50 apps that had violated their store policies (including apps that allow downloading youtube applications), and they have even gone ahead and removed it from all devices that had downloaded it from the store!

Interestingly Huawei also have an updated Honeycomb build.  This seems to be mainly because the amount of ICS devices in the market is still rather low (less than 5%) with the key players Amazon, Samsung still yet to roll out ICS for most of their popular devices.  Hence application compatibility with ICS is still a problem.