Huawei Y200 – Android for the budget, and pretty darn good one


Android has evolved fast, and the Huawei Y200 maybe at the more towards the lower end of the Android phone range, but it packs a very up to date hardware and configuration that is superior to the far more popular Samsung models!  The Y200 has close bearings to the Huawei Soniq in form factor and design, but features a higher spec on the hardware aspects.

Hardware

The device has the latest Cortex A5 processor which uses a 45nm technology, the result is less heat and battery consumption and processing power that is far better than the previous generation products.  However the graphic processor sadly has no changed, and remains the what seems to  be the standard for most mid range phones, the Adreno 200.  Though most may all feature the Adreno 200, the actual GPU core speed and memory speeds differ which is why there are differences in the graphics performance though the same GPU used.

The screen is not what you call small, at 3.5″ as its actually larger than an Iphone 4S screen in physical size.  The resolution is also above the competition at 320×480, compared to the  Galaxy Y range which has a very low 320×240 resolution.  The colors and brightness are pretty good for a budget phone.  The touch is smooth and multi-touch is decent.  However the bottom shortcut buttons are a bit lacking in the touch sensitivity.

The area that the phone has a weak point on the hardware aspects is on the available memory.  The phone only has 256MB memory, of which only around 140MB is available for use by other apps.  For most general usage the limited memory does not impact and the phone is very nippy and smooth.  However the very moment you start loading a lot of apps or try running apps that require more memory, such as games the phone starts to lag.   Huawei should have opted for at least 384 or 512MB as that is the optimal for a phone.  However since the phone comes with a minimal customized  gingerbread version the phone performs far better some phones with higher memory configuration which might be running skins which required more memory (as done by LG, Samsung, HTC and Sony)

External design and build

The unit has a standard design that is rather conservative very similar to the Galaxy Y range, here the LG L3 unit definitely has the edge with the different design.

The build quality is good, with no squeaks, though the rear cheap plastic may show wear and tear unless its protected from the elements. After a month of use without any back cover the phone has started to get some small scratches as expected from a plastic back cover.

While the phone has no Gorilla glass, Huawei seems to have a good source for their glass, as I had it in my pocket with keys, etc and the glass has not shown any damages!

The lack of chrome may make the phone look less expensive, but I strongly believe cheap chrome which will fade is worse, and hence this is a better option for heavy use phones.

Interface and software

Huawei goes on the route with minimal customizations to the stock gingerbread, and while this means decent performance the interface can be a bit drab.  You can spike things up by using a custom launcher.  May use Go Launcher or ADW launcher, as these offer very nice customized skins. However I prefer a low memory and smoother launcher, and I have used Nemus launcher on this phone.

However the small tweaks done by Huawei are useful, such as the drag down toolbar at the top which offers instance shortcuts to enable data/wifi/gps/bluetooth, shame they missed the toggle for silent/vibrate.  I have installed notification toggles that provides a wonderful addition that is highly configurable for quick access options.

The phones software was excellent, with solid performance after 2 months of use, which bodes well for the phone.  However if the battery drops around 15% the phone sometimes has a tendency to shut down, i am not sure if this is intentional (Some Samsung phones also have this behavior though its well defined, where 10% battery causes the shutdown).

The phone is not likely to get an upgrade beyond 2.3 Gingerbread, and frankly even if a upgrade is available I would avoid it as even phones with 512MB and 768MB RAM are struggling with ICS which has proved to be a memory hog.  Custom ROMs may offer ICS that can run smoothly but I will leave that option to the few who do go around to upgrading with custom ROMs.

The HiSuite from Huawei looks basic but it offers features that many of the big names missed out including my high end HTC!  The app allows backup and restoration of apps, contacts, importing contacts from other phones, taking snapshots of the phone screen, and updating the phone software. Huawei should invest on a professional UI designer to beef the user interface to reflect the features of the software! Someone who has worked with Apple maybe 😉

Camera and multimedia

The camera unit is decent with 3MP and has auto focus which means you can take close-up photos including pictures of documents, etc, a feature that many phones higher up also lack.

 

What lets it down badly is the lack of a LED flash.  For most users of such phones, the camera is important as they may not posses any other form of digital camera.  Without a flash the camera offers no capability to take photos in the dark or low light.   For many the availability of the flash is required not just for photos but to use it as a flashlight.  The Galaxy Y missed this point, and sadly so has the Y200.  Huawei could have easily boosted their Y200 sales by including this feature.

On the picture quality the pictures tend to have a whitish tint, no matter what the form of lighting.  While it will do well for general shooting, don’t expect to win any photo awards with this camera.

The video recording is VGA (640×480, 30fps), which may seem outdated but its actually far superior to the competing products which offer very primitive video of 240×320, and that too at pathetic frame rates of 15 or 24fps.  So here again the Huawei offers decent video recording feature compared to the rivals from Samsung and LG.

The phone has limited codec’s bundled, hence downloading an alternative video player that offers software rendering for other formats is important.  My preferred choice these days has been MX player for this. TheY200  has enough juice to playback 720p video smoothly, I used MX player and found that the 800Mhz on the Y200 was able to use the software renderer to playback video smoothly, and matched the performance of the 1Ghz A5 processor for video.

The Y200 hits the spot on sound, with its powerful stereo speakers it puts out a lot of sound at full volume, far greater than many higher end phones. The phone maybe tiny but it sure does produce a lot of sound, so if you are configuring an alarm make sure you reduce the volume, if not its going to wake a lot of people up!

Storage and expansion

The phone has 512MB internal storage, of which around only 160MB is available for user apps.  For most users you will need an expansion card, and the microSD supports up to 32GB cards.  Gingerbread (android 2.3) has the built-in feature for moving apps to the SD card, though using the app “App2SD” is recommended as it can to the movement automatically rather than you doing once you hit the storage limit.

Call quality, signal strength and battery

The area the phone really excelled is on the signal strength and call quality.  The Phone has a second microphone for noise cancelling which is one other reason why the call quality is very good.  The phone has very good connectivity and outdid the Sony phones we have used as it never dropped a call.  The powerful speakers means the loud speaker performance is also good.

The phone battery was able to provided 2-3 days of use with occasional internet and wifi use, and video watching in addition to calls.  If used only for calls and with no internet usage the phone can take last 3-4 days, and I believe this is mainly due to the use of the A5 processor which is far more power efficient than the Arm9/11 based units which are powering the Galaxy Y phones.

Performance

On general use the phone is excellent as its smooth and switches between apps in decent fluidity.  However if you load larger apps the phone can get laggy.  Performance tests for the phone are shown.

A point to note is that the performance no from this benchmarks are based on a combined set of sub tests such as CPU, 2D, 3D, storage, etc for Quadrant, Antutu and Geekbench.  However the Y200 is able to match the more Sony Arc in performance in most areas tells how budget phones have evolved in hardware, which also explains the good performance of the phone.

One reason I find the perceived performance of the phone is good is due to its good 2D performance.  The phones 2D sub test in Antutu and Quadrant actually had ratings higher than many high end phones, mainly due to the lower resolution and decent GPU and processor.

The Nenamark tests of the Sony tipo by the popular site gsmarena indicates that the usual higher performance you expect from ICS is not evident on the similar configured Tipo, so the Y200 Android 2.3.6 build has been optimized well by Huawei.  Comparison of Quadrant and Antutu reveals the same, so the Y200 performance is on bar with Sony who are known to optimize their software well.

Huawei Y200

800Mhz A5

Sony Tipo 

800Mhz A5

Sony Arc

1Ghz

Android Vn

2.3.6

4.0.4

4.0.4

Quadrant

1140

1418

1130

Geekbench 2

434

 –

Antutu

2625

2670

2834

Nenamark 2

15.3fps

15.9fps

25.6 fps

Conclusion

Huawei has analyzed its competition and priced the Y200 to compete well and also backed it with sound hardware.  The phone easily beat the Galaxy Y and Galaxy Mini in practically every aspect, and nearly matches the far more expensive Galaxy Ace product (actually it will perform better than the Ace S5830i which features the less capable Broadcom chipset).

Huawei’s though has competition in the market with the launch of the Sony Tipo which is priced in the Galaxy Mini range, while its definitely low down on hardware it comes with ICS out of the box and a cooler design, but missed out by providing a fixed focus camera with no flash that takes away the Sony advantage that people buy it for!

However if Huawei had put this phone out with a LED flash and slightly higher memory configuration, my belief is that it could have had a great product.

Regardless of these two shortcomings the Y200 proved that budget Androids are extremely capable and offer a rich experience that will outdo most Symbian phones in the market, and in the android space it was ahead of its key rivals in most areas.

UPDATE: Huawei Y201 released recently has Huawei fixing all the negatives of the Y200, the Y201 Pro features 512MB RAM, 4GB internal storage, and now comes with Android 4.0 ICS as standard

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Dangers of buying used phones originating from the US and Korean market


Apple selling their phones only in a limited set of countries, made the concept of people buying phones from the US market and unlocking them if possible as the only way to get an Apple IPhone.

The trend for Android has been phones from providers such as T-Mobile, AT&T being brought and then being unlocked.  Similarly phones from from Korea has been another major intake in Sri Lanka due to the high number of people going to work there.  Here you find telco’s such as SK and KT telecom.

Many purchase this phones as they are either,

  1. Significantly cheaper than buying an international or local used version of the same phone
  2. Offer a higher configuration than the international or local variant of the same phone
  3. Availability of more models than local model range

The cheaper issue is definitely not the danger, but more so the different in configuration.

Common differences in US/Korean telco phones compared to international or local variants

  1. Very different processor, a key reason being that the LTE versions tend to have a different chipset, mainly due to the reason that the normal units powered by Tegra based processors do not support a LTE modem (Most popular the international S3 had a very powerful Samsung Exynos processor and MALI400MP GPU, the LTE version a much less capable Qualcomm unit coupled to an Adreno GPU.  Most users misunderstood that the higher clocked 1.5Ghz Qualcomm unit was in fact slower than the 1.2Ghz Samsung Exynos)
  2. Larger screen sizes (a popular upgrade in the US market phones, many Galaxy S1 and S2 variants had larger 4.5″ screens, and in some cases 1280×720 screens when the international units were having 800×480 screens)
  3. Large internal configurations (the most well known is the US variant S3 has 2GB RAM, while the international variant only has 1GB, the higher configuration possibly to combat the Apple threat than any other reason)

Problems that users may face when buying such used phones

Regardless of the phone being unlocked there are problems.

  1. Cannot replace the firmware with the international or local firmware version: You will NOT be able flash the phone with the international firmware since the hardware is different.  Even if you do, there are problems that come because of the differences in hardware
  2. Updates can be much slower or not available: Hence unlocked or not you have to wait until the updates are provided for the telco to get your phone updated.  However these devices are still custom made by the manufacture for the specific telco, and will be bundled with customizations requested by the telco including custom applications and updates are going to be much slower than the international version, and in some cases the updates stop (e.g. Many US phones for Android never got updated beyond Android Froyo or Gingerbread while international versions in some cases got ICS or updated variants of Gingerbread featuring newer core apps and tweaked performance, Motorola phones are the biggest offenders here).
  3. Slower performance, and less available memory: Another common issue is the customization done on behalf of the telco’s in many cases slowed down the phone due to bloatware running and many of these apps could not be easily removed unless the phone is rooted, something most users may not end up doing.
  4. Problems using 3G/4G data: Another little understood change is that the 3G and HSDPA network support may differ, as most phones are not true quad-band when sold to specific markets, hence they may work but not as efficiently and reliably as the local or international variants.
  5. Highly used batteries and internal components: Users in these markets would have used these phones WIFI on always, and this would mean the batteries would have had may of their usable recycle times completed, and the internal components having a lot more wear than local phones where WIFI and 3G being fully on is not very common.  while the phone externally will look great, the internals can be in a bad shape, expect higher maintenance costs or failure in units.

So when buying an used phone, check the model carefully.  Check what is different from the international and local variants and see if you are okay with the changes, and understand that the phone may not work properly.

One important check is also to see if the phone model code printed behind the phone and the code in the phone are same.  If they differ, it means the phone has been upgraded by maybe international version, but these phones are sure to give problems.

So sometimes a few bucks more for an used International or local variant may make a lot more sense 🙂

Nokia N9 Review : Platform orphaned and design copied for the sake of Microsoft


In a world now dominated by Android and iOS smartphones, the much awaited challenge from Nokia in the form of Meego was sadly squashed once Nokia’s the ex-Microsoft took over and decided that they were going with Windows Mobile as their smartphone strategy and dumping years of exciting research with Meebo and then Meego.

The N9 in particular was highly awaited as it brought a whole line of innovations on technology and design for Nokia, and will be remembered now as the the design template for Nokia’s entry into the Windows Mobile market with the Lumia range (and if you look carefully it seems to have inspired the the generation Apple IPod Touch as well).

While I had decided against going for N9 knowing that it would be criminal waste on my cash for funding myself for phone changes, I got an royal opportunity of obtaining an N9 for a super price that allowed me to own this phone and see how it works out.

Design

I had to start from this, as this was one of the areas that the N9 was true innovation (unlike the Iphone 5!). The unique design of the phone was that it had no buttons either hardware or software for navigation and was exclusively driven by swipes.

For anyone not used to this, it would be a daunting experience, and I can surely tell you that. However once you get the knack of it its quite catchy. However don’t try to have this phone along with say an Android or iOS device, as it can be frustrating. Purely use this you soon get used to this unique navigation approach that is also ultra cool.

The rounded curves of the phone and the glass, makes the design simple and very elegant. I had the black but from what I have seen the other colors, white in particular are even more stunning.

The exterior is made of an unique poly carbonate plastic, that has since become the hot feature of other leadings phones such as the S3 and HTC One X. It may not be aluminum like the N8 or the IPhone, but the plastic is really high quality and more importantly makes it very nice to hold, very nice. So if you see an IPhone 5 ads saying don’t settle for plastic, just try using a N9 or HTC One X, you may beg to differ strongly 🙂


Even neat small design of the micro USB and SIM card shows the Nokia flagship designer touch, which you don’t find with most other phones.

I remember when reading through forums, one forum was warning buyers of the Chinese N9 clones, and one blogger had commented “Oh yeah, the clones are made by Nokia, and they are called Lumias!”

Bundled Kit

Positives: The N9 bundle is what you call truly comprehensive, as it includes not just a headset, charger and cable but also a perfect fit silicon (color coded to match your phone exterior) phone covers (which was copied by Nokia for their Lumia 800). The finish of the silicon cover is excellent, and it has a very good fit with the phone (= hard to put and remove, but no complains if the fit is good).

However the silicon cover also had some negative aspects, the second is common but the first baffled me.

  1. The silicon cover impacted the low volume from the earpiece and speakerphone., and the baffling aspect was that non of the openings (mic, speaker, ear piece) are closed by the cover, so the reason for the reduction in volume is very baffling.
  2. The cover also makes pressing the buttons hard, and you have to press with you finger nails to get them working.

Camera hardware, video and software

The N9 being a flagship of sorts (though the N8 still remains the king for camera’s as it has a very large sensor unlike the N9), the N9 in almost every other way from the screen resolution, to the processor and graphics was superior until the Lumia range came into being and hence came with a highly capable camera spec. A super large aperture of F 2.2 (one of the best, only ousted by the HTC One series which now have a F 2.0 aperture lenses), coupled to a Carl Zeis lens and a new sensor was designed to take on the best in the camera phone market.

One of the unique features in the sensor used that a Panasonic camera owner would be familiar is the sensor is actually not 8MP but 8.7MP to ensure regardless of the photo format you end up getting 8MP. Most phone camera sensors will reduce the image size when you change the format since they actually crop the photo when taking wide angle.

However the flash is weak for a dual LED unit, and though it touts branded F2.2 lens it sadly produces images that are lot more noisy than photos produced with camera phones with less technical specs such as the Galaxy SII, Xperia Arc/Arc S, Xperia P I used. While photos taken in daylight are good, photos taken in low light are rather disappointing.

The camera is also a no-nonsense version with no HDR, panorama effects. However you can get panorama using a third party camera app on the Nokia store.

The video shares the same issue of being very noisy, and the frames are not very smooth. However the camera did well under low light, and the ability to use the dual LEDs as a photo light is effective though it gives an unreal yellow tint to the video footage. The recorded audio is clear which is good news.

One feature that really really worked well was the touch focus that was very precise, compared to implementations I had seen on Android phones.

Voice calls, an area the phone excels

The phone is very clear but you have to be careful how you hold the phone as its very easy to block the mic (where it’s precisely located baffles me).

The loudspeaker was one of the few that really pleased me, its very loud, clear for voice calls in enclosed areas. However when used in a large open area, the sound quality drops as the design does not allow the sound to travel.

I also connected this to some speakers and found the audio quality is pretty good with very litter distortion, far superior to the quality put out by the Iphone Touch 4G!

Hardware

For a phone put out in 2011, I feel Nokia might have purposefully toned down on the hardware of the device once they changed direction from Meego to WP, since the Lumia series that follow had far superior hardware. The Lumia’s Windows Mobile interface is also very smooth, and I believe that the N9 hardware was muted to make it feel like the Windows Phone was a good as Meego. However compared to Android both these operating systems are far more optimized in how they harness the hardware!

The phone featured an rather outdated Cortex A8 based processor coupled to an old generation PowerVR graphics. The memory too was nothing special at 512MB but with the optimization this is not an issue.

My personal opinion is that the same spec powering the Lumia 800/710 should have been featured in the N9 that would have made this phone break records in performance, because the Meego OS is truly super fast.

Interface and OS

The interface takes a bit of time to get familiar as its definitely very different to Symbian, iOS and Android in its full swipe based button-less operations.

Swipe from top of the phone to bottom kills the app, while tap at the top bar shows you the notification bar. Swipe from bottom of the phone to the top brings the quick launch (the hardest to do!), while left swipe takes you from the current app to the desktops.

The interface is very smooth and tells you what optimized code can do. It might be running ancient hardware even as it hits the shelves, but oh boy the interface is smooth and neat, and tells you why the Android phone hardware specs keep leaping in bounds to cover for the pathetic optimizations and efficiencies of the Android platform. The phone felt far smoother an dual-core Android running hardware that would be 4-5 times more powerful!

However be vary that if you don’t kill the apps the phone can start to lag and become irritatingly slow.  A separate panel is available that shows all running apps/instances, and this screen can be pinch zoomed.  You can kill an app by long pressing and closing it as well.

Meego has some similarity to iOS (yes iOS) in that you have settings for most of the native apps in the settings menu, and the actual apps are clean with very little buttons. Not sure if all will like this though as I find application context settings far easier to use than having to be going into the setting menu to find it!

Browsing


Stock browser performs decently but is feature lacking, and not very smooth even with the latest updates.

First it has not tab support! That really shocked me, then I found that the N9 has a lot of “unique” behaviours that are very different to what we are used to. It has an option called open new window, which opens a new instance. If you want to find your tab window you have to go to the multi-tasking window and select the browser instance (=tab). I found this not very friendly and the different behavior not to my taste, though for some this may not be an issue.

I ran one benchmark on the browser, and the performance results were not thrilling.

Nokia N9 Stock – 28225

Galaxy Nexus – Stock – 90433

I also tried mobile Firefox, and found it to be heavy and offering no great benefit. The best browser for on this platform was good old Opera Mini 🙂

Music

The audio is very good, and the speakers built in offer rich audio. The phone excels when used with a headset or connected to an external audio output. The music interface is also very nice.

Video playback

Video playback on mobile devices are very important to most users. Manufacturers in most cases (Except Samsung, and in some ways Nokia) tend not to bundle all codecs since many codecs have associated licensing costs. The solution for most is to download and alternative media player from the app stores that come with the codecs to ensure you can play all format of video.

However with the N9 surprisingly for Nokia the stock Media player had trouble playing movie formats due to an encoding issues. This was a big let down for me, since Nokia always had good support for video formats in their Symbian range.

I then searched the ovi store and only found a player called VidXPlayer, which was horrible in interface and features, and also did not have the codec support for most formats. While it was able to open some files the stock player could not, the frame rate was HORRIBLE.

Seems media player options for the N9 are scarce and also not for the normal users! Other alternatives VLC and OpenPlayer come as deb packages and you need to first enable developer options as well as allow external sources to install these.

However the link to the VLC version for N9 is not available at the VLC site but from an external party and that sites seems to have gone down 😦 Installed OpenPlayer and found though the files that did not play on the stock player opened it was so slow and freezing the phone that it was good as useless.

Further reading helped me find the reason why the N9 struggles to play and part of the problem seems to be its GPU which sad to say is actually inferior to the N8 unit on video playback 😦 it also has a severe limitation on the method of encoding which is why most videos you download don’t play well on it. More information http://n9ok.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-to-make-nokia-n9-playback-720p-hd.html#more

The best way to guarantee video playback on an N9 is to go Iphone/Microsoft Windows phone mode, which is to convert the files and upload, not what you call very open and this is one area that Android really rules the roost since Windows Phone similar to Itunes expects you to convert and copy. Oh yeah Nokia Symbian actually is superior here, as it can play most formats without conversion.

Ovi store still crappy, need we say more

Things have not improved much on the OVI store for N9. Downloads are slow, and messy and the store is filled with garbage apps. Loads of apps that actually are very useful and vital for the N9 not being in the store will deter normal users, though with most users buying this for the open OS means they won’t mind treading the extra bit to get things done.

Challenges and quirks

Unable to sync contacts with Google, solution found

I had setup my phone to sync with my office Exchange server, and then setup another Exchange connection to sync with my Google.

The office Exchange was configured to sync Mail and Calender, while the google Exchange setup for Contacts, Mail and Calender.

However I found that that contact sync was not working, and the option for contact sync was missing in the configuration for synching with my Google.

I found that the N9 though it can support multiple exchange configurations, it will only allow contact sync with the first Exchange setup!

Solution, I deleted my office Exchange account and gmail, and then made the Exchange setup for Google first, and then the Exchange setup for connecting to MS Exchange. This imported my contacts and things were working fine.

Link: http://discussions.nokia.com/t5/Maemo-and-MeeGo-Devices/N9-not-syncing-Google-contacts/td-p/1234913

No way to create a new APN, need a third party app not found in the OVI store

Now this was shocking, the interface does not allow to create a new APN. You can only create a new WIFI type internet connection! In order to do this you have to seek a third party not available in the OVI store to achieve this.

Link: http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1788707

No way to disable WIFI

You only have an option for switch on Internet. This effectively enables the WIFI even if you choose a 3G connection as your Internet connection.

Poor sustained Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, seems to be an over optimized killing of the net connection

The device keeps loosing connectivity with the Wi-Fi router and 3G network, making it extremely messy for any downloads.

However it does one optimization, the very moment something needs the internet based on the priority of connections it connects and downloads, but once it feels the download has been done it disconnects the connection. However I guess if a download stalls this optimization might be working against the N9!

Unbelievable time to reset to default

When i decided to resell the phone after getting familar with it, i selected the clean format option.  the phone prompted me that it will take 15mins and to plug the phone to the charger.  I thought this was just a warning to make sure you were careful not to brick the phone if you were doing it with low charge.  But oh boy was it not the most slowest reset i have ever come across. The process took much more than 15mins, and I really cannot fathom why it takes so much time! So in case you select this option make sure you have the phone attached to a charger, it seems to be doing something crazily scary when it resets to factory.

Conclusion

The Meego platform shows how a highly optimized platform can make simple low end hardware run super smooth and efficient. The platform also shows the potential it had if it was matured into the true replacement for Symbian.

Sadly the platform development coincided with the entry of Elop and was doomed from the start, the release of the N9 I feel was done simply to keep everyone loyal to Nokia that Nokia still had it in them to put out great phones, as the Symbian platform was getting torn apart by Android and iOS, not due to the lack of features but the poor pace in development and lack of apps that the modern gen wanted.

The design of the N9 is totally outstanding compared to what’s out there in the market (only contenders would be the HTC One s and X), and the beauty of this design has since then been reflected in the Lumia 800/900 and it I am sure will shine with the Lumia 820/920 which seemingly will have the internal hardware and proper OS to help it grow.

Nokia definitely skimmed on the internal hardware, and the shutdown of its Meego development has impeded. The good news though is that most who left Nokia’s meego team have now formed a new company called Jolla and intend to continue to development on Meego. I do hope they will keep the N9 (and its old brother the N900) support so that even if Nokia does not do any updates Jolla will.

The Nokia N9 will remain a favorite development phone, just like the N900, and it already has Android 4.0 as a dual boot option, and many say it will have Android 4.1 running in dual boot before its available for most Android phones! However i am sure for most its not Android on the N9, but advancing Meego that will be the area of interest, and here there is doubt.

Apple from innovator to patent hawk, result the IPhone 4S+, oh sorry its called the IPhone 5


Apple in almost all its new product launches heralded along with its software “improvements” hardware that would take the smartphone and tablet “mass market” industry a step forward. Against fast growing competition they sustained it with the IPhone 4, the IPad2, the IPhone 4S and then to a lesser degree the IPad3.

On the two areas emphasized

  •  Mass market is key, as there would always be a a few niche products specially in the Japanese market that would be far ahead of hardware that Apple would feature on their devices
  • Improvements in software, is a very sensitive topic as Apple’s marketing up managed to successfully reinvent the wheels with so many features that actually have been on phones sold world wide, but somewhat rare in the US, a market where “smart phones” actually only got picked up very much later thanks to Apple. The world had already got used to Video calling (Nokia had this many many years ago) and Skype did this on most smartphones prior to Apple reinventing it and calling it FaceTime. Some of the new highly touted software features for messaging has been with Nokia phones for years, and people outside the US consider this normal features

While not an Apple fan by a mile, the way Apple have pushed the market to adapt smartphones has been phenomenal, and more importantly how they took the tablet market when others who really invented the concept just went nowhere is an indication of how Apple’s marketing drives consumers. Which is why i own after much thought got an IPad1 and subsequently an IPad2, which i consider a formidable reader, though iTunes limitations are frustrating.

However the arrival of Android from Google for the first time brought a platform that evolved faster than what Apple had faced previously with Symbian and Windows Phone. Android must have been a gift from heaven for the OEM Chinese phone market that previously had obscure operating systems powering their phones, and the growing threat of ZTE and Huawei indicates how the Android has enabled these manufacturers to grow exponentially.

Apple’s key suppliers Samsung learnt quickly and started their own products, just like ASUS learnt from being OEM for HP/Compaq in the PC market, and it seems the speed of growth has not gone well with Apple, with Samsung now becoming the World No 1 for phones surpassing the long time king Nokia, and now the key competitor for Apple in the smartphone market.

However amidst all this Apple always managed to use its control over vendors to bring products that had hardware that pushed things ahead. The GPU was always the industry best, the processing along with the software optimizations made it one of the fastest, and though late into the camera market, again they managed to top this only second to the Nokia products that sadly had more camera than smartphone in them due to the slower paced development of Symbian.

When the Galaxy S3 was released, and along with it the HTC One X, and some very promising products from Sony Xperia, and after a long time Nokia with their new Lumia Windows 8 Phone series, the world waited for Apple to bring something totally unique with the IPhone 5 launch.

But what a surprise, what a let down, the IPhone 5 had Apple fans wondering why they had to upgrade their IPhone 4/4S, and spec to spec the Android and Windows Phone 8 products stood tall for the first time. Samsung, HTC, Nokia, Sony designers and engineers must have slept soundly, though i do hope they don’t go to sleep for too long.  Apple really should have called this the IPhone 4S+, or 4S Advance, but i forgot they can’t because that maybe Samsung or HTC copyright!

  • The Camera, same as the 4S but smaller sensor. However the Galaxy S3, HTC One X, Nokia PureView 808 and possibly the Lumia 920/920 have already gone far ahead in this area.
  • The Screen, 1136×640. The “Retina” in the IPhone ruled, the 4S with no improvement still remained competitive. The new screen just helps it compete, as the S3 and Nokia screens are offering more pixels (1280×720/800) and super quality screens and the new screen maybe better but its not ground breaking. Sony and HTC not going the AMOLED way offer excellent LCD based units. 4″, bigger but the industry has moved to around a 4.5-4.7″ for touch based phones. However this is one area i feel Apple is more closer to what a smartphone should be, as based on my usage a 4″-4.2″ is the best for single handed usage. However the 16:9 form factor makes the phone too narrow, and the older chubbier format is far better on usability
  • The Processor and Graphics, 2X the performance of the 4S, but the quad-core Samsung chip, the dual/quad-core Krait and quad-core Tegra3 processors already do this. Seemingly Apple maybe basing their products on the A15/Krait processor, if so this is the same platform the rival are using, innovation nah. Even the almost $200 quad-core smartphone from China may match this if not now, within a few months!

So what remains is the iOS, the super closed platform that builds around the hardware, that drives developers to develop software simply because people in the developed countries buy apps by the dozen, 90% of which they will never use, but just buy because its popular or because its on discount!

This explains why Apple went to its utmost to get the ruling in court against Samsung its most competitive rival who is not just making competing phones, but has finally started to innovate on the software aspect and are now producing products that surpass what Apple markets.

Apple just like what Microsoft managed to work out with almost all leading Android phone manufactures wants a patent cost for each device from the Android phones, and it knows if it wins one case it can then take on the rest.

Innovation has now been unleashed and HTC and Sony both who are extremely talented in developing truly good looking phones (compare any Xperia to an IPhone, the IPhone looks like an outdated brick) are definitely are focusing, and Sony’s break away from Ericsson has unleashed a whole serious of exciting phones.

What is most interesting is that Nokia a company that has amazing cameras coupled with proper lenses in their phones along with great designs may have the Operating System with Windows Phone 8, and I truly hope Microsoft does not let them down as they did with Windows Phone 7, if not Nokia must move with Android as they have long dumped a true jewel in Meego which only got featured in the design trend setter the great N9.

So for the next few years we may not see Apple as what Steve Jobs portrayed, but see Apple “innovating” more in the courtrooms rather than in their products and services…. What a change… Apple fans start looking elsewhere, there are true great devices with very good operating systems which are far more open (yeah you can copy stuff from your PCs easily, they have SD cards for transfers and storage expansion, they are far cheaper, they have far superior cameras, etc, etc), and don’t worry all the apps you need you will find in the Android and Windows market. It’s the hard core users such as gamer’s who may still want to hang around, but that too may change.. Oh yes it will….