Windows 8 phone: Promising but still raw and app store in its early days


I had wanted to try out the Nokia Lumia 800 as many who owned it spoke in praise on who smooth and slick the interface was, and this was truly credible considering similar single core equipped Snapdragon S1/S2  Android phones were stuttering in comparison.  However Microsoft dropped the bombshell by stating that none of the WP7 devices going to be upgraded to WP8, since they had said a higher bar for the minimum spec.

While the users of WP7 would have been very frustrated, the launch of the WP8 devices saw some great designs specially from Nokia, with HTC being a bit conservative compared to their Android offerings. The operating system brought many good opinions, but how does it stack up on every day use.

My experiences of WP8 are based on using the Nokia 620 and the 920, that provided me an idea of how it runs in base hardware, and somewhat higher spec hardware.

Touch and general OS navigation

The operating system has lived up to its smooth origins seen in WP7, and definitely had many Android users says how smooth the interface was.  Even Apple users commented positively on this, indicating Microsoft has got something right and not messed it up with the newer WP8.

Physical buttons

The phones currently have 3 physical buttons which seem to have the following capabilities.

  1. Windows button. Which takes you to the new desktop which features the tiles
  2. Back button.  Pressing this while in app takes you back within the app, and if you click the Windows button and then press this it recycles through existing apps and you can keep on pressing this to finally hasten the process of closing the app. If you keep holding this button it will show you the current running apps and you can manually select an app to get to it rather than having to recycle through.
  3. Search button, to bring the Bing search, to me this is of very little value.

Closing or selecting a running app

One feature that takes a while to get used to , and i feel is still lacking is the fact that you can’t actually close an directly.  The famous minimize, maximize and close buttons we are familiar with Windows are not there which is good as it goes with the other mobile platforms, but unlike with Apple or Android you have no way to kill an app.  Microsoft says WP8 being a true multi-tasking operating system compared to iOS and Android, is capable handling applications in similar lines to the JVM concept of Java, but if you really need to close an application this could have been easy achieved.

For instance if you hold the back button for a while it shows the current running applications similar to the what Android and iOS do, but you can swipe or press on a cross to close the app, but this to me is something that can be done easily and i wonder if its any patent that is holding back Microsoft from implementing this basic feature.

The desktop or as MS calls it Live Tiles

The desktops and widgets in Android, was not something that Google invented since these was possible with the Great Symbian operating system.  Apple looked simple without it but seems the market is now shouting for something similar even from Apple, and they are supposed to deliver something different for the first time in iOS wit version 7 to support this.

Microsoft answer with Windows Phone has been live tiles, and while it has been unique and effective, to me the multiple desktops concept of Android and Symbian is more efficient when you have loads of stuff that you want to access, where a single scrolling desktop becomes limiting.

Fonts and scaling

The fonts in WP8 like WP7 are clear and sharp but sadly they are a bit too large for me. The smallest size is rather to clunky, and due to this in places like Live Tiles, the Calendar you see only a little information.  However the ability to scale further seems limited, and hopefully Microsoft can provide a fix for this in the upcoming patch.

Resolution Support

With WP8 Microsoft also brought the ability to support higher resolutions since WP7 was limited to 800×480.  The budget WP8 phones such as Lumia still have this resolution, but the higher end phones support 720P with 1280×800 screens.  This resolution competed with the 2012 line of Androids and Apple, but with 2013 bring Full HD resolution to Android phones the market has moved on.  Microsoft is due to provide the patch that will support enhanced resolutions as newer phones are due to release with Full HD screens during the later part of 2013.

Hopefully this means support for better use of the resolution will also come, since at present there is no split view even for emails, which i find in Android which improves navigation and gives near Windows desktop usability.

Phone and contact features, good but still not good as Android

WP8 has very good usability and coverage on basic call features of a phone with easy dialing with its simple uncluttered interface.

  • Phonebook loads fast, and the search is fast and easy.
  • You can pin to start any contact, making your favorites easy to call
  • Adding a call to an existing call (for conference features) is easy but has a major limitation, it only allows you to add from the history, you cannot access the phonebook, OUCH
  • Speakerphone is easy to switch, but the touch can be too sensitive, one has to be a bit delicate in pressing the button
  • The default keyboard is quite effective in word correction and nice to type on, far better than many native keyboards on Android devices, but still not as effective as SwiftKey that i normally use with my android devices.  Third party keyboards are not available in the store, and i am not sure if such is possible with the nature of the OS.

I find the favorites and group feature useful and familiar which i used with Symbian and found in Android as well.  This allowed me to group people and access them without having to go to the search feature.  While the pin to start can achieve some sort of favorite concept, having this in the contacts search is a must have when the screen sizes are still comparatively limited.

Messaging, good but seems no one spoke to real users

  • The basic messaging features are covered well, but seems to be more favoring MMS, with the conversation thread feature a MMS only capability.
  • One big limitation that i had was with adding of contacts to a message.  White you can type part of the name, it seems to limit the names.  For example i had my contacts synchronized from Google, and any contact who had numbers as “other” type were not listed, and you had to and select the “+” and search and add the number, which was very annoying
  • The backup of texts to the cloud is there, but the backed up messages are not readable. Meaning unlike some third party SMS backup tools for Android which creates a new flag (=folder) in your Google account to keep your messages (hence you can search or read them through Google mail), the  contents of the message backup is not visible on your skydrive storage, and seems to be a hidden store that only WP8 can retrieve, so while its useful its lacking the full usability i would want from this backup feature.

Calendar features, severely lacking

The calendar features sadly to me are rather lacking which is very astonishing for me.  Microsoft with such a strong background on the desktop with Outlook has failed here in great style, though the interface in general is nice. Even feature phones (aka non-smartphones) have much better calendar implementations.

  • Month calendar view is MISSING.  Not only is it missing, but the Microsoft developers have CHEATED. If you go to the month view, it does show a view, but its not readable. If you take a screen snapshot and then check it out on a computer you will see that it has some “test data”, which may explain why they have purposefully made the font not readable.  This to me is inexcusable.
  • The current views implemented “agenda”, “to-do” are rather skimpy and minimalist.
  • Live tiles for calendars are supported but only one event can be shown. Supposedly the next release will allow you to see 3, but stills that very limiting, and currently its downright useless

File Explorer, nope never heard of that

After being a Symbian user for many years and then an Android user, a file manager to me is like a must have.  This applies to my Windows desktop usage as well.  With Apple i found this “securing the content” and lacking a file manager a major hurdle, as i could not open a file with the application i wanted.  Well i expected that WP8 will be more like Windows, though WP7 was more like Apple.

Well i was in for a big disappointment, there is no file manager in WP8, and you are unlikely to get one is the general talk.  Hence if you want to manage your files you have to do it via a PC.  However the only good side with WP8 is that you can connect it and manage your files from your File Explorer without needing the Zune app which was what you had to do with WP7, so some positive changes and shifts from the Apple like way, but still not good enough for me.

Synchronization and storage support

The big change with WP8 compared to the WP7 is the MTP mode support.  With WP7 it was just like iTunes in some ways that you had to convert content to copy, and that was it.  Further  with WP7 you had on support for MicroSD cards.

With WP8 you just connect the device (as you would do with an Android device) and it loads as a MTP compatible storage. You can copy and restructure the unrestricted contents through Windows explorer.  If the device had a Micro SD this is also visible and accessible making content transfer easy and simple.  This is a definitely a big positive for WP8 compared to Apple and allows it to compete into the Android space, since the Zune feature very much like iTunes has been seen as a limitation for many where content is normally not purchased from online stores, but rather from local sources.

However with the fact that for many apps seems incapable of accessing files copied into the device, and only able to list apps downloaded this advantage seems to be only valid for video and music, which i think is a big limitation which i hope Microsoft will remove by providing app developers better APIs that expose such contents.

Browsing

WP8 ships with an IE10 based mobile browser that is major overhaul compared to the older IE versions on the WP7 phones.  IE10 on WP8 is quite smooth and fast, but definitely plays second fiddle to the Android flagships and the Apple on the browser speeds.

However third party browsers are still lacking with the UC Browser the only major alternative.  I tried this out and while it was fast, it seems to have memory issues in its present state.

Major alternatives such as Firefox and Opera are still not available, and the chance of Chrome coming to WP8 will only occur if WP8 turns out to be major player in the mobile market, currently with under 3% of the market i don’t see Google paying too much interest.

Music and Video Playback

This is handled mainly by the players provided by the phone manufacturer based on the standard player.  The player from Nokia does a commendable job, but i am sure you will find a video format or two not supported.

However no strong alternatives are available on the store on this area as yet. VLC is supposedly working on an RT based version, but with the challenges adobe has faced putting out a PDF reader due to limited RT libraries available for the WP8 compared to the RT on the tab may also impact VLC in putting out a player quickly.

Camera

The generic camera app has evolved so says Microsoft, but to me the interface is still very primitive.  While the ability to see pictures taken is now on the interface, and some key options such as flash can be selected, the rest are still text options and there is no provision to select them and add to the interface.  However the ability to add new lens, which allows third party developers to integrate their features directly into the stock camera app is cool and something very innovative.

Why mobile camera manufactures and platform builders can’t learn from digital camera interfaces continues to baffle me, but Samsung and HTC seem to be getting there slowly.

Microsoft Office support

The major selling point of WP8 is that it ships with a free version of Office that has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. Windows RT tablet devices do not come with a free version of Office, and you have to purchase it.

While the other three are full fledged applications with some limitations, OneNote for WP8 and for RT is a very limited version compared to what you have with Windows 8 desktop!

With OneNote for WP8 you can only do the following,

  1. Enter a text type note
  2. Enter a checklist type note

Even basic features such as indenting a list item are only possible with the options menu with no easy tool bar, and features such as emoticon support for list items, drawing, etc are completely missing.

PDF and E-book support

While one now takes PDF and E-book support for granted, think again when it comes to WP8.

  • PDF is supported only via the Microsoft PDF Reader, which can only support reading PDF files downloaded.  Files copied to the internal storage, or files in the SD card are not listed, and hence you cannot open them.  Useless.
  • Native support for EPUB or MOB file formats are missing.  While there are third party apps for this, they all require you to download, and they cannot access the internal storage or SD card. Which means files you copy or have with you cannot be opened.  Massive failure for WP8 once again.

Games

I am not commenting here, since i have not tried them out.  However going through the store, most apps have the TRY option which is nice, but on the whole the number of popular titles are very minimal, and its very very early days for WP8 at present.

Many thought that with the common platform Microsoft so heavily spoke of, including me a person with .NET development background it was sad to hear that when it comes to developing hard core applications the RT libraries for mobile and tablets (do note that tablet version is also feature in the normal full Windows 8 machines), the common part is rather limiting is the general opinion, i intend to do a bit more research here to update the situation.  But if this is true, just because a game is available for RT for tab and desktops means, its going to be easily available for the WP8 version is not a fair assumption.

FM radio support

WP8 does NOT support radio features at present.  However support for this is due with the 8.1 patch that Microsoft is supposed to deliver soon.  Phone manufacturers such as Nokia seem to be aware of this, and current devices such as the 620 and 920 are supposedly having the radio hardware, and this will be accessible once the radio features are made available with the 8.1 update from Microsoft.

Microsoft App Store

I have already spoken on the app store in line with general phone features, but from the common stack here is a quick review.  My general opinions is while there is around 20-30% who will by many different apps including games, many smart phone users by it mainly for limited use, and need only a core stack of use for general usages.

App WP8 Android iOS
Skype Native Native Native
Twitter Native Limited features Native Native
WhatsApp Native Limited Native Native
FaceBook OS built in, Limited Native Native
Google Maps Native via Nokia Maps Native Native
Stock Browser IE10 Chrome Safari
Chrome Not available Stock, Native Native Limited
YouTube Not available Stock, Native Stock, Native
Office Stock, Native, Free Third Party, Limited Third Party, Limited
PDF Support Native App, Limited Adobe, and many other Native Native + Third Party
Viber Native, Limited Native Native

Conclusion

I really like the smooth interface of WP8, and the fact that it offers more freedom that what i found with iOS/ITunes.  Its like something in between Android and iOS and Microsoft has a sound platform here.  But sadly Microsoft seems to be not understanding their user base, or are talking to the wrong user base as evident by the simple mistakes they have in the phone, calendar and other areas that i spoke of.

Its just not the app store that matters, and Microsoft needs to understand that, before the app store you also need to get the basic phone capabilities sorted, and that is something i feel Microsoft has not understood.

I will continue to use a WP8 phone as a backup device hoping that MS will improve it fast and get it where it should be, but right now progress is very slow, and MS is not getting the basics sorted as seen with the Portico release. Reluctantly i will have to shift back to an Android as my main phone.

Acer Iconia W510: Windows 8 “budget” Tablet Convertible, great battery life but flawed and underpowered


A friend of mine had one the Acer W510 Windows Tablet Convertible he had won  as well as as the prize for an event conducted and sponsored by Microsoft for students to promote writing apps for Windows 8.  He brought the device as he was about to dispose it and move to an Apple Mac (yeah a Mac, supposedly it ran windows on a VM far more efficient and reliably than native Windows on any other hardware, scary) for me to get a quick feel of the device and Windows 8 on a tablet device.

iconiaw5

Readers be aware that this is a device running normal Windows 8 on a tablet, and not the tablet friendly RT device. To me devices such as the Acer W510 make far better sense, than a pure Windows RT device with the arrival of the newer range of lower power (ULV) Atom and Intel Core series based devices.  Why would you want to limited yourself to RT specific apps, when you can have both RT and Windows apps in one device!

For those who are not aware, Windows 8 comes in many flavors, not just versions.  The normal windows 8 as we know is a upgrade of Windows 7 can can any windows application.  However recently Microsoft launched a version called Windows 8 RT, which is a pure tablet device that uses a new set of libraries for developers to write pure tab applications.  These can be run on normal Windows 8 as well as Windows 8 RT devices. However Windows 8 RT devices cannot run normal Windows applications, so you are limited, severely limited if you buy a RT device.

The Acer W510 runs a normal version of Windows 8, with the only limitation being that it is a 32-bit version of Windows 8, as 64-bit is not supported by the hardware used, and it is also limited to 2GB memory, both harking back to netbook origins.

What is a Tablet Convertible

A tablet convertible as they call it is a device that can work as tablet device, and also provide almost laptop like functionality to the user.  The devices in the past used to come in mainly as rotating screens (either you twist it to face you, or as in the case of DELL with their swinging screens on a frame).  However with Intel working hard on reducing the power consumption and heat generation of their processors to make the mobile friendly, the time has come where the laptop internals have all moved to the screen, making truly tablet like formats possible, which is where the Acer W510 fits in.

The hardware

The Acer W510 is what is labeled as a budget tablet convertible, but its not by any means a cheap device, since it cost more than many far more powerful ultra portable laptops.  The term convertible here means that you can use the device purely as a tablet, or when connected to the optional dock, as a laptop.

However the advantage a convertible device provides is that it can be used a tablet and if required to a lesser degree as a laptop.  Its this key advantage that also makes the prices high, but the Acer W510 is one of the cheapest (and least powerful) devices in this market, as most other feature far more powerful Intel Core i3/5/7 processor based solutions including Acer’s own W700.  I am sure by the end of this year we will see a lot more such devices, and the ultabooks may switch to this format since the ultra books in the current format have not faired well against the Mac Air and MacBook Pro devices.

So what powers the Acer W510.  Let me discuss each separately

Processor

Processing is handled by an Intel “Clover Trail” Atom Z2670 1.8Ghz dual-core processor. This is better regarded for its very low 1.7W TDP power consumption than processing power. The desktop version of this model is the N2600 Atom.  The Z2670 Atom is a lot more powerful than the Atom processor range that used to power the rather primitive netbooks until recently, and yet it consumes nearly half the power compared to the previous gen Atom dual-core.  However compared to a Core i3 or even a dual-core Celeron based on the Sandy Bridge or Ivy line, this processor can be considered very very limiting for high end stuff, but for normal usage (web browsing, document editing, etc) this should be more than sufficient.

Graphics

Graphics is handled by a PowerVR SGX545 unit.  This does mean that it has more graphics capability than the Intel GMA series featured in old Atom netbooks, but sadly its no match for event the latest HD 4000 graphics from Intel which itself is in simple terms is crappy in the 3D performance aspect.  In an era where we talk of multi-core/stream based graphics processors, the PowerVR graphics core is a single-core unit, and is sadly far less capable than the PowerVR units that are featured in the Apple IPad devices, and Android tablets.  Intel should have coupled the Atom processor with a far more capable PowerVR unit so that the 3D capabilities of this SoC could have been improved.

Another concern over the Cloverleaf Atom and SGX545 combination is that, this was brought as a temporary measure for Intel to provide some decent low power graphics to its Atom range, and the proper Intel HD 4000 based Atom units are due soon.  The PowerVR chip has gained very little support due to this fact, and with the arrival of an Intel HD based solution the driver support from Intel is sure to vane.

A recent test by the famous Anandtech on graphics capability across platforms shows that the PowerVR SGX545 is one of the weakest in the range, out done by practically all current mobility graphics cores.  The Acer W510 was the preferred test platform but due to the fact the drivers kept crashing they had to shift to an ASUS with similar hardware, and the results were disappointing to say the least.

Memory

Memory is limited to 2GB (DDR2 type!) due to the SoC that this is built, and 2GB in recent times is definitely not enough for Windows based machines, so don’t plan to run anything serious on these devices.

Storage

Storage is handled by a SSD unit, but comes in a 32GB or 64GB format.  Both to most will be rather limiting as the OS and the Acer recovery itself will take more than 20GB of that space.  However the unit features a microSD slot that can take upto a 64GB micro SDXC card, that should boost storage. 

But unlike its big brother the W700 with the Intel Core series processors, the Atom based units feature MMC based designs, which means you get miserable read and write performances even though the W510 features an internal SSD compared to the Intel Core based convertibles that have a mSATA implementation.  This might explain why the startup from a full shutdown took over 30 secs, when all are speaking of under 5 second boot up times with SSD.  This limitation will apply to all Intel Atom based tablet convertibles currently in the market.

Display

The display is a 10.1inch IPS backlit TFT unit with 1366×768 pixels, which may not be fancy but does a very very decent job.  The resolution is very popular among most ultra books and laptops in the Windows market, and while it may  not be as great as a full HD unit, i feel the lower resolution suits Windows 8 tablets since the higher resolution will make touch a nightmare.  The display is classified as a 5-point capacitive touch screen and does not have digitizer as featured in the Surface Pro devices and Samsung Ativ devices, so while it does the job it does not have great touch capabilities.

w510-main-640x388

Acer seems to be rather lacking in marketing flair as they miss out bragging that this device actually does come with a layer of Gorilla Glass 2 protection, a fairly important fact since many Android tablets miss this out.

The unit was configured with the font size scaling set to Medium (125%), however even with this enlarged font size, its not easy to use the tablet since the OS is bog standard windows except for the RT apps and the new Windows shell.  Launching explorer and getting a file to be selected is only easy in icon view, if not good luck trying to select the correct file. 

Here is where a digitizer and pen can be useful, and Microsoft Surface and the ATIV have got this sorted out.  Sadly no such luck for the Acer W510.

In addition the rotation of the device is painfully slow, a trait that the Windows Phone 8 also shares, though in the case of Windows 8 its rotates like a snail, i am amazed why Microsoft seems so incapable of achieving this when all other vendors have done this with amazing ease. Rotation is nowhere even close to how quickly an Android tablet or phone manages, let along the silky smooth rotation of an IPad.  Microsoft has a lot of work to do in this front for Windows 8 in any format to match the competition.

Battery

The device sports a fairly large 27Wh battery which supposedly can power the Tablet for over 8 hrs of usage, and over 3 weeks of standby.  Again i could not test this, but all reviews confirm that the tab actually can last over 7hrs which is a pretty decent performance.  What is more impressive is that when coupled with the battery in the dock the tab can extend to over 12-18hrs (and some cases based on usage over 20hrs) of usage, impressive.  However considering the Atom processor is very much similar to an Arm based A9 quad-core in power, and also less capable in the 3D arena than such a device, this may not be much to brag.

However for what most would use this which is genera windows work, reading epub and PDF, browsing, the battery life performance maybe something that is very positive about this device.

The more powerful Intel Core i5 and i7 based convertibles struggle offer even 4-5 hours of performance in tablet format, and these throttle the processor when operating in tablet mode which also means you don’t get the chance to use it at full power. If you do want these more powerful devices can give you the horsepower but watch these devices drain juice so much that even 2hrs of usage maybe asking too much.  Some such as the Surface Pro come with massive batteries (48Wh) and while this will give you good performance, i am sure the battery will not last too long, and your lifetime of your device may not be that great for pure tab use.

Another area the Clover Trail platform brings out is what Acer calls “Always On technology”.  This means when you press the power button the machine goes into standby just like a normal Android or Apple tablet, and consumes very little power and offers standby of over 2-3 weeks. In addition pressing the power again gets the device back to life in under 3 secs. This capability is yet to reach the Intel Core series, which have very poor standby time.

So on the whole in the battery department the W510 does very very well is the short side of the story.

Connectivity

The tablet has been well designed with many options including a micro USB, micro HDMI, microSD onboard. Acer also provides the adapter so that you can use a USB device with the micro USB port if you require.

However one issue that you can point to the W510, similar to the Galaxy tab devices and the IPad devices is that it uses a proprietary cable for sync and charging, and avoids what is now a common option of using the micro USB port.

The dock sadly only provides a single USB 2.0 port, other than that it does not bring much more to the connectivity capabilities.

Camera

The W510 comes with a 8MP back camera with a LED flash

Weight

This is one area the Acer designers attempts at skimming has worked, as the tab with all the Intel hardware is just 576g in weight, which makes it lighter than most tablets.  Add the dock it still is very light at 1.26kg.

What is missing compared to tablets from Apple and Android

The W510 is more a laptop in tablet format, than a true tablet is the first thing you have to realize, if not you are going to be mighty displeased.

The Windows tablets lack some capabilities that we may expect in modern tabby devices, mainly

  1. No built-in 3G, but you can use a 3G dongle with no problems and work with this device. However the W511 model has built in 3G.
  2. No GPS, now this is a weird miss, since any tablet like device i feel needs a GPS unit for map features as well as location specific apps

How does it work for general Windows applications

I tried the device out as a tablet that can help me do stuff i need to do from a Windows device on the move. 

  1. Microsoft Office: What more can i say it runs normal MS office and you have no limitations on the editing or viewing.  The Atom processor is more than capable of providing satisfactory performances
  2. Browsing: Comes with IE 10, but you can install any browser available for the Windows platform including Chrome.  Browsing is smooth unlike the Atom processors in the netbooks, though it can slow down if you open too many tabs.  This is maybe due to the a combined reason that it only has 2GB memory and the Atom processor is not power horse.  However while i could not test the benchmarks personally, referring to several reviews indicated that the browser performance was actually far superior to the Android devices and Windows RT based devices, and even bests the performance of the King of tabs, the IPad 4 in some tests!
  3. PDF viewing: I used the Windows PDF reader as opposed to Acrobat.  The PDF rendering was pretty good, and i would say it performed better than quad-core Android tablets i have tried including the Tegra 3 on the Nexus 7 and the Exynos quad-core on the Note 10.1.  The PDF rendering was also superior to the IPad 2 i had a while back.  However the stability of the PDF reader bundles with Windows 8 seems a bit poor as it crashed out once when using.  

I currently run Windows 8 on my work laptop which is a 3rd Gen Core i5 with 8GB RAM, but with a standard 5400rpm hard disk.  Compared to this machine in the above applications the Atom based W510 performed decent enough, however things that i could not try, but which i found on the web were,

  1. Very poor performance when unzipping and zipping files (directly attributed to the poor Atom processor)
  2. Very poor performance in video and music conversion (Again due to the poor Atom processor, and also due to the fact that the PowerVR graphics is only used with the Atom, hence the third party app support for acceleration is non-existence for this graphics core)
  3. Poor multi-tasking performance (this is more due to the 2GB limitation of the SoC platform, there is no way you can upgrade memory for these units)
  4. Gaming capabilities is practically non-existent, check out Anandtech where the frame rates were checked of the PowerVR on the CloverTrail to other platforms including Android and Apple devices. It comes last in most cases.

How does it work with Windows RT applications

Unlike Windows RT devices, the Windows 8 devices can run both native Windows apps as well as RT apps.  Further currently most RT devices running Windows are using the Tegra 3 based SoC though some such as the unit from Dell use the Qualcom Krait based solution with the Adreno 225 graphics.  However it seems the Atom combined with  the PowerVR unit can do better than, indicating that even the “rock bottom” processors in the Intel line up are more powerful than the cutting edge mobile units from Qualcomm, and Nvidia however sadly the Intel units cannot match the miserly power consumption of the Arm based devices other than with the Atom based units.

I only tried one RT app which was a game, and it played quite smoothly however as more powerful games roll out for the RT market, the Atom and the PowerVR chip are unlikely to be able to sustain this, so don’t by this if you are thinking this is going to be storming gaming platform, and not that the Windows RT store has any large number of good games!

Multimedia experience

The tablet comes with stereo speakers that are astonishingly loud, much louder than any Android tablet i have used, now that is great.  However the speakers are beautifully placed such that its the place you keep your hands when you hold the tab in landscape mode, which means you end up blocking the speakers and muffling the sound.  Good job speaker designer, bad job tab layout designer for Acer.

I played some music and found that the speakers were pretty decent with the sound quality, which was impressive.

I then tried some videos including 720P and 1080P.  I had read in many reviews the Atom processor and the PowerVR graphics chip were not very good at 1080P, however with the Windows 8 video player the unit played 1080P videos pretty darn fine.  However it seems MKV format was not supported by the native player.

The owner of the tab had installed KM player, but this player definitely does not support hardware acceleration for the PowerVR chip, and was struggling to play even 720p videos smoothly. I could not try the VLC media player, possibly this may do a better job.

The Dock

Acer did well to make a dock that also had an additional battery that would make this tablet one of the longest running devices in the market with over 18hrs of usage time combined.  Once the tablet is attached to the dock, an auto lock is enabled to avoid the tab from falling, and it looks and feels like a proper laptop once its attached.

W510-photo-gallery-02 

However it seems if the dock is not powered, the dock will not charge the tablet battery, but the tab will use the battery in the dock.  If the dock is connected to a power source, then the dock will charge the tablet battery while it powers the tablet.

A cool design that the Acer engineers have done for the W510 is that when you rotate the laptop keyboard backwards so that you can use the laptop like a picture frame or use the keyboard as a stand, the keyboard is auto disabled so that the keys facing the surface will not cause any interferences.

W510-photo frame mode

The dock provides only one full USB port, to be more precise an USB 2.0 port 😦  Acer could have done better by including an additional port so that you can use a mouse, etc and preferably a USB 3.0 port for fast data transfers.

Acer designers seem to have set their priorities to make the combined dock and tablet very light weight, but in doing that they have done a criminal mistake in that the dock is lighter than the tablet since all the PC hardware now resides in the tablet. 

This uneven balance means that unlike a proper laptop the W510 when connected to the dock tends to tip back very easily and is nearly impossible to use if you are seated and want to have it on your lap.  For all such use, you are better off using it in tablet mode.

The next IMPORTANT bit that the designers have screwed up is the keyboard, the feel is very cheap and plasticky and the keyboard has very poor feel, and is rather slow.  The ability to type fast as in the case of a normal laptop keyboard is practically impossible, so don’t for one moment think that this dock is going to make this a full fledged laptop.

The touchpad in the dock does not have any of the multi touch capabilities that new laptops have, and it merely provides basic capabilities. However compared to the rest of the ill fated design, this performs acceptably.

The dock does not have any fancy features such as a providing the ability to attach a hard disk so in the dock, which is a cool feature you see with the ASUS transformer Windows convertible.

A lesson that convertible designers have to get is that while low weight is important, by making the dock super light you mess up the balance, and then any advantage of the convertible format is gone. For buyers you are recommended to try out the device with the dock to see if it works for you, and if you are buying purely based on online, see the reviews as well as the weight of the tablet and the dock separately, if the tab weights more its most likely that tab will not balance well with the dock and provide you pure laptop capability.

RECOVERY and RESET

Here is something that you have to know.  The tablet convertible in all essence is a laptop with the hardware on the screen than under a keyboard.  Which means if you want to recover you have to do it like a laptop. 

The Acer W510 64GB version comes with a separate recovery partition, which allows you to recover it just like a laptop. However the 32GB version is to small to have a recovery partition which needs almost 11GB, so the recovery is provided as 3 DVDs.  if you by any chance delete the recovery or have to recover the 32GB version things are not simple.

Based on my findings on the Acer forums its quite “complicated” and includes the following.  This is because its a laptop in tablet format, the Windows RT devices feature recoveries similar to what we see with Android and Apple devices since the platform is smaller and pure tablet type.

  1. Connecting a proper USB keyboard to the device with the provided micro USB to USB adapter.  You cannot use the provided dock keyboard since it uses a proprietary port which Windows cannot understand.
  2. You have to then boot in recovery mode
  3. Once you have booted to recovery mode you have to attach an USB DVD drive and insert the recovery disks to get back to the original state

Useful links if you are recovering or want to install Windows 8 Pro which is not bundled with the W510 usually include,

Conclusion

To start off, the important thing to realize is that these full fledged Windows 8 convertible tablets, are not really a competitor to the IPad/Android tablets, as that is supposed to be handled by the Windows RT OS devices. These devices are in reality an alternative to an ultrabook or laptop, with the added advantage that you can use it as a tablet if you desire.  However the OS is the one we are all to familiar and hence don’t expect any real touch friendly assistance.

What you get is that you can run all RT based applications assuming the graphics can be be handled (the Tegra 3 and Adreno 225 units are far more capable on the 3D area than the PowerVR unit on the Atom SoC), plus that you can run normal Windows applications in one single device. 

You also get the ability to run normal Microsoft Office (though unlike the RT version, you don’t get a free license!) along with other download tools that are not well supported on the tablet OS platforms such as iOS and Android.

So to me these devices bring what Windows users have been craving for many years, and were not able to get hold of such devices and had to opt for twist type screens on the laptops.

But the story is not a great one for the Cloverleaf Atom + PowerVR graphics unit that is featured in the Acer W510 and other similar rival devices.  The key reason is not the processing power of the Atom processor, but rather the limited capabilities of the PowerVR graphics core, and more so that fact that its an interim solution until Intel got out its HD graphics based solutions which should give the ideal platform.  This can already been seen on the similar but massively greater performing Intel Corei5/i7 ULV based convertibles.

If you really need one of these devices save up and get the i5/i7 based convertibles is my advice, or wait for the Intel HD graphics based Atom SoC that should provide far better performance, and assured driver support.

The Acer W510 offers much, and has many design decisions that are truly great, and its battery life is something that shows Intel based chips and Windows can compete against the others in battery life and general performance, but its the next gen Atom with the extra juice which is going to be the real steal, and that may come in the form of the W520 🙂 Get that when it comes….

Sony Xperia Z, the 2013 flagship with a design to kill, and backed with the hardware to match


Sony has had a reputation from the time it entered the Android market that its phones had the design element, but were always a step behind in hardware, and so so on the software side.

The Xperia Z (and its sister phone) the flagship for 2013 heralded a first for Sony that the hardware was at the time of the launch the top most specification among the available droid phones, and was backed up with awesome 5” Full HD Bravia display that was only beaten to the market by the HTC Butterfly (a limited production model) and a cool design that had buyers and reviewers drooling over.

However Sony’s rule as the topmost spec in the market was short lived, as the launch of the flagship phones by the two other giants in the android space, first by HTC with their one, and then followed by Samsung with their Galaxy S IV so the specs eclipsed (marginally as the difference in performance is marginal, as the new flagship only users a slightly newer version of the Snapdragon chipset).  But still these competitors (specially the once again all plastic Galaxy S IV) trail on the design element.  If this can help Sony rebuild and grow in the Android space is to be seen, but the Xperia Z is a clear indication that Sony wants to get a bigger piece of the smart phone market, and that bodes well for its follow up launch of smaller models that should also feature top of the line hardware.

HARDWARE

The Xperia Z featured a 1.5Ghz  Krait configuration, consisting of a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) chipset (this chipset has since been increased in speeds and called Snapdragon 600), backed by the Adreno 320 graphics core, 2GB of RAM.  The combination at the time of the launch was the hottest, and matched the Nexus 4 and HTC Butterfly that featured identical hardware.

The processor and graphics offered performance that left the Nvidia Tegra 3 standing, and many say that even the Tegra 4 would be hard pressed to match this performance.  The story seems to hold true, as for this year there is no Tegra 4 based releases yet indicated by any manufacturers, and all the leading manufacturers have used Qualcomm units, a bad sign for Nvidia indeed.

Design

Sony continues to do what its good at, which is the design.  IMG_20130319_190537The Xperia Z features a slim sleek profile with a scratch resistant tempered glass front and like the Nexus 4, a glass back.  It also features a cool Z sticker, which adds a touch of class.

The beautiful full HD display only has a very small bezel around it, which makes the phone quite easy to handle for it size, and the overall weight is also minimal.

Since the phone is a water proof and dust proof unit, Sony has omitted the usual camera button that one finds with its phone, but in case you do not want the water resistant feature, the much cheaper and near identical Xperia ZL features the camera button along with a simple plastic back.  For many though the glass back design alone will make their purchase decision.

Display

The year 2013 is all about Full HD screens and the move up in size.  The Xperia Z is among the first few to feature a full HD screen.  The large 5” screen resolution is actually 1776×1080, as the bottom pixels are taken for the soft key buttons similar to the Google Nexus 4.

The display when compared to the phones of 2012 such as the HTC One X, Galaxy S 4 and Nexus 4 show how much more sharper the higher resolution has made things.  However users will have to be be vary that apps will still be targeting the 1280×800 resolution that is still the common resolution, and until the Galaxy S IV with a similar resolution enters the market in big numbers, the application compatibility and the fact that applications harness this extra pixels will not be truly applicable.

Sony like HTC has stuck on to TFT type screens, and to me that is a good thing. TFT screens tend to be sharper than the AMOLED screens, and also offer much better visibility when used outdoors.  The Xperia Z screen continues on the sharpness that you appreciate, and has great colors.

The problem for Sony is going to be HTC, who with their HTC J/Butterfly/Droid DNA already showed that the could offer a better LCD type screen than the Xperia Z, and the new HTC One is definitely going to do better, so why Sony could not put out a better display for their flagship is going to hurt them.

A common complain that you will see on the Xperia Z is that the color fade based on the viewing angle.  To me if i was the user of the phone, i am not going to see that much, unless you want to use it as a group video player (do we do that a lot?).  So don’t go by reviews and take this as a bad thing, for me the fact that the neighbor cannot clearly see my screen is a  good thing.

Sony also applies it video and picture optimization called Bravia 2, which to many is simply a contrast boost but it works fine, as it pops the colors out.

Camera and Video

Sony though a camera giant, tends to play safe on the camera phone market, and this to me is a sad thing.  The Xperia Z has the same size sensor as the 8MP units but this time it features 13.1MP, which may mean sharper photos in good light but in most conditions the pictures are going to look grainy with all those pixels cramped into a such a small sensor.  The lens maybe a F2.2, a larger aperture than the traditional F2.4 lenses we have seen with Sony cameras in the past, but the boost is marginal and to me the increase in mega pixels is going to be negative on the photo quality.

The Xperia Z for a phone so large also features are rather small LED flash and i felt the high mega pixel, small sensor and the small flash could only mean that the Z was in no way going to be the best camera phone.

The photo samples confirmed this, as other than in good light the camera struggled to focus and provide anything called good photos.  The photos to me looked much worse than what got from my One X, S 3 and the Xperia S unless it was under very good light.  Even with the flash indoors under lower light conditions the photos were nothing great.

The focus performance under good light was good but not lighting fast as i had come to see with the HTC One X, and under poor light it struggled.

The camera also features something called a Superior Auto, which does a lot more optimizations than the standard auto mode, and yes this feature does seem to do well but it also means the photos are limited to 12MP (a good thing!)

The other feature that would prove to be an irritating one, and something that Sony users will be puzzled is that the the camera app takes about 5 seconds to load.  Why this is remains a mystery, as camera app loaded much faster on the Xperia S, and with so much hardware its a sad story for the 2013 flagship on the still photo arena.

The video of course is capable of 1080p, at 30fps and so it should be with the kind of hardware the Xperia Z is running on.  Sony also is heavily marketing that the Xperia Z is capable of doing HDR in video mode as well.  On the video department the Xperia Z performs better, but still under low light the crammed sensor will struggle.

The Xperia S also featured one of highest megapixel cameras with a 12MP unit when all the competition were doing 8MP.  However based on the pictures i have taken and reviews read, my feeling is that Sony tried to win customers by marketing higher mega pixels than true better picture quality/video.

The unit features the same F2.4 type lens that all are familiar with the Sony Arc S launch, and for some the Arc S remains the better shooter.  The extra mega pixels have further highlighted the lower quality of Sony camera images, and this is an area Sony still has work to do.

What is crazy is that Sony has such a pedigree when it comes to compact cameras with small sensors, and that their camera units and processing is being thrashed by Samsung, HTC and Apple is something that Sony should be ashamed.

The video like HTC features constant auto focusing which is great for slow moving footage, but remember to disable this when doing fast moving footage if not you are going to feel sad.  The video is also capable of 1080p HD, and the quality is good enough and the camera performs decently even in poor light.

A feature increasingly common with most flagship phones is the ability to take still photos while recording video, the Z can do that, but the still photos are limited to 1MP!, this is rather poor when the HTC and Samsung implementations in 2012 with lesser hardware could already do full resolution stills while video recording.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player is good supporting most formats including MKV and Div X.  The video playback is awesome on such a large high resolution screen, and in case you are into videos this phone is excellent.

The audio quality on voice calls are good, but for a phone of this size the loudspeaker performance is nothing great, and it seems this maybe due to Sony trying to make this phone water resistant, and had to sacrifice on the size and design of the speaker.  The fact that the phone only has one speaker is also going to hurt it with the HTC One coming out with large stereo speakers on a smaller foot print.

Sony as followed Apple on its new design for the ear phones with the flat type, sadly i could not test these out as I only had the phone for a short while.  However the ear phones to me looked a bit budget in the quality of finish, and i felt Sony cold have done better on the quality of finish compared the Apple ear phones.

Storage

The phone only comes with 16GB on-board, a strange decision when Sony always went with 32GB for their flagship phones, and the trend this year is that its 32GB or higher.  With the base OS taking a fair amount out of the 16GB, the decision for Sony to reduce the flagship internal storage seems crazy, specially since the phone is not cheap!

However Sony has made up for its miss in the past by including a microSD card slot that is capable of taking cards upto 64GB, providing the expansion capability.

Battery

With a more powerful chipset and graphics, larger screen ,and higher resolution the battery drain is going to be a question on everyone’s mind.  Sony has boosted the battery of the Xperia Z with a fairly large 2330mAh unit, and the phone needs it.

Gsmarena showed the phone standby performance is great (it should with such a large battery) but once you start using that display things don’t last that long.  Under normal use the phone will struggle to last a day if the display is used a lot, as the display is the key battery consumer.

The battery is not a removable type, which is not a big problem unless your battery dies on you.  With so many portable external battery chargers available the removable nature of the battery is not a big concern anymore, but how many recharge cycles can this battery hold with the continuous drain on this unit will only be proven on a long term tests.

Software and Customization

The Xperia Z launched with Jelly Bean but not the latest version, opting to go with the 4.1.2 version rather than the 4.2.1 version that may have improved performance.  The update for 4.2.1 is due but with competing flagships launching shortly with 4.2.x version, Sony needs to move fast, but it seems that is not going to happen.

Sony in recent times has not attempted to include any heavy customizations, which has also enabled the phones to  provide good performances. The Xperia Z does have some level of customization, but compared to the Samsung and HTC implementations, the Sony implementation is light but also lacking in features.

There is now a permanent pop up feature that you can use for some apps, which is a bit like the multi-view feature by Samsung.  Sony wall papers look great and add to the finish of the phone.

Screenshot_2013-03-16-19-51-47Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-13-15Screenshot_2013-03-17-16-54-25Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-43-04 Screenshot_2013-03-15-09-43-34Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-41-28Screenshot_2013-03-16-15-40-49

The extra resolution means split screen implementation for the calendar and email are not cramped and easily viewed.   However some of the widgets like the calendar widget still have too much white space and don’t take benefit of the higher resolution.

Screenshot_2013-03-16-17-42-10

Usage issues and problems from known from forums

  • The phone when used for browsing in particular tends to get very warm at the top bottom. The glass back does not help here, as it amplifies the heat.  The heat is easily  noticeable even after a short period of browsing.
  • The screen though supposedly rugged has several examples that have cracked under light use, indicating their maybe a design issue rather than a quality of material problem.
  • There is also a reported issue of the phones dying if the battery charge goes very low, and the phone sometimes can be brought alive using a recovery process but not always.  Sony has confirmed this issue, which is a big minus point for the phone.
  • The loudspeaker if immersed in water will be low until the water clears out, again a poor design issue
  • The camera interface does not rotate and seems to have been designed to work with the ZL hardware camera button

Performance

I have compared the performances of last year flagships and the Nexus 4, along with the Xperia S to give an indication of the improvement in performance.

One has to note that the graphics and internet rendering performance cannot be compared apples to apples since the Xperia Z has to render on much greater pixels, so in case the performance matches that alone is a major achievement.

Screenshot_2013-03-15-09-41-48Screenshot_2013-03-15-10-01-39Screenshot_2013-03-15-10-11-01

Compared to LG Google Nexus which has a lower resolution, the Xperia Z screams and also shows that Google does not optimize its phones much.

Compared to the 2012 flagships, the Xperia Z is able trounce them on all departments which indicates how much more powerful the Snapdragon S4 Pro processor is.  The slightly faster but near identical Snapdragon 600 on the HTC One and the international version of the Galaxy S IV will surpass this but not by much. Except the next update from Sony to make things even better.

The chart also shows that the quad core krait in the Xperia Z is able to offer a heavy improvement compared to the dual-core version that was featured in the HTC One S.

Chipset GPU Android Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x GeekBench 2.0
Sony Xperia Z 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.1.2 20486 7871 59.9 2178 1991
Sony Xperia S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8219 3306 37.9 1393 996
HTC One S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S4 Adreno 225 4.0.3 10558 4707 61.0 1535 NA
HTC One X 1.5Ghz Quad Tegra-3 Nvidia Tegra 3 4.1.2 14781 6805 57.1 1578 1359
Samsung Galaxy S III 1.4Ghz Quad Exynos 4412 Mali400MP Quadcore 4.0.4 14300 5343 58.9 1569 1824
LG Google Nexus 4 1.5Ghz Quad Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 4.2.1 17640 5014 57.8 1302 1302

Conclusion

The Xperia Z has many things going its way.  It definitely has a great design, and is maybe only second to the upcoming HTC One (the Galaxy S IV looks just like the Galaxy S 3, so Samsung yet again fails on the design element and quality of materials).

The design is backed by a a very good screen that is also large, and offers full HD resolution.  Sony has also gone to the extra length of making the phone water resistant and dust resistant.  Practical things since that means if the phone was to get wet in the rain or was in your pocket, this phone is going to come through fine, and that is one worry you don’t need to concern over.. nice.

The Xperia Z features a great processor and graphics, that means excellent performance in games, browsing, video, etc.  Add the microsd expansion slot it makes it an ideal multimedia device.  Well done Sony.

BUT the poor camera is a big negative for a camera of this price and status, and Sony’s decision to go ahead with a ridiculous 13MP sensor that is the same size as the 8MP sensor we have seen in 2012, and backed up with a smaller flash only made things harder for the Sony software guys working on the still photo area.  The performance of the camera to me is worse than most 2012 phones, including Sony’s own phones, sad.

The heating issue and the durability of the screen is also a concern, and adding a clunky screen protector is going to hurt, but here Sony has a solution, opt for the ZL version with the plastic back, but then you loose the water resistant feature, ouch.

However no phone is perfect, the Xperia Z ticks many good things and with a design so elegant, it must sell well.  But the world seems to buy phones based on marketing, and Apple and Samsung are very good here, and that is something Sony seems not capable of matching, and until that changes the Xperia will remain second or third to most.

Dialog Fixed Line LTE, good on the pocket, blazing speeds


Dialog Telecom made its name when it took the the risky decision (at that time) to go GSM when then the leading provider CellTel had practically monopoly on the mobile market with CDMA but was late taking up GSM by which time Dialog has successfully grabbed the market share.

The battle after GSM was the constant battle of who has the highest data network, with 3G then 3.5G and then 3.75G, so on, and now it has boiled down to who will be first with LTE as the earlier option of WiMAX has lost ground.   All in all whichever version of 3G you had and marketing teams blazed away on high theoretical download speeds, real download speeds did not differ that greatly and depended heavily on the coverage and area data consumption.

While the question who trialed LTE first may vary, Dialog has managed to get the LTE network coverage started in two cities, and offers as a fixed line service offering than a mobile offering presently.

However the fixed line offering is provided via a rather portable LTE Broadband router, which requires power but is still handy enough to be carried with you.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): Dialog have now launched a mobile LTE service but the coverage still limited understandably.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Dialog mobile LTE coverage seems to extending to main cities rapidly and the speeds are remarkably different.   Interestingly the upgrade to LTE has also enable high 3.75G capabilities as well, but when compared to LTE there is no comparison on the speeds of downloads.

I just got the package more with the interest to see how LTE speeds were, as my recent trial of Etisalat with their fast internet highlighted that without the dual-band modem their speeds were still around the 3mbps at max, even though the modem could do 7.2mbps, only slightly faster than the performance i used to get from a Dialog 3.5G connection.  However owners with dual-band dongles have indicated they get very good download speeds.

Dialog had marketed the LTE as 4mbps upload/download, but my test easily surpassed this and the real world performance was also far better, however i am sure once there are more clients Dialog may put a cap on the speeds to the stated SLA.

However if we were to compare LTE performance of Dialog against what is on offer in other markets, the story is different and here i think its the bandwidth limitations main links the cause of the stifling.

Device

The device provided by Dialog is the Huawei LTE CPE B593u-91 model.  A bit more study highlighted that the B593 comes in many flavors (Refer http://www.4gltemall.com/huawei-b593-4g-lte-cpe-industrial-wireless-router.html) and has been available since 2011, and was also regarded as the first commercial LTE TDD wireless router.  The version provided by Dialog only supports two LTE frequencies. CameraZOOM-20130305215552315small

The device is a fully featured broadband router, including 4 LAN ports and 2 x USB 2.0 ports (one on the side, one on the back).  Supposedly the USB ports which supports external storage devices.  Hence you can create yourself a file server with ease by hooking a flash drive or external portable hard disk. Based on setting on the USB management option, the only system file formats supported are NTFS and FAT32, which should serve well with Windows folks, but users with other operating systems may not be as happy! The FTP server feature can then use the connected drive as the store for the FTP file server.

CameraZOOM-20130305215715851 - Copysmall

The device also support Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, though the test show the LAN cable performance to be better than the Wi-Fi performance.

CameraZOOM-20130305215727342small_cropCameraZOOM-20130305215742947small_cropDialog sales chaps indicated the device only works with 4G / LTE networks, however based on the specifications the device should also connect to 3G networks in the event there is no LTE network, however i need to test this 🙂 I did check the admin web app, and yet the modem does have Auto, LTE only, WCDMA only and GSM only.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): I took the device on an outstation visit and my fears were confirmed, Dialog has locked the device to be used only within an area and it does not work in other areas.  In addition the device does not connect to 3G networks even if you give the correct APN.  A bit more research also indicated that this maybe a firmware block on the device requested by the telco.

UPDATE (20-May-2013):  The dialog support team to dropped by said once the customer base for fixed LTE goes to 5000 they intend to merge the LTE and 3G directories, which will allow LTE connections to fall back to 3G when there is a problem with LTE.   How this will impact the performance of the connection will only be known when this merge is done.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): The Huawei LTE CPE B593u-91 only supports fixed line LTE protocol, hence it cannot work with the Mobile LTE or mobile 3G channels.  Hence the story of LTE falling back to 3G by the Dialog staff is “horse-shit” to say the least.. integrity.. yeah :D.  However on the mobile LTE front this is definitely applicable and relevant as your LTE device can fall back to 3G and 2G.

The device back panel can also support two external antennas, these are not provided with the package by Dialog, however extra antenna(s) can help improve signal strength, and would have a nice inclusion.

Speedtest.net Results

I tested using the telecom operators favorite tool Speedtest.net, however making a few changes to avoid getting two fake results.  Remember when testing make sure its not connecting to the local server, as in this case you are testing the local network speeds as opposed to your real download speeds.

Speedtest.net usually connects to a server close by and for Sri Lanka it usually picks up Chennai.

I also picked up a server from US, NY and tested it to see if the speeds were different and there was a market different.

Interesting that on all test the upload speeds were great, when in my usual 3G broadband the results were other way around.

One improvement compared to 3G over a dongle was that the LTE network was maintaining its speed even if many downloads were coming down, however this could also be due to the fact that the LTE network is still to get loaded, and there would be ample bandwidth to go around the current customers.

Machine/Device Browser Connection From Connecting Server Download Mbps Upload Mbps
Windows 8 Desktop Chrome Network cable Dialog Telecom PLC Chennai 6.42 5.35
Windows 8 Desktop Chrome Network cable Dialog Telecom PLC New York City 3.71 5.22
Google Nexus 4 Speedtest Android App Wi-Fi Dialog Telecom PLC Chennai 2.69 8.86

Interestingly the actual download speeds with multiple connections per downloads were even greater.  For example when i had JDownloader setup with 10 connections and used a mediafire and a YouTube links to test, I was getting a solid 2-2.5MBps.

UPDATE (3-may-2013): Something i missed earlier and have to update is that this is 2.5MBps, not Mbps, which means the speeds are 8x times that in the normal way we indicate speeds.  So this means the speeds were 16-20Mbps, which is blinding fast compared to all other forms of connections.  I used an unlocked dongle on my 3G dongle, and found that even on normal 3G Dialog can go up to 12-13Mbps when i was running similar downloads at around 4-6AM in the morning, this is without LTE mind you, however unlike the LTE line these speeds drop to 2-3Mbps at best during the day.

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Dialog Mobile LTE seems to be even faster, specially during off peak times when you can speeds surpassing 30-40Mbps.  Not sure if the performance of fixed line LTE has also improved, any subscribers who can confirm this?

UPDATE (Oct-2016): Now that i am back with an Dialog 4G LTE as my primary data connection, the speeds are still very good, though it drops during the day.  While not as fast as the the initial days, the speeds in the night are pretty darn good in my area.

Problems

UPDATE (20-May-2013): The speeds and all have gone shattering, when i noticed a regular drop in connection, and loss in speeds. I have been in contact with the dialog support team, and they had guys come over and check the device, and they seem unable to diagnose the problem, which is scary indicating that they may not be still experienced in troubleshooting the problem. The pages timeout, and i am unable to download anything more than than 10-15MB at a time, before the connection drop and i have keep starting the download again and again.  In addition the connection is so patchy i can’t get mail to go through using my official exchange in web mode.  The final word is that they need to check the entire set of stations to identify the cause, as there are other in the area also reporting similar problems.

Word of advice if you have this problem, and the support team says test a YouTube HD video, and it works it does not mean much.  YouTube is a streaming protocol, and hence small breaks are acceptable, but this will not work for a direct download. Test it by downloading multiple files (large ones) at the same time, that will show the problem.

UPDATE(27-May-2013): The tech team who were scheduled to come to sort my connection problem called into say they were unable to come because i have not paid the bill. This was shocking since i had already paid in excess through the Dialog web portal.  Checked with the customer service and they confirmed the payment had not been reflected, but they re-enabled my connection since i had my payment reference no.  Later on they called to say that they had a problem with LTE payments online, it seems the system accepts the payment but is not sending the payee detail and account no 🙂 so they had not been able to find who had made the payment.  I have been requested to call once i pay online (if i am brave to do this thing again!) to the support line to make sure the payment has gone through.   Disappointing.

UPDATE (22-Jun-2013): After almost 4 weeks of trouble with the connection  the problem of disconnection noticed was never resolved.  Requests to support through formal channels (call center + web portal) were not followed up by Dialog, and even personal contacts within Dialog said the LTE team seem not interested in sorting a paying client’s problem.  I resorted to sending mails to the CEO of Dialog, who was prompt, but it seems the CEO’s involvement too failed to get things working, as only a second mail saying the team never followed up go them activated.  However rather than solving the problem the Dialog LTE team resorted to stating false information and statements, which got me totally wired up, and current blinding speed or not, I disconnected the line since the service levels were atrocious and more so what’s the use of of a super fast line if you can’t download anything!  Lesson is that the LTE team is nowhere upto Dialog’s support levels in other services they offer, and the technical team not in sync / incapable of resolving issues seemingly the root cause of this.  What i did not know was that the initial payment of Rs 7500 is for the connection, and on disconnection the device is taken back by Dialog.

UPDATE (Oct-2016):  Competition has reduced the initial payment cost significantly, and if you are a wise buyer, wait for the regular deals where they offer the packages without any connection fee, or a 50% discount.  A common benefit by all the vendors is that as long as you have the connection, any issues with the device, they will replace your device free of charge.  Not sure how it works with SLT but this applies to Dialog and Lanka Bell to my knowledge.  I have experienced this with Dialog, where the support engineer replaced the device which had the downloading issue, and gave me a complete new device.

Being a person up for experiments i will not put down the Fixed LTE offering by Dialog due to my problem, however I do hope that Dialog LTE team will pick their standards and also work out how to resolve technical problems if the fixed line LTE is to grow.  If they are struggling now, one can only imagine the standards if the number of connections grows.

Conclusion

Though LTE offers stunning speeds elsewhere in the world, in Sri Lanka with limited bandwidth outside the country, high speed internet will be limited by this fact more than anything else, but we have seen improvement and hopefully this will accelerate as the need for faster and greater data with the smart phone, phablet and tablet era grows.

The LTE performance of Dialog current is far beyond its stated SLA, and that’s very good news, and possibly the fastest you can get from all current connections including dual-carrier HSPA+.

UPDATE (31-May-2013): However in case you do have issues with the reliability of the connection, don’t expect it to be sorted out fast for now, as Dialog tech teams seem to in a “learning mode”, and in my case even after 14+ days the problems have yet to be resolved.

The juicy part of the deal is that it offers 25GB (and it also has a 60GB variant) of high speed internet for the price where most HSPA+ and DC-HSPA+ offers from competitors as well as Dialogs own offer for less than 15GB.

UPDATE (20-May-2013): In addition the price per additional MB and the bulk price for additional high speed 10GB is very attractive.

The downside is that router is not portable and does not work beyond set regions, and also is not capable of switching to 3G when LTE is not

UPDATE (20-May-2013):  The portability maybe eliminated when the 3G and LTE directories are merged, but until this is tested i can’t be sure.

While i continue my rotation with vendors to evaluate their Internet offerings, I hope the speed increase also comes with more data, something we are still not seeing Sri Lanka. While speeds are important but with speed your data cap vanishes in no time (e.g. with the new LTE speeds i did 7GB in just 2 hrs), and in an era where all we talk is HD this and HD that, the time has come where Telco’s have to increase their data cap on packages, but that would be asking too much from money conscious telco’s (a trait that is common across all telco’s it seems)!

UPDATE (2-Feb-2014): Seems like SLT has acted in response to the complaints by subscribers and increased the data quota, however i am sure SLT has to do it since their download rates are far slower than the LTE solutions.  But one area the SLT ADSL still remains a firm favorite is among the online gaming community where the ping rate matters, and here the wired connection is unmatchable is what my gaming friends confer.

UPDATE (Oct-2016) : A bit late in updating this, but dialog also matched the SLT offer by doubling the data, by adding the same day capacity to the night quota.  So if you were on the 25GB package, you now get 50GB.  The boost in capacity is definitely good for the customers, as with the solid speeds offered by Dialog 4G LTE, you are going to bust through your cap quite quickly.

HTC One, the new flagship launched, set to become the new top dog in the Android market


Normally my reviews have been hands on based on true usage of devices, but have launched a new series of articles featuring releases of key products in the mobile arena.

Sony recently launched the cool Xperia Z, which for the first time for Sony featured state of the art processors matched with a nice design and some cool features (water proof, dust proof), etc.  However Sony’s glory was short lived, as HTC launched its new flagship now renamed simply as HTC One.HTC-One_Silver_Left-580x490

HTC seems to working hard at getting back its lost glory to Samsung, and the HTC One maybe the phone.  Samsung seems to have ditched quality feel, but improved to the top dog status (in the Android space) on the hardware, software and multimedia in recent times.

HTC meanwhile has continued with its great looking Sense UI, but competition has caught up with it, and the UI seems to be going the way Samsung’s TouchWiz went becoming more and more heaving ruining the interface performance, something most Android fans owners have to bitterly accept is way behind iOS devices.  Whatever project Butter from Google with the Jelly Bean released brought seems to have been lost with the heavier customizations of these custom skins. While HTC kept up on the hardware side, and improved on its multimedia, it was outdone as Samsung took advantage of its ability to manufacture chips by improving on industry platforms by offering a more finely tuned Exynos unit that gave it the edge over competitors.

The HTC One offers many things that would have most phone buyers drooling over and definitely puts it as the phone to have for Android fans (and Apple fans wanting to switch),

  1. The already great LCD2 screen in the One X has been improved with the new LCD3 that was featured in the HTC Butterfly phone now featuring on the HTC OneHTC-ProductDetail-Overview-Container4-02-bg
  2. The screen size remains 4.7” (thankfully, as anything larger would be phablet territory), but the resolution is now full HD (1080p), the resulting PPI means an even sharper screen
  3. Cutting edge chipset and graphics featuring the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chipset which has 4 Krait processors (at 1.7Ghz) coupled to Adreno 320 graphics, and 2GB RAM to top it.  This should provide great performance that should top the charts until the new range featuring the A15 architecture (led by the Galaxy S4) come along.
  4. An aluminium build a move away from the current classy polycarbonate and anodized constructions featured with the HTC One X and One S models but should bring an ooze of class that the Samsung phones lack. Whether this will hold good with the current HTC One X owners will be the trial.
  5. Stereo speakers to provide loud and quality audio and maintain HTC’s quality audio focus. The speakers are said to be 4 times more louder than normal phone speakers, and feature totally new construction as well as having chambers that are twice as large current rival phones for better acoustics. HTC-ProductDetail-Overview-Container3-01pre-bg
  6. A large battery 2300mAh, and that will surely be required when you have such a high resolution screen and powerful hardwareHTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-05
  7. An extreme risky but innovative camera that it is marketed as a 13MP equivalent, when in reality its a 1/3” 4MP sensor (which can take over 300% more light than current sensors) with what HTC calls Ultrapixels technology and said offer better picture quality and low light shots.  Current samples are not all positive, but that maybe an issue with beta software, the final build and updates to come may make things far more rosy for the Ultrapixel sensor. The camera features also a f 2.0 lens which HTC owners of the current gen would already be familiar with.  The phone also features a totally new ImageChip that handles camera DSP.
  8. Features a 2.1MP front camera with a 88 degree view for group video and
  9. 2-axis optical image stabilization in similar lines to the Nokia Lumia 920, a feature that digital camera owners know is far superior to digital image stabilization, that should definitely aid far smoother video, and possibly better pictures under trying conditions.
  10. This will all be wrapped with a new UI, the Sense 5.0 which will premier with the HTC One, question is will HTC provide this update for the older One X / X+ and Butterfly units, we do hope so since loyalty is important if HTC is to regain its position as a top player in the android space.
  11. Dual microphones which automatically switch the range so that the sensitivity is adjusted based on the external environment

Will this HTC hold out and win the battle against Samsung when they release the Galaxy IV? Will the HTC One camera live up to its hype or face the reality as did Nokia with their Lumia 920 camera that said a lot but still only performed a bit better than the rest.

Loads to think but the HTC One does look good, and with it geared this time for a massive launch in March, it may ask many Galaxy S3 owners is it time to switch to HTC one again?

While technically the HTC One replaces the HTC One X, i have compared the temporary fix HTC did with the One X+ which in some way tried out some changes that are now featured in the HTC One (E.g. Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2.0, a larger battery).

The HTC Butterfly was the phone that truly brought most of the features other than the camera to the market, but it was launched only in few markets, but i fear with the launch of the One, if the Butterfly will get sidelined and loose support from HTC (something HTC sadly has a bad habit of doing).  The Butterfly may not have the fancy camera but it features nearly the same hardware, screen and has the added advantage it has a microSD card for expansion and quick transfers that the upcoming flagship lacks.

  HTC One X+ HTC ONE HTC Butterfly
Screen Size 4.7″ 4.7″ 5″
Type Super LCD2 Super LCD3 Super LCD3
Resolution 720 x 1280 pixels 1080 x 1920 pixels 1080 x 1920 pixels
Protection Gorilla Glass 2 Gorilla Glass 2 Gorilla Glass 2
Chipset Nvidia Tegra 3.0 AP37 Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Qualcomm Snapdragon 600
Processor Quad-Core Tegra 3 Quad-core Krait 300 Quad-core Krait
Processor Speed 1.7Ghz 1.7Ghz 1.5Ghz
Graphics Geforce 2 ULP Adreno 320 Adreno 320
Graphics cores 520Mhz    
memory 1GB Same 2GB
Onboard 32/64GB 32/64GB 16GB
MicroSD No No Yes
Camera 8MP Sensor 1/3″ 4MP UltraPixel sensor 8MP Sensor
Front Camera 1.6MP 720p 2.1MP 1080p 2.1MP 1080p
Speakers Mono Stereo Stereo
Battery 2100mAh 2300mAh 2020mAh
LTE support No Yes Yes
Sense Version 4+ 5.0 4+

Sony Xperia S, a worthy flagship in design but lacking in hardware


The Xperia S heralded a new design that definitely caught the eye of many, as Sony Ericsson moved out and became Sony.

The NXT series of phones was led by the S as its flagship, and the phone’s design stood out of the crop, but faced a stiff challenge when the HTC One Series also came with an outstanding design.

I got hold of this phone recently as i wanted to try it out, after trying out its lesser known but in some way more advanced Xperia P twice.

HARDWARE

Sadly this is the very area Sony continues to get battered even today, though the Xperia Z promises to change this for the first time for Sony.  The Xperia S packed a dual-core Qualcom 1.5Ghz unit backed by the Adreno 220 GPU.  The processor and GPU are quite capable but this combination is what you saw in 2011 phones from HTC and Samsung, which had moved on to quad core units by 2012.

The one place the Xperia S had matched with times was the memory, with the Xperia S featuring 1GB of RAM, though that was also changing with Samsung releasing the US Galaxy S3 with 2GB, and now in 2013 we are seeing all new phones coming with 2GB.

Design

The Xperia S definitely can be proud of one definite thing, which is that design.  The phone still looks good, and feels good.  The design was fresh and different but the design also meant a large bezel at the bottom which many of the users did not like, and the new 2013 models have dropped this design, which mean they don’t look very much different from others phones on this end.

The Xperia S sadly did not have touch enabled buttons for the lighting grid, unlike its cheaper Xperia P sibling, something that can be irritating if you have used the Xperia P before the S (as was my case!).  If not i am sure you won’t be too bothered about this.

Display

The Xperia S was also Sony’s first phone with the 1280×720 display, and it featured a very sharp LCD screen that was boosted by the Bravia software optimization that boosted contrast for video playback.

I have come to realize that i am a person who appreciate sharpness of the screen, which was one reason why i did not like the pentile AMOLED screens on the Galaxy S3 and HTC One S, which lacked the sharpness.

The Xperia S has a very sharp and solid display that to me is only second to the HTC One X, which features a screen that is superior to my eye, but that maybe a personal choice.

Sony has opted for a more narrow display compared phones offered by HTC and Samsung with its NXT Series phones, and the Xperia S may offer better single handed operations but i find the narrow size a bit restrictive when it comes to typing on the keyboard.

Camera and Video

The Xperia S also featured one of highest megapixel cameras with a 12MP unit when all the competition were doing 8MP.  However based on the pictures i have taken and reviews read, my feeling is that Sony tried to win customers by marketing higher mega pixels than true better picture quality/video.

The unit features the same F2.4 type lens that all are familiar with the Sony Arc S launch, and for some the Arc S remains the better shooter.  The extra mega pixels have further highlighted the lower quality of Sony camera images, and this is an area Sony still has work to do.

What is crazy is that Sony has such a pedigree when it comes to compact cameras with small sensors, and that their camera units and processing is being thrashed by Samsung, HTC and Apple is something that Sony should be ashamed.

The video like HTC features constant auto focusing which is great for slow moving footage, but remember to disable this when doing fast moving footage if not you are going to feel sad.  The video is also capable of 1080p HD, and the quality is good enough and the camera performs decently even in poor light.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player is decent, but does have limitation on the formats supported and you need to download a third party app to ensure you can play all types of media formats.

One area Sony has always been good is the sound quality on the headset and loudspeaker, and the Xperia S continues that tradition.

However the bundled in-ear type headset is average in quality, and also does not fit well into your ears.  I preferred the HTC bundled units the one series which offer better sound quality and fit.

Storage

The phone features 32GB on-board which is very much the standard for flagship phones bar the rare Galaxy s3 with 64GB available in some markets.  However Sony omitted the microSD card which meant no expansion on the storage and also took away the users ability to load content quickly by switching SD cards.

Considering the bulk of the phone, and the easily removable back cover Sony missing the microSD is a sad omission.  However seems Sony has now understood this and the recently launched Xperia T has a very easily accessible MicroSD slot.

Battery

The Xperia S was also the series that got Sony into the IPhone like non-removable battery space, which effected its sales, as many power uses tend to carry spare batteries as full use of these phones means less than a day of use.

The Xperia S with its largish 4.3” screen and older chipset meant it lost out in battery life to the more powerful Samsung phones, but it still was able to provide over 1 day use which was decent.

I tend not to have mobile data enabled unless i want it, with such use i could manage around 1.5-2 days of use.  Though it use an LCD type display which is supposed to do well with white background render, the phone drains battery quite rapidly when browsing, which is also reflected in the gsmarena battery tests.

Software Updates

Sony’s other areas of weakness has been that it has always got caught on the wrong end when releasing its phones that it was always one version down from Samsung and HTC.  The Xperia S suffered as it was launched with Gingerbread when the hot topic was ICS.  Sony provided the ICS update quickly but the initially version proved to be rather buggy, but subsequent updates improved the performance and stability, with the Xperia S getting the updates ahead of all the other NXT range phones.

However with the release of the Xperia SL, identical phone with a higher clocked processor, and the Acro S, the Xperia S updates were pushed into second priority, and then the recent release of the Xperia T has further slowed the much awaited Jelly Bean update.  Sony has informed that this update would rollout in Mar/April 2013, while the Xperia T got it late Jan 2013.

The good news is that the Xperia S code was shared with Google, and this means you may see one more major update for this phone which makes it one of the few phones (the Galaxy S2 is the other) to have received 3 major updates since the release of the phone when most have only got 2 updates at most.  The updates have also not been just base versions, and also featured new features that were available with newer releases, which means value for money for users who brought the phone.

Issues noted

The phone i had had was already running the most latest 4.0.4 update which was quite stable, and i did not notice any irritating or annoying behavior.

However the white version (which i had) definitely showed a weakness in build quality with the external paint work peeling off in some areas on the edges quite easily though the phone only had been used for a few months.

The micro USB has a cover, and this is also an area that has paint peeling happening, and Sony seems to have sorted this out in the Xperia T by omitting the cover just like most others have done.

Performance

I have only included tests of Android 4.0.4 for other devices, to provided a more apple to apple comparison, though several of the phones were tested by myself with Jelly Bean which boosted performance (bar the S3!) specially on the web browsing area.  I am sure similar or better improvements can be seen when the Jelly Bean update for the Xperia S rolls out.

The Samsung E110S Galaxy S2 features identical hardware to the Xperia S, but features a lower resolution screen, which is why you see far better performance on Quadrant, Nenamark and Antutu, all which take the 2D or 3D performance as well into play.

We also see how much faster the S4 Snapdragon featured in the One S, which was the chipset everybody hoped that Sony would have used or at least opted to use the Adreno 225 graphics, and we only see it appear now in 2013 with the Xperia T.

Also noticeable is that the Xperia S with an weaker CPU and GPU still holds well against the Galaxy S2, considered one of the best phones to be released in 2011 and its true competitor as all others were launched a year later.

  Chipset GPU Android Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x GeekBench 2.0
Sony Xperia S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8219 3306 37.9 1393 996
HTC One S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S4 Adreno 225 4.0.3 10558 4707 61.0 1535 NA
Samsung S2 E110S 1.5Ghz Dual Snapdragon S3 Adreno 220 4.0.4 8689 3531 53.8   716
HTC One X 1.5Ghz Quad Tegra-3 Nvidia Tegra 3 4.0.4   5700 54.1 1519 1369
Samsung Galaxy SII 1.2Ghz Dual Exynos Mali400MP, Dualcore 4.0.4 10279 3093 48.0 1133 727
Samsung Galaxy S III 1.4Ghz Quad Exynos 4412 Mali400MP Quadcore 4.0.4 14300 5343 58.9 1569 1824

Conclusion

The Xperia S design today stills remains fresh and cool, and the display great to look.  The processing may be lacking but for most this might still be more than good enough when budget and mid tier phones are still featuring single core units.  Packing 1GB memory this phone can still be a good buy for many, and with a decent camera to back it makes a good buy just like the S2, with the added benefit that you get a higher resolution screen that the S2 lacks.

Samsung Galaxy S3 Jelly Bean update is slower than ICS


I recently got hold of an Samsung Galaxy S3 which was running the 4.0.4 ICS firmware.  I then update the phone with the recently released Jelly Bean update (4.1.2) expecting a further boost in performance in addition to to improved tweaks courtesy Samsung with their Nature UX skin.

Sadly when i updated it i noticed that the phone seems to be very laggy than the ICS build.  This was quite surprising when the recent update to an Galaxy S2 had not shown any dramatic lag.  With the phones nearly identical on memory (mine was the 1GB international version), the additional power of the quad-core should have made things far from laggy.

Key areas that i could feel the lag to a point of irritation were,

1. Very slow loading of contacts option

2. Very slow rendering of the phone dialer

3. Laggy switch between applications

I ran a few tests and the outcome seconded the laggy feel in using the phone.  And yes Power Saving was disabled.

Sorry for the rather numeric type of review, but though i will share this for those who might be interested.

Android Version Antutu 3.1.1 Quadrant Geekbench 2.0 Vellamo HTML5 Vellamo Metal
4.0.4 14300 5343 1824 1569 559
4.1.2 11596 5195 1170 1684 551
           

Antutu analysis

The drop in Antutu is huge, the current 4.1.2 performance is now closer to a Galaxy S2 performance! The SD card performance was identical and the DB IO performance was actually in favor of the Jelly Bean update.

The significant drop can be seen across the board for most test that involve processing and memory.

  Score RAM CPU Integer CPU float 2D 3D DB IO
4.0.4 14300 1962 3465 3166 1290 3692 395
4.1.2 11596 1827 1165 3070 1266 3482 455

Quadrant analysis

Here the outcome contradicts Antutu, and the main slow down is the IO aspect while all other test are actually higher.

  Score CPU Mem IO 2D 3D
4.0.4 5343 12826 4609 6212 1000 2069
4.1.2 5195 13385 4646 4789 1032 2124

GeekBench 2.0 analysis

Geekbench confirms similar outcomes to Antutu, massive drop in performance on the processing and memory perspective.

  Score Integer Float Memory Stream
4.0.4 1824 1471 2784 1378 596
4.1.2 1170 1266 1525 765 403

Vellamo 2.0 analysis

Jelly Bean definitely has a new JavaScript engine, and almost all phones have shown great improvement in the HTML 5 test. The S3 confirms this that even with the supposed slow down on all aspects the HTML5 performance has improved.

Conclusion

While there are several improvements in the phone features, the lag in performance is a heavy penalty and it would be best that Galaxy S3 users wait for a firmware that fixes the performance issue than update to this version right now.  The ICS 4.0.4 build was pretty fast and it would be shame to get irritated with the phone that is far more capable than what the current 4.1.2 Jelly Bean update makes it feel.

The term old is gold seems an suitable quote when it comes to Samsung’s first Jelly Bean update for its current flagship.  What is surprising is how the 2011 flagship the S2 Jelly Bean update performs better, makes you wonder if Samsung did not test this firmware properly.

HTC One S, the sidekick who outguns the flagship


The HTC One series, has brought HTC back into the market after a series of bad runs for HTC with the past models mainly with the fact that the designs were not new, and that the rival Samsung phones were featuring far more powerful hardware.

The One series was launched in 3 forms the X, S and the V.  All featured very cool designs, with high quality build that made it a more classy and better proposition than the highly popular Samsung Galaxy series phones.

The One S was a bit of a wild card, as it featured the next generation Krait processors, albeit a dual-core unit paired to a Adreno 225 graphics.  With the One S also having a slightly less pixels than the flagship One X, the benchmarks showed an unusual situation that the One S practically demolishing the One X in most benchmarks, and it did even better that it left the so called powerhouse the Samsung Galaxy S3 also behind!

I am not sure if pressure from Nvidia caused HTC to go and tweak the One X heavily and the newer One X firmware restored the flagship as a “superior” device.  The firmware updates to the One S has been slower, and seemingly not as optimized possibly to keep the the newer HTC One X+ from looking silly!

HARDWARE

The HTC One S featured the difficult the Krait range of processors, also known as the S4 Snapdragon.  These were hard to come buy for all Android phone manufacturers since Apple had locked most of the suppliers to supply them for the Apple IPhone 5.

The Krait range offered a huge bump in performance, coupled with the newer Adreno 225 GPU the One S blew the rest of the Android phones running older dual-core units, and even flew past the Tegra 3 competition, and the power house quad-core Exynos developed by Samsung as well.

The One S also featured 1GB RAM giving it sufficient juice to run ICS as well as Jelly Bean without any lags.

The result of this was that even ICS responses were super fast, even more than the HTC One X.  The browsing performance was superb, and so was the gaming capability.

Design

The HTC One S featured similar design and construction material, however the black and the silver versions were made using different materials (one a ceramic finish, the other anodized aluminum) and hence were quite different to hold and feel!  The One S design had a removable flap at the top, which housed the SIM, and would have been also ideal if it had housed an microSD expansion, which HTC sadly had opted against.  This was more favorable than the IPhone like SIM tray design the HTC One X had, but it did mean that a bit of squeaks was possible, compared to the HTC One X.

The One S was slimmer and lighter, and the 4.3” meant it was ideal for one handed operation, and the Granite Black version felt awesome to hold.  The phone begs to be used without a case, as it feels great to hold, and the amazing thinness makes it far nicer to hold than even an IPhone 5 🙂

The black version comes with the camera lens having a red background which looks cool and classy and adds to the total design of the phone.

Display

The HTC One S also surprisingly opts out from using the the Super IPS LCD2 screen, and gone Samsung style with an Super AMOLED Pentile display.  Not surprisingly switching to an AMOLED means excellent contrast and brightness and wow type of color, but you loose out on that HTC sharpness that one sees on the One X screen.  Use of a pentile AMOLED as Samsung did with their S3 meant the sharpness of the display is not the best.

The One S comes in a 4.3” screen, and for some reason (maybe not to match the flagship again!) it comes with a 540×960 display as opposed to the One X 720×1280.  HTC should have opted for the higher resolution as it would have made the One S absolutely great, since the 4.3” screen size to me is near perfect for a smart phone.

The screen also comes with Corning’s Gorilla glass for added protection.

On the whole the screen is super bright, and gives the phone with its excellent design a super boost, shame that it could not have come with a 720 display, and avoided using a Pentile AMOLED screen.

Camera and Video

The HTC One S does not compromise on this department, and features a F2.0 lens just like the One X, and the dedicated image processing chip.  This means you get the burst photo feature of the One X, and identical photo quality and video capability.

The camera has the cool interface i saw and liked with the One X, and offers good picture quality even under low light conditions for a smart phone.

However HTC like Sony, has the problem that the pictures don’t have the sharpness as you see on a Samsung phone, but the colors are superb.

One feature i absolutely liked on the HTC is the HDR photo option. when faced with daylight photos with testing exposures (very bright background, and dark foreground), using the HDR feature gives me instant opportunity to get a decent photo rather having to take two photos with different exposure values and having to merge it on a desktop.

The One S also features a front camera, which is VGA as opposed to the 1.3MP of the One X, but both are not that great, and since one is unlikely to be taking photos using the front camera the extra mega pixels will not make difference.

Video playback and sound

The stock video player accessible as part of the Gallery feature, does a decent job with all multimedia file formats i tested it against.  Based on other reviews the codec support is good, and HTC seems to have learnt from Samsung to include more codecs unlike Sony who skimps on this area!

The sound quality on the headset and loudspeaker is good and music in particular does well with the Beats Audio enhancement.

HTC had shipped it with their own headset, and i loved the design and simplicity.  The headset is not the in-ear type, and i love this as the heavier head makes sure it does not get dislodged easily and the sound quality is very good for a bundled headset.

Storage

The One S comes with 16GB on-board, which maybe half of what the One X comes with but should be sufficient for most. Like the One X the One S does not feature a microSD slot, which is a shame when the competing phones from Samsung all have this feature to expand storage and also switch content easily by switching the microSD card.

The top cover removal means HTC could have easily designed one as opposed to the One X unibody design, so shame on HTC on missing this.

Battery

The One s has been brought down by supposed poor battery but it is based on the type of usage.  If you are a heavy web browser on the phone, the AMOLED and small battery will suck the juice since AMOLED screens hate white backgrounds that the web pages have.

However take this out, the phone does well and you can easily do 1-1.5 days on a full charge which is pretty standard for most smart phones, and considering the power the One S packs this is definitely great.

Issues noted

The phone i had ran the infamous 4.0.3 firmware, which had a few annoying bugs. Sadly my phone was an unlocked Orange phone hence the Jelly Bean rollout did not happen during the time i had the phone with me.  Surprisingly the HTC One X i had which had this same version did not show these problems.

  1. Pressing the home soft button caused the screen to go haywire as it kept shifting between the 5 desktop view and the desktop, for a random period before the phone got back to normal.  This problem is now called the HTC helicopter effect, and the fact that HTC did not respond to users quickly made a lot loose faith on this phone.  When such happens and you were on a call at that time you have no option but to ignore the screen behavior until it sorts itself out.  Supposedly the 4.0.4 update never fixed this ,and the Jelly Bean update has sorted this out is what i have noticed on several forums. The problem according to many online is attributed to when the network signal is low, the phone tries to boost the signal and this causes this behavior.
  2. Sometimes the phone would loose network connectivity for a moment and regain it, again this is a reported problem and been fixed in 4.0.4 onwards
  3. Using the stock browser for over 10 mins locks up the phone (freezes), and you have to do a hard restart (hold the power button for over 5 secs).  Using an alternative browser such as Chrome does not show this problem
  4. Data stops even though you have data enabled, and you have to switch data off and on to get it working.

Performance

The tests using the older 4.0.3 software shows how much more potent it was against its big brother, and also how competitive it was against the Samsung S2 and S3.

Nenamark shows how good the Adreno 225 graphics are, though it must be told that One S and S2 have less pixels for the graphic card to push compared to the S3 and One X.

However Antutu and Quadrant show that the dual-core Krait is more than capable of keeping up with the Tegra 3 and Samsung Exynos quad-core, so the quad-core Krait units that are due on phones (starting with the LG Optimus G) are sure to set things into another scale.

  Android Vn Antutu 2.8.x Antutu 3.0.x Quadrant Nenamark Vellamo 2.x
HTC One S 4.0.3   10558 4707 61.0 1535
HTC One X 4.0.3 10518   4126 54.1 1519
Samsung Galaxy SII 4.0.4 5375 10279 3093 48.0 1133
Samsung Galaxy S III 4.1.2   11596 5195 58.9 1684

Conclusion

The phone definitely caused quite a wave not to the competitors but for HTC as well, when the industry benchmarks showed it outdoing its bigger brother the One X in most of the benchmarks.  The lighter and cooler design also made this phone a hot favorite, but limited availability, and poor marketing and slow times to provide fixes to problems resulted in the One S popularity not achieving what it should have.

To me this was one of the best phones in design and handhold, with the HTC One X the next best on my usage in recent times. However HTC opting to use a Pentile type AMOLED and not rolling out the updates in the same frequency and speed HTC One X is letting down its client, as it showed the Krait based One X sold in markets requiring LTE were far more capable than the Tegra 3 versions, and the One S could have been the seller for HTC if it had given the same amount of marketing and focus as it did to the Tegra powered One X.

Limitations in using Korean carrier smart phones outside Korea


I decided to give a shot at taking on the challenge of buying a Korean carrier smart phone and seeing what would be the limitations and challenges faced when trying to use these phones as everyday phones outside Korea, and if there are any real solutions to overcome these.

The phone i got hold was Samsung SHV-E110S, the LTE variant of the Samsung Galaxy S2 with the Qualcom dual-core processor, and featuring a larger screen than the standard S2.  In addition a colleague of mine has been using the SHV-M250K, this phone is identical to the Galaxy S2 bar the existence of the digital TV antenna.

  1. Phone firmware has to tendency to switch to EDGE more than you can like, as there is no option as you find on the international phones of being able to set if to use GSM only, or WCDMA preferred or WCDMA only.  However for this you can find a solution by using tools such as AnyCut or even Notification toggle and selecting the 4G option, which pops an Android internal setting page that allows you to set this setting.
  2. No combined SMS messages when sending, and limited to 80 characters per SMS.  If you are lucky you will be able to send SMS messages but only limited to 80 characters since the phone has been set to support extended characters for the Korean language, hence 80 characters effectively is equivalent of 160 characters.  However you also don’t have what you take for granted of sending large messages over 80 characters as a combined message, the very moment you type a message over 80 characters it converts the message into a MMS message.   However some custom ROMs have solutions for this limitation.
  3. Unable to send SMS message at all.  For some phones you may not be even able to send any SMS messages, the phone firmware will not take the override SMS gateway given.  Even using Go SMS Pro does not sort this out.
  4. No conference call capability (aka Merge calls).  This was a problem my colleague found, and after reading many a forum it was apparent that you cannot do this on these phones! Though the “Add Call” option exists, once you make the second call the option to merge calls has been replaced by the feature “Record Call”.  In addition on a normal phone selecting “Add Call” allows you to go to the Contact menu, with the Korean phones you only have the list of recent callers to select from.
  5. Lack of Gorilla glass on most of these phones means the glass has a tendency to be easily cracked. Finding replacement glasses for these phones can be extremely difficult and costly on eBay since these phones tend to have a different external case design to accommodate a larger screen area that the international variants.
  6. Not possible to replace the firmware with international phone firmware in most cases, attempting to do so may result in bricking your phone, or having a phone with lots of stability issues.
  7. OTA (Over the Air) updates of firmware is not possible, and you will have to resort to manual update using ODIN or using Custom ROMs. Custom ROMs are not as easy to find or matured as international ROMs since the volume of phones are much less, hence there is less community drive on these particular phones.
  8. Just like the US carrier phones, the Korean phones also do not have no FM radio tuner, a feature that the Asian market users tend to use.
  9. Some phones may not support all the WCDMA and HSPA bands that work in other Asian countries and feature a different technology that is particularly focused for Korea, making these phones perform very poorly in data support outside Korea
  10. Features that we take for granted such as call diverting, etc is omitted on these custom firmwares
  11. The LTE band is not compatible with Sri Lanka telcos.  Dialog, Mobitel use band 3 (LTE 1800) while these phones ate usually LTE 2600, 700.

Based on these using these phones on other markets such as what i tried in Sri Lanka was not convenient for everyday use as the limitation were on very practical and daily applications such as network signals, sending SMSs, making business calls, etc.

However if you want a phone for making calls (without wanting the conference feature), you want to browse, listen to music and watch videos, these phones are excellent as they have the following advantages

  1. Tend to have larger than screen sizes than the global variants
  2. The battery has a larger capacity and you also get a spare battery and external charger, a common bundle when phones are sold in Korea
  3. You get the LTE antenna on these phones, which telco’s in Asia are now starting to trial out these faster networks, making these phones more future ready for blinding fast internet though these phones have an LTE modem and antenna, these most operate in LTE 800 or 2600 which is not compatible with most region.

Samsung Galaxy S2 : Flagship from 2011, now with Jelly Bean, and still running strong


The first wave of droids mainly got the interest of the Apple haters, Symbian and Windows Mobile users and techie junkies.  The next wave of the droids lead by Samsung @ the forefront is what truly started the crossovers not just from the existing Symbian and Windows Mobile users but also Apple IPhone fans who were getting hampered by the limitations imposed by ITunes for synching content.

The  Samsun Galaxy S (now called the S1 by many) set the trend but it was the Galaxy S2 that stormed the market, and also got the Apple worried (and rather than compete on technology, took Samsung to the legal arena to slow their progress)

The SG2 was powered by what was definitely the most powerful and optimized mobile chipset and GPU (graphics core) combinations feature on a droid at that time, resulting in awesome gaming and browsing performance.

Backed up with a very thin profile and an stunning AMOLED+ display it made all other droids ancient, with the only complain being why Samsung had not opted for a 1280*720 display and gone with 800*480. While limited versions came out with the higher resolution, it was a bit too late as competition had already caught up and led by the SG2’s predecessor the s3!

However two years down the s2 still delivers great performance on day to day use, multimedia and gaming, a feat that none of the competing droids have been able to match.

Samsung has ensured it did not forget it’s breakthrough phone unlike what it did with the first generation Galaxy S, and continues to provide major updates that contains enhancements found on the newer Samsung phones. First Gingerbread was upgraded with Ice Cream Sandwich in 2012. A few months after the freshly launched Galaxy S3 got Jelly Bean, the GS2 (and its larger partner the Galaxy Note I) got its second major upgrade early 2013.

Strangely the updates continue to be snappy on the SG2, when newer Droids from rival firms are struggling mainly due to poor hardware combinations.

Hardware

The SG2 featured Samsung own mobile processor the dual-core 45nm Cortex-A9  Exynos 4210 clocked at 1.2ghz. While it may be “slower” on clock speeds compared to competing chipsets in the likes of Qualcom and Nvidia Tegra 2, it features far more optimized internals that it continued to be competitive not just again these dual-core units, but even against quad-core chipsets that followed.

In addition to the processing the SG2, multi-core Mali 400 graphics core was ground breaking at that time, knocking down all devices including the Apple IPhone 4 (which had Apple launching a quick update featuring the multi-core processor and beefed up GPU in the form of the 4S).  While the newer GPUs featured on the mid and high end phones of 2012/13 are now making the Mali 400 look a bit slow, its still able to provide solid 30fps+ rates for games.  The decision by Samsung to opt for a lower resolution screen that what most would have wanted, may have enabled the SG2 to remain competitive even in 2013 as the GPU does not have that many pixels to push.

Early 2012 featured phones with Tegra 2 and Adreno 220 based devices, but both these could not match the performance of the 2011 released multi-core Samsung optimized Mali GPU and Exynos dual-core performance.

Another very solid and important decision done by Samsung with the SG2 was to go with a 1GB memory configuration. This was a very rare spec for the 2011 phones, and even in 2012 this was only common among the high end phones.   The 1GB definitely made sure the SG2 was able to handle the memory hungry Google ICS (while Sony, HTC, Motorola all had problems as the 512MB memory impacted them in releasing ICS).  Now with the optimized Jelly Bean the SG2 is still flying 🙂

Design

Samsung’s quest to have the slimmest phone, lightest phone means the SG2 designers have given more priority to these than the design.  The end result is quite evident that the SG2 has very little in design innovation.

However the design is very practical in that its easy to hold, aided by the wider display form factory than the more cramped and narrow display form factory used by many including Apple 🙂 The phone works nicely even for single handed operations, and feels good to hold.

Sadly the super slim battery cover can be very nerve wrecking to open for many, and sadly our wish to have better quality and design would always be second to marking opportunity for vendors to say they have the lightest or thinnest phone 😦  The IPhone 5 saga of the peeling paint is also another such case study that will i am sure be repeated!

Display

The SG2 featured a cutting edge 4.3” AMOLED+ screen that challenged the industry benchmark set by apple’s IPhone 4 retina display. The screen also had a coating of Corning’s Gorilla glass to provide a layer of protection from scratches and small falls.

Superbly efficient with blacks it also helped the s2 post excellent video playback times on battery power.

The only sore point was that 800×480 (WVGA) seems to lacking the pixel density compared to the much high res IPhone4 and 4S that came in a small screen area, specially when HTC was already pushing a slight higher res 960×720 screens.  The launch of the Galaxy Note with a 1280×720 display was also a sign that Samsung could have easily put the SG2 with the higher density screen but seems to have held it back for the next version of the Galaxy 😦

However now two years down the line, one of the benefits of having a lower resolution is that the SG2 still has great gaming performance as the GPU has less pixels to push.

Camera and Video

Samsung may not have a great pedigree on camera though it’s fast becoming one now, but the engineers had done great here in understanding the mass consumer. Rather than going with a big aperture lens such as HTC or Sony they went with a smaller but still good F2.4 lens coupled with a 8MP backlight sensor. Samsung balanced the smaller aperture lens by including a powerful flash unit that ensured decent photos indoors.

Reviews by major phone reviewers all showed that this combination resulted in the SG2 taking far better quality stills than much more fancy spec’d camera units from Sony Ericsson, HTC, etc with only the Apple IPhone 4S and the Nokia N8 outdoing it (again in some areas).

The SG2 also features 1080p video recording in addition to what was the standard in 2011 of 720P.  The video however does not feature continuous auto focusing but still provides very good quality video clips for the mobile user.

The camera interface sadly has nothing much to brag about it, being rather conservative.  However focus is pretty quick and accurate, specially when it comes to macro stills and landscapes.

UPDATE: With Jelly Bean Samsung has tried to match HTC and Apple by including a few features into the camera app, however it still remains regimental.  I am still a bit hazy why phone companies don’t look at digital camera interfaces and try to learn from them, as they feature far more cooler interfaces that are optimized for photography.

The SG2 also feature a 2MP front camera, which provides decent performance even under low light for video calls (which the SG2 supports natively) and quick portraits if you are fine with VGA resolution:)

Multimedia

Video playback and sound

One of the criticisms with the SG2 over the first gen Galaxy S was what most considered a cost cutting measure of using a Yamaha audio chip compared to the highly regarded Wolfson chip in the Galaxy S.  For the hardcore audio fanatics this was raised as a major concern, but based on more everyday tests the Yamaha audio chip has fairs well even when hooked to a headphone or earphone.

Going back to everyday telephone the sound from the earpiece is clear, and the loud speaker performance average, where it it feels to be a bit insufficient in volume even in slightly noise environments such as when using it in a car being driven on a highway.

The SG2 typical to Samsung comes with codec’s for almost all popular multimedia formats, unlike Apple, Sony, HTC who expect you to buy or download third party apps to playback.  In addition the Samsung chipset provided hardware acceleration for many of these formats including 1080p H.264 ensuring smooth and high quality playback.

Storage

The SG2 comes in two flavors on the internal storage aspect, the more easily found 16GB and the slightly rare 32GB. The phone also has a microSD slot that can handle upto a 64GB microSDXC card providing the option for quick expansion and replacement of content.  However the design of the phone means you have to shut down and remove the battery to replace the microSD card, but strangely you can change the SIM without removing the battery.

The SG2 also support USB on the go, which allows you to connect a flash drive or externally powered portable hard disk to be connected using the USB/microUSB cable.  However this feature is now quite common among Android phones, but for an Apple user sadly this very flexible and easy transfer capability is only a dream!

Battery

The SG2 came with a crop where smart phones could only managed a day at most when properly used as a smart phone.  However for many who use the smart phone for lesser demanding use, the SG2 could easily handle 2 days of use.

Performance

The SG2 performance in 2011 is truly outstanding, and with the latest Software updates the browser performance has kept improving. Here are some comparative performances,

Android Version Antutu 2.9.x Antutu 3.0.x Nenamark 2.x GeekBench Vellamo 2.x Quadrant
Samsung S2 GT-9100 4.0.4 ICS

5663

10279

50.6

727

1133

3695

Samsung S2 GT-9100

4.1.2 Jelly Bean

9791

48

1017

1570

4336

Sony Arc S

2.3.4 Gingerbread

3638

15

1364

Samsung S2 LTE E110S (Qualcom) 4.0.4 ICS

8689

53.8

716

3531

Xperia S LT26i 4.0.4 ICS

8219

37.9

996

1393

3306

HTC One X 4.0.4 ICS

12465

54.1

1369

1519

5700

The results provides some “simulated” comparisons of the SG2 against the 2011 flagship from Sony (Arc S), and the 2012 flagship from Sony (Xperia S), and the HTC flagship of 2012 (HTC One X).

Nenamark shows how the lower resolution helps the phones post great fps, as the S2 LTE version with identical hardware to the Xperia S posts results surpassing even the SG2 with the Mali GPU, as both the Galaxy phones have the lower resolution compared to the Xperia S.

Compared against then competing Arc S the performance of the dual-core SG2 shows how much more capable the Samsung hardware was against what everybody considers a highly optimized Sony Gingerbread implementation on the Arc S. The SG2 also fares well with Sony’s 2012 flagship the Xperia S, which featured the Qualcom chipset paired to an Adreno 220 graphics.

Compared to the 2013 S3 challenger from HTC, the SG2 still does a fair job with software becoming more optimized for multi-core, Antutu and Quadrant indicates the performance the quad-core can provided when combined with optimized apps.

The Jelly Bean vs ICS battle of the SG2, provides mixed results.

  1. Vellamo clearly shows the HTML5 performance has been improved significantly on with the Jelly Bean firmware,
  2. Processing and graphics scores seems to have dropped a bit.
  3. Based on Quadrant, Geekbench and Antutu detailed scores, one are the Jelly Bean seems to do well is on IO and memory performance, which as improved.

Jelly Bean and the S2

I updated the firmware using Odin, since the CSC code for my phone still had not got the update.  The newer Nature UX from Samsung has a bit more modern look and shows some of the fluid movement that one is to expect from Project butter from Google.  However to me the interface still is a bit held back and lacking flair compared to other Droids specially HTC.

Samsung Wallpapers are horrid to say the least and why they can’t get some modern and wider variety is ridiculous. Which is why you will see the screen shots i have taken feature the Xperia 2013 wall paper and lock screen, than Samsung provided!

Features that caught my eye

  1. The ability to change the display font size, and also having a tiny size (with ICS the display fonts was elephant sized!, and you had to use a third party app to reduce it, took Samsung a while to add it)
  2. The new camera app has a few more features on adding effects to photos, etc
  3. New font that looks lot more modern and cooler
  4. Improved keyboard that also features SwiftKey like features in downloading language packs
  5. Improve music player UI (which also seems to have a bug if you select a folder, that you can’t seem to switch back!)
  6. Galaxy S3 features of calling the person when you bring the phone near to the face, or the screen staying on when you are looking at it, etc
  7. Improved image viewer
  8. New widgets such as Favorite apps, settings, and improved widgets for dual clock, alarm

Conclusion

I kept away from the highly popular SG2 simply because i favored a bit more design flare, but then got TI OMAP based Galaxy S2 (GT-9100G) and subsequently an normal GT-9100 Galaxy S2 (for my wife).  Still favoring the cooler HTC One designs and the Xperia line up from Sony, for me the S2 is what you call a mass market phone which ticks most of things people need and does a great job around it.

What has made the S2 really sell well is the aggressive marketing and the fact that Samsung has continued to support the 2011 flagship, even though the much more fancy S3 was released in 2012.  The Samsung S2 has got two major updates after the S3 was released, which is something not many can tell about competing droids.  Further the updates have been full updates which new features that were initially featured on the newer S3, and Samsung has to be given all credit for taking that brave decision.

To many normal smart phone users, the larger S3 remains a bit too large for daily use, and also expensive, and the S2 will remain a popular choice.  The launch of the face lifted S2 Plus and the slighter lower spec S2 Advance will serve this market well in the same line of how the IPhone 4S is doing for Apple.

Huawei Ascend G300 – A solid and likeable phone


The Huawei G300 is marketed as a mid-tier Android in the local market, though outside in the European markets this is pitched slightly lower to make it compete better. The phone features a design that makes it look like a Google Nexus in design, but feel like an 2011 HTC with its cool metal exterior, the HTC effect is further enhanced by its super IPS LCD screen.

Hardware

The G300 like the Y200 reviewed and tested earlier features an energy efficient A5 Cortex (from Qualcomm) processor, paired to an Adreno 200 graphics GPU. However unlike the Y200 the G300 features a higher 1Ghz clock speed, and also has 512MB RAM, making it perform far more snappy.

Screen and Display

One of the most eye catching aspects of the G300 is the IPS LCD screen, that has an HTC feel in the flat and sharp effect. The screen has a perfect 4″ size, with 800×480 pixels. The display quality is definitely very good as it performs well indoors and outdoors.

The screen is not protected by a Gorilla glass layer, but Huawei seems to have its own supplier for a similar implementation, as over 3 months of use without any screen protector has shown no scratches even though the phone has shared the pocket with keys many a times.

The display touch responsiveness is smooth and solid, though the touch type buttons at the bottom tend to require a second tap in some cases to work.

External design and build

The phone has a HTC / Google Nexus feel with its metal + plastic body and simple design. While it may not win any awards for the external design, the design has a very good hand feel, and the weight balance is superb. The quality of the materials are definitely good, as they have taken ware and tear extremely well.

Interface and software

The G300 shares the same approach like the Honor and Y200 tested, that it has minimal customization. It would have been great if Huawei had partnered with custom launcher such as Halo, Nemus which are lightweight but offer mode cooler interfaces that mimic newer Android builds, and yet consume very little resources.

I used the version of the phone running gingerbread, and for some reason Huawei only released the ICS build on this phone for the Vodafone version, and the international version was not provided the updated. Surprisingly the newer phones in the market now have ICS running. I feel Huawei may have changed the internal hardware of the newer phones to ensure it ran ICS well. This maybe a good move, as based on my experiences with Sony who were one of the few to release ICS on 2011 phones with only 512MB memory, the problems were close to horrific for many.

However I am sure many buyers who brought the G300 early on will feel they were let down, and Huawei should see how they provide the ICS build for these customers, since the Vodafone version with the same hardware was provided an ICS build.

ICS would bring the far more attractive interface, and also improve the app support which is now starting to focus more for ICS and JellyBean as the phones move away from Gingerbread in 2012-13. The biggest advantage being the improved browsing experience, and the ability to run Chrome.

Camera and multimedia

The G300 features an 5MP camera with auto focus and LED flash light. The camera implementation is very close to stock Gingerbread, and though it is decent, having the CameraFX app to boost your camera capabilities is recommended.

One the still and video aspects, the camera performs decently under good light, but under poor light the capabilities are average at best. The video is passable but is limited to 640×480 VGA, with no HD capability.

The stock video player has limited codec support as is the case with most phones other than Samsung, and the best app I have found in the market has been MX Player that allows this phone to play most formats upto 720p. I have tried playing many formats including MKV, FLV, Xvid, Divx, and they played smoothly.

However one area that the G300 falls against the competition is the omission of the front camera. For many the smartphone has replaced the key reason to have a PC which has been Skype for video and voice calls. Now with power of Android the user base has even more options with Viber being a key competitor to Skype. The lack of a front facing camera on the G300 might deter a fair percentage of buyers, since most of the competitors feature a front camera as standard.

Storage and expansion

The G300 has 4GB of internal storage that should be sufficient since this is unlikely to be capable of running high end mobile games. However if you want to store music, video and photos, you will definitely make use of the available micro SD slot that is capable of taking a card upto 32GB.

Call quality, signal strength and battery

Huawei seems to have mastered the call quality and signal strength, as the G300 like its Y200 and Honor models, excelled is on the signal strength and call quality. 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+ 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+ days or more depending on the screen usage.

Desktop Software

Huawei provides its highly capable HiSuite application that provides backup capabilities, file transfers, software upgrades, etc. The software has improved a bit in recent times, but still the interface is badly in need of modernization, as the overall capabilities are far superior to more better known brands!

Connectivity and Networks and value adds

The phone comes with the standard Micro USB that doubles as the charger and connectivity port. The phone does support mass storage mode, which is useful.

The phone also features an FM Radio (with RDS) that is a very wanted feature in Asia!

Performance

The phone is capable of being very fluid due to its minimal customization for day to day telephony related work. The graphics capability is also on par with most phones in the market the G300 competes, and should be able to play most standard games with an acceptable frame rate.

In the area of web browsing the phone starts to show its age, compared to the dual and quad-core phones, though a normal user can avoid this buy using Opera for daily browsing, or Boat Browser.

A few popular benchmarks, the Quadrant in particular is higher than similar configured Sony phones due to the far faster internal storage on the G300 (Sony phones have very little storage, and hence the tests are run on the microSD card) and G300 seemingly having 1.5X the 2D performance of the Sony Neo.

However strangely the higher performances noted on Quadrant on not shown on GeekBench and Antutu which tests the memory and storage. Antutu did confirm the better storage performance, but the 2D performance advantage was not evident on this test, and with the new Antutu 2D test the performance seems to be lower.

One place that Sony has gained a solid reputation is on their browser optimization that is considered among the best on leveraging average hardware, and the Vellamo HTML5 test shows that where the Neo trounces the near identical spec G300 by a clear margin.

Huawei Ascend G300 1Ghz, Adreno 200, Gingerbread Sony Neo MT15 1Ghz, Adreno 205, Gingerbread
Quadrant 2061 1144
GeekBench 2.0 529 545
Antutu 2.9.x 3200 3050
Antutu 3.0.x 3802 4681
Nenamark 2.x 19.5 fps 14.1 fps
Vellamo 2.x HTML5 644 993

Conclusion

When I initially got the phone for testing, the pricing of the phone was more closer to Galaxy S2 than the mid range phones, but the phone has now been discounted and is extremely well priced that it under cuts the far less capable phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Ace in every department including screen size, processing, screen quality, etc.

Featuring identical hardware to the HTC One V, Sony Xperia J (aka what I call a re-bodies Sony Arc with cut down multimedia capabilities), etc the Huawei currently has to fight the competition on price, since outside China its still building its brand, though in its home country its already well and truly made its mark. While the recent Sony dual-core NovaThor range such as the Sola, Xperia U may offer better performances, all of them feature small screens and lower capacity batteries, and also have the troublesome Sony ICS build, that makes them not true competitors for the G300.

The Huawei G300 has a superb screen and great battery life and call quality that makes it a super buy for a person wanting a day to day Droid, and want to avoid using the unbranded Chinese phones whose software and hardware will not have the same reliability. The phone may not have a stunning design, but its rugged design and pricing counters that.

UPDATE: Huawei has started to replace the G300 with the G330 which features a dual-core processor, etc, but this model has not yet arrived in our markets as yet.

Sony Xperia P – The classy "Iphone" like Droid


The Xperia P  was hidden behind its flagship sister phone the Xperia S, but unusually for a phone that is supposedly a mid tier phone it has many features that’s puts it higher model to shame. Sony seems to have tried some features that they want to feature in their next range of phones with the Xperia P. Matching all the features of its flagship phone including built-in NFC it ALSO features Sony’s next gen White Magic display and aluminum uni-body construction not found in the flagship phones of 2012!

The Xperia P  in many ways is like a budget IPhone 5, sharing the same 4″ screen size and similar material on construction and camera. However on the hardware side the CPU and GPU are no match for the ultra powerful IPhone 5.

Appearance

The aluminum uni-body construction is unique and very nice to touch. Unlike the feel of a plastic body phone you really feel you are holding something cool (and it feels cool under normal conditions). However the drawback is that the phone is heavier than most 4″ phones but in no way is it too heavy!  Practically all reviews will confirm that most wish the Xperia S had been designed like the Xperia P it would have simply blow the Samsung phones out purely on quality terms!.

xperia-p

The design has the Xperia 2012 look with the removable bottom strip, supposedly if you want to change the colors and the see touch buttons. However the removable bottom strip (you can change it with optional color units, not many would actually do that is my opinion)  impacts the handling of the phone and also makes the phone large than it should be, and it certainly would have been better without it. The phone also has a thick bezel which makes the phone larger than what it should be.

  Sony_Xperia_P_buttons

Hardware

Sony sadly continued its one step behind Samsung/LG/HTC on hardware with most of their line-up and the Xperia P shares the same issue. While it has a dual-core unit, and a Mali-400M GPU, sadly its not in the same league as the far older Galaxy S2 in both processing and graphics power. The processor the Nova-Thor 1Ghz unit definitely is superior to the single-core Sony models of 2011, but still slower than the 2011 Galaxy SII though featuring the same GPU, it seems the GPU is either clocked less, or has less cores as the graphics capability seems to be around 60% of what the S2 does.

However this does not mean the Xperia P is sloth! the Nova-Thor is still quite a powerful unit, and the Mali-400 fast enough for applications and gaming, but its not going to match the capabilities of most newer units such as the Tegra3, Snapdragon S3 and S4 units found on rival phones.

One important spec of the Xperia P compared to all other Xperia phones of 2012 bar the flagship units of 2012, is that it features 1GB of memory, while all the rest (Xperia U, Go, Sola, etc) all feature 512MB. The extra memory will definitely help in general use, gaming, and will surely be appreciated with ICS (and Jelly Bean hopefully!).

Screen

The Xperia P currently brags on being one the brightest in terms of whiteness, and industry tests have shown it is the case. Sony calls this the White Magic screen, and surprisingly this is not featured in the 2012 flagship the Xperia S, and nor with the newer Acro S and Ion phones. It is said the 2013 range coming soon will feature this screen as standard, so the Xperia P is thus the only 2012 phone to feature this screen. White Magic is also a leading technology that Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba are using for the high resolution screens of the future as a means to reduce power and increase brightness.

The screen is sharp and clear, and works quite well outdoors and is stunning indoors. You definitely don’t need to enable white magic or full brightness indoors, but will need this extra brightness outdoor.

The Xperia P features a resolution that is slightly above the usual 848×480 that most are familiar with Sony phones of 2011. While not quite the 1280×720 that the Xperia S boasts, the resolution of 960×540 (similar to the 2011 HTC phones) seems good enough for a 4″ screen with a pixel density of 275.

Sounds

The Xperia P has Sony’s software enhancement of the Xloud, but compared to the 2011 models the loudspeaker seems to be less powerful and the P is no match for the Sony Arc or Arc S on this area.

However the loudspeaker quality is good and compared many phones and loud enough. The quality of the audio on the speaker is very good and so is the output when connected via a headset. However even with Xloud enabled and phone set to club mode, the audio does not have the oomph to knock your ears out as is the case with the HTC One X that I use.

Storage

Sony sometimes puzzles me, the phone definitely by design should have been able to contain an Micro SD card since smaller phones in the range featuring the identical processor (hint the sony Sola) has one. However the designers skipped this, and decided to have fancy SIM insertion mechanism and the “highly useful” HDMI connection.

So while 16GB of faster than normal internal memory is included, the lack of a micro SD to me is serious omission by Sony. Its not just the expansion in storage, but the flexibility and freedom to transfer files offered additionally by the microSD slot is something many owners of Android devices are keen on, and something that the Apple iPhone community has always missed out on.

Interface

The Xperia P initially launched with Sony’s highly optimized 2.3.x gingerbread firmware, and though many shouted out for an ICS version, the ICS version only got released very recently, months after the flagship Xperia S received the update. However Sony owners of 2011 and 2012 phones will confirm the ICS build by Sony sadly is not very stable with issues ranging from phone restarts, call drops, poor performance, etc.

The Xperia P ICS build has seen many regular updates, and while it has got more stable the phone does have an occasional restart and the call drop issue is only visible on low signal areas, a remarkable improvement compared to the many other Sony phones with ICS.

The interface does not have much tweaks though has a few touches that make it not the same as native look and feel, but is not customized anywhere close Samsung, HTC or LG. This definitely helps keep the phone nippy in usage.

The latest ICS mild tweaks can make things a bit different for users, as pressing the options menu does not bring the menu but shows “Add to Home Screen” menu which allows you to add shortcuts, widgets, bookmarks, etc to the home screen.

Camera

The Xperia P boasts the same camera featuring Sony’s EXMOR R CMOS sensor as the Xperia S, with the only change being 8MP as opposed to the Xperia S 12MP, which I think is a good thing. Something tells me that Sony pulled the IPhone 5 camera trick with the 2012 Xperia higher end model cameras and that the Xperia P maybe having the same camera unit as the Arc S/Arc of 2011 with software tweaks doing any improvement on the picture quality.

The camera does well but just like the 2011 models pictures taken indoors under low light have a lot of noise even with the flash on. Pictures taken outdoors under good light of course are excellent.

The phone also has a physical hardware shutter key to launch the camera app, in addition to a fast menu option when unlocking the phone (which can be configured via the camera app to either launch or launch and shoot, etc), so Sony’s focus on camera tweaks are very much evident in this phone. The camera app loads quickly and is ready to shoot your photo.

The camera app has had a few tweaks and includes some cool features such as 3D sweep panorama and 3D sweep multi angle and sweep panorama which are Sony specific. In addition the app also have smile detection.

Battery

The phone comes with a 1305mAh battery but this has been one decision by Sony i can’t quite agree. Sony engineers were able to package in a 1500mAh battery into the smaller, leaner Sony Xperia Ray phone last year, and yet in a phone much larger, they packaged a smaller capacity battery.

This would have been “fine” if the device consumed less battery but with a large high resolution screen and a more powerful CPU and GPU. Though featuring the supposedly thrifty White Magic display, the phone for normal users who use the phone purely for telephony without much browsing, etc the phone can last 3+ days. However enable data (3G) or WIFI, and start using the screen as it should be, and you would struggle to see over a day of use in a single charge.

Benchmarks

I keep this for last since benchmarks are good to compare but the actual performances in real life varies from benchmarks. However benchmarks help identify the strong points and weak points of phones but should never be the only reason to buy a phone!

@todo

Conclusion

The Xperia P is what you call a phone you like to have, and so much so I sold the original unit I tried (with 2.3.x) and later on got another for my wife since the phone definitely is classy and cool to have.

The phone has many things going right, with a cool classy look, decent processing power, a good screen and good camera and audio.

However Sony could have given it micro SD slot, a more powerful GPU and specially a larger capacity battery that would have made this phone a sales hit specially with the classy silver and red versions.

Regardless of its shortcomings to me the Xperia P goes as a phone that should actually have got a lot more attention, but sadly shadowed by the far more heavily marked Xperia S. For most skimping on the $ and opting for the Xperia P would have been more than good enough since the build quality of the Xperia P alone is something that the flagship is lacking.