Tag Archives: Android

Nokia Lumia Windows 8 phones, better than competing Android mid and low end rivals


The latest generation of Windows 8 Phone OS Lumia phones have got Nokia back into the competition, so how do they stack up compared to the Android competition? Which should you choose?

After using the Lumia 620 and then the Lumia 920, i have got a fair idea of the usability and fit of the Nokia Lumia range for 2013.  My separate article of Windows 8 Phone will give you and glimpse of where it standards against Android and iOS, but the simple story is while the App market may not be as featured, for most users the required apps are available, and then in that light the Windows 8 Phones have to compared on the bundled software and hardware, and that’s a key factor you need to consider.

So should i buy a Windows 8 Phone?

If you are into serious gaming or want access to apps, apps and more apps (and end up never really using most of these apps), then Windows 8 Phone is not for you, iOS or Android is the way to go.  But if your Smartphone use mainly resolves around facebookk, browsing, Skype, viber, etc, etc  (and gaming is Angry birds, and its likes) which is what you call “essential apps” then Windows 8 Phone is back in serious contention, as it does provide good support to compete with the other two platforms, and out does the Blackberry BB10 as well.

Why so little memory on Windows devices

Don’t compared specs apple to apple is very important, if you do so then the Apple devices might look rather obsolete specially in memory capacity compared to the mighty Android devices.  What you have to realize is that Android as an operating system is very heavy and not optimized, which is why the devices with the latest JellyBean OS do not run well with 512MB, and 1GB or 2GB is recommended.

Windows 8 phone in comparison is far more optimized, and you will see that most Windows 8 phones do might well with 512MB memory, though some games have problems installing with 512MB, which is a bug according to Microsoft and they are working on fixing this.  Heavy users though have indicated there is a lag switching between applications with 512MB memory, but again nothing as bad as the Android lag.  The top of the line phones currently feature 1GB memory.

Why Nokia, and not another Windows 8 Phone?

While Microsoft may have pitched the HTC 8X/8S during the launch Windows 8, it has been Nokia who have been pushing Windows 8 phone sales.  HTC, Samsung and Huawei have not really generated great success with the Microsoft platform, and the reasons are very obvious.

  • HTC may have got a cool design, but never have followed up with any newer devices, nor have the focused greatly on providing anything great on the software aspect (the HTC One version supposedly coming with Windows 8 phone may change things for HTC in the Windows 8 phone market)
  • Samsung put out a cut down Galaxy S3 version as a Windows 8 phone, and that was about all they did
  • Huawei has been pushing several devices, but have not seen the same global impact as Nokia, and the recent issues with US sales of Huawei will also impact this drive

In comparison Nokia followed up the 920/820/620 launch with another great set of variations in the 720/520, and variants of the 920 for other telco operators.  The recent launch of a much slimmer 925 and the upcoming 41MP Nokia EOS has also got people excited.   More importantly Nokia has always had great software in their phones, but the world change with Apple and the store concept and Nokia got lost out here.  The Microsoft App store is still in the early growth state, and Nokia knowing this has invested heavily on writing many great apps for general thing that people do, and these have made the Nokia phones special compared to the other Windows 8 phone devices.

Where does Nokia Windows 8 phones compete well?

While the Android and iOS world has been booming, Apple has always held the premium market until 2012/13 where the Samsung Galaxy S3/S4 have now entered strongly into this market, and HTC One is another great contender this year.  While the premium market goes well server the mid tier and upper range of the low end markets has not seen great phones.  However in Asia this market is very important, and Nokia has always been great here.  Nokia’s strategy of putting good hardware, better than average cameras and high quality displays into the mid and upper low range is something that Android rivals have not focused that greatly on, as they tend to skimp either on the camera or phone hardware.

All Nokia phones offer Krait series 200 or 300 hardware, with better than average graphics in the way of Adreno 225 / 305.  Similar hardware is available on Android devices, but they cost around 50% more at minimum.  So for your money if you a person who is not an avid gamer, the Windows 8 phone featuring Nokia’s stand tall and are very good value for money.  The upcoming Windows 8.1 upgrade should improve the OS greatly.  Use an Nokia Lumia WP8 phone and try a similar Android phone with the same hardware for a month, and you will notice how much more optimized the Windows 8 OS is compared to Android stable mates!

Which Windows 8 Nokia phone to buy?

Though the model range is rather wide and the differences marginal among these, in reality not all are available in the same region. However here in Sri Lanka, where phones are brought in from all over the world the selection criteria can be much harder 🙂

nokia-lumia-wp8-devices-e1361957967698

Model Strengths Weaknesses My opinion
Lumia 620 Good build quality, very good hardware for the price range, large high quality display, support for micro SD cards, decent camera, Full-fledged OS including free Office Mobile, NFC support Small capacity battery, a bit chunky due to the thick external casing, 512MB memory An excellent buy with a solid all round performance, and far better than anything in the Android market in this price range.  I would say this is the best buy in the Lumia range.
Lumia 820 Excellent display, decent hardware configuration, micro SD expansion, and good camera, Free Office Mobile, LTE support, NFC support, 1GB memory Display resolution same as lower models A nice design, but this to me is the weak link as its overpriced initially and though prices have dropped Android competition has caught up with this model in recent times in the likes of Xperia L, etc on the hardware specs and bang for the buck
Lumia 920 Super camera for low light and flash less photography, excellent build quality, Very good display, LTE support, 1GB memory Bulky size, battery life below par, hardware not different from the 820 to make the flagship special, no micro SD card slot An excellent phone for photography and awesome display and design, but sadly heavily overpriced initially and for a 4.5” phone this is far too heavy. Supposedly this was because of the optical stabilization module, but the newer 925 has the same but is much lighter indicating the reasons maybe very different! Current low pricing makes this a steel since it’s a really solid phone with a great camera.
Lumia 520 Similar to the 620, but offers a larger more usable 4” display, pricing is excellent, and the hardware exceptional compared to the competition, decent camera, large capacity battery. Really really bad display panel, no front camera, no LED flash, slow focusing when taking photos, small battery capacity, no NFC, no compass, 512MB memory, uses a smaller sensor compared to the Lumia 620 It fixes the small size and has a bit larger battery compared to the 620, but sadly unlike the 620 too many corners are cut on the display and camera. However compared to Android competition this stands out still, and is a very good buy.
Lumia 720 Better than the 820 in every way, except the lower memory capacity.  Has a much larger battery capacity giving it very good battery endurance Uses a smaller sensor than the Lumia 820 making it not that great under indoor conditions, 512MB memory A much better buy than the 820, and also well priced. The 820 and 720 are far too similar and wish Nokia had opted for the 1GB memory for this unit and faced out the 820.This phone is the second best buy in the current Lumia range in my opinion for value of money buys.
Lumia 822 Excellent price, and identical to the 820 with the exception of the support for CDMA as opposed to LTE, 1GB memory Ugly bulky design more in line with the WP 7.x generation Lumia series, Lumia 820 has a nicer design, and so does the Lumia 720. Only offered as a carrier phone so make sure its unlocked if you are buying it A good buy if you can live with the bulky and rather bland design, if not as good as a 820 and 720 at a lower price.

Conclusion

Nokia has been loosing sales in the Smartphone market, but the loss rate has been reducing, as they are making a good comeback in the mid and low end of the Smartphone range, which currently is heavily dominated by Samsung, and other Chinese origin phones.

The new Lumia Windows 8 phones in the mid and low end smartphone market makes a lot of sense for buyers compared to the rather inferior and overpriced Android phones, but Nokia will not find it easy if Apple does go about launching the budget IPhone as that definitely maybe big trouble for its latest emergence.

Windows 8.1 is needed very quickly as the OS is the limitation, but for many average Smartphone uses the OS is solid and featured, and i would say take a look the Nokia 620, 720, 520 as they are good value phones with superb hardware and a very very smooth operating system.

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.

App Review: Notification Toggles for Android


 

Ever wanted a shortcut buttons in the easy to access notification bar?  Sad that your phone does not have this cool version like some.  Want that quick access to enable or disable 3G or wireless?

image

One of the cool features with the touchwiz that I found lacking in my first Android phone the X10i, and subsequently with the Xperia phones and even my HTC phones was the quick access buttons on the notification slider.  The solution I initially found was Power Widget (free version) but subsequently I came across the app called Notification Toggle, and found this to be even more easier, and more importantly free (to date at least).

Screenshot_2012-10-08-17-36-39

This app allows a lot more power than the touchwiz implementation by Samsung. It allows two levels of bars, and has a wide variety of system shortcuts, as well as the ability to customize your own custom short.

Screenshot_2012-10-08-17-37-32Screenshot_2012-10-08-17-37-38Screenshot_2012-10-08-17-37-43

The more used shortcuts from myself were

  • Enable/disable data
  • Enable/disable Wi-Fi
  • Quick access to select the Wi-Fi networks
  • Enable/disable airplane mode
  • Enable/disable GPS
  • Batter indicator with real time levels (shows the percentage)
  • Direct access to brightness controls
  • Disable enable silent/vibrate mode

However you may need to try this out on your phone, as some features also depend on the Android version.  If you have Android 2.3.x (Gingerbread) most should work fine, but uses with lower version may have some features not working.

Find this in Google Play https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.j4velin.notificationToggle&hl=en

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


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

Hardware

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

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

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

External design and build

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

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

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

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

Interface and software

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

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

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

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

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

Camera and multimedia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Storage and expansion

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

Call quality, signal strength and battery

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

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

Performance

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

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

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

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

Huawei Y200

800Mhz A5

Sony Tipo 

800Mhz A5

Sony Arc

1Ghz

Android Vn

2.3.6

4.0.4

4.0.4

Quadrant

1140

1418

1130

Geekbench 2

434

 –

Antutu

2625

2670

2834

Nenamark 2

15.3fps

15.9fps

25.6 fps

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Many purchase this phones as they are either,

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

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

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

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

Problems that users may face when buying such used phones

Regardless of the phone being unlocked there are problems.

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

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

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

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

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


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

On the two areas emphasized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t afford the Galaxy S3, what are my options


Smartphones are pushing the barriers extremely fast as the processor and GPU technology for mobiles keep improving radically, though battery technology still has not shown any great development.

While the current craze for the Galaxy S3 goes on (the HTC One X / S though similar in configuration has sadly lacked the  want in our market here), many will still find the price of the Galaxy S3 daunting, and look below.  Interestingly just below you find several very good phones, and buyers must be aware that latest may not always mean better.  So what can we buy if the Galaxy S3 is too expensive.

HTC One X

Touted as the equivalent of the Galaxy S3, the model has fallen flat on the face since the performance of the Nvidia Quad-core Tegra 3 has not not matched the Samsung unit on the S3, and in some test the Galaxy S3 leaves the One X in its dust.

The One X has one of the best LCD screens though its still not in par with the AMOLED plus screen on the Galaxy S3.  The One X has one of the best lenses an f2.0 but sadly even with that the camera performance has been second to the Galaxy S3, mainly due to the processing aspects of the image, though indoors without a flash it does excel due to the better lens.  The other area has been the much nicer design and far superior build quality of the HTC One X.

However the very poor battery life (hard to get though for one day, seems the supposed 5th core in the Tegra 3 to handle processing while on the standby has not been very effective) has sadly added to the lower popularity of the X.

The recent update to ICS also brought a new issue, and a serious one which is an issue with the WIFI signal strength on some units, and seems that this may require replacement of the unit as software fixes have not resolved the issue.

Prices of used One X model have dropped and by the likes it will drop further unless HTC sees how some of these issues can be resolved with better software specially for the battery issue and camera quality.  The WIFI issue of course seems to be related to some devices, and no formal notice has been issues on what serial no’s are effected by this.

HTC One S

The small brother to the One X, with the 960×560 resolution screen, and a dual core processor.  However its not just a dual core processor but a Snapdragon 4 (called the Krait), who’s performance is far superior to the Quad-core Tegra unit and even beats the Samsung Galaxy S3 unit in some areas.  However the processor is in short supply due to production issues, though this will be the processor and GPU to see in the next ranges.

Sadly the price of the One S remains in Galaxy S3 range, and with most thinking that its inferior to the HTC One X (which is not the case) will dent sales.

Issues with WIFI has not been noticed on these models.

 Samsung Galaxy SII (GT-I9100)

While the Galaxy S3 maybe blazing fast compared to phones prior to the quad-core range, the Galaxy SII remains still a very fast proposition.  The camera can hold its own with the Galaxy SII and any other phone, making it more than adequate for top end multimedia use.

With the ICS update, the phone performs very well in the Internet browsing department, and its main weakness will be its lower resolution, as the 2012 crop have the higher 1280×800 (or close) resolutions screen which offer greater sharpness and more viewing in the same screen space compared to the 800×480 resolution screens.

However the AMOLED screen holds its own for video and color.  Battery life also remains decent with 1 day easily being possible if you don’t push the 3G use.

Presence of a MicroSD card for upgrading storage, and use of a standard SIM will also be liked by many who tend to switch phones.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samsung_Galaxy_S_II, be careful of the flooding of Galaxy SII from Korean.  These phones have a different code SHW-M250, and though identically spec’d to the Galaxy SII the firmwares are different, and also has some features lacking compared to the global version.

Also note that I9100G also comes with a completely different hardware the TI OMAP processor and the older PowerVR graphics.  while this might be slightly slower it offers better battery life.

Sony Xperia S

Maybe the 2012 flagship from Sony, but sadly its no match in performance to the S3 or the HTC One X/S, with its main selling point being its 12MP camera and very striking design.

The performance of the phone is more in level with the Galaxy SII though it performances a bit better in Internet browsing, etc due to the faster processor, but falls short on the gaming side with the Galaxy SII MALI400MP GPU being still superior to the Adreno 220 unit on the Xperia S.  Strangely the rest of the 2012 Xperia range don’t use the Qualcomm processor but use sony’s own Thor processsor that has a MALI GPU, but an inferior version compared to what runs on the Galaxy S II (and the Note).

The camera is touted as one of the best in the Android/Smartphone market, but based on test it seems while the optics are good, the less powerful flash compared to the Galaxy S3 and the S2 makes it not the best in lower light situation regardless of the use of Exmor.  However without the flash definitely it will perform better though you are not going to get stellar pictures without a flash indoors with such tiny sensors.

Two big let downs from the Xperia S has been the use of the microSIM and the lack of an MicroSD port, which has resulted in poor acceptance of this phone in many markets.  The fact that it also launched without ICS and only recently got the ICS update (months after the 2011 range got the ICS update) also has impacted this phones market acceptance.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Yes its big for a phone with a lovely 5.3″ screen, but for some it can still be a very good balance specially if you surf a lot and also want to do some reading or watch videos. The much larger battery makes this an ideal combination and it also has the advantage over its Galaxy SII brother that it comes with the higher resolution screen that is in par with the 2012 range.

The camera unit is the same,  so it matches the Galaxy SII in its multimedia capabilities, and trounces it in the Internet, Video and reading areas.

The stylus may seem a gimick at first, but with the ICS update the stylus apps are now ultra smooth and can be very useful for jotting down notes and drawing something you can’t do with any other phone in this article including the Galaxy S3.

If you don’t mind the slightly larger bulk this is a super device, with the newer version touting a larger 5.5″ screen due in Oct 2012.  Many said this phone will fail just like the Dell Streak, but how wrong were the analysts! The phone has become very popular and sold extremely well that has also made other vendors also start making similar devices.

HTC Sensation XE

The XL might be larger but it does not have the higher resolution screen, making the XE the better of two.  The camera is good, video is decent and the hardware for a 2011 model is identical to the 2012 Xperia S so its more than good enough. The higher resolution 960×540 also puts it one above the highly popular Galaxy S II.

ICS is now available making it all ready with the new OS.

However strangely the market has been more about the Galaxy SII and the Note than this Sensation range, and I believe this is due to the death grip issue with the original sensation that led to the drop in the Sensation market.

One area that HTC remains poor is the battery, with the common complaint being the poor battery life compared to rivals with similar specs.  Pushed hard the phone will struggle to get you a days life. The Sensation XE also has a lower internal memory, but has the MicroSD to increase the storage.

The full kit for the sensation also comes with an excellent Beats earphone that other models cannot match.

Samsung Galaxy SII Sky Rocket

This is the odd one since it’s a model that has not been sold in the asian markets.  Most of these are the LTE versions, hence the hardware is identical to the Sensation XE/Xperia S since the  Samsung chipset does not support LTE, so it cannot run the Exynos / MALI combination.    This means more CPU power than the Galaxy SII but lower graphics performance for gaming.

The benefits of the Sky Rocket is that it has the LTE support in case its offered in your region, it has a larger screen but same resolution as the Galaxy SII, so the text is less sharper. The device also has no FM radio unlike the Galaxy SII.

For anyone who wants a larger screen for browsing and video, this is a better buy than the Galaxy SII and you get the same camera hence the multimedia is on par.

One more positive is that it comes with a higher capacity battery (to support the higher drain of LTE networks), but if you use it in a 3/3.5G network this means better battery life!

Samsung Galaxy Note users – careful updating to ICS 4.0.3 or custom ROM, you risk bricking your phone due to the eMMC bug


Just replaced my Arc with a Samsung Note.  Could not resist the allure of trying out what you call a Phone/Tab hybrid 🙂

My phone seems to have origins from Romania based on the CSC code, and the update for the ICS was not available as yet for that CSC code.  Was about to change the CSC code when i came across several forum articles where the ICS update for the Galaxy Note has a serious bug for some firmwares that it can brick (make your device not usable).   The issue is not due to the flashing but after you flash and try to do a factory reset.

In case you have updated to the said firmware versions, avoid doing the factory reset and wait for a new version.

The firmware versions impacted seems to be ZSLPF and XXLPY.

Check out the xdadeveloper forums for the eMMC bug and the http://ykkfive.blogspot.com/2012/05/galaxy-note-official-ics-zslpf-and.html#.T889TbD9OJg.

More details on the bug, which also seems applicable to some other Samsung devices, see the forum response  http://www.sammobile.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5843

Samsung has finally accepted that there is a fault with the update, and have informed people from refraining updating their Galaxy Note (and some variants of the Galaxy SII).  See http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_responds_to_galaxy_s_ii___note_emmc_bug_problem-news-4394.php

How to find if your phone has the faulty eMMC unit

Seems like a kind person has written a software, not guaranteed to detect all faulty units, but seems to be pretty updated on identifying the faulty eMMC units.  Check the good friends at XDA http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1693704 for the APK to test your device.

Will post an article after using the device for a while shortly 🙂

UPDATE – JULY 2012

Samsung just released the Android 4.04 update for the Galaxy Note, and it fixes a lot of bugs that were with the 4.0.3 release, and also improves the performance of the phone (it had gone down from the Gingerbread version in the ICS 4.0.3 release).  In addition some cool features have been introduced, including the pop up video playback feature that was exclusively available only for the S3 until this update rolled out! However there is no formal information if the brick bug has been fixed, but i did a factory reset on a device and did not have any problems. However the brick bug does not effect all phones, hence this is not a confirmation that the brick bug has been fixed.

Some details of the new features of the 4.0.4 update for the Galaxy Note http://www.allaboutgalaxynote.com/top-10-new-features-in-galaxy-note-after-ics-update/

 

Sony Arc LT15 official ICS (Android 4.0.4) impressions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huawei Honor U8860 review


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

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

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

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

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

Initial Impressions

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

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

Display and Touch experience

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

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

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

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

Interface

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

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

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

Size and Handling

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

Processing and Storage

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

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

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

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

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

Voice Quality

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

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

Multimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battery

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

Connectivity options

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

Benchmarks

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

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

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

Software

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

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

Pricing – Sri Lanka

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

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

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

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

Changes I would like that Huawei could do for the phone

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Photo Gallery (samples from the camera)

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

Photos taken indoors under fair light

Photos taken indoors under poor light

Acer Iconia A500 Official ICS brief review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sony Xperia Arc (s) ICS 4.0.3 initial impressions


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips when flashing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key areas i saw improvements

1. The overall touch and swipe actions are lot smoother

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

3. Browser seems more nippy

4. Video playback seems more smoother

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

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

Benchmarks

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

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