Tag Archives: “Google

Motorola Moto G, the best bang for the buck phone of 2013


Nokia in 2012/13 managed to get single to double digit market share in many markets with its Lumia 520.  Motorola had been brought over by Google decided to take that concept to the next level in the Android world, and put out the Moto G.  Until the emergence of the Moto G, budget android phones were very badly spec’d and compromised in many ways, specially in the area of build quality.  While leading Chinese players such as ZTE, Huawei did produce better products than the big gun Samsung, they still had build quality issues and inferior internals.

So what makes the Motorola Moto G so popular, and a rebel in the world of mid tier budget phones.

Hardware Configuration

The Moto G packs in a very decent configuration, with very little compromises.

Processing and graphics

From a processing aspect it packs the same kind of hardware found in the Samsung S4 mini and HTC One mini featuring a quad-core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor(with a slightly inferior processing core, the Cortex A7 vs Krait 200/300 on the Samsung and HTC) and an Adreno 305 GPU.  The phone also came with a healthy 1GB memory.

The processor is definitely well about the cheap brigade that usually featured dual-core units, which were either outdated/low end units, or less capable units with compatibility issues such as MediaTek or Broadcom. 1GB RAM was also a premium configuration, as most were either 512 or 768MB in this price range.

The Adreno 305 GPU may not be gaming powerhouse, but for day to day computing it was more than capable, and could provide a decent gaming experience at HD resolution.  Again the 305 GPU packs a lot more than what you see on other budget phone which feature the 302 Adreno or less capable PowerVR or severely detuned Mali GPU units. The other advantage being with Qualcom now the top dog in the mobile arena, the gaming compatibility for Adreno is among the best.

Display

An area usually compromised by budget phones was the display, and Motorola really created a major wave here, as the Moto G featured a 4.5″ IPS LCD display that was a proper HD resolution (720×1280), and also had the latest Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection layer to go with it.  The display is not the typical budget type, and has very decent sunlight legibility, brightness, and had a very good punch in color.  Competing models in this range typically had lower resolution (480×800 or at most 960×480 display’s).  The resolution in the Moto G is superior to the much pricer Samsung S4 mini (and for that matter even superior to the IPhone 5!), and it really offered a great pixel per inch for its price.

BATTERY

Another strong point with the Moto G was that it had a comparatively large 2070mAh battery, that would allow the phone to easily last a day with data and general usage, even though it packed quite a powerful chipset and a large display.

CAMERA

The one place that Motorola did NOT do that much was the camera (an area of weakness that Motorola has long had, though the Moto X did do quite well), as the sensor and camera capability’s were more into the budget range.  however the camera to most in this price would be considered “A-OK”, featuring a 5MP sensor with autofocus, and a F/2.4 lens, and a fairly powerful LED flash to back it.  The front camera is a 1.3MP.

One of the customized apps strangely is the camera app, though you download third party camera apps and even the Goggle Camera app to use.  The Motorola camera app is rather primitive and can make taking decent photos with the limited camera capabilities hard.  I used the Google Camera app to get better results than the native Motorola camera app.

The native camera app has a tendency to shoot fast, without getting proper focus, and though the native interface saw some tweaks with the Android 4.4.4 update, I was able to get much better focus results with the Google Camera app on the same phone.

Under low light, the photos tended to be very noisy, and lacking in detail and sharpness. The flash is quite powerful, but when taking indoor portraits the flash can be overpowering, and the photos tend to have overexposed wierd effect.

The camera has no software or hardware stabilization feature (not seen any in this budget to feature such capability), and this means videos can be choppy unless you hold the camera firm. Strangely though the Snapdragon 400 chipset supports FullHD video recording, Motorola has limited this to 720HD for videos.  However considering the capabilities of the camera keeping it to 720HD maybe a wise option 🙂

The front camera performs similar to many others, in that it functions and can provide decent footage if the lighting good, and can get grainy and dark if the lighting is poor.

STORAGE

The phone was initially launched with a measly 8GB, but it was soon backed by an 16GB version.  With no SD card expansion, I recommend that you avoid the 8GB version unless you are seriously budget restrained, as you barely have 5GB storage once the OS aspect is covered, and you are sure to run out of storage very quickly.

SOFTWARE

The trend the Motorola Moto X started as being part of Google continued with the Moto G, which meant you got Android updates nearly as fast as the Google Nexus range. The Moto G launcher and customizations were minimal and hence updates were simpler on the part of Motorola.

DESIGN

The design of the phone does not have any great innovations, but has a very nice tapered feel in the back that makes it easy to use single handed. The great part of the design is the build quality, as its generally creak free and well put together.  The customizable back cover is also a nice feature that should go well with the younger crowd.

One of the features of the phone that is less mentioned is the splash resistance design (might be also why Motorola made the battery a sealed type though the back cover is removable).

CONNECTIVITY

The phone has the basic connectivity, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (4.0) supported.  Data wise except the 4G version, the rest are limited to 21.1Mbps 3.5/3.75G capable.  The only omission is NFC, though i am sure most won’t be disappointed on that 🙂  The 3G speeds are pretty decent, with speedof.me test 4-6Mbps download speeds, similar to what i get on my nexus 5 in 3G mode.

One feature the Moto G support that is not possible with the Nexus range is to OTG feature, which allows you to connect an external storage device (such as a flash drive or hard disk).

CALL QUALITY

Another of the areas the Moto G does well is on audio quality, the in-call audio is very good, and importantly the speakerphone performance is also good (something the LG made Nexus phones has struggled in recent times).

PERFORMANCE

So how well does this Motorola G perform.  Here are some tests that i have run on the processing and browsing aspects.

The budget Moto G, provides surprisingly good performance, and with Antutu optimized for multi-core, it manages to provide better scores than the two premium phones from Samsung and HTC (the One mini and S4 mini).  Interesting it also gives a better score than the Nexus 4, which featured a Snapdragon 600 processor, but was known to be under clocked to avoid heating issues due to the glass back design.   A closer look at detailed test shows that the Adreno 305 GPU provides similar performance to Xperia Z, and twice the performance of a Tegra 3 based device.  Clearly you are getting a phone that can do more than fine for your general gaming needs.

MotoG-Antutu

The Vellamo test has now been beefed up beyond pure web testing, and we see that it performs decently matching the capability of the Xperia Z on both browsing and processing capabilities.  If you have used an Xperia Z or an S3 you will notice that these phones are still quite nippy, but the Samsung is dragged down by the heavy TouchWiz customization, and older Android version. The fact that the much less priced Moto G provides the same performance is a good indicator that this phone can hang around for a  while if you are not the type to change phones quite frequently.

MotoG-Vellamo

NIGGLES AND ISSUES

The Moto G features a radio, and here it seems that going with vanilla Android, the Motorola developers forgot to add the essential features everyone wants.  For instance to use the FM radio you need to hook a headset so it works as an antenna.  However when you play the radio there is no feature to change the audio to speakerphone in the phone, or to a Bluetooth Audio unit! You can use the HF Button Widget (Alpha) app to route the radio to the internal speaker phone, but i could not find a way to route it to my Divoom Solo BT speaker (seems you can route it to BT headset but not a speaker).

The Android 4.4.3 and 4.4.4 update also have the 3G connection bug.  The bug makes the phone struggle to maintain 3G connection, and it keeps dropping back to 2G (edge).  However this has a relatively simple fix that i found when having similar problems trying Korean-region Samsung phones. You can use apps in Google Play such as Network (by Philipp Mangelow) and Phone Testing (by diewland) to force the phone into WCDMA mode, and once you do, your 3G connectivity issues should be history.

VARIANTS

Initially it was just a 8GB version that was launched in US, and very quickly followed up with a 16GB version.  This was then followed by a more global launches, and a dual-SIM variant.  All three had super pricing that made them hot favorites.  A recent version was the 4G LTE version, but this also came with a price hike, that made it move closer to more expensive premium offerings.

The Moto G packaging also differs from region to region.  The 16GB version I tried from the US market was one of the most skimpy, with the box only having the phone and a tiny micro USB cable.  No charger, no handset!  However the second model I tried was the XT1033 dual SIM, and this was targeted for the middle east region, and this included a charger and a very “low cost” handset. The charger was the type which had the cord as part of the unit, so if you wanted to copy stuff you will need to get a separate micro USB cable.

The Moto G 2014 edition (aka Moto G 2), an minor evolution than expected

Motorola just launched the Motorola Moto G 2014 edition in Sep 2014, and though many expected a big change in the internals, the changes sadly have been minimal, seemingly to keep the price down to the same as the first gen Moto G. The internal core processing capabilities remains unchanged with the Snapdragon 400 processor and Adreno 305 being retained, though many were hoping to see the Snapdragon 405 to be featured on this phone.

The phone now has a larger 5″ display, and also fixes one of the major concerns of the phone, the storage as it now have a SD card expansion slot. The camera is now a 8MP back unit, with a f2.0 lens, which should mean better photos under low light conditions than the first version.  The front camera has also seen an improvement in spec atleast, as it now has a 2MP front unit.  The main camera can now record video at fullHD it seems.

Strangely Motorola has not increased the capacity of the battery, considering the display is now a larger unit.  Theory says the battery life should be inferior to the 4.5″ Moto G, but internal tweaks and possibly the power efficiencies of the display may help compensate and help the 2014 Moto G (2) achieve the same battery capabilities of the first gen Moto G.

The Google (LG) Nexus 5, a great all rounder among smartphones


Buying an Android phone has become very complicated as you see the number of models, and the marketed features.  However for “smart” buyer a phone that is good enough in most areas is sufficient as long as the latest Android build is available quickly, and the device is well supported for a few years with Android updates, and incorporate a solid hardware configuration.

This has been the area the Google Nexus range of phones have been targeted, and add the fact that the device is usually released featuring the best hardware for an absolute great price has made it a very attractive (albeit hard to get outside the US, and not cheap outside the ?US) device.

I had the Nexus 4 twice, and found the simplicity and great updates to be an attractive offering, but the camera was a major let down. This kept me away from the Nexus 5 for a while, but I finally took the dip, and knew it was going to be hard one as it replaced the Lumia 1020 which had an amazing camera!

One thing I am finding more and more as a recycle my phones every 1-2 months, is that the “innovation” to be very very minimal, and it is really more of what you like in a phone in design or what you like in the form of  “software tweaks” marketed by the phone vendors.  For many most mid-range or better smartphones should do well.

The design

The Nexus 5 one might say has nothing special when it comes to the external design of the phone.  Unlike the Nexus 5, the back has no glass cover, and has a soft matte type plastic that is very nice to hold, similar to the Nokia Lumia phones.  The side bezels is very thin, but the bezel at the top and specially at the bottom are large.

The weight of the phone is super, at 130g its not to heavy and not light making it near ideal in the weight department.  It may be simple, but it’s a design that will work for most (does for me), though Google seems to be trying a bit to copy the Lumia range as they are planning an yellow edition of the Nexus 5!

The display

The Nexus 5 features a FullHD (1080×1920 pixel) 4.95″ IPS+ screen protected by a Gorilla Glass 3 layer.  The display is very good, and with the high pixel count the display is very sharp, and a thing I liked was the colors, which are very similar to my experience with the HTC displays I liked so much.  The touch is very good and you rarely have any complaints when using the device.

The hardware and performance

The Nexus 5 was released with cutting edge configuration as at 2013, featuring the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (Quad-core 2.3Ghz Krait 400) paired with an Aderno 330 GPU.  The hardware still remains a very powerful unit as the newer releases by Samsung, Sony, HTC, LG in early 2014 featured the slightly tweaked Snapdragon 801 (which had a slightly more powerful processor, and a mildly higher clocked GPU).   A few benchmarks to show you where it stands against the currently leading phones in 2014.

Vellamo 3.0

The HTML 5 browser test shows that Chrome performance is at the very top, only outdone by the newer Galaxy S5 (Samsung is known for their highly optimized browser performance, and as you would note the Galaxy S4 has done well on this test).

The hardware test has it nearly the same as the Galaxy S5, indicating there is very little to differentiate between the Snapdragon 800 and 801 on computational aspects.  You also see how much faster the Snapdragon 800 family is compared to the flagships 2 years ago (the HTC One X and the Galaxy S3) and last year’s top dogs the Galaxy S4 and the Xperia Z.  Vellamo 3.0 was released recently hence any form of vendor based tweaking to get better scores will not be in-effect making this an useful tool right now to see how phones compare on processing and web browsing scenarios.

Nexus5-vellamo

 

Antutu 4.x

A highly popular benchmark and one that is known to be doctored (cheated) by mobile phone vendors who tend to shift the phone into the most optimized mode when this test is being run (Samsung, HTC, etc have been caught doing this, subsequently they have now stopped doing it in recent times).

The benchmark also takes a while to get optimized to the new Android builds, which has meant the Nexus range results are rarely accurate.  Here again with Android 4.4.4 released very recently the scores seem to be not reflecting the correct performance of the Nexus 5.  The test scores are show the Nexus 5 being more in the range of the older Snapdragon 600 phones (S4, HTC One M7) than with the Snapdragon 800/801 phones, which is not accurate (the sister phone LG G2 is showing far higher scores when they are practically identical in configuration).  Also noticeable is that the Nexus 4 which is also a Snapdragon 600 based device is showing very poor results, so the pattern is evident, that the Nexus range completely avoids any kind of cheating when it comes to Antutu test!

Nexus5-Antutu

 

Voice quality, Speakers and audio quality

The voice quality and clarity of the phone is excellent, that is when you use the earpiece.

However when it comes down to the loudspeaker mode the phone disappointed me.  The speakers were rather feeble both on calls and music.

The bottom of the phone is where the speaker is found, and you may initially think it features a dual speaker setup, but turns out that only one of the grills has a speaker, the other is the microphone!

IMG_0498

The audio out through the 3.5mm headset jack is also rather weak, if you want to listen to ear dropping music, this phone is not going to you.  When I hooked it to my headphones I found the sound to be very low, and lacking the punch I have taken for granted with phones I have previously used.

Here is the audio test extracted from the popular phone portal GSMARENA.com, and you will see my observations matched by lab tests from this popular site. Yeah opinions matched by test results, rare 🙂  Interesting is that the sister phone the LG G2 also suffers with the same problem.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overal score
Sony Xperia Z 60.1 58.3 61.6 Below Average
LG G2 65.7 62.2 66.2 Below Average
LG Nexus 5 65.0 64.8 65.8 Below Average
HTC One 69.3 66.6 75.9 Good
Samsung I9505 Galaxy S4 70.6 66.2 77.3 Good
LG Nexus 4 71.0 66.6 78.8 Good
HTC One X 65.1 66.0 75.8 Average
Nokia Lumia 1020 69.8 66.6 72.5 Good
Nokia Lumia 920 61.6 64.8 65.8 Below Average
Samsung I9300 Galaxy S III 75.1 66.5 75.0 Good

 Camera

The Nexus 5 is a the Google version of the LG G2.  The hardware is pretty near identical for the camera except that it feature a 8MP sensor as opposed to a 13MP in the G2.  The Nexus 5 does include the optical image stabilization, a rare feature among Android presently (But to be quite common going forward).  The OIS is not as advanced or effective as what is offered in the Nokia Lumia phones, but it’s superior to the software stabilization you see in many other phones.

The camera at the back looks very large, but in reality the sensor is the same size as what you find in most other phones (a 1/3.2″ sensor sourced from Sony, with a 1.4 micron pixel size), and the large circle a bit of marketing to highlight the existence of the optical image stabilization hardware it seems.  Interestingly the photos from the Nexus 5 are far superior to the Sony Xperia Z, which has a similar sensor.

IMG_0500

The image quality of the camera is very good, and it does decently under poor light (which is great considering the aperture of the lens is a f/2.4, when most rival cameras feature f/2.0 or 2.2, which is a big improvement over the Nexus 4 I used before.  The flash is also quite powerful and helps get decent footage when shooting indoors.  I used the HDR feature a lot, since the camera tends to loose some detail when you take the photos normally but where you can use HDR, the picture tend to be far more natural and detailed.

The video is smooth thanks to the stabilization and decent hardware, but you won’t find any of the high speed captures that you see with rival phones from Samsung, HTC, LG, etc as Google keeps it simple with 30fps at FullHD.

The Android camera application which was updated after Android 4.4.3 is simple but quite effective, and I really am amazed by the Photo Sphere feature, which allows you to get some amazing (amazing) panorama shots.

I also like the wide angle nature lens, a 30.4mm which in mobile phone terms is quite wide, with many others having only a 35mm or worse. You will appreciate the focal length when capturing landscapes, group photos, and when taking photos in a crammed space.

Android 4.4.3 onward however there is a bug with the camera application which causes it to simple crash when taking photos. There is no clear pattern on why this happens, and even after the Android 4.4.4 update, the problem still remains.  It’s not very frequent, but it’s an annoying bug.

Variants

The Nexus 5 is sold in two forms one for the US market with the model code D820, and international version is the D821.  The spec is identical, the only difference is the LTE bands supported. If you like me are using the Nexus 5 outside the US, and 4G LTE is not a major requirement, either model will do fine for you.  If you like me live in south asia, and 4G is you desire, then seek out the D821!

The phone is also available in 16GB and 32GB internal storage sizes.  Do note that the Nexus 5 just like all other Nexus phones has NO micro SD slot for expanding the storage.

D820 HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100LTE 700 / 800 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 / 2600
D821 HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100LTE 800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600

 Conclusion

The Nexus 5 unlike the other all other Nexus 5 phones before, has fixed the biggest gripe, and now offers a very decent camera.  The phone is simple and effective in its design, the performance is great, the display is very good, and the battery life adequate.   For many this should be a great phone, and with Google ensuring this device will get several more updates this is a definitely a safe and solid buy.  Just make sure you are fine with the low loudspeaker performance and poor headset audio quality!

Google’s Nexus strategy seems to be now showing signs of change with the new Android L launch said to also launch the Google silver range, where there will be multiple vendors who will launch  phones with basic Android OS similar to the Nexus range.  However this does not mean that support for Nexus phones is stopped, it just means that there is going to be many vanilla Android phones going forward and not just one vendor making it exclusively for Google.

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.

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….

HTC One X review, Tegra 3 quad core power


I usually held back one model from the current since the review units are personal purchases, and hot of the block means high prices in our market.  However the HTC One X had a rather dramatic  drop in price, mainly due to the wifi issue, and more importantly the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 which seems to have trounced it most departments, except price and possibly on camera performance.

This gave me the opportunity to dispose my Galaxy Note and obtain the HTC One X, and get the first hand flavor of the quad-core Tegra 3 platform.

Initial Impression

For a phone with a 4.7″ screen its very light and extremely nice on the hand.  However just like all phones in the market, manufacturers tout low weights and they achieve this by creating unbelievable thin and skimpy back covers (hint hint samsung) or advanced constructions that sadly are prone to scratches.  The One X belongs to the second category with a unique construction that oozes class and quality, but sadly use it without a cover it shows scratch marks that will make you cry on your investment.

However going back to the subject, the phone is wonderfully  balanced and stunning design, and truly asks you should you use an external case that will hide all the great design.

The responses are blazing fast, but even with all this horsepower and running ICS there is a bit of lag, however I hear that Jelly Bean improves on the smoothness, and the One X has been confirmed to receive this update (and it should, it is just months into the market!).  And if anyone is hoping to get the HTC One V, avoid seems HTC is not going ahead with the update for the V (and not really a big surprise since that’s one of the few in the 2011 line up to feature a single core)

The camera’s super fast focus, and the lovely usability feature of the idle screen where you drag one of the 4 common apps that launches the application as the phone unlocks is super and very different.

I got the black  version but I am told the white version is simply stunning and the pictures on the net clearly indicate that.  I hope to get hold of the similar design HTC One S in white color as a phone sometime soon to see this 🙂

Display and Touch experience

The screen is a very advanced dual IPS LCD, and in you really feel the quality of the display in the colors and quality.  However if you have used a Samsung Super AMOLED screen you will feel this screen is maybe a notch below in quality, but the screen colors are very natural compared to the very high contrast in the AMOLED screens.  The screen has a coating of Gorilla glass, but unlike the S3 it features the V1 of it, the S3 being one of the first phones to feature the V2 version of the Gorilla glass, however what the real world advantages remain to be seen.

The touch sensitivity of the display is very good, and backed by the quad core its very very smooth and fast running ICS.

The display is very bright, but you need to set it to full brightness to work outside, though indoors it can be run at even minimal brightness for normal use.

Interface

This was my first HTC and I have seen many units owned by my friends, and it has one of the beautiful skins, and the standout being the very clean time widget.  The HTC Sense 4.0 on the One X did not dissapoint and the interface truly was something special, that all my former phones from Samsung, Sony could not come even close.  The level of customization on themes and the way its represented on the screen is very user friendly and cool.

The widgets are top quality and there is an immense variety of it, that one may not need to try out third party widgets for many.  However there are too many clock widgets to my liking!

The nice touch on the standby screen to drag one of the four regular used apps to start is very useful, and I wish the other phones had this feature.

Even the settings menu has been customized and the lovely touch of the toggle for switching a feature on and off is nice however HTC could make this button a bit wider for chubby fingers as it can be a bit hard to use.

Another interesting customization is how you kill an app from the current running apps.  While this breaks the standard way ICS work, the implementation is cool.  In ICS you have to long press the home button and then swipe to the right to kill the app.  Easy and most phone manufacturers have left this as standard.  However HTC has gone one step up and here you get a beautiful portrait preview of the screen, and you swipe upwards.  The usability though favors the standard ICS version, but for pure coolness the HTC implementation stands out.

A notable omission is the lack of a quick access button in the alert drop down, as found in the Samsung S3 phone and even the older range.  While this can be easily overcome using third party widgets such as Power Controls  or Notification Toggles, with such high interface customizations I expected something special from HTC in this area as well.

Size and Handling

It can be an 4.7″ but it feels so much smaller and lovely to use and feel. One of the best balanced and nicest phones I have come across on size and handling.  It simply feels so light, and the touch of that ultra cool design is very very addictive.

Processing and Storage

The 1.5Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 is fast on most benchmarks, and I believe  there is a lot more optimizations to come for that chip since its early days.  It did blow the benchmarks until the quad-core Exynos processor came along, and the S4 Krait dual core units, after which the Tegra 3 though fast is not the quickest in some of the benchmarks.

One area touted is the 5th core, supposedly to handle the idle processing and hence ensure decent battery life from the monster processing unit.  However how much the 5th core comes into play is a bit questionable since the battery life of the One X is not exceptional, and according to reviews inferior to the more powerful Samsung S3 unit which does not have any power saving option. However the S3 (32nm compared to the Tegra 3 40nm) does have an advantage its hardware die is made using a new method that inherently make it more frugal on power aspects.

From memory aspects the One X comes with 1GB which is only featured on the higher end phones currently and definitely required for ICS and beyond which are proving to be memory hungry.  But with ICS known to be memory hungry (as ICS with just a few apps running has a tendency to use around 600-700MB of RAM, and with Chrome now available its going to be using even more), most of the mid level phones are also now featuring 1GB.  Possibly understanding this Samsung increased the ante on this with the S3, as it rolled out with 2GB giving it the edge.

The phone comes with 32GB in-built storage, but there is no expansion ability as there is no microSD card. Though 32GB is a sizeable amount, the One X is marketed as a multimedia phone with BeatsAudio enhancement, etc hence large amounts of music and video files are definitely going to fill up that memory.  Add to that the full HD recordings will also take space hence the lack of expansion is definitely a major let down considering the rival S3 having a microsd slot. In Asian markets people have an obsession to share using the sd card, since they rarely carry cables with them to allow them to use the mass storage mode, and hence lack of a memory card slot really impacts their normal sharing patterns.  Sadly not only HTC but even Sony has fallen into this trap, and Samsung seems to be understanding the market better.

Voice quality

The voice quality was very good, with clear and natural sound that really made you like the phone.   The speakerphone is loud and clear, definitely among the best I have used in recent phones. However for a BeatsAudio branded unit the loud speaker volume is definitely a bit low though its refined, and that’s something the Sony Xperia range does better.

Camera and Multimedia

One of the areas strongly marketed is its camera,  boasting a F 2.0 lens, the fastest in the market besting the Apple  4S and Xperia S (F 2.4) and has its own Image processing chip called HTC ImageChip. The lens is also quite wide at 28mm and also packs a very quick auto focusing unit.  Sadly camera phone focus drops from there, with no hardware shutter button for the camera, or a focus assist light as found in the N8.

The autofocus is extremely fast, but under good light, and slows down understandably under lower light conditions.  So check one for HTC one that.

The camera interface is superb, one of the best I have seen and really makes it easy for an user to add special effects, etc.  The downside is that it can also be a bit limiting on finer control points for advanced users, as there are no options to control things too much.

The picture quality is where things started to go down hill, the camera has a ugly habit of loosing the depth in the photos towards the edges, and seems to be a processing issues than hardware as photos taken using the CameraZoom app did not have this problem.  The end result of the photos is that it has the effect that one might see with the Nokia fixed focus camera units.

Another low was the amount of noise in the images, this is specially noticed indoors of if you take  a photo of a color document.  The resulting images don’t do justice for the special lens, and one wonders if the actual camera sensor is a below par compare to rivals from Samsung and Sony.

The protruding out lens may help work low light, but sadly the design makes the glass very scratch prone and this will definitely take the toll on long term use, and a scratched glass is something you really hate.

The headset that came with it was not a Beats unit but it was also something much better than normal headsets.  I compared it against headsets provided with the Iphone 4, Sony Xperia Ray, and my standard Koss and I found this to be far superior.

The front camera sadly is an atrocious quality for a flagship its miserably dark indoors and slow that it seems to be a token inclusion.  The front camera in my Xperia Ray and Xperia P though of the same resolution are far superior, but the top spot here goes for Samsung. The one one the Note is pretty good, and front what i have read the on the S3 is fair replacement for a rear camera of many cameras.

Browsing

The native HTC browser is fast when its working properly but the interface is very clunky for some basic uses.  For example if you want to switch tabs you have to go to the Menu, select tabs and then you are shown a preview to select the tab ,which is extremely cumbersome.  The browser also has the habit to sometime get stuck in processing and you have to reload pages to complete the page load.

I opted to use Opera and Chrome which were far superior to the native browser on the phone.

Battery

Based on forums the battery life was an area the One X had fallen short, and the unit I had was already updated with a fix in firmware to improve this.  I am a person who connects to the net on need and don’t have it permanently connected, and for my usage I actually could managed around 1.5-2 days. Yet when you switch 3G one and start browsing the battery does deplete quite fast, much faster than the Galaxy Note I  had, and getting 1 day would be a challenge in such usage patterns.

While the argument of the replaceable battery goes on, I feel that’s not a big deal since you have to power on and off the phone to get the new battery in.  I am sure a 20-30$ investment in an external charger (I use a tine 1300mAzh unit from Duracell) would be the solution than having to replace batteries.

Connectivity options

First the phone joins the Iphone band with a micro SIM.  Micro SIMs are not yet popular in most markets, and with us switching between phones this is a royal nuisance until this becomes  a standard.  Looking at the design I feel this was a market move than a requirement as it could have fielded a normal SIM.

However the biggest omission I feel that lets this phone down is the lack of microSD card.  If HTC could have a protruding lens on their camera, why not just tweak the design there to allow the expansion as in a world of full HD, 32GB is now just bog low.

Network Connectivity

The unit I had was said to be impacted by the wifi issue, and I was able to come across this.  I had my wifi unit placed two rooms away (brick walls) and the distance was around 30 feet and I lost signal, something I had not come across in any of my devices.

Further another problem I noticed was that when I had the phone in my pocket it also lost signal,  again something that I had not faced before.

These were signs that something was wrong with the network connectivity both 2G/3G and WIFI.

Benchmarks

I have compared the One X to the fastest phone I had prior to that which is the Galaxy Note.  Both feature similar resolutions, though the Note has a larger display.  However it gives a good idea to compare one of the 2011 best dual-core units against the Tegra 3 quad-core.

Antutu is a benchmark that has been tweaked for multi-cores and you can clearly see that impact of the additional cores in that.  With applications getting tweaked for multi-core the impact of the multi-cores will definitely make their presence going forward so this is a clear sign how much more the quad-core can do.

However Nenamark results shows that the extremely powerful Mali GPU on the Note can hold its own against the Nvidia Geforce GPU, and benchmarks of the newer Mali unit on the S3 outpaces the Tegra 3 by a fair degree.  However one area the Tegra is strong is on game compatibility since most developers favor the Nvidia platform on Android.

HTC One X (ICS 4.0.3) Samsung Galaxy Note (ICS 4.0.4)
Linpack single 51.9 48.9
Linpack multi 147.8 80.9
Antutu 2.8.3 10518 6475
Quadrant Standard 4126 3547
Nenamark 2.3 54.1 42.4
Vellamo 1.0.6 1535

Conclusion

The phone design was truly something special, and the build also excellent.  The audio quality is very good, and the processing definitely very powerful and outclassing the dual core units (bar the Krait units that power the HTC One S for instance).

The user interface is truly superb and something that makes the phone even more special, and that’s one area the HTC definitely remains above the rest.

The low light performance of the camera matches the F 2.0 lens but sadly the image quality is a let down, and the video is also not that great.

The lack of an micro SD may not be a big issue for some, but I feel 32GB is not quite enough for a flagship phone, and featuring a microSD expansion would have been optimal.

However the issues with WIFI and network connectivity and the image quality issues was a big let down for me.  I am keen to try the HTC One S which is similar to see if this resolves this problem that that current flagship seems to suffer.

Photo Gallery

Some pictures taken during good lighting conditions.  When going through the image gallery i found that many were not sharp, and have chosen examples that were sharp.

Some taken indoors or under poor lighting conditions.  Here the lens definitely making its presence, but the photos taken with flash sadly were lacking in sharpness and focus.  Again i have taken good representatives, but the chances of getting such were less than 20%, definitely not in the class of a N8.

Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000 Gingerbread and ICS review


I decided to see if I could switch from a Tab + Smartphone to a single device, and that’s where the Galaxy Note came into the equation.   So off went the Sony Arc, and in came the Galaxy Note.

With the arc running ICS, the first thing I wanted to do was to update the Note the recently released ICS version, however I found that the update was not available for the CSC code of my phone.  So the elementary move was to see if I could change the CSC code and get the update, and the option was available and this is the time I also came across the warning of the eMMC bug which was randomly effecting Galaxy Note phones, though the issue was supposedly in existence in many of the Galax Note devices due to a hardware issue which required a particular flag to be disabled (impact being slower access to the internal memory).  Still uncertain is that fact if the 4.0.4 update has fixed this issue, as Samsung has not formally confirmed a fix as to date.

So like it or not I had to be stuck with Gingerbread on my Galaxy Note, and though ICS has many issues with application compatibility what is clear is that it does improve the browsing and usability on devices that have the hardware to harness it, and the Galaxy Note is definitely one of them.

UPDATE July 2012: Subsequently i tested devices owned by my friend with ICS 4.0.3 and the got myself a new note device that had 4.0.4 running out of the box. Review has been updated to reflect these findings.  The latest update also brings a lot more features to the Note including the formerly Galaxy S3 exclusive pop-up video feature.  A note only feature introduced in 4.0.4 is the signature unlock that leverages the stylus.

Initial Impression

A big phone for a phone, and many may shy from directly using it as a phone without a hands free or headset.  However while it was a bit awkward I had no problem using it like a typical phone.

One good thing is it does not heat up like the Sony arc for long term use, or when browsing, though it does get hot on long use.

The proximity detection feature that is also there in select Samsung models, where  when you take a call to shut the display is very useful as it does reduce the “ouch I put the call on hold, or damn I just cut it/ dialed someone else) in addition to saving  the battery by cutting out the display.

Display, Touch and Stylus experience

Switching from the 800×480 resolution of the Arc to the higher 1280×800 on par with many of the tablets I had used immediately made its presence with more real estate on the screen, and the Samsung AMOLED screen on the Note was extremely vibrant even at its lowest setting. The Galaxy Note is also special for a 2011 phone that it has the higher resolution that only started to get used on the Samsung built Google Nexus, and recently launched Samsung Galaxy S3 (however there are select variants of the Galaxy S2 also having this resolution in some markets).

The AMOLED screen is superb making it excellent for video and internet use. The text is clear and the higher resolution combined with a larger screen area makes it even more effective. I recently switched to a HTC One X, and also tried a Galaxy S3, no matter what you say the 5.3″ of the Note is still more important for any video or internet browsing user than a 4.7/4.8″ screen.

The Exynos processor coupled with the Mali 400MP GPU has a substantial increase in the fluidity and part of the reason must be also the larger amount of RAM on this (1GB).  While there was some lag in some screens in Gingerbread in ICS this has been reduced that one feels why you need a quad-core at all!

The much touted Stylus was something I had to try, and I tried it with the S-Memo application.  The default pen thickness to me is a bit too thick and does no justice to the what can be done.  Making the nib thinner makes it quite ideal for writing quick notes or scribing a sketch.  However when I used it on Gingerbread I felt that the application was lagging and lacking in smoothness.

Subsequently when I tried it on an ICS running Note I found that the writing was super smooth and  vast improvement over the Gingerbread version.  I am not sure this was entirely do with the ICS, or if the version included in the ICS build was far more optimized by Samsung.  On ICS the pen application seriously has very good potential for drawing, diagram creation, and for taking notes though the Samsung applications usability to be frank is rather dismal and bordering crap!

A major use of the pen was also to take screen captures,  where it proved to be a bit more usable than using the power and volume key combination for ICS native screen captures.

Interface

This was the first time after my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 that I was coming in contact with the Touchwiz interface. While the interface is quite slick and has some interesting features,  it also brought in a lag, and subsequently resorted to using third party launchers for a more slicker navigation.  However due to the Galaxy Note having a thumping hardware spec even Touchwiz is more than bearable for me!

I used the Nemus launcher on my Note, though I find Apex to be better launcher for ICS.  Both these launchers maybe less full of eye candy compared to ADW or Go launcher, but seems to be far more tuned and lighter.

Size and Handling

While the phone is rather larger for a phone, it can still be used for taking calls but one handed operations are extremely hard for a normal person to use.  However the device is superb for use in landscape mode with both hands, making it ideal for gaming, reading, browsing, etc.

Processing and Storage

The dual-core Exynos processor from Samsung has been something that set the trend as the best of the breed in 2011, and even into mid 2012, its manages to compete well against the quad-core Tegra, and the quad-core Exynos.  The dual core S4 krait seems to be the unit that is breaking records, but the unit is more than capable of providing the required power not for this year but for the next if you hope to hold on to the device for a long term.

Another thing that makes the Note still a worth purchase is that unlike most phones in 2011, it comes with 1GB RAM, which is definitely required for ICS and Jelly Bean which require a lot more RAM than Gingerbread.

The Note comes with a fair amount of internal storage 16GB (some variants have 32GB), and it also comes with a microSD slot that can take up to another 32GB, providing ample storage.

Voice quality

The voice quality when using the phone is quite good. However for for its size I expected better from the in-built speaker phone. I felt that the Galaxy SII speakerphone was louder than the Note.

Multimedia

Samsung is known for bundling hardware support for practically all popular video formats, something many other manufacturers shy from.  Hence the default video player can handle all formats, but here again I prefer to use the MX Player for its better usability.

The Samsung music player is cool, and one of the features I like which I did not find in my Sony or HTC I the folder view, which is very useful when playing your music.

The camera unit seems identical to the Galaxy SII and its excellent for a camera phone. One of the key advantages that the Note and Galaxy S2 phones have is that they use a very very powerful flash, coupled with a fairly fast lens and decent sensor (for a camera phone) they produce top notch photos that even are hard to improve by the newer models such as the Galaxy S3 or the HTX One X/ Xperia S.  The video is also very good, and the Note is all ready to do 1080p, something that other brand phones only brought into the 2012 range!

The speakers on the Galaxy Note are adequate, but for the larger size I expected better.  Having tried both the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy 7.7 tab I find that the speaker unit is either identical to the S2 or worse.  The worse could be due to the form fact or design that muffles it,  hence its not that loud.  My former Sony Arc thumped a fair bit of sound when it comes to music than the Note.

Battery

If you look at the battery life tests, this device just stands out for voice calls due to the extremely large capacity battery which is at least 50-80% more than what a normal phone battery is in the top of range phones.

However once you start to use the screen a lot for browsing or reading (and remember AMOLED is not very efficient when the screen is entirely white, a major problem when it comes to browsing or e-reading), the battery drain is greater than a smaller screen with an smaller battery.

However with general use similar to my Arc I can easily take the device over 2 days, something very hard to accomplish with most smart phones, though heavy internet users (one of my colleagues who owned a Note falls into this category), and in his case the battery ran dry in less than a day.

Connectivity options

An aspect that I did not write or consider much in my past reviews were on the SIM type, since the micro SIM is something we mainly associated with Apple.  Well seems like more and more of the newer crop are joining the micro SIM band.  Fortunately the Galaxy Note still uses a normal SIM, very useful when you suddenly need to remove and use the SIM on an older phone.

Benchmarks

I had the luxury of using my version of the Note running Gingerbread and also subsequently try the device of my friend which had been upgraded to ICS.  Here is a quick summary of standard results.  Nenamark results have shown explosive increments with ICS across all phones i have tested so it seems to be either some tweak on ICS or how the benchmark works.  Reasons for Antutu dropping so much has baffled me, and when i compared the CPU scores had dropped, but power saving was definitely disabled, and i had also stopped any background applications.  I will try to rerun that test and see if that had been a freaky result, since the overall graphical interaction responses of the Note with ICS had improved vastly compared to Gingerbread.

I again got myself a Note, and this time it had ICS 4.0.4 running, and performance had improved beyond the Gingerbread version and much better than the ICS 4.0.3 firmware.

Gingerbread 2.3.6 ICS 4.0.3 ICS 4.0.4
Linpack single 65.0  48.9
Linpack multi 90.5  80.9
Antutu 2.8.2 6280  5210  6475
Quadrant Standard 2819  3415  3547
Nenamark 2.2 27.0  41.7  42.4

Even Vellamo scores for web rendering related had dropped in 4.0.3. Here are the two captures for Gingerbread (above) and ICS (below). However with the 4.0.4 update the figures are back indicating the initial ICS release was not properly tweaked.

Impact of power saving on the Galaxy Note

When I first ran the results on my Gingerbread Note, I was rather disappointing if i had got a dud unit since the results were very poor.  Then I realized the reason was that I had the default power saving enabled.  Here are some results showing the impact of the power saving on tests

No power saving Power saving enabled
Antutu 2.8.2 6280 3898
Quadrant Standard 2819 2264

Conclusion

Many laughed at the size, and all expected it to crash just like the Dell Streak. But how wrong people were, including myself, the device has a niche, and a large niche at that which seems to be growing, and the upcoming 5.5″ Note 2 and the sales numbers for the Note tell the story of its success.

With smart phones growing in size, the current flagship phones are touting 4.7/4.8″ screens that are not too far shy of the Galaxy Note, indicating that people want screen space, something that the Apple phones are now loosing out on, and this is where the Android devices are hitting hard.

The story is not just resolution, its also about the screen space, and with more and more users now moving to texting, browsing, and video calls coupled with seeking to use the phone as a multimedia device, the Galaxy Note has hit a spot and unlike past device its comes with superb hardware, an excellent screen that matches anything in the market, and the stylus that has its uses. It has not fallen into the trap of compromising on its multimedia and comes with an excellent camera that produces superb photos and videos.

So if you own a Note, or want to own one don’t think big is stupid, trust me it is note, and many in office who had a laugh when they saw me using it have purchased the same and are very happy as it does cater to the modern generation!  My kids pediatrician who is a techno geek, has a Note, and thought he upgraded his day phone a S2 with the S3, he still has  the Note indicating the more powerful S3 with the larger screen still cannot replace what the Note can do!

Galaxy Note as a Phone

For many the Galaxy Note will be far too large to use it as a normal phone, since it is far to large for single handed use, and also too large in size to be keeping it to your ear in size and weight (can also impact your clown factor in office!).

However if you are a Bluetooth headset user, this issue completely vanishes, and the larger battery and practically of the Note makes it a superb device.

Also if you are rare voice caller and mainly  text person, who also wants to browser or view videos, then look no further unless you prefer a larger size in a tablet format either 7/7.7/10″.

Galaxy Note as a carry along Tablet

While the Note is large, my belief is that its suitable for browsing but falls short on the e-reader department as its just too small for long term reading.  The size is also too small to be comfortable for long term use, and this I where the 7/7.7″ format comes into use.

Hence if you are into texting and take only a rare call, then the 7.7/7 in tabs are far more suited as they have the ideal reading size, and usually also come with better battery life and equivalent hardware.  I also got the opportunity to buy and use a P6800 Galaxy 7.7 tab and believe this suites such users far more than the Galaxy Note for heavy e-reading and movies than the Note.

Photo Gallery

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 MediaPad ICS official build now available for download


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

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

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

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

Cheap (Chinese) Android Tablet devices any good?


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While the expensive IPad and Android based tablets from Samsung, HTC, Toshiba, Asus, Acer fight it out for sales in the markets that people can afford, the allure of the tablet in the year the tablets outsold the PC’s in US has effected many of us as well.

This has seen an explosive rise in various Chinese tablet devices, that have found nirvana with Google Android, a full fledged open OS that they can use on a compatible device.  These devices sell well under $100 even in the US markets, but when the come to markets to which they are originally intended (for people who have lower budgets), the prices sadly are more closer to the 200-300$ mark.  Still very cheap when you consider that the expensive devices are even more expensive in these markets.  E.g. The IPad2 16GB WIFI that sells at 499$ in US sells close to 800-900$ locally from small dealers who bring them in small numbers since Apple only sells there products in selected markets.

Sadly the market for Android tablets have not seen the popularity as much as the IPad, since these are purchased by many more for design than for their use.  The lower cost tablets of course are a different ball game, and the expectation from the purchases it seems that it will do the same as the expensive counterparts for a lot less money.

But is that correct, or are there things we need to watch, or could these devices be actually better than their expensive counterparts?  Let me share some of my thoughts, you work it out if it makes sense for you.

Can these in-expensive devices be better?

The expensive brands are fighting it out for “slimmest tab”, “most featured tab”, “longest battery life”, “best screen”, “fastest CPU” and also try to sell you accessories.  So that means you can find most devices don’t have,

  1.  A full USB port, some don’t even have a mini/micro USB port
  2. Some don’t even have any expansion ports (microSD/SD cards), so you are stuck with the storage that is internal to the device
  3. Most don’t have 3G or you have to fork out more for the 3G version.  There too you may have the CDMA vs GSM versions, and now the LTE versions to stop you using it in all markets.

Strangely the low budget tablets have loads of features,

1. They usually have a full USB port, or if not they definitely have an micro USB port.

That means you can hook up a USB or card reader and access stuff on flash drives, memory cards.  Since they run Android 2.2 in most cases or newer, you can access these storage and increase your storage space.  Something you definitely can’t do with an IPad, and for that matter with a lot of expensive branded tablets.  For instance the currently IPad2 challenge the Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 has no expansion slots or USB.  You need to buy an accessory that is hard to find that fixes to the proprietary slot to connect an USB or card reader.  Makes the whole idea of slim design so less practical.

2. Wifi is standard, but 3G is prompted by saying simply use a 3G USB dongle!

Since these devices have a full fledged USB device, they can use a 3G USB modem directly and the latest modems have support for Android.  You can do this only with a very few branded expensive tablets such as the Toshiba Thrive, Acer A500.  None of the Samsung Galaxy tabs have this directly on the tablet, and definitely the IPad can’t do this 🙂

3. They come with all the accessories

These devices come bundled in full kit.  The package will usually consist of a basic carry case, and for devices with an micro USB connector, the adapter that connects a full USB devices, etc.  Such consumer oriented thinking sadly is not there with the expensive brands, they want you to spend spend and spend..

So that’s the nice part of the story.  Part 2…

What should one be vary/careful when buying?

Less price does sometimes means a bargain good buy, but in this case i have dug deep and have to say you have to be a tad cautious and also see what kind of use.  In the event the usage model is suitable then these devices are the thing for you.

1.  Don’t be deceived by the specification

We all love specifications.  The chaps who sell this know this well.  Which is why they prominently state the CPU speed,  Screen Size, Connectivity Options.  A bit lower in font you see the Android version.  The other points are either not listed or hard to find.  Why ? Let us see.

2. Android support and upgrades

Android is developing at an unbelievable pace, and with it just like desktops the expected hardware capabilities to support the newer operating system and applications are also rising steeply.   Google and rest don’t seem to be too bothered about backward compatibility, though in recent times Google has started to apply more regulations on the standards to ensure the app market grows, which has been on area that has ensure Apple still was popular, as even their older devices can run the newer operating systems and applications.

Read carefully and see what features are missing in the Android OS that your devices ships with, since some features are very necessary such as USB tethering, support for mass storage devices, multi-touch support, etc.   In addition some of the new applications won’t run on older versions as they depend on the new operating system to work better.

These in-expensive tablets have poor software update support, so you will have to rely on custom ROMs, the popular place for that is http://xda-developers.com/.

The forums on this site are also good to find which of the in-expensive tablets are the one’s are less risk or less problematic.

3. CPU speed alone is not enough

The reason these devices can run Android is that all the mobile tablets are ARM based.  Hence if they comply to these standards the devices are technically compatible to run Android.  However 1GHZ speed is not the only thing, just like in a desktop / laptop CPU, you have different manufacturers, and you also have different versions.  You have the low end, mid level and the high end.  Most of the Chinese devices are using the older (1-2 era’s in mobile terms) chips. These support less features and hence the performance is a lot slower.  This will be definitely noticed when you run power hungry apps or try to multi-task.

Also Chinese tablets are very well known to “lie” about the CPU.  Dig around the Internet as you will find that though the brand various many originate from the same manufacturer.  The manufacturer usually states the correct spec, but the companies that brand it and sell these devices spice it up.  They sometime indicate higher speeds than what is running, or say its an newer version of the processor when its actually based on an older ARM spec.

Another danger that has been found was that these vendors used binned processors (processors that failed quality tests) or overclock the processors above the maximum threshold.  This can mean your device can fail in a short period of time, or can get warm or unpleasantly hot when used for even short periods of time.

To find the ARM processor types see –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_architecture ,

http://www.arm.com/products/processors/index.php ,

http://www.arm.com/community/partners/cores.php

For vendors who make processors,

http://www.arm.com/community/partners/company_list/rw/ProductTypes/1,2/

Remember ARM is standard, and different manufacturers make processor that comply with these standards including Samsung, Qualcomm, VIA

4. Don’t have GPU acceleration (no dedicated GPU, your CPU has to do the GPU work)

While your every day usage of the tab can live without GPU acceleration if you are patient, even these apps such a wall papers, document viewing, email viewing, browsing all would do with some GPU acceleration. And with an Android tablet would you not try out Angry Birds at least 🙂 No GPU acceleration means lots of apps will either not run, or will be bog slow, and will also drain your battery.

You can find more details on the GPU configurations for devices from this Wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Android_devices

5. Battery life can be low to pathetic

This is another area where these devices can be great downfall.  They are packaged with batteries that have 50-100% less capacity compared to the branded tablets. That means while the branded expensive devices can happily run for 6-10hours or weeks on standby mode, these cheap tablets can barely run for 2-3hours or stay on standby for more than a few days.  This can be big issue for some.  Definitely a big issue for me.

The next area is the battery origins are not known, finding replacements are not going to be easy.  Most tablets are designed where the battery is sealed unlike mobile phones, and battery replacement is not simply buying and inserting the new battery.

6. Screen resolution, quality,  pixels and TYPE

One of the biggest issues is that most of these devices are still resistive touch, not capacitive.  Resistive means you can use a stylus, but you have to really thump into the screen.  The low smooth scrolling you get when you use an IPad/IPhone, or the new Android/Symbian devices are only possible with capacitive touch devices.  However the good news is that some of the newer devices are now moving into these type of screens.  However again be careful, as the marketing literature will say it is but the true hardware maybe not.  One quick way is to try the famous pinch and zoom, which can only be done with a multi-touch capacitive screen technology.

800×480 or 800×600 might seem a lot, but in a 7″ or 10″ tablet that is way to little and you will immediately notice it any form of usage.  When other devices are going past the 1024×768 into 1280×800 or better, you are going to miss a lot on picture quality when you view on these screens.

Another area is the brightness and clarity, most low end displays will be useless in direct sunlight or indoors under bright light, and that will make the device useless.

Branded vendors will also use technologies that are applied as coatings on top of the glass that will reduce glare, are resistant to finger smudges, and also more resistant to drops (the most popular and supposedly strongest being Gorilla Glass by corningware, yes the same guys who the kitchen pyrex stuff!).   I doubt if any of the cheap tablets have this protection, the list of devices that are shipping with this type of screen is constantly updated at http://www.corninggorillaglass.com/products-with-gorilla/full-products-list.  IPad avoids this glass, and works with another glass company called Akashi glass in Japan, the IPad1 was very suspect for cracking, but the IPad2 is lot more resilient as it uses a technology called DragonTrail glass, that is also fairly tough but not at the same level as the Gorilla glass.

7. Repairs

These items are usually made by companies based on what is available in the market.  Hence the models change from batch to batch.  They may look the same but internally the components can very tremendously.  Hence if you item is out of warranty you may find it very hard to get it fixed, but on the counter argument it might be cheaper to buy a new one than fixing it, something you will not be able to do if you buy an expensive branded Tablet.

8. Codec support

Google Android does not provide codecs for all video formats as standard.  Hence the vendor packaging the device has to included the additional codec and pay royalty to the firm they get the codec from.  Some current popular high dev formats such as MKV, DIVX are not bundled with most tablets in the in-expensive range, and surprisingly even expensive tablets from manufacturers including the IPad does not support this as standard and you need to user other free or paid software to play such formats. One of the manufacturers who does provide most codecs is Samsung.

Though you don’t have the codec you can use players such as RockPlayer, etc to play all formats, but in most cases this is entire software and CPU based rendering, lacking the hardware support which means possible skipped frames, poor quality rendering and drain on the battery. Since tablets are regularly used for viewing video related material, this is also another important area to consider.

From Symbian to Android – my experiences


Afters years of Nokia Symbian ownership decided i need to try out one of the more popular smartphone platforms.  If the Nokia N8 did not have the hardware failure, I was also set in purchasing it, since the legacy feel of Symbian3, weak app market (ovi) were not big issues, though the lower resolution screen was a bit of bummer.  The C7 is a decent lower model, but the full-focusing camera makes it not good since the ability for a camera in the phone to take picture of a whiteboard or a receipt is vital. Full focus while doing a good job with normal pics, can only focus beyond 50cm, so that means no macro at all.

While the IPhone 4 is a very appealing proposition, specially with the rich app store, the bordering arrogance (putting it mildly) of Apple on how they handle their sales put me off.   I also found from the official local agent for Apple that Apple has prohibited selling the IPhone in my country, and this is something i have not seen with any other vendor.  So off went the Apple IPhone no matter how good!

So then the option was to get into the more wilder Android market.  The Galaxy S was the choice, but with budgets, i took the Sony Ericsson X10 (yeah yeah, support is crap, no proper multi-touch, Froyo aint’  coming here……………………..) as the replacement for the Nokia N97 mini.

First impressions,

PROS

– The app store is definitely richer

– The apps are far more smoother than the N97mini. Then again this is running a processor that 2.5X of the N97 mini and has a dedicated graphic card, so i guess that not a fair comparison

– The higher no of pixels are definitely useful, as you see the difference when browsing and reading content such as pdfs, etc. Definitely a worthy improvement

– The multiple desktops, definitely helps customize the apps into groups, and the lack of restrictions on the size of the widget makes it even more neater

CONS

– Outlook sync:: NO OUTLOOK sync.  This really surprised me. Here i have synced my contacts with outlook, and were all ready to sync to find that i cannot.  The work around was messy and complex, unless you buy a commercial tool.  This is how i got around it without any special tool, but its a manual process based on reading the net and then doing some of my own experiments.  See  https://rayazmuthalif.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/syncing-up-your-contacts-from-a-nokia-phone-to-an-android/.  Quite surprising considering google must be having loads of users converting from nokia and and other phones and no having a Google tool for this is ridiculous.

– Tethering:: No built in tethering, i mean sure it supports it but its all via downloads from the market.  Things that Nokia gave free are sadly not bundled.  The sync app is super featureless, with only media transfers, and a file manager.  No wonder manufacturers love Android, their costs are  lowered in the investment on apps.

–  User Experience:: Maybe its the SE implementation but the touch interface is not smooth, i have tried the iPhone and this is no match for the iOS interface (yet).

– Usability:: who said Symbian was bad.  Just try going through the menu options on Android.  It is no good either.  Stevey J and the boys definitely have that end covered. My wife who had a time learning to use the N97MINI, simply used this and said, only for the techies, as its just to overly complex for a phone.  Can’t disagree with her on that, this is more like a desktop OS than a phone OS.

– Multimedia:: Woo.. seems like the video codec we took for granted is not available as yet for Android phones.  The Galaxy S is the first certified DIVX supported phone, which means none of the other phones have official divx support.  Add to it there is no Divx software for Androids as yet.  Seems the current Divx implementations are all software based, so expect heavy battery drain when playing Divx

– Camera:: Have you noticed that most Android camera’s have no proper flash.  The much famed Galaxy S for instance does not even have any sort of flash.  However don’ t think its because they use any great sensor, the Nokia N8 sensor rules in this arena.  The current camera capabilities are limited in Android, with very little control.  Most of what you see in the camera apps is thanks to the manufacturer, not Google Android.

– Free Apps drain power and increase data costs due to Ad download:: Apps are free on on the google app market, BUT.. a big BUT, most of them require internet connectivity to work, since they need to download ads.  This could be a no no for many users in our market since unless you buy a data package bundle you can end up with big bills.  So watch out.