As part of a continuing series of features taking a good long look at the state of mobile, and aiming to be as brutally honest as possible, here I use my experience in the mobile industry to tackle the really tough 'what if' questions that have probably been in your brain for the last three or four years, as 'All About' readers. Hopefully my answers will provoke debate in Disqus below, too - why not get involved?
Understandably, a lot of the 'what if?' discussion will revolve around a single date in history, the (infamous?) February 2011 public turnaround of Nokia's Stephen Elop on stage with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, announcing Windows Phone as the way forward with Meego being cancelled and Symbian being wound down. The other date/news/link you perhaps need is the sale of Nokia's Devices division to Microsoft a couple of years later.
Right, on with the questions. And if you want to have your say, please see below. Also, please note that all opinions below are mine (Steve's) and don't necessarily reflect the views of other current or past contributors to AAS and AAWP.
What if Nokia had kept on with Symbian and Meego in 2011?
At the start of 2011, Nokia was on something of a roll, actually. The new Symbian^3 range of handsets, the N8, C7, E7 and C6-01 were all selling quite well, having been out for a few months. These were the first Symbian phones (from Nokia) with capacitive touchscreens and the user experience was a lot closer to what buyers were expecting after three or so years of Apple iPhone and then Android handsets. Could Nokia have succeeded by sticking with Symbian for the midrange and using its new next-gen Meego OS for top end devices?
Possibly. There were problems though, which even the most ardent Symbian and Meego fans will acknowledge.
Firstly, Symbian's codebase, massively overhauled from the original non-touch S60 devices over the years and massively delayed by the whole 'take Symbian open source' fiasco, was a right mess. The OS itself was designed back in the days of GPRS and dial-up modems and almost everything had to be retrofitted over the next decade. The iPhone (and iOS) had been improving rapidly from its 'smartest feature phone' opening in 2007, and the hardware and components used in the iPhone and Android worlds were starting to get close to Nokia's prowess.
Competition was fierce and Symbian's legacy architecture was holding it back (plus the above mentioned delays). 2011 was the point, arguably, where Android and iOS started to match Symbian from a technical (OS) point of view. Yes, Symbian development could be continued, but there had already been so many false starts and unproductive blind alleys (Symbian Carla and Donna, anyone?) that the competition was sure to overtake in fairly short order.
Secondly, Nokia's Symbian development teams had become too large (thousands), too complex and fragmented - matching the OS itself, in a way. A fresh start was surely needed. Which brings me to...
Thirdly, Meego, a joint project with Intel, was progressing as a modern cloud-centric, swipe-driven, graphical OS, but was too immature to take on iOS and Android. Having used the Nokia N9 at length, I'd say that it was at least a year behind where it needed to be. [Of course, Windows Phone was no further along, but that had the integral backing of the mighty Microsoft rather than Meego's part time patronage from an ailing Nokia.]
Cancelling Meego seemed harsh to fans of the OS, but it was too little, too late in the wider context. Nokia's mistake was not to wind Symbian up - that this had to happen at some point was obvious to all - but in announcing it so dramatically to the world before a successor was ready.
I've said many times privately that if I'd been a writer on Nokia's PR staff back in February 2011, I could have saved the company billions in stock value. All Elop had to say, on stage to the world, was "Windows Phone is the future, with Microsoft, but we're continuing with our new Symbian handsets until Windows Phone is ready".
As it is, there was a massive fall in sales of the fledgling Symbian^3 handsets through 2011, as networks understandably lost confidence in Nokia's commitment to the Symbian^3 handsets and stopped ordering, recommending and selling them. And a corresponding abandonment of Symbian as a viable platform/ecosystem, by developers and service providers, resulting in a situation by 2013 where compatibility with popular Internet-hosted services was already starting to drop away. Yes, we had Symbian Anna and Symbian Belle, but these were little more than UI polish at the end of the day.
Rafe's often said that Elop had to make the point about the switch dramatically and forcibly, in order to convince Microsoft that Nokia was serious about the new platform, but I'm not convinced. Elop was ex-Microsoft and had tight ties into his old company - there was no need to play public politics when his old friend Steve Ballmer was only a handshake away, on stage with him.
In short though, if Nokia had kept on with Symbian and Meego in 2011, it would ultimately have been doomed. The end of Symbian and Meego would have taken place later (maybe up to a couple of years at most), but the end was in sight. It's just the way it all panned out that rankles, both for Symbian/Meego fans and for (as it turned out, in the end) Nokia employees.
Was Stephen Elop a 'trojan horse' from Microsoft?
Ah yes, talking of Elop, above.... In a sense, of course he was (a trojan horse). Not explicitly, of course, but when Nokia's board hired Elop they knew full well that he was bringing close ties to Microsoft management with him, and the promise of hooking into Microsoft's fledgling new smartphone OS, backed by enormous financial reserves. Elop himself would always have had, in the back of his mind, the knowledge that exciting things were happening back in Redmond, and that if he didn't think Nokia's OSes were cutting it then he might be able to engineer a change. So, when Elop bounded up on stage at the end of Nokia World 2010, I was apprehensive, to say the least, speaking as a writer and editor for a Symbian-centric web site - what on earth was about to happen?
As it turned out, leaving aside the large and arguably unnecessary sales shortfall mentioned above, the change to Windows Phone went relatively quickly and smoothly, the production of the Lumia 800 just over six months later was impressive - even if the hardware did borrow hugely from the Meego-powered Nokia N9.
Has Windows Phone been a sales disaster all round?
Not really, I'd argue that it's a newer OS (2010) than iOS (2007) and Android (2008) and hasn't yet reached the peak of its potential (though with the availability of Windows Phone 8.1 and Lumia Cyan it just got a lot closer - we're now approaching the 'put up or shut up' phase for the OS). Moreover the smartphone market has been growing massively, largely on the strength of cheap Android handsets, the vast majority of which have little merit as works of engineering. Despite past examples like VHS vs Betamax video, quality should win out in the end, which is partly why Apple's iPhone sales have remained relatively stable despite the cheap Android onslaught.
Windows Phones have been selling at just less than 10 million per quarter, worldwide, but I fully expect this figure to be 15 million in Q3 and more in Q4, 2014. I know I'm biased, writing for AAWP, but in terms of numbers, the best of Windows Phone is still to come.
Would Microsoft have made such good progress with Windows Phone without Nokia's input?
No. Microsoft is large and slow - this has always been its way in other areas. Witness the slow growth and stagnation of Windows Mobile pre-2007. Windows Phone was a complete rewrite and had promise, but it took Nokia's hardware engineering prowess to create products based on Microsoft's OS that people actually wanted to buy. Through design, build quality, top components (screens, cameras, speakers).
In addition, Nokia's engineers (all used to what Symbian and Meego were capable of) had been pushing Microsoft very hard to try and get the rudiments of Windows Phone up to the level where they could say, hand on heart, that the new Lumias were an improvement on what had gone before. I firmly believe that Nokia's involvement with Windows Phone accelerated the OS to the point where it's now seen as 'a little late but catching up', as opposed to 'so late to the the smartphone party that it's irrelevant'. Niceties like Nokia Glance screen, all the imaging innovations and processing (seen in the existence of the Lumia 1020 below and its PureView successors), the HERE sat-nav suite, plus a lot more under the hood, have meant that Windows Phone is at least on the same lap as its competitors and, arguably, about to start catching up, in terms of sales and general ecosystem.
What if Nokia had adopted Android as the way forward in 2011?
This question has been debated a lot over the last few years - somewhat fruitlessly, but it's still worth a mention here. On the positive side, it would have been quicker to develop Android handsets, since the OS was more mature, Android would have appealed more to Symbian users since there are a lot of similarities in terms of flexibility and multitasking, and - of course - Android was something of a sure success story. It's always good to back a winning horse.
On the negative side, Nokia was worried about Samsung and Chinese manufacturers swooping in to steal its lunch in the low and mid-range*. Would Nokia have stood out? I'm sure sales in the short term (2011-2015) would have been better, but as a decade-long strategy it seemed flawed. Elop's leaning was naturally towards his alma mater and the idea was that Windows Phone could be a long term (2015-2020) success story, tied into (the then upcoming) Windows 8 and Windows 9, into tablet ambitions and Xbox in the living room. Microsoft, it seemed, had the vision, the money to back it up, and Elop had all the right contacts to make the transition - and, eventually - the sale work.
* We're only now just starting to see cheap Far East Windows Phones appear, by the way...
The above notwithstanding, I do have a number of personal sadnesses - I'd have loved to have seen Nokia pour another year's worth of OS development behind Symbian to produce an 808 successor, with larger (4.5") and higher resolution qHD screen. I'd have loved to have seen what high end Nokia hardware running Android 4.x would look like. I'd have loved to have seen where Meego could have gone (again, larger screen, more horsepower).
Then there are the sadnesses of the Nokia layoffs and the sale of (most of) a once proud Finnish company. We're in a new era though, where everything happens at breakneck speed, yesterday's tech is old hat and sales of smartphones are measured in the billions. It's OK to look back and analyse (as here) with hindsight, but it's also time to look ahead - and as far as possible.
Watch this space.
Emergency chargers have been getting both bigger and smaller in recent years, to cover every possible use case - but the bKey pushes the envelope again, with a tiny capacity in a tiny body - so small that it can fit on your keyring, in fact. OK, it's a fair cop, bKey is still a Kickstarter project, but it's already met its funding goal, so it's a safe bet for the end of the year.
The problem with most battery chargers is that they're a) bulky and b) need you to carry around a cable - and the bKey solves these, for true battery 'get me home' emergencies by being no bigger than a normal house key and also plugging into your smartphone directly. [True, the credit card-sized Pocket Power also matches these, but the use case is different, living in a wallet.]
bKey is 75mm in length and 6.55mm thick, it's claimed to be good for an additional 30 minutes of charging for your smartphone with an internal 230 mAh custom Li-Ion battery and can hold its charge for around 30 days, with 500+ battery cycles.
Here's the promo video:
The Kickstarter campaign has already gone beyond the target of $25,000 with 17 days to go for people to back the project (starting at 20 Canadian dollars) and claim one of the first units produced. The target is to be able to package and ship the bKey by the end of this year.
Whatsapp, despite being a pretty core Symbian application for many people, hasn't been (consistently) in the Nokia Store for many months, so the freezing of the latter didn't cause it to skip a beat. For complicated reasons (my SIM keeps switching devices, essentially), I can't really use Whatsapp at all, but I did get notified by Vedhas Patkar about a new version, v2.11.600, detailed below.
I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I got a notification regarding a Whatsapp update earlier this week on my phone. This is the second (or maybe the third) update that Whatsapp for Symbian has received after Nokia announced that they won't be accepting any updates for Symbian apps in the Store.
This new update brings with it the ability to archive chats, along with the usual bug-fixes that accompany every update. I am must admit that I am not aware about the exact changelogs, but who doesn't like an app update?
The new version of the app can be downloaded from the official Whatsapp website, as will future versions, of course.
The supported Symbian UIs/platforms are the usual S60 3rd edition, S60 5th edition and Symbian^3, Anna and Belle.
I wonder which other Symbian applications you consider 'core' to your day to day life that should perhaps be kept updated outside the frozen Nokia Store and which perhaps aren't? Worth you dropping the developer a line and letting them know that a) you're still keen for updates, and b) the likes of AAS is still keen to give them publicity for such efforts?
A change that may affect both AAS and AAWP readers still using software from Nokia Beta Labs - Microsoft has announced that this public beta system is moving home and is going to be taking up residence in the uservoice.com domain. Moreover, the old site, along with some older content, will be removed in less than a month, specifically on September 5th, so if there's a particular application download or link you wanted to archive then now's the time.
According to an official email coming from the old Beta Labs team:
Dear Nokia Beta Labs community members,
We’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings in 2007, in large part due to your enthusiasm and eager participation in our beta trials. Thank you for that! Now, please join us in preparing for the next chapter.
Beginning this month we will start hosting all new beta trials for Lumia apps at a new site, based on services provided by UserVoice. You can preview that site at http://lumiabetaapps.uservoice.com
That site will be the new home for beta trials for Lumia apps. There you will find info about ongoing trials, instructions to install beta apps, and notes about app features and known issues. And for each beta app there is a feedback forum where you can give feedback about the apps, vote on others’ feedback, and interact with the teams developing the apps...
...The Nokia Beta Labs site that is now available at http://betalabs.nokia.comwill be discontinued on September 5, 2014, and all links to thebetalabs.nokia.com domain will redirect to the new site. All content hosted at the Nokia Beta Labs site will no longer be available after the site is discontinued. However, many of the trials ongoing now at Nokia Beta Labs will continue at the new site and you will be able to continue giving feedback and interacting there. For example:
I suspect that the changes won't have much practical impact to AAS or AAWP readers:
- AAS - users will already have installed or archived everything they might need from Beta Labs (and let's face it, nothing new for Symbian has arisen from Nokia for years), any existing content on the site is essentially hidden or accessible via Google now(!)
- AAWP - users now have a pretty stable application set, with the ongoing release of Lumia Cyan and applications to match from Nokia for Windows Phone 8.1.
The uservoice.com domain has been used in the past (as the name suggests) for Microsoft to get feedback on applications which are being prototyped or developed actively, so the overall function of a 'Beta Labs' type setup remains.
Comments welcome - will this inconvenience you in any way?
File this under 'tech for the near future' and not of direct interest for current hardware, but I was interested to note that the USB Promoter Group has announced that it has finalized the design of the USB Type-C plug, a new type of (micro)USB plug that's designed to completely replace all current USB connectors. Think an Apple Lightning connector for the iPhone 5 and new iPads, the idea is the same - no more thinking or observation needed when plugging in - the connector will work 'either way up'. Type-C looks like being a winner, though a) a wide array of physical adapters will be needed in the transition period from current connectors and b) was there really no way to work with Apple or license Lightning technology so that we could finally have one standard?
According to the USB-IF's press release (PDF), the new connector is "similar in size" to current micro USB 2.0 Type-B connectors... It is designed to be "robust enough for laptops and tablets" and "slim enough for mobile phones." The openings for the connector measure roughly 8.4mm by 2.6mm.
As we've reported previously, cables and adapters for connecting Type-C devices into older Type-A and Type-B ports will be readily available—the prevalence of these older ports will make any industry-wide shift to USB Type-C an arduous, years-long process.
The new Type-C plug will be compatible with USB 3.1, a revised version of the spec that boosts theoretical transfer speeds from the 5Gbps of USB 3.0 to 10Gbps and that supports delivery of up to 100W of power using the USB Power Delivery spec...
...Finally, the USB Type-C connector has been designed to scale with the USB spec as it gets faster, so as we move beyond USB 3.1 it should be possible to make future cables physically compatible with one another, avoiding ugly solutions like the micro USB 3.0 Type-B connector.
Indeed. USB 3 (Type-B) was a monstrosity (only seen in the phone world on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3 so far, thankfully) and from all accounts it seems that manufacturers are skipping Type-B completely, as a bad job, and moving straight to Type-C - we should start to see hardware with Type-C ports within a year, though as ArsTechnica notes, the 'shift' across the whole industry, and in peoples' homes and offices, will take many years, we're talking 2020 at least.
PS. Presumably Apple was consulted before Type-C was envisioned and presumably there was either no agreement on licensing or the Apple system was considered too proprietary to be implemented by other manufacturers. Shame.
You've got to love market research - at least, it beats guessing everything from personal experience(!) In this case, the folks at Kantar World Panel, asking new smartphone buyers about their experience and what they wanted from a device. Now, take a lot of the Apple/Samsung/Nokia data with a pinch of salt, because the study was in the USA, with its completely skewed heavy-contract-centric nature, but the general 'wants' and 'desires' of the public should be more generally applicable. Below, I reproduce the two main charts of interest from the PDF report.
You can download the PDF report yourself here. Here's what people look for (apparently) in terms of functionality in a smartphone:
The biggest surprise is the preference expressed for 4G/LTE. Possibly reflecting the exact markets that the Kantar team did its research (in rural UK, for example, 4G wouldn't even be considered!) It's good to see the focus on the big four though - reliability, imaging, battery life and screen clarity and quality, all aspects most of us also prize. Even over processor speed, something which is rightly relegated here, since performance in most current smartphones is OS/UI-limited/dependent.
The relatively poor showing for 'storage capacity' reflects the continuing trend towards streaming (rather than stored) media, though again I suspect that this would have been placed higher if the interviewees had been in a less connected area of the country.
In a companion chart, here's what people look for in terms of a smartphone's design (i.e. cosmetics, form):
No surprise over the main factor - screen size dictates overall device size and is a very subjective/personal decision, of course. A bigger surprise, at least in this USA-centric survey, was that color (sic) was considered relatively unimportant. Interesting, given Nokia's focus on introducing wacky colours to its latter day Symbian devices and then Windows Phones. I'd agree, colour is perhaps least important to me too - I've learned to live with the bright yellow of my Lumia 1020 and white Nokia 808, but in each case they were simply colours I'd 'ended up with'!
Comments? Do you wildly disagree with any of Kantar's survey findings?
A couple of weeks ago, the official Nokia Developer Blog announced some changes to its support for Series 40 and Nokia's ill-fated 'X' platform - but the eagle eyed people at Symbian Developers have put two and two together and have drawn a very likely conclusion for Symbian users too....
From the Symbian Developers article:
You might have heard that Nokia X and Nokia Asha basically got killed off by Microsoft recently, or were put in “maintenance mode”, if you want to use the correct term. The plan is to replace these kind of devices with low-cost Windows Phone-devices instead. Sadly, this also means that Nokia Store will get affected. The Nokia Developer Team recently announced that developers can still publish new content for Nokia X and Nokia Asha devices, but that it will come to an end after March 31, 2015.
It was also announced that content in Nokia Store no longer will be available to download after the end of 2015. Although only Nokia X and Nokia Asha was mentioned, Symbian-devices will also get affected, as they all share the same store for apps, games and themes.
Nokia X and Nokia Asha is the reason why Nokia Store kept running for so long, and without them, the store most likely would have closed earlier. It’s sad to know that all content might disappear after 2015, but at least it’s not happening in 2014.
I've said for a while that Symbian enthusiasts should make sure they're as independent as possible from what remains of the old Nokia - using custom firmware, using an alternative application store, using freeware downloads, and more. Of course, there's still some content that is 'locked' in the (frozen) Nokia Store, not least a few commercial applications that were never formally released outside the Store. Maybe some kind geek, in the comments, can explain the procedure for a keen Symbian fan to 'grab'/intercept the SISx file for an application that they have legally purchased?
Before the downloads cease altogether, that is!
Back in February, I reported that Skype was being withdrawn from the Nokia Store 'for the last time', but that you could still sideload the Skype client and it would work 'for a while'. That 'while' seems to be drawing to a close, with some Skype users receiving the email quoted below. In summary, Skype for Symbian will stop working altogether 'within the next few weeks', however you managed to install it in the first place. Such service stoppages are perhaps expected, given the perilous state of 'Support' for the OS mid 2014.
Here's the email that was received from Skype support:
Skype apps for Symbian are permanently retiring
We've noticed that you are, or previously were, signed into Skype on a Symbian phone, and we're sorry to inform you that we are now permanently retiring all Skype apps for Symbian phones. As a result, within the next few weeks, you'll no longer be able to sign in and use Skype on any Symbian phone.
You can still stay in touch with friends and family using Skype on an Android device, Nokia Lumia phone or desktop computer. You can sign into them all using the same Skype account. The latest versions of Skype for all your devices are available at http://www.skype.com/download.
Hey, at least Skype didn't mention the iPhone!!
Any Symbian applications that access Internet-facing services should continue to expect the worst, of course, with zero support now from companies like Skype. While sad, given the installed base of older Symbian phones, in this case Skype was always a poor relation of the Android/iOS/WP versions, with no video calling support, so it's perhaps not a huge loss.
Still, another nail in the coffin for some people?
Look, I get it, there are plenty of Symbian enthusiasts here - I'm one of them. But every single time something breaks in terms of compatibility with a particular Internet service, we see the same comment from multiple people: "But Nokia promised us support until 2016!" That was indeed what was promised on stage at MWC 2011. But then you have to look at both what the word means and what's happened to the company itself since then. I'm not apologising for Nokia's multiple faux pas and for the current situation in 2014, but let's at least be realistic.
'Support until 2016'
First of all, what does a phone manufacturer mean by 'Support'? I'd venture, as a minimum:
- someone to pick up a phone when called, or respond in an online forum, to answer user questions
- hardware warranty, and repair facilities after that
- patches and fixes for OS and core application bugs and incompatibilities
Number 1 is still in place, at least, via Nokia Discussions, and number 2 is nominally still relevant, with a network of Care Points across the world, though the actual warranties will have run out now for just about every Symbian device, so we're only talking about repair facilities. However, in many cases, if spare parts are needed, they won't actually be available, since they're no longer made. It would be unrealistic to expect any company to keep a massive parts inventory for so many models years after their warranty ran out - but hey, you might still get lucky.
Number 3 is the controversial one, of course. The enthusiast's position is that bits are bits and bytes are bytes, and support was promised until 2016, so why can't this part, at least, be honoured?
Indeed. But honoured by whom? The original (massive) Symbian development teams at Nokia (and then Accenture) have been almost completely disbanded, the company itself officially abandoned all software development for the OS at some point in 2012, the application Store got frozen and the relevant part of Nokia itself was bought up, lock stock and barrel, by Microsoft over the last 12 months. So who exactly do users think is going to code such fixes and patches?
A good example is the recently discovered bug in QtWebKit, whereby changes on an OAuth web login screen were enough in Symbian Qt-based applications to crash the OS completely. It's a low level bug and probably fairly easy to fix - if there was anyone left with access to the code. And build tools. And update servers.
When chatting to a Nokia staffer at the Lumia 1020 launch, I asked how morale was internally, what with Symbian being axed (a year before) etc. "Oh", the lady said, "Morale is great, anyone upset about the OS change left ages ago." Which is telling, really. Getting a patch or update out for any part of Symbian OS is now just about impossible, I'd say, there simply aren't any joined up resources left to accomplish such a thing.
Bit by bit, as the online world changes (APIs, OAuth, etc.), the greater the chance that more and more of Symbian's online 'hooks' will break. Some of these are down to the OS and can't be fixed anymore. Some are down to third party applications and may or may not be addressed, depending on the developer and whether they too have abandoned their Symbian developer toolchain/machine.
Of course, all the standalone 'converged' functions that made Sumbian and its hardware great are still there and working as advertised - devices like the N8, 701 and 808 are still great phones - but in 2014 we live in a very different world and the chances are that most things you'll want to do involve the Internet to some degree. Even humble Gmail and Google PIM sync is now a pain unless you pay Nuevasync for the privilege.
In short, 'Support until 2016' was a laudable aim, but is only true in a rather tenuous fashion in 2014. And there's no one to shout at, since Microsoft won't be interested in the slightest. It's like buying a car from one manufacturer and then, two years after another company takes them over, complaining at the latter that the former had promised engine upgrades when you bought the vehicle. "Sorry, nothing to do with us, that was before our time" will come the reply.
What about custom firmware? Despite petitions for Nokia to release Symbian's last known source code, this never happened. Unsurprisingly, since a surprising amount of work is needed to clear 10 million lines of code for public release into a repository. Copyrighted modules, existing licenses, etc. It's a minefield. So CFW builders like the Delight team have to work from binaries, adding to the OS where they can, modding where they can, but ultimately just patching up an OS that's now fallen into disrepair. Still, it means that any Symbian enthusiasts can at least hobble along for the time being.
Perhaps the best approach for someone in love with their (e.g.) Nokia 808 or N8 is to think of the phone as a converged device circa 2008, i.e. telephony, superb photography, music playback and navigation, but only rudimentary online functions, and to use the Symbian device on conjunction with a small tablet powered by iOS or Android.
That approach has a lot of plus points, spoilt only by the patchy support for getting a tablet online using the Symbian device as a conduit, due to Wi-fi hotspot standards changing in recent years ('ad hoc' rather than 'infrastructure'). So you'd probably need at least a data SIM in the tablet, unless you'd be confident of external wi-fi when needed. There's no one easy answer.
What about moving away from Symbian? At least there's hardware in the mobile world that's roughly as capable and more modern. Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom is arguably a match for the Nokia 808 in a lot of ways and Android's flexibility and expansion mirror Symbian, while Nokia's Lumia 1020 is now dirt cheap (well under £300, SIM-free) and has the same 41MP sensor and oversampling, etc. And both options give you the Xenon flash. There IS life after Symbian, trust me.
But please don't parrot the 'But Nokia promised us...' line anymore. Yes, you can be cross at Stephen Elop, at Microsoft, at Nokia's board, at Elop's predecessors, and all are to blame for Symbian's fall from grace. But, even if any of these were to hear your cries, there's almost nothing that can be done anymore.
Sadly. Very sadly.
Another in Lumsing's excellent series of 'Power Banks', the 6000mAh model here is distinguished from its larger 10400mAh sister by being dramatically slimmer and almost all metal. As a result, the price-per-milliAmp-hour is higher, but I don't care - the 6000 is a "man's" charger - a veritable mobile power tool and yes, you can knock nails in with it. Probably.
Arriving in the same deluxe packaging as the 10400mAh version, the Lumsing 6000mAh Portable Power Bank feels like more of a premium product. Whereas the bigger, bulkier model had plastic styled to look like metal, here we actually have an aluminium shell that wraps around the body of the charger, the only exception being the status edge, which is shiny black plastic and has the 'on' check/power button and the traditional four status LEDs.
On the top edge is microUSB input (i.e. for charging the Power Bank) and two standard USB outputs, one rated at 2.1A (for tablets) and one at 1A - though either work for most smartphones, of course, and both at 5V. A 0.5m elasticated microUSB cable is supplied in the box, though doubtless most users will already have their own favourite leads.
Notably, there's no mains charger in the box - again, it's assumed that most people have multiple microUSB wall chargers (or similar) and, on the whole, I'm fine with this. Along with phone makers omitting headphones, this sort of reduction does have a practical impact on waste and duplication. Though the 1.5A input rating for the Power Bank does mean that you'll need a meaty charger if you want to recharge the accessory in the quoted 'not more than five hours'.
If five hours still sounds a long time, remember the capacity here. 6000mAh is well over twice what's in most 2014 smartphones. At any point the LEDs indicate what's going on - animating when filling the Power Bank and showing 25% increments when the button is pressed when static or discharging.
In terms of charging devices, this being the All About sites, the 6000mAh Power Bank recharged a Nokia 808 PureView from scratch and a Nokia Lumia 1020 from scratch, and had enough juice left over to take my big batteried Lumia 1520 from zero to over 60%. Which is quite impressive from an emergency charger that's itself no larger than a typical phone.
There's no denying the 6000mAh Power Bank's style - the orange trim is a little quirky, but the mass of brushed black aluminium (there's also a silver version) is enough to firmly put the accessory in most people's 'want' lists. An emergency charger needs to look and feel like it's a mission critical tool and not an overblown child's toy - and this Power Bank most definitely feels, in the hand, like it belongs in a geek's toolkit.
Yes, the sheer value for money isn't quite as high as in its plastic predecessor, at £19 here in the UK, but it's still pretty darned excellent and I'd be particularly proud to take this from my pocket in any meeting or show in order to render assistance to a fellow smartphone owner in need.
Sent in for review a couple of weeks ago was this new portable Bluetooth speaker, aimed at going with you on trips to provide quality music and podcasts. I was a little sceptical at the low price and plastic design, but in practice it connected to all my Symbian, Windows Phone and Android smartphones and sound quality was excellent. See below.
Essentially an artily sculpted plastic cube, with attractive 'EQ' style hole patterns on three sides to let the sound out, the Inateck BP1001B is very light and first impressions are that it'll be cheap and nasty - in fact, not so much.
The top is shiny plastic, presumably a design decision, though it does scratch and scuff far too easily. A matt finish here would have been a lot better. The only control buttons are on the back, in the shape of a rather clever volume toggle switch (i.e. nudge the setting up and down), which also presses in, doubling as play/pause for whatever media you're enjoying, plus it answers phone calls, handling them via the speaker itself and a built-in microphone. All very neat.
Also on the back are a standard microUSB port for charging (a cable is supplied) and an 'AUX' line-in, in case you want to hook this up via the (also supplied) 3.5mm cable rather than using the main Bluetooth system.
On the bottom are four effective rubber pads, to help stabilise the speaker and stop scratching on a shiny surface, plus a master on/off switch. The battery inside is 500mAh (despite being listed in the manual as '2000mAh', which should be enough for 'up to' 10 hours of listening (depending on volume used - I only got 5!)
Connecting up wirelessly is as easy as turning the Inateck unit on, whereupon a blue light flashes besides the charging port (the light doubles as a charging indicator) and the speaker could then be found by whichever phone I tested it with (in this case, the Nokia 808 PureView, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Nokia Lumia 1020, so running three different OS).
Rather charmingly, most operations (connections, power on, max volume reached, and more) were accompanied by R2D2-like bleeps and warbles. Considering the form factor, I did wonder about Inateck bringing out a Star Wars edition!
Power output is rated at '3Wx2', which is a little confusing - unless there are two speaker cones inside? Music playback was terrific, considering the £15 cost of the accessory - the BP1001B sounds as good as my £40 Sony Bluetooth speaker. Bass is present, despite the light, plastic build and treble is quite acceptable too. The manual quotes "90Hz-20kHz", which sounds about right, though ambitious on the high end. Moreover, volume was great - I had complaints from the other side of the house. And this from a speaker that's essentially a 6cm cube.
You can buy the Inateck BP1001B from Amazon here (or from your local Amazon online store for your country).
The clue is probably in the generic term 'camera-centric', really. However much people in the tech world like their phone cameras, having just a little too much emphasis placed on imaging - enough to warrant a significant bump on the back - seems to be the death knell for a device long term. In part though, this is more down to the time needed for R&D, but the end result is (yet again) a device which seems destined to be sidelined a little....
A little history
We saw this in action for Nokia's N93 - the original 'transformer' Symbian phone that could look like a regular T9 clamshell or a consumer camcorder at will. It tested well amongst geeks and camera phone enthusiasts but made no mark whatsoever in the consumer marketplace of the time (2006). The best-selling N95 escaped the 'camera-centric' tag because it had so many other innovations, of course, the integrated GPS, the GPU, the high quality stereo speakers, and so on.
The we run forward to the Nokia N82, from 2007/2008, the first smartphone with a Xenon flash, very definitely a 'camera phone' first and foremost. And still a device with just about the brightest Xenon illumination in the world, even after 7 years. But, despite appearing in High Street shops, it didn't sell in huge numbers.
Repeat the process with the N86, the first High Street smartphone with an 8MP camera and still unique in having variable aperture, the first to use intelligent digital zoom when capturing video and to use a digital microphone. So many innovations, yet the N86 also failed to set the sales charts alight, this time in 2009.
Next in line, the aluminium-bodied N8, at the end of 2010, with 12MP and Xenon flash and a, for the time, huge sensor. Sales started off well, using the new GPU-accelerated Symbian^3 platform, but then Nokia's Stephen Elop (prematurely) shot Symbian down on stage at MWC 2011 as part of the demonstration of support for Microsoft and Windows Phone, and the N8 never recovered.
Finally, on the Symbian front, we had the all-conquering Nokia 808 PureView, the result of five years of R&D, learning lessons from all the devices above, offering what's still (by far) the largest camera sensor in any phone, with 41MP sensor into which users could 'zoom', digitally, without losing light or quality, and with hardware oversampling producing noiseless, pure images at lower resolution by default. Released in spring 2012, a full year after Symbian's execution, it's clear that the only reason this still made it to market was that so much work had already been done on the hardware and it would have been criminal to not at least shown it off to the world. At least, not without a Windows Phone version ready, something which was still a year away. As a result, in the world of 2012, with Symbian's 360p screens seeming blocky compared to WVGA and 720p and with Android really taking off at the high end, and with Symbian utterly frowned on within High Street shops, the Nokia 808 PureView remained something of a cult hit only.
If there's a common thread in all the above, it's the inescapable conclusion that it takes time to create a really good phone camera. The space, weight and power constraints place extreme pressures on designers and in each case, by the time the phone hit the market, the underlying hardware was nearing the end of its relevance in the wider smartphone world. For example, the N82 was a full year after the N95 which had essentially the same internals, the N86 was a device and form factor from a bygone age even when launched, the N8 was legendarily delayed by up to a year, the 808 was borne into a completely hostile future.
Specs and the future
What, then, does the future hold for the Lumia 1020? There's no doubting that it fared better, in terms of sales, than its Xenon-equipped, large-sensored 41MP ancestor, the Nokia 808, but with quite a few new software releases from Nokia/Microsoft explicitly saying that they're only for the Lumia 1520 and 930, worries are starting to creep in for 1020 fans.
Let's look at the hardware across the Nokia's (now Microsoft's) Windows Phone range:
|Snapdragon S4||Lumia 520, 521, 620, 720||Dual-core 1GHz Krait, Adreno 305, 512MB RAM|
|Snapdragon S4||Lumia 625||Dual-core 1.2GHz Krait 200, Adreno 305, LTE, 512MB RAM|
|Snapdragon 400||Lumia 630, 635 (etc)||Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A7, Adreno 305, 512MB RAM|
|Snapdragon S4||Lumia 820, 920, 925, 928||Dual-core 1.5GHz Krait, Adreno 225, LTE, 1GB RAM|
|Snapdragon S4||Lumia 1020||Dual-core 1.5GHz Krait, Adreno 225, LTE, 2GB RAM|
|Snapdragon S4||Lumia 1320||Dual-core 1.7GHz Krait 300, Adreno 305, LTE, 1GB RAM|
|Snapdragon 800||Lumia 1520, 930||Quad-core 2.2GHz Krait 400, Adreno 330, LTE, 2GB RAM|
The Lumia 1020 does stand out a little, amidst its peers, by having the extra Gigabyte of RAM, needed to handle the processing of the (up to) 38MP full resolution bitmaps internally, but the RAM will hopefully come in handy in helping ensure that the 1020 is less likely to be left behind when it comes time to update the Windows Phone platform again.
So far we're seeing no device left behind by Microsoft, thanks in part to Windows Phone's comparatively low hardware requirements - most of the work is in finishing code, adding functions and fixing issues and compatibility, all without adding much to 'bloat'. As a result, even the lowest Lumia 520 is getting the full Windows Phone 8.1, though some of the higher end camera-related functions are starting to come with some hardware requirements. Historically this has been done according to RAM, though with 2GB on board the Lumia 1020 should be good in this regard for another year or two at least.
Processor and GPU speed are more of an issue, with the latest features in Nokia Camera/Storyteller being limited to just the Lumia 1520 and 930 - at least in theory. 'Living Images' worked pretty well under the original Nokia Camera Betas on the 1020, so maybe these can be worked in again, in an update?
Certainly Nokia seems to have standardised on a 'good enough' 20MP cut down version of the PureView technology. Which is fair enough - and results are good - but it doesn't stop the cameraphone geek in me wanting a third in the 41MP series. Is it just me?
What of the core OS though - at what point will Microsoft start lopping off device compatibility? Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, rumoured to roll out to developers for early testing later this month (July), for eventual release over the air to consumers in November/December, is supposed to be a fairly minor update (by comparison to 8.0 to 8.1) and should also be available for all devices.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 is scheduled to be available for testing around the end of 2014 and is likely to include new features to support new hardware, and I'd expect much of the lower end of the current Lumia range to get this update but not the full feature set.
Whatever comes after that is pure conjecture (Google 'Threshold' if you want more on the rumours) and depends very much on Microsoft's ongoing plans to unify its platforms, but it's a fair bet that Windows Phone 8.2 (or Windows Phone 9, or whatever it ends up being called) will be optimised for the Snapdragon 800 and higher. Will the Lumia 1020 be updated for this release? My guess is 'no', but with the extra RAM, who knows? It might go down to the wire and depend on how many 1020-owning enthusiasts there are in early 2015 at Microsoft!
Of course, it's not all about the operating system and there are other ways for a classic smartphone to get sidelined. It happened to the Nokia 808 and it's happening now to the Lumia 1020. First, sales of the device stop - it becomes harder and harder to find one for sale - perhaps to replace a broken or stolen device? And accessories become harder to find - in the 1020's case there's the Qi charging back shell and Camera grip. If you have a 1020 and want either of these, then you've probably already put things off too long. [In the 808's case it was mainly the BV-4D battery, original replacements for this were/are like gold dust.]
So - the Lumia 1020 stands a chance of being updated for longer than its older sister devices, the 920 and 925 - but only a slender one. Having said that, the 1020 will, by the time WP9/Threshold/whatever hits, be two years old and will have enjoyed updates freely throughout that time, adding significant extra general functionality that certainly wasn't there when customer bought the device.
Classic of tech engineering
The Lumia 1020, like the 808 before it, still has unique selling points (in terms of photo quality, reframing/zooming flexibility and low light shots of people), and it seems that we still have at least another year of updates ahead. So celebrate the 1020 and don't give up on it.
And don't you dare sell the Lumia 1020. Those who sold on the Nokia 808 PureView have bitterly regretted it - these devices are classic of modern tech engineering.
Filed under 'link of interest', certainly, but big news for many ex-Nokians today, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced heavy job cuts, quoted below, plus threw out what seems the death knell for Nokia's still-born 'X' line of Android smartphones.
From the Microsoft missive from Satya:
The first step to building the right organization for our ambitions is to realign our workforce. With this in mind, we will begin to reduce the size of our overall workforce by up to 18,000 jobs in the next year. Of that total, our work toward synergies and strategic alignment on Nokia Devices and Services is expected to account for about 12,500 jobs, comprising both professional and factory workers. We are moving now to start reducing the first 13,000 positions, and the vast majority of employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be notified over the next six months. It’s important to note that while we are eliminating roles in some areas, we are adding roles in certain other strategic areas.
12,500 out of between 25,000 and 30,000 employees acquired with Nokia means that almost half the workforce acquired are being made redundant over the next 12 months, which must be a big blow to many ex-Nokians.
Such massive job cuts aren't unexpected, given the merging of two very large companies, with large areas of duplication, but it will still hurt those involved. Engineers and designers, those close to the technology, are likely to be safe.
Satya goes on in much the same vein:
Second, we are working to integrate the Nokia Devices and Services teams into Microsoft. We will realize the synergies to which we committed when we announced the acquisition last September. The first-party phone portfolio will align to Microsoft’s strategic direction. To win in the higher price tiers, we will focus on breakthrough innovation that expresses and enlivens Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences. In addition, we plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows. This builds on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps.
Several interesting turns of phrase in here:
- 'breakthrough innovation' (in the higher price tiers) presumably refers to imaging and also to new UI concepts based on 3D interaction over the phone screen.
- 'Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows' - many people had speculated (wildly) that Microsoft allowed the Nokia 'X' line of handsets to be launched because they (and Android) were the future and that Windows Phone would ultimately be canned. Instead, sensibly, the X line is being changed in upcoming devices to run Windows Phone, keeping Microsoft focussed on just one mobile/portable OS.
The second bullet point above doesn't preclude that Android compatibility plays some part in Microsoft's and Windows Phone's future, of course. Informed observers have speculated that the next version of the OS (8.1 Update 1) may have an Android virtual machine built-in, in the style of Blackberry/Jolla, wherein selected Android applications can be added by a user.
I'm a sucker for power solutions on mobile. So when Michael Krikheli, pictured below, got in touch about his company's innovative new 'key ring charger', recently successful on Kickstarter (it completes in a couple of days time), I couldn't resist the chance to ply him with some questions. The only bad news is that retail gadgets are still a couple of months away, so you won't be using the Megalo Mini on your summer vacation.
Steve Litchfield (SL): In 100 words, what is Megalo Mini and What built-in cable types are in the design?
Michael Krikheli (MK): Megalo Mini is the smallest portable charger with 1400 mAh which has the charging cables built-in. It charges at a rate of 1 AMP and it could easily fit in a small pocket or on your key chain. It has a smooth rubber finish to it so it won't damage your phone when you're charging it in your pocket. On one end there is either* a Lightning cable for the iPhone 5 or a Micro USB cable for Andriod phones. On the other side there is USB cord for charging the Megalo Mini. The Megalo Mini will also simultaneously charge your smartphone and itself at the same time when connected to a power source. It uses a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery and is good for 500 cycles.
* the Megalo Mini comes in two versions -- one with Lightning connector for iPhone 5, 5C, and 5S, and another with micro USB cable for Android, Windows, and Blackberry phones. When the Kickstarter campaign is over, we'll send out a survey to all backers where they'll be able to choose the color and the connector type for their Megalo Minis.
SL: Does the Megalo Mini have any competitors? Can you compare it to the Proporta Pocket Power, in terms of size and specs?
MK: There are many competitors in the portable charger market. Our main competitors are Mophie and Ankor. The Proporta charger is 680 mAh and the Megalo Mini is 1400 mAh -- well over double the charging capacity. The Proporta is thinner than the Megalo Mini; however, the Megalo Mini is shorter in length and width. The Proporta also doesn't have a built-in cable to recharge itself.
SL: How efficient is the Megalo Mini when transferring charge, does it get hot and how long does a full charge last before it needs refreshing?
MK: It transfers charge at 1 AMP and it does not heat up. A full charge can last you a month until you need to recharge the Megalo Mini.
SL: How rugged is the Megalo Mini? Waterproof? Dust proof?
MK: The Megalo Mini has a very sturdy build to it. However, it is not waterproof. It won't be damaged with a few drops of water, but we don't recommend swimming with it ;).
SL: What electronic protections are in place to prevent over-charging of the internal cell and to prevent over-depletion?
MK: There is a high quality PCB built in to prevent that.
SL: What timescales are we talking about for production hardware (months?) and any idea on a final retail price?
MK: Following the campaign (ending this week) we will begin production. Currently we estimate the initial production run to take 2-3 months. The retail price will be $45 in the USA and add $7 to that for shipping elsewhere in the world.
SL: I see from your Kickstarter page that anyone backing you in the remaining couple of days will get a Megalo Mini at 25% off the retail price above. Any comments about the Kickstarter process and feedback for backers?
MK: Kickstarter has been amazing. It is an unbelievable platform full of innovative and creative people. We have had great feedback from our backers and thank them for backing the Megalo Mini.
SL: Thanks, Michael.
This does look very interesting. With the input charging cable integral and with the jeans top (change) pocket targetted, this could be the charger to never be without, for true emergencies. The Proporta Pocket Power's credit card wallet form factor is unique in a similar way - so I guess all self respecting geeks should have both!
I also liked the pass through functionality, shown below. Such pass through isn't unique, but other chargers have needed you to bring along an extra cable or two - the Megalo Mini does everything within its body etc:
I've acquired something of a reputation of being obsessive about ultra-naturalistic, pixel-perfect photo quality and blind to the overall picture - after all, don't 'normal' people look at photos as-is, complete? And, with this in mind, I'd like to set a few things straight - I'm not against image effects, I'm not against post processing, and I'm certainly not advocating others go around looking at their photos under a magnifying glass or zooming them in to see individual pixels. But there is method in my madness...
You see, my eyes are the same as anyone else's. In fact, they're probably worse, having deteriorated with age. And when I see a photo on a phone screen or laptop display, I see the same overall composition and colours and can appreciate it as anyone else would. Even when it's VGA resolution and hosted on Instagram or Facebook.
However, when you want to do something meaningful, creative and memorable with a photo you've taken on your smartphone, it's important to at least start with as high a quality image as possible. Which means
- decent resolution (5MP minimum, 8MP+ better)
- colours as close to reality as possible
- detail at the pixel level which actually is detail and not the figment of some sharpening algorithm
- lack of digital noise (and I don't mean a smeared, blurry mess after a noise-reduction algorithm has been at play)
It's the same principle as in many other areas of life and technology - garbage in, garbage out. If you start with a photo that has bad colours, lots of artefacts or noise, then whatever you do to it later, you'll be fighting a losing battle. And the only reason why most people don't notice flaws in their smartphone photos is because they only view them on a phone screen and share via very low resolution versions on social media.
However, choose wisely and start with images like those from the Nokia N8, 808 or Lumia 1020 and you've got starting material that's as good as it gets. Whether you're cropping in (reframing on the 1020) to pick out a specific subject in a larger photo or whether you're trying some very arty atmospheric effects, if you start with good detail, zero artefacts and almost zero noise then most of this will be preserved as you work.
A good example of why pixel peeping matters, from my recent camera shootout between the 2013 Nokia Lumia 1020 and the 2014 Sony Xperia Z2 (running Android):
Here's the scene, as captured on the Lumia 1020:
And here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia Lumia 1020 (top) and Sony Xperia Z2 (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:
Some of my most impressive shots of people have been in a group scene or situation, where they're reacting to somebody/something else - and I've simply cropped in on the person, still ending up with several megapixels, yet quality, detail and noise are as good as if I'd been three times closer and targetting the subject specifically (and, probably, intrusively - it's a bit like quantum physics - in order to get close enough to a subject you often change the dynamics of whatever they're doing!)
Also, as it turns out, and contrary to what you may have guessed, I'm a fan of photo effects. Not gimmicky 'retro' ones, mind you, but serious filters that enhance colours or add subtleties that couldn't be achieved optically at the time of capture.
For example, I was with my dad on a spring visit to a 'Bluebell wood', and we were delighted by the flowers but disappointed by the British weather on the day, with the cold and cloudy conditions making the bluebells themselves very dim in colour and the scene wholly unremarkable. I took some photos anyway on my phone (an N8, I think) and, later on, was able to dramatically increase the colour saturation in photo editing software, producing something which made a nice framed present for my father.
Another example, with landscapes, is to start with a nicely detailed image, but natural colours and exposure, and then try pseudo-HDR, saturation and sharpening tricks, producing something surreally impressive.
So the next time I do a head to head camera shootout and wax lyrical over the purity of the images produced, bandying about 1:1 crops, remember that I do this not because I intend to view the photos on a 50" screen or printout, but because purity is important in the ongoing workflow with what you intend to do with the image later on.
One of the most frustrating things about marketing and branding, from my engineer's standpoint, is that technologies get brand names assigned to them (which is fine) and then the brand name gets used elsewhere, for something totally different. Which is where the aforementioned frustration comes in, of course. Let's call a spade a spade, etc. And a fork a fork.
All of this was brought to a head by my testing of the new Nokia Lumia 630 (here's the full review), which claims in its specifications "ClearBlack Display" (CBD), whereas my own testing showed real world performance to be unlike anything I'd seen in CBD before.
But more of that in a moment. Let's take a step back, to 2012 and the announcement of the Nokia 808 PureView. The fact that the extra brand name was made part of the phone name showed how important it was. And rightly so.
The original Nokia 808 PureView white paper has been removed from its original URL now, but I tracked down a copy from the Internet Archive here. From the opening statement:
The Nokia PureView Pro imaging technology is the combination of a large, super high resolution 41Mpix with high performance Carl Zeiss optics. The large sensor enables pixel oversampling, which will be explained in detail in this paper but in a nutshell it means the combination of many pixels into one perfect pixel. PureView imaging technology is the result of many years of research and development and the tangible fruits of this work are amazing image quality, lossless zoom, and superior low light performance.
Nice and clear, unambiguous. And a great name.
Eight months later, the Nokia Lumia 920 was launched, also with the 'PureView' branding (though not actually in the name this time). In a revised white paper (also not on the original URL but available here), Nokia expanded the term 'PureView':
The 808 PureView uses one solution to improve low light image quality through the innovative and highly acclaimed pixel oversampling technology but we needed to explore additional directions for improving the image quality in dim light. This second development phase of PureView is therefore focused on exactly that - a significant improvement in low light whilst also making it available to a wide range of people.
The Lumia 920 had a bog standard 1/3.2" BSI sensor and no oversampling, but did have Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS), which is what Nokia is referring to above. But why use the name 'PureView'?
Now, I appreciate that OIS is a good thing to have, but it's completely and utterly different to PureView, as understood in the original white paper for the 808.
The argument at the time from Nokia's marketing folk was that PureView just meant superior imaging - and we gave Nokia a pass for this, since it was obvious that the next step was to create (what became) the Lumia 1020, combining both the oversampling tech and the OIS into one true next gen camera phone and obviously deserving of the 'PureView' brand name.
So, a temporarily confusing situation sorted itself out by the 1020, then Icon, 930 and 1520 all having both the oversampling and OIS, so you can see where Nokia was going with the brand.
Bringing us to the latest branding change. Back in 2010, at Nokia World, Nokia announced the Nokia E7 Communicator, with Ansii Vanjoki (on stage) making a big thing of the introduction of a ground breaking screen technology: "CLEAR BLACK DISPLAY" he almost shouted. And Rafe scurried off to find out details of what this meant.
Nokia even posted, a few months later (and it's still online) a very helpful diagram showing how CBD worked:
Along with some explanatory text:
ClearBlack display uses a sequence of polarising layers to eliminate reflections.
You have probably tried polarising sunglasses before now and so have a rough idea of how that works. If you look at a window or the surface of some water using polarising glasses, then they become more transparent – which is why they’re especially good for fishermen. The polariser cuts out reflected light.
Polariser layers used in display solutions are bit more sophisticated than in sunglasses. Light rays actually get “processed” many times on its way in and out of your phones´s screen. There’s both a linear polariser and retardation layers between the surface of your phone and the display. When light hits your screen, this is what happens:
- It hits the linear polariser, this vertically polarises the light. (Polarising means – roughly – aligning the wave vibration in a particular direction).
- Then it hits the circular polariser retardation layer. This converts the light again, making it right-circularly polarised.
- Then it hits the screen and bounces off it, switching the rotation of the light to leftist.
- It goes back through the retardation layer. When this happens, the light becomes horizontally polarised.
- Finally, it hits the linear polariser, since the light is horizontally polarised at this point it can be blocked entirely by this optical solution.
So why doesn’t the light from your phone’s display get blocked? Because it only goes through the second half of this journey so the light is unpolarised when it hits the final filter and goes through.
So, CBD depends on this combination of linear polarizer and a double journey through a quarter wave retardation film. And it works supremely well, used on (not a definitive list) the Nokia C6-01, E7, 808 PureView, N9, Lumia 800, Lumia 920, Lumia 925, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520. Use any of these phones outdoors and you'll be amazed at the contrast and visibility, even when the sun's out, because of the clever CBD tech used.
Now we come to the new Lumia 630. I took it outdoors and saw the reflections on the screen and immediately concluded that it didn't have CBD. Yet the spec sheet disagrees. What's going on? I asked Nokia for official clarification and here's the reply:
"The aim of ClearBlack has always been to create superior sunlight readability and eliminate unwanted reflections with a bright display. The first ClearBlack displays were based on circular polarizer technology, but over the years the display & touch technology and integration of the ClearBlack solution have differed.
This was achieved in the Lumia 630 by high luminance IPS LCD display and window lamination to eliminate unwanted reflections, which meant we were able to achieve a thinner product than via air gap & circular polarizer. It must be noted the need to manually select the high brightness mode for sunlight conditions.
Based on our analysis, Lumia 630 performance is much better than Lumia 520 in sunlight conditions."
"Over the years"? Every other CBD-equipped device, from 2010 to the present day, has used the full polariser set, as far as I'm aware. The Lumia 630 is the odd one out, by simply using a 'sunglasses'-like 'lamination'. Presumably because it's much cheaper to make that a full polariser display - understandable in an ultra-budget device.
I appreciate that outdoor visibility on the 630 might well be slightly better than the 520 (though I tried both side by side, at length, and found only a marginal difference overall), but that does not make it remotely comparable to the performance of real CBD, as defined above and as shown below:
Now, Nokia owns the 'brand' here. If it (or, in this case, now Microsoft, I guess) wants to use 'ClearBlack Display' to refer to a simple lamination then that's absolutely its perogative. Heck, Nokia could use CBD branding on a toaster if it liked - it can do what it likes with its own marketing brand.
But it's the changing definition that leaves technologically-minded users confused. Even more so because the new 'definition', an ambiguous 'aim', has been applied in a device with definitively worse outdoors performance. The PureView change was at least a totally different direction that was intended to be folded into the original tech in the future. This 'ClearBlack Display' definition change just muddies the waters, in my opinion.
The Lumia 620 isn't terrible outdoors - but put it next to a Nokia E7 or 808 or Lumia 920 on the deckchair next to you and the difference is as obvious as night and day.
Comments? Does the changing definition of a brand bother you? Or am I getting worked up over nothing?
Guest writer Sabby Jolly takes us on a decade-long tour of the glory and the pain of Symbian software and hardware. 2002 to 2012, all in the one feature, almost 4000 words and a (seeming) lifetime of experience. Save this for a coffee break and then nod along with Sabby....
Sabby Jolly writes:
Where should I start with this? It's absolutely obvious that I am a Symbian fanboy, a loyal Symbian user ever since I got the Nokia 7650! I can't believe I've been a Symbian user for nearly 12 years now! It's been my choice of OS since day one. A smartphone is a Symbian phone. That's the motto that I've followed over the years!
Now, let's get to the point here. We've all used Symbian phones at least once in our lives. And we know they are awesome! They've always been well ahead of the curve. At least till 2008, that's when Nokia dropped the ball on the hardware front, effectively crippling the capabilities of the platform.
Now, all of us have faced a lot of problems with our phones. Most of them were hardware based. But a lot of them were software based too. Yes, our very own Symbian had its share of bugs. Sometimes even monsters! And it still has them! And I'm going to point those out, through the means of the Symbian phones I've used over the years, and will list of the one major bugs from each of them!
The Series 60 era
Let's start with the father of all the smartphones, The Nokia 7650!
At first, I fell in love with that phone's design. And then I used it, and I fell in love again, with the way it worked! The way Symbian looked at that point. But, I also remember a wild array of bugs and glitches that came with it. Bugs, that carried on all the way to the final hurray of Symbian, and glitches, that made their own legacy!
See, as a longtime Symbian user who is still using a Nokia 808 PureView as a secondary phone (I never used the 808 as a primary phone, and I will elaborate on that later on), I've learned to live with all the unwanted perks that Symbian has bestowed upon us. From the very begining of days to the end of days.
I used the Nokia 7650 for almost an year, and it was a beautiful experience, mostly. As the super-rocking people of "Poison" said, 'Every rose has its thorn', Symbian turned out to be a bunch of those roses. And the biggest thorn of all was the "Non-existent Ringtone bug". The name of the bug is pretty self explanatory, when someone called, the phone vibrated, but it didn't ring. It wasn't a particularly popular bug, but it was something that I lived with for almost an year!
You see, every now and then, the phone decided to automatically go into Silent mode, unofficially though, since it still showed "General" in the profiles menu. To give some numbers to this fact, around 6 times out of 10, the phone would just vibrate, and it was a big issue, since at that time, phones generally were used for calling purposes. So, obviously I went to the Nokia Care Centre, and they happily reflashed the firmware. But it didn't work. A month down the line, I was given a replacement unit. And that unit also had that bug.
That was the moment that I learned how to live with Symbian. It's got its issues, but once you look past them, it's awesome!
I mean, it had a camera at the back! With 4 MegaBytes of on-board storage! And 4MB at that time meant a lot! And thank the Lord, that the photographs it took were mostly only around 40 kb in size!
It was a good year though! I then moved on to the Nokia 3650. Mr. Roundbottom, I called him! The phone that turned me into a film maker. Not Spielberg-ishy, but more like, blowing up old toys with crackers and then recording them on phone, film maker!
The 3650 had a unique design, which I found rather odd, but I thought it would grow on me. It didn't. I constantly missed the coolness of the 7650's slide mechanism! But at least this one used to ring!
I used this one for about a year and a half, and it took a lot of falls in its stride! The hardware was solid! And so was the software. Most of the time. You see, the 3650 had a number of software issues as well, that were never resolved. The one that I remember the most though, was the one that made using it a nightmare on its bad days. This was the first time that I had experienced the error named "Lens error, restart the camera application" (or something like that, my 808 still gives me this error, every couple of months).
The photography part of the camera always worked fine. It was the video mode in the camera that gave me this error. And it always took a complete restart of the phone to make it go away. I did a lot of full formats, they never helped. And I didn't even bother going to Nokia as I knew they'd simply reflash it and the problem would remain as it is. It got on my nerves a number of times, but I lived with it.
And then I moved on to the holy grail of Symbian devices (and smartphones in general), the Nokia 6600! The phone that took the idea of a smartphone to the masses! And it was the phone to have at that time. Owning a 6600 made you hip, and classy, both at the same time! This one was the real deal. It had an awesome camera, a neat design, and it simply rocked!
It was made of the stuff dreams are made of. And it also came with its own set of bugs, most of them never really bothered me, except the one with the music player! If you had more than 100 full length, high quality songs in its memory card (I used a 256MB one), then the music player simply froze on start up. The only way to make it work was to delete songs, and keep their number down.
It was a bit of a downer, having a large 256MB of memory, but getting limited with the number of songs you can put on it. Though the rest of the software ran marvellously. And this is the phone where Symbian first shone in all its glory!
With the arrival of the 6600, came the mainstream acceptance of the Symbian platform, and with that, came the third party developers. And they made some amazing apps. Like the one named "IRremote". I had so much fun with this app, in places like libraries, hotels, and a couple of times in a hospital snack room. I used to change the channel to my favourite one, and put the volume on high! There was a restaurant near my place, and whenever I went there, I used to turn their tv on! The owner would then go and switch it off. And I would turn it on again. It was spooky, for others of course!
I used the 6600 for about 2 years! That phone ended up staying with my family for around 4 years, and it was awesome till the very last day it worked.
The S60 3rd Edition era
I then moved on to the Nokia N80, the love of my life! As you may remember, I particularly liked the slide mechanism of the 7650, and when Nokia launched the N80, I knew I had to get one. And I was the first in line to get it when it finally became available in the market. And WOW! I was in love again. That slide mechanisn, that 3MP camera at the back. And when I turned it on, I forgot about everything, and simply got lost in its gorgeous screen. Sharp as a knife.
It had a 352x416 resolution, 2.1 inch display, that meant, it had a 259 ppi pixel density. Back in 2006! Did I mention that it was also the first mass produced smartphone with a dual core processor? Yep, dual core! And this boy had everything. Everything!
- Gorgeous Display - Check!
- Awesome Camera - Check!
- Wifi - Check!
- 3.5G - Check!
It was basically a pre-N95, N95. And I still have this phone with me, I keep it with me at all times! Can't help it!
It was (and still is) awesome, but that doesn't mean it did not have any issues at all. In fact, this is the device with the most issues that I've come across. The biggest one being the issue with the Wifi. It simply won't connect to most of the wifi routers. As Symbian had issues decrypting the WPA security protocol at that time. To make it work, I had to put my modem on WEP, which, is rather insecure! And not to mention, almost all the public wifi's used to be WPA. And even if they were WEP, it still had issues connecting to them half of the times.
There were more issues, like the one I had mentioned above, "Camera Error!". It still has this, and the only way to fix it, is to restart it.
This is one error that has carved its own legacy in the Symbian universe. From the days of the 3650, to now, the Nokia 808 PureView, no one at Nokia seems to have an idea on how to fix this!
And then there was the dreaded Wifi scanning issue which would drain the battery in less than 2 hours. It kept on scanning for Wifi networks, even though you turned Wifi scanning off. And the only way to fix it? Any guesses? Yep, the stock fix for most of Symbian's issues, "Restart the phone!".
Anyway, I still use this phone every now and then, just for the nostalgia-kick, and it still has most of the issues. But I love using it, just because of the power it gave to me. S60 3rd Edition was where Symbian started to display the standard traits of the present day smartphones.
It had support for high resolution camera sensors, it had the support for Wifi connectivity (although it was a little spotty at that point), it had support for transmitting audio/visual media wirelessly, via Wifi. Back then, it was known as Upnp (connect to home network). Heck, it also supported Multi-Core processors.
Where it went wrong? The polish. The implementation. And the faults in the core Symbian development guidelines.
Nokia tried to fix a lot of issues with the Nokia N80 by providing software updates and hot-fixes. Some of them were fixed. Most weren't. And, there were massive issues with it on the hardware front as well.
To squash them all at once, Nokia started working on another project. The successor to the Nokia N80. The phone we know today as the Nokia N95. The poster boy of the entire Symbian legacy!
And they made the N80 better in every possible way when they went in to create the N95. This was the phone, that made people say, "Okay, maybe we don't need the swanky animations, and restricted experiences. Maybe we need a computer in our hands!" And that's exactly what the N95 was. A computer in your hands!
Obviously, I was one of the earliest adopters of the N95. When I opened the box, I was simply stunned. It had a double, two-way slide! How could have I not loved it? And this one had a built in GPS! Again, something that only Symbian could natively support at that time. Before that, no one felt the need for a GPS in a phone. But when the N95 came out, each and every other manufacturer was like, "Woah, this is something that we have to do now!"
It was a mindblowing device. Sadly, though, I lost mine only 2 months later. In a crowded New Delhi market. It was never seen again. At least not by me. Damn you thieves!
Even though I used it for only 2 months, I still ran into issues (hey it wouldn't be normal if I didn't run into issues), the one that I noticed the most was the battery drain issue, because of the Wifi scanner! The same issue from my old N80, carried over to the N95. Though that issue was fixed about a month after I lost my phone. My brother had an N95 as well, and he never faced that issue after that update.
And I didn't want to buy a new one, so I went back to my old pal, the N80. Used it for another year or so, and then came the touch screen Symbian generation!
The S60 5th Edition era
I stayed away from the Nokia 5800 as if it was the plague! And that was because I had my eyes on the N97! And I had to wait for a while before it was finally launched. I started using it, and that's when it occured to me, I should have avoided this one too! I mean, I loved the design, the build quality, the construction and the feel of the device, but, it felt like Nokia didn't pay as much attention to its internals. It was, and still remains, the most criminally underpowered smartphone ever made.
I was in two minds about continuing with this one. On one hand, that build quality was simply majestic (running out of new words here), but on the other, the enitre experience was so hamstrung, and so stuttery, that I knew I wouldn't be able to live with it for too long.
About 3 months down the line, I decided to call it quits. That was the last time I used S60v5. This was where Nokia, and Symbian as a whole, dropped the ball. It was not ahead of the curve anymore, there wasn't any vision in what Nokia were doing with the hardware, and the developers were doing with Symbian. It had so many issues, and so many problems, that I knew right there, that no matter what Nokia does, they'll never be able to fix this one. And they never did.
S60v5 marked the death of Symbian in the eyes of the consumers. It was a death sentence that eventually caused everything that has happened to Nokia and Symbian since. And the N97, was the bullet that delivered it. In my opinion.
I had my share of issues with Symbian & Nokia before, but I never felt such frustration when using a device. No points for guessing then, that I returned to my Nokia N80, yet again. And I was sure that I would use this phone, till the moment it dies, and then, I'll have to choose between either iOS, or Android (it was the new player back then, but it was evolving at a rapid pace).
I used my friend's iPhone for a week, as a trial run, that's when I decided never to buy an iPhone for myself. Simply couldn't use it. It had way too many restrictions. So I decided to go for the new Samsung on the block, The Samsung Galaxy S. The first one, that is. And I was about to buy it, when the Nokia N8 launched! Thank the lord of timing here! I'm glad I didn't go for the Galaxy S, boy am I glad.
The Symbian^3 era
Instead, I waited about 3-4 months, and bought the Nokia N8, a couple of weeks before its official international launch, through some of my sources in Nokia's retail unit at that time. And wow! After so many years, I wasn't disappointed in either Nokia or Symbian! In fact, I loved them even more.
The Nokia N8 was my dream come true. The design, was so amazing, it felt like you were holding an aluminium (or titanium) submarine in your hands. And we all know, the camera! That 12MP Carl Zeiss lens, with the Xenon flash. Was, and still is one of the best camera units ever put on a smartphone.
When I started using it, it was an amazing experience. It wasn't stuttery, the capacitive screen helped making the experience even better. And there weren't a lot of issues with it. Used it as my main phone for almost 4 years. From mid 2010, to the beginning of 2014! Even though I bought some new phones in those 4 years, the N8 remained my choice.
And there weren't many issues with it. The ones that were there, had been in Symbian's code for a long time. Long enough, to completely fall under the radar of the Symbian developers. Like the bug with the camera application, "Lens Error: Restart Camera Application".
And there was a new one as well, another one that would drain the battery faster than a bowl of candies disappearing at a fat-camp. The issue with the display, as in, the display simply wouldn't turn off. No matter what you did. Locked the phone? Hah! Display still on! Locked the screen? Yep, still on! And the only way to fix this? Can you guess? It's the one that I talked about earlier, "Switch the phone off and on again!" , but with a slight change, you see. It didn't always go away by a simple restart of the phone, sometimes, you had to restart it multiple times. And then, you couldn't touch the device for at least 5 minutes after it has switched on again!
A tiny, yet absolutely present black dot on the otherwise amazing experience that I had with my N8. But thankfully, that was fixed after a minor update. And it worked fluently, even with all those modules and features, on a meagre 256MB of RAM, and a slightly underpowered, 680 MHz processor. It was underpowered in terms of processing power, but Symbian ran on it absolutely fine. One of the many things that I love about Symbian, better management of available resources. Something that Android can only dream about. That too would be a dream inside a dream. Yes, an 'Inception' reference in a Symbian article. The first of its kind!
I was extremely happy with my N8, and I had every reason for that. The camera was awesome. Not simply because of the Camera sensor, but because of the mature image processing that Symbian allowed in its imaging stack. Something that Android still hasn't done quite right yet.
It had HDMI out, with a micro HDMI slot built in. And of course, it was a Symbian device. Symbian, in its best form yet on a touch screen device.
And then came that dreaded day. The day that fire started at Nokia, the one that eventually burned them down. The day of the burning platform. Our very own Symbian was mercilessly put to death. With that unforsaken internal mail sent by the new man in charge of things at Nokia. While the jury is still out on this one, on whether it was a vice decision or a grave mistake, I still believe, that was the day the our Nokia started dying inside.
And I was sad beyond anything that words can explain. It was like losing an old friend, in the most freaky way possible. That's how I felt when Symbian was put to rest. While I still used the Nokia N8 as my primary phone, I bought some other phones as well. Though they never became my main phones. For various reasons.
The first one of those was the Nokia Lumia 800, and I will be honest with you all, I hated it. It was like the first time I used an iOS device. So many limitations. It didn't make any sense as to why Nokia dumped Symbian and MeeGo in the favor of Windows Phone. No sense whatsoever! I sold it a month later.
Back to my N8. I was happy with it. Even though Nokia, the company that I loved the most was falling to pieces, I was content with what I had with me. A Nokia device to remember them by. And I had no hopes to see another Symbian device from Nokia that I would want to buy.
And then came the Nokia 808 PureView! I could not believe what I was seeing. I cross checked many times, just to make sure that it was 41, and not 14(MP)! It was like an old friend came back to life, for that one last goodbye!
And again, obviously, I bought the 808 PureView a couple of days before its official availability! I just could not wait to get my hands on it. As soon as I started it up, the first thing that I did? I opened the camera and went crazy. Took almost 200 snaps on the very first day! Took it to work, and most of my colleagues, they had never even heard of it. Never heard about a 41MP camera in a phone (that crowd was mostly Apple and Android oriented). And they all went crazy with me! Each and every one of them from my floor came up to me, just to have a look at "that phone with a 41mp camera in it"! I was already known as a big Nokia fan at my workplace, but after I bought the 808, I was termed the Nokia fanboy! Because it did not make sense to any of them, as to why I would spend that much money on a device with almost no apps and with almost no future in it.
But I knew I had utility for this phone. I was a budding musician back then, used to play with my band, and I knew it would be awesome to record our own gigs in surround sound with Rich Recording!
I also had another use for it. I shot short films on it. On my road to becoming a short-film director!
Even though now I have a DSLR with me, the Canon 60D, I still use my Nokia 808 PureView for more than half of the shots in my new project.
In fact, one project of mine was entirely shot on the 808 PureView! It involved placing cameras on bikes, so I turned to my 808. And it worked flawlessly! People still don't believe it was shot on a phone.
Now, coming to the reason, why the 808 never became my primary phone - it had bugs. The biggest one? The screen wouldn't turn off! The same one from the N8, carried on to the 808. Though on the N8 it was fixed. Yet somehow, I crept up again in the 808. Never to be fixed again, because of the lack of support for it.
I even used custom roms, but they all had/have this issue. currently using the Delight firmware. I still face this problem ever so often.
So I keep it at home now, most of the times switched off, and only turn it on when I need it! So that it lives longer, and doesn't burn out the way my friend's Nokia 701 did, because of the same issue. She tried restarting and all, but her phone's condition was so much worse, that even restarting and even formatting didn't work. Its screen was constantly on for months. Until its motherboard simply overheated and died.
Now, even though the days of Symbian and its glory are over, there still remains a legacy, something that it created. Fans that it made on its way. Like the fans that still use these devices, and still read through articles like these.
We, the fans, are a part of the Symbian legacy, and we will take it forward. One way, or the other. As far as I am concerned, I'll make sure that the first device that my kids use, would be a Symbian. And a Nokia. Neither "either", nor "neither".
And as I said earlier, through the song of the good people of "Poison", "Ever Rose Has Its Thorn", I think I am somewhat addicted to being stung by those thorns every once in a while. Maybe you all are too.
See you all around!
Thanks, Sabby, an entertaining and interesting read, though in the interests of balance, I should point out that you missed an entire swathe of Symbian - all the Series 80 Communicators and UIQ stylus-based smartphones - but maybe someone else can take up that part of the story in another feature?
Originally an Indiegogo project, Shoulderpod has just released its first product, the S1, and I've been testing it with my Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020. It's a combined stabiliser/grip/mount - it's fabulously constructed and it works really well. Here's to better smartphone-shot video (and, of course, you might find my tutorial helpful!)
Every accessory has to solve a problem in order to be worthwhile. As it happens the S1 solves several problems, making it worthy of a coveted place in my kit bag. When shooting video on a smartphone, you're essentially limited to what you can shoot while standing or sitting up. Try to get too ambitious, crouching down (or on tiptoes) and holding the phone at an odd angle (i.e. with the phone pointing ahead and your wrists taking up the strain) and you have a recipe for disaster, it's so easy to drop the phone or for your wrists to get tired and end up misframing the clip.
Dropping the phone onto grass isn't an issue, dropping it onto concrete or into water and it's disaster. The S1 then, grips your phone ultra-securely, and provides a handle and a very secure wrist strap in order for you to shoot more ambitious subjects.
And, almost as an aside, the grip part is a fabulously secure tripod mount for any size camera-toting smartphone.
The box shot gives away most of what you need to know:
Presentation, packing materials and, of course, the S1 product itself are all first class - this screams premium all the way:
The main (high quality plastic) grip is centred around a chunky (metal) screw threaded cyclinder, which clamps down on a smartphone's top and bottom edges - the insets to protect the edges are rubber and make for an extremely secure grip. The screw on (into the bottom standard tripod hole) handle appears to be painted and textured aluminium. The wrist strap goes onto the tripod mounting screw, of course:
Perfectly sized to fit round the average wrist with zero slack, the strap, handle and grip combination work very well amd it's clear that a lot of design iteration has got the S1 to this point.
In use, although I guess the S1 could be used for stills, it's far more useful as an all purpose phone holder when shooting video in arty or awkward situations. Instantly, for example, I can think of several watery subjects (canals, weirs) which I've always shied away from going near because of the nagging worry that I'd fumble and drop my smartphone - with the S1, I can start shooting and then position my hand as low or high or in as much 'danger' as I like, without fear.
Priced at 30 Euros (about £25), this is great value as a general purpose smartphone accessory for anyone who likes capturing video. As a glorified tripod mount it's pricier, but then it's a heck of a lot better built than the average eBay phone mount, and I have no hesitation in recommending this to AAS and AAWP readers - the grip will cope with even the largest phablets (e.g. Nokia Lumia 1520), while going down to around 5cm in width (quite a bit smaller than the likes of the Nokia N8 and 808).
[The S1 web page also makes reference to the grip functioning as a stand for propping up your phone when watching media - I've discounted this, since it only really works in portrait mode, by definition. Still, your use - and device - will vary here, so who knows?]
Launching today, the S1 is up for pre-ordering today, with the price quoted above liable to go up slightly at the end of the week, after the initial launch offer.
Microsoft's ongoing absorption of Nokia is gradually being felt in the shutdown of some services which Symbian users have relied on for ages. June 2014 sees Nokia Internet Radio going to way of the dodo. But fear not, because brand new in the AppList Store for Symbian is cuteRadio, more or less a drop in replacement for Nokia's old service.
From the AppList description:
cuteRadio is a user-friendly internet radio player for Maemo5, MeeGo-Harmattan and Symbian.
- Around 30,000 stations included. Stations can be edited, and additional stations can be added manually.
- Search stations and browse by genre, country and language.
- Access recently played stations.
- Add stations to your favourites.
- Sleep timer.
- Network proxy.
As usual with Internet Radio directories, there are quite a few 'misses' in the URLs and resources specified, around 30% of the stations I tried were either off air or there was a server problem of some kind. But cuteRadio did, on the whole, work - and this is only the very first version!
See also the cuteRadio homepage here.
Hopefully the AppList Store is working out for you all. See here just in case you haven't already got this installed or if this is new to you. Also, if you have custom firmware installed, make sure you tick the option in settings to show 'unsigned' applications, you'll see extra applications!
The concept of a portable power bank/emergency charger isn't new, of course, especially in these days of smartphones with sealed batteries, for which the only emergency option is usually to plug something in via microUSB. The Lumsing 10400mAh option is new and reviewed here - build quality is excellent and - I contend - the value for money utterly unrivalled.
The unit reviewed is this black one, on Amazon UK, currently retailing at £17.99, though there's also a white option as well. Build quality is tremendous, though the brushed aluminium effect for the fascia is actually just that, an effect, with the whole unit being plastic. It's very solid though, with no creaks or worries, and the visual contrast of the gloss body and the mock-aluminium is striking.
On the left is a standard microUSB port for charging the Lumsing unit, a process which is best done overnight, since there's 10400mAh of cells inside to charge up, which will take a while on a typical smartphone wall charger - best not to do this on a laptop USB connection, since it will take around a day!
There's no wall charger supplied with the Lumsing, which seems fair enough, given the price point, but it does mean that actual recharging times will vary hugely depending on your cable and charger.
Supplied with the power bank is a white USB to microUSB cable, which can be used for the aforementioned recharging, or to dispense charge via either of the two outputs (labelled 1A and 2.1A, the latter nominally for a tablet). Interestingly, it seems as if you can both recharge and charge at the same time, i.e. you can have the Lumsing 10400 mAh bank plugged into the wall, being topped up, while simultaneously charging two phones via two other cables. Then, when you want to head out, you grab just the Lumsing and one cable, etc.
I only had one issue when testing - one of my Nokias (a Lumia 630) complained at one point that a non-original charger was being used and that charging might be 'slower'. I doubt that, since it was hooked into the 2.1A output at the time, but you know how manufacturers can be about insisting on original equipment... In every other case, my test devices loved the power bank.
A (now) standard set of LEDs are used to indicate approximate charge, in increments of 25%, plus these animate when recharging - the only button is used to activate the LEDs and to start charging if none is already happening.
The usual capacity/efficiency caveats apply, of course. As with any emergency charger, you won't actually get 10400mAh - you'll get around 75% of this in terms of actual transferred charge to another device - with the difference mainly being heat lost along the way, in the cable and (mainly) in the two batteries (source and destination).
Still, the capabilty to add 7500mAh to various devices means that this accessory can fully recharge (from empty) a Galaxy Note 3 and a Nokia Lumia 1520 and probably enough over to recharge a Nokia 808 fully as well. Or, in a less geeky scenario, to fully recharge your smartphone (say, a Nokia Lumia 920) around three or four times.
The unique selling point here, other than the slightly unconventional 'USB hub' look, is the value for money, being higher capacity and at lower price than anything else I've seen on the market. The worry is that corners have been cut in terms of quality, though the high standard of materials used tend to assuage that fear. Of course, it will take months of useage before any long term verdict can be arrived at, but it looks good so far.