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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 10:12

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.

Inateck Bluetooth speaker

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.

Inateck Bluetooth speaker

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).

Author: "--"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 12:55

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.

Nokia N86 camera

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.

Lumia 1020 and 808 PureView

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.

And the same pattern applies to the Nokia Lumia 1020, headlined above. With ostensibly almost identical specifications to the mass market Lumia 920, it lagged the latter by almost a year. So, when eventually available, the chipset and internals were already nearing end-of-life, in terms of use in new devices. Again, the delay was almost certainly down to getting the camera working satisfactorily - again 41MP, like the 808, but this time doing everything in the main processor and an extra GB of RAM. The 1020 was well received by camera phone enthusiasts, and remains a benchmark device, though its shot to shot times are looking a little prehistoric in a world of 2.5GHz processors and monster GPUs.

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:

Chipset Devices Specification
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?

OS updates

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.]

Lumia 1020 in Camera Grip

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.

1020 and 808, all in white!!

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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 12:50

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.

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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 06:59

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.

MichaelSteve 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 ;).

Megalo Mini

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:


Author: "--"
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Date: Sunday, 15 Jun 2014 13:40

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:

Scene, as snapped on the 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.:

1:1 crop from the 10201:1 crop from the Z2

Shot in sunny conditions, this shouldn't challenge either device, yet the Z2's native image processing makes a complete hash of the finer detail. Use it as the basis for any editing or cropping and you'll get very disappointing results. In contrast the Nokia PureView crop is so clean and detailed that you could almost be looking out at that detail through (e.g.) a car window.

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.

Bluebells

The only downside of image processing to increase saturation (and to boost blue in particular) here is that my dad's jacket also had a hint of blue - so that got dramatically boosted too!!

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.

HDR-ish image

This was quite a dull evening, quite dark and with just a glimmer of light in the distance, but heavy image processing turned it into a really pleasing photo...

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.

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Date: Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 18:41

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:

CBD

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:

  1. It hits the linear polariser, this vertically polarises the light. (Polarising means – roughly – aligning the wave vibration in a particular direction).
  2. Then it hits the circular polariser retardation layer. This converts the light again, making it right-circularly polarised.
  3. Then it hits the screen and bounces off it, switching the rotation of the light to leftist.
  4. It goes back through the retardation layer. When this happens, the light becomes horizontally polarised.
  5. 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:

CBD vs 'new' CBD!

Outdoors in oblique sunlight, similar screen fragments from the CBD-equipped Lumia 920 (left) and the 'laminated' Lumia 630 (right)

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?

Author: "--"
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Date: Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 06:57

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!

Symbian, Glory

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!

7650See, 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!

3650The 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! 

6600It 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.

________________________

Symbian, Glory

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!

Symbian, Glory

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!

N95 (and 8GB model)

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.

N97

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.

Symbian, Glory

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.

Symbian, Glory

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.

Symbian, Glory

Symbian Belle

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!

Symbian, Glory

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!

Sabby Jolly

_________

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?

SL

Author: "--"
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Date: Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 07:47

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:

Shoulderpod S1

Presentation, packing materials and, of course, the S1 product itself are all first class - this screams premium all the way:

Shoulderpod S1

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:

Shoulderpod S1

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.

Shoulderpod S1

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.

Author: "--"
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Date: Monday, 09 Jun 2014 15:06

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.

Feature include:
- 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!

cuteRadio screenshotcuteRadio screenshot

Arising in the nick of time, it's cuteRadio! You can browse the 30,000 stations in various ways, here (right) by genre...

cuteRadio screenshotcuteRadio screenshot

Or here, browsing by country, here an alphabetical list for the UK. Note that titles, artists, etc. are supplied (or not, as the case may be) by the station - this isn't cuteRadio's fault. (right) The error at the top of this screen is probably something out of date in the station directory....

cuteRadio screenshotcuteRadio screenshot

Drilling down into station detail and (right) long pressing to add it to my 'Favourites'...

cuteRadio screenshotcuteRadio screenshot

This has always been the best way to get around any list of tens of thousands of Internet Radio stations - just spend an hour finding a load of favourites and candidates up front and add each as a favourite... (right) Three cheers for Stuart, already a Symbian star with the likes of cuteTube(!)

cuteRadio screenshotcuteRadio screenshot

You can add your own stations if they're not in the directory, but you will need the source URL for its media, of course. (right) the settings include a sleep timer and a network proxy (for getting round regional restrictions?)

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!

Author: "--"
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Date: Monday, 09 Jun 2014 10:45

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.

Lumsing Portable Power Bank

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.

Lumsing Portable Power Bank

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.

Lumsing Portable Power Bank

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.

Lumsing Portable Power Bank

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.

Lumsing Portable Power Bank

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.

The black unit is here, the white one is here. Both are supplied in a 'recycled cardboard' box, with a drawstring velvet bag and the aforementioned white charge cable.

Author: "--"
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Date: Saturday, 07 Jun 2014 19:42

Guest writer Rick den Ridder writes: “De dag die je wist dat zou komen.” It’s a (pretty bad) Dutch translation of “the day you knew would come." I wish it wasn’t so, but have to admit it: my Nokia E7's BL-4D battery has trouble to make it through the day. That means I have to make a decision. I either have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to replace my sealed battery and be able to keep my phone for another year, or I spend some more and get a brand new smartphone instead. It seems like an easy decision, but it’s not at all. Saying goodbye to my phone would also mean that I have to leave a form factor behind.

Guest article from Rick den Ridder:

__________________________

QWERTY feature photo

It all started 4.5 years ago, when I got my first smartphone and welcomed the Nokia E75 in my life. It was not the best phone of its time. It had no touch screen, no 5 megapixel camera, but it had something else: a physical qwerty keyboard. I remember being glad that I did not have to use T9 anymore and that I used the keyboard for everything; countless sms messages, a lot of calendar appointments and some emails as well. For a short time, I could not wish for anything more.

 QWERTY feature photo

After a while, I looked around a little bit, and another phone started to grab my attention. The Nokia E7 was stunning and better than the E75 on all aspects. From the beginning on, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would make the switch. Some time went by, it became May 2011, and I had my ideal phone in my hand. I customized it, learned every aspect of it and knew it would take a very, very good phone to make me want to switch again. That phone never came (although, there was the Nokia E710 that I would still love to have), so I used my E7 with great pleasure for the last three years.

I must admit that it is no longer on the top of its league in 2014. The small capacity of the 1200 mAh battery means I have to save energy at all times, the 16 GB internal storage is not enough to take my complete music collection with me and the EDoF camera is not able to make close up shots. They are all downsides I immediately forget when I do one of the following things:

  • Sending a Whatsapp message (approximately 25 times a day). It’s the keyboard of the Nokia E7 that I fell in love with. It not only helps me to type fast or without looking, I really enjoy using it as well.
  • Accidentally dropping my phone on a hard surface (approximately once in every two weeks). It’s nice to know that after the countless falls my phone survived, there is no doubt it will also survive the next one.

 QWERTY feature photo

Of course, I always knew that I could not use the E7 for the rest of my life. It is also pretty clear for a while now, that the E7 will not get a successor. The fact that I have no prime candidate to replace my phone, is not because I haven’t looked around. When searching for a new phone, I started with the pros and cons of the E7. With pain in my heart, I know I have to let go the physical qwerty keyboard once I decide to buy a new phone. The biggest advantage of the E7 cannot be found in any current smartphone. 

As I said, I drop my phone a lot. This will not be different when I buy another one. The only brand I can really rely on is Nokia, so that limits the search to an ‘ultimate Lumia model’. All high end smartphones have a good battery, so that’s one concern less. Then, there are two specifications left: a good camera and a lot of storage space. If it’s just for the camera, the Lumia 1020 is of course the phone to choose. The 1520 and 930 also have great cameras, but I consider the Xenon flash as a real advantage. If it’s about storage, I’d really want to be able to use a micro SD card. That pretty much leaves me with the 1520. Biggest disadvantage of that phone: the 6” screen is way too big.

 QWERTY feature photo

So, let’s go back to the beginning. Should I buy a new phone, or spend some more time with my Nokia E7? I tend to stay with the phone I love, because the only two phones I would consider are still too far away from the phone I want to have. 

Is it reasonable to hold on to the E7 or is it time to move on? Should I buy the 1020, the 1520, or is there another phone I overlooked completely? Please let me know what you think.

__________________

Thanks Rick, please leave your answers for him in the comments below!

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Date: Sunday, 01 Jun 2014 19:55

What happens when you set out to create an ultimate camera phone, when a hump is not a dealbreaker, when Xenon flash is a must and when no compromises are involved? From 2012, 2013 and 2014 come the two Nokia PureView camera phone flagships, plus - hot off the production line - the new Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. The latter, unlike the monstrous S4 Zoom from 2013, is streamlined and eerily similar in form factor and scope to the Nokia couple. But which will win out?

Nokia 808/1020 Galaxy K Zoom

If you thought the Nokia Lumia 1020 had a camera hump, if you thought the 808 PureView had a bigger bulge, then both are somewhat overshadowed by the form of the Galaxy K Zoom. Not that it's as 'monstrous' as last year's S4 Zoom, which really was a standalone camera glued to a low end smartphone - here, the K Zoom slims things down a lot, with curves and integration of the camera into the form factor that reminds me very much of the 808 PureView. Most importantly, the overall thickness is acceptable as a 'phone', there are no 'sticking out' bits that catch on pockets, and the underlying smartphone spec is very decent indeed.

But we're looking here at raw camera performance in all light conditions. And, as usual, I'm going to focus on results, not on experience. The Lumia 1020's 4 second shot to show time is the main issue here, with the 808 and K Zoom coming in comfortably at well under a second - but it's hard to assess how much of an issue this might be to a user, so just photo quality is being tested here.

As usual, there are some notes and caveats. The disparity in default output resolutions again wrecks any hope of a like for like comparison, at least in terms of resolution. 5MP oversampled (808) vs 5MP oversampled and 34MP full resolution (1020) vs 15MP (K Zoom). My methodology instead was to therefore approach each shot/scene with a fresh mind, deciding on the best way to approach it on each device in order to get the best results. The option of using either the 5MP oversampled version of the 34MP version on the Lumia 1020 is a point in its favour, but then again, the micromanagement of which file is which quickly becomes a pain, so it all evens out in the end.

I haven't gone with a points system here, since:

  • the pros and cons of each device in each test scene are self-evident
  • any total would be skewed by my choice of subjects
  • the resolution disparity was so huge (not a criticism either way)

All photos were taken with full 'auto' everything in the software.

Test 1: Sunny

A shot so easy that anything could nail it - though, to be picky, I'm also looking at exposure, colours and raw detail. Here's the full scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

There weren't significant differences in exposure, so I moved ahead to raw detail. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Just as on last year's S4 Zoom, the K Zoom's high resolution images are on the verge of over-exposure when shooting in sunlight - clearly there are some tweaks still needed to this new device's firmware. Crisp, sharpened detail though, while the two Nokia PureView devices' oversampling ensures high quality 5MP results in both colours and detail.

Now, what about zooming in? With lossless zoom on the two Nokia PureView devices, to around 2.5x, and by 10x optical on the K Zoom. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The new K Zoom's 10x optical zoom, as one might expect, nails this comparison, with fantastic zoom detail - simply amazing. Meanwhile the Nokia 808 does well enough, but suffers from the loss of oversampling at this end of the zoom spectrum. And the Lumia 1020 makes a mess of the exposure when zoomed in. I'd have gone back and reshot this photo with manual reduction of exposure, but the K Zoom was (naturally) so far in front here that there wouldn't have been much point.

Test 2: Zoom indoors, decent light

Looking only at zoom and maximum resolved detail, this was an indoor tableau at the same military museum as above. Here's the full, unzoomed scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

There (again) weren't significant differences in exposure and colours, so I moved ahead to raw detail, in this case only looking at the zoomed version, since I was interested in the mannequin's head. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

As expected, at full PureView zoom, the lack of oversampling reveals the raw noise in the Nokia sensors - not unpleasantly so, but certainly noticeable - the K Zoom's sensor noise seems of about the same order, which was a pleasant surprise, as I'd expected worse. The 10x optical zoom does reveal extra detail, too, so thumbs up for the K Zoom here.

But let's not spend all our time on the zoom - what about using the Galaxy K Zoom as an as-is camera phone, i.e. shooting the full scene in front of me. Can its higher resolution live with the oversampled but lower resolution purity of the Nokia PureView pair?

Test 3: Overcast landscape

With light good, but not sunny, a mass of greenery and detail, plus a handy sign near the edge of the frame. Here we're looking at both purity and optical accuracy then. All unzoomed, so as to gather the whole scene, here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

Here are 1:1 crops from left hand side detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

No real surprises here - the 16MP result from the K Zoom has more pixels, but is a little noisy and only has slightly more detail than the 5MP results from the two Nokias, with their bigger optics and oversampling. It's apparent that, zoom aside, we really need to start pushing lighting conditions a lot more if we want to see major differences and deficiencies.

Test 4: Low light macro

Indoors at the museum, shooting through glass at a display of models in very low light (with flash disabled, obviously, to avoid reflections!). Here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the 808

Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top, 5MP), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle, in full resolution mode this time, for a change) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom, 16MP) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The lack of surprises continues. The 808's oversampled photo has immaculate colouring the feel, while the 1020's full 34MP version here has enormous raw detail but not really punchy enough at the pixel level. And the K Zoom gets a nice compromise between colour, detail and contrast - the only controversy here is overall handling of the ambient yellow/green lighting (grab the JPGs to see more of this) - the K Zoom image is best here to my eyes, but it's debatable.

Test 5: Night time

Time to really push the (non-flash) envelope then, with a true night shot. Only a little light left in the sky (it was darker than the photos make it seem!), let's push the sensors and sampling systems. All unzoomed, so as to gather the whole scene, here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the K Zoom

Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Again, all as expected. The Nokia 808's oversampling does what it can, but with no OIS there's an understandable blurriness from the long exposure and hand wobble. Meanwhile the 1020's OIS and oversampling produces a terrifically clear result, and the K Zoom produces something with higher pixel count but also a lot more noise - and little extra detail.

Now, one of the reasons for Nokia going with software zoom rather than optical was that the latter suffers in low light, with not enough light getting to the sensor - so I'd expect that the K Zoom's optical zoom to be unusable under these conditions. Surprisingly, this wasn't the case. Here's the 1020 crop again, followed by the K Zoom's results at 3x (middle) and 10x (bottom) optical zoom:

1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Yes, there's a healthy degree of sensor noise (though not as ghastly as on other recent industry sensors, such as Sony's on the Z2), but being able to read a car number plate at 100 metres in almost pitch dark conditions is a tremendous feat for a phone-hosted camera.

Test 6: Xenon flash time

Starting with a static subject (me) and taken with fill-in flash indoors (though with bright light coming from a doorway nearby) by my nephew. So we're talking about 'normob' levels of hand shake - though with Xenon being employed hopefully all this should be catered for. Here's the whole scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

As you'll see from the crops below, without my usual steady hand on the shutter button and attention to detail, even these devices can produce less than ideal results. Sometimes these things are half to do with the photographer, you know 8-)

Anyway, here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The complication here is that there was some light, so the Xenon flash's normal 'frozen' results are being masked a bit by captured light from ambient illumination that's also captured during the exposure. It'sa tough trick to pull off and the Lumia 1020's more advanced image processing and intelligence nails it, while the 808 struggles to expose properly (and I was a good 2.5m away) and the K Zoom is rather overwhelmed with light, producing a somewhat ghostly effect.

Right, let's get rid of most of the ambient light and get back to my traditional 'party mock up' selfie:

Test 7: Party, moving subject

As usual, I'm making no attempt to stand still and, obviously all three of these Xenon-flash camera phones make a decent attempt at freezing my motion. You'll be familiar with the set up by now, so let's jump straight to the crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom):

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Each of these shots has something to recommend it - the Nokia 808's is fairly dark, but then it was pretty dark in the room, while the Nokia Lumia 1020's shot ramps up brightness enough to produce a more pleasing photo, even if it didn't reflect what your eyes might see. It's a tricky balance to get right. The K Zoom errs even more on the 'bright' side, adding in some impressive detail as well.

If I were to pick a smartphone for snapping at parties in mid 2014, I think I'd still go with the 1020, overall. At least if no zooming in was required - you have to remember that zooming in can be a great way to get 'candid' snaps at social events.

Verdict

That I've been picky about minute details in some of the above photos should be put into perspective - these are three of the world's best camera phones. I was touring the museum above with my nephew, armed with your average 'normob's Android smartphone (a 'Vodafone' something or other), and the difference between these three phones and his was roughly analagous to a calculator next to a modern supercomputer. Sensor, optics, flash, resolution, zoom, display quality, speed, all were a generation apart.

Of course, a more valid comparison would be devices like the 1020 and K Zoom to more general purpose 2014 smartphones, such as the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2 and Apple iPhone 5S. And it quickly becomes apparent that there are two reasons for choosing the 1020 or the K Zoom: you need zoom capability, to get closer and get more detail; and/or you need proper Xenon flash, for better evening and indoor shots. If neither of these apply then you don't need to consider these devices.

However, zoom and Xenon are both quite addictive, once you start to realise that you can shoot any subject, any time, with relatively few limitations. The K Zoom, in particular, is surprisingly close to having a £150 standalone camera with you all day inside the body of your go-everywhere phone.

Picking a winner here is tricky, of course. The Nokia 808, based on results above, comes out a narrow third place, but then is out anyway for all practical purposes, with its lossless zoom being outclassed here and with it being almost impossible to recommend to others, with Symbian support now almost completely withdrawn by Nokia (now Microsoft).

If the form factors were identical then I'd go for the K Zoom every time because why wouldn't you want optical zoom? But the Lumia 1020, in particular, is noticeably sleeker and thinner than the Galaxy K Zoom, and I suspect that (even though the latter is smoother and thinner than last year's S4 Zoom) most people would find the Samsung just that little bit too large and bulbous.

Galaxy K Zoom and Lumia 1020

Yes, they're both camera humps, but the K Zoom and 1020, at least, are very different in thickness and feel...

If your needs are less towards needing a standalone camera inside your phone and if you're OK with Windows Phone then the Lumia 1020 is still the best camera phone in terms of maximum quality at minimal inconvenience, while the Galaxy K Zoom's results are very comparable to the 1020 in most conditions and leaps and bounds ahead when zooming is needed - at the not inconsiderable expense of another 5mm of camera 'hump' and a whopping 42g extra in weight. 

It all depends on what you need. And, given that the two camera phones run completely different operating systems, means that, for the very first time, you now have a real choice. It's not just Symbian and Windows Phone anymore. Xenon and zoom and Android do go together after all.

Watch this space for more comparisons, including an OIS video stabilisation test, 1020 vs K Zoom.

PS. I've concentrated on photo quality and form factor above, but there's the user experience, too, of course. The Lumia 1020's shot to shot time is legendarily slow, at four seconds, while the 808 and K Zoom are well under a second. The software environment and choice of modes and settings, is comparable across the phones, with the Samsung perhaps having the biggest range of modes and options overall (on Windows Phone, a lot of the extra bits are bolt-on applications).

Nokia 808 and K Zoom

The Nokia 808 and Galaxy K Zoom do share a curved design language that does its best to hide the camera bulk...

Author: "--"
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Date: Friday, 23 May 2014 07:11

File this under Friday link of interest, but this article by Rita El Khoury caught my eye, looking at the increasing use of metal in designs across some of the smartphone world. With plenty of metal designs in Nokia's (Symbian) past and with metal completely absent in the current Windows Phone line-up, I thought a reminder of the pros and cons would be timely.

From Rita's article, unashamedly looking at things from a perspective in the Android world of today, though looking back at Nokia's past in particular:

HTC seems to have started a trend last year (but in fact it originated a long time ago) of building smartphones out of metal to make them look and feel premium. The company built an entire strategy out of this one claim, emphasizing on materials and manufacturing methods to win over those who have been appalled by Samsung’s cheap and flimsy plastics. But contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants a metallic phone, or thinks that it’s the best solution to the problem. And I am one of those people.

Long before the HTC One, I have owned and used a Nokia E71 and a Nokia N8. The E71 was mostly plastic, with a metallic back cover that took me by surprise the moment I held it. It looked and felt premium, and even my grandmother, who knew nothing about phones but who had seen me use dozens before, stared at it in awe and told me, “this is the most beautiful one.” I used an E71 for a year over the course of which it slipped and dropped dozens of times, but I was never worried because it was built like a tank, and it only had a small non-touch screen.

nokia-e71-02

The Nokia E71, built like a tank

Later, I owned and used a Nokia N8. It was the first anodized aluminum smartphone I had laid my hands on, and it was simply gorgeous. However, I carried it in a case because I was certain I’d scratch that beautiful orange finish, and I was more worried that it would slip from my hand and break the screen.

My experience with both devices has lead me to a love/hate relationship with metallic smartphones, where I love looking at them, I like how premium they feel in the hand, but I wouldn’t buy them. Here are the reasons why.

Rita then goes on to list her grievances, including:

  • The temperature is never right
  • Premium but impersonal
  • Too slippery
  • A case is a necessity not an accessory

Rita finishes with praise for Nokia's use of plastic:

There’s a right way to do plastic

I will go back to Nokia for a second and say that the company showed us that there is a right way to do plastics. Their polycarbonate finishes on the Lumia series were spectacular, ergonomic, solid, and they still felt premium. Even the iPhone 5C went for the same material. Plastic doesn’t have to be cheap, wobbly, and badly done. It can be executed to perfection, for an excellent blend of look, feel, and functionality.

You can read the whole article here.

As Rita says, metal in a phone engenders something of a love/hate relationship, though she doesn't list one of the major technical hurdles, in that metal doesn't let radio waves pass, so all the smartphone's antennae need to be packed in seams and small top/bottom plastic sections.

However, HTC (and Nokia) have proved that this latter is simply a design problem that can be solved, while Rita's other objections are rather subjective. I, for one, love the cold feel of metal in my hand first thing in the morning. And I don't buy the 'slippery' argument, since my Nokia Lumias are just as slippery as my old Nokia N8 and E7 - grip is more to do with texture and detail, not material.

The casing issue is also a personal thing. Yash comments on the original story "for some reason, I love the dents and chips the metal phones get over time. I have seen friends whose non-metallic phones get cracks after their drops. I would take dents & chips over cracks any day." I'm the same - after the first dent (which is always annoying), my metal phones then accumulated battle scars which I became increasingly proud of. They proved that the phone was a) being used and b) could survive a lifetime of punishment. Or maybe I'm just strange.

Comments welcome - plastic or metal? Or a design fusion with both?

Author: "--"
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Date: Monday, 19 May 2014 07:56

Guest writer Shibesh Mehrotra takes us on a trip into the past with his rosy retrospective of the Nokia 701 Symbian powerhouse - a classic device that never really received the credit it deserved.

Shibesh writes:

_________

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long, emotional piece. Read on only if you love Nokia, Symbian or me.

It was a summer of desire and a winter of surprises.

For much of the summer of 2011, I had been using a featurephone to get me by. A Nokia 2690, to be exact. Although I didn’t exactly hate the device, I needed something better. Because, well, it wasn’t cutting it for me. I was a media student, and as such, we had loads of assignments etc that involved taking pictures, working with email and I was getting a teeny, weeny bit sick of Series 40.

Don’t get me wrong, I made the most of that 2690 too. I even remember using it to submit most of my assignments at the last minute, when the WiFi connection would stop working and mobile data was my only choice. I also had 8 gigs worth of music loaded onto that tiny device through my SD card. That it managed to play that collection without crashing several times over and dying on me, still surprises me.

Then, in the winter, I did an internship that was especially demanding media-wise. I had to go around the villages that surround my city, visiting schools and colleges, and recording the student’s opinions on a seminar they’d attended. Minor work, for anyone who has a camera.

Except, I kinda didn’t.

So, in preparation for that, I decided to get myself a smartphone. Something that would double up as a camera, and at the same time serve my desire of having a mobile device more powerful to access the interwebz than a one-tab only version of Opera Mini. My choices at the time were the newly-released, NFC-toting, Symbian Belle-running Nokia 701 and the LCD-version of the Galaxy S.

I would tirelessly research both smartphones for a month, video-hopping from PhoneArena to The Phones Show. Review-hopping from All About Symbian to Unleash The Phones. And basically absorbing every piece of information there was on the internet about both. From DailyMobile to MyNokiaBlog, I went through hell trying to decide.

At the time, Nokia still had the inertia of being a household name, whereas Samsung didn’t quite inspire the same level of confidence, the Galaxy S II being just half a year old. And the video capabilities of the 701’s EDoF camera blew the Galaxy S out of the water. In all the test videos I watched online, the Galaxy would periodically drop frames and focus, while the 701 would hold its own till the time you pressed stop. And then there was the dilemma of buying a year-old device vs something spanking new.

In the end, I chose a dying OS on a better device over a flourishing OS on a subpar one.

And I never regretted that choice.

The first few days were glorious. Imagine the excitement of your first touchscreen phone. Add the exhilaration of making a jump from the most basic of featurephones to a top-of-the-line smartphone and that’s where I was emotionally, with the 701.

Browsing the Store frantically for known names of apps that I had seen other people use. Getting slightly disappointed when I found they weren’t available for Symbian. Brightening up again to see the other stuff that I could do with the device. It was pure tech geek bliss.

And all of the things that I would later learn to avoid (having multiple widgets of Nokia Social running on my homescreen, using Nokia Social, trying to coax the EdoF camera to take macro shots) I was learning on-the-job.

701 Macro

Speaking of macros that went horribly wrong…

Speaking of jobs, that video-taking internship went by like a breeze. In good light, which India always seems to have in the afternoons, that camera was brilliant for photos/videos with no moving subjects/subjects with minimal movement. Here is a photo of me that one of the aforementioned subjects took after gifting me a rose:

Shibesh-Rosy

The 701 was also the only phone that I’ve used as a frikkin phone. Seriously, I have never made as many 6-hour long calls with any other device. I have never sent as many 500 word long text messages with any other devices.

See, the phone wasn’t the only thing I was in love with.

But, as such, the 701 was also the only phone that I brutally threw around in savage anger whenever I got into a fight over the phone. I remember literally hurling it at a wall and then just picking up the pieces, putting everything back together and using it to call someone to send me food.

The 701 incidentally was the first phone on which I discovered, I could download podcasts to. It was the phone that introduced me to the concept of podcasts, the concept of never being alone again. To have people having conversations around me, and me not being obligated to take part in them. To listen to people smarter than me talk about things that, at first, went completely beyond me, and then slowly and surely, understanding those things and moving above and beyond them.

It was the first piece of tech that inspired me to write about it. It was the phone that I had no option except to hack, and play around with its internals. It taught about how smartphone operating systems work and how to bend them to do my bidding.

Here are some other pretty nice (to my eyes) photos that I managed to take with it:

Yes, it wasn’t Android. It didn’t have 900 gazillion apps, but I still fell for it and loved it until the day CJ accepted me into UTP and handed me a 620. I still love it. I still sometimes take it out of the cupboard, caress it, switch it on and play with it. It’s got its fair share of battle scars. The lock key is gone, the screen now has a crack which I have no idea how my brother managed to put on it. I mean, I threw the frikkin’ thing at a wall and the screen didn’t crack, my brother cracked it in 2 days.

Anyway, the point is, the 701 kinda made me who I am today. If it wasn’t for that phone, I wouldn’t have spent hours upon hours bent over my laptop going through the forums at DailyMobile and Symbian-Developers trying to figure out some nitpicky thing that bothered me. I probably wouldn’t be into tech.

Or maybe I would, I don’t know. What I do know is that today I’m happy with the journey I began with that phone. And maybe that’s what all of us need. To be happy with the device we chose, at the end of the day.

Aviary Photo_130356167828920257

To everyone reading this, I hope your first smartphones were as special to you, as mine was to me.

________

Thanks, Shibesh! If anyone else out there would like to wax lyrical in such style about their own favourite Symbian smartphone then please get in touch. 

[article first published at UTP, used here with kind permission]

Author: "--"
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Date: Friday, 16 May 2014 16:24

As many people will have noticed, the Symbian world has effectively become a community of enthusiasts rather than a full commercial ecosystem - and as such there are few new products to review or stories to cover. But we want All About Symbian to continue to provide relevant and interesting content. The thing is.... can you help?

We've already seen a handful of guest writers contribute, most recently Ow Kah Leong - but with the winding down of the commercial side of the Symbian world, I wondered if there's burgeoning writing talent out there just itching to have their say about Symbian - the OS, what's good, what's bad, what the future holds, what went wrong, glorious applications that need coverage, that sort of thing?

You don't have to write perfectly, I'd be here to suggest changes and polish the English, if needed, of course.

In a similar vein, I wondered if any of the Symbian enthusiasts on AAS wanted to appear as guests on the podcast one week? Again, pipe up, we want to let everyone have a say.

If you feel you want to contribute an article or two, or would like to take part in a podcast then please comment below. No need to be shy - this could be you sticking your head up over the parapet anyway! 8-)

[FX: Steve lights the blue touch paper and steps away...!]

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Date: Thursday, 15 May 2014 11:59

1998 was the year. I got myself a second-hand Psion 5, running the grand daddy of mobile OS - EPOC, that evolved into Symbian. Yeah, the OS that we all love and hate in almost equal proportion. For the last 5 years, I have been exclusively on Symbian - Nokia 6120 Classic, E63, E72, N8 and finally, 808 PureView. Yet, mid 2014, it's time for a major change.

808 camera island

The Nokia 808 has given me its best for the last two years, accompanying me everywhere. And, even on holidays, as almost the only camera doing photography duty. While the Nokia hardware has been stellar in most cases, especially in the 808's case (41MP sensor and dedicated GPU, anyone?), the same cannot be said about the OS.

While Symbian is completely flexible, it is also obvious to even ardent fanboys like me that it was built for a different era. It will always struggle against the slickness of iOS and later the customizability of Android. But Symbian's maturity and stability means that many users continue to soldier on. Look at Delight custom firmware and Applist - these are all labours of love. Hey, there's even the 2048 game to bring Symbian's game catalogue right into 2014!

My own journey with Nokia and Symbian has introduced me to stuff like Twitter, podcasts, flashing CFW, and more. I come to meet people like Steve (he goes back a LONG way to Palmtop magazine!) and Rafe, and many wonderful others. I've even guest-written a few articles on AAS (e.g. here)! It's really been a most wonderful journey.

But once the infamous February 2011 announcement was made, it was really a matter of that time before I moved on to a new OS. After much thought, research and gnashing of teeth (literally), I've decided to stick with Nokia hardware and have dived into the world of Windows Phone (WP).

Why not iOS? Too pricey and screen is still small. I wanted only one device, so a phablet (for me) is a good compromise. Why not Android? I'm not so much into Google services as to make Android the must-go-for choice. Having decided on Nokia and WP, the next decision is which one – 1020 vs 1520. If the Lumia 930 had been available, it would probably be the one. But having hogged the demo phones in a phone shop for a long time, I decided to go with the bigger screen and better spec (except the camera optics and flash) of the Lumia 1520. And the phone duly arrived on the eve of Good Friday, and I bade a fond farewell to my 808 (traded it in with generous terms and it was in quite a state - chipped casing, broken AV jack and so on).


My last picture using the 808 - the removed back cover!

Firstly, the build of the Lumia 1520 is just fabulous. It’s up there with the best Nokia can offer. No slimy shiny plastic here. Top-grade polycarbonate that feels premium and wonderful to hold. I still miss the metal of the N8 but Nokia shows that you don’t need steel and glass to feel special. I have the white 1520 and it is really special. And my operator kindly included a Viva flip-case which is just a marvelous partner to the 1520 [smell the leather, Steve!]

Nokia Lumia 1520

Secondly, the first thing I did was to get the 8.1 Developer Preview onto the phone, which is really a piece of cake (hey, even my 14 year-old son got it working on his yellow 520!) The camera is obviously not as good as the 808 or the 1020 but is still no slouch. Some samples below:

Bokeh shot from the Lumia 1520

The bokeh shot of my daughter’s toys


Flowers under bright sunlight


Evening shot (which is slightly darker in reality)

So here I am, almost a month into using Windows Phone as my daily driver. My initial thoughts? Not a review here, but the perspectives of my move from Symbian to WP:

1. Apps selection

Really a resounding win here for WP. It’s rather easy, given the paucity of new apps in Symbian, especially in the past 2 years. However, the important thing is - can I satisfy my own needs? The answer is yes, with a few caveats that I think is limited by WP, rather than developers. I really miss Situations, which controls (on Symbian0 my Profile settings, mobile network, launching and closing of apps etc. The developer has promised to take a look to see if WP 8.1 will allow them to build a similar app, but they are not optimistic. Another is Poddi, which always has my favourite podcasts ready in the morning for consumption [hint, Ow Kah - check out Podcast Lounge's background functionality! - Ed]. Again it’s the nanny side of WP coming into play, which leads me to …

2. Streaming vs downloading

What’s the point in letting me stream a 31MB podcast but WP doesn’t allow me to download it over the same data connection? It just doesn’t make sense. While this limitation has allowed me to utilize the data cap more judiciously – e.g. large games have to be downloaded over Wifi, then again, I have to be plugged in to the mains to start the download. No, it won’t start even if the phone is on 100% battery! Seriously, Microsoft? The battery hit when streaming is surely not worthwhile. There are enough warnings about battery life and data cap. Just let me have the option to override this, if I wanted to.

Screenshot

Podcast Lounge at work – downloading over wifi while it can! [Again, I think you're not using the app optimally, see me after school! - Ed]

3. Gravity

What? A Symbian app? But this is no ordinary Symbian app, for this kept the Symbian app ecosystem flag flying high for years. A Swiss army-knife of an app that combines Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, The Old Reader (after Google Reader was canned), Flickr clients, all into ONE app. While not as full functionned as any of the standalone apps, it was my hub of social media and new services. I can upload, check or consume content without ever leaving the app. It is a truly unique proposition, still without equal on any mobile platform.

Ahhhh… dear old Gravity. How I miss you…

4. Multitasking

This is something that I need to get used to, coming from the full multitasking of Symbian. I’m sure this helps the battery life, so I’m for it. But I do feel that the 'resuming' part is not fast enough, even on the top-spec 1520. Too many times, the dots flying across the screen just frustrates me. Another example is Twitter. Gravity (oh, how I miss this fabulous gem from Symbian!) and Tweetian would update quietly in the background and when I switch back to them, all the new tweets have been fetched. But Twabbit just refuses to refresh in the background. However Twabbit is at least more consistent in staying at the last-read tweet.

5. Battery life

While the Lumia 1520's battery is huge vs the 808, it also has to cope with a larger screen and faster processor. But in daily use so far, I have never so far run the 1520 battery down to the last 10%. Starting with 100% at 6 in the morning, I will reach home in the evening with 40-50% remaining and I don’t need a top-up charge around noon. I suspect the reduced use of data for downloading has very much to do with it.

6. Live tiles

The Live Tiles work well for me and look beautiful and sumptuous, especially on the 6-inch 1520 screen. While some will complain that it doesn’t refresh frequently enough, I think it is just good enough. If I really need the most up to date, I would go straight to the app and ensure that I grab the latest information.

Screenshot

Yes, thanks to the Bing Sports Live Tile, we all now know the England World Cup team and Diego Costa will soon leave Athletico Madrid.

7. Action Centre

A good first effort from Microsoft. But I would like to see a toggle for 2G/3G/4G for managing the data connection. Also, the Wifi is really a shortcut rather than toggle, hence there needs to be consistency. I like the “All Settings” that is available in the Action Centre, which I missed initially and this saves me putting the settings tile on the home screen. I would like the ability to swipe away individual notifications if I choose to, instead of all at once (e.g. dismiss one SMS notification instead of all SMSes). But overall I think it is clean and minimalist, just like the overall OS.

Screenshot

The minimalist Action Centre. Note the All Settings shortcut and the battery percentage and date too. And it doesn’t need to drop down all the way.

These are just some my own observations and conclusions over the 4 weeks of using WP. What would I like to see in Windows Phone that was present in Symbian? Some ideas here:

a. Profiles

Maybe it’s because I am a long-time Nokia user. But I like the ability to set up Profiles like 'At work', 'Night', and so on, and manage all the ringtones and volume etc. And it’s here that I missed Situations so much. The app enables me to control when or where to change profiles, which apps to launch or close, which connectivity to switch on or off, etc. It was just so elegant and useful. It’s available on Android but sadly not WP. Quiet Hours seems useful but it is nowhere near as powerful and it’s not available till you switch your region and language to US. However, I have to say that the new Inner Circles function is good.

b. File manager

This is another big one that is missing. I think most users now are quite used to moving files between folders and devices, so the inability and inflexibility of not able to do it is puzzling. However, Joe Belfiore already hinted a file manager of some form will indeed appear soon. And not a minute too soon. There was a weird thing that happened when I was setting up the 1520. I had a N9 ringtone and some Nokia ones that I was very fond of and I had left them on the microSD card from my 808. I connected the 1520 to the PC and moved the sound files to the Ringtones folder. However they didn’t show up. After some googling. I discovered that I cannot move files in that manner. I had to move the files to the desktop and then to the 1520. This worked but it left me scratching my head a little.

c. Expert mode

WP in its current form is great for any new smartphone user or someone who is a 'normob'. My two children get on fine with a 520 and a 610. I got my wife a Galaxy S4 for her birthday and it was overkill as she barely uses 10% of the functions. And the Samsung is bewildering to manage and use. I wonder if 95% of Note/S3/S4/S5 users use more than 10% of the functions. But I digress. I think an expert mode on WP will make sense as a more knowledgeable power user like me would like to turn down the nanny side of WP and demand more control over the phone. For one, I would like to override the silly current downloading rules.

d. Landscape mode

Symbian seems to be the only mobile OS (correct me if I’m wrong) that has proper landscape mode across 100% of the OS – even homescreen and notification tray. WP still runs in portrait mode in those 2 areas. While usable, it just looks weird.

_____________________

My conclusion is that WP is a credible mobile OS and 8.1 will be a most important upgrade. The '.1' is really a misnomer as it is a much greater leap in OS functionality than the label suggests. It is definitely greater than the update from WP7 to WP8.

For most people (like my wife who uses the S4), it doesn’t matter what OS the phone is on, and they don’t really care. As long as the hardware is sexy and the basic apps are there. Hence it is up to Microsoft to entice top-tier manufacturers like Samsung to promote more heavily or release their next top-spec flagship on WP first. Microsoft would somehow also need to find a way to create a must-have title on WP – like Halo on Xbox or Gravity on Symbian. This will, more than hardware and specs, create a lasting user experience.

As for me, Symbian may have exited my smartphone life, but it will always have a special place in my heart. Just like the Psion 5mx!

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Date: Thursday, 15 May 2014 07:19

I couldn't resist this link of interest to a feature on one of my favourite Nokia-using photographers, Olivier Noirhomme, who cut his teeth on Nokia's Symbian-powered imaging flagships (N8 and 808 PureView) before ending up on the Windows Phone-powered Lumia 1020. Olivier's usual favourite subjects are covered briefly, including time lapse, but he also shares a few notable tips.

From the Nokia Conversations piece:

profile pic-1

So, Olivier, how did you get into photography ?

It all really started with my Nokia N8 in 2010. Before that, I had several other Nokia devices like the N95 and the 5800 XpressMusic which took, at the time, good quality pictures for smartphones but wasn’t really thinking about photography. With the Nokia N8, I discovered the basics in mobile photography. There weren’t many options back then and it was perfect for an beginner like me.

Then came the 808 Pureview which I still have and still use for the camera. I bought it at the release in July 2012 and learned so much on it. At first, I didn’t understand everything but thanks to a lot of reading, all the Nokia and Pureview websites and blogs and the Nokia community on Twitter, I made great progress months after months and learned how to use the different settings. I tested Rich Recording by recording electric guitar and made my first time lapses. Again, I learned a lot from that.

Next came all the Lumia devices and I had the opportunity to use the 900, the 920, the 925, the 1520 and, of course, the 1020. It’s the one I like the most thanks to its camera. With the additional settings (exposure time, more ISO values and the Nokia Camera app), I learned new things and it revived my interest in photography. Not that I was tired of it but I wasn’t discovering new things with the 808 Pureview after so much time with it.

I love photography now. It has become a real hobby and I enjoy doing and sharing my things and looking at what others come up with. There’s always something surprising to look at and there are insanely talented people doing amazing photographs/videos with “just” mobile phones.

Nokia-Lumia-1020-camera-hump_square

Where in Belgium do you like to shoots photo most and why ?

Belgium is a small country and there aren’t a lot of different sceneries to see. Basically, there’s the countryside, the cities and the sea coast. Not mountains, no oceans, no canyons, no desert, … But each type of scenery here is beautiful. There are cities like Brugge or Brussels (with its “Grand Place”) well known for their architecture. Like you’ll see on some of my pictures, the countryside can be flat in some places (north and center of the country) or hilly (south) with gorgeous nature, fields, forests and lakes.

I live in Brussels but I often go to the countryside because I have family there and it has become my favourite place to photograph. I love nature, walks, being outside and it’s the perfect place to capture animals, insects, flowers, reflections, great colours, gorgeous skies and clouds. I wish I had more time to capture the rest of the country though.

Olivier then delivers his three top tips for shooting better photos:

1) Try to look at things differently than your human perspective, even common and usual things. It can be from above, from below, closer, from unexpected points of view… Don’t hesitate to use a tripod. There are strict photography rules but try sometimes to go against them to see if it can produce something interesting. Try to maximize the shallow depth of field when capturing something close. Time is fun to play with too. Time lapses are an awesome example, as is pictures stacking.

2) Don’t stay on Auto mode and play with the settings. The Nokia Camera is designed to make everything available right way and you’d be surprised to see what kind of results you can have with the same scene by changing values like ISO, exposure compensation, white balance and/or shutter speed.

3) Remember you’re on a digital camera so you’re almost not limited in pictures number. Don’t hesitate to capture the same scene several times and from different points of view, sometimes very similar. One never knows what you could capture with a slight change. You’ll see later which one is the best. Try to share only your best photos and not the whole series of a same scene. It looks more professional. Over time, I’ve learned that not showing the failed or acceptable shots is what creates the amazed reactions when people sees the best pictures.

I'd agree with all three, of course. The last is one I've sworn by for the last 40 years - only show others your very best photos and they'll think that everything you take is a masterpiece! Conversely, show them all the failures as well and they'll realise you have photographic 'feet of clay'....

Here's one of Olivier's photos that I found particularly striking:

aw6

Depending of the weather and the season, the sky can look very different and I really like to capture it from the most beautiful blue to the most stormy clouds. In this one, I like the dark trees with the sun behind them and the intense colour of the sky.

I've written numerous editorials on the subject of camera phone imaging on these sites, of course. For example, here, giving my top tips. But a thought I've also expressed before is worth mentioning again - with a really top notch camera in your always-with-you phone, you'll be on the lookout for subjects and situations that will make great images. Whereas with a generic so-so camera in a generic smartphone, you'd see the same scene and think "Nah, can't be bothered, it won't come out very well" and move on.

And if Oliver's reading this, more examples of Rich Recording and your excellent rock guitar skills please!

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Date: Tuesday, 13 May 2014 18:19

"It's just got to get me through the day" is something often heard in relation to smartphones. And it's something that's very true - almost everyone has at least one opportunity in each 24 hour period to plug and charge a smartphone up. But, in an effort to assess complaints about battery life in the Developer Preview of Windows Phone 8.1, I set about a little scientific data collection - and uncovered the scale of how much Windows Phone needs to improve in terms of battery life... [updated]

[Update: As if by magic, 36 hours after I publish this article, Microsoft releases an update to the Developer Preview, claiming battery life improvements! I'm testing the update - battery drain looks MUCH reduced! - and will also publish a new chart in due course. Sometimes, I really do think these companies hang on my every word.....!]

A new chart and article has now been published here - the rest of the article, below, is now outdated and can be ignored.

_____________

Getting through the day

Let's clear up one thing first - "It's just got to get me through the day" means that a smartphone, under potentially heavy use, has to stay powered on from a possible start at 7am until bedtime (say 10pm). So 15 hours of 'on' time, logged into a cellular network, on wi-fi periodically, pulling down email often, usually with at least one social network syncing to a client, with periodic web browsing sessions, a couple of hours of audio of some kind (e.g. while commuting), perhaps up to an hour of gaming in odd moments through the day, half a dozen shortish phone calls, the capturing of a dozen photos, and other miscellaneous use. 

Hopefully the previous paragraph gets close to what you use a smartphone for - it's certainly pretty typical. And I'd venture that if any smartphone, whoever the manufacturer and whatever the OS, runs out of power before bedtime with the usage pattern above then there's a conceptual problem.

What's the battery used for?

Now, there are two components to battery life. Firstly, actual use. Applications in the foreground, screen lit up, touchscreen in use, GPS active, camera powered up, speaker blaring away - all of that. As mentioned below, there's only so much that can be modelled and tracked here because use patterns and devices vary so much. Plus, you expect to be draining power at a rate of knots when you're using a phone.

Secondly, and more interestingly (to me), is the power drawn when the phone is in standby mode, i.e. sitting in your pocket or on your desk apparently doing nothing. This then is the measure of how efficient a mobile OS (and its applications) is (are). Ideally, there should be minimal power drain when in standby, so that the maximum proportion of total battery capacity is available to power hands-on, foreground use. 

What you absolutely don't want is to have standby power drain so high that, even left in a pocket for the aforementioned 15 hours, the battery will be almost dead by bedtime - clearly leaving no spare capacity at all for actually using the phone during the day!

So - I went testing...

iOS7 meets Windows Phone 8.1!

Methodology

The idea in each case was to charge the phone/OS to capacity overnight and then to watch the reported percentage life left through a working day, with 3G/4G SIM in place (on the Three network in the UK), with Wi-fi connected and with a typical set of email and social accounts syncing regularly. Use of the phone was kept as light as possible, as what I was interested in most was the battery overhead for maintaining the running mobile OS - obviously, heavy use of any device would skew the results, since it would depend on what was being done, screen brightness and size, and so on.

A number of caveats are also worth mentioning:

  1. An OS's reporting of the state of a device's battery can be (notoriously) inaccurate. What's being attempted is a reading of the battery voltage, together with knowledge of how long it last was since the device was charged, added to a pretty huge 'fudge factor', ending up with a percentage which often amounts to little more than a guess. In other words, what gets reported as "50%" might actually be 60% or 40%. However, over a full charge/discharge cycle, at least the end points are consistent and we can still get a good idea of the relative, real world standby performance of each mobile OS here.
  2. Percentages are obviously relative to a 0-100 scale, with the actual battery capacity varying a lot between devices. Which is a large off-putting factor, though I'm testing phones as-is, and real world users will have the same configurations...
  3. Other variables include network conditions on each test day, plus Wi-fi strength variations as I moved from room to room in the house.
  4. I only did one rough usage pass with each device - ideally, multiple devices of each type would be observed over multiple days, and so on. But there's only so much one man can do, etc(!)
  5. In a couple of cases, where readings were missed or recorded out of time, I've interpolated slightly, in the interests of keeping the lines relatively smooth. This is, scientifically, a bit dubious, but then we're trying to guage the overall picture here and not look at minute details.
  6. Also not taken into account was battery age - as capacity is lost, over time (many months/years), the rate at which charge will drain will seem faster, of course. But again, short of buying all new devices, there's not much that can be done to allow for this!

Results

Standby power drain across all mobile OS

[Tested on Lumia 1020, Galaxy Note II, iPhones 4S and 5, Nokia 808 PureView]

Now, it's vital to note, before I go on, that the Windows Phone 8.1 being tested here was the 'Developer Preview' and, as such, is clearly a work in progress - it would be unkind of me to slam it too hard as-is, but I think it's fair enough to point out that improvement will be needed for final builds that go into shipping devices.

And it most certainly is. As you can see from the chart, with an average power drain of over 5% (of a Lumia 1020 battery, in this case) per hour, there's not a massive amount of charge left to power actual screen-on time. After all, even a rough calculation gives 4%x15 hours=60%. Now accept that you don't really want to be going lower than 15% (at which point you'll start getting battery warnings from the OS) and there's only really 25%, a quarter of the nominal capacity of the phone battery, to play with in terms of use. And, in the real world, as battery capacity reduces with time, this figure can only be lower still.

In contrast, my Android test phone managed to preserve well over half its battery capacity for 'on' time over the 15 hour period. Not ideal, but certainly workable in most people's situations. While my older Symbian-powered Nokia 808 PureView went one better, with 80% available for actual usage, and my test iPhone astonishing me* with very low power drain in standby and hardly measurable, even over a full day, almost within the bounds of error margins on a rough test like this.

[* It should be noted that some iOS 7 users have had wildly different experiences, possibly due to newer hardware and electronics, but I'm only reporting what I saw on a '4S' and a '5'.]

Conclusions - what has to be done still in 8.1

Now, all of this surprised me to an extent. Windows Phone, like iOS, was designed to severely restrict multitasking of third party applications and thus keep rogue battery drain well under control. This it does, but it seems like the core Windows Phone OS is actually the main culprit. In fairness, Windows Phone 8.0, tested here, was only marginally less battery efficient than Android, but the latter involves far more lenient multitasking and I'd have expected Windows Phone to be nearer the iPhone line.

In full real world, connected trim, with the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview on board, battery drain in standby mode is clearly unacceptable - with almost no spare capacity users are forced to charge again mid afternoon or carry around emergency chargers (and recharge the latter overnight too).

All of this boils down to Windows Phone needing to become more efficient at how it uses the phone hardware when the screen isn't on. I'm positive that the Developer Preview still has debugging code within it, plus routines that hadn't yet been fully optimised, especially all the baseband stuff for handling 3G/cellular - see my curve above for 8.1 when no SIM card was present, for example.

Microsoft, I'm sure, knows what it has to do here - and I'll be here in a few months to chart the progress it makes in trying to really compete with Android and iOS.

__________________________

new chart and article has now been published here - the article, above, is now outdated and can be ignored.

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Date: Sunday, 11 May 2014 06:34

It's easy to see how we could all have missed this, from a year ago, but at the International Image Sensor Society's annual conference Juha Alakarhu, Samu Koskinen and Eero Tuulos, all from Nokia (at the time) presented a detailed paper about the raw science behind 'oversampling' and its benefits. See below for more - it's fascinating stuff!

Group photo

The conference's 2013 photo - click through to grab the 12MB version and play 'Spot the PureView Nokians' game!

The International Image Sensor Society's conference was in June 2013, when the Nokia 808 PureView had been readily available for a year and the Lumia 1020 was still a month from being announced. Despite the PureView 41MP sensor being ostensibly developed to solve the problem of zooming without needing a bulky zoom lens, the benefits of higher image quality and detail when not zoomed, through oversampling, had quickly become the dominant feature of the 808 at least (I'd argue that the two facets of the same tech are balanced more equally on the 1020).

Juha and his team presented this paper in a 20 minute slot at the conference - grab it and have a read if you want to geek out. Here's an extract from the intro:

The formulas for analyzing the low light performance are developed and they are compared to subjective testing results. In addition to the developed formulas, the key findings show that there is a significant amount of spatial information available above Nyqvist frequency of the camera system that can be captured with an oversampling camera. We also show that the low light performance is essentially defined by image sensor rather than the pixel size

The paper then goes into some mathematical detail to explain how using oversampling on a high resolution sensor, with smaller pixels, produces much better image quality than using a lower resolution sensor (of the same size) with larger pixels. It's all to do with density of raw information and the possibilities for extracting real world image data from it:

Typically the goal in optimizing the camera resolution is to match the pixel size with smallest resolution element that the optical system is capable of producing. In terms of sampling theorem, the pixel pitch defines the spatial sampling frequency, fS, and thereby Nyquist frequency, fN = ½*fS of the imaging system. Nyquist frequency defines the frequency above which aliasing can happen, but it doesn’t yet tell at what frequency image details can be resolved. Optics is typically matched with sensor resolution so that it is capable of reproducing image details at spatial frequency that corresponds to sensor fN / 2. The sampling done by the image sensor itself is not ideal, as pixels are not point elements but have a certain area over which the obtained signal is averaged. In effect this non-ideality acts as low-pass filter. 

When capturing images of objects with repetitive patterns higher than fN frequency defined by pixel pitch of the image sensor, aliasing happens and this can be seen as moiré effect. This is evident in luminance channel at full sensor resolution, but with a Bayer pattern sensor the sampling of R,G,B color channels is lower than full sensor resolution and color moiré can result at even lower frequency...

...As a summary, it is very difficult or impossible to capture images that would have true 5 megapixel resolution with a mobile camera that has only 5 megapixels.

...It can be seen that by oversampling we can record details with good accuracy (fN /2 of 1.4 µm pixel, ~180 lp/mm) at frequency that would be clearly above the highest possible frequency without aliasing (fN of 3.8 µm pixel, ~130 lp/mm) for the “final” pixel size in 5 Mpix image. 

In plain English then, by using a system with far more raw image information than is needed, above the Nyquist frequency, 5MP images can be obtained with almost zero noise and zero aliasing - hence PureView.

Fascinating. Read the whole paper here. The Nokia 808 implemented all this algorithmic work in hardware, in a dedicated chip, with shot to shot times of much less than one second, while the later Lumia 1020 does it in software, using the phone's main GPU - and is a lot slower (four seconds) as a result. However, it's hoped that future 41MP PureView devices will be able to use much faster chipsets to bring the shot to shot time down to less than a second again.

PS. The emboldened phrase above (my emphasis) also explains Nokia's edge against other 4/5/8MP smartphone cameras. For example, the Android-powered HTC One famously uses only a 4MP sensor, claiming better results because of the large 'ultrapixels', when, quite clearly, the maths shows that you get much lower actual image information and my own tests have indicated that the One and One M8 produce images tantamount to 2MP in the real world, in terms  of detail.

PPS. All of this needs to be allied to the larger sensors used, physically. I.e. backing up the higher spatial sampling frequency is a bigger piece of silicon, gathering more light. Again, backing up Nokia's imaging edge.

Lumia 1020 and 808 PureView

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Date: Thursday, 08 May 2014 10:31

Microsoft, Nokia, Lumia, HERE, all brands and names that are prominent in the world of 'All About' writing. Yet I'm fascinated by the timing of the various name and brand changes - it's clear that every time something changed, whether Maps/Drive or from Nokia's Symbian smartphones to something more future-proof, the writing was on the wall for anyone with eyes to see....

HEREA recent example was the almost nonsensical name change from Nokia Maps to HERE Maps. At the time, everyone thought "Eh??" - why change the core brand for software that was so central to the company's smartphones? However, looking back with hindsight, it's clear that the architects of the change, back at the end of 2012, had one eye on an eventual split of Nokia into devices (under different ownership) and mapping businesses. The stated aim was to diversify the mapping service across different OS (including iOS and Android), but it's worked out incredibly conveniently for the HERE Maps business to already be name-independent from Microsoft and whatever the Nokia part morphs into. What if the managers involved already had an inkling that a buyout of the Devices division by Microsoft was a possibility?

After all, this was the great conspiracy theory of 2011. That Stephen Elop had been brought onboard to facilitate the gradual switch to Windows Phone and, ultimately, the purchase of Nokia by Elop's old employer, Microsoft. And, looking back, everything did indeed pan out exactly as the theory suggested, ostensibly validating it, with Windows Phone being hurried in to the exclusion of everything else, with Nokia's value and market share dropping rapidly, with Microsoft eventually snapping up the bit it wanted, and with Elop returning 'home' to Microsoft. So the theory was spot on?

Elop himself protests that he was simply acting logically and in the best interests of Nokia at each stage and that there was no preconceived notion of selling out to Microsoft. He points to the chaotic state of the ageing Symbian operating system and the unready state of Meego, and claims full support from the Nokia board for turning Nokia onto a Windows Phone track for purely functional, not political reasons.

The truth, as usual with such things, probably lies between the two extremes. You cannot tell me that when Elop joined Nokia, from Microsoft, with Steve Ballmer's blessing, that there wasn't at least a hope in his mind that he, personally, would love to move Nokia and Microsoft closer together. Yes, there was research to do and a board to convince, but it wasn't a surprise to anyone when the Windows Phone tie up was announced, abruptly, in February 2011.*

When Nokia's first Windows Phones were announced in late 2011 (the Lumia 800 and 710), the use of 'Lumia' as a sub-brand raised eyebrows. Maybe it was a reaction to Samsung's successful 'Galaxy' sub-brand? Or maybe, looking back, it was again with one eye on the day that the phones made by Nokia's engineers would be under the banner of Microsoft and that they needed a name, divorced from an actual company, that could be carried forward when the time came. This is what we're seeing now, with 'Microsoft Lumia nnnn' being the likely format of device names going forwards into the second half of 2014.

Lumia announced

Elop, now firmly back in charge at Microsoft, claims that the search for a new 'brand' is underway, but in my opinion, Microsoft/Nokia would be crazy to move away from 'Lumia' at this stage - it's true that Windows Phone's marketshare is still quite low, but those who have tried the current Windows Phone 8 handsets usually come away impressed - the 'Lumia' name doesn't have negative connotations or history.

So, Lumia created to ease the transition into Microsoft ownership two years later? HERE created to do the same (in the opposite direction) a year later? It's clear that I've been smoking something conspiratorial this morning. Or have I? [cue mystery music]

The moral, of course, is to pay attention when brands are created or change name - there's usually more going on behind the scenes that will all pan out in the future!

Your comments welcome - have these name and brand changes been planned to fit in with a likely future all along? Or happy accidents? Or just the way things turned out in the end?

Also, what should Microsoft call the 2014/2015 handsets coming out of the ex-Nokia engineers departments?

________

Far too abruptly, I've always argued, the change in direction was emphasised too strongly from the MWC stage and the existing Symbian OS devalued too quickly in the industry's collective mind, with the result that sales through the channels started dying from that day and Nokia was left with a huge shortfall in sales and market share, a shortfall which has never been made up. But that's a rant for AAS for another day.

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