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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 08:33

Widely reported today after the publishing of a Finnish book, 'The Decline and Fall of Nokia', is that there was a Symbian-running Internet tablet back in 2001, that made it into very limited production, with some details revealed below. Well, kind of Symbian - in fact, this ran EPOC, the same touch-screen OS that powered the Psion palmtops, including the netBook and Series 7. Over the next four years, EPOC was taken and split into three different Symbian production UIs and an almighty mess was created. But that's a rant we've been over before.

From the (machine) English-translated version of the original Finnish article:

Nokia M510 tablet
The M510 Nokia web tablet and Mr. Esko Yliruusi. Photo: Seppo Kärki

The Nokia 510 web tablet went into production nine years before the first iPad hit the market. A hint of the device was dropped last week when journalist David J. Cord Revealed in his book " The Decline and Fall of the Nokia"that the company had plans for a tablet computer. According to Cord the project was dropped 45 minutes before the device went into production. The information is slightly incorrect.The project was indeed dropped - but not before a production run of around 1,000 devices was completed. Most of the devices ended up in the crusher!....

The connectors of the tablet. Photo: Seppo Kärki

...The tablet was' intended to be a true consumer product. It had an e-mail client, Opera web browser, a calendar and a noticeboard application. There was a stand to keep the device in an upright position on the kitchen table.

The email client. Notice the Nokia-ish tongue-in-cheeck humor in the name of the sender. Photo: Seppo Kärki

The M510 tablet was never to be... Nokia did not release its first internet device until four years later. 2005's Nokia 770 sported a four inch screen and looked more like a smartphone than the era of the tablet. Despite some healthy sales it was not exactly a smash hit....

See the full article for more pictures and the full text.

The specifications are also published, presumably lifted from the manual or box:

Nokia M510 specifications for web tablet
Operating sytem Epoc (early Symbian)
Applications email, calendar, Opera web browser, noticeboard
Input touch screen with finger and pen control stylys, scroll wheels and buttons, external keyboard
Memory 32 MB SDRAM + 32 MB of flash
Display 10 inch LCD touch screen, 800 x 600 pixels
Weight 1876 ​​grams (4.14 lb)
Battery life 4 hr
Connectors USB, PS / 2, headphone
WLAN Nokia C111, 11 Mbit / s (802.11b), range 300 meters outdoors, 20 meters indoors

These are seriously impressive for 2001 - wi-fi built-in, 800x600 screen resolution, and so on. Anyone who's played with a Psion Series 7 or netBook will get a rough idea of what EPOC could achieve. In fact, this exact potential is what drew the original partners in Symbian together, to create an ecosystem that ended up comprising well over half a billion devices over the next ten years.

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 07:25

Having a 'proper' Xenon flash in your smartphone (we're talking Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 here) doesn't necessarily give you better low light shots of people - you have to know how to use the technology to best effect too. After criticism from some quarters about 'missed shots', I thought a 'how to' guide to Xenon might be in order, whichever of Nokia's flagship camera phones you own.

Background and 'benefits'

As you'll know, I've been a massive proponent of Xenon flash in camera phones for years. The incredibly short flash duration (as short as 10 microseconds in some cases) and the extra brightness that comes from a Xenon discharge makes the flash system perfect for capturing motion in low light situations. Or, more exactly, stopping motion blur. Every person reading this will have tried taking LED-flash (or flash-less) photos ar parties with various phone cameras - you may get lucky and your main subject could be stationary (and your camera hand ditto, if your device doesn't have OIS), but 99% of the time you'll get something that might look OK-ish on the phone screen but which is, in reality, a blurry mess, as you'll see later on, on the desktop. Shutter time will be of the order of 1/30s at best.

Xenon flash up close

The Xenon bulb on the Nokia 808, probably the most powerful flash ever put into a smartphone...

In contrast, with a flash time that's significantly less than 1ms, there's no time for either your camera hand or your subject to move significantly and you end up with wonderfully crisp photos, with subjects 'frozen' in time. All standalone cameras use Xenon flash and it's easy to see why.

The main reasons why camera phones have traditionally gone down the LED route are:

  • cost
  • possible bulk from the Xenon capacitor
  • the need to have LED anyway, for torch functions

In addition, critics of Xenon flash in phones point out a few cons:

  • there's a delay while the capacitor recharges (usually of the order of a second) and therefore it's possible to 'miss' a moment (e.g. a smile, a laugh, something cute!)
  • the recharges use much more battery power than simply lighting up a LED
  • Xenon-lit shots can, if you're not careful, light the subject so well that the background (and therefore context) becomes hard to make out

All of the above are true, plus on the Lumia 1020 there's an extra 'delay' factor, in that the oversampling of photos is done by the main processor and GPU and introduces an extra couple of seconds (at least) into the shot-to-shot times. Making it even easier to 'miss' the moment.

However, the benefits of Xenon, if you sidestep the worries above, can be tremendous. I've used these couple of examples before, but bear with me. Firstly an adult party (photo credit):

Typical party shot, from a Xenon-equipped Nokia N8

And secondly a toddler, at home:


The Art of Xenon

Getting the most from Xenon flash and two-to-four second shot-to-shot times (808 and 1020 respectively) does require some thought.

The fashion in the camera-toting smartphone world is very much for 'burst' mode capture, or at the very least taking shots very quickly indeed, the idea that one of them will be perfect. In fact, there's a healthy degree of trial and error in the Xenon world too - for every ten Xenon-list shots I might take at a party or event or family occasion, at least half, if not 80% will be unusable, usually because someone in question has been 'frozen' blinking or with a strange transitional expression or body attitude. However, two great shots out of 10 is a much better ratio than the typical two out of 100 that you'd get under similar conditions with LED flash or shooting 'flash-less'. I know, I've tried and tried with small relatives and their pets without Xenon available on various devices and have had a very frustrating time.

But what are the tricks of the trade when shooting with devices like the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020? When you can't just shoot an all-lit burst of images and hope for the best? Why is it that I'm getting good results when others have, reputedly, tried and failed? How did I get shots like the one above?

1. Preparation

On both the 808 and 1020, you can be long pressing the physical shutter button while you're taking the phone out of its case or pocket. In either case, by the time you have the phone in position ready to take a shot, the (Nokia) Camera application will be fired up and ready to go. "Hold on while I start the camera app!" should be a phrase that never passes your lips!

2. Anticipation

Closely linked to no. 1 above and no. 3 below, part of your brain should always be thinking (in an event/family situation at least) of particular people and shots/frames you'd like to get. For example, a cute toddler wanders into the room and starts playing with a particular toy. They have their back to you, but you think "If they just turned round, still with the toy..." You can call their name, of course, but that tends to get an artifcial reaction ("Eh?") - if you're patient, you can just.... wait. Or perhaps a group of friends are standing together chatting but their faces are mainly away from you - try sneaking around the other side, or at least changing the angle in order to get a better shot. 

In other words, think about what you'd like to get. But be aware that you may only get one or two shots at the photo. Toddlers have a habit of getting bored with a toy or outfit after a few seconds (really - "Angie, can you try this hat on? Aw, that's great. Oh, ok, never mind" - during which you had precisely two seconds to get the 'cute' shot!), while even adults have a habit of moving on, changing conversation partners or reckoning you've got the 'posed' shot you wanted and wandering off. So, you've got to be quick and make your one or two chances count.

Xenon-shot example

3. Pre-focus

More than anything, this is the number one tip for capturing perfect 'moments', especially with kids. Look, if you're outside in sunlight, there's no issue, focussing will be near instant and you can even use Smart Camera (or other) burst modes and make sure the perfect moment is captured. Indoors or in low light, focussing takes a good fraction of a second and this is often the difference between catching a 'moment' and missing it altogether. Get impatient and snap before focussing is complete and you're bound to get an out of focus subject that's unusable.

The secret then, is to pre-focus. Being prepared (see no. 1) and having 'anticipated' (see no. 2) a particular photo or framing, pre-focus on something that's the right distance away (by half pressing the physical shutter key) - even a section of carpet will do if you're desperate - so that the optics are all set. Then, when the subject comes to the right spot or in the perfect attitude or there's that smile or laugh, you seal the deal by full depressing the shutter key the rest of the way.

This may all seem like overkill, but it's second nature after a while and this sort of on-the-fly thinking can get you shots that, in all probability, simply wouldn't be possible using LED flash or no flash at all.

PS. (for the Lumia 1020) There's actually a fourth thing to think about and plan for, in that while the Nokia 808's Camera and Xenon flash fire immediately, there's a tiny fraction of a second shutter delay on the 1020. Somewhere in the realm of a tenth of a second. Which means that, for true action shots, you might need to press the shutter key a tenth of a second before the specific moment you're after. The delay is very short and the impact slight, but it's something to bear in mind if you're trying to be very ambitious!

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Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2014 14:52

File this one very definitely under 'don't hold your breath', not least because you're reading this on AAS and AAWP, neither of which platforms will see anything close to this anytime soon. But it's very definitely 'of interest' to anyone with a penchant for smartphones in general. Google's 'Project Ara' is looking to create a genuinely modular smartphone, in which you can swap around modules to a certain degree. Better camera, better speakers, even adding a QWERTY keyboard. Sounds unlikely, but see the image, quote and link below, etc.

From Android Community's write-up:

We are just a week away from the first ever Project Ara Developers Conference and the marketing wheel behind the modular smartphone is heating up. This latest bit of information comes directly from Google, who has just released a preview of the Module Developers Kit or MDK.

Unlike most development kits, which commonly address the software side of gadgets, the MDK primarily targets hardware manufacturers or OEM's who will be creating compatible modules. Google itself has no or little plans to create modules, probably outside very basic ones, and will instead be licensing the modules. It will, however, be creating the officially approved endoskeleton or "endo" that provides the frame and core connections of the module smartphone.

project-ara-mdk-1

There are two main groups of modules. Front modules, like those for displays, speakers, etc, take up the entire width of the device and are only limited from one up to three modules at a time and nothing more. Rear modules, on the other hand, have more variety and come in three sizes of 1x1, 1x2, and 2x2. The endo dictates the placement of the modules and the MDK states the sizes for officially sanctioned ones, though it gives certain exceptions to very specific modules. At the moment, Google isn't supporting third-party modules, though it's not hard to imagine some of them popping up in the market when and if Project Ara truly takes off.

project-ara-mdk-2

Read the full article here.

Fascinating stuff, and from an engineering standpoint it looks quite 'doable', even if the end result won't be anywhere near as sleek and refined as specific manufacturer 'holistic' designs. I'd put the timescale for working prototypes well into 2015 and possibly 2016 for anything which could be bought by end users. Assuming that there's a profitable market for such 'identikit' phones in the first place?

Success will also rely heavily on the number, quality and price of available modules, which, of course, relies on the cooperation of OEMs and even third-party manufacturers. Google launches the Project Ara Developers Conference next week and we'll get more of an idea about interest and ideas at that time.

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Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2014 12:16

The world of accessories fascinates everyone, of course, the drive to make everything smaller and smaller, yet still doing the same job. In this case, the ChargeKey microUSB, a full data and charging cable (i.e. all pins are connected through) that cuts bulk to the nth degree and fits nicely on a key ring. It's even shaped like a key and is a really neat accessory, albeit a little pricey.

The scenario is common enough - you're out of power while mobile or you need to transfer a large file (e.g. a movie or batch of photos) using USB, and your data and/or charging cable is back at home. "Does anyone have a microUSB cable I could borrow?" is the cry that goes up. And, if you needed data capability, you might get loaned a cheap one and then discover that only the 5V charging pins are connected through.

The premise here is a fully specced microUSB-to-USB miniature 'cable' that can be securely and robustly secured to your keyring. The ChargeKey is ultra flexible (see the last photo below) and is partly hard plastic (the two connectors and keyring attachment gap) and partly rubber, but all very neatly moulded together.

ChargeKey

The packaging presents the ChargeKey very nicely, and it's all slim enough to fit through the thinnest letterbox, which could be handy. 

You'll notice that the USB side of the 'key' is just the connector blade, an approach taken by some other minimalist accessories in the past, e.g. USB disks. The advantage is that the bulky metal outer shroud is absent, in keeping with the key form factor here, the disadvantage is that you have to take slightly more care when inserting the connector into a 'female' USB port or jack. Though, in fairness, the worst that might happen is that nothing will happen. Definitely a good tradeoff to make here, especially when compared to other 'short' microUSB cables on the likes of eBay and Amazon, almost all of which have the full USB shroud, a longer cable and fiddlier keyring attachment.

So far so good then. On the keyring, the ChargeKey is an almost identical size to a standard Yale style door key and it's easy to forget that the accessory is 'there'. Perfect for an emergency.

ChargeKey

Build quality is top notch, and I'd expect the ChargeKey to last on the average keyring. The only weak point is the internal pin structure of the microUSB end - it's conceivable that something metal and awkward might get wedged inside and damage the pins, but this is something of a very long shot.

ChargeKey

In use, I was delighted to discover that all the data pins were hooked up as well as the charging ones (despite the accessory's name) - meaning that this can be my emergency cable for all uses, and not just charging.

I tested the ChargeKey with both Symbian and Windows Phones, with no issues. I did find that the microUSB plug was a little tight in most Nokia microUSB jacks, but then this was a brand new accessory and doubtless it'll fit more easily after a bit of microscopic wear and tear. Trying it in some Samsung devices was a perfect fit from the outstart.

There aren't many products that make their way onto my day-to-day inventory after only an hour of testing, but the ChargeKey is small enough and convenient enough that there's almost literally no downside to adding it to your key fob.

Aside from cost, of course. Retailing for $29 (about £17), the ChargeKey falls on the 'premium' side of the pricing spectrum, but then it's also fairly unique, at least until some Far East manufacturers start cloning it. 

Perfect for any gadget fan though, perhaps as a present, should a certain someone's birthday be approaching....

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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 12:02

Nokia's Sustainability Operations team, source of weird and wonderful videos, has returned to YouTube to demonstrate how its solar energy suit can give you infinite battery life. While the suit isn't practical for day to day use (probably), it does underline the progress that has been made in solar charging technology.

The video also highlights the fact that it doesn't have to be warm and sunny to harvest solar energy and that solar panels are now less expensive and more robust, making them a realistic option for topping up a phone's battery, at least in some circumstances.

In practise, for the majority of people, solar energy is only realistic option for top-up or trickle charging, rather than as a real alternative to plugging a phone into a wall. Nonetheless, solutions that include direct energy collection (e.g. bike charger, solar, piezo-eletric) will, in some cases, be the only option available because a connection to the electricity grid is not available, or is unreliable.

The suit appears to be based around the Nokia DC-40, a solar charging accessory that has been tested as part of a pilot program in select markets over the last 18 months:

The DC-40 takes the form of a thin film panel, weighing 93g, and measuring 165mm x 237mm, with a long cable and 2mm Nokia charging plug attached in one corner. Nokia say that one minute of charging will give two minutes of talk time [on a feature phone]. In ideal conditions, with direct sunlight, a 1000 mAh battery will be full after around 4 hours.

Nokia DC-40

The video is part of a wider campaign that is seeking to promotes Nokia's sustainability and environmental initiatives and policies. Nokia is encouraging people to join share their thoughts via the #sustainablelumia Twitter hash tag. 

You may also want to check out an earlier video in this series, which highlighted the fact that the polycarbonate shell of the black Lumia 1520 is made from recycled CDs.


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Date: Thursday, 03 Apr 2014 08:16

Also announced yesterday at Build 2014 was a new bass-heavy Bluetooth speaker from Nokia, the MD-12, with a special bass actuator on its err... base. Accompanying it was a new accessory application to aid using and finding the MD-12 and other gadgets.

MD12_white

From the announcement:

Small speakers, portable or not, often miss the clout, especially in the bass department.

That’s about to change with the Nokia MD-12. With a built-in vibrating actuator located on the base, low frequencies (read: heavy bass) are created when placed on most surfaces, especially hard ones, delivering a surprising amount of bass for such a compact speaker- in fact, it’s rather fun experimenting with different surfaces.

This pocket-sized powerhouse can fill a room with sound and, when its rechargeable battery is fully juiced, offers 15 hours of playback, enough for your regular party. Well, the parties we go to, anyway.

The MD-12 should work with any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, i.e. Android and Symbian will be fine, though Windows Phone users get extras, including a new "Nokia Device Hub app, you can easily manage your speaker and other connected accessories easier than ever..." Apparently, this new app also "even lets you see where you used [the MD-12] last time, in case you misplaced it." Now that's a good idea in principle, though I for one usually know which address my gadgets are at - it's working out which cupboard they're in or which cushions they're behind!

The MD-12 is also NFC-enabled, for instant pairing and activation with Windows Phones or Symbian smartphones with a single tap. And, for other portable devices with no Bluetooth, you can go old-school to "use the audio-out connector and lead that comes in the box".

The MD-12 should come in costing around €39, and will be available in yellow, green, orange and white.

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Date: Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 07:41

File this under 'unconfirmed', but it appears that the original Nokia PureView device, the 808, running Symbian, is about to get a successor, leapfrogging the 1020 on Windows Phone. This has caught everyone by surprise, but we have shots below of the Nokia 818 next to a current Lumia 1020. Confirmed are a 4.8" 720p display and larger 1" sensor with massive F1.6 aperture, OIS and a Xenon flash that's said to be twice as bright as the 808's and equivalent to that on a high end compact. 

From the leaked press materials:

The 818 PureView is a 4.8", 720p-screened (CBD) Symbian Belle smartphone, running "Belle Feature Pack 3" (improved performance, personalisation and entertainment options, with a new browser, the latest Nokia Maps and an improved notifications bar), running at 1.8GHz with GPU and 1GB of RAM. We've listed the full specifications at the bottom of this story.

The phone will ship initially only in white (shown) - and should cost around 550 Euros before taxes and subsidies. 

Other confirmed specs:

  • Connectivity: hexaband LTE, NFC, Wi-fi b/g/n/ac
  • Camera: 1" sensor with F1.6 aperture, OIS and Xenon flash
  • Battery: 2000mAh BX-4L, removeable

Who'd have thought that Symbian would have one last leap of life left in it, in 2014? The timing of this is curious, right before the Microsoft BUILD conference and right before Microsoft's buyout of Nokia is completed. But colour me impressed, nonetheless.

1020 and 818

720p may not quite be cutting edge, but it's fine on a 4.8" screen and many Symbian screen elements were originally designed for 360p, so it'll do. The improved, larger camera looks - simply - stunning. The same ball-bearing OIS as in the 1020 is said to be included.

1020 vs Nokia 818

Look at the size of those optics! 

Comments welcome. Do you think this will make it to market in many countries? Dare we call this the first Symbian 'phablet'? Oh, hang on, no, Symbian had phablets nine years ago, back in 2005.

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Date: Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 09:59

If there's anyone who strolls around with more smartphone and their cameras than me, it's Marc from the PureView club. He's currently packing the Nokia 808 PureView (naturally), the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Nokia Lumia 1520, the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and (don't laugh) the first Jolla phone. Plus he's had a crack at the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 as well. And he's put the motley posse through a number of shootouts, linked and quoted below.

Starting with the latest piece, over to Marc:

Enough numbers. Let return to the small aviation airport. The light was bright, it was a clear afternoon and the clouds on the horizon made for an impressive scenery. All camera settings were on automatic – I didn’t change the white balance, didn’t put any focus to “infinity” (although that might have been wise in this case).

The shots aren’t very interesting from an artistic point of view (although the clouds are beautiful). But to see how the different cameras cope with the contrast of the bright sunlight and the darker foreground – I think that’s what makes these shots worth your while. And the 640 x 360 crops, of course, showing which offers you the best detail.

Here's the overall scene:

7 Nokia Lumia 1020 Sky 5MP

And now onto the crops from the default resolution images:

First the Nokia Lumia 1520, followed by the Lumia 1020.

7 Nokia Lumia 1520 Sky

7 Nokia Lumia 1020 Sky 5MP

No doubt in my mind the Nokia Lumia 1020 gives the best result.

The difference with the Jolla is once again immense.

7 Jolla Sky

Comparing crops from the two 8MP results is interesting as well of course.

First the Nokia 808 PureView oversampled result of its 41MP sensor…

7 Nokia 808 PureView Sky 8MP

…versus the 8MP oversampled result from the 20.7MP sensor of the Xperia Z1 Compact:

7 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Sky

The difference is quite clear – apart from the small plane :-) Last, the same 640x 360 crop coming from the 9.6MP result of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (no oversampling is involved here)

7 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Sky

I think in this case once again, Jolla loses. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 takes 5th place, followed by the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact.

Nokia takes the lead, in my opinion with the Nokia Lumia 1520 in third place, 808 PureView second and the Lumia 1020 as the winner. Not because I simply want it to win, but clearly since it handles the contrast best and shows the most detail in the crops.

You’ll find all the original shots on Flickr (the same set as from the previous comparison of the six smartphone cameras). As always, I’m looking forward to your opinion as well: what’s your favorite shot?

Which sounds about right for these conditions, and showing up Nokia's larger sensors and oversampling in the 808 and 1020 very well. Of course, far more detail could have been obtained, and the margin of victory widened, by using some or all of the lossless zoom too.

Marc's second piece, with similar hardware loadout, was shot indoors in a well lit department store. Here's the full scene:

1 Nokia Lumia 1020 Easter 5MP

And here are some of the crops, by device:

Now, let’s have a look at the crops I got from these shots – starting with the lowest resolution of 5MP (the 808 PureView and both Lumia’s). Fourth crop is from the 6MP (Jolla), followed by the 8MP (Xperia) and 9.6MP (Samsung in 16:9). Hover your mouse over the shots to be sure which camera was used. 

1 Nokia 808 Pureview Easter

1 Nokia Lumia 1020 Easter 5MP

1 Nokia Lumia 1520 Easter 5MP

1 Jolla Easter

1 Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Easter

1 Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Easter

Well, as far as “fluffiness” goes, it’s obvious the Jolla isn’t really able to show much details. The “fur” of the Easter bunnies appears to have turned into a mushy substance with its 6MP camera. It’s even downright embarassing in comparison, but hey – it’s a relatively “cheap” smartphone as well…

The Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020 offer the best result, obviously profiting from their 41MP sensor and PureView oversampling As may be expected, the 5MP result from the Nokia 808 PureView even shows the most detail (most likely due to its bigger sensor size).

Finally, Marc had tha chance to try out the imminent Samsung Galaxy S5 and pitched it against his trusty Lumia 1020:

Crops
So let’s move on to the crops, the details, the “pixel peeping” some like to make fun of (like if details aren’t important :-)

I’ll share the crops from the shots in the same order, according to size – so 5MP (Nokia), 16MP (Samsung), 34MP (Nokia). As always, the 5MP crops will show more of the scene, and you get “closer” with the same sized crop of the 16MP results from the Galaxy S5. And remember the 34MP results from the Lumia 1020 do not benifit from “oversampling” and are likely to show more noise.

So first the Alfa Romeo’s front wheel: you’ll see crops from the 5MP Lumia shot, the 16MP Galaxy result and the 34MP Lumia high-res capture without oversampling.

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Alfa 8MP 640 x 360

Samsung Galaxy S5 - Alfa 640 x 360

Nokia Lumia 1020 - Alfa 34MP 640 x 360

I must admit I’m surprised to see the detail from the edges are even  smoother in the 34MP (not oversampled) result coming from the Lumia 1020, than on the 16MP, pretty pixelated result from the Galaxy S5.

I've only lifted small sections from Marc's pieces, so do see the hyperlinks above to read the full articles. It does seem as though the Galaxy S5 camera follows after the known characteristics of the S4, in being fast-focussing and decently detailed, but with evident processing artefacts if you look closely enough.

I'll have my own 808 vs 1020 vs Galaxy S5 (and HTC One M8) camera shoot-outs shortly here on the 'All About' sites, so watch this space. My gut feel? 

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Date: Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 10:24

I was interested to see that Apple has now sold half a billion iPhones - a great achievement, though also an opportunity to remind people that the increasingly-forgotten Symbian platform reached half a billion back in 2011, almost three years ago. Of course, the two platforms are very different in scope and timescale/era, but you can't blame me for a retrospective link or two...

Here's the quote from MacRumours:

As documented in its quarterly earnings reports over the years, Apple reported total sales of 472 million iPhones between the device's 2007 launch and the end of 2013. With analyst estimates of over 38 million units for the current quarter ending in just a few days, the company has undoubtedly already sold its 500 millionth iPhone, a milestone that passed without mention from the Cupertino company...

And from my own editorial a couple of years ago:

Going back through the news archives and checking figures with industry watchers, according to our calculations, we passed the half billion sales point for Symbian last Autumn. With multiple manufacturers contributing to these figures over the years (albeit with Nokia dominating), and with some 'closed' Symbian-powered phones like the FOMA devices in Japan and the older Ericsson R380, the actual counting is obviously less clear cut, plus Symbian as an organisation no longer exists, which is perhaps why noone has yet remarked on the milestone.

But still. Half a billion Symbian smartphones.

Indeed. Do take the installed base and other numbers from that article in context though - that was over two years ago!

The two platforms are clearly comparable in terms of both numbers and significance in the mobile industry, albeit in slightly different eras, even though (usually American) revisionists often claim that Apple invented the smartphone. Such commentators would be astonished to see what some of us were doing with Nokia E90s and N95s (etc.) back in early 2007....

N95 and iPhone

Of course, the sheer passage of time means that perhaps 90% of that half billion Symbian devices are no longer in serious use around the world, but then I'd also argue that a good 10% of iPhones are also no longer in use (e.g. classics and 3Gs) - time waits for no man and devices become obsolete faster than ever these days.

PS. Along the same lines, even though far more Android devices have now been sold, my own experience tells me that the attrition rate is far higher in this world because of the savagely increasing demands on system disk space - you try configuring and using an Android phone from 2011 and see how far you get.... Maybe 20% of Android devices are now in drawers or landfill?

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Date: Monday, 24 Mar 2014 09:57

No, not quite the same as Nokia's famous "More than your eyes can see"(! here's that pop video) - more, in this case, matching what your eyes can see. As someone who swaps devices on a fairly regular basis, I have observed something in my own behaviour, about how and when I use the camera in my smartphone. Judging from the comments of a few others in the tech world (notably James Pearce), it seems that I'm not alone in having my photographic imagination realised by the hardware in my pocket.

Spring blossom

Sunlight through spring blossom, taken on the Lumia 1020

Here's the thing. With a Nokia Lumia 1020 or 808 PureView, or even a Lumia 920 in my pocket, I have a certain confidence in being able to capture anything that takes my fancy as I stroll through life (somewhat literally, in my case). Whether it's a steam train in swirling mist or a flower backlit by the sun or a butterfly basking on a warm doorstep or a small child doing something unbearably cute or, simply, something striking in terms of colour or shape or texture, if my eyes tell my brain 'Snap this, now', then I'd like to put this into action.

And I usually do, with a fairly high success rate, thanks to the quality of the camera hardware in my always-with-me phone and my own photographic skills and awareness (hey, see also my tutorial).

Bokeh daffodils

Bokeh Daffodils, taken on the Lumia 1020

But here's the nub of the matter. I try/review a large number of other phones, with cameras of widely differing quality, and - in all honesty - I find I take a fraction of the number of photos that I do with one of my Nokia PureView devices. And I have the stats to prove it. In the last three weeks, I've spent equal time with the Lumia 1020 and the Galaxy Note II (listen to my Phones Show Chat podcast for more on my cross-platform device musings). And I've shot 29 'proper' photos on the 1020 and err.... two on the Note II.

Steam scene

Steam scene, taken on the Lumia 1020

You see, just as James (linked above) mentioned on his own Coolsmartphone podcast recently, this is what happens, almost every single time. A photo opportunity or view presents itself and I reach for my smartphone, instinctively. At which point computer-like logic kicks into my brain:

IF phone includes Nokia 'PureView' tech THEN
  TAKE PHOTO
ELSE
  PUT phone BACK IN POCKET
ENDIF

I realise that this is a little disingenuous - there are, of course, other smartphones with half-decent cameras. But I'm just trying to explain how my mind works. Nokia brainwashing, perhaps? There's possibly a little of this. Videos like this one, probably, getting under my skin... And, after all, the cameras in the likes of the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S are up with the Lumia 920 at least.

Or partly perhaps it is the extra possibilities that come with the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 - being able to zoom in losslessly, having a flash that copes with even pitch darkness, having creative controls that can produce good results in weird and wonderful lighting conditions, even shooting into the light and achieving other special effects - like I say, matching what my imagination and eyes are concocting.

Dragonfly

Danilo Dion's 'Dragonfly', taken on the Nokia 808 PureView

James's own podcast mention was similar, along the lines of cycling to work on the same scenic route and, each morning, wondering whether to capture the early morning sun and scenery. He'd reach for his pocket, then realise that his 1020 was back home and that he was reviewing/using something different today - and he'd think "Can't be bothered, it won't turn out very well".

Garden Robin

Garden Robin, taken on the Nokia 808 PureView

I've peppered this short article with some of the photos that I and others have achieved using the unaided Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020. The aim is to see something and shoot it immediately. Yes, Google Glass has a camera in it, and that's perhaps the ultimate realisation of the interface for achieving the aim - but currently it (probably) needs a Nokia device to actually implement it.

What about you? Do you find yourself, instinctively, taking more photos with an 808 or 1020? Does the very presence of the 41MP PureView devices change the way you think about capturing the world around you?

PS. I should point out that I, and many others, take a lot of great shots of people as well - but for obvious privacy reasons they can't be shared in the same way. So you'll have to make do with nature shots and landscapes!

White Crocus

PureView white crocus, taken on the Lumia 1020

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Date: Friday, 21 Mar 2014 16:19

The BBC is on a roll at the moment. After the earlier responsive eLearning site, there's now a whole new responsive take on the BBC's famous weather service, complete with scrolling, swipeable day and hour timelines. See below for more.

I'm a huge fan of delivering services simply via a web browser where possible, with no need for installing applications. Yes, this goes against the prevailing 'there's an app for that' trend, but 'there's a bookmark for that' works almost as well and is often simpler and cheaper.

In this case, stick m.bbc.co.uk/weather in your bookmarks and you're done. The BBC does say on its blog that this is a trial:

This week we launched a new responsive site for BBC Weather. As our MVP (minimum viable product) release, this replaces the old feature phone Weather site with an optimised experience for feature phone and smartphone users.

It's a work-in-progress, and the first step in our plans to move to a fully responsive web solution on mobile, tablet and desktop. In true Agile, we're expecting to roll out more features and content over the coming months. Naturally we're also listening to our users as we prototype and tweak new features.

From previous user feedback, we can see the success of the iOS and Android app has been its simplicity and ease of use. Therefore, it's no surprise that we followed these design patterns for the responsive version of the site. Smartphone users will immediately notice the introduction of horizontally-scrolling day tabs and hourly information, like the app.

However, one key difference for web site development is the depth and richness of content available. Our static desktop website covers everything from simple location forecasts to detailed tide and coastal data, video, picture galleries, maps and infographics. We will need to reflect this in future iterations of the responsive site. For this reason, the first iteration of the responsive site is opt-in at m.bbc.co.uk/weather. We won't be automatically redirecting mobile users until we have built a satisfactory base of content and features on that platform.

It all looks good to me, here's the new responsive weather site modelled on both Windows Phone and Symbian (this being cross posted on both AAS and AAWP):

Screenshot, BBC responsive weatherScreenshot, BBC responsive weather

In Windows Phone's Internet Explorer browser, showing the two main swipeable carousels and other essential weather stats; (right) further down the page, there are basic units and language toggles. Early days, of course, for the system.

Screenshot, BBC responsive weatherScreenshot, BBC responsive weather

And the same works fine on the older Symbian Web browser, also with the 'cannot get rid of it' bottom bar (what is it with Nokia and hating full-screen mode?); (right) note also the feedback request button - get your comments in now to help shape the evolving site....

In the meantime, head for m.bbc.co.uk/weather and bookmark/favourite it, this is a great resource that's sure to get better in time. 

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Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 15:09

One of the services which many of us had relied on for ages, Microsoft Exchange sync of PIM data with Google, stopped working for most of us back in 2013 (though some with paid Google Apps accounts may still have access), prompting an article from me on switching to Microsoft for cloud PIM sync. However, as teased in the original news posts about Google's plans, there's a third party solution that restores full two-way sync to the Google cloud to Symbian handsets for 2014 and beyond. Here's a walkthrough...

Synced Google email and data on Symbian

From my earlier article (looking at setting up syncing with Microsoft's cloud instead):

Although some local 'sync' options are available for our Symbian smartphones (e.g. locally to Nokia Suite on a Windows PC), for most of us 'sync' now means synchronisation to an online service. In the good (bad?) old days, this meant messing around with SyncML, but things have moved on and new protocols have emerged as standards. So where do Symbian handsets stand and is there a solution that is future proof? Could it be that the changes at Google's end are unwittingly nudging many of the hundred million Symbian users into a Microsoft-centric solution, following Nokia into the brave new world of Windows Phone?

Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync has been through several versions in the last decade but had gradually emerged as the standard way to access email, contacts and calendar from any device and through any service... and then Google, trying to cut down on royalty payments to Microsoft, presumably, announced that it was terminating most people's access to Gmail, Google Contacts and Google Calendar using Exchange - quoting CardDAV and CalDAV as the replacement protocols. There was a slight extension to the termination but we now find ourselves in a situation where a new Symbian-powered device isn't accepted for Exchange set-up to Google's servers.

Leaving anyone determined to stay in step with Google's PIM systems in something of a pickle. I've tried switching to live.com PIM and it all works - but I've got other phones and tablets that talk to Google and it's something of a pain keeping two PIM systems in step with each other. 

Neuvasync is a service we've covered before here on AAS, but not for three years. Where it used to be a way of getting genuine 'push' email, it has now become something more, a lifeline to Google's services for Symbian. Yes, it's a commercial service and is $15 a year for PIM syncing and $30 a year if you need 'push' email (rather than the 'every 15 minutes' that Google's IMAP server offers for Symbian), but the folks at Nuevasync have to keep their servers running, answer support questions and keep tweaking things to work when Google changes something, so a small cost is perfectly fair enough. Certainly $15 (about £10) for a year of Google Contacts and Calendar sync is extremely good value in the grand scheme of things.

For those interested, Nuevasync gets its PIM data from Google using a Google-specific data access protocol ('GData', or also known as 'the Google Calendar/Contact API'), rather than just using CardDAV and CalDAV - apparently the former includes a fuller set of fields and data. Fascinating stuff. So the only Microsoft Exchange section is between your phone and Nuevasync.

So how easy or difficult is it to get started with Nuevasync in practice? I gave it a go (there's a trial period) and wanted to report back in detail. The good news is that it all works in the end, my Symbian-based Nokia 808 is syncing Google PIM superbly, almost keeping in step with my Android phones. There's no bad news, but it's definitely worth putting aside half an hour for working through the various steps and dialogs so that there are no surprises.

Setting up Nuevasync Contacts and Calendar sync with Google PIM

There's nothing too tricky here, but let's take it screen by screen, step by step, so that nothing gets missed. Note that I started with a blank phone, contacts-wise, i.e. I had deleted my live.com Mail account, because I didn't want to confuse the situation by having two different Mail for Exchange systems syncing with the same PIM databases on the phone. Comments welcome if you've tried with both at once - what happens? Is there any cross-pollination between the two cloud PIM services? 

It's also worth noting one potentially huge benefit of using Nuevasync - it supports multiple calendars, so you can bring in your wife's and daughter's and club's Google calendars, all through one conduit, though doing so goes beyond the scope of this walkthrough.

1. Head to Nuevasync.com

And click on 'Sync for Nokia' etc.:

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

'Symbian & Calendar & Contacts' is the one to go for, obviously.

2. Account confirmation

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Just confirmation that it's $15 a year after the trial. Moving on....

3. Explanation of Google permissions

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

The web-based wizard primes you for the probable permissions screen that Google's about to throw at you....

4. Give Nuevasync.com permission to access your Google PIM data

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

As expected, the Nuevasync needs access in order to work its magic....

5. Creating a new Nuevasync account

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

You'll need to remember these account details if you need to change something in terms of set-up in the future. 

6. Success!

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

That's your Nuevasync account set up and connected to Google. 

7. Hooking up your phone

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Don't be put off by the photo of the old Nokia E72, or by the linked instructions, which are all out of date. Instead, follow my instructions below!

8. Pick out Exchange

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

With a SIM card in your phone and fully connected up, go into Mail and tap on 'New mailbox', picking out 'Exchange ActiveSync'.

9. Set up the Exchange account with your Nuevasync details

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Remember that these are your Nuevasync account details/password, not those for Google (though the email address quoted is obviously the same).

10. Certificate oddity part 1

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Somewhat oddly, this pops up as part of the authentication process - just tap on 'Options' for now. At this stage in Symbian's life, we're used to seeing things break!!

11. Certificate oddity part 2

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Just 'accept permanently' - the risks of Google having been hacked are small!

12. Exchange server name

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

This is the Exchange server name that you'll need to type in. Don't worry, by the way, that throughout this process everything's referred to as 'Mail'. It means 'Mail for Exchange' and this includes Contacts and Calendar.

13. Choose what to sync

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Make sure the two main ones are ticked - anyone know what 'To do notes' might sync to through the Exchange conduit into Google?

Tap the tick when done and you're off and running - in theory!!

14. The sync starts...

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

In theory, you're off and running now, but you can check by waiting a minute or two and then looking in Contacts (which gets synced first) - things should be happening, as seen here. Be patient, at least on the phone side. Leave it alone for this first big sync, as usual - it may take five ot ten minutes.

15. Look at Nuevasync.com again

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Back on your desktop/laptop, the new connection should have been detected and there should be IMEI and IP information available. Note the 'sync scope page' - click on it if you want...

16. The sync scope

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Here you can watch the sync take place in real time, with batches of five contacts at a time being sent through the system...

17. Testing it all out

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Once all the syncing has finished, your Symbian device's contacts and calendar should be fully synced with Google. You'll want to check it out, of course, perhaps (as here) by entering a new appointment and then waiting and watching for it to propagate via Nuevasync to Google Calendar. The syncing here seems periodic (i.e. not instant) though will also get instigated when email is transferred. Only Nuevasync doubtless know the full algorithm and conditions. Still, it works.

18. Your control panel

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Here's the current summary then, showing that Calendar and Contacts are fine. You can stop here if this is what you wanted from Nuevasync or if you wanted to limit your expense to $15 a year. Job done.

Of course, if you wanted push email too, i.e. delivered immediately (as opposed to every 15 minutes minumum) then you might like to press on and click that tempting 'Enable' link beside 'Email'.

19. Email too? 

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

As you can see, Gmail is accessed through IMAP, in exactly the same way as you'd get it from your Symbian smartphone, but the difference is that Nuevasync's IMAP connection to Gmail is 'always on', whereas most IMAP connections to Symbian end up needing periodic syncs. So, in theory, Nuevasync gets the email straight away and then pushes it down by the other 'always on' connection, using Exchange down to your handset.

20. Just GMail?

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

In fact, you can substitute any other IMAP account if you want, other than GMail, but press on for now since it's Google we're after.

21. Permission again

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Again, there's permission needed to access your Google service, in this case Gmail....

22. Email OK

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Everything you need may already be in place on the phone, since you already have Nuevasync set up as your Mail for Exchange host, etc.

23. Toggling email on

If email doesn't sync at first, you may need to nudge it, to let the servers know of a change in mission, as it were... Go into Mail/Settings and tap on the mailbox and 'What to sync':

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Simply toggling this to 'Yes', or 'No', waiting a bit and then back to 'Yes', kicked things off in my case.

24. Push email?

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

And there we go, up to date Gmail as well. Whether the 'push' is as fast as you like may depend on your expectations and needs. Sometimes emails came through within a minute or being sent, sometimes they took multiple minutes - depending, presumably, on how busy the Nuevasync servers are (both talking to Google and to your phone).

25. A joy to be in sync with Google PIM again!

Screenshot, Nuevasync tutorial

Proof that the PIM sync works - note the way calendars have their names appending entry text. This is a little ugly, but there's the benefit of handling multiple calendars without breaking something at Symbian's end.

My recommendation?

The big thing here is that PIM sync with Google works - most of us can live with a few minutes delay on contacts and calendar changes. So I'd certainly recommend that you start here and get yourself set up - £10 a year to bring Google back to Symbian is excellent value.

Push email is more of an option, really. The 'push' is rarely instant, though you do save time over the default Symbian IMAP polling interval of 15 minutes. It's really up to you as to whether it's worth adding another $30 (£20) to turn this on as well. You might like to start with the PIM sync and then enable email at a later date once you've built up some trust in Nuevasync as a company?

Comments welcome, as always, whether you're a Nuevasync virgin or whether you've been using it for years!

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Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 09:28

Launched a couple of months ago but with a relaunch yesterday, not least to cover background material on the discovery of gravity waves and confirmations of the Big Bang Theory (no, not the TV series!), the BBC's iWonder mini-site is something we've not covered before but is well worth a plug here.

From the original post:

A new way to tell stories on the web

Interactive guides take a different approach to presenting content compared to traditional web articles or TV and radio programmes online. They organise video and audio, rich infographics, written summaries, and activities into stories that make the most of our interactive medium. We know from plenty of research that people learn better by doing, and we’ve designed our guides to be “sit forward,” placing a user’s interactions with the content at the core of the experience. Interactive guides take the audience through a series of steps that ask them to look at multiple perspectives of intriguing questions, always with the chance to reflect on the significance of the story at the end.

More and more of our audiences are accessing our content via mobile and tablet devices. In fact, for the first time this past Christmas, the proportion of people visiting the BBC Food website from a tablet or smartphone was larger than those visiting from a PC. This trend is set to continue. With the look and feel of “native mobile applications” getting ever more immersive, our audience’s expectations of accessing content on their phones and tablets is high. Expecting our users to struggle to navigate a full “desktop” website on a tiny screen isn’t acceptable any longer.

We all instinctively know that learning is not something that happens at a single time or place only, sitting quietly at a desk or with a PC. Our guides display beautifully no matter what screen size you view them on, accompanying you as you move through your life - at school, home or work, while you're on the go, or while you wait for something else to happen.

To achieve this, our team has employed responsive web design from our first lines of code. With responsive web design, the devil is in the detail. On mobile especially, response times are absolutely crucial. If a web page takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, you’ve already lost a huge percentage of potential browsers. To keep response times down to a minimum, we’ve had to develop a system that loads in just the essential components of the page at the right times. Mobile-sized images download first, then when the page’s Javascript detects the browser’s capabilities, higher-resolution images get ‘loaded in dynamically.’ This can mean the difference of up to a mega-byte’s worth of content for a browser to download. At that page weight, a mobile browser can become agonisingly slow.

For pictures with a dense amount of information on them, such as infographics, it’s important not just to resize a smaller version of a big image, but to load in a completely different image that’s best for that screen. Usually this means a more “zoomed in” view right for mobile. Our system elegantly handles all this image swapping without the user ever noticing. Try reducing the width of your browser window to see it in action at the link above.

You'll have noticed that AAWP and AAS are themselves built on 'responsive design' too, though it sounds like the BBC has gone to extreme lengths in this regard. Kudos all round.

From yesterday's relaunch of the iWonder pages:

So far, BBC iWonder Interactive Guides have explored themes from World War One, such as"Pigeon vs telephone: which worked best in the trenches?", in support of the BBC's ongoing World War One Centenary season. Our next step is to begin publishing Guides about other topics, for example: "Could you learn to sing Calon Lân in 30 minutes?" and from additional genres such as Science: "How do we know the Big Bang actually happened?". So, keep an eye out over the next few weeks as we'll be adding new and exciting content to the homepage.

We're also launching a BBC iWonder presence on the social network Twitter today. Twitter is a natural place to exhange knowledge, and is already used by many users who we know will appreciate iWonder and can help us get the word out to those who'll probably enjoy it, but haven't heard about iWonder yet. In addition to our Interactive Guides, we'll often highlight something really wondrous from the Web - after all, the BBC doesn't, by any stretch of the imagination, have a monopoly on producing or publishing the kind of content that keeps your curiosity piqued! Over the course of the next months, of course, we'll expand onto other appropriate social networks where BBC iWonder can best serve licence fee payers.

My ambition is for BBC iWonder to combine world-class story-telling with cutting edge digital innovation. I hope you'll agree that iWonder feels fresh and looks amazing on tablets and smartphones. The new BBC iWonder homepage gives your curiosity a new jumping-off point - so if you are curious about iWonder, bookmark it and follow @BBCiWonder.

So how does iWonder look on a mobile device? Here are a few example screens, snagged on both a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone and a Nokia 808 Symbian smartphone:

iWonder mini-site screenshotiWonder mini-site screenshot

iWonder, as viewed on a Windows Phone, note the phone-friendly versions of the infographics...

iWonder mini-site screenshotiWonder mini-site screenshot

... and on a Symbian smartphone. Again, all very phone-friendly, here in a browser window that's only 360 pixels wide...

You can bookmark the BBC's iWonder site here at www.bbc.co.uk/iwonder on your smartphone.

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Date: Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 15:00

Oh, the Internet loves a good headline. No, not mine above, but dropping that the newly announced Oppo Find 7 can take 50 megapixel photos. I mean, that's got to be better than Nokia's 41MP on the 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, right? After all, the number is higher? Wrong. The Find 7's 50MP output is a complete illusion. More than that, it's a wholly unnecessary one. No one need 50MP. Heck, no one needs 41MP, which is why Nokia's two monster camera phones output at 5 megapixels (but with extra 'purity').

Find 7 camera

In turns out that the Find 7's camera is a 13 megapixel sensor, similar to that in the Samsung Galaxy S4, and probably 1/3.2", around a quarter the size of the sensors in the two Nokias...

The aforementioned '50MP' refers to a so-called 'Super Zoom' mode (which seems wrong at first, given what it does, but no matter....) in which the Find 7 camera takes ten photos very quickly, one after the other. The idea is to use the very fact that the Find 7 doesn't have OIS (optical image stabilisation) to the camera's advantage. In the fraction of a second that the ten photos are taken, natural hand wobble will mean that the shots are all very slightly, very subtly different. 

The next stage is to combine the ten photos in some meaningful way. I'd have thought the best thing to do would be to combine the best, purest, most consistent parts of each and eliminate some noise and inconsistency, while increasing the effective dynamic range, spitting out a 13MP shot or lower. In fact, Oppo has chosen to go the opposite way, combining appropriate selections from the ten shots to interpolate between pixels from the normal available resolution and produce a somewhat crazy 50MP image.

This is madness. No one in their right mind needs a 50MP image at all, let alone one made up in this kludge fashion. Oppo's 'Smart Zoom' name comes from the ability to later on crop/'zoom' into the 50MP JPG (which apparently sits somewhere around 10MB each), in much the same way as Nokia does into its underlying 41MP (actually 38MP max) images - except that Nokia's image is from a single point in time, of higher quality and the 'magic' is hidden from the user behind the guise of a single 5MP output with zoom/crop factor of the user's choice. 

Putting the two technologies side by side:

Nokia 41MP PureView (808 and 1020) Oppo Find 7 Super Zoom 

Large 1/1.2" or 1/1.5" sensor, plus OIS (on the 1020)

Takes shot in one go, freezes motion

Oversamples for 'pure' 5MP output

'Zooming later' possible to reframe single image

Works with Xenon flash in even pitch dark

Small 1/3" sensor, no OIS

Takes ten 13MP shots during user 'wobble' and combines them to 50MP interpolated composite

Fast moving objects will have some blur

Any 'zooming later' is done on the 50MP composite and will inherit any imperfections or blurred detail

Can't work with Xenon flash by definition, so dimmer LED has to be used and can't freeze motion when light is low 

This is going to sound like a Nokia camera phone fan decrying the competition for the sake of it, but I can't help that. I'm all for computational photograhy (after all, that's basically what the Nokia 41MP PureView tech is) and the Oppo could have combined its images to eliminate shake and noise (effectively another form of oversampling), but to choose to use them to create resolved detail with so many compromises is, I'm afraid, just a kludge. That no one will use in the real world.

As I say often, physics wins. It's great to see so many novel approaches to using fast image processors to solve traditional photographic problems, but ultimately a big sensor, big lens and (in the 1020's case) OIS will produce more detail, more reliably and more flexibly. You've got to start with a really good camera and then add in computational touches.

Comments welcome. Have you gleaned any more information on the Oppo Find 7's camera that might throw more light on all of this?

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Date: Monday, 17 Mar 2014 19:28

Microsoft today announced that OneNote, its note taking and information gathering software, is now "free everywhere". In practise this means it is making available a free standalone version of OneNote for Windows and Mac PCs, complementing the free versions available for the web, mobile, and tablet. In addition Microsoft announced that the OneNote service now has a cloud API, making it easier for third party apps and services to integrate with OneNote.

Free OneNote for Windows and Mac PCs

The free version of OneNote for the PC can be downloaded from www.onenote.com. Microsoft describe it as being designed for "personal and school use", noting that it is ad-free and there "no limit on how long you can use it". OneNote stores its data automatically in OneDrive (7GB free for all users), making it easier to access store notes and information from multiple devices.

The free version of OneNote does have some minor functionality cuts, primarily impacting on use in the enterprise environment. This means that features such as SharePoint support, version history, and Outlook integration, are only available in the Office 365 and Office 2013 version of OneNote.

The stand alone version of OneNote previously retailed for around £55. This version is expected to continue to remain available as a standalone enterprise version of OneNote.

OneNote for PC

 

OneNote service (cloud API and third party extensibility)

The introduction of a cloud API for the OneNote introduces a way for third party apps to integrate with OneNote. In most cases this involves sending content to OneNote, burnishing its capabilities as an information gathering tools. The underlying idea is to make it easier to get important data into OneNote, such that the service and app become a one stop location for all your important notes, reminders, and miscellaneous bits of information.

Microsoft itself is taking advantage of the new service APIs to provide several new ways to get content into OneNote. We covered the Windows Phone specific Office Lens is a separate news post; but there's also the OneNote Clipper, an add-on for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that lets you capture any web page to OneNote in a single click; and send email to OneNote, a service that lets you send content to OneNote by emailing me@onenote.com (e.g. forward receipts, travel plans, and more).

clipper

Microsoft has also lined up a whole range of partner apps and services including Feedly, Livescribe, Mod Notebook, Weave, genius Scan, JotNot, IFTTT and News360. For example, the Feedly OneNote integration makes it easy to save articles from Feedly reader into their OneNote notebook; and the IFTTT integration allows you to to create and share recipes that automatically create pages, sync content, and connect over 80 other products and services. Microsoft says that further partners integrations, including Neat, will arrive later this year, and is encouraging developers to add integration to their own apps and service, with information available through the OneNote developer portal.
 

Competing with Evernote (and Google Keep)?

With this series of announcements it is clear that Microsoft is putting OneNote in a better position to compete with other cross-platform note taking and information gathering services. The most obvious target is Evernote, but other competitors include Google Keep, and potentially cloud storage services where users focus on information gathering and collation.

OneNote, Evernote, and Google Keep each take slightly different approaches, partly reflecting their respective histories and linked products, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

OneNote has strong collaboration and text formatting tools and benefits from being part of the Office productivity suite, today's announcements also make it better connected with external services and improve its cross platform credentials. Evernote is the category leader because of its everywhere and anywhere nature, it also offers a great degree of flexibility and a variety of features that will appeal to power users. Google Keep offers a simple experience and good Android integration, but, in relative terms, its capabilities are much more limited than both OneNote and Evernote. 

Until today, unless deeply in the Microsoft or Google ecosystems, Evernote would have been our default recommendation for most users. However, with the new service cloud API and a price of free for most users, OneNote has narrowed the gap considerably, and now becomes a service that we would mention in the same breath as an Evernote recommendation. 

 

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Date: Monday, 17 Mar 2014 17:07

As part of a big relaunch for OneNote as a cloud service that's available and free to all  devices, all platforms (and which we'll cover in more detail later), both our AAS (Symbian) and AAWP (Windows Phone) readers might like to note that OneNote is now available for Macs. Previously you had to own a Windows PC with the very expensive Office installed - OneNote has been released formally as a free download in the Apple Mac App Store here.

OneNote now free and out on Mac!

OneNote for Mac will give desktop and laptop access to the same personal OneNote notebook/database that your mobile client syncs to, and as such makes a phone/tablet/desktop workflow easier now that the latter can be a Mac.

Here's the new client, free in the Mac App Store:

Free in the Store

And here are a few screenshots of OneNote for Mac in action, showing some of the rich content that's possible - OneNote on mobile may be fairly plain in terms of content creation, but layouts can be a lot more ambitious on the desktop:

Screenshot

OneNote for Mac

You can download your own copy for your Mac here. Note that it's a huge 235MB download, presumably because of lots of graphical resources - and a runtime or two. In use, it's fast enough, though it does seem odd to see a Microsoft Office-style 'ribbon' in addition to the traditional Mac application menus.

It's pretty though, and does do a good job of managing all those notes you'd gathered from years of using Symbian, Windows Phone and Windows laptops. One cautionary note is that syncing through the Microsoft cloud isn't instant - I found that new notebooks and 'sections' (tabs) took multiple minutes to make it from Mac to phone. So don't panic when the sync doesn't happen immediately.*

* AAS readers should also note that the old Symbian client is slightly limited in the content types and layouts that can be synced, partly because of archictecture changes and partly because of sheer screen resolution limitations. I'll come back to this in a future article, hopefully. Syncing does work for this old platform though, which surprised me! AAS readers should also note that OneNote was part of the 'Microsoft Apps' pack from a couple of years ago, released through 'SW_Update' - this may or may not still be available from Nokia's servers, depending on your device and variant. Comments welcome!


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Date: Friday, 14 Mar 2014 16:50

In All About Symbian Insight 247, hosted by Steve and Rafe, we start by talking about the return of Nokia's Public Transport app, updates to the cuteTube and F1uptodate apps, an alternative curated Symbian apps and games directory, and Skype on Symbian officially being "removed". However, the highlight of the podcast is a discussion around AppList, an alternative app store for Symbian devices, which became available as an open beta a few days ago.

This podcast was recorded on Thrsday 13th March 2014.

Topics covered in this podcast include:

 

 

You can listen to earlier episodes of the AAS Insight Podcast in our media section.

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Date: Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 14:56

We've seen large portable USB chargers (e.g. the Turbocharger 7000), we've seen small all-wireless chargers (the Nokia DC-50), but the Mugenizer N11 seems to offer a feature set that's a very useful compromise. With 4800mAh capacity and both USB and Qi charging output, could the N11 really be the all-purpose mobile charger than many have been waiting for?

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

Available only in white for some reason, the N11 impresses by being. possibly, the perfect compromise across all aspects of mobile charging:

  • High enough capacity (4800mAh) to be seriously useful
  • Neither too large, nor too small (135 x 74 x 13mm)
  • The flexibility of outputting via Qi wireless charging or through traditional USB methods (for devices without QI)
  • Able to act as a regular mains-connected Qi charging pad

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

Charging up the N11 is done via microUSB using the supplied (up to 1.5A) charger - a valid question is 'Why doesn't the N11 also accept charging by Qi?', but given the high capacity of 4800mAh it's clear that the existing three-to-four hour charge time on mains would then be extended significantly. A typical use case for this sort of device would be to charge it up overnight at home, ready for use when mobile on a trip - putting in Qi input circuitry would just add cost, depth, complexity and expense. Nokia's DC-50 accepts Qi power input but then this is altogether a smaller and lower capacity solution with different use case (and no USB output).

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

The N11 is a solid white brick which nicely curved corners and is lighter than you'd expect. I'm guessing that a higher capacity battery could have been used inside but that there would have been weight and charging time penalties - the N11 is, as I say, something of a perfect compromise.

The only two ports are microUSB charging in and standard USB out, the most common arrangement for such portable chargers. The N11 comes with a fairly long microUSB to USB charging cable (that can be used either way, i.e. as input or output) plus a two-pin Euro charging adapter. Most users won't need this, I suspect, we all have microUSB mains chargers coming out of our ears from a mountain of other devices (the ones that we're intending to charge with the N11!)

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

But the unique selling point here, of course, is that the charge can also be dispensed using Qi wireless charging, evidenced by the large logo sticker on the front of the N11. The actual Qi spot is fairly small (a couple of centimetres across at most) and I found that I had to be relatively careful with placement of any phones I tested this with. Rather than just placing the phone down with zero care, a moment's thought was needed to remember where the charging coils were in each device and then locate them over the centre of the logo.

It's a little fiddly having to get the position right to within 2cm, but you quickly learn the optimum position for each smartphone - essentially, you're lining up the coils in the phone with those in the N11 - the better the alignment, the more efficient and the faster the charging will be.

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger 

You're helped by the LEDs on the N11's edge. Red indicates that the unit is 'on' (by default it sleeps after a minute, if not being used), four blue LEDs show the approximate charge level inside in 25% increments and an extra green one comes on and blinks when Qi charging of the phone is working properly. Helpfully, when charging starts, a beep is also sounded - so there are both visual and audible clues that you've got the phone positioned right over the N11's coils.

In use, everything works as advertised. While away from base, you press the 'on' button on the edge and then either place your Qi device on top or plug it in using any convenient USB cable (appropriate to your device). The 4800mAh capacity was borne out, though there's the usual loss of up to 30% in transferring power wirelessly - if absolute efficiency was needed you're still recommended to use a cable. But hey, that's physics for you.

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

Back at base, the N11 works well as a deskbound Qi charger, i.e. plugged into the mains to keep it topped up and then you just pop devices on the N11 to keep them topped up as well. There's a slight restriction in that you can't 'daisy chain' another USB cable out of the side to another device, so it's Qi only when in this 'desk' mode. But unlikely to be a problem for most people. There's no problem charging a phone wirelessly while charging the N11 itself.

The supplied charging cable is quite long, but I found the N11 worked very well with one of my various retractable multi-tip leads (from previous gadgets) - the cable in the box is only really for charging the N11 itself - it's thick and rated for the full 1.5A and the length is designed to go from the floor to desk-height, etc. Most users will have their own favourite USB adapters and widgets/cables and all will work fine with the standard USB out port here.

Mugenizer N11 Qi wireless charger

It's hard to fault the Mugenizer N11 - it's relatively compact, not too heavy, has enough capacity to wirelessly or directly charge any current smartphone from scratch - usually with power left over to top up something else too. 

The efficiency question is something worth thinking about if you're mobile, of course - if you want to eke out your mAh then losing 30% on every transfer isn't ideal. But the convenience of Qi (as detailed in depth here) is awfully easy to get used to - and it means that you can head ot with just the N11 in your pocket and no cables/adapters at all. So we're back to the usual efficiency versus convenience argument.

The Mugenizer N11 is currently selling for $70, which works out to about £40 in UK money - but I did note that international Fedex shipping is (currently) effectively free ($1 or 0.69p), making the N11 rather good value for money overall. Recommended.

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Date: Monday, 10 Mar 2014 08:02

As the resolution and quality of cameras in smartphones has risen dramatically in the last five years, it's easy to forget that these devices aren't just for snapping people and things around us right now. With the technology now included - here demoed on the especially capable Nokia Lumia 1020, but this also applies to any other decent camera phone, of course - it's perfectly practical to archive and transfer printed images from older times. In this feature, I explain a use case that made a lot of sense to me and I pass on a few tips.

We've had computer scanners for decades, of course. You saw something you want to preserve in some way (digitally), you laid it on the scanner bed and then waited a minute while it got scanned into a PC. You then worried about what to do with it in terms of processing, cropping and sharing or archiving. It's a bit of a hassle, if we're honest, which is why most people have never done much scanning.

And it's why I rarely bother these days. Even in the office it's so much easier to use my smartphone camera and simply take a picture of whatever it is. Of course, I tend to equip myself with the very best in smartphone imaging: Nokia 808 PureView and then Lumia 1020, with big sensors, high megapixel counts, and so on - I doubt you'd get very good results with the average phone camera.

Now, if all this is old hat to you then move on, nothing to see - but I thought a real world case study might fire the imagination of some readers here - especially if they have one of the two big PureView cameras covered on the All About sites....

I was at the ancestral home(!) and was shown old photos of my parents, on holiday 34 years ago, when they were younger than I am now. Particularly interesting in that these had been unearthed from a loft and I'd never seen them before. Now, we're not talking massive photo quality from the originals, since they were taken on a '126' film camera, with fixed focus lens, and then printed and stored for the best part of half a century. But they hadn't been exposed to light, at least, so there was still some contrast and detail left. Absolutely fascinating for me.

I found numerous gems that I wanted copies of, but there was no scanner in the house and besides the photos were all glued into a very bulky 1980's paper album, which would have made flat bed scanning tricky, to say the least. 

Which is where the smartphone camera comes in, of course. Why on earth couldn't I just take a photo of the err.... photo? After all, 41 megapixels (in my case, in the 1020 or 808) should be more than enough resolution, even after oversampling (to reduce noise) and cropping, as needed. A little care was needed certainly, which is why I've put together some tips below.

Ad-hoc digital archiving!

Here then was my process:

  1. Place the album near a well lit window, i.e. as much natural light as possible.
      
  2. Start up the camera application (Nokia Camera, in this case, on the 1020), set the phone camera flash 'off' (just in case) - illuminating a photo with a single point flash would give very uneven results.
      
  3. Position the phone camera lens over the centre of the photo at about 10cm distance and tap the appropriate face in the viewfinder - make absolutely sure that a focus lock is obtained. If in doubt, move the phone a few centimetres further away and try again.
      
  4. Take the shot with the on-screen capture icon unless the phone has OIS built-in, to avoid any camera shake.
     
    Screenshot
      
  5. I then cropped out the surrounding paper/carboard/whatever - a simple crop function, built into all smartphones, will do the job, but on the Lumia 1020 I could go one better, by using the 'zoom later' reframing (effectively a 'smart crop' into the underlying captured 38MP image).
     
    Screenshot
     
  6. Finally, it's often necessary, with such old photo originals, to adjust other parameters of the image, correcting colour balance issues caused by any ageing process and poor original equipment. In the example here, I felt that the photograph lacked any vibrant colours of any note, that the fleshtone was off, and that an arty greyscale look would be better. Here's my dad, circa 1980 in Paris then. Handsome chap!
     
    End result, artily in greyscale, in this case
     
    This stage can be done on the phone or desktop, according to which image processing tools you're most comfortable with. 

___________

You get the idea, anyway. Rather cutely, the photo will end up appearing on the phone (after smart cropping, etc.) as if it had been captured as-is - for higher quality originals, causing a moment's disbelief as your 2014 smartphone appears to have just taken a photo from (in my case) 1980! Of course, the higher the original's quality and the better your smartphone camera, then the better the end result. 

But I stand by the technique for getting a 34 year old 'polaroid' converted to a useable 5MP .JPG image in only a few seconds, using the ultimate all-in-one converged device that's in your pocket and always with you. And, of course, from a smartphone base, it's trivial to then directly share the results around friends and family, as needed.

Comments welcome. Have you ever used your smartphone camera for something along these lines? Have you any more tips for getting better results?

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Date: Thursday, 06 Mar 2014 11:46

The BBC's mobile site has been a classic reference point on phone browsers for years - yet searching it was often a pain. Today sees the rollout (albeit with 'beta' labelling) of a new mobile-optimised search experience for anyone using a smartphone web browser rather than something on a desktop OS.

From the BBC's blog:

For the past year, if you performed a search on http://www.bbc.co.uk/ from a mobile device, you would have received the main desktop search results page, where ‘pinch and zoom’ was required to resize the page to an appropriate size. This wasn’t a great user experience and with the mobile search audience more than doubling in the past 12 months, we wanted to improve their experience urgently.

The resulting mobile-optimised, search results page allows you to search quickly and efficiently across News, Sport, TV & Radio, iPlayer and Editors Choice. The search query and results page will resolve to your handsets orientation and screen size.

It works pretty well too, here on a Symbian smartphone, going to the BBC home page and then tapping on the search icon (magnifying glass):

Mobile search on the BBCMobile search on the BBC

Search results now appear in proper mobile-optimised layout. And here's the same thing on a Windows Phone:

Mobile search on the BBCMobile search on the BBC

It's worth emphasising that the search function doesn't find matches across all the BBC's content yet - hence the 'beta' and link to the desktop site. But it's a great improvement to an already top notch phone-accessible (so smaller, portrait screen and possibly limited bandwidth*) web site.

* Those in cities on LTE will scoff that bandwidth is still being taken into consideration, but across large chunks of the UK, even 3G isn't ubiquitous and dropping back to 2G while travelling is commonplace. Under such circumstances, having a mobile-optimised browsing experience is extremely welcome.

There's one gotcha, explained by the BBC's John Barratt:

If you are unable to reach the mobile-optimised results page, you may have previously accepted a cookie that will redirect you to the desktop version. To remove this, please navigate to the footer of any BBC page and select the Mobile Site link (if you can see the Desktop Site link, then this cookie has not been set) or alternatively, open your browser settings and clear the cookies (generally stored under privacy), and then navigate to Search.

If you would prefer to keep using the desktop results page, this can be reached by selecting the Desktop Site link in the footer.

Great stuff - if you're part of the English-speaking world and haven't already got bbc.co.uk bookmarked in your smartphone browser then shame on you.

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