Category Archives: Android

OnePlus 5T Drops In NY



OnePlus has officially unveiled its latest flagship, the OnePlus 5T at a live event in Brooklyn, New York. In a change from the usual on-line reveal, the OnePlus team were live on stage to give an insight into their relationship with users, the benefits of OxygenOS and developing the 5T before the big reveal.

As expected, the 5T sports a large 6″ AMOLED screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio, face unlock and a secondary low-light camera. Compared with the OnePlus 5, the internals are largely unchanged – Snapdragon 835 and a choice of 6GB  RAM / 64GB storage or 8GB RAM / 128GB storage – and it still has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Hurrah!

The new AMOLED screen is 1080 by 2160 giving 401 ppi. It’s a 6″ screen but the exterior dimensions (156 x 75 x 7.3 mm) of the 5T are only millimetres bigger than the 5 and its 5.5″ screen (154 x 74 x 7.25 mm). This has been achieved by moving the fingerprint sensor to the back which gives more real estate over for the display without needing to increase the phone’s size. Sadly, it’s the end of the line for the capacitive buttons.

While the fingerprint sensor will unlock the phone in under 0.2 seconds, new to the OnePlus range is the face unlock feature, which uses 100 identifiers to ensure that it’s really the right person holding the phone before it unlocks. Hard to say how it will stack up against another flagship phone.

Disappointingly the 5T will ship with Android 7 (Nougat), though Oreo is expected to arrive on both the 5 and 5T in early 2018.

However, the 5T isn’t without software tweaks. A new feature called “Parallel Apps” clones certain apps, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype, so that each copy can be run with a different profile, without needing to logout and then login as a different user. Think of being able to have personal and business versions of the apps. That’s pretty neat.

On the camera front, the OnePlus 5T has a high resolution dual camera system, with a 16 megapixel main camera supported by a 20 megapixel secondary camera for enhanced low-light performance and beautiful portraits.

Battery and power are unchanged from the 5, with a capacity of 3300 mAh and Dash charging, which will charge the phone in half an hour. In further good news, OnePlus have retained the alert slider.

The 5T will be available from the OnePlus on-line store from 21 November for US$499 / EUR 499 / GB£449. No invites required these days. In the UK, O2 will be hosting pop-up events in Oxford Street London, Westfield Stratford and Manchester Arndale and, for the first time, one in Castle Lane, Belfast (Yay!) from 2 pm on Wednesday.


Small Size, Small Price – RCA Mercury 7L Tablet



The RCA Mercury 7L Pro tablet is a 7″ Android tablet with budget specs and a price to match, at just GB£49. That’s about US$65 and it’s right in there as an impulse purchase. But is it a case of buying in haste, repent at leisure? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Mercury 7L is the little sister to the Saturn 10 Pro and both carry the RCA branding: I reviewed the 10 Pro a couple of weeks ago here on GNC and I’ll confess upfront to lifting parts of the Saturn’s review: unsurprisingly, the 7L shares many of the 10 Pro’s traits. There are two other models in the line up; a 7R which has double the internal storage at 16GB and 7 Pro with a folio Bluetooth keyboard.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, the first impressions is how small it is. It’s a 7″ 1024 x 600 screen and the device is 8.25″ across the whole diagonal. For metric people, the Mercury 7 is 185 x 113.8 mm and is 12.5 mm deep and as expected, it’s all pastic. In places, it actually feels that someone thought about how it might be used but in other areas, gets it totally wrong. For example, the bezel on one side is slightly thicker and if you hold it in your right hand in landscape mode, the front-facing camera is neatly positioned to the top right, away from your thumb. Briliant….except that the same hand covers up the microphone. So close….

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker. The single speaker round the back is loud. It’s not terribly clear from the website but I think microSD cards up to 128GB can be used. It’s light at 280g.

Despite the name, speed is not one of Mercury 7L’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. Once apps get going, they’re fine, but starting a new app or switching between apps can be a little slow. For whatever reason, Geek Bench 4 refused to run so I can’t give a definitive comparison. Having said that Alto’s Adventure play surprisingly well (once it started).

The display could be better too but at this price, it’s in-line with expectations. 1024 x 600 on a 7″ screen is acceptable, the colours are strong and it’s reasonably bright. My only real criticism is that the viewing angle is a little narrow – it’s most noticeable when holding the tablet in portrait mode.

And as for the camera, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the one megapixel but for a bit of Skype, it’s ok.

As on the Saturn 10,  the user interface for the Mercury 7L would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) with a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred as my muscle memory expects it in the middle.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Mercury 7L is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

After owning the Mercury for a couple of weeks, I think the niche for this tablet is in the portable media space. It’s fine for listening to Spotify, watching Netflix and reading ebooks on OverDrive, plus the microSD card slot gives plenty of room for media. Switching apps can be slow, so if you’re a social butterfly mixing Facebook with Twitter and Instagram, you might need some patience. Overall, it’s a budget tablet for a budget price. Understand this and you won’t be disappointed.

If the Mercury 7L is of interest, it’s available from Asda for GB£49 at time of writing. Thanks to Venturer for supplying the tablet for review.


High 5 Fashion from OnePlus Callection



Fashion designer Jean-Charles​ ​de​ ​Castelbajac is well know for his bright use of colours and smiling models, and he’s brought this fantastic sense of fun to a new limited edition of the OnePlus 5. Combining French chic with technology, the new OnePlus​ ​5​ ​JCC+ “is not a mobile phone! it’s a creative machine for fashion expert“.

Branded as “Callection”, de Castelbajac has created an exclusive range of ​ holsters,​ ​bags,​ ​caps,​ ​t-shirts and​ ​the​ ​limited-edition​ ​OnePlus​ ​5​ ​design. All ​reflect​ ​his​ ​signature high colour style. I love it!

We’re​ ​always​ ​looking​ ​to​ ​try​ ​new​ ​things​ ​with​ ​partners​ ​who​ ​embody​ ​the​ ​Never​ ​Settle​ ​spirit,“​ ​said OnePlus​ ​co-founder​ ​and​ ​Head​ ​of​ ​Global,​ ​Carl​ ​Pei.​ ​”It’s​ ​been​ ​great​ ​collaborating​ ​with​ ​an​ ​icon​ ​like Jean-Charles​ ​Castelbajac,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​continuously​ ​bringing​ ​game-changing​ ​ideas​ ​to​ ​the​ ​fashion industry.

I​ ​always​ ​like​ ​looking​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​future,“​ ​said​ ​Castelbajac.​ ​”To​ ​change​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​you​ ​always need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​creative​ ​and​ ​work​ ​with​ ​people​ ​who​ ​are​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​their​ ​time.

Not entirely too sure I can rock the smartphone holster with confidence, mind you…

In addition to the clothes and phone, there are ten wallpapers drawn by Jean-Charles​ ​de​ ​Castelbajac. These are pre-loaded on the 5 JCC+ but if you can’t wait, they’re here for download.

Technically identical to the top end OnePlus 5, the Callection 5 JCC+ has 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. While available, it’ll retail for the same price at €559 EUR​ ​/​ ​£499​ ​GBP from 2 October on OnePlus.net.

Can’t wait that long? There’s a pop-up event at fashion boutique ​colette in Paris at 11:00 CEST​ 22 ​September. Sadly, the colette retail store is closing in December so this could be your last chance to visit and Paris is lovely in the autumn….


Great Features on a Budget Tablet – RCA Saturn 10 Pro



The RCA Saturn 10 Pro tablet is a 10″ Android tablet that marries budget specs with high-end features at an astonishingly low price, GB£109. That’s about US$140. Amazingly, that price includes a detachable keyboard, but have they cut the corners in the right places, or is this true value for money? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Saturn 10 Pro is the big brother to the Mercury 7L and both carry the RCA branding though I’m not sure if the RCA brand is as strong in the UK as it might be in the US. Eagle-eyed GNC readers will spot a great deal of similarity with the Venturer EliteWin which I reviewed previously. Unsurprisingly it’s no coincidence as the Saturn 10 Pro is produced by Venturer under the RCA brand. For those wondering what happened to RCA as a company, it was purchased and then broken up by GE in the 1980s.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, I think the design has got stronger with each iteration of the tablet. MoMA won’t be asking for an exhibit any time soon, but the Saturn Pro isn’t far off some of the other low cost tablets from a certain large on-line retailer. Mind you, it’s still quite thick at 11 mm without keyboard. Handily, most of the controls and features have been concentrated on what I perceive as the left-hand side. This is a good thing as it means there’s one unencumbered short edge which can be used to grasp the Saturn Pro in portrait mode.

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, HDMI connector, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button, volume rocker and full-size USB port. The keyboard connects onto a long edge via four pogo pings with magnets keeping the tablet in place. The single speaker round the back is possibly one of the loudest I’ve ever heard on a phone or tablet.

Speed is not one of the Saturn 10’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor and 32 GB of storage, it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. In benchmarking, Geek Bench 3 gave the Saturn 387 and 1113 in the single and multicore tests respectively. For comparison a Nexus 5 from 2013 scores 859 and 1764. In real world conditions, that means Alto’s Adventure takes over 20 seconds to launch. Still, it’s playable when it gets going though the tablet sometimes stutters when there’s too much action in the games. Surfing the web and watching YouTube is fine – give it time to get the videos loaded.

The display could be better too. 1280 x 800 on a 10″ screen simply is disappointingly low and at times there’s a hint of blurriness round text in places. Look closely at the “t” in the photo – it’s not crisp. 1280 x 800 was the resolution of the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and that had a 7″ screen. The Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536 in a 9″ screen. To be fair, most of the time it’s not noticeable but open a text-heavy magazine in Zinio and it’s quite obvious.

And as for the cameras, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the two megapixels. Stick to using the camera in your smartphone.

What’s good? The plethora of ports is definitely interesting – full-size USB, microUSB, microSD and HDMI are all handy, particularly for photos and documents. Plug in a memory stick or card, fire up Google Photos and flick through the photos. Copy between media using ES File Explorer. I’m not sure if I had a setting wrong somewhere but I didn’t seem to be able to use the microUSB port for anything other than charging. Connecting up the Saturn to my PC via USB didn’t show any additional drives.

Connecting the Saturn to a big TV via HDMI is fun. I had the tablet on holiday with me and I could take the day’s GoPro footage and check it out on the big screen in the evening with the family watching. It’s good from that point of view.

Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are a win too. The keys are small but big enough for even a fat-fingered typist like myself to touch-type without too many errors and the key action is perfect acceptable. The keyboard has a sixth row of keys for back, home, search and other functions which greatly improved the Android-with-a-keyboard experience. Turning the tablet screen off is possible with the keyboard, but it’s not possible to wake the tablet from keyboard. The touchpad is sensitive, though I found it suffered a bit from stray fingers brushing the surface and occasionally text would end up being typed in the wrong place.

On first inspection, the user interface would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) but there are a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Saturn 10 Pro is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

Let’s be clear, the Saturn 10 Pro is not a Pixel C but then again, you’d get three Saturn 10s for the price of one Pixel C. The Saturn 10 is a budget tablet with a great deal of functionality from a microSD slot to a full-sized USB port,  HDMI out and a keyboard. On the other hand, the tablet is slow, cameras are low-res and the screen is disappointing for a 10″ display. What’s important to you will determine if £109 is money well spent on the Saturn 10.

As an example, I wouldn’t buy one personally because I read lots of magazines on my tablet and I want a glossy hi-res screen to enjoy the features. That’s important to me, but if you want to do a bit of email on the sofa, having the keyboard might make it a killer proposition at the price. As an aside, if Venturer was able to produce a tablet that bumped the specs to the mid-range and priced it well, I think they’d have a real winner.

If the Saturn 10 Pro makes your shortlist, it’s available from Asda for GB£109 at time of writing. Video unboxing and review below.

Thanks to RCA Venturer for providing the Saturn 10 Pro for review.


Macate Genio Coming To UK



US multinational Macate are coming to the UK with the intention of launching their secure smartphone here later in the year. Setting up in Kensington, London, the Genio smartphone is a mid-range Android device with an emphasis on security.

The bare specs are a 5″ HD screen driven by a 1.3 GHz quad core processor with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, though this can be expanded with a microSD card. The Genio has two cameras: a 13 MP rear camera and a 5 MP front selfie shooter. For lovers of stock Android, it’ll run Nougat 7 out of the box.

The Genio is encrypted as standard (AES256) and comes with secure messaging app NetMe from Macate’s software development team Codetel. The NetMe supports all the usual features of text, audio and video messaging and attachment sharing. They’ve also an encrypting email app too which I imagine will be pre-installed too.

The new UK team will be headed up by Darren Gillan, previously of Vertu, and he said, “We’re excited to be adding a UK base to our growing global network. Mobile security is a big issue for many consumers; they need a device that operates seamlessly but also securely. At Macate we’re dedicated to the development of cybersecurity and we’re delighted to be bringing that expertise to the UK mobile market in the form of Genio.”

Once on sale, the Genio will come in four colours, white, light golden, black and (pink) champagne, and will retail for £249. Obviously at this stage it’s hard to tell what the phone will be like, but hopefully we will get more details closer to the launch.


OnePlus 5 Lands



After months of speculation, a trickle of teasing and a bucketful of leaks, the OnePlus 5 has landed. Much as expected it’s a strong evolution of the brand, following on thematically from the 2, 3 and 3T with a 2017 design makeover.

Running through the main specs, it’s  a 5.5″ full HD 1920 x 1080 AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 5 powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octacore processor running at up to 2.45 GHz. There are two memory and storage configurations; one 6 GB RAM, 64 GB storage and one 8 GB RAM, 128 GB storage. The storage memory now uses UFS, which will give a significant speed boost over eMMC.

The OnePlus 5 is expected to have a 20% improvement in battery life over the 3T with a 3,300 mAh battery. Despite being only 7.25 mm thick, OnePlus have managed to retain the stereo audio jack and no-one needs to rush out and buy USB C or Bluetooth headphones. Phew.

The big news is the dual camera system developed in conjunction with Sony and DxO. A custom-made 16 MP sensor is supported by a 20 MP sensor with a telephoto lens which measures the distance between the OnePlus 5 and the subject of the photography. A large f/1.7 aperture allows for faster exposures and helps compensate for stuttering to improve image stabilisation. There’s even clever processing to eliminate noise from low-light photographs.

In a special portrait mode, the both sensors work together to create a focal separation between faces and backgrounds, while a custom software algorithm makes subjects clear and well-lit. This results in a the now well-know depth-of-field (bokeh) effect that blurs the backdrop while keeping the subject in focus. Even with strong backlighting, the OnePlus 5’s high dynamic range (HDR) reveals the subject clearly and avoids turning them into silhouettes.

The OnePlus 5 showcases our obsessive attention to detail and our focus on delivering the best user experience possible,” said OnePlus Founder and CEO Pete Lau. “We have applied this approach to all aspects of the OnePlus 5. For example, the dual camera provides some of the clearest photos on the smartphone market today and gives users more control to take stunning photos in all conditions.” I don’t think he’s kidding either, going by some of the images shown off in the launch video.

The fashionistas might be slightly disappointed as at launch there’s only two finishes, Midnight Black and Slate Gray. You can only choose the finish via spec too. For black, you need to splurge on the 8 GB / 128 GB version, whereas the gray finish comes with the cheaper 6 GB / 64 GB edition.

In welcome news, the increase in price has been nowhere near some of the rumours. The Midnight Black version (8 GB RAM / 128 GB storage) will sell for  US$ 539 / €559 / GB£ 499 / CA$ 719. The Slate Gray version (6 GB RAM / 64 GB storage) is US$ 479 /€499 / GB£ 449 / CA$ 649.  On sale via the OnePlus store.

The first shipments will begin on 21  June  though you’ll need a special code to get in on the first drop. The code’s in the launch video. General sales begin on 27 June. The OnePlus 5 will be available for direct purchase at one-day pop-up stores in New York on 20 June and in London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Copenhagen on 21 June.

Overall, the OnePlus 5 looks to be a great new flagship phone. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.


PlayOn Cloud comes to Android



If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.

Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.

The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.

There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.

If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.


Google’s Round Icons Are Rubbish



Android LogoMy Pixel C upgraded to Nougat 7.1.2 at the weekend and after the obligatory reboot, I was presented with Google’s best efforts to enforce round icons across their own suite of apps. It’s embarrassingly bad. It’s one thing to create circular icons with roundness in mind, but to make round icons by slapping a white disc into the background is lazy, looks rubbish and is confusing to the user. I know Todd likes to keep GNC G-Rated but this really is a PoS. Here’s a selection of icons from my app drawer, which has a white background.

Look at Google’s icons and the way they’ve shoe-horned triangular icons into their new circular standard by putting them on a white disc. It’s sheer laziness and the design has prioritised circular compliance over aesthetic. The white disk looks indistinct against the white background and simply makes the icons appear small. Inbox and Gmail apps have suffered the same fate as well with tiny envelopes inside white circles. What were the designers thinking? At least they made some effort with Sheets and Slides…

And it’s confusing too. Compare an icon with white disc with the previous look of folders. Both are small icons inside a circle so the new icons look like old folders. On the right is what my folders look like on my phone which runs an older version of Android. Compare the folders with the new icons. Pretty similar and it confused me the first time I saw the new Inbox logo. I thought, “What’s Inbox doing in a folder?” It’s badly thought out and bad for users.

Finally, what is it with this push to round icons over all other considerations? What’s wrong with square icons, round icons, irregular icons? I don’t want my phone or tablet to look like a game of Dots with every icon a neat circle and I sincerely hope that the app developers tell Google where to shove it.


Have You Been Gooliganed?



Check Point LogoA quick public service announcement….at the end of November security firm Check Point and Google announced that a variant of Ghost Push malware called Gooligan had infected over million Google accounts, with numbers increasing every day. The malware is present in apps typically downloaded outside of Google Play and infects devices on Android 4 (Jelly Bean and KitKat) and 5 (Lollipop).

Gooligan
Courtesy of Check Point

If infected, the malware exposes “messages, documents, photos and other sensitive data. This new malware variant roots devices and steals email addresses and authentication tokens stored on the device.” so it’s not very nice.

Fortunately, the team at Check Point have developed a tool which checks if your Google account has been compromised. All you have to do is enter the email address associated with your Android device.

While we are on the subject, if you want to check if your email address has been garnered in any of the recent security breaches, check out haveibeenpwned.com which tells you who’s been sloppy with your details (thanks, Adobe and LinkedIn).


Bluetooth Versus Wired



Coloud The Snap Active EarbudsFor some months now, persistent rumors have been flying that the next iPhone will do away with the 3.5mm wired headset port. There have been plenty of people arguing both against and for this idea. Some people say that the demise of the wired headset port is inevitable.

As an over-the-road truck driver, I’ve been using Bluetooth devices for years. To be perfectly honest, the majority of Bluetooth headsets suck, regardless of price. They typically suffer from poor audio quality, especially those intended for phone calls.
I have yet to find a Bluetooth microphone that produces anything approaching acceptable quality for anything other than phone calls.

Bluetooth stereo is great for certain uses, such as in the car or for use with certain Bluetooth speakers intended for casual listening.

With this in mind, let’s examine how a smartphone would work without a 3.5mm wired jack for the way people use these devices today.

I see plenty of people using wired headsets, day in and day out. That tells me that, unlike the floppy drive, which was dropped because most software was being shipped on CD-ROM’s, the wired 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT obsolete. The 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT falling into disuse. There are still millions and millions of people using wired headsets with their smartphones on a constant basis. Wired headset use is NOT dropping off.

Modern smartphones are also extremely good high-definition video cameras. While they have built-in microphones, because of the 3.5mm headphone jack it is also possible to plug in a wired microphone. Wired microphones on traditional consumer camcorders have either been absent or an option for costlier prosumer models. Take the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away and the option of plugging in a superior wired microphone goes away with it.

If Apple takes the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away, it doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t have an iPhone and don’t want one. There will be plenty of remaining Android models to choose from that keep their senses.

In fact, there have already been Android smartphones available on the market that leave out the 3.5mm wired headphone jacks. The Chinese company LeEco released three jack-less phones in April of this year. Ever heard of them? Me neither, until I did a search. I don’t get the impression they are burning down the barn with popularity.

I make extensive use of Bluetooth as well as the 3.5mm jack on my phone. I will never buy a phone that doesn’t offer a 3.5mm jack any more than I would buy a phone that doesn’t offer Bluetooth or WiFi.