Second Helpings with the OnePlus 2

Never SettleI’ll have to be honest….this morning’s OnePlus 2 launch event at 3 am was waaayyyy too early to entice me out of my bed when the alarm clock started ringing. I gave it a thump and went back to sleep. Sorry OnePlus but “Never Settle” doesn’t work at 3 in the morning. Still, I reviewed the launch with the help of the VR app and have to give that experience the full thumbs up. The VR part is good if you have Google Cardboard or similar, but even to have a 2D “in the audience” experience at a major launch event was fun and the Android app worked well – there was no faffing about finding the webpage and checking whether the PC has the right plugins. Major win as far as I’m concerned and something that should be taken on for other launch events.

OnePlus 2

With regard to the OnePlus 2 itself, things are much as expected for a flagship phone – 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor paired with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 64GB storage, though later in the year, there will be a cheaper version with 3GB RAM and 16GB storage. No change in the screen as far as I can tell, with a 5.5″ IPS LCD screen which is excellent in the One. Battery is up from 3100 mAh in the One to 3300 mAh in the 2.

Of course the big change is the inclusion of a fingerprint reader which will quickly unlock the OnePlus 2 with a finger press. Difficult to say how well it will work until I get hold of a 2 but I’m expecting it to be good and useful. The other new feature is the USB C port which is hard to get overly excited about. Yes, reversibility is handy and the flat cable tangle-free but wireless charging would have been even better.

OnePlus 2 USB C

The camera has been given a boost with the addition of an advanced Optical Image Stabilization system and rear-mounted laser focussing which sharpens the camera in microseconds. Sweet. As we knew beforehand, there are dual SIM slots for world-travellers and data hogs.

OnePlus 2 Rear Covers

For styling, the press release says, “Unified by a resilient, lightweight aluminium and magnesium alloy frame and stainless steel accents, the OnePlus 2’s sleek, minimalistic design marries durability and class with an unrivalled premium feel.” Translation – it’s got metal edges, looks cool and expensive.

Size-wise, the 2 is slightly smaller but fatter and a tad heavier this time round by 13g (like you’d notice). There’s going to be a selection of StyleSwap backs available from the original Sandstone Black and Bamboo to the new Kevlar, Black Apricot and Rosewood.

Lollipop-based (5.1) OxygenOS replaces CyanogenOS in the OnePlus 2 and continues the customisations seen in the One, including gestures and themes. There are some new features, including a dark mode for use at night, custom LED notifications and greater app permission control.

If you like what you see, how much is the 2 going to cost and when will it be available? The former is easy: the 64GB version will be GB£289, EU€399 and US$389, which frankly is a bargain. I’ll be ordering one as soon as I can, which brings us to the latter. As with the One, the 2 is going to be sold via invites but assuming you get an invite by hook or by crook, you’ll be able to order from 11 August with delivery around 3 weeks later.

OnePlus 2 Experience

To whet your appetite further, fans can visit one of nine pop up experience centres located around the world on 31 July to sign up for an invite and be one of the first in the world to see the OnePlus 2. Get in line.

 

Busy Week in Mobile Phones

It’s going to be a busy week in the mobile phone space with both OnePlus and Motorola expected to announce new Android models. OnePlus hasn’t exactly been quiet in the run up to the event and Motorola’s suffered a few leaks in the process. Either way, it’s going to be fun to see what’s on offer before Google and Apple produce their annual refreshes later in the year. Nokia might be re-entering the smartphone market too but their latest announcement is shrouded in mystery.

ThOnePlus Logoe OnePlus 2 will follow on from the successful One, though with OnePlus stoking the rumour mill, it’s still hard to know fact from fiction. What has been confirmed is that it will have a fingerprint reader, 4GB RAM, a Snapdragon 810 processor, USB C connector and cost less than US$450. Some suggest that there might be more than one version of the 2 inbound, but if there is OnePlus haven’t mentioned so far.

Motorola M LogoOn the Motorola side, the teases us with “Your relationship is about to change” signed, “XGX Moto”. I think we can expect new Moto X and Moto G models and as Motorola tends to go with evolution rather than revolution, they’ll probably be much like last year’s, only better. Some have suggested that the two Xs might mean two models, but I think it’s just supposed to be “XOX” for hugs and kisses.

Nokia LogoFinally, Nokia might be re-entering the mobile phone space. There’s a VIP press conference in Los Angeles but no-one knows for sure whether it’s a mobile phone, tablet or a virtual reality headset. The invites featured “Nowhere” and “Now here” which led to much speculation with nothing concrete to go on. We’ll just have to see.

The OnePlus 2 announcement is at 7 pm PT on 27 July which is a very early 3 am UK time. Motorola have a far more reasonable 9 am ET on 28 July which equates to 2 pm here in the UK. Keep ’em peeled.

 

The 80’s are Back with the Commodore Branded Smartphone

Commodore LogoNot long ago, I covered the somewhat troubling story of a school system that’s using a vintage Commodore Amiga computer to run its HVAC system. And in the summer of 2015, I figured that’d be the end to any Commodore-related news for now. That’s why I was surprised to discover that there will soon be a new smartphone branded with the Commodore logo.

It’s worth noting that this new device has no direct ties to the Commodore computer company we all remember from twenty (or more) years ago. This “new” Commodore is headed by a group that managed to secure the Commodore trademark in the UK. And most importantly, along with that trademark, they’re able to use the classic Commodore logo. Hence, the world’s first-ever Commodore smartphone.

The new PET phone will run the Android operating system and it’ll feature a 5.5-inch IPS 1920×1080 pixel resolution display made of Gorilla Glass 3 along with a 1.7 GHz Mediatek 64-bit octa-core processor with ARM Mali T760 GPU, 16 GB RAM, a 3000 mAh battery and a 3-megapixel camera using a Sony sensor with a bright f/2.0 aperture, creating images up to 4096×2304 pixels, and videos up to 1080p HD.

While the phone itself is packed with modern hardware and software, it can still serve up some real feelings of nostalgia. The Commodore PET will ship with customized versions of the VICE C64 emulator and the Uae4All2-SDL Amiga emulator, allowing users to play all of those classic Commodore games right there on the phone.

The Commodore PET smartphone is expected to retail for around $300. It will be released first in Europe with other territories (including the U.S.) to come later.

Ingress comes to Android Wear

Ingress LogoI started playing Ingress earlier this year. I’m still pretty new to the game and I can’t say I’ve made an awful lot of progress. Ingress is an augmented reality game where players choose factions and then battle for control of portals that exist in the real world. Once a new portal becomes available, players from the two factions (either Enlightened or Resistance) can hack the portal and try to ultimately take control of it. As factions continue to claim more portals, they can then link those portals to eventually take control of larger areas.

Traditionally, Ingress could only be played using either Android or iOS apps running on smartphones or tablets. But now, Ingress is available on Android Wear devices. Now it’ll be easier than ever for players to locate portals and interact with them, as the Ingress interface will be readily available on devices like wristwatches, sparing the need to remove a pocketed phone or having to pull a tablet out of a backpack or bag.

The Android Wear version of Ingress is available for download thru the Google Play Store. So get out there and get to hacking those portals! No matter which faction you’re on, Ingress can be a lot of fun and it’s a good way to get some exercise, too.

The Future of Mobile Computing

Mobile devices, specifically large screen smartphones, have made significant inroads into the computing spaces traditionally held by full-sized desktop and laptop computers. This incursion can best be measured by personal usage shifts.

In my own case, I find myself making much less use of my laptop and desktop machines, with my large screen smartphone making up the majority of my usage. At this point, if it were possible I would shift all of my computing usage to my smartphone, but unfortunately I find that the lack of quality software, and not the hardware, is preventing me from making the full shift.

The high end smartphone hardware of today compares quite favorably to traditional desktop and laptop hardware. If I could only run desktop class software applications on my smartphone, I could pretty ditch my traditional machines to an even greater degree than I already have.

The large screen high end smartphone hardware is closer than ever to hitting a peak, where performance improvements are incremental. From my point of view, the only way my phone could be made even more useful would be the addition of genuine desktop class software applications that would allow me to do real work and truly take advantage of the heavy duty hardware that is built in to a very compact package.

The software we’ve had to this point is at best dumbed-down and lacks capability. Apps such as Garage Band and iMovie on iOS and most of their counterparts on Andriod in the Google Play Store are toy apps aimed at seemingly air headed casual users. For example, where is the ability to import from and export to wider varieties of audio and video file types?

I want a real video editor that would allow me to attach my phone to a large screen monitor, keyboard and mouse and do intense video editing. Ditto with a real sound editor that would run on my phone that would be similar to the depth of an application such as Adobe Audition.

Who will develop these more capable smartphone applications? That remains to be seen. At this point the only real differentiators for hardware platforms lies in better software applications.

I personally am willing to pay for desktop class applications that will run on mobile computing platforms. Unfortunately so far they don’t seem to exist.

Motorola UK Summer Sale

Moto Nexus 6Motorola M LogoMotorola are having a fortnight-long summer sale on the Moto X and Nexus 6 smartphones in the UK.

There’s £166 off the Moto X 16GB and 32GB handsets, with prices starting from £229 and £269 respectively, and £80 off  Nexus 6 handsets in Midnight Blue or Cloud White, with prices starting from £399 and £469 for the 32GB and 64GB versions. There’s free postage too.

Certainly that’s the biggest discount I’ve seen on the Moto X in the UK so if you want a new phone for the summer, now’s the time to get it. Don’t forget you can customise the phone so it’s just how you want it. I really liked the Moto X when I reviewed it, but never got my hands on the Nexus 6. Details of the special offers are at Motorola.

Offer runs until midnight on 30 June or while stocks last.

OnePlus One Flash Sales

OnePlus LogoIf you’ve been thinking about picking up a new high-end smartphone, then you might want to take a look at the flash sales this week for the OnePlus One. For one week only, sales will start at 02:00 and 12:00 GMT on alternate days, offering the One at US$249 or GB£179 for the 16 GB version. The 64 GB model is $299 / £219. This is great value for a smartphone with a 5.5″ full HD screen driven by 2.5 GHz quad core CPU.

OnePlus OneThe OnePlus One is my current smartphone which I purchased myself to replace my Nexus 4. I love it – it’s fast with a great screen, loads of storage (as I have the 64 GB version) and excellent battery life. Here’s the full flash sale schedule.

June 1 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 2 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 3 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 4 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 5 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)
June 6 – 2:00 GMT (10 pm EST -1 day)
June 7 – 12:00 GMT (8 am EST)

Your Android factory reset may not erase all of the data

Android LogoWe change devices like clothes these days, with new phones and tablets emerging seemingly every day. What to do with all of those used devices? You can sell them or donate them, or simply give them away — all that is needed is a simple factory reset to get your data off, right? Not so fast.

New research from Cambridge University has found that some data is still recoverable. That’s a scary prospect when your device is now in other hands. We have all sorts of interesting info stored there, from email logins to bank logins and more.

Researchers at security firm AVG analyzed the data, finding “The issue arises from the way devices store information on flash memory. Reading data has a negligible impact on flash drives, but writing new data to them can cause considerable wear”.

Researchers also offer some advice on protecting things. — first and foremost is encrypting your data before doing the reset.

“The Cambridge researchers were able to retrieve some encrypted data and run brute strength attacks until they found the right passwords. So make sure you create a long password of over 15 characters, using upper and lower cases, numbers and symbols: a longer, more complex password would take years to crack. Ideally, use a password generator: you don’t have to remember this password, since you’re erasing this data”.

The bottom line is that this is highly unlikely to happen to you, but it is possible, so take every precaution necessary. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Archos 52 Platinum with Fusion Storage Review

Archos LogoOn review here is the Archos 52 Platinum smartphone, a mid-range phone with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First, the smartphone takes dual SIMs and second, it has a microSD slot. The latter is perhaps not a great trick on its own but when paired with Archos’ new Fusion storage, it’s a smartphone with masses of space. Let’s take a look.

Archos Platinum 52

They say first impressions count and my first impression of the Platinum 52 on opening the box is how much the smartphone looks like a bigger Nexus 4. It’s the silver surround on the front and while round the back it’s not the sparkly glass of the Nexus, I’m still a big fan as it’s a neat clean look.

The physical dimensions are 77 mm wide, 150 mm tall and only 8.8 mm thick. Weighing in at 161 g, it’s a tidy package for a big screen phone.

Specwise, the Platinum 52 is a 3G quad-core 1.3 GHz device with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB storage and a microSD card slot. It’s not a cutting edge processor by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a solid performer that will handle most tasks thrown at it. The 1 GB RAM is a bit meagre but once Fusion Storage has been experienced, it forgives the 8 GB storage memory. Out of the box, the 52 is running KitKat with extra Archos apps but no significant changes to stock Android.

It’s a 5.25″ IPS screen with a 1280 x 720 HD screen which looks bright with good contrast. The Platinum 52 has hard buttons at the bottom of the screen. I prefer the soft buttons of the Nexus series but that’s a personal choice.

There are two cameras, an 8 MP rear camera and a front 2 MP one. No great surprises from either camera, either good or bad.

Archos Platinum 52 BackRound the back and inside is a removable 1750 mAh battery – performance was in-line with expectations. Also inside is the Platinum 52’s first trick; a SIM carrier that takes two SIMs, one micro and one nano (though the Archos website says that they’re mini and micro).

SIM cardsHaving dual SIMs opens up possibilities that having one SIM doesn’t. One SIM for personal and other for work. One SIM for home and your main number, one SIM for the local country and data services.

When a new SIM card is put into the Platinum 52, the phone prompts to set the defaults for each card, so if on travels, set the data connection to the local SIM to avoid whopping data charges. It’s pretty neat.

The next trick is Archos Fusion storage and the Platinum 52 is one of the first smartphones to take advantage of  the feature. Simply, the internal 8 GB storage memory is joined with the inserted microSD card. Put in a 32 GB card and the Platinum 52 has 40 GB of storage.

It’s a two step process; first enable Fusion and then optimise the storage. It’s straightforward and pain-free, though the optimising process takes a little while as files are shuffled around.

Archos Fusion  Archos Optimise

Archos Games with FusionOnce the process is finished, the addition of the microSD card to the storage memory is seamless. After inserting a 32 GB card, I was able to load a stack of massive games onto an “8 GB” phone – Monument Valley, GTA III, Shardlands, Iron Man 3, The Room, The Dark Knight, Galaxy on Fire 2. In practical use, I could tell no difference – possibly games took a little bit longer to load but these are big games and take time even on standard phone. As far as I could tell, the Fusion storage system worked perfectly; Archos have done a really good job here.

At an RRP of GB£129.99, the Archos Platinum 52 is up against some stiff competition but on the whole comes out ahead in both price, specification and looks. The dual SIMs and Fusion Storage are compelling selling points which should set it apart from the herd, especially for travellers. Fusion Storage is clever, works well and gives the low internal storage a valuable boost.

Setting Up A Projector Room

Projector MountedOver the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on different types of electronics. Back in the 1980’s much of that money was spent on a never-ending succession of high fidelity amplifiers and speakers. I still have most of that equipment and it still functions quite well to this day.

In the 1990’s my purchasing patterns shifted to a voracious appetite for personal computers, peripherals and software. Though I seemed to derive enjoyment at the time, I have comparatively little that remains useful today with the exception of a fairly massive 25-year-old computer desk.

From the mid-2000’s forward my computer-buying habits slowed somewhat, but I partially shifted from Windows to Apple machines. In the past couple of years my adoption of Android smartphones has mostly usurped my computer usage, completely freezing any urge to acquire new computer equipment. The computers I have – two older Apple laptops, two Mac Minis, a Compaq machine running Vista, and an Asus Netbook running Windows XP, all work remarkably well after equipping most of them with modern SSD’s. I record podcasts, write occasional articles, and do my taxes once a year and that is now the extent of my computer usage. Barring some unforeseen disaster, these older machines should last well in to the foreseeable future.

Of all of those consumer electronics purchases, few things stand out as being really enjoyable. Though I enjoyed the computers at the time, the investment in stereo equipment still delivers satisfaction, some of it 30 years on.

Today, I derive the most use and gratification from my smartphone. It is always with me and it ably handles most functions.

However, that doesn’t stop me from looking at and experimenting with consumer electronics. Back in the early 2000’s, I briefly considered buying a projector. At the time I didn’t think I had a good place to put it or use it, and the idea quickly got pushed aside. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t buy one then, because consumer video technology was still standard definition and projectors of the era were expensive and primitive by today’s standards.

Fifteen years later, projector technology is radically better and far less expensive. Don’t get me wrong – it is possible to spend a fortune on modern projection equipment if you want the latest and greatest and your budget allows. However, it is possible today to get really great bargain projectors that can offer great value and performance.

When I bought my house 20 years ago, for whatever reason one of the extra bedrooms ended up as a junk room. I have no one to blame but myself – it was easy to just pile stuff in the room, close the door, out of sight, out of mind. Over the years I had given little thought about what to do with that extra room. It is fairly small – 9 and ½ feet by 13 and ½ feet, but nonetheless it could be made into a useful space.

A few months ago I started thinking about projectors once again. I purchased an Android-powered pico projector from Amazon to bring with me when I travel. I then realized a great use to put the junk room to – clean all of the junk away, and set up a larger wall-mounted projector capable of projecting about a 95” inch diagonal image on the opposite wall.

Projection ScreenI just happened to have plenty of extra speakers and an old surround sound receiver that had been lying around in the junk room for a few years. After a bit of research I purchased an inexpensive $350 dollar LED-powered Android 720p Chinese projector from Aliexpress.Com. After doing how-to video research on YouTube I purchased lumber and a friend helped me make a large wooden 16 x 9 format frame. I purchased Carl’s Place blackout cloth via Amazon, and with the same friend’s help I now have a large homemade projector screen that cost me a total of about $75 dollars in materials.

I purchased a projector wall mount from Amazon that was under $50 dollars, plus a few other odds and ends. From Walmart I purchased an inexpensive Sony BluRay player for under $50 dollars that even includes WiFi support and the important apps I need – Netflix, Amazon Videos, Hulu Plus and YouTube. I purchased a 5 input HDMI switcher from Amazon for under $20 dollars as well as well as a $15 dollar 25’ foot long HDMI cable to run up the wall to the projector. I even purchased an HDTV tuner that includes an HDMI output from Amazon for about $25 dollars. On the more expensive side, I purchased a 10” inch Klipsch subwoofer from my local Best Buy store for $300 dollars.

All together, I’ve spent less than $1,000 dollars. The resulting projector system for that price is impressive. I can stream HD content from the Internet, I can play BluRay discs, or I can watch local over-the-air digital TV. The digital TV tuner even has a USB port that will accept up to a 2 gigabyte hard drive if I wish to utilize its HD DVR functionality! All sound is routed through the surround sound receiver.

One Man Theater ChairBest of all, that once-upon-a-time useless junk room now has a great use. I have 100% control over the light so the resulting projected 95” inch 720p image is crisp and clear.

Some people might scoff at my purchase of what is essentially a no-name Chinese projector as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a name-brand projector such as an Epson or one of the other brands of HD projectors. My reason for going with the no-name Chinese 720p LCD projector is simple – it uses a Cree LED lamp that will likely last 30,000 hours or more. Most name brand projectors use conventional bulbs that must be replaced after only 3,000 to 5,000 thousand hours and can cost $150 and up – way, way up in some cases, more than I paid for the no-name 720p Chinese projector. Especially for a first-time purchase, why not go with a projector using an LED bulb? I’m willing to spend money on electronics – if I didn’t like it, I could always go with another more expensive machine later.

It turns out that I really like the no-name Chinese projector. It has two HDMI inputs along with various analog inputs, outputs, USB and even an SD card slot. It runs Android 4.2.2 and even came equipped with a wireless mouse, along with a remote control. If I wish, I could easily also pair it up with a wireless keyboard and use it as a computer with a large projected display. The Android 4.2.2 comes with the Google Play Store so that means it has access to all the Google Play Store apps. At $350 dollars, I consider it a true bargain.

This has also been a learning experience. I’ve found over the years that regardless of how much I research something, I never really know about it until personally taking action. The only thing I would change about the room setup at this point would be to go with the so-called “Flexigray” screen material from Carl’s Place as opposed to their black-out cloth which is bright white and the most commonly used projection screen material. Because the room is so small and has light colored walls and ceiling, when the projector is on in the otherwise pitch black room it lights up the room enough to create enough stray bounce light from the side walls and ceiling to slightly interfere with the projected image. At this point I could either take steps to darken the walls, or re-cover the screen with the Flexigray material which has superior stray side light rejection properties, thus creating better black levels. I probably won’t make any changes anytime soon – the current projected image really is just fine. But, it’s something I learned and something to keep in mind for future reference.

For under $1,000 dollars, I’ve managed to create an amazingly enjoyable experience. That same money could have easily been spent on the latest gadget being pushed – say an overpriced smart watch – a dubious solution in search of a problem that comes packaged with planned obsolescence for your spending convenience.

Even though it has only been a couple of months, I already know that setting up this projector room is one of those rare things that offers genuine satisfaction and enjoyment, as opposed to all of those things that soon enough ended up unused and obsolete in a pile of dusty junk.