OnePlus One Pre-Order Today

OnePlus LogoIf you have been toying with the idea of getting the Cyanogen-based OnePlus One smartphone, then you need to get online and in line today as OnePlus is opening pre-orders for only 1 hour across the world in about 2 hours time. If you haven’t come across the OnePlus One before, then you need to take a look as you get a great deal of smartphone for not much money. The 16 GB model will set you back US$299 (GB£229) but the 64 GB one is only US$349 (GB£269).

OnePlus One

The specs are impressive – here’s a quick rundown

  • Operating System CyanogenMod 11S based on Android 4.4
  • CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 2.5GHz Quad-core CPUs
  • GPU Adreno 330, 578MHz
  • RAM 3 GB LP-DDR3 @1866MHz
  • Storage 16/64 GB eMMC 5.0, available capacity varies
  • SIM 1 slot – Micro SIM
  • Sensors Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Proximity and Ambient Light
  • GPS + GLONASS, Digital compass
  • 3100 mAh LiPo battery
  • Screen size 5.5″
  • Resolution 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), 401 ppi
  • Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • Rear camera 13 Megapixel – Sony Exmor IMX 214
  • Front camera 5 Megapixel
  • Frequencies GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/8
  • LTE: Bands 1/3/4/7/17/38/40
  • Wi-Fi Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 b/g/n/ac
  • Color Silk White/Sandstone Black
  • Dimensions 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight 5.71 oz / 162g

If that tickles your fancy, you can prepare your basket in advance of the window – follow the guidance here. It’s not entirely clear from reading exactly when the phones will ship after pre-order closes.

The window times are:

  • 23:00-midnight HKT
  • 16:00-17:00 CET
  • 15:00 – 16:00 GMT
  • 11 am -12 am EST
  • 8 am – 9 am PST

I’ve been thinking about ordering a OnePlus One to replace my Nexus 4 but I’m going to wait and see what Android 5 does for the Nexus 4. My only real problem with the Nexus 4 is the battery life. But then again…

Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for Samsung Galaxy Review

Olloclip LogoFor the “point’n’shoot” photographer, smartphones and their built-in cameras have almost completely replaced the compact camera which has seen a huge drop in sales over the past few years. Despite the handiness of the smartphone camera and the myriad of post-processing effects beloved by Instagram, there are times where the problem is getting the right image in the first place. Smartphones with macro or wide-angle lenses aren’t common.

This is where Olloclip saw a gap in the market and via a Kickstarter campaign back in 2011, developed a selection of clip-on lenses for the iPhone and iPad, including macro, fisheye and wide-angle lenses. These have become fairly well-known and I’ve even seen a few people using Olloclips on their iPhone in real life. Not content with Apple owners having all the fun, Olloclip have launched a version of the 4-in-1 lens for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5. Let’s take a look.

The 4-in-1 lens system for the Galaxy S4 consists of a mounting bracket that holds two macro lenses and two additional feature lenses that screw in on top of the macro lenses. One of the lenses is a fisheye and the other wide-angle. The bracket is well-made, with metal inserts to hold the screw-in lenses and the lenses are glass; by using different threads on the bracket, it’s not possible screw in the wrong lens. The bracket can be attached from the left or the right to get the correct lens in front of the phones camera. Take a look at the pictures of the Olloclip below to see how it all works.

Olloclip with Lenses

Olloclip with Lenses Removed

Samsung with Olloclip

In use, the Olloclip is straightforward – clip on the bracket with the lens you want to use in front of the camera and then start taking pictures using your favourite camera app. Simples!

To test out the Olloclip 4-in-1, I used a Samsung Galaxy S4 borrowed from a colleague and got snapping. Here are a few macro pictures that I took of a coin and the detail is impressive.

Olloclip Macro

Olloclip Macro

Olloclip Macro

And here are a few photos of a local landmark using the normal S4 camera, the wide-angle lens and the fisheye lens. I’m no Ansel Adams, that’s for sure.

Native S4 Camera

Olloclip Wide-Angle

Olloclip Fisheye

I was impressed with the Olloclip and with more interesting subject matter, I could have a lot of fun. I particularly liked the macro capabilities and the fisheye was fun too; I was quite surprised at the width of the field of view. Overall, the 4-in-1 was easy to use, clipping on and off in seconds, and significantly increased the photographic possibilities of the Galaxy S4. . On the downside, you do have to remember to bring the Olloclip with you, and the on/off and volume buttons are obstructed by the bracket when in use. The other problem can be with Samsung cases, which often replace the smartphone’s back. If you have one of these cases, you’ll find that the Olloclip won’t clip on and you’ll need to revert to the original case.

The Olloclip 4-in-1 for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 is available direct from the website or through other on-line retailers. Priced at a penny under US$70 or GB£60, it’s more than an impulse purchase but if you are photographer or want to get more from your camera, it’s worth forking out for. Hopefully enough Galaxy owners will purchase to persuade Olloclip to look at other popular Android smartphones as well.

Thanks to Olloclip for the review 4-in-1 lens and to Jacinta for the loan of the Galaxy S4.

Apps and Android Fragmentation

Smashing Magazine LogoWhen it comes to developing for Google’s favourite operating system, Android fragmentation is often bandied around as an issue for app developers. But how bad is it really and what’s the impact?

Fortunately you don’t have to make do with my wild guesses and assumptions as Smashing Magazine have a done a comprehensive critical analysis of testing done by app and game developers using the TestDroid cloud-based testing suite. Over 17 million tests were run on 288 different devices over 3 months early in 2014. Depending on region and measurement, the 288 devices represent somewhere between 92% and 97% of Android phones. With the credentials laid out, let’s take a look and see what the testing revealed.

Most of us will have seen the version stats from Google, showing the relative percentage of Android versions. Put simply, Froyo is less than 1%, Gingerbread is around 10% and ditto for Ice Cream Sandwich. Jelly Bean takes the lion’s share at nearly 55% and KitKat comes in second at about 25%.

Android LogoSmashing Magazine’s testing showed that on average 23% of apps exhibit a problem when moving between versions of Android. The biggest problems arose with Gingerbread (30%) followed by KitKat at 21%. Jelly Bean and ancient Honeycomb were next. Interestingly, although Gingerbread is the oldest version with significant market share, 40% of tested apps still work with this version.

The figures also reveal that ICS is the most stable version of Android with a low failure rate that broadly continues through Jelly Bean, though KitKat was more problematic with an increased error rate.

While the OS can cause problems, the hardware’s not blameless either. The research looked at screen resolution and the impact of memory on apps as well. Devices with resolutions of  2560 × 1600, 1280 × 800 and 1280 × 720 pixels gave the fewest problems, typically 1.5% or less. Small screen resolutions were the worst with 400 × 240 and 320 × 240 pixels being particularly bad.

On the RAM front, 512 MB seems to be a significant cut-off point and it’s no surprise that Google recommends this as a minimum. With this amount of memory or less, around 40% of tested apps exhibited problems. At 768 MB and above, the error rate falls to 16% and by 1 GB RAM, it’s down to 1%.

Overall, this is all interesting stuff and a fascinating insight into what app developers have to put up with. I’ve only covered a few of the areas and there’s additional analysis on drivers, OEM customisations and chipsets. I thoroughly recommend that you read the whole article over at Smashing Magazine to understand more.

Taking a slightly different view from a user perspective, if you want a really stable device, you should be buying a high resolution device, with 1 GB RAM and running Ice Cream Sandwich. Hmm.

OnePlus Partners with JBL for E1+ Earphones

OnePlus LogoOnePlus today announced a partnership with audio specialists JBL for exclusive earphones to complement the audio capabilities of the OnePlus One smartphone. The new JBL E1+ earbuds are bright red with flat tangle-resistant cable and comes with an in-line three button remote. The built-in microphone means that there’s no need to unplug when a call comes in, and it’s a standard 3.5mm jack on the end.

JBL E1+ Earphones

 

These earbuds look great and I love the knurled endcaps. I’m usually pretty understated with black Sennheisers but I could like these red E1+ earphones and I hope the audio is up-to-scratch too. It’s great to see all these moves in the audio space and it’s not just the iPhone that has all the fun, too.

Available in October for US $39.99 or GB £29.99 from the OnePlus Store. Video below ticks all the expected boxes.

Amazon Prime Videos Come To Android Phones

Amazon_Android_Prime_Video_PlayerFinally, Amazon has made available an Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android phones.

However, there is a bit of a catch. Rather than making the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player available in the Google Play Store, it is available only via Amazon Android Apps, which are now part of the regular Amazon Store app that you probably already have installed. Update — it is also available ONLY for Android phones and NOT Android tablets.

To download the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player, it is necessary to go into the Android security settings and temporarily enable installation of apps from “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” – a.ka. non-Google Play Store sources.

Inside the regular Amazon Store app, go to the Movie and TV section and find a Prime Instant Video and click on play. Simply follow the on-screen prompts to download and install the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player app.

After you have downloaded the app, go back into the Android settings and remove the checkmark from the “Both Trusted and Unknown Sources” in order to lock the phone back down to apps installed from the Google Play Store only.

Once installed the Amazon Prime Instant Video Player for Android seems to work flawlessly. It was able to pick up my user name and password directly from the existing Amazon app.

Until now Android has been lacking an Amazon Prime Video playback app, even though it has been available for iOS for quite some time.

The last streaming video reason to keep an iOS device around has just been removed. Netflix and Hulu Plus have had Android players for a long time. Now with the addition of Amazon Prime Videos the big three video streamers are now all available via Android phones. The next step is to make the videos playable on regular Android tablets.

Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

Sprint adds International Wi-Fi Calling

Sprint logoSprint is about to release something that could make life a little easier for people who do a lot of traveling. It will also help families who are in the United States and who make calls to family members who are traveling. Sprint is going to update Sprint Spark and add international Wi-Fi calling (to certain locations) at no additional cost.

This update is specifically for the Samsung Galaxy S 4 with Sprint Spark. It will become the first device from Sprint to get their international Wi-Fi calling update. The new feature lets users who are traveling abroad, with Wi-Fi Calling enabled phones, to make and receive calls to friends and family in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico at no additional charge (while connected to a Wi-Fi network).

International Wi-Fi Calling enables Sprint customers to use voice and messaging services over existing home, office, and public Wi-Fi networks in more than 100 countries outside the United states back to the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico phone numbers without being charged or using monthly plan minutes.

That being said, it is recommended that you check with your Wi-Fi provider to see if data charges may apply. It would also be a good idea to check with Sprint about standard or discounted pricing for international calling that is applicable to Wi-Fi.

The Galaxy S 4 with Sprint Spark will be the first smartphone from Sprint to get the International Wi-Fi Calling update. Sprint is planning to expand that offer to additional devices throughout 2014. Sprint is making it easier for people who are traveling overseas to connect with friends or family that are in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico in a very affordable way.

Ignore No More App Locks Your Kid’s Phone

Ignore No More! app logoWant to take complete and total control of your kid’s cellphone? There’s an app for that! It is called Ignore No More! The purpose of the app is to enable parents to remotely lock down their kid’s (or teen’s) phone. The only way to get the phone unlocked is to call mom (or dad) back and ask for the four digit lock code.

It was created by Sharon Stindifird a Texas mom who was got “absolutely livid” one day when she texted her teens and they refused to text or call her back. This motivated her to learn how to create an app that would force her teens to stop ignoring her.

The Ignore No More! app is only available on Android. It requires Android Version 3.0 and costs just $1.99. The description of the app states that it can “be up and running in less than 10 minutes”. It says it is easy to install, cannot be disabled, and does not interfere with ICE or First Responder calls.

What if you have more than one teen whose phone you want to be able to lock on a whim? One account can control multiple “child” devices from multiple “parent” devices. Locking a child’s phone prevents that phone from being used to call friends, to send text messages to anyone, and to play games. Suddenly, the phone has only one function.

Full disclosure, I’m not a parent, so this isn’t something I would have a need for. I can see where it might be useful for parents who have grounded their teen from using their phone for a certain amount of time. The parent can give the four digit code to the teen after they are done being grounded.

However, I don’t think this app is going to improve communication between parents and their teens. Yes, it can force teens to call their parent and listen to what the parent has to say. The problem is that this communication is being forced upon them. I think it will cause a lot of resentment, especially if a parent frequently uses the lock. This is not going to build trust between parent and teen.

There are some quoted reviews on Google Play store where you can purchase this app. One man gave it four out of five stars and wrote: “This is a very good idea.. It also is great for locking my wife’s phone if she is ignoring me…lol…” Ignore No More! is going to be a very attractive app for control freaks. I mean, if this guy feels comfortable announcing that he wants to use it to force his wife to call him, imagine how many other guys out there thought the same thing!

Long Term Hulu Plus Thoughts

hulu_plusI have been using Hulu Plus for several months, and I have a few additional comments about the service.

I tend to watch lots of science documentaries. Over time, I’ve seemed to nearly exhaust the documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon videos. One of the things I really like about the Hulu Plus is that it includes shows from the BBC, Canada and Australia. This opens up a new world of high quality documentary material that isn’t available to me otherwise.

From a technical streaming point of view, the service always seems to stream well. I have encountered no server issues streaming either via DSL or mobile data connections.

The various Hulu Plus apps themselves do have a few issues. I regularly use the iOS, Android and Roku versions of the Hulu Plus apps. The interfaces seem mostly straightforward, though there are a few quirks and differences from one app to the next.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered is the service being able to remember where I’m stopped at in an individual video as well as a series of videos. For example, let’s say I’m in the 5th episode of a season. The service may or may not remember that I’ve already watched the previous 4 episodes.

Additionally, if I pause in the middle of a video, there’s at least a 50% chance that if I come back to the series later, instead of starting me out exactly where I was in the paused video, the service will kick me to the next episode even though I haven’t finished watching the prior episode.

These synching problems seem to be consistent across all of Hulu Plus’ apps. I can use only one app, say on my iPad Air, and will likely encounter the synching issue the next time I open the app to try to get back to where I left off. Moving to a different device entirely I will still encounter the same synching problem.

These synching issues are areas where Netflix and Amazon really seem to have this nailed down and leave Hulu Plus lagging behind.

Even with the synching issues, I really like Hulu Plus and make extensive use of it. In my view it is well worth the $8 monthly charge.