Category Archives: smartphone

Honor 8 Flagship Smartphone Revealed



Huawei LogoThe “competitively priced” flagship smartphone market got a little hotter today with the launch of Huawei’s Honor 8 smartphone in Paris. Priced at GB£369, the Honor 8 is moving into OnePlus’ territory and whatever you prefer, it’s good news for consumers buying unlocked phones who want power and style for less.

Honor 8Regardless of price, the Honor 8 is one good-looking phone. It’s a glass finish and appears stunning in the sapphire blue which all the hero shots and promotional videos use. Of course, there’s a midnight black and pearl white if you prefer something plainer.

In terms of spec, the Honor 8 is an octacore HiSilicon Kirin 950 CPU with four 2.3 MHz cores and four 1.8 GHz cores, supported by 4 GB RAM, 32 GB storage and a microSD slot. The display is a 5.2″ full HD screen (1920×1080) with very slim bezels on the left and right. On the back there’s a fingerprint scanner which can unlock the Honor 8 in less than 0.4s. In addition, two SIMs can be installed if needed

The Honor 8 is powered by a 3000 mAh battery which Huawei say will deliver over a day and a half of normal use and still over a day with heavy use. There’s fast charging too which will charge to 47% in 30 minutes, though it’s not terribly clear if this is a proprietary fast charge system or not.

Cameras are impressive on paper with a twin 12MP cameras on the rear and an 8 MP camera on the front for selfies. The Honor 8 has a wide aperture mode that allows the focus to be adjusted after the picture has been taken.

Connector is USB C (but only USB 2 .0). The audio socket is retained too but the slight surprise is the inclusion of an IR blaster to control TVs and other AV. Takes me back to the days of the Palm III. Wifi comes in all the current flavours – 802.11ac/a/b/g/n, 2.4/5 GHz, and there’s also NFC.

That’s it for now – the Honor 8 product video is below and the launch event is over on Facebook. Pre-orders are being taken at vMall and there’s a voucher offer worth GB£69.99.

With luck, I’ll be getting my hands on an Honor 8 for a hands-on review, so more information then.

 


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.


Losing The Signal



Losing The SignalWe often end up thinking we know the stories behind major and/or tumultuous events that happen during our own lifetimes. One of those revolves around the story of Blackberry. The rise of the iPhone is often thought of as the big downfall of Blackberry, the once wildly popular Canadian phone manufacturer from Waterloo, Ontario. Indeed, the iPhone was involved in Blackberry’s problems, but not in the way people commonly think it was.

I recently listened to the unabridged version of the Audible audiobook “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” written by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. The book tells the story of the seemingly overnight rise of the popularity of Blackberry devices, and recounts the often fascinating step by step details of its spectacular fall into relative smartphone obscurity.

For example, were you aware that Blackberry had two CEO’s? Not one, but two. This highly unusual two CEO arrangement may have served Blackberry well at certain times in the beginning, each CEO having his own respective strengths, but in the end it is generally agreed that this odd two CEO arrangement caused inevitable confusion and dangerous, very damaging paralysis as their personal relationship with each other dangerously deteriorated.

I take from this book that Blackberry happened to come along with the right thing at the right time – a device that could reliably and securely put email in the smartphone user’s pockets on early networks. Blackberry was driven to success by sheer market demand for their product, in spite of their missteps. Blackberry’s success was due in part to the fact that because of the way its system was constructed, it could reliably and securely handle email on highly bandwidth-starved networks. Its popularity started as a business device, and ended up with major consumer crossover demand.

A better idea came along – Steve Job’s iPhone. The iPhone essentially put an entire shrunken computer in the user’s pocket, and started a revolution that changed the face of the market itself. Even so, the iPhone didn’t inflict the most damage on Blackberry, but rather the iPhone concept.

The iPhone reached about 25% overall market penetration in developed markets when at the same time Blackberry was able to sell its less-expensive units into price-sensitive world markets that could not afford the high price of the iPhone. In essence, Blackberry was able to keep going even after the iPhone’s obvious success by replicating its early developed-market successes elsewhere in the world.

What inflicted the most damage on Blackberry sales was the incredible spreading dominance and popularity of Android, which could sell cheaper Android-based smartphones into Blackberry’s price-sensitive world markets, thus ultimately rendering Blackberry irrelevant.

Along the way, Blackberry made a couple of serious, self-inflicted missteps with Verizon that it never recovered from. Blackberry, which had been known at one time for rock-solid hardware, realizing it was losing market share, foolishly started selling faulty products into the marketplace that clearly weren’t fully developed and were highly unreliable.

If you enjoy these kinds of non-fiction books that tell behind-the-scenes stories of things that happened in your lifetime, I highly recommend you give this book a try.


An Unplanned Upgrade



Note 5A few weeks ago my trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 4 started acting weird, randomly rebooting at inopportune times. To make a long story short, on the second trip to a Sprint store the technicians determined that it was a hardware problem.

Since Sprint has no more Note 4 units available for replacements, their only alternative was to upgrade me to a Note 5. Ever since the Note 5 was announced, I didn’t want it. The Note 5 has no removable battery, and no Micro SD card slot. My plan was to keep the Note 4 and skip to the generation after the Note 5 that should be released sometime towards the fall of this year.

The free upgrade to the Note 5 does not affect the plan I’m on – I can still upgrade to the new Note (6 or 7, depending on what Samsung decides to call it) when it comes out. I was stuck, so I took the free upgrade.

Even though I was somewhat prejudiced against the Note 5, I have to say I’ve been quite impressed with it. The upgrade in overall performance and the snappy feeling of the device is tremendous. The other thing I’ve been amazed with is excellent battery life, which happens in spite of the improved performance over the Note 4.

The overall size of the Note 5 is physically smaller than its predecessor, yet it retains the 5.7” inch screen size. Samsung was able to achieve this by shrinking the bezels even further, particularly on the sides.

For some time now I’ve been using my phones to scan documents for work. I started doing this with a Galaxy S3. The process was faster with the Note 4. It flies with the Note 5.
My bank recently sent me a new chipped debit card, so I had to go through the process of logging in to various services to update my information. To my surprise, I was able to efficiently do all of this updating via the Note 5, mostly due to its speed and responsiveness.

Are there things a mobile device can’t do? Of course. For one thing, a 5.7” inch screen is too small for many tasks. Could I type out an article or record and upload a podcast on the Note 5? Yes, but the mobile form factor just doesn’t work well for these sorts of tasks – they cry out for a real computer in order to be carried out quickly and efficiently.

Smartphones have matured, yet there remains room for improvement. In my opinion, improved performance and improved battery life are the two biggest things that will induce me to consider upgrading to a new phone. Improved camera performance is always a nice thing to have, but camera performance alone won’t induce me to pull the upgrade trigger.

Styling and silly emotional gimmicks have diminishing appeal in a mature market.


OnePlus Loop VR Review



OnePlus LogoOnePlus is launching the next model in its wildly successful line of smartphones on 14 June and its going to do the launch in VR, basing the event on an orbiting spacestation called The Loop. Although the fourth phone from the Chinese outfit, it’s going to be the OnePlus 3 following on from the 1, 2 and X. I’ve personally bought the 1 and 2 after falling out with the Nexus 5.

To support the VR launch of the 3, OnePlus gave away 30,000 Loop VR headsets with purchasers paying only for the postage. Of course there was a massive rush, but I managed to snag one and it arrived today. It’s been developed in partnership with AntVR, who launched a VR system through Kickstarter in later 2014.

Here are a few snaps.

Loop VR in box

OnePlus Loop VR in box

OnePlus Loop VR Front

OnePlus Loop VR Lenses

OnePlus Loop VR Side

OnePlus Loop VR

OnePlus Loop VR

OnePlus Loop VR

I don’t have much experience with VR headsets but build quality is on the solid plastic side of things. The elastic headbands are adjustable and the lenses can be adjusted to three positions. I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s comfortable to wear but it’s probably what you’d expect from lump of plastic strapped to your face.

The smartphone slides in the front for the screen….and this is where it all came to a stop. How are you supposed to control the smartphone when it’s in headset? You can’t tap on anything as the phone’s on your head. Do you need a Bluetooth mouse or similar? The links to an AntVR app don’t seem to work and the OnePlus Loop VR is counting down to 14 June. I kind of assumed that Google Cardboard apps would work as common denominator on Android but no, that doesn’t seem to work either – I can’t seem to select any menu options.

Massively disappointed. All very much reminds me of 3D TVs….

I hope things improve once the OnePlus Loop VR app comes to life on 14 June but if any GNC readers want to educate me on the ways of VR headsets, please fill me in through the comments.


Azoi Kito+ Health Tracker Review



Kito+ logoAfter interviewing Azoi at Gadget Show Live, the team there sent me a Kito+ to review. I’ve been using it to check my vital signs over the past few weeks. If you didn’t read or listen to the original interview, the Kito+ is a credit-card sized health tracker that measures heart rate (pulse), respiration rate (breathing), blood oxygen, skin temperature and ECG.

Kito+ Box

The Kito+ sends all the data via Bluetooth to a nearby smartphone or tablet which displays the readings in real-time.  It’s even more impressive when you consider the Kito+ costs GB£100 (around US$140). The Kito+ can work as a standalone device with both Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, or it can be embedded into a case for the iPhone 6 series of phones from Apple. Let’s take a look.

Kito+ In Box

The box opens up to show the Kito+ on the left with the iPhone cases and charging adapter on the right. Beneath the lids are instructions and a USB cable. There are two sizes of iPhone 6 case included, one for the standard iPhone 6 and one for the Plus versions. The magnetic charging adapter snaps into place and the micro-USB cable powers it up. Fully charged, the Kito+ is good for a whole month of tests.

Kito+

Turning to the Kito+ itself, it’s flat on one side with the sensors and buttons on the other. There are four sensors, an “on” button and two contacts for the charging adapter. The Kito+ is easy to use – simply hold in two hands with thumbs on the flat side, forefingers on the big shiny metal sensors and index fingers on the lower two smaller sensors.

As mentioned earlier, the Kito+ sends data to an app for processing, display and recording. It’s a straightforward app without too many bells and whistles, but it does have some good touches, such as being able to email your data to a doctor or physician.

When starting the app, you can either login to track your stats over time or you can go without a login, which is handy if you want a friend to try the Kito+. Once in, the next step is to press a small button on the Kito+ to prep the link between it and the smartphone. I found that occasionally this step didn’t always work but turning Bluetooth off and on again usually resolved it.

When successfully connected up, the smartphone shows how to hold the Kito+ and then moves into the measuring mode. This shows a real-time ECG graph and other figures as they are acquired over around 30 seconds. When the measuring phase is done, you can review your vital statistics.

Azoi Kito+ ReadingsAzoi Kito+ ECG

I can’t comment on the accuracy of the figures or the ECG but they seemed to be in the ballpark when I tried to measure my own heart and respiration rate. The blood oxygen measurement didn’t always succeed and it seemed very dependent on correct positioning of fingers and no movement during the test period. However, all the other measurements recorded correctly every time and I never had any figures that were so outlandish as to be unbelievable.

If you are logged into the app as an individual , the data is saved against the date and you can review your historical measurements if desired.

Azoi Kito+

Overall, I think the Azoi Kito+ is a great little device, especially considering the price (GB£100). I can see a number of potential users, from athletes and sportsman, or people who have a heart condition that can use the Kito+ under the guidance of a physician. I’m not medically trained so any docs who read GNC should chip in with comments on their view of the Kito+ and its potential.

For a full unboxing and demo run, there’s a video below. Thanks to Azoi for supplying the Kito+ for review.

 


Ding Smart Doorbell at Gadget Show Live



Ding LogoIn the last of my interviews with participants in the British Inventors’ Project, I’m with Avril from Ding Labs and their Ding Smart Doorbell. She tells me more about it.

At first glance, the doorbell looks the part, dressed in “on trend” minty green. Broadly, there are two parts, the Ding Chime and the Ding Button. Obviously the Button goes outside by the door for visitors and pressing the Button will ring the Chime. In addition to ringing the bell, Ding will make a voice call to the owner’s smartphone so that a two way conversation can take place between the caller and the owner.

Ring Smart Doorbell

The Ding Chime connects via WiFi to the home network and in addition to connecting to a smartphone, there are other communication options such as a text message or a call to a land-line. It’s intended that the Ding Chime will be an easy user fit.

The Ding Smart Doorbell is still under development but the team are aiming to keep the costs down to around GB£100. A Kickstarter is expected in September with delivery in April 2017.


Texting while walking? German city has a solution



We’ve all seem people walking while staring down at their phones, even resulting in some hilarious videos. Even one that went viral a while back when a surveillance camera captured footage a woman in a shopping mall falling into a fountain while staring at the device in her hand.

Now a city in Germany thinks it may have found a solution, or at least a partial one. The town of Augsburg is embedding traffic lights in its sidewalks in hopes that pedestrians may notice while looking down and then not walk out into traffic.

This comes on the heels of a report that showed that 17 percent of pedestrians use their smartphone while in road traffic. To nobody’s surprise, it’s the younger generation that is affected by this phenomena the most. The study also reveals that Amsterdam has the lowest statistics, while Stockholm the highest.

The reports points out that “Across all cities and age groups, just under 8 percent of pedestrians were seen texting while crossing the street. A further 2.6 percent made calls, and around 1.4percent did both at the same time. Around 5 percent wore earplugs or headphones without speaking, so were probably listening to music. As expected, younger pedestrians tended to use their smartphone more frequently than older ones, with use being most intensive in the 25-to-35 age group at 22 percent. Gender-specific differences were apparent: While texting was most common among female pedestrians, men listened to music much more”.

Security firm Sophos points out that “Augsburg’s new pedestrian lights — which the city’s just trialing, at this point — eight LEDs begin to flash red when a tram approaches”.

We’ll see how this works. If it’s effective then we may see it implemented elsewhere, both in Europe and perhaps in the US.


Azoi Kito+ Health Tracker at Gadget Show Live



kito_homepageOnly a slightly bigger than a credit card, the Azoi Kito+ is a personal health tracking device that measures ECG, heart rate (pulse), blood oxygen, skin temperature and respiration rate. I’ve seen the Kito tracker a couple of times now and every time I see it, I’m impressed that such a small device can gather so much data for so little money (GB£99). Miran from Azoi tells me more at Gadget Show Live.

The Kito+ works in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet to measure the five stats mentioned earlier. The user holds the Kito+ with both hands and two fingers from each hand rest on four measurement points for about 20 seconds, during which the time the Kito+ records the data and passes it on to the Kito app. In real-time the app shows the ECG graph trace and other figures are shown once they’ve stabilised.

Azoi Kito+

As can be seen from the picture, the Kito+ can be embedded into phone cases for the Apple iPhone 6-series of smartphone cases. It’s not essential and the Kito+ works fine outside of a case with Android or other Apple devices. The Kito+ isn’t tied to one person, so a whole family can share the unit.

The Kito+ is available now from Azoi’s webstore for GB£99, which I think is great value when you think of the technology and potential value of the data. I’ll be bringing a full review of the Azoi Kito+ to GNC in the next few weeks.


Playbrush Brings Fun to Toothbrushing at Gadget Show Live



Playbrush LogoGood oral hygiene is important for everyone but getting children to brush their teeth can be a bedtime battle. Playbrush should help win the war, bringing fun into the bathroom. I get the toothpaste out with John to find out more about Playbrush and continue coverage of the British Inventors’ Project.

The Playbrush is small bulbous gadget that slips over the handle of a manual toothbrush and turns the toothbrush into a game controller. Communicating via Bluetooth, the toothbrusher plays a game “Utoothia” on their tablet or smartphone, encouraging correct brushing technique and duration. The Playbrush can be shared among a family with game apps supporting up to six people. It’s rechargeable and will last around four-to-six weeks on single charge, depending on use. The games are in both the Apple and Google app stores.

Playbrush with app

Originally a Kickstarter Project, the Playbrush launched back in November and is available now from the Playbrush store for GB£31 (says the store). There’s a bathroom kit for an extra £8 which is a vinyl pocket to hold the smartphone during brushing and keep it toothpaste free. It sticks to tiles or a mirror using suction cups.

I think this is neatly executed idea that’s very affordable, especially as it can be shared with more than one child, though I think Playbrush need a neutral colour that’s not blue or pink!