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.

 

This Ring Light Promises an end to Dull Selfies

Ring lightI’ll admit, as a male growing ever closer to the age of 40, I’m not much of a selfie taker. Regardless, the culture of the selfie is becoming more prominent with each passing day. Like it or not, selfies aren’t going away anytime soon. Proof of this can be found in the proliferation of accessories designed to maximize one’s selfie experience. Most prevalent among these being the selfie stick. And while that particular item may solve one problem when it comes to taking selfies, there are still other pressing selfie-related matters that need to be addressed. Specifically, what do you do when it’s time to take a selfie in low-light conditions? A new ring light called Kira being developed in Japan may have the answer.

This ring light clips onto the top of a smartphone providing a wash of directed, even light towards the holder of the phone. Thus improving the conditions for selfie taking in low-light environments. Kira can easily be stowed in a purse or pocket and then attached to a smartphone as needed. It’s worth nothing that many smartphones don’t have flash LED’s on front-facing cameras. So, Kira is filling a need there. It’s also possible to see uses for this accessory beyond selfies. The ring light could be useful for video chat applications like Skype and FaceTime, too.

Kira is currently raising money thru a Japanese crowdfunding site. No word yet as to when the device might be available for public purchase and/or how much it’ll cost.

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.

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.

Creative Sound Blaster Roar Review

Creative LogoWhile everyone’s eyes have been on drones, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the sleeper hit of the past few years. From low-fi to hi-fi and prices to match, there’s a speaker for everyone. On review here is Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar, a compact portable Bluetooth wireless speaker with NFC, though this description sells it short by a long way. Let’s take a look.

To start with, the SoundBlaster Roar is about the size of four DVD boxes stacked on top of each other, though it’s a bit narrower (57 x 202 x 115 mm). It’s no lightweight either with a bit of mass (1.1 kg), which is reassuring when it comes speakers. There’s metal mesh on four sides and a swathe of controls, slots and sockets on the fifth with soft touch rubber which spills over onto the top. The design itself won a Red Dot Award in 2014.

Creative Roar

Some of the controls are self-evident such as the power button and volume controls, but it’s not immediately apparent why there are buttons for record, play and pause. Even more surprising and concerning is the switch marked “ARM”, which fortunately is in the off position for now.

The Roar is much more than a Bluetooth wireless speaker. It’s a hands-free speaker phone, a USB digital sound card, an MP3 player, an audio recorder, microSD card reader, a battery pack and a siren. It’s quite the box of tricks with versatility to take it from the office to the party.

Powering up the Roar plays a satisfying little jingle – it’s on and ready to rock. Starting with the basics and playing music from a smartphone, it’s straightforward to pair the Roar, with a choice of two techniques. Pair via the normal Bluetooth passcode or else swipe the NFC hotspot on the Roar to automatically set the pairing, assuming your device has NFC.

With the pairing done, it’s time to play some music. Given Creative’s long history in audio, it’s not unsurprising that the Roar sounds good. For it’s size, it’s very good indeed which rich sound that’s far bigger than the box itself. To achieve this presence, the Roar houses five speakers in the unit’s body, with sets of speakers tuned to deliver in the bass, mid and high frequency ranges. For extra volume, the ROAR button will turn it up to eleven, through it needs to be plugged into the mains to get maximum volume output.

The Roar is a portable speaker and as a necessity there’s a built-in battery that according the specs gives eight hours of playback. I’m not going to disagree with that – it’s in the right space. The Roar can be recharged either from a supplied power brick or via micro-USB through a port on the rear. There’s a full size USB port too for recharging other devices such as smartphones and tablets from the Roar. Battery status is shown by three round green LEDs on the top.

That’s the main presentation out of the way and if that’s all that’s needed from a portable wireless speaker, the Roar delivers well and is worthy of closer inspection.

Creative Roar

But it’s so much more. As the speaker pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, it’s not entirely unexpected that Roar doubles up as a speakerphone. In use, call quality was good and echo was minimal, and unlike most speakerphones, the audio from the phone call can be recorded to the inserted microSD card. Potentially a useful feature, but check the legality of recording conversations in the relevant jurisdiction.

The Roar works as a USB audio device too, and installation is largely limited to plugging a USB cable between the PC and Roar. Windows auto-loads the drivers and a few seconds later, the Roar is good to go to play music (and other sounds) from the PC. In this mode, the Roar is powered by the PC and the battery charges up as well. The Roar complements music streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music.

Next up, the Creative Roar can work as a standalone music speaker. Load up a microSD card with mp3s and pop it into the Roar. There are simple controls for play, next track, previous track, repeat and shuffle.

Finally, returning to the ARM button, the Roar has a siren feature. Arm the unit with the switch at the top and press the Alarm button to get a whoop-whoop siren to get everyone’s attention. What more could you want?

Overall this a portable wireless speaker that is crammed full of features and the Roar is everything you need for music on the go, in the office or at home. It’s a great sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, call recorder, MP3 player, USB digital sound card, battery pack and personal alarm in a portable package costing GB£129. There’s nothing to quibble about here, though I’d really like to see it in yellow. Available now from good retailers and direct from Creative’s store.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the Roar.

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)

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.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.