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Ten years on and still going strong

Anyone who knows me will scoff when I say I’m not a fan of Apple, as if this was news but I do respect Cupertino’s impact on shaping technology as we know it today. The release of the original iPhone, 10 years ago, was an inventive leap forward as it combined a variety of different mobile functionality in a device that was easy to use and a eye catching. More importantly it changed the way people interact with the internet using applications that allowed people to complete a variety of task online rather than just the retrieval of information through a browser. Steve Jobs genius was however in the packaging not necessarily the concept as the iPhone has from it’s exception been an object attached with a certain status due in part to the existing main stream popularity of the iPod and the premium look of the device. In many ways this pathway to success hasn’t changed and persists in Apple’s latest announcements.

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iPhone 8 and 8 plus

The incremental update, the iPhone 8 and its big brother from the outside are not all that different from the iPhone 7 with the same albeit reinforced chassis. However, as with all such updates it comes with more power under the hood with a new six core A11 “Bionic” chip which are made up two low performance cores  and four high performance cores supposedly 25% and 75% respectably faster than the those in A10 chip. This is no where near enough to entice iPhone 7 owners to upgrade but those considering trading in an iPhone 6 or older to consider cashing in and is where the real value lies.

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Beyond the additional power upgrade the iPhone 8 comes with the  fairly standard additional changes common to such an upgrade. An improved 12 MP camera with better IR filter and ‘deeper pixels’ to improve image quality with AR functionality. In terms of features the major change is the introduction of wireless charging and the addition of fast charging which give 50% charge in 30 minutes. No doubt these are welcomed by iPhone uses but nothing ground breaking as they have been in Android phones for years. I know one thing that definitely wasn’t welcomed by fans was the $50 USD increase in price from the iPhone 7 launch as it seems that handset just keep getting more expensive.

iPhone X

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The big news was Apple’s release of an extra “premium” handset named to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their original innovation. The phone boasts a new look following the lead of other handset makers like Samsung and LG to implement a bezel less display. However, it lacks the curved sides of the Galaxy 8 and the notch at the top of the screen for the camera and additional senses gives it a somewhat unique appearance.  Interestingly Apple has also decided to go for a glass back to give the handset a premium feel, considering my own experience with the Galaxy 8 and it’s fragile finish I personally feel this is another example of design over functionality.

Of course there would be no point increasing the size of the screen without up grading the resolution with an OLED Super Retina display. The new panel brings a significant boast with 2436-by-1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi however this is still well below the Quad HD and Super AMOLED 2960 by 1440 screen on the Galaxy 8 which boast a massive 570 ppi. Like the iPhone 8 the new handset is powered by the latest A11 ‘Bionic’ chip and of course the new charging capabilities. These impressive internals also drive the new facial recognition system which is the handsets main innovation as it takes the irises recognition of the Galaxy 8 and pushes it to the next level. The new technology is able to track facial features and use this not only to unlock your phone and authorise payments but also allow for the creation of ‘animojis’ (animated Emojis) based on your own expressions which I know is going to be a hit with kids at school.

Possibly Apple’s most courageous decision is the lose of the home button which is gone completely to allow for the new display. Interestingly they haven’t played it safe like Samsung who solved this dilemma on the Galaxy 8 through an on-screen home button. Instead Apple has chosen to change the way uses interact with the handset by creating a host of different swiping options to cover the functionality. Reading a run down of some of these commands and changes from Chris Smith at BGR it seems overly complicated. Apple may view the home button the same way as the headphone jack, no great lose, but since it does require people to relearn how to use the phone I’m sure it will be the source of criticism. I could be wrong but it reminds me a little of Microsoft’s decision to ditch the start menu with Windows 8 as users struggled to adjust and eventually the overwhelming criticism lead to the reintroduction of the familiar feature in Windows 10. However, Apple has a fanatically loyal fan base which has historically ignored many of the more recent little miss steps from the tech giant so it could amount to nothing.

The absence of the home button isn’t going to be the only thing that frustrates Apple fans as no doubt the price tag won’t be greeted with many fist pumps. At $999 USD ($1579 AUD) for 64 GB and $1149 USD ($1829 AUD) for the 256 GB option the it is the most expensive iPhone by a significant margin. $300 USD more expensive than the iPhone 8 and $200 USD more expensive than the 8 plus. It begs the question whether the screen and Face ID is worth the pain to the hip pocket.

Final Thoughts

10 years on and Apple has released something a little bit different from the old incremental update and have shown that they are still willing to take risks. Yet it isn’t the ‘revolution’ and ‘future’ of technology that some would have you believe as it neither does anything meaningful beyond existing competitors and has no real capacity to change the way we live. To suggest otherwise is really just an insult to what Steve Jobs achieved with the original iPhone 10 years ago, a device that really change the world and pushed technology forward.

MWC A Windows rebirth

Samsung and LG may have captured the attention of most the tech world at the start of MWC but they weren’t on their own. The HP Elite X3 made more than a few people take notice thanks to its high-end specs and the decision to embrace Microsoft’s unpopular mobile OS. It was undoubtedly a headline act of a successful show for the boys at Redmond with more phone makers jumping on board the 2 in 1 train, some specialised heavy-duty devices and even a nice shiny reward.

HP Elite X3

The stats on HP’s first foray into the phone market for two years match anything offered by Android manufacturing. A snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM, expandable memory, 16 megapixel camera, 2HD 5.96 inch display and water resistance maintains the same standard set by Samsung and LG. Yet the Elite also packs in a massive 4150mAh battery which even outpaces the G5 with the additional modal and an iris scanner for windows hello.

The numbers are impressive but what makes the Elite x3 standout is the Continuum feature of Windows 10. This allows the phone to act as a desktop PC with mouse and keyboard support with the help of the HP Desk Dock which also provides USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 and 950xl have shown of this versatility before but HP have taken it a step further with Mobile Extender which turns the phone into a laptop. Using the power of Windows 10 HP have created a phone which could conceivably replace your computer, at least in a casual sense. Unsurprisingly the Elite x3 is aimed at enterprise but hopefully we will see a commercial release as it appears to be the high-end flagship that Windows Mobile has been screaming but is it enough. Check out the hands on from Techradar from the show floor and make up your own mind.

Huawei Matebook

The other major Windows 10 hardware announcement was a portable 2 in 1 Surface inspired PC from this notable phone manufacturer. Huawei is not the first to jump from the unprofitable and bleak pack of Android tablets as Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab Pro S last month at CES. If anything was obvious at MWC it’s that the future of tablets is the PC and consumers will see more competition between phone makers and traditional OEM’s.

As you might expect the MateBook is a 12 inch tablet with detachable keyboard and stylus in keeping with the Surface formula. Users have a choice of Intel processors up to the m7 and 4 or 8 GB of RAM with a whole day of battery life. This makes it slightly less expensive option compared to the Surface Pro but the MateBook doesn’t offer the same performance as the more expensive Pro 4 configurations and is probably more suited to casual PC uses. Looking at the price breakdown in this Gizmodo review it seems that Huawei may have got ahead of themselves as the Matebook doesn’t come in too much below the entry-level Surfaces but we will just have to wait and see.

Best of the rest

These two announcements may have stolen the spotlight for any other windows announcements but they weren’t the only things on offer. Vaio showed off the 5.5 inch Phone Biz handset hat also supports desktop like functionality through Continuum but with a snapdragon 617 processor and 3 GB of RAM it’s more of a mid range option. Unlikely to be seen in western markets the Phone Biz is a well put together and sleek device joining the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL and Acer Jade Primo announced at CES showing support for Microsoft’s mobile platform. The guys from Redmond weren’t to be left out announcing the budget Lumia 650 which has a more premium look than other Lumia handset but with low end specs is only meant to be an affordable option.

Similarly the MateBook was not the only windows 10 tablet announced at MWC with Alcatel adding to its Windows lineup with the Plus 10, a 10 inch tablet with 4G LTE keyboard. These Surface like combinations are starting flood the market but the Alcatel is a little unusual as it has 4G connectivity built into the keyboard alongside extra battery life rather than the tablet itself. Personally this seems a little odd as the ideal time to rely on 4G would be when using the device as a tablet without the keyboard. Even so if priced right LTE connectivity is a rarity on windows tablets and it might bring strong interest. Another unusual device obviously designed for a niche market is the Panasonic Tough Pad FZ-F1 which is a 4.7 inch phone like tablet meant for heavy-duty environments. It’s a device created with a single focus in mind to replace the bulky hand help PDA used by postal workers and the like. A more mainstream announcement was the raft of yoga transformers from Lenovo which is using so many different numbers to distinguish the line it’s starting to have an identity crisis.

The icing on the cake

The highlight of Microsoft’s MWC may have been more symbolic as the Surface Pro went back to back winning the award for best mobile tablet and beating out all its fiercest rivals including the iPad Pro. It’s more than this victory however as it is clear that the slate has changed the consumer perception of what a tablet should be since everyone is coping the formula. Microsoft will be hoping that this success might be able to filter into mobile with new exciting hardware in the Elite X3 to get consumers interested. Who knows? Maybe the boys at Redmond might give us another surprise at Build which is now only about a month away.

Here’s hoping,
Jono

CES wrap up

The consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is done for another year and the tech world is already turning its eyes towards MWC in a couple of weeks. However, I thought we should take a look at the major trends appearing this year and what it means practically for consumers in the real world.

Automotive
To nobody’s great surprise major car companies used CES to showcase everything to hydrogen powered cars to the latest in driverless car technical. New concepts from BMW and a new player in Faraday Future may have captured people’s attention but it was other announcements that are more likely to make a difference in the consumer market. Mainstream manufacturers Kia with is Drive Wise range of semi to fully autonomous vehicles, Toyota FCV hydrogen powered concept and Ford’s Smart mobility program which includes current road testing of experimental driverless cars all put forward an exciting vision of the future. In addition, Volkswagen unveiled the BUDD-e an electric powered van and Chevrolet showed off their own take on the electric car in the Bolt. It’s no wonder that CES is become the Car Electronics Show. As wonderful as all this sounds however it’s important to remember that a lot of these plans won’t start becoming a reality until 2020 not least of which because of the need for uninterrupted internet connectivity.

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BMW i8 Spyder3

 

Drones and Robotics
The CES floor was no doubt buzzing with new drones but the biggest announcement was the Yuneec’s Typhoon H. Using Intel’s Real Sense technology and Sonar senses the Typhoon H is able to avoid large obstacles in conjunction with the standard high end features it isn’t surprisingly that it captured a fair amount of attention. Most of the other announcements like the DJI Inspire Pro 1 and Phantom 4K offered upgrades to existing models. On the robotics side it was undoubtedly the Ninebot the collaboration between Segway, Intel and Xiaomi. No word yet on price but I suspect when it hits the market late this year that it will be out of reach for most consumers.

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Internet of Things
Just in case you have been living under a rock the new age of computing connects all kinds of device to the internet in order to make our lives easier. The IoT is yet to really take off with consumers but with big announcements from Intel with the Curie and Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft might mean that this is the year that IoT starts building for the future. Intel’s plan with New Balance to print custom shoe inserts caught my interest as it might offer everyone with flat feet like myself an easier solution.

Virtual and Augmented reality
The biggest news in VR broke before the convention got started with Oculus Rift announcing their pricing for their long awaited headset. A $600 US price tag seemed to get a few people upset but considering the price of other products and the inclusion of an Xbox One controller this appears reasonable. Now if any US techies really want to get worked up they can think about the $920 plus postage for Australian preorders, now that’s ridiculous. In addition, the other major developers including HTC and Sony used CES to demo new virtual reality content and their latest builds. One thing is for certain 2016 is definitely going to be the year of VR.

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Oculus pre-order package

Mobile
MWC in February is when most phone and tablet makers except Apple announce their major product news but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring anything to Vegas. Acer showed off their first Windows 10 handset the Liquid Jade Primo while the Huawei Honor 5X seemed like a premium Android handset. At the more affordable end LG’s K series and Alcatel’s Windows and Android phones got plenty of attention. PC makers seem to be following Microsoft’s lead making more hybrid Surface like devices that focus a little more on sleek design. Out of all these tablet convertibles my favourite was definitely the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S, a high-end Windows 10 tablet with a full keyboard cover. Notably this marks the first time that the Galaxy brand has not been associated with Android suggesting that Samsung has recognised the benefits of Windows in the tablet market, we will just have to wait and see if this trend continues.

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Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises.  In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant.  So lets break it down …

Microsoft Band 2

The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory,  personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience.  The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool,  robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization,  USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.

Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices.  Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately,  most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.

I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only  for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace.  Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.

Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads.  Both realising the importance of getting  their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.

I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.

Till then,

Jono

Making the Switch: Windows Phone to Android

It’s been a while but I thought my decision to upgrade phones and jump on the Samsung bandwagon would make for a good post. Now, first of all I would like to point out that I have been a happy Windows phone user since I got my HTC Mozart more than 4 years ago and it was with some regret that I found it was time to upgrade my Lumia 920. My decision instead was motivated by hardware and the annoying lack of a new Microsoft flagship with up to date specs. The choice going forward was easy since I have had experience using both iOS and Android, the latters static icons, closed hardware and obsession with adaptors made up my mind.  So lets get down to it my phone is a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge running Android lollipop with the TouchWiz UI so my comments are not based on Google’s stock OS.

Lumia 920 Galaxy S6 Edge

The Good

One of the features that has made my transition easy are Widgets as they act similar to the live tiles available on  Windows Phone with both providing snippets of information for easy, quick consumption. The added bonus on Android is that not only do widgets show information but depending on the application have limited functionality. In conjunction with the improved ecosystem this has been a big win in making the change from Windows phone. Although I have never been obsessed with an endless supply of pointless applications that complete tasks that can already be done using the internet if it had a flash plug in the quality of official and major apps is a big improvement. The other area where I see a massive benefit in usability is Android’s ability to multitask, bring up open applications and close them all at once.

The Bad

My major criticism of Android and iOS has always been the layout of the homescreen into pages with a specific amount of real estate unlike the continuous scrolling Start Screen found on Windows phone. Now I realise that this is being a bit picky but I can’t deal with gaps on the homepage so I end up finding apps and widgets to fill up the left over real estate. Its not just all aesthetics however as I’m missing the inbuilt email client found in Windows phone as it was easy to use and allowed me to pin individual inboxes to the start screen. However, my main criticism is the insane amount of bloatware from Google’s range apps to Samsung’s own concoctions that manage to do the exact same thing. Now I’m not saying that Windows Phone doesn’t come with its own set of apps that can’t be uninstalled but its a much shorter list.

The Verdict

Overall I am content with my decision as I am quickly adapting to using Samsung’s version of Android and the larger range of apps has been good. However, I am not ruling out a return to Windows Phone in the future when Microsoft finally releases some top of the range hardware. I hope this opens some peoples eyes about being willing to change ecosystems in the future as most of the things ways we use our phones aren’t that different and making the jump doesn’t take long if you have an open mind.

Cheers

Jono