Sony Xperia Z2 – A Few Months Later: Z Life

Sony have been trying really hard to getting their game right in the flagship module. The Xperia Z1 was not really up to the mark, primarily because of the screen, but they had got it right with the build quality and waterproofing. They also struck the right balance with the Z1 compact which is still regarded as the best sub flagship mini in the market right now.

So lets find out if they have got it right with this year’s flagship the Xperia Z2, after a few months of use.

On the face of it, the Xperia Z2 has all the bells and whistles one expects out of a flagship. It packs in the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC with 3GB RAM on board. They have also tweaked the UI.

Xperia Z2 First Boot

Quick Look at the specs

Operating System : Android KitKat 4.4.2 (as of testing)

Dimension : 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2mm. 163g.

Camera : 20.7MP autofocus camera with a 1/2.3″ Exmor RS sensor and F/2.0 Sony G Lens.

2160p video recording @ 30fps, [email protected] 60fps, [email protected] 120fps.

2.2MP front camera with 1080p video recording.

Display : 5.2″ 16M-color 1080p IPS capacitive touchscreen Triluminos display (424ppi pixel density) with X-Reality engine

Processor : Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset (MSM8974AB): quad-core 2.3GHz Krait 400 CPU, 3 GB of RAM, Adreno 330 GPU

Memory & Storage : 3GB RAM + 16GB inbuilt storage. Expandable upto 128GB.

Battery :  3,200mAh battery

Colours : White, Black and Purple.

Design and Handling

The Sony Xperia Z2 has 5.2” Full HD display with a pixel density of 424 ppi. This coupled with the X-Reality Engine results in a gorgeous display. The phone is packaged in a mixture aluminum and scratch resistant glass. The back is completely finished in scratch resistant glass and feels really classy and great to hold. It definitely feels like an expensive phone.

Sony Xperia Z2 Front Home Screen

The phone has no unnecessary undulations or uneven surfaces like camera bumps. The front and the back are completely flat and minimalistic, adding to the classy look. As mentioned, the rear is made of glass (Sony classifies it as scratch proof and shatter resistant). So far, it has not shown signs of wear, although the phone hasn’t really hit the pavement so far.

Sony Xperia Z2 Glass Back

Coming to the controls, there is a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the top along with a secondary microphone for stereo sound video recording. The right holds the Power button, the volume controls, the microSD card slot and the camera button. The bottom has the microphone. the left side holds the SIM tray and the micro USB port. While the flap covering the USB is a little fiddly for day-to-day charging, you do have pogo pins that can be used with a charging dock or snap -on magnetic cables for easy charging. It does not have Qi Wireless Charging though. Even though the flap makes the phone dust and water-proof, opening the flap for charging daily and closing it back later does allow some grime to collect at the edges, as evident from the photo below.

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The Z2 gets stereo speakers for quality output, one located at the top and one at the bottom. It isn’t as loud or rich sounding as the “Boomsound” speakers on the HTC M8, but it is not that far behind.

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There is a 2.2MP camera on the front. The back holds the 20.7 MP autofocus camera with a single LED flash.

Display and User Interface

The Z2 comes with Android KitKat 4.4 out of the box. It was also, the company’s first phone to do so. The UI is pretty similar to the previous versions on Z1 and Z1 compact with a few nips and tucks.

Starting with the lockscreen, like most smartphones these days it supports widgets on every pane. You can also go straight to the camera from the lockscreen, a feature of KitKat. Security wise you get the usual Face, Pattern, PIN or Password Unlock.

Enter the homescreen and you will be greeted with five panes which can be customized. You can add or remove panes, seven being the maximum. Any of these panes can be made default and a press of the home button will take straight to the default pane.

The phone comes inbuilt with a host of static and live wallpapers and as with all Xperia devices, the theme can also be changed using the Theme Chooser. There are a few inbuilt themes and you can also download themes from the Sony Select  app or from the Play Store, where you can find third party themes and customize your phone as per your need.

It’s a similar story with the app drawer. Swipe from the left and you can sort apps in the app drawer manually, alphabetically, most used and most recently installed. You can also define your own order. Searching for an app shouldn’t be difficult as the search option comes in handy. Uninstalling an app can also be done from here.

The Notification draw and the Quick settings have been split now to give space for more information and shortcuts at ease. Swiping down from the top of the screen with one finger reveals the Notification draw and with two fingers reveals the Quick Settings.  The Quick settings toggles can be customized and one can choose from over 20 different toggles.

One new app in the Z2 is the What’s New. As the name indicates the app tell you what’s hot and happening the the app world and as well as keeps you updated with multimedia. It also displays the latest from the Sony Playstation Store as well. Unfortunately, this service is offered as one short-cut when you swipe up from the home button, along with Google Now.

Sony keeps updating it’s stock apps from time to time, adding new functions, though this is handled by the Sony Updater and not via the Play Store like Motorola and HTC have been doing of late.

Battery

The Z2 comes packaged with a massive 3200 mAh battery. We threw everything possible at it, gaming, browsing, extensive camera use and we were still able to manage more than day’s usage on a single charge. The Power Manager lets you toggle between various settings to squeeze the most out your battery.

The STAMINA mode lets you disable mobile data and WiFi when the screen if off, but the clever thing is you can turn on data only for a set of applications which is user defined. It can also restrict device performance to squeeze that extra juice out of your battery. You can set all this to be done ‘Always’ or when your battery goes down a certain percentage.

The phone also has location based WiFi which essentially activates WiFi only when certain saved WiFi signals are in range.

 

Camera

The camera is a 20.7 MP unit which is the same as the ones in the Z1 and the Z1 compact. We have already seen the improvements in imaging in the Z1 compact over the Z1 using the same camera unit. Lets find out how different it is in the Z2.

The camera unit comes with a Exmor RS backside illuminated 1/ 2.3” sensor, which is about 70% bigger than the standard 1/3”. The lens is a 27mm wide angle Sony G Lens with f/2.0 aperture and BIONZ image processor. It captures images with a maximum resolution of 5248 x 3936 in 4:3 aspect ratio.

The Layout is pretty simple and all your basic and commonly used controls are just a click. The Camera module is supported by an array of filters and modes. As with the Z1 you get a Superior Auto mode, manual mode, burst mode, background defocus, creative effect, AR Effect and many more.

The results are a mixed bag, there are some features that we liked and some which are not up to standard. Images are best captured in Superior Auto Mode but unfortunately the resolution of these images maxes out at 8MP. The Manual does  let you shoot in 20.7 MP but the results are not upto a flagship phone mark. There is plenty of detail  but it still doesn’t match up to the S5 in sharpness and color accuracy.

The HDR mode is quite a letdown as all it does is brightens up the image without preserving detail. The images look blown out and the colors look washed out.

The Z2 offers quite a lot when it comes to videos. For starters it offers 4K video capture at 30fps but it is limited to just 5 minutes. There is also an option of recording Full HD videos at either 30fps or 60fps. It is also capable of capturing 720p videos at 120fps. Audio is captured in stereo mode and is pretty impressive. There is no optical image stabilization on board but the digital image stabilization does the part pretty efficiently.

One interesting video feature is the Timeshift video, which captures videos in 720p at 120 fps an then lets you slow down selected moments in the video, unlike the S5 which captures the whole video in 120fps. This feature was first seen in the iPhone 5s but it could slow down only one part of the video. Sony has bettered this feature and you can slow down multiple parts of a video.

Low light performance is pretty good too. We were able to capture some really amazing low light photos without the use of flash. The flash itself isnt very harsh on subjects and lights up the area pretty damn well.

One thing that we have noticed though, is that the camera performance has improved over time with different firmware updates from Sony. So we hope that with future updates, it will get even better.

The front camera is a 2.2MP unit and it performs like any other front camera unit on the market, it is able to capture Full HD video and does its part.

Performance

The Snapdragon 801 processor is a tried and tested processor and we didn’t encounter any lags or glitches in heavy usage. It isn’t the top of the line MSM8974AC, but there’s nothing really lacking in the SOC. The onboard 3GB RAM is a boon and gives the phone that extra edge. We were able to comfortably able to switch between applications while playing games. One problem we encounter though is that the phone does heat up when subjected to heavy usage, especially when using the 4K video capture. This is very uncomfortable and thankfully the phone force shuts the camera app before it can get any worse..

The graphics are pretty impressive, we tried a couple of action games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Batman:Arkham Asylum and the detail of the game play was on par with its competitors.

Connectivity and Browser

The default browser was satisfactory in all aspects. We threw whatever possible at it and it renders content smooth and fast. Zooming into content renders smooth and crisp fonts and images, thanks to the 1080p screen. Videos too ran smooth and we didn’t encounter any sorts of lag during browsing.

Coming to the connectivity side, unfortunately, the Z2 does not support Band 40 (2300 MHz TDD LTE) for LTE service in India, which is a bit of a letdown. It does support Dual-Band WiFi along with 802.11 ac, which is a good thing, assuming you have a capable router (and network connection). Having said that, we had no real issues (aside from the lack of LTE) and if you’re in an area which is not covered by LTE (which basically means most of India right now), you won’t miss the LTE support (or lack thereof).

Conclusion

The Xperia Z2 is quite the step up from its older siblings, the phone has got a very sophisticated, neat and classy look to it. The gorgeous screen is complimented by the powerful Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM onboard. There were very few moments where the phone let us down. Sure the still Camera module is still not up to the mark, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker as its Video capabilities make up for it. In the past, Sony really did not bother with firmware updates, but things have changed and they are among the first of the non Nexus/Motorola devices to get updates to the newer versions of android. The Z2 definitely has what it takes to be a high quality flagship and also a big thumbs up from our side. The only thing to note is that Sony is on a 6 month release cycle (as of this article, the Xperia Z3 is already available in some markets). The flipside is that you can now get the Z2 for cheaper when the Z3 rolls out at their top end phone.

Lenovo Vibe Z review : What’s your Vibe?

Lenovo Vibe Z K910

Lenovo entered the Smartphone market very recently and have launched few if not many interesting phones. The K800 and the K900 were one the first few phones to be running on Intel’s Atom processor. In January 2014 the company bought Motorola from Google. The company was also recently listed as the world’s fourth largest Smartphone manufacturer. The future for world’s largest PC maker in the Smartphone market is, I must say, looking very bright.

VT's 1020_20140525_18_51_53_Raw

The company’s flagship model the Lenovo Vibe Z was announced last year and comes with all bells and whistles to battle the likes of the Samsung S4 and the HTC One. So let’s find if this flagship will match up to the segment leaders.

Quick look at the specs

  • Operating System – Android 4.3
  • Dimension – 149.1 x 77 x 7.9 mm, 145.2 g.
  • Camera – Sony IMX13513 MP f1/1.8, 4128 x 3096 pixels, autofocus, LED flash, 1080p video at 30fps. 5 MP front facing camera.
  • Display – IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors. 1080 x 1920 pixels, 5.5 inches with 401 ppi pixel density.
  • Processor – QualcommSnapdragon 800.
  • Memory & Storage – 2 GB RAM + 16GB storage. Non-expandable.
  • Battery – 3000 mAh Li-Po, i.e Lithium Polymer, battery rated for 33 hours of talk time on 3G and up to  26 days stand by on 3G.
  • Colours – Silver and Titanium.

Design and Handling

VT's 1020_20140525_18_52_30_Raw

The Lenovo Vibe Z has a massive 5.5” 1080×1920 display and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The phone is pretty large and is not comfortable for one handed use. The bezels on the sides and the bottom could have been a little thinner for better handling. But this is not really a deal breaker. The phone is really light for its size at just 145.2 g, other 5.5” phones like the Galaxy Note 3 weighs 168g and the LG G Pro weighs in at 172g. Some of its weight can be credited to its battery, Li-Po batteries are believed to be thinner and lighter when compared to standard Li ion batteries.

Lenovo have put in a lot of effort to make the phone look good and we really appreciate the effort. The back panel is finished either in Titanium or Black and I should say that both feel really good and premium.

Lenovo VibeZ Back With Camera

The power button is placed on the top right hand corner and the volume rocker is on the left hand side. The phone uses a micro SIM and the tray for the same has been placed on the right hand side. The microphone is at the bottom of the screen, just below the glass area. The 3.5 mm headset jack is placed on the top left corner and the micro USB charging port is placed at the bottom. All in all, the phone feels really good to hold and gives you a premium and expensive feeling. A micro SD port will be sorely missed.

There are three capacitive keys placed at the bottom for navigation. The home button is placed at the center, the back button to the right and the options menu to the left.

Display and User Interface

The 5.5” display has a resolution of 1080×1920 with a pixel density of 401 ppi . While, this may not be on par with the 441 ppi of the Galaxy S4, the difference is minimal. The fonts in the browser look very crisp and so do the pictures.

The phone comes bundled with a heavily modified Android 4.3 and the layout is clean and simple. The colors of the icons and the system wide features are pleasing to the eyes. There are a lot of customizable options to make your phone distinguishable. The phone comes inbuilt with a Theme Center, where one can choose from an array of themes. Each theme comes with its own set of icons and widget designs, to suit everyone’s taste.

Theme Center

Once you switch on the phone, it’s not difficult to notice that the App Drawer is missing. This means that every app installed will be added on to the desktop and as apps increase in number it becomes a must to sort out your apps into folders.

Multi-Tasking-Lenovo-VibeZ

The Multi Window feature enables one to make full use of the 5.5” screen and toggle between two apps on the home screen. This lets you read a book and browse the internet in parallel without having to switch between the apps. Lenovo have included a lot nice features to play around with, Smart Answer automatically answers an incoming call when placed near your ear. Smart Call, makes a call to the person whose contact or message you are viewing without having to hit the dial button. Smart Dial is a feature which alters the size of the dialer keys based on the angle of the phone to favor one handed use, a useful feature considering the size of the phone.

Wide Touch is a one-shortcut access to all your favorite apps and system toggles. It basically provides you with an ease of access shortcut window where you can organize all your favorite and frequently used apps. As mentioned it also provides you with a shortcut to all the system toggles like wifi, Bluetooth etc. It is similar to Apple’s own AssistiveTouch feature.

The phone comes inbuilt with a lot of Lenovo proprietary apps, Lenovo calls it the DOit series of apps. The SHAREit enables you the share photos, videos, apps and other data to a paired devices or a group of devices. The CLONEit feature in this app lets you import all your files to a selected device. This is a nice addition provided the receiver device also has SHAREit installed which is available in the Google Play Store. We tried SHAREit with a Lenovo – Non Lenovo pairing we found data transfer to be considerably faster than normal bluetooth transfer.

SECUREit protects your phone from viruses, spam and malware. SYNCit helps you backup or restore your contacts, messages and call logs. SNAPit is your Camera and SEEit is your Gallery. Although on our device, SNAPit and SEEit came preinstalled as Camera and Gallery.

Lenovo have tied up with Gameloft to provide some very popular paid games at a discounted price. The Amazing Spiderman 2 for instance regularly available at Rs 390 is available for Rs 20 in the Gameloft store.

The phone has an inbuilt FM radio with a recording option. We did record a song over the radio and the quality of the recording was far from impressive.

Driving Apps

Drive mode gives users only those essential apps that one might need while driving, without the use of hands ofcourse. The user interface is pretty simple and and gives you access only to Navigation, Messages, Music and Telephone. Voice recognition is not upto the mark, but we were able to get what we needed after certain trials.

Battery

The 3000 mAh battery that powers the Lenovo Vibe Z is pretty powerful. We threw everything possible at it, gaming, browsing, extensive camera use and we were still able to manage more than day’s usage on a single charge. The Power Manager lets you toggle between various settings to squeeze the most out your battery.

Battery

Running really low on charge? Don’t fret, the Ultimate Saving Mode, will turn off all data connections making available only messaging, dialer, contacts and clock to access the screen also turns mostly black with white and blue to conserve power.

Camera

The Camera unit is a Sony IMX13513 MP f1/1.8, as you can see it is a pretty fast lens. The camera is pretty quick to take photos. Though it is a 13 MP unit, you will be able to capture a maximum of 12 MP at 4160×3120 pixels at a 4:3 ratio. For a 16:9 ratio one will have to settle for a maximum of 9 MP at 4160×2340 pixels. The volume keys can be used for digital zoom.

The camera offers a lot in terms of feature, if you are not an auto camera mode kind of person there are options to alter ISO, White Balance, Metering and the likes. Here is a list of other features available.

  • HDR for photos
  • Dual shot mode with the front and the rear camera.
  • Macro mode.
  • Smile shot.
  • Super night mode, for nice night shots.
  • Burst mode.
  • Self-timer.

There are also other useful features like

  • Eraser – This erases unwanted objects in your picture.
  • Group
  • Normal Gif
  • Magic GIF – Capture a GIF and make edits with some coloured markers.

Apart from these there is huge list of filters available at your fingertip. Oh and by the way they give you a live preview too.

The HDR mode works pretty well for those pictures where the light hits the lens directly. In the attached pic you can see that the detail captured around Jerry is pretty commendable, the colors look natural too. We also captured an outdoor picture in HDR, in the picture 2 you can clearly see that we get more blues in the sky but the reds and the greens don’t look natural.

The Camera is capable to capturing full HD videos at 30 fps. Sadly, there is nothing more to write about the video capture, unlike the Galaxy S4 you don’t get an option to shoot at 60 fps, neither there are any slow motion options. There is no HDR mode for the video either. So all you get is a straight forward 1080p video at 30fps.

The 5MP front facing camera can be described as selfie oriented and why not? We were really impressed by the detail and the quality of the photos taken by the front camera. The lens fills in enough light and is quick to capture photos. The front snapper is also capable to capturing full HD videos. We have to say that it is one of the best front facing cameras we have ever used.

Performance

The Snapdragon 800 processor is a tried and tested processor and we didn’t encounter any lags or glitches in heavy usage. The onboard 2GB RAM does help smooth and speedy performance. We were able to comfortably able to switch between applications while playing games. One problem we encounter though is that the phone does heat up when subjected to heavy usage. This is not that uncomfortable, but it is definitely noticeable.

The graphics are pretty impressive, we threw a couple of action games like Frontline Commander and Real Steel and the detail of the imaging were on par with its competitors.

Connectivity and Browser

The default browser was satisfactory in all aspects. We threw whatever possible at it and it renders content smooth and fast. Zooming into content renders smooth and crisp fonts and images, thanks to the 1080p screen. Videos too ran smooth and we didn’t encounter any sorts of lag during browsing.

Telephony , Gallery and Music player

The phone comes with Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic and does a really good job of cutting out noise. We didn’t encounter any voice related problems or disturbance on either side of a call.

The Gallery is given a really nice touch. You can view photos and videos either through albums or all at once. The photos are nicely spaced out and thumbnails appear as squares or rectangles. These thumbnails also act as live tiles, which is really nice touch.

Jigsaw is an inbuilt gallery extension where you can choose photos and arrange them in predefined collage templates.

There is a very clever option to view only portraits or landscape photos. The gallery automatically filters out only portraits or landscapes based on option chosen.

The phone doesn’t come with any proprietary Lenovo music player. We tested its music capabilities with the Play music app. We were really blown away with the performance of the bundled earphones, the sound is crisp and clear. The bass boost is accurate and not overdone. We also like the build quality of the earphones, they are definitely built to last. The loudspeaker is placed at the back at the bottom, the surface of the phone is slightly curved here making sure the speaker is not blocked when placed on its back. This also helps in reflecting sound and the final result is pretty good.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Vibe Z definitely has the vibe of a flagship smartphone, there’s not really much to not like about the phone. The build quality is excellent, though the camera has its downsides it still performs well for everyday use. It’s also priced pretty well at around Rs 30,000, the Exynos Galaxy S4 is priced about the same, but it’s not a Snapdragon. There is a lot to like about the phone, we really loved the 5 MP front facing camera, the sound clarity is crisp. All in all, the Lenovo Vibe Z gets a big Thumbs Up from My Portable World.

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Moto G: A Few Months Later

The first phone that Motorola Mobility had launched as a Google company, the Moto X, proved that you don’t need top end specs to provide a good user experience. It didn’t have the latest processor, highest resolution screen and the features it did add, for the most part, were lauded by reviewers all over. The limited availability (it was US and Canada only for the first 6 months and only recently launched in Europe) and relatively high launch price aside, it proved that for a phone, it’s the whole, integrated package that counts. The second Motorola phone under Google ownership though, aimed for the stars, by going low. By all accounts, it’s been one of the best sellers that Motorola has ever created. We’re talking about the Moto G of course. Now, just as with the Note 3 review, this is a write-up of how the phone has been after months of usage.

The Specs:

  • Display: 4.5” 720p IPS LCD
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
  • Memory: 8/16 GB (No Micro SD slot), 1 GB RAM
  • Imaging: 5 MP Rear Camera, 1.3 MP Front Facing Camera, 720p Video Recording + Slow motion recording
  • Battery: 2070 mAh, Non Removable
  • Connectivity: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100. Single & Dual SIM Variants (available in different regions), WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, Micro USB 2.0
  • OS: Android 4.4.2 (came with Android 4.3 and was updated)

Before we continue, we’re talking about the single SIM variant. There might be small differences in the dual SIM variant (especially related to Battery Life, etc)

What’s in the box:

The Box contents vary by country. For some reason, certain countries do not receive a charger in the box, some countries do not get a headphone in the box, while others get everything. The Moto G sold in France comes with a charger and a pair of headphones, which unfortunately are not the in-ear type. I have not used the provided headphones so I have no idea as to the quality, but I’m sure it is more than passable for recreational uses and most people will use another headset in any case.

Moto-G-What's-in-the-Box

How does it stack up to other devices:

The Moto G is actually a little taller and thicker than the Moto X, but it still feels perfectly sized in the hand, and the dimple at the back somehow feels just right. Here are some comparisons to the Oppo N1, the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Nexus 5 and the Moto G on the far right.

MotoG-Size-Comparision-With-Oppo-N1-Note-3-and-Nexus-5

The Good:

The thing that everyone will say about the Moto G is that it is astonishingly good value for the price. It retails for €169 for the 8GB variant and €199 for the 16 GB variant across Europe. In India, the Dual SIM variant retails for ₹12500 for the 8 GB and ₹14000 for the 16 GB. Unlike most of the other phones in that price range though, you get solid build quality and a phone that is actually usable. In normal usage, it actually feels as smooth as most flagship phones, although switching between apps, etc, is a tad bit slower. Having said that, most of the Mediatek powered phones just aren’t in the same league.

Battery Life: This is one of the standout points of the Moto G. On standby, it’s a battery sipper. It almost flatlines over long periods if left aside. In use, while listening to podcasts, walking around shooting some photos and videos, with auto brightness on, the phone lasted about 12 hours, which is really good. Check out some of the battery life screenshots below, which were on low to moderate use.

Moto-G-Battery-Stats

The “Skin” (or lack thereof): The Moto G follows in the Moto X’s footsteps. It’s more or less what most people call “Stock Android”, with some minor Motorola additions. Unlike the Moto X though, you don’t get the active display for notifications (it doesn’t make sense to have that on a LCD screen anyway) or the always listening feature (which is hardware dependent). You do get Motorola Assist, which lets you do certain actions using preset rules: turn the phone to silent mode if there are meetings on your calendar, do not disturb at night, etc. You also get the Motorola Camera app, which is way better than the stock android camera app (that’s one of the areas in which stock android is really, really, really, really, really pathetic). Motorola has also dissociated sections of the OS and has made those parts available via the play store, so they can be updated without requiring a full firmware update. The Gallery, the boot sequence, Assist, the camera app has all been getting updates with improvements and added features.

The Camera App: It’s very simplistic. You tap on the screen to focus and shoot, tap on the little camcorder button to record video. Swipe from the left to access a scrollable wheel of the settings, which include tap to set focus and exposure, slow motion video, Auto HDR (which I do not recommend), Panorama, and more. Swipe from the right to access the gallery. Simple, easy and well implemented. Check some of the sample photos below, along with a slow motion recording.

Photo Samples:

If you can’t view the Flickr Gallery here, you can check this Flikr set for the photos taken with the Moto G.

The Bad:

After months of usage, there are really just two things that bugs me and one of them is the camera. Sure, for the price and considering all the other bits (the performance and the build, etc), there had to be some corners cut. It’s not the low resolution that’s the issue, but the actual quality of the images taken. The auto HDR mode somehow never seems to work properly, so you’re better off toggling the HDR setting manually. Colours are muted, details are so-so. The camera has gotten better with various updates, but it’s got a long way to go.

The other issue is the lack of LTE support. A very minor quibble, considering that it’s a budget phone, with majority of it’s sales in non- LTE markets (and the fact that the SOC doesn’t have LTE support currently).

Final Thoughts:

So, after using the Moto G for a while, it’s really hard NOT to recommend this phone, be it as a backup device or as a phone for a person who doesn’t have really have high expectations when it comes to performance or the camera. It has brilliant battery life, solid build quality and a really good screen for the price. Would I still recommend it now? Absolutely. And I am really looking forward to what Motorola can do with the next iteration of the Moto G that might probably come out later in the year.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3: A Few Months Later

The Samsung Galaxy Note, when it was first announced back in late 2011, was pretty much mocked by the Tech Press in general. Surprisingly, it did reasonably well. Well enough, that when the Note 2 was launched in 2012, the Tech Press actually paid more attention to the device. There’s something about a phone with a massive screen (what most would call a Phablet) that is close to carrying a small screened tablet, in your pocket. You can add in all the “Gimmicks” that Samsung has chucked in there, including the S Pen, and some of it actually turns out to be useful. Samsung’s new Note 3 went on sale a couple of months ago and both Vinu and I have been using it since then. How has it held up? Was it worth the money spent on it (and it was quite a bit)? Let’s find out.

Before we actually get to the device, here’s the background regarding the devices we both came from just before this. I had a Galaxy S4, the Exynos Version, (and a BB 8520 for work), and a Nexus 4 before that. Vinu had a Nexus 4, an iPhone 4S and the Lumia 1020 (and the 920). I currently use the Note 3 and an iPhone 5S everyday (with the iPhone having replaced my work Blackberry) and Vinu uses the Note 3 along with the Lumia 1020 and now has a Oppo N1 CyanogenMod edition also. We’re going to try and talk about what it was like to use everyday, in light of the devices we have, and our different use cases. So, this is more of a report of how the device has been after using it for an extended period of time.

Specs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Having said that, here’s the specs:

  • Display: 5.7” Super AMOLED 1080p
  • Connectivity: Quad Band GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), HSPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) (For the N900 variant. The N9005, aka the one running the Snapdragon 800 also has LTE support.), WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (Dual Band), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0 (with a weird plug), IR Blaster
  • Imaging: 13 MP Primary Camera, 2 MP Front Facing camera. 1080p (30 & 60 fps recording) (with 4k aka 2160p on the N9005), Slo Mo Video (just like on the Galaxy S4)
  • Battery: 3200mAh
  • Storage: 3 GB RAM, 32 GB storage, expandable with a Micro-SD card
  • SOC: Exynos 5420 (aka the Exynos 5 Octa) for the N900. (the N9005 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800)
  • OS/Platform: Android 4.3 (with 4.4 rolling out for the N9005/N900 as we wrote this)

The Software Experience

New Touchwiz – The Touchwiz on the Note 3 is a huge improvement over the previous versions, but for the Google purists, Samsung still lacks. There’s no quick access button for Google Now, and you have to perform multiple clicks to access this feature. On the S4, long pressing the menu button anywhere brought up Google Search (if you weren’t in an app) or the search menu within the app you were using. On the Note 3, this brings up Samsungs S – finder, which, to put it mildly, is absolutely useless. Frankly, I preferred the earlier implementation as in the S4 over the soft key pull up action as in the nexus series, because this lets you bring up in app search apart from google search. The search hot key brings up Samsung’s S Voice, which is not the best of breeds compared to Google’s Voice Search.
How does it compare to “Google’s Vision”? – Touchwiz is far far far away from “stock” Android and the “Google vision”  of what Android must be (take the Nexus 5 and it’s Google Experience launcher as an example). The colours, the menu layout which is tabbed (it even has a search option to find settings!), the toggles. But there are some redeeming features, some of which are now part of stock android. For example: the transparent status bar was a Samsung/HTC introduction, which third party launchers took advantage of, and now Google has added it as a feature on Kitkat. The ability to swipe down from the top in full screen apps to reveal the status bar is another TouchWiz feature that Google has added in Kitkat. The camera application is way better and more feature rich when compared to the stock android camera app. It’s an acquired taste and this is very much a YMMV (your mileage may vary) thing. You either like it or you don’t.

S Pen and Features:

Pen Window – A nice idea, that isn’t really well implemented. You basically have floating apps, of whatever size you want. But there’s a limited number of supported apps and I wish that they didn’t actually take the size and shape that you draw, but rather retained the aspect ratio of the app and sized to within an acceptable tolerance of the drawn window size.
Action Memo – This was one of the features that was actually useful. Pull the S Pen out, tap on Action Memo and quickly jot down a note. For me, having just moved to a new country, it was really useful while hunting for apartments, asking people for places to buy things and so on. Small things that I would have never put on Evernote, but might have written down on a notepad, if I ever carried one.
Scrapbooker – Like Action Memo, I actually used this to put together stuff while apartment hunting – Maps Data, Written notes, Web Pages with important rules and tenancy laws, etc, and then combined them later into S Notes (which can be set to sync to Evernote).
Handwriting Recognition – The Note 3 also comes with Samsung’s Handwriting recognition keyboard, which is a novelty feature, since not many would pull out the stylus and write up stuff on screen instead of typing. That said, I do agree that Samsung’s handwriting recognition works really well, it detects even cursive writing and no you don’t have to change your writing habits to get this to work – works well 90% of the times.

Other Perks that came with the Note 3 included (this may vary by region though):

  • Free Evernote Premium, integrated with S Notes
  • Free Dropbox 50 GB

Other Samsung Applications – There’s a boat load of Samsung applications preinstalled, but not all of it is bloatware. The only app that I appreciate is S-Health, which I use as a pedometer and also to track my weight, etc. You can connect it to a few peripherals and can also track your diet (although the diet portion is a pain to enter and manage, and I have more or less stopped using it).

The Hardware

Display – The 5.7 inch AMOLED display is pretty good, with really wide viewing angles and pretty decent outdoor readability. You also have to option to change the way it displays colours, either having them to a more “natural” tone all the way up to super contrasty and bright. The pentile sub-pixel arrangement is not noticeable (to be honest, I haven’t been able to pick out pentile vs non pentile, so your mileage will vary).
The New Back, non Glossy – The Black version that I have has a nice, non-glossy, faux leather back panel, which is a huge improvement over the Hyper Glaze rear panel on the S4. It still manages to look and feel new. As for the white cover – it’s not too bad, but tends to get a little dirty from time to time if you don’t use the a case.

The New Pen – there’s not much to say here. It’s thinner than the Note 2 S- Pen and it’s more or less symmetrical, so you could put it back into the slot without fiddling around too much. In my opinion, it’s too thin and the button seems to be a little harder to press and activate.

Access to buttons – The side mounted volume and power buttons (volume on the left, power on the right) are placed in typical Samsung fashion, although I wish they took a more Sony like approach and brought the buttons down a little bit for better access.

The IR Blaster – Now this is something that is actually useful. The Samsung WatchON app is useful, if you’re in a region and your cable provider is supported. The app is actually made by Peel, which also makes the HTC remote application, and is updated quite often adding support to a larger array of providers and set top boxes and TVs. But, if you really want to use the IR Blaster to it’s fullest potential, check out our post on the Smart IR Remote. This app is worth every cent because it allows you to control other peripherals as well (Your AC unit as an example).

Durability – The phone shows a few nicks and scratches on the plastic side from being dropped on the road, without a case to protect it. There are some minor scratches on the screen as well, despite being covered by Gorilla Glass 3 (this is where I go ahead and say “it’s scratch resistant, not scratch proof”)

Imaging

Auto Night Mode/Low Light Detection – Works reasonably well, but can be really irritating at times, as you have to toggle it off to use the flash.

Smooth Capture AKA 60fps 1080p Video – Honestly, I have not tried this feature, and since Youtube cannot really render/play 60 fps videos right now, I don’t see much use for this.

Slo-Mo Video Capture – The  Note 3 does some great Slow Motion Video Capture, here is a sample:

Camera UI and Controls – A lot has been said and written about the camera UIs on various OEM skins, but I have have to say that compared to stock android, the Samsung camera interface is much nicer to use, through not necessarily easier. If you see the screenshots below, similar to the Galaxy S4, you have access to slow motion videos (samples of which are posted below), but most people would never be able to find it. On the other hand, I like the fact that it does make use of the available hardware to let you take full sized photos while recording videos, unlike the AOSP camera app and the Sony camera app, that only take 1080p photos while recording videos (essentially capturing a screenshot of the video record).

Camera samples

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The original, full res photo samples are available on Flickr – here.

User Experience

Battery Life

The large 3200 mAh battery really lets you go free from a charger for extended periods, since it gives a really good backup. On the Nexus 4, Vinu had the battery last for 5-7 hours based on his usage, but on the Note 3, he goes for around 12-16 hours on a single charge. I used to get about 8 hours of use on my S4 and around 12 on the Note 3. Of course, your mileage may vary, as evinced by the stats from 3 users of the exynos model, on different firmware versions, on different networks, with different use cases below.

Vikram-Battery-Stats-Note3 Raghu-Battery-Stats-Note3 Deepak-Battery-Stats-Note3

Performance in day to day tasks

The phone performs quite well with day to day tasks of emails, social media and assorted gaming, the 3GB RAM and the  processor  allows multi-tasking without the usual slowdowns which show up on lower spec’d phones. Some people on the Exynos model of the Note 3 complain about freezes on their phones, but we didn’t notice that on our phones.

Summary

A few months later, and a few months closer to the next round of flagship releases, is the Note 3 still worth being considered as device to be purchased? Well, yes and no. The price should drop a bit soon and there’s still quite a ways to go before the next version of the Note series is announced. If you need a big phone with a big screen and the stylus, then yes, the Note 3 is definitely worth it. The IR Blaster is quite handy, especially when you consider all the other apps that can really take advantage of it, check out our previous post on how to do it. It also depends on which device you’re moving from. If you are used to a big phone, like the original Galaxy Note, then the Note 3 is worth a try (also, the original Note needs a rest). If you’re on a Note 2, you could possibly wait for the next one, unless you’re the frequent upgrader. In which case, go for it.

 

As mentioned in the beginning, @vinuthomas contributed to this post.

Notion Ink’s 10.1 Inch Adam II Tablet Reviewed

Last week, I received a review unit of the Adam II from Notion Ink just before the device went on sale. I’ve been playing around with the device since then and I’ve been impressed with some of the features that the Adam II has to offer.

Learning from the mistakes of the ill-fated original Adam tablet, Notion Ink has redesigned the Adam II from ground up to impress us.

While the original Adam came with a Pixel Qi display, which promised a lower power display tech, the Adam II doesn’t feature this technology. When asked about why they decided to forgo Pixel Qi, Notion Ink replied that the Pixel Qi displays had a limited viewing angle, they were looking for a 180 degrees viewing angle along with a display thickness of less than 2.5mm which Pixel Qi couldn’t provide.

Quick Specs

Where’s a review without a quick peek at the device specifications? Of course we all know that only the specs don’t tell the full story, but here goes:

  • The Adam II is powered by a 1.5Ghz Dual Core ARM (Cortex A9) processor.
  • Display: The 10.1 inch IPS LCD display has resolution of 1280×800 pixels with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The outer display is protected by a pane of Asahi scratch resistant glass.
  • Memory & Storage: 1GB RAM and 8GB Internal Storage expandable up to 32GB via microSD card
  • Camera: The front and rear cameras are BSI OmniVision Camera 3.2 Megapixel shooters capable of video capture at 720p
  • Battery: 6000 mAh battery
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 BLE, HDMI 1.4b, 3.5mm headphone connectors, Micro USB 2.0 with USB-OTG
  • Weighs 584g (lighter than the 4th Generation iPad)
  • Powered by Android 4.2.2
  • The Adam II comes in white only.

Build and Design

The Adam II comes in white and features an industrial design which is mostly rectangular in all aspects, with slightly rounded corners. According to Notion Ink, their design is inspired by the art form of a book. In fact, where the book’s spine comes, the Adam II has an extra bezel area which houses the speakers and front-camera.

Speakers and Front Camera

I like this since my (relatively large) hands can easily grip the device from the left, without touching the screen. This prevents unwanted touch events from triggering while just holding the tablet.

The materials used on the Adam II are of great quality, aluminium matte finish back. A very premium finish if I may add.  The top of the device features a Power button recessed near the corner with the 3.5mm headphone socket next to it. The connectivity options are at the bottom where you have the volume control, SIM, MicroSD card, HDMI and USB connectivity options.

Controls and Connectors Adam II

The spine of the device features something Notion Ink calls the STM Secondary Display which is Black and White LCD display without a backlight like those you see on digital watches or calculators. This shows up notifications if any or the time of the day and a custom Message.

Notion Ink Adam II STN Secondary Display

Adam II Review

Notion Ink decided to forgo heavy UI customizations on the device and have gone with (an almost) stock Android experience, which is a good in my opinion. This should let them come out with future updates faster.

Screenshot_2013-12-24-17-05-19

The only additions I did notice were buried in the setting screen, where there were options to configure the HDMI display options and time outs, the Secondary Settings options and Screenshot settings.  The Screenshot settings allow you to add a screenshot icon to the status bar for you to quickly take a screenshot.

Screenshot_2011-01-01-22-57-11

The Adam II, even though runs on a dated processor, runs well pretty much most of the time lag free. Of course if you run apps which run a lot of background tasks, you may start to notice a lag here and there. For my reading and casual gaming experience on the Adam II, the device performed flawlessly.

The display on the Adam II is a 720p screen with a resolution of 1280×800 is a slight negative on this device, since the 10 inch display with that resolution does show slight pixellation on the screen if you look real close. This doesn’t affect the day-to-day usage on the device though . I’m sure all of us are getting spoilt by the Retina and beyond resolution of the iPad and it’s competitors. Remember that the Adam II is way below these in the price band.

Notion Ink claims that the Adam II’s display comes with ICC Color profiles, with one of the best color reproductions available in the market.  They also uses Diamond Glass from Asahi for the display which is quite scratch resistant.

Notion Ink Adam II

The stereo speakers on the device are good. Since they are front facing, the sound pretty loud and since the two speakers are spaced out on the side, we can clearly make out the stereo effect with these speakers. Being smaller speakers, the bass reproduction is not too great, but then you can always plug-in your favourite pair of headsets for more serious music listening.

One thing to note is that the in 3G version of the tablet, the SIM is used only for data, so you can’t make Voice calls or receive SMS on the Adam II. This is pretty much like the way the iPad works on 3G. I don’t mind that since I won’t really be making calls or messaging from a 10 inch tablet. A tablet this side is mostly for media consumption and entertainment.

The Secondary Display or the STN is still a novel feature in the device, and could do with more useful features going forward. It’s kind of useful right now if you want to see if you have any notifications without switching on the display. You can set the custom message from the Settings menu. When reached out, the folks at Notion Ink said that they are working on additional features like battery percentage and cycling though the notifications using the volume key in the near future.

I didn’t get a chance to try out the HDMI output from the device since I didn’t have the right cables handy.

Pricing and Availability

In terms of pricing, Notion Ink is selling the WiFi only version of the device for Rs. 16,499 and the 3G device is Rs. 18,999. They are currently shipping the Adam II only within India via their website. They do plan to have it available on other online retailers like Flipkart soon.

[alert style=”2″]For the holiday season, Notion Ink has a Christmas offer running –  the WiFi is available at Rs. 13,499 and the  3G version at 15,499.[/alert]

Warranty and Support

The Adam II comes with a 1 year replacement warranty. Which means if you do have any issues with the device, they’ll replace the device. If you do have any problem with the device, you can contact the folks at Notion Ink via [email protected] and they’ll arrange for a pickup of the device from your home.

Verdict

I love the premium finish of the device, coupled with the connectivity options the Adam II provides. I love the way they’ve designed the tablet so that it can be held like a book in the portrait mode, and the light weight also ensures that the tablet doesn’t weigh you down.

The pros pretty much outweigh the cons, so if you are in the market for a 10 inch Android tablet in the Rs. 10,000 – 20,000 range, your search stops with the Adam II tablet.

Links

Notion Ink Website

A Quick look at the Gionee Elife E3

Gionee Mobile phones, though new to the Market, are making their presence known by introducing smartphones with the latest features at a price that is value for money. The Gionee Elife E3 mobile phone falls in the Rs 15000 segment of the smart phones and has a lot to offer.  Apart from the attractive price range, the phone is very appealing to the eye thanks to  its sleek looks  and curvy edges with various vibrant colors (Blue, Red, Pink, Black, White and Yellow).

Gionee Elife E3

What’s in the Box:

What's in the Box Gionee E3

The following are contained in the box of the Gionee Elife E3
1) The phone and its cover
2) One protective transparent plastic case which covers the rear part of the phone. This gives the phone a glossy finish but the quality of the plastic is very low. It is flimsy and is susceptible to cracking very quickly.
3) Phone battery.
4) Phone Charger with USB data cable.
5) One hands-free Headphones with mic.
6) Two complementary screen guards.
7) User Guide, Warranty card and contact list of service centers across the country.

Software and Hardware:

The Gionee Elife E3 is built with a Quad Core 1.2GHz Cortex A7 CPU. It has 1GB RAM and 16GB of storage space. You can add more storage with a micro SD card up to a maximum of 32GB.  The phone ships with Android v4.2 Jelly Bean. It also comes with a 4.7″ 720p touch screen display which is capable of HD playback.

The UI has been changed quite a bit compared to ‘stock’ or ‘vanilla’ android, and in no way resembles the UI on other phones at this price range. You get different icons and lock screen, which you can change by changing the theme. Unfortunately, there seems to be a limited set of themes available. Hopefully, in a future update, Gionee will add the ability to download more themes. It is fairly snappy with the occasional stutter.

The phone has three capacitive buttons up front: Menu, Home and Back. Long pressing the home button brings up the multitasking option. Switching between apps is fairly quick. There are stutters in terms of the animations once in a while, during the multitasking process. These are bugs that will hopefully be fixed with a firmware update.

Camera:

The primary camera on the Gionee Elife E3 is an 8.0 megapixel HD shooter, with a secondary 2.0 megapixel front facing camera. The primary camera can record HD video at 1080p.

Camera settings contain the following options:

  1. HDR
  2. Face detections
  3. Scene mode(Night, Party, Portrait, Landscape etc.)
  4. Continuous Shot upto 20 Pics
  5. Exposure
  6. Self Timer; Saturation, brightness, contrast, ISO and anti flicker settings.

There are various preset frames that one can use to add an artistic touch to the final picture.

  • Colour effects: Mono, Sepia, Negative, Aqua, Blackboard & whiteboard.
  • White Balance; Capture Actions (Ex. Touch Shot, Gesture Shot, Smile Shot)
  • Capture mode; (Panorama, MAV, Eraser, Best face, EV bracket shot etc.)

The camera interface isn’t the same set up that one sees with other OEMs like Xolo or Micromax. It looks quite nice and is very simple to use. You have easy access to settings and the toggles to the various modes.

 

 

The image quality isn’t the best out there, but it is very much usable for the average buyer who would probably just share them on Facebook. Just don’t expect print quality images. A word of advice: if you use the cover provided by Gionee, if the flash fires, it more or less ruins any night time photos, as the flash seems to reflect off the sides of the cover. Either cut a larger groove on the cover around the camera or get another cover.

Camera Samples:

Battery: 

The phone has an 1800 mAh battery, which is replacable. With usage involving GPS, Data, various apps and Music playback, the phone got me through the day (16 to 20 Hrs) when fully charged. For a phone of this caliber this is pretty decent. When using only the phone with no data, the phone obviously lasts longer. Of course, your mileage may vary, as battery usage will vary from person to person and each individuals usage. Unless you’re a heavy user or play a lot of games, the phone will get you through the day. 

Other Specs:

[table]

,,,
General, 2G Network, 850/900/1800/1900 MHz

,3G Network, 900/2100 MHz
,SIM, Dual SIM

Phone Dimensions,Size, 137.4 x 68.4 x 7.9 mm
Data, “GPRS,EDGE, HSPA,WLAN, Bluetooth”,
Features, “Radio, Multi-media MP3, DTS Sound, GPS, Digital Compass, G-Sensor, Light-Sensor “,

[/table]

Conclusion:

In conclusion I find that the Gionee Elife E3 is a phone that offers you true value for money. There is an occasional lag that I find when I using the phone, but the overall experience is satisfactory. The gaming experience and quality of the HD screen watching movies is excellent. However the phone does need a better headset and the quality of sound when listening to music isn’t something that is a standout feature of this phone.

Note: This is a quick write up by an actual end user of the device, who now happens to have bought two more of the same device for other members of his family!

About the Guest Author:

IMG_20131029_195234My name is Ananth Karthik and I’m a sailor who sails the 7 seas. I’m not much of Gadget Aficionado but I do like to move with the times and do my best to keep up with fast moving technology.

Nokia Lumia 720 – The Budget-Premium Windows Phone

It was about time Nokia brought in something substantial into the mid-range smartphone market and from the very first glance it becomes obvious that Nokia has put in a lot of effort into the Lumia 720. The phone is ruggedly built and feels as solid as every other Nokia.

The Lumia 720 comes packaged with a 1 GHz dual-core Krait CPU but has only 512 MB of RAM on board. This places certain limits, such as not having access to some applications in the Windows Marketplace. But that shouldn’t hold you back from buying one as the Lumia 720 has a lot of nice tricks up its sleeve. The camera for example can be compared to phones one level higher, but more on that later.

Lumia 720 Specifications

Let’s start with some quick specs. The phone comes with a 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display, and runs the latest Windows Phones 8 OS. It is retails at about Rs. 17000.

Display : 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display, WVGA resolution with 217ppi pixel density.

Processor : 1 GHz dual-core Krait CPU, Adreno 305 GPU, Qualcomm MSM8227 chipset, 512MB of RAM

Connectivity : Quad-band 3G with 21 Mbps HSDPA and 5.7 Mbps HSUPA support

Storage : 8GB of inbuilt storage, expandable up to 32GB via MicroSD card.

Camera :  6.1MP autofocus camera with F/1.9 lens and LED flash, [email protected] video recording

OS : Windows Phone 8

Battery : Non-removable Li-Ion 2000 mAh battery (BP-4GW)

Colors : Glossy White, Red and Matte finish Black, Blue.

What’s in the box

What's in the Box for the Lumia 720

As mentioned, the Lumia 720 is built solidly and borrows its looks from the 920 which works well in its favour. The unibody structure is made of polycarbonate.  The phone is 9mm thin and weighs 128g. The phone looks svelte and it gives you a premium feel.  The Lumia 720 is available in four colors, White and Red in glossy finish and Black and Blue in matte finish. I prefer the matte finish as its less prone to finger prints and scratches. But hey it’s a personal choice; it actually looks the best in red.

Lumia 720 in hand

On the right hand side, it has a dedicated Shutter key, power/screen off button and the volume keys. The memory card slot is on the left hand side and it is hot swappable. The phone comes with the industry standard micro USB charging at the bottom, the microphone is also placed here. If there is one thing to complain about then it has to be the bezels, they are too thick on all sides especially at the bottom. It would have been nimble if not for the thick bezels. The phone comes with a 2000mAh battery which should be good for 10h of 3G usage.

Display, User Interface & Handling

The Nokia Lumia 720 comes with a 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display of WVGA resolution with 217ppi, while it may not sound on par with its competitors; the Windows Phones 8 is designed in such a way that the relatively low pixel density doesn’t really show.

The Lumia 720

Coming to the UI, I have always been a fan of Windows Metro UI and the Lumia 720 doesn’t fail to impress me. The phone comes with windows phone 8.0 out of the box. The Metro UI has come a long way and feels exceptionally smooth on the Lumia 720. The UI isn’t too predictable as its competitors and it might take some time getting used to. But believe me, it’s a very refreshing change. The UI is plain and simple, on click of the unlock button reveals the lock screen. The lock screen can be customized to show updates from any apps, it also displays a mini music player with basic functions. Upon press and hold of volume button on the lock screen, an icon to toggle vibrate and ring mode appears which comes in handy. A nice feature is the ability to change the wallpaper on the lockscreen automatically using apps from the marketplace or certain built-in ones.  A swipe from bottom of the lock screen unlocks the phone.  The homescreen is a vertical grid of live tiles; WP8 allows for resizing of tiles, an app can be pinned to the homescreen or start menu upon press and hold in the menu. An app tile can be sized to a quarter, normal or a double sized tile. There are options to change the background to either black or white, there also several accent colors to choose from in the settings menu.

The Messaging is pretty basic. The keyboard layout felt a little bit cramped, each key is elongated and as a whole takes up too much space on the screen. I personally would have preferred a wider space for each key and shortened a little bit. The keyboard also provides predictions but they are not quick enough neither are they accurate, you’ll have to wait for a fraction of a second longer than its competitors. Here again, the predictions take up too much space, the font size can be reduced to make more space.

The Lumia 720 comes with free 7GB space on SkyDrive, comes in handy to store or back up any data.

Switching between apps is pretty easy, just press and hold the back button and all the opened apps are revealed in a horizontal manner. However, there is no way to close apps from here; it only provides an interface to switch apps. One has to open the app and press the back button to close it.

Camera

The Camera clearly has to be the best part of the Lumia 720. The phone comes with a 6.1 megapixel autofocus camera with super-fast F/1.9 lens. That’s one of the fastest lenses fitted to a phone. The recently announced Lumia EOS comes with a F/2.2 lens to give you a perspective.  The result is the images are just right, the colors are perfect and are sharp, and the photos are very pleasant to view on the ClearBlack LCD display. The phone comes with the shutter key on the right hand side which means you don’t have to look for the app, it is always ready.

Lumia 720 Camera Sample2

Nokia seems to be taking their camera modules very seriously. The camera produces very well detailed photos and because of the fast lens nature you might as well get some nice bokeh, which mean it is also good for portrait photography. The Camera comes preloaded with a lot of tweaking; one can change the ISO, the White Balance and even the exposure value. There are also a few pre-defined scenes which can come in handy. There’s option to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio. While Nokia smart shoot clicks a series of photos and helps you choose the best one, Nokia Cinemagraph takes small clips and convert them to GIFs.

Lumia 720 Camera Sample1

The fast lens helps in capturing good low light pictures as well, thanks to the focus assist light. Though it might be a little grainy, it’s not a deal breaker and clearly trumps others in its class. Here is link to the comparison with  the Nexus 4. The phone is equipped with a lot of photo apps. Nokia Glam Me, takes self-portraits only and as the name suggests polishes the photo with some touches. Further tweaking to the photo is available at the hands of the user. Options to increase the tone, adjust softness, making your eyes look bigger and even whitening your teeth are available. Head to the end of the post for more Camera Samples.

Connectivity and Browser

The Lumia 720 comes packaged with Internet Explorer and the browser is pretty powerful. It took whatever sites I threw at it without a problem. The one thing I would like to complain about is the images on zooming in might appear grainy. The browser was capable of handling HTML5, was also able to play HTML5 embedded videos.

Music Player/ Video Player

Apart from having the usual music player, the Lumia 720 has something called Nokia Music. This is nothing but Nokia’s very own music service and it comes free with the phone. All you need to do is register and then you are provided with unlimited music streaming and free music downloads. The Nokia Music store has a huge collection of songs across various genres. The Nokia Music app also provides you suggestions based on your music history, which is a nice touch. There are a plenty of equalizer presets, one can also define a custom one. When the screen is locked with music playing in the background, on wake a mini widget like music player with controls appears on top of the screen.

Apart from the Nokia Music app, you also get a Music Player which essentially just plays music with the same layout as the Nokia Music. But one thing missing here is an equalizer, so I’d rather stick to Nokia Music. Sadly, there is no FM radio, which comes as a surprise as Nokia doesn’t usually miss such basic features.

The Video Player is pretty powerful, I was able to play DivX, avi, mp4 and full HD movies as well. The layout is pretty minimalistic and doesn’t intervene with the video. You get your basic play/pause, forward and backward controls with a timeline and a full screen toggle button.

Apps/ AppsStore/ Office

The Lumia 720 comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Office, this is very helpful and one doesn’t have to look around for third party apps. This is such a blessing in disguise. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are the apps which are available, and all documents can be synced with SkyDrive for easy access through Desktop and Phone.  Editing is allowed only for Word and Excel while only viewing is permitted for PowerPoint files.

Windows Phone Store is slowly catching up with its rivals and it recently crossed the 100,000 mark too. Microsoft claims that most the Top selling apps are available for WP8. It has also the basic apps a sedate user need, while pro users may complain about some powerful apps missing. The phone comes with some very common games preinstalled. Xbox live is the Games Hub rival of Apple Games Center, the user can create a profile and avatars. Xbox Live keeps track of yours and friends’ profile, gaming achievements and avatars.

Another nice feature on WP8 is there is no need for a separate app for Gmail and Facebook. Just add your Gmail/Facebook account through setting menu and voila you are done. All your Facebook News feeds, mails, contacts are synced to the phone. The only drawback is that it’ll take time getting used viewing these as all the details are displayed in WP8 fashion, in black and white Metro style. Another issue is that if you’re a heavy Gmail user who likes a threaded conversation, just be prepared to give this up: the Windows Phone mail app doesn’t work very well with Gmail (or some might say it’s the other way round), and it breaks conversation threading.

Maps

The Lumia 720 come pre-loaded with Nokia’s proprietary Here Maps, Bing maps is totally out (which is a really good thing). The Here maps is great and is on par with the industry standard Google Maps, the maps are pretty accurate and I didn’t have any problem finding places of interests. The maps come with four different types of views: Maps, satellite, public transport and traffic. In Bangalore, the public transport gave me only the Metro route. Traffic view, like in Google Maps, gives you a color coded guidance of traffic around your city. Green for smooth flowing, Red for slow and Orange for moderate. One nice feature with I liked is it gives you guides of certain prominent buildings. The building with the guide is highlighted as a transparent building, zoom in and you can it shows you where the lifts, elevators, showrooms and restrooms (very useful feature in a big mall) are located. Click on the building and you can get a floor wise guide of all the facilities in the building.

Nokia Here Drive is a turn by turn navigation app. Sadly it wasn’t working on this device as it is not yet available in India. Supposedly it provides turn by turn voice guided navigation and also provides the same capability offline.

Conclusion

Nokia has struck the right balance with the Lumia 720, it’s solidly built with a great Camera and a refreshing UI. I feel that WP8 has a great potential ahead, it just needs more support from us users. If one can live with the limitations of the apps available, this shouldn’t fail to impress anyone. It’s a great phone for first time buyers; while the funky Red and Blue suits college kids and the Black and white will suit professionals. It could be a very good second phone for those who like to experiment with phones. Solid build quality, great camera and refreshing UI: Put all these together and I say Nokia has got a winner on their hands.

More Camera Samples from the Lumia 720

Click on the images for a bigger version.

Nokia Asha 501 Hands-On and Initial Impressions

Nokia Asha 501 Hands on – Colours Fly

Last week, I was invited to attend the launch of the Asha 501 in Bangalore and from the very beginning it was quite evident that Colour was the theme of the event which gave a Lumia vibe to it. I wasn’t expecting much from this budget phone, but was really impressed with the form factor and nice little touches Nokia has added to the UI.

Specs

The phone comes with a 3” touch screen display, supports WiFi connectivity, Bluetooth 3.0 but misses out on 3G connectivity. This came as a big surprise to me. The phone is expected to retail at about Rs. 5000 when it hits the stores.

Here a look at the specs

  • Display : 3.0 “ capacitive touchscreen, 256K colors with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels (133ppi), supports Multitouch upto 2 fingers.
  • Processor : 1GHz
  • Connectivity:  GSM 900 / 1800 MHz (Micro SIM), Dual SIM Support, Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth 3.0 with EDR, microUSB port, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Storage: 128MB, Expandable via Micro SD upto 32GB
  • Camera : 3.15MP fixed focus camera.
  • OS : Nokia Asha software platform 1.0
  • Battery: 1,200mAh
  • Software : A big list of preinstalled apps and games.
  • Colours : Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black.

Nokia has started refreshing the Asha line-up for the year and the 501 is the first of the launches. This time Colour, swipe and long battery seems to be Nokia’s mantra at the ever-growing budget phones market. In a way the 501 can be viewed as the successor to the Asha 311, gone are the shiny and glossy plastics, hardware call keys and in come the vibrant, colorful, candy form factor.  The styling looks simple and in line with the Lumia series, the rubberized plastic feels good to hold. The revamped S40 UI has a touch of MeeGo and it works well.

At the event the most talked about feature of the revamped UI was the FastLane. FastLane is essentially a task switcher with added functionality. It keeps track of all your recent activity including any unclosed apps, recent call logs, calendar events, music player and so on.  Even though the 501 has received a UI upgrade, specs wise it is a step down from the 311. So will it perform well? Stay tuned for the full review. Here are two hands-on video until then.

Gaming Apps & Settings on the Nokia Asha 501

Nokia Asha 501 Keyboard, Music, Video & Fastlane

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The Nokia Lumia 520 – First Impressions

Last Friday, Nokia India had invited a few bloggers to preview the Lumia 520, which is just hitting the shelves here in India. Apart from a presentation about the device, we did get to use the device for a short while after, which gave us a good feel of the Lumia 520. Let’s check out the tech specs of this phone before we go ahead.

Lumia 520 Tech Specs

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  • Display: 4 inch IPS (800*480) display with Super Sensitive touch allowing you to control the phone using your nails as well.
  • Processor: 1 Ghz Snapdragon Processor, and a Adreno 305 GPU to lift the heavy graphics computations.
  • Memory: 512MB RAM for applications on the phone to use.
  • Storage: 8GB Internal Storage expandable via Micro-SD card for an additional 64 GB external storage.
  • Camera: 5MP Autofocus primary camera without flash. Lacks a front facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 3G Cellular data, WiFi, USB2.0, Bluetooth 3.0, Micro USB connector and 3.5 mm audio connector.
  • Battery: 1430 mAH battery
  • Price in Indian Market:  Best Buy price of Rs. 10,500, but available for less via online retailers

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First Impressions

To be fair, it’s not possible to do an entire review of the phone given the amount of time I got to spend with the device. But a quick post on what my first impressions of the phone is the perfect way to write this up. Lumia 520 colors

The phone itself is a Monoblock touch phone, which comes in 5 colors. It seems out of the 5 available colors, only 3 are available during the initial launch of the device here in India – Yellow, Red and Cyan. One thing which intrigued me about the phone was the way the back cover has to be removed. The entire colored back cover of the phone has to be peeled off the back to revel the battery and SIM and micro-USB slots. It’s a little tricky for a first time user.

The phone also felt quite good while holding it. It didn’t exude any ‘cheapness’ at all. The Nokia build quality does come through well on this phone. The phone features the standard volume control, power button and camera buttons on the right side of the device, the 3.5 mm audio connector on top and the micro-USB at the bottom. Pretty standard placements like the other Lumia devices.

The 1Ghz processor on the phone gives the phone a snappy feel to it. Even though this is the cheapest Windows Phone 8 devices in the market, the phone didn’t show any lags during normal operations, and while opening the apps which were on the phone. Quite impressive.  The only disadvantage I see is that the phone has only 512 MB memory onboard, which puts a few apps and games out of reach for users of phone. Thanks to an alert Twitter follower, I also discovered that Nokia’s City Lens also is missing on the phone.

The camera on the Lumia 520, being 5 MP, didn’t perform as well as the 920, but for the price point, did considerably well. Of course, you can play around with the Smart shoot, Cinemagraph and other lenses available for the Lumia Phone range to augment the phone’s camera functionality.   I don’t have any of the pictures which I took, since the phones went back with the Nokia folks after the event.

In all, the Nokia Lumia 520 offers a good package for a Rs. 10K price range. This phone will certainly become a volume seller for Nokia given the cost and features offered.

Launch Offers

Data Offers

Nokia has a few offers for buyers of the  Lumia 520. They have a tie up with Reliance which offers users  1 GB data of 3G connectivity per month from Reliance for two months. These two months of usage includes unlimited usage of Facebook and WhatsApp.

Movie Offers from Bigflix

They also have a tie up with BigFlix, so new Lumia 520 users will get a voucher which entitles them to unlimited streaming of Bigflix titles for 3 months.

Nokia Music Unlimited

Of course, the device also comes with three months of Nokia Music subscription allowing you to download unlimited tracks during that period from Nokia Music, which is yours to keep even after the subscription expires.

Image Gallery

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Nokia Lumia 510 Review – A seed well sown

Why do I call the newly released Nokia Lumia 510 a seed well planted? A seed (the 510) planted in a well maintained garden (Windows environment) will make sure that this seed goes onto become a giant tree (more Nokia Windows phones). For a phone to do well, the initial wow factor will just make users take the phone off the shelf and take one hard look. However, for people to actually buy it and recommend it to others will require that the ecosystem supports it well.

One major point to note is that the Lumia 510 currently runs on the Windows Phone 7.5 platform and will be shortly upgraded to the Windows Phone 7.8 platform. This phone won’t be upgradable to the Windows Phone 8 platform, since Microsoft has made it clear that existing WP7 phones don’t have an upgrade path the their latest mobile Operating System.

Let’s take a look at this phone up close and personal:

What’s in the box –

  1. Nokia Lumia 510
  2. USB Data cable
  3. Phone charger
  4. Standard charger
  5. User Manual (Who reads them these days anyway?!)

Phone Design

IMG_1116The phone feels comfortable in your hand with the frosted plastic in the back. On the sides, volume rocker, power button and camera button. For old timers like me, the power button is in the wrong place and the camera and power button can get a bit confusing. There is a standard 3.5mm jack on the top and a mini charger slot at the bottom. Very basic and looks robust! Very Nokiaic! Back of the phone boasts a 5MP camera (LED flash would have been nice) and a speaker. 3 “buttons” in the front with a back key, windows button and a search function button. A notch on the left hand side enables your to pry open the back cover. The 4″ screen is massive!

Our test phone was a black one and as with most touchscreens is a fingerprint magnet. My friend, Vinu, suggested the rub-it-on-your-sleeve solution to get rid of the fingerprints :) As with all phones with the Gorilla glass, don’t drop it warning comes in-built. Gorilla Glass doesn’t make the phone’s screen break-proof.

Switch On

The first thing I noticed about the startup screen is that this is a Windows Phone first and then it is a Nokia phone, so no handshaking startup logo with the now familiar Nokia startup tone. Only a Windows logo and a “Windows Phone” written on it. The font looks very friendly and the default black background is pleasing to the eyes. Even with the white background, the screen doesn’t hurt the eyes. In the initial setup, have a Live ID handy to download your entire contact list. Luckily, I had setup my contact list on outlook.com (You can sync in your Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, LinkedIn contacts to outlook.com). Even if you haven’t set it up on outlook.com, you can still do the syncing on the phone. This feature, really goes a long way in eliminating integrating all your contacts and eliminates having to have an app to do this for you.

Considering that this is a Windows Phone, I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that setting up email accounts was as easy as entering one’s email address and password. No other credentials required!!! I have been through several generations of Windows software – Windows 2.x to 8 (from a “simple floppy install” to download from the internet days). At times, I could feel the drag of a low performance CPU in some screens, but mostly highly responsive surface and neat flow of the User Interface (UI). The title or header for all screens like “People”, “Zune” or “Radio” is huge and is very easy to read. The writing is only partial, suggesting at a very subliminal level that you need to swipe, so swiping is not a learnt art, but becomes intuitive. Kudos to Microsoft on the design!

I talked about how some of the elements in the UI needn’t be learnt and is intuitive. There are some elements which need some training – for example – the long click or tap or hold. This is like the personal computer right-click of the mouse.  You can get a few more options like Delete, Move, Set as wallpaper (in case of images), you get the idea… If you want to switch between apps, apply the same trick of long hold on the “Back” button.

Customize – look, feel and apps

IMG_1110You can do all the standard customization – changing colors, ringtones, wallpapers, themes under the Settings menu. The tiles on the “Home Page” are nice and one can move these around or delete them with ease (remember the long click or a regular drag and drop). Some of the colors for the tiles are vibrant. When one changes orientation, the tiles don’t change though. One can change individual ringtones like any other true blood Nokia phone can do. The added feature that comes with this kind of personalization is the fact that the caller’s social status messages also shows up, which is neat. There are 2 inbuilt themes – default is black background with white text and other theme is white background with black text. My experience with most users is that the only customization that people really do is the ringtone (Till the phone gets to be about 2 days old), wallpaper (may be once a year).

Next most important personalization is the app installation. When one browses through the app marketplace, one can see that the market is still not mature enough like the iTunes or the Android marketplace. First let’s talk about what is indeed available.

Some lifesaver apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Tango (Nokia’s own video calling software), angry birds (haahaa, angry birds, a lifesaver?) are indeed present. Yay! for that. Microsoft Office apps with the SkyDrive link is present. Since I signed in with my Live ID, opening my cloud files was a breeze on this baby.

What’s missing – Oh boy, where do I start? Microsoft’s own Skype is not available for the Nokia Lumia 510. Much talked about Nokia city lens is not available for this phone. A better image manipulation and video editing software would also be nice. Apps you don’t need are – Social media apps like Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter. YouTube app is a web link to m.youtube.com and not a real app in the strictest sense.

This is the ecosystem, I was talking about in my introduction. There are a good number of apps for all purposes and I sincerely hope, every developer also thinks about Windows as well, when they develop for Android and iOS.

Social Media

For one thing, where this phone really makes a big change is the social media. Sharing your photos taken from your 5MP camera is painless. Take a pic and post it on any of the social media with a single click. Not only that, you can even tag people in the photos and they get alerts once this is done. Cool, isn’t it! The “People” and “Me” tiles on the home page are so handy. I found the animation on the people tag with people pictures a bit annoying. I didn’t find a way to turn it off (May be it is a long click again, who knows?).

Internet Explorer

Do you still remember this browser called Internet Explorer (IE) with a comet going around an “e”? If you are like me, words like closed source, no add ons, zero cloud support will flash in front of your eyes. Like it or not, IE is the default browser and to my surprise, it was quite quick and did its job well. Going back was quick and following links was quite easy. You can save bookmarks quite easily. YouTube was the only heavy-duty website I tested out with IE and to my surprise there was hardly any buffering and hiccups when switching orientation or going back or skimming through videos.

Music player and Radio

nokia mix radio

The most delightful feature in this phone is the “Mix Radio”. This feature is such an amazing one and I realized that this is something I have been looking for a long time. A normal radio station plays songs at random, so there may be some songs that you like and most that you don’t really like. Your own collection – you already know what you have, so no element of surprise in it, really. So, if you want the surprise element that radios give you PLUS you want it within your own genre of music – presenting the Mix Radio!!

Nokia Music recommends a collection of songs for you to listen to – It could be a cool collection of Jazz with artists of your choice or you can pick and choose artists’ collections as well. These songs are available for purchase and download as well. The 510 comes with a 3 month Nokia Unlimited subscription so you can download unlimited tracks while the subscription is running.

If you are like me, who just wants to listen at home, you will love this feature. You can also skip songs that you don’t like in the list. One limitation is (I guess there are licensing implications) that you can only skip songs that you don’t like only 6 times. The audio quality is really awesome and is a mighty competition for your home stereo (if you still have one of those that is). The supplied earphones are adequate for an immersive experience for your videos or audio, however I would recommend nicer (read expensive) headphones for best results.

Image manipulation

I talked about the lack of image manipulation software in the marketplace, however I’d like to say that what this phone provides is more than what most users will use. You can apply any sort of image correction to your images and apply any sort of filters (like the 80s look, sketchy, selective colors and so on). You can also instantly share your masterpiece with your network.

Games and other stuff

For those of you who are on XBox, there is a tile dedicated for you guys. For people like me who left that part of the world a long time ago, I will stick to something more serious like text translation. If you have ever been to a non-English speaking country and been to a hotel for a bite to eat, only to wonder which way is up in the menu (Yes, people who have been to a non-Shanghai city in China know what I am talking about), here is something that can cheer you up. Hold your mobile phone over the menu and the phone will translate it to English for you (Of course, you need a working 3G/WiFi connection for that). Then you just merely point your human finger at the menu item that you are interested in ordering.

Maps and Guided Navigation

Why 2 different apps for doing the same thing? Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps both seems to be same for me, but a closer look at the apps show the difference between the way both work. Nokia Drive is the navigation app, giving voice guided directions to your destination. Nokia Maps on the other hand is used to look for Points of Interest around you and explore the world.  Both of them work very well, the maps are quite crisp and load almost instantly. Nokia has always been very good with routing and navigating from the E-series days. The same trend continues on. The AGPS works very well even indoors and inside a car in all sorts of nooks and corners.

Bottomline

Drumrolls.. Here comes my verdict. If you are like most users who love all the features in your phone and show it off to your buddies, but only use 5% of the features,  this phone may still cut it for you. If you are one of those rare people, who buy a phone to make your life easier, you may feel that you will wait for the next-gen of this phone to catch up with you. I would rather have a larger RAM for quicker loading of apps. If you are willing to wait for 2-3 seconds (which is not a whole lot, if you think about it :-)), this is a fantastic phone!