The BlackBerry Classic: what the critics think

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For many die-hard BlackBerry fans, no phone will suffice over the BlackBerry. There’s just something about battling with that fiddly QWERTY keyboard that they love.

But having cast many of its traditional features aside – except its keyboard of course – how will the new BlackBerry Classic fare, especially for the BlackBerry fans?

Reiterating the surmise that, well it’s only really those who are fond of the BlackBerry who would give the Classic a run for its money, is Tech Radar’s review of the new phone.

In a 3.5 star review (we’ve seen worse), Tech Radar compliments the Classic’s improved navigation and its fast web browsing – thanks to the BlackBerry 10 web browser, which is, according to BlackBerry, rated amongst the top mobile browsers for web fidelity.

Other plus points Tech Radar highlight is its great messaging and the fact the phone is “perfect for BlackBerry fans.”

On the downside, which unfortunately there often is with BlackBerry, is the fact there are fewer apps on offer, it possesses an erratic battery life, which is disappointingly ironic as BlackBerry excitedly claim the Classic has a “50% longer battery life”.

And Tech Radar’s qualms don’t stop there, as other ‘againsts’ are the Classic’s ‘un-media friendly’ square screen and its chunky and heavy design.

After a fairly disappointing review, were CNET any more impressed with BlackBerry’s latest offering?

CNET also gave the Classic a 3.5 star review but we have to admit was kinder than its rival tech review site.

As well as praising its comfortable, accurate keyboard with an attractive design, CNET was impressed with the fact the BlackBerry Classic has support for Android apps.

“If you’re willing to trade screen size for a superior physical keyboard, the BlackBerry Classic is a fantastic productivity phone for old-school QWERTY junkies,” was CNET’s bottom line.

The Verge disputes Tech Radar’s disgruntles about the Classic’s “erratic battery”, claiming the phone’s battery life “is pretty cool.”

However, when it came to the phone’s camera capabilities, The Verge was less impressed, citing the 8-megapixel camera on the back as “tremendously slow.” Even The Verge writer’s lap cat couldn’t be bothered waiting for the painful slow shutter to do its magic and walked out of shot when being photographed!

Highlighting the Classic’s infuriating mix of “crazy fast and insanely slow”, the Verge pins the problem on the fact the Classic has a last-gen processor that cannot keep up with modern apps and web pages.

The Telegraph was however less condemning of the Classic’s camera, pointing out one clever new feature that allows users who divide their phone between personal and work life to take images on a ‘work camera app’, which are then saved onto the work ‘perimeter’ – could be useful.

With innovative features such as the BlackBerry Blend, enabling users to put messaging and content on their BlackBerry onto computers and tablets, a pre-loaded BlackBerry 10.3.1 operating system, 60% more screen space and a greater variety of apps through BlackBerry World and the Amazon Appstore, BlackBerry have certainly tried hard with the Classic.

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Though we have to admit, it’s for a reason that BlackBerry is down to a miserly 0.5% of the market share of global smartphone shipments.

The BlackBerry Classic is available now for £349.00. Visit Blackberry to find out more.

CES 2015 Video: SelfieBrush, smartphone holder hairbrush

The SelfieBrush, from the creators of The Wet Brush, shows more of the more quirky side of the gadgetry displayed at CES 2015. The brush allows the user to slide their smartphone (iPhone 5/5S/6, Galaxy S4 and an upcoming Galaxy S5 model) into the brush itself, displaying the screen from the back of your phone. This could be a boon for anyone struggling to get ready with no mirror, or anyone needing to send a quick text while they rush to get ready. Of course, the brush also aims for the social media crowd, many of whom will love the ease of use you will be able to take selfies with the brush. Watch the video above to see the SelfieBrush in action.

The SelfieBrush is available now for $19.99. For more information visit SelfieBrush.

CES 2015 Video: Olloclip camera lens for iPhone 6

While smartphone cameras have been improving rapidly in recent years, even top-of-the-line devices can fall short of the visual effects we really need. One area that can disappoint is that of field of view – the area that the lens is able to ‘see’. At CES we were lucky enough to test out Olloclip’s new 4-in-1 lens for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The lens offers 4 options – Fisheye, Wide-Angle, 10x Macro and 15x Macro. The device will take the iPhone’s photography and video-making capabilities up a couple of notches, and comes with a free clip and Lanyard for easy carrying and switching when you’re on a selfie spree. Watch the video above to see the device in action.

The Olloclip 4-in-1 is available now for £59.99. Visit Olloclip to find out more.

 

 

 

Alcatel Onetouch Idol 2S – could this mid-ranger compete with the top dogs?

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If you’re on the lookout for a mid-range smartphone that looks pretty stylish and is small enough to not feel bulky in your back pocket, then the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 2S seems to be worth a look – at least if the predominantly good reviews about it are anything to go by.

A high-end look at a fraction of the price

With its brushed metal finish, rounded edges and slim frame, it’s obvious – as the Mobiles.co.uk Idol 2 S review is quick to highlight – a large emphasis has been placed on this phone’s design, demonstrating that “you can buy a high-end look at a fraction of the price.”

Furthermore, unsightly greasy fingerprints won’t hamper this phone’s appearance, as we are told – by Mobiles – that the black crystal glass has an Oleophobic coating (whatever that is) which repels the oil produced by pawing fingers.

And that’s not all, equally as unsightly scratches are unlikely to vex this phone’s owners, thanks to its “impressively durable” scratch-resistant Dragontrail Glass, a novel alternatively to the most widely heard of Corning Gorilla Glass.

So its ‘high-end’ well-polished design is pretty impressive, what about the Idol 2S’s operational spec?

It won’t ‘set the world on fire’

In its pretty positive review of the Alcatel Onetouch Idol 2S, Android Central admit that this new mid-ranger “won’t set the world on fire” but it’s “not without its charms.” Android Central marks the phone’s bright screen and overall size and form, as several of its plus points.

The review describes the phone’s software experience as not being all that bad and asides a handful of brightly-coloured icons, there’s not that much going on – A positive trait for Android Central who describe this relative emptiness as “inoffensive”. And, of course, being an Android phone you can “soon customise anything you don’t like.”

Smartphones.findthebest talks about the Idol 2S’s camera – an 8 megapixel rear camera, which according to the review, will produce high quality photos.

And now that how easily a camera can take selfies has become a defining quality of smartphone cameras, the Idol S2’s 1.2 megapixel front camera has been dubbed as being “an average choice for selfies.”

The screen’s resolution of 1,280 pixels by 720 pixels, means it is a 720 HD screen. As display sharpness can be measured in pixel density per square inch of the screen, at 294 PPI, according to Smartphone.findthebest, it’s about average for a phone released in 2014.

And the downsides?

What is however below average, is the Idol 2S’s battery life of 10 hours, which is some six hours less than the 2014 average of 16 hours.

Another downside is, as Digital Versus writes, its slow touch response time of 130 milliseconds, which, incidentally, still falls within the average category.

Of course the Idol S2’s main selling point is its 4G compatibility.

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All in all this stylish 4G phone with a five inch display which you can watch videos on in high definition and that is cunningly disguised as a higher end model but retails for a mere £185, has got to be worth a try.

The dual-screen Yotaphone 2 – for when one display just isn’t enough

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Smartphones are constantly finding new ways to automate or augment tasks that would traditionally be covered by other products, but until there’s a dramatic advance in technology we’re still essentially left manipulating similar-looking touchscreen devices. One company that has attempted to try something new is Yota, who incorporated two screens on its maiden handheld the Yotaphone last year. It’s now back for more with the Yotaphone 2, which essentially aims to refresh the device for the current generation.

The premise may require a bit of explanation – from the front it’s a fairly standard Android smartphone with all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect. Flip it over, though, and you’ll see an e-ink display that holds all the advantages of e-book readers – namely a comfortable reading platform and low impact on battery. Anyone who’s tried to read an e-book on a smartphone will tell you that this sounds like a great idea, but for some reason it never really took off. The Yotaphone 2 is now available to buy though, and with the usual suspects giving it the once over we’re keen to see whether this is something that will finally catch on.

To have a chance it needs to get enough right on the hardware front, and it appears as though what we’re looking at is a fairly mid-range smartphone. It has a pocketable 5” full HD (1920×1080) display on the front and round the back is your 4.7” alternative with 960×540 resolution using e-ink. There’s 32GB of internal memory (with no microSD), an 8MP front and 2MP rear camera and it runs Android 4.4 out of the box. Nothing to write home about so far, but it’s powerful enough to have potential, so let’s see how it goes.

We’ll let Engadget tell us how good the Yotaphone2 is as a phone before we get to the exciting bit. Initial impressions are good, with notable improvements over the predecessor and a sleeker overall package.

“It’s got comfortable curves in all the right places – if you’re using it like a regular smartphone and poking at the primary display”

it says, but:

“flip the phone over to make use of the E Ink side, and it’s a different story: The edges that come into contact with your hand are now sharp, unwelcoming, 90-degree intersections of glass and plastic.”

There’s some degree of tolerance required on the comfort front, then, but the quality on offer might make up for it. The main display is described as “gorgeous”, with AMOLED technology doing a great job of deep blacks and vibrant colours, good sunlight visibility and great viewing angles. The cameras don’t fare as well though, and despite being capable enough in bright, sunlit conditions can result in washed out images lacking in colour. It struggles with both artificial light and low-light conditions for various reasons, so it’s safe to say this might be a deal breaker if a good snapper is a high priority.

Like most reviewers CNet places a fair bit of emphasis on the second display and we’ll take a look at their summary for some more information on the USP.

“The rear screen has three main modes: YotaCover, which acts as a lock screen, displaying images from your gallery; an Android-like set of four homescreens with widgets for weather, favourite contacts and app icons; and a mode where it simply shows the same Android interface you see on the LCD side.”

Each of these screens can be programmed using the supplied app, which takes a bit of getting used to, but what really helps the Yotaphone 2 to stand out is YotaMirror, a function that allows you to display fully functional Android on the e-ink display. This aids functionality no end, but you’ll still want to stick to tasks that this technology is really intended for due to inherent drawbacks of the technology and issues with the device itself.

“Its biggest problem is with “ghosting”. When the display refreshes what’s on it, a faint trace of the previous screen is left behind”

says CNet, who also points out that it’s far less responsive than the LCD screen and less sharp, so:

“it’s no good for quick texting or emailing, but it does bring more functionality to the rear display than its predecessor had.”

But perhaps the biggest issue most users will have, it says, is working out which of your daily activities are better suited to the rear display, and thereby save on battery power.

Pocket Lint is generally impressed by the phone as a whole, stating that “everything works very well indeed”. The core hardware keeps everything running smoothly during typical operation but one area that does seem to be a problem is battery life. Considering you’d reasonably expect this to be superior to other phones because of the option of the e-ink display, it discovered that only if and when you master effective use of this will it “just about hold its own against some of the current flagships to get you through a long day”. It also has some comments on the second screen, namely that “as it stands the rear screen is a long way from being bug-free.” Issues include the aforementioned ghosting but it is responsive and seems to work well for reading books. There’s also a nice function to display a screenshot of whatever’s showing on your main screen on the rear, where it’ll stay until you refresh it. This could be a map, boarding pass or other important information that, privacy issues aside, could be a real benefit in certain situations.

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The final thing we should address is one that was mentioned in all three reviews – the price. At £550 sim-free you’re paying top-whack for what is essentially a mid-range handset for the benefit of the e-ink display. What’s pleasing is that it’s fairly impressive as a phone anyway, something Yota really had to get right to make it worthy of consideration, but this leaves consumers with a difficult choice between a top-tier, no nonsense smartphone or dual-screen e-ink innovator that could still turn out to be just a gimmick. The choice is yours.

Google’s Nexus 7 – great in size, but is there any substance?

nexus-7frontArriving in time for Christmas to round off its smartphone range alongside the Nexus 5, Google’s Nexus 6 fills that all important “phablet” niche with a device that’s as big on features as it is on size. If you’ve found a way to carry a big-screen handheld around with your comfortably, you’ll have this on your radar already, and given Google’s history we’re not exactly expecting them to drop the ball. Is it enough to trump the competition though?

First up, the specs. There’s a 6” display of course at a resolution of 1440×2560 and a whopping 493 ppi. It runs on a 2.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage but there’s no microSD for upping the capacity. On the front is a (relatively meagre by selfie standards) 2MP front camera with 13MP round the back and of course it sports Google’s newest OS, Android Lollipop.

The response so far has been pretty positive, though Forbes’ intriguingly titled “Nexus 6 Review Long Term: A Big, Brilliant Mistake” does have some issues with the design. The main ones, perhaps unsurprisingly, are with the size – it claims the comfort threshold has now been crossed and “Motorola may have done a great job with the bezels, but the Nexus 6 is still too big.” It’s all-round big as well – height, width and depth contribute to the fact that it’s difficult to actually wrap your hand around to operate it comfortably. Another problem here is weight distribution – it’s uneven and top-heavy apparently, which further increases the risk factor of one-handed use.  There are some positives though, including the fact that the thin bezels make it little bigger than the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus and Note 4, and that it feels very solidly built thanks to a metal band around the edges.

So the first hurdle you need to jump is comfortable operation, and if you can overcome it there are some nice treats in store.  Engadget looks at some core hardware including the display, which it says is about on-par with the Note 4 for clarity and offers an auto-brightness setting that comes in very handy when trying to read in the dark and some nice touches such as the ambient display mode:

“When you pick up the device off of a flat surface or whenever a new notification arrives, the display shows your notifications in a very dim white glow. This is a nice feature that lets you see what just showed up without having to activate the entire lockscreen each time the phone buzzes or beeps, which hopefully helps conserve battery life and makes it less distracting and more convenient for the user.”

When it comes to the camera Engadget was presently surprised when taking into account Motorola’s less than stellar history in this area. In fact it points out that “Google did a better job with the imaging experience overall, compared to the Nexus 5 “ and is impressed by an auto-mode that does an excellent job at “point and shoot”, though isn’t as capable at night without using the dual-LED to brighten shots.

To get a better idea of how the Nexus 6 performs and what you can do with it we’ll turn to TechRadar, who is typically detailed in its analysis. It hails the device as Google’s standard bearer for others to follow, and loaded with Lollipop this should be the most effective way to showcase the OS – stock Android avoids all of the often unwanted third-party overlays, plus of course you get updates before anyone else.

Some important features are welcomed, such as Lockscreen notifications for email alerts, text messages etc., Priority Mode t silences the device indefinitely or for set intervals, whitelisting lets key contacts through and there’s more intuitive access to key functions. One particularly appealing feature is the Turbo Charger that’ll juice up the phone for 6 hours of battery life in just 15 minutes, and can also be connected to a Nexus Wireless Charger or any Qi inductive charger.

TechRadar concludes by saying that “Nexus 6 proves that Google’s Nexus program is not only far from dead, it’s alive and kicking with a powerful 6-inch phablet” but stops short of claiming that it’s a better all-round device than the Note 4, which still seems to be the one to beat.

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The Nexus 6 is available now in midnight blue and white for £499 SIM-free, with contract deals for a free handset at around £35 per month also doing the rounds.

Microsoft Lumia 535 heralds the end of the Nokia phone era

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We can’t say we’ve been blown away by Nokia’s travails in the Smartphone market, largely because of the abundance of very capable competitors, but few could question their impact on the mobile industry in general. For many, a Nokia was their first phone, and if it wasn’t it would be the second or third. Cheap, reliable, solidly built – Nokia were the most popular phones around. It was a sad day when Microsoft finally announced it would be removing the old branding for good, then, and the device with the unenviable job of heralding the dawn of a new era is the Lumia 535.

Naturally it’s a Windows 8.1 smartphone and as the first branded by Microsoft, one that the company will hope can help kick-start an assault on Android and iOS. What’s interesting here is that it hasn’t gone for a powerhouse game-changer – in fact quite the opposite. Intended to tap the sub-£100 market it has perhaps quite sensibly focused on building numbers and tapping developing markets to increase interest in the mobile OS.

The 535 has a 5” IPS display with 960×540 resolution and 220ppi that’s coated in Gorilla Glass 3, a  Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, 1GB of RAM and 8GBb of internal storage with microSD expansion. Like many recent phones it also caters for the “selfie” generation with a 5MP camera on the front and back, though there’s no support for 4G. As expected it’ll be available in a wide range of colours, so our first thoughts are that it’ll be a bit of a hit with the youngsters.

There are no full reviews yet but various sources have gone hands-on. Let’s see if there’s enough about it to have a decent go at its target market.

TrustedReviews laments the passing of Nokia (as do we all) but points out that while the new 535 is steeped in Nokia heritage, is still a significant upgrade over the uninspiring Lumia 530. Reasons include the display, with IPS and decent overall performance marking it as “an improvement over the ugly TN-based LCD screen of the Lumia 530.”  Other immediate improvements include the camera, with a front-facer that has a wide-angle lens for “group selfies”, and a noticeable upgrade in terms of focusing speed and performance compared to the 530.

This doesn’t apply everywhere though – “the Lumia 535 uses the same quad-core Snapdragon 200 processor as the 530. This sounds good, but we weren’t impressed by its performance in the 530 and it’s arguably less powerful than the dual-core processor found in the ageing Nokia Lumia 520.”

Forbes discusses Microsoft’s strategy in this market, and defends its stance to make its first branded model a relatively low powered device. “This isn’t an afterthought from Microsoft, nor is it a lacklustre attempt to crack a market it doesn’t properly understand like other manufacturers. This is Microsoft’s mobile phone business plan – its entire strategy. The 535 is the flagship of budget smartphones and its price tag of $130 is supposed to cement Microsoft’s dominance in this area.” It goes on to describe the 535 as a “slightly better than average” budget device that retains a strong identity with the Lumia range with familiar brightly covered plastic and rounded edges. Not exactly an aesthetic triumph, but factors such as expandable storage and a removable battery are important features for developing markets that prioritise functionality over form.

It also discusses Microsoft’s “five great integrated Microsoft experiences”. These would be Skype, Office, 15GB of free OneDrive cloud storage, Cortana and Outlook – an attempt to one-up the competition and establish a more box-ready device

“This is Microsoft’s main gambit – access to its other services. Where cheap Android phones might leave the user in the wilderness in terms of updates and apps that provide a connected experience, Windows Phone users will have these out of the box.”

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We’ll conclude with CNet’s wrap-up of the 535, which it generally liked while acknowledging that there’s nothing particularly outstanding about it, which at the price point is probably to be expected.

“The Microsoft Lumia 535 isn’t exactly a standout device, which is surprising, as I was hoping Microsoft would use its first phone to show off what it can do. Instead, you get more of the same, though this is no bad thing.”

The Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will begin rolling out to key markets in November, and will be available in bright green, bright orange, white, dark grey, cyan and black. Pricing for Lumia 535 and Lumia 535 Dual SIM will vary by market and operator, but is estimated to be around 110 EUR before taxes and subsidies.

Samsung’s Galaxy A3 and A5 take aim at the Chinese market

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Some smartphones like to offer “credible” USPs such as waterproofing, which genuinely seem like a good idea. Others turn their focus towards things like the “selfie” generation, which like it or not appears to be a burgeoning market. The fact that it’s a big hit in China is guaranteed to make phone manufacturers sit up and take notice, so it’s not really a surprise to see “dedicated” devices being drip-fed into the mix.

It’s also not surprising to see Samsung getting involved – its figures have been hit in recent times by cheap and cheerful smartphones from China so the release of (what certainly should be) budget-priced models in the A3 and A5 seems like a clear strategy to try to counter the threat.

They are essentially quite similar aside from form factor – both have a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, run Android 4.4 (KitKat), offer 4G and have 16GB of storage with microSD. The A5 has a bigger screen at 5” compared to the A3’s 4.5”, though both offer 720p resolutions (1280×720), with the larger device also offering a higher 13MP camera compared to 8MP.

Interestingly Samsung claims that the A3 and A5 are optimised for social networking, though we’re not entirely sure why aside from the presence of “selfie” functionality and the fact that they are 4G phones that can upload your media pretty quick. Perhaps it’s the fact that those who frequent social networks are also quite likely to take quite a lot of these sorts of photos, so to this end both have a 5MP front-facing camera with a range of custom tools like Wide Selfie, Palm Selfie, Animated GIF and Beauty Face features. Your guess is as good as ours.

One thing we are pleased about is that Samsung has also placed a strong focus on design, so if these models are priced well they could offer a serious advantage over the functional but ultimately uninspiring design of many Chinese counterparts. The A3 an A5 are the slimmest Samsung smartphones yet at just 6.9mm and 6.7mm thick respectively (though technically this is a joint record with the 6.7mm Galaxy Alpha) and are importantly based on the Alpha’s design, which is to say they have full metal unibodies and come in a wide range of colours from Midnight Black to Champagne Gold.

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This seems like a strategic move from Samsung but also an entirely sensible one given that the Alpha represented a swanky design change for the company – it’s something we’ve seen before with HTC doing pretty well out of aping the One’s design with lower-priced Desires, so was always really a case of “when” rather than “if”. Whether or not the selfie focus will be a significant factor in driving sales is yet to be seen, but one thing that Samsung will certainly have to get right is the price.

Unfortunately there are no price details available yet, or indeed a release date for the UK. What we do know is that they’ll certainly be doing the rounds in China from November, and will be hitting other markets shortly afterwards.