Come As You Are – The Nirvana Smartphone

In a world of increasingly sophisticated and even pointless developments in mobile phone technology (yes I’m looking at you translucent phone) it takes more and more for mobile phone ideas to stand out. The Nirvana phone concept from Citrix, whilst not exactly new, does manage to do this by taking some of the more interesting possibilities of advancements in mobile phone technology and marry them to solid real world usage scenarios.

The Nirvana smartphone, which is still at the concept stage at the moment, harnesses the raw power of the modern smartphone, plugs it into an external monitor, keyboard and mouse and allows the user to experience the joys of low powered net-top computing without having to shell out for an additional net-top.

As a smartphone owner, I love the combination of power and portability that they provide and the ability to scale this up to a desktop experience at certain locations – when hot-desking, in a cafe or at a hotel is appealing. The increase in the number of people working in the cloud using remote desktops, web applications, and the possibilities opened up be emerging web technologies such as HTML5 means thin-client style processor-lite computing is set to challenge the bigger, faster, better! paradigm that has dominated computing up until now.

The current crop of smart phones all have the processing power to be extended into low powered computers and with the next generation already looming around the corner processing power is no longer a major hurdle.

However, a few small things need to be take care of to make the Nirvana phone a reality instead of a tantalisingly close dream. Video out needs work – I wouldn’t really want to work on anything less than 1024*768 and HD out would be ideal. Both current models of Nokia N95 and iPhone have video out – but not at a high enough resolution to be helpful for prolonged work.

Keyboard and mouse support is also a must. Bluetooth is clearly an option. Bluetooth connectivity is possibly on some existing smartphones, and even iPhones if you are willing and able to jailbreak and install the BT stack (which took me well over an hour last time I tried).

A Nirvana docking station, similar to the iPad keyboard accessory, that charges the phone whilst it is on the go and connects to the a mouse and monitor would be ideal – especially if phone companies could put their collective differences aside and settle on a standardised interface. A wireless interface for docking – ala Powerstone charging devices would also be great but pushes the device back into the realms of vapourware.

The Citirix blog throws out a couple of interesting usage scenarios beyond the regular roadwarrior in a café ideas that sprung to my mind (I’m writing this in a café so my imagination is limited.) These usage scenarios include being able to dock your phone to a TV, which would enable simple yet powerful web connectivity, media viewing and video conferencing.

Whilst still a dream at the moment, the good people at Citirix have provided this video to highlight some of the possibilities available.

Samsung announce Galaxy Portal with Layar

“Layar”, the Augmented Reality Browser”, boasts Samsung like we all know all about this intriguingly titled new browser already. When in reality most of us have never even heard of it, although that is perhaps a good sign in the cutthroat world of technology and the increasingly pressurized yearning for companies, particularly mobile phone companies, to be innovative and inspiring.

In launching the Galaxy Portal, Samsung have leapt into the electrifying new world of Augmented Reality, and they’ve sure done it in style.  The chicly slender handset embraces a 3.2” TFT screen, has 32GB of memory and its Android Operating System enables users to download more 20,000 applications from the Android Market. Where many mobiles fail, Galaxy Portal users can enjoy the extensive range of apps and multimedia content without being abruptly interrupted by a flat battery, as this phone comes equipped with a 1500mAh battery life.

With the Galaxy Portal, users can quickly learn the location of a local business with the ‘Samsung Local Search’, powered by Qype. They can find a hotel with ‘Samsung Hotel Search’, powered by hotels.com, or they can obtain train station information with the ‘Samsung Train Station Search’, powered by thetrainline.com.  It is interesting that many of the thousands of pre-installed apps on this phone have been re-named to ‘Samsung’ – savvy self-promotion by the South Korean mobile giants, and one which exemplifies Samsung as being seminal ambassadors in mobile app technology.

Although regardless of Samsung’s determination to be branded as the indispensable developers in the app-driven world of mobile phones, it is the ‘Layar’ application that is undoubtedly the Galaxy Portal’s most innovative and exciting feature. Samsung have teamed up with a strategically decisive assortment of ‘lifestyle brands’, intent on easing the itineraries of even the most demanding of lifestyles. Faced with the tedious task of finding somewhere to dine tonight, simply point the Galaxy Portal at a restaurant and the visual guide will steer you to a restaurant. Not sure which pub has your team’s game on, the ‘Samsung Football Pub Finder’, with its comprehensive database of pubs with satellite television across the nation, will take you to the door. By pointing the handset, the Augmented Reality browser provides detailed visual guides about what’s going on in the vicinity.

And as the UK has recently been primed as becoming one of the world’s biggest consumers of mobile Augmented Reality, Samsung have well timed the launch of the Galaxy Portal onto the British high streets. As since January 12 this year, T Mobile has had the Galaxy Portal in stock, albeit only for an exclusive three months.

Although regardless of this mobile’s aesthetical elegancy, its ferocious appetite for apps and its seemingly endless quest to make busy lives seamless, what is really spectacular about the Galaxy Portal is its price. At approximately 225.00 pounds, the Samsung Galaxy Portal really does allow Augmented Realism to become a reality.

Sony Ericsson launch Xperia 10 successor: Vivaz

Those of you inspired by the Golden Globes and imminent Oscars will be pleased to learn that the Sony Ericsson Vivaz could help you take your first steps to stardom. The handset allows you to produce and broadcast HD video content from your phone, making it a big temptation for any budding film-makers out there.

Thanks to the dedicated video key, it’s easy to capture spontaneous moments for your hard-hitting documentary or (perhaps more likely) to film your mates messing around in the pub on a Friday night.

There is a continuous auto-focus feature – normally only found on camcorders – to ensure that the picture quality stays pin sharp.  So there’s no chance of missing any detail and every probability that your creative abilities will be clear to all once you’ve used the phone to upload the films onto YouTube and Picasa via WiFi. And if that isn’t enough, the phone also gives you easy access to Facebook and Twitter to guarantee that your work will be seen by your closest fans and dedicated followers.

If you prefer photographic fun to video glory, rest assured that your pictures will be just as impressive – the camera is a stonking 8.1 megapixel with 4x digital zoom, image stabiliser and face and smile detection.  The handset also has a media player and an open platform, so you can download your choice of applications through PlayNow and the Symbian Developer Community.  There’s also a good range of preloaded apps, including GoogleMaps and QuickOffice.

The Vivaz is the second in Sony Ericsson’s family of entertainment phones, following the Xperia X10 that was out at the end of last year.  These new phones are all being designed with what they are calling a ‘human curvature’, which basically means they have sexy round edges and fit comfortably into the palm of your hand.  This is intended to make it easier to use the touchscreen one-handed.

In a nutshell, this primary purpose of this phone is entertainment and it promises to cover all needs well.  However, it also features enough practical features to use it as a smartphone.  Available in four colours – Moon Silver, Cosmic Black, Galaxy Blue and Venus Ruby – it should be available in the first quarter of this year so keep your eyes peeled for more details… and start writing that script now.

The iPhone 4: Rumour round up

Being an Apple product is much like being a celebrity on the red carpet; there is always insurmountable hype and excitement, questions are asked but nothing is really revealed and you can guarantee that whatever it is, it will be dressed in a spectacularly designed outfit.

Apple products are the celebrities of the tech world and now the iPad has been unveiled, attention has turned to the prospect of the iPhone 4GS – if that is indeed, what it will be called.  A stunning image of a silver slimline model has been circulated on the web, its design seemingly borne of Apple’s love of simplicity and the minimalistic – yet Apple continues to practice their failsafe PR method of saying absolutely nothing.

According to fellow tech sites (including Phones Review, PC World and Know Your Mobile) the 4Gs will have a better processor and longer battery life with a removable battery.  The handset will come with a 5 megapixel camera and a front-facing camera undoubtedly enabling video calling and Skype very possible.

Other sites have claimed the new iPhone will have an OLED screen and touch-sensitive casing meaning that those fancy swiping actions you make on the screen could probably be made on the back of the handset too.  The phone will also come equipped with dual core processing allowing the use of more than one app at a time – one of the major downfalls of the 3Gs, and a massive 64GB memory.  There are even rumours we’ll have our pick of colours.

Some of this speculation seems to have come from iPhone 3Gs owners who upon discovering the imperfections of their handsets, have created idealised improvements in the new model.  I guess we’ll have to wait until June to find out…

Motorola Droid (aka Milestone) reaches UK

The uninformed remain disappointed as Google Android’s latest champion, the Verizon Droid, has yet to make its way to the UK. At least, not under its usual guise.

The latest phone to show off Google Android’s features, the Droid is currently making waves in the UK as the rebranded Motorola Milestone; as the Milestone and Droid are technically the same phone, the change of name is extremely confusing. This is a lost opportunity to cash in on the original’s success.

Sold exclusively in the UK through eXpansys, the sales outlet reported that all stocks of the Milestone were sold out within 3 hours of launch, on December 10th. This draws parallels with the US, where the Droid is estimated to have sold over one-million units in the two months since launch.

Whilst no single phone will be able to challenge the dominance of the iPhone, Google Android as a platform is gaining more and more supporters. The number of Android handsets has ballooned from the poorly executed G1 to over 20 different mobile phones.

The Milestone is leading the charge for the second generation of phones, utilising Motorola’s MOTONAV in place of the US version’s Google Maps. The phone condenses a huge list of features into its slim-line frame, most impressively a full sized qwerty keyboard which slides down from behind the high resolution 3.7 inch screen. Featuring a  5MP, 5 times digital zoom camera and impressive turn by turn GPS, the Milestone makes a formidable claim for the iPhone’s crown.

A £35 18 month T-mobile 18 contract will secure you the phone, but for those looking to choose another carrier, a wallet breaking £400 can buy an unlocked version of the handset.

The future of the Milestone is uncertain. However, as long as the phone remains with such a low visibility distributor, it’s chances of widespread adoption look slim. If the reviews are true, the Droid is a fantastic phone that is waiting for industry approval. We hope the UK realises this, and soon.

Sssh… lets whisper about the LG Rumor Touch

It may not be available until the spring, but there are some stirring rumors flying around about LG’s new Rumor Touch phone.

In bragging a hefty 3-inch touch screen, increasing its 4-line keyboard to a 5-line one, boosting its camera by O.7 MP to 2.0 MP, and including a 3G data capability on Sprint’s network, the Rumor Touch can justifiably be considered as being infinitely superior to its predecessor, the LG Rumor.  And so it should be considering all the preliminary hype about this latest touch screen phone, which is not available on the market for another four months!

Although the LG Rumor Touch’s preeminence does not stop at its giant touch screen and full QWERTY keyboard. Additional features include a Hello user interface, enabling favorite contacts to be quickly attainable from the home page, a microSD memory card slot with 32GB card capability, Instant Messaging and SMS threaded text messaging, easy image upload of MySpace, YouTube, and Photobucket, and, most importantly, a quick demo video from an LG employee for those struggling to get their head around the phone’s complexity of features.

But what I find pleasantly pleasing about this phone is that unlike many of the camera phones flooding the market at present, the LG Rumor Touch has a battery life of up to 7 hours of continuous talk time. So many times have I been cut of “mid-sentence” or faced with a black screen, cruelly stopped from capturing my baby take his first steps on camera, that the fact that this camera phone has a longer battery life than many of its rivals is enough to make me go out and buy it.

Also for the many Facebook fanatics amongst us, a Facebook app is conveniently accessible from the main menu.

Although the cost of the LG Rumor Touch has yet to be announced, at least by the time the phone arrives on the shelves so should have the warmer weather, and our fingers should be less frozen and more capable at dealing with intricacy involved with a touch screen phone.

Google announces first phone: Nexus One

After a lot of behind-the-scenes work, including the development of a mobile operating system and pulling the strings behind the Motorola Droid, Google has finally come to market with a product that it spear-headed itself – the Nexus One. Despite being released for sale only a few hours ago it’s already on prime time news across the World.

However, promoting the phone would be easy for Google even without the media intervention – they already possess the world’s most visited website, and are not shy to advertise their products on the front page as they did with the Droid a few months back. Add in advertisements by T-Mobile, Google’s telecomm partner in the U.S., followed by Verizon in the spring, and you can already imagine the overexposure we shall soon feel. Did we mention that Google also own the largest advertising network on the internet? Oh, that too, then.

The phone itself is also actually quite good – boasting both excellent software and hardware advantages over its rivals.  To summarise an excellent review by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com, the Nexus benefits from being:

11.5 mm deep – thinner than the iPhone’s 12.3 mm.

130 grams in weight – lighter than the iPhone’s 135 grams.

Battery is removable – more removable than the iPhone’s non-removable battery.

Micro SD storage card expandable to 32 GB – more expandable than the iPhone’s non-expandable, non-existant SD storage card slot.

3.7 inch 480 x 800 OLED capacitive touchscreen display – more pixels than the iPhone’s 480 x 320.

Google Voice is deeply integrated – more deeply than it was  for the iPhone, as Apple rejected it from the App store.

Two microphones, one to reduce ambient noise – more microphones than the iPhone.

A five megapixel camera with a flash – more megapixels than the iPhone.

While some might argue that this is a personal attack on the iPhone rather than a review, Arrington does have a point – if the iPhone is the best device on the market, and the Nexus does things better, then we really do have something special.

Aside from creating a great phone, another benefit of Google’s entry to the market is in their openness.  Google allow anyone to see the programming source for their operating system, Android, and as such it has become the smartphone OS of choice for industry giants Samsung, HTC and Motorola. This allows people to get used to the Android system and carry that experience over to any new phone they may chose – meaning a greater array of handsets for developers to code applications for.

However, these companies haven’t made a big impact in the market, and have faired pretty poorly in comparison with Apple, RIM (the maker of Blackberry) or Nokia.  Smartphones running Android make up a paltry 3.5% of the market, a fifth of Apple’s share.

Google also allows the user to install any software they want onto the device, which is the opposite approach to Apple, who have a frequently criticised and stringent selection criteria. That said, Apple also has over five times the applications as Android.

Google is also selling the Nexus One as contracted or sim-free, with the later option massively increasing the potential number of consumers.

Other news from around the web is that the 24-month ownership cost of an iPhone is 50% higher than a Nexus One and Android devices can now store apps on their SD card, allowing more apps per-phone.  Finally, Google also appears to be partnering with popular existing web services, such as Cooliris, to bring their 3D Wall technology onto the device and to create a better user experience.

Mewbox: Android’s answer to iTunes

D’Angelo’s quote says “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it.”. Mewbox have stuck to this principle with their foray into the digital music market, unleashing the first mp3 store for Google’s fledgling mobile platform, Android.

mewbox-google-android

As the first in its class, Mewbox has a lot to live up to. Fear not, however; with  DRM-free mp3s, an intuitive interface and a music blog on the sidelines, Mewbox delivers. The company tagline- “Music you can keep and share”- is infused into their ethos; to herald in the launch, the team have already offered up a free download pack of mp3s and a host of competitions.

The original application launched exclusively on Archos in mid September, whilst the Vanilla version arrived on December 3rd. I was on hand at the Vanilla launch party that night, held in the trendy Islington Metal Works; as well as organising a great line up of dance acts and DJ’s, Mewbox offered up Archos 5 Internet Tablets with which to test the application. Everything worked as expected, and the build offered some insight into the future of the application. Future releases should see Mewbox integrate some “Top 10” lists curated by tastemakers, as well as offering a host of podcasts from Mewbox live shows.

The application itself is a beautiful beast, with 7digital’s bespoke mp3 retail store disguised behind a flowery, efficient user interface. As we went to press, Mewbox offered 4 million mp3s from over 23000 labels, including the big four. Managing Director Neil McManus gave a statement at the launch:

“Mewbox aims to reconnect the experience value to digital music. The love that music fans feel towards vinyl, a CD or a live gig is missing in the digital space. By connecting with our users in the physical and digital worlds, offering free ticket to gigs and exclusive downloads via the app and our blog, and staging a series of top class live events, Mewbox will bridge the gap between listening to digital music and loving digital music.”

With Google’s official seal of approval, Mewbox looks set to take the Android market by storm. A wide variety of new Android phones arrive in the New Year, taking over from the disappointing G1 and essentially securing the future of this company. And who knows, maybe Mewbox will find its way forward as a desktop application in the near future? The same principle holds true: small company, big ambition. One to watch.