Vodafone Smart Tab 4G – taking on Tesco in the tablet stakes

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Vodafone launched its own-brand 4G smartphones in July of this year and now it’s looking to muscle in on the burgeoning 4G tablet market as well. The Smart Tab 4G with its 8-inch screen is of course an updated version of the existing Smart Tab 4, but don’t write it off as just the same old device on a faster network.

Let’s take a look at what’s different. Most noticeable is the Smart Tab 4G’s HD display but there are changes under the skin too. For a start there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad core CPU in place of the MediaTek in the earlier machine. As mobile site Mobot says:

“We’re admittedly pleasantly surprised that the 3G model’s MediaTek processor is gone, too, the Vodafone Smart Tab 4G instead adopting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset.”

In addition the back camera is up from 2MP to 5MP. Otherwise the size, weight, battery and Android 4.4 are the same as the earlier model.

The pricing of the Smart Tab 4G also looks attractive, if you choose to buy the device to use on pay-as-you go it’ll cost £125 up front – that’s £4 less than the Wi-Fi only Tesco Hudl 2 though the Hudl has a slightly faster processor and more RAM. On a 1GB 4G contract it’s around £17 a month after a £29 initial payment. As Wired says, “Costing only £125, the Vodafone Smart Tab 4G is a veritable bargain, but is aimed squarely at competing with other smaller tablets in this price range. “

PC Advisor makes the point that:

“Rather than aiming for tech-heads these devices look to be marketed at less tech-savvy consumers, allowing children and old people easy, unintimidating access to tablet technology.”

Trusted Reviews notes that the Smart Tab’s processor is slower than the Hudl’s,

“The Smart Tab pairs this 8-inch HD display with a 1.2GHz quad-core processor tucked away inside. It’s worth noting that the Hudl 2 trumps this with its 1.83GHz Intel Atom chip.”

Trusted Reviews is, however, impressed by the tablet’s style, “It’s not a bad looking device either, sporting a svelte 7.9mm profile, slimmed-down front bezels, and a donut-dodging weight of just 309g.” Wired though is rather less smitten, “…while Vodafone hasn’t spent any time at all jazzing up what is a very plain and basic black plastic design, it’s easy to forgive thanks to the tablet’s price.”

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To sum up, as Vodafone’s Connected Devices Portfolio manager Jason Smith points out on the company’s blog, “You don’t see many devices of this quality at this price point.” Mr Smith may be slightly biased, however, if you want a reasonably priced tablet but don’t want to be restricted to sitting at home on your own Wi-Fi or seeking out hotspots, the Smart Tab 4G looks like an attractive proposition.

Archos 80 Helium 4G: review roundup

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According to figures from research company IDC the demand for tablets in mature markets is slowing down. No wonder then that manufacturers are adding more features in an effort to boost sales.

With faster 4G connectivity becoming more widely available offering download speeds of up to 150Mbps on the move, that seems like an obvious feature to make tablets more attractive. Even so a 4G tablet for under £200, sounds too good to be true, right?

French brand Archos has other ideas with its latest offering, first announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress, now on sale in the UK for just £199. The Archos 80 Helium 4G comes with a 1.2GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, along with 2MP front and 5MP rear cameras. It has an 8-inch 1024 x 768 screen and weighs in at 430 grammes thanks to its aluminium casing, but can it really compete with more expensive alternatives?

The first bad news is that it only runs Android Jelly Bean rather than the latest KitKat. Plus as TechRadar notes, “At 430g the 80 Helium 4G isn’t exactly light, the LG G Pad 8.3weighs in at 338g and the original iPad Minitips the scales at 312g – meaning this could be a bit of a beast to lug around.”

DigitalSpy is concerned about the how heavy the tablet is too, “Weighing in at 430g, the Archos 80 Helium 4G is heavier than most tablets in its size band, with the iPad Mini tipping the scales at 312g.”

As CNET says, “Internal storage is low at 8GB, however, Archos tries to make up for it with a microSD card expansion slot.” It also points out that the Archos, “lacks the premium specs and sleek designs,” of similar models from Lenovo and Samsung.

But of course the Helium is really about 4G. As Android Community says, “The tablet doesn’t offer the fastest of anything under its hood, but what it does offer is one of the lowest priced tablets with 4G connectivity on the market.”

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The £199 price is attractive but, TechRadar points out that you’ll have to factor in the cost of a 4G SIM and tariff too which will push price of ownership up a bit.

Whether the Archos is for you is really down to your priorities. If you want sleek design and the latest technical and OS specs then you’re probably best looking elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want a low-cost way into high-speed 4G access then the Helium 80 is worth a look.

The HTC Desire 510 delivers budget 4G goodness

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Amidst the furore surrounding its high-end One M7 and M8, HTC has been slipping mid-range devices under our noses, many of which are piggybacking the now iconic design of the One with its thin side bezel and top and bottom panels.

Previously reserved for headline “Boomsound” speakers, less expensive models such as the new Desire 510, the successor to the budget 500, forgo this for a traditional single speaker and microphone, but the 510 has a different USP up its sleeve that should satisfy those who prioritise surfing over sound. Billed as the “most affordable LTE smartphone to date”, this promises to deliver 4G to the masses, complete with all the benefits of smooth HD video streaming and super-fast downloads.

“Owning the latest and greatest technology shouldn’t be reserved for those with the highest budgets” says HTC CEO Peter Chou, and while as consumers we couldn’t agree more, we’re always hesitant to get too excited about anything that commands the use of the word “budget”. Let’s have a look under the hood:

A quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 processor runs the show, there’s a 4.7” (480×854) display, 8GB of storage with a microSD, a 5MP rear camera and 0.3MP front facer. HTC wasn’t kidding then – this is fairly budget as things go, but you can apparently squeeze 17 hours from the battery life and it runs Android 4.4 KitKat with a proprietary sense UI, which includes features like Zoe and Blinkfeed found on the higher-end models.

Chou goes on to state:

“People today should expect their smartphones to double as mobile entertainment hubs. This means ensuring that they’re fully loaded with the latest movies, TV shows and albums, by taking advantage of the super-fast network speeds available. The HTC Desire 510 does this and more, making it the perfect mobile media device.”

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And in fairness the 510 does (hyperbole aside) seem to fulfil these promises – like most of the Desire range it’s a tidy looking device that’s capable of all the bare necessities along with the added benefit of 4G; though it is disappointing not to see dual front-facing speakers on a “multimedia device”, even if they aren’t of the same quality of its big brothers.

The Desire 510 will be available in the UK from September in a choice of Terra White and Meridian Grey and is compatible with the HTC Dot View case for added customisation options. And the price is indeed nice – £149 SIM free. Certainly worth a look if you can find a good value 4G plan.

Samsung’s new Alpha – the latest saga in Samsung’s Galaxy Quest

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Samsung has just unveiled its latest handset – the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. What is all the fuss about?

Starting with the size, it is rather slim at just 6.7 mm thick and is the first Galaxy to be fitted with a metal frame. It is not a heavy handset either, weighing in at just 115 grams – very lightweight and very portable.

So far so good, and Samsung has listened to some of its criticism in terms of the robustness of its phones. One noticeable drawback in the new Alpha is the back is fitted with a flimsy plastic case unlike its rivals Apple and HTC, but this carries the advantage over these rivals in that you can remove the battery. However the flimsy plastic case also prevents effective water-proofing – a small detail but one that would have been appreciated. 

It comes with fingerprint sensor built into the Home button, similar to its other family members. This feature is a relatively new development in mobiles, and comes standard with Apple’s latest iPhone 5. Fingerprint scanning allows for near-instant recognition of the fingerprint of registered users in the phone, so passwords and codes do not have to be entered to access the phone. This works well on the iPhone 5, but Samsung’s fingerprint scanning in its recent Galaxy S5 has taken flak recently, and is reputed to be fairly temperamental and does not work nearly as efficiently as the iPhone’s.

The comparisons with other members of the Galaxy family are pretty well rounded up by Andrew Williams over at Trusted Review where he says:

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is not a replacement for the Galaxy S5. In many respects it’s a lower-end phone, sitting in-between the Galaxy S5 and S5 Mini in terms of spec.

It has been fitted with Octa Core (Quad 1.8GHz + Quad 1.3GHz) processor complete with 2GB RAM – plenty of processing power for YouTube watchers and Facebook users, but lacking behind the Galaxy S5 if you’re a serious mobile gamer due to its reduced processing power.

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On the screen side you will find a 4.7inch HD (1280x720p). While this is a decent resolution for a handset, it has been pointed out by Trusted Reviews that it is far from being the best screen on the market: “A long shot from the Full HD and QHD heights of the market leading devices”.

The phone is shipped with the Android KitKat 4.4.4 operating system and has internal memory capacity of 32GB – a good amount of space if you plan to store lots of photos, music and videos on your phone. It doesn’t have a SD slot so if you have the tendency to hoard data your phone you may have to ensure you have your phone properly organised. For the selfie lover you have a 2.1MP at the front and a 12MP at the back – plenty of photo quality whether you’re taking photos of yourself or someone else.

The Samsung Galaxy Alpha comes in 5 attractive colours. Charcoal Black, Dazzling White, Frosted Gold, Sleek Silver, and Scuba Blue are all available and look great, so make sure you choose before you buy or you may be stuck for choice. So far Carphone Warehouse as an exclusivity on the blue option. Other provider in line are EE , Vodafone and Three but the phone is not due to release until late August top early September. No announcement has been made by Samsung in terms of pricing for the moment so we shall have to wait and wait and see if the Galaxy Alpha is going to take the world of mobiles over.

First look: Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini

SM-G800H_GS5-mini_Black_11Samsung’s grip on the Android smartphone market shows no signs of slowing down – it continues to headline the top-end with powerhouse devices and has catered nicely to less demanding users with stripped-down versions. The S5 mini was more a case of “when” than “if”, and shows up to fill a familiar niche in users who want a smaller device and don’t necessarily need the raw power of the big brother.

As with the rest of these miniature marvels, the S5 mini does look like an undersized S5 and takes many of the core features with it, including the ultra Power Saving Mode, a heart rate monitor, fingerprint scanner, and of course full compatibility with Samsung wearable devices. It also mimics the design, with a unique perforated pattern on the back cover along with a premium, soft-touch grip.

Elsewhere there’s a 4.5”Super AMOLED (720 x 1280) display, quad core 1.4 GHz processor, 1.5GM RAM and an 8MP camera, and its 4G compatible if you’re up for paying more for super-fast downloads. It’s also IP67 dust and water resistant, which means it’s fully protected against dust and protected against immersion in water to depths up to 1 meter for a limited time, a very real benefit if, like us, you’re prone to dropping these things down the toilet.

Compare the S5 mini to its predecessor, the S4 mini, and you’ll see a small size increase, largely due to the increased 4.5” display (up from 4.3”). Pixel density is also up from 256 to 326ppi, which matches the iPhone 5s. Other notable upgrades include double the internal storage (16GB), the fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor of course and the fact that it will ship with the updated KitKat interface alongside the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI.

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 mini come in different colours

Overall it’s a worthy upgrade on the stripped down S4, encompassing enough of the novelties of the full-sized S5 and still delivering a phone that punches above its weight in terms of “budget” handsets. This term is a slight misnomer however – the S5 mini is a premium device in an undersized chassis and allows users to benefit from a relatively underpowered but still more than capable handheld in a smaller form factor, with the added bonus of all of Samsung’s new value-added extras.

No details on pricing are available at this stage, though we’d expect it to cost around £350 sim-free. It hits Russia first in a range of colours including Charcoal Black, Shimmery White, Electric Blue and Copper Gold, and is expected to follow shortly to the UK and US with a similar range of aesthetic options.

For more information please visit Samsung

Vodafone announce two new “own brand” 4G phones

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Vodafone has launched the Smart 4 Turbo 4G smartphone and, coming soon, the Smart 4 Power. We decided to have a quick look at both to see if they have what it takes to make an impression in the world of 4G phones.

These models are aimed at lower end of the market and will bring 4G to pay-as-you-go customers and lower tier contracts. The Vodafone Smart 4Turbo is the most affordable 4G device in the Vodafone range, it will set you back just £135 on PAYG but you’ll also need the £31.50 per month Red 4G plan, which comes with unlimited texts/calls and, of course, 4GB super-fast of data. This isn’t a particularly cheap tariff for an affordable handset as Tech Radar pointed out.

The Smart 4Turbo comes with high-speed 4G and 3G HSPA+ connectivity, 1.2GHz quad-core processor and a highly responsive 4.5-inch screen. It runs on the latest Android 4.4. KitKat operating system and you get 1GB of RAM which is pretty average for a smartphone.

It has a 0.3 mega-pixel front camera and a 5 mega-pixel primary one. The front camera is one of the weak points as you would expect one with higher definition (especially if you are a fan of Skype) on this type of phone – as pointed out by the folks over at FindTheBest. The built-in assisted GPS technology lets you use your smartphone for walking or car navigation, but don’t forget to keep looking up!

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Turbo back and front

The Smart 4Power ups the ante by adding screen real estate and also increasing the processor speed. It comes with a 5-inch HD display and a 1.3GHz quad-core processor from MediaTek, and it has been especially tuned to allow super-fast connection to the 4G network, as well as longer battery life and smooth video playback. Hopefully this will be an improvement over the battery in the 4Turbo as a commentator on FindTheBest stated that it ‘drains a little bit fast’.

Here are the technical specifications to both phones:

Smart 4Turbo

Dimensions (mm)
134.5 x 67.5 x 10.4
Weight (g)
138
Processor
1.2Ghz quad-core
Display
4.5” FWVGA capacitive
RAM
1GB RAM (microSD up to 32GB)
Camera
5MP + front camera
Operating system
Android 4.4 (KitKat)

Smart 4Power

Dimensions (mm)
141 x 71 x 9.5
Weight (g)
162
Processor
1.3GHz quad-core
Display
5” HD multi-touch screen with In Plane Switching
RAM
1GB RAM (microSD up to 32GB)
Camera
5MP + front camera
Operating system
Android 4.4 (KitKat)

To find out more about both phones head to this dedicated section on the Vodafone web site.

One For All: Indoor Aerials to Tackle 4G Interference

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Everyone has gotten terribly excited about the emergence of 4G – and for those who live or work in central London and other cities, much has been made of the fantastic upload and download speeds you can already see on your smartphones.

But one of the downsides of the progression made in data speeds is that the rollout of 4G across the 800MHz spectrum this year could lead to up to two million UK homes suffering interference with their Freeview signal. So say aerial makers OneForAll, which pinpoints homes near a 4G transmitter, blocks of flats with one aerial and places where the Freeview signal is already weak as those most likely to have issues with reception.

To combat the problem, One For All has produced a pair of indoor aerials that feature built-in 4G LTE filters designed to cut down interference from the 4G signals. It works by cleaning the transmission received by yourset-top box, which means that any signals above the 790MHz spectrum are filtered out.

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The top-of-the-range aerial is the SV9395, an amplified indoor antenna for the best TV reception up to Full HD and also in 3D. It features 360-degree multi-patch technology, which increases reception capability, allowing the aerial to be positioned flat, standing or on the wall. It has a touch control digital amplifier up to 51dB and is DVB-T/T2, Freeview and DAB compatible.

The SV9385 is a smaller antenna with active noise reduction filters including the innovative 4G LTE filter and a GSM-block filter. It offers dual-patch technology that offers gives it a 180-degree reception angle and has an adjustable digital amplifier up to 47dB.

Both have gold-plated coaxial cables and will work up to 15 miles from the nearest TV transmitter. You can check your distance from the transmitter at the OFA . Follow the steps for Aerials.

The All In One SV9395 (£49.95) and SV9385 (£39.99) can be found at Currys, Amazon, Maplins and Tesco. For more information go to OneForAll.

But before you splash out, check out the at800 site. Ofcom made it part of the bidding process in the 4G auction that the winners would fund an organisation to help any homes affected. That organisation is at800 and it should proactively identify who is affected and what can be done to help them. They will provide filters for aerials to tackle the problem – but only one per household so you may have to purchase more. Where the filters are not strong enough to work, the organisation will cover the costs of moving your TV service to cable or some other solution. You can register your interest to be kept up to date with developments on the website.

Blackberry Z10 Review Roundup: Phoenix Rising or Swan Song?

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Very much a fallen angel, it’s rare to hear Research in Motion’s name mentioned these days without “troubled” preceeding it. So much so that they’ve rebranded. But this wasn’t always the case and as the BlackBerry manufacturer’s legions of stubborn fans can attest, they were once at the top of their game. So how does their new flagship phone the Z10 fare in the Samsung and Apple dominiated smartphone landscape? Is the superfast 4G handset another mess like previous touchscreen attempts? Too little too late? Or have the Blackberry Faithful finally been rewarded for their patience?

Here’s what some of the pros had to say

Ars Technica: “It’s not good enough for the Z10 to be the best BlackBerry phone ever”

For a company that has never really made a phone like this before, the actual hardware itself pretty much nails it. At this point, the modern smartphone’s form factor is “a rectangle with a screen on front” in the same way that a laptop is “a screen with a keyboard attached,” but BlackBerry has gone and made themselves a pretty nice rectangle.

Trusted Reviews: “On the hardware front BlackBerry hasn’t done much wrong.”

The BlackBerry Z10 only has am 1800mAh battery so it was never likely to impress when the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 have 2100mAh units. But it still put up a pretty good fight, lasting a day without too much bother… Perhaps more importantly, those used to the long battery lives of older more conventional BlackBerrys may be alarmed by the single day life of the Z10, but such is the way of most modern smartphones.

Cnet: “The Hub is fractionally easier than opening different email, text or social apps”

It doesn’t look particularly nice, rendering your stream of social missives as an unattractive wall of text. Tapping on individual messages shows them in a plain white box on a grey background that leaves much to the imagination in aesthetic terms.

T3: “This is one of the best touchscreen keyboards we’ve seen.”

The moment you start adding accounts the Z10 will actively sweep your emails and texts, learning the language you use and creating a catalogue of common phrases. This means that when you start typing it’ll intelligently predict words that only you’re likely to use.

The Verge: “Frankly, it’s a better smartphone than I expected from RIM at this stage in the game.”

The problem with the Z10 is that it doesn’t necessarily do anything better than any of its competition. Sure, there are arguments that could be made about how it handles messages or the particulars of its camera, but no one could argue that there’s a “killer app” here. Something that makes you want or need this phone because it can do what no other phone can do. That’s not the case — in fact if anything is the case, it’s that the Z10 can’t yet do some things that other devices can. Or at least, can’t do them quite as well.

Update, check out our unboxing of the Z10’s sister phone, the new Blackberry Q10: