Test driving the new ZTE Racer

ZTE, whose F930 we looked at here, are back with another medium spec handset, to the delight of budget conscious shoppers everywhere. ZTE invited Latest Gadgets to have a play with their newest attempt to win the hearts and minds of the average mobile phone shopper.

ZTE-racer

The ZTE racer is an Android powered smartphone, that shuns the latest and greatest for “quite good”. Unveiled to an audience of spec hungry tech journalists, there was distinct apathy at the Racer’s humble offering, running Eclair, or Android 2.1. However, people who have to actually pay for their phones will probably see one key figure and rejoice – the handset is £99 on PAYG from 3. Compared to a £599 iPhone 4, the cheap and cheerful handset gives owners pleanty to smile about.

Mr. Wu Sa, director of mobile device operations, ZTE (UK) Ltd, explained that ZTE are not necessarily in the business of placing cutting edge technology in the hands of the elite (although they do have an eye on the high end). The Racer is instead part of a move to democratize technological advances, “making smart phones available to the UK market at prices affordable by th majority of UK consumers”. £99 PAYG is pretty cheap by any measure, and arguably puts Internet access into the hands of a greater number of people – people, who want Facebook, Twitter and email on their phones rather than those obsessing over Snapdragon processors.

So what does £99 get you? A 2.8″ QVGA touchscreen, 3.2 Megapixel camera and 7.2 Mbps HSDPA. More meaningfully you gain access to a reasonable variety of internet services – Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Google Maps and the Wild West of mobile apps that is the Android Marketplace.

Oddly the handset most threatened by the ZTE racer is the ZTE F930. For a few dollars more you can jump into the world of smart phones. I remember recommending the F930 as an ideal handest for students, teens or people on a budget. Now the ZTE racer is on the scene I’d have to recommend spending that extra £30.

Parrot’s AR.Drone: Polly wants a quadricopter

Latest Gadgets were invited to the launch of the Parrot AR.Drone in a swanky Central London location. In case you missed the AR Drones’ debut at CES 2010 the AR Drone is a toy helicopter with a difference. A quadricopter that you can control via Wi-Fi using a smart phone, the AR.Drone screams cool from the rooftops. If you ever watched AirWold as a child and dreamed of being Stringfellow Hawke, then this is the toy for you.

Parrot-AR-Drone

Creator Henri Seydoux spoke of his desire to fuse virtual and physical play – creating video games that you can interact with in the real world and the AR.Drone is pretty successful in this regard. The Quadricopter contains two cameras, one at the front, one at the bottom. The bottom camera connects to an Inertial Measurement Unit which measures horizontal speed for stability and has been adapted from military technology. And judging by how smoothly the AR.Drone flies it is working overtime. Both cameras can stream to your smartphone over WiFi as it creates a local network so you can use it outside. Flying the ‘copter is cool, but it’s hard to describe how cool having the images from both cameras beamed into your hands is.

Upping the cool stakes (sorry my thesaurus has failed me) the AR.Drone comes with some Augmented Reality Apps that overlay the real world with video games – hoops to dive through, enemies to look at, areas to bomb etc. AR.FlyingAce for example enables you to perform World War II battles. You can join the AR.Drone-Pilot Academy and improve your skills or compete against other AR.Drone owners. There is an SDK so expect a range of augmented reality games to appear over various platforms over time. You have to buy the apps from the App Store (on iOS at the moment), which seems a bit much given that the hardware alone is far from cheap.

Available in HMV from August 2010 for £299 the AR.Drone is an expensive toy aimed at rich kids or grow men or women with too much disposable income. But even as a grown man with too little disposable income I have a pretty hard time resisting.

iPhone 4: the verdict

So, the next generation of iPhone has been released. Here’s what the great and the good of the tech world who have managed to grab a few minutes with the holy grail for phone lovers have to say about it…

iPhone-4-Round-Up
“Courtesy of Apple “

Pocket Lint:
“The iPhone 4 feels great in the hand. The glass on the back and front makes it smooth and appealing – no wonder Apple’s own case is just a piece of brightly coloured rubber that covers the extreme edges, leaving the front and back exposed to the touch. And that stainless steel frame is pretty cool, too.”

Gizmodo, which famously got hold of a prototype earlier this year, commented:
“The biggest feature of the new iPhone 4 is probably video calling, thanks to its front camera. Apple calls it FaceTime, and it works iPhone 4 to iPhone 4 over Wi-Fi – at least for 2010. Apple claims that in the future it will be available over 3G.”

PC Pro’s Barry Collins, meanwhile, lists the four things he thinks are still missing from the iPhone 4:
“1. 64GB model: Those with even moderately sized music collections and an appetite for apps may struggle with the 32GB storage capacity, let alone the entry-level 16GB model.
2. OLED display.
3. iPad tethering: OK, nobody was seriously expecting Apple to shoot itself in the foot by allowing iPad owners to tether their device to the iPhone and give it a mobile internet connection. But is it really too much to ask for those who’ve invested in Apple products twice?
4. Music streaming.

FT:
“If you’re a gamer, you will appreciate the addition of a gyroscope to the iPhone’s motion-sensing capabilities, and if you are just a general user, improved battery life that allows up to 10 hours of internet browsing on Wi-Fi means the iPhone will still be lit up and functioning long after the Evo, with its weak battery life, will have shut down.”

Techradar was a fan of the phone’s camera functionality (with a 5mp sensor and 720p HD video):
“The metal buttons, shiny edge, and the way the flat-edged case feels more camera-like when you’re shooting pictures, like a particularly slim point-and-shoot. Solid and familiar, yet futuristic.”

PC Advisor:
“The new phone’s display doubles the resolution to a 960-by-640-pixel IPS display. That display truly makes a difference. Whereas the iPhone 3GS’s text – in the menus, in apps, or on web pages – appears thick, fuzzy, and undefined, the Apple iPhone 4’s text is razor sharp, even when enlarged. The new “Retina display” – so named because it surpasses the number of pixels the human retina can process – also greatly improves the sharpness, clarity, and visible detail of images.”

The Independent:
“Aside from the introduction of face-to-face video calling, it’s not a staggering feature set: a sleeker design, a better display and enhancements for gaming and photography. But, crucially, it’s way more powerful than its predecessor, speedier, easier to use, and will make previously laborious tasks seem like a cinch.”

MacWorld:
“We got to spend a few minutes using two new iPhone apps, iMovie and iBooks. Given just how much processing power is required to edit video, iMovie’s performance was impressive. Trimming a clip is a simple as tapping on it and dragging a pin right or left. Now you can shoot your kid’s dance recital, edit it together, and ship it out to friends and relatives before the dance teacher has finished her thank-yous at the end of the night.”

The Telegraph’s Claudine Beaumont sums it up for us:
“On battery life, speed and multitasking, Apple has addressed some of the key criticisms of its device. And, with Google Android snapping at its heels, Apple has, apparently effortlessly, manage to haul itself to the front of the chasing pack and cement its reputation for producing some of the best smartphones on the market.”

So, if that’s got your fingers twitching to flash the plastic and upgrading, here’s some final advice from PC Pro:
“O2 customers will have to sign a new 18- or 24-month contract when they purchase the iPhone 4, and of course pay for the new handset. Current iPhone owners could mitigate much of that upgrade fee – or even turn a profit – by trading in their current handset with O2. The network is offering £240 to customers recycling a 16GB iPhone 3GS, and £253 for the 32GB model. For customers with a year or less to run on their contract, that could eliminate the cost of buying out their contract.”

Acer’s Liquid E gets a Ferrari paint job

It’s 60 years since Formula One first began at Silverstone, when the British Grand Prix was the first event in a seven-race season.

Then, top of the game was Alfa Romeo. But now, as Lewis Hamilton tucks another win under his belt, the likes of MacLaren, Renault and of course Ferrari (which has just celebrated its 800th race), rule the racing roost.

So that gives the green flag to Acer to come up with its red, shiny special edition Ferrari Liquid E handset. “A Ferrari is not just about speed. It is an expression of beauty, power, excitement, pleasure and natural excellence” said Gianpiero Morbello, Acer vice president, marketing and brand. “From the original concept to the finished product the new smartphone was conceived down to the finest details with the idea of giving a stronger sense of belonging to all Ferrari fans.”

Ferrari-Smartphone

Acer likens the design of its phone to that of Italian style icon Ferrari – with attention to detail, cutting-edge performance and bold yet elegant design. The chassis is, of course, glossy red, with chrome trim and a microphone that is reminiscent of an air intake. Apparently. Personally, I think it’s a shame that the whole effect is cheapened by the white Acer logo emblazoned across the back.

When the original phone, with Google’s Android 2.1 mobile operating system came out, it got rave reviews for performance. With its 3.5in capacitive touchscreen, 5-megapixel camera, WiFi and 256MB Ram it went down a storm. So, apart from its Ferrari paint job, what else is this special edition offering?

Well, Acer is bundling an Elite Bluetooth headset that cancels echo, and has also personalised the user interface with a batch of Ferrari goodies lined up on the starting grid. In the lineup you’ll find Ferrari homepages, wallpaper, images and videos, plus a set of ringtones featuring the sweet music of a Ferrari engine.

But how much are these turbo-charged extras going to add to the cost? Well so far, there is no price announced for the phone, which is due out in July, but the Acer Liquid E already hits the £350 price mark, so think upwards of that.

Mind you if you’re a big fan of the prancing horse, but can’t quite find enough spare change to have a real Ferrari on your drive, you might well be glad to shell out a few quid extra for this special smartphone.

Say hello to the Vodafone 845: The first Android Smartphone featuring Vodafone 360

Smartphones are so commonplace now that it’s hard to remember not all of the population use them. Though they may be the best thing since Firefly got cancelled, checking emails, using maps and social networking is not an everyday activity for many

Vodafone’s latest foray into the handset market aims to change that as they’re offering their first budget priced branded Android handset loaded up with their social 360 interface. Though they’ve already shown a willingness to embrace the Android OS by signing up to the HTC Desire and HTC Legend, the Vodafone 845 is their first branded foray into the world of Android. Boasting the latest Éclair 2.1 OS (following on from the equally tasty Donut and Cupcake updates) the handset has one touch access to the wealth of the Android marketplace allowing you to download a myriad of apps with ease.

Vodafone-845

The screen measures in at 2.8 inches with measurements of 100 x 55 x 13 mm. The handset features an optical trackpad, and the screen can be navigated with the trackpad or the touchscreen and it has built in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G/HSDPA connectivity. The camera is rather low spec with a mere 3.2MP camera and it has 512MB of built in storage, and no obvious flash (details are still fairly scarce at this point).

What’s interesting about this handset is that is has Vodafone’s built in 360 interface, which offers the user complete aggregation of their social networks and address book through a rather jazzy interface. The 360 software pulls information about your contact from all sources, including your texts, phone numbers, Facebook account and photo library and will give you updates in all of these in one long stream of consciousness. This is the 3rd Smartphone released for Vodafone that features the 360 software, following on from the dubious reception of the M1 and H1 handsets. With Android onboard, this is sure to be more successful though, and they’re positioning it as an affordable mid range phone.

I quite like the slick look of the handset, as though it doesn’t contain and premium features, it nonetheless looks rather stylish and the matt black finish with the red button accents gives it a rather modern look. This handset might not win any style awards, but with the Éclair installed upon it and the Vodafone 360 features, this is a phone full of multimedia and networking goodness. Hopefully the low price will make this option open to more people, but we’d like them to clarify that, as we don’t have a definite figure..yet.

Samsung smartphone takes us to a whole new Galaxy

Samsung have lifted the lid on the latest addition to its family of smartphones, the Galaxy S. Powered by the newest version of Google’s Android operating system, the Galaxy S incorporates a beautifully vibrant 4-inch Super AMOLED screen and a whopping 1GHz application processor to enable HD content. The handset also comes with 16GB of memory; a hefty hard drive for a smartphone but essential if you’re going to store all of the HD content that screen is made for.

Samsung-Galaxy

Alongside the Android 2.1, Samsung have added some nice features including some rich augmented reality content and advanced LBS (Location Based Services). Social networkers are also well catered for with the ‘Social Hub’ feature which connects all of a user’s profiles into one place allowing them to enjoy communications with their friends, colleagues, and families whenever they want and wherever they are.

Wireless N networking is accompanied by Bluetooth 3.0 and standard 3G and HSDPA will be on hand for all of your mobile internet access needs. They’re impressive specs and weighing in at just 118 grams the Galaxy S is also light, especially when you consider the hardware it’s packing and the large screen.

The Galaxy S is no slouch in the looks department either. As with all touch screen smartphones it has got a little bit of the iPhone about it, but it’s impossible for anything to look bad with a screen that looks like it belongs on a widescreen TV rather than a phone.

A release date for the Galaxy S hasn’t been announced yet but Samsung have hinted that it’s likely to hit UK shelves soon, so watch this space.

Google set-top box: Rumour round-up

It’s been rumoured as far back as 2007 that web giant Google is looking to move into the digital TV market, but solid facts have been painfully slow to materialise.

The strongest indication yet that the company are developing a web-enabled set-top box, which could arrive in living rooms sooner than we think, was recently reported in the New York Times. It claims the company is planning to launch the product in a joint venture between themselves, Intel and Sony. The system is likely run on the same type of operating system Google uses for their phones, Android.

Google-Logo

Reporter Nick Bilton revealed last week the details he has managed to uncover about the highly-secretive project. He writes:

“The Google TV software will be open source at its core, meaning that device and TV makers should have broad access to it. Sony, however, hopes to gain an edge over competitors by bringing out the first appliances and possibly TVs running the software, perhaps under a new brand.
Google’s move would potentially set it not just against established set-top box makers like Scientific Atlanta and TiVo but also strictly Internet-oriented media hubs like the Apple TV and Roku Internet Player. With full app support, Google TV could not only access most web-based services but also get custom software tailored to particular experiences.”

The NY Times also claims that “a person with knowledge of the Google TV project said that the set-top box technology was advanced enough that Google had begun a limited test with Dish Network, but other commentators are unsure how advanced the product really is:

The Guardian’s Joseph Tartakoff wrote: “There are some big caveats and unknowns: It’s unlikely that the service will come to market soon, since the Wall Street Journal makes a point of emphasising that the tests are limited for now to a ‘very small number’ of Google employees.

Also, no set-top boxes that run on Android are currently on the market. But as far back as November 2007 there were rumours that Google was working to build an app platform for set-top boxes. Nothing has come of that, although that effort would presumably be related to this one in some way.”

Meanwhile, Claudine Beaumont, The Telegraph’s Technology Editor is doubtful of whether Google will be able to succeed in such an ultra-competitive market: “The web-enabled set-top box space is becoming increasingly crowded. Apple already sells Apple TV, which allows users to directly download movies and TV shows to their television, as well as access Flickr and YouTube, but it has been dismissed as a ‘hobby’ project by the company.

As for Google themselves, well, they’re not saying anything. A Google spokesman simply stated that the company does not comment on rumour or speculation.

So, while the general consensus is that the product will almost definitely see the light of day, there’s no news on precisely when this will happen, either in the US or elsewhere. The price tag is also open to speculation, although Gizmodo reports that Roku have indicated the box could retail for around $200 (£133).

Although Google are entering are taking a bold step into the unknown, their unrivalled global dominance of web-based products, holds them in excellent steed. But whether this sterling success will transfer smoothly to the silver screen, simply remains to be seen.

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.