Alcatel OneTouch Idol 2 Mini S – the mid-range mobile built to impress

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If you don’t want to tie yourself down to a pricey monthly contract and still want a current generation smartphone, your best bet may be to look outside the big brands at some of the capable alternatives doing the rounds. One of these is Alcatel Onetouch, who has been slowly but surely increasing its range of devices to the point where they’re starting to get a little bit more recognition in the mainstream market. Its OneTouch Idol 2 Mini S was announced at Mobile World Congress 2014 and is a good example of exactly why – this doesn’t sound like a cheap device, with a brushed metallic finish, diamond cut and a decent amount of power under the hood for a mid range device.

It offers a 4.5” (540×960) IPS display at 245ppi, 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 4GB of internal memory expandable via microSD. An 8MB camera on the back and 2MP on the front should be good enough for less serious photographers, it comes with NFC so you can get involved with rapidly expanding contactless payments, there’s a 4G version for speedy internet and Android 4.4 is in the works.

For what’s effectively priced as a “budget” smartphone there seems to be some potential here – let’s see if it’s been realised.

ExpertReviews is generally pleased with its first impression in a hands-on test, though does point out that the word “finish” is key when describing the metallic construction. Though its bigger brother does indeed have a metal back plate, the Mini S is actually made from plastic, and just brushed to look like a slightly more premium design. It also points out that the display resolution may be a sticking point for those used to HD quality:

“This is a noticeable step down from 720p, as even with a reduction in screen size pixel density still drops to 244PPI. It’s noticeable when held next to an HD display, and even in isolation text and images look a little fuzzy”.

Thankfully it’s not a poor performance per se, with “excellent” brightness and viewing angles thanks to the IPS panel.

Wovow is pretty impressed with what’s on offer at the price, and points out that the Alcatel Onetouch costs around the same as budget phones from Chinese manufacturers but with a far nicer design and better performance. It gave the battery a bit of a workout and noted around two full days from typical varied use, which isn’t too bad, and it also charges pretty quickly in around two hours.

PhoneArena is a big fan of the design, pointing out that the “Idol 2 mini is a very, very light handset, which is pretty cool – you don’t get that kind of feather-lightness in a lot smartphones out there” , and how “the clean, logo-less design of the front makes the phones look quite universal and stylish.”

It also comments on the screen resolution and concludes that despite it being fairly low, really isn’t too bad.

“On top of that, we have the Dragontrail glass, which makes the display sturdier, and there’s also an oleophobic coating to quickly get rid of those stains on the display.”

Alcatel Onetouch has added some little customisations of its own by the sound of it – all the core applications and visuals, apparently, which delivers a rather different Android experience. It also offers features such as One Finger Zoom – a double-tap and hold that lets you zoom with one hand. There are no reports on the camera yet, but it does point that you can record 1080p video, which is an impressive feat at this price point.

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PhoneArena concludes by giving some indication as to why Alcatel Onetouch is starting to build a bit of a following, and attracting more attention at events. “Alcatel Onetouch is bringing some very, very hot devices to MWC. These smartphones aren’t particularly impressive in terms of specs or technology, but they just feel so refined.” Perhaps this is the secret to releasing a low to mid-range device – most people probably wouldn’t notice if a smartphone had a slightly slower processor or a slightly lower resolution camera, but who doesn’t notice a tidy design?

Carphone Warehouse is currently offering the OneTouch Idol 2 Mini S without an upfront cost from just £12 per month.

Sony’s Action Cam Mini – a portable video camera game changer?

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Time was when small cameras were the stuff of spy movies, “Pay attention, Bond, this is fully functional high-definition video camera small enough to slip into your shirt pocket and which can be controlled from a screen on your wrist.” Technology of course has a way of catching up with fiction and Sony’s latest Action Cam Mini the HDR-AZ1, announced at the IFA electronics show, means you no longer need to pop down to see Q to get your hands on a tiny movie camera.

The first thing to note is that it’s small, weighing only 63g, and around 2/3 the size of existing Action Cam products at 76mm long, 36mm high and 24.2mm wide. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in capabilities though. Into this small space is packed an 18.6 megapixel image sensor that can handle resolutions up to 1080p at 60fps. If you’re prepared to sacrifice definition for faster action it can do 720p at 120fps. The camera has a Zeiss f2.8 lens and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation technology. There’s no LCD screen on the camera itself, just a tiny display for camera functions, but Sony has solved that problem in a clever way.

For that added James Bond touch it comes with something called Live View Remote. This is a wrist-mounted controller with a colour LCD screen that can be used to stop and start recordings, change settings and log GPS data. It’s a bit chunky, like a double-width wristwatch, and connects wirelessly to the camera.

It’s possible to control up to five cameras from a single remote so you could set up multiple angles to cover a particular event or follow several different competitors. It gives you the ability to stream your footage live via sites like UStream and you can use Wi-Fi and NFC to connect directly to a smartphone. You have the option to control the camera from your phone too if you don’t want to use the remote.

Battery life for the Mini is shorter than on larger models as you might expect. It’s splash proof to survive day-to-day life but there’s also the option of buying it with a case which makes it dust and sand proof as well as waterproof down to five metres. There’s a standard tripod adaptor so the camera can be attached to mounting brackets for bikes and the like and Sony also offers a choice of wearable and bike mounting kits on its website.

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If you have an active outdoor lifestyle and you want to be able to record your exploits, the Action Cam Mini could be just the camera for you. The HDR-AZ1 is expected to go on sale in October and is available to pre-order on the Sony site until the 6th of October at a price of £279 including the Live View Remote.

Samsung Galaxy family

The Samsung Galaxy S was a phenomenal success. It sold 10 million handsets in seven months, and created one of the biggest names in the market. So what do you do when you have a successful brand? Protect it, like the iPhone, releasing only newer and better phones? Or water it down with a series of lower-powered spinoffs? Uh-oh.

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Enter the Galaxy Family, four new smartphones joining the Galaxy S: Ace, Fit, Gio and the mini.

Samsung Galaxy Ace

It’s tough to understand why something with a smaller, 3.5-inch screen and a slower 800MHz processor is called “Ace”. Still, at least the 5 megapixel camera (with flash) and voice search options are present. The screen takes a serious resolution drop as well, falling to a very average 320×480. The “Ace” may still be a good phone, but it’s definitely giving less than the “S”. Available from March 2011.

Samsung Galaxy mini

Small mobiles are great – but they’re usually underpowered. Luckily, with a 600MHz processor inside, the mini should work okay. It’ll still pale in comparison to the original Galaxy S’ 1GHz, though.

The 3 megapixel camera and 320×240 screen are also compromises, but we’re glad to see Google Voice actions made the transition, along with the Galaxy Family-standard HSDPA (7.2Mbps internet), SWYPE typing and Android 2.2 Froyo operating system.

The Samsung Galaxy mini will be available in the UK from March 2011.

Samsung Galaxy Fit

We thought being “Fit” meant looking nicer than other people – the 3.31-inch QVGA (240×320) display certainly doesn’t live up to it. There’s an impressive 5 megapixel camera, though, and a 600MHz processor. Its 1350mAh battery matches the Ace, which means you can go for longer than on the mini’s 1200mAh.

With the big battery but slower processor, the Fit should give the longest battery life of the entire range. March 2011.

Samsung Galaxy Gio

A 3.2-inch HVGA (320×480) display, 800MHz processor, and 3 megapixel camera puts the Gio in a strange position. It’ll take worse photos than the Fit, but has a much nicer screen to display them on. Strange. If you don’t need a camera, this is probably your best bet.