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

Motorola Moto E: review roundup 

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Not since the iconic RAZR of 2004 has the thought of owning a Motorola been something to set your pulse racing. Whilst the Moto E isn’t likely to catch the imagination in the same way, the first new handset to appear since Google sold its struggling Motorola smartphone business to Lenovo in January will be key to reviving the fortunes of the brand.

It’s never going to take on the iPhone or the Galaxy S5, but at £89.99 in the UK ($129.99 in the US) the Moto E is set to take smartphone ownership into a whole new marketplace. Indeed the company is aiming at customers who are switching from older conventional handsets.

But at that price can it be any good or is it merely a way of getting people to see what a smartphone can do before they throw it away and buy something better?

What do you get for your money?

First impressions are good, Forbes notes that, “The back is rubber with a tasteful matt finish that is both easy to grip and hides fingerprints while the front is Corning Gorilla Glass, the same stuff used in iPhones, the HTC One M8, Nexus 5 and Galaxy S5. Motorola has also matched these handsets by giving the Moto E an oleophobic coating to reduce finger prints.”

The Moto E’s screen is a 4.3-inch unit with 960 x 540 pixels delivering 256 pixels per inch. This is no Apple Retina Display but it’s way better than the 3.5-inch screens typically found on cheaper phones. CNET comments, “We did notice, in our brief hands-on time, that the Moto E’s viewing angle wasn’t great – tilting the phone away from our line of sight resulted in some colour distortion.”

The Register though was more impressed, “For a budget touchscreen there is surprisingly little chromatic shift when viewed from obtuse angles – it can be seen, but it’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’s impressively colourful, bright and sharp with the individual pixels being invisible to the naked eye. In short, it’s an order of magnitude better than you have any right to expect for the money.”

Moto E comes with a dual-core 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM and runs the latest Android KitKat, plus The Register notes, “Motorola guarantee at least one update to the operating system. So despite the cheap as chips asking price, you won’t be left out in the cold when the next incarnation of Android comes into view.”

As you might expect at this price there are compromises. There’s no 4G and no front-facing camera – so no selfies or video calls. Also the Wi-Fi is only 802.11n rather than the newer, faster 802.11ac. The rear camera is 5MP, which is okay but not exceptional, and it doesn’t have a flash. There’s only 4GB of internal storage too but Motorola has provided a microSD slot which can take cards of up to 32GB.

Here’s a quick promo video of the Moto E:

Will I be ashamed to be seen with it?

The problem of buying a budget phone of course is the feeling of inadequacy when your mates whip out their premium models in the pub. The Moto E should allow you to hold your head high, CNET says, “Physically, it’s easy to see the family resemblance to the Moto G and much pricier Moto X. Although smaller, the E has the same rounded corners, along with the gently curving back panel.”

That back panel can be swapped too so you can give your phone a makeover with a different colour or simply swap a scratched or battered panel for a new one.

TechRadar says, “It appears that Motorola has done it again. It’s created a desirable smartphone with an impressively low price tag and a decent set of specs.”

The Moto E was launched alongside a 4G version of the Moto G, selling for £149. That extra £60 gets you not just 4G but also a better screen, a front-facing camera and a rather sleeker design. Serious users will want to spend the extra, but for first time smartphone owners the Moto E has a lot to commend it. As TechRadar says in its verdict, “You won’t find a better offering at this price point, and even with a few limitations the Moto E could be the perfect first-time or festival smartphone.”

Nokia Lumia 930 review round-up

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Nokia continues to push the Windows Phone experience despite stiff competition from Google and Apple, and its new Lumia 930 is a flagship offering that looks to take on the big hitters in the market.

A quick run through the key specs reveals a powerful beast – a 2.2GHz Snapdragon quad-core processor should keep things moving nice and smoothly; it features a 5” OLED full HD (1920×1080) display at 441ppi, 32GB of storage (non expandable) and a meaty 2420mAh battery that claims to deliver 15.5 hours of talk time on 3G, or 75 hours of music playback.

Notably it also boasts a whopping 20 megapixel PureView main camera with ZEISS optics, a recurrent highlight of the Lumia series, which together with a Full HD camera underlines its ambitions to appeal to smartphone snappers. Rolling out with the Windows Phone 8.1 update this summer, the 930 looks well prepared to show off the full extent of the mobile OS’ capabilities, so we scoured the internet to see what others thought of its potential.

TechRadar got hands-on with the Lumia 930 and was pretty impressed, calling it “the most complete Windows Phone to date”. The display excites here, as does speedy operation from the power-friendly Windows Phone OS, but the plastic build and generally blocky design left it suggesting that the 930 would have to undercut Samsung, Sony and HTC on price to prove a worthy adversary.

The design and feel of the phone may be a rather subjective judgement because The Inquirer quite liked it, noting that the aluminium edging added to an overall robust impression. It is rather uncertain about the Windows Phone 8.1 update however, saying that they found the new custom wallpapers “a little busy at first, [though] it does make Windows Phone 8.1 look much more personal than before”. It was too soon to give the camera a full workout, but The Inquirer did note that “early impressions suggest that it will produce images of similar quality to those taken on the Nokia Lumia 1520, a camera that impressed us due to its crisp and natural image-taking abilities”.

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PC Advisor did test the camera in its hands-on, albeit briefly, noting that “our test shots on the Lumia 930 looked decent and since it’s the same as the 1520, we can confidently predict that you’re in safe hands with it”. Other areas of interest include directional audio through four high-performance microphones dotted around the device, which should be a boon to those who like to record video, and the built-in wireless charging, with Nokia including a wireless charger in the box. Though generally impressed with the 930 and various associated software tweaks to the new Windows Phone OS, it still lauds the issue of a lack of apps in the Windows Phone market, which while improving, is some distance behind Apple and Android.

Finally, DigitalTrends says what we’re all thinking by pitting the Lumia 930 up against the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S, complete with a handy specifications comparison of the three. It’s a mixed bag here, with each phone effectively “specialising” in certain areas. The Lumia takes points for its impressive camera and in particular the ZEISS optics, but the overall conclusion suggests “get your hands on each before you make your decision”.

The Lumia 930 seems impressive, then, and could well be the best Windows Phone smartphone to date. Whether or not it can take on the big boys is likely to be down to the choice of OS however, so the overall conclusion here seems to be the same – Microsoft needs to work hard on the Windows Phone app store if it’s ever going to truly compete with the big boys in terms of volume.

Preview round-up: Samsung Galaxy S5

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Most followers of the technology world are now familiar with Samsung’s annual pattern of launching premium Galaxy models to showcase its technology. This year’s Galaxy S5 was the star of Mobile World Congress and Samsung said at the launch that it will be available from 11th April in 150 markets, though there’s no official word on pricing as yet.

So is the GS5 worth waiting for and has it wowed the press?

Engadget says that, “Despite its familiar design, the GS5 has a few new useful hardware features, including a fingerprint scanner, heart rate sensor, and a toned-down TouchWiz UI on top of Android 4.4 KitKat.” It concludes its preview with a rather luke warm, “All told, it’s very much a run-of-the-mill Galaxy S flagship, but there are enough new hardware features and software tweaks to make it feel fresh.”

The GS5 is expected to cost around £550 according to TechRadar. It wasn’t impressed with the design though, “…it’s the same tired story on the design front: taking some elements from the predecessor, adding in some bits from the current Note and calling it all new.” It also notes that the phone is markedly bigger than the S3 and S4.

The design didn’t do much for CNET either. “…those tiring of Samsung design sameness and looking for a radical new look and feel don’t have as many reasons to stay if they aren’t moved by the phone’s fingerprint scanner or heart monitor.”

Never mind the design, feel the features

When it comes to the phone’s features there’s a lot for critics to get excited about. It was the GS5’s performance potential that made an impression on Stuff, “Centre stage is its quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, which runs at a blistering 2.5GHz. This chip, paired with 2GB of RAM, means the phone shouldn’t have any bother smoothly running any app you throw at it.” There are strong rumours of an octo-core version becoming available for some markets too.

Stuff also commented on the quality of the device, “The dimpled, matte soft-touch back is much nicer to look at and hold than the faux-leather hard plastic of recent Galaxy Note phones and tablets, and the overall feeling is one of solidity and quality.”

The S5 will come in a range of colours
The S5 will come in a range of colours

This quality extends to waterproofing, Samsung claims the phone can be immersed in water for as long as half an hour – good news for those who’ve ever killed a mobile by dropping it in the bath, or worse. TrustedReviews spotted another handy day-to-day feature in the new Ultra Power Saving mode, “This is an intensive low-power mode that cuts out almost all phone functions but the basics like calls and texts. Samsung says it’ll last for up to a day with just 10 per cent of battery left – if only in standby.”

The built-in fingerprint scanner, a feature which brings the Galaxy into line with the iPhone, came in for particular praise from Wired, “You can use it to unlock the phone, to verify a PayPal payment while using a mobile shopping service, and to verify your Samsung account. All of this is done by just pressing a single finger against the home button… Activating the recognition is quick and neat, and all of the fingerprint recognition attempts I’ve made since I got a hands-on unit have worked perfectly.”

The faster camera, upgraded from 13 to 16 megapixels and with improved auto-focus, caught Wired’s attention too, “…it takes just 0.3 seconds from launching the app to actually hearing the shutter sound.”

Overall the design may have left some commentators less than impressed, but there’s no doubt that the GS5 is a powerful smartphone and features like the new fingerprint scanner and the improved camera will help to maintain its competitive edge against its rivals. The build quality takes things to a new level for Samsung too, however, with the HTC One 2 and LG G3 on the horizon buyers may want to hold off choosing a new smartphone for a little while longer.

You can find out more about the S5 on the Samsung UK web site.

HTC One Max review round-up

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HTC received a much needed boost to a flagging reputation when it released the HTC One, so it’s not entirely surprising to see the Taiwanese smartphone giant milking this success at every opportunity. The HTC One Mini was fairly well received, retaining many of the most lauded qualities of its predecessor, including the premium metal body and Boomsound speakers. The One Max continues this trend, though is obviously significantly larger than the original. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shrinking or enlarging a wildly successful design per se, as long as it doesn’t end up watering down an inspirational brand if it fails. So with the HTC One Max doing the rounds in the UK the big question is, can it maintain an elite reputation among the tech press?

First up it’s worth checking out Gizmag for a nice comparison of the One Max and another big player in this market – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Two important differences here are two of the most common problems we’ve seen mentioned in reviews – dimensions and processing power.

These “phablet” devices are walking a fine line when it comes to something that’s still portable enough to use as a phone yet represents a significant upgrade (often purely in screen real estate) over a more traditional smartphone, and HTC appears to have fallen to the wrong side of it with the One Max. Despite being only 4mm wider, it’s 14mm longer and 2mm thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and seems to have overstepped the mark in terms of something that’s comfortable to hold and use.

Pocket Lint, who gave the HTC One 5/5 and still rates it as the best smartphone around, is less impressed by the One Max largely for these reasons, scoring it 3.5. Alongside relatively underpowered hardware, which hasn’t been significantly improved since the One, it adds that “it just feels too big” and “The original handset feels better in the hand, it’s nicer to hold and use day-to-day…

CNet feels the same, listing these two features as the only notable drawbacks in its 4/5 review, concluding that “It’s undeniably cumbersome though so most of you will likely find the standard model a more manageable size”, though is impressed by the display, battery life and the new Sense 5.5 interface.

Power-Flip-Case
Power Flip Case

Another common issue is the built-in fingerprint scanner, which sits on the rear of the phone under the camera lens and appears to be a bit of a disappointment, certainly compared to the iPhone 5S, which was generally well received.  TechRadar was particularly irked by this, calling it “pointless” and “a real waste of time”. It too argues that by effectively creating an HTC One with a bigger screen, HTC hasn’t done enough to impress in this market, and though it does praise the battery life, expandable storage and software additions such as 50GB of Google Drive storage, is largely put off by the price “…it’s so expensive. Ridiculously so. We’d have understood if the specs were updated, but to bring to market something that doesn’t even have an improved list over the original (released over half a year ago) this isn’t something we can come close to recommending.

This is echoed by GSMArena, who argues that “Unless HTC delivers a prompt upgrade that makes the fingerprint scanner a real game-changer, it will probably have to cut the One Max’s price a bit to keep the phablet relevant.

Finally, Engadget, like most others, praises the display, stating “HTC’s Super LCD 3 panel is still the best in its class, and the best on the whole market if, like us, you prefer the natural colors of an LCD display to the over-saturated appearance of an AMOLED panel” and twinned with Boomsound makes it “a perfect video-watching experience.” Added to an impressive battery life, which on a rundown test lasted 30% longer than the Galaxy Note 3, it states that “It will especially appeal to someone, such as a frequent flyer, who wants a big screen and big battery specifically for the purpose of consuming video and music”. However, as an overall package it still suffers from the issues described above here, and interestingly Engadget got in touch with HTC to ask why. The general consensus seems to be that “The One Max is a mid-term addition rather than a new flagship, perhaps primarily designed to cater for an Asian niche, and so it was never going to be the target of big investment”, so by this token it seems that HTC weren’t planning to push the boat out with the One Max anyway, which does rather sound like a lack of ambition given the original’s success.

So there you have it. In summary, the HTC One Max is effectively a large HTC One with few notable additions. While this does mean that it still looks and sounds great, it appears to be a bit too large to feel comfortable, a bit too expensive to represent value for money and a bit too underpowered to compete with capable rivals. If it’s true that HTC didn’t really see this as a significant release outside the Asian market, let’s just hope it has something major in the pipeline to help truly build on the success of the One.

The Binatone Brick brings back 1980s mobile style

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If you’ve a hankering for the mobile devices of the 80s and 90s then Binatone’s new Brick handset is going to be right up your street — the chunky, feature-limited device can work as a mobile or a Bluetooth handset and looks more like an aging movie prop than a 2013-ready piece of hardware.

The phone is limited to use on 2G networks and has a 1.8″ TFT display running at an old-school 128 x 160 pixels. You won’t be able to access the Apple App Store or Google Play on this thing, but it does come with a clock, alarm, calendar and calculator built in. There’s one game included, which is Snake, of course.

Why would you want one, other than as a retro fashion accessory? Well if you opt for the Power Edition of the phone with a 2,000 mAh battery, it should be good enough for a jaw-dropping 3 months’ worth of standby time. That gives you enough of a window to go around the world and come back without worrying that your phone will be dead upon your return. Even if you’re gabbing non-stop, the battery should last for 28 straight hours, which really puts today’s power-hungry mobile phones in the shade.

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You can use the Binatone Brick to make calls, send texts and picture messages and store up to 300 contacts. It can even play MP3s. However, we’re not sure you’d want to be seen out and about using it — perhaps it makes more sense as a mobile you can use wirelessly around the home that only needs charging four times a year. You can use the Micro USB port if you want to plug in a headset and it also has hands-free speakerphone capabilities. What’s more, that Micro USB port can be used to charge another mobile phone.

Those of you with your wallets out at the ready will have to part with £80 to get the 2,000 mAh Power Edition of the Brick. The 1,000 mAh edition (with half the standby and talk time) comes in at £50. If you really want to go the whole hog, leather and silicon cases are available from Binatone too. The Brick goes on sale in the UK in October.

Sony Xperia Z1: First Impressions Round Up

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Since Sony bought Ericsson’s stake in Sony Ericsson in 2011, the company’s Android handsets have improved significantly, with the new Xperia Z1 the most accomplished to date.

Unveiled at this week’s IFA tech show in Berlin, Sony’s new flagship Android handset has a lot going for it: it’s fully waterproof, comes with a gargantuan 20.7 megapixel camera, featuring Sony’s award winning ‘G Lens’, and has a stunning 1080p full HD screen utilising Sony’s Triliminos display technology.

As far as high-end phone specs go it’s very much on the money, the main headline takeaway is, of course, the 20.7 megapixel camera, which uses Sony’s ‘G Lens’ which has been designed to take clear and colourful photographs. Whilst the camera might be overkill for a phone it does includes a F2.0 Sony G Lens with a 27mm wide angle and a 3x zoom, which Sony’s boss Ken Hirai stated offers “zero loss of quality.”

The camera also comes with a host of new applications and social features including the ability to share videos in real-time with Facebook.

Looks-wise the Xperia Z1 takes a lot of design cues from its cousin, the Xperia Z, this time, however, it is made up from a one-piece aluminum frame that is finished in black, white, or purple. The front and rear of the handset is finished with glass giving it a sturdy, premium feel – something lacking with a lot of other Android handsets. Overall the handset is slightly thicker, longer and heavier than a Samsung S4, but for the extra horsepower and features you’re getting it’s certainly not a deal breaker.

Measuring 5-inches the new Xperia Z1 features a super-snappy quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, running at an impressive 2.2 GHz alongside 2 GB of RAM. There’s 16 GB of onboard storage and the ability to upgrade via SD to 64GB, are you listening HTC? The handset is also 4G LTE compatible meaning it’s perfect for anyone who is planning to join one of the new super-fast 4G networks.

Elsewhere Sony has bestowed the handset with a capacious 3000 mAh battery, and has also added BatterySTAMINA Mode that automatically turns off certain functions to save juice when you’re not using them and restarts them when you do.

At 170gram it’s light enough without ever feeling too flimsy, and the stunning 1080p ‘Triluminous’ display certainly makes any pictures or videos taken on the camera stand out with deep blacks and eye-piercing colours.

One of the major bugbears with many Android handsets is the manufacturers need to fill their handsets with unnecessary bloatware and changed to the user interface. Thankfully, Sony’s changes to Android 4.2.2 don’t seem too overbearing from first impressions and to the untrained eye you’d be hard pressed to notice them.

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In a similar vein to the Xperia Z, the Z1 is fully waterproof so you can dunk the handset in 1.5 metres of water for an impressive 30 minutes. This time, however, Sony has made Z1’s headphone jack waterproof itself, meaning you don’t need to undo the flap every time you want to listen to music – which is a clever revision to this year’s version.

Overall Sony’s Xperia Z1 is an accomplished handset with some significant features that other handsets just don’t offer. If you’re the type of person that spends a lot of time outdoors and requires a sturdy waterproof handset with a killer specs list, and best in-class camera, then the Xperia Z1 is a no-brainer.

The guys over at IT Portal pointed out that the Xperia Z1’s spec sheet is “exactly where it needs to be at the premium end of the smartphone scale, replete with a stunning 5in Full HD screen, a powerful 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm, and a 20.7-megapixel camera which leverages Sony’s famed digital imaging technology.”

Meanwhile in their hands-on, the Independent said:

“At first glance, it’s very similar to the Xperia Z, though a touch bigger in every direction – which is worrying as the Z was quite big enough, thank you. The same design language is evident here: glass front and back, matte frame and engraved power button gleaming on the side.”

In relation to its waterproof nature, the team at Cnet wrote:

“If you’ve destroyed a phone by dropping it in the toilet — or by making calls in the rain — the Z1 might be the phone for you. It keeps water out by sealing its ports with smaller flaps. While the Xperia Z placed a flap over the headphone jack, the Z1 has simply made the jack itself waterproof, meaning you don’t need to undo it every time you want to plug your headphones in.”

Price and availability of the Xperia Z1 has yet to be announced.

ImageFone Brings Photo Based Dialing to 1stFone

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One of the many dilemmas modern parents face is when to buy a child a mobile phone. Juggling the concern of kids racking up huge bills against the importance of allowing them to keep in touch is a tricky venture, but perhaps the biggest issue for many should be the potential for a child to be exposed to inappropriate content.

Figures in this area make for some pretty shocking reading. According to a report prepared for the NSPCC in May 2012, nearly half of young people today have experience “sexting”, and girls as young as 11 are sending and receiving explicit content through their phone. If these figures are to be believed, it represents a very real concern for parents and one that can be eliminated thanks to the ImageFone by OwnFone.

ImageFone is a credit card-sized handset that uses a custom screen to display simple call functions. A grid of contacts can be preassigned by parents with images rather than names, making it suitable for children as young as four years old, or those with disabilities. Setting up the phone is as simple as going to the OwnFone website, uploading images of desired contacts, printing a personalised phone backdrop and choosing a price plan. These numbers are saved to the “cloud” and can be changed at any time, offering parents full control over operation and peace of mind that only these preassigned contacts can communicate with the device.

“It’s a fact that more parents than ever before are buying children under the age 11 a mobile phone, unfortunately it’s also fact that these parents are exposing their children to the risks posed by the traditional handsets currently on the market” said Tom Sunderland, inventor and founder of Ownfone. ”We launched ImageFone as a solution for parents – the handset is designed to allow them to keep in constant contact with their children whilst giving complete peace of mind. The ImageFone has our most basic functionality yet, providing a handset that is perfect for children as young as four as well as those with disabilities”.

The ImageFone costs from £55 on a 30-day rolling contract, with pay as you go and pay in advance bundles also available for 6 and 12 months. For more information visit www.myownfone.com