Vodafone’s new campaign highlights the importance of phone calls

Phone calls are one of the most, if not the most, important forms of communications between most people in the modern world. They offer us connections to those who matter most to us, and the ease at which we can make these connections is growing ever faster. As phone technology goes from strength to strength with new smartphones innovating every day, it is only logical that what seems to be a constant is innovated too. This constant is of course the quality of sound in phone calls, which has remained more or less the same since we can collectively remember.

Vodafone’s latest development aims to see HD quality phone calls become the norm in the UK. When in 3G range, Vodafone customers will be able to automatically switch to a HD call – making those confusing city-centre phone calls easier. 4G customers will also be able to use the service as they will automatically switch to 3G to take part. This coupled with HD video chat on 4G should see a vast improvement for the connectivity of Vodafone customers. Both business and ordinary customers will be able to use this service in the UK, as long as it’s between Vodafone customers.

Vodafone also aims to shed light on the importance of phone calls and how they bring people closer, allowing them to connect in new ways. Their heart-warming video (below) shows a video call between a new father and a new grandfather as the latter sees his grandson for the first time is a prime example. HD calls will only make these moments more memorable, and bring those who matter most closer to home.

The company is also expanding its connectivity in other ways, with its 4G coverage now over 313 cities, towns and districts in the UK. Additionally, the upcoming Rural Open Sure Signal programme will see more coverage brought to over 100 rural communities. You can find out more about Vodafone’s HD calling service and watch their other videos that showcase how ‘Every Second Counts’ on their dedicated campaign page.

While the words above are our own, this article was sponsored.

Motorola Moto X review round-up

moto01

Under Google’s brief stewardship of Motorola (May 2012 to January 2014), two handsets reached the market: the budget Moto G and the more premium Moto X. The Moto X is the second one to arrive in Britain (in the US, confusingly, the order was reversed) and now reviewers from this side of the Atlantic have also been able to put the mobile through its paces.

Featuring upper-end rather than top-end specs and several unique customisations, the Moto X finds Google and Motorola in experimental mood. While not quite in the same league in terms of power and display as Google’s own Nexus 5, the Moto X is nevertheless likely to turn a few heads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the do-it-yourself Moto Maker case design options available to US customers.

It’s certainly smaller than the Nexus 5, which may or may not appeal to you depending on the size of your hands. One of the headline features mentioned in most reviews is the always-listening voice control service that enables you to run searches, launch apps and access other features without touching the device: “The voice recognition software seems more accurate and responsive than that found on the Samsung Galaxy S4,” reports Carly Page in The Inquirer, “and we found that we seldom had to repeat ourselves, with the handset having no problem adjusting to a British accent.” The rumour is that the Moto X’s delayed arrival in the UK was due to Motorola being busy tweaking its accent recognition capabilities.

Page found the biggest problem with the Moto X was not the device itself but rather its competition:

“The Moto X definitely has some good things going for it, with its up-to-date Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system, smooth performance and vibrant screen, but we’d still find it hard to recommend the handset over alternative Android handsets available.”

TechRadar’s Alex Roth was more enthusiastic, describing the Moto X as “a truly standout Android phone” despite reservations about the camera:

“The Moto X is a good, good phone. In fact it’s a great phone. Is it one of the best Android phones out there? Well that depends. Yes, if you value a reasonable size and useful services over raw power, a massive HD screen and microSD support.”

Again, it’s only in comparison with other top-end Android smartphones such as the Nexus 5 and the Sony Xperia Z1 that the Moto X’s star begins to dim a little. Taken on its own, reviewers have found very little to complain about: it has the clean, uncluttered stock Android 4.4 installed, decent battery life and an appealingly designed shell.

moto04

“The Motorola Moto X’s slightly disappointing internal specifications are by and large balanced out by its close-to-untouched Android 4.4 KitKat operating system and useful software additions,” writes Alistair Stevenson at V3. “However, you can still get better value for money elsewhere.”

Praising the phone’s build quality, software and performance levels, Stevenson concludes by lamenting the delay in the Moto X’s launch in the UK, which has ultimately left it lagging behind the Nexus 5 in terms of specs and value for money. While it’s certainly a more powerful beast than the Moto G, the Moto X’s position has been weakened by the arrival of Google’s LG-manufactured flagship phone.

Finally, Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian has a lot of time for the active display notifications unique to the Moto X that appear even while the device is locked or in standby:

“When a notification comes in, only a small section of the screen lights up displaying an icon for what has just happened. A tap and hold gesture shows more at-a-glance information, allowing the user to assess whether it is worth turning unlocking the phone to access whatever just happened, be it a call, a text, an email or any other alert.”

This helps slow down battery drain and dismiss notifications more easily, without necessarily having to even open them up. Ultimately, Gibbs concludes that while the Moto X is “a terrific smartphone… the Nexus 5 is cheaper, and offers all the same features; it’s better value.”

The Moto X is available now SIM-free for £380 with 16GB of on-board storage. It offers a 4.7-inch 720p HD display (1,280 x 720 pixels), 10-megapixel and 2-megapixel cameras back and front, and 4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The device is powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and 2GB of RAM.

The best features in Android KitKat 4.4

android 4.4

New versions of Android don’t arrive with the same kind of hullabaloo as they used to, nor it would seem the same numerical significance. After Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and Jelly Bean 4.1-4.3, the newest kid on the block is KitKat 4.4 so called thanks to a strange deal struck between Google and Nestlé. KitKat 5.0 would’ve fitted in nicely with the Nexus 5, but it wasn’t to be.

With Google choosing to farm out the likes of Gmail and Google Maps as separate apps, partly to minimise the effects of Android fragmentation, there isn’t all that much left in the core code of Android itself in terms of integrated features. Nevertheless, KitKat does bring with it some notable changes that will interest all Android users, and which give some indication of where Google’s mobile operating system will be heading in the future.

google now
Google Now continues to improve.

First and foremost, there’s Google Now. Technically speaking, Google Now is part of the separate Google Search app, but the integration is tightened up in KitKat 4.4 so that your personalised cards can be reached by one swipe from the central home screen. The old way of accessing Google Now, where you press and hold on the Home button then drag upwards, is still available.

The home screen engine itself has been modified, so any blank home screens simply disappear. If all of your shortcuts are on the central screen, swiping right has no effect, as there’s no home screen to go to. Widgets, meanwhile, have been shunted to the home screen settings together with wallpaper, rather than appearing as an extension of the All Apps screen.

home launchers
Manage your home launchers.

If you’re a serious Android user then no doubt you’ve played around with alternative launcher programs, and KitKat 4.4 makes switching between them easier with a new Home entry in the Settings app. It only appears once you’ve installed at least one third-party launcher on your system, and is a much more straightforward way of changing from one to another.

In fact, as Ars Technica discovered, the Google Search app is now pretty much Android itself. The default launcher is an extension of Google Now, rather than the other way around. That means, somewhere down the line, you’ll be able to install a pure, unmodified version of Android on any device from HTC, Samsung or anyone else.

hangouts
The new Hangouts out.

Also of note is the new Hangouts app, designed to handle SMS text messages as well as instant messenger chats. Again, this is technically a separate app that’s now available for older devices too, but as the latest version debuted with KitKat 4.4, we’re including a mention of it here.

The text messaging integration is very much a work in progress. The old Web chat Hangouts and the new SMS threads are kept in separate conversations, even when they relate to the same contact. What’s more, your text messages aren’t archived to Gmail like Hangout chats are, which would’ve been a nice touch. There’s definitely room for improvement in the future.

dialler
The phone dialler app gets a refresh.

The Phone app has been given a facelift in KitKat 4.4, and will now automatically show frequently called contacts so you can get at them more easily. There’s also a new Caller ID feature: if an unknown number rings you, Android KitKat 4.4 scans nearby businesses on Google Maps to see if it can identify who it is. The same technology is coming to personal numbers in 2014, if you agree to link your Google+ profile to your mobile number, though there is the choice to opt-out.

The Camera and Gallery apps are still part of Android, and both get a couple of new features in KitKat 4.4. The headline change in terms of the camera is the new HDR+ mode, which takes a succession of images very quickly, then combines the best lighting, colour and saturation from each one. In most situations, it returns better-looking photos in return for a few milliseconds’ extra lag.

camera and gallery
Camera and gallery improvements.

As for the Gallery, it seems certain to be subsumed into the Photos app in the very near future. Nevertheless, for now it includes new editing features that enable you to apply filters and borders, straighten and crop images, and make adjustments to brightness, colour and saturation. It’s a welcome improvement, if you like playing around with images on your phone, and it’s non-destructive too — all of your edits can be undone with one tap.

Apart from a few stylish design tweaks, that’s about it. Other changes ushered in with KitKat 4.4 include a full-screen “Immersive Mode” that works more naturally (for your games and ebooks), the “OK Google” voice shortcut introduced by with the Moto X (though you’ll need to switch from “UK English” to “US English” to use it right now) and the ability to record screen activity as a video (a third-party app is required to do the recording right now, but the capability is there). There’s also improved file handling capabilities available to all apps, with Google Drive integration built in, and native cloud printing support.

files
Better file handling is now available.

Android 4.4 KitKat continues three trends that have been building for some time: more personalisation, tighter integration with Google’s other products, and a move away from integrated apps to separate ones that can be updated independently. It’s undoubtedly the best and most attractive version of Android yet, designed as much to counter the alternative Android versions as iOS.

Yuilop UK Launches Free Cloud-Based Mobile Numbers

yuilop

When Skype was launched a decade ago, it heralded a new concept in mobile communications. Now, its pioneering template of free internet-based conversations has been taken to another level by the launch of yuilop – a free cloud-based communications platform with truly global reach.

Operated through a downloadable app for iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry devices, yuilop enables people to send and receive free calls and messages, across 3G, 4G, LTE or Wi-Fi. Once the app is installed, users are allocated a dedicated mobile phone number starting with the conventional 07 prefix. Because yuilop utilises the Public Switched Telephone Network, this effectively establishes a fully functioning mobile account without requiring a handset or contract. Calls and texts can be made and received from phones, tablets and even iPods, sharing the same number on multiple devices, with no roaming charges while travelling.

Unusually, it isn’t necessary for the recipient of a call or message to be a yuilop customer as well, although a system of credits provides additional incentives over and above the primary benefit of avoiding usage charges. These credits are earned for activities including receiving calls or text messages, introducing other users to the platform, watching ads or downloading promotions. Indeed, the yuilop system works best when all parties are subscribed, with the ability to supplement straightforward calls and texts with group messaging functionality. The app itself is straightforward to use, with a clear interface and few extraneous options, and it can also handle the distribution of photographs and emoji.

It is worth noting that yuilop has been designed to be portable – it can’t be installed on desktop computers, whereas rivals like Viber are PC and Mac compatible. It is, however, far more flexible than Facebook Messenger, which is essentially a BBM competitor. Similarly, the widely-admired WhatsApp is entirely message-based, whereas yuilop can handle calls as well. As for the undisputed market leader, Skype, although calls are free to other Skype users, there are charges for text messages, landline/mobile calls and obtaining a unique number. However, while yuilop offers all these services for free, it does lack Skype’s desktop/laptop functionality.

Founded in Barcelona three years ago, and described by its founders as a “mobile phone in the cloud”, yuilop already has five million users across over 200 countries, with ambitious plans for further expansion in future. It can be downloaded for free at your phone or mobile device’s app store.

Brunton’s Pocket-Size Hydrogen Reactor Charger

bruton

Hydrogen has long been hailed as the power source of the future. This abundantly available element can be fused with oxygen to provide a limitless supply of clean energy, but its use has hitherto been confined to expensive prototypes. However, it’s now possible to put a hydrogen reactor in your pocket, thanks to a remarkable new device from Brunton.

Self-descriptively titled the Hydrogen Reactor, this ingenious handheld gadget contains a pair of compact and removable hydrogen cores. Acting as its energy source, these cores react with oxygen carried in the air to generate a 5V 2A electrical output. That is sufficient to fully recharge an iPhone half a dozen times, and when the hydrogen cores are exhausted, they can be replenished at a cost of just £4 per cell.

The benefits of the Hydrogen Reactor go far beyond cost savings, however. This is a completely environmentally friendly way to charge any USB-powered device, including cameras, tablets, GPS systems and even water purifiers. Since hydrogen and oxygen combine to produce water (which is where the hydrogen in each core has originally been sourced from), no chemicals or waste products are generated, and cores can be replenished using Brunton’s proprietary Hydrolyser.

Weighing just 216 grams when fully charged, the Reactor is lightweight and easy to transport, while its vibrant colour palette includes yellow and orange casings, alongside a more sober black option. There is a dedicated Optimiser button on the device, to manage the power needed to charge up different devices. Taken as a whole, this is unquestionably a cooler and greener method of recharging gadgets than conventional battery packs, and it avoids the manual labour demanded by wind-up chargers.

Even though it was only unveiled recently, the Hydrogen Reactor has already started winning awards, and to underline its long-term dependability, this charging system comes with a no-quibble lifetime guarantee as well. Priced at £135, the Hydrogen Reactor will be launched in November alongside its accompanying Hydrolyser, and it will be available from the bruntoneurope.com website and various outdoor retailers.

CineLite: Great Mobile Tracking Shots

CineLite-Slider

A great dolly shot is an essential weapon in a cinematographer’s arsenal and Vacion brings this range of movement to mobile videography with the CineLite camera slider.

Much like the full-size sliders used by video professionals, the CineLite allows for incredibly smooth tracking shots. Fitted with self-lubricating Drylin bearings, using the slider felt comparable to shooting on much larger (and considerably more expensive) systems.

CineLite sliders are drilled and tapped so it’s easy to fit to a standard tripod – I attached mine to a Gorrilapod at all sorts of crazy angles. Each rail is supplied with a moulded foot at each end so you can also just lie them flat on surfaces for stable shots. The slider uses a hard anodised rail using a 5mm wide runner with a 30mm pitch.

A mobile phone mount for the slider is included that fits most “normal” sized smartphones – if you’ve gone the phablet route you will struggle here. The clamp is very firm and held my iPhone 5 tightly – even with a case, Olloclip lens and Blue Mikey attached.

Out of the box the slider is 500mm, although you can order custom rail lengths if you need a little extra. This is longer than the most obvious rival for this product, Glidetrack’s Mobislyder (which clocks in at 430 mm). The look and feel is also a bit more professional/duller than the Mobislyder depending on how you view these things. The somber greys and blacks aren’t as fun and playful as the Mobilslyder’s bright green design but the construction feels much more solid and reliable. More importantly the camera grip is much more solid than the Mobislyder so minor wobbles don’t creep into your shots (the whole point of having a stable dolly system in the first place).

If you’re getting creative with your mobile photography it’s definitely one to look out for.

CineLite is out now from Vacion for £125

Stock Android: Pros and Cons

Nexus-Phone

The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, but now more phones are getting in on the act. Once the exclusive preserve of Nexus-branded devices (and rooters), the stock version of Android is set to appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z in the coming months (initially in the USA with a wider roll-out expected eventually). But what is stock Android, exactly? And why should you consider getting a phone with it installed?

Stock-Android

What is stock Android?

Simply speaking, stock Android is the plain, vanilla edition of the operating system, straight from the Google conveyor belt. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and HTC tend to add their own bells and whistles to Android, most notably when it comes to flashy camera functions and social network widgets. In the same way that computer retailers such as Dell and HP load extra utilities and shortcuts on top of Windows, the phone manufacturers do the same with Android, often providing easy links to their own services and stores. Stock Android is the purest form of Android without any of these extras added on top. Whether or not it’s the best Android for you depends on how attached you are to these manufacturer customisations and skins.

Quicker updates

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using stock Android is that you get new versions of the operating system as quickly as possible. Whenever Google releases a new update, it hits Nexus devices almost immediately. Owners of other phones and tablets must wait until Sony, HTC, Samsung or another company have had a play around with it, added their own layer on top, and shipped it back out to customers with all bugs fixed and scenarios tested.

This trend for customising Android has exacerbated the software’s fragmentation problem. Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3-2.3.7) remains the most common version of the OS in use today, with the most recent Jelly Bean release accounting for 28.4% of the Android phone and tablet market. By using stock Android, you’re less likely to be left behind.

More apps

Google has been steadily spinning apps out of the main Android OS for some time now — most recently the stock keyboard appeared on Google Play — but one of the benefits of using the pure version of the operating system is that it ensures compatibility with the latest apps.

Twitter’s Vine, for example, recently launched on Android and requires version 4.0 or above. If you want to use the lock screen widget built into Google Now, you’ll need Android 4.1 or higher. The more recent your version of Android, the more apps and features you have access to.

Fewer apps

Of course, at the same time you get fewer apps because you’re living without the customised add-ons and widgets produced by the phone manufacturers. In the case of the HTC One, you won’t get the social networking stream widget BlinkFeed; in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4, you’ll miss out on the Smart Pause utility that pauses videos whenever you look away from the screen. Whether these omissions will be of interest to you depends on whether you view them as useful add-ons or needless gimmicks.

Optimisations

These stock Android versions of existing phones have another disadvantage when compared with pure Nexus devices — the hardware and software haven’t been developed in unison, so you might not experience a fully optimised experience. Stock Android will certainly work without any major problems on the latest smartphones, but you might notice one or two inconsistencies (the HTC One doesn’t have a multi-tasking button, for starters).

Stock Android has much going for it, but the trend of slapping the vanilla OS on any smartphone isn’t without its problems. You’re also more likely to pay a premium for devices sporting stock Android, though LG’s competitive pricing on the Nexus 4 is an exception to that rule. Whichever version of Android you find yourself leaning towards, having the choice can only be good for buyers.

1stFone Mobile for 4-9 Year Olds

1stfone

Gadgets don’t tend to cause a lot of controversy. Their uses and applications may be called into question sometimes, but an actually device is usually free from any condemnation or disapproval. However you get the feeling that a mobile phone aimed at four-to-nine-year-olds would cause quite a stir…and it has.

Called the 1stFone, this back to basics cellular device is designed to connect a child with their parents or guardian in times of despair. It’s compact, screen-free design features no text or Internet capabilities but can store up to twelve contacts for every eventuality.

“In a world dominated by smart phones, parents face a difficult choice when it comes to finding a first phone for their child,” said Tom Sunderland, founder of 1stFone creator OwnFone. “We wanted to design a fun product that appeals to children but puts parents in complete control and minimises usage while still providing a vital connection between parent and child.”

According to the company, 1stFone aims to reduce the risks of text bullying or being exposed to harmful material online. It will also provide children with a vital contact to loved ones while playing outside, walking to school or at a friend’s house.

In terms of the actual device, it is actually quite a clever and well thought out design, obviously created for ease-of-use. 1stFone is also delivered pre-programmed with a parent’s desired names and numbers ready to go straight out of the box.

Needless to say, 1stFone has sparked anger and fury among parent groups and campaigners. Critics believe that OwnFone is simply trying to commercialise children and make money out of paranoid parents. Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums.com commented: “Marketing mobiles to pre-school children is wrong. No four-year-old needs their own phone as they should never be left alone or in a situation where they need to ring an adult.”

It’s somewhat difficult to take a definite stance on the subject. One certainly hopes that OwnFone’s main intention is to protect children from harm and provide essential assistance in a difficult situation rather than benefit from the commercial potential of worried parents. Regardless of personal opinion, it seems like even the youngest of children will be exposed to technology sooner rather than later.