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.

Review Round-up: Sharp Aquos Crystal Smartphone

Breaking into the Smartphone market is no easy task – the key vendors are pretty well established and are updating and refining models at a fast enough pace to ensure wannabe competitors will have a tough time justifying their credentials. One way to shake things up is to introduce a headline feature that has enough “wow” factor to catch someone’s eye, and this is certainly the case with Sharp’s new almost bezel-less Aquos Crystal.

Contrary to what you might expect this isn’t a bells and whistles uber -hone, rather a mid-range device that’s pretty much aiming at the budget market. For this reason it isn’t specced up to the eyeballs, running Android 4.4.2 and sporting a rather modest 720p 5” edge-to-edge display, a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1.5GB of RAM, 8GB of storage inside with a microSD for expansion and an 8MP camera with a 1.2MP front facer. There are a few nice touches here though, such as HD voice, Wi-Fi calling and the employment of Harmon Kardon to set up some nice audio enhancements, though these will be more for headphones due to the rather small, single, rear-mounted speaker.

TechRadar went hands-on with the Aquos and was immediately impressed by the futuristic look and almost bezel-free design, calling it “one of the most sophisticated and futuristic-looking budget phones that I’ve seen”. It wasn’t all plain sailing when it came to design though, as the plastic screen and body betrayed its position as a mid-range device: “When holding one of these in your hand, it becomes almost immediately clear that this is a budget-friendly device, albeit a greatly upscaled one.” The capacitive touchscreen does get some plaudits despite its cheap feel, but further criticism was drawn from the placement of the camera lens, which being at the bottom may not sit well with the “selfie” generation, a clear sacrifice that had to me made for the headline feature.

Elsewhere Gizmodo highlights an innovation that comes as a result – with no speaker at the top for voice calls, Sharp is using “a direct wave receiver, which actually vibrates the screen next to your ear to transmit sound” – pretty cool. Elsewhere it commended the practical nature of the screen design, describing how “I purposefully tried to make accidental touches around the edges to see if the absence of bezel caused usability problems. It never happened once.” Though it comments that middle of the road specs may not appeal to those seeking a high end device, they make perfect sense when producing a mid-range handset with such aggressive pricing – in the US it’ll cost just $240 contract-free, which is pretty impressive if you won’t take advantage of the benefits of bleeding-edge tech.

Crystal-back

Finally Mashable goes to town on the Sprint network’s version of the Aquos and is similarly enamoured by the edgeless display: “Everything looks great on the screen — little surprise considering Sharp’s display expertise — though there is, perhaps, a bit more screen reflection than we would like.” It also points out some cool little features such as the ability to take a screenshot simply by moving your finger to the left hand corner diagonally, the ability to send the phone to sleep with a shake and wake it up by sliding your finger up from below the bottom edge and the presence of Sharp’s own voice assistant – Speaktoit.

All in all it seems like a successful first foray for Sharp. If you treat it like a mid-range phone and accept that you won’t have the kind of camera, processing power or range of features of high-end devices, the display is stunning, there’s plenty to like and it doesn’t let itself down particularly in any area. If the price is translated reasonably to the UK market we can see Sharp having a little sleeper hit on its hands over here.

Invoxia NVX 610: Plug and Play Professional Phone Products

Man, the people at French telecommunication giants invoxia are doing very well indeed as we get stuck in to 2013! Following the mighty Best of CES Innovations award and the multiple worlds awards (Red Dot 2012, Observeur du Design 2013, Telephony Product of the Year 2012, celebrating the new telecommunications vision, invoxia is now a service provider and unveiling brand new features this year for NVX 610. It’s all looking pretty sweet, at the minute.

Invoxia-NVX-610

So, what’s our focus point today then? Well, for your viewing pleasure, gadgeteers, it’s The NVX 610, developed by invoxia and it’s changing the entire concept of err, telephony services for small businesses and home offices. We’re most excited about the launch of the first plug and play professional phone which will now be sold with an integrated phone number/ SIP line….that’s pretty cool, right? Indeed. With this, there is no need for users to search for another provider to supply the telephone line, everything is now included and all the setting up and stuff is, to be fair, very simple indeed. We’re time-savers, here!

Okay. Alright! There’s some amount of hype. What’s the deal? The user (that’d be me and you then) simply plugs in the phone, connects it to an iPhone, gives an email addy and a telephone number is directly given. As per with this sort of thing, competitive subscriptions are available. The subscription will be paid on a dedicated webpage and installation takes a few minutes to set up.

What’s most interesting about invoxia’s new development is its incorporation of In Vivo Acoustics technology which handily enables users to hold conference calls, listen to music and benefit from very high sound quality. To go into a bit more detail for you, with In Vivo the separation between the left and right channels is very impressive. The New NVX 610 comes with no less than six speakers and four microphones for the best quality sound. Keeping this in mind, it’s quite cool that the sound coming from the speakers is hardly noticeable. Which is interesting. Do you want to know why? Because I’m Batman. No. No. It’s not that, really. It’s because each instrument at use is spatially isolated and can be heard very distinctly from whatever location the listener is in. Mint.

It’s also worth noting that the New AudiOffice is now also designed with a new passive radiator that increases the performance of base sounds and gives a higher quality of sound when using the speaker. What a beast. You’re probably going to want in on this? Yeah, we thought so. Let’s delve deeper then, shall we?

The AudiOffice is a dock with a nifty Cortex A8 processor built in which optimises iOS and now Android devices to such a level that it has the potential to be a damn-near essential device for daily comms and also for listening to music, of course! An updated version, appropriately dubbed the “New AudiOffice” will have a range of brand new features will be available in Europe and the US. Exciting times, for sure. No, really. This is proper good!

Connecting the AudiOffice to both Smartphones and tablets is a simple too. You can pair up the AudiOffice to an Android or iOS device via Bluetooth and users can call using their mobile line or use applications such as Skype, Viber, Bria or Facetime.

Specs, I hear you cry! You want more specifications? You can’t handle….no wait, you can. The AudiOffice now has six speakers instead of four and is enhanced by four inbuilt microphones which provide (as you can well imagine) even higher sound quality. Worth mentioning as well at this point is that the AudiOffice will be supplied with three USB cables (30 point USB cable, lightning cable, and a micro USB cable) and a master USB port.

Oh no! We’re not done yet! To add to your excitement…I almost feel like we’ve overloaded you! We’re pleased to let you know that The New NXV 610 now comes with two USB master ports which enable users to connect the handset and to charge an iPad (can’t be doing without that really, can we?). It comes with USB cables taking into account the Apple products evolution with the Lightening connector; the device is now integrating the iPhone 5. Stunnin’.

Here’s all the essential bumpf for you…boom! Let’s do this! The New NVX 610 will be first available in France at the beginning of 2013, then in the US and Europe during Q1 along with The AudiOffice. The New NVX 610 can be purchased from www.invoxia.com at 417 € or 599 $ (excl. tax) – invoxia is designed for all iOS devices. Meanwhile, The New AudiOffice is available to purchase from the aforementioned site priced at 299 US$ or 299 € incl. VAT worldwide. It is also available to purchase in store from FNAC, France. As with the NVX, it’s made for iOS devices including iPhone 5 as well as PCs, tablets and Smartphones.

UrbanHello: Giving the home phone some smarts

Adding “smart” to the home phone seems like an obvious leap, especially since the proliferation on clever mobile phones has been so succesful. Then again with such wonderful mobiles and with companies such as ePure replicating the home phone experience on the mobile perhaps the home phone is a thing of the past?

UrbanHello, a young French start-up begs to differ and has taken CES by storm with its Innovations Award-winning UrbanHello home phone.

UrbanHello-Home-Phone

Beautifully designed (the company liken it to a bouquet of flowers) the Home Phone is also designed with simplicity in mind and comes in a range of colours to blend with interior decor if that sort of thing matters to you. But what about the tech?

The Home Phone’s mechanical keyboard is stripped of all superfluous functions unlike previous attempts at home smartphone that have tried to unnecessarily cram the whole Android experience into a home handset. The Home Phone has a Less is More take and only features the essential buttons with only one single obvious function per button. Two discrete OLED displays are located on the top and at the bottom of the handse and self activate only when in use to reduce power consumption.

The Home Phone has HD sound so your calls should be much clearer. It’s also context sensitive and knows when it should be a loudspeaker for conference calls or multi-person chats. The telephone automatically switches to hands-free and transmits 360° High Definition sound. The inbuilt 360° speaker reproduces deep bass sounds and transmits a natural, profound and clear sound. This ease is supposed to encourage shared conversation.

“The Smartphone was conceived for the individual. The Home Phone was designed for the whole household.”

Hervé Artus, Founder of UrbanHello.

It should also be plug and play in most households – the UrbanHello handset is 100% compatible with any standard DECT-GAP base station and with any advanced internet gateway with the CAT-iq standard.

UrbanHello has launched a campaign on KickStarter. The first UrbanHello products are available for pre-order from $85. For more information check out UrbanHello.

Best Accessibility Gadgets for the Visually Impaired

In 2011 there were approximately 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK, as stated by the charity Action For Blind People. Given the prolific number of people in Britain who are living with sight loss and the technological advances that are occurring by a seemingly daily rate, there are an increasing number of gadgets and tools designed to make life easier for the visually impaired arriving on the market.

We take a look at three of the latest “accessibility” gadgets.

Powertel

Amplicomms PowerTel 710

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have announced the world’s first talking handset. The Aplicomm PowerTel 710 literally talks back to users to help guide the blind and visually through answering the phone and making phone calls.

Each time a user presses a button on the PowerTel 710, the phone calls the number back to you. As well as voice prompts and keys that announce their function so that users always know what they are doing, the handset is made up of big keys to make the physicality of dialling numbers easier for those with sight problems.

This cordless home telephone also has an earpiece over 40 decibels and a ringer that is more than 90 decibels loud, as well as two user profiles, meaning that one family member can have the PowerTel 710 much louder than the rest of the family. Being “truly accessible to the blind”, Simon McLean, technology product manager at the RNIB spoke of being “bowled over” by Amplicomm’s “first of its kind” new cordless home phone.

The PowerTel 710 retails at £99.99 and is available to buy from www.rnib.org.uk/shop

EyeMusic

The EyeMusic

The EyeMusic is a device that was developed this summer by a team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In converting images into music, the EyeMusic helps the blind and visually impaired locate items with greater ease.

The innovatory device employs pleasant musical tones and scales to help blind people “see” the music. It works by scanning an image and representing pixels at high vertical locations as low-pitched notes according to a musical scale that will sound pleasant in many possible combinations.

After a short training session, the researchers assert the EyeMusic can guide movements and improve the performance of daily tasks carried out by people living with no or little sight.

Geordie

The Georgie app

This new app for Android devices allows people with visual difficulties to carry out daily tasks that are normally difficult for them. Users can navigate the app by moving their fingers over various options that are then read aloud. By hovering a finger above an option, a certain task is activated accompanied with a loud beep.

As well as making calls and sending messages, the Georgie app also provides location-based technologies, which alerts users to various location-based activities, such as when the next bus is arriving, when steps are approaching, or which way they are facing.

With approximately 39 million blind people around the world and 285 million people who are visually impaired, it is refreshing to see that there is a drive to create accessibility gadgets for those living with problems with their sight.

The Moshi Moshi 05 mobile handset. Now you’re talking!

Since when did handsets go designer? In age when traditional telephone handsets are looked upon with scorn by the wearers of small sleek earphones with mikes; (you know the sort; they walk along the street apparently talking to themselves) along comes a designer with a new range of traditional handsets for mobile phones that are set to buck the trend.

Moshi-Moshi-05

The art of conversation is dead according to Native Union; a partnership of Hong Kong based British and French designers who want to reinvent how we interact with our mobile phones. They are convinced we are slaves to our mobiles, unable to do anything else because we have to hold them all the time. So why not invent a traditional looking handset that attaches itself to our mobile and provides us with crystal clear sound? That way we can look at our phone calendar to check a date, or view emails without having to pausing the conversation. Even Skype or Viber can be then be used just like a traditional telephone when you think about it. Unlike the four previous Moshi Moshi phones on the market, this latest model does not need a base unit. Acclaimed industrial designer David Turpin was tasked with creating a cutting edge design and he came up with an ergonomic handset that can sit tidily on a desk or any flat surface without using a base to hold it.

The Moshi Moshi 05 handset combines classic style with a contemporary edge and is finished with a luxurious black soft-touch or white high-gloss texture. The handset is fitted with a 3.5mm jack which is iPhone compatible, and and when fitted with a USB adaptor (sold separately) can be used for VOIP calls such as Skype Viber or Google Talk.
The MM05 is available from www.nativeunion.com/uk at £24.90

Torque Digital Cordless Telephone: It’s good to Torque

Poor old landline phones – we’re all so busy admiring the latest gadgetry delights on offer from the likes of HTC and Apple, that sometimes we forget about them. I have to admit that while I have a lovely shiny iPhone in a beautiful leather case, my landline phone is the cheapest one I could find in Argos, and hardly looks like a stylish piece of kit.

Torque-digital-phone

The Torque Digital Cordless Telephone, from Magicbox, could change all that. Not only is it shiny and stylish, but it’s the world’s first full touch sensor key pad landline phone, or so say Magicbox anyway.This cordless phone includes an answering machine and has a high gloss finish that will fit in to your high-gloss, modern home (if that is, indeed, what you have).

But the style features don’t stop there; the keypads on the piano black-finish phone have been etched with a white laser, and only show up when you touch the handset. The base multitasks as it is also the charging station, and offers a flashing blue glow if you have a message waiting.

Magicbox claims the Torque is easy to navigate, thanks to its icon-based menu, and features a 100-name phonebook, caller ID, three-way conferencing call, SMS and a ‘find handset’ feature.
A fully charged handset offers up to 10.5 hours talktime, 160 hours standby time and has a 50m range indoors and 300m outdoors

The Torque comes in black and white and prices for one handset start at around £79.99.
For more details head to www.magicboxproducts.com/

Gadgets lend a helping hand: New tech for the older generation

Technology is a great tool when it comes to overcoming disabilities. Here’s a few of the latest ideas aimed at giving a bit of a helping hand…

MiniTek-Family

For the deaf and hard of hearing, concerns about their personal safety widen as they go out of their own environment and into public places, such as the supermarket. How would they know if there was an emergency – such as a fire alarm – if they can’t hear alarms or loudspeaker announcements?

That’s why FireCo, which makes and installs wireless fire safety products, came up with its Deaf Message Service (DMS) fire notification system. The SMS system has been develop by ProcessFlows.

Using DMS, deaf people who are out and about in a public place where DMS has been installed, can sign up to receive ‘fire alarm sounding’ notification on their mobile phone. So, if they visit the supermarket or leisure centre, they send a text with their location code – the DMS server adds them to that location and, should a fire alarm sound, they will receive text notification.

Find out more at www.deafmessageservice.com and www.processflows.co.uk.

Technology can be a great benefit to the deaf and hard of hearing, but sometimes it needs a little help. That’s where the Tek from Siemens Hearing Instruments comes in. It uses Bluetooth® technology to wirelessly communicate sound between a hearing instrument and MP3 players, mobile phones, TVs, home stereo systems and other audio sources. For instance, when a mobile phone rings, the user speaks into the Tek device and then listens through the hearing instruments, rather than using their handset.

Siemens has launched a new smaller version of the device, ‘miniTek’, which weighs in at just 55g, is about the size of a matchbox and will be available in early 2011.

For more go here.

Mobile phones are a boon for the elderly or disabled, offering a constant lifeline to the outside world. But as phones get ever smarter, they are also becoming more complicated.

Enter the Emporia ELEGANCE, a phone that has been designed to be incredibly easy to use. It offers easy access to talk, text, an alarm clock, reminders, keyboard lock and there’s a torch built into the phone.

The Emporia Elegance phone is a black and silver device of curved loveliness that serves a serious purpose.

emporia_ELEGANCE lo res

To help me try it out, I enlisted the help of possibly Latest Gadgets’ oldest reviewer (but please don’t tell her that!).

We have been searching for a decent mobile for my mum, who has had her bus pass for a good 20 years, for a long time. Something simple, which doesn’t require me to go and explain it 10 times over, was what we were after. In the past, she’s had to make do with my cast-offs, but as phones have got smaller and smaller, they have got harder for her to use.

The Emporia Elegance has BIG keys. Yes, big keys – with big numbers on, so that she can actually read them (and in fact great for anyone who’s starting to have to peer at the small print – you know who you are).

“Ooh, I can actually see the numbers,” she said. Amazing how easy it is to please some people! But would it be simple to use? Dialling is easy, and Emporia has decided to pop keys on the side of the phone, rather than having a complicated menu system – an absolute godsend. In the past, my poor mum has had to wait two days for one of us to pop round and find her messages so that she can read them – lucky there wasn’t anything urgent. The screen itself is not that big, but the text can be set to huge – the only thing is that you can’t see much of anything because of the size of the screen.

Oh and wonder of wonders, the keyboard lock is a button on the side – I’d given up trying to explain how to lock the keyboard on the past mobile, in case my mum couldn’t unlock it when she needed to – hence several long messages where I listened to her getting on the bus, having a conversation with the man at the newsagents, or rifling in her bag for her purse (this will be familiar to anyone with an elderly parents!).

And one other thing – there’s also a button on the side that lights up a bright torch – fantastic for seeing the keyhole at night, or looking for your keys in your bag.

My only gripe would be that the side buttons are actually a little small and fiddly, and being on the side, they can be easy to press by accident. But overall, for anyone who has sight issues, limited mobility in their fingers – or in fact, just can’t be bothered fiddling about with complicated menus when all they want to do is make and receive calls, the Elegance is a godsend. But it does come at a price – 100 pounds to be precise.

Monitoring the home when we’re not there will be of interest to many of us, whether we want to make sure our house is secure, check that the kids have got home from school okay, and so on. But for anyone who cares for a disabled or elderly relative, it takes on another level of importance.

That’s when a system such as Halo, which allows users to remotely control and monitor their homes from wherever they are, can be invaluable. Halo has an added extra – the web-enabled Telecare service operates continuously, and is able to inform carers of any abnormal events, such as medical and panic alerts, by SMS, Twitter or email.

It can also be set up to register movement around the home – so, for instance if the system is in an elderly relative’s home, and it detects no movement between 8 and 9am when they would normally be up and about, it will alert you, so that you can take the appropriate action.

Halo uses a cloud-based platform that can be accessed over the web or a smartphone, and allows carers to enable services from their own homes, call centres or via mobile phone.

Video content can also be expanded into social networking applications so that carers can keep in touch with their friends and family on a regular basis.