The dual-screen Yotaphone 2 – for when one display just isn’t enough

yotaphone-front

Smartphones are constantly finding new ways to automate or augment tasks that would traditionally be covered by other products, but until there’s a dramatic advance in technology we’re still essentially left manipulating similar-looking touchscreen devices. One company that has attempted to try something new is Yota, who incorporated two screens on its maiden handheld the Yotaphone last year. It’s now back for more with the Yotaphone 2, which essentially aims to refresh the device for the current generation.

The premise may require a bit of explanation – from the front it’s a fairly standard Android smartphone with all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect. Flip it over, though, and you’ll see an e-ink display that holds all the advantages of e-book readers – namely a comfortable reading platform and low impact on battery. Anyone who’s tried to read an e-book on a smartphone will tell you that this sounds like a great idea, but for some reason it never really took off. The Yotaphone 2 is now available to buy though, and with the usual suspects giving it the once over we’re keen to see whether this is something that will finally catch on.

To have a chance it needs to get enough right on the hardware front, and it appears as though what we’re looking at is a fairly mid-range smartphone. It has a pocketable 5” full HD (1920×1080) display on the front and round the back is your 4.7” alternative with 960×540 resolution using e-ink. There’s 32GB of internal memory (with no microSD), an 8MP front and 2MP rear camera and it runs Android 4.4 out of the box. Nothing to write home about so far, but it’s powerful enough to have potential, so let’s see how it goes.

We’ll let Engadget tell us how good the Yotaphone2 is as a phone before we get to the exciting bit. Initial impressions are good, with notable improvements over the predecessor and a sleeker overall package.

“It’s got comfortable curves in all the right places – if you’re using it like a regular smartphone and poking at the primary display”

it says, but:

“flip the phone over to make use of the E Ink side, and it’s a different story: The edges that come into contact with your hand are now sharp, unwelcoming, 90-degree intersections of glass and plastic.”

There’s some degree of tolerance required on the comfort front, then, but the quality on offer might make up for it. The main display is described as “gorgeous”, with AMOLED technology doing a great job of deep blacks and vibrant colours, good sunlight visibility and great viewing angles. The cameras don’t fare as well though, and despite being capable enough in bright, sunlit conditions can result in washed out images lacking in colour. It struggles with both artificial light and low-light conditions for various reasons, so it’s safe to say this might be a deal breaker if a good snapper is a high priority.

Like most reviewers CNet places a fair bit of emphasis on the second display and we’ll take a look at their summary for some more information on the USP.

“The rear screen has three main modes: YotaCover, which acts as a lock screen, displaying images from your gallery; an Android-like set of four homescreens with widgets for weather, favourite contacts and app icons; and a mode where it simply shows the same Android interface you see on the LCD side.”

Each of these screens can be programmed using the supplied app, which takes a bit of getting used to, but what really helps the Yotaphone 2 to stand out is YotaMirror, a function that allows you to display fully functional Android on the e-ink display. This aids functionality no end, but you’ll still want to stick to tasks that this technology is really intended for due to inherent drawbacks of the technology and issues with the device itself.

“Its biggest problem is with “ghosting”. When the display refreshes what’s on it, a faint trace of the previous screen is left behind”

says CNet, who also points out that it’s far less responsive than the LCD screen and less sharp, so:

“it’s no good for quick texting or emailing, but it does bring more functionality to the rear display than its predecessor had.”

But perhaps the biggest issue most users will have, it says, is working out which of your daily activities are better suited to the rear display, and thereby save on battery power.

Pocket Lint is generally impressed by the phone as a whole, stating that “everything works very well indeed”. The core hardware keeps everything running smoothly during typical operation but one area that does seem to be a problem is battery life. Considering you’d reasonably expect this to be superior to other phones because of the option of the e-ink display, it discovered that only if and when you master effective use of this will it “just about hold its own against some of the current flagships to get you through a long day”. It also has some comments on the second screen, namely that “as it stands the rear screen is a long way from being bug-free.” Issues include the aforementioned ghosting but it is responsive and seems to work well for reading books. There’s also a nice function to display a screenshot of whatever’s showing on your main screen on the rear, where it’ll stay until you refresh it. This could be a map, boarding pass or other important information that, privacy issues aside, could be a real benefit in certain situations.

yotaphone-back

The final thing we should address is one that was mentioned in all three reviews – the price. At £550 sim-free you’re paying top-whack for what is essentially a mid-range handset for the benefit of the e-ink display. What’s pleasing is that it’s fairly impressive as a phone anyway, something Yota really had to get right to make it worthy of consideration, but this leaves consumers with a difficult choice between a top-tier, no nonsense smartphone or dual-screen e-ink innovator that could still turn out to be just a gimmick. The choice is yours.

The HTC Desire 510 delivers budget 4G goodness

HTC-Desire-510_3V_White

Amidst the furore surrounding its high-end One M7 and M8, HTC has been slipping mid-range devices under our noses, many of which are piggybacking the now iconic design of the One with its thin side bezel and top and bottom panels.

Previously reserved for headline “Boomsound” speakers, less expensive models such as the new Desire 510, the successor to the budget 500, forgo this for a traditional single speaker and microphone, but the 510 has a different USP up its sleeve that should satisfy those who prioritise surfing over sound. Billed as the “most affordable LTE smartphone to date”, this promises to deliver 4G to the masses, complete with all the benefits of smooth HD video streaming and super-fast downloads.

“Owning the latest and greatest technology shouldn’t be reserved for those with the highest budgets” says HTC CEO Peter Chou, and while as consumers we couldn’t agree more, we’re always hesitant to get too excited about anything that commands the use of the word “budget”. Let’s have a look under the hood:

A quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 processor runs the show, there’s a 4.7” (480×854) display, 8GB of storage with a microSD, a 5MP rear camera and 0.3MP front facer. HTC wasn’t kidding then – this is fairly budget as things go, but you can apparently squeeze 17 hours from the battery life and it runs Android 4.4 KitKat with a proprietary sense UI, which includes features like Zoe and Blinkfeed found on the higher-end models.

Chou goes on to state:

“People today should expect their smartphones to double as mobile entertainment hubs. This means ensuring that they’re fully loaded with the latest movies, TV shows and albums, by taking advantage of the super-fast network speeds available. The HTC Desire 510 does this and more, making it the perfect mobile media device.”

HTC-Desire-510_PerRight_Black

And in fairness the 510 does (hyperbole aside) seem to fulfil these promises – like most of the Desire range it’s a tidy looking device that’s capable of all the bare necessities along with the added benefit of 4G; though it is disappointing not to see dual front-facing speakers on a “multimedia device”, even if they aren’t of the same quality of its big brothers.

The Desire 510 will be available in the UK from September in a choice of Terra White and Meridian Grey and is compatible with the HTC Dot View case for added customisation options. And the price is indeed nice – £149 SIM free. Certainly worth a look if you can find a good value 4G plan.

Microsoft’s Lumia 530: the cheapest top-of-the-line smartphone

Microsoft announced today there will be UK availability for its new Lumia 530 smartphone. While you may be thinking “oh another Lumia, what’s new?” This one could really be a gamechanger – this is reputed to be a premium smartphone with Windows 8.1 features at the knock-off price of as little as £60.

So what’s the catch? Looking at bare bone specs, it appears there is no catch. It runs Microsoft’s handheld operating system known as Windows 8.1, granting access to the expected Lumia experience, including the latest apps and newest Windows functionality.

The phone will feature a 4” LCD display – while not particularly high quality, it is acceptable when you consider the phone’s pricing.  In addition, the battery life is less than stellar – if left on standby, the phone’s battery will last up to 22 hours – not an ideal choice for a long camping trip, but not too bad for the day-to-day, with up to 13 hours battery life when heavily used. The device sports a 5 Megapixel camera, with no front-facing camera options. The phone will be available in a number of colours as you’d expect from a Lumia, such as bright orange, green and grey.

The phone will contain the lightning-fast 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, which delivers a super-fast, lag-free user experience of your favourite apps, gaming and internet browsing”. The phone will also support Microsoft’s Windows services like Skype and Office.

One key criticism that many harbour regarding Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store is the lack of many apps that can be found on both Android and iOS stores – this continues here, but many more apps are now being ported across to the Windows Store. Lumia-specific apps are also available, such as Creative Studio and Glam Me, which, according to Microsoft, “helps people take quality voice-guided selfies with the 5MP rear camera.” So if you’re the selfie lover who’s strapped for cash, this phone could be the ideal option.

Conor Pierce, VP of Microsoft Devices for the UK and Ireland commented on the announcement of the 530 saying “With high-end apps, features and exceptional build quality at an amazing price, the Lumia 530 sets a new benchmark for affordable smartphones”. While of course Conor’s not likely to talk the phone down at all, he’s demonstrating how keen Microsoft are to show off the Lumia 530’s scarily low price.

The Lumia 530 will go on sale on 4th September with a quoted price of £60, available a number of retailers like EE, Vodafone, and O2.

Microsoft’s latest Lumia (the 930) comes to the UK

lumia-930-smartphone

Microsoft’s popular smartphone range will be receiving a new addition in mid-July this year with the release of the Lumia 930 smartphone. Microsoft’s latest smartphone will be releasing in the UK with the latest 8.1 software and “the best of Microsoft and Lumia services” the Lumia 930 is promising to “deliver an unrivalled user experience”. Upon its release, featuring a lightweight but high resolution 5” Full HD OLED Screen with 1920×1080 screen resolution – similar to that you might find on a desktop computer, you can expect a sharp image delivery from this smartphone.

Microsoft also supports the smartphone’s claim to be one of the best in terms of entertainment and image delivery, stating “the crystal clear 5-inch OLED display lets you watch in full HD and your favourite shows, movies or video clips are viewable in any light conditions as the device uses PureBlack screen technology.” Having a screen that’s too dark to view properly in certain conditions has always been a personal gripe of mine so if this is improved in the Lumia, that is a definite plus.

The smartphone aims to provide “the ultimate in video and imaging smartphone capability” with a 20 Mega-pixel camera, capable of taking photos in its native 1920×1080 resolution. For dedicated mobile photographers the phone also features imaging apps such as Nokia Camera in addition to Zeiss optics will allow users to create high-quality, stunning photos in seconds. Microsoft also claims the phone’s camera will “capture HD video like never before” including directional audio and built-in support for 5:1 surround sound – both capture and playback.

Conor Pierce, VP of Microsoft Devices for the UK and Ireland, was quick to support the new smartphone’s imaging and video capabilities: delivering cutting-edge technology to create an unrivalled video and imaging smartphone experience that are instantly shareable.”

Microsoft claims the phone will provide plenty to do for its users, and promises to include “A rich suite of differentiating applications and services”. Such features include Microsoft Enterprise feature pack, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Nokia Camera, and HERE Maps and Drive+. All this functionality will be contained within “a beautifully crafted design featuring metallic details and vibrant new colours”.

The high-res screen is handy for maps.
The high-res screen is handy for maps.

The phone also promises to keep user data safe using Microsoft’s own OneDrive cloud service, storing photos, videos and documents synced with the online cloud for free, allowing data to be carried across to other Windows Phones, PC’s, tablets, and Xbox consoles among other systems.

Microsoft is quick to assure potential customers that their new smartphone is strong in terms of its battery life – an important aspect in a phone that claims to boast a great deal of entertainment and creative capability. The Company stated: “Equipped with a high capacity 2420 mAh battery and built-in wireless charging, there is little need to worry about running out of battery”. The phone also includes a wireless battery charger.

Microsoft of course had plenty of positive things to state about the smartphone, but what do the net’s reviewers think of their new chief smartphone?

PC Advisor saw the phone largely in a positive light, stating that the phone’s performance and battery life impressed thoroughly: “Performance is great. Windows Phone 8 zips along on lesser phones, and on the Lumia 930 it runs like a dream… the 930 always feels responsive, whether switching between apps or quitting and returning to the home screen.

The 930’s battery lasts pretty well. Unless you’re hammering it by watching YouTube or playing games at maximum brightness, there’s enough juice to get you through a whole day, and probably half of the next, too.”

CNET isn’t quite as pleased with the phone’s battery life, stating that it “doesn’t impress” but is very much impressed with the phone’s camera functionality.

Microsoft is offering the phone “all from only £33 per month on contract”. However, should you wish to acquire the handset SIM-free, the phone will set you back around £435 – not a bad price for Microsoft’s flagship smartphone, but around similar cost to Samsung’s S5 now that it has been around a while.

 

ALCATEL launch “super-colourful affordable LTE” POP S3 smartphone

alcatel-pop-s3-main

In the words of Alcatel – “Make it faster keep it POP”. The POP S3 is the latest 4G phone from Alcatel trying to compete with the iPhone 5c and its colourful design. Weighing only 130g it is pretty light, users can also personalise their smartphone with the colourful battery covers. They are described as tough  and thick enough to not feel too cheap – you get three of them to start with.

Running on Android 4.3 the POP S3 has features such as One Finger Zoom which provides easy navigation while browsing. You can also share any content from your smartphone through Miracast Wi-Fi Display and it has an expandable memory good for those who like to take pictures and store everything on the phone.

The full screen camera with its video stabilisation allows you to record Full HD to a good level of sharpness. The screen has been a bit of a talking point for its poor quality, the of an IPS screen would have been preferable, but on the flip side the POP S3 may be one of the cheapest 4G phones out there.

The phone's FlipCover
The phone’s FlipCover

Describing the feel of the POP S3, Andrew Williams from Trusted Reviews said it was:

A bit like a low-rent take on the iPhone 5C. The plastic feels a bit cheaper and front-on the S3 looks like a conventional low-cost Android, but it still looks a fair bit better than many of the affordable Huawei budget phones we’ve reviewed over the past year

Another positive from the same reviewer was that the “POP S3 features a front notification LED light and an ambient light sensor despite the price.”

Meanwhile over at CNET they commented that the POP S3’s 800×480 pixel (WVGA) display was “fine, but you will find fonts and icons not as sharp. In relation to the camera, the reviewer fairly pointed out that while the phone packs a 5-megapixel camera:

“Don’t expect to take great pictures with it. It should be adequate for shooting in bright light, but I doubt it’d be your go-to camera for important shots.”

The POP S3 is available from EE stores nationwide.  For more information regarding ALCATEL ONETOUCH please visit www.facebook.com/alcatelonetouchuk.

First impressions: Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

samsung-galaxy-k-zoom

I’m pretty sold on the idea that I’m never going to buy another point and click camera again. I love to take pictures, and it’s still at the stage where it’s an enjoyable pastime for me but the point and click sits uncomfortably between the my full-blown DSLR, which I still have a lot of time and love for, and my iPhone 5S camera, which isn’t merely “good enough”, it’s often great. So with the point and click market dwindling, the inevitable first wave of camera-smartphones is upon us.

The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, is an update of last year’s Galaxy S4 Zoom – both essential mid-range smartphones with a high-end camera attached to the back. Like all emerging categories, this appears to be a mix of fun, cutting edge features constrained by technological restrictions that have a negative effect on things like usability and design.

Galaxy-K-zoom_out

Samsung tout the lens on the K Zoom as “professional grade” and whilst it does give you a range of options you wouldn’t get on a standard smartphone, don’t kid yourself that you can ditch your real camera. The lens has a focal distance of 24-240mm, the aperture goes from F3.1-6.3 and the ISO goes all the way up to 3200. The 20.7 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor should make your day to day snaps really pop, and the high ISO should help with grain free low-light images.

Of course the beauty of smartphones is the onboard processing power and there are a number of clever tricks thrown in to make it a bit more than a regular camera – and ultimately to help you to easily take better photos. You can split the focus and exposure (much like the Camera+ app) so you can get sharp, well lit images. You can also track objects, time selfies, and the camera will suggest which Instagram-like filters will suit your images.

Galaxy-K-zoom-pic3

However, the K Zoom, whilst slimmer than it’s previous iteration, is still bulkier than what people have come to expect from a smartphone. It’s also a fairly mid-range smartphone, so you’re compromising a little on everything else to accommodate the camera – most bizarrely on screen quality which is just 720p rather than the 1080p of the S5 (which is odd for an image focused device to sacrifice colour accuracy). The processor is also a step down from Samsung’s Tier One devices, making it a cellphone of compromise.

Review roundup: Google Nexus 5 smartphone

google-nexus-5

Following weeks and weeks of leaks, rumours and speculation the Nexus 5 has finally arrived as the new reference Android smartphone. Can the Google and LG collaboration really provide a proper flagship device at a fraction of the price? Take a look at the whirl of excitement the Google Nexus 5 has created and decide for yourself whether the anticipated handset really is worth the hype.

Rating the Nexus 5 an impressive ‘9 out of 10’, it’s worth reading ZDNet’s review of the smartphone. ZDNet’s writer had been living with the Nexus 5 for over a week and after initial disappointment and an immediate reaction to return the device, further evaluation meant the ZDNet Nexus 5 inspector deemed the smartphone as “outstanding value.” The focal point, writes ZDNet is the Nexus 5’s “latest and greatest” Android operating system, the Android KitKat 4.4.

In hardware terms, ZDNet isn’t as quite and complementary, finding the lightness of the device causing a worrying feeling that something’s missing, like the battery for instance. The camera also isn’t deemed as a plus point in this review, being slow to focus, although the photos included in the review seem to be pretty decent. Despite some slight disappointment with the weight and camera, the contributor is impressed with the Nexus 5’s immersive mode, which is great for reading in Google Books. Other stand-out features for ZDNet include the overall look of the design, the new OK Google voice control functionality, the Quickoffice integration, the integrated pedometer functionality and the pure application launch area. But what I think really drives this review to score an impressive ‘9 out of 10’, is the price. The 16GB model is priced at $349 and the 32GB model is $399, “fantastic prices” that provide “outstanding value.”

Engagdet is never one to mince its words, particularly when it gets to try out a highly anticipated new device. Indecisively titled “The Best Phone $350 Can Buy,” Engadget’s praise once again falls at the Nexus 5’s price. It has to be said that Engagdet was a fan of the Nexus 4, citing it as “gorgeous and powerful”. So impressed is Engadget by the “serenity of a pure Android experience and all the trimmings,” that this contributor finds that with this device it’s clear Google is trying to give the high-end, $600-plus Android flagships a run for their money.

Check out this hands-on video:

So what are the trimmings of the Nexus 5, Engadget’s so impressed by? The solidity of the phone’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and polycarbonate plastic on the back is one mentionable feature, though Engagdet does admit the Nexus 5 might not be ugly but certainly isn’t striking. Overall, Engadget loves the high-res display, the enhancements brought by Android KitKat and the general performance, but again, the real praise lies within the price.

“A phone like the Nexus 5 would get our blessing even at a higher price, but the fact that you can buy it for as low as $350 makes it that much sweeter,” concludes Engagdet.

The only feature deemed being a giveaway of the cost cuts, according to this review, is the device’s battery life with a runtime that is not as long as other flagship phones with larger batteries.

Deviating from the general praiseworthy consensus of the Nexus 5 is Wired’s evaluation. It has to be said Wired does tend to strive to controversially go against the run of play, citing smartphones as being boring. After spending a week with the Nexus 5 said:

“It’s clear this isn’t just another boring smartphone. It may be the most boring phone of the year.”

“It’s the vanilla soy milk latte of handsets.” (A typically trying-to-be-controversial-and-trendy Wired statement).

Despite describing the Nexus 5 as looking like a “big old slab of grass” even Wired has to admit it’s very fast, has a sensitive touchscreen, a pretty great battery life, a gorgeous screen, fantastic photo processing, loaded with Google brains, and is a great price.

Except having a slightly flawed camera, a degree of mixed opinions about the aesthetical merits and some debate about its battery, the Nexus 5 generally gets a big thumbs’ up. The majority of the praise is spawned by its price as what remain crystal clear in the Nexus 5 reviews is that we all can’t resist a bargain.

Nokia Lumia 1020 yet again redefines smartphone photography

nokia-lumia-1020

Nokia started the ball rolling when it comes to insanely specced smartphone cameras, and despite the HTC One offering a rather different take on proceedings, Nokia has laughed in the face of ultrapixels once again with another 41 – that’s FORTY ONE – megapixel camera in the Lumia 1020.With HTC’s take on what smartphone users really want (despite a rather mixed reception for ultrapixels), can the Lumia claim to be the unabashed photo powerhouse it needs to be?

Reviews of the device as a smartphone, because at the end of the day that’s what it really is, are mixed, even if the camera element is generally highly praised.

TechRadar said it awarded a relatively meagre 3.5 stars (out of 5) largely because of the camera, which is “the best there is on any smartphone in the market”. It goes on to state that “In auto mode, photos are generally well exposed with good dynamic range. Details are clear and sharp, and colors are accurate and rich” though it did bemoan the time it takes between the camera firing up and being able to take actual photos, as well as taking photos in rapid succession. It also criticised the relatively meagre app-support on Windows 8 and compares the combination of this and the camera with “putting a Ferrari engine in a 1998 Toyota Corolla”.

TrustedReviews also has issues with the “sluggish” camera processing alongside handling issues related to the lens housing. Being relatively poorly specced is notable, being “not much more powerful than entry-level phones”, as are similar issues with the Windows Mobile app market. It concludes by (perhaps predictably) saying that the Lumia 1020 only makes sense if the camera is significantly more important to you than almost anything else in a phone – we’re starting to see a theme developing here…

In fact it’s one that runs through many other Nokia Lumia 1020 reviews, including PCAdvisor, who awards it 3.5/5 but claims it’s “it’s expensive for what is essentially a now out-of-date Lumia 920 with a better snapper” and has some issues with battery life. DigitalSpy is slightly more positive, praising the aesthetics and design of the phone and claiming it’s one of their favourites of 2013, but still cites issues with the Windows Phone architecture, and Expert Reviews is very complementary, giving it 5 stars and calling it the “ultimate cameraphone”, though is largely focused on reviewing the phone as a camera rather than an all-rounder.

And finally GMSArena, in typically detailed fashion, takes every element of the Lumia 1020 for a spin and concludes that it may well be the final big swansong for the Finnish firm, and despite some excellent technology and impressive results from the snapper, other manufacturers have come further, despite less megapixels, on more fully-featured platforms.

The only other point of note from these reviews is that while the camera was widely praised, it was pointed out that it is still not an effective replacement for a dedicated compact system, so it seems that even with these sorts of specifications, smartphone-snappers still have some way to go before they will replace the traditional point-and-shoot.

So there you have it. Ultimate cameraphone the Lumia 1020 may be, but ultimate smartphone? It doesn’t look like it.