A KALQ-ulated Gamble: the KALQ Keyboard

KALQ

Despite its intentionally obtuse layout, the QWERTY keyboard has been a part of our lives since it debuted on a typewriter in the 1880s. However, the increasingly thumb-driven nature of smartphone and tablet typing has revealed previously unseen flaws in the QWERTY layout. The time is right for a new arrangement of alphabetic characters on mobile devices, and a group of researchers think they’ve found the optimal solution.

Christened KALQ after a particular arrangement of letters, this brand-new keyboard layout has been designed to allow thumb-typing at speeds well in excess of anything possible using the time-honoured QWERTY template. KALQ organises letters into neat banks of four, with a cluster positioned at either side of a mobile device. Although this layout will initially seem unfamiliar, the developers claim it will only take around eight hours of use before typing speeds can match QWERTY keyboards. After this, it will be possible to type more quickly and more comfortably, with less tendon stretching required to reach letters like Y or G. Users of KALQ can apparently manage 37 words per minute, compared to 20 with the QWERTY layout.

The science behind KALQ is rather complex, which is perhaps unsurprising considering its creators included researchers at the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and Montana Tech. This eclectic team used computational optimisation techniques, probabilistic error correction methods and simulated thumb movements to rule out millions of different layouts. Left- and right-handed variants of the winning combination will be available, and the key layout reflects the fact that many regularly-used words like “on”, “see”, “you”, and “read” all rely on a single thumb when using the QWERTY formation. Conversely, KALQ has been programmed to minimise strings of single-finger typing, in favour of constantly switching between thumbs – all the vowel keys are situated on one side, whereas the opposite keyboard contains more letters overall.

KALQ is set to be debuted at the CHI 2013 conference in Paris on May 1st, which is described as “the principal international forum for outstanding research and development in human-computer interaction.” Alternatively, for anyone not planning on attending this landmark event, the KALQ app should be available for download onto any Android device within a couple of weeks.

KALQ will be available to download as a free app for all Android-based devices, from mid-May onwards. Further information can be obtained by visiting here.

ZTE Grand Memo Smartphone: Ghetto Phabulous

ZTE-Grand-Memo

ZTE has recently introduced the Grand Memo, its latest smartphone, or should that be tablet? With a whopping 5.7-inch screen, the device is being entered into the phablet market due to its expansive display and processing ability.

The Grand Memo features a high definition 720 x 1280 display, an impressive 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 8000 processor and 2GB of RAM. Other notable aspects include a 13MP rear-facing camera with the ability to shoot 1080HD video, Dolby Digital Plus Surround sound, a 3,200mAh battery and Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean OS.

Comparisons to other similar products on the market are likely to be drawn, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and to some extent LG’s Optimus G Pro sharing certain design aspects. A factor both manufacturers’ legal teams might like to take into consideration. Nevertheless the Grand Memo is aesthetically pleasing, if a little uninspiring.

“We have really tried to make this device fun for use at home, and practical for use in the office. By combining both of these factors, we have created a well-rounded large-screen handset that is suitable for any situation.”

He Shiyou, ZTE EVP and Head of the Mobile Devices Division

In my opinion, as a mobile phone the Grand Memo is gratuitously large, with the device likely to attract unwanted attention on public transport but unlikely to fit in one’s pocket. As a tablet, I’m not sure it possesses the characteristics to deal with any worthwhile tasks, such as productive word processing or comfortably reading an e-book.

A hands on review from techradar.com noted that the device’s size made it “a little unwieldy in the hand and we found ourselves really having to stretch our fingers to properly grasp the Grand Memo.” The reviewer also went on to mention that “the screen itself is bright and clear, although on closer inspection its not the most detailed of displays we’ve had the pleasure of ogling.”

Therefore it looks like the Grand Memo might struggle against its more established and higher quality rivals. However if it comes in at a lower price, it could enjoy some moderate success. For the now ZTE’s latest offering will only be available in Europe and China, but customers in the US and elsewhere still have plenty of other phablet alternatives to choose from.

MWC 2013 Preview: What to Expect from Samsung, Nokia and LG

MWC-entrance

Mobile World Congress 2013 kicks off tomorrow in Spain, Barcelona, and to whet your appetite for some shiny new tech we thought we take a look at who is likely to be grabbing the headlines when the show kicks off Feb 25-29.

Samsung
While Samsung’s flagship S4 smartphone won’t be making an appearance, it has been rumoured that the Korea tech giant will be unveiling a slew of new tablets.

The first one is the much rumoured Galaxy Note 8, which is expected to get an official unveil at the show. Unlike Samsung’s Tab line of tablets, the Note 8 takes its design cues from its smaller brother, the Note II. The tablet is expected to be finished in the same Marble White and will be sporting a home button and back/menu touch buttons bellow the display, which means that device is expected to be held mostly in portrait, like a phone, rather than landscape.

The tablet is thought to be sporting a rear and front-facing camera, and there’s obviously a slot for an S Pen stylus. It’s thought the device is expected to target the mid-range market with a price tag of around £300-£350. The tablet is expected to be sporting an 8-inch HD display, 2GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz quad-core processor.

We’re expecting the Note 8 to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPad Mini and Google’s Nexus 7, although it may be priced more closely to Apple’s offering than Google’s.

Samsung is also said to be preparing to launch a third generation of Android-based Galaxy Tab tablets, starting with 7-inch and 10-inch models that will make appearances at Mobile World Congress too.

Nokia
Nokia has announced a press conference for 25 February, which is right at the beginning of the Mobile World Congress. Although there is no further information about this announcement, it can be assumed that is going to be about new devices and services.

According to the latest rumours, Nokia will introduce at least one new high-end smartphone codenamed Catwalk. It’s thought it will have an aluminium chasis that’s will differentiate it from the current raft of Lumias on offer. Also, there is another model, codenamed Eos, which could come with Nokia’s PureView camera technology. Last year at MWC, Nokia unveiled their 808 PureView, a Symbian device with a camera resolution of 41 megapixels, so is Nokia planning to bring that tech to it’s Lumia range? We’ll know more next week.

Another rumour doing the rounds lately suggest that Nokia is developing a tablet based on Windows RT, with the possibility that the device will be unveiled at MWC.

The rumour came about after a video showing Nokia’s Music+ app on a tablet was quickly removed from a recent YouTube promotional video – leading many to speculate that the company has a tablet in preparation.

LG
With a lot announcements happening at MWC, a lot of manufacturers will be looking to show off their wares at pre-show events in order to try and navigate the impending tech quagmire.And that’s what LG has done with a teaser posted to their Facebook page showing off a new Otimus Prime G smartphone.

Although the official details for the 5.5-inch handset are light, early rumours suggest that a quad-core 1.7GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and a 13-megapixel camera are in order.

The LG Optimus G Pro will find a home in South Korea in the coming weeks. It is unclear what other markets might offer the new smartphone. We hope to learn the full details of the new line of Optimus handsets at Mobile World Congress later this month.

GripTight Gorillapod stand for almost all smartphones

The smartphone photography boom continues unabated. It’s already been ages since the iPhone became one of the most popular cameras on mobile photography site Flickr. Now mobile sharing sites such as Instagram are all the rage and seemingly every big photo site is attempting to get in on the retro camera crazy, with Flickr and Twitter both trying to get in on the retro filters craze. One upshot of all this is that there’s a growing market for wonderful camera accessories to take your smartphone photography to the next level. Rotolight do wonderful things with smartphone lighting and lenses, Glidetrack make smartphone-specific camera dollies and now Joby, makers of the Gorillapod have produced a (relatively) device-agonistic smartphone tripod the GripTight Gorillapod stand for smartphones.

Joby-Gorillapod-GripTight

If you don’t know about Gorillapods then you’re missing out on a delightful range of tripods that open up a world of creative photo opportunities. Gorillapods have flexible joints that can bend and rotate 360° so you can pop them on many different surfaces and even manipulate the tripod into a claw that can be tightly wrapped around all sorts of pillars and posts.

Joby already make a mobile clip that lets you strap in previous iterations of the iPhone. The GripTight Mount, however is a much more flexible proposition and works with most leading smartphones – even with cases. I’ve working with a lot of iPhone stand solutions before (including my much-loved Glif) but having the flexibility to leave on cases or other modification such as lenses I may have made to my phone is a boon. The GripTight’s
internal steel springs allow you to mount to expand it to the size of your device and the rubber grip pads feel very secure – I never once feared for my iPhone’s safety – even when dangled upside-down from a ceiling.

The GripTight Mount is super compact and foldable and quickly attaches to the GorillaPod – and indeed other tripods – via ¼-20″ screw. The actual attachment is small enough to pop on the end of your keys (there’s a tiny hole to attach it to a loop) and I’ve been jingling one in my pocket for a couple of days without really noticing the additional weight. It’s a great tool to add to your collection.

The Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand (including the GripTight Mount) is available now with a recommended retail price of £25.00. For more details check Joby.

mophie duo and mini: Power for the 1%

I love shiny electronic devices, which is handy for a job reviewing shiny electronic devices. But they can be so demanding ,both on my attention span and on power levels. I’m often in rooms with people fretting over battery levels and oft-times constrained by their devices. I’ve heard “I’d love to … but I’ve only got 6% on my battery so I should probably head home.”

Mophie-Powerstation

However mophie have come to rescue my social life. Firstly they told me to stop wearing denim shirts. It hasn’t been the 80s for a very very long time. And it looked bad then. And secondly they’ve brought out two new powerstations, a duo and a mini; universal battery backup devices for your smartphone or in the case of the duo, your tablet too.

The mini is a compact little power house with enough juice to charge an iPhone one and a half times. And if you want to be the life and soul of the recharging party, you can rock the duo, which has two USB ports so you could charge two phones, or a tablet and phone together. Imagine the love you’d get in social settings as you boost your friend’s device. It could be the new “Hey need a light” method of meeting amazing new people.

“Our original powerstation has been incredibly successful due to its ability to charge virtually any portable device with a USB output, and we’ve been working aggressively to offer a wider range of solutions for those carrying USB-enabled devices,” said “The duo and mini deliver a huge amount of power and round out our juice pack universal line of external portable power solutions to keep consumers charged up when they need it most.”

Ross Howe, vice president of marketing at mophie.

The duo packs 6,000 mAh, just short of a full charge for the iPad one or two (6,600 mAh), or half charge an iPad 3 (11,560 mAh). They were both released yesterday and prices are £49.95 for the Mini and £89.95 for the Duo.

HTC One X review: Android in a league of its own

We got our hands on HTC’s mid-range One S last month and this week we got our mits on the goliath of the new HTC range, the One X.

From the moment you open the box you know you’re looking at an impressive handset, there’s a gargantuan 4.7-inch display, a quad-core processor and a stunning camera – everything a smartphone user could ever wish for.

HTC-One-X

Like its smaller brother the One X use a new unibody design, so there’s no removing the battery but you do get a build quality like no other Android handset we’ve seen before.

Out are the cheap, flexing plastics and in are polycarbonate posh plastic – making it incredibly solid despite its lightweight feel.

With the unibody case the design curves are no longer spoilt by gaping holes and slots – some might gasp at the lack of a microSD slot, but, thankfully, the One X comes with an impressive 32GB of built-in storage is plenty, and you also get access to bonus Dropbox storage for two years.

One of, if not, the most impressive features you’ll find on the One X is the screen. It’s probably the best screen we’ve come across – it has almost perfect 180 degree viewing angles, incredible colour reproduction and works equally as well during still or moving images.

At 4.7 inches, it’s the resolution that stands out on the screen, it measures 312 pixels per inch, almost as high-definition as the iPhone 4S, and the larger screen size means it looks arguably more impressive.

Not only have HTC managed to create one of the best screens around, the camera on the HTC One X is equally accomplished. The snapper is rocking an 8-megapixel camera, LED flash and has almost no shutter lag when taking pictures.

HTC-One-X-Back

For those of you looking to capture video you’ll be glad to know the 1080p functionality works admirably, with deep blacks and eye-piercing colours.

The icing on the top of the One X is the new quad-core processor – we’ll concede the only real benefit of a quad-core handset is it incredibly fast, nothing else. It zips from app to app in the blink of an eye. But if you use the phone on intensive graphical apps then it will burn through the battery in less than 3 hours. But, ultimately, in every department, the phone’s speed knocks you out.

Android handsets have always been one step behind Apple when it comes to lasting a full day on a single charge – to remedy this perceived short fall HTC have given the One X their biggest battery yet. Everyday use should get you anywhere from 12 to 16 hours – start playing videos and games and you’ll be lucky to get a third of that. Thankfully Ice Cream Sandwich is onboard and allows you to keep track of the apps you’re running in the background and allow you to kill them off to save on some juice.

The HTC One X is the best phones HTC has ever made. You get a real sense that from the 40-odd phones they’ve released over the last couple of years they really learned from all minor the missteps and brought all that knowledge together to make the One X.

Smartphone gaming, convergence and the LG Optimus 3D

Convergence is one of the big watchwords in smartphones and mobile devices manufactures have long been promising us “one handset to rule the all”. And in many cases it’s quite a valid case. My iPod is all but dead to me, as most smartphones offer a comparable listening experience. In fact with their always-one Internet connection, an all-you-can-eat data plan and apps such as Instacast and Spotify, in many ways they surpass dedicated PMPs. You can even get built-in Beats by Dre audio on some handsets. I consider PMPs to be well and truly converged (look at the iPod’s waning fortunes in Apple’s recent results and how they didn’t bother to update the iPod touch). Whilst big fat DSLR cameras aren’t going anywhere, point and shoot cameras and Flip-style camcorders are also looking increasingly unnecessary. The recently released Nokia N8, Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S all have great cameras. But what about gaming? We had a look at one of the top-tier gaming handsets and saw how it fared as a convergence devices.

LG-Optimus-3D-gaming

On paper the LG Optimus 3D has a lot going for it – the huge screen and glasses-free 3D should make for a incredible mobile gaming experience. The size is a definite advantage, and although a little awkward to use as a phone you do appreciate the screen real estate when gaming. Games such as Asphalt and N.O.V.A look amazing. However the glasses-free 3D fails to live up to expectations, and despite being an impressive feat of engineering (and amazing thing to demo with your mates) is still very much on the side of “headache-inducing” rather than awe inspiring. More often than not I found myself hitting the 3D kill switch (great name for a band if you’re looking btw) just so I could actually enjoy the game. Maybe a 3D slider like the Nintendo 3DS would be a better approach.

For simpler puzzle games or anything where the touchscreen added, rather than detracted from the experience however, the Optimus 3D was great fun to use. I didn’t have time to get fully lost inside an RPGS but I can imagine exploring worlds with that huge screen would be enjoyable. However the perennial problem for touchscreen phone gaming – a lack of dedicate hardware gaming buttons, means that it will still be a while before “hardcore” gamers (unlike softcore Leisure Suit Larry gamers) will be able to leave their handheld console of choice at home.

The LG Optimus 3D is out not from Three

IEC approves universal smart phone charger

I was at an airport last week and there was a mobile charger station there which was free to use for passengers. There were, and I kid you not, over twenty different connectors sticking out of it which in many ways puts this story into perspective.

USB-charger
Picture courtesy of Flickr user quiroso

Finally, it seems manufacturers have come to their senses and agreed on a universal way to charge phones. The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has had agreement from all the major mobile manufacturers to use a standard one size fits all USB connection for all their new smart phones.
Research shows that there are 51thousand tonnes of redundant chargers produced every year, and this new initiative throws the door wide open to significantly reducing both greenhouse gas emissions by some 13 million tonnes a year and the cost of shipping and manufacturing.

IEC General Secretary and CEO Ronnie Amit said:

“We all have drawers full of chargers that became obsolete as soon as we buy a new phone.
Today, we have a truly operational global standard that will allow the industry to end this waste and significantly reduce environmental impact”.

Will this lead to our new phones reducing in price? We will have to wait and see. What it will do though is give me some significantly more drawer space.