Will 2013 bring more integration in gadgets?

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Above is the new Canon Powershot-N camera, an interesting camera as it’s designed as an any-way-up camera, due to the square nature of the camera (although the screen only tilts upwards and technically it’s not quite square!). The any-way-up operation is achieved by two rings around the lens, one acting as the zoom ring, and the other the shutter button. Unless the information displayed on the screen also spins though, I suspect the majority of pictures will still be taken with the camera in the conventional position.

However, instead of including a GPS module within the camera (as Canon started to on their higher end models last year), they have used the WiFi link that you can establish between the camera and your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android only supported) to feed the camera with the gps location information from the smartphone / tablet instead. This WiFi link also allows you to easily transfer the pictures to your device, and then onwards onto Social Media sites, and photo sharing sites (the Canon Image Gateway offers 10GB of personal storage, and the software has a direct upload to Facebook option, but I suspect once the picture is on the smartphone / tablet there will be plenty of ways of getting the picture onto other sites via the OS or specific applications for those sites). To top off the range of new features, the device can be charged via USB (historically Canon cameras have needed the battery to be removed and placed into a charger, so providing in camera charging is also something I’m glad to see).

With a 8x optical zoom, a 12.1MP CMOS sensor, and only measuring 78.6 x 60.2 x 29.3 mm (when lens retracted), yet still supporting Full HD video recording, this is an interesting new device which will be available in Black or White when it’s released in April around £270.

For completeness, I should mention that this same GPS integration is available on a range of other new Canon products announced this week (the Canon IXUS 140 and Canon PowerShot 3500IS in particular), in fact, what’s interesting is that you may not even need to maintain the link throughout the day whilst shooting your pictures, as Canon say “At the end of each day, Wi-Fi can be activated to pair the captured images on the camera with the location data recorded from the smartphone.”

Also announced today are two new Garmin EDGE cycling trip recorders, the Garmin EDGE 510 and Garmin EDGE 810 cycling devices. By utilising the Garmin Mobile Connect app, these devices are capable of additionally supporting live tracking, social media sharing and real-time weather updates as well as the more traditional functions of accurately track speed, distance, time, GPS position, elevation, calories burned, ascent and descent (and supporting heart rate monitors and other ANT+ sports devices such as speed / cadence sensors). The Garmin EDGE 810 would be my preferred device, as it additionally supports the ability to load maps onto the device, which can either be obtained from Garmin or by utilising data such as that produced by OpenStreetMap at no charge for personal use.

Again limited to iOS and Android only, Garmin Mobile Connect allows these devices (via Bluetooth) to

  • share all the details of their rides with friends, family and social media contacts
  • allow cyclists’ friends and family to follow their races and training rides in real-time
  • allow for wireless uploads of completed activities from the Edge 810/510 as soon as cyclists finish recording an activity to the Garmin Connect website

The Garmin EDGE 810 will be available in the next month or two in 3 UK versions, just the unit for £380, the unit plus a heart rate monitor and a speed / cadence sensor for £430, or the unit will the sensors and a data card loaded with European maps for £480.

Back to the original point; a couple of years ago we all wanted each and every device to come with a SIM card slot to allow us to connect it to the Internet, but unlike tablets, devices such as these aren’t going to be used every day of the year, or even every month, and suddenly the cost of the additional hardware support and maintaining a mobile phone contract for them does seem a burden, so by allowing them to connect to the internet via an existing mobile device suddenly makes a lot more sense, and with many of the UK mobile networks offering unlimited data offerings (whether or not these devices would fall foul of no-tethering clauses in contracts I’m not sure; for many of the functions, the devices are simply getting information to and from the smartphone, as opposed to direct onward internet access), then I can see devices like these becoming more common, and integration between different gadgets really taking off.

Having said that, with only iOS and Android support in both ranges of devices at launch, it is starting to look like other OSes (Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 etc.) could potentially lose even more market share once people start buying other connected devices for use whilst out and about and need their smartphone to support those peripheral devices.


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Three now selling Nokia Lumia 610

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

3UK have announced today that they have started to sell the budget phone in the Lumia range, the Nokia Lumia 610. Now, this phone has less memory, and hence can’t run some of the multitasking features we all expect from Windows Phone; in particular, the Nokia Lumia 610 doesn’t support background tasks (especially those taking more than 90MB), fast app switching or live tiles updates (these mainly require background tasks). However, it’s available for £28 per month on the One Plan (24 month contract, but includes AYCE data and tethering support), or just £150 on PAYG, and this makes it a nice budget phone, unless you are a real power user.

Of course, the Nokia Lumia 710 is £200 on PAYG (or £32 per month on the One Plan), and that may well work out better value in the long run; the Nokia Lumia 610 does have touch buttons, whereas the Nokia Lumia 710 has real buttons (that’s a personal preference) but with the Lumia 710 supporting the full range of Windows Phone 7 features (and the new firmware that shipped last week adds the flip-to-silence and tethering options sorely missed on it), it does appear an overall better option.

However, another way of looking at it; what other device can you buy for £150 which offers free offline satnav features (Nokia Drive), free offline music (Nokia Mix Radio), and free public transport information (Nokia Transport, where data is available), and if bought on the One Plan can be used to provide you unlimited data for your other wifi devices, such as your tablet and PC?

If interested, head over to the 3UK website, where you can now purchase the phone, or, if you prefer, buy the Nokia Lumia 710.


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Three UK announce Web Cube – Broadband in a box

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Although the MiFi is a fantastic device, it’s designed for use on the go, and anything with a battery risks damage if left permanently on charge. So, for people who want the benefit of the MiFi (3G available to up to 5 devices via WiFi), but want a more permanent solution, this may well be the solution you’ve been waiting for.  3UK also suggest it’s useful for students or people renting where committing to a new landline contract (often 18 months nowadays) is either not an option or not worthwhile.

Although it’s been available in other countries (such as Ireland) for a while now, 3UK seem to be the first UK Mobile Network to offer a realistic “Broadband in a box” solution with the Web Cube.

The Web Cube comes on a Mobile Broadband tariff, and the SIM is already inserted, so it really is a case of plugging into the mains and you’re ready to go. That’s one of the key points about the Web Cube; it’s powered from the mains, so for some people that’s a downside (and for those a MiFi is a better option), but for others that want a permanently on option or can live with only having access whilst near a mains power socket, then this is for you. To show that’s it’s a little bit less convenient than a MiFi, it’s also a little cheaper per month for the same amount of data.

Data? Lots! You have two contract options:

  • For a rolling 1 month contract (ie no long tie in period), you can get 10GB of data each month for £15 per month, but there is a £60 upfront charge for the device.
  • Alternatively, and what I suspect will be the more popular option, you can get 15GB of data each month for £15.99 per month, with no upfront charge, but instead you will commit to a 24 month contract.

15GB is a lot of data; that’s approximately 500MB per day, which is the limit many network place on handset tariffs for the whole month. Of course, the main reason for the extra amount is things like Security Patches and viewing full web pages, but even so, 15GB is a lot of data. The device is HSPA+ compatible, so (where it’s available), 3UK could provide speeds upto 21.6Mbps download and 5.76Mbps up; even at a quarter of those speeds that’s more than many of us can currently achieve on our landlines; in fact, 3UK carefully market their network as “in excess of 10 Mbps, with typical speeds of 2-5 Mbps”.

Of course, with all good things, there has to be a downside, and I’m afraid this device does have a downside; for many people it’s simply not available 🙁 3UK are launching it in 3 cities to begin with; Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh – if you are outside of those cities, it’s not yet available, but you can put your name down to be informed once it is available.

I expect as the year goes on and the device becomes available across the whole of the UK, and especially as students set off in September, this is going to become a well selling solution.

Although 3UK have also talked about adding a Mobile WiFi docking station for existing Mobile Broadband dongle customers (see here), I think this is a nicer cleaner solution.

Head to 3UK‘s website for more information on the Web Cube.


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Polaroid develop Android Camera

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Now this is an interesting device, launched in the US at CES this week.  It’s not a phone, but rather an Android camera, so it’s got better optics than a phone would have, with a 3x optical zoom lens (36-108mm equivalent) and has 18 scene modes to take advantage of the 16 megapixel sensor. It has a Smart Album facility which will store pictures by date, location and people. With built in WiFi, Bluetooth (and “optional cellular data”), it can upload the pictures for you, saving you the need to connect the camera to a PC to share the pictures; there’s even some simple editing capabilities in the camera (cropping, red-eye removal, resizing and color correction).

Like many cameras, it uses a memory card, and like many phones, it uses the microSD card format, allowing upto 32GB of pictures to be stored on the device.

No price was announced for the Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera, and Polaroid only stated it would be available “in 2012”; also no confirmed availability for the UK, but we believe it should be available in the UK at some point.


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Fancy a cheaper Kindle?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Right now (and these offers are often limited, if only by stock availability), you can pick up a refurbished Kindle 3G + WiFi for around £116 (a saving over the usual £152 price).  If you are interested head here.

Failing that, Amazon also have the Kindle WiFi only device available as a refurb for only £80 instead of £111; see here for this offer.


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Nokia bringing “Anna” updates to older phones

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Nokia started a rollout of new firmwares to a range of S60 v3.2 (3rd Edition FP2) and S60 v5 (Symbian^1) devices yesterday which will bring a range of new features to these phones.

The main update is a new Web Browser, the same as will/is shipping in the Anna update for Symbian^3 phones.  This is much faster than the previous browser, and even in the short time I’ve had access to it, it does seem a much faster and better browser.

Additionally, Ovi Maps has been updated.  For S60 v3.2 devices, the latest version available is v3.04, but that does bring a range of new features such as WiFi and Cell ID positioning to help speed up the initial GPS fix.  For S60 v5 devices, this means v3.06, which also brings the ability to update the maps direct from the device (although the latest maps released by Nokia are still from back in February 2011; it would be nice to see Nokia moving to a quarterly map update schedule).

It should be pointed out that for some of the devices, the Maps update has been available from the Software Update tool built into the phone, and in this scenario, the main firmware update does not seem to include the Maps update.  If you have such a device, you have already got the latest Maps, and the new firmware does not modify that.

Finally, there is support for emoticons within Messages.  If you type characters such as : ) it will automatically turn it into a graphical emoticon.  Otherwise, you can select to insert an emoticon from the keyboard menu.

So, which devices will this be rolling out to?  Nokia have said:

S60 v3.2:

S60 v5:

My understanding is that the Nokia 5230, C6-00, E5, E52 and E72 all started to receive the firmware update from yesterday, with the other devices following over the next few weeks.

If you have a Symbian^1 phone, you can also download the Nokia Evolve theme from the Ovi Store (here), which will give the built in apps the same style of icons as the upcoming Anna update for Symbian^3 devices.

One word of warning though; it seems that this firmware update has a bug on all devices with homescreen widgets which will cause the very useful “Coming Next” widget to break and display an error message.  Nokia are aware of this (basically any attempt to access the Calendar from a Web Runtime Widget returns a blank response), and have indicated it will need a further firmware update for all devices to fix, so if your busy schedule relies upon the “Coming Next” widget, you might want to think long and hard before applying this update.

Overall, I’ve found a combination of the latest Ovi Maps, the latest Anna browser, and the Evolve icons does bring a good refresh to existing Symbian phones, and should extend their life a little further; it’s definitely nice to see Nokia releasing these software updates to elder phones; oh, and if you are a fan of Gravity (the all round best Social Networking client for Symbian) you’ll be glad to know the latest Alpha has an Anna-style application icon to match the rest of the icons.


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3UK clarify tethering options on The One Plan

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

When launched, 3UK were happy that tethering (and Personal Hotspot for Apple users) was included with their All-You-Can-Eat truly unlimited data bundle that comes with the One Plan.  Starting at £25 per month (24 month contract, price depends on selected handset), it was still very good value, given the sheer amount of minutes and texts it also comes with.

Later, when they made the All-You-Can-Eat unlimited data available on their PAYG plans they were again quick to point out that these tariffs did not come with tethering support (although with non-Apple devices it’s more difficult to control, although the mobile networks can spot you using apps like Joikuspot or the built in Mobile WiFi AP in Android).

Most recently, they have now launched The One Plan on a SIM Only basis, with a 1 month rolling contract.  SIM Only contracts are a little strange with the short minimum contract period, and are often treated more like PAYG arrangements by the networks.  So, when it came to whether or not they supported tethering, their initial response was No.  However, within hours of this decision, they confirmed via Twitter (see Ben’s post that’s documented it here) that tethering and Personal Hotspot are supported on the SIM Only One Plan.

This is good news, and a sensible decision, and is certainly a good plan to consider if you are looking to change contracts but don’t need a new phone; with 2,000 cross network minutes, 5,000 texts, 5,000 3UK3UK minutes and proper unlimited data each month for just £25, it’s also difficult to beat elsewhere.

As always, all 3UK offers are available in the 3Store.


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INQ Announce new Android devices

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

INQ announced they would be moving to Android many months ago now, but we now have pictures of the first of the two devices that they have now formally announced.  The first is the INQ Cloud Touch, which should be available (exclusively at Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy for a limited period) in April 2011, which is a traditional touch based Android phone (see above).  Planned to be available in Black, Red and White, the INQ Cloud Touch has the following spec:

Software:

  • Android Froyo 2.2 platform
  • Built with a modular approach making upgrade to Gingerbread easy
  • Instant Messaging for WLM, G-Talk and Facebook Chat
  • Free push email across major domains, including Microsoft Exchange
  • Info Key to quick access to key handset functions
  • Fast unlock for quick access to key functions
  • Backup and sync, plus firmware upgrades to later software releases

Hardware:

  • Processor: Qualcomm 7227 chipset, 600MHz
  • Triband HSPA (7.2/ 5.76Mbps), Quadband GSM, EDGE + WiFi
  • Size: 3.5” inch HVGA capacitive touchscreen display with extended 10mm touch strip
  • Memory: 4MB with option to add more
  • 5 MP autofocus camera
  • 1300mAh battery
  • WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth, GPS, FM Radio, accelerometer, compass, ambient light and proximity sensors
  • MicroUSB charging, 3.5mm audio jack.
  • Accessories included: 4GB microSD Card, Travel Charger & USB Cable, Stereo Headset, Quick Start Guide

Although not in the name, INQ have continued their long running Social Networking Support and built in some good Facebook integration into the phone; “Facebook comes alive with a homescreen Visual Media Feed for video, pictures, web pages and newsfeed.

There are one-touch links to Facebook Chat, Friends, Messages, Wall and Notifications. Facebook Single Sign On is activated across the phones and people can check in to their favorite shops, restaurants and clubs with Facebook Places, also active on the homescreen. Facebook Events fully integrates with the Google Calendar on both devices.

The phones are the first mobiles to use the Facebook social graph API, making it easy for people to follow updates from the friends they interact with most.”

Also, the phone will come with the Spotify client, with all relevant Spotify features being available to subscribers.

However, the other phone also looks very interesting. The INQ Cloud Q brings together the same software with a touchscreen based Android handset, but it also includes a QWERTY keyboard in the BlackBerry-style widescreen candybar format.  When we had the choice of the INQ Mini or the INQ Chat, many people went for the Chat as it offered all the same facilities, but with the benefit of the QWERTY.  Obviously, the Cloud Q has a different touchscreen to the Cloud Touch, so it’s not as clear which will be more popular, but yet again INQ are introducing a range of less expensive phones with the same facilities as the top end models from other manufacturers.

Photo of INQ Cloud Q courtesy of Mobile Phones Arena.


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Samsung Galaxy Tab updates

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Whilst Mobile World Congress is going this week, many manufacturers will be launching new phones and devices, and Samsung is no exception.  Along with the Samsung Galaxy S2 (Android phone), they have announced their new tablet; the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. This has a large 10.1″ 1280 x 800 screen, and runs Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). The features include:

  • 1GHz Dual Core Processor
  • Dual surround sound speakers
  • HD recording and Full HD playback
  • 8 megapixel rear and 2 megapixel front cameras
  • 599g
  • Google Services (including Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Latitude, Google Books and Google Talk video chat)
  • Flash support
  • A-GPS (Google Turn-by-turn navigation)
  • WiFi (802.111 b/g/n)

This is a nice high tech device.  Of course, for many, a 10.1″ device is just too big to carry around, and for those, the existing Samsung Galaxy Tab should suit just fine (with the smaller, but still impressive 7.0″ 1024 x 600 screen).  The smaller Tab is also lighter (380g), but is “only” running Android 2.2 (Froyo).

If you are interested in the existing 7″ Galaxy Tab, then 3UK announced on Friday that they are now selling the device with a very competitive data contract; for £25 per month (24-month contract), you’ll get 15GB of data each month to use on the device (there is also an upfront cost of £199); however, compare that to say, Vodafone, who would charge £25 per month (18-month contract) plus £499 upfront, and you just get 3GB of data each month.

Also, if you are looking to buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 (the 7″ device) soon; you might want to hurry up; Samsung UK is offering a promotion whereby they will provide you with 50 MP3s (from emusic.com), 15 movies (from Samsung Movies), 7 Games (from Gameloft, although 2 are pre-installed), and £25 worth of eBooks (from W H Smith); however, you need to register your device’s details with Samsung before the end of this month (28 February 2011). I should point out terms and conditions apply to this promotion, which do need checking before you commit to the device solely on the basis of this offer.

If you already own the Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000, 3UK are now offering PAYG Pre-loaded Tablet SIMs, which have from 1GB to 12GB of data pre-loaded onto them for use with a tablet.


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Nokia release Ovi Maps 3.06 updated beta

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Another update to the v3.06 Ovi Maps beta has been released by Nokia Beta Labs, and although it features a few new features, the key one must be that it’s now (finally) possible to download whole countries directly on your phone (although you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection).  However, this isn’t perfect, when I tried it, it kept given a “Map download failed” error after about 187Mb through the 216Mb UK download, which resulted in me having to use the PC after all.  When you first install the v3.06 beta, it will wipe your existing maps, as it needs a v3.06+ specific map data downloaded.  Once you have done this one though, subsequent betas (and hopefully the final released version) will be able to use the maps already downloaded.

Having the facility to download directly on the phone, plus having a “check for map updates” option on the phone itself is very useful, and a good move (and something a lot of people have been asking Nokia for).

The other features of this beta include:

  • New! Download street maps directly to your device! A new feature called “Update” on the main menu which allows you download Street Maps directly (via WiFi) to your phone without a PC! Please note that phones without WiFi (e.g. Nokia 5230) will not work.
  • New! My Position and Search are now integrated (now called Map). When accessed, it will show your last map view
  • New! Back button in Favourites
  • New! Long tap functionality to delete & rename collections & routes
  • New! Pop up for first time use – to inform user to download new map data (when upgrading 3.04 > 3.06 for the first time)
  • New! Improved behaviours of transit lines settings in map toolbox (no more grey out)
  • New! Compass calibration hint
  • New! Refreshed place details information view
  • Pinch to zoom interaction (Only available on Symbian^3 devices)
  • Visually refreshed main menu and icons,
  • New maps with public transport lines (as a new map layer) for subways, trams and trains in 80+ cities around the world. Just click the map toolbox icon and select Transit lines,
  • Improved search experience – find places and addresses around you – or anywhere in the world – fast and easily. Browse places or enter a keyword in the search box. Now with suggestions and “did you mean?” functionality,
  • New place pages with description, reviews, pictures and places nearby. Interact with places in a whole new way – you can check in, contact, navigate, save, rate, share, report or see place on the map,
  • Share a place – send a place to your friends via SMS or Email. The SMS contains the address and a link to the place page with description, ratings, contact, URL and a mini map. The link opens up on the mobile browser (also on non-Nokia devices),
  • Check in – keep your friends up-to-date with where you are and what you’re up to. Check in to places and share it with your friends on Facebook and many more social networks. See places you’ve been to in your check in history,
  • New Drive assistance mode with live traffic flow – after clicking Drive, you’re instantly in drive assistance mode with live traffic flow and more. Once you start moving, get safety camera alerts and speed limit warnings,
  • More folder with many rich content services relevant to your location. Personalise your Ovi Maps by selecting the services you’d like to keep on your main menu for instant access.
  • Traffic flow: In Drive mode, a number of improvements to the traffic flow colour scheme and layout.

(The items marked New! are new in this update; the others were available in earlier v3.06 beta versions)

I like the new facilities, and the way the menus are being rearranged, and this bodes well for the final release.  One word of warning; one of the known issues is that occasionally it will keep the GPS subsystem open (with the eventual battery drain); when I’ve seen this, I’ve found starting Ovi Maps back up and shutting it down again seems to have fixed, but it’s something to watch out for.  I also really like hitting the Drive option and being able to see my location on the map with traffic updates immediately available even without a destination set; this is another key feature for me, as I often want to use my phone’s SatNav simply for traffic without a route calculated.

Although the Share (location) option now supports a whole range of social networking sites, I would still love to see sites such as BrightKite and FourSquare integrated directly into the interface, but hopefully that will come in time.


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