Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nokia Lumia 710

The Lumia 710 follows Nokia’s first attempt at a Windows Phone 7 smartphone, the mid-range Lumia 800. We had mixed feelings about that phone, but the Lumia 710 is much more temptingly priced at around £300 without a contract. It may lack the gorgeous solid-plastic body of its bigger sibling, but we think it’s still a solid and stylish smartphone. In a throwback to earlier Nokia phones, the 710 has swappable plastic shells so you can change the phone’s colour.

By cutting a couple of corners to keep the price down, though, Nokia has (perhaps inadvertently) given the Lumia 710 a couple of key advantages over the Lumia 800. First is the case. By opting for a more traditional design with a snap-on back cover, Nokia has been able to equip the Lumia 710 with a removable battery. The Lumia 800’s battery was inaccessibly sealed inside its case – although, to be fair, many other smartphones have sealed batteries, too.

Second is the screen. The display used on the Lumia 710 lacks the Lumia 810’s striking convex shape, but it is just as bright and exactly the same size. More to the point, it’s also considerably clearer, since the standard LCD technology used here isn’t subject to the same fuzzy-looking text problem that the Lumia 810’s supposedly more sophisticated Amoled screen technology can suffer from.

Despite being £130 cheaper than the Lumia 800, the rest of the Lumia 710’s specification really isn’t that much lower. Storage capacity has been halved to 8GB and, since Windows Phone 7 doesn’t support memory card slots, that may be too little for anyone who likes to listen to a lot of music or watch lots of videos on the go. Nokia has trimmed the mobile network support too. The Lumia 710 is a tri-band smartphone rather than quad-band, which means it can’t be used in as many countries, but that’s something only the most globe-trotting users will have a problem with.

Otherwise, the Lumia 710 has the same fast processor as the Lumia 800, the same 512MB of memory and the same 480x800 pixel resolution screen as well as an identical array of sensors such as orientation sensors. Nokia has downgraded the autofocus digital camera from eight megapixels to five megapixels, though, and dropped the fancy Carl Zeiss lens that the Lumia 800 uses. That said, even though the Lumia 710’s photos are obviously lower resolution, their quality didn’t noticeably lower quality to our eyes, though perhaps that is only because we weren’t that impressed with the ones snapped by the Lumia 800.

We have no complaints with call quality and even battery life is respectable, with the Lumia 710 lasting for 33.5 hours in our MP3-playback test with the screen off and all wireless connections disabled.

Like the more-expensive Lumia 800, the Lumia 710 comes with Nokia’s free Drive app. This provides turn-by-turn driving directions and maps designed specifically for use by motorists. The phone also includes the free Nokia Music app, which lets you stream new music similar to the tracks you have already copied to the phone. It’s more like listening to a radio station than a true pick-what-you-want service such as Spotify, but it’s a handy extra to have.


BlackBerry PlayBook tablet OS 2.0 review

BlackBerry fans, rejoice. Your reason for believing in the beleaguered Canadian manufacturer is here. The PlayBook was throwaway nonsense, an expensively wrapped tablet with a broken OS irritatingly tied to a smartphone. OS 2.0 breaks the shackles and allows the tablet to stand on its own. BlackBerry has opened my eyes to one of the best tablets on the market, one that now I hold in a higher regard than the iPad 2, thanks to the refurbished OS. Let’s see why.
Messaging powerhouse
It’s a BlackBerry, so there’s no reason that the messaging function shouldn’t be both powerful and immensely useable. So let’s welcome the new social networking feature built into OS 2.0. The previous OS sucked an almighty level of balls when it came to email, so now Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and practically any POP3 email account can be added to Messages. The inherent level of flexibility in Messages represents a step up for the PlayBook.
Even better, the keyboard is now autocorrect friendly and far easier to use. Even betterer, OS 2.0 supports SwiftKey, which adapts to the users writing style over time. With an amalgamation of social media, the PlayBook becomes a hub of contact, and it’s unlikely that you’ll need any other device to fill the gap.
I’ll touch briefly on the calendar which now has a Newsreel function which shows news about companies you are meeting with. It’s a nice way of bringing the online world into a mostly offline environment.
Browsing behemoth
HTML5 works like a dream in the new browser and in side-by-side comparisons with the iPad 2, pages load faster on the PlayBook. RIM has even gone the extra mile and included an iOS like “reader” function which cuts the clutter from a website, and presents it in an easy to read format. Look, the PlayBook is a tiny device when compared to the iPad 2, so for a 7-inch tablet to offer browsing at such a degree is a master class of design and functionality on RIM’s part. Best tablet browsing experience? I say, yes.
Crossing the Bridge
If you are still keen on linking your BlackBerry to the PlayBook, then the updated BlackBerry Bridge function should whet your whistle. Two years ago, this function was “the bomb” as in “why do I have to pair a smartphone to get email and calendar support, this thing blows.” BlackBerry Bridge is now a user friendly remote app which lets you control presentations and use your BlackBerry smartphone as an external keyboard and mouse. It works well and there’s barely any input lag.
A fuller package
I haven’t even mentioned how awesome the new BlackBerry store is, thanks to the PlayBook now supporting Android applications. Sure, there is still a shed-load of expensive BlackBerry exclusive apps on the marketplace, but as the app store (hopefully) grows, we’ll begin to see cheaper and more powerful apps emerge. I’m not positive about this though, mostly thanks to RIM’s poor support of its customer base.
What else? Video chat is supposedly improved, but I was unable to wrangle up another PlayBook user to test this. No Skype for now, so this is a major failing on RIM’s part.
Also, folders. Since iOS 4, the world has gone nutty for folders. Not the PlayBook though. But thanks to OS 2.0, users can now drag and drop apps into its respective folders and customise the quick dock with six of their favourite apps. Handy and ultimately, very necessary .
I’ve only included the highlights of the OS 2.0 update. The full details can be found here. Regardless, this is an OS upgrade which utterly changes the PlayBook, turning it into a useable device which, if it had benefited from Apple’s marketing machine, could have taken a healthy bite out of the tablet market.


iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S2 sans Android Ice Cream Sandwich top smartphone sales in United States

Apple’s iPhone tops lucrative smartphone market in the United States, while Samsung and its Galaxy S2 and Nexus steal the second place.

The iPhone, with the new iPhone 4S variant, is topping the smartphone sales chart in United States — and surprisingly, only the iPhone-less carrier, T-Mobile USA, hailed an Android phone.

According to a report posted by All Things D, Canaccord Genuity revealed that the iPhone 4S is the most popular smartphone of Sprint, AT&T and Verizon Wireless since December 2011, and last month, the iPhone 4S beats the Samsung Galaxy Note of AT&T, an LTE phone, and the new Droid RAZR Maxx of Verizon Wireless which offers LTE too.

The iPhone 4S market share, apparently, started growing its market share last quarter, and with no solid contender from the Android ecosystem, Apple’s smartphone reportedly outsells all other smartphones of Sprint and AT&T combined, and roughly equal volume to all Android-based smartphones of Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier in the United States.

Unsurprisingly, Samsung Electronics and its Samsung Galaxy S2 and Samsung Galaxy Note grabbed the remaining spots, and based on the chart posted by the report, Samsung is the one and only Android smartphone maker that can compete against the iPhone 4S.

Samsung’s Galaxy S2 started its second place spree last year with the help of Sprint and AT&T’s networks, while the Galaxy S2-less Verizon Wireless hails the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as its second-most popular smartphone. However, Verizon’s attractive Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx, according to Canaccord Genuity, started outselling the Samsung Galaxy Nexus two months ago.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s Galaxy S2 is its most popular phone, while the HTC Amaze 4G is cemented on the second place.

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which offers Android Ice Cream Sandwich, Samsung’s Galaxy S2 is still running the old but respectable Android Gingerbread operating system, and no word yet from Samsung about the Galaxy S2 US variants’ ICS or Android 4.0 software update. It is worth noting that some Galaxy S2 variants in other countries are already enjoying the new operating system. ■