Thursday, September 27, 2012

The rebirth of BlackBerry

I never was a fan of RIM's BlackBerry devices but I have a feeling it is about to change. This week, RIM is having their yearly BlackBerry Jam Americas presentation and they are presenting the next version of their platform called BlackBerry 10. They did not provide a lot of material for me to work with but what they presented was amazing enough for me to blog about it. RIM was previously known to built devices that were axed towards productivity, security, reliability and they all came with physical keyboards which was appreciated a lot in the days preceding the touch-screen era. Some of their new handsets will have physical keyboards and I think all of the new BlackBerries will be touch enabled. 

BlackBerry Hub

Since they did not talk a lot about the physical aspects of their new devices, lets focus on software part they presented. The first feature they presented is called the BlackBerry Hub which is accessible with a single swipe gesture. The Hub aggregates informations from all your applications like notifications from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, BBM, voicemail, sms, email, and even more. It basically is a notification center but the cool thing about it is that you can choose which information will be displayed in your Hub. Also, the Hub can be accessed from anywhere, any time. It looks simply gorgeous, well thought and well done.

BlackBerry Flow

BlackBerry Flow is what they call their new UX or user experience. It includes an overhauled calendar, an new on-screen keyboard with astonishing multi-language word prediction and a new feature called Peek. The Peek gesture is what lets you access the Hub with a single swipe. The new user interface looks more like Android's or iOS's but it is definitely different and looks way more professional. 

BlackBerry Balance

RIM's forte always has been they BlackBerry Enterprise Services. With the new BlackBerry Balance feature, users will be able to separate their personal and work related usage. The work part will include access to corporate encrypted emails, remote wiping and more. Users will be able to switch from personal to work with a swipe which looks so convenient. You can understand why they decided to call it balance.

The big deception is that RIM did not provide any details regarding when it will be launched and on what device we will be able to see it first. My prediction is that we will be able to hold a BB10 device in our hands around Christmas time. That might just give the folks at Google enough time to incorporate RIM's ideas into the Android platform. Since RIM is the only Canadian major player in the mobile industry, I wish them success and I hope they will be able to pull it off!


EDIT : see demo here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fresh Out the Labs : Back2School Part 2

This week was another great week of premières in the mobile world. On Tuesday, Motorola partnered up with Intel to unveil one of the first Android phone running on an Intel processor and yesterday, HTC revealed 2 new Windows Phone 8 handsets. Lets get right into it !

Motorola Razr I

The Motorola Razr I

In the last edition of Fresh Out the Labs, I wrote about Motorola's new line of Razr but they chose to release this version in a special event on Tuesday. The reason behind that is because it is their first phone that is powered by a processor made by Intel, the Atom. Usually, the processors you can find in smartphones are products from specialized manufacturers like Qualcomm, Nvidia or Texas Instruments. The Atom packed in the Razr I is clocked at an impressive 2 GHz which allows the phone to launch the camera app almost instantly. Speaking of camera, the device sports what is now the standard of 8 mega-pixel and a front-facing camera of 0.3 mpx. It also has 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of internal memory expandable with a microSD card, NFC connectivity and the same humongous 2,000 mAh battery you can find in the other new Rarzs. It also comes with Motorola's innovative edge to edge screen with a resolution of 540x960 which is 4.3 inches in size. The phone will run on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich but will be upgradable to Android 4.1 JellyBean like the other Razr. Currently it does not run Google's Chrome browser but it is said that a version supporting the Intel processor will come before or shortly after launch. It surely looks like an incredible device but since it is the first model to include an Intel processor, I would not buy it and be what some people will call Motorola's guinea pig.


The HTC 8X


HTC has been one of the oldest partner in the Windows Phone endeavor and they always had great success with it. Their new line of Windows 8 handsets have been developed closely with Microsoft so the final product's hardware plays well with the new software. HTC presented two new devices yesterday, the Windows Phone 8X and the Windows Phone 8S. The 8S is the affordable version of the 8X so I am going to focus on the best of those two. The most appealing feature is the Beats audio technology that is integrated in both physical and software parts of the phone. It will run on a Qualcomm S4 1.5 GHz dual-core CPU and will be packing 1 GB of RAM. The 8X sports a 8 mega-pixel camera in the back, a much appreciated 2.1 mega-pixel front-facing camera and a dedicated physical camera button. It comes with NFC connectivity like most new cellphones, a 1280x720 4.3 inches screen and a 1,800 mAh battery. If we compare it to Nokia's latest Windows Phone, it lacks LTE connectivity, wireless charging and microSD card support. The microSD part is the most deceiving because it is supposed to be a Beats device, one that you would use to play a lot of music with so it kind of sucks not having the possibility of expanding the storage. Both phones will be available through Bell and Rogers here in Canada and will cost around 199 $. I can't wait to try one out for myself !


Monday, September 17, 2012

Android Phone Pimpin' 101

Usually I try to post information that would be usefull for anyone. This article is targeted towards a more adventurous and curious reader. If your phone runs Android and you are not scared of screwing around and tweak it at a superior level, then this is for you. If not just keep reading anyway.

First of all, it all depends on what phone you bought. The easiest devices to work with are the phones and tablets within the Google Nexus lineup : the HTC Nexus one, the Samsung Nexus S, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the latest, the Samsung Nexus 7. If you bought a Motorola, Samsung, Sony, LG or HTC you should be good, else don't even bother toying with it because it is probably not worth it.

Next up is what you can do with it : root your device, replace the boot loader, flash a custom Android ROM or just run a custom launcher or keyboard. The last sentence probably meant nothing to most of you but it will all make sense soon enough. Your device needs some kind of program that will allow you to install an operating system on it and this is called the boot loader. It lets you load a software on it so it can boot, a software like Android. Since Android is an open source project, everybody has access to it's source code and can modify and distribute it. There are communities of developers on the web that are dedicacted to pimpin' Android and add to it's amazing and endless possibilities. You can see how that helps Google to constantly be ahead in the most recent mobile endeavours. The most notorious community of Android modders is named CyanogenMod. They release custom Android ROMs that you can flash on your device. To do so, you need a custom boot loader like ClockworkMod Recovery. So with ClockworkMod you can install CyanogenMod and to be able to perform those modifications, you need to be rooted. Having a rooted phone or tablet means that you have the same rights as Samsung or whoever built it. If your device is manufactured by one of the 5 previously mentionned, then on top of Android, there is another layer of application that lets them customize your Android experience. A big part of that customization is done through the app launcher which is an app that you can replace without being rooted.

The last part is how you can benifit from performing such a tedious and kind of risky task. First it allows you to get rid of the user interface the manufacturer decided to apply over Android and get what we call the Vanilla UI. That means the you experience Android as Google intended you to. That includes icons, screen animations, default apps, number of desktop screens, the way you navigate through them, the behavior of hardware buttons and more that you can imagine. Another plus from flashing a custom ROM is the fact that it is an enhanced version of Android so it contains settings and options that were not available before. Also, it does not come preinstalled with apps that you cannot delete or turn off which reduce you battery life. Basically, you get more choices and flexibility than what the manufacturer gives you.

You can also perform minor enhacements to your phone, without having to root it or anything. For example, you can download a custom keyboard like SwiftKey or dialer like SmartDialer. From my point of view, this is what really makes all the power of the Android platform. The most important thing you must remember from this post is that if you choose to play with your device, no matter how easy it seems, you need to be informed before trying what ever shananigans.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't believe the iPe

Rumours about the next iPhone have been pouring in the last weeks. Yesterday Apple finally confirmed most of those rumours by letting the world see for itself what the iPhone 5 really looks like and what new features it is packing. The first big change is the screen size and aspect ratio. The last iPhone, the 4S, had a 3.5 inches screen with a resolution of 640x960 pixel and an aspect ratio of 3:2. The iPhone 5 has a 4 inches screen with a resolution of 1136x640 px, giving a 16:9 aspect ratio. Apple had to make their screen bigger because their phones look like midgets compared to some Android phone like the Galaxy S II or even the Galaxy Note. Changing the aspect ratio means that developers have to adapt and adjust their apps so they fit on the new screen or else black bars will be displayed at each end of the device, just like when you are watching a movie that is not widescreen on a widescreen TV. Except from that, I think it was a good move to pull, especially because it will add an extra row of app icons. They also changed the processor that is powering the device for the new generation of Apple processor chips, the A6. During the presentation, Apple said that the new chip is twice the speed as the previous model, the A5. They did not give any more details so it is still uncertain whether it is a dual or quad-core processor and at what speed it will be clocked. The iPhone 5 will support the 4G and LTE networks and will be available through Bell, Telus, Rogers, Fido and Virgin Mobile in Canada. After 9 years of using the same connector for their iDevices, Apple decided to change the 40-pin connector we are all used to see to a much smaller, 8-pin connector. This is very sad for the customers who bought iAccessories like docking stations and speakers because they will have to purchase a 30 $ adapter to make it work with the new iPhone. From my point of view, the best improvement they have made on the phone is adding a third microphone and replacing the speaker by a better one. The camera has been improved as well, it is now has 8 mega-pixel resolution and the camera app has been ramped up too. The part of the presention where they were talking about the battery was very weird because it seemed like they were looking to skip that part. I am thinking that the new processor and the LTE support will drain the battery a lot, and on top of that, they said they made it smaller. Apple also released a new version of iOS in which they removed Google Maps to favor their own Map application. We should see it come to our canadian stores on September 21st, starting somewhere between 199 and 249$ on a 2 years contract. 

Tim Cook's team unveiled a new line of iPods, new earbuds which they call EarPods and a new version of iTunes. Nothing worth blogging about. The big deception is the fact that it does not include an NFC chip to use for mobile payment. To tell you the truth, I think Apple is playing catch up with Android phones because their product is simply not up to par with the best phones that are currently on the market from both a hardware and software point of view. Maybe Steve Job's departure was the beginning of the end for Apple.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fresh Out the Labs : Back2School Edition

Last week was definitely a busy one for the mobile industry. It started with Nokia showing off their new Windows 8 Phones, then Motorola and Verizon announced the new Droid Razr lineup and finally, Amazon revealed their new family of e-readers and tablets.


Nokia Lumia 920

Nokia's yearly product presentation, Nokia World, was held September 4th in Helsinki. This year's edition was special because Nokia was showcasing their first Windows 8 phones, even if Samsung kind of beat them to it with their own devices during the Samsung Unpacked 2012 event last week. The Nokia 920 and 820 are just like the Nexus phones from Google in the way that the hardware and software manufacturers worked together to create a product that works flawlessly. Nokia used to be the biggest cellphone vendor since 1998 but when smartphones started to become more popular, they had troubles keeping up with the competition so they partnered up with Microsoft. That was a great move because Microsoft had the power and resources to develop a mobile platform that would be able to compete with Android and Apple's iOS. So the Nokia Lumia 920 is Windows 8 flagship device and it is also the first Windows Phone with a 4.5 inches HD screen with a resolution of 1280x768 pixel which Nokia calls the fastest LCD screen. It sports a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, LTE connectivity, NFC, an 8 mega-pixel PureView camera and a 1.3 mega-pixel front-facing camera. All of this is powered by a 2000 mAh battery. It's little brother, the Lumia 820,  is like a toned down version of it. It has a smaller screen, a smaller battery, less on-board storage but it also has an port for an SD card, which the 920 does not have. It also lacks the PureView camera which is one of the strong point of the 920. The Windows Phone operating system is now up to par with it's competitors so the mobile market now has 3 strong players.

Motorola and Verizon

Motorola Droid Razr HD

Last Wednesday, Motorola and Verizon Wireless held a press conference to announce their three lastest handsets : the Motorola Droid Razr HD, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD and the Droid Razr M. The Razr HD has a stunning 4.7 inches HD screen, a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor,1 GB of RAM, a 8 mega-pixel camera, a 1.3 mega-pixel front-facing camera, NFC, support for SD cards, LTE support and a 2530 mAh battery, which way more that we are used to. The difference with the Razr Max HD is that the Maxx has a 3300 mAh battery, probably the longest-lasting cellphone battery ever made. The last phone they announced last week was the Droid Razr M, essentially the same phone but with a smaller, not HD screen and a smaller battery. All of the Droid Razr are supposed to get JellyBean sometime in the fall.


The new Kindle Family

Amazon's presentation was widely expected by the Android fan-boys like me. They unveiled 4 new devices and each of them is pretty amazing. The first one is the Amazon Kindle PaperWhite which takes it's name from the fact that it looks way more like paper than any e-ready available on the market. It has to do with the screen they used to build it. Amazon is selling this new e-reader for a small price and that will be the key to their success. The next device they announced is the Kindle Fire HD, an upgrade from the Kindle Fire released last year. The new version sports a 7 inches hd screen with a resolution of 1200x800 pixel, 1 GB of RAM, a 1.3 mega-pixel front-facing camera and a micro HDMI port for video output. It runs on Android but it is a customized version of Android, meaning that it will have restrictions that other Android tablets do not have. For example, you will not be able to purchase and download content from Google Play which for me is a total deal-breaker. Amazon also released a 8.9 inches version of it with a full HD resolution, but is is mostly the same device with a slightly bigger screen. I do not plan to buy an e-reader any time soon because you cannot do anything with it but read, especially compared to a real Android tablet.


Next Wednesday, Apple will be releasing the next iPhone. As you can expect, I will be providing a detailed coverage of what will happen during the event. I am eager to see what Apple has in it's bag for us and what features will be added to the next iCellPhone.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

IFA Part 2

The IFA event wrapped up yesterday and it was a hell of a show. New technologies were introduced, amazing products were revealed and great prototypes were demoed. The first thing I want to share is about the new 4K TVs from LG, Sony and Toshiba. The current standard for HD TV resolution is 1080p which represents 1920x1080 pixels. The new standard, called 4K, is 3840x2160 so basically 4 times the standard we are just begining to get used to. That is the reason why they call it Ultra High Definition TVs. The bad thing about it is that there is no content broadcasted in 4K resolution except a few PlayStation 3 games and a minor portion of content on YouTube, but do not worry, it will come. LG's model is 84 inches, also does 3D and costs only 25 million wons or a small 22,000$ US. Sony's model is not priced yet but it is the same size as LG's, does passive 3D too and comes with a 10 unit Live Speaker. Toshiba's 4K TV has a sleeker housing than the others because there are no speakers mounted on it's side. Same as it's two competitors, it will support passive 3D which requires glasses.

The other big thing presented in this year's edition of IFA was the concept of a phone with a different display on each side, a conventionnal LCD screen and an e-reader style E-Ink display. The benefit users would get from that would be an extended battery life and a break from the light that is emmited from the screens we usually have on smartphones which would be a lot easier on your eyes. It is a very interesting idea but I think it needs to be explored a little more. I am pretty sure the final result is supposed to be a phone with only one screen that does both.

There was a lot of other products revealed at IFA but they are all stuff that I expected to come out in a near future. Also, manufacturers like Lenovo and Acer showed us what they have in store for the year to come but I am not really interested in buying anything from them anytime soon. I am not saying that they are bad companies, but they are definitely not the best.