All posts by imtiazfarooq

WWDC 2015: Key Takeaways from the Big Event!

WWDC-2015-invitation

Aside from Apple’s hardware unveiling events, the World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) is the big event for Apple. Their pretty hardware can woo all the customers they want but if the software powering them is poor then those products lose the buzz normally attached to carrying an Apple product.

With that said, Apple certainly came into 2015 needing some good answers in response to hard hitting questions like iOS 8’s shoddiness, music streaming dominating the audio listening landscape and the Apple Watch. They did answer a few questions and this article will look at how effective those answers were, particularly for the three big topics of the day.

I Promise... to not suck like last time
I Promise… to not suck like last time

Apple’s iOS 8 was, from personal experience, the most buggy mobile OS Apple has ever released. From lazy native app resizing to apps closing to transitions taking ages (for an Apple software release), iOS 8 felt like the numerous additions were finally taking their toll on the hardware. In a world where most flagships have 2gb/3gb RAM, Apple has stuck with 1gb but it was okay because of how iOS ran. 2014 proved different so it was positive news for me to hear that iOS 9’s core mission to run smoother and faster than last year and to also run on older hardware exactly like it runs on new hardware (some feature being removed based on hardware limitations of course). Microsoft has aimed to do this and succeeded with Windows Phone for years, so it can be done. Microsoft also has experience in releasing a flop OS (Vista) but managed to win customers over with the follow up so here’s hoping Apple can do the same. Other features like Maps, News, Apple Pay and multi-tasking on the iPad are areas where Apple has managed to catch up to the competition or improve an experience which is usually neglected like News. Formally Newsstand, it has a special place in my ‘Apple Shite’ folder however Apple showed off an app which could streamline my news reading experience instead of having 4-5 apps doing the same job. Good on them for that. Maps gets Transit information that nearly every other platform has had for years (better late than never) but an update is an update. Great.

Regarding productivity over consumption, multi-tasking on the iPad is so overdue. Windows has shown how to do multistasking on tablet/hybrids with Windows 8 and for all its critics, has been the market leader in allowing users to properly multi-task on a computer. Apple’s multi-tasking is not that deep, probably due to the hardware constraints, and instead takes the approach that Samsung takes with its Android tablets and phablets by allowing two apps to be placed side by side and used at the same time. People will mock as usual but if it’s a useful feature, there’s no shame in ‘borrowing’ it to improve an experience on your own platform.

Hello... Rest of the World!

With Google unveiling their Android Pay service and promising to release it worldwide, this was something that had to be echoed by Apple. Already having a reputation for not providing certain services worldwide like iTunes Radio, Apple Pay coming to the UK is huge news (for us here at least) and some of the services being offered here are great too. Paying for transport in London via Apple Pay is a brilliant move and partnering up with multiple banks and thousands of outlets ensures that this won’t be another Ping. On top of that, syncing with the Passbook app on the iPhone means another bit of bloatware gets used which is a good thing because you can’t delete the damn thing!

Watch OS 2
Watch OS 2

The latest update for the Apple Watch brought a faster OS that is said to be less buggy and more feature packed. Bringing in customisable watchfaces, permissions to use the microphone and accelerometer for speech and more accurate health/fitness data and finally, proper app support for the Apple Watch rather than glorified app extensions taking its sweet time to stream on your Watch from your iPhone. Does this make me want to buy an Apple Watch? Nope. I would still recommend waiting for the next generation Apple Watch and also keep an eye out for Google’s inevitable ‘Android Wear on iOS’ bombshell which will open up a massive range of smartwatches to iOS. In fact, Android Wear has shown that it is worthwhile waiting a few months to allow a platform to mature, just look at the first Wear watches compared to the most recent… it is night and day folks.

Spoti-what?
Spoti-what?

And last but not least, Apple’s competitor to the various music streaming services on the market was unveiled. On the outset, it isn’t much different than its competition with its vast library and price (note… there is not a ad-supported option). Where it does differ is how the content is presented. Drake came out to showcase iTunes Connect, a Soundcloud competitor if you will, showcasing an insight to artists music creating process. I think this has potential to take off if it means Apple Music subscribers get bonus singles, acapella recordings, ideas that artists are coming up with when creating their new album and so on but time will tell. Most of the attention was given to Beats 1, Apple’s worldwide radio station where artists and radio personalities like Zane Lowe, The Weeknd and Drake will provide curated playlists, personally created by themselves. To be honest, it sounds a little gimmicky to me and also forced. Curated playlists like those created by Spotify where the songs liked by the users are used as data to smart engineer a playlist feel much more personal to me and constantly evolving too, in line with tastes in music. Fixed playlists seems a little counter intuitive when a user could easily just make a playlist themselves but time will tell. Overall, as a service it looks like a solid option and a 3 month trial is ample time to make a decision on a service. It could’ve been worse (looking at you Tidal).

What are your thoughts on WWDC 2015, mainly regarding these issues? Has Apple missed a trick somewhere? Feedback is appreciated through the usual channels.

 

Thoughts on Google I/O 2015

io15-color

 

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will be aware that Google’s developer conference, I/O, has happened. Big news was announced but the point of this article is not to regurgitate other site’s news back to you. Instead, I am going to put forward my thoughts on some key topics at the event. The first topic… The big one… M!

Android M

Going in, I expected the 2015 flavour of Android to be a mild upgrade on Lollipop, focusing on refining the OS which was introduced to a lot of fanfare but became the Android equivalent of Windows Vista. My experience of Lollipop was that it was heavier than its predecessor (KitKat) with simple things like multitasking cards taking an age (in 2014/15) to load. Google took the opportunity to showcase the refinements such as Apps Permissions allowing users to decide what permissions they will allow certain apps to have, introducing Doze which aims to increase standby time by reducing background processes when the motion sensors on an Android Smartphone detects that it hasn’t been used for a long period of time and a host of other things like new app drawer, a dark theme, new RAM manager, a feature which adapts MicroSD card storage as internal storage and auto back-up/restore feature. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some new features coming to Android M though. The biggest feature has it’s own little section just below.

 

Android Pay

No, Google Wallet is not put to pasture. It is rumoured to still exist, probably as an app on iOS in the near future. Android Pay is a new system exclusive to Android (duh!) which is supported by Visa, Mastercard, American Express and ready to use in places like Subway, McDonalds and 700,000 more outlets, this is already a much better implementation than Google Wallet which despite coming to the market 3-4 years before Apple Pay, has not had anywhere near the traction (at least in the US) of Apple’s payment system. Hopefully a worldwide launch will prevent it from going down the road of Apple Pay which like many of Apple’s services, takes it sweet time coming into key markets like Europe.

 

Internet of Things

This has been a key part of Google I/O for the past couple of years, starting with Google Glass and carrying onto this year with the introduction of Brillo OS and Weave. The former is the software foundation on which Google hopes to build a platform connecting all the key smart devices in a typical household. It aims to connect all those devices using Weave, a binding mechanism which allows the smartphone to connect to the Nest thermostat for example, without the need for an app. I think this has the makings of something very promising and if allowed to be open source/cross-platform, could be something huge in a market which is fragmented big time due to proprietary software.

 

Google Now

In my opinion, the most awesome bit of news to come out I/O was news regarding Google Now, specifically Now on Tap. It goes without saying that Google’s Now assistant is the best of all the search assistant. Not relying on personality (great, because it doesn’t have one) and instead doing its job in delivering information that useful and dense, Now on Tap brings another layer of awesomeness by bringing up various results based on key words in a message, email, web article etc. It negates the need for app switching and thus makes the experience fluid. As an iPhone user, this feature won’t be around on the iOS Google app but it throws the ball over to Apple. Can they improve Siri and add similar functionality? WWDC 2015 could be interesting.

 

Overall, I/O 2015 was an event where Google flexed its muscles in areas it leads like Search and showed off new services where it had to catch up or risked falling behind (Pay). I think it did well but as with anything, time will tell if it succeeds. I would have liked the company to say more about software updates, especially with news about Lollipop taking its time appearing on certain OEM flagships from 2014. That is still a big problem for Google, one that its competitors iOS and even Windows doesn’t have. What it did reveal though, could lay the foundations for something big in the future and for Android fans, that is a massive positive.

BEST OF 2014

First of all… a very HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you who will read this. We at TekTalk thank you for your support in reading our content, listening to our podcast and if you happen to share these blogs, it is very much appreciated. Personally, it was an incredible year for TekTalk as we grew into a full fledged site, delivering reviews and experiences of products and services we used. There were good, bad and some ugly things we had to check out so without further ado, lets summarise the best (and some of the worst) of 2014.

2014

BEST SMARTPHONE

Let's get down to business.
Let’s get down to business.

At TekTalk towers, we have had the pleasure of personally using some great phones this year. From the high-end monsters like the HTC One M8, iPhone 6, Nokia Lumia 1020 and LG G3 to mid-range excellence like the Moto G and then to the entry level awesomeness of the Nokia Lumia 520.

With that said, there was only one winner for me. I said it in my review of the device and I will repeat that here. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact entered in the shadow of the Note 4, the iPhone 6 and even its own bigger brother, the Xperia Z3 and proceeded to blow me away in almost every catergory. Yes it lacks the QHD screen inane gimmicks associated with many flagships released this year but to me, that is a good thing. It is a smartphone that does what you expect from a smartphone and does so extremely well. It managed to ‘out-iPhone’ the iPhone as a device you just pick up and use. It took the crown from the big guns and didn’t even make a fuss.

BEST BUDGET/PREMIUM TABLET

Tesco-Hudl-2-10

It was a lean year for tablets. News of declining sales were consistent throughout the year as consumers realised that their iPads and Android tablets could run most applications comfortably for 2-3 years rather than the 1 year manfuacturers seemed to claim. With that said, we saw some beauties and my pick of the bunch was the Tesco Hudl 2 and Surface Pro 3.

The Hudl 2 from Tesco was bought as a companion for my Chromecast and also for some light gaming and is now such an important part of my life, I’ve recently bought 2 more to give out as gifts (God bless gift vouchers!). It’s exceptionally well built, runs apps so smooth that you’ll wonder why this is £250 rather than the bargain £130. It is the essense of what a tablet is in the modern household; a consumption device and a gateway to other devices.

427915-surface-pro-3-pen
On the flip side, the Pro 3 is the direct opposite. A tablet that can replace your laptop, says Microsoft. And boy are they right. I was initially reluctant to buy in but after many weeks thinking, I went against my advice of sticking to the Pro 2 and instead bought an i5 256gb Pro 3. I sold my iPad mini 2, MacBook Air and the Pro 2… That in itself shows how incredible this device was, being able to replace all of that. Sure, I ended up buying the Hudl 2 later anyway but to have one device replace 3 which total around £1500 in value is serious stuff. And then the device itself; a sleek, powerful and multitasking wonder that is a work of art when displayed on the desk. On its own, it is responsible for the excitement being generated as Microsoft enters 2015 with more buzz than any time in the last decade.

BEST ACCESSORIES

Battery packs. I went travelling this past September and these things saved my ass for the entire trip. Going to the subcontinent, if you want to be sure of two things and that is mosquitoes are everywhere and you will need consistent power because of frequent power cuts. For me, I took an Omaker 10000mAh pack, a 50,000 mAh ALLPOWERS battery pack and a couple of Citus 8800mAh battery packs. Serious power for a month’s trip, I know. Although the ALLPOWERS unit didn’t deliver the entire 50,000 mAh, the price (£14.99) meant I was crazy thinking I would expect that much anyway. All in all, it powered my One M8 for 12 charges which is  nearly 30,000mAh. Impressive. They would also be my surprises but something else beat them to it.

UNDERRATED GADGET OF THE YEAR

htc earbuds

This is going to be SUPER niche but I truly think they did not get the attention they deserve this year. So here is the shout-out for the most underrated gadget of the year! They are the bundled earbuds you get with an unlocked purchase of the HTC One M8. Incredibly random, right? Well, I seriously think these are my underrated gadget of the year, probably of the decade so far. You think of bundled ear-buds and you get images of crappy EarPods from Apple or the cheap crap that is bundled with Nokia (RIP) phones, not the ones that had excellent sound quality, perfectly even sounds across the board and good looks too. HTC might not sell as much as Samsung in the Android marketplace but their quality of product from smartphone right down to the ear-buds is superb. Long may it continue.

OVERRATED GADGET OF THE YEAR

Apples-OS-X-Yosemite

Mac OSX Yosemite. Good God was this shoved down the throats of every consumer by tech folks and Apple, and whilst it’s features were impressive in the demonstration, they’re nothing to ride home about. Dare I say, aside from 2-3 features, the rest is purely a gimmick that will be used the same amount of times anything ‘S’ related from Samsung will be used. Upgrading on my MacBook Air, I felt very disappointed that that was the result of all the hype. In fact, it just made me all-the-more curious as to what Microsoft has in store with Windows 10.

SURPRISE OF THE YEAR

Here to save the day from those eeeevil Windows Netbooks
Here to save the day from those eeeevil Windows Netbooks

Chromebooks. Now, I know the concept has been around for years but this was the year I tested a HP Chromebook 11 and was blown away by how useful a cloud only Laptop can be. As a productivity machine, I found myself doing pretty much all of my Podcast rundowns, reviews, blog posts, and social media responses on a Chromebook and doing that very very well. Ultimately, it didn’t replace my Surface Pro but that wasn’t the point. It opened my eyes to what will be the future in 5 years’ time. Microsoft knows that which is why their philosophy is mobile first, cloud first now.

A very close second in this category was the Amazon Fire TV. Considering the next category was Amazon at its low point, this was an excellent product from them with some cool features. The voice search is superb with the only downside is cross-app useability and the interface is smooth as you would like. In its first attempt, Amazon knocked it out of the park and with future updates it will only get better. Scary thought.

BIGGEST FLOP

LOL! LOSER
LOL! LOSER

The Amazon Fire Phone. Nothing more can be said… Just the Fire Phone. For shame.

Note that this is purely my own thoughts (Imtiaz Farooq) and they do not reflect the general consensus. If you have differing thoughts, please comment down below or hit us up on Twitter. I’m @Tweet_Imty… thank you for reading.

Peace.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Review: The Little Dog with a Big Bite

Let's get down to business.
Let’s get down to business.

With a title like that, you might be thinking ‘well that’s great… onto the next one’. And if you indeed do think that way, no problem. However, I encourage you to read further because this review is more than just a write up about a Sony smartphone but more importantly, a review about a Sony smartphone which has snuck under the radar of the Note 4, iPhone 6/6 Plus, Galaxy Alpha and even Sony Xperia Z3 press coverage and managed to deliver arguably the most compelling Android smartphone package ever. So without further ado, I give you the Z3 Compact Review.

As far as first impressions go, this is a beautiful looking bit of kit. The phone is a plastic slab sandwiched in-between two sheets of glass to give it the minimalist style we have come to associate with Sony. The rounded edges make it gorgeous to hold and use one handed, the main selling point of these ‘small’ devices nowadays.

HARDWARE

Its okay honey... I'm dust and waterproof. IP65 and IP68 if you must care for details.
Its okay honey… I’m dust and waterproof. IP65 and IP68 if you must care for details.

The screen is a 4.6″ 720p display, perfect for this size and given the best possible position to impress with minimal bezels flanking its sides. I won’t bore you with the fancy terms used by Sony to describe its display but simply put, it’s one of the finest displays I have ever seen on a smartphone. The colours are life-like, with visibility angles infinitely better than some 1080p displays.

The camera was the first place I started. We have a few times on TekTalk’s weekly podcast the frustration of using recent Sony smartphone cameras. They are not badly equipped but the difference between the camera processing on a Sony smartphone and an iPhone (Apple exclusively uses Sony lenses on their iPhones) is night and day, leading to tech people questioning why Sony would create such beautiful hardware and fall short spectacularly in a department in which they are a legendary name. Well, I can now confirm that those questions need to be put to bed once and for all. Also still lacking truly great night time photos, the Z3 Compact camera is a stunning bit of kit and in my opinion, the first real Android threat to an iPhone in the camera department. The photos aren’t ridiculously over saturated or excessively sharpened like on some high end flagships like the S5 or the One M8. Instead, we have photos showing an accurate representation of what was seen at that time. The shutter button also helps make the experience much quicker than unlocking a phone or doing gimmicky hand twists to start the camera. All in all, a camera worthy of the Sony branding.

 SOUND

Playing a song on the phone through the excellent Walkman app (more on this in the software part), I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of output. Now the quality on the front facing speakers is not even close to my experience with my previous smartphone, the One M8, but it is still much better than 99% of the phones available right now. My audio samples used to test the front speakers (DMX’s No Sunshine, Ariana Grande’s Problem and AC/DC’S Shoot to Thrill) allowed me to get an insight as to how the speakers sound across a broad spectrum of music (the songs have elements of many musical genres) which it passed with flying colours. I noticed low-mids being very clear, vocals not being drowned out by ramped up bass levels and each instrument clear defined and appreciated. The highs were a little flat but by tweaking some settings and turning on ClearAudio for example, those gripes were quickly remedied. If you are into audio quality but not at the level of audiophiles, you cannot go wrong with this phone.

 SOFTWARE

The Z3 Compact comes running 4.4.4 KitKat out of the gate with Sony UI layered over the top. Unlike their previous efforts with Jelly Bean, the UI has been decluttered with some Sony specific apps and services on show. Those apps, unlike most of the apps preinstalled on a Samsung device for example, are generally useful. The PS4 remote play feature is a decent second screen experience that will only get better over time. The Walkman app mentioned earlier is as good a default music app as any I have seen. I really like the interface used, the amount of information presented on artists and albums as well as the audio tweaking settings. Add to that, the Video and picture gallery app (Album) and you have a robust software feature set which Sony should be really proud of. You also get the Lifelog app preinstalled but I did not test it, essentially because I am locked into Endomondo and MyFitnesspal. The Sony UI skin is very light and the more I have used it during the last 6 weeks of testing, the more I have avoided keeping the Google Now launcher on the phone. After the first week, it has been Sony’s UI all the way and that is a high compliment. It isn’t all high praise though sadly. Sony, for some stupid reason has decided to  stick their ‘What’s New’ feature right where you would normally drag up for Google Now. What possessed them to do such a thing, only Sony knows but it is very frustrating when going into Google Now and accidently being put through to essentially an advert for Sony movie, app and music content. I would not mind it as much if it could be deactivated but that is not possible. I hope Lollipop fixes this.

 CONCLUSION

iPhone 6, Z3 Compact and the Galaxy Alpha... Three kings but only one is truly worthy (credit: GSMArena for the picture)
iPhone 6, Z3 Compact and the Galaxy Alpha… Three kings but only one is truly worthy (credit: GSMArena for the picture)

So… how can I sum this experience? In short, it has been a brilliant one. Sony has shown that you can make a ‘mini’ Android smartphone, pack it with the latest and greatest specs and most importantly, adds excellent value software for the most part to create a package which not only competes with the super high end flagships but in my opinion, blows them away. The One M8, Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2/Z3, Galaxy Alpha and even the iPhone 6 are no match for this little beauty. Some would debate the comparison with the iPhone 6 because it’s iOS v. Android but that is not what I am looking at. In terms of experience, the iPhone 6 has had a poor start software wise and with its uninspiring design, it looks like a cash-in sequel of a highly successful franchise. The Z3 Compact however, feels like Sony listened to those cries for a fully specced ‘mini’ Android phone and then the groans when the One Mini 2, Galaxy S5 Mini, LG G3 Mini/S/whatever else LG could think of and the Galaxy Alpha came out and decided to offer a compelling alternative. This is a truly stunning outcome and for me, a former One M8 owner who sold that and invested in a Z3 Compact, the switch was well worth making.

A smartphone which does everything an owner wants with very little in the way of gimmicks… The Sony Z3 Compact is my phone of the year.

Living with Chromebook

Here to save the day from those eeeevil Windows Netbooks
Here to save the day from those eeeevil Windows Netbooks

 

The Chromebook has emerged from the ashes of Windows Netbooks as a cheap alternative to high end ultrabooks and the MacBook line. However, Chromebooks come with a stigma that is now well known but also has gained a loyal fanbase amongst students and the general user that does not want an i5 processor, crazy thin design and a £500+ price-tag. I was intrigued by this position that the Chromebook has found itself in but most importantly, I wanted to see whether I can use a Chromebook as a genuine alternative to my Surface Pro 2 when writing podcast rundowns, blog entries and general browsing on the web. I hopped on eBay, bought a HP Chromebook 11 for £120 and started my one month experiment.

 

OH! YOU BEAUTYYYY!
OH! YOU BEAUTYYYY!

Findings

As a starting point, the hardware definitely belies its cheap price. The keyboard and trackpad on the Chromebook 11 was a delight to type on and the screen, despite its below FHD resolution, allows content displayed on it to pop. This, wrapped in a beautifully designed and constructed package meant that whatever the result of this experiment was, at least I could walk away knowing that Chromebooks aren’t horribly cheap feeling tat for the most part.

Powering on the machine during the testing period always brought a smile, such was the speed of the boot up period. After that, the software experience was overall very good, if a little limiting. I got used to working ‘in a browser’ over time, using Microsoft’s Office Online as my productivity suite of choice and fully embracing cloud computing. The end result was that I walk away from Chrome OS fully accepting that in terms of productivity, Cloud computing is the way everyone will be working in the near future. With hardware this cheap and well built plus a productivity suite which is free and feature rich (Docs, Office Online or the OpenOffice suites), the average consumer has a genuine third option to consider. With all this positivity, you’d be expecting a catch, right? Spot on.

The offline app availability is scarce to say the least. With the Google Docs suite and other Google applications, you won’t find much of a problem accessing them offline. I wrote a podcast rundown on Google Docs, went to a café that had a dodgy internet connection (great coffee, but crap internet… such is the 21st century coffee drinkers needs) and had no trouble continuing to write up the last sections of the podcast rundown. The problem comes when you look for third party apps to support the offline feature. For example, as an Office Online users, not being able to access my documents or even save them to the 16gb SSD for offline access was just stupid. I do not think I am alone in expecting a consistent experience across the board from massive companies and their services. In my opinion, what Google have done is the equivalent of having a child run a egg ‘n’ spoon race but give the child half a spoon to balance the egg with. That is the least of their worries though, as I found out towards the end of my testing period. Recently, HP announced the Stream laptop series; an 11 and 13 inch laptop respectively which is priced to compete with Chromebooks. These essentially run the same innards of a Chromebook but come with full Windows 8.1 on-board. For someone wanting a cheap laptop to just use for productivity, this is massive news. Full Windows means millions of apps, a proper file explorer, offline document editing support for all types of productivity software and most importantly, better looking hardware. That final point might be trivial but aside from this HP Chromebook 11 and the Samsung Chromebook 2, I don’t see many Chromebooks that are truly beautiful pieces of hardware. Even the two examples mentioned are hampered by incredibly low powered Samsung processors which for tab fiends is just bad. Seriously after 9-10 tabs, the Chromebook 11 struggled to do anything at all except freeze. For software as light as this, that is unforgivable. So… to my conclusion.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the Chromebook. For the price of an entry level Android tablet, I purchased and managed to use a fully featured laptop as a daily work machine. The software available on the Chrome store is plenty for people who want to use it for productivity and a little bit more (Plex, Spotify and Soundcloud worked brilliantly on the machine) and with Android support due to arrive soon, it could get better.  The hardware still amazes me; the HP Chromebook is incredible value for money for what it is. A little known joy is the fact that you can charge the Chromebook 11 from any microUSB charger… something that should be standard on entry level laptops in my opinion. That said, for anyone wanting a little more from their laptop should probably look away. The Windows powered alternatives that are due to arrive soon are much much better than a Chromebook, especially since they all come powered with Intel chips. I didn’t get to load this up with Linux as some recommended doing because I wanted to keep the Chrome OS experience pure and fully test its capabilities. Would I recommend using a Chromebook? I definitely would but if the usage goes slightly above ‘basic’, move onto a entry level Windows machine.

Microsoft @ IFA 2014

 

Microsoft IFA 2014 invite-578-80

 

The third instalment of TekTalk’s summary of IFA continues with Microsoft. Not the company you would expect at this event but boy, have they announced themselves this year. Starting with their phones…

Not much to talk about on the software front

The Lumia devices had been leaked extensively in the build-up and we ended up getting exactly what was leaked. The Lumia 730/735 are the same handset, with the 735 having 4G and dual SIM capabilities. It is standard lower-midrange fare with the big selling point being that it’s front camera has a super wide angle lens for selfies and software built in which makes the new picture taking craze just that bit more exciting and perfect. We move onto the Lumia 830 which is Microsoft’s upper midrange device and priced well enough to succeed in my opinion. The specs include a 10 megapixel camera with Zeiss lens that has received some praise for its picture taking capabilities. Given the challenging environment of IFA, that is some praise indeed. The design of the 830 is classy, with a Lumia 930-like metal frame being sandwiched by Gorilla glass on the front and polycarbonate on the back, available in 4 colours. The phone takes on elements of the Lumia 925, the 930 and the 1020 with the camera taking on that iconic ‘Oreo’ look.

Software wise, there wasn’t much to talk about besides talk of the Lumia Denim update which will include voice control abilities when interacting with Cortana. Being able to say ‘hey Cortana’ from the lock screen without touching any buttons is exciting and something I look forward to very much.

Finally, other goings on at IFA from Microsoft came from OEMs, in particular PC and tablet makers. The show stealers from this category include Acer who showcased their 8” windows tablet that will go on sale for £120, and that include a year of Office 365. Even if you aren’t a Windows 8 fan, you would be crazy not to invest in one of those, if only just to use Office 365 for a year.

The final instalment will be on the ‘best of the rest’, talking about smartwatches and devices from companies that were interesting to us but didn’t really take centre stage like Samsung, Sony and Microsoft. Keep it locked at TekTalk for that summary.

Sony @IFA 2014

Sony-IFA

Continuing TekTalk’s summary of IFA so far, we turn our eyes to Sony. Now, they came in with quite a few products waiting to be revealed and from the hands on videos, they have impressed big time.

The Z3 isn’t worth upgrading to

Beginning with their latest iteration of the flagship smartphone line, the Z3 was shown off and although we at TekTalk maintain our stance that this isn’t worth upgrading to if you happen to own a Z2 or even a Z1 Compact but for people who will be upgrading from a phone released in early-mid 2013, this is a a very compelling phone and one that everyone should seriously consider. Sony’s decision to develop their phone every 6 months will draw the ire of a lot of people but when faced with results like the Z3, it is a strategy that has SOME merit.

The little upgrades add up to provide an experience a teeeeeeeeny tiny bit better than its predecessor but if thin margins are what you base your life around, this is worth the upgrade. The camera has a lot more technology crammed into it and could be one to consider for camera buffs, the software has removed some of the stupidity like the Sony content option when pulling up from the home button and the rounded corners have had unanimous praise for how good it makes the phone to hold. The screen is still 1080p rather than 2K but for us, it’s a positive rather than negative. Very wise to wait until content arrives rather than just sticking one on the phone for the sake of it.

Next is what I call the ‘Zx range supporting cast’, which this time round comes in the form of the Z3 Compact and the Z3 Compact mini tablet. What they lack in compelling product names, Sony more than makes up for with the build quality of these devices. The Z3 Compact is an engineering marvel, a ‘mini’ phone by today’s standards but packed full of technology which would make even top tier flagship phones of some companies weep. If I were Apple, I’d avoid comparisons with any other phone and concentrate solely on this device as its competition because for ANYONE that dares to consider themselves a wily technology consumer, this is the phone to buy if you like Android. It is just perfect in every way and I for one am excited beyond words in anticipation of picking one up and backing these words up with a full review.

Finally, Sony released a bunch of wearables and phone accessories, some which have been cruelly overlooked and others which are fairly ordinary. The ordinary category is chiefly made up of wearables predictably chiefly the Smartwatch 3 and SmartBand Talk. The Smartwatch 3 now uses Android Wear rather than Sony’s take on Android and is standard fare for the platform but with Sony’s customisable touch. I wasn’t much of a fan and the same goes for the SmartBand Talk which is exactly what it says on the package. It’s essentially the LifeBand wearable but with an e-ink display and the ability for the owner to talk to it. If only the same amount of attention was given to the Sony camera add-ons, the QX30 and QX1. The QX30 builds on what I thought was a much underrated gadget last year (QX10) by providing any smartphone (5” screen max.) with a powerful lens to take pictures with. The QX1 though could be the jewel in the crown though, for this writer at least. A 1” lens that has the ability to have any additional Sony attachment lens from the professional Sony camera range, onto it and essentially have the innards of the pro camera on the smartphone. Pricing will make or break this product but one thing is for sure, I will be very surprised if ANYTHING is half as interesting as this QX1 lens.

 

That is it for Sony, next up is Microsoft. Stay tuned for that to drop within the day.

Samsung @ IFA 2014

English: Samsung Logo Suomi: Samsungin logo
English: Samsung Logo Suomi: Samsungin logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

IFA is still going on as I type but damn, a lot has been revealed so far. This article is one of a series of articles which will briefly comment on the key happenings at IFA 2014. Part 1 is about Samsung.

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Samsung kicked things off with a bang by revealing the Note 4, Note Edge, their VR headset and the Gear S. All 4 products carry the Samsung traits but digging a little deeper, you learn to appreciate most of what is on offer.

Note 4

The Note 4 is every bit the upgrade from the Note 3 in my opinion. The screen has been upgraded to 2K for starters, some may question the need for a 2K display but there’s no denying that it is a display which pops. Looking at hands-on videos, it is clearly evident that it is meant to be the star attraction alongside the metal chassis, further enhancing the ultra-premium ‘Note’ experience. The innards are a what’s what of the latest and best; Snapdragon 805, 4GB of RAM which is just ridiculously impressive and a 16MP camera with optical image stabilisation which sounds very promising. Software tricks are aplenty as you would expect from Samsung but I am holding judgment on their usefulness until I get my hands on one.

The Edge

The Note Edge is essentially the Note 4 but with a weird curve display folding over on its right side. Supposedly for notifications or additional information, it is hard not to see this as a gimmick at this time but time will tell. We said the same thing about the Note line-up 4 years ago and now here we are, massive fans of that and many similar devices.

VR A step too far?

The VR headset promises a lot out of the box. It’s ability to complement the Note 4 and probably the last 2 generations of Samsung’s handsets could be huge news for mobile gaming but with mobile gaming accessories failing to set the world alight, I will wait to see where this leads before casting judgment.

Gear S Yet another Smartwatch from Samsung

And finally, the Gear S. YET ANOTHER SMARTWATCH FROM SAMSUNG! Myself and Mike mentioned how this was the sixth smartwatch from the South Korean giant in a year, another thing to add to that statistic is that this is easily the biggest mainstream smartwatch I have seen. The screen is 2 inches, so big it even has a qwerty keyboard for typing texts and so on. Which leads me onto another point… you can make calls independently on this device. It takes a nano SIM card which allows you to essentially have a device on your wrist operating as your chief point of contact. Insane.

All in all, you cannot knock Samsung for being creative. If their noteworthy (boom boom) products are anything to go by, it shows that the company is chock full of ideas and their successful ideas can morph into a really compelling range of devices as the Note phablet line-up has shown. Wether the rest can follow that trend, time will tell.

Next to get the summary treatment is Sony. Stay tuned.

Episode 35 – IFA 2014 Preview

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As the title suggests, this is TekTalk’s IFA preview. Or more colloquially known as ‘the stuff we think will take up the headlines for the coming week in technology’. So without further ado:

 Samsung dominates with… Everything!

It has been a trend going back 3-4 years now, with Samsung taking the spotlight and not really relinquishing it through the trade show. This year looks to be no different with the South Korean giant revealing their latest iteration of the Note phablet line-up. Opinions are divided on the device here at TekTalk, all of them can be heard on this week’s TekTalk podcast. As for me, I am excited to see what is on offer. Samsung has hit it out of the park for the past 2 generations of the Note line-up and if we are to believe the leaks (metal chassis, more convincing leathery back case, improved stylus, 2K display) then this could be the device of the year. The other big rumour is that we are getting a Gear S smartwatch, the sixth smartwatch in a year from Samsung. The big selling point here is that it can take a SIM card meaning you can actually take calls on the device. I am not totally convinced this will kick the so-called ‘smartwatch revolution’ into overdrive but we shall see.

 Sony

We are big fans of Sony and of all the companies, TekTalk is very keen to see what they have in store. We know that the Z3 is going to be revealed, which brings mixed feelings for me in particular. The 6 month cycle is understandable from a business point of view but for consumers, it must suck to have a device that is 6 months old or less and become outdated.

They can easily hold back on the device until February 2015, build anticipation for the device and release to inevitable fanfare. Apple has had the crap leaked out of its smartphone offering and with less than a week to go, the anticipation is feverish to say the least. It wouldn’t harm Sony to take tips from its rivals and go down that route. A lot of money must go into the research and development of two devices a year and with recent asset stripping showcasing that all is not well at Sony, money can easily be saved here. Away from the negative, the Lifeband products look likely to be refreshed and new mini tablet hardware set to arrive also. Safe to say, I am very excited about the latter. Sony makes excellent hardware and if done right and made available at the right price, it’s a no brainer over rival Android tablets.

 Smartwatches

We’ve been here before haven’t we? Yes and no. Yes, because 2014 has been the year of smartwatches and no because this is the first event where we could be inundated with a huge variety of Android Wear smartwatches. The jury is still out on the viability of smartwatches here at TekTalk but here’s hoping that IFA 2014 turns that negative stance into a positive one.

 Microsoft

What?! THE Microsoft, at IFA?! Well yes, after their Nokia purchase was complete, there has been quite a lot of buzz around what they will produce and IFA 2014 looks to be the place where they show their stuff. The Lumia 830, Lumia 730, cheap Windows tablets for developing markets… They wil be spreading their reach far and wide for sure, are Microsoft. I am very excited to see what they have in store from a handset standpoint. I make no secret of the fact that Windows Phone is my favourite platform to use and I really hope we get to see something special. Speculation that the Lumia 830 will be Microsoft’s ‘cheap, cheerful and pakced with technology’ device ala the Nexus devices on Android have me on the edge of my seat.

Episode 35

So… that’s it. The predictions for what will be the main stories of IFA 2014. Be sure to share your thoughts on the event as it happens on Twitter or Google+. We are @Tektalkv101 and TekTalk v1.01 community respectively and we look forward to hearing what you have to say. Also be sure to keep an eye out for continuous updates as the event goes on. Thank you.

FreedomCase Review

BY IMTIAZ FAROOQ

Like many things here at TekTalk towers, it takes something very special for us to review something which would otherwise be a very ordinary accessory. The FreedomCase is indeed that very special thing. Before we get into the meat and bones of the review, I’d like to talk about its origins.

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A rarity amongst accessories

The FreedomCase is a case for the Surface Pro 2 which allows for all-round protection as well as enhanced flexibility in regards to kickstand usability, essentially adding more positions to the Surface Pro 2 to enable it to be used at similar crazy angles widely seen on Surface Pro 3. The case is a rarity amongst accessories because

  • a) it isn’t made by a Logitech or a Belkin (a big case manufacturer) and…
  • b) it is one of very few third party accessories for the Surface line of tablet PCs.

I came across it when browsing Kickstarter and after being struck by its usefulness, I went ahead and pledged my $59.00 with the hope that by April, my 3 month old Surface Pro 2 could get some much needed protection. Things didn’t pan out that way at first; I ended up receiving the product mid July 2014 but seeing as it’s a problem most Kickstarter projects have, I overlooked that and dived right into testing.

DESIGN

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Little touches set it apart

At first glance, the FreedomCase in PU Leather finish looks very plain but peel behind that initial viewpoint and you see little touches that set it apart from any of the inevitable knock-offs. The magnets that are housed in the case are INCREDIBLY strong, enabling a very secure fit. All the creases are of the highest quality and the material itself is very nice to the touch, exuding a premium quality that justifies the price tag. As the product expands to retail stores across the world, I’d imagine there will be more colours available or at least the same colours Microsoft offers with its Type covers.

GENERAL USE

KickstarterBed FreedomCase-46deg-600x380 FreedomCase-70deg-600x380

At first, I felt that the case was very fiddly and cumbersome in a ‘home’ environment. In this situation, I tend to use my Surface Pro 2 in the second kickstand position, comfortable enough for viewing and pretty easy to type up work such as this review. The FreedomCase then is very much the opposite of its name when using around the home. However, take it outside and it starts racking up the points in the general use category.

Extra positions are a godsend

On a coffee table in a café, the extra positions are a godsend and in a Costa/Starbucks, having the ‘super sharp incline’ mode as I like to call it as one of the folding options is so unbelievably good. As someone who frequents cafes and uses my time there to get work done, the FreedomCase enabled that exact thing whilst eliminating the shortcomings the Pro 2 comes with. It is a mark of a truly excellent accessory that it can take a product already very good and make it just that much better and it is a mark that the FreedomCase earns with flying colours in this category.

CONCLUSION

Overall, after a couple of weeks of testing the FreedomCase, I am qualified to say that this is one of the essential accessories you can buy for your Surface tablet. The price might be a little steep at $59/£40 but considering what you get for the price; the quality of finish, the looks which are in keeping with the Surface design philosophy and not to forget the extra positions gained from shelling out such an amount of money. It is a hell of a deal and one of the few times when I have bought a product and have had nothing negative to say about it once truly used to how it works. The wait was well worth it.

I wonder how the company plans to adapt the design for the Pro 3 seeing as that beast takes all the useful addition added by this case to the Pro line and builds it into the design of the device. That is one for the guys behind the FreedomCase to answer but for now, they deserve a pat on the back for this. Well done.

If you want to purchase a FreedomCase, you can do so via www.freedomcase.com for $39 plus shipping. If you own a FreedomCase and want to comment on my thoughts, feel free to do so via our social media channels.