I’m sure that you all know by now that Apple has announced their latest addition to their smartphone lineup – the iPhone 5s. As ever with Apple, there has been a lot of hype surrounding this launch, and that has resulted in the fact that some of the sites that have reviewed it haven’t really understood what the phone is about, or what it is trying to be. Some put it down for its “bad” specifications. Others fawned over the device just because it was sent down by the Apple gods from above.. Even though I’m pretty late with this review, hopefully I’ll be able to give my thoughts on the device, and while doing that tell you what this device is really about.
Mobile gaming is a wonderful thing. While it once took a 10 tonne console to escape to another world, where one would typically find a selection of guns, aliens and Italian plumbers, we can now use conveniently portable devices to take us away from our troubles instead. Or allow green pipes to cause even more.
Flappy Bird was the latest avian title to land in our pockets and find surprisingly astronomical success, with a deceptively simple premise and mechanics. A single tap performs a single flap of the wings of a small bird that looks like Kirby with Jay-Z’s lips which, although officially nameless, I affectionately call Flapster.
But why did a game made by a Vietnamese indie developer in a few evenings after work that launched in May 2013 become the most popular mobile game of 2014? The answer lies deep within the struggles of our lives.
Mario uses his raw plumbing tekkers to open wormholes and transcend dimensions with green pipes, but Flappy Bird and its nameless protagonist present a whole new facade to these former allies. He’s not a trained worker. He’s a bird. Pipes are enemies, and serve solely to crush his hopes and dreams with a brutal splat. Should our friend succeed and pass beyond the blockade, life throws up yet another challenge before his eventual death.
Attaching no name or back story to the bird lets us project our own emotions and struggles onto its journey. Life, like Flappy Bird, is not fair. To stand any chance of reaching double figures and cross the obstacles in our paths, we must stay focused and tap carefully. Yes, we may fly face-first into a pipe now and then, but we won’t give up. We will keep tapping. Tapping towards freedom.
Now, as creator Dong Nguyen, with $50k a day in his pocket, withdraws the app from stores and himself from the limelight, lil’ Flapster flies off into the sunset (via a few green pipes, naturally). All we have left are fond memories of the winter of the bird, who taught us it was alright to fail, as long as we got straight back up to seek the bing, and the hours we lost in our quest for a high five.
Earlier this week, I published my extensive review of Nokia’s Lumia 720. If you haven’t read and watched it already, I’d sincerely recommend that you check it out, but today I’m bringing a new option of consuming our written word to the table. Alex, the lovely robot found within iTunes on Mac OS X, has made an audio version of my post which sounds remarkably good for one of these text-to-speech things. The concept of audio reviews is something I’ve been considering for a while now, so if you think it’s worth us continuing (even if we have to replace Alex with a human or alternative robot voice) give us a shout in the comments or on Twitter.
For years, Nokia has known that the best way to expand market share is to saturate every corner of it with a device. After an initial launch of just two devices in late 2011, Lumia devices are now available at seemingly every price point from £99 to £499, and one of the latest devices to join the range, the Lumia 720, sits firmly in the middle of this vast expanse, priced at around £249 unlocked. It follows on from the Lumia 710, which I reviewed last year and felt was a bargain considering its low price and high quality, but the 720 faces fierce competition from a sea of Android-powered handsets including diminutive versions of the top-selling flagships from HTC and Samsung. As such, is this mid-range combination of Windows Phone 8 and Nokia’s trademark hardware design worth your attention? Read on to find out.
Last June, a mysterious event invite came out of Microsoft’s Washington HQ. Unlike pretty much every other tech launch in the last two years, we hadn’t seen any major leaks beforehand, although rumours of the launch being for a tablet with Windows 8 (or, according to Mat Honan, a #MSFTaaaaaablet). What the company ultimately unveiled was the Surface, its first piece of Windows-based hardware, in both RT and Pro flavours, the latter of which still hasn’t made it to the UK. In a brave experiment, I have spent the last couple of months using the RT model as my primary computer, and it’s definitely been turning heads. Has this been for good reasons, though? Read on to find out.
Like the inevitable tick-tock of a clock, Google, in partnership with LG, released the fourth Nexus phone late last year. On a day inundated with news on Hurricane Sandy, they managed to send the technology community into overdrive and rain on Microsoft’s parade by introducing a flagship smartphone for just £239.99 unlocked. Despite the shambolic release that occurred through Google’s own Play Store, there is no phone out there that appears to provide this kind of value for money. Google has taken a huge gamble with this device by selling it through its own channels with next to no profit margin, but has it paid off by making the best Android phone out there? Read on to find out.
This phone is beautiful. There are no other words to describe it. It is right up there with the iPhone 5 and One X in terms of hardware design and build quality, which is a massive achievement considering the price point. The unadorned glass façade gently curves down to meet the plastic frame which, when flipped over, reveals a gently shimmering micro-etched glass back. Sure, it was a poor design choice in terms of durability, but it looks great. The front is graced with a small speaker grill and a front facing camera. It also features a hidden notification light centred on the bottom bezel – which is very clear and bright. It’s also RGB, meaning it can be programmed to be any colour with apps such as Light Flow. Aside from the volume rocker and power button, the only keys you’ll see here are on-screen, keeping with the pattern started by 2011’s Galaxy Nexus and continued throughout many other post-Ice Cream Sandwich devices and, while not without their critics, I love them. It’s simplicity done extremely well.
The screen is a 4.7” WXGA (1280 x 768) IPS affair, but some of it is taken up by software buttons. The screen is also up there with the best, using the same in-cell technology the iPhone 5 made a big deal about which, seeing as both panels come from LG, makes perfect sense. The colours and vibrancy are great, although still trail behind AMOLED in certain aspects. The Nexus 4 feels solid in the hand, but also feels very slippery due to the glass back and curve, and I therefore highly recommend getting a case for it, no matter how difficult it is to cover up the beautiful exterior. Another slight problem is the chrome band surrounding the front. While it is done very well, it does have the tendency to scratch or dent. The buttons are made of the same material. They have a nice travel, and feel solid, but they are quite slippery – a recurring theme with the hardware on this phone. However, in spite of all of these flaws, this is easily one of the best designed Android phones ever.
Inside, the Nexus 4 sits perched upon the top of 2012’s internal hardware. It has a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro with an Adreno 320 GPU, coupled with 2GB of RAM giving you a blazing fast phone, although the upcoming flagships like the HTC One and Galaxy S IV should easily eclipse it. Benchmark scores demonstrate this, although these should be taken with a pinch of salt, as our testing shows that the US variant of the Galaxy S III (with dual-core S4 chip) obtains a higher Quadrant score than the quad-core S4 Pro-powered Nexus 4, suggesting that this benchmark has not been properly optimised for Android 4.2 yet.
|LG Nexus 4||1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (Quad)||4694||17561||59.6 fps|
|Samsung Galaxy S III (US)||1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 (Dual)||5325||7373||48.7 fps|
|HTC One X+||1.7GHz Tegra 3 (Quad)||7652||13546||57.0 fps|
|HTC One X (Intl.)||1.5GHz Tegra 3 (Quad)||4602||9795||54.7 fps|
|Asus Nexus 7||1.3GHz Tegra 3 (Quad)||3734||10426||55.3 fps|
This phone is running pure, unadulterated Android and is all the better for it. Untouched by manufactures, this allows the end user to experience and enjoy Android as Google intended, which is of course one of the major selling points of this phone. A positive knock-on effect of this is that it should receive timely updates to Android, currently on version 4.2.2. This is why the Galaxy Nexus remained a great phone throughout it’s lifespan – and why the Nexus 4 will be the same. It’s a safer choice than a Samsung or HTC phone, which may or may not be updated to the latest version of Android.
Android 4.2 is the best version of Android yet, and it looks great on the hardware of the Nexus 4. I’m not going to do a full review of the software as it’s still the Jelly Bean that we know and love from I/O 2012, but I’ll go over a few of the new features, such as lock-screen widgets. Combined with the ever-growing number of third party apps that support this functionality, this is amazing. My favourite use case is to see my to do list and edit it all from my lock screen. This is joined by gesture typing (a Swype-esque keyboard), Photo Sphere (StreetView-esque 360 degree panoramas) and Miracast streaming to make the latest point upgrade of the dessert-flavoured OS.
What does this all mean to you? Basically, you get a rock solid, lightning fast version of Android. This is easily on par with the iPhone, if not smoother thanks to Project Butter. It also blends in with all the apps that follow the Holo design guidelines (unlike the One X). I realise I must sound like a fanboy when I say this, but honestly it’s true. There are still places where Android lags behind iOS, but those places are few and far between. I’m genuinely excited to see what Android 5.0 will bring.
Camera, Battery and Radios
As many reviews have stated before, and more will state after, the Nexus 4 camera is simply average. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but not amazing. I would put it about on par with the iPhone 4S in terms of picture quality, and slightly worse than that for colour reproduction. Rather than telling you, it’s better for me to show you. There is a full gallery of sample shots on the way to be added to this review later.
Again, the same goes for battery life. It is average, and maybe even slightly below. The Nexus 4 lasts about 10 hours on a charge, but with screen on time fluctuating wildly depending on usage and the ROM. My highest is about 4.5 hours and the lowest is about 1.5 hours. Not great, but with a bit of careful usage here and there it will get you through the day. I’ll also update this review with screenshots of a few charge cycles. I’m not entirely sure why the battery life is so sub-par considering it is a non-LTE phone with a 2100mAh battery, but I assume that the internals or apps are draining it.
The radios in the Nexus have been very good, definitely better than the One X I reviewed last year. WiFi reception has been pretty good, reaching 3 bars out of 4 in my room. This is pretty good for a smartphone as my room has brick walls, and 3G reception has been pretty good too. One major thing that the phone has been bashed for is the lack of 4G LTE capability, but if you are in the UK then that shouldn’t be a problem until much later when 4G is widespread, unless you are an EE customer.
The Nexus 4 is easily the best phone in its price bracket and, in most ways, it is definitely the best phone on the market. However, is it the phone that you should buy? The HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV are both lurking just days away, and I say if you are buying a phone to last 3 or 4 years, this probably isn’t the phone to buy due to the crack-prone glass back and lack of LTE. If you are buying a phone to last 1 year (or even 2), then this is your phone. The promise of prompt Android updates ably aided by the swift internals will keep you ticking by nicely. Sure, in 2 years it might not be the best-specced phone, but it will remain the yardstick for Android in 2013. Why? Because it’s a Nexus, and this is how Android phones should be done.
With the launch of the original Kindle in 2007, Amazon revolutionised the ebook and print industry. With its e-ink screen and thin construction, it allowed for people to literally fit entire libraries into their pockets. Couple that with Amazon’s free worldwide 3G service and its best-in-class content library, and you have a winner. And so it has been – four generations of Kindle have come and gone. All of them have been very successful, and now it is time for the fifth. Since its launch, Amazon have been diversifying it’s lineup – with larger, smaller, cheaper and keyboard-equipped variants of the Kindle. This time around, they have done the same. They upgraded the base model with a new black body and higher resolution screen along with a £20 price drop and ushered in the Kindle Paperwhite while expanding on the LCD equipped tablet lineup they began last year with the Kindle Fire. Today, I am going to be reviewing the Kindle Paperwhite – the successor to last year’s wildly popular Kindle Touch. Does it live up to the hype? Is the new ‘glowing’ screen any good? Read on to find out.
There is an old saying – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and Amazon has certainly abided by this for the fifth generation Kindle lineup, with both the Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite being almost identical to their predecessors in terms of design. However, both devices have got a new lick of matte black (fingerprint magnetic) paint. However, not everything is the same. The Paperwhite is lighter, thinner and sleeker then the Kindle Touch, while also getting rid of the home button. This is definitely one of the timeless classic designs, much like the original iPhone. These improvements haven’t come without a cost though. The new Kindle has done away with the text-to-speech function with the omission of the 3.5mm headphone jack and speakers. There is also less storage – not that it would matter with ebooks being as small as they are.
The Paperwhite’s biggest new feature is the inclusion of an integrated light – a functionality that Amazon used to force you to buy a £50 case to obtain. This frontlight makes the screen ‘glow’, and this is done with LEDs on the edge, which are shone onto an overlay on the screen. This overlay bounces light off the screen, and at you – not causing eye strain like the backlit LCD displays on the majority of tablets.
And now for the question lots of people have been asking – “Does it work well?”. Short answer – yes. The screen can be very bright for pitch black situations, or dimmer to supplement natural light around you. There is some minor inconsistencies in light distribution around the edge of the display but nothing major that would impede the readability of the screen. The new Kindle also swaps out the infrared touchscreen of old with a new higher resolution smartphone style capacitive display. It is a lot clearer, less inset and refresh times are miles better. I did notice some very slight burn in, especially after leaving a book on a page for over 5 minutes, but it was nothing to worry about.
Kindle software of old was heavily focused on the reading experience – browsing your library, keeping track of your reading etc. With the new Kindle generation, Amazon have brought in a much more tablet-style operating system. It has front cover previews, suggested items on the home screen and other things too. To be honest, I don’t really like the new software as it is a bit more cumbersome to navigate what’s important (your books) and it makes certain information a lot smaller, such as how far you are through a book. As it is an e-reader, there isn’t too much to talk about, but you are now missing the ability to playback MP3 files as there is no speaker or headphone jack, which is a bit annoying but by no means a dealbreaker.
However, there is one place where Amazon is an undisputed king – it’s content library. Pretty much any ebook you can name is on the Kindle Store – almost always at a discounted price compared to the physical copies, and Amazon’s usual array of daily deals and fantastic sales (including Yann Martel’s Life of Pi for just 20p) help to ensure that, for heavy readers, Kindles are unquestionably cheaper in the long run than paper books. Amazon has also become a publisher, allowing people to publish their books without any fuss straight to Kindle, and they have also restarted the old fashioned trade of releasing chapter a week books, much like Dickens would have done. Amazon’s Kindle library is ever growing – and with subscription services like Prime – it is reason enough to buy a Kindle.
The Kindle has had (and still does have) astonishing battery life. This is most likely due to the fact that the e-ink display only uses battery to turn the pages, and also due to the great power management technologies used by Amazon. This year, it has become a whole lot more complicated with the inclusion of the light. Now that has to be powered, there was expected to be a huge hit to the battery life. Not so. According to Amazon’s statistics – and roughly corroborated by our own testing – the Kindle Paperwhite will power through 8 weeks of typical reading even with the light on. This figure is with wireless turned off, but it is impressive nonetheless. It really is fantastic to be able to use a device for extended periods of time without having to worry at all about running out of juice.
Amazon has hit the nail on the head with the Kindle Paperwhite. With great hardware, an unmatched bookstore and a great price, the flagship of Amazon’s e-ink lineup is both the best e-reader out there and a worthy bearer of the Kindle nomenclature. I would have no trouble at all recommending this to anyone, and it certainly has boosted the amount of time I spend reading.