App of the week: Pocket Casts

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If you’re like me, you listen to a lot of podcasts, and you will know that it can be quite hard to keep track of what you have or haven’t listened to or what episodes are new. This week’s app of the week, Pocket Casts by Shifty Jelly, is perfect solution for Android users who want to keep track of all the different podcasts conveniently and easily. It automatically checks for new episodes and notifies you when new episodes pop through via RSS, and presents you with options to either stream or to download. The app will even delete any episodes which you have listened to automatically, and use smart playlists to isolate those episodes that you need to finish first. All this comes alongside a plethora of other useful features such as cross-platform subscription sync.

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On Android, the new version 4.0 follows the Holo guidelines to the letter, but manages to add its own flavour of red and white to the mix, making this one of the best looking apps I have ever used. While not quite as good-looking or feature-rich, the iOS version of the app still looks great. All in all, I seriously recommend this app to anyone who listens to podcasts.

Pocket Casts, Android (£2.70), iOS (£1.49)
Download from Google Play or the App Store

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Motorola set to unveil Droid Razr HD at New York event: Stream it live at 2PM EDT/6PM GMT/7PM BST/8PM CEST

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In what is supposedly the day’s main event, Motorola and Verizon have a big announcement planned. We expect to see the Droid Razr HD tonight, but Motorola’s stream page promises a few surprises. If you want to see things happen, tune in below at 2PM EDT/6PM GMT/7PM BST/8PM CEST or whatever time it will be for you. Can the Google subsidiary live up to their showstopping promises?

Via The Verge Forums

Samsung Unpacked liveblog: Galaxy Note II, Ativ S Windows Phone, Ativ Tab Windows RT tablet, Ativ Smart PC Windows 8 convertible tablets, Galaxy Camera and more!

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Samsung’s Unpacked event will be held at IFA in Berlin tonight, and the rumour mill is in full swing. We already know that the successor to the Galaxy Note will be shown off, and sources seem to suggest that an Android based camera and convertible Windows 8 tablet will also appear. Needless to say it’ll be a busy night, and we’ll have all the news on this page as it happens, so join us on a fantastic journey!

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App of the week: Boid for Twitter (Beta)

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When Android 4.0 came out, Matias Duarte, Google’s head of Android design, laid out a set of rules for ‘Holo’ style applications to go with the sweeping UI changes brought in by Ice Cream Sandwich. The guidelines have been adopted slowly, but the apps that have adopted them have risen to the top of their respective categories. One of these apps is Boid, a free Twitter client.

Team Boid set out with one objective – to make the best Twitter client. It makes effective use of the space on the screen, providing a tabbed interface that covers the entirety of Twitter. It also follows the Android design guidelines to the dot, making it a pleasure to use. The app is currently in beta, but don’t let that deter you from downloading it. The app is stable and packed full of features. The only notable omissions are autocompletion of usernames and push notifications, although both of these are planned for future releases. The team keeps users updated constantly through their Twitter account, and they have promised to push on with development (and a Chrome version) in the face of Twitter’s API changes.

Boid is available on Google Play for free, and I have been assured by the team that it will stay that way, and it is ideal for casual tweeters and power users alike.

Boid for Twitter (Beta), Android, Free
Download it from Google Play or visit the website

LG announces worldwide availability for Tegra 3-equipped Optimus Vu phablet

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Having been announced shortly before Mobile World Congress in February, LG’s Optimus Vu has kept largely under the radar, save for launches in Japan and South Korea, but a press release today details LG’s plans for a global launch of the 5″ 4:3 behemoth, with the company hoping to get to market before Samsung’s Galaxy Note II, which is set to be unveiled at IFA on August 29th. The aging dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 MSM8660 found in existing models is getting replaced by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip, as found in the HTC One X that we recently reviewed, although this means that the device will not support LTE in territories with such networks. The new Vu will ship with Android 4.0, replacing the old Gingerbread build of models past, but this will, as usual, be caked in LG’s customisations, including an upgraded version of QuickMemo™. While we may not be fans of phablets, those who are interested will be able to find the Optimus Vu in stores across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East in September, but those Americans who desire the leaked Verizon LTE model will have to wait longer for official confirmation.

Press Release

LG ANNOUNCES GLOBAL AVAILABILITY OF OPTIMUS VU:

Largest LG Smartphone to Be Launched in Europe, Asia, Middle East/Africa and Latin America

SEOUL, Aug. 20, 2012 -– On the heels of its successful debut in Korea and Japan, the Optimus Vu: will make its global debut starting in select markets in Europe, Asia, Middle East/Africa and Latin America starting in September. With the world’s first 5-inch 4:3 aspect ratio display, the Optimus Vu: blurs the line between traditional tablets and smartphones for a truly unique smart device experience.

Since its March debut in Korea, the Optimus Vu: has sold over 500,000 units, demonstrating public acceptance of its form-factor. The reception the device received in Korea prompted LG to launch the Optimus Vu: in Japan this month, where it has also been received positively by Japanese consumers.

For the global roll-out, the Optimus Vu: will be equipped with NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 mobile processor, the super 4-PLUS-1™ quad-core with 5th battery-saver core, that offers a superb balance of performance and power requirements. 4 cores are used for high performance tasks such as games and multitasking. For voice call, email, music and video playback, only 5th battery-saver core is enabled and it consumes very less power.

When paired with the high-resolution 5-inch, 4:3 ratio IPS display, the Optimus Vu: becomes something special –- a device that’s both pocketable and spacious. The Optimus Vu: will come with an upgraded version of QuickMemo™ and Notebook, two features which make great use of the large display real estate.

“The different form factor makes Optimus Vu: unique even in the 5-inch smartphone category which we expect will catch on once they become more widely available,” said Dr. Jong-seok Park, president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company.

Key Specifications:

  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • 3G network
  • 5.0 inch 4:3 ratio XGA IPS display with 768 x 1024 pixels
  • 32GB memory
  • 8.0MP rear/1.3MP front cameras
  • 139.6 x 90.4 x 8.5mm
  • 168g

Via Engadget
Source LG Newsroom

HTC One X review

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After declining sales and being criticised for releasing too many handsets into the market, the new One series from HTC represents a much needed refresh of their strategy. What once used to be a floundering attempt to satisfy the demands of the many carriers has been diluted to this, a trio of phones to carry them headfirst into 2012. The One X, however, is even more than that. This sits on the top of the tree as a superphone with specs that raise the bar for future Android devices to come. It also debuts with HTC’s refresh of their Sense skin, layered on top of Android 4.0.3, fresh from Mountain View. Alas, we must ask the question – is it really as good as it seems? Read on to find out.

Unboxing

Video Review

Hardware

To say that this phone is good looking is an understatement. The phone is genuinely beautiful and is a breath of fresh air compared to the dull black slabs that most companies are churning out these days. The amount of detail and care put into this design definitely shows in the product. The glass covering the screen curves over the sides, blending in with the sleek polycarbonate body. The One X is made of a similar material to Nokia’s Lumia 800 and 900, albeit a little less textured. It is 8.9mm thick, which, while chunky for a flagship phone on paper, certainly doesn’t feel it. The phone feels comfortable in the hand despite its 4.7″ display, and is in reality not much larger than most 4.3″ devices such as its baby brother, the wafer-thin One S. The bezel is minimal, and you really feel like you are actually touching the content on the screen thanks to the laminated panel. The only slight annoyance I have is that I do struggle to reach the top left and bottom left hand corners without adjusting my grip on the phone. It has a curved profile reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus, with the top and bottom gently tapering upwards. It is worth noting that the camera lens protrudes just enough to give the speakers a megaphone effect when placed on a table.

The sides are fairly minimal, with the left holding an MHL (MicroUSB/HD Video out) port and a volume rocker on the right, which is conveniently placed where your thumb grips it during normal usage. It has a nice amount of travel and you can use it while it is in your pocket. On the top there is a power button, 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSIM tray. On the bottom there is one of the two microphones (the other being just next to the headphone jack) and three capacitive buttons which cause some concern that I shall get into later. A notable omission is a camera button – a little strange considering that the camera is HTC’s major advertising point with the phone. However, the care and attention to detail that HTC employed when designing this product is apparent is the notification LED. While it is not RGB, it is integrated into the drilled holes for the earpiece, which was a very interesting idea, and it works. The LED is completely invisible when not in use, and bright enough to be visible in any light when notifying you. As a whole, the design of the phone immediately strikes you as HTC. It seems like they have perfected their design language, with none of the failings of the myriad of phones that came before, although it isn’t without fault. The black international model which I acquired picked up grease really easily, and as of the time of writing I have not been able to remove it. I would recommend picking up a case if you are considering this phone, despite what HTC says. Another thing that I have noticed is that the micro-holes for the earpiece, while aesthetically pleasing, could easily pick up dust, blocking it up.

As for internals, it is safe to say that this is one of the most powerful phones on the market. The international One X has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 clocked at 1.5GHz which is no slouch at all. It also has a gigabyte of RAM, which is par for the flagship course. These big numbers certainly show up in the benchmark scores below. Despite Nvidia’s graphical prowess, gaming performance does not live up to expectations. I have a feeling that it has something to do with the lack of RAM, or maybe the fact that that the processor is driving 921,600 pixels, but the effect is noticable. Games do seem to settle down after maybe 5 minutes of gameplay, but it is still unnerving. Another thing that I noted was that the area in between the camera and volume rocker can get really hot, but the heat was isolated to just that place, most likely due to the positioning of the processor. Speaking of the processor, the presence Tegra processor inside allows access to the Tegra Zone suite of games. These are games that are ‘optimised’ for the Tegra processor with better graphics and more effects, and you really can tell the difference. There are two major omissions when it comes to the One X in terms of hardware, namely being the lack of expandable storage and removable battery, but having a replaceable back would weaken the structural integrity of the phone, so we can give HTC a pass there.

Benchmarks

Quadrant – 4602
Vellamo – 1854
Antutu – 9795
Nenamark 2 – 54.7fps

Display

The 1280 x 720 SuperLCD 2 display on this phone may be the best display I have ever seen on a phone, with vibrant colours and sharp text. With a pixel density of 312 pixels per inch, the panel is not quite as dense as the 342ppi displays found in HTC’s own Rezound and Sony’s Xperia S, but it is well into the area  of over 300ppi referred to by Apple as ‘Retina territory’, meanng that individual pixels cannot be distinguished by the human eye. It also lacks the PenTile subpixel arrangement infamously found on many other flagship phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Nexus, thus ensuring a higher-quality display free of jagged edges and fuzz. One of the reasons that phone manufacturers give in favour of using AMOLED in their phones is that it is thinner than LCD and allows for slimmer profiles, but HTC’s SLCD2 has shown that LCD technology is catching up, although it still remains more power-hungry than AMOLED panels.

Software

The One X comes with Android 4.0, the (second) latest operating system from Google, but the presence of HTC Sense 4 is the most intriguing software tweak. Sense has been criticized a lot in the past for its superfluous animations, flamboyant graphics, and purely idiotic design concepts made for a subpar user experience. Users have yearned for a toned down or stock Android experience, with less of the idiotism of days past. HTC says they took this into consideration when designing Sense 4, but did they do enough? Short answer, sort of.

Sense has definitely been toned down. The over the top weather animations have gone. The person who made the stupid decision of having a permanent ‘personalize’ button on the dock has been fired. It’s just generally been cleaned up, but it isn’t enough. The icons look like they were designed by a 4 year old, being full of white accents and just looking dated. The recent apps list is a waste of space, with the switcher taking up the entire screen, and is also more challenging to use than the stock multitasking menu. The notion that lockscreen shortcuts can only be the icons you have in your dock is just plain stupid, because I don’t need a camera in my dock, but I certainly do on my lockscreen. The widgets look like they were designed in the 90s, with stupid gradients that make me want to throw the phone in a river. The keyboard has arrow buttons, which are completely useless and render the keyboard almost impossible to type on. Finally, I said in the hardware section that the capacitive buttons had a problem. Sticking to the Android 4.0 guidelines, there is no menu button but this means that legacy apps need to display an annoying black bar underneath any app that isn’t optimized for ICS. I would have much preferred software buttons or a menu button instead of a multitasking key, similar to the setup on the Samsung Galaxy S III.

I will admit that Sense does have its perks, 25GB of free Dropbox space being one, but the performance of the phone is what matters, and Sense simply won’t do. I promptly refused to use Sense and flashed a build of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean onto it. This seemed to speed things up a lot, but please note that this does void your warranty.

Camera

The camera on this phone is the second best phone camera I have used after that of the iPhone 4S. The 8MP rear shooter takes bright and vivid photos with little to no blurring and an instant shutter. This is because of what HTC calls ImageSense. What this means is that there is an extra chip inside the phone just for processing images and video. This and a dual shutter mean that the One X can take pictures and video at the same time. It also gifts the One X with astoundingly fast picture taking to the point where the phone actually sounds like a machine gun when in burst mode. The camera software on this phone is second to none. It lets you take awesome pictures, is well thought out, and gives you a nice range of effects to choose from. Low light pictures weren’t great, so you’ll need to use a flash, and sometimes photos get blurred really easily. You can view a gallery of pictures here.

Battery Life & Radio

The battery life of this phone ties into the software section. With Sense, the battery is rubbish. An hour of YouTube and 15 minutes of Dead Trigger brought me down to 50%. That might not seem that bad, but with Sense taken off and replaced by a CyanogenMod ROM I could do the same thing and only lose 20%.

The cellular radio is simply average. I got signal where most other phones get signal, however I did note that the WiFi usually displayed 1 bar lower than on other devices. I don’t know if this has something to do with the way that signal is displayed or an actual discrepancy in the WiFi, but it’s there nonetheless.

Conclusion

All things considered, the One X is a solid flagship. It is the epitome of what HTC has learned from a year of failed designs, however the phone faces some stiff opposition from Samsung’s Galaxy S III. As for which one to buy, my answer would be whichever suits you best. If you need expandable storage and a removable battery and can live with the Pentile AMOLED display, then the Galaxy S III may be your best option, but if you desire design then go with the One X. You can’t go wrong with either.

Qualcomm shows off cool Snapdragon chips by melting butter on smartphones

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People love a benchmark, and Qualcomm has invented a new one that appears to favour their series of Snapdragon processors. In a video posted on their YouTube channel, Vidyasagar Rao, a staff engineer at the company, pits an HTC One S with a Snapdragon S4 MSM8260A chip against a Motorola Razr Maxx with a TI OMAP4430 and Samsung Galaxy S II sporting a Samsung Exynos 4 Dual chip in their new Butter benchmark test. It’s quite simple really. Butter melts at 35°C, so whichever phone runs coolest will keep the block of butter intact for the longest. We doubt this will catch on, but you can see the results by watching the video below.

App of the week: Dungeon Hunter 3

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Well I never saw this coming – I have chosen an Android app of the week. If you have read some of my earlier articles, you will be as surprised as I am. The reason for this is that my mum got an award-winning Android tablet and, me being me, I had to play with it the second I came home from school and, having been using it for the last few hours I was inspired to do an Android AOTW. So here it is: This weeks Android AOTW it Dungeon Hunter 3.

This is the best android game I have played so far, but admittedly I haven’t played a lot, and I wish that it were available on more platforms. When you start playing the game, you have to chose between four different classes, each one with different strengths and weaknesses. I personally chose the warlord as I always chose the tank class, but you can also chose from the astromancer, trickster and the shaman. Once you choose your class you are then given a quick tutorial, showing you how to both play and upgrade you character. Once completed, you are then free to kill and maim to your hearts contempt.

The gameplay is very detailed, with each kill giving you both money and experience, slowly helping you to buy countless upgrades and items to help your character on their way to becoming invincible, but, for those more inpatient people out there, each level and mission comes with three additional goals that, when completed, give you a large boost to both gold and XP.  The game is easy to get the hang of, with the tutorial teaching you know all you need to know, but having played it for about two hours I can tell that completing it and fully upgrading your character is no mean feat. It will take countless hours of gameplay.

Dungeon Hunter 3, iOS and Android, Free
Download from Google Play or the App Store

Samsung announces Galaxy event for May 3rd in London

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Samsung has announced an event scheduled to take place on May 3rd in London, where it is widely speculated that the Galaxy S III will make its debut. The official invite, pictured above, states that visitors will be able to meet the new Galaxy, but the question remains as to where this new device will fit into Samsung’s Android lineup. The Galaxy S III is rumoured to come with a quad-core Exynos chipset with integrated support for 4G LTE networks, similar to that found in the refreshed Meizu MX, support for the S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note range and a 4.65″ Super AMOLED Plus display of 1280 x 720 resolution. The ‘Plus’ denotes that the display would have a standard RGB subpixel arrangement, compared to the Pentile RGBG layout on devices such as Samsung’s own Galaxy Nexus. As with any major event invite, Samsung’s invitation has set the theorists into action, with some suggesting that the blobs of liquid refer to a curvaceous design or display, while the brushed blue surface could be code for a colourful brushed metal finish. Vlad Savov of The Verge even came across a Korean commercial for the Galaxy Note, which you can see below, in which the protagonist excitedly makes an appointment for May 3rd, and the numbers 5 and 3 flash around quite a bit, although this could be just a simple reference to the 5.3″ Super AMOLED display on the device that has pioneered the phablet industry.

What do you expect from the event? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check back on the day to get the news fresh from London.

The sorry state of Android updates

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With Samsung’s announcement that Galaxy S II owners will not in fact be getting their Ice Cream Sandwich updates today as previously stated by one of their websites, the age-old discussion regarding Android updates, skinning and fragmentation has returned to the fore. Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich and referred to as ICS, was confirmed on way back on October 15th of last year, the same day that this very website launched, yet now, almost 5 months later, only a small handful of devices from major manufacturers have either launched with or been updated to Google’s latest and greatest operating system. Why is this the case, and what can be done to help the situation?

Take a look at this graphic, taken from the Android website, which shows the versions of Android which have accessed the Android Market Google Play in the two weeks leading up to March 5th.

Just 1.6% of Android devices are running the latest version of the software. A comprehensive list of devices that have either shipped with or been officially updated to Ice Cream Sandwich is below. Please note that this does not include devices that have been announced but not shipped.

  • Archos G9
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
  • HTC Sensation
  • HTC Sensation XE
  • Motorola Xoom
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  • Samsung Nexus S

Firstly, some of the blame has to be placed on Google. The OEMs do not get access to the source code until it is publicly released, with the exemption of the partner making the flagship Nexus device, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, announced alongside Ice Cream Sandwich at a press conference in Hong Kong last year. While Google should want the Nexus phones to succeed and have an advantage over other handsets on the market at the time of release, I believe that major manufacturers such as HTC, Sony, Samsung and Google’s own subsidiary Motorola should get early access to the source code, so that handsets and devices can get the latest software promptly after it is unleashed upon the world. It is wrong to go into a store at this stage and see just one device, the Galaxy Nexus, sporting up-to-date software.

We must never forget the manufacturers themselves, as they too delay updates for a number of reasons. Firstly, they already have your money and, as such, there is little benefit to them if they spend time and money preparing software updates for phones. This raises a whole load of questions regarding the state of customer service in the 21st century, but those are for another day. An example of this kind of neglect is Samsung, with the Galaxy S. Late last year, the Korean company confirmed that they would not update the phone, the second biggest selling Android device of all time, to Ice Cream Sandwich. Their excuse? TouchWiz and Ice Cream Sandwich can’t live together on the ROM. Why not just get rid of the crappy skin which users hate?

Of course, manufacturers feel that they have to stick their bloated skins on top of Android, and updates get delayed to ensure that this is the case. Take LG for example. At Mobile World Congress 2 weeks ago, they unveiled a host of new Android devices – the Optimus L3, Optimus L5, Optimus L7, Optimus 3D Max, Optimus 4X HD and the Optimus Vu phablet. Of these, half are scheduled to launch with Gingerbread, and only the L7, L5 and 4X HD are guaranteed to have Ice Cream Sandwich. As for the rest, LG issued a vague timeframe for updates of later this year. Considering that they have no plans to update their existing phones until Q2 or even Q3 at the earliest, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of this ever happening. If such an update actually does come, the community will probably have Jelly Bean stable on the handsets. LG’s excuse? A combination of the skin and the fact that they seemingly don’t care about consumers – a statement that can be applied to almost all Android manufacturers. This infographic, made last year by Michael DeGusta of The Understatement, shows just how slow these updates can be, especially compared to iOS.

Across the internet, I have seen people complaining about the update situation, only to be told to buy a Nexus phone and have all their problems solved, but this argument is ridiculously stupid. The beauty of Android is the wide variety of handsets, tailored to suit every need. To be told that, in order to be certain to get the latest software officially, you have to buy a certain device, takes away this beauty. If I wanted that kind of situation, where I no choice in form factor in exchange for a guarantee to get updates, I’d buy an iPhone. Take the Galaxy Nexus, for instance. At 4.65″, it is way too big for me. I think the design is horrible in comparison to some other smartphones, the rear camera is, for such a high-end device, sub-par for the course, and Samsung’s incessant use of flimsy plastics mean that I would never even consider buying one. If I want to get an Android phone with almost a guarantee of an update however, I have no other choice. This is not on.

Even if I were to jump on the Nexus bandwagon, I still wouldn’t be 100% certain of updates. Certain Nexus S owners are still waiting for Google and carriers to push the ICS update to their devices, even though most GSM variants of the phone got the update to 4.0 back in December. We must not forget the Nexus One either. The HTC device was Google’s first flagship and, despite the fact that the Android community can do it, Google has announced that they do not plan to push an ICS update to the handset which is still less than 2 years old.

So, until the day comes where updates are prompt and ensured, I will not buy an Android phone or tablet. I know that there are other ways of getting updates, but manufacturers and carriers should have a duty to ensure that devices are kept up-to-date for at least the standard contract length of 24 months. And finally, before you dismiss this whole post as pure trolling of Android, I am an Android user and I am still waiting for Gingerbread. If HTC doesn’t care about an 18 month old phone, why should I?