LG Nexus 4 review

Nexus 4

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.

Hardware

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.

Nexus 4 Back

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.

Nexus 4 Base

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.

Benchmarks

Device Chipset Quadrant AnTuTu NenaMark2
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

Software

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.

Nexus 4 Corner

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.

Nexus 4 Camera

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.

Nexus 4 Sample Shot Can

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.

Conclusion

Nexus 4 Conclusion

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.

 

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Header

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.

Hardware

Kindle Paperwhite (left) and previous generation Kindle Touch

Kindle Paperwhite (left) and previous generation Kindle Touch

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.

Software

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Software

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.

Content

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Store

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.

Battery Life

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.

Conclusion

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Conclusion 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.

App of the week: Mass Effect: Infiltrator

Mass Effect Infiltrator

This week’s app of the week is Mass Effect: Infiltrator by EA, published for mobile platforms as a spin-off from the wildly successful game series. Set in the same universe and time period as the console games, you follow the story of Cerberus agent Randall Enzo, a veteran agent who ‘procures aliens for illicit experiments at a secret facility’. During the course of the game, Randall goes rogue and vows to take down Cerberus. You do this through an arsenal of weapons and biotic powers which, depending on how you use them, give you a number of different ways to kill the enemies which have you completely outnumbered. Each set of enemies you take down, depending on how and how fast you kill them, will earn you credits to spend on things such as armour and weapon upgrades for your character.

on_a_mad_style_ting_like_murder_yeah

The controls of the game are fairly simple and are well explained at the beginning of the game. There is a massive contrast between combat and non combat controls, with the latter being fairly slow and relaxed while the other enables you to play lightning fast, taking down multiple enemies in rapid succession. Switching between weapons to get more style points for your kills and choosing which biotic powers to use is as simple as dragging in from the top corners of the screen, something which after a while of playing becomes almost automatic.

Overall this is a fantastic game which I would recommend to both fans of the Mass Effect series and just about anyone else who enjoys shooter games with a great storyline.

Mass Effect Infiltrator, Android (£3.71) and iOS (69p)
Download it from Google Play and the App Store

HTC One X+ review

When HTC unveiled the One family at MWC earlier this year, the simplified line-up was meant to represent a new beginning for the Taiwanese firm. One range of phones for the entire world was supposed to be the result of a shift of focus from quantity to quality, and overall they impressed us. When we reviewed the One X back in August, we concluded that it was a stunning phone and confidently pointed towards a bright future for HTC. Sense aside, HTC could be in a position to become market leaders. But then things changed.

Surrendering to the wills of various carrier partners, mostly in the United States, HTC’s production lines began to churn out even more devices. Since that impressive MWC launch in February, no fewer than 10 Android devices have been launched by the company in various parts of the world, many of which did not bear the One family name. The most recent of these – and the company’s new European Android flagship – is the One X+ which, at first glance, looks no different to the original One X. How does it fare against its latest rivals, and, with new devices just around the corner at CES and MWC after the turn of the new year, is it worth your money? Read on to find out.

Continue reading →

HTC Sense 4+ review

This summer I reviewed the HTC One X, a phone that came preloaded with Android 4.0.1 and HTC’s comparatively lighter but nevertheless bloated Sense 4 skin. You might recall I went on a bit of a rant about it, with the problem being that it lagged. A new operating system on a top of the line phone should not be stuttering on the homescreen. Now, to coincide with the release of the One X+, HTC has come up with an answer. The new Sense 4+ skin is layered on top of that buttery Android 4.1 goodness, also known as Jelly Bean, but does it fix the inherent problems its predecessor had? Read on to find out.

The Good

HTC really has fixed a lot with the new version of Sense. Most noticeably, the stuttering has been eradicated completely and utterly. I’m not completely sure whether this is down to the new Jelly Bean’s Project Butter or simply HTC’s optimisations, but it really doesn’t matter. Whatever they’ve done, it makes the phone a joy to use. Expandable notifications have been introduced too, bringing all sorts of new functionality to your pull down shade. The only problem with these is the slightly awkward two finger pinch gesture to open them up – something that is not present in stock Android. The keyboard is really a lot better than it used to be, nixing the pointless arrow keys at the bottom and adding altogether better feedback and responsiveness. My biggest annoyance with the One X has also been fixed – the menu button situation. It used to be that the One X did not have a hardware menu button, with a software version popping on screen as and when it was needed, wasting about a tenth of the screen real estate. With this update, TC has added the option in settings to reassign the multitasking button to menu. Holding down this button with this setting enabled will take you to recent apps, giving back the screen that was taken. Google Now, Android’s answer to Siri, has also been added, with a long press of the home button propelling you straight into the new voice search feature. While I don’t want to go as far as to compare it with Siri as they both perform different functions, I have to say the retrieval of data is snappier and the voice is not nearly as robotic.

The Bad

There isn’t really much that has become worse in Sense 4+. After all, it is an update: something supposed to make something else better, unless you are Apple.

The Ugly

There is a lot in this section, and while there is not as much as there used to be, the list of negative aspects of Sense only reinforce my desire to see stock Android being shipped on more than one phone a year. The first thing is the icons, which remain childish and displeasing to the eye. Compared to the polished look of iOS, Windows Phone and post-ICS stock Android, you realise how far behind such skins remain, and a little customisation with an icon pack goes a long way aesthetically. I still feel that the greens and whites of Sense clash with the deep blues and Tron-like lighting of Holo clash horribly, however certain elements appear pleasant and muted. Another thing that hasn’t been fixed is the lockscreen shortcuts, still default to the ones you have placed in your dock.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Sense 4+ is a great upgrade over Sense 4, making Sense a decent skin once again. It makes it smoother, faster, slicker and better looking while also tying in new functionality that you won’t necessarily find in a stock Android build. If you are a user of one of HTC’s One series phones, I urge you to upgrade to keep your sanity and enjoy the butter.

HTC One X review

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.

Why reviews need honesty

Reviews exist for a reason. You read them to find out opinions about products, and, as such, you want people to be honest about the stuff that they are writing about. Reading David Pogue’s review for the New York Times of the Samsung Galaxy Player 4.2 made me angry as, like Buzzfeed’s Matt Buchanan pointed out all too well, the author is trying too hard to be nice. Being nice about something will make it seem good. If it is not good, don’t try and fool the reader with your feigned attempt at praise.

The Player 4.2 is beautiful. Its plastic shell, with comfortably rounded edges, can’t hold a candle to the mirror-finish metal back of the Touch, but of course it doesn’t hold fingerprints, either.

You’ll probably need to buy a memory card, in fact, since the Player comes with only about four gigabytes of free memory for your files. But the point is: the capacity of your Player is up to you. Choice is good, right?

In the end, the Player should hold special appeal for a significant customer niche: rebels. The technologically sophisticated. People who would enjoy the freedom of removable cards and batteries. Parents who might like that peculiar business about making phone calls through a cheaper phone. People who own recent Samsung televisions (the Player doubles as a remote control). Anyone with a dominant anti-Apple gene.

Otherwise, it’s not entirely clear who would benefit by this slightly thicker, slightly heavier, slightly less refined iPod Touch. Until that question is answered, it’s hard to imagine Samsung’s latest becoming a significant Player in the Galaxy.

Once again, as much as it pains me to say it, I find myself in agreement with Mr. Massive Greatness himself, MG Siegler.

I don’t know about you, but when I read my favorite technology writers, I want an opinion. Is the iPhone 4S the best smartphone, or is it the Galaxy Nexus? I need to buy one, I can’t buy both. [Josh] Topolsky never gives us that. Instead, he pussyfoots around it. One is great at some things, the other is great at others. Barf.

Fucking pick one. I bet that even now he won’t.

This is the problem I have with most technology reviews these days. Everyone seems so afraid to say how they really feel about the device. And more often than not, that’s exactly what readers want.

Reviews need opinion, not horseshit. If something is good, the review should make that clear. If something is crap, the review should make that clear. That’s why I respect Josh Topolsky. He reviewed the Nokia Lumia 900 and people went mad when he gave it a 7.0. He was totally wrong on a few things, but at least he was honest. And that’s what we strive for at Digixav. As Paloma Faith once sang, do you want the truth or something beautiful? I know what I’d rather have.

Why I love the PlayStation Vita

I am a PlayStation fanboy, and, when I heard about the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld, I knew it would be the console for me. Now I have had a few weeks with one, I love it even more.

As soon as I got it, I was struck by just how big the Vita was. I had seen pictures and renders of it beforehand, but not until it is in your hand do you actually realise how big it is compared to the older PSP models. See these comparisons with the PSP-3000 for a taster.

On older PSP models, only one shoulder button was located on either side, instead of the two that you would find on a traditional PlayStation controller. However, the Vita compensates for this oversight, having a rear capacitive touch panel in place of another trigger. Many people will say that they would have preferred to see two triggers rather than the capacitive panel and I did not feel too enthusiastic about Sony’s choice. However, having actually used the device, it can add greatly to the gameplay experience, providing the developers use all their resources to optimise their games for the Vita. One fantastic implementation of the panel is on FIFA Football, where one has the ability to shoot with quick taps on the rear of the console. To shoot at the bottom right corner of the goal, tap the bottom right. It could not be simpler, especially for penalties. In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a Vita-exclusive launch title, different gestures result in different actions, such as climbing walls and slicing through the jungle and, as developers learn to take full advantage of what the Vita has to offer, things can only get better.

Furthermore, the the addition of dual analogue sticks to the Vita is also great as it gives you a proper feel of being just like a PS3 controller too. The old PSP had one analogue ‘stick’, but I could hardly regard it as that, due to the fact that it was just a little nub that was uncomfortable to use even for five minutes. Admittedly the sticks do protrude a fair bit, but they are 100% worth the added bulk.

The remote play is a lot better for the Vita and a lot easier to access and a lot more reliable. There are also a load of options to connect your Vita to your actual PlayStation Network/Sony Entertainment Network account to see who is online and talk to friends on party chat, just like you would if you were on your PS3. There are also better online connections to play against other people and, with an 802.11n WiFi chip, internet connectivity is much improved over that of the PSP. Also, with certain games available on both the Vita and the PS3, if you save the game to the cloud on your PS3, one can carry on with a Vita from your previous save point. This means you can play at home or out and about, which is a well thought out new feature to enhance the experience for the hardcore gamer.

The software on the horizon for the Vita is mouthwatering. Not only will great PS3 games such as FIFA 13, the inevitable Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, F1 2012, Grand Theft Auto V and Resident Evil be ported across and optimised for the dual touch panels and analogue sticks by developers, but a number of Vita exclusives are on the way from Sony and third parties, such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Touch My Katamari. Also, the prospect of downloadable PlayStation classics like Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy will give another dynamic, not only for the younger ones who will probably never have played the games before to give them a good experience, but also to the older ones who would of grown up playing these games and would probably love to revisit the classics of PlayStation gaming.

The PlayStation Vita is a great device and is well worth its price tag if you can afford it. I feel Sony have taken great time and effort to make it the best portable console ever and it certainly exceeds even my high expectations. The introduction of a new dimension to gaming makes it a better experience for hardcore players, who, up to this point, have been left out in the cold when it comes to gaming on the go. However, as most of us don’t have that sort of money at the moment, I suggest that, when the inevitable price drop occurs, you grab it because it will be a bargain that you can’t miss. I am sure that, if the price was about £169, they would fly off shelves like hot cakes, providing a large boost to retailers. If you do buy it, you will not be disappointed. You can take my word for it.

Apple iPad 2 review

Launched almost 1 year ago, Apple’s iPad 2 remains the biggest selling tablet of all time but, with its successor’s unveil coming in as little as 2 weeks, is it still a viable option in the tablet space or could it become the next budget smash hit?

Hardware

The main upgrade from the iPad to the iPad 2 is the dual-core A5 processor, clocked at around 1GHz, which definitely contributes greatly to the immense speed of the iPad. It also includes both a front and rear camera at 0.7 and 0.1 mega-pixels. You may look at these specs and sneer, but the back camera also is capable of up to 720p HD. Admittedly, using the iPad as a camera does make you look stupid, as Spike Lee demonstrated in front of Barack Obama. With a choice of either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, you can choose the model that is right for you. The iPad 2’s 9.7″ IPS screen is once again fantastic and, while not quite full HD at 1024 x 768, still provides a fantastic image. The battery life of the iPad is surprising, as it is able to be used non-stop for a full 10 hours before charging is required. The iPad still uses the same 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use any old headphones. This is unlike Sony Ericsson, for instance, where the proprietary connector needed is often very hard to find and sometimes quite expensive. The three axis gyro and accelerometer make hand-held gaming entertaining. A great app to test this out is Sonic Riders, a game just like Mario Kart but with Sonic characters. You tilt the device to steer and it is much more enjoyable than moving an analog stick with one finger.

Design


As mentioned earlier, the iPad 2 features a 9.7″ IPS LCD screen which, in my opinion, looks stunning. It makes tablet gaming, surfing the web, and watching movies much more enjoyable than on my other devices. The size of the screen makes for excellent cinematic experience as it is nearly as big as some smaller netbooks. I love the aluminium body, only 8.8mm thick and weighing just over 600g. This makes it nice and simple to carry around and it fits snugly into your hand during use. It can simply slip inside a bag or a coat pocket and is easily accessible at all times.

Software

iOS 5 was released in October and comes with over 200 new features including iCloud, iMessage, Newstand, Reminders, Notification Centre and WiFi syncing, much of which has made its way across to OS X Mountain Lion. iCloud enables Apple device owners to store music, videos, apps and anything else to “the cloud”. This means that you can wirelessly add all your files to any of your iOS 5 devices such as Mac, Apple TV, iPod Touch and iPad 2. iMessage is now open to iPad and iPod Touch as well as just iPhone. It allows to to send unlimited text messages via Wi-Fi or 3G. You do not have to pay to do this which I think is an amazing bonus. Reminders allows you to store dates, meetings, shopping trips and much more. You can also set alarms to help you remember when and where to be. The new Notification Centre allows you to have all your notifications in one place to access instantly. Personally, I am glad that Apple have finally decided to do this as I find the small red circles on apps quite annoying as you would have to load up the app to find out what it was. Now, however, you can see all your notifications for all apps, all on one page. PC free registration now enables people who don’t even own a computer to own an iPad, part of Apple’s quest to kill the PC and make the tablet king. With PC Free you can simply set everything up on the device itself. This means you can have your brand new tablet up and running in less than 10 minutes.

There are over 140,000 apps available for the iPad now and the variety is massive. You can have everything from apps for fruit-slicing to apps for checking your football teams latest scores. Apple, of course, have made their own apps for the iPad including Apple’s own iWork suite for document editing, GarageBand, iBooks and iMovie. These all are very stunning on the iPad and are definitely worth getting if you ever get the chance. However, as well as Apple’s first-party apps, there are thousands more out there waiting to be downloaded. Some of my personal favourites include Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Stick Cricket, Temple Run, Sonic Riders and Doodle Jump. There are also all the social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Skype. For primary school children, secondary school children and even students at university there is a wide selection of educational apps in many subjects. One of my favourite educational apps is The Night Sky. You simply point the device towards the sky and the advanced gyro spins the star map to show you the names of all the stars and planets in the sky. Great for learning about the constellations and planets. There are also apps to help you out in business, sports, news, travel and much, much more.

Accessories

Even though the iPad 2 is a stunning piece of equipment on its own, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of accessories to help you out with making the most out of your tablet. The iPad 2 smart cover is a quite interesting piece of equipment. When you snap it over the screen, it not only fits snugly and perfectly, but it automatically put the iPad into sleep mode. The cover can also be folded into a stand so you can sit back and watch a movie or even if you just want that extra bit of elevation. The Smart Cover comes in many different colours and you get the choice between polyurethane and leather, but you will, however, have to pay an extra £24 for the premium leather, which will fade over time. Another great accessory is the camera connection kit. It includes two small dongles that plug into the main iPad port. One has a SD card slot for instant download capability should the internal storage not be sufficient, whereas the other has a USB 2.0 port for camera cables to be plugged directly into the iPad.

Conclusion

Even 1 year on, the iPad 2 is still the best tablet on the market. With so much more tablet specific software than other platforms, a fantastic aluminium design and a lower price than a number of its competitors, there is no real reason not to choose anything over it at the moment, but be wary of the iPad 3 launch that lurks just around the corner.

Nokia Lumia 710 review

Nokia’s first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800, was just what they needed to get back into the market. Running Windows Phone 7.5, the phone won multiple awards and the hearts of many consumers. Also announced at Nokia World in London at the same time was the Lumia 710, pitched as the affordable Lumia device. Now, this device has made it to the UK at a slither under £200 on pay as you go, but, with fierce competition from hordes of Android and BlackBerry devices in the same price range, is it enough to win people over?

Hardware

Internally, the 710 is almost identical to its more expensive bretheren, the 800 and the 900. The phone comes equipped with the same 1.4GHz single core Qualcomm MSM8255 processor and Adreno 205 GPU, resulting in snappy performance in everything we have tried with it. The phone has a 3.7″ display with the current standard Windows Phone WVGA (800 x 480) resolution and Nokia’s ClearBlack technology, allowing for deeper blacks and slightly more vibrant colours. While the 800 and 900 both use AMOLED displays for more vibrant colours, Nokia used an LCD to cut costs on the 710. It still looks quite good with the same 252ppi density as the 800, but, comparing the 2 devices side by side, the difference in the displays is very noticeable. As ever, the PenTile layout of sub-pixels causes occasional problems while reading text, however this can easily be rectified by zooming in when able to. The phone has fantastic viewing angles with very little discolouration occurring, with more problems being caused by the overly glossy screen.

One of the main advantages of the 710 over the 800 is its removable 1300mAh battery, allowing for the obligatory battery pull if problems arise. Booting from a battery pull is incredibly quick, certainly around 3x quicker than my aging HTC Wildfire and also the HTC HD7. Nokia claim that the battery lasts around 7:40 on a single charge while connected to a 3G network, and we have found this to be not far off the truth.

The phone is quite heavy at 125g, but it feels very comfortable in the hand. One problem I have with small screened devices is that they are often very thin and, as such, sit low down in the hand. The 12.5mm deep chassis feels fine in my hand, allowing my thumbs to move freely across the device without engulfing it as with the iPod touch. The phone is both thicker and heavier than my daily driver, the HTC Wildfire, but it is hardly noticeable in my pocket and I could easily move up to a phone of this size. Being a Nokia, it feels like it has been made with care, and that it could withstand anything. A sheet of Gorilla Glass is on the front to protect against cracks and scratches, but we didn’t want to test the ruggedness of it on fear of something going wrong.

The phone requires a microSIM card which can be slightly awkward to insert and remove from its slot, but, most importantly for a phone, the call quality is fantastic. When using the O2 network, the Lumia provided crisp, clear sound, and the caller was very audible throughout. This feature of a phone is often overlooked, but it is good to see Nokia ensuring that users get the best experience from the HSPA+ radio inside. My biggest problem with the entire phone, however, is the lack of storage. Since the phone has no ROM, the OS takes up a good chunk of the paltry 8GB storage, leaving only 6.4GB free to the user. With no option to expand this with microSD, you must rely heavily on the cloud for your media consumption if you pick up the 710.

Camera

Similarly to the 800, the Lumia 710 does not have a front facing camera but video calling with a phone is not something that matters to me. If you want this option available or feel it to be a necessity, then an HTC Radar would probably be the best option for you, despite the premium of about £80 over the 710. The rear facing camera lacks the Carl Zeiss optics of Nokia’s high-end cameras, but shoots decent, albeit slightly grainy, shots at 5MP in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The phone also shoots video at a 720p resolution, but we are unable to upload the test footage at the moment. We will update this review when can to include this footage, which is surprisingly good, handling movement very well for a mid-range phone.

Software

By and large, the phone has a stock Windows Phone 7.5 operating system which is as superb as ever. On the 710, it performs fantastically, with no problems handling games such as Rainbow Rapture and Crazy Survival. One thing that people use against Windows Phone is the relative lack of apps, however, at the time of writing, the Marketplace has reached As our unit came unlocked, it is fortunately free of carrier bloatware, but, as Nokia made clear at the unveiling in October, the Lumia range comes with a number of predominantly functional and useful pre-installed Nokia-centric/exclusive apps which can thankfully be uninstalled if desired.

  • App Highlights – Basic app suggestions in 4 columns: Starter Kit, Top Apps, Promo and Cool Stuff.
  • Contacts Transfer – A simple app that can be used to transfer contacts from your old phone via Bluetooth.
  • ESPN – Just as you would expect, this app has the latest sports news and videos from ESPN. Great for sports fans.
  • Marketplace – A Nokia Collection is featured in the Marketplace with the pre-installed apps along with other Nokia-exclusive apps WRC Live and TuneIn Radio.
  • Network Setup – An app that allows you to select which mobile network to connect to. Pointless after first boot.
  • Nokia Drive – Fully functional voice navigation for free – a great reason to buy a Nokia phone full stop.
  • Nokia Maps – Nokia’s fantastic map service is now on all platforms, but it is still better than the pre-installed Bing Maps app.
  • Nokia Music – Listen to mixes of music selected by Nokia, once again for free. A store is also available in the app.
  • We Care – Nokia tell you that they respect your privacy and about what they do with your data. Waste of space.

One thing that is missing is the ability to tether from the phone. Enabled with the Mango update, Nokia oddly chose not to include a tethering option in either the 800 or the 710 at launch. A software update enabling it was promised for the 800 so, should such an update ever come, the 710 should also be in line for the update. The lack of tethering is off-putting for me as I tether perpetually at the moment, but I could survive through the phone itself should it become necessary.

Design

No matter how you look at it, the 710 is the ugly duckling of the Nokia Lumia family. When compared to the elegant 800 with its sweeping curves and polycarbonate shell, the 710 is rather disappointing, something I mentioned when I wrote about the phone shortly after its launch. Granted, the phone does look a hell of a lot better in the flesh than any images could demonstrate, but there is something about it that doesn’t look right. In accordance with how the N9 design was recycled for the 800, the 710 borrows its form factor from the Nokia 603, a phone released with Symbian Belle that, like the N9, has not had an official UK release.

To appeal to certain demographics, the 710 comes in black and white with a whole host of interchangeable back covers to fit your mood. The black model that we reviewed came with black and blue covers out of the box, however I have yet to find a retailer that stocks the other colours. The black cover is coated with a soft-touch plastic and it feels very nice in hand, but I cannot say the same for the blue one. It feels of a lower quality and not as robust as its counterpart, and I think that the phone looks better as plain black anyway. The covers go on in a rather strange and fidgety manner. Unlike most battery covers which lock on from the bottom or top, the cover on the 710 requires connection on the right hand side at first, before wrapping around the device. Often, the case requires a further press above the camera lens to ensure a secure connection, and the method of removing the case takes some getting used to.

Unlike the 800 and most other Windows Phones on the market, the 710 has physical keys at the bottom instead of the normal capacitive buttons. The strip feels solid, but aesthetically it is not pleasant. The LEDs for the back, Windows and search buttons appear quite far away from the surface of the plastic, which itself is almost flush with the glass on the front, making the buttons hard to press on occasion. I can’t help but think that capacitive buttons would have been a better choice, but I understand that the corners had to be cut somewhere to get the phone to be half the price of its polycarbonate brother.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 710 is a fantastic smartphone for those on a tight budget. For half the price of the 800, you get the exact same hardware, save for the display, the camera, the storage and the design. As I said, the phone looks so much better in the flesh than in pictures but undoubtedly the 800 and 900 look better. That being said, the phone is tremendous for the price. For Nokia to be selling such technology at such a low price is worthy of celebration, and I would thoroughly recommend this phone to anybody in the market for a great all-round smartphone at a low price.

Many thanks go to Digixav reader Joseph Bryant for lending us his phone for this review