Thursday, July 31, 2014

ASUS Zenfone 6: Quality Value Large Screen Smartphone

ASUS has been making premium Padfone smartphones for the past years. Now, they have introduced a new value-priced smartphone range. The ZenFone series are not only affordable, the user interface has undergone a positive rework to improve usability on the Android OS.

Zenfone comes in 3 sizes: Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5 and Zenfone 6. Currently on hand with me is the Zenfone 6, retailing in Singapore at a mere S$329, and the hardware specs are pretty impressive for the price.



What's With ZenUI

ZenUI is ASUS new UI for Android smartphones. It has claimed to have made over 200 modifications to the basic Android OS, but the fonts and menu designs largely follow Android. What ZenUI offers are:


  • Customised Quick Settings. Pulldown from the right of the notification bar and the screen will be filled with circular quick setting icons. The top 4 icons in green - Flashlight, Memory Boost, Calculator, Quik Memo - are non-modifiable. The rest may be customised and re-arranged. Pulldown from the left of the notification bar and you will see the usual system notifications.

  • Background Image. Have you wished your background image is not so bright so that it does not clash with your home screen app icons? ZenUI allows you to adjust the transparency when selecting your image, saving me effort to edit the image before selecting as my background image.

  • What's Next. This feature highlights your upcoming tasks and activities, and it even does countdown. At first I thought it was just another calendar reminder app, but I later found out that the app is intelligent enough to inform you of changes to upcoming appointment. For instance, when the original appointment date is postponed, it will show on the notification. Similarly, when the location of your next appointment is changed, it will remind you the moment the meeting organiser changes.

  • Do It Later. This feature allows you to set aside notifications or events into a task list when it arrives, e.g. missed calls, SMS, emails. When you visit the Do It Later task list, you may choose to mark as important, or click to read the original message. Once you do, the task automatically disappears, thus saving you effort to remove them.

  • Remote Link app converts your Zenfone into a remote device to work with your PC via Bluetooth. It can act as a mouse trackpad, a keyboard, a media remote controller, and a Powerpoint presenter with slide preview.

  • PC Link app lets you access your Zenfone on your PC via USB. You see the exact screen on your PC and you can make use of the PC keyboard, mouse and touch to interact with the Zenfone remotely.

  • Share Link and Party Link apps let you send and receive files to other devices via Direct WiFi. Unlike the Android Direct WiFi which is slightly more difficult to get it running, these apps works in a snap. The best part is that it works with other Android brands, iOS and Windows Phone under SHAREit app (developer is Lenovo).

  • One-hand Operation. ASUS understands some consumers might find the 6-inch screen size too large for single hand use. So it devises this feature to allow user to resize the display. The resize is permanent, all the action will be contained within the window, including the 3 capacitive buttons.

  • Voice Call option buttons. I've never seen so many call option buttons on a voice call screen. Other than the usual buttons to mute, add caller, there is an option to record the call natively.

  • Easy Mode. This seems to be a de-facto feature for recent Android phones to combat consumer concerns about the complex home screen. The Easy Mode home screen displays the apps in 3x3 layout. I quite like the Zenfone Easy Mode layout, as its icons are pretty and does not look as plain.



Now that I have completed describing the ZenUI, let me talk about the Zenfone 6 itself.


Specs


  • Processor: Intel® Atom™ Z2580 Processor 2.0 GHz with Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
  • Operating System: Android Jelly Bean 4.3 with ASUS ZenUI
  • (Upgradeable to Android 4.4 KitKat)
  • Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, UMTS/DC-HSPA+ 850/900/1900/2100MHz ( DL: 42Mbit/s / UL: 5.76 Mbit/s)
  • Display: 6" 1280 x 720 (HD), LED Backlight IPS+ Panel (400nits), Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3, Synaptics Touch IC, support GloveTouch
  • Graphics: PowerVR SGX 544 MP2
  • Dimension: 166.9 (L) x 84.3 (W) x 5.5~9.9 (H) mm
  • Weight: 196g
  • Battery: 3300 mAh, Irremovable polymer battery, up to 28hrs 3G talk time
  • Memory: mDDR2 2GB RAM
  • Storage: eMMC 16GB, Micro SD Card Support (Up to 64GB), Lifetime 5GB ASUS WebStorage
  • Sensors: Accelerator/Gyro/E-Compass/Proximity Light/Hall Sensor
  • Wireless: Integrated 802.11 b/g/n WiFi-Direct, Bluetooth V 4.0
  • GPS: Support GPS, A-GPS and GLONASS
  • SIM: Dual Micro-SIM
  • Connectivity: Micro-USB 2.0, 3.5MM headphone, Mic-in
  • Cameras: Front: 2MP Camera F/2.8; Rear: 13MP, F/2.0
  • Colours: Charcoal Black / Pearl White / Cherry Red


Price Value

Before you continue, this is the first thing I would like to mention. The Zenfone series are competitively priced, and the priciest and largest Zenfone 6 is retailing at only $329. There is no way that ASUS can sell this device with top-grade hardware, but as I use the device, it does not feel like a low-priced low-spec smartphone in most aspects.

Build and Design

The Zenfone 6 feels very well-built and solid, with 6-inch of Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen and the iconic concentric circle finish at the bottom strip of the front surface. The rear matt plastic cover is removable - with much effort - to reveal slots for 2 micro SIM cards and 1 microSD card. The battery lays hidden beneath the inner casing, a somewhat disappointing move. The volume rocker and power buttons are located on the right which are easily accessible by your index finger when you hold it.


Screen

After getting used to Full-HD screens, the Zenfone 6 screen fonts appear soft. While the colour and contrast is good from the front, the colour tones change as you look from different angles.

Camera

The camera app is rather intuitive. Sometimes it would detect the scene and recommend the HDR or Low Light mode, which you could otherwise activate it manually. There are 2 separate shutter buttons for still and video capture, as well another button to activate "Turbo" burst shot mode.



ASUS claims its PixelMaster technology with f/2.0 five-element lens helps to capture low light images with good brightness and low grain by downsampling the images. Yes I do find the images are not grainy but I find it overprocessed and lacks details. No matter, you can choose not to enable the low light mode and shoot in normal 13MP size. The auto-mode images may appear conservatively exposed, but zoom-in and you notice sufficient details. With today's photo-editing tools, you would have no trouble enhancing the images before posting.



The camera can be easily activated from standby mode by pressing the volume button, which is good. I like the GIF Animation mode where I can easily capture a 30-frame sequence and save it as GIF easily. I also like that the Gallery app easily displays the EXIF via pop-up menu. Time Rewind also allows you to choose the correct moment to save - 2 seconds before and 1 second - after you press the shutter.





Speaker

The Zenfone 6 is one of the softest smartphone I have reviewed so far. Turning on the AudioWizard improved the volume but produced compressed and distorted audio. I could barely hear anything for some YouTube videos in a noisy environment.

Battery life

Battery life is nothing to shout at, despite a large capacity 3300mAh. For my kind of usage, it comfortably lasts through my waking hours of about 18 hours, a little longer than other review phones.


Drawbacks

The most apparent difference when I switch from a top-end smartphone like HTC One M8 to the Zenfone 6 is the overall speed, which is understandable due to a relatively slower processor. Despite capable of connecting up to HSPA+ (42Mb/s) network, I seem to have to wait longer for data content to be loaded. After a few days of adjusting my expectations, it feels fine without any stutter. So while overall experience is smooth, it's just a little less snappy than top-end devices.

Another inconvenience is that the permanent soft keys at the bottom of the screen have no backlight. I find myself missing the keys when using in the dark, as the buttons are rather spaced apart.


Conclusion: Great Price, Good Quality

Zenfone 6 is one of the larger smartphones in the market, but somehow I get accustomed to it without major issues. Personally I'm not concerned with weight, and what wins me over is the rock-solid build quality. The removable rear casing is great as I could replace if it gets worn. The ZenUI brings a lot of useful and unique features to the end-user. The processor runs the device smoothly without hint of struggle. Available without contract in Singapore for S$329.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 3.8 of 5

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jabra REVO Wireless New Price SGD248

Jabra has dropped the price for REVO Wireless from S$398 to S$248. The previously gold-coloured Ink Treasure limited edition is also available for retail sale.



Jabra REVO Wireless key features and specifications:
  • High definition Dolby® Digital Plus via exclusive Jabra Sound App for iPhone and Android
  • Turntable Touch Control for easy music and call management
  • Life proof – tough, shatterproof and constructed for ultimate portability
  • Extreme tested: Cable (to 15 kg), Bend (10000 times), Fold (3500 times), Drop (from 2m)
  • Premium materials: synthetic titanium headband (lightweight and flexible), steel hinges and aluminium frame
  • Memory foam ear cups and padded headband
  • Foldable design for compact storage
  • Speaker frequency range: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • 40mm dynamic speakers
  • Soft carry case included
  • In-Built Microphone for wireless calls: Noise Blackout™ with dual mic technology for superior call quality
  • Multiuse™ technology: Pairs up to 8 devices; connects to 2 devices simultaneously
  • NFC capability
  • Detachable corded option with play-pause/answering button
  • Connects to devices via Bluetooth® and 3.5mm audio cable
  • Playback time: 12 hours
  • Standby time: 10 days
  • Bluetooth range: 10 metres
  • Touch-sensitive playback controls and volume at the right ear

The REVO Wireless is one of the most versatile stereo headsets in the market. Pairing via NFC is a snap. You can listen either via Bluetooth, 3.5mm audio cable with in-line mic and remote, or USB cable - awesome flexibility. The REVO Wireless remembers up to 8 paired devices and connects to 2 at the same time. I'm impressed at how the REVO Wireless quickly switches between the 2 active devices: when it detects audio streaming from one device, it will switch from the other device seamlessly. The built-in voice prompts provide connectivity status as well as battery status. Under Wireless mode, you can stylishly control your playback by touching the right ear. Slide your fingers in a circular motion either way to adjust volume, tap the front or back to change tracks, and click the middle to play-pause tracks.



Most important, I enjoy the freedom of listening to tunes without wires. Bluetooth audio technology has improved over the years. and while the wired version is always a better choice for the sharp ears, the REVO Wireless actually does not produce any audible distortion that affects the listening experience. The unit can be folded for transporting, a plus point for commuters.






If you prefer in-ear wireless headset, I highly recommend Jabra ROX Wireless.

Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nokia Lumia 930 Review: A Better Windows Phone

One year after my last Windows Phone review - Lumia 925, I've received another Windows Phone to blog about. The review pattern seems coincidental. My first ever Windows Phone experience was with Lumia 800 in Jan 2012. 18 months later, in Jul 2013, I reviewed the Lumia 925. Another year later, in Jul 2014, I am reviewing the Lumia 930.



With each review cycle, I am trying out new features of the Windows Phone. This time round, it's the revamped version 8.1 Lumia Cyan. Here's a brief on what's new:

Additional column of home screen

Nokia added a third column of home screen, which lets consumers increase the number of apps to appear on screen. This is a much-welcomed improvement, as it allows me to put more icons and less scrolling. If you choose the smallest icon, you could add 6 per column. Of course, this feature only makes sense with larger-screen devices, as the icons might be too small to select accurately for small devices. So for older devices like Lumia 925, there is an option to turn off the third column. This option is not available to new devices like Lumia 930.


Pulldown action centre like Android

In my Lumia 925 review, I mentioned about the lack of a notification menu like Android. I'm glad that Nokia included it for the newest OS. From the pulldown menu which Nokia calls Action Centre, you can customise 4 shortcut settings on the top. There is also a permanent All Settings selector to access the Settings menu directly.



Notifications are grouped by apps, and all the individual notifications appear. Sliding the notification to the right will remove the app's entire notification list, so for now it is not possible to remove individual notification.

With the Action Centre comes more apps that support background notifications. So now I get real time updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, Emails. Thumbs up.

Word Flow Keyboard (Swype)

Nokia caught on with including a Swype-like keyboard entry. The keyboard will only show recommended words after the swipe action is completed, so to me it is slower than typing, where the keyboard show recommended words on the fly.

New and Enhanced Apps

Nokia added several new apps as well as enhanced existing apps. First off, Data Sense, Storage Sense, Battery Saver, are 3 sets of apps to help you manage your data usage, storage and battery. Then, the default Camera app is revamped to support burst shots. Nokia Storyteller offers identical features as HTC Zoe, where you can easily create a short professional-looking video clip complete with music and pan-zoom images. Nokia Creative Studio is a photo editor to let you process your images before sharing online. Cortana is Nokia's answer for iPhone Siri and Google Now, and is currently only in U.S. Finally, HERE Drive+ is now available for all Lumia Cyan owners. HERE Drive+ is a turn-by-turn premium navigation app with features comparable to a dedicated in-vehicle navigation system.


OK, now let's get on with reviewing the Lumia 930 itself.

Nokia Lumia 930

Specs:
  • Processor: 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800
  • Memory: 2GB RAM, 32GB internal user memory; 7GB SkyDrive cloud storage
  • Display: 5” AMOLED Full HD (1920 x 1280), 462 ppi. Corning Gorilla Glass 3, Lumia color profile, Super sensitive touch for nail and glove usage
  • Camera: Main camera: 20Mpix, LED flash, 1080p @30 fps; Secondary camera: 1.2Mpix
  • Size: 137 x 71 x 9.8 mm
  • Weight: 167g
  • Connectivity: USB2.0, BT 4.0+ LE, WLAN IEEE 802.11b/g/n, A-GPS and Glonass, 3.5 mm audio connector
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Battery: 2420mAh battery, built-in Qi wireless charging
  • Audio: HD audio, Uplink noise cancellation, Dolby Surround headphone audio playback, FM Radio, video recording supports Dolby Surround 5.1


When I handed the phone to a colleague, the first words from his mouth was: "It's heavy." Indeed, the Lumia 930 is encased in an high-density aluminium body coated with matt finish not unlike the other Lumia models. And just like all other Lumia, the 930 comes with a volume rocker, a power button and a dedicated camera shutter button. The headset jack is positioned right in the middle of the top, and the micro USB port in the other opposite bottom. 3 pin-hole microphones are positioned around the phone to record surround audio.




The mini-highlight of the Lumia 930 is perhaps the display surface. Instead of a straight flat piece of glass, it curves slightly at the bezels to the sides. Adding to that is the thick aluminium sides that run around the phone, and you've got a solid phone in your hands.



The 20MP PureView Zeiss-lens camera captures 2 files per image, a 5MP and a full 19MP file. Even if you have zoomed in during the image capture, you can reframe your shots during post-editing. Lumia 930 has an option to save in DNG (RAW) format for image purists. But do remember to shoot with Nokia Camera app and to enable the 20MP resolution option under the settings as it is not turned on by default. The default "Camera" app does not let you shoot in 20MP. Read more about how PureView works on my Lumia 1020 post.

Any problems with the phone? Firstly, the phone does heat up considerably when you use processor-intensive apps like camera, video watching. Secondly, when shooting against strong lighting, the images turn up with purple refraction cast. Finally, inherent to the Windows Phone animated transition, you might find it is slow to move between screens, compared to the snappy Android.

Advantages of Windows Phone

To existing Windows Phone users, the version update is very much appreciated. It is now closer to the other mobile OS user experiences. The Windows Phone user interface is still as brilliant, to think that the UI design is almost 3 years old. I love how the apps have the unified look and feel. It also employs the same philosophy as iOS where the media content (photos, videos, music) are shared across apps. When browsing your contacts, the screen seamlessly flashes their recent social updates. When viewing the song track, you can immediately read about the artist bio.

Windows Phone also has the same content management convenience as Android: just copy your music, video or photo files to the respective folders via USB and the phone will recognise them. It also has a more effective backup and restore framework: upon logging in to the universal Windows account, you can easily restore all the apps, settings, phone messages. During daily use, the phone will periodically backup your content on the cloud, if you enable it.

As for the apps availability from the Windows Store, I have to say most of the popular apps are well represented, while the rest have mobile web version that would suffice. You have most of the social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You have all the messaging apps like Whatsapp, Telegram, Line, Viber, WeChat. Windows has its own News app, Fitness app, Weather app so you don't really need to find others (unless you have specific needs that these apps could not fulfill).

It would be wishful thinking to find every single app I love in Android on Windows Phone, so you need to look for alternatives and relearn the experience. The challenge is no different from an iPhone user moving to Android, and vice versa. What annoys me is that there are numerous apps out there that use identical names and logos of the original apps. Apps like "Gmail", "YouTube", "Google Search" do not come from Google. The only giveaway is the app developer name. Such is the problem with Windows Store: these big brands aren't creating apps for Windows Phones, leaving a gap for these opportunistic app developers to take advantage of consumer naivety.




Why should anyone get a Nokia Lumia instead of an iPhone or an Android? I would give the following reasons:

1. It is less hassle to get it working from scratch. Instead of the widely-spaced static rows of icons on the Android, the Lumia start screen is burst with colourful flish-flash live tiles, as it reveals content snippets to entice you to explore. Once you login to your social network account, the apps come alive. Go into the People app and check out your contacts and what's their recent happenings on their social media. Browse your photos and decide to create a StoryTeller content. Or read the latest news headlines. Turn on online backup so that your apps and content remain safe in the clouds and you can restore the content and settings to another Windows Phone easily when needed.


Out of the box home screen (above) and after my customisation (below)


The Windows Phone home screen is perfect for those who wants to put emphasis on apps prominence. To a traditional phone user, you can resize larger icons for phone, message, people and photos. To social network users, make the Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp icons bigger.


2. The camera functions are outstanding. Not only is the camera quality good, its accompanying apps are just as professional. It all integrates into the main camera app: simply go to the "Lens" menu to choose shooting plug-ins. All your photos will appear in your Photo app, there is no folders to worry about. Just be careful when shooting with strong direct lighting, as the lens elements will cause unfortunate purple refractions.

3. Windows Phone is safer to use. It's harder to mess things up. For instance, there aren't a page full of shortcut setting buttons for users to press. There isn't any folders where your apps get hidden and lost. Android might have some of the advanced homescreen customisation but again it is useful only to the power users. On one occasion, my relative complained that he could not receive any Whatsapp messages on his Android phone. I found that the mobile data was turned off, for reasons unknown to us. My mum also complained her photos on her Android phone are in different folders because each app saves them in separate folders. And if you are a Samsung Galaxy user, you might not be able to find your apps on your app drawer, only to realise they are actually inside a folder.

There aren't as many scam apps on Windows Phone either. I sometimes have to clean up my dad's Android phone due to strange rouge apps that hog the phone memory and with persistent push notifications. Some of these "free" apps also litter the screen with random pop-ups and cause unknowing users to click and be redirected to unwanted content.


Conclusion

It's going to take a lot of convincing for an Android-lover to switch to Windows Phone. I myself is struggling, because I value the power of Android. But I know of users who are not able to comprehend the technicalities of Android devices. All they want is a smartphone that works and with a user interface that is easy to understand. That phone could be a Lumia.




This premium-spec Nokia Lumia 930 is available in Singapore without contract at a recommended price of S$789.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Saturday, July 26, 2014

SHAREit: Send and Receive Files Across Multiple Devices using Wi-Fi

SHAREit uses the Direct Wi-Fi method of sending and receiving files among devices of all platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone), except it does not require technical knowledge to set up. Just install the app and select whether to receive (listen to other devices) or send (search for other devices) files.


Why do you need this app? So that you can send files of any size to your friends around you without going through the data network and incurring data charges. I really like the app because it's so easy to connect devices. If you hold multiple devices, you would appreciate the need to transfer files across other devices when you wanted.




Can you imagine sending 3.7MB file to another device in just 2 seconds?


SHAREit is pre-installed in ASUS Zenfone and rebranded as Share Link.

Android Download link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lenovo.anyshare.gps&hl=en
iOS Download link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shareit-fastest-cross-platform/id725215120?mt=8
Windows Phone Download link: http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/shareit-alpha/e001ec33-0ce6-4a44-957c-a1c450956b49

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lenovo ThinkPad 8: 8.3-inch Windows Tablet Review

Small-screen Windows tablet is catching on. I recall one of the first 8-inch Windows tablets available was Acer W3. At S$500+, it was a tempting offer, but I wondered how usable can such a small-screen full-fledged Windows device be.

Thanks to StarHub Community, I have finally got a chance to review a small-screen tablet - Lenovo ThinkPad 8.


Specification

Display: 8.3" WUXGA 1920x1200 (16:10) IPS LED Backlight, Asahi Dragontrail glass, supports 10-finger Multi-Touch Screen
Camera: 2MP/8MP w/flash
Processor: Intel Baytrail-T Quad Core Z3770 (up to 2.4Ghz, 2MB L2)
Chipset: Intel Valleyview-T SOC
Graphics: Intel HD GFx
Memory: 2GB PC3-8500 DDR3
Storage: 64GB eMMC, 48GB usable
Dimensions: 132mm x 224.3mm x 8.8mm
Weight (WWAN): 439g
Battery: 8 hrs (20.5Wh)
Connectivity: 802.11abgn, WiDi Support, 4G LTE, 3G HSPA, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports: micro USB 3.0, micro HDMI, microSD, micro SIM
Retail Price: from S$999. Review configuration costs S$1199 from StarHub

When it comes to ThinkPad-branded products, Lenovo spares no effort to throw in top configuration for best possible performance. Though the price tag seems high, it costs not much more than a top-end Android tablet.



My experience with the ThinkPad 8 during the course of the review has been largely positive. Startup and shutdown times are blazing fast, within 12 seconds for cold boot. The full-HD resolution IPS screen keeps the display crisp and sharp even with small fonts. I always appreciate the pre-installed ThinkPad apps that help to keep the system in good condition. The Solution Center app comes with several wholesome functions like hardware diagnostics, backup, security, driver updates. Minutes after I turned on the ThinkPad 8 for the first time, the Solution Center has everything updated.

Windows 8 Modern mode finally made sense in a small-screen. Using the calculator, browsing music tracks, or playing games, you won't feel overwhelmed. More importantly, it does not put a strain on your hand.

On the flipside, the Desktop mode becomes harder to use as you struggle to tap the right on-screen buttons with your stubby finger. I tried Lightroom and the ThinkPad 8 struggles to process the images on the Intel Atom processor. Despite, it is possible to run it, and that is the beauty of ThinkPad 8.

To ease the pain, you could use external input devices like keyboard and mouse. Though there is only one micro USB 3.0 port, you can get a USB hub and converter and plug any USB device. So, if you're on the move and want to edit your photos from your DSLR, just plug it in and transfer photos easily. The ThinkPad 8 can even power up a 3.5-inch portable harddisk!



Other connectors include: micro HDMI port, which you can do multi-screen just like any Windows device; microSD card slot, to expand the storage; microSIM card slot, for mobile connectivity.

The camera quality is mediocre, but it does have a useful feature to capture multiple sequential images in the temporary buffer which you could choose the best moment from if you review the image immediately after the shoot. You won't be able to select best moments from previously-shot images.

I would also wish the volume and power buttons aren't placed so close, causing me to accidentally press the power button instead of adjusting volume. Speaking of accidental, during sleep mode, pressing the Windows soft-button will wake up the screen, which I thought is not a good thing. But it would not be an issue if you get the QuickShot Cover to protect the display. When you flip open the cover, the tablet wakes itself automatically. You can also activate the camera when flipping the corner flap to reveal the lens.

Battery-wise, the ThinkPad 8 can be charged by 2A USB charger, which is convenient. A full charge takes about 3-4 hours and the tablet lasts 8-10 hours continuous use, depending on how much processing power was drawn. It is recommended that for extended rest periods, you should shut down the tablet instead of just switching off the screen, as the latter will still run background processes. I did encounter the unit heating up in my bag due to some unknown system processes running in the background.


Summary: Small and Empowering


How useful is the ThinkPad 8? It all depends on your purpose. The ThinkPad 8's 8.3-inch display is perfect to use in Modern mode as it is lighter than the 10-incher to hold with one hand. It's also great to be able to use the full Windows on the go - Windows consumers have come a long way from bulky computers, and subsequent mobile devices have always been trying to mimic the capabilities of Windows for ultimate versatility. Now with ThinkPad 8, it's all possible without any constraints. While the processor may be too slow for time-critical media-editing work, it can get the work done if you have the patience.

Would I get it? Not for now, because I still prefer to use my Windows primarily in the desktop mode, with more powerful configuration, and a comfortable keyboard to get things done. If you are like me, I recommend checking out ThinkPad Yoga.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Sony SBH80 Wireless Stereo Bluetooth Headset

Sony is one of the few consumer brands whose products always delight me. Like how it builds external speakers onto a pair of headphones so that you can listen to music even when wearing it around the neck (NWZ-WH505). Or the camera in the shape of a lens barrel that you can clip to a smartphone.



The SBH80 is one of these products with radical and unique design.

SBH80 Technical Specifications

Driver: Dynamic
Driver Size: 5.8mm
Frequency Range: 10 - 20000 Hz
Sensitivity - 100.5dB SPL/mW at 1kHz
Imedance: 15 ohm
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, NFC, Multipoint connectivity
Codec: HD Voice, aptX
Battery capacity: 125mAh
Battery Life: 9hrs talk, 6hrs stream, 430hrs standby
Weight: 15.8g


Spec-wise, SBH80 is just another wireless Bluetooth headset. But check out the design: Sony placed all the electronics and weight on the curved neckband. Extending out from the hard plastic unit are contoured memory metal arms that lightly bends along the sides of the neck. 2 sets of beautifully embossed hardware buttons lay symmetrically on both sides of the headset. The left buttons for music control and the right buttons for volume and call answer. Thinner cables continue out of the in-line controls and end at the 2 earbuds that are small and weighs close to nothing.



Audio

Sound-wise, it has a consumer-friendly audio characteristics: bright treble, subdued midrange, firm bass. While I could feel the strong kick-bass pumping in my ears, the bass notes are generally weak in sustaining the low registers.

The aptX codec really does wonders: when I was listening from a smartphone without aptX codec, I could hear the usual Bluetooth audio distortion. Using an aptX-supported smartphone, the audio is clean as if from a wired source. Noise isolation is effective, as are most in-ear headsets.

Workout

The SBH80 is perfect for running, as the weight keeps the unit rested around your neck, so the cables do not move at all. The earbuds are so small and light, you won't feel any discomfort of the headset rocking around the neck. Obviously you can't do sit ups with it, as the unit would slip to the back. Don't worry about sweat or water as the unit is splash-proof.



Work In

The SBH80 is also great for daily use. With the main unit at the back, the earbuds remain equally balanced around your neck, unlike other stereo headsets where it tend to slide to one side when you only wear one earbud. The neckband vibrates when there are incoming calls, so you won't have to worry about missing calls in noisy environment. The SBH80 supports HD Voice so call quality via StarHub Mobile (which supports HD Voice) is spectacular. I do worry about the fragile cord linking to the earbuds, as there are risks of detachment during the busy commute.


Battery Life

I am very impressed with the battery life. I left the unit on without turning it off, I answered a few calls, listened about 3 hours of music, and it lasted 4 days. I do find the lack of voice prompts a little frustrating, as I sometimes do not know whether the unit is on or off. Then I read from the manual that to check the battery level, press the power button once and the LED will blink. So if the unit is off, the unit LED will not light up when power button is pressed once.

Another minor drawback is on storing the headset. Unlike other conventional headsets, you cannot roll the SBH80 into a compact unit.




Overall Verdict: Like!

The Sony SBH80 is a uniquely designed headset to achieve maximum comfort for daily wear and workouts. I enjoy wearing it with me whole day as the neckband keeps the unit from sliding off my neck. I like that it vibrates when there are incoming calls, and that I can use either earbud to talk as there are mics on both sides. I like that there are multiple buttons to manage calls and tracks instead of having to use same buttons for multiple actions. I also like the battery life which lasts me almost a week without charge. Audio quality should please most consumers though the bass is not as big and warm as some might prefer.

The Sony SBH80 is retailing in Singapore for S$158, available at Sony Style, Sony Centres, most good audio and electronics stores.



Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4.5 of 5

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Must-Have Android App #3: My Data Manager - Best Data Monitor App

I have been puzzled with my high monthly data usage, and the stock Android "Data Usage" summary does not appear to be accurate. After installing this app, I finally realise which apps are the culprit and what time they are consuming data. The app breaks down my data usage based on apps, by the hour, day, and month, filtered by connection type (Mobile, WiFi, Roaming). To manage your monthly usage, you can configure your data plan so that the app displays your remaining data quota and remaining days from the pulldown notification panel.

How do I know the app is accurate? I compared the app statistics to the data usage details from my mobile service provider app, My StarHub.


Download Link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mobidia.android.mdm&hl=en-GB

Saturday, July 12, 2014

LG G3: Smartphone Review

Last week, I walked past a colleague, Sonny, and spotted him using the LG G3. The conversation went something like this.

"Did you review the LG G3?"
"No, I haven't."
"You should. It is the best Android phone experience I've had."

With that challenge, I requested for an LG G3 smartphone via StarHub Community for a review.




LG G3 Key Specifications

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 801 (2.5GHz Quad-Core)
Display: 5.5-inch Quad HD IPS, (2560 x 1440, 538ppi)
Memory: 16/32GB eMMC ROM / 2/3GB DDR3 RAM / microSD slot (up to 128GB)
Camera: Rear 13.0MP with OIS+ and Laser Auto Focus / Front 2.1MP
Battery: 3,000mAh (removable)
Operating System: Android 4.4.2 KitKat
Size: 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9mm
Weight: 150g
Network: 4G / LTE (Cat4) / HSPA+ 42.2 Mbps (3G), GSM
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, BT 4.0 LE, NFC, A-GPS/Glonass, USB 2.0
Color: Metallic Black, Silk White, and Shine Gold (Moon Violet and Burgundy Red available at a later date)

At a Glance

The LG G3 is a 5.5-inch quad-HD (2560x1440) smartphone, the highest pixel density by far. Its curved rear is glossed metallic-brushed plastic. The display maxes out to the side bezel to give maximum coverage without feeling too large to handle with a single hand. I would prefer it to be slightly narrower, but it's nothing I cannot handle.



The power and volume buttons as located at the back, just like every other latest LG smartphones, but you actually do not need to access them much, since turning on the screen is simply double-tapping on the screen. Similarly, turning off the screen can be done by double-tapping on the home screen. Adjusting volume can also be done via the pull-down notification panel.

The 3.5mm jack and micro USB port is at the bottom. A small IR-blaster and 2nd mic can be spotted at the top. Disappointedly, the mono speaker is located at the rear, which means I lose a fair bit of audio when watching videos. Nothing beats HTC front-facing stereo speakers.



The rear battery cover can be removed to reveal the innards where you insert the micro SIM card, micro SD card, and the replaceable 3000mAh battery which is a favourite for heavy phone users where they can buy additional batteries to last a day, though I find it unnecessary for my kind of use.


Simplifying Camera Shooting Experience

Knowing that camera is a big part of smartphone owners, LG G3 has sought improvement on the camera shooting experience. The 13MP optical image stablized camera has a laser auto focus, supposedly to improve AF speed in low light situations. Personally, I don't observe any benefit in focusing with laser. It does not appear to focus any faster than other smartphones, but I think it does help in achieving accurate focus at low light. The camera actively auto-focuses whenever you reframe, and the screen displays the AF points like a DSLR.

The camera interface is clean and simple, and there aren't any advanced features like EV, ISO, shutter speed adjustments, or user scene modes like fireworks or beach, except Dual (front and back camera), Panorama, Magic Focus and Auto. You can either shoot with the usual shutter button (default) or you can remove all buttons on-screen and fire the shutter by tapping the screen.

A very useful feature has got to be the gesture initiated countdown capture via the 2.1MP front camera. Just raise your hand, wait for the camera to identify it with a bracket, then close your hand into a fist, then the countdown will start. You can also easily adjust the level of skin-smoothening effect before taking a selfie.

HDR is automatically enabled by default, and the camera will capture in HDR when it detects a scene with high contrast details. Capturing a HDR image requires a little more time to save the image so you need to wait a while before taking the next shot (the shutter button will be greyed out during this time).

Doing burst shot is simply press and hold the shutter button, up to a maximum of 99 shots. You can do burst shots using either the front or rear camera.

G3 also has a Magic Focus mode where you can adjust focus after a shot. However, you can only adjust immediately after each shot. If you exit, you will not be able to re-select your focus area.

In terms of camera quality, I find the G3 images are very much improved. There was no hint of any muddiness (water painting effect) as observed in earlier models. Even under low light, the camera is able to capture sufficient image details and noise reduction is also well-controlled without looking overdone.

I think most consumers will find the revamped camera app very useful and simplifies shooting , but advanced photographers might find the features lacking for manual controls.


Knock Code

My favourite feature that LG introduced across their latest smartphones is Knock On, where you can wake up the phone by tapping the screen. Similary, you can turn off the screen by tapping the home screen. On G3, it has been enhanced to support Knock Code. So, on top of the existing Android unlock options, you can unlock by tapping 3-8 tap combination within a 2x2 area. The good thing is that you can immediately tap your Knock Code to unlock from standby, while other unlock methods require you to turn on the screen.



Edit Home Keys

Another feature unique to LG is the ability to customise the home button layout. On G3, I can add another 2 keys next to the existing 3-buttons and re-arrange the buttons in any way I want.



New GUI

The G3 is the first LG smartphone that introduces a refreshed GUI, adopting circular icons inspired by LG's own logo. LG's answer to a Google Now-like personal assistant feature is Smart Notice, which prompts tips, suggestions and recommendations based on user behaviour, phone usage patterns and location. I like that LG G3 allows more apps icons - up to 5x5 - to be inserted on a single home screen.



Customise Keyboard

While it is easy to install and use third party keyboard apps, I always prefer pre-installed apps for their native support. G3 keyboard includes additional number row so that you don't need to switch layouts. You can also adjust the height of the keyboard and customise 2 keys next to the space bar to define your commonly used punctuation.



Content Lock

LG G3 has content lock built into the Gallery app, so you can lock and hide photos and videos to prevent casual view. Again, while you may easily get this feature via third party file manager apps, it is always better to get these features natively.

Music App

LG G3 music app has an additional feature that is rare among stock music apps: it can adjust pitch and tempo (speed) of the song! I thought this is a really fun feature and great for karaoke or learners of new songs.


Most Recent Apps

LG G3 has implemented the most recent app view in a different way from stock Android.
The most recent apps are displayed on top rather than at the bottom, so it requires some getting used to. But I like that you can adjust the thumbnail size of the list to display by 3x3 or 2x2 or single row list, via pinch and zoom.

Q-Slide

This is LG's answer to Samsung's floating window. LG is better as you can fade out the app to the background while continuing to interact with the main screen.

Dual Window

Again, LG's version to Samsung's Multi-Window. The G3 offers no change since the earlier LG smartphones, which is a little disappointing. There are so much potential that LG could improve on this, just like what Samsung has done.




The Not-So-Good

LG G3 has quite a load of unique features as mentioned above, many of which I have experienced while reviewing earlier LG smartphone models like Optimus G, G Flex. While I have high regards for these features, there are some characteristics of the G3 which I do not quite enjoy as much as before, and I have to say these opinions are very personal, and I struggle to understand why I feel this way. This is unlike other smartphone reviews where the opinions are somewhat more objective.

First off, the LG G3 bears strong resemblance to Samsung Galaxy series. If you are a Samsung UI lover, then G3 will be an instant love. But for me, I find the Samsung TouchWiz UI is dated, and the recent cosmetic fix does not attract me any much more.



The G3 has the same shortcut menu in the pulldown notification window, has multi-window and pop-up apps (QSlide) albeit different implementation, same bright colour themes, same lightweight materials, same ability to remove back casing and replaceable battery.

The G3 even has the same UI lag as Samsung. Tap the home button and it takes a heartbeat for G3 to close and revert to the home screen. When fading out the QSlide apps, there is an initial retard. Sliding the apps to minimise to the sides also appears to lag. I don't recall getting such lag when reviewing the LG G Flex. Overall, there was no immediacy that iPhone or HTC One users come to enjoy.

And about the QHD screen, while the colour reproduction appears good, I do not find any visible advantages of spec-ing a 2560x1440 display on a 5.5-inch screen against a normal 1920x1080 HD display. The display sharpness, even if present, appears to be exaggerated by the graphics processor. After all, there aren't many native QHD content, so the G3 ends up having to extrapolate the content. I suppose this over-sharpening effect could be fixed in subsequent firmware updates.



As for the keyboard, I am underwhelmed that it does not offer next word prediction. On top of that, word prediction comes out to be slow: prediction words only appear after you pause keying. Fortunately, you can always replace the keyboard with third party alternatives.

To nitpick further, LG continues to place the speaker at the rear. I think it's time all the phone manufacturers spend some effort to try to move the speaker to the front. Sony has made the move on Z2 following HTC footsteps, and it is the logical placement.


Final Thoughts

I like the LG G3's lightweight. I like the Knock Code. I like the customisable home buttons. I like the ability to add more app icons per home screen page. I like the higher camera pixel and less-contrasty more post-processing friendly images. I like the simplified camera app. The QSlide and Dual Window feature, while useful, is limited to a few pre-installed apps.

But I find myself drawn back to my HTC Sense UI, which is less laggy, more responsive, has cleaner modern UI design, better front-facing speakers, and a build quality that your hand will love.




The 16GB retails for S$868, while the 32GB retails for S$928. All local telcos offer subsidised prices with mobile line contract.


Reviewed by Chester Tan
Rating: 4 of 5