Tuesday, 31 December 2013

HTC One Review

The next gen HTC One model is called just that, no ‘X’, no ‘+’ or 'S', just a simple number denomination. So far, the Taiwanese company hasn’t been faring all too well with devices like the HTC Butterfly proving to be way too pricey and the Windows Phone 8X and 8S models still remaining under the radar. This could be HTC’s big break back into the majorly relevant league, but the price of Rs. 42,900 (MOP) might still be a deterrent for some. So we’re here to tell you if the HTC One is indeed a handset worthy of consideration, price tag be damned, or if it’s just another fly by night, high spec'd smartphone that’ll be here today and gone tomorrow.

Form Factor
HTC’s sticking to its unibody design form even with the HTC One. The One is encased inside a zero-gap aluminium shell that, while definitely giving it a tres chic and elegant look and feel, also has a downside. For one, the metal body tends to make the handset a little slippery when it’s cold. Secondly, it also becomes rather hard to hold on to when the processor starts to heat up after excessive use. The curved rear of the handset also rests a little unstable on a flat surface and naturally feels wobbly if you’re trying to type with it resting on your desk. In your hand, however, it does feel quite comfortable. 
Quite a looker this one
Quite a looker this one

The perfectly-sized 4.7-inch Super LCD3 display with a full HD (1080 x 1920, 469 ppi) resolution makes for excellent viewing and was quite legible even in broad daylight. Thanks to Corning Gorilla Glass 2, you can be assured the screen will remain scar free to quite an extent, though fingerprints and smudges were still very much evident. 
The power button also serves as an IR sensor
The power button also serves as an IR sensor

The speaker grilles located at the top and bottom of the display also adds a better tone to the overall design form. The light and proximity sensors are located on the left of the earpiece, with a little notification LED placed subtly under the grille. A 2.1MP HD ready camera (1080p @30 fps) with HDR is located on the right side. The volume rocker located on the right hand side of the handset and the power button on the top near the 3.5mm handsfree are quite flushed into the design, which can make them a little hard to use at times. A slightly more prominent protrusion might have been better here. On the left is the micro SIM card slot that can be extracted by using the HTC pin. A microUSB/MHL port is placed at the bottom. While the volume keys might be well-placed, the Power/Sleep key will work great for lefties but will require a bit of a stretch for others to access. Incidentally, the power button also doubles up as an Infrared transmitter so the handset can be used as a remote control.

Available in black, silver and red, the HTC One is truly an inspired design and sexy as hell!

Features and Performance 
Setup can work directly on the handset or via HTC’s set up website that lets you customise how you have the phone ready for use. It allows users to select apps to be downloaded, choose or create wallpapers etc. and transfer the whole setup to the handset OTA. Of course, you could just do it all via the handset like any Android device as well. 
An all new set up process via the web
An all-new setup process via the web

HTC’s Sense UI has undergone a drastic change in version 5. It’s no longer as we remember it, but a few functions have managed to slip through so you won’t feel too much in the dark. We have to admit that it took a little while to grow on us, but once we familiarised ourselves with the layout, it was a pleasure to use. The new home screen called BlinkFeed works a little like FlipBoard and acts as a feed reader for all of the sites or topics you choose (for which there is a wide array). It’s neatly laid out for you as soon as you switch the handset on from sleep mode and will keep you constantly updated on all your favourite stuff including your Facebook and Twitter feeds. A little tab at the top allows you to customise this section and also select a specific feed to view if you wish. Our only suggestion to HTC would be to have this option constantly available while scrolling. But to keep it, simply double tap the Home option and you’ll instantly be transported back to the top. Each story is also easily shared via all available mediums. 
Sense UI v5 definitely brings some great functionality to the HTC One
Sense UI v5 definitely brings some great functionality to the HTC One

Version 5 of Sense UI also lets you create folders in the app drawer, making it much easier to access and sort apps. The weird thing was the Weather and Time widget that’s glued to the top of the BlinkFeed and App Drawer sections. We couldn’t seem to get rid of it and having two clocks displayed, at all times, on the same side of the display seemed fruitless. The dropdown notification menu could have also used a few docked toggle switches to make it easier to switch radios on or off instead of leading us back to the main settings menu.

As usual, Sense UI tries to seamlessly integrate your accounts in the Contacts menu and offers you the options of linking contacts on its own. This can save quite a bit of time. 

There’s plenty to like here and with the rich colours of the full HD LCD3 display, the UI really comes alive. 

Saddled with a 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 chipset, 2GB of RAM and available with 32GB or 64GB of on board memory (no expansion option), the HTC One proved to be one blazing fast smartphone. It’ll ship with Jelly Bean (v4.1.2) with an update to v4.2 to make it out later on. We’re hoping this will change and HTC will ship the handset with 4.2 when it launches at the end of the month. From accessing apps to quickly loading high quality games and overall super slick functionality, the One easily stands out from the rest.

We ran our usual benchmarks and the scores were through the roof. Linpak scores gave us a whopping 272.5 MFLOPs on a single thread run and hit the 600s with multi thread (averages). Antutu showcased the Galaxy S4 as the only handset to best the One, so we’re eager to see if that’s true. But we compared them to some of the devices we have tested recently, so do take a look at the Nenmark2 and Quadrant scores as well in comparison to the competition:

Beats Audio sound enhancement technology seems to have upped its game in the One and provides for a truly spectacular experience. A feast for your ears. There is no way you can listen to the audio at more than just half volume. Tone quality is excellent with clear and precise bass resounding and a well-balanced serving of higher and mid-level frequencies. Aside from the Google Music Player, it has HTC’s stock player with quite a few very cool features, which include Folder Viewing, Lyrics display and visualisations for landscape mode, but no presets. Beats Audio can also be switched on or off only via the settings menu and not via the player. Switching it off would diminish the quality, though.
Superb audio quality via Beats and plenty of cool features
Superb audio quality via Beats and plenty of cool features

We were not supplied with a bundled handsfree kit so we have no idea how those work out. We tested these on our own in-house options. Via the built-in speakers, audio quality was definitely better than some and quite clear, but lacked a little punch. It was nevertheless comfortable enough to have a conversation over speakerphone with the handset placed at a distance of over one foot away from you. The noise cancellation microphone helps to quite an extent to improve overall voice clarity. 

The native video player comes pre-loaded with a few codecs to support some AVI files as well as MP4 and other formats. Full HD video content looked great on the One’s supported display with crisp colours and sharp overall picture quality. Third party options are easily available for FLV, MKV and other formats that the native player doesn’t support. 
Full HD videos look great
Full HD videos look great

An app called HTC TV comes pre-loaded with the handset but didn’t seem to have India as an option to select cable services from. Do not despair, simply choose any country that is available and go through the process of selecting random channels etc. till you reach the TV setup option. From here, you can choose your TV’s make and the remote does the rest. Although the app's design has a few minor niggles, it’s fully functional and worked without a hitch. 

The FM Radio auto logs all the available channels the first time it’s activated and also ties in to Sound Hound for audio recognition. 

As one would expect from a high-priced, high-spec'd handset, HTC has incorporated all the possible connectivity goodies out there into the One. Everything from LTE support to high speed 3G and, of course, EDGE data is covered. Naturally, Wi-Fi with all the trimmings – Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Hot Spot etc. – is part of the deal. Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS with A-GPS support and infrared also add to the handset's connectivity make-up. Aside from the regular list of Google apps, HTC has also provided quite a long list of options you could choose from to install OTA.
Micro SIM slot flushed into the handsets design
Micro SIM slot flushed into the handset's design

Misc. Features
HTC has also thrown in quite a few handy features, including a Kid Mode with a parents Dashboard for control. With this activated, your child will have limited access to apps and features on the handset. The App used for this is Zoodles. You can customise what apps and functions to have available in this mode and can keep your kid occupied for quite a while without it affecting the rest of your handset. Smart Connect is an option to preset certain functions and activities according to events or whenever external devices are connected to the handset. A stock market app is also provided and tools like Flashlight, voice recorder and a LogMeIn Rescue app for HTC specialist remote service are also on board. Office Suite, Polaris Office, a PDF viewer, 50GB of Dropbox space and a notes app that connects with Evernote are also available. 
A substitute for your TV remote
A substitute for your TV remote

HTC’s Car Setting provides you with a secondary interface that’s recommended for use while driving. It gives access to certain features of the handset all available in a larger form for easy access. The Speak function lets you control aspects like the music player and contacts by talking to the device. It’s not as accurate as Siri, but it works well enough. You just have to be very specific. 

The camera and photo editor combo in the HTC One is one of the best you can have in a smartphone. It’s actually like carrying a very capable point-and-shoot camera in your pocket, but there’s a catch. You have a raft of shooting parameters and post-processing functions on-board, which you wouldn’t otherwise find in a digital camera. However, a digital camera would still stand a notch higher than this phone when it comes to image quality, not to mention the resolution. The HTC One employs UltraPixel technology, which in theory is meant to produce better results owing to larger pixels. Or simply put, the 1/3-inch, 4 megapixel sensor has a lower pixel density.
Apply Cool looking effects without having to post-process on the PC
Apply cool looking effects without having to post-process on the PC

First up, the camera; you launch the app and you have a digital camera with a 4.7-inch, full HD viewfinder. To the right of the camera’s interface, you have the digital zoom control, shortcut to the gallery and icons to shoot photos and videos. Effect filters (15 of them) are also available at the touch of a button, each adjustable via a slider that appears on the left side. The left side has a shortcut for flash settings, Zoe mode and camera settings. The UI is clutter-free and doesn’t look daunting at all. At the same time, you have a bunch of adjustable parameters accessible via the settings. 
Colour Effects available via Photo Editor
Colour Effects available via Photo Editor

All the tools you need to give your subjects a facelift
All the tools you need to give your subjects a facelift

It would have been nice if HTC had used the area to the left and bottom of the interface to provide instant access to some of the commonly used functions such as ISO, White balance, EV and front/rear camera toggle. You’re forced to access the settings and then scroll/expand the parameters that you want to adjust, which can get frustrating when you’re on a shooting spree. Also, it would have been nice if the shooting parameters were in precedence of usage. The Settings section has scene modes, video settings and review duration followed by image adjustments and exposure parameters towards the bottom of the list. The provision of exposure parameters first, followed by image adjustments, scene modes and video settings would have been more suitable.
Bright overall exposure because the lower part of the frame was metered
Bright overall exposure because the lower part of the frame was metered

As for shooting, you have to keep in mind that the light is metered in the spot that you touch to focus. So, pulling out the phone and releasing the shutter, just like a point-and-shoot camera, could lead to undesirable results such as underexposed subjects. The Zoe mode shoots a burst of 20 frames to help you select the best looking shot.
Dark overall exposure because the sky was metered (note the focussing issue in the lower right corner)
Dark overall exposure because the sky was metered (note the focussing issue in the lower right corner)

In the photo editor, you have four groups of controls – Effects, Frames, Retouch and Transform. What’s most interesting here is the Retouch group that has functions such as skin smoothening, face contour adjustment, eye enhancer, eye brightening and anti-shine (somewhat like a polarising filter) – all to make your subject look better, a lot better than just skin softening that’s commonly available in many image editing apps. Use the parameters subtly and you’ll actually get great looking results. Keep in mind here that there’s no way to undo the retouching you’ve already done. You can repeat and layer the functions, but there's no option to reduce the intensity.
A 100 percent crop of the above frame. Note the colour noise and compression artefacts in the dark areas.
A 100 percent crop of the above frame. Note the colour noise and compression artefacts in the dark areas.

The imaging quality of the camera isn’t extraordinary, but it is almost at par with competition. The photos look crisp and the colours appear quite neutral, but that’s only on the phone’s display. When viewed at 100 percent on a PC, you can see compression artefacts and heavy presence of colour noise in dark areas in the form of purple and green blobs of pixels. That said, we would have appreciated if the native photo editor had noise removal function. We also noticed that the bottom right portion in many photos was slightly out of focus. This could be an issue with the optics or, possibly, just a problem with this review unit. Do post a comment if you too are facing such an issue with your handset.

The 2.1 megapixel front camera also performs quite well – the quality of self portraits won’t disappoint you. Both the primary and front camera can record 1080p videos at 30fps. The quality of video recording is very good and you have HDR video recording at your disposal for high-contrast scenes.
The grill adds a certain suave feel to the design
The grille adds a certain suave feel to the design

The photo gallery also grabs your Facebook contacts and pulls in their photos into this space as well. A Slideshow function gives your photos a very cool presentation with background music that you can select. 

Battery Life
Although the 2300 mAh battery might seem a little low-powered for a device of this calibre, the HTC One manages to deliver quite well on this front. In our video loop test, the handset ran for a total of just 7 hours (Airplane mode active), which was just a little above average. It managed to last us a good 10 hours of solid use that included a little over 1 hour of video, music, over 25 minutes of talktime, emails and messages – all with 3G and Wi-Fi switched on.
Beats audio makes a considerable difference
Beats audio makes a considerable difference

The Bottom Line
The HTC One is priced at Rs 42,900 and will be available sometime at the end of the month. If you’re interested, it’s currently available in the grey market for about Rs 65,000. Although there’s quite a lot to offer, the One is a little expensive for that price. It may have a premium build, plethora of very handy features and a truly exemplary audio profile all fitted neatly into a great UI, but the few minor issues as well as battery life and heating problems are things you need to seriously consider before choosing this over the competition.

Nevertheless, HTC has tried to offer all it can with the One and has done a fine job. If only HTC could have priced it better. At under Rs 40,000, the handset would have been a hard "One" to beat, pun intended.

The HTC One will also be one of the handsets to support Facebook’s Home UI.

Apple iPad Air Review

Apple continues to dominate the tablet realm and despite worthy efforts from the Android camp, no one has been able to truly knock them off the pedestal. Rather than just getting a beefed up version of the iPad 4th Gen this year, we got a completely overhauled iPad, heavily influenced by the iPad mini. The iPad Air is currently the lightest 10-inch (9.7 to be specific) tablet in the market and manages to beat the Sony Xperia Tablet Z as well by a good margin. But is the drastic weight shedding and new internals worth the higher starting price? Let’s see if the Air can make a strong enough case for itself.

Design and Build
First off, we’re really glad Apple has decided to give the new iPad a proper name, rather than going with something like ‘new’ or just ‘iPad’. The Air also has many visual differences to distinguish it from its predecessors. For starters, it looks like a bigger iPad mini so there’s no mistaking it for any of the previous versions. As with any Apple product, there’s a sense of overwhelming premiumness to the Air and that anal attention to detail can’t be missed. It looks good in white or black frankly and the chamfered aluminium bezel completes the look nicely. The Air is quite thin at just 7.5mm however; the Sony Xperia Tablet Z remains the thinnest at a ridiculous 6.9mm. Still, the Air is big improvement over the out-going model and is light as well at 469g (for the Wi-Fi model).
Apple ipad air
The Air has very good aesthetics

The 1.2MP/720p FaceTime camera remains in the front, along with the home button at the bottom. The Air does not sport the finger print sensor for Touch ID like the iPhone 5s does. The stereo speakers flank the Lightning connector at the bottom and manage to deliver very good quality. The volume level is loud, which makes for a good gaming experience. The trouble here is though, if you’re gaming or watching a movie, your hand tends to block one of the grills, which in turn leads to slightly muffled sound. It’s not a big problem but something you’re likely to encounter. The matt-finished rear end holds up well against fingerprints but is still susceptible to light scratches from everyday use. Up top, we have two microphones and the 5MP iSight camera that’s capable of 1080p video.
Apple ipad air
Chamfered edges look positively premium

The iPad Air is a much needed evolution in terms of design and is just what the doctor ordered. The drastic weight shedding makes it extremely comfortable to use single handily, especially when lying down – something you could never do for long periods with the old one. Touch ID would have been a nice addition, given this is their flagship tablet, but you won’t really miss it.

Apple’s displays are always a treat and the Air is no different. The IPS Retina display is among the best in the business, with lively colours and great sensitivity. Viewing angles are very good and although it’s not 320ppi, there’s no visible pixilation around icons or text. Sunlight legibility is also very god and the screen doesn’t attract fingerprints as easily. iOS 7 looks really good on the big screen and animations and transitions are smooth. Switching between apps is a quick and painless experience.
Apple iPad Air
The multi-tasking feature in iOS 7

All of this is possible thanks to Apple’s brand new A7 microprocessor. This is the first 64-bit capable SoC in a mobile device and it seems like everyone from Samsung to Qualcomm is going to jump on this bandwagon next year. Just like iOS 7, we can expect the next version of Android to have full support for 64-bit computing. The new chip is really fast and even intensive games like Real Racing 3, Real Steel or Asphalt 8, playback with smooth frame rates without breaking a sweat. The tablet gets slightly warm after a while but never uncomfortably hot.
16GB just ain't enough for media and apps

Out of the 16GB of storage space, you get about 12.8GB that’s available for apps and media. The trouble is, iPad apps are larger in size due to the higher resolution textures and images needed and because of that, you’ll find yourself running out of space very soon. After installing about 27 apps, which included a mix of games, magazines, videos, music and some of the free Apple apps like iMovie, etc, we were
struggling with roughly 2GB of space. iOS also counts individual magazines as apps so we actually had lesser actual apps installed. This means, if you opt for the base model, you’re going to have to pick and choose your apps carefully. For some reason, Apple refuses to add expandable storage to any of their mobile products, which remains one of the biggest drawbacks till date.

The music and video player is similar to what we saw on the iPhone 5c, the difference being, you have to scroll a lot less due to the larger screen real estate. There aren’t any Ear Pods bundled along with the Air. Audio quality is pretty good through earphones and equally good via the speakers. There’s no stereo effect like some of the other tablets in the market but it’s loud and clear. The new music player gets a complete cosmetic overhaul while still remaining functionally similar to the previous version. The stock video player only supports MP4 files so any other format will need to be converted, unless you use a third party app.

The version we’re reviewing today is the Wi-Fi-only model so there’s no LTE/3G or GPS even. You do get dual-band Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0 and TV-out via the Lightning jack. Siri is also at your beck and call, whenever you need something. It’s not as accurate as Google Voice in understanding Indian accents but it works after a couple of tries. Apple bundles a whole bunch of apps with iOS 7 like Newsstand, Photo Booth, Game Center, iBooks and you also get a prompt during initial setup, to download additional free Apple apps like iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, etc.
Apple ipad air
The speakers are loud and deliver very good audio quality

The camera on the new Air might be the same 5MP iSight shooter from the earlier model, but it still manages to do a very decent job for a tablet. There’s good depth of field and the app is very quick in focusing and saving the image. Even HDR pictures save really quickly. Indoor shots are good with very little noise. We would have liked the 8MP sensor from the iPhone 5 though; given this is their flagship model.

Still a decent shooter, but we expected more

Battery Life
Despite the slimmer profile, the Air still promises up to 10-hours of battery life for media playback. During the course of our testing, we easily went couple of days before having to charge the iPad and our usage involved a lot of reading (mostly magazine and websites), video playback and some gaming. The tablet also has some amazing standby time so when not in use, you can literally go days without having to charge it. This is something Android tablets simply cannot offer.
Apple ipad air
A worthy successor but we're not sure if it's the smarter pick compared to the Retina mini

Verdict and Price in India 
The Apple iPad Air starts at Rs 35,900 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi model and we feel this is a bit too much for what’s on offer. The drastic weight loss and new internals aside, we don’t see why someone would buy the Air instead of the 32GB iPad mini with Retina. Not only are you getting double the capacity but it’s spec-for-spec identical to its larger sibling. We’ve also seen that 16GB is simply not enough for iPad apps and your media files, so there’s another problem. If Apple had fitted a better camera (8MP iSight from the iPhone 5) and Touch ID (from the 5s), then there would be a better distinction between the two tablets and perhaps, the high starting price of the Air could be justified. Overall, if really must have the extra 1.9-inches of the Air, then go for it but we strongly suggest you get the equally well equipped 32GB iPad mini with Retina for the same price.

Rumour round-up: Samsung Galaxy S5

Just a couple of weeks after Samsung launched the much-anticipated Note 3, rumours around the alleged Galaxy S5 gained momentum. Though Samsung has not exactly been tight lipped (read: 2K display) about the successor to the Galaxy S4, it doesn't need to say much considering the speculation about the next flagship. Samsung is rumoured to be preparing the Galaxy S5 for a January 2014 announcement with a February launch date. Although that would be a bit too early in our opinion, we wouldn't mind seeing the S5 unveiled at CES in Las Vegas!

The S5 will have able competition from HTC One's successor, set to feature exchangeable lenses.  

Metal frame
Looks like Apple and Samsung have exchanged gloves. Apple introduced its first plastic-built device, the iPhone 5c, recently. Now, Samsung is rumoured to be opting for metal over polycarbonate. Leaked device parts of the alleged S5 that surfaced last month show a metal frame. Of course just a metal frame does not tell us much about the materials for the exterior, Samsung could be moving away from plastic finally. That has been the biggest criticism against Samsung devices for many years. However, it must be noted there are no guarantees that the leaked image even belongs to a Samsung device.

5 to 5.3-inch display size
The Galaxy S4 features a 5-inch display while the recently launched Galaxy Note 3 comes equipped with a 5.7-inch display. Some reports suggest that Galaxy S5 could settle for a display size somewhere between the two at 5.3-inch display. The metal frame mentioned above measures 5.66-inches in height and 2.8-inches in width. A 5.3-inch display would be best suited for such dimensions. On the other hand, other reports point to a 5-inch display. Perhaps, Samsung will consider keeping the display size around the 5-inch territory to better sell the Note line-up.
Plastic no more.
Plastic no more

2K Display
The display resolution the most talked about rumour when it comes to the S5. Ever since the Samsung Display CEO Kinam Kim's presentation last month, it is widely speculated that the Galaxy S5 could feature a 5-inch Super AMOLED panel with an eye-popping 2560x1440 pixel resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 560ppi. Further adding fuel to the fire, a leaked GFX benchmark listing for a device codenamed SM-G900S reveals the same resolution, with many speculating that this is indeed the S5.

Octa-core processor or Snapdragon 800?
In September, Samsung had promised to come up with a new 64-bit chip to compete with Apple. Speculation is rife that the next device in its popular high-end “S” series would feature this chipset. However, the leaked benchmark that pointed to the 2K display also lists a Snapdragon 800 chipset clocked at 2.4GHz along with the Adreno 330 GPU. Now, this is a tad disappointing as many tech enthusiasts expected the S5 to have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, or a 64-bit version of Samsung's own Exynos chip. We could be in for a surprise like last time around and have two configurations of the S5 - one powered by a Qualcomm processor and another by Samsung's own Exynos chip. In terms of memory, the S5 is expected to have 3GB of RAM, going by the Galaxy Note 3.
One concept render of the S5 (Image: Naver)

16-megapixel camera
The Galaxy S5 is also expected to get a 16-megapixel camera module with optical image stabilisation. Both Sony and Samsung LSI are bidding to be the main supplier of the new CMOS image sensors for the company's next high-end smartphone. It should be noted that the 13-megapixel camera currently seen in the Galaxy S4 is supplied by Sony. Reportedly, the company may end up keeping its existing suppliers for the camera module, lens and auto-focusing (AF) actuator, but Sony and Samsung’s System LSI division will be fighting to be the main CMOS image sensor supplier.

If Apple has a fingerprint scanner to spruce up security, can Samsung be far behind? This one seems highly unlikely to us, but we know how Samsung likes to put to use the front camera. Samsung is rumoured to be working on an “Eye-Scanning” unlock capability. Rumours say the S5's front camera will scan your eyes to verify your identity before letting you use the phone.

HTC's next flagship could be called One Two, feature exchangeable lenses

Along with Samsung’s Galaxy S5, rumours about HTC One’s successor are also in full swing. A report now says the successor to the flagship One will be launched early next year and there's much talk about some cool hardware additions.

According to Forbes, the successor could be named One Two and come with changeable camera lenses. Firstly, that would be a very weird name, but it must be noted that this is still in speculative territory. The report says the One Two will have separate lenses to suit the lighting conditions. It is speculated to be launched in the first quarter of 2014, could be announced at the Mobile World Congress in February.
The HTC One has a 4.7-inch full HD display
HTC One's successor could be called One 2... really?

Some rumoured specifications of the device include slightly bigger 4.9-inch display, an unspecified Qualcomm processor (we'd be highly surprised if it's anything less than the Snapdragon 805) and a fingerprint scanner. We aren’t really surprised about the fingerprint feature, as we’ve already seen it in the HTC One Max.

The HTC One launched earlier this year was competing with the high-end smartphones from companies such as Samsung and LG, in the Indian market. It remains one of best designed phones of the year.  The One Two should ideally follow on the same lines, but we have seen HTC update their design each year with the flagship and we have some idea about how it may look thanks to an earlier leak. It does look like HTC will be playing on the One's stellar design, which features a zero-gap aluminium unibody. Read our HTC One review to know more.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Nokia Lumia 720 Review

We’ve already established that the Lumia 720 is Nokia’s best effort as far as Windows Phone 8 handsets go. This could soon change once the Lumia 925 hits markets, but as it stands now, the Lumia 720 offers the best blend of features and performance, wrapped in a beautiful package that’s quite affordable. The only limiting factor we saw during our brief stint with the phone was the limiting 512MB RAM. But how much of a deal breaker is it? Let’s find out. 

Design and build 
The Lumia 720 features a polycarbonate unibody design, just like the Lumia 920 – only this time it’s slimmer, lighter and much better to hold. The 4.3-inch display has a much slimmer bezel as well as width, making it one of the slimmest Lumia’s at just 9 mm and super light at 128 g. The ClearBlack display blends seamlessly with the rest of the chassis, giving it a very elegant look.
Nokia Lumia 720
Beautiful design

The button placement is very similar to the other Lumia’s; we have the volume rocker, power/sleep and the camera shutter all lined up along on one side. The button size and tactile feel is very good and it’s easy to figure out which one is which by just a simple touch. There’s a microUSB port at the bottom, microSD card slot on the side followed by the microSIM slot and headphone jack on the top. Around the back, we have a 6.7MP camera sensor with Carl Zeiss optics and an LED flash. The speaker grille is at the bottom and is fairly loud for alerts.

The Lumia 720 scores full marks for aesthetics and ergonomics in our books. The handset is very well put together – even better than the more expensive Lumia 820.
Nokia Lumia 720
The 6.7MP Carl Zeiss camera

Nokia hasn’t held back when it comes to the display. The Lumia 720 features a fairly dense 4.3-inch IPS display with a 480 x 800 pixel resolution. The ClearBlack technology certainly helps when it comes to viewing the screen under direct sunlight. The IPS panel produces bright and vivid colours with very good viewing angles.
Nokia Lumia 720
A familiar interface

The Lumia 720 runs Windows Phone 8 (WP8) OS and is powered by a 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon chipset from Qualcomm. This is the same MSM7227 SoC used in the Lumia 620 and the Lumia 520. The RAM configuration also remains the same, which is 512MB. The reduction in RAM is not much of a problem for the OS functioning, but it is a problem when it comes to using apps. Most of the good games for Windows Phone 8 require 1GB of RAM, so you’re straight away limited, which is a shame since there are just a handful of good games to begin with. Luckily, all popular apps make do just fine with 512MB of RAM and work well. 
Nokia Lumia 720
Good placement of buttons

The OS itself offers the same typical user experience as you’d find in the higher-end models, and it does so quite well for most part. The WP8 UI with its Live Tiles and social network integrated phone book worked seamlessly and was as smooth as they come. 

The Lumia 720 is a well-equipped media device. Thanks to Dolby’s Headphone Sound Enhancement technology, the handset provided well-balanced tones with a resounding bass line and slightly sharp but well-managed higher tones. There are equaliser presets in the main settings menu and you can also toggle the Dolby enhancement mode and Audio levelling. The enhancements work on a system-wide scale and not just for the music player.
Nokia Lumia 720
1080p files play with ease

The video player is capable of reading a few DivX and XviD coded files as well as MP4 – even those in full HD. HD files didn’t seem to have any issue during playback. What’s missing is an FM radio, so you’ll have to suffice with third party apps for online services, if that’s your thing. 

Nokia has included most connectivity options we’d expect from any standard mobile handset these days, minus a couple of features. The Lumia 720 features quad-band 3G capabilities, Wi-Fi (dual band), EDGE and GPS with GLONASS for Nokia Drive, Maps and apps like Nokia City Lens, all of which work well. NFC, Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP and, of course, USB 2.0 for PC interfacing and charging is also present. What the handset lacks is Wi-Fi Direct and AV out (MHL). Wireless charging is available as an option through a charging jacket. Since the body is non-removable, there are contact points on the back for the charging jacket. You’ll also be happy to know that the memory expansion slot supports cards up to 64GB.
Nokia Lumia 720
Bundled productivity apps

The primary camera is a 6.7MP  with wide-angle lens and Carl Zeiss optics. While the resolution has been dropped a little as compared to the Lumia 820, the 720 does one better by offering a much larger aperture of f/1.9, which is quite a rarity in smartphones. This allows much more light in as well as gives us very good depth of field, which is evident from the image below. Other features remain pretty much standard, such as scene modes, manual and auto white balance options, ISO settings and Nokia’s array of lenses – Cinemagraph, Panorama, Smart Shoot and Bing Vision. Having a dedicated camera button also lets you start the camera without having to unlock your phone.  
Nokia Lumia 720
Camera excels at macro shots

Battery life 
The battery life is very good as compared to other Windows Phone 8 or even Android smartphones of similar shape and size. The 720 easily chugged along our complete battery suite which lasted 8 hours. This involved 2 hours of calls, 2 hours music, 2 hours video and 2 hours of YouTube streaming. All this time, the brightness was kept at "Medium" and Wi-Fi was on. We still had 27 percent battery remaining after the test. 

Verdict and price in India 
The Nokia Lumia 720 is priced at roughly Rs 18,200 and will go head on with the Sony Xperia L and even the Samsung Galaxy Grand. Comparing it's specifications with the Xperia L, we can safely say that the Lumia 720 is slimmer and lighter, and will have a much better display and battery life. In that respect, the Lumia does make a better buy. The only thing holding us back is the 512MB of RAM, which will restrict you from installing many good apps that would typically need at least 1GB to run. If gaming is not a priority, then it’s still a very good option. For those who don’t mind a bulkier – but more powerful – handset, there’s always the Galaxy Grand for a grand more. 

Samsung Galaxy S4 mini

The Samsung S4 mini is a highly trimmed version of the powerful Galaxy S4. Offering a dual SIM option, the S4 mini comes with a considerable list of specs. Just like the Xperia Z1 mini, its display size is 4.3-inches, but it comes with even lower qHD resolution of 960 x 540 pixels. The display gets a layer of the Corning Gorilla Glass protection. Under the hood, one will find a 1.7GHz Snapdragon 400 dual-core processor with 1.5GB RAM, and runs on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS out of the box. Obviously, one will find a layer of the TouchWiz interface on it. In terms of storage, the smartphone provides 8GB of internal memory, which can be expanded up to 64GB via a microSD card. It's pretty light with 124.6 x 61.3 x 8.9 mm dimensions and weighs 107 grams. On the camera front, it has an 8 megapixel primary camera along with LED flash and a 1.9 megapixel front shooter.

First Impressions: LG Nexus 4 (E960)

Just like Apple’s annual ritual, Google has also begun refreshing their Nexus handsets on a yearly basis. The Nexus smartphone is a platform for Google to showcase what their latest OS can do at its absolute best. The purpose of this handset was a reference point for developers who could build and perfect apps around it and then tweak it to work on lower-end hardware. Due to that, Nexus devices have never had the best hardware specifications compared to other phones but just enough for it to handle the current OS to its fullest. However, after seeing the wild success of the Galaxy Nexus, which despite its poor camera and battery life sold by the dozen, Google has decided to create a much better package this time around and has turned to LG for the task. 

On Video

Design and Build
The Nexus 4 looks remarkably similar to the Galaxy Nexus and perhaps that was a deliberate design choice made by Google rather than LG. Starting with the Nexus S, all the (two) handsets till date have shared the same iconic rounded edges and curved body design and it continues with the Nexus 4. The display on the new one isn’t curved but one look at it and there’s no mistaking it’s a Nexus. The front is dominated by a massive 4.7-inch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 which gives it an effective pixel count of 318ppi. The screen, however, tends to look much bigger and that’s because the Nexus 4 is wider while the Galaxy Nexus is a bit longer. The bezel on the sides has also been shaved down a bit more, giving the effect of an edge-to-edge display. The Nexus 4 also uses a vastly superior IPS display, which manages a lot more accurate colours with the same viewing angles and deep blacks of AMOLED. The difference is instantly noticeable when you place both phones side-by-side.
Fits in your palm perfectly
Fits in your palm perfectly

The handset is put together nicely and is surprisingly light weight as well, a lot lighter than the Galaxy Nexus. The glass back does give it a nice premium touch but the plastics on the side say otherwise. What we’re getting at here is that the Galaxy Nexus has a much better feel to it in your hand. This textured back offers much better grip and the extra weight just makes it feel solid. The Nexus 4 on the other hand feels like any other LG phone, it just feels like there’s something missing. All the buttons are where they should be and now, we even have a side-loading microSIM slot. You guessed right, Nexus 4 has a non-removable battery and once again, no way to expand the storage either. Two models are on offer, a 8GB and a 16GB variant.

Similar dimensions to the GNex
Similar dimensions to the GNex

The Nexus 4 comes with Jelly Bean out-of-the-box and will continue to get any new update from Google first, until next year when they launch its replacement. The Galaxy Nexus has already started getting step-brotherly treatment as updates aren’t released simultaneously for both handsets. Needless to say, the UI is super quick and fluid with absolutely no hint of lag. You won’t notice any increase in power of the Galaxy Nexus from the UI alone but apps really benefit from the increased power, especially games. Rather than using a Tegra 3 SoC (which they could have done) and calling it a day, LG has wisely used the newer and more efficient Qualcomm APQ8064 quad-core SoC. This is based on the S4 Pro chipset and features four Krait CPUs running at 1.5GHz along with an Adreno 320 GPU.

The fake chrome bits kill the otherwise premium look of the handset
The fake chrome bits kill the otherwise premium look of the handset

At the moment, this is the only handset in the market that uses this chipset but come 2013, we’ll be seeing this in many more high-end smartphones like the HTC Butterfly, Sony Xperia Z and in some of the new BlackBerry handsets. Even with all this power, it’s a lot more efficient that Tegra 3 due to the smaller 28nm fabrication process. We’ve compared the speed of the SoC against the Galaxy Nexus in the video by loading Need For Speed: Most Wanted at the same time. The Nexus 4 is considerably faster - not only in loading the game due to the 2GB of RAM - but also in producing smoother frame rates when rendering the game. 

The second most notable change is the camera. We now have an 8MP BSI (Backside-Illuminated) sensor, which thanks to some clever arrangement, allows for more light to be captured than a standard 8MP sensor. BSI sensors are quite common now in high-end smartphones and we saw one of the first ones being implemented in Apple’s iPhone 4. The image quality speaks for itself and when compared to the Galaxy Nexus, it’s miles ahead.
No real competition here
No real competition here

One special camera feature in the Nexus 4 that’s not available in the Galaxy Nexus is HDR mode. We’re not sure why Google left this feature out for the Galaxy Nexus as it clearly seems to be a software feature rather than hardware. It could be due to a sensor limitation or the fact that Google wanted to keep something exclusive to the Nexus 4. In any case, it’s not a big deal as you have plenty of camera apps that can pull off HDR so there’s always a work around. 

A worthy successor, but…
The Nexus 4 is a big upgrade from the Galaxy Nexus even though it may not seem like it from the outside. The switch to an IPS display was a very smart move by LG and it really makes all the difference in the world. Sunlight legibility is very good, although reflections can be a pain at times and the colour reproduction is bright, vivid and more importantly, accurate. The beefed up SoC will easily let you use this phone for the next two or even three years as there’s plenty of untapped potential which we hope the next version of Android will exploit. Finally, the camera is actually usable even if the lighting is not ideal; a flaw that still haunts the Galaxy Nexus. The BSI sensor captures a lot more detail and adjusts the white balance beautifully.
But, the phone for some reason just doesn’t have the same feel of the previous Nexus devices. It’s a bit hard to put into words but when you hold both the handsets in your hand, the Galaxy Nexus feels a lot more wholesome for some reason. This is just our opinion; however, we would suggest you do that yourself to get an inkling of what we’re on about. There’s no word on an official launch from LG yet but we hear a possibility of an early Jan launch. If LG decides to go ahead with it, then we can expect some very aggressive pricing. We predict the 16GB model to be priced well under Rs 30,000 and we know they can do it since their Optimus 4X HD dropped below 30K, just a few months after being launched. If you’re really eager to get one now, then there’s always the gray market where you can find it retailing for Rs 36,000. If you ask me, I would go for the Galaxy Nexus now and wait for the 2013 Nexus, which will hopefully launch along with Android 5.0.