Category Archives: smartphones

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Review: Three-in-one Jabra Revo headphones and headset: wired, wireless and USB

If headphones are judged on versatility, the Jabra Revo wins the prize. It works wired and wireless, it’s a USB audio device, it’s a headset with remote control, and as a final flourish it folds into a moderately compact size that you can slip in the supplied bag.

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You might think that the result of this flexibility would be a fiddly and complex device, but this is not the case. The Revo has an elegant design and looks modern and sleek. The construction feels high quality as well; these headphones are lovely to handle.

In the solid plastic box you get the headphones, a drawstring bag, a USB cable, an audio cable (with four connectors on each 3.5mm jack, suitable for a headset connection to a mobile phone or tablet. The cables are braided for tangle-free connections, and bright orange so you will not miss them.

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There is also a “Getting started” leaflet which I recommend you read, since not everything is obvious.

Step one is to charge the headphones. This is done using the USB cable. No charger is supplied, but you probably have a few of these already, or you can plug into any PC or Mac. A red light comes on while charging, and turns off when charging is complete, which takes about two hours from flat.

Step two is to pair the headphones with your mobile device. For this you can put a three-way on/off/pairing switch, tucked under the right-hand earphone, into the pairing position, for pairing in the normal way. Alternatively, just put it to the On position, and touch an NFC-enabled device to the left earphone (as I noted, not everything is obvious). This should then pair automatically, subject to a prompt on your mobile device.

I had mixed success with NFC. A Sony Xperia T smartphone failed twice, with a message “Could not pair Jabra Revo”, but worked on the third attempt. A Nokia Lumia 620 worked on the second attempt.

More than one device can be connected simultaneously, though only one at a time will play. I found this worked; I could play music on one device, then press play on another device and it automatically switched.

The good news is that Bluetooth audio worked well for me, with no skips or stutters, perhaps thanks to Jabra’s long experience with mobile communications. Volume was low to begin with, but note that the back of the right-hand earphone is also a touch volume control, and with a few strokes you can get more than enough volume.

There are also buttons at the centre of each earphone.

The right-hand button is multi-function, and does play/pause, or answer/end call, or reject a call if you hold it down, or redial last number if you double-tap.

The left-hand button is for the Jabra Sound App for iOS or Android. It is meant to launch the app, but this did not work for me with the Sony Xperia.

If you want to use the headphones wired, just plug the audio cable into the headphones. No battery power is required. If you want to use them as a USB device, attach the USB cable to a computer, wait for the drivers to install, and it works. I tried it with Skype and got reasonable results, though the microphone quality is less good than that of the headphones.

Jabra Sound app

If you have an Apple iOS or Google Android device, you can download the Jabra Sound app. This is a music player which claims to optimise sound for the headphones. The app is free but requires a code, supplied with the headphones, to activate it.

Using the app, you specify which Jabra headphones you are using. Next, you can set Dolby Processing, Mobile Surround, and Equalisation. If you turn Dolby Processing off, the other options are disabled as well.

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I am a sceptic when it comes to this kind of processing, and the Jabra Sound app did nothing to convince me that it is worthwhile. I listened to I.G.Y. by Donald Fagen, which is a well-recorded track, and found that adding “Mobile Surround” made it noticeably worse, less natural and less clear. The equalizer could be useful though, particularly as the Revo are not the most neutral headphones I have heard.

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Jabra Sound is a music player and only works with local music files. You cannot use it with Spotify or Google Play or other streaming services.

Revo in use

The comfort of these on-ear headphones is good, though tastes vary and I found them just a little stiff. Then again, wireless implies mobility and a firm fit is no bad thing.

How about the sound? There are a couple of points to note. First, all connections are not equal. I found that the wired connection sounds best, followed by the USB connection, followed by the wireless connection. That does not mean that wireless sounds bad, but I did find it slightly grainy in comparison. Only slightly; if you think Bluetooth audio means low quality sound, think again.

Second, the Revo seems to accentuate the bass, a little too much for my taste. This may be good marketing as many people seem to prefer this kind of sound, but if you want to hear what the mastering engineer intended you may prefer a more neutral sound.

These points aside, the sound is sweet, clear and refined. They are not reference quality, being easily bettered by, say, high-end Sennheisers, Judged purely on the basis of sound quality for the price, the Revo is nothing special. On the other hand, this is a bundle of smart technology, considering that it is also a wireless headset with a built-in touch volume control. This makes it hard to make a fair comparison. Given the capabilities of the product overall, the sound quality is decent.

I have mixed feelings about the touch controls. The ability to control volume and skip music tracks using taps and strokes is elegant, but inevitably there is more scope for mis-taps than with conventional buttons, and I found the volume control imprecise. That said, it is great to have volume and play/pause on the headphones themselves.

Conclusion

The Revo has a lot going for it. Elegant design, high quality construction, good wireless performance without any skips or stutters, and unmatched flexibility – remember, this is a headset that you can use for phone calls as well as for enjoying music.

On the negative side, the tonality is a little bass-heavy and the sound quality good but no better than it should be considering the premium price.

If the flexibility is something you can make use of, the Revo is a strong contender.

Specifications:

Driver size 40mm
Impedance 32 Ohm
Frequency response (no tolerance given) 20Hz – 20,000Hz
Sensitivity 119 dB at 1v/1kHz
Weight 240g
Battery life 12 hours playback/10 days standby
Charge time 2 hours
Wireless range 10m

 

Make your iPhone a close-up or wide-angle camera with Olloclip

Here’s a gadget I came across at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. The Olloclip is a clip-on supplementary lens for the iPhone or iPod Touch, giving it three new modes: wide-angle, Fisheye, and Macro.

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In the box you get the reversible lens with covers for each end, an adapter clip for the slimmer iPod Touch, and a handy bag.

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The lens clips onto the corner of the iPhone, covering the on/off button. There are different models for the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5, which is a drawback. Every time you upgrade to a new iPhone, you will have to buy a new Olloclip, or do without it. You also lose use on the on/off button when the Olloclip is attached.

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Still, that is a small price to pay if you get amazing new photographic capabilities, and to some extent you do. I was particularly impressed by the macro mode. Here is my snap of a coin getting as close as I could quickly manage with the iPhone 4 alone:

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Snap on the Olloclip, and I can capture a world of detail that was previously unavailable.

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I also tried the wide-angle and fisheye modes, both of which work as advertised.

The twist here is that the Olloclip gives your iPhone camera features which your purpose-built compact camera may not have. If you want or need to take the kind of shots which the Olloclip enables, it is a great choice, spoilt a little by the inconvenience of clipping and unclipping the lens.

   

First sight of Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress

Alcatel OneTouch has a preview of its Firefox OS smartphone on display at its stand here in Barcelona.

3.5” HVGA, 1Ghz CPU, 3.2Mp camera, 256Mb RAM, 180Mb internal storage, MicroSD, 1400mAh battery.

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and to give you the scale

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The phone looks ordinary, but bear in mind the Mozilla philosophy which is more geared to universal, open access than to high-end smartphones for the few.

Several well-known names have signed up, but that in itself does not mean much. What counts is the extent of that commitment. A device like this one looks more about “let’s put it out and see who bites” rather than serious investment.

The app story (HTML 5 based, naturally) is key and I will be investigating later.

Fixing Windows blue screen using Internet Connection Sharing in Windows Phone 8

I have been reviewing a Nokia 620 – an excellent budget smartphone.

Yesterday I was travelling and used the Internet Connection Sharing feature. This is one of the best features of Windows Phone 8, allowing you to use your mobile data connection as a wireless hotspot.

Unfortunately it did not work properly. It could connect for a bit, then the PC (a Samsung Slate running Windows 8) would crash. The error is Driver_IRQL_Not_Less_Or_Equal and the driver mentioned is netwsw00.sys.

The fix is easy (once you know). Reboot, and before you connect to the hotspot (or before it crashes), view the properties of the wireless connection. Click Advanced, and enable Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) for the connection.

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Presto! everything works.

If you want to know what FIPS is, see here. The question of what difference the setting makes though is not known to me, though there are some clues here.

Fortunately you do not need to know, just make the change.

I am glad Windows Phone 8 is FIPS compliant (why not?) but disappointed that some issues with Windows 7 and 8 (I repeated the problem in Windows 7) and this hotspot feature, possibly also involving third-party wireless drivers, causes such a catastrophic and repeatable crash.

Review: Nokia Lumia 620, a winner when the price is right

Nokia’s Lumia 620 is now widely available in the UK, and was offered recently at just £120 (including VAT) by O2 on a pay as you go deal (which means that the amount of operator subsidy is small). That struck me as an excellent deal, especially as I already have an O2 sim, so I got one to take a look.

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The Windows Phone with which I am most familiar is the first one Nokia produced, the Lumia 800, which is still widely available at a similar price to the 620. The 800 is a beautiful phone with a high quality feel, though my early model has a dreadful battery life and suffered from charging problems (going into a state where it could not be charged without much coaxing) until at last a firmware update seemed to fix it.

The 620 is lighter and very slightly smaller than the 800, and feels more ordinary in design and manufacture. On the other hand, it is up-to-date and runs Windows Phone 8, whereas the 800 is stuck with Windows Phone 7.5 or 7.8. The 620 also benefits from a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus system chip, 1Ghz dual core, versus the 1.4Ghz single core Scorpion and MSM8255 Snapdragon in the 800.

In the picture below, the Lumia 620 is on the left and the 800 on the right.

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Do not be misled by the apparently faster clock in the 800 (1.4 Ghz vs 1.0 Ghz). In practice, I found the 620 performs much better than the older single-core CPU. Here are my Sunspider Javascript results:

  • Lumia 800: 6987ms
  • Lumia 620: 1448ms

I also have a Lumia 820 on loan. This is the true successor to the 800 and has a gorgeous 4/3″ AMOLED display plus a Snapdragon dual-core 1.5 Ghz chip. It completed Sunspider in just 910ms.

Still, the 820 is around £350 on pay as you go deals, more than double what I paid for 620. It is in a different high-end market, whereas the 620 is in an affordable category alongside dozens of budget Android phones like the HTC Desire C, Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 or Sony Xperia U. If Microsoft is to make real progress with Windows Phone 8, it has to be competitive here as well as at the higher end of the market.

You can see how Nokia has reduced the cost of the 620. The screen is TFT Capacitive, not AMOLED, and looks dim and small next to an 820. The battery is a small 1300 mAh affair, slightly smaller than the one in an 800. The side buttons feel like cheap plastic.

That said, I would rather focus on what the 620 does have, including A-GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, microSD card slot, 5MP camera with flash, front VGA camera, NFC (Near Field Communication) support, accelerometer and compass.

Two significant advantages over the old Lumia 800 are the removable battery (so you can carry a spare) and the microSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB of additional storage.

One thing I noticed with the 620 is that charging the battery is super quick. I have not timed it yet, but it charges considerably faster than the 800.

Battery life when on standby is substantially better than the Lumia 800. With light usage and wi-fi off, I am getting more than 2 and half days.

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There is 512Mb RAM and 8GB storage; reasonable at this price. The Lumia 610, predecessor to the 620, had only 256Mb RAM which caused app compatibility issues.

Getting started

The out of box experience for me was pretty good. I put in my O2 sim, which worked without any issues. The setup asked for my Microsoft account and password which also worked, though as is typical with Microsoft, I found myself having to enter this several times more when setting up the SkyDrive app.

I have my own Exchange server which uses self-signed certificates. I installed the certificates and rather to my surprise auto-discover then worked and I was able to add my Exchange account to Outlook on the device without my having to enter the server details.

So far so good; but I was expecting some sort of automatic or semi-automatic process of installing the apps I was using on the Lumia 800, but this is more difficult than it should be. Nothing appeared automatically. You have to go to the store and re-install. You can reduce the work slightly by going to your purchase history online and selecting Reinstall; but in many cases that does not work and there is a message saying “App not available on the Web. Try downloading it on your phone.”

That is a shame, since this works well for Windows 8 store apps. The experience of upgrading to a new Windows Phone should be like this:

  1. Buy new phone.
  2. Enter Microsoft account details.
  3. Wait a bit, then carry on where you left off with all apps in place.

Unfortunately we are not there yet.

The new Windows Phone 8 Start screen is a considerable improvement. The big deal is that you can get four times as many icons on the screen, so no need to waste all that space. The Live Tile concept works better on the phone than it does in Windows 8, since you see the Start screen more often. I might work for hours on a PC and never see the Start screen.

The supplied earbuds/microphone are functional but not very good. The sound is mediocre and the earbuds do not feel secure. Incidentally, a much better set comes with the 820; but in practice most of us have our own favourite headset already and I would not mind if Nokia did not bother to include this in the box. Audio with a better quality set is fine, and after copying some MP3s to the device I was happy with the sound.

Once during the course of this review the phone rebooted itself for no apparent reason. Once it froze and I had to remove and replace the battery. Hmm.

Fitting a memory card

The 620 accepts a microSD card up to 64GB. Fitting is not too difficult, though slightly fiddly. First remove the back. Then slide back the silver card holder until it pops up.

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Insert the card and close the holder.

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Camera

The camera captures images at 2592 x 1936 pixels. It is fine for the use I am likely to make of it, bearing in mind that I am not yet ready to abandon carrying a separate camera. The camera software supports extensions called “lenses” which let you process the image. An example is Translator which lets you point the camera at some text and have it translated, an intriguing idea from which I got mixed results.

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I was disappointed to find that Blink, from Microsoft Research, will not install as apparently the 620 does not meet minimum requirements, though I cannot quickly see in what way it falls short.

One small feature that I like on Windows Phone is that you can press the camera button even the phone is locked and use the camera.

Nokia Apps

Nokia has some exclusive apps, of which my favourite is Nokia Drive. I have found it works pretty well for turn-by-turn directions and no longer use my Tom Tom. The 620 lets you install Nokia Drive + Beta, giving you free downloadable maps and offline directions.

City Lens is a fun app that uses augmented reality to superimpose nearby attractions on the image from the phone’s camera. It has some promise, though it asks me to “Calibrate your compass” every time it starts up, which means waving your arms in the air and probably hailing a taxi by mistake.

More seriously, City Lens is only as good as its data, and in my part of England it is not good enough yet, with only a few local businesses showing.

Nokia Transit gives you public transport directions, and worked OK when I asked for directions to my nearest airport, giving a sensible bus route. The app integrates with Nokia Maps for directions and I found the user interface a bit perplexing. The app also freaked out when I asked how to get to London. Sensible options would include my local railway station, which has an hourly service, or a National Express coach from the nearest city centre. Instead, Nokia Transit proposed a seven hour bus journey with numerous changes, starting yesterday (I am not joking). Then the app crashed. Still, looks like it could be useful for local bus journeys.

Nokia Music gives you “Mix radio” for free, and a download service for a per-track fee. Fair enough, though the quality of the Mix radio is indifferent.

Nokia Smart Shoot takes five pictures at a time, and lets you select the best, superimpose faces from one on those of another, or remove people or objects. Face transposition is not my thing, but taking five images at a time makes sense. You can then flip through to find the best, and save it. Useful.

Creative Studio (I am surprised Nokia can use that name) is a simple photo editing app that lets you crop and rotate, remove red eye, adjust colour balance and brightness and so on. It is simple but rather good.

SkyDrive

Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive is integral to Windows Phone 8. If you follow the setup defaults, photos and videos end up there, though in slightly reduced quality, and it also forms storage for the Office Hub. It is free for up to 7GB of storage and generally works well. Windows Phone would be crippled without it.

Local Scout

Local Scout is an official Windows Phone app that is meant to give information and ratings for local businesses such as shops, restaurants and attractions.

Excuse me while I have a rant. Local Scout was introduced in Windows 7.5 “Mango”, made available in September 2011. It has potential, but I noticed at the time that the data was not that good. In my local area, it included a restaurant that has closed, for example. I hit the link that said “Tell us this place is closed.”

As you can guess, the restaurant is still listed, more than a year later.

There is also a bit of a mystery about Local Scout. It has ratings and reviews, but there is no obvious way to add your own rating or review. The data must come from somewhere, but there are relatively few contributions for the places near me and the app would be more useful with community content.

Local Scout on the Lumia 620 (and on the 820) seems to have got worse. There is no longer a “suggest changes” link so you can no longer easily report that a place has closed. You still cannot add ratings or reviews for places you visit.

All a bit of a disaster. My hunch is that some team created Local Scout for Mango and made a reasonable but incomplete job. Since then, someone decided that it is not important and the thing is essentially frozen. It is still there though; it seems to me that Microsoft should either improve it or abandon it.

This is important because it influences the experience when you pick up a Windows Phone and try to use it. Of course you can use Yelp or TripAdvisor or something else instead; but why does Local Scout occupy a precious spot on the default Start Screen, on most Windows Phones I have seen, when it is so broken?

Office

The Office hub on Windows Phone lets you create, view and edit Word and Excel documents, and view and edit PowerPoint documents. At least, you might be able to. I tried some recent documents on SkyDrive. A PowerPoint opens beautifully, and I can easily edit or hide individual slides. On the other hand, another document I have been working on will not open; it downloads, then the screen flashes slightly, but it never opens. An Excel document downloads and views OK but comes up with a message “can’t edit workbook”.

In both cases, there are in the old binary Office document formats. I tried converting them to the new XML based formats (docx and xlsx) and they worked fine, both for viewing and editing. My recommendation then is to use the new Office formats if you want full access on your Windows Phone.

You can add comments to documents, which is a great feature for collaboration.

If you want to know in detail what will work on the phone, see here, and especially the entry “Why can’t I edit some Microsoft Office documents on my phone?”. This lists “common reasons” why a document cannot be edited. It does not say anything about documents which simply will not open so I guess that is unexpected behaviour.

Given the complexity of Office documents, it is not surprising that there are limitations. On the other hand, it does seem to me problematic that the question of whether you will be able to edit any particular document is, from the user’s perspective, rather hit and miss; and if there are many instances where documents do not open at all I will soon lose confidence in the app.

In an emergency, you could try going through the browser instead, since SkyDrive supports the Office Web Apps.

It may be imperfect, but the Office hub is miles better than nothing.

Other apps

Windows Phone remains a minority taste, and if you want the best and widest selection of apps, you should stick to Apple iOS or Google Android.

That said, the Windows Phone Store does have over 125,000 apps, increasing at around 500 apps per week according to windowsphoneapplist.  Some big names are present, including Twitter, Spotify, Amazon and Google; others are missing or only supported by third party apps, including BBC iPlayer, Dropbox and Instagram. Whether any of these (or others) are deal-breakers is up to the individual.

On the other hand, the strong web browser (see below) means good performance from web apps, which mitigates issues with missing native apps.

YouTube works well full-screen in the browser. Unfortunately BBC iPlayer does not.

A bonus for Xbox users is Xbox SmartGlass, which gives remote control of your console plus a few extras.

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Internet

Windows Phone 8 includes the Internet Explorer 10 browser, and it is excellent, fast and with decent standards support. It gets a score of 320 at html5test.com, which by no coincidence is the same as IE10 in Windows 8.

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The 620 also includes the simple, effective internet sharing hotspot feature which was introduced in Windows Phone 7.5, but worth mentioning since it is so useful.

Conclusion

Any budget smartphone is a compromise. The Nokia Lumia 620 is not beautiful to hold, the screen is not the best, the processor is 1.0Ghz rather than the 1.5Ghz on the high-end Lumias, and the battery a bit small.

Nevertheless this is a full Windows Phone 8 smartphone, performance feels snappy, and it supports a generous range of features. It fixes annoyances seen in some earlier Lumias, with a replaceable battery and no fiddly flap over the micro USB port.

The Lumia 620 is a better choice than the old Lumia 800, still on sale at a similar price. It performs basic functions admirably, and has valuable extras like Nokia Drive +. Outlook and the Office hub make it a good choice for Microsoft platform users on a budget.

The Windows Phone 8 OS itself is nice to use but in some areas not as good as it should be. Some of the supplied apps, like Local Scout, are not good enough, and a few crashes suggest bugs.

Web browsing is great though, and strong features like add-on “lenses” for the camera app make up for a few flaws.

In summary, a Lumia 620 is a great way to see what Windows Phone can offer at a budget price. If you can find one for under £150 it is a great deal.

Lumia 620 Key specifications

3.8” display

Dual-core Snapdragon S4 1.0 Ghz, Adreno 305 GPU

Wi-fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC

5MP camera with flash, front-facing VGA camera

8GB storage, 512MB RAM, MicroSD up to 64GB

1300 mAh battery

A-GPS

Magnetometer

Ambient light sensor

Orientation sensor

Proximity sensor

A good quarter for Nokia, but Lumia still has far to go

Some good news from Nokia at last. The company reports sales ahead of expectations along with “underlying profitability” in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Success for Windows Phone? It is a positive sign, but short of a breakthrough. Here are the details. I am showing three quarters for comparison: fourth quarter 2011, third quarter 2012, and fourth quarter 2012.

  Q4 2011 Q3 2012 Q4 2012
Mobile phone units, millions 113.5 77 79.6
Smartphone units, millions (Lumia in brackets) 19.6 (?) 6.3 (2.9) 6.6 (4.4)

Looking in more detail at the Smartphone units, the Q4 2011 smartphones were mostly Symbian. Lumia (Windows Phone) was launched in October 2011 but with only two models and limited territories (it also sold short of expectations, and rumour has it, with a high rate of returns).

Lumia units increased by 51% over Q3, but considering that Q3 was a bad quarter as customers waited for Windows Phone 8 that is a decent but not stunning improvement. Lumia units exceeded Symbian units, but remain far short of what Nokia used to achieve with Symbian.

There is also a warning about Q1 2013:

Seasonality and competitive environment are expected to have a negative impact on the first quarter 2013 underlying profitability for Devices & Services, compared to the fourth quarter 2012.

That said, here is what Nokia said in the Q3 release:

Nokia expects the fourth quarter 2012 to be a challenging quarter in Smart Devices, with a lower-than-normal benefit from seasonality in volumes, primarily due to product transitions and our ramp up plan for our new devices.

It looks as if the company prefers to be cautious in its financial statements.

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Nokia forms 71% of Windows Phone market according to AdDuplex research

These figures from AdDuplex, which runs an ad network for Windows Phone, surprised me. The company studies its stats for a random day in November, the 30th, and reports that 71% of the Windows Phone devices contacting its servers were from Nokia. The Lumia 710 leads with 24%, followed by Lumia 800 at 18%, and the Lumia 900 at 7%.

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The obvious conclusion is that Nokia dominates the Windows Phone market. Bad news for HTC, which seems to be making a real effort with its 8X release (the 20th most popular device according to the stats).

Dominating the market may sound good for Nokia, but unfortunately the entire market is relatively small. The risk for the platform is that it becomes in effect a Nokia-only OS with all the other OEMs focused on Android.

Apple looks mortal

This has been a bad week for technical journalism. Everything was going according to script; new iPhone announced on 12th September; not really much new but oh, the design, oh, the performance, oh, the small touches. Then those with early access to devices poured forth their reviews: “probably the most beautiful smartphone anyone has ever made,” said The Telegraph, while Walt Mossberg on the Wall Street Journal said that “Apple has taken an already great product and made it better.”

Mossberg did say that the new Maps app in the iPhone5 was “the biggest drawback” though the faults he found were, in retrospect, minor. He observes the lack of public transport information, and add that “while I found Apple’s maps accurate, they tend to default to a more zoomed-in view than Google’s, making them look emptier until you zoom out.”

When iOS 6 was rolled out generally this week though, the public had a different take on the subject. One factor was that they looked at the maps in their own location, whereas early reviewers tend to be located in major cities. The big issue is not the lack of public transport routing, though that is an issue, but the poor quality of the data. It is simply not of release quality. One small example. Birmingham Airport is a significant destination in the UK, but if I search for it here, I get mysteriously directed to Aldridge Airport, 20 miles north.

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Note: “Aldridge Airport” closed in the sixties and is “Now an open space used for football, dogwalking and the buzz of radio controlled aircraft.”

Birmingham airport itself seems missing.

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This search is no challenge for Google Maps.

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Maps are important on a mobile device, and this was an instance where the technical press, labouring as usual under short deadlines and the unrealistic challenge of perfectly encapsulating the qualities of a complex product with a few days of skimpy research and a few hundred words, let the public down.

More significantly, it is the biggest PR disaster for Apple that I can think of in recent years, certainly since the launch of the iPod in 2001, which was in a sense the beginning of Apple’s mobile adventure. When a tube station puts out a notice mocking Apple’s maps you know that this is a problem that everyone is talking about, not just the Twitterati.

Why has Apple done this? It is paying the price for escaping Google dependence, a real problem, but one that you would have thought could have been better addressed by licensing maps from Microsoft or Nokia, both of which have better maps; or by sticking with Google a little longer while putting its own effort out as an alpha preview while it fixes the data.

Apple will no doubt fix its maps and the decision to break with Google may eventually look good, but it is hard to see how it can fix them quickly.

The big reveal here is how Apple is prioritising its long-term industry strategy ahead of the interests of its users. Apple has done this before; but never with such obvious harm to usability.

It is still, no doubt, a beautiful phone, and the maps issue will be solved, if only by using Google’s web maps instead.

Apple looks mortal though, and the script is not playing back as planned. People who once would only have considered Apple will now be more aware that alternatives are in some respects better. The longer the maps issue continues, the more significant will be the effect.

Apple should withdraw its broken maps, go back to Google at least temporarily and reinstate the old maps app.

Nokia City Lens: augmented reality on your Lumia 920 Windows 8 phone

Nokia has announced the Lumia 920 with features including Qi wireless charging, PureView camera, and of course Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 operating system.

One eye-catching feature presented by Nokia’s Jo Harlow is City Lens, which uses augmented reality to overlay the view through your phone’s camera with tap-able labels showing information about local restaurants, stations, shops and so on.

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A great feature; I am sceptical though since Local Scout, a feature in Windows Phone 7 that was meant to find local places of interest including restaurants, shops and so on, was worse than useless in my experience. Information was missing, out of date, and lacked the necessary momentum to have user reviews of any consequence. It was a little better in the most central locations, such as central London.

City Lens could be great though, a practical application of augmented reality (historically a solution looking for a problem) which has obvious appeal.

Review: X-mini KAI, a Bluetooth audio dock you can put in your pocket

X-mini makes a popular range of what it calls Capsule Speakers, the latest of which doubles as a wireless speakerphone for your mobile, thanks to Bluetooth connectivity. Essentially, your smartphone sees it as a Bluetooth headset.

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First though, a word or two about the distinctive design. In the box you get the X-mini KAI, a USB charging cable that also has an audio cable for play-as-you-charge, a handy soft drawstring bag, and a tiny instruction manual.

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The X-mini KAI measures around 6cm in diameter and 8cm high when expanded. However, you can also push down the concertina and twist left to lock, whereupon it is just 5cm high. You can play it in this mode, but it sounds pretty bad. Still, easily small enough to put in your pocket.

Fit and finish is OK but could be better. Locking the unit shut takes some force and is slightly awkward because of all the switches. The multiple switches and ports do slightly spoil the appearance of the device and are somewhat fiddly to use.

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So how does it work? First, charge it via any USB connection. It takes at least 2.5 hours to charge fully, for which you get up to 8 hours of playback.

Once charged, you can use the KAI in several different modes. There is a three-position switch. Centre is off, or push left for wired audio, or push right for Bluetooth.

In wired mode, you can use the short 3.5mm jack connector which is coiled neatly in the base to connect to a SmartPhone, iPod, MP3 player or any audio device, and play your music. There is no volume control on the KAI in this mode, just control it from the audio device.

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The sound is mono of course, but not bad at all. You have to be realistic about what you can get from such a small speaker, but it is far better than the tinny sound you will hear from built-in speakers on phones and tablets.

I used it with the Google Nexus tablet with success. The Nexus is excellent for portable entertainment, particularly if you hack it a little to support Adobe Flash. Combine it with the KAI and you get much better sound from Google Music, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and the like.

X-mini quotes speaker power of 2.5w, frequency response of 100 Hz – 18 kHz, and distortion of less than 0.3%. Unfortunately these figures are meaningless without qualification; frequency response for example should be quoted as plus or minus 3dB or some such.

Still, with devices like this it is the experience that counts, since we are not talking hi-fi exactly. The KAI is a lot of fun, punchy and clear, you can hear a little bit of bass, and transforms the sound on your mobile device into something you can actually enjoy without earphones.

I compared the KAI to my trusty Creative Labs TravelSound. I give the nod to the TravelSound on sound quality, though the KAI was not embarrassed. However, bear in mind that the TravelSound has two speakers, is too big for the average pocket, and eats batteries unless you also carry a mains adaptor with you. KAI wins on convenience.

You can also wire two or more KAIs together for better sound, though I was not able to try this.

Wireless sound

The KAI also works over Bluetooth as mentioned above. To get this working, you slide the Audio key to the right. Then go to your mobile device, enable Bluetooth, and search for available devices. All going well, it will find the KAI and connect. This worked fine for me on the Nexus and on a Nokia Lumia 800 Smartphone.

Once connected, audio plays back through the KAI. It is as simple as that, and although there is some theoretical loss of quality, I did not find this audible on a casual comparison. Your battery will run down a little faster on both devices, but other than that it works just the same.

What’s nice about the wireless connection is that you can move your mobile device around the room and playback is not interrupted. The range is given as up to 10 metres, by which time you will hardly hear the KAI whether or not it is maintaining the connection. I tested this by walking around and the results were good.

In wireless mode an additional control on the KAI comes into play. Press down to play or pause. Move briefly right or left for previous or next track. Move and hold right or left for volume adjustment.

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You can also use the KAI as a speakerphone, and I tested this with an incoming call. When you hear the ring, press down the control above to answer. The music will pause, and you will hear your caller through the KAI. You can end the call by pressing the same control.

The snag with the call though was that my caller said I was hard to hear. I could fix this by holding the KAI close to my mouth but this was disappointing.

There is a mute button on the device, but note that this does not mute your voice when in a call. Rather, it mutes the speaker in the same way as during any audio playback.

Summing up

This is a great little device, ideal if you want a very small and portable travel speaker that still sounds decent. Bear in mind though that the X-mini capsule speaker is also available in a wired-only form for around a quarter of the price, so you are paying a lot for the Bluetooth and speakerphone features.

The wireless audio works really well, but the microphone seems insufficiently sensitive when used as a speakerphone and I would not want to use it for conference calling. That is a shame since this is otherwise a compelling feature, unless I was unlucky with my sample.

The review unit was supplied by Phone4U and you can find it here, price at the time of writing £79.99.