The ASUS contract-free ZenFone 2 is hard to resist

Last week I attended the much anticipated New York launch of the ASUS ZenFone 2, a new flagship phone that is heating up the competition between Chinese-made contract-free smartphones with all the bells and whistles and leading edge performance.

The ASUS ZenFone 2 has it all including nicely finished plastic with fine concentric ring surface

The Zenfone 2 features a 13 MP camera with ASUS-exclusive PixelMaster camera technology, a much improved ZenUI user interface, Dual-SIM (well yes but only one will take 4G SIMS) ) Dual-Active (DSDA) capability, and a new performance level against ANY phone.

Why? Under the hood of the Hull HD 5.5 IPS + screen is a 64-bit four-core Intel Atom Z3580 (‘Moorefield’) processor with up to 4GB RAM and an Intel LTE-Advanced XMM 7260 modem. ASUS convincingly showed how the world’s first 4 GB RAM smartphone could juggle between four memory intensive games, pausing between all four and not missing a beat when switching between them.

Continue reading The ASUS contract-free ZenFone 2 is hard to resist

An affordable BlackBerry for start-ups and old fans

The BlackBerry Leap, available today for as low as $0.00 with plan or $349 CAD outright, has lots of BlackBerry DNA. Minus a real keyboard for a large 5-inch screen and  some careful nip and tucking on the hardware side has made the Leap an affordable quality mid-tier smart phone. BlackBerry likes to market it for the young professional, meaning start-up companies who want BlackBerry device enterprise security advantages at a lower hardware cost. But I think it will also attract BB fans who have skipped a few upgrades.

Don’t let the price fool you. It has design smarts and functionality.

The BlackBerry Leap sans keyboard is clasically simpe borrowing features from pricier siblings
The BlackBerry Leap sans keyboard is clasically simpe borrowing features from pricier siblings

For starters, it feels just right to hold with a non-slip back and sides so it won’t slip from your hands, lap or dashboard. You can add micro-SD memory and oversized battery will easily make it last till the next morning.

The 8 MP main camera is welcome with more shooting control features and better than average picture quality. The images are crisp with good colour contrast, but the Full HD video does lose some smoothness in fast scenes – otherwise acceptable in normal shoots. You can snap a picture while in video mode too. Nice.

I like the selfie quality keeping you and things you are close to or holding in sharp focus on the first shot, as all phones should.

The Leap has a 5-inch touchscreen with a responsive keyboard, similar to higher tier siblings, including the unique feature of flipping accurate predictive words that appear on the keyboard upward to the text box. If you master this flip thing you will be a speed demon typist.

It features the same efficient multi-direction screen finger swipe to navigate between individual email or messaging accounts, a hub that shows all your communications, to open apps and an icon view of screen apps.

The screen reacts quickly to your commands, and although one notch down on “sharpness” and DPI tech terms, sharp enough with crispness and detail.

The Leap doesn’t have NFC but that will unlikely hold it back on upcoming store purchasing schemes.

BlackBerry’s BBM, available, in iOS Android OS, is superior to competitors allowing you to not just type, but use your phone and video through a WiFi connection, bypassing the phone’s cellular data connection.

As with its current siblings, the Leap has two sources for apps, BlackBerry World and Amazon Appstore with not as many apps as a full-fledged Android or iPhone but more than you would ever need.

BlackBerry Flex shell converts to a vertical or horizontal stand
BlackBerry Flex shell converts to a vertical or horizontal stand

The Leap’s legendary security features actually kick in when it is part of an IT managed company. Consumers still have to rely on their emails and texts to go through their cellco’s servers. But BalckBerry’s Donny Halliwell points out that the BlackBerry has never been jailbroken and its Blend feature lets you keep in touch with Mac and Windows laptops.

The Leap has the potential to find itself in the hands of frugal business users and fans on a budget looking for value.

Available at Bell Mobility, Rogers Wireless, Sasktel, TELUS, WIND Mobile, ShopBlackBerry, and select Tbooth wireless and WIRELESSWAVE.

BlackBerry has also introduced three new Accessory Value Bundles for the Leap that include an unlocked BlackBerry Leap with accessories for additional savings, like the clever Flex shell and a sync/charging pod. Check out the BlackBerry Leap Efficiency Bundle, BlackBerry Leap Travel Bundle and BlackBerry Leap Power Bundle are available on ShopBlackBerry.

www.blackberry.com

Check out my Global TV Sunday Morning News Tech Talk broadcast and Global News blog.

Two new phones – a tale of two cities

Two new phones are in the marketplace with a common goal but two vastly different stories.
The HTC One M9 with Android 5.0 Lollipop continues the tradition of the M8 with  top-tier design and performance improvements. It is one handsome smart phone.

The HTC One M9 offers quality and eclectic design for a top tier phone
The HTC One M9 offers quality and eclectic design for a top tier phone

A 20 megapixel camera and sapphire glass lens makes the M9 a serious contender for good quality photos from a phone. The familiar all metal curved case tapering to thin long edges is still there, making the M9 an easy phone to hold, but it does heat up more than the average phone, especially when watching YouTube vids.
To me the highlight is amazing sound with two front-facing Dolby Audio surround speakers making the M9 the best boom-box in a pocket.
HTC spared no expense with a brilliant 5.0” FHD TFT LCD 1920 x 1800 (real sharp) screen and an Octa-Core Snapdragon 810 Processor powered by a generous size 2900 mAh battery. It comes with 32GB memory but thankfully, it features a micro SD card slot which nowadays can accommodate up to a 200 GB memory upgrade. Nice.

Continue reading Two new phones – a tale of two cities

APPLE WATCH ENVY? NOT YET. SAMSUNG HAS A SECRET WEAPON

While Apple users scurry online to order the new Apple Watch, you would think Android phone users will be left behind with the current crop of Android-based smart watches.

Not so. As reported in The Korea Herald  this week, Samsung is planning to release a Gear 2 stand-alone variant with the ability to receive and make calls and receive notifications without the need of a smart phone.  Names like Samsung Gear Solo are surfacing in the rumour mill but Samsung patent filings for “Gear Solo” to the Korean IP Office kinda spills the beans.

Although slated for initial release in Korea, I have heard enough from other sources to indicate it will also reach North American shores, perhaps by summer.

Continue reading APPLE WATCH ENVY? NOT YET. SAMSUNG HAS A SECRET WEAPON

Dell elevates the Android tablet to a high end work and play device

SAN FRANCISCO-ARRIL 8, 2015
Today Dell launched the Venue 10 7000, a premium tablet with detachable full function backlit keyboard with multifunction mouse-like touch pad. Available in Canada, the US and China in early May for $599 CDN and with keyboard currently $600 (US PRICE ONLY) with keyboard, the Venue 10 will incorporate its own Dell security work features on top of Google’s Android for Work which comes with  Android 5 (Lollipop) OS. The Venue 10 (and other Lollipop Dell upgadable Android Tablets) can run both work and personal apps on the same device. But each will be separate from each other. For example, an employer would be able to wipe out an employee’s work apps from the their Venue 10, leaving personal files intact. Dell demonstrated other security features like not being able to screen capture mixed work and personal content on the same 10-inch multi-angle view 2560×1600 Venue screen.

Dell's Vikram Chadaga with the new Dell Venue 10 7000 Android Tablet with magnetically detachable baklit keyboard.
Dell’s Vikram Chadaga with the new Dell Venue 10 7000 Android Tablet with magnetically detachable baklit keyboard.

This is Dell’s shot across the bows of Microsoft’s revenue based Office collaboration with various OEM front end laptops and desktops, as well as Apple’s even pricier hardware work and school environment. Continue reading Dell elevates the Android tablet to a high end work and play device

How does the new Microsoft Surface 3 stack up? And some thoughts on “free”

Check out my Global TV Sunday Morning News Tech Talk segment today.

Microsoft’s new Surface 3, is available now for pre-order. It’s touted as the portable work and school successor to its very well received Surface Pro 3 which has impressive sales. Although Microsoft touts similar DNA to the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 has very little in common with its older sibling.

Check it out at the Microsoft Canada Store

Microsoft's new Surface 3 hopes to match its older sibling's success but not at budget prices
Microsoft’s new Surface 3 hopes to match its older sibling’s success but not at budget prices

Here’s what I like about it:

Perfect size for portability and long battery life. The docking station is a good idea as is an always connected 4G LTE model. The 3:2 aspect screen ratio on a 10.8 – inch screen is smart for documents and magazines. Keeping three positions for the kick stand is welcome as is the free one year trial of Microsoft Office 365 Personal. The free upgrade to the yet unreleased very excellent Windows 10, we all get in the first year.

The full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, microSD card reader and Micro USB charging port are smart too.

Now the bad news:

The Surface 3 at $639 is too pricey to start with. Third party makers can easily beat that with better features and processors, not the Intel Atom the Surface 3 comes with and more than 2 GB RAM.  That doesn’t include the optional Surface 3 Type Cover, $159.99 and full feature Surface Pen for $49.99.

Microsoft is riding on the success of its Surface Pro 3 which commands a hefty price but worth it.

I still can’t see where the tablet version of Windows comes in. It’s still an orphaned touch OS and the more it gets out of the way in the new Windows 10 OS, as it does, the better. That’s not from me. I rarely run into raving Windows tablet users, still griping about the original Windows 8 and patched up Windows 8.1 with “that other screen view with big icons that comes out of nowhere.”

Microsoft’s idea of a universal OS in Windows 10 is a smart idea, insofar as having apps that run on your desktop laptop or Windows Phone. But the tablet part cannot stand up to iPads or Android Tablets. I think one of the wisest things the late Steve Jobs said was that tablets (iPads) and laptops have totally different uses.

Microsoft’s challenge to be in every day consumer lives is making the software giant give a little “free” here and there.

Canadian students can get a free Office 365 Education for Students providing their district school board or individual school (from K-post-secondary institutions) has purchased Microsoft Office for use by its staff. Parents and students can check www.microsoft.ca/freeoffice for details. The software will work on multiple devices for each student and includes classroom collaboration. But not shared with four other users.

But if the students move to another school that uses the popular Google for Education with free forever Office-like tools, they will lose their special Office 365.

Microsoft hopes planting early free seeds to potential future customers of the future is a good idea. As an Office 365 user myself, it’s difficult to break away for competitive free office software.

I must say, with all this free software, especially on phones, one gets spoiled and annoyed at having to pay companies like Microsoft for software. But there is a price for free software. You give up your privacy and your phone literally gets dragged from the additional goings on. Check out this eye opening recent research on what FREE phone software does to your phone.

Interestingly, unlike competitors, Microsoft’s free Office Mobile App has minimal involvement with your smart phone. It only accesses information directly needed by you when using the app.

Would you pay a couple of bucks for phone software that just leaves you alone? For years Microsoft insiders have been telling me, the time will come when the option of paying a descent price for software with no ads or secret sharing of your phone user stats might get traction again.

I’m in!

The best smart phone cameras are impressive but still can’t match enthusiast digital cameras

Despite today’s sophisticated smart phone cameras, I still like to take more serious camera hardware along when I travel.

Why? Because a 16 megapixel cellphone picture is not the same as a 16 megapixel quality mirrorless or DSLR with interchangeable lenses.

Why? Picture sensors on phones, with the exception of the Sony Xperia Z3, are half the size of your pinky  fingernail. Compare that to the postage size sensors of interchangeable lens cameras like the  Sony NEX, Samsung NX, Fujifilm X, Olympus Pen  and bulkier DSLR cameras.

Physically larger sensors record richer colours, more detail in shadows and less noise at higher ISO settings.

Phone cameras have no real zoom lens. They basically shoot wide angle photos with the ability to zoom in closer, but at the expense of megapixel size and quality. This means phone cameras can’t shoot from far away like zoom lenses on real cameras. Nor can they shoot extra wide angle photos.

The lens on a smart phone has one aperture, typically f2, leaving the shutter speed to control the picture’s exposure. Due to the physically small size of the picture sensor, the depth of field on smartphone pictures is quite large (making near and far subjects look just as sharp) and cannot be changed. Again, zeroing in on closer objects, or portraits with an out of focus background is impossible to do with phone cameras.

Phone cameras are best at quickly recording personal moments near you. They are small and handy, but there are images further out that are worth capturing beyond your personal sphere.

Here are examples of “tourist” photos I recently took in Barcelona after the Mobile World Congress I reported on my Global TV Sunday Morning News today.

They were shot with a 16 MP Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and the Fujifilm weather resistant 16 MP X-T1 with top tier fast aspherical extra wide angle XF 10-24 mm f4 zoom which captures 3 times as wide a view as normal lenses, the new 16-55 mm f2.8 aspherical weatherproof and the 18-135 mm f3.5-5.6 aspherical zoom, also weatherproof, for my ultra-zoom close-ups.

See the first group of still impressive quality Note Edge pictures, unbeatable selfies, great panoramas and medium wide angle views. Compare the variety of  wider and  tight telephoto views shot with the X-T1.

Click on photos to enlarge

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with medium wide views, wider selfies and amazing panoramas
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with medium wide views, wider selfies and amazing panoramas
Fujifim X-T1 with extreme wide and telephoto zoom lenses
Fujifilm X-T1 with extreme wide and telephoto zoom lenses

 

 

 

 

 

Samsung keeps the WOW factour at Barcelona launch

Today Samsung announced its newest Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

2015-03-01 14.49.37

 

The S6, features a smooth rounded metal bezel, while the S6 Edge has curved glass screens on both sides with a uniquely crafted bezel hugging both exposed corners.

2015-03-01 14.49.37

More 64 bit processing power and faster response to finger touch are in order here. Both models are sealed, thus no interchangeable battery with build-in wireless re-charging. You get 4 hours of normal use after a 10 minute charge.

National coffee stores and Ikea will soon feature under the surface cordless chargers on counters and night tables from Ikea. Samsung supports an open standard in wireless charging.

No more memory upgrades either. There will be 32, 64 and 128 GB models. Samsung decided its new battery was good enough to be sealed permanently shaving the S6 down to 6.8 mm. It also said the S6 “won’t bend.”

A 16 megapixel main camera features less than a second instant on from the get go by pressing the menu bar twice, even on locked phones. It has easy to use settings for beginners and a Pro mode to grow into.

The 5 megapixel selfie uses a fast f1.9 lens and shoots gorgeous FullHD video.

Samsung showed tough picture and movie taking comparisons in bad light against an iPhone 6 with noticeable quality gains.

Both phones will be available in Canada on April 10 with all cellcos. The 32 GB S6 is expected to sell in the $250 range while the Edge will cost about $100 more.

For that you get a well crafted constant companion with Gorilla Glass 4 and a curved screen that was subjected to 8,000 Celcius during assembly.

Thinness, dazzling looks and smart functionality with speed is Samsung’s latest effort to compete with Apple’s recently successful iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones sold worldwide.

Samsung Canada's Paul Brannen "We listened to everyone's pain points on phones and delivered on design and functionality."
Samsung Canada’s Paul Brannen “We listened to everyone’s pain points on phones and delivered on design and functionality.”

The curved S6 Edge has room for separate narrow side panel information viewed from the top or the side. This gives fast access to app icons, auto-scrolling sports and news and a nifty non-intrusive bed light mode, with time weather and alarm showing on the curve edge.

When face down, the S6 Edge glows colours assigned to specific contacts so you know who might be buzzing you in a meeting.

Despite its “wow” tecnology showcase at the premiere mobility show of the year, the South Korean giant finds itself with decreasing annual profits and playing catchup to Apple’s hugely successful 75 million global iPhone 6 sales.

Analysts place Apple and Samsung at par with 20 per cent each on global phone shipments in the past quarter. Samsung recently reported a 37 per cent drop of its company-wide operating profit from last year.

Will Samsung’s glass screen-bending magic save it from its current woes?

Faced with Apple’s lightening fast market growth outside North America, low price busting Chinese smartphones from Xiaomi and its growing dissatisfaction with the Android operating system, Samsung is in the unenviable position of having the coolest technology in need of the right market.

Talking with Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll

 

“A lot of stuff I am not terribly happy with, with what’s going on…especially the body issues it creates for a lot of women.”  Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll on digital picture manipulation

Happy 25th Photoshop! In a live Adobe hosted online media briefing this morning, the creator of Photoshop Thomas Knoll, took questions from us. He was totally candid, thankfully with minimum media training. Although supportive of Adobe’s ever expanding cloud based Creative Cloud, Knoll expressed concerns about its abuse as a tool. He also gave us a glimpse of what the graphics industry was like back in 1987 when Knoll and his photographer brother John dabbled with a little imaging program they called Display.

Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll answers media questions online today on Photoshop's 25th. My meeting him in 2000 running PS 6!
Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll answers media questions online today on Photoshop’s 25th. My meeting him in 2000 running PS 6!

It’s interesting to note that Knoll had his own camera in his teen years and was shown the ins and outs of darkrooms by his dad. He was frustrated not being able to get darker blacks or whiter whites on his prints. Later he dabbled with basic picture editing programs during his thesis work to the point where he never got his PhD. We can all thank him for that!

Knoll said that Display was designed as a pixel editor for the graphics industry to prepare images for printing in 1987. He considered other names for his program like Image Pro and Photo Lap, even PhotoShop through an acquaintance. After Adobe purchased the fledging program, according to Knoll, it changed the upper case S to a lower case, launching Photoshop in 1990 to a world hungry for better imaging editing solutions.

I interviewed Knoll 15 years ago, also an Adobe Fellow, in 2000 who was running Adobe 6 on his Mac Book. His biggest beef then was why Adobe was putting more emphasis on his all-powerful Photoshop being to handle web-size images when it was originally conceived to handle huge picture files for professionals and photo enthusiasts.

Remember, this was the early days of the Internet and Adobe envisioned being a big part of the online digital revolution. Fast forward to the Adobe Creative Cloud today which dominates the graphics and publishing industry.

Keeping low budget photographers in mind, Knoll was instrumental in Adobe’s special Creative Cloud Photography offer for Photoshop and Lightroom plus mobile phone app for anyone for only $9.99 US a month with online benefits. That’s two large fancy coffees a month! https://creative.adobe.com/plans/photography

In this morning’s Q&A session Knoll shared how he still gets a kick out of “Photoshop” used as a globally known word. But he expressed reservations on how his beloved app becomes the centre of controversy whenever digital manipulation hits the web social scene.

“Photoshop is a tool and like any other tool, it can be abused,” he said. “A lot of stuff I am not terribly happy with, with what’s going on…especially the body issues it creates for a lot of women. I would appreciate it if people would back off on that,” he added.

From my first conversation with Knoll 15 years ago to today’s media Q&A, I can’t help but think Knoll has no mean digital strain in his DNA. He is a non-destructive kind of guy and continues to work on new versions of Photoshop’s pure RAW format which reads every bit of better cameras’ pure digital picture information when the photo is taken.

You will understand Knoll better if you visit his site, http://tknoll.com and see his view of the world in a collection of extensive world photography. Pure photos, most taken in RAW format.

Visit the Photoshop 25th anniversary blog

Checkout my GlobalTV Tech Talk segments

 

 

One Tap takes the distraction out of driving

 

Calgary based AppColony  has come up with a cleverly simple free Android app, One Tap, which effectively stops distracted driving. Take that from me, I have been driving with it for a week. It’s a keeper.

One Tap summerizes each drive session, left, compares your distraction performance , centre and distance driven with friends
One Tap summerizes each drive session, left, compares your distraction performance , centre and distance driven with friends

Continue reading One Tap takes the distraction out of driving