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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today Samsung announced its newest Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How do you say I love you for Valentine’s Day with technology?
For a range of affordable new personal tech gift suggestions check out my globalnews.ca/techuntangled and Edmonton Global News Sunday Morning News Tech Talk segment.
If your love has no limit, here are a few items, costing more, that have a lot of tech love to give back for the next few Valentine’s years.
The Kobo WiFi Aura H20, $169.99, is an all-weather E Ink eReader with enough internal memory to carry 3,000 books. The 6.8 – inch antiglare 265 dpi screen features adjustable ComfortLight backlight technology for reading in brighter places.
The New Kindle eReader, $79, is winner in many ways. It’s small, light, with weeks of battery life, 20 per cent faster processing and twice the storage capability as the previous model. The new touch interface is simple and the new Word Wise feature makes it easier for readers learning English to understand new words.
Hi folks, here we go again. The annual International Consumer Electronic Technology Show in Las Vegas is upon us once again next week in Las Vegas. Like many of us tech writers, I go early, arriving Sunday morning, landing with my feet running to the afternoon CES Unveiled event at the Mandalay Bay.
What can we expect? New wearables, tablets, palm-size drones, TVs and more. I will be reporting on what I see, lot’s of it, so keep in touch!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ON THE SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE EDGE
I am CES-bound, armed with new “cutting edge” technology from Samsung Canada who seeded me with the yet-to-be launched in Canada, Galaxy Note Edge.
The phone, with all the features of the current Note 4 with S Pen stylus is more that evolutionary, featuring a curved screen edge with a dedicated vertical panel along the right side of the main screen.
You can read the armed-to-the-teeth specs on this gorgeous phablet at EDGE but this newly designed Samsung interface running on Android 4.4 Kitkat, must be seen, held and used to be fully appreciated.
The Edge is slightly wider and shorter than the current Note 4 with with a removable slightly smaller battery and access to a micro-SD slot for up to 128 GB cards.
The side panel ( it also works for lefties with a few clicks and holding the phone upside-down) appears and disappears with helpful information like favourite apps. You can run up to 10 panels from about 20 free downloadable themes and functions like games, streaming one line news sites, favourite contacts and more.
Click on those and you get to the original Web site.
There is a slight overlap between the right vertical main screen edge and the Edge panel. When it disappears the main screen becomes slightly wider and part of it starts curving slightly. Unnoticeable after you use it for a few hours.
I like the dedicated function menu options on the side panel when running camera, calendar and S Note apps. You can even design or use your own photos to show on the panel while in locked mode…even with some handwriting messages.
Samsung smartly thought out this panel function through with many surprises including a night mode which kicks in when the screen times out. The Edge becomes a horizontal dim night table screen showing weather, time and alarm, viewable when the phone is on its back…right next to your pillow. Nice!
The Edge is immaculately made with attention to detailed curves and a clean metal edge carefully countered around the curved screen, just enough to protect the pricey piece of glass from flat surface falls.
Samsung’s dedicated folio case turns the main screen off, when closed, leaving the side viewable curve panel on, which changes modes by a finger swoosh across its narrow screen.
As for looks, the Edge is a winner and a showpiece for Samsung. Most folks can’t get their heads around a perfectly curved ultra sharp colour screen. Currently available in the US, for $945 USD or $500 with a two year plan, it is not for the average consumer’s wallet.
But it is what it is, showstopping technology in Canadian stores and cellcos this quarter, from the Korean tech giant who unquestionably walks the walk on glass making.
“From an innovation and revolutionary perspective for a mobile device we hit the nail on the head,” said Samsung Canada’s Steven Cull. “When your’e looking at the cost justification from a Samsung perspective, its delivering that fast multitasking device in the market.”
Indeed it does.
SHOULD YOU GET IT?
If money is no problem, yes! This is a version 1.0 that works right off the bat. When matched with the also curved head-turning Gear S smart watch (with its own sim card for anywhere “mother-ship” phone and data synchronization) the Edge is the next step in smartphone innovation.
If your’e not a tech enthusiast, I would wait. You can certainly ne functional without it. After showing the Edge to several Canadian cellco stores, I got the same reaction from store managers: Samsung should put curved screens in more of its next gen affordable phones if they want to aggressively keep their market share.
Are you listening Samsung?
ONE MORE THOUGHT ON THE GEAR S
Speaking of next generation, Samsung’s market leading tech Gear S is so close to becoming its own stand-alone hotspot, phone and smartphone on a wrist.
When will you cut the digital cord on your next Gear S Samsung? Who needs a hand-held phone when you can wear it on your wrist and take along a tablet instead?
Tune in to my Edmonton Global TV Sunday Morning NewsTech Talk segment where I will be showing the Edge and talk about more CES.