The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4″ Beast of a Phone – and Google Play is Selling it Unlocked

The Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a 6.4″ Beast of a Phone – and Google Play is Selling it Unlocked

Dec 11, 2013

Sony Z Ultra 4

It’s a phone! It’s a tablet! It’s a 6.4” beast with tablet capabilities, and a Quad Core with 2.2 Ghz of power, that’s beating other smartphones in most categories. And the jokes of Sony releasing an HD brick are quite in place, since Xperia Z Ultra is made of “tempered glass, supported by a tough skeleton frame of glass fibre polyamide”, designed to withstand a long beating. The phone is also region and contract-unlocked, so it could be a great gadget for travelling. Additional details can be found here: Sony Z Ultra Google Play Edition on Google Play.

Samsung Announces Galaxy S IV

Samsung Announces Galaxy S IV

Mar 15, 2013

Samsung’s back with the brand new Galaxy S IV, their new flagship smartphone, announced at Samsung Unpacked on March 14th. Here’s the important details.

Visually, the phone is quite similar to its predecessor, offering what seems to be a similar plasticky design along with many of the same visual cues that influenced the S3 design. Samsung has been on a major push to make a ‘look’ for their devices as seen especially by the similar-looking Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note 2, and even Galaxy Tab 8.0, all with their curved design and that half-block/half-curve home button.

The requisite screen size increase is here, and interestingly, Samsung has elected to go into the 5″ range with the screen that now boasts a 1080p display. This is pushing into Galaxy Note territory in terms of screen size, could potentially scare away those who like smaller phones, and could cannibalize Galaxy Note 2 sales in part thanks to its higher resolution. Of course, an April rollout, as is planned, would be about half a year after the Galaxy Note II was unveiled, which itself was half a year after the S3 unveiling, so there’s clearly a pattern here. Processor-wise, the international version will have an Exynos 5 while the US will get the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro.

As always, a new Galaxy S phone means new tweaks on top of the Android experience for TouchWiz. New “Smart” features like Smart Pause, where looking away from a video will pause it, are included. The camera, which is now a 13-megapixel shooter, comes with a variety of new features that can do things like erase people walking through the backgrounds of shots by taking multiple simultaneous snaps and then making a composite image with erasable background elements. The OS is miraculously Jelly Bean 4.2.2, which is the current version of Android, though one could bet good money that a new version will be announced at Google I/O in May, so enjoy living on the cutting edge while it lasts.

For gamers, Samsung is introducing a Bluetooth controller compatible with the phone, which will support over 80 Android games and come ‘bundled’ with 8 games itself.

Those who didn’t watch the presentation were spared. It was a painful affair thanks to the overwrought announcers and actors plying up their performance a bit too much. Subtlety was a lost art with the presentation. Someone at Samsung watched Qualcomm’s “Born Mobile” CES presentation and thought that was a good idea.

The Galaxy S IV will be rolling out internationally starting this April, with US support for all 4 major carriers, as well as US Cellular and Cricket.

Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 Go On Sale, Then Sell Out, While Jelly Bean 4.2 Starts Its Rollout

Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 Go On Sale, Then Sell Out, While Jelly Bean 4.2 Starts Its Rollout

Nov 13, 2012

Happy Nexus 4, HSPA+ Nexus 7, and Nexus 10 day! By which we mean unless you were awake at that random hour in your home country when Google put their devices on sale on Google Play, you’re probably feeling miserable right now over having to wait for Google to get more stock in. Considering how the Samsung Chromebook is still backordered, prepare to be patient. This was the case around the world, as widespread reports of not only the Nexus 4 being sold out but also the Nexus 10 were reported as the devices rolled out worldwide.

As of publication in the US, all of the Nexus 7 models are in stock, including the new HSPA+ Nexus 7. The 16 GB Nexus 10 is still in stock, but the 32 GB is out of stock. Both Nexus 4 models are out of stock.The new Acer C7 Chromebook, which boasts less-impressive specs compared to the $249 Samsung Chromebook, is still in stock after going on sale today for $199.

We’ve also learned that the HSPA+ Nexus 7 comes with an AT&T SIM. It will still work with T-Mobile networks, but users will need to provide their own SIM cards. They cost about $10 in-store, but the mobile broadband SIM runs for $6.99 from T-Mobile’s website, and phone SIMs are free.

Until Google gets adequate stock (or releases more stock after getting all this press for being sold out), for those still on the pedestrian Galaxy Nexus or wi-fi-only Nexus 7, there’s still a way to be part of the future. Jelly Bean 4.2 has started rolling out to these devices, but in the slower over-the-air rollout that came with 4.1.2 earlier this year, meaning that it may be a few days before the newest version of Android is on that Nexus device.

However, for those that are impatient and not afraid of tinkering around in recovery, Google has made the 4.2 updates available for the GSM-unlocked Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 7. They require booting into recovery mode and transferring the files via ADB, but they can be done without rooting. Otherwise, while there aren’t any reports of the update being distributed over the air yet, it should just be a matter of time.

Anyone make the jump with the 4.2 update, or have success buying a new device?

The Hills Are Greener: You Down With LTE? Google Says No.

The Hills Are Greener: You Down With LTE? Google Says No.

Nov 5, 2012

The Nexus 4 has one glaring omission from its otherwise-impressive list of specs: no LTE. After all, the iPhone 5 has it, so why shouldn’t Google’s flagship Nexus phone have it, especially after the iPhone 5, which arrives fashionably late to cellular network technology, had already made the jump? Well, blame the current state of the carriers in the US.

Thanks to the CDMA and GSM protocols, and the different frequencies that even GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile use, interoperability is difficult to cram into one phone model. LTE makes it even harder with many new frequencies to communicate on for each carrier. There’s no LTE equivalent for something like the iPhone, which supports the 1900 Mhz GSM band, to work on T-Mobile, for example. The best way to get LTE support is to work with the carriers, which Google is largely opposed to after bad experiences with Verizon and Sprint with the LTE-enabled Galaxy Nexus. They want to release new versions of Android immediately; the carriers want them tested and probably don’t even want phones to really be updated for too long, after all, if someone is satisfied with their current phone, what reason will they have to buy a new one?

The US market is just not used to unlocked phones yet, in part because Sprint and Verizon make it difficult to use said phones on their network, and the 2-year-contract model is a stopping point on GSM networks. T-Mobile, however, is likely a big driver of this phone. After all, the beauty of buying a phone unlocked is that it can be used on cheaper pre-paid plans, and T-Mobile has some of the most exhaustive pre-paid options, including the fabled $30 plan that offers only 100 minutes, but unlimited messaging and 5 GB of 4G data. That will likely be a big seller for the Nexus 4.

Of course, they’re selling it as a contracted option as well, at $199 on a 2-year agreement, which is silly considering the phone is $349 unlocked! However, for those looking to buy it with HSPA+ 42 on T-Mobile, that’s the only option, is to go directly through them. Why they’re not selling the phone as a driver for their prepaid plans, the only real reason for T-Mobile to still exist at this point, is unknown.

Now, is the lack of LTE something that Google should get a free pass on? No, it is a lacking feature considering that it’s becoming standard in high-end phones. But Google’s doing something different here. They’re selling a phone directly to consumers for $349, no contract. This is something that hasn’t really been tried with a flagship smartphone. If the market is going to change to be more friendly to unlocked phones, there first needs to be a demand for them, and that appears to be what Google is doing with the Nexus 4. LTE and CDMA appear to be the sacrifices to make this sea change happen.

Google Announces Nexus 4 Phone, Nexus 10 Tablet, and Updated Nexus 7 Models

Google Announces Nexus 4 Phone, Nexus 10 Tablet, and Updated Nexus 7 Models

Oct 29, 2012

With Hurricane Sandy attacking the east coast, the New York event Google had scheduled was delayed, but not the revelation of their new product line. The Nexus 4 and 10 are realities along with a refreshed Nexus 7 line, and are releasing to the world on November 13th.

First, the Nexus 4. This is a 4.7″ phone created by LG, that is the direct successor to the Galaxy Nexus. It boasts a 1280×768 screen (320ppi) with curved glass edges, and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 2. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, and there’s 2 GB of RAM to power this thing. NFC and Google Wallet are supported. The rear camera takes photos at 8 megapixels, records video at 1080p anad allows for still shots to be snapped while recording. There’s also a “Photo Sphere camera” which purportedly allows for 360 degree picture taking, likely in conjunction with the front-facing camera.

What may be the most intriguing part about this phone is that it’s going to be priced at $299 for 8 GB, and $349 for 16 GB unlocked for HSPA+ (meaning AT&T and T-Mobile in the US), and will be sold through Google Play. This is Google bringing the “sell at cost” model of Android tablets to phones, and considering that it’s barely a higher cost than phones like the iPhone on a 2-year contract, it could have an impact on the market. However, its lack of LTE is already being pointed out, and it may hold adoption back.

The Nexus 10 is a 10″ tablet created by Samsung, and its big feature is its screen. It’s a 2560×1600 screen (300 ppi) that is higher-res and more pixel-dense than the iPad Retina Display. It has an A15 processor, 2 GB of RAM, micro-HDMI output built-in, MIMO wi-fi support, is only 8.9mm thick, and weighs just 603 grams. $399 will be the cost for the 16 GB wi-fi version, and $499 for the 32 GB.

Software-wise, it along with the Nexus 4 boasts Android 4.2, which is still codenamed Jelly Bean, as it is just a minor update. For all devices, a new trace keyboard is available, finally competing with Swype at their own game. 10″ tablets receive the biggest change: the notification bar appears to now be split like on the Nexus 7, with the standard Back/Home/Multitasking buttons at the bottom and notifications dropping down from the top, instead of it all being available on the bottom. Expect custom roms to restore this functionality as it could be a controversial change. Not controversial is the addition of individual users, which allow for diffrent users to have different homescreens and apps for themselves.

Finally, the Nexus 7 sees its 8/16 GB models for $199/$249 respectively get bumped up to 16/32 GB. Also, an HSDPA+ unlocked model with 32 GB is available for $299. The specs are the same, but it will come with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.

With the delay of the event, there’s the possibility that Google may still announce these at some point, or they may just let their website do the talking, along with top-tier features at low-tier price points. All the devices will be sold on Google Play, and will be available starting November 13th.

Remotely View Call Logs and Manage Who’s Calling with cBlocker

Remotely View Call Logs and Manage Who’s Calling with cBlocker

Oct 4, 2012

For those looking to remotely control their phone’s features, Android offers plenty of options to do just that. cBlocker is another choice, one that’s designed primarily to manage a phone’s permissions with calling and texting. Want to restrict calls and texts from certain numbers? It can be done over the web with cBlocker. There’s the ability to view call logs from the web, to see who’s been calling and when. Calls can also be set to be forwarded to another number at a given time, so those who want to leave their work phone at work but not miss urgent calls can do so.

cBlocker claims their product is designed for managing family phones – perhaps that daughter is spending too much time with that heartthrob down the street who practically sparkles. As well, it could be used to ensure that work phones are actually used as work phones. The service comes with a free trial, and there’s an add-on for a ‘hidden’ version of the service that should be undetectable by users. Remember, spying is bad. cBlocker is available now from Google Play.

Theme Thursday: Business Ringtones

Theme Thursday: Business Ringtones

Sep 20, 2012

Editor’s Note: Regular column author Joseph Bertolini is currently injured. Wish him well!

This week on Theme Thursday, I decide to focus on Business Ringtones by RCP, something a bit different from the other columns in this series. The difference is obvious: this is an app focusing on ringtones, not on a visual theme. Yet, it still fits in a roundabout way. As part of Android’s fantastic ability to be customized to a device owner’s desires, there’s so many visual options that users have. Yet, os often phones are stuck making the same obnoxious sounds, or randomized set of ringtones and notification sounds that vary from phone to phone, and often even from ROM to ROM

And many of these built-in sounds are loud, showy, and just plain over-do it. Ever look at the ringtones on a phone and think, “these are just too much?” Or, “why can’t I just have a normal ringtone?” That’s what Business Ringtones aims to do.

The tones are all designed to be basic digital chimes, with enough differentiation to be used as the notifciation sounds for different apps, for example. I like being able to hear my phone go off and know based on the notification sound whether I just got a text message, a tweet, or an email from one of the accounts I check. That’s what these sounds enable me to do. There’s over 50 sounds available, suitable for ringtones and alerts alike. Each sound can be previewed in the app, and then saved to the phone or set as a sound immediately. Once added to the device, individual apps can easily use them for their various tones.

These subtle yet differentiated tones go well with a sleek, minimalistic theme. As well, they could be used with a more garish theme, operating as the mullet of phones: it sounds like business, but it looks like a party. Business Ringtones runs for $1.99 on Google Play, and there’s a video demo of the various tones available below. As well, developer RCP has other apps available with other types of tones, including a complete collection for $4.99.

Interesting Hardware Announcements from IFA 2012: Samsung Galaxy Camera, Galaxy Note II, Archos GamePad

Interesting Hardware Announcements from IFA 2012: Samsung Galaxy Camera, Galaxy Note II, Archos GamePad

Aug 29, 2012

The annual Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin – better known as IFA – electronics show has kicked off, and there’s some interesting new hardware announcements to go along with it. Samsung held an Unpacked event to reveal a pair of new devices, and even Archos had an interesting new device to show off.

Okay, remember that Nikon Android camera we posted about last week? Well, Samsung might have killed it already. The Samsung Galaxy Camera is essentially a Galaxy S III with a heavy-duty point-and-shoot camera built in to it. The camera has a 16 megapixel sensor with a 21x optical zoom, and F2.8 aperture. On the Android side of things, there’s a 4.8“ screen (the same size as the Galaxy S III), a quad-core processor, and interestingly, no Android hardware buttons, so it will use software menu keys. It will run Jelly Bean, and Samsung is adding in a voice control function to allow for zooming by saying ”Zoom in!" While stock Android may be the best option for phones and tablets, having customizations for this new kind of device are necessary.

Interestingly, it’s going to come with data connectivity, not just wifi, with 3G and 4G variants available. The Galaxy Camera releases this October, and given the powerful hardware under the hood and very capable camera – don’t expect it to be cheap.

Also making the rounds at IFA 2012 is the Galaxy Note II. This followup to the pioneering phablet will follow the same path as its predecessor: giant screen, bigger-than-normal battery, and the S Pen. Hardware wise, the screen is bigger at 5.5“ diagonal compared to 5.2” before, but now the resolution has dropped to 1280×720, so there’s a lower PPI than the original, but it otherwise matches the Galaxy S III in resolution. As well, the hardware has been redesigned to more closely resemble the Galaxy S III – Samsung appears to be trying to use this form factor in order to further differentiate themselves from Apple. The phone will run Jelly Bean, boast a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor (no details given yet – it could change for international versions), and 2 GB of RAM. Software-wise, there’s new S Pen tools to allow for the creation of notes from anywhere in the OS, and Quick Command to launch apps from anywhere using the S Pen. There’s also a Screen Recorder function, that if capable enough, could be a useful tool for recording video.

Finally, Archos has announced the GamePad tablet, which is a 7" tablet with physical controls on each side. The controls will support more than just specific titles, as Archos claims that over 1000 titles with virtual controls will be supported by the GamePad’s…gamepad. That name is just awkward. The price isn’t, as it’s planned to be less than 150 euros, or less than $200. There’s a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor under the hood, so it could be a capable gaming machine.

Call + Voice Recorder and Auto Call Bring New Features to Calling on Android

Call + Voice Recorder and Auto Call Bring New Features to Calling on Android

Jul 30, 2012

Call + Voice Recorder does exactly what it says on the tin: it does simple voice recordings, along with recording phone calls. Voice recordings are simple: just boot up the app, hit the record button, and go. Calls can be either be initiated in mid-call, or can be configured to record automatically at the start of a call. Note that not all phone software supports call recording, and that it may be illegal in some states to record a call without the permission of both parties. Call + Voice Recorder is available from Google Play.

As well, there’s Auto Call, which is designed to use that classic technique to escape awkward social situations: the fake call. It’s possible to schedule fake calls from other people in order to get out of that uncomfortable conversation. Perhaps the fake call tactic won’t work? Then schedule actual calls to real people, because there’s no better escape call than a real one. It’s also possible to schedule recurring calls, such as to schedule wakeup calls. Auto Call is available from Google Play.

Vonage App Brings Free Calls and Texts Between Vonage Users and to US Numbers

Vonage App Brings Free Calls and Texts Between Vonage Users and to US Numbers

Feb 10, 2012

Vonage, the VoIP service that has primarily focused on home phone replacement and international calling up to this point, has started to compete with Skype with their new app. What it allows users to do is to now call and text other users of Vonage for free, similar to Skype’s free services.

The app can scan contacts lists in order to see who is registered with Vonage – the app sends an SMS to a mobile number for caller ID purposes, and then can use others’ caller ID info to see if they can be called for free on Vonage. As well, calls to any US number are currently available for free through the app, though this may be a limited time deal. Additional Vonage credit can be purchased through Android Market in-app purchases. Note that calls and messages require the app to be running in order to be received; there aren’t any cloud-to-device notifications for messages or calls yet. The Vonage app is available for free now.

Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Jan 31, 2012

Every day technology gives me new and better and more exciting ways to communicate with the people in my life. But it does of course come at a cost. Phoning people costs paid minutes, and texting costs to send and receive. There are also times when I need to impart a lot of information to someone but either don’t want to type it all out on my phone, or don’t want to disturb them with a phone call. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave a voice mail but skip the step of calling their phone?

Voxer markets itself as a walkie-talkie app for phones. Essentially it offers users the opportunity to leave messages for their friends that can be retrieved any time the recipient is free to do so. Messages can be text, but the better feature is the voice option. Hold down the button and talk freely into the microphone. No need to save the message – as soon as the record button is released the message is queued in the recipient’s inbox. I’ve used this feature to co-ordinate detailed plans while I’m walking and can’t text and the other person is getting ready to meet me and can’t be on the phone at that moment. It lets them listen to the message whenever they have a few seconds, without dialing into their voicemail box.

Even better, it really does function as a walkie-talkie if the recipient is in the program at the same time. There’s no need to say “over” at the end of each message – they are all time-stamped and play in order. They’re saved for quite some time, so I’ve also enjoyed going back and listening to random conversations I have had.

I really feel like I need to stress that this is a free app. I don’t know how much money it saves, using data to send messages vs paying for phone minutes, but I know that it has saved me time. Also there is something very appealing about using my phone as a walkie-talkie. It is great, and I wish more of my friends had it. If I could get them all to download it I actually think I’d make very few direct phone calls. There simply wouldn’t be a need to.

I have experienced some bugginess in it though. Or rather I should say my test partner did. He found that sometimes, rather than playing back the audio, the app would just freeze or play static. And I found that sometimes I couldn’t hear the messages he left me unless I took my headphones out and listened to it through the external speaker. A bit odd, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it in the slightest.