Most everyone needs a phone these days. While there are those who still prefer a feature phone over a smartphone, the plummeting prices of smartphones should eventually kill the feature except for those who really prefer a physical keyboard.

But how cheap is cheap? If you check out Chinavasion you can spot really cheap smartphones for prices as low as HK$574 for the DOOGEE Voyager DG300 handset. How can a manufacturer sell a smartphone at that price and still make money? Your guess is as good as mine. But there is a good chance that they trim the fat around to come down to a bottom-basement price. Whilst Chinavasion claims this dual core Android 4.2 phone features a 5-inch IPS Screen, 960X540 QHD display and MT6572 1GHz CPU, and comes with a full year warranty. I am just not sure if anyone has ever tested that one year warranty.

I know from experience that getting support for your Samsung gadget at their local service centre is like going to the dentist – painful.

With that in mind, I happen to attend the launch of the Lumia 535 Dual SIM smartphone from Microsoft. The company calls this an affordable smartphone with advanced features like a 5-inch, 960 x 540 screen; Snapdragon 200 processor; 5MP cameras front and rear

Manufacturer. Wait! That reads like the DG300 above. So why would I buy the Lumia 535 phone? For one thing, you are paying for all the extra things that come from a branded phone.

One benefit of buying a Microsoft smartphone is longevity. The Lumia series are generally classed as durables following their Nokia heritage. Microsoft has also made it a point to upgrade its Windows Phone operating system regularly and so far, most of the early Lumia phones can be upgraded to the new OS – like the iPhones.

The Lumia 535 Dual SIM retail’s for HK$1,298. You can probably get it for free from your “friendly neighbourhood” local carrier.

Like its more expensive siblings the Lumia 535 has a sharp display even if it’s only a 960×540 resolution. You can see the phone when out and about. The 5-MP front facing camera with a wide angle lens makes this a selfie lover’s dream particularly for those on a tight budget. Most smartphones across any price range are handicapped with their cameras – front or rear – particularly when you want to capture a wide shot. The Lumia 535 doesn’t suffer from this condition. It’s therefore great for group selfies.

I understand that operators in Hong Kong want their customers to move over to 4G – to get consumer addicted to using more data – but the reality is that 3G phone is good enough for just about anything a regular user would ever need – PERIOD!

The Lumia 535 may look like it is skimping on storage – given the 8MB in-built storage – but Microsoft made sure you can expand this device to 128MB – something other higher end smartphones refuse to do. The back cover is removal so you can change the battery – again something many of the more expensive phones simply can’t do.

In Hong Kong where government statistics claim that people have more than two phones on average – the Lumia 535 Dual SIM may find life as a second phone. Certainly, if you are not into Microsoft but fancy an affordable full featured phone, the Lumia 535 Dual SIM gives you all you will ever need and it may likely outlast any Android smartphone you buy in the market – branded or not! As an ex-Android user, I find it disappointing to be left in the lurch each time Google updates its popular phone OS. Vendors like Sony, LG and Samsung take their time to upgrade their phone’s OS – if at all. In this regard both Apple and Microsoft live up to their responsibility of creating products with a longer-than-average shelf life.

Lumia 535_Back_Cyan Lumia 535_Back_Green Lumia 535_Back_Orange Lumia 535_Marketing_01

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The good: The Nokia Lumia 920 can hold its own against the current Samsung Galaxy S series and Apple iPhone.

The bad: The availability of apps designed for the Windows platform remains the single biggest hurdle that Nokia faces as it tries to jockeys for third position (amidst a very crowded race with BlackBerry, HTC) in the mobile hardware device race (do I have to spell out who is in first and second spot?)

The ugly: The truth is that financial analysts, industry analysts and the media are probably stacked up against Nokia ever regaining its lustre as the mobile phone for the in crowd. I am not even sure whether its partnership with Microsoft is a lifesaver or an anchor.

I am writing this review on July 7, 2013, nine months from the time Nokia announced the Lumia 920 and seven months since the product was released so this is to a certain dated. So why do the review? To be clear this is not a full review. Go down to the end of this article for some of the best reviews I’ve read.

I was handed a Nokia Lumia 920 and my first impression is that it is big! By this I mean it is bulkier (130.3 x 70.8 x 10.7 mm) than my SGS3 (136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm) without the SGS3’s Otterbox protective case. When housed on the Otterbox Commuter case, the SGS3 is bulkier by a couple of mm. Its also quite heavy at 185g which makes the SGS3 a lightweight at 133g and you can feel it. Of course with weight usually it means it also feels more solid to the hand (its an illusion I keep telling myself).

This is a recap of my experience and experiments with Nokia and Microsoft Windows mobile. My favorite Nokia phone is the Nokia 8110 – the banana phone. To be honest while my wife adores her Nokia phones (she’s had about five over the years), I’ve never been a fan of the Symbian Nokia stuck with for many years. I have used Windows mobile OS (CE, pocket pc, Windows mobile and now Windows phone). I fell in love with the Windows Mobile 7 and its use of tiles – I actually thought it was not only cool but made navigation easy. A full generation and two years, the next generation Windows Phone 8 (Microsoft renamed Windows Mobile to Windows Phone – and yes it confused the heck out of me too).

HARDWARE

At the time that Nokia launched the Lumia 920, it boasted hardware comparable to any available from Samsung, Apple and HTC. In fact BlackBerry was still teasing the world with rumors of a re-engineered device and platform when Nokia unveiled its newest flagship. It comes with a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Krait CPU and a 114 mm (4.5″ 1280 x 768 resolution) IPS TFT LCD display, capacitive touchscreen covered by curved Gorilla Glass. It supports inductive (wireless) charging, 8.7 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens-equipped PureView camera with optical image stabilization, 32 GB internal storage, and arguably the only touch phone that can be used with gloves worn by the user.

I am not a fan of bright colors but when you consider that every Tom, Dick and Harry phone comes in either black, white or silver, Nokia’s fresh coat of colors (cyan, yellow and red) are a welcome change. I bought a red sleeve for my Nexus 7 because I wanted to easily identify it from the pile of stuff on my desk. Nokia endowed the Lumia 920 with a unibody polycarbonate design,

The Lumia 920 connects via dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS and NFC. I own a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I can tell you that it is virtually useless the minute I step out into the sun. No amount of cupping will let me see what’s on the damn phone – thank you Samsung!

Thankfully, the Lumia 920 is a bit better to look out in the open thanks to polarizing filters and a very impressive 600 nits of max brightness. I love watching videos or looking at photos on the Lumia 920. With a 60Hz refresh rate and deep, rich blacks, the Lumia 920 beats phones equipped with AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays.

The Lumia 920 is heavy 185g and you can feel the heft even against the Samsung Galaxy Note II (183g). But its curves beat the shit out of the boxy Sony Xperia phones (one of the worst designs I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying out).

When I showed the Lumia 920 to my wife she was immediately drawn to the bright yellow polycarbonate shell. The high gloss hardened surface remind me of a high quality auto finish (it helps when you have a yellow that’s reminiscent of Lamborghini and a red that’s just a tad cooler than Ferrari red). To complement the auto finish shine are bottoms made with a ceramic finish.

SOFTWARE

I’d be lying if I said using Windows Phone is easy. If any it was traumatic and this is for someone like me who has used Windows CE, Android, IOS and Symbian 40. While I abhor Apple’s insistence of using iTunes to add or remove content from the device, I am at times at a lost trying to navigate the innards of my Android phone. I do love the use of Live Tiles and the fact that the tile sizes can be adjusted makes the user interface (UI) even more appealing. But beyond the Live Tiles, mastering the basics of a Windows Phone demands a concerted effort on the part of the user to learn something new.

Thankfully the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia included the integration of some of the best innovations from Nokia, including Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive Beta offering the option to download maps for offline use, as well as spoken turn-by-turn directions.

Nokia Music features a very cool “mix radio” feature where you can stream playlists across a wide variety of genres absolutely free. You can also download playlist tunes for offline listening. Microsoft music player, XBOX Music, is also included out of the box. If you have an iTunes library, you can load your own music via the included USB cable. The Lumia 920 can also be used as a mass storage drive in Windows to drag and drop music, videos and documents onto the phone. Forget iTunes!

The Lumia 920 is equipped with Dolby headphone software with EQ bringing the best in even in your expensive headphones: no distortion with clear trebles and full bass.

Like most Android phone, the Lumia 920 comes with email client support for most email types including Exchange, Gmail, IMAP and POP3. Synching with Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using IMPA push is a breeze.

Needless to say, this smartphone comes equipped with the mobile version of MS Office that works with Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint files. It works with locally stored files, email attachments and documents on your Skydrive or Office 365 share.

When I met some executives from Nokia earlier this year they kept pointing me in the direction of the Nokia PureView Camera and the Lumia 920’s ability to produce clear, sharp photos even in dim light. The Lumia 920 can easily beat any photos taken by dedicated digital cameras. The rear camera includes a backside illuminated sensor, fat f/2.0 26mm Carl Zeiss lens with dual LED flash and optical image stabilization. The front f/2.4 1.2MP camera does 720p video for sharp video chat.

The Nokia Lumia 920 has a non-swappable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery. During the test period, I managed to use the phone for a whole day without recharging. Like Android, it I capable of true multi-tasking (unlike the iPhone’s distorted interpretation of multi-tasking.

CONCLUSION

The Nokia Lumia 920 is deserving of its position as Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone. It feels solid to the hand.  The 4.5” IPS display offers crisp excellent contrast. Despite the lack of a SD card, its 32GB internal storage is more than sufficient to store your favorite movies, photos and music for those long or short trips.

I only have two gripes about it: weight and the steep learning curve re-adapting to the Windows OS; and the other the lack of apps. Otherwise this is a superb phone to own.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Display: 4.5″ capacitive multi-touch IPS display with enhanced sensitivity (works with fingernails and gloves). 60Hz refresh rate, Gorilla Glass. Resolution: 1280 x 728, 600 nits brightness, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: rechargeable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion with support for Qi wireless charging.

Processor: 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core CPU with Adreno 225 graphics.

Memory: 1GB RAM and 32GB internal storage.

Size: 130.3 mm x 70.8 mm x 10.7 mm.

Weight: 185g.

Phone: GSM quad band with UMTS/HSPA+ and 4G LTE on AT&T Has mobile hotspot feature.

Camera: 1.2MP front camera and rear 8.7MP PureView camera with dual LED flash that can shoot 100p video. BSI, f/2.0 lens with optical image stabilization.

Audio: Built in speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headset jack.

Networking: Integrated dual WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC.

Software: Windows Phone 8. Internet Explorer 10 mobile with HTML5 support, MS Office Mobile, XBOX Music, XBOX video, full PIM suite (calendar, contacts, notes and email) with syncing to MS Exchange, Google services and POP3/IMAP email. Games hub, People Hub, Nokia Drive, Nokia Transit and Nokia Music.

Expansion: None.

Click here for more detailed technical specs

OTHER REVIEWS

Techradar

Brighthand

Digital Trends

I  got a chance to play with the Sony Xperia Tablet S for the weekend. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review since the Tablet S. This is the second generation of tablets from Sony aimed at breaking into the market dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The Tablet S sports a skinned Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, Tegra 3 quad-core SoC, and a 9.4 inch 1280×800 IPS LCD screen (the same panel used in the first-gen Tablet S) that is surrounded by a big, glossy black bezel. The Tablet S can be ordered in 16 or 32GB built-in storage with WiFi or 3G=WiFi. It has a SD card slot as well for those who feel 32GB isn’t enough.

This second gen Tablet S that I am testing still has the folded-over magazine shape although this time around it is more subtle (239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8mm). The magazine-like fold extends only a quarter into the back. In the middle of this “fold” is a 8-megapixel camera (no flash) and an IR blaster. On one end of the short rectangular back panel are located the power button and volume rocker. Across the other side is the 3.5mm audio jack next to the SD card reader which is hidden behind a silver coated plastic cover. At the bottom is a pair of speakers flanking the multi-port dock.

One final observation, when viewed from the other end there is a semblance to the iPad 2 or the new iPad.

WHAT I LIKE

The Tablet S continues the Sony tradition of being easy on the eyes and a droll magnet. It has very good contrast making for a pleasant experience looking at pictures, reminiscent of the experience you’d get from one of Sony’s Bravia TVs. Another plus I want to highlight are the speakers. By far the Tablet S is great for listening to  music or audiobooks or watching a movie. I don’t need a pair of headsets or plug in an external speaker. The speakers produce crisp clear sound – a very welcome change from the current crop of tablets (include the iPad) and even against some of the larger notebook computers.

I normally do not like it when a manufacturer skins the Android OS in their attempt to “add” value and differentiation to their device. This is one instance where the changes Sony has incorporated are sufficiently minimalistic that they truly add value without masking some of the inherently strong features of the base operating system. Kudos to Sony for taking this path.
Sony learned from Samsung creating small apps (pop-up widgets) that let you easily launch any number of commonly used apps including a calculator, clipping tool, memo, voice recorder, timer and a browser. For the socially addicted, SocialLife is a very interesting app that seems to have taken a lesson from FLIP.
Sony must have recognized that tablets are meant to be shared. It has integrated a feature called Guest Mode which allows another user to have access to the same device without being privy to your personal messages, etc. This is a great tool that will enable temporary “guests” to use the device without forcing the original owner to logout from all of his or her favorite programs or even exit those same programs. This is a great example of virtualization at work.
The Tablet S is the first Android smart device I’ve had the pleasure of using for extended periods – longer than 8 hours without recharging. Despite the large screen and loud speakers, you can literally several movies on the Tablet S without needing a recharge. Great job Sony!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The proprietary multi-port dock is concealed under a removable cover which you can easily lose. Being proprietary means you have to use the supplied cable to charge or connect the device. The Tablet S supports HD video but the hardware didn’t come with a HDMI port. Instead you need to buy a special adapter that connect a HDMI appliance like a 3D TV to the Tablet S via the multi-port connector.
All vendors have a natural inclination to add their own special brand of software applications into their device. The Tablet S comes preinstalled with software and services like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayMemories, Walkman, Reader by Sony, and Sony Select. Most require a service, some paid. Sony, of course, is not forcing you to use these apps and services but because they come pre-installed and are integrated into the “skinned” Android, you can’t get rid of the apps.
CONCLUSION
Despite the skinning of ICS, the Tablet S is a fast tablet. Despite the added “skin” it performs better than most tablets I’ve had the pleasure of using. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,288 for a 16GB WiFi only model, it is not much more expensive than the 7″ Nexus 7 from Google/Asus (yes the Nexus is more expensive in Hong Kong than it is in the US – complain to Google please!). Sony did well not to alter the Google UI. The “Sociallife” software is a great addition (IMHO) to the stack of Sony apps that come pre-installed on the Tablet S.

I usually end these reviews asking myself “would I buy this device” for my personal use. If I favored a 9″ screen (with its added weight and portability issues), I would consider the Tablet S over the iPad anytime (since it is no secret that I don’t like iTunes and the slavery – aka vendor lock-in – it promotes). Would I prefer the Sony Tablet S over a Samsung Tab 2 10? Probably! How about a Samsung Note 10.1? I need to think about that harder? Let me get back to you on that.

TECHNICAL SPEC

Model SGPT121HK (Wi-Fi model)
Operating  System Android™  4.0
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 Mobile Processor | with 4‐PLUS ‐1™ Quad Core ARM® Cortex™-A9 CPU 1.4 GHz *1 *2
Display 9.4″ wide (WXGA: 1280 x 800) TFT Color LCD*3
Memory 1 GB*4
Storage 16 GB*5
Interface Multi Port Multi  Port x 1*6
Headphone  Jack Stereo  mini jack x 1 (works  as a monaural microphone jack)
Wireless  LAN Wireless  LAN Specification IEEE  802.11a/b/g/n (WPA2 Supported)*7
Wireless  LAN Data Rate Maximum transmission speed: 150 Mbps, Maximum receipt speed: 150 Mbps*8
Wireless WAN Wireless WAN Function No
GPS Yes
Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth® standard Ver. 3.0*9
Supported  Profile A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HID, SPP, OPP
Sensor Accelerometer  (3-axis accelerometer), Gyro, Digital Compass, Ambient Light Sensor
IR  Remote control function Yes  (Supports Multi Function, Learning Function (Pre-loaded remote control code))
Expansion  Slots Memory  Card Slot SD  memory card x 1  (Supports  SD,  SDHC, SDHC UHS-I)
Speaker Built-in  stereo speakers
Microphone Built-in  monaural microphone
Camera Front  Camera HD  web camera (Resolution: 1296 x 808, Effective Pixels: 1 Mega pixels)
Rear  Camera HD  camera (Resolution: 3264 x 2448, Effective Pixels: 8 Mega pixels)
Supplied  Accessories AC  adapter (SGPAC5V6), Power Cord
Battery  Life (Approx.)*11 *12 Battery Built-in  rechargeable battery pack*10
Browsing  web with Wi-Fi 10.0  hours
Browsing  web with 3G NIL
Playing  video 12.0 hours
Battery Charging Time 5.5 hours*13
Size  (Approx. ) Dimensions (W x H x D) 239.8  x 8.8 – 11.85 x 174.4 mm
Weight 570 g

OTHER SITE REVIEWS

TechRadar (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/sony-xperia-tablet-s-1093685/review/2#articleContent)

Slashgear (http://www.slashgear.com/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review-12260425/)

The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/24/3333106/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review)

PHOTO GALLERY

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I will be the first to admit that Research In Motion is having problems… from reliability of service, to aging technology, and a loyal customer base that is starting to question the extent of its loyalty. But this is not what I’m here to talk about.
My first encounter with the BlackBerry Bold was with the 9700. Back then I was unimpressed. I found the 9700 to be too big in my palm and too heavy in my pocket. I also found it clunky when it came to Web surfing but then again all BlackBerry devices including my favorite, the BlackBerry 9800 Torch, appeared to be designed with zero intention to surf the Web. Its saving grace is the same as with all BlackBerry devices, including the Bold and Torch, its single-minded focus on messaging.
So it is that this time around I am reviewing the new BlackBerry 9900. The spec says its not much small than the original 9700 but for my money it is a slick, solid device that feels good in the palm of my hand.
OBSERVATIONS
The 9900 is taller than the original 9700 but not as wide making it a better fit for small hands like mine. I like the stainless steel band that wraps around the 9900. The carbon-fiber-lace back cover reminds me of one of the newer Montblanc pens. This phone exudes quality and a solid high-end product.
There are five metal buttons – one on the top and four on the right side. The slightly recessed top button is the lock/unlock button. The mute button (middle) is flanked by a volume up button (top) and volume down button (lower). The buttom-most key is the camera shutter button.
On the right side there’s a volume up button up top, a mute key in the middle and a volume down button — all made out of metal, I might add. Below that you’ll find the camera shutter key.
The micro-USB charging/sync port is just below the 3.5mm headset jack on the left side of the phone.
I did a little research and apparently RIM has a charging dock for its BlackBerry phones and the two charging contacts at the bottom of the phone are just for that purpose. I’ve never seen the charging dock though.
The 9900 comes with a 2 MP, 1600×1200 pixels rear-facing camera with a tiny LED flash. Like its predecessor, the 9900 doesn’t have a front-facing camera so forget about video conferencing service on this device.
The 9900 comes with a 1.2GHz processor, 768MB of RAM, 8GB internal memory, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. This is my first review of a BB device running on OS7. To be honest I am not overly amazed at the new GUI but, admittedly, the enhancements are everywhere.
WHAT I LIKE
I don’t know how RIM managed to shave off 4mm from the previous model. It made it easier to grip the device. RIM chose to stay close to its heritage of great typing experience with the 9900. It feels very comfortable thumb typing on this device – with one hand or two.
Speaking of typing, the 9900 follows the design and layout of its predecessors, including sculpted keys making for easy text entry and chrome bars that divide the rows of buttons. The addition of a capacitative touchscreen makes for significant improvement in navigator to specific parts of the screen especially if you are typing a long email message and want to do some touch ups.
With a screen resolution of 640 x 480 pixels on a 2.8-inch display you get a pixel density of 285ppi. I remain an admirer of the the Bold series despite the small screen. The screen is bright with very respectable viewing angles, and I didn’t squint whilst typing a message outdoors.
One of the biggest enhancements that came as part of OS7 is the universal search which starts working the minute you start typing.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
I am not sure what RIM chose not to have an autofocus function for its camera so forget about taking portrait shots with this phone. But then again, this is not really a camera so the photos are decent if you need to take a quick snap of something but not meant for quality archiving.
More serious problem is the touch-trackpad combo. You can use the touch function for instant navigation around the visible area of the screen and the trackpad to screen to areas not immediately visible. At times I often mistakenly try and use both and it gets annoying sometimes.
One of my favorites about early BBs is the battery life. Somehow you don’t get as much out of the BB9900 as you do with earlier versions. I am guessing it may have to do with the faster (and usually more power hungry) processor. I also suppose its all the added software features that come with the OS 7.0.
Its odd to put the mute button between the volume up and down button. The tendency, especially when you are not looking or in a hurry, is to either increase or decrease the volume, accidentally of course.
ONE MORE THING
The back plate hides the antenna for NFC-based (near field communications) applications. I’venot had a chance to use this feature so I won’t say more than this.
RIM continues to refine the first and foremost strength of all BB devices: messaging workflow. The menu system remains very intuitive with a laser-like focus on text or/and email messaging.

The best BlackBerry Bold ever? Perhaps it is. The core features of BlackBerry are still compelling, the keyboard will let you skip over keys rattling out messages, with a rock of the thumb here and a glancing prod there, in ways that only BlackBerry users understand.

The addition of a touchscreen does make a difference, but the overall experience isn’t a huge evolution from BB6. Whilst BB7 is familiar, there isn’t much here that really drives things forward into the competitive arena. The camera results are behind the rivals, the app offering still has holes in it and sometimes the touch response slopes off. It isn’t a multimedia timewaster in the way that the latest phone from Samsung or HTC is, it’s core offering is communication, in which it mostly excels, but it’s in the extras where it doesn’t make huge progress.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a device that will appeal greatly to die hard BlackBerry fans, returning the Bold to a premium look and a size that makes a little more sense than the 9700 models. Business users will find themselves with a more interactive device and a better browsing experience, but outside of keyboard and email experience, consumers may find they get a lot more smartphone for their money elsewhere.

CONCLUSION
The experience you get with the BB9900 follows the tradition handed down from the very first BB so long ago. RIM continues to refine the performance of the OS and thus enhances the experience you get using this device. Make no mistake, this remains a BlackBerry and therefore it would be unfair to compare it to the new generation of Android, IOS or Windows smartphones. The BB remains a category all it’s own. If you ever own an IPhone or Android or Windows 6.5 device, you won’t like the BlackBerry unless all you really do, apart from making calls, is sending messages either through SMS or email. If you are doing a lot of emails, the BB9900 is the device you got to have. All these touch phones have typing accuracy close to that of a drunk.
Technical Spec:
Other Reviews

I’ve been using my Blackberry Torch for sometime now and although I am happy with it (most times) there were a few quirks that annoyed me on a regular basis. So with my mobile phone provider reminding me I had a chance to try out their 3G service (I’ve been on 2G for a good part of 12 years) I agreed to the change.

I had a choice of iPhone 4 or any other phone and opted for an Android phone. I looked at the specs of available phones from HTC since I have a couple of old HTC phones lying around and instead opted for a Samsung Galaxy S2 (SGS2). Why? If I use the simple basis of technical specification, at the time of shopping for a new phone – 26 June 2011, the SGS2 was the most advanced phone in the market – whereas everyone was a single CPU device, the SGS2 was dual core. I hear rumors of the upcoming Nexus S3 phone will carry quadcore but who knows if the phone will come out in December 2011 or 2012? And while I am at times called the master of the waiting game, in this instance, I thought I’ve waited too long already. So move on.

Packaging

Firs thing first. The SGS2 in the box follows the minimalistic packaging of the iPhone (small box cramed with cable, charger, small manual and headset). Not surprisingly there was a tiny user’s guide with the bare essentials to powering up and using the phone. This is where the difference lies between an iPhone and everyone else in the smartphone market.

External Look and Feel

The SGS2 comes with everything standard to a 2011 smartphone: high-speed processor (1.2 GHz Dual Core Application Processor), decent in-built memory, long battery life, dual high resolution cameras with flash, touch screen, dual-purpose standard USB port. It can be argued that Samsung borrowed from the minimalistic design of generations of iPhone (although I’d say the current generation of iPhone (version 4) looks like it got its inspiration from the candy-bar phones of HTC. At115 grams, it is surprisingly light if you consider the size of this thing (125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5mm).

A friend of mine commented that the SGS2 feels plasticky. And while it is true that the back panel is a thin plastic, Samsung is not the only one doing this. HTC has a number of phones using concept. Should it bother you? How else do you keep the weight light. In my case it doesn’t although to protect against scratches, dent and shock (from dopping) I bought myelf a cheap plastic/rubber shell (HK$20) and a screen shield (HK$15). Now its protected and is still almost as slim as without the casing.

Screen

At 4.3 inch diagonal, this is one of the largest smartphones available as of writing. It may not have the pixel density that iPhone 4 carries (640×960-pixel screen), nonetheless, the choice of AMOLED lends credence to the user comments I’ve read elsewhere that the SGS2 has one of the best displays in the market today (even against the iPhone). Before I forget, the SGS2 comes with a 480×800-pixel screen. Again don’t be fooled by the numbers. Apple’s marketing of its 640×980-pixel screen as Retina display is just a creative play on the part of marketing.

If there is any concern I have for the screen is whether Samsung has solved the heat problem associated with backlighted AMOLED. I first encountered this on the Samsung i900. Back then when you are using the i900, the phone gets so hot in mintes that you can be forgiven to thinking it was radioactive (and heat is a form of radiation). Fast forward today, the SGS2 comes with a Samsung numerical designation: i9100. And true enough it still has a heat problem (though not as intense as the i900). Its not hot enough to cook an egg on the surface of the screen but if you happen to type a short message (or browse the Web for a couple of minutes), you will feel the heat from the screen easily.

Samsung – please solve this problem!

Bottons, holes and camera

The SGS2 comes with three physical buttons. Looking at it from the front, there is a rocker switch on the left which is for volume control. On the right is the power on/off/lock/unlock combo button. As the universal home buttom on the bottom middle part of the front panel. It comes with two mics (on the top right next to the 3.5 inch audio jack and on the bottom to the right of the micro USB port. It comes with two speakers – on the top front of the phone where you expect to press your ear when you are making a call; and on the bottom back panel. Speaking of back panel, there is an 8.0 megapixel camera next to an incredibly small but very bright flash). The front facing camera is a decent 2-megapixel camera (compared to the iPhone 4’s 0.3megapixel VGA standard).

Operating System

The SGS2 comes with Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread). Like all Android phones (except the Nexus), updates to the OS happen as and when the phone manufacturer decides to make the upgrade. This is by far (IMHO) the biggest let down. Doesn’t matter if you use Sony Ericsson, Samsung, HTC, etc. They are all the same – they won’t let users upgrade the phone OS until months or even a year or two has passed. I suspect part of the strategy is to force the customer to buy a new phone. Don’t you just love these people? For example I got this SGS2 on 26 June. Android 2.3.4 came out in May.

What does this dual core processor mean? For one thing, you can run several applications in the background experiencing any significant performance lags. On most other smartphones, the devices starts to choke after you power-up a couple of applications – say Web browsing, downloading, watching a movie and Facebook. The iPhone doesn’t suffer this because despite marketing claims it doesn’t really do multi-task1. Is this important?

User Interface

Traditionally iPhones were the equivalent of a dummies phone for cool people. And I mean this with all due respect. What I mean is you don’t need to read the manual to learn to use the device. You touch your way to learning how to use the device. The learning curve is when you start using more esoteric features like equalizers, screensavers, wallpaper, and the essentials of iTune (for my money, the single piece of software that locks you into Apple (period).

For Android, you need to be a smart person to use devices built on this platform. Making the Android platform even more complex is the way device manufacturers create user interfaces and add-on apps they claim are designed to make the experience of using the device more pleasurable (ton of bull IMHO).

Like the HTC smartphones using Android, Samsung wasn’t content to leave users with the official Gingerbread UI. Samsung preloads the TouchWiz 4.0 skin onto each SGS2. I’ve used Nexus some months back and I can tell you there isn’t really much of an improvement so I don’t know why users can’t disable this skin without rooting (jailbreaking on iPhones) the SGS2.

The SGS2 also comes with a few Samsung-specific software preloaded. Perhaps the most important you should remember is he Task Manager, a software which allows you to kill apps you don’t want hogging precious CPU power, memory and battery (since high CPU usage means high battery consumption).

The other app worth looking into is Polaris Office. Developed by Infraware (of Korea), its not as powerful as the original Microsoft Office Suite but it does Word, Excel and PowerPoint. So why complain?

Samsung must have also picked something from Microsoft Zune with the use of Hubs (or bundling of applications/services that do similar things). For example there is the Game Hub which a small gaming apps. More importantly (IMHO) is the Social Hub (which allows you to bring pull together all your favorite instant messaging apps, social networking services including faceboo, linkedin, twitter and plurk), and of course email. There is also the Samsung Apps Hub but with the abundance of software on the Google Apps Market, why even nother with Samsung Apps Hub. The one Hub I couldn’t find was the Music Hub. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if this was something the local mobile operator (in my case Three) would change.

The most loathed application in the Apple arsenal of products is iTunes. It is a slow clunker that hogs memory. Unfortunately it is the only way to connect your Apple mobile device (laptop, iPod, iPad, iPhone) is via iTunes. Samsung saw that Apple used iTunes to lock consumers to the company. Enter Kies – an application which mimics iTunes (all the way down to how irritating it is) with one exception – you can still load photos, music, videos and ebooks on the SGS2 without using Kies (they are not as maniacally obsessive as Apple). Samsung put one up Apple by also creating an app called Kies Air

As if admitting Kies is rubbish on the desktop, Samsung’s preloaded the S 2 with an app called Kies Air. This lets you explore your phone’s contents over a Wi-Fi connection. It’s very simple to use — when you open the app from the phone you’ll be given an IP address to visit. Type this out on your PC or Mac, and you’ll see an exploded view of your phone in your browser, from which you can upload or download media, stream music saved on the phone and even send text messages.

Camera

The SGS2 comes with an outward facing 8 Megapixel auto focus digital camera that shoots great outdoor picture but starts to wear down your patience when medium- to poorly lit scenes. It also shoots p1080. The video shots are decent but don’t expect the SGS2 to replace a standalone digital camera. Then again, this applies to all other devices. Its a great feature to have but don’t quit your day job (as it were).

Web Browsing

Yes loading a website is reasonably fast on the SGS2 but unless the website is designed for this formfactor, I’d stick to using a screen size of 7 inch or more for browsing websites.

Reading ebooks

I installed Amazon Kindle, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Moon+Reader (epubs and cbr). The Kindle worked as advertised as did the Acrobat Reader. My experience with Moon+Reader is a mix bag. It has all the features you’d expect from a decent ereader but some minor flaws not worth wasting my breathe on. I’d say ‘live with it until a better one comes.’

Battery

The bane of every portable device is battery life. So far Apple has done a decent job with living to its promise of longer battery life (of course it had to compromise on things like multi-tasking). I charge my SGS2 every day because I love watching videos on it and I keep my SNS accounts alive throughout most of the day and parts of the night. At least the battery is user replaceable so I don’t have to bring it to a service center to get a new battery.

Extended Memory

The SGS2 I got comes with 16GB of memory. I was surprised that the box didn’t include a complimentary micro-SD card. So I got myself a 16GB HS Kingston card for HK$185. The SGS2 does support 32GB but the price is still over HK$400 so I’d pass for now.

What I liked

This is really one of the slimmest mobile phones I’ve had the pleasure of using. The screen is big making the phone too big for my hand to comfortably hold. But it doesn’t feel like its going to break in my hand or slip (for that matter).

What I don’t like

I started this review with a story about smart devices for dummies using the iPhone as the benchmark of how to make a complicated device so simple to use, you literally don’t need a manual to use it. I haven’t read the SGS2;s 164 page manual and I am scared because I think it will only tell me half of the story.

For example, I was stumped for a week trying to understand why I can’t adjust the volume of phone calls when using the headset. Only after Googling did I find out about a workaround on this. Its not difficult to implement but then again it shouldn’t require me entering an odd set of numbers and special characters. How many more of these hidden tweaks do I have to discover?

Conclusion

Do I regret getting the SGS2? I have this tendency to lament spending money on something expensive. I could have waited for the Nexus 3 but with so much uncertainty about who is going to build it (rumor is LG and if that is true, I’d be concerned). I could have also opted for an iPhone4 but given that I really loathe using iTunes I think I am happy with the choice of Samsung Galaxy S2.

Photos

 

Other people’s review of the SGS2

I don’t suggest relying on one person’s opinion to make a decision. So here are a couple of other people’s review of the SGS2 to help you make an educated decision of your own. Good luck.

WJTech

TechRadar

 

 

 

When I did the review of the Dell Streak, one of the things that struck me was the notion that I can use the Streak to make a phone call. I could not imagine myself making a phone call with a 152.9mm x 79.1mm pad. This time around I was loaned the Dell Venue, a smartphone that is based Google’s Android 2.2 operating system. This should not be confused with the Dell Venue Pro, which has almost the same look and feel, minus the physical keyboard and Windows Mobile 7 OS that the Pro possesses.

OBSERVATIONS

The Venue’s most pronounced feature is its 4.1 inch WVGA AMOLED touchscreen display. Dell used a high quality Corning Gorilla Glass giving it what I can only describe as true crystal clear display – one of the best I’ve seen so far (and only reminiscent of my experience with some of the high end 3D LED displays out in the market recently). Gorilla glass is optimized for handheld devices and notebook computers Its easy to clean, and wear resistant.
Despite its size 121mm x 63mm x 12.9mm (Height x Width x Thickness) , I didn’t find it anymore  bulkier than the other smart phones that I’ve tested before.
WHAT I LIKE
The Venue has smooth metallic (chrome) sides. When I first took it out of the box, I was worried that the metallic sides would mean I would have to handle this phone gingerly for fear it would slip easily off my hands. As it turns out, the back panel has a micro-pattern that gives it just enough texture to give you a firm grip on the phone. In contrast to the HTC or the Sony Ericsson Xperia phones which always kept me on my toes whenever I held the devices for fear I would drop the phone, or it would slip off my hands. The Venue never slipped off my hand during the entire two weeks i was playing with it. I loved the curves ends of this phone as it doesn’t poke when inside my trouser pockets.
This is one of the few smart phones with an 8MP digital camera. The software is very intuitive as is the use of the Venue to take photos. However, quality is still not up to par with a dedicated digital camera with similar rating. I think all camera phones share this problem. They are, first and foremost devices for making calls. Shooting photos is a nice to have function (although increasingly as consumers grow accustom to taking photos and posting these to their Facebook account, having a good camera is becoming a must have feature, second only to making calls.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Two things irked me using this phone. The first is the lack of a way to lock the phone without blanking out the screen. When you are watching a video, you will want to disable the touchscreen so as not to accidentally pause the video. Unfortunately the lack of such a feature meant, this occurred too many times for me.
But a more disrupting feature for me is the user interface of the Venue. Called Stage, I found it takes some getting used to as the layout is no intuitive (in my opinion only). So for me navigating around the many features of the phone was at times taxing. Often, I end up trying to trace back how to get a specific contact, or surf the web, or make a call.
For those who are using Dell laptops, the Stage software may not be so alienate. Dell uses this same software for accessing music, videos and photos on laptops and other mobile devices.
ONE MORE THING
So would I buy this phone? It’s very likely not for me. I love the external look and the solid feel of the phone when I am holding it. But the clunky user interface is a turn-off. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,999 or US$514, it is not a cheap phone.
The title of this review is “making calls with the Dell Venue” so from that perspective my overall experience is that the Venue is an ok phone. Its not amazing but certainly I found it not anything less than I’d expect from Nokia. I did found it difficult to adjust the loudness of the call when it sounded weak but overall it isn’t a bad device for making calls. Certainly I’ve had worst.
PHOTOS
Dell Venue camera flash logo

Dell Venue camera flash logo

Dell Venue home page

Dell Venue home page

Music page as displayed by Dell Stage software

Music page as displayed by Dell Stage software

Surfing the Web on the Dell Venue

Surfing the Web on the Dell Venue

Facebook on the Dell Venue

Facebook on the Dell Venue

Side view of the Dell Venue

Side view of the Dell Venue

 

 

VIDEO
OTHER REVIEWS
TECH SPEC
Operating system: Android 2.2
Processor: Qualcom 1GHz QSD 8250
Bands: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, GPRS, Edge, HSDPA 7.2 MBps
Display: AMOLED 4.1″ 800×480 pixels, 24 bit, 16M colors
Camera: 8MP, autofocus, 4x digital zoom, video and audio record, dedicated camera key
Video: H.264 MPEG-4 AVC, WMV
Messaging: POP3, IMAP, ActiveSync, Push Email, Microsoft Exchange, SMS, MMS, Native IM
Browser: Web 2.0 full HTML, WAP support
Memory: 1GB / 512MB
Storage: micro SD support up to 32GB
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, AGPS, Bluetooh 21 EDR, A2DP, AVCRP, 3.5mm HSJ, micro-USB
Primary battery: 1400 mAh
Dimension: 121 x 64  12.9mm
Weight: 164 grams
Others: GMS HW compliant with G-sensor, E-compass, Virtual keyboard

It’s a weird feeling using IGor, my iPad, to write this review of a competitive product to the iPad. I was fortunate to be loaned the latest portable tablet from Dell – the Streak. Delivered boxed, it reminded me of how Apple and HTC packaged their offerings except that Apple boxes and white and almost utilitarian.

The box contains the Streak, a pouch, charger and starter guide. 

The first time you power up the Streak, it will ask you to insert a SIM card as part of its boot up and setup sequence. This process suggests this new tablet is a mobile phone. If it were I can’t imagine seeing myself holding a (152.9 x 79.1 x 10mm) slab of electronics close to my cheek. Years ago I used to laugh when I see people using the NOKIA n-Gage to make calls. I often commented that it was having a burrito in your ear. If the n-Gage was a burrito, the Streak is a thin paperback. It took me a few moments to get around this requirement and force the Streak to connect to the Wi-Fi to continue the device initialization sequence.

As a handheld it’s impossibly thin at 10mm. It’s not really feather light at 220 GM. For its size (152.9 x 79.1mm), it’s surprisingly light. For people with small hands it would be cumbersome to hold comfortably and safely. It looks fragile because of the glass top but the feel is solid for the device itself.

The Streak ships with Android 1.6 so it doesn’t multi-task at all. No different from the iPad. But I read in forums that Streak owners have the option to upgrade to 2.2 by end of 2010. Brave souls who have tried upgrading report problems after the upgrade.

The small screen makes it a little difficult, but not impossible, to read documents. Despite the handicap of the OS, the overall performance is very good; it is fast and as fluid flicking and pinching as using the iPad. If there is any serious complaint it is the user interface needs tweaking to make it easier to navigate or access applications.

I did a full charge of the device and it took about two days before I charged it. The default setting means the device powers down too quickly (1 minute) making it annoying at times if you got side tracked for a minute to do something quickly leaving the device unattended.

Facebook and other social networking platform users will find the experience welcoming provided you have the App customized for the size of the screen. Yehey for Facebook!

Overall first impression is that it is a solid device to hold. Small enough to fit in a small bag and convenient to carry around wherever you go. If you have a Bluetooth headset and installed a SIM Card in it, you can use it as a cell phone without looking like one of those characters from Third Rock from the Sun. People might think of Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory if they see you talking using the Streak but who cares.

Just for the heck of it, I did install my 2G SIM on the Streak and made calls as well as received them. It was easy enough to make the voice connections, and even sending SMS messages was not at all that difficult. The menu system does take getting used to but I find it less taxing then searching for specific functions on any Symbian-based phone. (more…)