When Google launched its first smartphone and called it Nexus there was much hype and anticipation for a smart device that could effectively compete side by side against the IPhone 4. Whilst the interest on the Android operating system continues unabated with analysts predicting Android to become the dominant smartphone OS eclipsing IOS, Windows and any other mobile platform (Symbian being all but dead and WebOS DOA), the success of Nexus remains largely niche. The Nexus has not gained the wide success of the iPhone as the chic phone of the cool masses. Instead Google’s strategic pullout in the direct sale business and limited marketing of the Nexus has relegated it to the realm of the geeks, nerds and experimenters daring to be different.

On 26 June 2011, I opted to get myself a Samsung Galaxy S2. Months earlier I was content to use my BB Torch. Owning an iPhone was never in my radar but having read so much about Android, including the much hyped and anticipated Nexus 3, I was waiting anxiously for a chance to try out an Android phone. So the SGS2 was a welcome replacement for my Torch. To be honest I was still hooting for the Nexus 3 even as I was signing on the dotted line to fork out my hard-earned dough for the SGS2.

Five months later, I was helping a cousin buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 when the store sales clerk said I could trade in my SGS2 for the new Nexus 3 and pay only HK$1,500 for the upgrade. Without thinking (also called impulse buys) I decided to make the trade. But as I headed home that night I realized I was duped into buying the Nexus 3 so early in its Lifecycle.

While the three button device with a curvaceous frame certainly was very appealing I very quickly discovered somethings I’ve grown accustomed to on my SGS2 were missing and I want them on Nexus 3 (more on that later).

The Nexus 3 uses the same curve glass top design concept as the Nexus S (its predecessor).  Somehow Samsung and Google decided not to use Corning Gorilla Glass and instead opted for a no-brand glass top. Does it make it inferior? You be the judge watch this video.

The back cover uses the so-called Hyper Skin finish giving it a nice grip – which I felt was missing with the SGS2. The rest of the body is made entirely of plastic – a let down if you consider how much you have to fork out to get this phone (PRICE).

The Nexus 3 screen is a large 4.65 inch with an HD resolution of 720×1280 pixels and pixel density of 316 ppi. The phone sports a HD Super AMOLED screen using an RGBG PenTile matrix for pixel arrangement. The AMOLED screen means you get high contrast levels, wide viewing angles and very saturated colors, which results is very sharp vivid images.

The Nexus 3 comes with the usual ports, buttons and switches: a standard microUSB charging/sync port, 3.5, headset jack, volume rocker and power key. There is also a three-dot connector on the right side of the device. What’s it for remains a mystery to me. The buttonless glass is partly attributable to the Google Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS used on the Nexus 3. The biggest physical let down for me on this phone is the 5MP camera. At a time when 8MP is almost standard, Google allowed Samsung to fit this phone with a mere 5MP camera. That said, this is one of the fastest camera I’ve had the pleasure of using.

Unlike the iPhone which uses static homescreen, on the Nexus you can have widgets as well as apps, meaning you can access features like email, weather, etc., without launching a separate application. Yes this approach adds complexity to the environment and additional system resources. And that is the trade off when you want customizability as that which comes with Android – something lacking on the iPhone. As with the current versions of IOS, you can now create folders where you can group like-minded applications.

On ICS, navigational keys “Back”, “Home” and “Multitasking” form part of the interface. The latter allows you to move back and forth between running applications. The notification dropdown is transparent; plus the addition of the ‘swipe away’ gesture to remove unwanted items.

The Nexus 3 is by far the fastest phone I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. I suspect it may be because the ICS software was optimized for the duo-core TI OMAP 4460 processor running at 1.2 GHz.

The most common apps I’d use with a smartphone are messaging, contacts (People) and calendar. On the Nexus the apps are optimized for clean interface and fast access. The Calendar is swipe-enabled, so you can now use gestures like pinch-to-zoom to get details and swipe between days, weeks and months.

With affordable mobile broadband Web browsing on the smartphone has become a common pre-occupation. On the Nexus 3, browsing is fast and almost flawless. Navigation is fast and browsing even better when the website is optimized for mobile devices. As with the calendar app, scrolling, panning around, zooming in using pinch-to-zoom and double-tap work very smoothly. Did I tell you there is an offline viewing feature for those times when you expect to be out of Internet connection.

The Nexus 3 is built for connectivity, including Wi-Fi b/g/n/a and Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and MHL. I use the NFC feature to scan my Octopus card’s stored value. The Nexus 3 comes with a GPS.

While the Nexus 3 came with a 5MP camera which is disappointing when you consider that many of the high end smartphones are equipped with at least 8MP. The camera interface itself is simple and easy to use, and comes with white balance, exposure and scene modes. Video recording comes with a set of fun face-detection-based effects like Squeeze, Big Eyes, Big Mouth, Big Nose, etc. I particularly like the built-in panorama model – it works very efficiently. The biggest plus for me when it comes to the camera is its shutter speed. It even beats my Canon G1 X – how is that for speed? Word of warning… the continuous auto focus feature sometimes acts up and doesn’t want to shift from one target to another. Outdoor shots are reasonably sharp but low light situations are bad (but most phone cameras and even some dedicated compact cameras do the same thing). The Nexus 3 comes with a tiny flash so don’t expect much.

To complement the camera is Gallery, a photo app with built-in image editor. It comes with some decent tools like adjusting exposure or saturation, fixing the red-eyes, and applying other effects.

Listening to music is nothing average but watching videos is a pleasure largely due to the Super AMOLED screen – at times I think it’s better than some of the TVs I see in the market.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Apart from my disappointment with the camera, I’ve discovered an anomaly that exists on the Nexus 3 as it does on the SGS2. The back of the phone around the camera heats up intermittently. I can only attribute it to some software acting up but to date I’ve not discovered what is doing this. Going to Samsung tech support hasn’t been easy either – um sek yin man (no speak English)!

CONCLUSION

This is my first Android phone with no custom interface developed by the vendor that has been the stumbling block to OS upgrades. Having tested Gingerbread earlier on HTC, Dell, Sony Ericsson and Samsung mobile phones, I have to say that ICS is, by far, the best iteration in the Android line.

As of this writing there are newer phones out in the market that still use Gingerbread – for whatever reason I’ve been reading about ICS coming to some existing HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung phones but with no definitive dates, I can only say to the owners of these devices: tough!

I promised earlier on that I am not writing this as a tribute to Google or to Samsung. It isn’t! It’s a review of a product – good and bad. In fairness I think I was dupe – to some degree – into buying this phone. Largely because I’m the kind of person who will never be happy with the version of the device I bought. But owning a Google phone is way better than owning a SE or iPhone or HTC – at least the next iteration won’t be six months from release of the previous version. Other vendors produce new models every 4 to 6 months – and that just riles me up! I bought an iPad and three months later Apple released iPad 3. @$^#@%&$^*#!

Technical Spec
OS: Android 4.0.1
Dimension: 135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94 mm
Weight: 135g
Display: 4.65 inches, 720×1280 pixels Super AMOLED, multi-touch capacitative
Sensors: light, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer
Battery: 1750mAh
Processor: dual core 1200 MHz TI OMAP 4460

System RAM: 1024MB
Built-in storage: 16GB
Rear-facing camera: 5 megapixel with LED flash
Camcorder: 1920×1080 30 fps
Front-facing camera: 1.3 megapixels
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11 b/g/n/a with mobile hotspot, micro USB 2.0 and HDMI via micro USB, NFC, MHL, OTA sync
Voice: quad band GSM/UMTS
Data: HSDPA+, HSDPA 14.4 Mbits/s, UMS, HSUPA 5.76 Mbits/s, EDGE
Satellite: GPS, A-GPS
Navigation: Points of Interest, Turn-by-turn navigation, Voice navigation

Photos

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I’ve been clamoring for a chance to test drive a Windows mobile 7 phone for several months now. Much of this interest comes on the heels of reasonably good reviews of the product even from those I feel are traditionally Microsoft Windows haters.
So it was with gusto that I accepted the offer by HTC’s PR agency in Hong Kong to review the recently released HTC HD7 mobile phone. The review units tend to arrive on my desk with very little ceremony and packaging. The HD7 came cocooned in bubblewrap and nothing else. No manual, no cable, no nothing. So I pulled out the micro-USB charger of my BlackBerry 9800 and started to charge the HD7. I left it charging for overnight just to be safe. I also discovered that the last reviewer didn’t bother to erase his data so I proceeded to look for the RESET option with the full intention of wiping out the phone’s data before I proceed with the review. Needless to say, this is where the trouble started.
This is NOT an iPhone. One of the qualities that make for an excellent beginner’s experience on the iPhone is that you don’t need a manual to get started. This, alas, is lost with most other smart phone manufacturers. In most cases, whether its a Sony Ericsson Xperia or an HTC or a Samsung Galaxy, you need to read the manual to use the phone for purposes other than making phone calls. What’s worst, its becoming a fad now not to print the manual to appear to be “green”. Most users will not quibble about this when buying the phone at the local retail store but soon after they switch on the device, owners will start to wonder how to (1) set up the phone; and (2) move data from the previous phone to the current phone. OOPS! No manual. What do I do now?
In my case I had to Google it to find the user manual. The manual says out of the box, you get a phone, battery, USB cable, 3.5mm stereo headset, power adapter, start here guide, quick guide, and safety and regulations guide.
OBSERVATIONS
The HTC HD7 phone follows the current cream of smartphones in terms of physical attributes: large, reflective screen; minimalist physical buttons (in this case, one for power, a rocker for volume and a camera shutter); three soft buttons near the button front of the panel; a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm stereo headset port. The back of the phone hides the battery and SIM slot. A 5 megapixel camera is flanked by two LED flash and a tiny speaker. There is also a kickstand that props the phone in landscape mode when all you want to do is watch a video.
A year ago, I’d argue that setting up accounts on a mobile phone was a pain. My view of this changed with the Android phones and now with the Windows 7 mobile phone. I set up my gmail, hotmail, yahoo and Facebook accounts with ease.
WHAT I LIKE
I’ve never been fond of the voice command function of phones because most require that you train the phone and half the time the software isn’t accurate. The HD7 changed my view of this. To use the voice command to make a call, you press and hold the START button and then say “Call” name. In the five times I tried it, it was flawless.
The primary purpose of a phone is to make calls. My earlier experience with NOKIA and Motorola is that finding names can be troublesome if you have more than a few hundred contacts in your database. In my case, its closer to 3,000. On the HD7, this can get complicated once you’ve created your multiple contact accounts as the software will automatically pull the contacts from your different accounts. Imagine if you have a name listed in five accounts. That person can appear five times in your People list. The good news is that on the HD7, you can link multiple contacts together.
I like the use of Tiles on the home page to make navigation to different applications very easy. Some of the best apps I’ve taken to really like, and wish other vendors would shameless copy, is the People hub. People was built to make social networking and micro-blogging a seamless and enjoyable experience.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The first time I was handed the phone, I immediately didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t get it to work. My years of intuition wasn’t sufficient (I wasn’t intelligent enough) to get the phone to work. I was puzzled why the phone didn’t have a micro SD card slot (It turns out the phone came with 16GB of built-in storage). So after a few days of playing around with the phone, I’ve finally nailed down what it was I didn’t like most about the HD7 – the battery life.
The other less annoying is the power button. HTC has this button flushed so close to the chassis I often find it hard to press when I need to.
It can be argued that part of the iPhone’s apple is the 300,000+ apps designed to specifically for the phone. This is what every major phone manufacturer from Sony Ericsson, to RIM, to NOKIA, to Samsung, to Google, and now Microsoft is trying to emulate. As of writing, the Windows Marketplace for Mobile has about 5,100 apps on it although most have a price tags ranging from US$8 and up. The most expensive one I’ve seen so far is from MerchantPlus costing US$120.
By far, proponents of the iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPad will say that Microsoft is still ways behind in creating a more acceptable user interface when browsing the Internet. Yes, on the HD7 Web browsing is a bit slower. Not sure if this is a caching or rendering issue. But at the same time, this is far more pleasurable than surfing even on the BlackBerry Torch (hands down).
ONE MORE THING
Windows Mobile 7 clearly shows that Microsoft has been studying the Apple iPhone strategy. I understand that Microsoft is forcing phone manufacturers to customize as little of the operating system’s user interface – a strategy that mimics Apple’s approach of closely integrating the hardware with the operating system (OS). Earlier versions of the Microsoft Windows mobile approach was to let mobile phone makers freely customize the user experience, making base OS upgrades difficult.
One of the things I like about my BlackBerry is that I can copy over photos, videos, music and files to the device simply by dragging the dropping the aforementioned files using Windows Explorer. With the HD7, and I was told all Windows Mobile 7 phones, the only option is via Zune, Microsoft’s implementation of iTunes. While it is annoying that you need Zune to move files in and out of the phone, the one thing Microsoft has done well was make the Zune experience more intuitive and enjoyable – try it. This is a big improvement over iTunes’ very staid and uninviting user experience. I’m guessing you will like it… eventually.
I will regret returning this phone to the PR agency but as with all good things, everything has an end. I am sure the next iteration of Windows Mobile 7 will be even better. And you can ‘almost’ safely say that with WM7, Microsoft has ‘almost’ finally come to understand what mobility is all about. Watch our Apple and Google, Microsoft is back in the game.
As for the HTC HD7 phone itself, there is nothing not to like with this phone except maybe the lack of a case to house the unit and protect it from accidentally pressing the sensitive capacitative screen. Otherwise I’d be happy to consider it a replacement for my current phone – BlackBerry Torch 8900… IF…
OTHER REVIEWS
Windows 7 mobile
USA Today
HTD HD7
Gizmodo
Stuff UK.TV
PHOTOS
Homepage of the HTC HD7

Homepage of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

Both phones were released and quite a bit of reviews are available in the market. So as always I will provide you with links to some of the best reviews I’ve read on both devices.

This write-up is more about my experience using the two phones.

Much to Desire

The HTC Desire is billed by some as the top of the Android line for the phone maker. It resembles the Google Nexus One phone, and why not? Google commissioned HTC to build the Nexus One.

Physically the Nexus One is smoother and looks a little sleeker than the Desire. The sharp edges on the Desire are not good for your pocket if, like me, you have a tendency to slip your phone into your front pocket. Both phones have the same processor and battery rating.

As a communications device, Google got it right to include built-in noise reduction technology on the Nexus. This is very important since most mobile phone mics pick up literally everything around you, making it often hard to listen to the person speaking. So I wonder why HTC would want to drop this one technology so many other phone makers seem to ignore but is a common concern across all mobile phone users (Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, Apple, HTC – are you guys listening?).

Anyway, let me go back to the HTC Desire. I observed that the back of the HTC Desire gets very warm very fast if the screen is on. So if you are surfing the Internet on the Desire or watching a movie, chances are you will need to buy a case to wrap the Desire in… Otherwise be prepared to get first degree burns if you hold the phone long enough. The only other phone I’ve ever handled that does this even worst is the Samsung Omnia i800 – in my view one of the worst phones I’ve ever had. I did speculate that the use of a plastic backing meant the Desire had no way to dissipate heat. You really must like what you are doing to keep holding the phone when it’s scorching your hand.

The second and only other, real gripe I have with the Desire is the lack of option to upgrade the OS. Apple may not listen to its customers when developing new products but once you’ve invested in one, Apple lets you upgrade the operating system as and when it becomes available, as long as the hardware supports it. In practical terms this means that you don’t necessarily have to upgrade to the next iteration of the same series unless you have a very compelling reason to – like you got money to burn. In contrast, with HTC to experience Android 2.2, I will have to buy a new phone. And when Android 2.3 (or whatever next iteration after Froyo), I will have to throw away my just recently bought phone to get an OS upgrade.

How stupid is that?

I understand that with the Nexus One, you can upgrade to the next OS. (more…)

In 2001 my wife and I attended a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Hong Kong (yes, I admit that we belong to that genre – albeit we were inculcated into the American folk-singing music of the 60s without the benefit of freedom of choice). At one point Mary Travers confessed her apprehension seeing Hong Kong people walking along the streets and apparently talking to themselves. She was eventually told that Hong Kong people liked talking to their mobile phones via wireless ear pieces. Today we know these devices to be Bluetooth in-ear headsets

A Bluetooth headset lets you talk to someone from your mobile (cell) phone via a wireless device plugged to your ear. Early generations of Bluetooh headsets fell into either of two categories: utilitarian or fashion statements. Almost all failed in one category for which they were built – to let you talk to someone in a clear voice.

My first Bluetooth headset was a Sony Ericsson. Over the years I’ve collected several brands including Jabra, Samsung, LG and more recently Plantronics.

Why so many? One could argue I’ve been on a quest to find a Bluetooth headset that gives voice quality comparable to that on a landline, is comfortable to use, and lasts long enough to limit charges to maybe two times a week.

This week I was asked to try a Plantronics Discovery 975 headset. This model follows the Plantronics tradition of minimalist design. In fact, two things I didn’t like about an earlier model – the Plantronics Discovery 625 – were the rather clumsy design of the ear gel and the addition of the removable hook. The ear gel easily detaches from the main body of the headset. Because I often pocket the headset when I don’t use it, I end up detaching the ear gel from the main body. The hook can become a nuisance if you were glasses.

Thankfully, on the 975 Plantronics has done away with the hook and made the ear gel design more rugged and sturdy. Drawing from its experience with the 625 and other earlier models, Plantronics incorporated a dual-mic AudioIQ² technology to simultaneously capture your voice and also cancel background noise. AudioIQ² automatically adjusts incoming calls to comfortable levels. The addition of a 20-band equalizer delivers rich, natural voice quality further enhancing the call experience.

It is easy to tell if you are using a headset when you are out in the open. The wind often creates swooshing sound that annoys the party on the other line. You often come in choppy. Plantronics uses WindSmart technology to provide three layers of protection against wind noise.

The result is voice clarity I’ve never associated with bluetooth headsets.

One of the reasons why I want to have a headset is so I don’t have to hold the phone while talking to someone. This leaves my hands free to write down notes. So in addition to good sound quality, I’d like the device to be comfortable to use for long periods as well as unobstrusive. At 9 grams, the 975 is light on the ear. And because it snugs very neatly into my ear, I often forget I have it on. (more…)

I’ve been doing marketing for many years now and I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of a brand to a business. As a consumer I never really appreciated “brand” as a business strategy at least until I started to equate quality with brand. Quality is not only about the physical aspects of a product. It also reflects upon the soft-side of a product… things like pre-sales and post-sales support. Are you lost with what I am trying to get at? Let me use a real example.

My birthday was coming and my wife asked me what I wanted for a gift. Looking around the only thing I needed was a portable USB DVD drive (reader-writer). So I went to my favorite computer mall and shopped around for what I thought were brands worth looking into. I didn’t pay attention to what I thought were OEM brands and instead opted for those with familiar brand name like Samsung, Lacie, LG, Sony, and Buffalo. There was very little to differentiate the drives – in fact if you didn’t look at the packaging and brand you’d swear they were all from the same manufacturer suggesting not much effort was put in the creative aspect of design. Anyway, I chose the Samsung Ultra Slim External DVD Writer “Super-writemaster” (US-632/633). The retailer said it came with a one-year warranty, “just make sure you got the invoice.”

My wife bought the thing, gift-wrapped it and presented it to me on my birthday. I was very happy. That same evening I unwrapped it, plugged it into my computer, and off it went to work. I burned one DVD containing my archive of photos and stowed the device away. I used it a few more times over the course of the next two months. At the beginning of the third month, the drive stopped working. The light would turn green for a few seconds as you hear the drive motor quietly whirling about. But when the light died, the drive died. I tested it on three laptops – all different brands, each with a different version of Microsoft Windows, nothing.

I tried calling the number on the box. The line was engaged for the five times I attempted to call – different days of the week, different times of the day. Knowing the PR agency for Samsung, I contacted them for help. After several emails I was told that Samsung Hong Kong did not sell this particular drive model in the Territory. So I am stuck with a US$90 brick.

Its not really the money that I care so much about (well, I can be stingy at times so yes money is still important) but its also about the trust you build with the brand. How can Samsung (or your favorite brand) betray your trust and expect you to be loyal to that brand? The excuse that the product you bought is a parallel import is nothing more than an excuse. Yes, its aimed at protecting the local distribution channel I understand that. But what protection does the customer/consumer have when the product was bought from what appears to be a legitimate store?

We are in an increasingly global world where you can buy just about anything from the Internet. Vendors like Samsung are selling on the web as well. But what does it tell you when your favorite supplier renegs on the promise of the brand citing “not bought locally” as the excuse?

I have a 5 year old Iomega external DVD writer. If not for its humongous size, I wouldn’t have asked my wife to buy me the Samsung drive. But old as it is, it still works perfectly each time I plug a blank disc to backup some of my work.

I say boycott brands that don’t honor the promise of their brand regardless of where their product was sold or bought. The obligation (not duty) is on the brand to honor their promise.

One final note about Samsung and the quality of its products. In case you think this is just me ranting my heart out, try Googling “complaints about samsung products” and you’ll be surprise at the results. Go ahead!

A friend asked me to test out the newly launched Samsung Omnia SGH-i900. But rather than do the usual indepth product review I thought I’d look at it from the angle of the common user – my wife. If you still want to read one of those in-depth product reviews, click on the links below:

TrustedReviews: Samsung Omnia i900
CNETAsia: Samsung Omnia SGH-i900 (8GB)
Wassup: Samsung Omnia – New 3G iPhone Killer?
Pocketnow: Review – Samsung Omnia i900

So what do I like about the Omnia? It comes in a beautiful box that reminds me of those expensive luxury watches from Switzerland. Thanks to the Samsung heritage of great LCD panels, the Omnia boasts the best LCD screen I’ve ever come across barring those beautiful Samsung LCD computer monitors. Beats the iphone and every portable wannabee when it comes to crisp, clear display.

I only have a couple of gripes about the Omnia: (1) it takes close to 1 minute to power up. If I were to come across someone having a heart attack and I needed to make a call and unfortunately my Omnia was powered off, the guy will be close to death’s door before I can reach someone on the emergency hotline; (2) the back panel gets warm when the display is on – not toasty hot – but warm. Which is great for winter when you need something to warm your hands but very lousy during hot summer days in Hong Kong. 

One more thing: I am not a geek but certainly after 22 years of being in the IT industry, I am no newbie either. But I can tell you that you can get really frustrated trying to connect to your WiFi with this phone. I’ve been trying to do it for two days now and I still haven’t found the magic sequence to connect to my WiFi at home. My iPod Touch took about a minute to find and connect to my WiFi. My favorite BlackBerry Pearl managed to get connected in under a minute as well. So why can’t I get the Omnia connected? Beats the hell out of me. Fortunately I am not alone. Lots more folks shouting for help out on the WWW (just type – I can’t connect to WiFi on Omnia).

So we go back to the topic of this article: Do you buy a phone for its features or ease-of-use? Apple has shown that if you can make a phone easy-to-use while still being cool, people will buy it. Manufacturers like to think that if you stick a supercomputer on a handheld device, people will buy it. Yes, I am sure a few geeks would love to get their hands on such a device. But time and again, consumer statistics and common sense tell us that people like to use things that are simple to use, and oh yes, it does as advertise (OSX vs Windows).

I’m not taking a swipe at Windows. I am writing this blog on a Windows XP PC (I have a Mac too). But when it comes right down to it, the more elegant and simple a device is, the more people are drawn to it. Wll you buy a sleek, sexy, curvey jacquar or a tank? Both can bring you from point A to B. But you only need to know how to steer, where the gas and break peddals are to drive a Jag.

So you tell me!