HTC One M8 – REVIEW

HTC One m8

The HTC One M8 is the latest attempt by the flailing smartphone manufacturer to shore up some of its recent losses in the face of growing competition from the likes of LG, Apple and particularly, Samsung – who have managed to vacuum up almost all of the former giant’s lead. Last year’s HTC One (M7) was considered a somewhat iconic design, and was the company’s best selling handset, ever. However, it didn’t buck the downwards trend that the company faces. The One M8 it is hoped will change all of that.

 

Released in Ireland, and the world earlier this week, the M8 is available on all major networks. The Dot View Case has not been released yet, however some sites now offer this on pre-order in five different colours.

 

But just what is the M8 like?

 

The Box

An unboxing video is to follow, however – the box itself is pretty neat – larger than it really needs to be, but clearly taking a more Apple oriented direction – very slim, and very simple. With the phone, comes a basic rubber case, headphones, charger cable and standard plug.

 

The Hardware

When you first pick up, what looks like the rather sizeable phone, what strikes immediately is just how well built the device really is. The back is gently curved, not enough to offer much rocking, but it fits comfortably into the hand. The single aluminum slab feels great, the machine-drilled speakers blend in well. The device front looks a little more cluttered when you come from a Nexus device, which is blank on the front. It’s a little heavy, but not in an uncomfortable way, it feels weighty in a very solid sense.

 

The only irk I would have when it comes to build quality, would be the volume rocker – it’s a little flimsy by comparison and could be a bit more solid, same goes for the power button – but thanks to gesture controls, it rarely gets used.

 

The camera blends in nicely – it looks a little odd to have two lenses at the back, but it’s integrated well overall. Speaking of the camera, a lot of people (including myself) have been worried about the 4 ‘Ultrapixel’ argument – thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised, the camera is, in my opinion, better than the Nexus 4.

 

The screen to show off these pictures is gorgeous, it blends in with the overall device, you’d never even realize it was there – when switched on, it’s very sharp, text is crisp and pictures look just stunning – the extra real estate really helps.

 

Topping and Tailing the screen, is a pair of fairly gorgeous speakers. They’re loud, really loud and clear. Some music came across as a bit tinny, but overall the speakers were clear, sharp and a song being played in the living room, I could clearly hear in the next room.

 

Coming from the Nexus, a range which has been plagued by poor batter life, the M8 is simply amazing in terms of battery. It lasts well over a day on moderate – heavy usage, with the screen brightness up and the 3G/WiFi on. It charges nice and quickly, certainly tasks that would drop the Nexus 4 by 10%, only really use up 5% or less from the M8.

 

The Software

Turning on the phone, I was very worried. Previously using Sense had been somewhat of a disappointment especially when coming from stock. However I have to say, Sense 6 is slick. The gestures, such as lifting the phone to your ear to answer a call, are genuinely useful, rather than Samsung’s bloatware which gets ignored. Sense is definitely a nice overlay to the Android OS, It’s a lot more background and simple, making sure that it doesn’t intrude too much on how you interact with the phone.

 

Some things I really like coming from stock, is the greater flexibility of the notifications centre, there’s a lot more functionality when double swiping, the ability to easily drop widgets into any section or homescreen is quite nice. Blinkfeed is really quite nice also. Flipboard like functionality and easily accessible, it’s a nice feature to read while you’re waiting on something, aggregating items from several of your news sources.

 

The Camera

I wasn’t convinced by the ‘Ultrapixel’ argument at first, it seemed like quite an easy cop-out to have an amazing phone, with one major Achilles heel. However, having used it and taken quite a few snaps, the quality is actually pretty good. The screen doesn’t hide much, but images are sharp and crisp, certainly more than enough for social sharing and Instagram.

Filtered shot from the camera

The camera also features some pretty handy things, Zoe is a little bit of a gimmick, but it’s a nice touch to allow the creation of your own Vine like GIF, the ability to refocus an image after shooting is very nice, and it’s something I have been using a lot in pictures, especially if the object I want to capture isn’t the centre.

 

While the features are nice, I liked that Nexus allows you to browse your auto-backup images within the gallery by default.

 

Images though are really, lovely – the gesture of holding your locked phone in landscape and hitting the volume button is really a nice touch to snap a quick shot on the go.

 

Wrap up

Overall, I’m hugely impressed with the M8. The handset itself I would say almost surpasses the iPhone in design, it slips into the hand neatly, rather than a block working against it. The gestures and overall intuition are top notch, the camera is more than decent and the speakers are pretty powerful. While I do think I still prefer stock, just about – the HTC One M8 pretty much trumps it.

 

After having it for about four days, I wouldn’t even hesitate in giving this phone a 10/10.

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[OPINION] Why Google have started the Real Tablet War

Since the launch of the iPad, about three years ago now, competition has been springing up from every corner. Sony lunched their tablets which, while elegant were certainly the more unusual in the design spectrum. Samsung also threw a half dozen tablets into the market, with names no one can really remember and no discernible strategy of formula (The Note seems unsure whether it’s a phone, or a tablet). Amazon was the first real competition to the market, with the Fire. A low price point helped it clean up the Android tablet market. But, enter Google and everything changes.

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[OPINION] Why Windows 8 won’t stop the rise of Apple

There have been a lot of rumors and leaks recently around the immanent launch of the new Windows 8 operating system, which is seen as Microsoft’s chance to shake off it’s image of clunky operating systems, with awkward menus and a basic design. This image was perfected in the 90’s with Windows 98, but is starting to now lose some serious ground in the face of growing tablet markets and increasingly more adaptable software. But will Windows 8 change the fortunes of the corporate giant?

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iPhone 5 cometh…

With Apple’s conference confirmed on the 4th October, and the iPhone 5 all but a certainty, just what can we expect the new CEO Tim Cook to unveil to us? Here’s some of what we can be expecting from the conference next week.

iPhone 5

Maybe? Probably not...

The iPhone 5 is largely expected to undergo some kind of redesign in terms of the hardware. While it’s expected to look very much the same as the iPhone 4, the internals are expected to address the hazardous antennae issue which gave Apple so many headaches not long ago among other things which aim to generally give the new iPhone a bit more Oomph. Some speculation over the thickness of the handset has arisen, suggesting that the actual handset will be thinner and lighter than previous models. There has also been some comments over the phone’s screen size which is expected to increase to match the growing displays from rivals like Samsung and HTC. Personally I think Apple did well with the iPhone 4 in terms of design, it’s a usable size with little weight and feels good to hold so I can’t see any hugely outlandish overhauls in this field.

Some of the internal changes however aside from the antennae fix, will be big ones. It’s expected that thus iPhone will be made even faster, getting rid of the already short lags present in the current range of iPhones. It’s expected that with the larger screen, Apple will need to invest in much punchier processor power as well as some updates to the excellent Retina Display. Another internal change which would be welcome is the inclusion of an NFC chip, which would allow for contact-less payments to be made. Google already allows this in their own Nexus handsets, and last week activated the feature allowing people to pay for items with Google Wallet, through their smartphone and it’s expected that more and more Android handsets will begin carrying this soon. With PayPal already working on their own apps it makes some sense to do this. But we’ll have to see, Apple tend to wait until a method is more tried and tested.

There has also been some discussion around the possibility of the new iPhone being 4G, I personally don’t really see this as being a major deal breaker, most people won’t have anything above 3G connection and really don’t care much about 4G. So while this might be a bit of Future-proofing on Apple’s part, like the Thunderbolt connection on the new MacBook Air, it’s really not something to get excited about yet.

It will be an intersecting presentation, marking the first major product launch that Jobs hasn’t helmed. iOS5 will also be released to customers in and around, which looks set to add a host of new features to the iPhone. I for one, won’t be buying the new iPhone, I think the iPhone 4 with iOS5 will be able to do much of what the iPhone 5 will be packing.

Vodafone Blue, is really a bit Blue…

Vodafone have recently released their new Vodafone Blue handset here in Ireland, specifically for all the Facebook nuts out there, as their own answer to HTC’s Facebook handset being run exclusively on O2. One landed on my desk a few weeks ago, so I decided to play around with it.

 

First impressions are a bit reminiscent of a BlackBerry from maybe 3 years ago, there’s a lot of buttons laid out across the handset with a sizable enough screen for the handset’s size in standard QWERTY, with the addition of the Facebook button along the bottom. The menu buttons along the top are a little more confusing, besides the standard call answer and drop buttons, there’s a touch-joystick in the middle which takes a little getting used to when you’re used to gesture based touch screens, there’s also two buttons to either side, which although are not labeled are menu option buttons.

Vodafone

Vodafone 555 Blue Facebook Phone

Running on a custom OS, it’s not too bad, and certainly has enough features for the basic end user. With Facebook instantly accessible and a mediocre camera for updates on the move. Other than that it’s almost indistinguishable from any other Nokia handset for example, while this isn’t exactly a bad thing, it’s not something to go shouting about. I can see where the market for the handset it, for young people who don’t have the finances or the inclination to get a full fledged smartphones but want to keep in touch and use the social benefits which one can give.

 

One major problem, which I had with the handset, was, typing. The buttons are far too small, and for some reason typing ‘c’ also gives me an ‘e’ which I still cannot understand, it might be a handset setting, but why such would exist is beyond understanding. The OS is also clunky, with a poor response from the joystick it was tedious finding my way around. Perhaps it might be easier if I hadn’t come from using an iPhone or Android, but it was a bit of a pain.

 

Overall, the idea is good, but the handset feels like something, which would have been released to the low end of the Market maybe 5 years ago. You could do much worse than this handset, while I did have a lot of trouble with it, the OS felt simple enough and reliable. Perhaps Vodafone should leave Facebook phones to the guys over at HTC, but if you’re looking for a phone to give you on the go Facebook access, you may as well fork out, or wait until Christmas for an iPhone, or the excellent HTC Sensation, you’d get faster, more intuitive access with less hassle and a bettered camera.

 

The Vodafone Blue Facebook phone is currently not available in stores, but you can register your interest on their Facebook page.

The Nokia N8 that stole my heart.

Everyone remembers Nokia as the handset we all owned, it was the ultimate cool symbol before phones got smart and is still renowned for their solid build and durable nature. In fact, you’ll still see many people wandering around with the old 3210! But while we remember the 3210, Nokia has come on leaps and bounds, launching it’s new flagship smartphone the N8 earlier this year.

Nokia 3210

The Nokia 3210, one of the old reliables

I’ve had the chance to play around with the N8 and I have to say it’s an impressive phone. All that I knew and loved about Nokia came flooding back, the N8 really is a winner and I almost considered swapping my iPhone for it (almost).

Once you pick up the N8 you’re instantly surprised by just how light it feels, weighing less than the iPhone it’s almost featherlight. It is a bit more bulky though, thicker than the iPhone 4 and still again that bit bigger than the 3G. This is mostly from the camera lens on the back, but I’ll get to that soon. On the looks, it’s a real contender. Very sleek and smooth, it looks and feels durable, much more so than any HTC phone or the iPhone. You really do feel like you could chuck it at a wall and pick it up and go on texting.

The Nokia N8

The very solid, very sleek N8!

The screen is slightly smaller than the iPhone, and the difference between the retina display and the N8’s AMOLED capacitive touch screen is noticeable, the N8 display when viewing text heavy websites is not the easiest to read. The screen is responsive though, you can glide around withe relative ease, again it doesn’t feel as smooth as the iPhone but you get used to it and it does feel just as comfortable. You’ll also notice a small feedback vibration at each tap, it’s nice but gets a bit old fast and I haven’t figured out how to switch it off.

The camera is the most impressive piece of this hardware, 12 megapixel it’s truly a monster, the quality is perfect and unmistakeable. Streets ahead of the iPhone, it’s worth the little bit extra bulk on the back. Personally I’m trying to figure out how e camera quality can actually be so good when squeezed into such a light handset, it has some echoes of a Mary Poppins handbag.

The battery is also pretty strong, I’ve been messing around with this for a few days now all on one charge, and it hasn’t made a peep about running even 50% power. WiFi ANC 3G capable with two cameras, one front facing for video calls and 16GB storage natively with room for up to 32GB more using an SD card.

What probably let’s the phone down the most is the software. Sum Ian just never daunt onto the smartphone Market and just couldn’t make the leap over, hence the attempted jump onto Meego with the N9 and the Microsoft deal earlier in the year.

Nokia N9

The Nokia N9, big attempt to refine the N8 design

There’s a lot to like about Symbian ^3, multi-tasking out of the box, a lot of focus given to mobile data with social networks, news feeds and mail all being accessible from the home screen from the moment you switch it on. While it’s a nice operating system, it’s just not as smooth as iOS or Android. There’s a clunkiness you just can’t ignore, and it can feel a little exerting navigating your way around.

The main problem for Symbian is that whereas the other two major OS’s were build from the ground up with smartphones in mind, Symbian is very much an evolution of older systems and seems to be slightly stuck in the days of Nokia’s dominance of the phone Market, before smartphones arrived on the scene. So the whole navigation structure is rigged towards what used to work on button based handsets. Another major gripe I’ve had is a lack of Mac compatibility, which took me a while to work around.

If you’re looking to download apps for your phone, the Ovi Store comes preloaded, and works very similar to the other app stores. The selection isn’t as wide, but it offers everything from apps to themes and ringtones for your phone, and it’s actually pretty easy to get around. There’s no Facebook or Twitter apps, but you can use MySocial, which is preloaded on the phone as a nice alternative.

Nokia Ovi store

The very handy, Nokia Ovi Store with over 1.7 million downloads daily

Overall the N8 is a winning handset. It looks good, feels good and is a joy to use. Mostly let down by the operating system which just doesn’t cut the mustard in the age of the iPhone. If Nokia want to keep ahead, they need to utilise their innovation in software, as it seems to be that the other handsets are using their ideas before they do. NFC Payments on phones are a good example, Nokia patented this ages ago, but there seems to be no plans to implement this on any handsets!

Software 5.5/10 – nice, but not wowed

Hardware 10/10 – solid, sleek and simple

Camera 10/10 – Stunning.

Overall 8.5/10 – great phone, pleasure to use.

If you can’t get an iPad, what can you get?

iPad accounts for 89%, but what’s the other 11%

Recently it’s been announced that the iPad accounts for an incredibly impressive 89% of global tablet usage. While it had always been expected that the iPad would be the major tablet in use around the world, the shear volume has been somewhat surprising.

Ever since the iPad hit the Market two years ago, competitors have been quick to jump on the bandwagon (quicker than the handset one). So what exactly are the alternatives?

Samsung offer the best alternatives, with two tablets; Galaxy Tab and v10.1 which are both very impressive devices running android. The original Galaxy is small at about 7inch screen space and is a pretty nice tablet to give the light users. It’s flash enabled and the nice screen is great for magazines and newspapers. 10.1 which is a larger, newer version of the Galaxy tab is for perhaps a more advanced user, running the latest Android OS, it’s slim with a nice big screen. Probably the closest competitors to the iPad.

Samsung tablet

The Samsung Galaxy Tab, one of the best alternatives to the iPad

HTC who produce probably the best Android and WP7 handsets have tried their hand at tablets with the Flyer, it’s a nice little 7inch tablet running Android 3.0 Gingerbread. Slightly bulkier than the iPad, it feels like a solid device, and also looks pretty good in the hand. Unusually for a modern tablet, it comes with a stylus pen, while it’s nice to have as an option it does make the otherwise swish tablet feel quite dated.

HTC Flyer tablet

HTC Flyer tablet from one of the biggest Android manufacturers

The BlackBerry PlayBook is really the last of the big competition to the iPad, the HP Slate just never caught on after being pulled a few times, and the Acer Iconia runs the whole Windows OS, making it awkward. But the PlayBook has been recently released, it’s slim, smooth and overall a very nice tablet. Running the same OS as the International Space Station this tablet is a very reliable sort, with an easy to use operating system and. Multitasking natively.

BlackBerry Playbook

If it's good enough for astronauts... the BlackBerry Playbook

There’s a good selection of other tablets available on the Market, with probably many more going to be released, but for the time being the iPad corners the Market, and it’s easy to see why. All of the above tablets are available in Ireland either through mobile operators or PC World and HMV.