Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Battle of the Android Flagships: HTC One vs Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z

For arguably the first time, there are 3 Android devices that could be considered better than the iPhone and as the best on the market: The HTC One, the Sony Xperia Z and the recently released Samsung Galaxy S4. So, which is the best?

The easiest place to start is with the key stats, so let's have a look:

Now, let's be clear, there is very little discernible difference in quality between these three phones. They all offer some neat features that will suit varying tastes but overall they all represent the Android platform very well and stack up comfortably as 3 of the best handsets on the market. What I'm saying is - you'll be happy with any of them. But then again, where's the fun in sitting on the fence? Picking apart the statistics: The Samsung Galaxy S4 is by far the most powerful with a sensational octo-core chip (yes, EIGHT! Who knew we were past the quad-core already!?) but it's a tad unnecessary. Both the One and the Xperia will perform at very swift speeds. On paper the S4 also possesses the best battery, however, there have been numerous reports of excellent performance from the Xperia Z with Sony's new 'stamina mode'. There is little difference in weight, no difference in RAM and they all boast full HD screens, 4G LTE, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0. The HTC One joins the S4 with Gorilla Glass 3 whereas Sony have developed their own 'shatter-proof glass'. Resistance tests are yet to be conducted on the Xperia Z's shatter-proof screen but you would hope it would be in-keeping with the 'durable' USP that Sony have chosen.

Given that they are similar under the hood then we come down to aesthetics, features and gimmicks.
Aesthetically, the HTC One is the clear winner. It's a beautiful phone. Clean edges which are complemented with the aluminum casing. The Xperia Z comes in second and not because of faults in design (it's also a lovely looking phone) but more because of the HTC One's excellence. I've already made my feelings clear on the design of the S4 - it's an S3 replica but slightly bigger. Out of the three, the S4 doesn't ooze quality like the other two and this is largely because of the plastic casing. This is a personal thing, and I'm not saying the S4 is an ugly phone, it's simply not as pretty as the HTC One or the Xperia Z. Check them out below:

Lets have a look at a few other areas that could be winners in the eyes of the consumer:

This is an intriguing one. HTC have really stuck their neck out by developing their very own 'Ultrapixels' to compete with the 13MP powerhouses. Whilst others continue to strive for higher and higher pixel numbers, HTC have proven that 4MP (when developed correctly), is plenty. However, I have my doubts over whether this will work in the cut-throat eyes of the consumer who may not read the endless reviews of the HTC One's performance and plump for the highest numbers. HTC have developed a camera that is certainly competitive but is it a game-changing feature? Probably not. The Xperia Z and the S4 both hit high standards in the camera category and in truth, any of these would be a good selection. Samsung have added some interesting (if perhaps a little pointless) features such as Drama Shot, Eraser, Cinema Photo and Sound Shot which you can find more about in my S4 review but again, these should not deter you from selecting the other two.

Sound-wise, HTC have taken the spoils (not by a short distance either). As someone who uses an HTC One X as a portable sound-system, I appreciate the Beats Audio inclusion and it certainly enhances my listening experience. If you enjoy listening to music/watching films on your phone - the HTC One will do the job brilliantly well. Where the Xperia Z has good internal sound, the 'loud'speaker is particularly woeful and Samsung does a similarly solid job with the music - but does include the 'Group Play' which allows up to 8 S4's to connect as one 'surround-sound speaker'.

StorageThe HTC One has stuck with HTC's recent love for a non-removable battery and non-expandable memory via memory card. This is a major pet hate of mine and it's a real shame. The Xperia Z has unfortunately followed suit with the battery but at least Sony have kept the removable SD card. The S4 has included both of these and kudos to Samsung for doing so.

The game of gimmicks has been dominated by Samsung as can be seen in my original review. They've brought in smart pause, smart scroll, smart stay; it's smart-bloody-everything with Samsung right now. The attractiveness of these features will vary greatly on the end-user. I see them as a bit gimmicky and pointless, but I like Samsung's desire to demonstrate and test new technology to perhaps find another niche.
      Sony's main USP is its durability. It is dust resistant and water resistant for 30 minutes and up to 1m deep. This is a massive claim for a flagship phone and Sony have certain put their 'money where their mouth is' with marketing.
     HTC and Samsung have included pretty neat TV controller adaptations on the phones, which allow you to control your TV and also check out the TV listings. Again, these are nice additions but not game changing features.

With the fight being this close, the price may just swing it. The Sony Xperia Z's longer market exposure has allowed prices to slowly fall, and with the release of the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, these prices are continuing to drop. On a 24 month O2 contract, with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 1 GB internet the Xperia Z comes out at £27 per month (with a £30 cost for the phone); about £10 cheaper per month than the HTC One (£37). The S4 contract prices haven't been released yet but it is likely to be in the same bracket as the HTC One. Looking at what is on offer, would you be willing to pay over £200 more for the HTC One or the S4? That's up to you!

To conclude - you will be happy with any of these phones and that's what makes it such a hard decision. They are all powerful devices, each running adapted - yet effective - O/Ss and with some great features to boot. Simply put - they demonstrate everything you want from a handset. However, they do excel in certain areas and perhaps that will turn your head. What would I choose? Probably the HTC One, followed closely by the Xperia Z and not far behind - the Galaxy S4. This is partly because of my affection for HTC, and partly because of the beauty of the phone - but hey, what do I know!

What do you think? Which do you prefer? Hopefully I've helped you ever so slightly if you are trying to make a decision; if not, just enjoy watching the 3 fight it out to becoming the ultimate Android flagship.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Chrome maze - Google's intriguing little experiment

Google have launched a little Chrome-based experiment in the form of a maze. The app turns a website of your choice into a maze and allows you to guide a marble around using your phones browser.

Now, I had problems on other websites so I would advise you stick to the Google experimental version but see if you can find another website that works efficiently.

It's still a bit rough and ready but it works, and that's what will please Google.

Why Google are doing this we can't be sure, it may simply be to learn how to improve the Chrome experience, however we can be sure that Chrome is central to Google's plans for the near future. Perhaps even an Android-Chrome merge is indeed on the cards...

Anyway, give it a go - it's pretty fun.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Samsung Galaxy S4: Everything you need to know

After much anticipation, mystery and terrible teasers, Samsung finally launched the Galaxy S4 on Thursday at a press event in Times Sq. The next in the series of hugely successful Galaxy devices had a lot to live up to after the superb SII, and impressive SIII. So, how much on an improvement is it?

Well firstly, let’s be shallow – how does it look?

Nope, that’s not the S3, that’s the S4. I know, similar right? That’s a major gripe for me. One of my reasons for disliking the iPhone is a lack of adventure with design. Now, of course there is rightly an element of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” but there is just no external difference which I find disappointing. Perhaps I am being too purist with that opinion but I wasn’t a big fan of the S3 design, and I am not a big fan of the S4 either. When I look at the HTC One, my jaw slowly drops. It is a stunning phone. I just don’t get that feeling with the S4 and that could well be because of the plastic exterior. Whilst I understand the idea behind cost cutting, I just don’t know if it’s necessary when the S4 is hardly going cheap.
     Samsung have clearly considered the success of the Galaxy Note devices and see a real market for the larger devices. For that reason they have given the S4 a 5” screen. We are sure to see a ‘mini’ version in the near future and hopefully this will be around the 4.3-4.5” territory which I believe to be ideal for a mobile phone. This screen delivers an extraordinary 440ppi, better than any phone on the market and the result looks spectacular.

Not a great aesthetic result but Samsung have pulled out all the stops with what appears under the bonnet. The 1.6GHz processor, supported by 2GB RAM is nothing spectacular but the Exynos 5 Octa chip has seen great results so far. The battery is better than the S3 at 2600mAh and the storage comes in 16/32/64 GB options. Also, THANK YOU SAMSUNG for keeping with the removable storage. A micro SD can be added with up to 64 GB of further space. In an era that this is becoming increasingly ‘uncool’, I’m delighted to see Samsung retain this feature as I miss having the option on my HTC One X.

The new

Where Samsung really have impressed me is there intention to go the extra mile with new features and software. It's fair to say that not all of these will be practical/useful but it shows that Samsung is trying something new, not simply rehashing and improving the old stuff. Kudos for that.

The S4 camera is testament to this. At 13MP, it's challenging the very top of the smartphone camera market. It also places plenty of pressure on the competition: HTC One's 4 Ultra Pixel camera and the iPhone 5's 8MP camera. That’s impressive, but Samsung have been innovative with new features on the camera:

Dual shot
The Galaxy S4 is the first phone to enable both front and rear facing cameras to be used at the same time. This allows the user to place themselves in the photo. We're yet to see how practical and popular this is but it's a nice option. The dual images can be edited and arranged in a split screen or 'picture in picture' style.

Drama shot
Drama shot snaps 100 images in 4 seconds and then stitches them into one. That's pretty much it, but its a cool end product:

Sound Shot
Samsung have included a neat little feature that allows you to add audio to your image. This sounds a bit strange but it will allow you to take a note about a photo, or maybe some noise to capture the atmosphere. At a football game for example.

Other features to the phone:

Smart pause
Samsung have developed their eye-tracking software on the S4 and this starts with smart pause, where videos will stop when the user looks away from the screen.

Smart scroll
With rumours flying about eye-tracking based scrolling, Samsung have kept it a bit more simple and included tilt screen guidance. Tilting left, right, up, down etc will result in the screen scrolling in that direction.

Samsung have taken a feature from the Galaxy Note and removed the S-Pen's involvement with it. If you hover a finger over the screen then you can preview the item. This might be the first line of a text or email. It could also be a larger shot of a gallery image, or more details about a contact.

Air gesture
This rather peculiar addition allows you to do the same actions, just without touching your phone. You can answer your phone with a swipe for example. Nice technology but utterly pointless.

Group play
One really nice feature - from both a technology, and marketing point of view is the strides Samsung have made in group uses of the S4. Samsung have made it possible for 8 people to game against eachother on their S4s. Not only this but 8 S4s can be connected to act as several speakers, playing the same music.

TV Remote
Suddenly the most popular mobile accessory after years of quite obvious use for it. Samsung have joined HTC by including a TV remote in the S4. Similar to the HTC One, this allows access to TV guides, channel changing, volume etc. The advantage Samsung have is that there should be a nice link-up with the Samsung TVs - HTC don't have that benefit.

Here's Samsung's official video - for once, this is pretty decent:

What do you think of the S4? Is it a worthy successor to the S3? How does it stack up against the HTC One?
All thoughts, debates welcome.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Watch the Samsung S4 launch live here

Samsung are streaming their launch event from Times Square. All kicks off at 7pm EST (11pm GMT). If it's all a bit late for you (or you're happy catching up after the waffle) then I'll be posting an overview soon. If you fancy staying up and seeing what Samsung have got to offer though - check it out below:

Friday, 8 March 2013

Sol gets city workers to exchange ties for free beer

Sol have launched a new campaign called ‘A Free Beer For Free Spirits’ and have kicked it off with this great video encouraging city-workers to exchange their ties for a free beer. 

I really like this, it's definitely worth a watch:

Monday, 4 March 2013

Samsung's must-watch S4 advert - because it's that bad...

This is one of those "so bad you need to watch it" moments. Believe me, it's that bad. Samsung haven't got a good track record of teasing new phones, but this one really goes beyond... The worst thing is - this is a series. We're going to have to experience more of these. Fingers crossed the phone isn't as bad, somehow I doubt it.

Have a watch, see what you think, cringe, and then let me know your thoughts!


Episode 2 has been released... Just when you thought it couldn't get worse... Honestly, it baffles me how this got signed off.

Why the future looks grim for Dell

Dell used to be one of the biggest names in the computer industry which, at one point, had a nearly 20% share of the desktop market. They now languish behind rivals such as Acer, ASUS and Samsung in computing markets - not necessarily in figures, but in popularity which will inevitably lead to figures. They are so far behind Apple it is fairly ridiculous to call them competition. With the latest developments at Dell (call it a buyout, saviour or cutting losses) is there any way back for the former heavyweight? (I was going to continue this analogy by comparing Dell to Audley Harrison but 1. It doesn't really work, and 2. It would be pretty unfair on Dell in particular!)

In my opinion; no. The big problem for Dell is overwhelmingly public perception of the brand. The name Dell goes hand-in-hand with lethargic, buggy (and bulky!) machines and that is never a good thing. Dell invested heavily in the Windows Vista era, and as we all know that was arguably the poorest major OS we've seen since the pre-XP days. Dell's reputation was largely tarnished by this and the lasting memory for consumers is a slow, buggy and repeatedly crashing OS. They didn't help themselves with poor customer service compounding this. Okay, they have made an effort to improve their customer service - but they've made no big effort to embrace social media where they could've given themselves a nice position in the mind of the consumer. 
     It doesn't appear to have a saving grace either. Where it's competitors have spread themselves suitably thin, moved with the times and have placed fingers in many pies, Dell simply haven't. You don't associate Dell with mobile devices (except perhaps the old Pocket PC era). They have little or no link to music, mobile or tablet. So their only way back is laptops - and they are a long way behind in this too.

Dell can still produce quality - the XPS series for example is a wonderful, high-end machine but this alone is never going to be enough. They almost need to go beyond the mobile era and start again with "the next big thing" because they simply have too far to catch up when it comes to phones and tablets. The road back to former glory is treacherous - and I think it's just too much for Dell to achieve.

What do you think of Dell as a company? Do they have a more positive outlook than I'm suggesting? All comments welcome. Give me a follow in the top right if you want :)