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Archive for the ‘Buyers Guides’ Category

5 smartphones worth upgrading for

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Last month, I advised that you wait until September to pick up a new phone as so many new models were being announced. Now September has arrived, so I’m going to show you five of the most promising new smartphones. All of these phones will go on sale in the coming weeks, so if your contract is up or you’re looking to buy a new smartphone sim-free, these are the ones to look out for.

5. Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

What it is: A smaller version of Sony’s flagship Z3 smartphone.

Why it’s worth it: The Z3 Compact is a calculated reaction to the trend of ever-larger flagship phones. Unlike most ‘mini’ phones, the Z3 Compact is just as powerful as its full-size brother, offering top-notch internals and an excellent camera. The body looks and feels high-end too, with a gorgeous squared off glass look that’s also waterproof. If you want a reasonably-sized phone without settling for 2012-era specifications, the Z3 Compact is a good shout.

Read more about the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact or see Xperia Z3 Compact accessories.

4. Nokia Lumia 830

What it is: Microsoft’s self-described affordable flagship Windows Phone.

Why it’s worth it: High-end Nokia Lumia phones come with great PureView cameras, beautiful bodies and the slick Windows Phone OS. The Lumia 830 is Microsoft’s attempt to bring these features down to the middle range of the market, and includes a 10-megapixel PureView OIS camera, wireless charging and a svelte premium body wrought from polycarbonate and aluminium. If you’d like an introduction or an update to the world of Windows Phone, the 830 is just the ticket.

Read more about the Nokia Lumia 830 or see Lumia 830 accessories.

3. Samsung Galaxy Alpha

What it is: Samsung’s best looking phone, designed to compete with the iPhone 6.

Why it’s worth it: Samsung have made plasticky phones for years, but that’s slowly beginning to change. The Galaxy Alpha is their first attempt at a new design language, and comes clad with a chamfered aluminium frame that measures just 6.7mm thick. It looks a little like an iPhone, and comes with specs to match the upcoming iPhone 6. That includes a 4.7-inch 720p display, 32 GB non-removable storage and a 12-megapixel camera.

Read more about the Samsung Galaxy Alpha or see Galaxy Alpha accessories.

2. iPhone 6

What it is: The next iPhone, aka the best selling phone worldwide in Q4 2014.

Why it’s worth it: The iPhone 6 is the first properly large iPhone. Two years ago Apple first made the jump to four inches, and now they’re going all the way up to 4.7… and later, 5.5 inches. That means more screen real estate, more readable text and bigger movies and games. The iPhone 6 also includes NFC for the first time – for contactless payments – and the latest and greatest Apple A8 processor.

Read more about the Apple iPhone 6 or see iPhone 6 accessories or iPhone 6 Plus accessories.

1. Motorola Moto X

The original Moto X was a critical darling, with a highly customisable and classy design and clever software features that people actually used… but it lost the spec war, and sales didn’t meet expectations because of that. Now the second-generation Moto X is here, and now it’s firing on all cylinders. The new X has a new metal frame that looks great (and it’s still fully customisable, even including wood and leather backs). It’s got those great features (voice controls and battery saving over clean Android. Maybe most importantly, it’s got leading specs as well: a 5.2-inch 1080p screen, latest Snapdragon 801 processor and good 13-megapixel camera. The Verge have already called it the best Android smartphone, and from what I’ve seen I’m inclined to agree.

Read more about the Motorola Moto X or see Moto X (second gen) accessories.

Conclusion

Of course, there are probably more than five smartphones that are worth considering. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which will probably sell millions of units, is a great choice for anyone that really wants a big screen or stylus support. The One M8 remains a paragon of industrial design several months after its release. The Sharp Aquous Crystal won’t see a UK release date, but does look futuristic and gorgeous. And of course, the second-generation Motorola Moto G looks set to be a big success with an incredible amount of performance and features for the price… but this is a top 5, not a top 10 or a top 20.

What do you think of the selections? Got any questions? Let me know in the comments below, or speak to us on Twitter @mobilefun!

iPad or Android tablet?

Monday, September 1st, 2014

If you’re looking to get a tablet, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is choosing an iPad or an Android tablet. While the iPad was the only real choice several years ago, nowadays both the iPad and Android tablets have evolved considerably. In this article, we’ll show you the strengths and weaknesses of each platform – as well as a few recommendations on the best iPads or Android tablets to buy. Let’s get started!

iPad: Strengths

  • Largest range of accessories and apps
  • Easy to use
  • Well designed, inside and out

So – the iPad. It’s the quintessential tablet, and its popularity is one of its greatest strengths. It means you’ll find a wide range of iPad accessories, from iPad cases and covers to chargers, screen protectors and stands. You can find accessories to fit pretty much every need and every style. With only two models – iPad Mini and iPad Air – to be released recently, an entire industry can work easily to support them.

The same popularity also makes the iPad the biggest target for app developers, allowing them to finetune their apps to suit the iPad and make the very best use of its screen and capabilities. That translates into better apps, and more of them.

Apple have always tried to make their products easy to use, and that continues with the iPad. The Apple tablet is simple in places, but that ensures that there’s little that you quickly won’t learn how to do. Even complex tasks like cloud printing are presented well, making it easy to get things set up properly.

Finally, the iPad is well designed, with powerful hardware and a stylish look. The tablet’s processor and GPU are regularly listed among the best in the business, and the battery life of the tablet is considerable too. The iPad is also good looking, with a slim metal design that feels solid and dependable in your hands. The most important strength of the iPad is its display though, which is generally pixel-dense, bright and well-calibrated. 

iPad: Weaknesses

  • Little customisation
  • More expensive

Of course, there are downsides to Apple’s approach. The simplicity they have wrought means that more advanced controls are hidden or not present at all, leaving the operating system far less customisable than its peers. Apple’s tight control of their app store also allows them to remove apps they find objectionable, particularly those on questionable moral or legal ground.

The iPad’s premium materials and hardware command a premium price, making the iPad more expensive than similarly equipped Android tablets. Additional storage is also costly, with a 32GB model costing £80 more than the 16GB option – and there’s no option to add more storage with a microSD card later.

iPad: Recommended tablets

If you’re looking to pick up an iPad, there are only two real models to choose between: the iPad Mini with Retina Display and the iPad Air. The iPad Mini has a gorgeous 7.9-inch display, while the Air moves to 10.1-inches. Both tablets are well crafted out of aluminium, and boast good battery lives in addition to their well-tuned screens. The iPad Mini is the better choice for portable use (with one hand), while the iPad Air makes a better tablet for keeping at home (with two hands).

Android: Strengths

  • Wide range of tablets to suit any need (including low price)
  • Deep customisation possible

The strength of the Android operating system for tablets is breadth and depth. In almost any attribute you can name – dimensions, speed, capabilities, camera, price - there will be tablets that hit every point on the range. Sony produce a range of powerful, waterproof tablets with good cameras. Samsung opt for slim workhorses, many with styluses built in. Amazon have a range of high-performance tablets, tied into their own ecosystem, for a low price. These are just the tip of the iceberg; with sufficient time you should be able to find an Android tablet to fit any requirements.

You also have a lot of choice with an Android tablet after you’ve purchased it. It’s possible to buy microSD cards which will extend your available storage cheaply, and there are a decent range of other tablet accessories available too. While there aren’t as many third-party accessories available as there are for the iPad, that means tablet makers like Samsung and Motorola often produce an excellent first-party range.

Customisability is another advantage with Android. It’s often possible to make deeper changes than on iOS, and there’s also the option to install a new variant of the Android operating system (like CyanogenMod) that will allow you even greater control. There are very few questions you can ask that start “Can I…” that end “No.”

The final advantage to Android is often price. Google and Amazon are well known for their low-cost tablets that still deliver an excellent experience with good hardware; their content-first strategies mean that they’re willing to sell tablets at a loss so you use their stores for apps, music, videos and books.

Android: Weaknesses

  • Some Android tablets are poorly designed inside and out
  • Less apps truly optimised for tablets

As we saw with the iPad, there’s a definite trade-off between simplicity and customisability. The average Android tablet errs towards customisability, which can be overwhelming.

There’s also a high amount of variability when it comes to the design of Android tablets, in terms of both software and hardware. Many Android tablets – including barebones Android found on the Nexus series – are well designed and look good, but there are also many tablets saddled with confusing interfaces, poor designs and underpowered hardware.

The final bugbear for Android is that of apps. You’ll find some great tablet apps, but lazily designed, stretched out mobile phone apps are still relatively common. The large range of Android devices also makes it harder for developers to optimise their apps, so you may find you’re arbitrarily unable to install apps if you aren’t using a well-known device.

Android: Recommended tablets

Google make some of the best Android tablets, which come with a clean version of Android, good hardware and an aggressive point. The most recent release, the Nexus 7, is a great choice with a sharp 7-inch display, good battery life and a simple, durable outward design.

Samsung are the biggest sellers of Android tablets, thanks to a massive range of models, a host of software additions to stock Android and slim designs. The Tab S 10.5-inch tablet is the most recent, and offers a good battery life, a bright and beautiful screen, and a slim chassis.

Sony operate at the highest end of the Android market, with top-notch screens and cameras and stylish waterproof bodies. The Xperia Z2 Tablet is a good example of their approach, with a squared-off waterproof body, good screen and relatively untouched version of Android on board.

Signing off

Thanks for checking out the article – we hope it made it easier for you to choose an Android or iOS tablet! If you have any questions or comments, then please leave them below or speak to us on Twitter @mobilefun.

Pro Tip: Don’t buy a phone or smartwatch until September

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

The beginning of September is looking like a massively busy period, as the IFA trade show kicks off and almost every major mobile company has an event planned. Scores of smartphones and smartwatches will be announced here, and most will start shipping later in the month.

For this reason, right now is the worst possible time to buy a phone or smartwatch–wait until these releases are out of the way, and then reap the benefits of lower prices or newer devices on the market in late September and October.

Don’t believe me? Just have a look at what’s coming in September:

Smartphones*

Samsung are releasing the Galaxy Alpha and the Galaxy Note 4. Motorola are releasing the Moto X+1 and Moto G2. Sony are releasing the Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact and Z3 Tablet Compact. Nokia are releasing the Nokia Lumia 530, 730 and 830. HTC are releasing the One M8 with Windows and the J Butterfly. Chinese companies Meizu and Huawei are releasing the MX4 and Ascend Mate 7, respectively. Sharp are releasing the Aquous Crystal. Most importantly of all, Apple are releasing at least one new iPhone, the iPhone 6.

Smartwatches

September looks equally busy for smartwatches. Motorola are the biggest confirmed players here, with the eagerly anticipated Moto 360 set to launch. ASUS and LG have also teased new smartwatches for IFA, while Sony are rumoured to also be showing a watch at the event. Apple are the wildcard here–it’s not known if they’ll announce the iWatch at their September 9th event, but if they do then it’ll be massive.

Press Events

Here’s a breakdown of all announced or heavily rumoured events:

September 2nd

Meizu (MX4)

September 3rd

Samsung (Galaxy Note 4)
Sony (Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact, Z3 Tablet Compact, SmartWatch 3)
ASUS (smartwatch)

September 4th

Motorola (Moto X+1, G2, 360)
Nokia (Lumia 730, 830)
Huawei (Ascend Mate 7)

September 9th

Apple (iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Air)

Signing off

September is going to be an awesome time for mobile fans, and there’s only one way to ruin it: by purchasing a smartphone or smartwatch just before its successor is announced. Wait if you can, and you’ll find cheaper smartphones or newer models in a matter of weeks. My recommendation? iPhone 6 or Galaxy Note 4. But don’t decide now – there will be a lot of excellent choices in the weeks to come!

*Not all of these phones will see European releases – the One M8 with Windows and Aquous Crystal have been announced for US markets. The J Butterfly and Aquous Crystal are launching in Japan. The MX4 and Ascend Mate 7 will launch in China. Still, it’s possible to import these phones.

Top 10 addictive Android games (2014)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

1. Threes

You’ve probably heard of tile matching game Threes – or its slew of clones, most of which go by the name ’2048′. Threes is the real deal though, with refined gameplay, gorgeously minimal graphics and a lot more strategy than its imitators. It does cost a few quid, but it’s well worth it.

2. Plants vs Zombies 2

Plants vs Zombies 2 is a fun sequel to the popular PC game of the same name, where you must defend your back garden from murderous zombies with an assortment of flowers and flora. The game has been criticised for its in-app purchases, but it’s still quite possible to progress without paying a penny.

3. Super Hexagon

Super Hexagon is a game that I can’t stop playing. It’s simple enough – rotate your tiny triangle to avoid incoming barriers – but the pulsating visuals, brilliant soundtrack and intense difficulty make it a must-play. Mastering the first difficulty (hard) is tough but satisfying, and there are five more difficulty levels after that to really test your mettle.

4. Monument Valley

Monument Valley is probably the most beautiful game on the list, with M.C. Escher-inspired architecture and a serene soundtrack. Gameplay is simple but puzzling, as you move through an impossible level, each of which includes its own unique rules. It’s not a long game, but it’s still a pleasure to replay and one that you’ll want your friends to try too.

5. Super Crossfighter

Super Crossfighter is a fun shoot ‘em up with 80s-era graphics and plenty of alien spacecraft to destroy. The gameplay is simple enough to grasp quickly, but the levels are reasonably challenging later on and will definitely test your skill.

6. Snap Attack

Microsoft are suprisingly good at crafting word puzzle games, it seems. First we had Wordament, and now we have another Xbox-on-Android title: Snap Attack. You rearrange letter tiles to form words here, with locked letter positions and a time limit adding some urgency to the proceedings. The game is fun and free.

7. Modern Combat 5: Blackout

Modern Combat 5 is the latest iteration of Gameloft’s series of Call of Duty clones. They’re a decent enough translation of CoD’s gameplay to a mobile-friendly format, and the latest is one of the most advanced depictions yet. While the gameplay is derivative, the execution here is good, and there is plenty of content to go around: singleplayer, multiplayer and 4 classes.

8. Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone is a rather extraordinary 2D platformer, with deep characters and genuine emotion attached to some rather simple geometric shapes. There are 100 levels to play through, and though they pass quickly you’ll want to revisit them later on.

9. Dungelot 2

Dungelot is a weird combination of Minesweeper and Pixel Dungeon. You uncover squares one at a time (like Minesweeper), finding randomly generated treasure and enemies to fight. Once you’re dead, you have to start over from the beginning. It’s a lot easier to get into than most roguelike games, but you may be disappointed with its depth.

10. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a puzzle game set in the same universe as the TV show, but featuring a different setting and cast of characters. The game is famous for the tough choices that it demands of you, which cause the story to arc in different directions. Each decision is important, each decision is remembered, and things rarely proceed as you expect.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found these recommendations helpful! Let us know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @mobilefun.

The complete guide to Tizen

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

What is Tizen?

Tizen is an open-source operating system, meaning anyone can contribute to its development. It is designed as a flexible operating system that provides a consistent user experience across a variety of devices, from mobile phones and tablets to in-car entertainment systems, televisions and wearables.

How does Tizen compare to Android?

Both Tizen and Android are Linux-based open-source mobile operating systems that can be used on a wide range of devices. Tizen’s development is lead by a steering committee chiefly formed of Samsung and Intel employees, while Android’s development is guided by Google.

Android is a much more mature OS, and has seen widespread adoption across thousands of devices that ship millions of units. In contrast, Tizen is still in an early phase of development. The first Tizen smartphone was shipped recently, the Samsung Z, and more devices are expected to follow. Samsung has also released a series of wearables under the Gear brand which run Tizen, and a series of Tizen smart TVs are planned as well.

What’s the app situation for Tizen?

Tizen currently has a small store filled with native apps, written in HTML5 with the help of Linux standards like QT, GTK+ and EFL. Development of apps here should be easier than on Android or on iOS, with standard tools and languages that’ll be familiar to developers of desktop apps. Samsung are also paying developers to create apps for their platform. Together, these factors should spur faster-than-normal development for Tizen.

Android apps can also be converted to run on Tizen through the use of an Application Compatibility Layer (ACL). Open Mobile, who developed the ACL for Tizen, claims that these apps run at full speed and all Android apps are compatible with Tizen after conversion.

Can I try Tizen?

Soon. We will sell the Samsung Z, the first Tizen smartphone, upon its release. In the meantime, if you’re a developer you can try the Tizen SDK to create your own apps or just explore the OS.

Why is Tizen being developed?

Android is popular – maybe too popular. That gives Android creator Google a lot of control over the mobile ecosystem. Samsung and Intel both started their own projects to create an alternative mobile OS, so that they wouldn’t be held at the whim of Google in the future. Both of these projects didn’t get off the ground, but Samsung and Intel were able to join forces and create an OS that used the best ideas of both projects: Tizen. Now, it’s up to them to make Tizen a truly viable alternative, so that they can lessen Google’s impact on the mobile space.

Will Tizen be a success?

It’s too early to tell. Some analysts are calling the OS “dead in the water“, while others are more optimistic. It’s certainly true that Android (and to a lesser extent iOS and Windows Phone) are incredibly popular, and it will take years of concerted effort to have any impact on its market share. For the meantime, Samsung and Intel seem happy to continue their efforts with Tizen.

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