Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sony Ericsson and Motorola Explain Android Update Process

In an interesting show of "openness", both Sony Ericsson and Motorola yesterday published blog posts detailing the process they go through to bring their existing devices up to new versions of the Android operating system. With both blog posts published on the same day, it's hard to believe that there wasn't some sort of coordination between the two manufacturers, although Sony Ericsson's post was much more detailed than Motorola's.

For each major new version of Android, Google works with one manufacturer to create the flagship device, called the Google Experience Device. To get the Google Experience Devices out, usually just before the source code is publicly released, the chosen manufacturer will be involved in the development cycle of the new version. Popular belief had been that other major manufacturers (think the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson, LG, and especially Motorola - now very close to being owned by Google) also got some kind of early access to the source code, especially as these are the companies who build Google certified devices with the full suite of Google apps onboard. However, both company's blog posts confirmed (Sony Ericsson's more explicitly than Motorola's) that they too only get access to the new source code on the day it is publicly released. This puts them on the same level playing field as any other lesser known manufacturer who fancies building devices from the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code only, which is where most of the cheap and nasty tablets have risen from in the past.

Sources: Sony Ericsson Blog, Motorola Blog

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray Review

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray was released in the UK at the end of August 2011, and having lived with it for over a month I thought it time to my thoughts out on this interesting device.

Form Factor

The size of this phone drew me in from the first time I saw it announced. Between 2007 to 2009 I had two Nokia 6300s, proper phone-sized phones, and at the time it seemed a compromise to move to the extra bulk and weight of the N79 to get the extra features. Fast forward four years and screen size is a upwardly spiralling trend, with the Xperia Ray being the antidote.

Xperia Ray and Nokia 6300

Some stats then. In the UK market there are only two Android phones that are lighter (Sony Ericsson's own X10 Mini and Mini), and only the Galaxy S2 is thinner. There are only three phones that can beat the 53mm width (again Sony Ericsson's X10 Mini and Mini, plus the X10 Mini Pro). Any one or two of those specs would be impressive, but all three means the Xperia Ray is a light, narrow and thin device, much like the phone-sized "feature phones" of 2007!
What Sony Ericsson have managed to do is make the phone small and light, without it feeling cheap or unsubstantial. The device has a slightly rubbered texture on the back making it easy to grip, and this combined with the glass on the front makes for a very solid and reassuring premium feel. The bezel surrounding the screen is very thin too, and has to be for the device to obtain it's narrow dimensions. I've really enjoyed having something that is so pocketable!


The 3.3" TFT screen has a resolution of 480 by 854, which works out at a very impressive 297 PPI (pixels per inch). The colours and contrast are very impressive too, and along with the high PPI make for a very clear, crisp and high quality viewing experience. The device has Sony Ericsson's "Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine" which accounts for some of this excellent colour reproduction and even great outdoor performance, if you're happy with a 3.3" screen of course. I've already commented that I like smaller phones, but with the Galaxy S2 and Sensation at 4.3" and the upcoming Galaxy Nexus at 4.65" it seems bigger is seen as better right now, so Xperia Ray would be seen as inferior and a step down in that respect.

Operating System

The Xperia Ray shipped with 2.3.3 version of Gingerbread. Sony Ericsson have really upped their game on the Android front, having admitted they made mistakes and underestimated the demand of users wanting the latest versions of Android, and wanting them pretty quickly. All of Sony Ericsson's Android phones this year, starting with the Xperia Play in Spring, have come out with 2.3 Gingerbread, and SE have already confirmed that all this year's Xperia range will get updated to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Staying up-to-date with current version of Android will win Sony Ericsson a lot of friends, especially compared to some other manufacturers' efforts, but also this year they announced they would allow users to unlock the bootloaders on their devices by first following a couple of steps on their website and then following steps for the Android fastboot utility. 

Sony Ericsson also provided devices and knowledge transfer to Android community FreeXperia to expedite the development of highly popular custom ROM CyanogenMod for the Xperia devices, and sure enough, when CM7.1 was released the Ray was in the supported devices list along with the Arc, Play, Neo and others. I plan on moving to the CM7.1 ROM in the near future, once I'm finished writing this up in fact!

Re-ordering the app drawer
Returning to the Sony Ericsson's stock ROM, the customisations on top of Android are lightweight compared to Sense and TouchWiz. They didn't see fit to include the four-corner app launchers seen on the Mini and Mini Pro devices, but their usual app drawer is present, being pretty inoffensive and offering the choice to order apps alphabetically, by last installed, your own custom order, and by most used. There's a lot of Facebook integration in the Xperia Ray, and once you connect your account you'll find your Facebook friend's popping up into your contacts, Facebook events and friend's birthdays popping up your calendar, and your Facebook photos appearing in the gallery app, comments and all!

The five home screens come loaded with some Sony Ericsson widgets for standard functions like toggling services, viewing weather, music play controls, gallery and Timescape, the last two of which are scrollable to go through your history of photos and messaging and social media respectively. They're nice enough widgets, but don't work well on such a small screen. And remember, if you don't like the launcher or the widgets, you can just choose some different ones, and that's why we love Android!


I've already mentioned that Sony Ericsson have done a great job of making a light phone feel substantial, and they also ship the Ray with a screen protector on the device in the box. This is applied to the device with perfect alignment and zero bubbles, much better than any human could apply it! There are also a couple more protectors in the box should you need to replace the first one, a nice touch.

Nice home light, but no backlit buttons
The home button has a nice amount of travel, and feels like it hinges rather than pushing down uni-formally. Surrounding the home button is a multi-coloured notification LED, which shows battery status (red when running low), charging status and of course notifications for calls, SMS, email and any other app that has notifications configured. It lights up with a white colour for a couple of seconds after pushing the home button, however, none of the home button and the capacitive back and menu buttons' icons are backlit. This can be pretty annoying in dark conditions, although after a few days I got used to the buttons' locations, but it seems like a cost-cutting exercise or maybe helped to keep the device so thin.


The first of two big gripes with the camera is the the lack of physical shutter button. It can only be as part of cost-cutting and potentially keeping the device smaller that it has been omitted, which is a shame as Sony Ericsson are marketing this device as having a great camera even in low light conditions. Even the people in that promo video look like they would be more comfortable with a proper button instead of poking at the screen to take a picture! Fortunately Sony Ericsson did include the next-best-thing in that the camera app allows you to focus your shot by holding your finger against the touch screen, then re-framing if necessary, and only taking the shot when you release the touch screen.

The second gripe is that there is no "flash" mode for the LED light that accompanies the camera unit, it is simply a "light" that has to be fully turned on for the duration of framing and taking a photo in dark conditions. It seems none of the third party camera apps can alter this behaviour either unfortunately.

Having said that, the 8.1 megapixel camera performs fairly well, having one of Sony Ericsson's Exmor R sensors , as previously used in the Xperia Arc. They tout the Exmor R sensors as having great performance in low-light conditions, but I wasn't overly impressed. The video camera records 720p resolution at 30fps and the quality of the output is very nice, more impressive than stills in fact. There's also a VGA front-facing camera for self portraits at questionable quality and more likely video calling, with Skype working very well despite the Xperia Ray not currently being on the video calling compatibility list.

Sample Camera Shots:



There are a couple of media based apps included by Sony Ericsson, like TrackID for recognising music albeit slightly less comprehensively than Shazam or SoundHound, and Connected Devices, which lets any DLNA-compatible players on your WiFi network play media from your phone, and it works very well.

Local playback of music through the speakers is better than most phones, and has a very good maximum volume, whilst missing some of the lower frequencies. Video playback on the phone is very good too, again owing performance to the Mobile BRAVIA Engine. However, if you're planning on watching much more than a couple of minutes of YouTube on the 3.3" then you need help.

Battery Life

Along with the camera non-flash and lack of shutter button, another big pain point with the Xperia Ray has been battery life. There had been many other reports of poor battery life which I found surprising as I'd been getting through a whole day fine, and more to the point this should be expected with the small screen. I don't think many people have ever made it more than a day and a half on one full charge on any Android handset, but with a smaller screen to power and a decent 1500mAh battery I thought this might be one to get into two days per charge.

However, whilst I was getting a full day for the first couple of weeks, I now find myself running out of battery in the evening, with very little usage, sat at home a few metres from the WiFi access point, screen timeout on one minute, so nothing out of the ordinary. I have hopes that Sony Ercisson's Android 2.3.4 update will improve this, or maybe the CM7.1 ROM will eek more life out, so I'll have to report on that at a later date.


The wrap-up is fairly easy here, as most smartphone enthusiasts won't be able to see past the small screen size, and maybe even won't look at anything that doesn't have a dual core CPU. Everyone else not concerned with massive screens and other spec wars will see a really nice looking, nice feeling phone that has Android from Sony Ericsson, a company they'll have no doubt heard of. So for that reason, coupled with the low priced contracts it's available on, I could see this shipping a lot of units.

I am, as usual, in the middle somewhere. I don't care about dual core CPUs, HDMI ports, and actively dislike large sized phones, driven by large screens. If Sony Ericsson could have only included a camera shutter button, made the flash bulb operate properly, and sorted the battery life then maybe I wouldn't still be looking for my next phone. Again.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nokia and Samsung Phone Naming Conventions

Catching up with mobile news, and I can't ignore the fact that Nokia has dropped it's old naming convention using N, E, X and C prefixes and within a week Samsung announced it was taking on a very similar naming convention!

Nokia's previous convention had 4 letter identifiers:
"Nseries remains the flagship and most advanced range of products.
Xseries comes next and focuses on social entertainment.
Eseries remains focussed on productivity and business,
whilst Cseries represents the core range of products."

Samsung's new convention has 5 letter identifiers:
"S" (Super Smart) – Devices at the very pinnacle of Samsung's mobile portfolio. This class will only be used on flagship devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S, the award-winning smartphone that has already sold 10 million units throughout the world.
"R" (Royal / Refined) – Premium category models, a combination of power, performance and productivity for the individual who wants to be defined by the technology they carry.
"W" (Wonder) – High quality, strategic models, perfect for those seeking a balance between style and performance.
"M" (Magical) –High-performance models at an economic price-point.
"Y" (Young) – These are entry models or strategic models for emerging markets or a younger audience more sensitive to price.

As well as appending a couple of other identifiers:
“Pro” – This indicates that the device includes a QWERTY keyboard for speedier email typing and increased productivity for professionals. 
“Plus” – This indicates that the device is an upgrade from an existing model. 
“LTE” – This indicates that the device is designed to utilize LTE (Long-Term Evolution) connectivity standards, a 4G standard to provide increased mobile network capacity and speed. 

I can't help thinking that Samsung finding itself needing to use such a bonkers set of naming conventions means they're simply releasing too many phones that are not differentiated enough between each other. HTC and Motorola for example are still using names like "Sensation" and "Atrix" as opposed to any letter and number combinations (although even HTC got bored of thinking of new names and just appended "S" to everything in the last few months), but if these guys concentrated on differentiating the devices a little more, especially on hardware and form factor, just crazy naming conventions wouldn't have ever needed to have been dreamt up!

Sources: Nokia Conversations, Nokia ConversationsKorea Newswire

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Motorola Announces Pro+

Hot on the heals of the announcement of the Defy+, Motorola has announced the Pro+, the successor to the Pro (which never got released in the UK) aka the Droid Pro in the US. And as per the Defy+, the Pro+ is only a minor update. Whilst it will ship with Android 2.3, the original Pro has already been updated to version 2.3, so there's no news there.

Comparing specs, we see the same 1GHz CPU, same 512MB RAM, same size screen, same 5MP LED flash camera, yawn...

Ok, there are some upgrades: the resolution goes from 320x480 HVGA to 480x640 VGA, the weight drops from 134g to 113g, and the battery is bumped up to 1600mAh from 1420mAH, and believe me, having owned a Droid Pro any extra juice will be more than welcome! Internal storage drops from 8GB to 4GB however.

Within a millimetre or two they share the same physical height, width and depth dimensions, but the Pro+ sports more rounded edges compared to the straighter edged Pro, and presumably this will fit much nicer in the hand, and it certainly looks a lot easier on the eye as well.

Motorola had previously announced the old Pro was coming to Europe as the "Motorola Pro" (as opposed to the Verizon branded "Droid Pro"), then this was shelved. Then it was back on again, and now shelved again, although this last cancellation of the Pro at the same time as the Pro+ announcement makes sense of course. Hopefully this time the Pro+ will actually make it to these shores, as the other candybar qwerty Android phones are all mid to low-end devices at best, and it would be nice to see a decent option for this form factor that doesn't require import from the US!

I will however reiterate some things I said about the Defy+ versus it's predecessor; the upgrade seems hardly worth the effort, and we could really do with seeing the RAM rise to nearer the 1GB mark, and probably a dual core CPU to keep up with the other phones that have been released through out 2011. The only reason the Pro+ can be justified in Europe is that the Pro was never released.

Source: Motorola

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

HP Pre3 Review

Before it's completely irrelevant I thought I'd post my thoughts about the HP Pre3, which with comical timing I ordered about 3 hours before the announcement that HP was giving up making phones and tablets for the webOS operating system. Does this mean the Pre3, and Touchpad, are completely pointless? Of course not. It does mean however that there will likely be a slowdown of developer support, a tailing off of app and game releases, and a limited time span on support and updates for operating system itself on these devices. The future of webOS is anyone's guess, even HP had not decided that much when they released the statement discontinuing webOS mobile hardware. As they seem unlikely to sell webOS off altogether, licencing it out seems the only viable option, and with Nokia and Motorola seemingly the preferred vendors for Windows Phone and Android respectively, HTC and LG are the manufacturers that have all been linked with webOS, with Samsung potentially able to fall-back on their fledgling Bada operating system.


The Pre3 follows in the same form factor as its predecessors the Pre and Pre2; a front facing touch screen with a vertical slide-out qwerty keyboard. The screen is 3.6 inches and has a 480 x 800 WVGA resolution. Default brightness was set at the halfway mark, although ramping it up to 100% gave very little extra. The TFT screen is nice enough indoors, but outdoors it suffered like many other TFT-loaded handsets. Apps with black or dark backgrounds in particular suffered outdoors, with apps using black text on white being much more visible.

The keyboard is the biggest yet on a webOS phone, but still felt slightly cramped compared to other physical qwerty phones in the house at the time, such as the BlackBerry 8520 and Motorola Droid Pro. The keys have a slightly rubbered texture and a nice amount of travel however, and once used to the placement of some of the punctuation characters I was able to type at a reasonable pace.

At 155g the Pre3 is on the slightly heavy side, but does feel solid in the hand in the closed position. One handed opening with the thumb feels satisfying, but you do end up pressing on the touchscreen itself to perform this manoeuvre, which can affect on-screen apps. This is fine if the phone is locked, but if you find yourself wanting to input text whilst the screen is unlocked you may affect (or even close) the app you were using as your thumb pushes upwards along the touch screen.

The Pre3 boasts a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor with 512MB RAM, and movement around the operating system was very smooth with no visible lag, even with many apps open. There is 8GB of onboard storage on this model, accessible as an external drive when connected via the standard micro-USB port, but there is no SD card slot for further expansion.

Connectivity is pretty standard for a 2011 smart phone; Wifi b/g/n with range comparable to that of any other iOS or Android smart phone I've used; HSPA 3G on the usual European frequencies, and Bluetooth 2.1. The speaker is only mono but does pump out a reasonable volume, and the earphones are the usual bundled low quality in-ear design; you'll swap these out for your usual earphones if you have any kind of requirement for reasonable audio quality.

Operating System

Onboard the Pre3 you will find webOS version 2.2, which was released specifically and so far exclusively for the Pre3, with the Veer on 2.1.2 and previous Pre and Pixi handsets on 1.4.5.

Stacked cards in webOS
(Evernote and web browser)
If you've never seen it action, I can tell you that webOS is a very nice operating system to use day-to-day. The multitasking paradigm of representing each app with a card seems very intuitive, and swiping through open cards (apps) is smooth and provides a clear visual of each app and its current state and output. Cards can be stacked together to group apps that are related to a particular task you may be doing. If you were to open a link in an email it will stack the web browser app on top of the email app for instance, and still allow you to open another separate instance of the web browser elsewhere outside of that stack. It's a logical way of working and one of my favourite parts of the operating system. The screenshot to the right show the Evernote app at the bottom of the stack, followed by the note I opened, and the web browser showing the link I opened from the note.

The initial boot up will guide you through another of webOS' key features, the gesture area. Just under the screen is a capacitive touch area where gestures are made to move around the operating system; for instance a right to left swipe along the gesture area is "back", and a swipe from the gesture area upwards onto the main screen takes you out of the full screen view of your app, and into the multitasking card view.

Like other mobile operating systems, you can start typing from the homescreen or card view and this will straight away start looking for your search term in your installed apps, your contacts and emails. Furthermore you can then send your search term to Google, Wikipedia, the App Catalog search, or simply use the text you typed it to create a new email or contact.

Speaking of the App Catalog, I did find I could see apps that were not available for my phone model, which started to become a little frustrating. The Facebook app was highlighted on the App Catalog's home page for the entire duration I had the Pre3 (just over a week) yet it was not available for this model!

Finally, there is a feature called Synergy, which collates all your accounts for popular web services under one roof. This is where you would find Google and Yahoo integration for email, contacts and IM; Facebook and Photobucket for uploading photos and videos; Exchange and POP/IMAP accounts; plus the very nicely integrated Skype functionality. Once your Skype account is hooked in, it links to your contacts and allows messaging and video calling right from the contacts app and is neatly integrated into the OS all round, with no need for a dedicated Skype app at all, very nice indeed!

Apps and the Ecosystem

It's no secret that webOS is missing apps in some key areas, and lacks numbers of apps full stop. Not that quantity counts over quality of course, but the long tail of the iOS and Android app collections must be one of the reasons why both are so popular.

Excellent Twitter app: Carbon
Some wins were a first-party Evernote client (though a little buggy at times), plus very good apps for Dropbox (Dropboxify), Twitter (Carbon), Last.FM scrobbling (Amigo), and podcatching (Dr Podder). Oh, and Angry Birds, of course!

Some fails were the apparent lack of any sat nav apps, paid or free, no Lastpass, no barcode scanning apps (that worked), none of the popular cross-platform IM clients (Whatsapp, and Kik for example), no Sonos app, and the list goes on! As previously mentioned, the Facebook app was not available for the Pre3 at the time of writing, and to compound this the browser coped very poorly with the Facebook mobile site and desktop site too.

As a heavy Google services user I missed not having a G+ app, but not as much as the reduced GMail functionality through the webOS email client; you'll have no starring, no labels, and no message threading, although this is true of most non-Android operating systems of course. Google contacts sync well into the webOS contacts area, including contact photos, but you won't have access to your Google contact groups or favourites.

Camera and Video Capture

HP included a 5MP camera unit with LED flash, capable of recording video at 720p, though I have to say both photos and video were a little disappointing. There is no dedicated camera button, but the camera app does at least provide touch-to-focus to compose your shots a little more accurately. Photo output seemed to lack definition and really suffered in low light, as do many other mobile phone camera units from other manufacturers. Video capture seemed to lack clarity, and there are no focus options either, with audio volume pretty quiet. On the plus side geotagging was very quick and accurate! There is also a 2nd camera unit which is front-facing and works really well for Skype and other video calling apps.


All in all the Pre3 isn't a bad phone, it's just really hard to recommend! The hardware is the best we've seen on a Pre model, but that bar was pretty low, and the slider form factor and rounded pebble-like shape won't suit everyone. The operating system is very well thought out on the whole, but lacks the ecosystem of iOS and Android and arguably Windows Phone too at this point in time.

The uncertain future of webOS is the major reason the phone is hard to recommend at full price (£300 on launch) though rumours of a fire sale are rife. If it were to become available under £100 the story changes significantly to an affordable 2nd phone with a nice OS that makes a nice change from the relative boredom of iOS and dull copycat Android slabs, or even a nice upgrade for someone currently using a feature phone for their first foray into smartphone territory.

UPDATE: Also see my video review of the Pre3 in Phones Show 147

Thursday, 18 August 2011

HP Discontinues WebOS Devices

As is all over the technology sites and blogs right now HP have stated their intention to discontinue WebOS devices.

Amazingly this news came out 3.5 hours after I bought a Pre 3 online, which will be delivered tomorrow! No doubt I will end up returning it if it has no foreseeable future, and WebOS seems even less likely to get any developer interest now as well. Still, I'll try and post some thoughts and pictures of the device anyway when I get it!

Source: HP

Monday, 15 August 2011

Motorola Announces Defy+

Motorola today announced the Defy+, an Android 2.3 Gingerbread-based successor to the Defy from 2010. This will probably go under the radar for two reasons; first is that Google today acquired Motorola Mobility, a massive move in the smartphone market which will dominate news/analysis for some time, with huge implications not only for Google's competitor mobile platforms but also for other manufacturers producing Android devices, and second because in truth the Defy+ is only a minor upgrade to the original Defy.

When the first Defy came out in towards the end of 2010, it was no more than a midfield player with its 800MHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 5MP camera, VGA video capture and poor screen viewing outdoors. What it did have was a unique selling point which Motorola called "life proof", being dust proof, scratch resistant and water resistant (to a point of course!). At the time it narrowly had the largest battery capacity on the market at 1540mAh. However, other devices were shortly released with 1GHz CPUs; Samsung's Nexus S, Moto's own Milestone 2, the Incredible S. HTC also starting pushing towards 1GB of RAM with the Incredible S and Desire S as well.  I bought a Defy very shortly after it was released in the UK, and despite buying other devices in the meantime I've kept coming back to it as my primary device, particularly after the upgrade from Android 2.1 Eclair to 2.2 Froyo.

The Defy+ only slightly bumps its older sibling's specs: the CPU goes up to 1GHz, the OS to Android 2.3, and the battery to 1700mAh. That's it! Then it's the same 3.7" Gorilla Glass screen, 5MP camera, 2GB internal storage and 2GB SD card included in the box, and presumably the same 512MB RAM although this was not stated in the press release. Although it will share it's brother's chassis with a pleasingly small bezel, making the feel in the hand seem smaller than in should for the 3.7" screen it contains, it's not really worth getting out of bed for!

With the "life proof" unique selling point Motorola have clearly never gone for the top end of the market in terms of specifications and performance, however the Defy+ is due to ship in "early fall", and we already have 5 dual-core 1GHz+ Android phones out in the UK today market versus its 1GHz single core in a month or two's time. Smartphone cameras are significantly better than late 2010 with Sony Ericsson pushing the Android boundaries on the Arc, and everyone else trying to catch up to that, the iPhone 4, and even higher Nokia N8, yet here we have the same 5MP unit from last October! A competitor to this will be Sony Ericsson's Xperia active, which will also have a 1Ghz CPU, but a smaller 3.3" QVGA (and app-choice limiting) screen. It's 5MP camera unit will take 720p video, and on the "life proof" front it sports "wet finger tracking".

The original Defy must have sold well otherwise Motorola wouldn't be bothering with this, but its nowhere near enough of an upgrade for existing Defy owners to consider. Which is a shame, as when this phone was first rumoured I was excited at the prospect of a dual-core, life proof Defy+ with a nice new 8MP camera and a beefy 1GB RAM, and now I'm on the lookout for my next phone. Again. I hope that other manufacturers will think about this type of phone though, because what Motorola and Sony Ericsson have proved is that rugged phones don't have to be ugly phones any more.

Source: Motorola Mobility

Google Maps 5.8 for Android

A couple of weeks ago (I've been on holiday, ok!) Google released an update for Maps for Android to version 5.8, from which you can now upload photos of a place directly from your device, a feature which also hooks in nicely with Picasa too. You can also add brand new places for checking in in the new version, but the most interesting feature for me though was the ability to properly view your "starred places" at long last. There's still some way to go though, particularly when you consider a big draw to Android devices is the free turn-by-turn navigation i.e. "sat nav", and dedicated sat nav devices have much better and more intuitive ways of storing favourite places.

Favourite places for Google are effectively "starred items", which in turn need to be based on real addresses, something already defined as a place in Google Maps, or a set of coordinates. You can leave them to be named by their address/Google Place name/coordinates or rename them to something memorable to yourself, something I always do as a friend or customer's name means a lot more than an address, and that's how you store favourites in your standalone sat nav. Before Google added the My Places tab to Maps for the desktop the only way to manage your starred items was the little known Google Bookmarks site, and not many people would have intuitively found that, I know from experience of helping friends and family! My Places in Google Maps for the desktop is a huge improvement to that however, and can be found very easily.

"My Places" area of Google Maps for Android 5.8

The new "My Places" area of the mobile app shows you your starred items, but you can only view and not edit them from there, which is a real shame and hopefully will be added in future. Also more frustratingly, the My Places area only shows the address/coordinates of the starred item, not your own descriptive name for the place, as shown in the app's screenshot above. So when I'm looking for customer XYZ or Jim or Bob in my list, I instead get a long list of addresses not knowing who is who!

So yes Google this is a step forward, but for those of us wanting to use your phones as sat navs, as you presumably intend us to (despite it still being in beta at time of writing), please let us edit and view our starred places properly on the device?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Mobile Phone Batteries - Just Put A Bigger One In!!

Back in 2007 my primary mobile phone was a Nokia 6300, a robust device with a stainless steel body, running the S40 operating system. Granted it only has a 2 inch 240 x 320 resolution screen, no WiFi, no 3G, no GPS and no multi-tasking, but at the time I remember it running 4 maybe 5 days on a single charge. During this time I would use it for mobile browsing using Opera Mini, listening to music, as well as phone calls and SMS. Bluetooth would be permanently turned on to facilitate my 2-way phone-to-Google calendar sync system (automatic Bluetooth sync from phone to Outlook using PC Suite when in range of Bluetooth dongle in PC, Outlook then syncing to Google calendar using Google Calendar Sync).

That 6300 (and another 6300, when the first one got "misplaced" one night out) lasted until mid-2009 when I moved to a Nokia N79. The N79 is a nice S60 3rd Edition FP2 candy bar style device, upgrading my 6300 experience with WLAN, 3G, GPS and multi-tasking with S60; very much standard specifications expected from a device in 2009. This would have WLAN permanently turned on so as to take advantage of access points at home, office and friend's houses. Bluetooth too was permanently turned on, so lazy boy here could get into his car and the N79 would automatically hook up to the in-car system. Mail for Exchange would sync my Google calendar and contacts over the air every hour, and using IMAP Google email would be pulled every 30 minutes. This phone would regularly last 3 to 4 days on a single charge, despite the extra functionality over the 6300.

So from 2007 through to early 2010 I spent my time charging only every 3 or 4 days across both devices, and when iPhones started to become very popular in the UK I would be slightly envious of some of Apple's great design work, but would in equal measures make fun of those who could just about get through a day with a single battery charge, though many wouldn't even get that much, and bought second chargers to place at their work desks. Many may say that being plugged in to charge a lot isn't such a bad thing, but anyone who's ever been on a camping holiday, been to a 2 or 3 day festival, or ever done any trekking will tell you shouldn't always expect to be near a mains power source 24/7. It shouldn't be a given.

I've been a Blackberry user since 2008 through work, a second device I keep with me as well as my "own phone". I had an 8100 Pearl followed my current 8520 Curve. These devices too seem to be fine over about 2 or 3 days, again with WiFi and Bluetooth permanently turned on similar to the story with the N79.

Now I, like many, have abandoned Nokia's truly great hardware to move over the Android platform. It makes sense for anyone who has bought into Google cloud services, as well as providing in my opinion the most user configurable experience of any mobile operating system. This had led me through the Huawei Pulse Mini, Sony Ericsson X10 Mini Pro, and currently the Motorola Defy. However, with all 3 of these devices I have found myself making some adjustments and compromises just to get through a whole day on a single charge; WiFi is turned on/off with a 3rd party application that checks which cell towers I am connected to in order to determine my approximate location, Bluetooth is off until needed, 3G is never turned on, so when I am outside of my WiFi areas I am on 2G only, Latitude is turned off despite the fact that I'm one of the few people who think it's a nice idea. I leave the sync for Google mail, calendar and contacts turned on because that's the big reason I came to Android in the first place!

It would be bad form to not at least quote some battery capacities (and screen sizes) for the devices I'm talking about:

Battery Capacity Display Size
6300860mAh2 inch
N791200mAh2.4 inch
Pulse Mini1150mAh2.8 inch
X10 Mini Pro 970mAh2.6 inch
Defy1540mAh3.7 inch

The trends here seem to be: the N79 needed more battery for its extra functionality over the 6300; the Pulse Mini and X10 Mini Pro both had less than the N79, but the Defy has significantly more and at the time of launch had the largest capacity battery of any Android phone available in the UK. The Defy's Achilles heel versus the others in the list is the screen though, a large 3.7 inch, with the others ranging from 2 to 2.8 inches. With screens being more equal maybe that large 1540mAh battery in the Defy would take it through 2 or even 3 days use, or a full day of use with all the bells and whistles turned on?

So it is a real shame to me that what I once took pity of on other users, particularly iPhone users (pre iPhone 4) I am now subjecting myself to with Android phones. I remember a year ago or so it feeling strange to have to remember to plug in to charge every night, and having quite a few days when I failed this task and suffered the consequences. However, even with a nightly charge the user experience is somewhat dumbed down (3G off, no Latitude, etc) and dependant on 3rd party bolt-ons to keep the radios in the device off until absolutely needed, all to get through one day. Symbian clearly has much better power optimisation than Android at time of writing, and I miss the days of not worrying about charging every night without fail.

Will Android get better with battery optimisation in the near future? Will battery technology make any leaps and bounds to enable higher capacities in the same physical volume? Are manufacturers even bothered about this, and consider 2000mAh and higher capacity batteries? Or are we doomed to be tied to a power socket every night, or a collection of mobile chargers cluttering up our laptops and rucksacks? (Which we will have to charge every night as well...)