Sharp Aquos Crystal

posted Oct 14, 2014, 8:34 AM by Barny CK

It looks like Japanese companies want in on the smartphone bandwagon. But as always, theirs are always a class different, for better or worse. The Sharp Aquos Crystal is a collaboration between Sharp and Softbank Mobile. Recently, the phone was launched in the US with mixed reviews. 

For one, the Sharp Aquos Crystal is polished on the outside but underpowered on the inside.  Being a television producer, their key strength would definitely be the display. The phone sports a 5-inch, 1280 by 720 pixel, 293ppi display which stretches all the way to the top. In a glance, it almost appear frameless. Also, the US version comes with Direct Wave Receiver. What this means is that Sharp has removed the traditional earpiece for phone calls and instead emits sounds by vibrating the screen surface. The phone comes with a 8MP rear camera that can shoot full HD video at 30fps and a 1.2MP front camera with 720p video quality. Because the phone screen goes all the way to the top, the front camera is located at the bottom near the home button instead. This is somewhat awkward because the camera angle is from the bottom up which makes for some unflattering selfie shots. You know what I mean. 

Although the Sharp Aquos Crystal runs the latest Android KitKat 4.4.2, it is powered by a 1.2GHz 4 core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, which is a far cry from almost all new smartphones which are running Snapdragon 805 that clocks in 2.7GHz. For storage, the phone has internally 8GB and it also comes with microSD card slot for an expandable space of up to 128GB. Phone RAM is 1.5GB and it's quite insufficient. I think the biggest disappointment is that the phone does not support GSM. GSM is widely used worldwide and I personally think Sharp was not wise to have left that out. 

All in all, it's really hard to see this phone succeeding in the vicious smartphone market, much less surviving in it. I kinda admire Japanese products but maybe they are compromising too much with this phone on too many areas. I fear, the lure of TV quality screen phones may not be enough to woo consumers over. Just look at Samsung. But as I always like to do, let's wait and see.     

Xiaomi Mi4

posted Aug 28, 2014, 9:06 AM by Barny CK

The Xiaomi Mi4 is the successor to the highly successful Mi3. Released a mere 8 months after its predecessor, this phone packs all the standard specifications of a 2014 generation smartphone. Clearly, Xiaomi isn't resting on its laurels and it isn't willing to lose the throne of being the most widely sold smartphone in China. The Mi4 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset and clocking in a 2.5 GHz. To beat the competition (namely Samsung), Xiaomi fitted this phone with 3GB of RAM. This is in comparison to Samsung's latest phone series the Galaxy Alpha which has 2GB of RAM. In fact, most other phone makers utilises 2GB instead of 3GB of RAM. The screen is a 5 inch 1080p either from IPS Sharp or Japan Display OGS. It's got an 8MP front camera and 13MP rear camera, both sourced from Sony. System onboard is the Android 4.4 KitKat with MIUI V5.  The Mi4 is marketed with the 16GB or 64GB variants. 

Xiaomi is notorious for its willingness to copy but this time around, the Xiaomi Mi4 is kinda drifting towards its own style. Some say its a mashup of Apple's iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy family. It's true but something unique is appearing.  Outwardly, the phone boasts a stainless steel frame perimeter which surrounds both the front and back panel plastic casing that makes for a very solid yet light feel. Then there's the interchangeable back covers to give the phone some added personality. This kinda reminds me of the Nokia days when I get to change the plastic panels with some cool design patterns. Already, Xiaomi has designed several coloured back panels such as leather, wood, marble and even denim. I'm pretty sure third party retailer will pounce on this swappable back cover to market several unique pattern covers of their own. 

System wise, the Mi4 is definitely a powerhouse, capable of running graphic intense games flawlessly. Although using a dated version of MIUI, Xiaomi make up for its shortcoming with an extremely smooth menu interface and beautiful visual effects. There's even an option for you to switch display temperature between cool, standard and warm as well as adjust the colour saturation. 

One thing that I love the most about the Mi4 is the camera function. If there's one thing Xiaomi stands, it's got to be the camera! The phone is fitted with Sony's IMX 214 sensor that gives the camera the ability to capture high definition videos in low lit areas. Then there's a lot of control in it to give users a better experience and better picture quality. DSLR camera users will be glad to know that they can control the aperture of the camera and there's this feature called "Tracking Focus". What it does is it locks on a target when taking pictures and no matter how you move the phone, the camera is constantly focused on it. I think this is especially cool as I normally hate it when while finding a nice view to frame my picture, I lose the focus and then I'll have retap my target to get it back in focus. And then, there's the real time HDR function. HDR or High Dynamic Range refers to  a technique that captures both the bright and dark elements of a picture. Basically, it's like trying to take a picture of the sun ray penetrating the leaves of the tree. Either the sun ray is too bright or the tree leaves are too dark. HDR solves this problem but with the Mi4, you can solve it real time. 

All in all,  Xiaomi has definitely up the competition by packing so much features and so much power into the Mi4. And with it's high competitive price, it's hard for other phone makers to match. This may definitely be another sell out for this phone model. Currently Mi4 is on sale in China but there is no word yet when it will be on sale internationally. 

Amazon Fire Phone

posted Aug 24, 2014, 9:35 AM by Barny CK

The Amazon Fire phone isn't really meant to be a phone. It's really meant to be Amazon's way to get direct and personal with its users and to get them to buy through Amazon. That said, the Fire phone specification isn't really much to shout about. With Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system on chip, 2.26 GHz quad-core Krait 400 CPU and 2GB of RAM, the Fire phone comes in two models; the 32GB and 64GB storage space variations. It's kinda unusual to forgo the 16GB category, something most other manufacturer have. Amazon stands to lose out in that market segment but I guess the fact that the phone is meant to be a shopping tool means that 16GB may not be enough. Moreover, the Fire phone is not storage expandable, another odd move. But for all the inadequacies, this phone has some features quite unlike its competitors. 

For one, Amazon paraded its 'Dynamic Perspective' function which would make any other phones with merely a gyroscope lame. And to compare that with iPhone's parallax effect, what was that again? The Fire phone is installed with, not one, not two, but four front cameras! But these are not for you to take selfies at four different angles, no. What it does is that these cameras compares their every images of the user's face and inputs it into the phone to determine it's orientation to it's user. So this has allowed the Fire phone to rotate and swivel its display in ways not possible before. It's kinda hard to explain but I think the best way to describe it is this; it can rotate images to see what's behind it.

Then, there's the Firefly app. This is the killer app for Amazon and for Amazon users to shop and shop more conveniently. The Firefly app analyses just about any photographed images, text and recorded audios to identify the product in it, if any. It then displays the information about it, especially the prices on Amazon. After all, there are over a 100 million items that can be recognised via the app, such as songs, movies, books and even fruits. Shopping has never been any easier. To rephrase, the Amazon Fire phone isn't really meant to be a phone. It's meant to be an electronic wallet, to Amazon. 


posted Aug 5, 2014, 7:49 AM by Barny CK

The LG G3 is the successor to the highly popular LG G2. Released merely 9 months after the G2, the LG G3 packs several big punches and a superlative feature unlike no other. The smartphone is powered by a 2.5GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor. In an unusual move, the two variants of this phone have different RAM specification. The 16GB model comes with 2GB of RAM while the 32GB model comes with 3GB of RAM. Both models are however expandable to up till 128GB in microSDXC, the 'XC' being to mean eXtended Capacity. 

Now here's the crazy part; this phone uses a 5.5 inch QHD screen with a resolution of 2560 by 1400 pixel, giving it a staggering 534 ppi. Yes, it's 534 ppi. It kinda sound cool but the threshold for the human eye to perceive a flawless digital image is at around 300 ppi. So between the G2 and G3, the increase in ppi is actually unnoticeable. 

Camera wise, the G3 comes with a 13 megapixel rear camera and 2.1 megapixel front camera that comes with selfie gesture recognition. Another unprecedented  move LG took is to implement laser autofocus for its camera which is extremely fast. 

Under the hood, LG ships the G3 with Android 4.4 KitKat with a custom interface and software. Visually, the icons have been redesigned from skeumorphism to a new flat tile look. The G3 also supports Qi wireless charging. However, models sold in Korea and the United States don't have that feature unless QuickCircle case accessory is installed. 

Meanwhile, on the surface, LG has created what's called 'metallic skin'. It's really a pseudo metal shell intending to give the phone polished finishing but without the heaviness of metal. The LG comes in three colours; black, silver and gold. 

HTC One M8

posted Aug 4, 2014, 8:16 AM by Barny CK

If last year's HTC One was meant to compete with the iPhone 5S, this year's new HTC One M8 is meant to compete with the Samsung Galaxy S5. Sporting a new 5 inch 1080p display and Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset packed with 2.3GHz of quad-core CPU, this phone is really a killer and is aiming its gun at the giants. Even better, it finally comes with a microSD card slot. The M8 comes in two versions; the new 16GB and 32GB model, with an expansion of up to 128GB. This time around, HTC omitted the 64GB variant. Software side, the phone comes in Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat. 

The HTC One M7 was the first Android phone to truly challenge the iPhone. It's luxurious fitting of aluminium and polycarbonate rivalled that of iPhone. With the M8, HTC has gone a step further to increase the use of metal from 70% to 90% of the total phone body. It is also packed with state of the art technology. It employs QuickCharge that charges the phone 75% faster. Ironically, the phone comes supplied with a non-compatible charger.

The HTC One M8 is taller and heavier than its predecessor, it being nearly 1cm longer and 17g heavier. The extra length and weight can be attributed to more metal and also a stereo speakers called BoomSound. Most phones come with a single speaker so having front facing stereo speakers is really a big bonus. And it's great sound quality too! With all that bigger built and added weight, the M8 is not without cons. Generally, more real estate would mean harder to reach the buttons with one hand and added weight means heavier phone. But HTC have a solution with "Motion Launch" & double tap to wake features. 

Still, this phone is not without disappointment. What with all the oohs and aahs, the camera is, well, just there. Just a 5.0 megapixels front camera and 4.0 megapixels rear camera. Just. But then there's an additional 2.0 megapixel depth of field sensor at the rear. It's really a lens but it's actually there for the rear camera to better sense depth.  

Xiaomi Mi3

posted Aug 3, 2014, 8:36 AM by Barny CK

The Xiaomi Mi3 is a fourth generation flagship smartphone produced by Beijing based Xiaomi Tech. Xiaomi Mi3 comes with either the 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor or the 1.8GHz quad plus one core Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. Storage includes the 16GB or 64GB variants but both models comes in 2GB of RAM. Phone dimensions are 144mm (height) by 73.6mm (width) by 8.1mm (thick). This smartphone ships with Android 4.2.1 (Jelly Bean) that is upgradable to Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) and Xiaomi's very own MIUI user interface. 

Framed in aluminium-magnesium alloy and coated with three layers of thermal graphite, the Xiaomi Mi3 is a hot piece of equipment, having sold out with every online launch. It's popularity is because it is very price competitive, ranging between US$ 200 to 300 plus a piece yet it looks and feels like an premium smartphone. The Mi3's software, a heavily modified version of Android is designed with the user friendliness of Apple's iOS yet it is Android so it is unrestricted, unlike the iOS. 

The Xiaomi Mi3 houses a 13 megapixel rear camera and 2 megapixel front camera. Both are capable of recording HD (1080p) videos at 30 frames per second. The 5 inch screen displays at 1920 by 1080 pixels, giving it an impressive 441 PPI. The disadvantage the Mi3 has is that it lacks 4G LTE support and it does not come with a microSD card slot, so users will have to buy an SD card adapter.

The Xiaomi Mi3 is available in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and India. 

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