Category Archives: Editorials

3.5mm jack – A vanishing act?

In a world of increasingly expensive flagship phones one would think that with this increase in price these phones would offer all of the bells and whistles that have ever adorned our beloved smartphones. Yet 1 key feature that is quickly disappearing from these flagships is the 3.5 mm headphone jack.

Even though Apple wasn’t necessarily the first one to ditch the headphone jack but they were definitely the first major manufacturer to get rid of the beloved 3.55 plug.

Google followed suit and got rid of the headphone jacks from the Pixel 2 phones.

 

 

Google Pixel 2 with 3.5 mm adapter

With Sony’s next flagship the Xperia XZ Premium 2 seemingly also ditching the headphone jack it seems like another manufacturer is ditching the 3.5 mm jack. Samsung may also jump-ship via the S9 and/or the subsequent phone afterward.

Let’s review and recap some of the pros and cons and see whether it makes sense to still keep ye old faithful 3.5 mm jack.

Continue reading 3.5mm jack – A vanishing act?

7 Reasons Why The Lumia 925 Is A Perfect Smartphone

Doing what I do, I have access to a wide variety of smartphones and given my inclination, most of the times those are all flagships devices. But despite all that, there is a one smartphone that I keep coming back to – the Nokia Lumia 925. It isn’t the latest or the greatest Windows Phone. It doesn’t have a 41 MP camera, or a full HD 1080p display, or a Snapdragon 800 processor, and it isn’t even very new – having been announced back in May 2013. But there is something about this device, that makes me keep holding onto it, and in post I try and figure out why.

Nokia-Lumia-925

Continue reading 7 Reasons Why The Lumia 925 Is A Perfect Smartphone

Stop Buying The iPhone 4. Save Yourself Money & Get A Lumia 520 Instead

Apple has all sorts of schemes running in India to promote the iPhone 4. You can trade old devices, get it on EMI, make zero down payments and so on. But there are two facts that you cannot get away from, it costs close to 25,000 INR and it will soon be 3 years old. Three years is an eternity in the world of technology, you certainly do not want to be paying that kind of money for a device that will soon be a relic. Yes, it will get iOS 7 but that’s where Apple is so smart. A bland iPhone 4 to get iOS 7 statement doesn’t tell you that a bunch of iOS 7 features will not make it to the iPhone 4. Just as a bunch of iOS 6 features previously hadn’t. E.g. Like it was with iOS 6, you still won’t be able to take panoramas, you’ll get no filters in the camera app, and the real biggie – no AirDrop support. Plus most of the fancy animations and visuals that iOS 7 brings is a no-go too.

Further having recently used an iPhone 4 running iOS 6, I can tell you that you can immediately notice that you’re playing with old hardware. There are lags, the scrolling in apps isn’t smooth, the app launch times are slow and there are random stutters – all in all, its doesn’t feel very Apple anymore. On the other hand it still has its positivities, the 3.5″ retina display, the premium construction and for a lot of people the Apple brand name. But does it make sense to pay something like 25,000 INR for the pleasure of owning an ‘iPhone’? No.

Stop Buying The iPhone 4. Save Yourself Money & Get A Lumia 520 Instead

Here’s what you should do. Save yourself 15,000 INR and get a Lumia 520 instead. It costs about 9400 INR, comes in a bunch of colours – red and yellow being my favourites, but there are the more traditional black, white and cyan options too. The colour is an obvious talking point, and not for one second does the device look cheap, if that’s what you’re worried about. Put a 3 year old iPhone 4 on the table and a red Lumia 520 along side it, and guess which is the device that will draw more attention.

Despite having 512 MB of RAM, it is actually smoother than the iPhone. The dual-core processor helps and Windows Phone is very smooth in itself. There may be the odd app that takes a second more to resume, but overall the experience will be much better. Don’t worry too much about the apps. The basics are all there now. Facebook has a good app, so does Twitter, Foursquare, PVR, HDFC, Book My Show and Zomato – all apps I use on an everyday basis. Whats App was recently overhauled too.

Nokia’s Services = More value for money

Then, you get the Nokia goodies. Mix Radio for streaming curated playlists that are usually excellent, unlimited song downloads from a huge catalogue of songs (DRM free so you can send them via bluetooth, email them or listen to them on a PC), and finally you can even create your own stream based on artists you like. This is a big deal once you start using it, I have virtually stopped downloading music because of this.

Next there is Nokia’s mapping suit – HERE Drive, Maps, Public Transport, and City Lens. Owing to things like offline maps and great coverage, this is the best navigation solution on the phone – for most tasks it beats Google Maps as they are reliant on a data connection for everything. The Lumia 520 also has a decent camera, and comes with things like Smart Shoot and Cinemagram out of the box. With the Lumia 520 you also get a 4″ 800 x 480 screen, its no retina display (3.5″ 960×640 on the iPhone 4) but a lot of people seem to be willing to live with slightly lower pixel density in return for a bigger screen.

Thus, in the process you not only save a considerable amount of money, but you also get a device that’s pretty solid and packs a lot for its price. A friend of mine recently sold an old iPhone 4 and picked up the Lumia 520 instead; and this post is also partly a result of his experience.

My advice is this, if you don’t want to save money and get the Lumia 520, don’t. But under no circumstances should you buy the iPhone 4.

Dear Nokia India, Why Don’t You Leverage Your Retail Store Network Better?

Nokia’s had an online store for well over a year now, and while we haven’t seen any concerete numbers about how successful its been, my guess is that it still trailers online retailers like Flipkart and others by a distance. When the store launched, it promised a delivery time of 4 working days, and for most devices its still that much. But look at some of the popular phones, and you’ll see that most of them are either out of stock or come with long delivery times.

At the time of publishing, the Lumia 520 (in all its coloured variants) was out of stock. Cyan, Black and Green colour variants of the Lumia 620 were out of stock, white and yellow were available with a 4 day shipping time, while a Magenta Lumia 620 would take 10 days. No variant of the Lumia 720 would be delivered in less than 7 days as well. If the Lumias were as successful as the online store seems to suggest, Nokia’s is well on its way to a blockbuster quarter.

Nokia Online Store

The thing is that if you call a local Nokia retail store, you’ll see that these devices are very much in stock and the local vendor will probably give you a better deal on the price as well. The thing about buying a phone is that once you decide that you want a device, you want it in your hands that very second, and an online store telling me that I’ll have to wait for a week is just ridiculous.

What I don’t get is why doesn’t Nokia India leverage its retail presence? They have a store in almost even nook and corner of the country, and each of those stores is a possible distribution point.

Here is how things could work.

  • You place an order.
  • Nokia looks up the location from which it was placed, calls its local distributor/biggest store in that area.
  • The distributor is given the address of the customer, and a delivery boy immediately leaves for that address.
  • The device is delivered in a matter of hours.

While I understand that managing something like this can be a logistical nightmare, but that’s where customer service comes in. When you are no longer the incumbent, you have to do things like these to shake up the market. This is what the challenger mindset looks like. Don’t do it in the smaller towns, justs start with the metros. You obviously cannot promise same day delivery, but that will allow you to say something like “Delivered in o-4 days”, rather than the disappointing “Delivered in 4 working days”.

The advantages of something like this are immense:

  • Same day/next day deliveries make a lot of people happy.
  • Nokia saves on shipping costs
  • The local Nokia Priority Stores that are now either ceasing to be sole Nokia stores, or worse converting to Samsung Smartphone Cafes get a piece of the online sales pie.
  • Positive social media chatter. People who receive their devices the same day will only have good things to say on Twitter and Facebook.
  • People finally start considering Nokia’s official store as their goto portal, and Nokia’s reliance on selling through Flipkart etc is lowered.
  • I could go on, but you get the idea.

Dear Nokia, take this up like a pilot project, and see where it goes.

Editorial: We Need Better Photo Sharing & HTC’s Zoe Is Pushing The Envelope

Camera phones have been around for ages, so the concept of sharing photos and videos digitally is not new at all. But over the years the most popular way of sharing photos continues to be email. There is Facebook, but for times when you want share only with a select few most people choose email. Things like private albums in Flickr and Picassa exist, but that’s not exactly being intuitive.

The problem with email, and even Facebook is that you are bound by the their interface, there is no room to becoming creative. There is no real way to show your media off remotely and beautifully at the same time. Therefore when Apple launched Journals with iPhoto on the iPhone and iPad, I bought the app for that functionality alone. Essentially, all you do is select a bunch of photos, pick a theme and hit create Journal. The app automatically creates a collage which you can edit, add captions, location etc to and share. The sharing is handled via iCloud, and in the end you get a link that you can share with friends and family. Only those people with the link – can see the collage. For example, this is a collage of pictures in San Francisco that I made in less than 5 minutes.

This functionality hasn’t really gone anywhere since it first came out. I’d hoped Apple would bring it to iPhoto for the Mac, but that hasn’t happened yet. Nor is there video support.

HTC Zoe Sample

Enter HTC. They’ve finally pushed the envelope further with the Zoe functionality on the impressive HTC One. In the Zoe mode, the camera takes a 3 second HD video containing 20 images. The result is that if you open the Gallery and look at photos you’ve taken, its like you’re living in Harry Potter land where photos move. Think of it as a Vine, but without the effort. Infact, the best part about HTC’s Zoe is that it takes editing out of the equation. So at the end of a trip, your photos in the Gallery will be sorted by events and opening each event will show you a 30 second highlight reel using using the photos and video that you took at a particular location. You can the  edit this if you like, but since HTC adds the fancy transitions on its own – chances are it’ll already look quite good.

Its all very well to see great looking Zoes on the HTC One itself, but concern was as to how would HTC take this experience and make it social? Fortunately, they haven’t disappointed. You can simply share it using a brand new service called Zoe Share, which is hosted by HTC. Just like iPhoto’s journal you’ll get a link at the end that can be opened on a phone, tablet or PC.When you open the Zoe link, the video buffers and you’re shown the same 30 second highlight reel that would have been visible on the phone, after that the screen turns into a collage like the one above. The top left corner gives you information about the number of Zoe’s, videos and photos in the share and you can then look at them individually. What is also cool is that the Zoe’s keep looping (remember a Zoe’s like a 3 second video clip), making the entire page feel very modern, and lively. A far cry from zipping photos and emailing them, or looking at them in a bland Flickr or Facebook gallery.

I haven’t gone into detail about what else HTC’s Zoe implementation can do – remove unwanted object, change faces etc (similar to Smart Shoot on Nokia Lumias) or the other million things the software can do as this post is about sharing. While this Zoe Share implementation has it own set of challenges, like needing a high bandwidth, its certainly pushing the envelope further.

Here are a few sample Zoe Shares, 1, 2, 3. Let us know what you think.

Does Windows Phone Really Have An App Problem Anymore?

Stephen Elop in his Mobile World Congress keynote recently announced that Windows Phone Store had crossed 130,000 apps, an impressive number on its own. But compared to both Android and iOS which are around the 700,000 mark, the number seems low. Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a Windows Phone because it doesn’t have ‘apps’? To see if this was the case, I did an unscientific test. I picked up my iPhone 5 which has tons and tons of apps installed, and started comparing its app selection to the Windows Phone Store . I paid special attention to the ones I have on the homescreen, or outside folders – basically ones which I use on a regular basis.

Below are about 40 apps that I use on a fairly regular basis on the iPhone. So when I switch to the Lumia 920, do I have to forgo anything major? Lets find out.

  • Notes – iCloud sync means that I have access to my notes across my iPad, Mac and iPhone. WP – The Windows Phone equivalent is One Note. The app is available across different platforms and promises a similar ‘everything in sync’ experience. Result – Draw.

Windows Phone 8 Apps

  • Google Maps – Turn by turn navigation, street view, great coverage. WP – Nokia Maps/Drive. Offline capabilities, great coverage, greater number of navigable countries. Result – Advantage Windows Phone.
  • Facebook – iOS integration and a great Facebook app, plus a Messenger app. WP – A Facebook app made by Microsoft, plus deep Facebook integration into the OS. However, the Facebook app has room for improvement. No Messenger app, equivalent but WP has Facebook chat built in. Result – Advantage iOS, but not by far.
  • Twitter – Great official app, plus numerous excellent third party clients. WP – A recently updated Twitter app means that the experience is a par with iOS. Also present are great third party choices like Rowi, Twabbit, Mehdoh. Result – Draw.
  • Foursquare – Represents the direction Foursquare wants to take the app into – beyond the check-in stage. WP – The focus of the official app is still check-ins rather than discovery. However Nokia and Foursquare are working on an all new app thats coming in March. Finally, 4th and Mayor is an excellent free alternative for WP. Result – Draw.
  • Whats App – The defacto messaging client, must have. WP – The app is improving with each release, but is currently a shadow of its iOS and Android versions. Its useable, but could do with a few more updates. Result – Till Whats App finally gets its act together, advantage iOS.
  • Flipboard – Presents Twitter/Facebook/Websites in a nice magazine like layout. WP – No direct equivalent. However, there are a few apps like Weave and Fuse that can make make boring feeds look much more fancy. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Mail – The inbuilt email client. WP – The WP equivalent is at par, features the ability to link multiple inboxes into one. Result – Draw.
  • Camera – The plain jane camera app. Features an inbuilt panorama mode. WP – Comes with a feature called lenes that lets you do more from within the app itself. Includes Smart Shoot, Panorama, Cinemagram, Microsoft’s 360 Panorama app Photosynth. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Instagram – A lot of people have been wanting this app on Windows Phone and the wait is ongoing. WP has a bunch of apps that let you add filters and share the results to Facebook/Twitter, including Nokia’s own Creative Studio, but they lack Instagram’s community. Result – Advantage iOS.

Windows Phone  Apps -2

  • Mailbox – The hot new email app for iPhone. Lets you turn your inbox into a todo list. Only out for iOS, no Android version yet. WP – Don’t expect a WP version anytime soon. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Remote – Lets you control iTunes on the Mac, or the Apple TV. WP – A 1.99$ equivalent called Remote. Result – Advantage iOS, although only useful if you’re firmly inside the Apple ecosystem.
  • Light – A Torch app. WP – Plenty to choose from. – Result – Draw.
  • ESPN Cricinfo – Live scores, fixtures, news etc. WP – Excellent official WP8 app. Result – Draw.
  • Times of India – Not optmised for Windows Phone 8, but does the job. Result – Draw.
  • NDTV – Not optmised for Windows Phone 8, but does the job. Result – Draw.
  • Merriam Webster Dictionary – iOS gets a free ad supported version. The WP version is priced at Rs. 210, no ads. Although, WP has other free dictionaries. Result – Draw.
  • Pocket – No official app for WP, but there are third party alternatives. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • HDFC – No official app for WP, but the m0bile website works well. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Doc Scanner – Useful for archiving paper documents, converting them into a PDF. A paid app on iOS. WP – Handyscan, HD Scanner are a few options, but none of them as as good. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • YouTube – The official WP app is a joke, but thankfully MetroTube more than does the job. Lets you download videos as well. Result – Draw.
  • Book My Show – Excellent fully functional app. Infact, features voice commands as well. Something the iOS version doesn’t. Result – Advantage WP.
  • PVR Cinemas – Performs better than the iOS counterpart, which isn’t optimised for the iPhone 5 yet. Fully functional. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Shazam – WP gets an official client as well. Frequently updated, but doesn’t have offline tagging yet. Result – Draw.
  • Zomato – Recently updated for WP8. Takes great advantage of the Modern UI  and infact looks/feels better on Windows Phone. Result – Draw.
  • Dropbox – No official client for WP8. But there are third party equivalents. Box Files. Result – Draw.
  • File Manager – To copy files to the iPhone from the PC as well as download them from the web. WP – Supports Mass Storage mode on Windows, so copying isn’t a problem. To download files from the Internet, apps like GetThemAll exist. Result – Advantage WP, because of the mass storage mode.
  • Mobi Reader – RSS reader. WP – Number of alternatives like Weave, Fuse. Result – Draw.
  • Skype – Official apps for both platforms. Microsoft owned, so WP support will only become better going forward. Result – Draw.
  • Speed Test – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.

Windows Phone  Apps -1

  • WordPress – Official apps for both clients. Although the iOS version is more feature packed. Result – Advantage iOS. The Windows Phone version is frequently updated, so one can hope for feature parity.
  • Sports Tracker – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Paytm – For recharges, bill payment. No Windows Phone version. Users will have to do with a mobile site. Result – Advantage iOS.
  • Quickoffice – No need on Windows Phone, as it features MS’s own office suite. Result – Advantage WP.
  • iTunes Store – Tracks priced at Rs. 15 per track. Movies, TV Shows available to buy/rent. WP – Nokia Music – free unlimited downloads, much wider selection of regional music. Result – Advantage WP.
  • Kayak – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Trip Advisor – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Cleartrip – Official apps for both clients. Result – Draw.
  • Trip It – Official apps for both clients. Although the WP version isn’t optimised for WP 8 yet. Result – Draw.
  • IndRail – Useful if you use the Indian railways. WP – Plenty of alternatives, IndianRail stands out. Result – Draw.

RESULTS

  • Advantage iOS: 11
  • Advantage WP: 7
  • Draw: 22

CONCLUSION

Turns out, Windows Phone has done much better than expected. It has equivalents for all but Instagram, Paytm, Flipboard, Mailbox and HDFC Bank app. None of these apps is a deal breaker for me personally. HDFC Bank has a useable mobile website, Mailbox while being the hot app right now is not something that’s indispensable. I have Flipboard installed, but rarely do I end up using its wonderful interface, as on most days I have already gone through my Twitter and Facebook feeds in their respective apps. Moreover, there are some apps that are better on Windows Phone, surprise!

You will notice that games are missing from the list. Truth is that I am not too much of a gamer myself and therefore don’t feel that particular pinch on Windows Phone. But if you kill a lot of time playing games on your phone, this is one area that might be of concern. With Windows Phone 8’s all new kernel and developer tools, high quality games are coming to WP8, but they aren’t quite here yet. Gameloft had promised to bring 12 popular titles to WP8, and delivering on that promise Asphalt 7 Heat just became available this week. But there’s Temple Run. However Angry Birds Space, Seasons and Star Wars are all there.

Releasing an app on a platform is only part of the story, and supporting it with updates is what’s important. The apprehension I had was that Windows Phone might get version 1 because of development dollars from Microsoft and Nokia, but the updates won’t follow. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case and more and more apps are being updated to take advantage of Windows Phone 8.

Does this mean that Windows Phone is on par with iOS and Android when it comes to apps? I won’t say that. But what I will say is that if the only reason you are staying away from Windows Phone is ‘apps’, it may be time to reconsider that decision.