Technology

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Calling time on mere phone numbers

Adrian Weckler

Published 08/03/2014|02:30

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Clockwise from top left: Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet 2; Olloclip 4-in-1 lens; the Upp Hydrogen Charger; the Huawei MediaPad X1 and the Altigen iFusion SmartStation
Huawei MediaPad X1
Upp hydrogen charger

HOW long will it be before some of us don't need phones anymore?

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While the concept seems unthinkable, there is now an entire generation which uses phones purely as data devices. Texting? Whatsapp or Snapchat. Calling? Viber or Skype. So why is it, again, that they actually need a 'phone number'?

This is part of the thinking behind Huawei's latest slim, high-tech tablet, the seven-inch MediaPad Z1.

It's very powerful, it's very pocketable and it comes with 4G (and 3G) compatibility (via a normal operator sim card).

It also has a superb, 5,000mAh battery and a high-end 13-megapixel Sony camera on board. On a like-for-like basis for features, it's €130 cheaper than a heavier, 8-inch iPad mini and around the same price as a last-generation iPhone 4S.

So is this a smart strategy? I think it probably is, with a few caveats. First, even with a data-only 4G sim card on board (which will cost at least €20 per month), the signal is sometimes not strong enough to carry Skype or Viber calls.

True, the same sometimes applies to ordinary cellular phone signals: but it still takes less bandwidth for a cellular call (or text) than an online one.

Second, it may be too early to completely rule out phone numbers just yet. This is particularly true while current generations over the age of 50 remain in business.

Still, this is a bold move and probably one we'll see more of.

Nice to look at but eye-popping price is a big ask

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet 2

Price: €500 Rating: 4/5

HOW do you sell a tablet in a market dominated by two players? This is Sony's core challenge. While tablets are now outselling PCs in Ireland by over two to one, the vast majority of those sold over €250 are either Apple or Samsung.

So what does Sony bring to the table? Strip away the incremental software tidbits (which every manufacturer tries to accentuate and which most of us ignore) and the Z2 leaves you with two core things: slimness and water-resistance. The 10-inch Z2 is very, very slim. The advantage to this is that it can be held one-handed, an important feature in an era when tablets are now largely used for casual browsing, games, reading or Netflix (and rarely for anything else).

But as for the waterproof thing, I don't really get it – I've yet to come across anyone who'll use a tablet in the shower or at the beach. The Z2 does pack in a lot of power (3GB Ram and quadcore processor) and a good 8-megapixel camera, too. But I've a feeling that this machine's main appeal might be in its aesthetic makeup. It will want to try hard to get this across: a €500 price tag is a big ask.

A cameraphone shot with a difference

Olloclip 4-in-1

Price: €70 Rating: 4/5

The biggest single disparity between a cameraphone and a proper camera is the lens. Yes, full-sized DSLRs have bigger, better sensors. But it is the tiny lens on a smartphone that holds the biggest restriction. While there isn't a lot that can boost quality, what if you could add different lenses for different effects?

There are a few accessories that can do this, including the iPhone-centric Olloclip. It adds three effects via a clip-on lens.

These include wide-angle (which fits more into a shot), fish-eye (which fits even more, although is a little distorted) and macro (which allows close-up shots) views. Alas, it's made only for iPhone 5 models. But for anyone looking for a bit of diversity for their cameraphone shots, this is great fun.

Desk-phone smarts for mobiles

Altigen iFusion SmartStation

Price: €130 Rating: 4/5

There are quite a few advantages that a desk phone has over a portable mobile. Aside from the greater ease of cradling the receiver between chin and shoulder while you type something, it also often has better speakerphone capabilities.

Altigen has come up with a way to marry your deskphone with your iPhone in a fairly neat, simple, effective way. The iFusion 'SmartStation' is a docking (and recharging) station that also connects your iPhone to your choice of a decent audio speaker or a handheld receiver.

It's compatible with most online calling apps (Skype, Cisco Mobile and more). It also allows you to play music if you connect it to an external speaker.

Stay charged on the move with hydrogen power

Upp Hydrogen Charger

Price: €200 Rating: 3/5

While scientists try to figure out how to replace nuclear energy without erecting 200-foot turbines next to your conservatory, one English company was showing off a nice portable recharger that draws its energy from hydrogen. The Upp device gives about 25 amp hours of recharging, enough to fully power an iPhone about five times from scratch. One part of the device is then recycled for around €5 each time. It's a nascent idea that is probably more suited to the developing world than Ireland: a lithium ion battery pack charged to deliver the same performance would only cost around €2. But even if it's not as cheap as electrically charging a gadget, it's encouraging to see the technology starting to develop.

Irish Independent

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