Monday 23 October 2017

Adrian Weckler: A proper smartwatch – not before time

Clockwise from left: Samsung Galaxy S5, Blackphone, Yotaphone 2, Nokia XL, Samsung Gear Fit
Clockwise from left: Samsung Galaxy S5, Blackphone, Yotaphone 2, Nokia XL, Samsung Gear Fit
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The new Samsung Gear Fit Price smartwatch gets a very firm thumbs up from Adrian Weckler.

Samsung Gear Fit Price: not yet announced Rating: 5 stars

Although I quite like smartwatches, they still have some way to go to be elegant. Yet having played with Samsung's new Gear Fit last week at Mobile World Congress, I think it is probably the best example of a proper smartwatch to date. There are two reasons why.

First, it looks and feels much better than most other smartwatches. It has a 1.8in curved touchscreen that is miles more attractive to wear and look at than square smartwatches (including Samsung's own Gear 2 smartwatch, launched at the same time).

Second, it sticks to a much tighter brief than other smartwatches: this is aimed mainly at fitness enthusiasts. So it has the usual pedometer and a heart-rate sensor, from which other data is derived and synchronised with a PC or your phone.

While it also lets you know when your text messages or calls are coming through, it isn't letting on to be a PC on your wrist. This is crucial because it is much less likely to disappoint.

The only restriction I could really find is that its notifications and data synchronisation are limited to Samsung Galaxy phones.

If Samsung can keep the price comfortably less than €200 here, it is on to a winner.

'Snowden phone' blocks Big Brother

Blackphone Price: €475 Rating: 3 stars

It could be called the 'Snowden Phone'. For the truly paranoid, a new smartphone has been designed to give maximum protection against companies, operators or state agencies following you and your data around.

The 4.7in 'Blackphone', from SPG Technologies – a surprise hit at Mobile World Congress – is an Android smartphone that has been tooled to allow you to lock down your phone's tech-sharing defaults when you're out and about.

That means you have much more control over what you want the world to know about your whereabouts and activities. It has its own encrypted operating system, browser, cloud storage and contact-management apps instead of Google products.

If you want, it still gives you full access to social networking activity (which negates much of its purpose). It has 2GB of ram, 16GB of storage and a 2Ghz quadcore processor. It's not perfect (don't bank on it to foil the NSA). But it's a timely intervention for those worried about Big Brother.

A smart idea for heavy readers

Yotaphone 2 Price: not yet announced Rating: 3 Stars

THE idea behind the Yotaphone 2 is very innovative. Take a 4.3-inch Android smartphone with the usual features and stick a Kindle-style e-reader screen on the back of it. The idea is that you can switch your focus to the e-ink side when you want to do low-power activities, such as reading. It saves a lot of energy, allowing you to extend the device's battery life by a factor of five. On the face of it, this is a great idea: a lot of what we now do on larger smartphones is related to reading (web pages, emails, articles). And the Yotaphone can translate almost any text from your ordinary screen's content to the backside e-ink screen. I only had a few minutes with it, so can't really say how effective it is.

However, it seemed to work fine, though came across as a little buggy (the e-ink screen is also touch-sensitive but was erratic). If they iron out the bugs (and increase the screen size), this could be a very nice alternative phone for heavy readers.

Nokia finally opens door to Android

Nokia XL Price: €110 Rating: 4 Stars

ONE of the most wished-for developments in mobile tech is Nokia presenting an Android phone. Many lust after a device that marries Nokia's still-excellent hardware standards with a mainstream, modern smartphone system. Up to now, it has stuck to either its Symbian system or Windows Mobile.

Now it has opened the door to Android via a new range of budget touchscreen smartphones. The 5in XL phone is the largest of the three devices announced at Mobile World Congress. It has a five-megapixel camera and 4GB of internal storage.

While this doesn't really match uber-phones such as Samsung's S5, it's about a sixth of the price. The XL, like its sister devices, the 4in X and X+, is compatible with Android apps, though not automatically: it requires the apps' developers to tweak their apps for use on the phones.

Using it feels familiar and its basic functions perform well. Don't expect to get all the latest apps on it, though. Also, bear in mind it is aimed at developing markets, meaning it is unlikely that Nokia is using it as a segue into a new range of higher-powered Android devices. So for now, the dream remains on hold.

One Star - Very poor, Two Stars - Sub-par ,  Three Stars - Acceptable, Four Stars - Very good, Five stars - Outstanding

Irish Independent

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