Tag: mobile phones

Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade TFT Review

Posted by – December 14, 2010

Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade running Froyo

The Orange San Francisco / ZTE Blade offers an extremely cheap entry into the world of Android. Priced around £99 (with a mandatory top up of £10/£20), it offers excellent value for money, and is one of the higher spec phones available around that price. Offering a large 3.5″ screen with a high resolution of 800×480, a 600mhz cpu, and 2gb of Micro SD ram.

Another big feature of the phone is the community support for the phone, allowing it to be unlocked for free (found via Modaco), and upgraded to Android 2.2 (Froyo), and potentially newer versions when they are released, it has it’s own dedicated forum here at Modaco.

Nokia N8 OLED - Orange San Francisco TFT

Nokia N8 OLED - Orange San Francisco TFT

The “SanFran”, as some people affectionally call it, has 3 physical buttons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Menu, Back, one power button at the top, and volume buttons at the side, there is no dedicated camera button or unlock button. To unlock you press the power button and slide something on the screen based on what version of android (or screensaver) you have. Considering the whole touch screen ethos of the android operating system, it seems strange to have to use physical / moving buttons to navigate – it would make more sense for these to be soft touch buttons (as I’m sure other android phones do).

Box Contents: Phone, Battery, Orange SIM, Earphones with microphone (earbuds, NOT in-ear earphones), Wall charger (Plugs into wall and has USB socket), USB Cable (used to charge phone with wall-charge or plug into computer), User guides (quick start guide, printed 133 page manual, plus 2nd manual for orange software), 2GB MicroSD Card.

Phone quality – Making and receiving calls, the audio quality is very good, the speaker is loud and clear, and quality seemed very good with no feedback or echo noticeable. (Although you network coverage may alter your experience)

Music playback – full volume is still on the quiet side of things. The music player app is fine, nothing seems to be missing, but nothing stands out as particularly interesting either. It does the job, but only seems to work in portrait mode (and not landscape). Music playback is interupted by other app notifications!? (Could just be my OS build, 2.2, and even when the other notifications are set to silent!?)

Web browser – this is quick, responsive, and works well.

android 2.2 homescreen (with fish) android app updates android task manager - system is busy, try later! (WHY?)
Some screenshots, click to enlarge, homescreen, app updates, task manager.

Android market (app store) – this has very nice integration with websites, you visit the site, click the link to download from the store, it takes you there and you click install, it then takes you back to the website and downloads and installs the app in the background. Very swish, very un-intrusive, very simple, very easy, the way it should be done. (I’m looking at you Nokia) It’s also ironic that you can get Snake free for the android – but no official version from Nokia for Nokia phones…

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Battery

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Back / Battery / MicroSD / SIM slots

Expansion – Under the one piece back cover (made of plastic), you’ll find slots for the MicroSD card, SIM card, and battery. Small hole next to the camera lens – could be a reset button?

Battery – a 1250mah 3.7v battery.

Build and size: Slim, compact, the back cover covers the power button, and needs to be taken off / put back on carefully as, like the Nokia N95, it could cause problems if not treated with care or over-used. The plastic is coated with a rubbery texture, making the phone feel like a higher quality / higher price handset than it actually is, and internally the circuit boards seem very thin. The use of philips head screws make it very tempting to take apart…

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Taken Apart (Teardown)

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade Taken Apart (Teardown)

There’s a hidden screw under a white dot, so no doubt taking it apart will void your warranty, there’s also a moisture detector dot under the battery, as shown above, and there are 8 screws in total holding the phone together, after taking these out, the phone then unclips with some encouragement – although you can help it along by pushing the clips surrounding the battery area – I didn’t want to go further than this as the rest looked like it needed the ribbon cables disconnecting, and this is often fiddly.

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade TFT back

Orange San Francisco ZTE Blade TFT Screen Removed (back) - Click to Enlarge

To remove the front glass / case, you need to remove / disconnect the top ribbon cable that connects the *something* (don’t know what). The ribbon cable connections are held in place with plastic that “pops” up, and the wi-fi aerial also pops-off. The screen is quite firmly glued on to the main plastic “chassis” in the middle of the phone, and there is also a ribbon cable behind the main board connecting the top led and light sensor, and the volume control ribbon cable is soldiered on, and the buttons are glued onto the chassis, making it very difficult to disconnect / remove – it quickly becomes very fiddly.

ZTE Blade components ZTE Blade board close ZTE Blade board close - other side

Identifiable chips / components: (Click images above to enlarge, or to view additional images!) Top: Samsung SWB-A23 (Wifi, bluetooth), Qualcomm (hidden from view), Qualcomm PM754, AH56714, C1034003 (Power management), Underneath: Samsung 040, KA1000015M-AJTT, YK10338E (RAM), Qualcomm MSM7 (CPU, hidden from view), TriQuint 7M5012H, 1037, KORE, AT9366. Camera module: Made by MCNEX MC_32A2_48, 2010.06.04, the chip on the front of the phone, above the screen: 1KAAV0QW, Z1A0AD09.

Nokia N8 Camera with Flash - Orange San Francisco Camera with no Flash

Nokia N8 Camera with Flash - Orange San Francisco Camera with no Flash

Camera – 3.2 megapixel AF (Auto-focus) lens. Photos are awful. Terrible. Horrible. Utterly crap. Seriously substandard.

Other features? Impressions? The top bar shows you your notifications, things like texts, twitter or app notifications, and battery / connectivity status etc (3G, Bluetooth etc), but doesn’t actually let you interact with the notifications on the right of the bar… you can’t click the battery, for example, to see how much remains (like you can on Symbian ^3), instead you seem to have to go through the phones setting menu to get the information.

Updated conclusion: 6 months later: (10/07/2011) Some have said, in the comments that this review is overly negative, and somewhat lacking in it’s conclusion, and I agree. In retrospect, the ZTE Blade (Orange San Francisco) is still, to this day, 6 months later, one of the most fully featured, and lowest priced android phones available, and the good screen, and low price make it very apealling, especially with such a huge homebrew community of support. I bought it as I wanted to see what all the fuss about Android was, and I wasn’t as impressed as I felt I should have been, especially considering all the hype. There are areas of weakness such as the poor camera software (camera is poor on this phone, but may suffice in great weather, outdoors), and generally android isn’t as polished as I think it should be (this may have changed with newer versions, I tested 2.2). The ZTE Blade with a lower spec processor than most, won’t do flash, which is a huge drawback for me as I need iPlayer on my phone. Another big weakness is the high SAR levels (1.35 W/kg) – enough to give some users enough of an issue that they’ve seen a GP (Doctor) about it… Another big issue is the fact that everyone feels the need to mess with the google version of android, and try and add their own skin, apps, and money making programs to the phone. Very annoying. Anyway, to try and conclude this as quickly as possible, the ZTE Blade (OSF), is a great phone considering the price, and if well worth looking at if you’re on a limited budget and don’t mind the various issues the phone has.

Pros: (Positives)
+ High resolution 3.5″ capacitive screen (responsive)
+ Extremely good value for money
+ Easily unlocked, for free
+ Upgradable to Android 2.2
+ Tons of apps, good app store experience
+ Notification of app updates, and “Update all” button (not just OS)
+ Full screen PDF viewer (in QuickOffice)

Cons: (Negatives)
– Home screens don’t work in landscape mode (see Symbian ^3, or Launcher Pro for Android)
– Music playback is interrupted by other app noises! (even when the phone and notifications are silent)
– Limited memory as standard (only 2gb MicroSD provided)
– AWFUL camera (see Nokia N8!), lacks even basic LED flash
– Fragmented OS / Features ie BBC iPlayer is supposed to work on 2.2 (using Flash*) but wouldn’t for me, 2.1 it just isn’t available (see Nokia / Apple)
– Poor battery life (8 hours)
– No strap loop / wriststrap mounting hole
– Camera shutter sound on, even when all sound muted.
– Default install location is the phones memory, not MicroSD, easy to fill the 512mb built in.
– Difficult to use one-handed (back button awkward – and pressing the background of the screen doesn’t take you back so you have to press the back button – easier on Symbian ^3 to just press the screen behind the pop up menu)

* Flash 10.1 is needed, which isn’t available for the ZTE Blade due to the ARM6 processor.

Useful links: ChrisLowthian.co.uk How to Unlock.
Orange San Francisco also available from Amazon UK (Unlocked).

HTC Desire HD Review (Phones)

Posted by – November 10, 2010

HTC Desire HD

The HTC Desire HD. Let’s get the specs out of the way eh?

  • Processor: – Chipset: Qualcomm 8255 SnapDragon – Speed: 1Ghz
  • Battery: – Talk Time: 9 hrs – Standby Time: 490hrs – Capacity: 1230 mAh
  • Display: – 800 x 480 pixels/4.3″ – Touch Sensitive(Capacitive)
  • Camera: – 8 mega-pixels (auto-focus) – Digital Zoom – Dual LED Flash – Geo Tagging
  • Video: – Recording Resolution: HD (720p) – Recording Speed: 25fps – LED Video Light – Supported formats: MP4, 3GP, DivX, XviD – Video Streaming – YouTube
  • Music: – Supported formats: MP3, AAC, eAAC+, OGG & WMA – Dolby Digital Mobile – SRS WOW Surround Sound
  • Messaging: – SMS – MMS (with video) – E-mail (POP3, IMAP4, Exchange, GMail) – Twitter – Instant Messaging (Google Talk)
  • Memory: – 768MB (RAM) – 1.5GB (internal) – microSDHC (memory card)
  • Call Features: – Hands Free – Caller ID – Voice Dialling
  • Connectivity: – 2G: 850/900/1800/1900 Mhz (Quad-band) – 3G: 900/2100 (Dual-band) – WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) – HSDPA (14.4Mbps) – HSUPA (5.76 Mbps) – Bluetooth (2.1) – microUSB – 3.5mm Audio Connector
  • Navigation: – AGPS – Digital Compass – Google Maps
  • Sensors: – Accelerometer – Proximity Sensor – Light Sensor
  • Features: – Web Browser – Office Document Viewer (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) – PDF Viewer – Flash 10 – DLNA Wireless Media Sharing
  • None of which tells you anything useful. Well, there are loads of things to talk bout with this phone so lets go.

    Screen

    It’s a 4.3 inch screen and it’s a bobby dazzler. Despite sounding massive it feels really natural in the hand. It’s noticably bigger than the iPhone but the weight and smooth contours make it easy to hold. The camera lens protrudes from the back a good few millimetres. I really thought that it would catch my palm and do my head in, but not at all. Ergonomically it’s a decent phone. Typing is tough with one hand unless you use the excellent, yet love it or hate it Swype. Swype lets you type with swipes, moving from one letter to the next without taking your finger off the screen. If it sounds weird it is at first, but now it’s a ‘how did I do without i?’ app for me. It’s predictive and lets you add to the dictionary. Provided you’re not typing nonsense words it is seldom wrong. There are no hard keys as such. They have been made in to touch sensitive buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search. Gone completely is any trackball or trackpad. I don’t miss it.

    Apps look great on screen and the touch screen is unintrusive and useful. Call quality is good but the bundled hands free kit is predictably crap. Terrible sound and earphones that fall out of your ears.At the bottom are the SIM and Micro SD slots, with a hatch that slides off  so no need to turn the phone off or take the whole back off to remove either. Left side has a volume rocker, which can be hard to operate, rather irritatingly, and top left is power, again, irritating to access. Minor points but they do annoy me.

    Performance

    Lightning fast apps, switching, animations and functions make this phone a joy to use. However, the big issue. Battery life. When I started using this phone I was horrified at it’s 6-7b hour standby time. I thought it was faulty at first until I did some research, and here is how you get 30-40 hours out of it.

    • Accounts sync. I had a total of 11 accounts  syncing, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, News, Weather, Stocks etc. They set themselves to sync every 15 minutes by default. Massive drain. I killed all bar the Google and Facebook accounts. Google updates every 2 hours and Facebook daily. This alone extended the life to a days’ use.
    • Install a task killer, kill all tasks that do not need to be running. This makes a huge difference.
    • Get rid of pointless apps. They are usually badly written and drain power. Apps like this are the price of the more open Android market, as opposed to Apple’s ‘Dolphin’s Butt’ approach.

    There are other optional steps that I took.

    • I rooted the phone using VISIONary, a free app that needs no restart and doesn’t flash the phone.
    • Installed Titanium Backup free and  deleted all the crapware that came with it. I dumped a load of pointless widgets, HTC bloatware apps that offered wallpapers etc and, astoundingly, there are two bundled Twitter apps with the phone, the official Twitter app and the HTC one called Peep. I use the far superior Tweetdeck so I have no use for those, off they went. A factory reset puts all of this back on the phone so you need not worry about that.
    • After this run the phone as normal for ten days, then drain it completely and calibrate the battery.

    My battery clocks in at 30-40 hours business use now so it can be done, Don’t believe the propaganda. I am the sort to plug my phone in whenever possible anyway, always have been. It’s hardly Apple’s ‘It just works’ appeal but I like Android for playing with it so I’m not bothered, you might be.

    Running widgets, particularly live feeds will drain it but it’s nothing to worry about.

    Media

    Music is well played, no skips etc but you’ll need decent headphones as cheap ones sound tinny. The screen is perfect for iPlayer/YouTube and the playback is very good indeed. Sharp, vibrant and well-balanced with intuitive controls. YouTube lets you sign in to a different account from the phone which is a useful idea. Photos look crisp and sharp too. Flipping between landscape and portrait is snappy and works perfectly. The music app displays album art and controls music whilst the phone is locked without having accidental presses. Clever. You can install different ones if you like, notably Tune Wiki, but I see no need. There is some sort of Dolby sound thing going on here, but I have to be honest, in my experience the rule is spend a few quid and it sounds good. This phone doesn’t convince me otherwise. It sounds good, but if I am supposed to notice some sort of sound revelation, sorry. It sounds good provided you don’t use a terrible bit rate on MP3 files.

    Navigation

    Google Maps and Navigation is there. It works snappily and the voice search is brilliant. No complaints. With it being a cloud based app there’s nothing new here that isn’t on other phones. What is new is HTC’s proprietary Locations application. It has several features. Free maps and mapping but navigation is a premium feature. Unless you’re a heavy user then navigation is free with Google. If you use it daily then buy the premium as Vodafone only give you a measly 750 MB data plan. I think this is taking the proverbial a little now. One gigabyte is not a huge amount so it’s clear they’re looking to squeeze a few pounds out of us on data.

    Fortunately, the free element of Locations is offline mapping. No data usage, but sadly the database of locations is absolutely hopeless. It’s empty compared to Google Maps and as far as I can see it does not accept postcode searches. They had better update that pronto. If you search then every space sees a lag as it tries to match what you just typed. That is extremely irritating and a flaw that needs to be addressed. However, most of the time, if you give it the data it will find what you need. If so, then the maps have 2D and 3D views – very nice indeed – and they work with the compass so that the map turns wherever you are pointing it. No more walking for a bit to see which way you should be going. Very nice feature and one iPhone has had for ages. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google haven’t  done it  with maps. Locations also does general keyword shops. You can select whatever category of place you want, e.g. pubs, and find the ones in the area along with ratings and reviews. This is very good and means no worries about using your data up on Google Maps. As an aside, as these apps move to the cloud then networks need to be fairer on data allowances. I would happily compromise on say, mapping and browsing only, no downloads or streaming, in exchange for unlimited 3G data. I think that is a better way to keep everyone happy. No nasty surprises in our bills and the networks don’t have to worry about media streaming brining 3G networks to their knees. I am sympathetic as the traffic on 3G has exploded since iPhone changed things, but then they’ve had three years to beef up their infrastructure. If they keep this up it will stink of profiteering. Having expensive data tariffs on always-online devices is a gun to the head scenario in my opinion.

    GPS signal acquisition is lightning fast and as accurate as I have ever seen. Any thing like maps or navigation looks brilliant on that 4.3 inch screen.

    Location services on this work really well. I know there are real concerns regarding privacy but I am all over location services like a fat kid on cake. I love them and can’t wait until they gain wider acceptance. Why, for example, can’t 20 Foursquare check-ins at a restaurant equal a free meal? There is an opportunity to make money here, and hopefully the right sort of thinkers will drive this. Foursquare is a great idea, but the app on here needs refining. It works fine, but searches can often be slow and it’s a little  buggy. Not the phone’s fault, but a thought. Facebook works well and includes Places. Tweetdeck (or Peep/Twitter if you prefer) all permit location updates in tweets and geotagging photos os available too. This phone will stretch the possibilities for locatoin applications. It has the capability and the screen to be extraordinarily useful. We just need some original thinking from developers for apps and services. Bring it on.

    Camera

    The camera is 8 megapixels, twin LED flash and shoots HD video at 720p.

    Here is a sample video from bonfire night:

    Pretty good, I am sure you’ll agree. A couple of stills from the same night:

    The OS is the bang up to date Android 2.2, smooth and fast. There is a vast array of sharing options, Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, Mail, YouTube. Uploads are a couple of taps and go just fine.

    Internet and Mail

    Gmail on this is great, push updates and notifications. The mail client works well with loads of options, including a unified inbox for all accounts. Nice touch. The browser works very well with smooth panning, zooming and pinching there, and in the rest of the apps too. Google search and voice search integrates brilliantly, giving local results for the device and net results too. I did install Firefox beta but for a beta release it has some terrible bugs, notably being the capitalising of the first letters of passwords, meaning you type it, then your full password, then go back and delete the capital. It’s easily fixed but that is a real balls up for something of Firefox’s standards. Quick look up works when you highlight text, you get the usual cut and paste options. The menu also gives ‘Quick Look Up’ as an option so you can get web and Wikipedia results for the highlighted text. Very good idea.Bookmarks are tiles and multiple pages are supported. plus map links and so forth open the relevant app rather than viewing in browser. Perfect touch there.

    Software

    The market now allows auto-update and update all for installed apps. It restricts that by forcing manual update if application permissions have changed. That stops developers sneaking in data mining and sharing that you did not originally agree to. Thank you Google. The market is simple to browse and the app selection is huge. Not quite up with Apple and there is a fair amount of crapware in there, but there are some great pieces of software. Be wary that quality control is non-existent, which gives app developers freedom but also allows more seedy tactics like apps that are just there to serve ads, thus generating cash, and apps that don’t work properly. Read comments before installing.

    Dell Streak Review (Phones)

    Posted by – August 21, 2010

    I’ve had the Dell Streak for a couple of weeks now so the review is not an unboxing.

    Here is how it looks:

    I’ve read a lot about the Streak online and it tends to be the same everywhere. Those who’ve never seen it don’t get it, those who see it like it, those who own it are always being asked about it.

    For a phone it’s big, almost comedy size, but despite the ability to make calls on it the Streak is sold as a tablet. The interface is set up in landscape mode and you can buy a data-only tariff.  I bought it  outright and got a 30 day rolling data contract. Other options are available, including 18/24 month deals or SIM free from Dell. Keep reading below…

    More…

    Nokia N97 Mini Review (Phones)

    Posted by – August 20, 2010

    n97mini-keyboard

    The Nokia N97 Mini is like the beta release of the N97 – with the N97 being the alpha version, perhaps the N8 will be the release candidate or perhaps even the final product? (I am using the software release life cycle terms used for Windows and other apps as an attempt at humour – however some people who have used the N97 would probably find the terms relevant.) Click below to read the full review…

    More…

    The problem with cameras on mobile phones… (Phones)

    Posted by – March 26, 2010

    The problem with cameras on mobile phones is that they’re all crap – do you want to know why?.

    In the olden days (you know when people used film cameras) no matter what camera you had, whether it was a cheap piece of plastic crap or the best SLR in the world, it all had one thing in common: 35mm film*. And the one thing 35mm film did well, was take photos no matter what the lighting conditions. Even in dark situations, without flash, you’d still be able to get some kind of photo from it. * assuming you weren’t using a 110 or APS camera. An example on flickr, and another example above with flash (I assume the flickr link is using 35mm film which measures 24x36mm).

    Night shot Casio Z120

    With a digital camera – nearly all of them have flash (I’d estimate 99%) – so in dark conditions you can use the flash and get a half decent photo (generally speaking). Some of the time you can switch the flash off, setup the self-timer, put it on a wall or a tripod and take a half-decent night shot. Which is fairly impressive considering how small the sensor is in relation to 35mm film. (The average compact digital camera sensor size is 7.2mm x 5.3mm (1/1.8 sensor), this is roughly 5x smaller than 35mm film, with an average Pixel area(µm2) of 2.6 – 3.8µm2) (Using a 12mp example: Canon Powershot G9 with a 1/1.7″ sensor, the pixel area is 3.8µm2). Example above taken with the Casio Exilim Z120.

    On a side note: Do you remember when Digital Cameras were still new? Like in 2002 or 2003 when digital cameras were still so new that they had to write “Digital Camera” on the front of it somewhere so that you knew it was a digital camera? Simply being a digital camera in 2001 was so exciting and new that they simply used those two words together as a marketing tool / selling point for the camera. Now you’re lucky if you even have the model number written on it, and rarely do you find the manufacturer name on the back these days. (They used to always put the manufacturers name underneath the screen – like this). Now it’s more likely the be the huge number of megapixels or optical zoom or screen size that’s plastered all over the camera.

    Night shot - Nokia N86

    With a camera phone – most of them don’t have a real flash (maybe 1% has a real xenon flash (the Sony Satio is the only recent one) that is equivalent to the flash you find in a Digital Camera) – and the rest – if you’re lucky (or unlucky depending how you feel about it) – has an LED or a “twin” LED flash. The problem is that even with (or without) the LED flash, the camera’s just don’t cope with low-light situations. You can put the phone on night mode (if you’re lucky), put it somewhere steady^ and switch on the self-timer, and hope it takes a successful shot. The problem is that the sensors in camera phones are even smaller than compact digital cameras. They just can’t get enough light into the sensor, and that means in low light situations they produce crap noisy images that are over-processed so much that you’re lucky there’s any image left to view. Further problems are caused due to the small sensors lacking the ability to capture dynamic range, so dark areas are underexposed, and bright areas are overexposed, further reducing detail in images (the example above taken with the Nokia N86 – where’s the detail in the steps?). The latest 12 megapixel camera phone sensors made by Sony have a 1.4µm pixel size – which is again 2.7x smaller than compact digital camera sensors. (2.6mm x 1.96mm estimation). This is roughly 13.8x smaller than 35mm film.

    In a nutshell – it’s all about the light – 35mm film cameras can absorb lots of light, and therefore take photos in dark conditions and get as much colour and detail as possible. Digital Cameras, more so compact cameras, have much smaller sensors and struggle in low light, but don’t do too bad a job of it thanks to having a flash, however, they are very much on the limit of acceptable image quality (that’s why Digital SLRs get better image quality – they have larger sensors). Camera phones on the other hand have had to miniaturize to the point where image quality is badly affected, and the only way to get good photos from them is to use them in ideal light, or have a real xenon flash for times when lighting is poor.

    ^ Options are limited as I don’t know of any camera phones with tripod mount, and you’re generally lucky if the phone will stand on it’s side without falling over. Even on the “Photo-centric” Nokia N86 8mp you can’t stand the camera on it’s side without it falling over!