Indian handset player, Karbonn has launched a new range of budget Android smartphones starting at ₹2,699 to be available exclusively on Flipkart. Continue reading Karbonn Launches World’s Most Affordable Android Smartphones; Another Flipkart Exclusive
Last week, Flipkart stepped into the electronics market with the launch of its own tablet – the Digiflip Pro XT712. Much like the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Digiflip will serve as a vehicle to increase customer engagement with various Flipkart products. However, unlike the Kindle, Digiflip doesn’t quite put Flipkart left, right, and center. Instead, it offers an almost pure stock Android experience with a couple of bundled Flipkart apps. But, before getting into the details of the software, let’s take a closer look the hardware.
Unboxing the Digiflip
The packaging is neat and functional. Lifting the thermocol seat that comfortably houses the Digiflip, reveals the accessories compartment. Included in the package are a power adaptor (along with an USB cable), an in-ear earphone, an earphone converter, a manual, and a soft wipe. I also ordered the book case, which was available at 50% discount.
Appearance and Display
The Digiflip is sturdily built, and feels solid and reassuring. There’s no metal here, but the polycarbonate body manages to avoid the cheap plasticky feeling. The power button and volume controls are on the top left, but there is no physical camera button. The 3.5 mm earphone jack is on the top, while the micro-USB port is at the bottom. The speaker grill is just beneath the front camera.
The Digiflip Pro sports a 7’’ IPS display with a resolution of resolution of 1280 X 800, which amounts to a 216 ppi pixel-density. If you look closely, you can spot the pixels, and outdoor visibility is just about decent. However, considering the price range, the display is actually quite decent, with good contrast and viewing angles.
Perhaps the weakest point of the Digiflip Pro is the hardware powering the tablet. It uses the low-end MediaTek MT8382 chipset, which houses a 1.3 GHZ Quad Core CPU. GeekBench3 benchmark suggests that the CPU is on par with flagships from a couple of years back. The GPU is Mali 400 MP2 clocked at 500 MHz This is even weaker than the CPU, and is comparable to GPUs that Android flagships like the Galaxy SII were using as far back as 2011. Quite obviously, with such an outdated hardware, the Digiflip Pro doesn’t fare very well in synthetic benchmarks.
Synthetic benchmarks aside, the Digiflip performs quite well for regular day to day tasks. Web browsing experience is smooth, as is watching videos on YouTube. It handles casual games like EA Golf and Score! With ease, but if you’re planning on playing more heavy duty games, this is not the tablet for you.
The Digiflip features a 5 megapixel rear camera with flash and autofocus that’s capable of recording videos at 1080p. The front camera is takes snaps at 2 megapixels. On paper all of these specs sound decent enough, but specs can be deceiving. There’s no way to sugar coat this. The Digiflip camera is bad. Both the front and the back camera fail to take a decent picture in any lighting. Using the flash over exposes the picture to the point of hiding any detail in the image. Here are a few sample images captured with the rear camera.
Flipkart uses MxPlayer, which is a great decision, given that it’s one of the most versatile players available in the market. MxPlayer managed to play back any video I threw at it, and had no issues in with playing back 720p HD videos, even with software renderer. 1080p videos, however, proved to be too much to handle for the software renderer (none of the formats I had worked with hardware renderer).
The stereo speaker won’t impress anyone with its loudness or quality, but it gets the job done. And, thankfully, it’s front-facing, which means most of the time (but not always) it’s loud enough to be audible. As I mentioned earlier, the Digiflip accessories bundle also includes an earphone adaptor. The reason behind this is that the Digiflip uses OMTP standard, which pretty much everyone else has abandoned. If you want to use your Apple devices compatible existing earphone on the Digiflip or the Digiflip earphone on other new electronic devices, you’ll need to use the bundled CTIA-OMTP converter. As far as the earphone itself is concerned, it’s not very good. But, even using a different pair will only help improve sound quality marginally, as Digiflip’s audio processor itself seems to produce a lot of noise.
Connectivity options include dual-SIM 3G HSPA+, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and USB OTG. There’s no NFC. The battery is not removable and is rated at 3000 mAh battery with a talk time of around 8 hours. Digiflip ships with 16 gigs of internal storage (out of which about 12 gigs is available to the user), and supports micro SD cards up to 32 GB.
The Digiflip runs an almost stock Android 4.2.2 (Jellybean). While I’m glad that Flipkart chose to provide a near stock experience, it’s disappointing that the version of Android that Digiflip is shipping with is over sixteen months old. Given that there are no custom modifications to handle, I don’t understand why the Digiflip couldn’t ship with KitKat. What’s worrying is that Flipkart hasn’t even committed to shipping KitKat or newer builds.
While Flipkart hasn’t modified the core Android experience, the Digiflip comes bundled with Flipkart shopping and eBook apps, which aren’t removable. The eBook app comes bundled with a dozen eBooks work Rs. 2, 300, while the shopping app includes various coupons with a cumulative discount of Rs. 5000. Each coupon can only be used once, and is valid until the end of the year.
The Digiflip is a rather well rounded tablet, whose main draw is obviously the low price point (Rs. 9,999). The added goodies thrown in by Flipkart (including a Platronics Bluetooth headset) sweeten the deal further. The weakest link of the Digiflip is its low-end chipset, which makes it unsuitable for heavy duty tasks. The camera output is also disappointing. However, the near stock Android helps the tablet to remain snappy and it’s well suited as a media consumption device. The Digiflip is all about making the right compromises. It doesn’t have any killer features to set it apart from the crowd. However, there’ also no Achilles’ heels. For a budget tablet, that can often prove to be enough.
The first day of the 2014 edition of Google I/O was jam packed with new product and feature announcements. Some had leaked in advance, many were expected, while the rest took everyone by surprise. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the conference, here’s a round-up of everything (well, almost everything) announced by Google.
Android L Release
The big news was of course new edition of Android. Google referred to the next-gen Android as simply the ‘L release’. The L release will be available to the general public in the fall of 2014; however, for the first time ever, Google will be providing a developer preview, which is expected to be released later today.
The L release will sport a massive design overhaul as a part of Google’s new cross-platform design principle called Material design. Material design, which will be used across Google properties, including Android and Chrome OS, builds on top of the flat design trend by adding a sense of depth and lighting, beautiful typography, and intelligent animations that enable seamless transition between content. Material design is vibrant, fresh and cheery without appearing to be immature. Based on the demos shown by Google, Material design feels like a brilliant evolution of a lot of concepts introduced by Microsoft’s Metro design language.
The L release’s enhancements aren’t just skin deep though. In fact, Google is throwing out the Dalvik Virtual Machine and replacing it with the Android Run Time (ART). ART is already present in KitKat devices as an optional alternative; however, in the L release, ART will be completely replacing Dalvik. ART uses various optimizations (including Ahead of Time code compilation, enhanced garbage collection, and 64 bit support) to offer significant performance benefits. Google is also working with hardware manufacturers on Android Extension Pack, which will enable game developers to provide console quality graphics on mobile devices.
The L release also shines the spotlight on one of the major weak points of modern day smartphones – battery life. The next edition of Android should be able to last longer thanks to Project Volta. Besides introducing a Battery Saver mode, which will be disabling battery intensive services and throttling the CPU, Google has worked on enhanced data collection and better resource utilization.
There are numerous other enhancements in the next edition of Android, including more useful notifications, easier ways to authenticate and unlock your phone, and better multi-tasking.
Android One is a set of reference hardware that Google will be creating for smartphone manufacturers. Google is hoping that Android One will enable its partners to quickly create high quality Android phones at a low price point. The Android One initiative will begin in India, with Micromax, Karbonn, and Spice as the OEM partners. Android One phones will ship with stock OS, but Google will allow automatic download of OEM apps (Play auto-install). To put it simply, Android One is Google’s Nexus program re-imagined for the emerging markets. These low-end devices are expected to cost less than a hundred dollars.
Earlier in the summer, Google had offered a sneak peek of Android Wear, its new operating system for wearables. At the Google IO, it released the Android Wear SDK, announced the first devices from its hardware partners, and gave a more detailed look at how Android Wear will work. For apps on your smartphone that support Android Wear, the Wear part of the app will automatically be installed and updated on your watch. This is a major improvement over other wearable operating systems as it avoids the hassle of having to install an app on the tiny watch, and then to go back and install the parent app on the phone. Android Wear will continuously stay in sync with your mobile phone, and will be leveraging voice controls and Google now to make your life simpler.
The first two Android Wear devices to launch are the LG G Watch, and the Samsung Gear Live. Both of them currently available on the play store for $229 and $199 respectively. Motorola’s gorgeous Moto360 will be available later this summer.
As the name suggests, this is Android for cars. The focus with Android auto is on simplified navigation and voice controls. As soon as you plug in your phone in the car, your Android installation is projected on the car’s infotainment system. You can control the OS with your voice as well as by using the controls provided in the car. The focus points of Android Auto are navigation, music, and communication. However, Google will be providing an Android Auto SDK, which will enable developers to extend the experience. Launch partners for Android Auto include Audi and Honda.
In a move which surprised absolutely no one, Google also announced Android TV. Television sets are quite often the biggest displays in a household, and Google quite obviously wants to be on them. Android TV features a smart homescreen that acts as your content hub. It features a recommendation screen that’s tuned to your watching habits, apps, and games. Android users will be able to cast multimedia content on their TV, just like you’d be able to do with Chromecast. Gaming is also one of the focus areas of Android TV, with support for multi-player experience between smartphone/tablet users and TV users.
Chromecast, which was the unexpected hit of last year, also got its fair share of improvements. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to be on the same network to be able to cast to your TV. You’ll also be able to cast exactly what’s on your Android tablet or smartphone screen (device mirroring) on your TV. There’s also a new Backdrop feature which will allow you to play a slideshow of pictures from your personal gallery as well as Google curated content. Using your TV to play slideshows while no one is paying attention seems to be a massive waste of energy to me, but I guess there must be takers for this. Google also announced the launch of a new website as well as a separate category in the Play Store for Chromecast apps.
Thanks to updates in the Chrome OS, your Chromebook will now be a lot more in sync with your phone. You’ll be able to unlock your Chromebook automatically if your phone is around. Incoming phone calls and text messages will show on your Chromebook. You’ll get notified when your phone’s battery is low. And finally, you can even run Android apps on your Chromebook. This feature is a work in progress, and might take some time to arrive. However, with all of Android’s powerful apps and games, Chromebooks will suddenly become a lot more useful.
This could have easily been an April fool’s day joke, but it is not. In fact, it’s possibly the weirdest and product on display at Google IO. Google gave away a Cardboard to every attendee. And this, is what I mean by Cardboard.
Once you assemble the device, all you need to do is pop in your phone, and launch the Cardboard app. You’ll have a low-tech, but apparently awesome Virtual Reality headset with head tracking (powered by your phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope). The only button on the device is in the form of a metallic ring that you can flick to select items on the screen.
Some of the other stuff that were announced yesterday include:
Google Fit: A fitness platform with a multi-OS API that aims to aggregate a user’s fitness data.
Google Play: Play Games will get Quests and a Saved Game section, while Play Store will be get carrier billing option for user purchases.
Google Cloud: Google announced several enhancements to its Cloud infrastructure which is leveraged by several popular apps and services. A new suite of tools – Cloud Save, Cloud Debugger, Cloud Trace, and Cloud Monitoring – were introduced.
Google Docs: Google’s online suite of productivity apps will now be able to open, edit, and save Office files including Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets, and PowerPoint Presentations.
Android for Work: Google will be building on the work done by Samsung on Knox to offer a secure environment for enterprise that’ll be separated from your personal data and apps. Drive for work will offer an unlimited storage option for just $10 per user per month.
Opera web browsers have long had the ability to speed up web surfing and conserve bandwidth by compressing web traffic. Opera Mini compresses all web traffic and serves a static representation of the web page, while Opera for Desktop and Android have an ‘Off-Road’ (previously Turbo) mode that can be enabled to turn on data compression. However, Android users can enjoy the same benefits without being tied down to Opera browser thanks to Opera Max.
Opera Max acts as a VPN, which reroutes all unencrypted traffic through its servers, where the data is first compressed and then sent to your Android smartphone. Opera Max is also the first product from the Norwegian browser developer to leverage SkyFire’s Rocket Optimizer technology. Opera had acquired SkyFire Labs in early 2013 for $155 million. Rocket Optimizer can compress nearly every streaming video, including YouTube videos, to realize data savings up to 60%. Additionally, Opera Max also compresses standard web traffic including text and images.
Getting started with Opera Max is pretty simple. After you download the app, you’ll be prompted to grant it permission to act as a VPN. There’s no configuration required beyond this. Opera Max will stay in the background and compress data used by various apps. It can’t compress everything. For example, streaming music as well as encrupted traffic aren’t compressed. However, you should be able to realize about 10% data savings during normal web surfing, and a lot more during video playback. It automatically disables itself when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Opera Max also acts as a pretty neat bandwidth monitor that gives you daily and monthly breakdowns of network bandwidth usage. You can select a app to view its history of data usage, and even prevent that app from using mobile data.
Opera Max is free to use, but it also has a Recharge tab. There isn’t much you can do other there, other than tapping a button to recharge Opera Max for free every seven days. Presumably, the recharge tab is there because Opera intends to switch to a freemium model later on.
Most people with smartphones are tied down by meagre data packs that are often not bigger than 1 GB. Even if Opera Max manages to save only a hundred megabytes per month, that will enable users to get several extra days’ worth of usage from their data packs. How useful Opera Max proves to be will depend on your internet usage habits. People who mainly use mobile data for streaming music on the go, won’t be able to realize significant benefits. However, if you watch a lot of videos or surf a lot, you might end up with significant savings. Over the past week, I’ve consumed 450 MB of data, out of which, more than 300 MB was file downloads and Spotify streaming that Opera can’t compress. For the remaining 150 MB of bandwidth usage, Opera managed to save 19 MB of data usage.
Gionee Smartphones has announced the availability of Gionee Pioneer P2S in India. The colorful and stylish Android smartphone is available at an MOP of ₹6,499. Continue reading Gionee Launches its Budget Android Smartphone, Pioneer P2S, in India
In a press conference in New Delhi today, Alcatel One Touch unveiled the IDOL X+ to be available exclusively on Flipkart.com, India’s largest e-commerce marketplace. Continue reading Alcatel One Touch launches Idol X+ in India at ₹16,999; Packs quite a Punch
Philips Mobile today announced its foray into the Indian mobile market with its new range of smartphones W6610, W3500, S308, and a feature phone E130. Continue reading Philips Mobile Forays into the Indian Mobile Market again with Four New Phones
LG Mobile has officially unveiled its latest flagship, the LG G3. Due to the flood of leaks in the days leading up to the official unveiling event held in London, there were very few surprises. However, the star of the night still left an impression. LG has come a long way over the past few years. The recent Nexus devices manufactured by LG have received rave reviews, and the G2 and other recent launches did well enough to push LG into the #3 spot (behind Samsung and Apple) in the world of cell phones.
The LG G3 has a lot riding on its back, and based on what we saw tonight, LG might have another hit on its hands. With the G3, LG has rectified its mistakes and enhanced its strengths. Here are five reasons, why the G3 might turn out to be the best Android smartphone of the season.
The G3 features a 5.5’’ screen with a whopping QHD resolution (2560 x 1440 pixels). This amounts to a pixel density of 538 ppi, which is way ahead of anything its competition can offer. In order to ensure that the QHD display doesn’t kill the battery, the G3 dynamically throttles frame rates in addition to throttling the CPU. However, the big question is how much 4K content will become available in the coming months, as right now none of the non-stock apps are designed to take advantage of the super high resolution display.
The G3 uses faux metal (“light-weight metallic skin” is the term being used by LG) for it’s latest flagship, which might not be as premium as the Xperia Z2 or the One M8, but is still better than the G2 and the Galaxy S5. This isn’t the only improvement in the G2’s design. The LG G2 was smaller than the Xperia Z1, in spite of having a bigger display due to the edge-to-edge display. With the G3, LG has managed to trim the bezels even further. The G3 is a big phone, but it’s not much bigger than the other flagships. The G3 (5.5’’ display) measures in at 146.3 x 74.6 x 8.9 mm compared to the Xperia Z2’s 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm (5.2’’ display) and HTC One M8’s 146.4 x 70.6 x 9.4 mm (5.0’’ display). LG has also retained the smart ergonomic choices it had made with the LG G2, such as having the power on and volume buttons at the bottom of the phone, instead of at the edges, which can be tough to reach.
The LG G3 sports a 13 megapixel camera with Optical image stabilization, and dual LED flash. Going by LG’s previous releases, the camera should be a very competent shooter, with good low-light capabilities. The dual-LED flash with BSI sensor promises a sharper image and a more natural color pattern. However, the real innovation in the camera department is the inclusion of LaserAF. LG is promising almost instantaneous autofocus with LaserAF. The camera interface has also been greatly simplified, and taking awesome selfies is now simpler than ever before.
Somewhat disappointingly LG has shied away from implementing front-speakers. This is possibly a compromise the Korean giant was forced to make to avoid making the phone even. However, LG has added a 1 Watt speaker with an AMP, which it being claimed to be powerful enough to produce deep bass and clear trebles.
The LG G3 is powered by the Snapdragon 801 chipset, which has a Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330 GPU. The battery is as powerful as it was in the G2 (3000 mAh), but is now removable. The only weak spot is the 2 GB RAM in the 16 GB edition (the 32 GB model has 3 GB RAM).
Besides the aforementioned hardware enhancements, the G3 also boasts of numerous software enhancements. Instead of adding more gimmicks, LG has trimmed a lot of fat from the software. It promises to have removed all unnecessary visual elements. Security has been enhanced through Content Lock (personal data encryption) and Kill Switch (remotely disable phone). Knock Code from the G2 Pro, which enables you to directly unlock your phone by tapping on the screen in a predefined pattern, has also been retained.
On May 20, Microsoft officials announced the latest entry in the family of Surface devices, the Surface Pro 3. This device is a larger form with many updates to the existing pro device, the Surface Pro 2, and comes only eight months since the launch of the Surface Pro 2. So now, Microsoft has launched three generations of Surface in the span of less than two years, being incredible for a company which only recently pivoted to devices and services from software.
The launch of Surface Pro 3 however raised several questions: why isn’t there a Surface 3 (the ARM-based version) to complement the Surface Pro 3? Why also, didn’t the much-rumored Surface Mini launch alongside the Surface Pro 3? What is the goal of these Surface devices, according to Microsoft?
Where is Windows RT?
The first two questions have a common thread, and that is Windows RT. The ARM-based version of Windows has had very little success both from OEM adoption as well as sales perspectives. OEMs have slowly been pulling out of making such devices, and with Nokia’s devices group now a part of Microsoft, Microsoft is the only company that makes Windows RT devices. The operating systems group at Microsoft is undergoing some level of consolidation and transformation, and there is a possibility of some fundamental changes coming to the Windows RT OS as it merges with Windows Phone OS. It would be somewhat silly to offer a Windows RT device that may need some major updates in a few months when the operating system makes potentially big underlying changes. Also, let’s not forget that Nokia also makes a Windows RT device (Lumia 2520) which may now become a contender to be the only Windows RT device Microsoft produces. Hence, the lack of ARM-based Surface at this point in time.
No room for Surface Mini
Surface Mini on the other hand, has a bigger issue. The rumors were that it would be an 8” device and regardless of whether it was going to be an Intel-based device or an ARM-based device, it would really offer no differentiation from the several other 8” Windows devices in the market today. All of the existing devices are Intel-based and as a result, are able to run old Windows desktop programs just fine. Most of these existing devices are also priced at the very low end and as a result, Microsoft would have to start competing on the low end which I am not sure they want to do. There are also rumors that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the new devices chief Stephen Elop decided to remove that device from the announcement for precisely that reason – it offered no differentiation from whatever else is out there in the market. If that is in fact the case, I commend them for doing so since it is not easy to change directions this way and at the last moment.
Who is the Surface for? What does Surface mean for Microsoft?
That brings us to the last question – what is the role of Surface devices? Microsoft executives have constantly said that Surface is not meant to compete with the OEMs but instead be a reference design for OEMs. However, the huge write-off Microsoft took at the end of the past fiscal year related to excess inventory of the original Surface shows that at least someone at Microsoft expected to sell these devices in larger volumes.
The Surface Pro 3 is indeed unlike anything else in the market today, both from a Windows devices perspective as well as the competition’s devices. There are Android tablets of all shapes and sizes that are selling quite well, but they are limited to a maximum of 10” form factor, and while there have been rumors of an “iPad Pro” sporting a larger display than the current iPad, those have been simply rumors. At the launch event, Microsoft made the point that the Surface Pro 3 is aimed squarely at the laptop user (there were a *lot* of MacBook Air comparisons) rather than the tablet user. The viewpoint they provided was that most of the iPad customers also have or buy a laptop, so why not make a device that can do both the tasks well? The Surface Pro 3 specifications are obviously more “computer”-like than “tablet”-like, starting with the processor which is not an Atom variant but in fact, it is a Core processor. At the same time, it is so much lighter than a laptop – even MacBook Air that they compared to at the event – that you could see yourself using it as a tablet every so often.
The Surface Pro 3 pricing is in line with a mid- to high-end laptop, depending on the configuration you choose. You could get the entry-level model with a Core i3 processor and 64GB storage for $799 and the highest-end model with a Core i7 processor and 512GB storage for $1,949. Both the ends of that spectrum are higher than the average for a Windows laptop with similar specifications.
Another example to understand where Microsoft is going with this family of devices is the included (and completely re-done) pen. There is a deep integration built into the pen which enables the customer to launch OneNote even when the screen is locked. The OneNote emphasis shows not just the integration aspects but also the intended, or expected, use of the device.
The screen at an excellent 2160×1440 resolution, the aspect ratio which is a much better 3:2 than 16:9, the higher power processor and the pricing all point to a realization at Microsoft that it is better to compete with the laptop than with the iPad. Think creative professionals like artists, medical professionals, or the “information worker” in corporations. Think students on a budget, who have the funds to buy only one device which needs to be their television, book reader as well as productivity tool. These are the customers Microsoft seems to be aiming at with their Surface Pro devices now.
So Microsoft is clearly going for the laptop user and giving that user the choice of using that device as a tablet. They know that the OEMs are able to compete at the low-end, especially with the recent announcement of making Windows free for 9” and lower screens. Knowing that Apple has consistently outsold Windows in the PC sales for the past several years, it makes sense for Microsoft to address the high margin area so they don’t have to sell extremely large volumes in order to justify the business.
I still expect Microsoft to release the mini tablet, and there are multiple possibilities there too: a productivity mini tablet which would have the upcoming touch version of Office (codename Gemini); a larger phablet-style device like the Lumia 1520 and of course, a gaming-oriented mini tablet with some type of Xbox brand and tie-in. All of those have dependencies that need to be addressed before these products can come to market in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.
There is an empirical truth to Microsoft products: by version 3, they perfect the product. Surface Pro 3 surely looks like a “perfect” product, we will see if the market agrees with Microsoft or not. The Surface business has steadily grown in volume and with Windows 8.1, Microsoft may have enough to get CIOs interested in upgrading to Windows 8.1. If so, there is a large-sized market opportunity that is for Microsoft to dominate, given their past relationships and reputation in the enterprise. If that happens, it may create the virtuous cycle that Microsoft has been able to create in the past with Windows and even now with Office. Many will use these devices in school and workplace and would like to continue that experience at home.
Microsoft certainly seems to demonstrate that it is in the devices market for the long run. Naturally, mastering manufacturing cannot happen overnight. It is now up to the customers to decide if all of that is worth it, by speaking with their wallets.
Are you interested in the Surface Pro 3? Were you disappointed by the absence of the Surface Mini? Sound off in the comments below.
(All images and the video, courtesy Microsoft’s official websites)