The biggest bottleneck in a modern day smartphone is its battery. Within just a few years we have gone from single core processors to quad and octa core gigahertz monsters, WVGA to full-HD displays, and 3G to 4G connectivity. However, the battery technology has been struggling to keep up. LG Optimus G, which touts latest innovation from LG Chem, has a battery rated at 3140 mAh. That’s more than double that of what Xperia X10, a handset released more than three years ago had. However, even that probably will not last a day of reasonably heavy usage. No matter which smartphone you use, your battery probably won’t last 24 hours.
Researchers around the world are attempting to come up with a battery that can meet the demands of the next-gen smartphones and other mobile devices. The good news is that a group of scientists might have made some headway in Seoul, South Korea. A team led by Prof. Hyun Taek-hwan of Seoul National University claims to have increased the capacity of a lithium-ion battery by up to three times by using a nano structure of iron oxide and manganese oxide, instead of lead, as the cathode of the battery. The new battery is also believed to be more efficient, losing only 0.5 percent its performance even after numerous recharges.
After spending a little over two months in the beta-zone, Opera for Android is now ready for prime time. The Norwegian browser maker has published the first stable version of Opera with Chromium rendering engine to the Play store.
Opera for Android is a major revamp for the popular mobile browser. Under the hood, it ditches Opera’s Presto engine in favor of Google’s Chromium rendering engine, which itself is based on WebKit. The biggest advantage of Opera for Android is that it supports Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and up. Chrome for Android on the other hand requires at least Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). This is crucial as almost 40% of Android users are still on Gingerbread. Opera also mentioned that it intends to “stay closely in sync with the Chromium development cycle, doing frequent updates”. This might indicate that Opera intends to move away from feature driven release cycles to schedule driven rapid release cycles like that of Chrome and Firefox. Google has already announced that it will be forking WebKit to create its own rendering engine called Blink, which Opera will also be adopting.
In addition to everything that Chromium 26 supports, Opera for Android also features some additional ‘standardsy goodness’ like WebGL 3D context and CSS3 @supports. Another new feature is background playback support for native HTML5 audio. You can start playing a song on Soundcloud, switch to a different tab or even a different app, and the audio will continue playing. You will be able to control the playback from the notification area.
Opera for Android also features a complete revamp of the user interface, which is now more in line with Android design guidelines. It adds a new speed dial with folder support, a discover feature with latest news and updates, a combined search and address bar, and an off road mode. Off road mode is the new name for Opera Turbo, which compresses web pages to save bandwidth and improve browsing speed on slower networks. Some of the major features that didn’t make it to this release include Opera Link (sync) integration, custom search provider support, and access to about://flags. Support for tablets like the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 is also missing.
Samsung might be notorious for overloading its Android smartphones with oodles of gimmicky features; however, in spite of the plethora of software modifications, the Korean giant is generally among the quickest to push out Android updates. LG and Sony delivered Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) to its 2012 devices only recently. HTC is still working on rolling out Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) to the One with the One X to follow later on. However, Samsung shipped the Galaxy SIV with the latest Android straight out of the gate, delivered Android 4.1 to the S II last year itself, and has been working for several months on bringing the latest version of Android to its older Galaxy SIII handset.
SamMobile has managed to get its hands on an Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean test firmware for the Galaxy S III – I9300XXUFME3. The new version doesn’t have all of the fancy new features of the SIV, many of which are expected to eventually end up on the SIII. However, it does have enough to make users happy. The new firmware has all of the official Jelly Bean goodness including lockscreen widgets, quick settings, and Daydream mode. Additionally, Samsung has added a driving mode, revamped the settings interface, improved S Voice, introduced full screen Samsung apps, and ported the SIV lockscreen with new unlock effects and the option to add custom text.
You can download the flash the firmware from here. Please keep in mind that this is a pre-release firmware.
It is hardly a secret that Samsung is absolutely killing it with its Android smartphones. However, exactly how dominant the South Korean conglomerate is might still come as a surprise to most. Strategy Analytics believes that the Android smartphone industry generated a profit of $5.3 billion during Q1 2013, out of which Samsung’s share was $5.1 billion.
Samsung managed to collect an astonishing 95% of the total Android smartphone profit during the first quarter of this year. And, this is before the Galaxy SIV was released. On the other hand, Android smartphones as a whole managed to accumulate 43% of the total profit in the smartphone segment. Besides showing Samsung’s domination in the smartphone segment, these statistics also paint a sorry picture about its rivals. Android smartphones might be a big hit, but Samsung appears to be the only one who is raking in the dough. In fact, the only other manufacturer to even make an appearance in Strategy Analytics’ list is LG with a profit share of 2.5%. The past few months have been good for LG thanks to strong performers like the Optimus G and Nexus 4. Receiving Google’s blessings to launch the flagship model for Jellybean (Android 4.2) must have also helped Samsung’s Korean rival. The remaining OEMs contribute a combined operating profit of only $0.1 billion.
While Samsung has undoubtedly played a crucial role in the success of the Android ecosystem, its dominance is sure to make Google uncomfortable. Strategy Analytics believes that Samsung generates more revenue and profit from the Android platform than Google does. With its massive market share, Samsung is in a position to wield considerable influence over the Android ecosystem. Worse still, there is the possibility that one day Samsung might become confident enough in its software prowess to ditch Google and Google apps. In fact, rumors suggest that Samsung might test the water with Tizen as soon as end of this year.
BlackBerry Messenger or BBM used be the one killer features of BlackBerry. In fact it’s still the reason why many people purchase a BlackBerry. However, thanks to the popularity of multi-platform apps like WhatsApp, Kik, and Viber, BBM no longer commands the respect it used to. WhatsApp recently reported that it has 200 million active monthly users, which is more than thrice that of BBM’s active user count. Sure, BlackBerry Messenger is a lot more secure than WhatsApp, which is frankly a security nightmare. However, this can hardly enough to sway the opinion of millions of smartphone buyers. It has long been rumoured that the struggling Canadian smartphone manufacturer will be opening up BBM. Perhaps feeling the pressure, BlackBerry has finally bit the bullet.
BlackBerry just announced at the BBLive conference that it will be launching the BBM as an independent app on Android and iPhone this “summer”. No concrete dates were given; however, Android Police is reporting that the BlackBerry Messenger will be a free download that will require at least ICS (Android 4.0). It will be initially released with support for messaging and groups with additional features including voice, screen share, and channels being added later on. BBM users will be able to setup groups and share voice notes, calendar, photos, files and more. “For BlackBerry, messaging and collaboration are inseparable from the mobile experience, and the time is definitely right for BBM to become a multi-platform mobile service”, said Andrew Bocking, Executive Vice President, Software Product Management and Ecosystem, at BlackBerry.
The latest edition of Opera’s State of the Mobile Web report is out, and this time the focus is squarely on India — Android users in India to be more specific. Android is making its presence felt in India thanks to the multitude of affordable Android smartphones, some of which available for less than $70. The availability of cheap smartphones, combined with the dearth of cheap and fast internet connection makes Indians the ideal demographic for Opera Mini, which reduces page load times as well as bandwidth consumption thanks to its compression technology. Unsurprisingly, India is home to the largest number of Opera Mini users in the world. Over the last year, Opera Mini users on smartphones in India increased by 136.6%, constituting 19% of the total Opera Mini users in India.
The most popular categories of websites in India are social networks, search, and cricket. About 21.7% of the data used by Opera Mini’s Android users in India is for Facebook, while Google used up about 5.8%, and ESPNCricinfo about 1.7%. However, Google remained the most popular website in India. Besides using Opera Mini for social networking, Indians were also searching for news and information, doing price comparison, and shopping online. Almost 50% of the top hundred domains visited by Opera Mini’s Android users belonged to these categories. The top ten websites were Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Cricbuzz, Indiatimes, Ask, Vuclip, and In.com.
When it comes to devices, the top ten list is dominated by budget handsets, with the record breaking Samsung Galaxy S III featuring as low as the 19th spot. All of the top nine handsets used by Opera Mini users were priced under Rs. 10,000 (about $186), with the Samsung Galaxy S II grabbing the tenth spot. The most popular Android smartphone among Opera Mini users were the Samsung Galaxy Y and the Samsung Galaxy U Duos. Samsung has clearly managed to corner the high volume low-end Android smartphone market. The only non-Samsung device to feature in the top ten is the HTC Explorer A310e, which is present at #8 in the list.
If the overdose of stats is putting you to sleep, here’s a neat infographic highlighting the key aspects of Opera’s report.
India is still waiting for the official launch of the Nexus 4. However, LG’s Optimus G, which is the phone on which the Google Nexus 4 is based upon, was launched in India last month. The launch went practically unnoticed, with most of the hype centered on upcoming handsets like the Samsung Galaxy SIV, Sony Xperia Z, and the HTC One. The reason for that might be that the Optimus G is actually a six month old phone, whose successor LG Optimus G Pro has already been launched in Japan and Korea. However, while the Optimus G isn’t the latest and greatest, its specifications suggest that it’s no pushover. I used it as my primary device for a week, and was pleasantly surprised by it.
Unlike the Optimus 4X, the Optimus G doesn’t feel plasticky. It’s a solidly built premium smartphone that continues with the rectangular design ethos introduced in the previous generation LG devices. When the display is off, the screen blends with the bezel and appears to be a pristine black slab which oozes a lot of oomph. Much like the Nexus 4, the Optimus G also has a Gorilla Glass 2 back, with shiny metal bits embedded below the back cover. Under light, these metal pieces light up by reflecting the light hitting them at different angles. The effect is less pronounced and less magical than in a Nexus 4, but is still cool to look at.
Of course, glass back has its own disadvantages. The Optimus G is a device that is meant to be handled with care. My SIII has suffered numerous harsh falls, but has survived largely unscathed. With the Optimus G, however, I will almost surely end up with a cracked back. In fact, the metal rim can also add to your woes. The review unit I received had slightly chipped edges, which tended to agitate my skin while talking. In fact, the glossy back doesn’t feel as secure or comfortable to hold as the Optimus 4X with matte finish did. All these weaknesses are inherent in using a glass and metal body, and are present in similarly constructed devices from competitors like Sony.
One of my major complaints with the previous generation LG handsets was accidental home button presses. It was extremely easy to accidentally press the home button while trying to press the Space key. Thankfully, LG has fixed that issue in Optimus G by adding a slight buffer space below the screen.
The Optimus G has a 4.7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 768 x 1280 pixels, which is protected by a Gorilla Glass 2 screen. I wasn’t a big fan of the previous generation LG displays, which seemed to appear washed out. Thankfully, the Optimus G marks a major step forward for LG displays. While not being as saturated as Samsung displays, color reproduction is rich and natural. In fact, when compared side by side, LG’s display seems more while remaining sharp and vibrant. Sunlight visibility and viewing angles are also good enough to be not an issue. LG’s Optimus G also boasts of something called ZeroGap touch, which reduces diffused reflection by integrating the touch sensors into the glass itself. While I am not sure exactly how much this has helped, I can state with confidence that the Optimus G’s display is definitely among the best that I have seen.
The LG Optimus G was the first phone powered by the Snapdragon quad-core S4 Pro chipset. Thanks to the powerful CPU and GPU, the phone is screaming fast. I am yet to encounter any lags or hiccups while using the Optimus G. Whether you are flinging through long lists, scrolling through your Gallery, or going on a rampage in GTA III, the Optimus G doesn’t miss a beat. The Optimus G boasts of 2 gigs of RAM and 32 gigs of internal storage. There is no provision for memory cards.
I ran a couple of synthetic benchmarks. As expected, the Optimus G fared very well. Unfortunately for the Optimus G, its lead won’t last for long, as next gen devices from Samsung, and HTC will hit India within the next couple of months.
The downside of the Snapdragon S4 Pro is that it gets hot. I mean really, really hot. Even after only surfing the web for half an hour, the phone begins to feel uncomfortably hot. And this is in spite of having a glass back, which should be cooler than an all metal back.
LG Optimus G currently runs on Android 4.1.2 Jellybean with a custom Optimus UX layer on top. LG has announced the launch of Android 4.2.2 powered Optimus G handsets in Europe; however, it’s not known when it will roll out the update to the rest of the world.
The Optimus UX is actually quite subtle and baring some unnecessary skeumorphisms (especially in buttons and icons) and brightly colored icons, it doesn’t look too bad. However, as is the case with most manufacturers, the original Android UI is still more appealing than the custom skin. In addition to retaining QuickMemo, SmartShare, and SmartWorld, that we have seen in previous LG handsets, LG has thrown in some more new goodies for Optimus G users. The major ones are: Q-Slide: Q-Slide is similar to Samsung’s Popup Play, which allows users to watch a video while working on something else. The video player floats on a screen and can be freely resized and repositioned. Q-slide, however, goes a step further, and can be overlaid on top of existing apps. You can continue watching a video full-screen, while working on other apps by simply controlling their opacity. For example, if you want to compose an email while watching a video, Q-Slide will simply make your email app translucent so that you can still see the video, while writing your email. And yes, you can still pinch to zoom into videos. Check out the video below for a demonstration.
LG has also added a Q-Slide section to the notification screen, which acts as a quick launcher for Q-slide compatible apps. These apps are Video, Internet, Memo, Calendar, and Calculator apps. This is a nice idea, but would have been truly useful, if I could add my own apps to the list, instead of being limited to the five system apps.
Quick Translator: Quick translator app can translate text from images that you capture between a number of languages. This feature was actually introduced with the Optimus L9 and wasn’t present in the Optimus 4X. The translator can translate words, lines, or blocks of sentences. The app also supports offline translation, but for that you will need to purchase dictionaries from the Play store. Smart Screen: This feature is obviously inspired by Samsung’s Smart Stay, which prevents the display from timing out when it detects that you are looking at the screen. Wise Ringtone: This is something that I haven’t seen elsewhere, is actually a very neat idea. Optimus G uses the microphone to judge if you are in a loud environment and accordingly increases your ringtone volume. Quiet Time: This is another really smart feature, which allows you to define a time range during which everything except alarms and notifications will automatically be muted. Safety Care: This is a feature that a lot of Indian users will appreciate. It allows you to define emergency contacts, and in case of an emergency, your location and other information will automatically be sent to them. You can also simply set a number, which when dialed will trigger a location alert to your selected contacts. LG also claims to automatically know when you are calling a emergency, so that it can alert your emergency contacts. However, I am not sure if it is configured to recognize Indian emergency numbers.
The Optimus UX retains its previous strongpoints, which includes easy access to frequently used power options from the notification bar, a very cool unlock animation, and massive amount of customizability. When I say massive amount of customizability, I really mean it. Everything including the lock screen, home screen, and the general UI is customizable. You can change themes, animations, font, font size, lock screen apps, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, some of the existing annoyances with the Optimus UX have also been retained. The app drawer refuses to remember your sorting preferences, and you have to reselect your sorting preference every time you install a new app. The volume control button still only gives an unified volume control options. Additionally, LG has also decided to stupidly copy the water droplet sound effect from Galaxy SIII, which makes little sense.
The Optimus G boasts of a 13 megapixel rear camera with full HD video recording support. As you might expect from such a hefty camera, the picture quality is excellent, whether you are capturing stills or videos. Details are well preserved, noise is limited in outdoor photos, and color reproduction is good. The only issue is that the focusing can be a bit finicky and sometimes requires two or three attempts to get things right. In addition to the standard burst mode, panorama, and HDR mode, there is also LG’s Time Catch shot. In this mode, the camera actually snaps pics from a few seconds before you pressed the shoot button to a few seconds after. You can later choose which picture you want to keep. This is meant to ensure that you don’t miss the shot you wanted. LG has also improved its low light capture, and now can compete with the likes of SIII comfortably. In fact, on whole, the L3 is among the best, if not the best Android shooter. For video calling there is also a 1.3 megapixel front camera, which gets the job done. One thing that’s often ignored while reviewing a smartphone is its speakers. However, the Optimus G’s speakers are actually loud enough to deserve a special mention.
Thanks to the glass back, LG had to make another compromise with the Optimus G. The rear portion is completely locked down, which means that the battery isn’t user replaceable. This isn’t something I am a big fan of. It rules out the possibility of carrying a spare battery, or even upgrading to a high performance 3rd party battery. The good news here is that the Optimus G’s battery life isn’t bad. The 2100 mAh battery lasts a day in 2G mode, and will survive for about 10-12 hours in 3G mode, which is enough to get back from your office and charge the phone. You can squeeze a couple of additional hours by enabling Eco mode for the processor, and turning on the Power Saver mode when battery is below 50%.
Connectivity options include all standard features along with Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and MHL.
The LG Optimus G is perhaps the first LG smartphone that I can term as a great phone, without any ifs and buts. It sports a blazing fast chipset, a sharp camera, brilliant display, and some nice software bells and whistles. My biggest reservation with the device is the glass back. However, judging by the growing trend of glass backs, and how well the older iPhones sold, and how much in demand the Nexus 4 is, it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t share the same concern. The non-user replaceable battery, and the lack of support for microSD are also downers, but they aren’t big enough issues to come in the way of the Optimus G achieving greatness.
The biggest problem LG India will have is that the Optimus G will be sandwiched between the best of the previous generation like the SIII and the One X, and the best of the current generation like the SIV, Xperia Z, and the One. If Optimus G had been launched in October or November, it would have simply been the most powerful phone in the market. However, by the end of this month, that will no longer be true. LG will also have to withstand the marketing blitzkrieg of Samsung and Sony. Priced at about Rs. 31,000 it’s the best phone you can buy for that price. It’s a fair bit cheaper than the similarly specced Sony Xperia Z, which is currently selling at about Rs. 35,000. However, the Xperia Z has a bigger screen, more powerful and user replaceable battery, and is water resistant. If you spend a bit more, you will soon be able to get the newest powerhouses from Samsung and HTC. On the other hand, if you compromise a bit on the performance, the SIII and other previous generation handsets are available for Rs. 27,000 or less. I hope that the Optimus G manages to carve out its own identity. It’s just too good a phone to be a failure.
A couple of days back, a small Spanish firm called Makalu Interactive launched a new location bookmarking app called Rego on the iTunes app store. Rego is a simple app which allows you to save places you have been to, along with associated notes and images. Although Rego is primarily designed to serve as your own personal journal of favorite and memorable places, it features smart social integration, which enables you to share selected places with your friends and family.
It’s not easy for a new app from a little known development firm to make it big. However, Rego has gotten off to a great start. Soon after its launch, Rego was added to the “New and Recommended” section by Apple, which undoubtedly helped the freemium app. Rego requires a $0.99 in-app purchase to remove the 10 places and 1 photo filter limitation present in the free version. However, the app has gone viral in Brazil, largely due to an unfortunate co-incidence. I’ll let Malaku’s director Matt Henderson explain exactly why it went viral.
Rego in Portuguese means ‘butt crack’. With that bit of info in mind, Rego’s app description makes for a hilarious read. Here’s a sampler — “Rego’s private. Nobody sees what you add to Rego.” No wonder then that Gizmodo Brazil had a field day with it’s “not hands-on” review of Rego. To its credit, Makalu intends to capitalize on its unexpected popularity in Brazil by releasing a Portuguese translation of its location bookmarking app soon.
The jury is still out on the BlackBerry 10; however, the struggling Canadian phone manufacturer is making good strides in filling up its app store. The BlackBerry World now has more than 100,000 apps, with 30,000 new apps being added over the past seven weeks.
“The response to the BlackBerry 10 platform and applications has been outstanding. Customers are thrilled with the applications already available, and the catalog just keeps growing, now with more than 100,000 apps,” said Martyn Mallick, Vice President, Global Alliances at BlackBerry. “Top brands and application providers are joining us every day and are seeing the benefits of being early supporters of the new platform. We constantly hear from developers that the BlackBerry 10 tools are easy to build with and that we provide opportunities for app differentiation that they do not see on other platforms.”
The good news for BlackBerry is that it has managed to persuade some of the most popular mobile app developers to develop apps for its new operating system. Some of the big names that BlackBerry is touting are 8tracks, Angry Birds Star Wars, ATP World Tour Live, BBC Top Gear News, Bloomberg Anywhere, CBS Sports, Delta Air Lines, F1 2013 Timing App CP, Facebook, Foursquare, Jetpack Joyride, Keek, LinkedIn, Navita Translator, Need for Speed, NHL GameCenter, N.O.V.A. 3, The New York Times, PressReader, Slacker, Songza, Twitter, UFC, USA TODAY, Waze, WhatsApp, and Zara. Apps from Amazon Kindle, OpenTable and The Wall Street Journal will launch today, while apps from CNN, The Daily Show Headlines, eBay, eMusic, Maxim, MLB at Bat, MTV News, Pageonce, PGA, Rdio, Skype, Soundhound and Viber will be added in the coming weeks.
Having a vibrant and rich app store is critical for the success of any platform. BlackBerry seems to have gotten off to a good start. However, BlackBerry World still has a long way to go before it can even think of competing with Android and iOS app stores. While reaching the hundred thousand mark even before launching in several key markets is impressive, it’s worth keeping in mind that a significant chunk of the 100,000 apps are Android ports created using the BlackBerry Packager. These apps are generally fully functional, but they don’t leverage the unique strengths of the new BB 10 platform, and feel out of place visually.
Just a day after we learnt that Google Now is making its way to the Chrome browser and OS, Engadget is reporting that Google is also working on porting its Siri challenger to the iOS. Apparently, a short promo video featuring Google Now for iOS appeared yesterday on YouTube. The clip was quickly pulled down, but not before several enterprising viewers managed to save a copy. Here’s one of the many such copies currently available on YouTube.
While we can not vouch for the veracity of the video, it does look pretty convincing. Even the voice actor seems to be the same as the original Google Now announcement video. Due to restrictions imposed by Apple, Google will not be able to integrate its personal assistant into the system in a manner Siri is on the iOS. Instead, Google Now will live inside the Google Search app, which already features voice recognition. A quick swipe up from the main screen will bring up the Google Now interface.
The big question is how many iOS users, who already have the charming and cute Siri, will find a need for Google Now. Google’s personal assistant app does have its own set of advantages including the ability to offer neat nuggets of information pre-emptively through several pre-defined cards. It might also be compatible with a wider range of iOS devices than Siri, which only supports iOS 5 and later. However, Google will not be able to offer the deep system level integration that Siri features. That being said, there is clearly a segment of iPhone users that want Google Now, as evident from the popularity of the NowNow mod for jailbroken iPhones.