LATEST SMARTPHONE, TABLET AND APP REVIEWS
Coming soon from Google
LG G4 - is this the best new
phone of 2015?
t's that time of year again when Google lets us
know exactly what it's got in store for Android.
Google I/O was scheduled to run just after we
went to press with this issue, and on the following
pages we examine exactly what we should expect.
It's more than likely we'll get a first glimpse at the
forthcoming Android M OS (page 15), and although
it may be too early for I/O we're already hearing
rumours of a new Nexus phone for 2015 (page 9).
But as well as looking at what's to come, we're
celebrating what we've already got. We had big
hopes for the finally announced LG G4, but is it
another flagship killer? Find out on page 58.
When you're at home you probably switch to
a Wi-Fi- rather than mobile connection for getting
online on your Android phone or tablet. It really bugs
us that in order to get Wi-Fi we also have to pay for a
phone line we never use. But do we? We investigate
the alternatives to ADSL on page 26.
If you are using a mobile connection, and
particularly a 4G connection, you might be
wondering about those advertised high speeds.
It's fast, sure, but there's an important difference
between 4G and LTE. If you're not getting the
speeds you expect we explain why not on page 39.
As always, we hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of
Android Advisor. Feel free to send us your feedback
via facebook.com/AndroidAdvisorUK or email
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What to expect
Google's annual conference runs at the end of May.
What will the Android maker bring to the table in 2015?
oogle I/O will be held at Moscone West
Convention Center in San Francisco from
28- to 29 May. We take a look at what to
expect from Google in 2015 including Android M,
Google Glass 2.0, Project Ara and more.
One of the most obvious things to expect this year
from Google is a new version of Android. Following
the alphabetical list of sweet deserts, this version will
begin with the letter M (place your bets for the name
now). Don't be expecting a big new version, though:
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Android M is likely to be 5.1 and bring along new
features and tweaks. After all, 5.0 Lollipop was the
big overhaul with the Material Design.
As to when Android M will arrive is unclear, but
it's likely to be during the summer and in the second
half of the year. The first time we're likely to hear
about it from Google is at Google I/O.
Google Glass 2.0
Whether or not you think Google Glass is a passing
fad, we could well see a new version this year.
Google closed the Explorer Program on 19 January
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so you can no longer purchase the Explorer Edition,
but that's not the end of the wearable gadget.
Google has confirmed that it is "continuing to build
for the future, and you’ll start to see future versions
of Glass when they’re ready". According to the Wall
Street Journal, we'll see a new version this year that
will use an Intel chip. And at Google I/O we could get
some more details.
Google Glass was first introduced at Google I/O,
so this year's conference seems like the perfect time
and place to unveil the new version – even if it is in a
prototype stage of development.
A grey area is Android Silver, which is Google's
supposed scheme for creating Android devices
under a set of requirements, a bit like Ultrabooks.
This would mean any manufacturing partner to make
a smartphone or tablet within the rules would get the
Android Silver branding. Google has not confirmed
plans for this and recent reports claim it's been
scrapped due to a lack of interest from partners.
It's also unclear whether Android Silver will
replace the Nexus range of devices. That Google will
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continue with Nexus is more likely, and as we'll see
on page 9 we're expecting to see at least one new
Nexus phone (and likely a tablet or phablet) this year.
One thing we can definitely expect for 2015 is
Project Ara, Google's modular smartphone concept.
It will allow you to upgrade individual parts of the
phone such as the camera or processor in a plugand-play fashion. There is some competition in this
area, but eyes are on Google to lead the way.
"Project Ara is a development effort, not an official
Google product. Consequently, we don’t have a
market launch date. However, we’re working toward
a limited market pilot in 2015," said Google on its
website for the project.
Android TV and Android Auto
Google spent some of its 2014 I/O conference
talking about Android TV and Android Auto, versions
of the OS for the living room and the car. We expect
to see the firm push on with these in 2015 as
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Android TV replaces the failed Google TV. Sets from
Sony, Sharp and Philips will come with Android TV
this year. We expect to see some set-top boxes, too.
It might take a little longer to see Android Auto
integration, as this is still a new area for this kind
of tech. However, big strides are set to take place
in 2015. For example, we saw Parrot announce the
RNB6 at CES, which is both Android Auto- and Apple
CarPlay ready – it's due to launch later this year.
For a while it seemed as though Google would
introduce an update to the Android Wear OS for
smartwatches at I/O 2015, but it didn't wait for May
and instead got out its update out there around the
time of the rival Apple Watch launch. The 'Diamond'
update brings various new features, including Wi-Fi
support, new gestures and emojis.
That news doesn't mean we won't hear about
Android Wear at Google I/O 2015, though. It's likely
we'll hear about what the firm plans to do next and
we could even see new devices at the conference.
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We're hoping Google will launch its own Nexusbranded smartwatch.
Child-friendly products and services
According to a report by USA Today, Google is
looking to launch child-friendly versions of its
products and services this year. We're talking kids
aged 12 and under. This should mean new versions
of Chrome and YouTube at least.
"The big motivator inside the company is
everyone is having kids, so there's a push to change
our products to be fun and safe for children," said
Pavni Diwanji, vice president of engineering.
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NEW NEXUS PHONE:
Google's plans for 2015
Nexus fans not so keen on phablets will be pleased to
learn talk of a new Nexus phone is of a Nexus 5!
oogle unveils a new Nexus phone every
year, and a 2015 Nexus phone is already
in the works. But with the names Nexus 4,
Nexus 5, Nexus 6 and Nexus 7 already in use, what
exactly will we get in 2015? We examine the rumours
surrounding what should be the new Nexus 5 2015.
In October 2014 Google announced its Nexus 6
phone. It was expected to go on sale in November,
but it was actually getting on for Christmas before
stock was available.
People were desperate to get their hands on
the new Nexus 6, despite the fact it was possibly
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Google's most unexciting phone launched yet. Sure,
it had the brand-new Lollipop OS and some powerful
hardware inside, but for many customers the 5.96in
Quad HD display was simply too big, while the £499
price no longer offered such brilliant value as did the
previous Nexus 5 and Nexus 4.
Google noticed the difference in its Q1 2015
earnings call, too. While takings were up 23 percent
YOY from Google Play, revenue was down 3 percent
compared to the previous quarter, and the Nexus 6
hadn't been nearly as successful as previous Nexus
devices. It's possible that the 2014 Google phone
was simply priced too high to garner the same kind
of mass appeal as did the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5.
And those phones really were killer Google
phones, with the Nexus 4 announced in 2012 with
an unbelieveably low SIM-free price of £239, and
in October 2013 the Nexus 5 followed that tradition
with unrivalled value for money at £299.
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That's the Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and Nexus 6
covered. Meanwhile, the Nexus 7, which was last
refreshed way back in 2013, is still one of the bestvalue 7in tablets around (the Nexus 9 and Nexus
10 are larger tablets). Google no longer officially
stocks the Nexus 7, but you can still get your hands
on one online, and for not much more than £100.
Early rumours suggest Google is
in talks with both LG and Huawei for its
new Nexus phone
What will the new Nexus phone be called?
With only the Nexus 8 model name going spare,
Google's either going to have to start refreshing its
existing product lines, adding the year as it did with
the second-gen Nexus 7, or go down the Apple route
with the addition of an 'S'. Perhaps in 2015 we'll get a
new Nexus 5s, or a new Nexus 6s.
…Or both. Since early rumours circulating on the
web suggest Google is in talks with both LG and
Huawei for its new Nexus phone (which LG has now
confirmed, saying the new Nexus phone is "under
consideration at LG"). It's possible that we'll see both
a new phone and a new tablet, or maybe
a new phone and a new phablet, with LG making
one device and Huawei the other.
LG, of course, made the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5,
while Motorola made the Nexus 6, Asus made the
Nexus 7, HTC made the Nexus 9 and Samsung the
Nexus 10. Huawei, meanwhile, has just launched
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a very interesting, very good-value phablet in the
Huawei P8 max, alongside its flagship Huawei
P8. It's possible, then, that we'll see a new Nexus
5 2015 from LG and a new Nexus 6 2015 from
Huawei, although most sources online suggest there
will simply be a new Nexus 5, and it's up in the air
whether LG or Huawei will make it.
Google might return to its previous tack:
high-end devices with mid-range prices
When is the new Nexus 5 coming out?
Google I/O 2015 will be held at the end of May
2015, and it's then that we'll get our first glimpse of
Android M, the OS that will run on the new Nexus
phone(s). Following tradition, though, the new Nexus
phone(s) won't be unveiled until later in the year, and
most likely October, alongside the final version of the
new Android OS. We expect Google would like to
get the new Nexus device(s) on sale in November.
In terms of pricing, until we know the exact
specification, we can merely speculate. The Nexus
line is known for its value, and we really can't see
Google taking prices any higher than its £499 Nexus
6. Much more likely, given the findings of its Q1 2015
earnings call, is that it will return to its previous tack:
high-end devices with mid-range prices.
The fact it's in talks with Huawei is very
interesting. Huawei is a Chinese manufacturer that
makes devices with specs to rival the big brands
such as Apple and Samsung, but at significantly
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lower prices. It's one of the better-known Chinese
phone makers in the UK, and in the first quarter of
this year in China itself it was second only to Xiaomi
in terms of market share. Both are more popular over
there than Apple and Samsung, with Xiaomi taking
14 percent of the market and Huawei 11 percent,
according to IHS Technology.
If Huawei is to build the next Nexus phone, we
could see the price fall right back down to around
£300- to £350. However, if Huawei is in charge,
we're really hoping availability won't become an
issue once again: the P8 and P8 max should have
gone on sale in the UK on 15 April, but in early May
were still impossible to find on sale.
What to expect from the new Nexus 5
Concept images of a new Nexus 5 2015 have been
posted on Google+ by designer Miqdad Halim.
These feature both an LG Nexus 5 2015 and a
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Samsung Nexus 5 2015. Halim lists some specs
below each concept, although you should take them
with a pinch of salt. Both suggest there will be a
5.2in full-HD screen, an octa-core processor and a
13Mp rear camera.
A more convincing leak is the phone used in
Google's own promo video for Project Fi, from which
the pictures in this article were taken. It's clearly not
a Nexus 6, despite the fact that is the only available
handset that works with Project Fi right now, so
could it be a Huawei-made Nexus phone?
It's impossible to tell what specification a Huaweimade Nexus 5 or Nexus 6 might carry, but based
on its recent P8 and P8 max launch we're going to
guess that there will be a 5.2in full-HD display, 3GB
of RAM, 13- and 5Mp cameras, and a Kirin- rather
than Qualcomm octa-core processor. It'll be a 4G
phone and, fingers crossed, since this will be a
Chinese phone, potentially dual-SIM - are we about
to see dual-SIM make real inroads in the UK?
Alternatively, if Google opts to work with LG once
again, we could very well see another Quad HD
display, as was seen on the Motorola-made Nexus 6.
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What we want to see
We've got a list of fixes and new features for you,
pretty please, Google
ndroid 5.0 Lollipop is now in use on many
smartphones and tablets, but we're futurethinking and here's what we want to see in
Android M, which we expect Google to give us the
first glimpse of this month.
Android Lollipop supports 64-bit and uses the
Android runtime instead of Dalvik, therefore offering
improved performance over previous versions, but
we don't want Google to stop there – and we're
pretty sure it won't.
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Modern smart devices such as phones and tablet
are brilliant but the hardware inside them means
that battery life is always a struggle. Project Volta
in Android Lollipop improves things, but we want
more. Whether it's a software or hardware thing, or a
combination of both, we don't really care.
If you own multiple devices (not necessarily all
running the same OS), such as a smartphone and
a tablet, you'll probably get annoyed at dismissing
notifications you've already seen and to which
you have responded. We get frustrated when we
respond to an email on a phone only to be told
about it again when we then pick up a tablet. Add
other devices into the mix, such as a smartwatch,
and it's notification overload.
What we want are notifications that dismiss
themselves once they've been seen on one of your
logged-in devices. Cross-platform, too.
Better parental controls
Android, unlike iOS, allows you to have multiple
accounts on the same device. This is a great feature
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and means parents can set up accounts for their
children. Using a restricted account gives the ability
to restrict access to certain apps and content, but
we'd like some more advanced tools such as time
limits and the ability to shut off access to any app
or feature, not just those for which developers
have chosen to allow it. It would also be good to be
able to switch off in-app purchases or Google Play
purchases to avoid the sting of an unexpected bill.
Customisable gestures would allow
you to set gestures for the features that
matter most to you
Android has all sorts of clever features and tricks,
but Google's manufacturing partners have proved
that there's more you can do with a touchscreen
than simply swipe to unlock. LG, with the G2,
implemented smart gestures such as KnockON
allowing users to switchon and off the screen with
a double-tap. Others have copied this and added
more, allowing you to quick-launch features even
when the screen is off.
It's this kind of thing we'd like to see in stock
Android, and preferably customisable so you can
set gestures for the features that matter most to you.
Open-source Android is highly customisable, but
there's one particular area of Lollipop that's bolted
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down and doesn't need to be. The Quick Settings
menu (when you pull down the notification bar a
second time) shows handy functions such as Wi-Fi,
Bluetooth, location and mobile data. Why can't it
show what we want it to show?
Ultra power saving
We've seen many Android device makers create
their own ultra power-saving modes that can,
typically speaking, get around 24 hours of life from
10 percent of battery. This is achieved by switching
to a simple greyscale interface, switching off powerhungry Wi-Fi and giving access only to basic features
such as the dialer and messages.
While you'll find it in various guises, it's not a part
of stock Android, and we think it should be.
Google needs to make it possible and easy to
manage and secure a fleet of Android handsets in
order to maintain its position in the mobile market.
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Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
It's the Galaxy S6 but tougher, and it features
an SD card slot and a removable battery
amsung's brilliant Samsung Galaxy S6 will be
joined by a number of smartphone variants,
including the Samsung Galaxy Edge, Samsung
Galaxy S6 mini and Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.
Here we round up the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
rumours, including new leaked photos.
Will there be a Samsung Galaxy S6 Active?
The first mention of a Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
came from a user on Reddit, who claims to have
spoken to a Samsung rep who says there will indeed
be a Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. More recently,
Sammobile's various reports suggest the S6 Active
does indeed exist, having passed the Bluetooth
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certification and been spotted in the Indian import
listings. And it's been spotted in AT&T's inventory.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of the Samsung
Galaxy S6 Active's existence comes from Samsung
itself, however. On Samsung's own site the S6 Active
is among those devices listed as being eligible for its
US Samsung Plus points scheme.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 Active was announced
in May 2014, two months after the standard
Samsung Galaxy S5. Expect to see the same with
the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. (Our Reddit tipster
also claims it'll get a mid-summer release.)
S6 Active specification
According to Sammobile, the S6 Active will have
many of the same specifications as the Samsung
Galaxy S6, with a 5.1in Quad-HD Super AMOLED
display, Android 5.0 Lollipop, octa-core Exynos
7420 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal
storage, and 16- and 5Mp rear- and primary cameras.
It will be slightly larger at 73.6x146.9x8.8mm,
allowing for a more capacious 3500mAh battery.
According to the aforementioned Reddit tip, the
Samsung Galaxy S6 Active will also get the microSD
card support missing from the S6. However, it will
lose the heart-rate monitor and fingerprint scanner,
and the camera will be downgraded.
That goes against recently leaked photos
purporting to be the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active,
however, which show that although there's no
fingerprint scanner, there is the same rear camera
and heart-rate sensor at the back as on the standard
Samsung Galaxy S6. The speakers have also been
moved to the back.
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Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2
Samsung's high-end iPad-rivalling Tab S tablets
are due a refresh any day now
uccessors to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S
8.4 and 10.5 tablets have leaked as the
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2 8in and 9.7in.
Here's everything we know.
When is the Tab S 2 coming out?
According to Sammobile the Galaxy Tab S 2 8in
and 9.7in will be released in the UK in June. The
new Tabs will also go on sale worldwide, including
the US, Canada, European markets, China, Latin
America, Hong Kong, Korea and India.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab S line-up are high-end
tablets that are firmly pitched as Apple iPad Air 2
and iPad mini 3 rivals. We reckon we'll see the same
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again in 2015, which means prices starting at £319
for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2 8in and £399 for the
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2 9.7in.
What to expect from the Tab S 2
Sammobile has leaked specifications for the
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2 8in and 9.7in tablets, which
use the model numbers SM-T710 and SM-T810
respectively. The leaked image at the top of the
previous page also shows the Tab S 2 looking like a
larger version of the Galaxy A5 phone. However, the
leaker says the Galaxy Tab S 2 9.7 will be inspired by
the Galaxy S6 and will be around 5.8-5.9mm thick.
The tablets will be very similar to each other,
with the main difference being a new metal frame
and their screen size. While both screens have
been slightly reduced over the 8.4- and 10.5in of
the original Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablets, they
have also switched to a 4:3 aspect ratio and the
resolution has been reduced from 2560x1600
pixels to 2048x1536 pixels. The reduction in screen
size means the drop in pixel density isn't as great
as you might expect, and you're unlikely to notice
the difference between the old (359ppi) and new
(320ppi) compact Tab S, and old (288ppi) and new
(264ppi) large-screen Tab S. As before, they will
use Super AMOLED panels.
Inside Sammobile says you'll find a Samsung
Exynos 5433 processor (although this may be
upgraded to the Exynos 7420 before the Tab S
2's release, given that the tablets will run Android
Lollipop and therefore support 64-bit processing).
There will also be 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage
(plus up to 128GB via microSD).
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A tablet with the model name SM-T815, which is
likely the cellular version of the Samsung Galaxy
Tab S 2 9.7in, has shown up in the GFXBench 3
database. According to the information held there,
the processor is a 1.9GHz octa-core model using an
ARM Mali-T760 MP6 GPU.
Cat 6 LTE connectivity is rumoured to feature (we
expect this will be optional, adding around £100 to
the price), and there will be 3580- and 5870mAH
batteries on the small and large models respectively.
Both tablets will feature an 8Mp camera at the rear
and 2.1Mp at the front.
The new Samsung tablets are slimmer and
lighter than their Apple rivals, with the Tab S 2
8in measuring 198.2x134.5x5.4mm and weighing
260g, and the larger Tab S 2 9.7in measuring
237.1x168.8x5.4mm and weighing 407g. By
comparison, the 331g iPad mini 3 and 437g iPad
Air 2 are 7.5- and 6.1mm thick respectively.
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Google makes mobile sites
Chrome push notifications are coming, with eBay
and Facebook soon taking advantage of the feature
oogle has taken a big step in its efforts to
make mobile websites act more like native
applications on Android smartphones by
adding notifications to its browser.
One of the most convincing arguments for
building an application instead of a website has
been the ability to send notifications to users.
Google is hoping to narrow that advantage by
adding the feature to v42 of Chrome for Android.
As a result, Android developers no longer have
to decide between the engagement potential of a
native app and the reach of a mobile website.
For users, the notifications will look and act as
those sent from applications. They still show up
in the notification tray, but a click takes users to a
website instead of an app. Users still have to opt in
before a website can send them any messages.
Early adopters in the coming weeks will include
eBay, Facebook and Pinterest, according to Google.
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What notifications offer was a major theme at
a recent event organised by the Online News
Association in London. While they offer the
opportunity to engage more closely with users, they
are also the easiest way to get them to uninstall an
app if not done right. It’s important to be upfront with
how many notifications will be sent and what they
will cover, and then stick to that.
Companies such as Roost and Mobify are
providing services that aim to make it easier for
developers to integrate push notifications with
their sites. The former allows companies to use its
dashboard, its APIs and its WordPress plug-in to
send notifications to Chrome users on Windows,
Mac, and now Android, it said in a blog post.
This upgrade is part of a larger effort by Google
to make mobile-optimised websites look more like
installed apps when using Chrome. The upgraded
version also lets developers add a pop-up banner
that users can click on to add the site to their home
screen. Other changes include full offline support,
and access to device capabilities such as the camera
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HOW TO GET
Why pay £17 a month for a phone line you never use?
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ou want broadband, but you don’t need a
phone line. Sound familiar? Fortunately, there
are ways to get your internet fix without
paying BT’s monthly fee. This feature explains how
you can have broadband without a phone line.
Alternatives to traditional ADSL promise
broadband connections without also demanding
that you sign up for a phone line you may well
never use. Shop carefully, though, as while such
connections are often faster, they aren’t always as
cheap as you might expect.
So why do we still pay £17 a month
for a landline that few of us use and even
fewer actually need?
Landlines are so last century. If you’re anything
like us, you’ll make most of your calls on your
mobile phone, and other than that you’ll use email,
WhatsApp, Hangouts and instant messaging to keep
in touch with friends and family. Video calling is easy
and – even better – it no longer requires thousands
of pounds worth of kit to make it happen, so you can
talk to distant relatives using nothing more than your
voice and a cheap smartphone or tablet.
So why do we still pay £17 a month for a landline
that few of us use and even fewer actually need?
Doesn’t it feel like a waste of money to be paying for
it on top of your monthly broadband subscription?
Isn’t it a con that you can’t get online with most of
the headline broadband providers without being
forced to pay for a hardly used voice line on top?
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You can stop paying for your landline right away –
so long as you’re happy to change your broadband
provider. If you’re not tied into an ongoing contract
that imposes penalties for ducking out early, you
should look again at the alternatives to traditional
ADSL. We’re talking satellite, fibre to the house,
cable and the ever expanding 4G wireless network.
As we’ll show here, it’s easy to get online without
signing up to ADSL. However, before jumping
straight in, think carefully about your needs – and
about the overall costs too. Some people may well
be better off with an ADSL broadband deal that
includes a monthly line rental charge.
Ten years ago, satellite broadband would have been
your only option if you lived far away from a major
conurbation, but as access by traditional means has
got faster and more comprehensive it’s now just one
of several choices for most of us.
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Eutelsat champions satellite broadband as
one of the cleanest means of communication
The technology behind it isn’t particularly new,
with Eutelsat launching its broadband-enabled
e-BIRD satellite in 2003. Built by Boeing and
launched on the back of an Ariane rocket, e-BIRD
was designed to fly for a decade, but it’s still going
strong and provides satellite broadband to Turkey,
Greenland, and a whole swathe of Europe in
between, Britain included.
Eutelsat champions satellite broadband as one of
the cleanest means of communication. The satellites
themselves work off solar power, there’s no need to
build expensive and polluting infrastructure on the
ground – exchanges, cables and the like – and the
launch procedure, potentially the most damaging
part of the whole process, creates about the same
amount of carbon pollution as a single jumbo jet
flight from one side of the US to the other.
Eutelsat sells its services under the Tooway
brand through a range of distributors. To sign up,
you’ll need to navigate a fairly Byzantine pricing
structure that takes both usage and speed into
account. At the budget end, Avonline Broadband’s
entry-level service gets you 2GB of data, with
downloads maxing out at 5Mb/s and uploads at
1Mb/s. It’s a 24-month contract, with the first three
months charged at £9.99 and the remainder at
£19.95 a month. Neither the speeds nor the cap
compare favourably with a lot of regular ADSL.
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Avonline’s most popular package is a 25GB
bundle with uncapped overnight downloads, which
would make it worthwhile sitting up to grab your
iPlayer programmes outside of peak. Or you can opt
for uncapped email and browsing round the clock
for £74.95 a month, with a 100GB cap on other data,
such as streamed media.
Multiply those prices by 24 months to find out
what it’ll cost you over a standard contract and
you’re looking at £448 at the lower end, rising to
£1,798 for the gold standard. You’ll need to add on
either £5 a month to rent the necessary hardware
(or £275 to buy it outright), £100 for installation (or
£10 a month for 12 months if you want to pay it off
over the first year) and £49.95 if you want to cut your
commitment from 24 months to 12. All in all, it works
out rather expensive when compared to ADSL and a
For example, ignoring any introductory deals,
Plusnet’s unlimited broadband and calls package,
with download speeds of up to 17Mb/s and free
weekend calls, costs £9.99 a month plus £15.95 line
rental for a 12-month term. That’s £311 over your first
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Satellite broadband is still struggling to compete
in the speed-versus-value equation
year, plus installation at £49.99, giving a grand total
of £361 without the need to pay ongoing costs for
equipment rental. Upgrading to Plusnet’s 18-month
fibre contract with speeds touching 40Mb/s at best
ups the annual cost to £371.28 (£14.99 a month for
the broadband and £15.95 monthly line rental) and
commits you to 18 months of service. Again, there’s
an installation fee of £49.99 to consider, but that still
pegs the overall cost at £421 for the first year, and
£371 for each subsequent year.
That’s bad news for satellite broadband. While
it might save you the cost of a landline you’ll never
use, unless you live in one of the increasingly rare
spots where reliable broadband still isn’t an option,
satellite is struggling to compete in the speed versus
You could be forgiven for thinking that the UK
has just one cable provider – Virgin Media – but
in fact we have two. WightFibre remains the only
standalone cable-co in Britain, and the only cable
option for subscribers on the Isle of Wight.
It offers speeds of 30 to 152Mb/s for between
£22.50 and £37.50 a month without line rental (£270
to £450 a year, plus an additional installation fee of
£30 for the cheaper of those), although right now it’s
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offering broadband for free for the first 12 months if
you pay £15.30 a month for a landline. That reduces
the cost to a flat £183.60 for up to 152Mb/s.
If you’re not on the Isle of Wight, none of these
deals applies, so you’ll have to look to Virgin
Media instead. Its regular ADSL service is available
nationwide, but we’re interested in the cable service,
which doesn’t yet boast national coverage and isn’t
ever likely to do so. If you’ve spotted service plates
in the street bearing the acronym CATV, there’s a
good chance you’re living in a cabled area, but enter
your postcode at store.virginmedia.com to be sure.
If you’re not yet covered, you can click 'Cable My
Street' to add support for a roll-out in your direction.
Virgin Media’s ‘slowest’ connections start at
50Mb/s (£28.50 a month, £342 annually) and top
out at a WightFibre-matching 152Mb/s (£41 a month,
£492 annually). None of them requires a landline and
there’s no fee for the installation of hardware, either.
However, signing up for a landline does reduce the
cost of the broadband.
For example, 152Mb/s broadband without a
landline costs £41 a month and ties you in for 12
months for a total cost of £492. Add a landline and
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the contract extends to 18 months, but the cost
of your broadband drops to £24.50 for the first 12
months and £30 thereafter. You need to add on
£16.99 a month for the landline rental, but there’s still
no fee for installation, so the overall cost is £779.92.
The saving you’d make over the same period by not
taking the landline is therefore a little less than £40.
How does that compare to BT’s superfast Infinity
service? Assuming that you have coverage (you
can check at tinyurl.com/c3ntbwq to see whether
superfast Infinity is available in your area), its
Virgin Media's cable packages don't demand
you pay for a landline, but doing so will reduce
the cost of the broadband
Unlimited BT Infinity 2 + Weekend Calls option
including free BT Sport and 50GB of cloud storage
costs £25 a month for the broadband, plus £16.99
monthly line rental, for a total year one cost of
£503.88. Add the one-off £6.95 charge for delivering
a HomeHub and the total’s around £10 more than
Virgin Media is charging for a faster pipe without the
bundled phone line.
Cellular connections are by far the most flexible
option, as you can take them with you wherever
you go. Just be wary of the fact that, as Britain’s 4G
roll-out remains incomplete, performance will vary
from place to place and you may well find yourself
stepping back to slower 3G.
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Relish is a dedicated 4G broadband provider
serving central London and London Docklands. It
claims that no-one else has as much 4G spectrum as
it does, nor as much capacity. So if you live or work
in its area, it’s a tempting proposition, not least on
account of its competitive prices.
There’s no setup fee, just one speed – up to
50Mb/s – and one price, which is £20 a month
whether you sign up for one month or 12. The only
inducement to tying yourself into an annual contract
is the upfront cost of the 4G router, which is £50 on
monthly pay as you go, but waived on the 12-month
package. Pay upfront, then, and your first year of
coverage is £240, all in, with no restrictions on how
much data you use.
EE’s 4GEE service works beyond this limited
swathe of the capital, offering 3G and 4G coverage
nationwide (subject to network propagation). There
are three hardware options: Buzzard 2, which plugs
into a car socket for broadband on the move, and
Osprey or Kite, which are more traditional pocketsized wireless 4G routers.
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Contracts on each of these options run for one
month or two years, with the upfront costs being
lower on the longer-term deals.
There are also two levels of service: 4GEE for light
users and 4GEE Extra for heavy users.
Opt for the smart Apple TV-like Osprey router on
the entry-level 4GEE service and it’s £10 a month
for 1GB of data, £15 a month for 3GB and an upfront
cost of £19.99 on the 1GB, two-year deal. The router
is free if you sign up to £15 a month for two years,
but if you sign up for just a month you’ll be looking
at a £39.99 bill for the router before you’ve even got
online, whichever package you choose.
Beware of quickly eating few your monthly
data allowance when relying on 4G
None of these prices is extortionate when you
consider the convenience of being able to create
a Wi-Fi hotspot wherever and whenever you need
(you can connect up to 10 devices to Osprey
simultaneously), with a two-year commitment to
the 3GB bundle tipping the scales at just £360 – or
£180 a year. Beware, though, that with a few catchup downloads, some music streaming and a bit
of YouTube action, you’ll quickly eat through your
You might accordingly want to look at 4GEE Extra
instead, which offers bundles of 15GB, 25GB and
50GB for £20, £30 and £50 a month respectively,
each on 24-month contracts. These come closer
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to matching entry-level ADSL connections, but the
convenience of being able to hook up wherever
you find yourself comes at a price. That £50 deal for
the top-end data pack means you’ll end up paying
£1,200 over the course of the contract, which is
more than most ADSL plus landline combos.
Fibre to the building
Perhaps the most exciting of all the current options
is fibre to the building. We’re not talking about BT
Infinity or Virgin Media here, but a dedicated fibre
line running directly to your router.
Hyperoptic offers synchronous connections of
1Gb/s flat-out. That means there’s no difference in
the speed of uploads and downloads as there is with
ADSL, and you shouldn’t see any degradation in the
speed of the service as you move away from the
connection point either.
Perhaps the most exciting of all the current
options is fibre to the building
Prices start at £29 a month for the first six months,
and £60 a month thereafter, but you can step down
to 100Mb/s for £17 a month for the first six months
(£35 a month thereafter), or 20Mb/s for £10 a month
for the first six months (£22 a month thereafter). In
each case, there’s a £40 connection fee to add on
top, but the £200 installation fee is waived.
At the top end of the scale, then, you’re looking
at a year one cost of £574; that’s roughly what you’d
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be paying for the 152Mb/s deal available from Virgin
Media and slightly more than BT’s fibre-based Infinity
service, while enjoying far higher speeds. The midrange package, which in speed terms sits between
what BT and Virgin Media offer, costs a total of £352
in the first year and £310 a year thereafter, which is
excellent value for money.
But there is a catch. Because it’s building its own
fibre network, Hyperoptic is concentrating on multidwelling buildings and, as it explains on its website,
if your building is within its catchment area, and
enough residents show support by registering for
it online, then the company can connect you to its
‘future-proof full-fibre network’.
Its service is currently installed in 100,000 homes
spread across 1,000 buildings, and if yours is among
them you’ll already know. If it’s not, and you live in a
block of flats, your best bet is to enter your postcode
at hyperoptic.com, fill in the form to register your
interest in the service and get your neighbours to do
the same. If you live in a terrace, semi or detached
house, though, don’t get your hopes up just yet.
Are landlines a necessary evil?
So it’s not as clear-cut as you might think. Yes, a lot
of us are paying for landlines we don’t use, and that
hurts, but the alternatives aren’t always better value.
Fibre to the home is the fastest option since
it’s 21st century technology all the way from the
exchange to your router, rather than fibre to the
cabinet in your street, and limiting copper from
there to your house. Cable has better coverage, and
again it’s faster than ADSL at present, but it’s not
been rolled out nationwide.
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For many of us traditional ADSL
is the only practical option
And then there’s 4G, which can’t be beaten
for convenience. But you may find the data caps
restrictive and the coverage variable.
Which brings us back to traditional ADSL. For
many of us it’s the only practical option, which
means we’re stuck with the landline charge. By
splitting it out from the headline cost of their
broadband deals, though, Britain’s ISPs aren’t
exactly helping themselves. Yes, it’s great to be able
to advertise a £5.99 broadband package – until you
hit the customer with an extra £16.70 a month that
they’d rather not pay. If there is no option but to
cough up for the service, then the advertised cost in
this case should be £22.69, not sub-£6.
It doesn’t make the charge any easier to swallow,
but you can at least console yourself with the
thought that your landline fee is paying to maintain
the line from your house to the nearest box on
the street, which the fee for a traditional ADSL
contract almost certainly isn’t. In that respect you
can think of it as a digital standing charge, like the
one you pay to hook up your home to the National
Grid, the gas lines and the water supply – or, indeed,
the road tax you pay to drive your car.
It’s an investment in the national infrastructure,
and as such it probably ought to be renamed.
Perhaps then paying the fee will feel less like
you're being fleeced.
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4G vs LTE: Why you're
not getting true 4G speed
4G isn't the same thing as LTE. We explain the difference
between the two mobile technologies
G, LTE, LTE-A, carrier aggregation. It’s all
tech nonsense if you don’t understand what
the jargon means. Here we’ll explain the
differences between 4G and LTE so you’re better
equipped to choose not only the best phone, but
also the best tariff for you.
There are a lot of decisions to make when getting
a new phone. Along with deciding which handset is
best, you might also have to choose a new tariff, and
that’s a complex business in itself.
4G is the latest buzzword you’ll hear or come
across, but what exactly is 4G? Is it the same as LTE?
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In a word, no, but phone manufacturers and mobile
operators love to use them interchangeably, and
tend to further muddy the waters with dumbed-down
We’ll explain everything you need to know about
4G, the speeds you can expect to get, and how to
choose a phone and tariff that’s right for you.
What is 4G?
The International Telecommunications Union-Radio
(ITU-R) is the United Nations official agency for all
kind of information and communication technologies.
It decided on the spec for the 4G standard in 2008.
It decided that the peak download speeds for 4G
should be 100Mb/s for high mobility devices, such as
when you’re using a phone in a car or on a train.
When a mobile device is stationary, the ITU-R
decided that 4G should be able to deliver speeds up
to around 1Gb/s.
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So if true 4G is supposed to offer us download
speeds of up to 1Gb/s, why are we getting 100 times
less than that in the UK, at around 10- to 12Mb/s in
Unfortunately, the ITU-R doesn’t control the
standard’s implementation, which led to firstgeneration technologies like LTE being criticised for
not being true 4G.
The reason for this is that other groups (3GPP
is one example) that work with the technology
companies who develop the hardware had already
decided on the next-generation technologies,
leaving us with substandard 4G capabilities.
What is LTE?
Though originally marketed as 4G technology, LTE
(Long Term Evolution) didn’t satisfy the technical
requirements outlined by the ITU-R, meaning that
many early tariffs sold as 4G weren’t 4G at all.
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However, on account of marketing pressures
and the significant advances that LTE brings to 3G
technologies, the ITU subsequently decided that LTE
could be called 4G technology.
So LTE is a first-generation 4G technology that
should theoretically be able to reach speeds of
around 100Mb/s. Unfortunately, Ofcom reports that
the UK average for LTE is around 15.1Mb/s. While
that’s around twice the speed of an average 3G
connection, it’s a long way off the theoretical top
speed of LTE.
As well as lacking in overall download speed, LTE
is deficient in uplink spectral efficiency and speed.
Uplink spectral efficiency refers to the efficiency of
the rate at which data is uploaded and transmitted
from your smartphone.
LTE falls short of true 4G capacity mainly because
of the lack of carrier aggregation and because
phones don’t have many antennas. MIMO (Multiple
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Input Multiple Output) is a practical technique for
sending and receiving more than one data signal on
the same channel at the same time by using more
than one antenna.
With better carrier aggregation and MIMO, we can
head towards a new standard: LTE Advanced. This is
also known as ‘true’ 4G.
Imagine playing a PlayStation 3 when you could
be playing a PlayStation 4. The PS3 isn’t necessarily
too slow to use, but you’d have a better experience
using the faster console, the PS4. It’s the same with
LTE: LTE is the PlayStation 3 and LTE Advanced
(LTE-A) is the PlayStation 4.
Why carrier aggregation matters
Carrier aggregation is part of the LTE-Advanced
spec. It lets operators treat multiple radio channels
in different bands (or the same frequency band)
as if they were one, producing quicker speeds
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and allowing users to perform bandwidth-hogging
activities much faster than ever before.
Think of your wireless connection as a pipe. You
might not be able to increase its size, but you can
add a second and even a third pipe. Use all three
simultaneously and you’ll have three times the flow
rate. It’s the same concept with carrier aggregation.
Another advantage of carrier aggregation is that
speeds don’t decrease, however far away from the
cell tower you are.
Combining two signals (or channels) should
theoretically double the download speed to around
150Mb/s. In future, there could be aggregation
across more channels, potentially up to five, which
was defined in the LTE Advanced standard.
What about HSPA+?
HSPA+ may be marketed as 4G technology but it’s
technically 3G. HSPA+ stands for High Speed Packet
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Access Plus. It was the next step after 3G, with UK
network provider Three aiming for it to be used by
2012 (before the introduction of LTE).
The technology was developed with a theoretical
top speed of 21Mb/s, which is pretty impressive for
technology that doesn’t count as 4G (3G has an
average speed of around 1Mb/s). However, it was
quite a way away from its theoretical top speed as
the average is around 4Mb/s.
Who offers the fastest 4G LTE?
Now you know more about what the difference is
between true 4G and the 4G LTE we’re being sold,
it’s worth considering which UK network provides
the best 4G LTE connection. In November 2014,
Ofcom tested the 3G and 4G connections of every
major provider in the UK in five cities.
The results howed EE has the fastest 4G LTE
connection, with 18.4Mb/s on average, although
that’s still a long way from the theoretical top
speed of LTE.
It’s not just the download speed that dictates
responsiveness of a 4G connection; latency also
Average speed (Mb/s)
Research and graph by Ofcom
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plays an important part. A lower latency provides
better responsiveness and reduced delays when
using data for browsing, video calling, and so on.
Surprisingly, EE wasn’t the best provider when it
came to latency – that award went to Three. Ofcom
reports that Three took the least time to deliver data
on both 4G (47.6ms) and 3G (53.8ms). O2 came last,
with the highest levels of latency, measuring in at
62.7ms on 4G and 86.4ms on 3G.
Surprisingly, LTE-A is already available in selected
areas. Vodafone announced the start of its LTE-A
roll-out in October last year in Birmingham,
Manchester and London. EE has also joined the
LTE-A race, trialling the technology in London’s Tech
City. Upgrading infrastructure to support LTE-A will
be a slow process and is likely to take a couple of
years, much like the initial 4G roll-out did. And you
won’t automatically get LTE-A when it has been
rolled out, as there are other factors that have to be
taken into consideration.
The main one is compatibility. Your phone needs
to support LTE-A. Just as was the case with the 3G to
4G migration, many existing phones don’t have the
technology to be compatible with LTE-A. There are a
few exceptions though, including:
■ Amazon Fire phone
■ iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
■ BlackBerry Z10/Z30/Q10/Passport
■ HTC One M8 and M9
■ Google Nexus 6
■ LG G Flex 2 and G3
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■ Huawei Honor 6
■ Galaxy Note 3 and 4
■ Galaxy Note Edge
■ Galaxy Note S4, S5 and S6
■ Sony Xperia Z2 and Z3
The good news is that it looks like neither Vodafone
nor EE is charging people for the extra speed. As
long as you’re in a supported area and using a
compatible phone, you should be able to enjoy
the benefits of LTE-A’s carrier aggregation and see
download speeds of around 150Mb/s. Just watch
out that you don’t burn through your monthly data
allowance in a few minutes.
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EE Wi-Fi Calling solves poor
mobile signal problems
Wi-Fi Calling means you can make calls and send texts
without a mobile signal. Here's how to get it
f you struggle with poor reception at home
your options are limited. One is to get hold of a
signal booster box, but these aren’t always freely
available. However, EE has introduced a new service
called Wi-Fi Calling, which allows you to route calls
through your router and the internet to solve the
problem with no additional hardware.
What is Wi-Fi Calling?
Although Three and O2 offer similar services
(InTouch and TuGo, respectively), these require apps
and therefore keep calls and texts separate from
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your regular ones. The same is true of Skype and
WhatsApp. EE’s new Wi-Fi Calling is different – it’s
built into the phone and allows you to make calls
and send text messages even when there is no
mobile signal. This means if you’re on the London
Underground or you live in an area with poor
network coverage, you can still carry on using your
phone like normal.
Who is eligible for Wi-Fi Calling?
It’s currently available to those who pay monthly, and
small business customers. Corporate 4G clients will
be able to sign up for the service in the summer.
Which phones work with EE Wi-Fi Calling?
At the time of writing, the Lumia 640, Galaxy S6
and Galaxy S6 Edge were the only devices with the
feature. More models will, of course, be added to
this list. For example, EE has committed to bringing
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Once set up just use your phone
as normal – the calls and texts come out
of your allowance
Wi-Fi Calling to the Samsung Galaxy S5 and has
confirmed that some iPhones are compatible.
You’ll need to purchase your handset from EE to
have the correct software. Putting an EE SIM in your
existing unlocked phone won’t add the feature.
How do you use EE Wi-Fi Calling?
Your phone from EE should come with a sticker on
the box explaining what to do, but you can text ‘wifi
calling’ to 150 to set it up. You might also need to
head into the settings of the dialler app to switch it
on. You’ll get a new symbol onscreen, but you may
not even know you’re using Wi-Fi Calling.
Once you’re set up, you simply use your phone
as normal – the calls and texts come out of your
allowance and don’t appear on your bill any
different. There’s no need to use anything apart
from the regular dialler and messages app. Ring or
call someone as per usual and if there’s no mobile
signal, the phone will use a Wi-Fi connection instead.
Note that the other person doesn’t need
Wi-Fi Calling for it to work as only your end of the
communication requires Wi-Fi. A quick ping test will
check if the connection is good enough to handle
the call but, for now, the call will drop if you lose the
Wi-Fi connection. The service doesn’t yet have the
ability to switch from Wi-Fi to mobile network.
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How to bypass
internet tethering blocks
Your operator knows you're tethering – but how?
And what can you do when it puts an end to your fun?
f you have a tablet without a SIM slot, the only
way to get an internet connection is via Wi-Fi.
That's fine when you're at home or near another
Wi-Fi hotspot, but when you're on the move the only
option is to connect to a hotspot generated by your
smartphone. This is called tethering, and you might
also use it to get a laptop online. Here we explain
how mobile operators know you're doing it and how
to avoid tethering blocks.
Not all smartphones let you create a 'personal
hotspot' and share your 3G or 4G connection, but
many do. However, not all 3G and 4G tariffs allow
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tethering, so you could end up with a warning or
even being cut off if you break the rules.
It doesn't any more, but Three used to limit
tethering only to certain mobile tariffs. If you weren't
on one of these and you tethered anyway, you'd
likely get a message telling you to cease and desist,
or face your connection being suspended.
So how does Three - and other operators know
that you're sharing your mobile data connection?
We put the question to Three, which declined to
answer. However, if you think about it logically, it
should be simple to detect tethering. Every device
with a network connection has a unique hardware
identifier called a MAC address. Assuming that the
operator can trace the final destination of the data
packets, it should be able to determine that the final
MAC doesn't match your phone's.
There are lots of other ways, too, from web
browser identifiers, software, firmware revisions and
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more. For example, if you were tethering a full-blown
Windows tablet which requested a software update,
this would raise a red flag, since it's not a mobile
Similarly, the type of data could be used. If you
start using bit torrent to download files, you're
How to bypass tethering blocks
If you were hoping for a step-by-step guide to
getting around a tethering ban, you're about to be
disappointed. Most operators allow tethering these
days. Both Three and Giffgaff - companies which
used to restrict or ban it - now allow tethering up to
your monthly data allowance.
This is what we've always thought was the
fairest way to deal with it: you've paid for the data,
so you should be able to use it for whatever you
like on any device.
So, if you're on a tariff that doesn't allow tethering
then the simplest option is to switch to one that
does. There are some excellent pay monthly deals
around, so you'll probably save money to boot.
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Can a smartwatch
get a virus?
If you've got a new Android Wear watch you might be
wondering whether it needs security software
an a smartwatch get a virus? Yes. But it
won't. However, you do need to secure
your wearable. Here are our crucial tips for
protecting your smartwatch.
The nature of personal tech is that devices such
as smartphones, tablets and - yes - smartwatches
are vulnerable to theft or hack. If someone access
your smartwatch, they could likely access all of your
personal data, and in turn empty your bank account.
So it is important that you secure your smartwatch.
But does that mean you need antivirus? Just how do
you secure a wearable device? Let's take a look.
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In most cases a smartwatch is mostly an extension
of your smartphone. It connects to your phone via
Bluetooth or some other wireless tech. This peer-topeer connectivity should mean that it is more safe
than even your smartphone. Or, to put it another
way, a hacker would have to hack into your phone
to get at your smartwatch (and once they are in your
phone they don't need your watch).
Remember that virtually all malware these days
exists to make money out of the victim, and thieves
always go for the low-hanging fruit. If your watch is
harder to hack than your laptop, the laptop will get it.
It is the same data, after all.
But that is not to say that you should be
complacent. If you can install software on a device,
you can install malware. So although it is unlikely
anyone can (or will) hack their way on to your wrist
with a drive-by attack, you can certainly be tricked
into installing a dodgy app or opening up a dodgy
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link. In reality, however, this isn't the real security
threat posed against you and your smartwatch.
Can a smartwatch get a virus?
That threat is two-fold, and very real. But not the
biggest threat you face every day you transact
online. Because despite what antivirus makers will
tell you, there isn't really a direct malware threat
aimed at your Android smartphone, nor your Android
Wear watch. Smartwatches are a tiny nascent
market. Yes, where there is data and transation there
is a potential threat, but there are many more easy
ways of stealing your data than installing malware
on your smartwatch.
The principal two of those threats: hardware theft
and your behaviour.
Simply, if you are walking the streets waving
around a smartwatch that set you back £300, you
are vulnerable to personal theft. It shouldn't happen,
but we all know that it does.
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I'm not about to tell you not to wear your watch,
nor to be scared as you walk the mean streets. But
it does make sense to be discreet when required.
And as with a phone, the ability to block and track
your watch if it is stolen, is an important safeguard.
Personal security via a password, fingerprint or
passcode is valuable, too. Even if someone nicks
your watch, they can't access your data. (If you can
remotely track- and brick it, so much the better.)
You don't need security software for any
wearable, just a sensible attitude
The argument for security software
And that is where the other threat vector can be
found. As described above, it is very difficult for
someone to infect your smartwatch via a driveby
attack. But if you can be persuaded to give up your
details via a phishing attack they don't need to. So
as on the streets, in your virtual life. Behave sensibly,
and think before you share, click or download.
This is the only area in which I would argue
that security software can be helpful for your
smartwatch. With the best security packages you
can protect your most sensitive data by placing
it under a digital lock and key, and by changing a
password negate most of the damage wrought by
some kind of hack attack.
But in general you really don't need security
software for any wearable. Just a sensible attitude,
and a healthy disregard for your own intelligence.
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Arriving fashionably later than other 2015 flagships,
has the LG G4 stolen the crown as best phone of 2015?
£500 • lg.com/uk •
t's been a little wait for the LG G4 after a no-show
at MWC 2015 back in March. However, the ﬂagship
phone is ﬁnally here and LG is calling it the 'most
ambitious smartphone yet'. We were seriously
impressed with the LG G2 and LG G3, so the G4 has
a lot to live up to and ﬁerce competition from rivals.
The LG G4 will arrive in the UK on 28 May and, as
we expected, the ﬁrm has undercut rivals as it did
with previous ﬂagship devices with a price of £500
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(£525 for leather). For comparison, the HTC One M9
is £579 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 is £599.
Design and build
Despite rumours of a metal build, LG has gone for
genuine leather instead which is unusual as a main
option (you can choose it for the Moto X but it's
a premium extra). The leather feels nice with the
stitching so it's preferable to faux leather as found
on some Samsung devices but some colours aren't
great such as yellow and sky blue. Although the
leather is vegetable tanned and LG says the colour
will change over time.
If the idea of leather puts you off the LG G4
straight away then don't worry because there is a
ceramic option too which has a smooth diamond
texture and comes in three colours: Metallic Gray,
Ceramic White and Shiny Gold. However, this feels
pretty plasticky, especially the white model, with
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LG confirming the polycarbonate is only 5 percent
ceramic. You'll need to pay £25 extra for the leather.
That cover is still removable giving you access to
the battery and microSD card slot which is good to
see. What we don't know is how the leather will wear
over time so we hope we can have a sample long
enough to see what happens. Unfortunately, we've
been sent the Metallic Gray model but we have seen
the leather options at the G4 launch event.
Since the cover is removable, we're hoping to see
third-party case makers offer some nice alternatives
to LG's range.
The LG G4 looks pretty similar to the G3 apart
from the switch to leather and ceramic. However, it's
a shame that like the HTC One M9, the firm hasn't
managed to slim it down. It's heavier at 155g and
thicker at 9.8mm which isn't ideal. We were also
hoping for the phone to be thinner on the width as
the G3 is a tad difficult to use in this sense but the
G4 is actually taller and wider at 76x149.9mm.
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Another shame is that the frame is still plastic,
this time with a slightly chromed effect. It feels
cheap compared to rival flagships and we're not
keen on the sharp edges around the microUSB- and
LG uses a Slim Arc curved shape which makes
it comfortable to hold and supposedly makes it
20 percent more durable than a flat smartphone in
face-down drops. This subtle curve applies to the
entire phone, not just the back, making it a little
like the G Flex 2. It's certainly not a curved screen
phone, but does make the G3 feel distinctly flat.
We knew a lot about the LG G4 prior to the launch,
partly thanks to LG and partly the usual leaks online.
The firm has stuck with a 5.5in screen size and
a Quad HD resolution (1440x2560), which offers
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a high pixel density of 538ppi. It's not the same
panel though as LG has fitted its new IPS Quantum
Display which is says has 20 percent greater colour
reproduction, 25 percent improvement in brightness
and 50 percent greater contrast.
Percentages aside, the display is better than the
G3 (which was the first Quad HD phone to market)
but it's not a huge leap. Colours do, on the whole,
look better - especially whites but some look a little
over the top. For example, the YouTube icon icon
looks neon red like it's eaten too many Haribo.
LG hasn't done itself any favours with the default
garish colour scheme but that's something easily
changed. Once again, we think the LG G4's screen is
top quality so it's really the size which is more of an
issue here as 5.5in will be too large for some users.
Which processor LG would opt for was something
we had to wait to find out and it's not the Qualcomm
Snapdragon 810 (as used in the LG G Flex 2) or the
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firm's own Nuclun processor. Instead the LG G4 has
a Snapdragon 808 making it the first device we've
seen with the chip. The reason is unknown but
suspected to be behind the overheating issues of
the 810, although Qualcomm denies this.
Nevertheless, the Snapdragon 808 is a six-core
processor rather than octa-core offering dual-core
ARM Cortex A57 and quad-core A53 with 64-bit
support. It also has an Adreno 418 GPU which
supports 3D gaming on 4K displays and X10 LTE
which has integrated LTE Advanced for download
speeds of up to 450Mbps (theoretically).
It can't keep up with rivals on pure benchmark
numbers, as you might expect, but that doesn't mean
the LG G4 is slow. It feels nippier than the G3 and
can keep up with the Galaxy S6 some of the time
in a side-by-side comparison but Samsung's phone
does feel that little bit silkier in operation.
HTC One M9
LG says it has worked with Qualcomm on the
808 touting is as 'snappy yet energy-thrifty'. It claims
the change means an extra 20 percent battery life
compared to the G3 despite having the same battery
capacity. A removable battery is a key feature of
the LG G4 when compared to rivals as it's the only
flagship with this option.
In terms of battery life, we've not noticed it being
dramatically different to the G3 which lasted a
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couple of days with normal usage.
After a number of days with the LG G4
it lasts a day and half to two days so
there's really no difference.
In our battery test, the LG G4
managed four hours and 44 minutes
with a numerical score of 2841 which
quite a way off the Galaxy S6 and
Galaxy S6 Edge which produce close
to seven hours and a score over 4000.
Our real quibble on the battery
front is that LG has downgraded to no
wireless charging as standard, which
is not a good move. You'll need to
buy the Quick Circle case to gain this
feature, which seems silly when having a leather
cover is one of the main reasons to buy the G4.
It's also strange that the LG G4 doesn't offer
Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 despite the
Snapdragon 808 supporting this feature. Like
the G3, it is supplied with a 1.8A charger though,
which is still pretty speedy. It's also odd to see no
type of extreme power saving mode which rivals
offer which gives you basic functionality on a black
and white interface.
LG has simplified things when it comes to memory
and storage with a flat 3GB of RAM and 32GB of
storage matching rivals - the amount varies on the
G3. There is, however, that microSD card slot which
many were annoyed to see dropped on the Galaxy
S6 so you can bump things up if you need to.
The G4 has the kind of wireless you'd expect from
a top-end phone with 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE and
NFC. This does mean that LG hasn't added features
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you can find elsewhere such as a fingerprint scanner
and heart rate monitor but the IR blaster remains
from the G3.
A major feature which LG has been pushing since
before the launch event is the camera which is
confirmed would have an aperture of f/1.8 – narrowly
beating the Galaxy S6 by 0.1. We now know the
main camera is 16Mp, up from 13Mp, and has OIS
2.0 (optical image stabilisation). A new feature called
Quick Shot means you can double tap the Rear Key
to launch the camera and take a photo but while this
is fast, it's difficult to frame the shot with the screen
off so you'll probably need to do some cropping.
Not that the camera was bad on the G3, but
this is the biggest area of upgrade for us. The LG
G4's main camera is up there with the best taking
predominantly great shots in a range of conditions.
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The new version of OIS can move up to two
degrees which is double what the G3 has to offer
and now has a third z-axis of movement. You
can really see and feel this in action when you're
shooting with the G4 and is the best optical image
stabilisation we've seen on any smartphone.
We also like the addition of the Manual Mode
which lets you start controlling the settings yourself
The LG G4 has the best optical image
stabilisation we've seen on any smartphone
– it's fun to try even if you're not into photography.
You can tweak the shutter speed, ISO, exposure
compensation, white balance and use manual focus.
You can even shoot in RAW if you like!
Selfie fans will love the 8Mp front camera which
has an f/2.0 aperture. It's easy to take photos using
the Rear Key as a shutter button but you can also
use the new Gesture Interval Shot feature to take a
series of four selfies.
The LG G4 comes preloaded with the latest version
of Android, 5.1 Lollipop, and the firm's new UX 4.0
interface which it teased before the launch. It looks
similar to the G3's user interface as you'd expect and
still has existing features such as Smart Bulletin and
Smart Notice, but there are some new features.
Smart Bulletin sits to the left of the home screen,
a now common place for a special feature like
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Google Now, Flipboard and BlinkFeed depending on
the device. On the G4, this vertical feed gives you
information such as fitness tracking, calendar events
and also gives you control such as music playback
and the QRemote. If you don't like it, Smart Bulletin
can be switched off in the settings menu. Smart
Notice is improved and the widget now changes
colour to match your wallpaper.
There's also an improved Gallery app and a new
feature called Event Pocket allows you to create
a unified calendar by dragging and dropping
appointments and activities from multiple calendars
and social media sites.
It's also worth noting that the LG G4 comes
preinstalled with Google Office and G4 owners will
receive an additional 100GB of Google Drive storage
free for two years which is a lot of extra space. LG
also said VW owners will be able to "view a carfriendly version of the G4 interface on the in-dash
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display for full integration with contacts, navigation
and music on the smartphone".
Beyond these additions, what we really like is the
number of things you can customise and some cool
things hidden away in the settings menu.
Like previous devices, you don't have to make
do with the standard navigation buttons. You can
have up to five on the bar including one to open and
close the notification bar, QMemo+, QSlide and Dual
Window. You can also manually choose whether to
show or hide the navigation bar in apps you have
installed rather than letting the phone decide.
You can once again choose the font (and size) for
the interface and turn the notification LED off if you
really don't want it. There's also the ability to adjust
the strength of vibration for haptic feedback and
notifications, which is great.
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New for the G4 is a new section
called Smart settings. This means
you can automate a lot of things
like switching Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
on and off plus changing your
sound profile. You can set these to
automatically adjust when you're
at home or away from home plus
when earphones are plugged in.
Another feature is Smart
cleaning which will help you
clear some space on the G4 by
cleaning some apps and deleting
LG has gone down an unexpected
route with leather models, which
we like apart from a couple of
colours. The so-called ceramic
model is less expensive but we
think it feels cheap and plasticky.
On the whole, hardware is once
again strong – particularly the camera – but not
massively different from the G3 and the G4 has
some tough competition. We feel build quality could
be better, with a metal frame and dimensions going
down, not the reverse. This is the flagship to go for
if you want a removable battery and expandable
storage, but it's a shame to see features such as
wireless charging dropped. (Remember the G3 is
now a steal at under £300 SIM-free.)
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Samsung Galaxy A5
A stylish, thin phone with good cameras that's available
for a lot less than the flagship Galaxy S6
£299 • samsung.com/uk •
e’re big fans of the new Galaxy S6, but if
you can’t aﬀord one then the mid-range
Galaxy A5 should be on your shortlist.
It’s the latest model in Samsung’s Alpha range
and is a smart-looking mid-priced phone. It comes
in black, silver, gold and white. The 5 refers to the
screen size, and it weighs a feather-like 123g.
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In the hand, it feels remarkably svelte, and that’s
mainly because it’s just 6.7mm thick. These figures
are slightly lower than those for the iPhone 6, which
is 129g and 6.9mm.
It may have a plastic rear cover, but the chamfered
aluminium band around the sides and smooth glass
front make it feel more like a premium phone. Plus,
the absence of any flex means build quality is right
up there with the best.
Turn it on and you’ll immediately notice the vibrant
colours of the Super AMOLED display, which also
has excellent viewing angles. You also get a 13Mp
camera at the rear, complete with LED flash and a
5Mp front-mounted ‘selfie’ camera.
Inside, it’s clear that there have been some
compromises. The Snapdragon 410 processor isn’t
going to top any benchmark charts, and the phone
runs the older version of Android: KitKat instead of
the latest Lollipop.
Set into the metal band are two removable trays
whose design is so similar to the iPhone that at a
glance you could mistake the A5 for a bigger version
of the iPhone 5.
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The bottom edge is home to the Micro-USB
charge and sync port as well as a headphone
jack. On the left-hand side is a volume rocker, and
opposite on the right is a power button – the same
setup as the iPhone 6. On top is only a tiny hole for
The screen has a 1280x720 resolution, which is
acceptable on, say, the latest version of the Motorola
Moto G, but at almost £300 SIM-free from online
retailers it’s not as easy to swallow.
Don’t get us wrong: the A5 has a great-quality
AMOLED screen with some nice features including
extreme power saving, but if you’re prone to notice
individual pixels, the A5 is obviously lower resolution
than the Galaxy S6. And, for that matter, the S5.
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The Galaxy A5 has 16GB of internal storage,
2GB of RAM and a microSD slot for adding up to
64GB of extra storage.
You don’t get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but the 802.11n radio
works on both 2.4- and 5GHz. There’s also Bluetooth
4.0, NFC, GPS and ANT+.
And when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S5,
there’s no fingerprint scanner, IR blaster or heart-rate
sensor. Few people will miss these extras, but it’s
There were no surprises in our benchmarks, with
the Snapdragon 410 performing just as it does in
the £109 Motorola Moto E. The Geekbench scores
of 483 and 1476 for the single- and multicore tests
respectively were within the margin of error.
Somewhat strangely, the Adreno 306 GPU in the
A5 produced slower framerates than the 2015 Moto
E, which uses an identical chip. On the A5 we saw
3.9fps in Manhattan and 9.2fps in T-Rex, while the
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Moto E managed 6 and 13fps respectively. None are
great results, of course, but both phones will play
casual games well enough.
Battery life is comparable with other similar size
phones. With a 2300mAh cell on board, Samsung
says you’ll get eight hours of 3G web browsing and
12 hours of video playback. There’s also an Ultra
Power Saving mode that you get with Samsung’s
flagship phones. This turns the display to greyscale,
disables mobile data when the screen is off and
restricts which apps you can use in order to extend
standby time to 1.2 days when you have 10 percent
It’s a little odd that Samsung didn’t use the
Galaxy S5’s rear camera in the A5. The S5 has a
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16:9 16Mp sensor, whereas the A5 has a 13Mp 4:3
sensor. By default, it’s set to a 9.6Mp 16:9 setting,
meaning you’re effectively cropping off the top and
bottom of each photo.
You’d think there would be little difference in
quality between the cameras, but you’d be wrong.
The S5’s photos are visibly better than the A5’s and
there’s a noticeable lack of detail when you zoom
in to make the A5’s photos the same size at the
S5’s at 100 percent.
Of course, we’re being picky here and the A5
still has a great camera when compared to many
phones: it captures more detail than an 8Mp iPhone
6 and is leagues better than the 5Mp Moto G.
Exposures are accurate, colours realistic and the
lens is sharp right to the corners.
Photo quality from the 5Mp front camera is
good. Detail levels are better than phones with
fewer pixels, so the A5 is a good choice if you
take a lot of selfies.
Video, which tops out at 1920x1080 at 30fps from
the rear camera, is sharp and detailed but there’s
no optical stabilisation, and this makes handheld
footage shakier than we’d like.
The Galaxy A5 is a stylish, thin and lightweight
phone with good cameras. However, its processor
isn’t particularly powerful and also happens to be
found in the Moto E which costs only £109. The
Moto E is also a 4G phone and if you’re not fussed
about its slightly smaller, lower resolution screen and
mediocre cameras it’s a much better value choice.
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If you're willing to buy a Chinese phone, the Z1 is the
fastest you'll find under £200
£199 • coolicool.com •
t’s not often we’re blown away by a mid-range
smartphone. Supplied to us by Coolicool.com, the
Z1 has an awful lot going for it. At less than £200,
it’s faster than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and
iPhone 6 Plus. It’s also well-built, supports dual-SIM
and 4G connectivity, has decent cameras, features
some useful gestures, and it even has stereo
speakers and a ﬁngerprint scanner.
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The Kingzone Z1 is supplied in the UK via
Coolicool.com – a Chinese site. You have two
options: you can buy it from the European
warehouse for £199.91 and you won’t be liable for
import duty; or you can buy it from the Chinese
warehouse for £132.59, but you will be liable for
import duty if it’s picked up by Customs (of course,
you are liable whether or not you’re caught out).
For a mid-range phone, the Z1 is very goodlooking. It’s built around a metal frame that ensures
a sturdy, premium feel, and although the rear cover
is plastic the up side is the fact it’s removable and
reveals an also-removable battery. It’s got a grippy,
textured finish that feels good in the hands.
There’s a huge 5.5in screen on the front of the Z1,
which makes this a phablet. Incredibly slim bezels
and a 7.5mm frame mean it’s still comfortable to
hold in a single hand. It’s also reasonably light for a
phablet at 169g – by comparison the 7.1mm iPhone 6
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Plus and 8.5mm Samsung Galaxy Note 4 weigh 172g
and 176g respectively.
A key difference here, of course, is the resolution.
The Kingzone has an HD resolution of 1280x720
pixels, which means it has a density of 276ppi. That’s
not at all unusual at this price, but it does mean it
isn’t as sharp as the 401- and 515ppi screens found
on the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4.
Nevertheless, the JDI IPS panel is reasonably
bright, with realistic colours and strong viewing
angles. It’s also of a good size for enjoying games
and media, or whatever you want to do on your
phone, including browsing web pages and e-books.
And that’s where one of our favourite features
comes in: the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner.
This is a swipe- rather than touch-based scanner,
and shares the same problems as those found on
Samsung phones prior to the S6’s release. As a
fingerprint scanner it’s a pain to use, and we gave
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up trying to get it to register our digits. But used as
a scrolling control or a dedicated capture button for
the selfie camera it’s a very welcome addition to this
phablet, and makes one-handed use so much easier.
Stereo speakers are found on the bottom edge
of the handset. On the right edge is a power button,
while separate volume controls are on the left.
This positioning can make them difficult to access
when using the supplied (to us, at least) flip cover,
which features a window for the time and date,
automatically wakes or sends to sleep the screen,
and allows you to answer calls without flipping open
the case. Also in the box is a silicone rear cover.
At the top is a Micro-USB charging port and a
3.5mm headphone jack. A pair of earphones are
supplied in the box, along with a Micro-USB cable
and, very usefully, an OTG adaptor. The latter allows
you to connect the Z1 to other USB devices, such as
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The phone uses a 64-bit MediaTek MTK6752
octa-core chip clocked at 1.7GHz. This is paired
with Mali-T760 graphics, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of
storage (a microSD slot lets you add another 64GB).
Performance is amazing for a £200 phone. In
Geekbench 3.0 we recorded a staggering 3689
points in the multi-core component, making the
Kingzone Z1 faster than both the iPhone 6 Plus
(2917) and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (3272). It fared
better than the Note 4 in SunSpider, too, with
963ms against its 1367ms, while the iPhone 6 Plus
performed spectacularly with 369ms.
The Kingzone Z1 recorded five hours 45 minutes
with a battery score of 3074 points. By comparison
the S6 saw six hours 53 minutes and 4136 points,
while the latest Moto G managed seven hours 35
minutes but scored just 2024 points.
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In real-life usage we found that the Kingzone Z1
lasted for several days in standby mode, and even
with heavy use the 3500mAh removable battery
should easily get you through the day.
Everything you need is covered on the
connectivity front. There’s GPS and GLONASS, NFC,
4G LTE (although it’s supported by only one of the
dual-SIM slots, the other maxes out at 3G), dualband 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, USB OTG support and
The 13Mp Sony camera is a pretty good camera,
with an f2.0 aperture, 28mm lens and LED flash.
We were pleased with our test shots, which show
reasonably good detail and largely realistic colours.
You can apply filters at the composition stage, and
you’ll find various modes such as multi-angle shot,
panorama, motion track and live photo.
The 8Mp selfie camera at the front takes a good
picture, but beyond real-time application of filters
and the ability to smooth wrinkles and whiten your
face there is little in the way of manual control.
The Kingzone Z1 runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat with
Kingzone’s KOS 1.2 UI. The app icons are squares
with rounded edges, but in other respects it will be
incredibly familiar to KitKat users. The Z1 will get a
wireless upgrade to Android Lollipop, too.
For a £200 phone, the Z1 is a very decent
proposition. It has a nice build, some pleasing
connectivity features, and faster performance than
phones that cost three times the price.
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It costs just £90 but packs 4G connectivity, a 5.5in screen
and a fingerprint scanner. What's not to like?
£90 • bluboo.com.cn •
he Bluboo X6 is a 4G LTE Android KitKat
phablet with a fingerprint scanner that costs
just £90 from Geekbuying. Shipped from
China you should also take into account import duty.
The Bluboo X6 looks good for a budget phone. It
ships with a smart case not too dissimilar to the LG
G3’s Quick Circle case, with a silicone rear cover and
a front flap that has a circular window through which
you can see a clock face.
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The plastic build keeps down the weight, and at
167g the X6 is light for an 8.8mm-thick phablet. The
rear cover is thin but clips on tight. It’s removable,
too, giving access to an also-removable 3000mAh
battery and dual-SIM slots. One of these doubles as
a microSD slot, although Bluboo doesn’t specify how
much storage it can accommodate (many budget
phones allow 32GB).
Available in blue or white, the rear cover features
a chequered design that aids grip in the hand. With a
5.5in screen and an 8.8mm-thick body this is a large
phone, although its slim bezels to the left and right
make it just about manageable in a single hand.
Around the edges you’ll find two speaker grilles
at the bottom, a volume rocker and power switch on
the right side, and a Micro-USB charging port and
3.5mm headphone jack on top. A 13Mp camera is on
the rear, surrounded by a pink anodised aluminium
ring and supported by a dual-LED flash.
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At the front is a 2.5D Arc screen, which means it
is curved at the edges. This has a nice effect, but
it doesn’t lie flush to the case. The top and bottom
bezels are larger, with a physical home button at the
bottom that builds in a fingerprint sensor.
The screen itself is an IPS panel. While colours
are realistic and it’s usefully bright, a quarter-HD
resolution of 960x540 is pushed almost to its limit
on a 5.5in screen. The X6 has a pixel density of
200ppi, which isn’t horrendous but it’s not as sharp
as we’d like. For web browsing it’s fine, but for
viewing media you might prefer an HD display. The
large panel is useful in this regard, mind.
When you’re paying £90 for a smartphone, you
can’t expect blistering performance. However, in
many of our benchmarks the Bluboo impressed
us. Its performance is due to the phone’s MediaTek
MTK6732 SOC, which integrates a 1.3MHz ARM
Cortex A-53 quad-core CPU and Mali-T760 MP2
dual-core GPU, plus 1GB of RAM.
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In Geekbench 3.0 we measured 654 points in the
single-core test, and 1940 points multi-core. Other
5.5in phablets we’ve tested such as the ZTE Blade
S6 Plus are faster, but in the real world performance
is adequate, but it’ll take a second to launch most
Performance was also good in GFXBench 3.0,
which tests the graphics performance. The Bluboo
recorded 25fps in T-Rex, and 13fps in Manhattan.
In our Geekbench 3.0 battery test, the Bluboo
recorded 2946 points, and seven hours 22 minutes.
To put that into perspective, its time recording is on
par with the 2015 Moto G, but its point score falls
just below the Kingzone Z1, another Chinese 5.5in
phablet (page 76).
Storage-wise you get 8GB built in, with around
6GB available, and if you don’t need the second SIM
slot you can insert a microSD card. This is Android,
too, so expect to be able to make use of all manner
of third-party cloud storage services - Google Drive
is preinstalled for you.
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When you’re buying a phone from China you
should always check the frequency bands to ensure
it will be supported by your UK mobile operator.
The Bluboo X6 supports GSM 850/900/1800/
1900MHz, WCDMA 900/1900/2100MHz, and Cat 4
Other connectivity specs include Bluetooth 4.0,
single-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, GPS and A-GPS, and
USB OTG. While there’s no NFC there is HotKnot,
which is MediaTek’s alternative.
If you’re not using the second SIM slot as a
microSD slot, you can take advantage of dualstandby dual-SIM functionality.
For photography, there’s a 13Mp camera at the
rear and an impressive 8Mp at the front. It’s not all
about the megapixels, but we were impressed with
the photos and test video we captured on the X6
(it’ll record 1080p at 30fps). A dual-LED flash is also
useful for improving low-light performance.
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The X6 runs a slightly customised version of
Android KitKat, and it’s not one we’re particularly
keen on. The key difference between vanilla KitKat
and what we have here is the X6’s use of themes.
Four are installed on the Bluboo X6, and not one
of them is what we’d consider normal. The default
theme, for example, switches the Google Play
icon to a red tile with rounded corners and a white
house icon; the only thing giving away its purpose
is the legend below. The themes will change the
wallpaper and icons, but you can also separately
customise the wallpaper and lock screen, but not
through the Settings menu. Themes and wallpaper
customisations are instead made through the Theme
manager, which is found in the App menu.
For a cheap phablet the Bluboo X6 has a lot
going for it. It’s reasonably fast compared to its
similarly priced rivals, it supports 4G and dual-SIM
functionality, and the large screen is useful.
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Amazon Fire TV Stick
This £35 media-streaming dongle from Amazon is a rival
to Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick
£35 • amazon.co.uk •
he Fire TV Stick media-streaming dongle is
a cheaper alternative to the Fire TV set-top
box for those who can make do without the
microphone built into the remote control and can
plug directly into an HDMI port on their TV, so it may
be a better choice for anyone who doesn’t want a
series of black boxes below their TV.
Unlike the slightly cheaper Chromecast, you get a
remote control with the Fire TV Stick. The Stick might
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plug into your TV’s HDMI port with no problems, but
a short extension cable is included for situations
where a direct connection isn’t possible. On our
Panasonic TV, other HDMI cables blocked access to
the Stick’s microUSB power input, and its rear end
protruded from the TV’s bezel.
A USB cable and power supply is included too
– you’ll probably have to use both since most TV
USB ports won’t provide enough power for the Fire
TV Stick. You’ll get a warning to tell you if that’s
the case as the Stick can boot up even from an
The remote is similar to the one bundled with its
big brother, but has no microphone. It communicates
via Bluetooth, so you don’t need line of sight to the
Stick for it to work: handy since it will be tucked
away behind your screen.
You can buy the Voice Remote separately if you
want to (it’s £25), or install the free app on your
phone. As well as enabling voice search, the app lets
you enter search terms via your phone’s keyboard:
much quicker and easier than faffing around with the
directional pad on the remote control.
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It will come as no surprise that Amazon’s own
Prime Instant Video takes centre stage, which is fair
enough. But the Stick gives you access to a variety
of other services as well, including main rival Netflix.
There’s also YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Demand 5
(apps which are free to download and install to the
8GB of internal storage). Beyond this, though, there’s
not much of interest unless you have a big collection
of your own videos that you want to stream using
the Plex app. Some might appreciate Vimeo, Vevo,
Dailymotion and STV Player, but it’s a shame there’s
not yet All 4 or ITV Player apps.
If, for some reason, you feel the need to listen
to music on your TV, you can get Spotify, Amazon
Music, Ministry of Sound Radio, Muzu.TV and
If you didn’t know, it would be impossible to tell
whether you were controlling a Fire TV or Fire TV
Stick since their interfaces are basically identical.
Down the left-hand side is the main menu, and the
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content you see on the right-hand side relates to the
section currently selected in the main menu.
At the top of the list – below Search and Home
– is Prime Video. Your recent list is prominently
displayed along with ‘recently added’ shows and
movies, plus featured shows.
Our biggest complaint concerns not the
content itself, but the fact you can’t filter out payper-view shows. This means you’ll have to keep
your eyes peeled for the little ‘Prime’ logo on a
video’s thumbnail to see if it’s included in your
subscription. A fair chunk is, but some movies and
TV programmes have to be bought or rented. When
you do pay for something like this, it appears in its
own Video Library section.
Considering that you can filter out paid-for content
in the Prime Instant Video iOS app, it’s maddening
you can’t on Amazon’s own hardware.
The good news is that the beefy hardware
inside the Fire TV Stick – a dual-core CPU, 1GB
RAM and dual-band 802.11n MIMO Wi-Fi –
means it’s very responsive and can always
keep up with even the most fervent of
button pushers. On top of this, the
software predicts (or tries to) what
you’re going to watch so playback
is almost instantaneous.
The Stick also supports Dolby
Digital Plus (and passthrough
up to 7.1 channels) so if you
have a suitably equipped
surround-sound system, you’ll
get decent audio where the
content has it. Just bear in
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mind that there are no other connectors on the Stick:
if you want to route audio out of it, you’ll either need
a TV with the appropriate audio outputs for HDMI
devices, or to plug it directly into an AV receiver
which passes the video signal to your television.
If you own a compatible tablet (or a Fire Phone)
you can use it as a second screen while you watch
Prime videos to get ‘X-ray’ information such as which
actors are in a particular scene, other films or TV
shows they’ve been in and more.
Like the Apple TV, the Fire TV Stick will provide
an eye-catching slideshow of your personal photos:
Amazon offers 5GB of free storage and an app to
automatically back up your phone’s camera roll, so
photos will appear on your TV without you lifting a
finger. It’s a nice touch, and certainly worth having
the extra app if you do buy a Fire TV.
TV and movies aren’t enough for media streamers
these days, and the Fire TV Stick lets you play casual
games just like its big brother, the Fire TV. You can
play most with the remote control, and it also works
with Amazon’s £35 Bluetooth Gamepad if you want
more of a console experience.
The games available aren’t blockbusters, but
the ability to download Hill Climb Racing, Tetris and
Sonic certainly add an extra dimension.
Thanks to its internals and nice interface, the Fire
TV Stick is a great gadget for watching Prime Instant
Video, Netflix, iPlayer and Demand 5.
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It's not a bad first attempt at a smartwatch by Asus,
but there's room to improve
£170 • uk.asus.com •
he ZenWatch is Asus’s first venture into the
smartwatch market, and we were hoping for
big things. Though it may not be as stylish as
other smartwatches such as the Moto 360, it does
a good job of standing out against similar Android
It has a large face, measuring in at 51x40mm
with a 1.5in screen, but is a lot thinner than its
rivals at 9.7mm. Polished stainless steel adorns the
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majority of the watch, with a slight hint of rose gold
on the sides, a colour that’s complemented by the
accompanying brown leather strap.
The ZenWatch has fewer buttons than
its competitors, and while this may be more
aesthetically pleasing, it throws up issues when
navigating the UI. Its one and only button can be
used to turn on and off the watch, but it’s underneath
the watch, well out of reach when being worn.
The OLED (320x320) display is pretty standard for
Android Wear watches. While the resolution is fine
for day-to-day use, the pixels are visible onscreen.
The Asus ZenWatch has an ‘always-on’ mode that
keeps the display turned on, even when not being
used. In an attempt to salvage battery life, after a
few seconds of inactivity your watch face will be
replaced with a slightly pixellated version that looks
like it’s displayed on an e-Paper display.
When you raise your wrist, the display switches
back to its full colour display and is ready to use
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automatically. The responsiveness of the smartwatch
was something that we were pretty surprised with,
as many aren’t great at detecting the movement of
raising your wrist. There is a down side to it being so
sensitive though, as we found that the display can
be activated when moving naturally.
Inside, you’ll find a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
400 processor, complete with 512MB of RAM and
4GB of storage. There’s also a microphone for
audio prompts – a lifesaver for a device with a lack
of navigational buttons.
It also comes with a host of sensors including
a 9-axis accelerometer, compass and gyroscope,
along with a barometer, all of which come in handy
with regards to fitness tracking and navigation apps.
There’s even a sensor that can track your heart
rate at various stages of exercise. The issue is that
it requires two fingers, gently pushing both sides of
the display, which can be tricky. The Asus ZenWatch
is water- and dust resistance with an IP55 rating.
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Android Wear is Google’s OS for wearables. The
main issue is that it is still in its early days, which
in turn hinders the enjoyment of using a smartwatch.
It adds a whole host of features such as
notifications, navigation, Google Now, music control,
step tracking and messaging. Third-party apps are
also available, as well as notifications that have
custom actions, such as being able to dictate a reply
to a WhatsApp message for example – something
that’s strangely not possible when viewing a text
message on the ZenWatch.
Asus has made some tweaks to the stock Android
Wear OS in a bid to make the device stand out from
the crowd. It offers smart features such as unlocking
your smartphone when in proximity, toggling a
flashlight on the device (a brightly coloured screen)
and the ability to send a preset SOS message to a
person in an emergency. It also has its own Asus
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ZenWatch app for watch management, though this
doesn’t do much that you can’t do on the watch.
As we mentioned earlier, the ZenWatch has only
one button. This means that you’ll have to rely on
audio prompts and a disappointing touchscreen
to navigate the smartwatch. We found scrolling
between menus a frustrating experience as, on
many occasions, the Asus thought that we had
selected something that we wanted to scroll past,
and would open it. The left- to right swipe is meant
to take you back to the clock face, and while it does,
there were many occasions where the gesture
The saving grace is voice recognition, which
we found to be surprisingly accurate. We’ve been
disappointed in the past by other voice-recognition
technologies we’ve tested, which have felt awkward
to use. That definitely wasn’t the case this time,
although it should be noted that people do tend to
feel a bit silly talking to a watch in public.
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There’s also a great selection of watch faces
to choose from, ranging from traditional-looking
designs to more unusual options that find unique
ways of displaying the time, date and other crucial
information. You also have the option to tweak
many watch faces from the ZenWatch app, as well
as having the option to download third-party watch
faces from Google Play.
The Asus also has a unique feature – you’re able
to display your phone’s camera viewfinder on your
watch. This lets you take your time when composing
shots, become more creative and make sure your
selfie is perfect before you take it.
The ZenWatch has a 22-hour battery life, though
this shrinks dramatically if the display is in ‘alwayson’ mode and you’re receiving notifications all day.
To charge the watch, you simply place it in the
The Asus ZenWatch is a good-looking smartwatch.
The lack of buttons is an issue, especially with the
touchscreen input being as frustrating as it is. It
does, however, have impressive voice recognition.
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How to find a lost
Android phone or tablet
Prepare now to help you find your Android phone or
tablet in the event that it is lost or stolen
f you've lost your phone or tablet it's not always
gone forever. But don't wait until you lose it to
prepare: you'll need to configure it now to enable
you to find a lost Android device. Here's how to set
up phone tracking and how to find your phone.
Note that the solutions offered in this tutorial
will require your phone to be switched on in order
to give you an accurate idea of its location, and
to access options to remotely lock or wipe it. If
your battery runs out or your phone is stolen and
switched off, you may be out of luck. Back up
everything now, just in case you can't get it back.
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Here we'll consider the options built into Android
to explain how to track your lost or stolen device.
You will need to be signed into your Google account
on the phone or tablet before you begin.
Some third-party options are also available.
Prey is a particularly popular option, available not
only for mobile devices but also Windows, OS X
and Ubuntu laptops. If you have several devices
spanning multiple platforms, it's worth considering an
option such as this that lets you track them all from a
How to locate a lost Android
Device Manager offers the easiest way to track an
Android phone or tablet. You don't need to have
the app installed on your device to use it, but you
do need to check that your settings are correctly
configured before you lose it.
To start using Device Manager, open the Google
Settings app (not the device's own Settings app) and
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tap on Security. Under Device Manager ensure the
options to 'Remotely locate this device' and 'Allow
remote lock and erase' are enabled.
Location access also needs to be switched on
for Device Manager to work. Once again open the
Google Settings app, but this time choose Location.
On the next screen tap 'Google Location History'
under Location Services and ensure it's switched on.
You now have two ways of tracking a lost
Android. If the device is switched on and has a signal
you'll be able to track it in Device Manager - head to
android.com/devicemanager on another device and
sign into your account. It should find your device and
report its location on a map. Also in Device Manager
you'll find options to make the phone ring, lock out a
suspected thief or wipe its contents.
There is also an Android Device Manager app you
can install to your Android phone or tablet, which is
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useful if you have several Android devices to track.
It's free from Google Play.
Another option, if your Android is switched off, is
to check your location history to find its last reported
location. You can do this by visiting google.com/
settings/accounthistory and tapping on Manage
History under Places you go.
You'll now see a map of all the places in which
your device has reported its location during a time
period that you specify. The last known location is
where Google last saw it before the battery died,
and if your luck's in it may still be there.
Note that location history uses Wi-Fi- and mobile
signals rather than GPS, so it won't be as accurate as
Android Device Manager.
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How to speed up
browsing in Android
Two great ways to supercharge your Android
smartphone- or tablet's web browser
o an extent the dream of a mobile webbrowsing device has become something
of a nightmare. Despite the proliferation
of mobile-, adaptive- and responsive websites,
browsing on an Android phone or tablet can be a
slow, laggy and buggy affair. It doesn't have to be. In
this article we look at one useful tweak that allows
you to add greater memory allocation to the Chrome
browser, making it a faster web-surfing experience.
And we also offer a couple of tips for getting the
Android Browser to play more nicely. Here is speed
up Android browsing.
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Allocate more memory to Chrome browser
This works only on the Chrome browser, which you
may have to access from within the 'Google' section
of your home page.
Open a new Chrome tab and type into the URL
You should see a warning about experimental
features in Chrome, and beneath it a list of such
features. Scroll down until you find 'Maximum tiles
for interest area', which should be highlighted. Click
the drop-down and you will see several options on
a menu dialog. We could see 'Default', '64', '128',
'256' and '512'. As you might expect the numbers
refer to the amount of memory set aside for the web
browser. Switching up to 512MB from the default
128MB should speed up the web browser.
Once you have selected the required amount
of RAM, you will be invited to 'Relaunch now'. Do
so and Chrome will relaunch with the new memory
allocation. You should find that pages load much
more quickly. And you can reverse the process if for
any reason the new allocation causes problems.
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Flash) on the Android
Unlike the Chrome tweak
outlined on the previous page,
these changes require you to
lose some functionality. But
given that this functionality is
not be too upset. You are in
essence using an ad blocker on
your mobile browser.
significantly speed up web
browsing on all Android
devices, but it will also make
some web pages look plain
and lifeless. You could care less.
the Browser, and hit the three dot 'Menu' icon in
the top righthand corner. Choose Advanced, and
option and you should see speed improvements,
in particular on desktop websites that haven't been
optimised for mobile devices.
Flash is an option only on older Androids, so it
probably isn't important for you. But if it is on your
handset you probably do want to disable it - and
you have nothing to lose from looking to see what
is going on. To do so, go into the Android browser,
select the menu icon and choose Advanced. If you
can see an 'Enable plugins', it is likely your browser
is utilising a Flash plugin. So untick that option. You
should see immediate speed dividends.
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How to send and receive
texts on a tablet
Fancy a bigger screen for managing your text- and
multimedia messages? We reveal how
phone is all most people need to send and
receive text messages, but sync your inbox
to your Android tablet and you can more
easily manage your SMS- and multimedia messages.
You get a bigger screen and larger keypad for typing
too, so here’s how to get text messages on a tablet.
The service we demonstrate in this article is
completely free. It syncs text messages between
your phone and tablet over the internet (Wi-Fi or
mobile), but the messages themselves are still
carried through your mobile network. This might be
useful if you are going somewhere you know you will
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have Wi-Fi but no mobile reception, allowing you to
leave the phone at home and take the tablet instead.
All you pay is whatever your mobile operator
charges you to send a text. Most mobile contracts
include free texts, but rarely picture messages.
If the reason you need to be able to text from
your tablet is that your phone never gets a signal,
or you’re looking for a free messaging service that
syncs between phone and tablet, sidestepping
mobile operator charges, try WhatsApp.
Step 1. On your Android phone launch the Google
Play Store app and search for MightyText. Select it in
the list of results, then tap Install on the next screen.
Accept the requested permissions.
Step 2. If your Android phone is logged into a
Google account MightyText should pick this up.
Select which Google account to use if you have
more than one, then tap ‘Complete Setup’, OK.
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Step 3. Pick up your Android tablet and either
browse to mightytext.net/app and select ‘Install
tablet app’ or launch the Google Play Store app and
search for ‘SMS Text Messaging – Tablet SMS’. As
before, tap Install and accept the permissions.
Step 4. Open MightyText on your tablet, select your
Google account and tap Complete Setup. Tap OK
on the next screen. You’ll get a message confirming
your tablet has been linked with MightyText. Tap
Launch MightyText Tablet App.
Step 5. On your tablet you’ll see what looks like
an email inbox. In the left panel you get a list of
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