LATEST SMARTPHONE, TABLET AND APP REVIEWS
HTC One VS Sony Xperia Z2
VS Samsung Galaxy S5
2 us 8
O3 • NexWear
T LG Gndroid
elcome to the third edition of
Android Advisor, in which we take a look
at the three flagship smartphones vying
for your attention this year: HTC’s brand-new One
M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony’s Xperia Z2.
We present our verdict from page 26.
Mobile World Congress kicked off in Barcelona
at the end of February. The technology tradeshow
serves as a launchpad for some of the latest and
greatest smartphones, tablets and wearable tech
running the Android operating system. We round up
the product announcements on page 44.
Of course, a lot has happened in the mobile
world since then. From page 20 we look at three
new and incredibly exciting products launching very
soon. First off, Google’s finally jumped aboard the
wearable-tech bandwagon, announcing its Google
Wear smartwatch OS, seen on the Motorola Moto
360 and LG G Watch. Then there’s the Nexus 8 –
has Google really dumped its 7in tablet? And finally,
LG’s upcoming G3 smartphone, which is expected to
pack a screen so tight with pixels it will leave the S5,
One M8 and Xperia Z2 shaking in their boots.
We’ve also got loads of opinion, including why
Nokia shouldn’t have bothered with its Android
handsets (page 10), plus useful tutorials, such as how
to get free Kindle apps on any tablet (page 89).
As always, please send us your feedback via
Facebook (facebook.com/AndroidAdvisorUK) or
email us at [email protected]
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At long last, Android
takes the iPad’s crown
Android tablet sales grew 127 percent in 2013 to take the
top spot from Apple’s iPad, according to Gartner
he iPad has been king of tablets for a number
of years, but Android has finally taken top spot,
according to new figures.
Research firm Gartner states that a whopping
195.4 million tablets were shipped in 2013 – up from
116 million in 2012. More interesting is that most of
these devices were running Android, not iOS.
Things were pretty even in 2012, with iOS leading
on 52.8 percent; Android saw 45.8. But 2013
witnessed a rapid increase in Android tablet sales,
You don’t want one
of these any more...
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with Google’s platform scooping 61.9 percent of the
market. Despite its fourth-quarter launches of the iPad
Air and mini Retina, Apple dropped to 36 percent.
Apple shipped 70.4 million iPads, compared to
a whopping 120.9 million Android tablets. Budget
devices such as the Nexus 7 and Tesco Hudl have
fuelled the 127 percent growth, according to Gartner.
“In 2013, tablets became a mainstream
phenomenon, with a vast choice of Android tablets
being within the budget of mainstream consumers
while still offering adequate specifications,” said
Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner.
But Apple remains the top vendor in the tablet
space, even though its market share has dropped.
This is because Android devices are made by various
companies that partner with Google.
Samsung is the top Android vendor, and has
increased its market share 336 percent from
7.4 percent in 2012 to 19.1 percent last year.
Gartner also said that tablets represented
90 percent of overall ‘Ultramobile’ sales in 2013.
Interestingly, emerging markets recorded tablet
sales growth of 145 percent in 2013, while mature
markets grew just 31 percent.
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Is Android overrun
Given its popularity, it’s no surprise Android was
the top target for malware makers in 2013
013 was a year marked by malware targeting
mobile devices and Android was the top target,
according to latest findings by Fortinet.
Threat landscape research by FortiGuard Labs
found Android was the top choice for malware
developers, with 96.5 percent of all mobile malware
infections attributed to the platform.
In comparison, Symbian came a distant second
at 3.45 percent, while iOS, BlackBerry, PalmOS and
Windows together added up to less than 1 percent.
The growth shows no signs of
slowing; in fact, the growth seems
to be accelerating
Axelle Apvrille, senior mobile antivirus researcher
at the security vendor, said the majority of over 1,800
new distinct families of viruses detected in the past
year targeted the Android platform.
“The rapid growth of malware targeting Android
continues to be of concern to system administrators
who have implemented a mobile device strategy on
their networks,” he said.
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Android in the sights
The number-one mobile malware of recent months
was NewyearL.B for Android, which targeted millions
of devices by being bundled inside harmless apps
such as a flashlight.
“Clearly cybercriminals are putting a substantial
amount of effort into churning out hundreds of
thousands of new variants daily in the hopes that
some of them will be successfully implanted on a
target device,” Apvrille said.
The growth of Android malware in 2013 is also
seen by Apvrille as a sign of concern for 2014.
“The growth shows no signs of slowing; in fact,
the growth seems to be accelerating,” he said.
With a growing number of Android
Apvrille said this
leads to further
infect as well.
Check out our
test for details
on how to protect
tablet (head to
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hybrids must go
Microsoft and Google reportedly aren’t happy with the
idea of sharing space on the same PC
icrosoft may be comfortable with Windows
Phone and Android splitting time on a single
phone but, when it comes to PCs, forget
about it. Google also isn’t too thrilled with the idea
of Frankenstein Android-Windows computers, and
at least one PC maker may have to dump the hybrid
devices from its line-up as a result.
Asus, maker of the Transformer AiO P1801 and
P1802, is reportedly being forced to put the kibosh
on its year-old all-in-one-slash-tablet PCs.
What’s more, the anticipated
Transformer Book Duet
TD300 shown off at CES in
January is also headed for
the scrapheap, according to
The Wall Street Journal.
These devices run
Windows when they’re
in PC mode. Slide out
the AIO’s screen or flip
the laptop into a
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tablet, however, and you’ve got an Android slate. The
concept is theoretically appealing to users, who get
the best of both worlds in one device, but Microsoft
and Google apparently aren’t pleased.
It’s easy to understand why Microsoft wouldn’t
want devices such as this to catch on. The company
is struggling to get users to adopt Windows 8.1, an OS
designed with two interfaces: one for the traditional
desktop and one for touchscreen devices. A
convertible PC that switches from Windows 8.1 to
Perhaps Google simply doesn’t like
the idea of Android playing a complementary
role to Windows on a PC
Android rather than the Windows desktop to the
Modern UI Windows Start screen would undermine
the entire Windows 8 concept.
Google’s opposition is a little more curious. Reports
suggest Google simply doesn’t want Android sharing
space with another OS.
But, as far as we know, Google never objected
to Canonical’s concept for a hybrid Android-Ubuntu
phone, and Huawei plans on bringing an AndroidWindows Phone hybrid device to the US in the
PCs are different, however, and perhaps Google
simply doesn’t like the idea of Android playing a
complementary role to Windows on a PC.
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Google can’t stop a company from using the
open-source version of Android in its devices, but
the search giant can clamp down on any company
that wants to access Google’s online services on
Android. Those apps and services – such as Gmail,
Maps and Google Play itself – aren’t part of the
open-source version of Android and require striking
a business deal with Google before they’re
preloaded on a device.
The reported objections from Google and Microsoft
are a little late to the game. The Asus P1801 and
P1802 were introduced more than a year ago, and
Samsung announced another Android-Windows PC,
the Ativ Q, in 2013 (although it has yet to ship).
However, chip makers AMD and Intel are both
backing the dual-OS concept as a way to get their
processors into more and more devices, and hybrid
devices were a noticeable trend at this year’s CES
and Mobile World Congress shows.
on their side if
they hope to
offer access to
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Nokia and Android
just don’t mix
Nokia has just launched three smartphones running
Android. But it really shouldn’t have bothered
ne of the worst-kept secrets of Mobile World
Congress was that Nokia was planning to
launch a trio of smartphones running not
Windows Phone but, shock, horror, Google Android.
And it did, with the dual-SIM Nokia X, XL and X+.
(Did it forget that Microsoft just bought its mobile
business?) But it really shouldn’t have bothered.
Nokia’s X line-up is interesting in that it offers
something completely different in the smartphone
category. The trio of brightly coloured handsets,
blessed with the stylish design and excellent build
quality for which Nokia is known, makes a nice
change among a slew of samey-samey iPhones,
Samsung Galaxys and their numerous copycats.
Of course, ‘new’ and ‘different’ are not terms
necessarily associated with ‘good’.
Our main gripe is that, although the Nokia X lineup runs Android, the operating system is a custom
version that is irrecognisable as Google’s platform.
If it’s going to make a point of not
running Windows Phone, make it
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Nokia has customised the interface to the point that
these devices look and feel like Windows phones.
If it’s going to make a point of not running
Windows Phone, make it. Perhaps Nokia fears
upsetting its new sugar daddy, appeasing it with
an ‘Inspired by Lumia’ tagline.
These are staggeringly cheap phones – we’re
talking less than £100 – and aimed at first-time
buyers and emerging markets. But as a budget
smartphone buyer you sit in one of two camps:
that which likes Windows Phone, and that which
prefers Android. (Forget iOS; the iPhone 4s and
5c are cheap only to the rich.)
For all its benefits, Windows Phone remains
the inferior platform of the two: fewer apps; fewer
handsets; fewer fans. And, with cheap phones
available running each platform, there’s just no reason
to plump for a strange mash-up of the two.
Windows Phone is heavily criticised for its lack
of apps. A phone that runs Windows Phone but
has access to Google Play would therefore be an
interesting proposition. The X family does neither.
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Rather than accessing Google Play, you’ll rely on
third-party app stores such as Yandex, which offers
just 100,000 apps. Yep, it lags even Windows Store.
And we’re almost back to square one.
Meanwhile, the range of Microsoft services on
these handsets looks pretty good. So, does Nokia
really want people to like Android, or push them into
Microsoft’s arms? Well played Nokia, well played.
Refusing to choose and sitting
on top of the fence will give them only
a metaphorical sore bum
Say a user buys a Nokia X handset and gets
used to running Android apps on what looks like a
Windows Phone. Then they upgrade to a premium
Lumia handset. It looks the same but, hang on, where
are the apps? Where are the widgets and proper
notifications? This is rubbish.
Consumers can get a better experience by
spending a little more money, whether they sit on
the Android- or Windows side of the fence. Refusing
to choose and sitting on top of the fence will give
them only a metaphorical sore bum.
Go with Windows, and Nokia’s own Lumia 520
offers fantastic value with a decent spec and a tiny
£100 price. Unsurprisingly, it’s flying off the shelves.
Go with Android and there’s the £129 Motorola
Moto G, which has shaken up the budget smartphone
market with all the gusto of a tornado. It shares
hardware specifications with phones that cost twice
its price, and performance that’s even better.
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Why everything must go
in the smartphone world
Get ready for an influx of cheap smartphones, aimed at
first-time buyers and second-handset owners
WC 2014 set the scene for the smartphone
market in 2014. Trawl the web and you’ll find
a bunch of articles talking about trends in the
mobile world as evidenced by MWC. Some of these
include ultra-HD tablets and phones, wearable tech
and improved audio for smartphones and tablets.
These all speak to the same thing: the requirement
to get wealthy western punters to shell out for newer,
more expensive tech.
cheerful in the
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Crappy Android phones such as the
Samsung Galaxy Ace proliferate, and the major
phone makers have cottoned on
We saw multiple HD+ tablets, capable of showing
off super-HD content, and plenty of phones with
better-quality speakers and audio compression. They
offer marginal improvement to the mobile experience,
and greater profits for manufacturers. Meanwhile
no-one needs a smartwatch, but the big guys are all
betting the farm that you’ll buy one.
Cheap smartphones: what’s going on
These trends relate to-, but are separate from what’s
really going on in the smartphone world: the rise
of the budget smartphone (aka the lowering of the
price of good-quality smartphones).
In essence, in the developed world everyone who
wants a smartphone likely has one, so any growth to
be found in the UK is in sub-£150 phones for those
who use email, internet and Facebook, and could
be persuaded to upgrade. There’s also a market for
second smartphones – rough-and-ready devices for
those times when you need to be connected but you
don’t want to risk your £600 phone.
More critical yet is the rest of the world: in
developing nations mobile phone connectivity is
better than is fixed-line broadband, and there is going
to be an explosion in smartphone use. The major
players are all jostling for this market, and it is likely
that UK smartphone buyers will benefit.
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The rise of the sub-£100 smartphones
Take a trip down to the high street and look into
Carphone Warehouse, Phones4U or any of the
other phone stores. You’ll see the latest iPhone,
Samsung Galaxy, Nokia Lumia and Sony Xperia
handsets, and literally dozens of cheap smartphones
and feature phones. Ask any salesperson working
in those stores and they’ll tell you that the £100
Lumia 520 walks out of the door at a rate of knotts.
Meanwhile, crappy Android phones such as the
Samsung Galaxy Ace proliferate, and the major
phone makers have cottoned on.
At MWC we saw multiple phones in the sub-£100
sphere. Nokia announced five of them, then there’s
the Firefox phone and the Acer Liquid Z4.
These follow on the heels
of such budget bargains
as the staggeringly good
value Moto G, a snip at
around £129. Meanwhile,
Lenovo has purchased
Motorola with the intention
of targetting global
markets with cheap,
Not all of these will
make it to western markets
such as the UK, and none
of them are entirely aimed
in our direction. But some,
if not most of them, will
be on sale here, aimed at
first-time smartphone- and
second handset buyers.
such as the
Galaxy Ace 3
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Samsung dumps its
Samsung has decided to play fair, with its Android 4.4
KitKat update removing its benchmark boosters
was in hot water
with the tech
news its phones
emember last summer, when Samsung
tweaked the system software on the
Galaxy S4 to run the processor at maxedout speeds during benchmark tests, generating
inflated scores? The controversy ended up bruising
Samsung’s credibility among the tech press.
Samsung has had a change of heart, or at the very
least, doesn’t think the optimisations are necessary
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It’s the experience that makes
the phone, not necessarily the numbers
on a bar chart
now that the reviews are all written. Ars Technica
discovered that the latest Android 4.4 KitKat update
for the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 eliminates the throttling
code. The Galaxy S4’s Geekbench numbers appear to
be on par with what we would expect them to be.
Primate Labs’ John Poole confirmed that the
benchmark-boosting practices exhibited in Android
4.3 – the software shipped with the Note 3 shipped
– were not present in the Android 4.4 update. “The
team has also added some detection code in a recent
Geekbench update that would note when boosted
scores were uploaded to that database,” wrote Ars
Technica’s Andrew Cunningham. “Samsung’s Android
4.3 software sets off the detector, while 4.4 does not.”
It’s a smart move on Samsung’s part to remove
the software tweaks that gave away its hardwareboosting practices. We don’t allow benchmark results
to influence our review scores here at Android
Advisor, as we find little correlation between them and
how smooth and responsive a phone feels in realworld use. But the news serves as a good opportunity
to remember that it’s the experience that makes the
phone, not necessarily the numbers on a bar chart.
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Samsung shuns Android
with Tizen for Gear 2
The Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch uses an early
Tizen-based operating system – not Android
amsung has unveiled its second-generation
Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which runs Tizen not
Android. However, this could be a smart move
for the future of wearable tech, according to analysts.
The move will help Samsung seed the infant
smartwatch market with the relatively unknown Tizen
OS. In theory, it will let application developers build
Tizen apps for the Gear 2 on an HTML 5 framework.
Such development projects could be less complex
than re-working Android apps used on smartphones
for smartwatches, according to analysts.
Samsung has been working with Tizen, an
open-source OS, and was expected to announce
a Tizen smartphone last year, but did not.
The company has persistently said it co-operates
with Google on the Google-managed Android
ecosystem. However, analysts note that Samsung
doesn’t want to grow overly dependent on Android.
In recent years, Samsung has worked with at least
five operating systems for its products.
Samsung is by far the largest maker of Android
smartphones and its relationship with Google is
complex. Recently the two companies signed a
10-year cross-licensing deal on patents, while Google
also sold Motorola to Lenovo, allaying Samsung’s
concerns that it could get preferential treatment.
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In the smartwatch business, Samsung has a chance
to be early to market and to benefit from using an OS
not tied to Google. Google, Apple and Microsoft are
all expected to launch smartwatches in the coming
year in a market analysts say could explode within
five years. Smartwatches are seen by most analysts
as part of a growing mobile ecosystem that will rely
heavily on smartphones – mainly by acting as second
display for apps running on smartphones.
Given the expected primacy of smartwatches in
coming years, Samsung clearly wants to be an early
supplier and would prefer to use an OS not directly
tied to Google, analysts said.
“Smartwatches are an add-on that will have a role
to play in their own right as a part of the ‘connected
everything’,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at
Kantar WorldPanel. Putting Tizen
on the Galaxy Gear “helps
Samsung seed the market
with something that runs
Tizen. It is going about
it in a way that might
appear less threatening
Milanesi said it’s
possible for a Tizenbased Galaxy Gear
to be compatible with
both Android and iOS
devices, unlike Samsung’s
original Galaxy Gear, which
works with only a few Androidpowered Samsung Galaxy
smartphones via Bluetooth.
Gear 2 could be
and iOS devices
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Android Wear & Moto 360
Google has unveiled its Android Wear smartwatch OS,
with a range of devices set to launch this summer
oogle has announced its new Android Wear
smartwatch operating system.
The company has already teamed up
with several consumer electronics manufacturers,
including Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung,
chip makers Broadcom, Imagination, Intel, Mediatek
and Qualcomm, and fashion brands such as the
Fossil Group to design Android Wear-powered
smartwatches later this year.
”Most of us are rarely without our smartphones
in hand. These powerful supercomputers keep us
connected to the world and the people we love.
But we’re only at the beginning; we’ve barely
scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile
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technology. That’s why we’re so excited about
wearables – they understand the context of the world
around you, and you can interact with them simply
and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word,”
Google wrote in a blog post.
According to Google, smartwatches powered by
Android Wear offer useful information when you need
it most, straight answers to spoken questions, the
ability to better monitor your health and fitness, and
are your key to a multiscreen world.
The first smartwatch to run Android Wear is the
Motorola Moto 360 (pictured), which will be available
from the summer.
“Moto 360’s iconic design, featuring a round face
and premium materials, feels comfortable and familiar
on your wrist. It’s everything you need, with a look
that you want,” said Motorola.
LG has also announced its G Watch, expected by
the end of June, but no futher details are available.
will be one
of the first
to run Android
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Google Nexus 8 tablet
The Nexus 7 is getting a larger, higher-resolution screen,
and is expected to go on sale in July
e’ve already got two versions of the Nexus
7 tablet from Google, but the Nexus 8 with
a larger screen and 64-bit processor could
be set to arrive this summer.
The rumour mill is gaining speed with details about
another Android tablet from Google. The Nexus 8 is
thought to be the follow-up to the Nexus 7, and could
be turning up within the next few months.
The Nexus 8 will not be announced at Google’s
I/O conference in June, but soon afterward in July. It
will be introduced with Android 4.5 and the I/O event
will focus on new Google services. That’s according
to Android Geeks, which cites an unnamed Dublinbased Google employee.
The same source revealed that Google will no
longer produce a 7in tablet, instead moving things
up to 8in. This change would mean the Nexus 8 will
closer rival devices such as the iPad mini, LG G Pad
8.3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0.
According to a Digitimes report, Google has once
again partnered with Asus for the Nexus 8. The firm
has built both Nexus 7 versions for the online search
giant. This is despite being tipped to be partnering
with LG for a Nexus 8 tablet.
It’s unclear whether Android 4.5 will be a new
version of KitKat, or whatever OS comes next.
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Google will no longer produce a 7in tablet,
moving things up to 8in
Meanwhile, Android Pit reports that the Nexus 8
will feature a 64-bit processor, following Apple’s lead
with the iPhone 5s. It’s rumoured that Google will
ditch Qualcomm and its reliable Snapdragon chips
for Intel’s Moorefield processor, which is clocked at
2.33GHz and features a PowerVR G6430 GPU.
we think its
screen is larger
than that of a
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LG G3 smartphone
LG’s forthcoming G3 could be the first smartphone with
a next-generation super-high-resolution display
preading like wildfire are rumours regarding
the next smartphone to head LG’s range,
which is thought to be the G3. Leaks suggest
the yet-to-be-confirmed smartphone could harbour
next-generation technology that could have even
Samsung against the ropes.
The standout feature is a reported 1440x2560-pixel
screen that measures 5.5in. If this is true, it means the
LG G3 will have an unparalleled 534ppi density. In
comparison, Apple’s Retina-grade iPhone 5s has
a pixel density of 326ppi, while Samsung’s brand-new
Galaxy S5 touts 432ppi.
These numbers originated from members of the
Korean media and have been cited by TechRadar.
No smartphone to date features a 1440p display,
and neither do the Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One and
Samsung Galaxy S5 (read more about these flagship
devices from page 26). Equipping the G3 with a 1440p
screen would put it in a league of its own.
The standout feature is a reported
1440x2560-pixel screen that measures 5.5in,
with an unparalleled 534ppi density
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Powerful camera, powerful processing
Backing up the supposed display are some
impressive specifications. The G3 is expected to
mirror the innards of the official G Pro 2 by including
a quad-core 2.3GHz CPU and 3GB of RAM.
Another specification familiar to LG’s range is
the 13Mp rear camera. A leaked image supposedly
captured with the G3’s camera suggests that,
although the resolution remains the same, it has been
refined to deliver impressive detail.
Rushing the launch
Trusted ‘industry sources’ cited by a native Korean
publication alleges LG will rush the release of its new
flagship as it looks to compete against flagships from
Samsung, Sony and HTC. The release date, however,
remains a point of contention, as other reports cite
sources who claim we’ll see the G3 in June.
Pictured: LG’s G2
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Best ever smartphones
from HTC, Samsung
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We compare the Galaxy S5, brand-new HTC One M8
and Xperia Z2 to see the best of what the smartphone
market has to offer in 2014
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gained a performance
boost. This is thanks
to larger speaker
chambers and a
The HTC has
screen from 4.7- to
5in, with improved
have been moved
onscreen, too. The
results in a pixel
density of 441ppi
The HTC can be
switched on by
screen. Swiping in
from the edge of
the screen launches
BlinkFeed or the
Holding the phone
in landscape and
pressing the volume
key will launch the
HTC One M8
The HTC has 16GB
of internal storage,
and now comes
with a microSD
card slot that can
accept cards up to
128GB in capacity.
The phone also
comes with 65GB
of Google Drive
The latest version
of HTC's user
6.0, is paired with
Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
You can personalise
BlinkFeed to a
and change the
theme of the
even the font
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The chassis is
a single piece of
aluminium, which is
treated for a glossy
finish and now
wraps around to the
front of the phone.
Three colours are
Grey, Arctic Silver
and Amber Gold
photos, while the
allows users to
Like the iPhone 5s,
the HTC One has
chip keeps sensors
awake for features
such as Motion
and can also track
activity via its
preloaded Fitbit app
battery and an
means the HTC
One can last up
to 30 hours on
just 10 percent
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The 5.1in full-HD
display is brighter
with more clarity,
deeper and more
helps it to adapt
be able to see
By combining the
power of LTE and
lets you download
files in a hurry. And
when you’re simply
surfing the web,
802.11ac Wi-Fi and
offers double the
speed of the S4
Samsung Galaxy S5
the Galaxy S5
is resistant to
liquids, sand and
dust, so you can
just get on with
takes your fancy
In common with
the iPhone 5s, the
S5 allows you to
unlock the handset
with the swipe of a
finger. You can also
use the fingerprint
scanner to make
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The S5 now
sports at 16Mp
camera (up from
Fast Auto Focus,
and Virtual Tour
also a 2Mp
webcam at the
ramped up the
with a new Heart
Rate Sensor. It lets
you measure your
heart rate directly
on your phone,
then monitor your
fitness with S
The S5 features a
its Ultra Power
Saving Mode the
Samsung can last
24 hours on just a
10 percent charge
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Sony claims to
offer a viewing
won’t forget, with
a 5.2in full-HD
colour depth and
shots free of
4K video via MHL:
The Z2 supports
Link) 3.0, which
means it can
output 4K video
content stored on
the phone through
its microUSB port
Sony Xperia Z2
processor, which is
75 percent faster
than the S4 Pro,
with 3GB of RAM
and Adreno 330
minimal drain on
Sony has a strong
legacy in audio
and the Z2 won’t
and Clear Audio+
help your music
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With a whopping
camera and 4K
the Xperia Z2
and video from
a smartphone. It
combines a large
1/2.3in Exmor RS
sensor with Sony’s
G Lens and BIONZ
engine, for blur-free,
even in low light
the Xperia Z2
has a one-piece
with glass panels,
and a high screento-phone ratio
that makes it feel
natural in the hand
Water- & dustresistant:
With a IP55/IP58
rating, the Xperia Z2
is resistant to both
water and the tiniest
dust particles. You
can even take shots
up to 740 hours
don’t need, while
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S5 vs One vs Z2
2014’s flagship smartphones go head
to head in our comparison review
TC, Samsung and
Sony have each
for 2014 in the One M8,
Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2
respectively. With three
brand-new and very
stylish Android handsets
on the market, which
should you buy? We
compare the Samsung
Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and Sony
Xperia Z2 spec for spec to find out.
Pricing and UK availability
All three phones are set to become available in
April, with the Samsung Galaxy S5 launching on 11
April and the Sony Xperia Z2 on 14 April. When HTC
announced its One M8 on 25 March it simply said it
would be available “shortly after”. Right now you can
pre-order the Sony Xperia Z2 for £599, and Amazon
UK is listing the Samsung Galaxy S5 at £548 (but
with an RRP of £599 matching that of the Z2).
Our money is on the HTC One M8 costing around
the same price at launch, but no doubt all three
smartphones will come down some £50- to £100
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within a couple of months, and you’ll be able
to pick them up much more cheaply (relatively
speaking) on a contract.
Design and build
Design-wise there are only a few differences
between each of these smartphones and their
predecessors. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has the
same design as the S4, but with a perforated case
that makes it feel less like a premium device. New
here, though, is a fingerprint scanner built into the
Home button, and a heart-rate monitor on the rear.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is almost identical to the
Z1, but with a new (almost hidden) earpiece and
microphone at top and bottom. It’s slightly larger than
the Z1 to incorporate the larger screen, and Sony says
it has improved the screen-to-chassis ratio. The Z2
does feel smaller, but it’s still a little unwieldy.
HTC has extended its metal design to the front
of the handset, machining the chassis from a single
piece of aluminium and treating it to a glossy finish.
It’s also snuck in improved front-facing BoomSound
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speakers that benefit from larger chambers and a
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the slimmest
smartphone in our trio, at 8.1mm versus the Sony
Xperia Z2’s 8.2mm and HTC One M8’s 9.4mm
(we’re quoting GSM on the latter). The S5 is also the
shortest, at 142mm, and the Z2 the tallest, at 146.8mm;
the HTC One M8 is piggy in the middle at 146.4mm. A
slim piggy, mind, since its 70.6mm chassis is smaller in
width than both the 73.3mm Z2 and 72.5mm S5, and
it weighs 3g less than the Sony (163g), although 15g
more than the featherlight 145g S5.
Both the Sony and Samsung are certified dust- and
waterproof. However, whereas you’ll need to ensure
the Galaxy S5’s case is clipped on tightly with its ports
properly covered before jumping into a large puddle,
the Xperia Z2’s IP55 and IP58 ratings mean you can
dive headfirst into the nearest swimming pool and
even take photos underwater. The Sony is waterproof
in freshwater to 1.5m and for up to 30 minutes.
Various colours are available for each of the
handsets. The Samsung comes in black, white,
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gold and blue. The Sony is available in black,
white and purple. HTC, meanwhile, offers the
One M8 in grey, silver or gold.
There is very little difference in the sizing of these
three smartphones’ screens, with the HTC the
smallest at 5in, the Samsung slightly larger at 5.1in,
and the Sony biggest of the bunch at 5.2in. All three
offer a full-HD (1920x1080) resolution, but the HTC’s
smaller screen means it offers the highest pixel
density at 441ppi. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy
S5 offers 432ppi and the Sony 423ppi, although you
won’t be able to tell the difference between them.
Samsung employs a Super AMOLED panel in its
Galaxy S5, which it says can automatically adjust to
lighting, thereby optimising the display for whatever
the conditions. Sony uses a ‘Triluminous’ display,
and its X-Reality mobile picture engine and Live
Colour LED technology (which is said to
increase colour depth and gradation)
result in a gorgeous-looking screen
that is sharp, colourful, vibrant and
immersive. HTC, meanwhile, has
increased the size of its super-sharp
panel and moved the navigation
buttons onscreen, allowing for a
handset that’s only slightly chunkier
than the original HTC One.
Processor & graphics
We can’t wait to get the HTC,
Samsung and Sony into our
lab for benchmarking, since
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there’s very little to separate them on paper. All
three sport Adreno 330 graphics. All three run
Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processors.
The differences lie only in the clock speed of the
processor – Samsung pushes this chip the hardest,
at 2.5GHz versus its rivals’ 2.3GHz – and the amount
of RAM. Whereas the S5 and HTC come with 2GB of
memory, Sony slaps 3GB into the Z2 – but how much
difference will this really make, especially given the
Galaxy S5’s faster-clocked CPU?
We’re also intrigued by HTC’s claims of a coprocessor. According to the smartphone maker, its
low-power chip keeps sensors awake for features
such as Motion Launch Gestures and can also track
activity via the preloaded Fitbit app.
One thing’s for sure, though, all three smartphones
will be blazing-fast – Sony says the Snapdragon
801 is 75 percent faster than the S4 Pro – and with
The Samsung, Sony and HTC are each available
with 16GB of internal storage for your apps, music,
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video and more. The Galaxy S5 is reportedly also
available in a 32GB model, but history tells us you’ll
be hard-pushed to find one. Pleasingly, each comes
with a microSDXC slot that lets you plug in a further
64GB of storage (although Samsung told us its can
manage 128GB), and the HTC comes with 65GB of
free Google Drive cloud storage.
At last we have an area where these Android
phones are less evenly matched. On paper you
might be tricked into thinking the 20.7Mp Sony
Xperia Z2 is the best suited to the amateur
photographer, while the 4.1Mp HTC One M8 is about
as useful for taking photos as an envelope, and the
16Mp Galaxy S5 sits somewhere in the middle. But
achieving decent photographs depends on a lot
more than the number of megapixels offered by a
sensor, and each of these three phones offers some
interesting technologies in this department.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 has gone from 13Mp in
the S4 to 16Mp here, with its 1/2.6in sensor boasting
a super-fast auto focus that lets you take a
shot in 0.3 seconds, a selective focus
mode that blurs the background
and makes your subject
really stand out, and
a pretty decent
HDR (Rich Tone)
mode. There’s also
a 2Mp front-facing
webcam, and the
S5 is capable of
4K video at 30fps.
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Talking about 4K video,
the Sony Xperia Z2 gets
one up on the S5 with
support for 4K video
via MHL. This means
you can watch the 4K
video captured on your
smartphone on your 4K
TV, thereby enjoying it
in its full glory. The Sony
also boasts a 20.7Mp stills camera, which should
allow for outstanding photography and video from
your smartphone. It combines a large 1/2.3in Exmor
RS sensor with Sony’s G Lens and BIONZ imageprocessing engine for blur-free, ultra-sharp shots
even in low light. There’s also a Timeshift slo-mo
mode that shoots at 120fps.
We’ve seen the HTC One M8’s Ultrapixel camera
before, and we weren’t disappointed. Now HTC has
upgraded its design by offering a second camera –
known as the Duo Camera. While one sensor shoots
a standard image, the other captures depth. This
allows you to refocus a shot even after the event.
HTC also boasts a 5Mp front-facing camera with a
wide-angle lens for the One M8.
Whether you buy your smartphone from HTC,
Samsung or Sony, it’s going to come with the latest
connectivity technology. That means 4G LTE mobile
connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, the very latest in Wi-Fi
technology – 802.11ac – and NFC.
Sony also allows the sharing of 4K content
between your smartphone and TV via MHL, and
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boasts of one-touch sharing, listening, mirroring and
backup via NFC, while Samsung specifies MIMO
technology and offers a unique Download Booster
that combines the power of 4G LTE and 802.11ac Wi-Fi
to deliver downloads at a theoretical max of 400Mb/s.
Unsurprisingly, all thee handsets run the very latest
version of Google Android: KitKat 4.4.2. None is a
vanilla implementation of Android, however, with the
Sony Xperia Z2 perhaps the closest.
Samsung has performed a bit of a clean up of
Android for its Galaxy S5, with round icons found
in the notification bar and Settings menu. Similar to
BlinkFeed, Samsung’s Magazine interface is placed
to the left of the main Home screen, and we couldn’t
find a way to remove it. Three
extras are worthy of mention:
Kids Mode offers a fun,
colourful interface for children,
restricting content and access
to other features with a PIN;
S Health is paired with the
heart-rate monitor on the
S5’s rear to help you track
your fitness; and Private
Mode is a place in which
to store all those naughty
or embarrassing photos
and videos you don’t want
anyone else to see (the
fingerprint scanner is used
to gain access to this mode).
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HTC’s Sense 6.0 interface debuts with the One M8.
It lets you personalise BlinkFeed to a greater degree,
and change the theme of the software and even the
font. HTC also builds in Motion Launch Gestures –
you can switch on the phone by double-tapping the
screen, swiping in from the edge of screen launches
BlinkFeed or the widget panel, and holding the phone
in landscape mode and pressing the volume key
launches the Camera app.
Battery life is always a bit of a sticking point for the
most powerful Android phones, with few able to last
more than a day without needing a recharge. So
it’s pleasing to see phone makers include special
power-saving modes that can drastically improve
the runtime. The Galaxy S5’s Ultra Power Saving
mode, for example, switches the display to black and
white and turns off unnecessary features, allowing
the Galaxy smartphone to last 24 hours with just 10
percent charge. HTC’s Extreme Power Saving mode
is even better, allowing 30 hours of runtime once the
battery drops to 10 percent.
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Ignoring these power-saving features, however,
the Sony Xperia Z2 has the largest-capacity power
pack at 3200mAh. By comparison, the Samsung
Galaxy S5 offers a 2800mAh cell, and the HTC One
M8 2600mAh. Only the Samsung’s is removable,
which means you could potentially carry a spare
when you’re away from a mains charging point for an
Without those power-saving modes, Samsung
claims its S5 lasts 10 hours when used for web
browsing and 12 hours for video playback. Sony says
its Xperia Z2 can manage up to 740 hours on standby,
or 120 hours for music, 19 hours for talk time, and
10 hours for video. HTC makes no claims about its
battery life in normal use.
We’ll run each handset through our own battery-life
tests once we get them into the lab.
We won’t be able to form a decision on which is the
best smartphone until we’ve had all three into the lab
for benchmarking. However, on paper alone, the Sony
Xperia Z2 appears to lead the pack. With an extra gig
of RAM over the competition, a promising stills- and
video camera that lets you display 4K footage on
your 4K TV, one-touch sharing, listening, mirroring
and backup via NFC, a gorgeous screen, excellent
dust- and waterproofing credentials and the largestcapacity battery prior to the existence of any powersaving mode, Sony is surely on to a winner with the
Xperia Z2. The Samsung Galaxy S5’s fingerprint
scanner and heart-rate monitor also impress, as does
the HTC One M8’s Duo Camera, but none is on our
list of priorities.
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Mobile World Congress:
new toys on display
We visited Barcelona’s MWC tradeshow in February.
Here are some of the devices we saw on display
Acer Liquid E3
Acer is one of many smartphone
manufacturers to release a midrange Android smartphone at
MWC. In terms of design there is
nothing overly different about the
Acer Liquid E3, which runs Android
Jelly Bean 4.2. It has a decent 4.7in
(720x1280, 312ppi) IPS screen and
a relatively slim bezel. It’s a nice
weight, too, at 135g, and feels solid
in the hands. There’s just 4GB of
internal storage, but a microSDHC
slot lets you add up to 32GB. A
1.2GHz quad-core chip is coupled
with 1GB of RAM, and performance
is pretty good – opening- and
closing apps, and navigating
the home screens and menus is
speedy. The 2Mp front camera
is equipped with a flash, which is
perfect for the selfie generation,
and there’s a 13Mp whopper on
the rear. The £164 Acer Liquid E3 is
expected to hit the shelves in April.
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Acer Liquid Z4
Also new from Acer is the Liquid Z4, which is half
the price of the company’s E3 at just £82. It’s a
compact handset with a 4in (800x400) display that’s
not only a little dull, but low-res and relatively small
by today’s standards. The build is better than you
might expect at this price, though, with a smooth,
rounded back that feels nice to hold, and pleasant
red detail around the camera lens on
the black model (it’s also available
in white). A small button on the
rear, dubbed AcerRAPID, aims to
simplify one-handed use, and lets
you access the camera, answer
calls and launch predefined
apps. A 5Mp rear camera is
paired with a flash, and our test
shots were satisfactory for a
budget phone. Inside, a 1.3GHz
dual-core processor, 512MB of
RAM and 4GB of storage space
are stingy, but acceptable
given the price. If only it had a
microSD slot… The Liquid Z4
goes on sale in April.
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Archos 50c Oxygen
New from Archos is a 5in-screen octa-core
smartphone that will cost just £199. The 50c
Oxygen is incredibly thin and light, at 140g and
145x69.8x7.64mm. Inside there’s just 1GB of RAM,
but twin quad-core processors let the Archos
deliver great performance with a minimal impact
on battery life. Also onboard is a 8GB of storage,
plus a microSDHC slot that lets you add up to
32GB. The 5in screen has a 1280x720 resolution,
resulting in a pixel density of 293ppi – not bad at this
price. However, costs have been cut in the camera
department: there’s a fairly standard 2Mp camera at
the front, but we found the 8Mp snapper at the rear
struggled to focus on subjects only 6ft away. The
50c Oxygen runs Android Jelly Bean 4.3.
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Archos 64 Xenon
The 64 Xenon is a phablet from Archos that costs
just £199. It’s a huge device, with a 6.4in display
and large bezel making it uncomfortable to hold.
It’s not heavy, mind, at just 196g. That 6.4in panel
is an IPS display with a 1280x720-pixel resolution
– matching that of the 50c Oxygen, but with a
lower pixel density. The brushed-metal case looks
cheap, and the overall design isn’t outstanding
with oddly placed buttons on the rear. Inside is a
Mediatek MT6582 quadcore processor running at
1.3GHz, 1GB of RAM and
a Mali-400MP2 graphics
processor. Storage is just
4GB, but a microSDHC
slot lets you slide in an
extra 32GB. The phablet’s
rear-facing camera is
surprisingly impressive, at
8Mp with an LED flash. We
managed to capture some
pretty nice photos using
the Xenon, despite the
poor lighting conditions
at the stand. It can also
record video at 1080p,
while the front-facing
camera is 2Mp. The 64
Xenon runs Android Jelly
Bean, with no signs of
KitKat on the horizon.
The release date is yet to
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Huawei MediaPad X1
The MediaPad X1 is Huawei’s take on a Nexus
7 killer, and the Chinese firm claims it’s the most
slender tablet (or, rather, phablet) in its class. The
X1, which will cost W399 and launch within the next
few months, is certainly narrow and very easy to
grip with one hand. The MediaPad is both thin and
light, at 7.2mm and 239g, but with a 7in full-HD IPS
screen it’s way too big to use as a phone. The rear
cover is made from aluminium, with plastic strips at
the top and bottom. Inside is a 1.6GHz quad-core
processor with 2GB of RAM and 16- or 32GB of
storage. There’s also a microSD card slot for adding
more. It has the best camera we’ve seen on a tablet,
with a 13Mp sensor and LED flash. The front-facing
webcam is also pretty decent at 5Mp. The Huawei
MediaPad X1 runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with
Huawei’s Emotion UI
2.0 interface, which
removes the app
menu and places
everything on the
interesting of all is
the fact Huawei
claims the X1’s
20- and 25
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LG G2 Mini
Like many smartphone
makers, LG has made a
smaller, cheaper version
of its flagship smartphone.
The price has yet to
be announced, but the
smartphone will no doubt
be more affordable than
its bigger brother when it
arrives in early April. The G2
Mini has a 4.7in (540x960)
IPS screen that makes it
more comfortable in the
hand than the 5.2in G2.
It’s a little thicker, too, at
9.8mm, but we wouldn’t call
it chunky. In common with
the G2, a Rear Key places
power and volume controls
below the camera; getting
one up on that phone, the
rear cover is removable,
providing access to the
battery and a microSDHC card slot. Hardware specs
have been downgraded from the G2, the Mini has a
1.2GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB
of internal storage. It runs Android 4.4 KitKat.
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LG G Pro 2
The G Pro 2 phablet has a huge 5.9in display, yet
LG has managed to keep down the size and weight,
and keep things stylish. A thin bezel means even
tiny hands can hold and grip the LG with ease, and
features such as Mini View aim to improve the ease
with which you can use the phablet in one hand.
This KitKat device also boasts 4K video recording
and Knock Code lock/unlock security. Photos and
video look delightful on the huge display, and we
like the adjustable split-screen mode that lets you
watch a film while typing a quick email. There’s a
13Mp camera on the rear, and a 2.1Mp webcam at the
front – a white border placed onscreen can aid the
capture of selfies with the latter. Inside is a 2.26GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor
and 3GB of RAM. The G Pro 2 is available with 16- or
32GB of storage, and a microSDXC card reader lets
you slot in a further 64GB. A 3200mAh battery is
removable. Pricing is yet to be confirmed.
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We seriously dig the
LG L90, the top model
of three L-series
smartphones unveiled at
MWC (other devices in
this family are the 3.5in
L40 and 4.5in L70). It’s a
4.7in (540x960, 234ppi)
mid-range smartphone with a 1.2GHz
Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core chip and
1GB of RAM lurking inside. You get 8GB of storage,
plus a microSDHC slot for adding up to 32GB
more. A rear-facing 8Mp camera with flash offers
acceptable quality, while the secondary snapper is
a crummy 1.3Mp model that’s there purely to
facilitate Skype and Snapchat. The LG L90 supports
dual SIMs, but mobile connectivity stretches only so
far as 3G. Pleasingly, Android 4.4 KitKat is onboard.
Pricing and availability is yet to be confirmed.
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Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 HD+
Lenovo has given its 10in Yoga Tablet a Full HD
display and a better processor, as well as a design
tweak and camera upgrade. The design is very
similar to the original Tablet 10, with the same sleek
chassis and cylindrical protrusion at the base that
not only makes it easier to hold the 615g device,
but conceals a kickstand. The display has been
upgraded to 1920x1200, resulting in a pixel density
of 224ppi and matching the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.
We found the display bright, clear and accurate, and
a nice tool for viewing images captured by the 8Mp
camera. Inside is a 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon
400 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. Storage
is either 16- or 32GB, with a microSDXC card
allowing expansion up to 64GB. Lenovo touts 18
hours of life from the 9000mAh battery. An update
to Android 4.4 KitKat is expected soon, while the
tablet itself will go on sale in May at £299 (£329 3G).
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Nokia X & X+
The X (W89) and X+ (W99)
are two very similar budget
smartphones from Nokia running
Android. Yes, you read that right.
Their design looks very similar
to Nokia’s Asha range: square,
chunky, and with six colours
available. At 10.4mm and 129g
they feel a little brick-like, too.
The 4in (480x800) screens are
basic, but getting an IPS panel
is surprising at this price. Inside
the X and X+ is a dual-core
S4 chip, plus
512MB (X) or 768MB (X+) of RAM.
It sounds stingy, but offered
smooth performance during our
hands-on testing. Both models
have just 4GB of internal storage,
but a microSDHC slot lets you
add an extra 32GB. The Android
OS has been heavily customised,
looking very similar to Windows
Phone, and it doesn’t offer
access to Google Play.
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The £89 Nokia XL is the
Nokia smartphone to
appear at MWC. It’s a 5inscreen smartphone that,
like its brothers, runs
a heavily customised
OS with no access to
Google Play. Available
in March, the XL
looks far more like
a Windows Phone than any
Android handset we’ve ever seen. But the hardware
isn’t bad: you get a 5in (480x800, 197ppi) display,
a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 768MB of
RAM and 4GB of storage (plus a microSDHC slot).
A 5Mp rear camera is paired with a flash, while
a 2Mp front snapper is ideal for video chat. At
141.4x77.7x10.9mm and 190g, it’s not the skinniest
smartphone, but it’s not too chunky either.
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Sony Xperia M2
The new kid on Sony’s mid-range block is the Xperia
M2, and it should offer reasonable value when it
goes on sale in May at £250. It’s as beautiful as its
higher-priced siblings, measuring 139.7x71.1x8.6mm
and weighing in at just 148g. It’s a solid-feeling
device that you wouldn’t be ashamed to take out
your pocket in public. However, we found the 4.8in
(540x960, 229ppi) touchscreen a little unresponsive,
and saw some lag opening certain apps – surprising,
given the 1.2GHz Qualcomm quad-core chip and
1GB of RAM. There’s also 8GB of internal storage
(with a microSDHC slot), an 8Mp rear camera, 4G
connectivity and support for dual SIMs.
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Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
Sony’s £399 Xperia Z2 Tablet is a slim, light, durable
and powerful 10in tablet that’s good-looking, too.
Successor to the Xperia Tablet Z, the Z2 is incredibly
(almost unbelievably) light, at 426g. It’s exceptionally
thin, too, at just 6.4mm. It feels amazing to hold,
despite the large, 10.1in display. We can imagine
spending hours using the device without feeling
a strain on our wrist. The stylish design works on
the principle of keeping things simple, with the
same rounded corners and metal frame as the Z2
smartphone (see page 32). Specifications include
a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core
processor, a gorgeous 10.1in (1920x1080) IPS display,
an 8.1Mp rear camera with an Exmor RS sensor, and
a 6000mAh battery. The Z2 Tablet is also dust- and
waterproof, and runs Android 4.4 KitKat. The Z2
Tablet is available from March.
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5 things we hate about
Mobile World Congress
Being a journalist at a tradeshow is a nightmare.
Here’s a little insight into our world
n all-expenses-paid trip to Barcelona for
Mobile World Congress (MWC) and a few
days out the office might sound like fun to
you, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here we list five things we hate about MWC to give
you an idea of what it’s like to be a journalist at a
want to go
Everything is miles away
We’re used to sitting at desks on comfortable chairs,
typing away while listening to music. So, walking for
hours on end around a huge show isn’t something
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No matter what you’re trying to
do or where you’re trying to go there will
be a gigantic queue
with which our legs are familiar. MWC is one of the
smaller shows on the calendar, but that doesn’t
mean it’s small. Each hall, of which there are eight, is
bigger than a football pitch, and full of stands from
different tech manufacturers. This means everything
is literally miles apart and it’s pretty easy to get lost
trying to find a specific stand. And don’t forget the
mobile office you must carry on your back.
This isn’t unique to MWC, but there’s a real danger of
becoming malnourished at technology tradeshows.
Our delicate stomachs can struggle with the foreign
food, and your eating times inevitably get screwed
up. In CES the press get a packed lunch each day;
not so in Barcelona.
We’re English, so apparently we’re good at queuing.
The queues are MWC are nothing short of horrific.
No matter what you’re trying to do or where you’re
trying to go there will be a gigantic queue. There
are out-the-door queues for food at lunch time,
picking up your badge to get you into the show,
queues as far as the eye can see for taxis at the
end of the day and, yes, more queues to see the
best devices with which everyone wants a hands-on.
You’re alright with the rubbish products.
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In order to bring you all the information we’re
gathering from the show, we need a good internet
connection. Unfortunately, as with almost every
other show and press event, the Wi-Fi is unreliable.
Obviously it’s going to be difficult to provide a
speedy and constant connection to thousands of
attendees, but it sure makes our job frustrating.
Luckily the press room has hard-wired ethernet
cables, so it’s not all bad.
This is most definitely a first-world problem,
but expensing a trip like MWC is a nightmare.
Remembering to get a receipt for everything you buy
is hard enough; not losing said receipts is even more
difficult. If you manage to do all that, sorting through it
all when you’re back in the office is worse still. It’s not
only logistically tricky, but working out what you’ve
bought on a Spanish receipt is practically impossible.
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We explain the past, present and future
of smartphone chip design
RM may rule the roost in the Android
hardware world, but it’s not running a
dictatorship. Rather than fabricate and sell
its own chips, ARM simply designs architectures
and instruction sets, which it then licenses to chip
manufacturers across the Android land.
It’s a somewhat generous approach, and ARM
even encourages its hardware partners to alter
reference designs however they like. As a result,
companies as diverse as Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung
and nVidia have cooked up their own ARM processor
variants, creating something of an arms race.
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Thanks to a nudge from Apple and its A7
processor, which was introduced in the iPhone 5s,
64-bit chips will soon be commonplace in Android
phones too. Indeed, major players in the Android
processor space have already announced both highand low-end 64-bit parts for 2014.
But what does all this mean for you? Read on for
details and insight. We’ll describe the processors
deployed in today’s phones, and preview what’s on
deck for tomorrow. Your phone’s ARM chip plays
a pivotal role in app performance and battery life,
so knowing what’s on the horizon could influence
whether you buy a new phone this week, or wait
until later this year.
Qualcomm: Snap, the mighty dragon
In US markets, Qualcomm leads the way in Android
phone implementations with the Snapdragon SoC
(System-on-Chip) platform. Snapdragon starts with
an ARM-compatible CPU core of Qualcomm’s own
A basic block
diagram of the
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design. Currently, the CPU core in Snapdragon
processors is called Krait, and is loosely comparable
in speed to ARM’s Cortex A15 reference design.
Paired with Krait is Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics
technology. This GPU line began life at ATI under the
brand name Imageon, and was picked up by AMD in
2006 when it purchased ATI. Two years later, AMD
sold off the Imageon technologies to Qualcomm,
which re-branded them Adreno. It’s a cheeky move
on Qualcomm’s part: Adreno is an anagram of
Radeon, the name still used by AMD graphics cards.
Qualcomm was first out of the 4G LTE gate with
an integrated SoC implementation for the wireless
standard. This put Qualcomm at an enormous
advantage in markets such as the US, where LTE
support became a must-have feature. Direct SoC
integration also earned the Snapdragon a home
in lots of phones, as the alternative is to add a
separate LTE modem chip – thus raising price,
energy usage and manufacturing complexity.
The Snapdragon 800 series is Qualcomm’s top
offering, featuring up to four Krait cores running at up
to 2.46GHz, and partnered with Adreno 330 graphics.
Arguably, this represents the most well-rounded
processor package for Android devices today,
providing excellent performance in all areas within
a reasonable power budget. Snapdragon-based
devices also get the lion’s share of post-release ROM
development from enthusiasts.
Just around the corner is the Snapdragon 805,
a platform refresh that will feature faster Krait
cores, an improved Adreno GPU, and faster RAM
bandwidth. Oddly, Qualcomm’s first 64-bit mobile
parts will arrive this year in the form of the low- to
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mid-range Snapdragon 410. High-end parts are
expected shortly afterwards.
Samsung, the company man
Samsung has been producing SoCs based on
ARM architectures for more than a decade. In fact,
Samsung chips appeared in every iPhone released
before the iPhone 4.
Samsung’s current Exynos series SoCs are
fairly traditional ARM variants, featuring Cortex A9
and A15 cores, and ARM’s own Mali GPU design.
However, a few Samsung chips – such as the
Exynos 5 5410 found in one variant of the Galaxy
S4 – use PowerVR’s potent SGX core to handle
graphics. PowerVR’s excellent GPU designs are most
commonly found in Apple products, which is too bad
because Exynos could use a little love when it comes
to GPU horsepower.
The Exynos 5
four ‘big’ highperformance
with four ‘little’
but big battery
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While the Exynos 5’s raw CPU performance is
generally superior to Qualcomm’s Krait performance,
the Mali GPU falls behind competing Adreno and
PowerVR graphics solutions. Samsung’s own Galaxy
Note 3 implementation is a good example of this.
The Note 3 variants featuring Snapdragon chips offer
more features and a better user experience, despite
being virtually identical to the versions that include
Samsung’s own Exynos chips.
A15 cores are power hungry, so ARM implemented
a scheme called ‘big.LITTLE’ wherein each highperformance core is shadowed by a lower-power,
lower-performance core that takes over whenever
workloads permit. The current crop of Exynos 5 Octa
SoCs employs this feature to keep the A15’s appetite
for power in check, although some implementations
of big.LITTLE have cache issues that hinder
Looking forward, Exynos 6 promises to bring
cutting-edge 64-bit hardware and integrated 4G LTE
to the table. Samsung says the caching problems that
held back earlier variants of big.LITTLE have been
resolved, and we should see Exynos 6 by springtime,
perhaps in the Galaxy S5.
That being said, Samsung’s phones and tablets
are most appealing for reasons beyond processor
performance, focusing instead on features such as
advanced OLED screens and sophisticated stylus
input. The conservative route of going with ARM’s
reference designs allows Samsung’s engineers
to look for more novel ways to differentiate their
hardware. Given their market share, it appears
Samsung may be on to something with this strategy.
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nVidia: full speed and full volume
It may seem like nVidia has been plugging away
with its Tegra line for a while now, but it’s the newest
player to the SoC game by a long shot, and the
inexperience shows. Tegra’s growing pains meant
that very few devices used a Tegra chip until Tegra
3 came along. But the third time was a charm, and
nVidia’s SoC package found a home in tablets like
Google’s original Nexus 7 and Microsoft’s Surface.
Microsoft retained nVidia for the Surface 2, which
features the Tegra 4, but Google migrated to
Snapdragon for the 2013 Nexus 7.
Tegra 4 hit the market in 2013 with up to four times
the performance of its predecessor, but it still required
a separate companion LTE modem chip. It pairs a
Cortex A15 quad-core setup with 72 GPU cores of
A die shot
of the nVidia
Tegra K1. You
the four ‘big’
in the centre,
and the giant
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nVidia’s own design. Still, despite this firepower,
GPU performance tends to trail the competition. A
fifth, low-power A15 core is also included in Tegra
4 to serve in an energy-saving capacity similar to
Tegra 4 isn’t fully competitive with current industry
leaders, but waiting in the wings is nVidia’s Tegra K1, a
project that promises to bring last-generation gaming
console quality graphics to mobile users with a 192GPU core implementation of the Kepler architecture.
Tegra K1 was announced in two versions. One uses
the same ‘4+1’ CPU setup employed in the Tegra 4,
with similar ARM Cortex A15 cores.
But the more interesting K1 version uses a custom,
dual-core 64-bit CPU code-named Denver, designed
by nVidia’s own in-house dream team of engineers
poached from Intel, AMD, Sun, Transmeta, and HP.
While leaked benchmarks suggest the K1 may live up
to its press, the chip is still a wait-and-see proposition.
For starters, we don’t know which variant of the
Tegra K1 generated those leaked benchmarks. And
what’s more, we have no helpful details on the K1’s
power utilisation. With no integrated LTE modem, and
nVidia’s history of relatively high power use, the Tegra
K1 may be destined for tablets but turn out to be too
power-hungry for phones.
While Apple’s move to 64-bit has motivated the rest
of the mobile industry to follow, don’t expect to see
dramatic dividends in upcoming Android phones and
tablets. Apple’s tightly controlled vertical integration
– in which system software and device hardware
are made by the same company – makes it easier
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for the company to realise benefits from big platform
shifts. And jumping from 32-bit to 64-bit is a big shift.
But the transition won’t be quite so seamless in the
diverse Android ecosystem.
Some 64-bit benefits, such as increased memory
limits, should manifest quickly. But other performance
advantages will have to wait until the OS and many
applications are modified. And that will require
coordination between hardware vendors, software
developers and Google itself. This might take a while,
but don’t worry about the wait. There’s plenty of
mobile tech in the pipeline for 2014 to keep you busy
in the meantime.
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Run Android on Windows
– and vice versa
We look at ways of running Windows applications on your
mobile and Android apps on your desktop or laptop PC
lthough smartphones are now available with
Windows, as the most popular operating
system for handheld devices, most of us are
using Android while we’re on the move.
This means that we have to juggle two operating
systems – Windows on our desktop or laptop,
something quite different on our phone or tablet.
Many of us are used to sharing data between these
devices – either by synchronising in the cloud or
transferring documents locally via Bluetooth or USB.
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If you have apps you like on your
smartphone, why can’t you use them on your
PC? The good news is that you can
But what about sharing software? If you have apps
you like on your smartphone, why can’t you use them
on your PC? Conversely, if you have a package that’s
useful on your desktop PC, why shouldn’t you be
able to use it on your Android tablet? The good
news is that you can.
Our main emphasis here is on how to use exactly the
same applications on our mobile devices as we use
on our Windows PC and vice versa. However,
for some purposes, it’s possible to manage with
lookalike apps while you’re out and about. In
essence, we make do with apps on our Android
devices that provide some of the functionality of
In some cases they work in a way that’s
indistinguishable from the Windows version.
Android’s reader for Adobe PDF files, for example,
is just about perfect. However, apps that provide
compatibility with Microsoft Office documents –
namely Word, Excel and PowerPoint files – while
very desirable, are something of a mixed bag.
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most of your
A quick search in Google Play shows that there are
plenty of Microsoft Office-type apps available for
Android. Many of them are free, so you don’t stand
to waste any money by making the wrong choice.
However, it would save a lot of time if you take a
good look at some reviews before deciding which
app will best meet your needs.
In many cases, the more sophisticated features
are not fully supported but, since many people only
use the basic features, that might not be an issue.
Perhaps the most well-known Office app is Google’s
Quickoffice which comes as standard with new
devices running Android 4.4 KitKat, but is freely
available from Google Play if you have an earlier
version of Android.
Quickoffice isn’t 100 percent
compatible with Microsoft
Office. We found that opening
a Word document that was
formatted with multiple text
columns appeared as a single
column, but it will probably
meet most of your needs.
You may also need a means
of editing photos and other
graphics files in standard
formats such as Jpeg or Png.
Here, we’re not concerned with
compatibility with particular
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Windows software, but with the ability to import and
export in the necessary formats and the provision
of adequate functionality. As with Windows, a wide
range of Android apps is available for photo editing.
Running Windows on Android
Solutions for using Windows applications on an
Android device tend to involve accessing a Windows
PC or a virtual PC via the cloud rather than running
the software directly on your smartphone or tablet.
While this is undoubtedly a reflection on the more
limited resources available on most Android devices,
it’s a perfectly workable solution.
it has some
The first method is to connect to your home PC
using the Microsoft Remote Desktop app on your
Android device. We mention this here because it will
appeal to some users, and it has the advantage of
giving you access to all the software you use on your
PC, but there are some serious drawbacks that limit
For a start, although you don’t have to install any
software on your PC, it will work only if that PC is
running certain editions of Windows. In particular,
for Windows 8 you need Enterprise or Pro while for
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Windows 7 it’s restricted to Professional, Enterprise or
Ultimate. Given that most home users have basic or
Home editions, it’s not an option.
Second, for this to work your home PC has to be
switched on while you’re away from home. Needless
to say, this will increase your electricity bill and
doesn’t do much for the environment.
Finally, although you can run the Remote Desktop
app on any Android device, if you’re going to be using
it to any great extent, a tablet would make a lot more
sense than a smartphone. After all, trying to navigate
a Windows desktop on a small smartphone screen is
going to involve a lot of zooming and panning.
A more practical solution for most people – but,
again, only if you have a tablet – is the virtual PC
service offered by OnLive. Although you can chose
to pay for additional features, the free service is an
excellent way to get started, giving you access to
is a free
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Word, Excel and PowerPoint while providing you with
2GB of cloud storage.
We recommend that you try the free service first
before considering the more fully-featured offering.
First of all you should sign up at desktop.onlive.
com and, optionally, upload to OnLive any Office
documents from your PC that you subsequently
want to access from your Android device. Then,
on your Android tablet (the app isn’t supported on
smartphones), install the OnLive Desktop app from
Google Play. Be sure not to accidentally install the
app called OnLive, from the same company, which is
for online gaming and quite different. Now, when you
run the app, your virtual PC, complete with Microsoft
Office, will appear on screen and those applications
will work in just the same way as on your PC.
Running Android on Windows
As we now turn our attention to the opposite issue
of running your favourite Android apps on your
Windows PC, we find means of doing exactly that, as
opposed to effectively driving a remote PC as is the
case with accessing Windows apps under Android.
First up is the BlueStacks App Player which it’s
free from bluestacks.com. As the name suggests,
this package allows you to run Android apps on your
Windows machine but it’s not a full Android emulator
so you won’t get the full Android experience.
It’s currently a beta release, and it might ask your
permission to upgrade your graphics driver, but in
practice, we found installation to be straightforward.
Having said that, if you don’t already have a Google
account you’ll need to sign up for one as you would
to get the most out of any Android device. A key
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emphasis is one playing Android games under
Windows so when you run BlueStacks most of the
screen will be taken up with game suggestions.
However, unlike some similar packages,
BlueStacks includes Google Play so you can search
for and install apps in just the same way as with a
true Android phone or tablet. As a beta release, it’s
probably not reasonable to expect it to be perfect and
we did, indeed, experience a few teething problems.
First, with some apps, the screen looked very
pixelated although this is probably inevitable on a
large PC screen when you’re using an app that had
been written for a small low-resolution screen.
Second, on a non-touch screen PC, zooming with
apps that expect pinch and reverse pinch gestures
can be problematic. BlueStacks’ support pages
suggest that Ctrl + and Ctrl – should work but we
didn’t find that to be the case and it seems that it’s
probably app dependent.
To run Android
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A solution that claims to provide you with a full
Android emulation on your PC is YouWave. Whether
the issue of full Android compatibility is an asset
compared to the app player approach of BlueStacks,
we’re not so sure. YouWave uses Oracle VM
VirtualBox as the emulation engine but, paradoxically,
if you already have VirtualBox installed you have to
uninstall it before installing YouWave.
It isn’t free software although you can download
a fully functioning copy and try it for 10 days. After
this trial period you must pay $14.99 or $19.99 for the
Basic (Android 2.3 Gingerbread) or Home (Android
4.0 ICS) versions respectively. In reality we found it
very similar to BlueStacks, even down to the issues of
pixilation and zooming. The suppliers confirmed that
zooming isn’t currently supported but indicated that
they were considering it for a future version, perhaps
using on-screen buttons. These are still comparatively
early days for Android on Windows solutions and we
trust that the types of problems we encountered with
both BlueStacks and YouWave will prove to be short
lived. For many uses, both will provide acceptable
service but if you’re tempted to take the YouWave
route, we suggest you make good use of your 10 day
trial before deciding whether to buy it.
The all-in-one solution
While all the solutions we’ve seen so far are either
free or low-cost, most represent something of a
compromise. Although not free, though, if you’re in
the market for a new PC, you might like to consider
one of the small but growing number of platforms
that have been designed to run both Windows and
Android natively. Industry experts are divided on
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whether these all-in-one machines will really take
off but it’s a potentially interesting solution to the
Windows-Android dichotomy. While a few such
products have been announced, one of the few you
can buy today is the Asus Transformer Trio
Like other products in the Asus Transformer range,
the Trio takes the form of a laptop with a removable
keyboard which, when detached, turns the laptop into
a tablet. But while other Transformers run the same
operating system – either Windows 8 or Android
– whatever the form factor, the Trio allows you to
switch operating system at the touch of a button. In
fact it can do more than this which is the key to the
Trio designation. Because both the screen and the
keyboard contain their own processor, by adding a
keyboard and monitor to the keyboard, it can be used
as a desktop PC.
Not only that, but the screen section can then
be used as a tablet by someone else, at the same
time. Needless to say, buying two computers in one
doesn’t come cheap and, even then, without some
of the solutions we’ve seen elsewhere in this article,
it doesn’t allow you to run Android apps under
Windows and Windows software under Android. With
a street price of £899, you’d probably be better off
buying a separate Android device and a laptop at
the moment. However, if this type of computer really
takes off, expect prices to tumble. What’s more, if it
also provides a means of the Android and Windows
elements interacting with each other, with the ability
to share software between the two platforms, we
think manufacturers will be on to a winner.
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What is the Spritz
A new app promises it can enable you to read
up to 1,000 words per minute
reading app that claims to enable you to
read up to 1,000 words per minute has
attracted a lot of attention, but how does it
work? We explain what is Spritz, and how it works.
It’s not surprising that an app that claims to enable
its users to read at 1,000 words per minute has
attracted attention – especially when we tell you the
average reading speed is a lowly 220 wpm.
Spritz will initially appear on only the Samsung
Galaxy S5 smartphone and Galaxy Gear 2
smartwatch. However, Spritz’ CEO Frank Waldman
claims to be in talks with the likes of Google, Yahoo
and Amazon. So watch this space.
What is Spritz?
In its simplest form Spritz is an app for the Samsung
Galaxy S5 and Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch
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that lets you read quicker than you normally would
by showing you one word at a time.
How does Spritz work?
While there are other apps on the market that claim
to enable you to read faster, Spritz is a little different.
According to Waldman, this difference is due
to Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. It places a
lot of emphasis on the positioning of each word,
highlighting the recommended ‘focus letter’ to give
the reader the best chance of processing each word.
Waldman also claims that Spritz has an incredible
algorithm built into the app that decides how long
each word should be displayed onscreen.
When can I get Spritz on my device?
There is no official release date for the Spritz app on
devices other than the S5 and Gear 2 but, given the
amount of attention the app has received even prior
to its launch, it would be madness for the German
tech company not to strike while the iron is hot.
How much will Spritz cost?
Waldman hopes to follow the WhatsApp business
model, which means it will offer the speed-reading
app free for a limited time, then start charging a
small fee for the app further down the line.
Will I process everything I read?
Yes, according to Spritz. Research suggests that
reading retention while using Spritz is equal to that
of traditional left-to-right reading. The company also
claims that with experience you will soon remember
more of the text than you did before.
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What is Cartoon HD,
and is it safe?
If an app seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
We investigate Cartoon HD
ver Christmas an app called Cartoon HD
began causing a stir, but it was quickly pulled
from Apple’s App Store. Now a plethora of
copycat apps have launched. So what is Cartoon HD,
and is it safe to use?
What is Cartoon HD?
Cartoon HD made waves by offering users free
access to cartoons and full-length feature films,
including new releases such as Despicable Me 2.
The app should have cost around £20, but it was
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available for free. Unsurprisingly, Apple banned the
app for providing copyrighted content.
Whether Cartoon HD was doing anything malicious
is unclear, but it’s likely that copycat apps will want to
cash in on the hype. This means you should be very
careful when installing and using such apps.
Cartoon HD copycats
If you search the Google Play store for ‘Cartoon HD’,
many Android apps appear in the results fighting for
your attention. Descriptions will no doubt state that
the app is legitimate and collecting content from
YouTube and websites in the public domain – but
just because they say that it doesn’t make it true.
Is Cartoon HD and its alternatives safe?
User reviews and ratings are likely to make the
app look appealing. However, these are probably
fake, or written by those who don’t know what
they’re talking about.
Many of these apps will be cashing in by way of
adverts – if you don’t mind viewing ads then that’s
fine, and everything could well be above board. They
might also want in-app payments for content – also
fine, if handled responsibly. As a rule of thumb, never
enter your banking details into an app – only pay for
in-app items via the Google Play store.
More mischievous developers might try to collect
your personal data, which they can sell on for profit.
Before you click to install an app from Google Play, a
pop-up window will show you what permissions are
required before you continue. Read these carefully
before you take the plunge – they can be a giveaway
as to what’s really going on.
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Cartoon HD app permissions
Apps will typically require network access (to stream
the content) and the ability to stop your screen
turning off. However, a video-streaming app that
wants to read your web history and find accounts on
your device is somewhat more suspicious.
Tony Anscombe, senior security evangelist at
AVG said: “It’s important that people read the
permissions approval process before simply clicking
‘Yes’ and regularly check the settings and T&Cs of
apps to see what data is being held or what can be
accessed by the service provider. A little common
sense goes a long way when approving these
permissions – after all, does that flashlight app really
need access to your contacts?”
The bottom line is that if you’re not sure about the
legitimacy of an app, don’t download it. If something
smells fishy, don’t ignore it: the app is probably too
good to be true.
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Ditch your satnav with
these five great apps
Navigate your journey from A to B
on your smartphone or tablet
our smartphone and maybe even your tablet
is likely equipped with GPS, which means you
can use it as a satnav in your car or, indeed,
for walking. That means you don’t necessarily have
to go out and buy a standalone satnav. Here are the
best satnav apps for Android.
There’s a wide range of free and paid-for apps
on the Google Play store to choose from, so we’ve
rounded up the best five. You can go far with a free
app, but note that you’ll need a data connection –
these will suit users with unlimited or generous data
tariffs. Paying for apps will provide downloadable
content, but watch out for in-app purchases for
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1. Waze – Free
Waze isn’t the best satnav app just because it’s free,
it’s because it manages to merge a great navigation
app with crowd-sourced data to tell you in real time
about traffic jams, closed roads, speed- and red-light
cameras, plus local petrol prices.
This would be all for nothing if no-one used it, but
Waze has millions of users around the world, with
plenty in the UK. You’re encouraged to participate,
even if only passively, which is why it’s such a
success. Collecting data about your position and
speed means other Waze users can be alerted to
slow traffic without anyone lifting a finger. You can
report temporary speed cameras, accidents and other
hazards as well as map corrections.
The app itself is a breeze to use, and it looks great,
but maps aren’t stored offline so you’ll need an active
data connection. It even includes a Glympse-style
option to let someone track your progress and ETA
while you drive. Road speed limits aren’t displayed,
but you’ll only be warned of speed cameras if you’re
driving too fast.
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which means your data, which isn’t anonymous, can
be shared with too many third parties including the
police. Waze is effectively a black box for your car, so
drive sensibly, or don’t use it.
2. Google Maps – Free
You might not even realise it, but your Android
device already has software installed capable of
navigating you to a destination. Although Google
doesn’t so the best job of making this clear. Some
devices will come with an app called ‘Navigation’,
but if yours doesn’t then just open Google Maps.
Both use the same system, so it’s a little confusing.
Google Maps isn’t just for looking up postcodes.
Set a destination and your starting point (probably
your current location), hit Start and off you go. This will
launch Google Maps Navigation, which is still in beta
and, although there are some warnings and crashes
do occur, the app is excellent on the whole. You get
that familiar view of Google Maps with a navigation
interface carefully placed over the top. You can even
switch to Satellite view.
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You get exactly what you need, including the next
turn-by-turn guidance (onscreen and voice), road
names and ETA. Google Maps will suggest different
routes and, while you’re driving, live traffic, incident
reports and dynamic re-routing are handy features.
You don’t get speed-limit or camera warnings, though.
Unfortunately, you’ll need to use your mobile data
connection, so that’s one reason why you might want
to pay for an app like the next entry in this list.
3. CoPilot Premium – £19.99
If you are going to pay for a satnav app then CoPilot
is the one to go for. There is a free version, which
might be worth trying before you upgrade. It will be
worth paying for all the extra features, though, and
at £19 CoPilot Premium is a fair amount cheaper than
a standalone satnav.
CoPilot works with more than 280 Android devices
(including tablets) and includes detailed 2D/3D maps
of the UK and Ireland, which you can optionally
download and store locally. This means, importantly,
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One of the biggest and most recognisable
names in the satnav market is TomTom
you don’t need to reply on an active data connection
while you’re driving.
For your money you get all the features you’d
expect from a satnav, including turn-by-turn
voice-guided navigation, alternative routes, favourite
places and lane guidance. However, additional bits
and pieces make CoPilot a very well-rounded bit
of kit. You’ll get a speed-limit indicator and warnings,
Speed-camera alerts with free updates automatic day/
night modes, a five-day local weather forecast and
Furthermore, you’ll get 12 months of ActiveTraffic
finds the fastest route based on live traffic flow,
automatically finds a new route if there’s a delay
and provides a colour-coded live traffic map and
status bar. Thereafter it costs £7.99, but doesn’t
automatically charge customers.
4. TomTom – £37.99
One of the biggest and most recognisable names
in the satnav market is TomTom. Its Android app is a
little on the expensive side, but it has a lot to offer.
Since you’re paying a lot for the app, it’s not
surprise that downloadable maps are included.
You must download them to your device before you
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can get going, so having some free space is essential.
TomTom handily offers free updates for life, making
this app something of an investment.
As you’d expect you get voice-spoken turn-by-turn
navigation (including street names), advanced lane
guidance and a 2D or 3D view. The interface itself
is clear and provides plenty of information including
your speed, expected arrival time, distance and time
to destination. This is good, but those with a smaller
screen may find the map getting little space.
IQ Routes calculates the fastest route and can give
accurate estimations based on information such as
the time of day. Instead of a Google search, TomTom
Places allows you to search for points of interest.
Live traffic information and warnings for fixed and
mobile speed cameras are available but, considering
the initial cost, it’s disappointing that these require
additional in-app purchases.
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5. Navigon – £34.95
Garmin is a big name in
outdoor activities and, of
course, satellite navigation.
Navigon is its satnav app for
Android. It’s a little on the
pricey side of things, but it’s
worth a look.
Although it’s a little
cheaper than its TomTom
rival, users will have to pay
extra for features such as
points of interest, live traffic
information, petrol station
locations and more.
You’ll be able to download
the latest map at the time
of purchase, but updates will
again cost you more, which
is a shame considering the already high price. You’ll
need over 1GB of space on your device, but this
negates the need for data usage for navigation.
There are some good features that you don’t have
to pay extra for, though, including Google Street View,
support for Glympse location sharing, turn-by-turn
guidance and speed-camera alerts.
Navigon’s Reality View Pro is one of its better
features, providing a photo-realistic display so you
don’t up in the wrong lane and miss an important
turning. Although there are some good features,
the interface isn’t as polished as the others listed
here. It’s rather cluttered and difficult to pick out
the information you’re looking for while driving.
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Get free Amazon apps on
any Android device
You don’t need a Kindle tablet to enjoy the free apps
on offer daily at Amazon’s Appstore
re you shackled to Google’s app store in a
nightmarish, never-ending Play date? If so,
break off your chains and explore a new
land of apps at Amazon’s Appstore, no Kindle Fire
tablet required! That’s right, you can install Amazon’s
Appstore on just about any Android smartphone
or tablet, providing your device with a whole new
destination for app discovery.
Amazon knows it needs to provide an incentive
to get you using its app store, and it does just that
by continually giving away apps and games. Every
day of the week, 365 days a year, the Amazon
Appstore offers up a new ‘pay’ app or game, totally
free, for 24 hours only.
Another advantage is title availability. In the past,
popular games such as Plants vs Zombies and Angry
Birds Rio have launched exclusively on Amazon’s
Appstore, only landing on the Play store weeks later.
Install the Amazon Appstore Android app
To get access to the daily freebies, you’ll need to
install the Amazon Appstore for Android.
Before you do the install, you’ll need to dive into
your Android Settings panel to enable the appropriate
permission. Go into Settings, then Security, and scroll
down to tick the checkbox for Unknown sources.
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This setting requirement is certainly a drawback
to using Amazon’s offering, as you won’t be able to
install apps from its Appstore without this enabled.
Keeping Unknown Sources turned on does make
your phone more vulnerable to a potentially malicious
app installation, so be extra cautious about tapping
on APK files, especially those received via email or
downloaded by a browser.
Next you’ll need to download the APK installer
from Amazon, which weighs in at about 5MB. Head
to tinyurl.com/kyrfxh4 to download it.
Once the download completes, tap on the APK to
begin the installation. From there it’s a standard app
installation experience. Before you continue on by
tapping Install, you’ll be warned that Amazon wants
to have its way with your device (via various
permissions and privileges).
Once installed, launch the Amazon Appstore
and you’ll be prompted to sign in with your Amazon
account. If you’ve been living in a cave for the past
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20 years and you still don’t have an Amazon account,
there’s a ‘Create Account’ option on the login screen.
After logging in, there’s a brief pause for ‘Initialising
the app’ and then you’re dropped into the main page
of the Amazon Appstore.
You’ll immediately notice that the Free App of the
Day is prominently featured at the top center position
of the store home screen.
A few notable pay apps that I’ve nabbed for free in
the past on Amazon’s Appstore include; CalenGoo,
Monopoly, Shazam Encore, SwiftKey and eWallet. If
you’re interested in pursuing a historical log of all the
free apps that have been sacrificed at Amazon’s altar,
you can do so with the unofficial @AmazonAppADay
Amazon Appstore features and settings
Apart from the Free App of the Day, the Amazon
Appstore has a few other features and settings that
are worth checking out.
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The Test Drive option allows you to run an
Android app via a built in browser, without the need
to download or install the app. This provides an
excellent way to try before you buy, allowing you to
sample apps without a commitment. Be aware that
you’ll need a solid network connection for this feature
to work properly, as I received a notification that my
connection was no longer fast enough “to provide a
good Test Drive experience”, even while I was testing
at home on Wi-Fi.
The My Apps library section of the Amazon
Appstore keeps track of all of the apps and games
that you have purchased, including the free ones.
My Apps shows you what apps you have in the
cloud (those apps that you have purchased but not
installed), what apps you have installed on your
device, and it also displays available app updates.
Sadly, the Settings panel for the Amazon Appstore
app is pretty sparse. You can configure larger app
packages to download over Wi-Fi only, with options
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for 20- and 50MB threshold triggers. If you have a
limited amount of data allocated per month on your
mobile plan, then you’ll want to use this setting to
avoid larger app downloads over mobile networks.
Unfortunately, the Notification settings in the
Amazon Appstore are pretty useless. Surprisingly,
there is no option to receive notifications on the
new Free App of the Day. Who wants to manually
launch the Amazon Appstore every day just to see
what is the free app?
Free app of the day notification apps
Thankfully there are a few third-party apps in the
Google Play Store that can fill the void and help you
stay apprised on Amazon’s Appstore giveaways.
The two that I tested that work well (on Android 4.2
and 4.4) are Free App Notifier and Daily Free App @
Amazon. Neither of these apps are without flaws, but
they both allow you to specify the time of day that you
want to receive a notification and they both reliably
pop notifications at the time that you specify.
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I like that you can disable notifications for games
in the Free App Notifier settings, and I find it useful
that its notifications include the app’s original list
price. The Daily Free App @ Amazon app includes an
image from the Free App of the Day in its notification,
providing a nice visual touch.
If Free App Notifier would update its notifications
to include an image from the day’s free app, plus a
description, and fix its author display bug, it would
become the best Amazon free app notifier.
No refunds and Appstore
If you’re accustomed to the 15-minute grace period
that is available for refunds on the Google Play
store, be aware that Amazon’s Appstore has an
unequivocal ‘all sales are final’ clause in its terms of
use. If you’re struck with buyer’s remorse after an
impulse Amazon Appstore purchase, then it’s a toobad so-sad scenario for you, as there is no recourse.
The one unadvertised exception to this rule is for
‘accidental’ app purchases. I stumbled upon this when
I inadvertently purchased an app that I was trying to
use the ‘Test Drive’ feature on. After a quick chat with
Amazon support, I was immediately refunded the app
purchase price. Just another example of excellent
customer service from Amazon.
One crucial app dependency that isn’t advertised
very well is that you must keep the Amazon Appstore
installed on your device as long as you want to
continue utilising apps sourced from there. Apps
obtained through Amazon will periodically run a
check to ensure that the Amazon Appstore is also
installed on the same device.
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Four apps that put
SMS on your desktop
Stop swapping between PC and phone every time
you receive a text – it’s just not necessary
hen you’re working, you use a full
keyboard, with a mouse or touchpad,
because you want to maximise productivity.
Then you receive a text, and you can be found
hunched over your phone, pecking away at your
tiny distraction machine.
When you’re sitting in front of a full keyboard and
large display, you should be able to use it to answer
texts. More than a few developers have heard our
cries, and have created some fantastic Android
tools to give you the power to text (and more) from
your PC. Let’s dig into what’s possible, starting from
smallest to biggest commitment.
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(Note: There are lots of texting replacements
out there, from Google’s Hangouts to Facebook’s
WhatsApp. Here, we’re talking about honest-togoodness SMS. The kind your friends and relatives
send, regardless of who uses which phone or app.)
Not everybody needs to send text messages in an
on-demand fashion. Maybe you only need to know
what is buzzing on your phone, so you can safely
ignore it. If that’s the case, Pushbullet is what you
want. The core function of Pushbullet is sending
links, images and map locations back and forth from
your phone, which saves time and frustration, but it
also shows notifications in a browser extension.
Install Pushbullet on your Android phone, then
install the Chrome or Firefox extension on your
desktop. Pushbullet on Android will ask you to enable
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its Accessibility/administrator access so it can send
you notifications. Agree to this, trust me.
Now, whenever your phone chirps or vibrates or
quietly posts a notification, you’ll see that notification
pop up in your browser as a little box. Not just text,
but email, Facebook, Twitter, app updates… anything
for which you get a notification.
You cannot directly respond to a text through
Pushbullet, but look in the settings of Pushbullet
for the option to ‘Copy links & notes to clipboard
when received’. If you want to think something over
before replying, you can ‘Push’ a note to your phone
with your reply, then simply press and hold in your
text message typing field to paste that reply. It’s not
something you’d want to do for a rapid back-andforth, but an adequate fallback option.
With DeskSMS, you can receive
and respond to texts pretty
much anywhere you can open
a browser or check your email.
You first install DeskSMS
on your phone, then give it
permissions to read and send text
messages. You also authenticate
your primary Google/Gmail
account, then let it test its
connection to your Hangouts
account, your email, and/or a
browser extension for Chrome or
Firefox. If it goes through, you’re
now receiving text messages
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and can respond in whichever form best suits your
routine. If you want to get texts on your Android tablet
instead of your desktop, you’ll want TabletSMS.
DeskSMS is not free. After a 14-day trial period,
you’ll need to buy an annual subscription to the app
for a few pounds. But during those first 14 days, you
will really want to make sure that you’re getting all
your texts, your friends are getting your messages,
and everything feels right about the connection.
If so, however, you get the ability to type out texts
with your most comfortable keyboard, send texts
when the Wi-Fi is strong but the phone signal is
weak, and archive your texts in somewhere other
than your messy messaging history.
This one requires more commitment than the other
options, but it’s an established system.
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If you sign up for a new Google Voice number,
or port your number into Google Voice, you get
your text messages on your phone, but also at
google.com/voice, or in one of many extensions
available for every browser the sun. If you enable
the option in your Voice settings, you can get texts
as emails, and you can respond via email, too.
You can also archive and extensively search your
SMS history through Voice.
Drawbacks? Oh, there are a few. Google Voice
is, for one thing, not often touched or upgraded
by Google. It creates weird ‘second numbers’ for
contacts in unfamiliar area codes, which might
creep into your contacts. Plus, there is the non-trivial
process of getting a new number, or porting in your
existing number. But if you want to type out a text
message without actually using your phone, it’s a
tested and reliable option.
How would you like to send, receive and start
text-message conversations from inside a browser
window? AirDroid can do that. Install it on your
phone or tablet, then head to web.airdroid.com on
any computer and you’ll see custom desktop within
your browser window. As long as you have that page
open, you’ll see text notifications, and you can click
Messages to check your archive or send texts.
You see those other apps and widgets, though,
right? See how you can browse and launch files,
apps, photos and music on your phone from any webconnected computer? See how you can remotely
control your camera from inside AirDroid? Take a
screenshot, check the battery, trade links and notes
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(as with Pushbullet), and track your phone’s location?
Turn on a (currently beta-experimental) hotspot to
share data with other devices? Then it is starting to
sink in, and I’m glad you’ve made it this far.
There is very little you can’t do with AirDroid, and
it works whether you’re on the same Wi-Fi network
or not – although it’s a bit speedier on Wi-Fi, and
there are smaller (100MB) data caps built into the
free version. There are also advertisements and
promotional ‘recommendations’, unless you pay for
a Premium account.
Spend a little time using any of these methods
to get texts on your computer, and you might start
to feel that using your smartphone to text is a step
back. Your friends will marvel at your SMS speed
and eloquence, your boss won’t catch you hunched
over your tiny screen, and you might feel a bit more
centred and focused.
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Photo: Michael Homnick
Get started with
TTS isn’t reserved for those with visual impairments;
it also opens up a few interesting functionalities
elcome to the 21st century, where all
of your childhood fantasies have come
true – just like that of having a handheld
computer that talks back to you.
Granted, computers have long had this ability.
Text-to-speech (TTS) is usually meant to help those
with visual impairments. But on Android it also powers
a few other neat features, like having a book read out
loud or helping you learn a new language.
More than a year ago, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
introduced a new conversational text-to-speech voice
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so that it wouldn’t sound like your average run-of-themill robot. And more recently, Google introduced two
High Quality digital voices in the latest Text-to-Speech
app update to help make your Android-powered
device something you want to talk to you.
Currently, there are only a handful of apps outside
of Google’s own that utilise the native Text-to-Speech
feature, but it’s still a very handy feature.
First, you’ll have to enable the Text-to-speech
functionality from the Android Settings menu.
In Android 4.2.2 or later, head to the Language &
Input panel, and then select Text-to-speech output,
located toward the bottom of the screen.
Tap on Preferred Engine to set up the language
your device should speak. From this page, you
can also install any additional language packs, if
necessary, and choose whether or not Google can
update the TTS app using your cellular data.
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If you head back a screen, you can select the
rate at which the digital TTS voice speaks and install
additional voice data, including the High Quality voice
that Google recently made available. On Android 4.4
KitKat, there’s an extra option that displays the default
Third-party e-book and reading apps will work with
Google Text-to-speech only if they utilise the API.
Unfortunately, Amazon’s Kindle app doesn’t, but
you can take full advantage of the feature with
Google Play Books.
You can easily enable the Read Aloud feature to
dictate stories to you from the Settings menu. Just
turn it on, and your Android device will begin to read
to you; it’ll heed to semi-colons and commas and
pronounce words to the best of its ability.
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The Read Aloud feature works with most e-books.
It works especially well with text-heavy novels and
even with certain cookbooks, although they have to
be properly formatted for the feature to work.
Google Translate also utilises the text-to-speech
engine. Say you’re overseas and have no idea how to
pronounce a word in Spanish; Google Translate can
speak the translated word out loud to help you get
acquainted with it.
Talk to me, Android
If you’re really revving for your device to talk to you
every step of the way, you can turn on TalkBack from
the Accessibility panel in the Settings menu.
Keep in mind that since it’s meant to help those
who are visually impaired, your device will recite
everything it does in real time, like which menu screen
you’re on, where you’re tapping, and what your
notifications say. You can easily mute it by keeping
the volume all the way down, but keep in mind that it
could get annoying to those around you.
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Add wireless charging to
the Samsung Galaxy S4
The Galaxy S4 doesn’t support wireless charging out
of the box, but why should you let that stop you?
he worst part of using a smartphone is dealing
with the damn battery! If you actually use your
phone it’ll be lucky to make it through the day.
So we’re left plugging and unplugging and plugging
again. This is the bright promise of wireless charging;
if you plug your phone in at the same place (like your
home or office), you can just set your phone down on
a little pad, and it’ll top off the battery.
While the ever-popular Galaxy S4 doesn’t come
equipped with wireless charging out of the box, it’s a
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snap to add it. Seriously; if you can snap off the back
cover, you can do this. It might even take you longer
to read about doing it than to perform the surgery.
Just follow these simple steps.
1. Procure a wireless charging receiver
Amazon is chock-full of wireless charging receivers
and kits for the Galaxy S4. Samsung is in bed
with the Qi charging standard, so there are lots
of compatible charging pads. With LG, Nokia,
Asus, HTC, Huawei, and Motorola, and Sony also
supporting Qi, there are lots of great options, and
they’re basically all cross-compatible.
You’ll want to pay attention to the thickness of the
receiver you buy, though. I chose this £10 model (see
tinyurl.com/nkkkwsd) because it’s especially thin,
and wouldn’t cause the rear plastic case on my GS4
to bulge. Samsung sells an official upgrade that is
integrated into a new plastic back for your phone.
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2. Pop off your cover
Turn off your phone, then remove the back cover.
Just pry your fingernail in there and pull it off.
3. Line up the receiver to the little holes
See these little
You’re going to line
them up with the little
metal prongs on the
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4. Lay it out over the battery
The receiver lays out flat down over the battery.
It looks like this:
5. Put the cover back on
Your phone can now sit on any Qi wireless phone
charger and it’ll work. Honest! Just like recent
Nexus devices, HTC and LG phones, and Nokia
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BYOD: Mix business
Do you really want to carry around multiple devices for work
and pleasure? Here’s how to use just one – responsibly
o-one wants to carry around multiple
smartphones or tablets, but using your
personal devices for work raises a host of
concerns. Will your personal data be subject to your
corporate policies? Can your IT department see
everything you do on your device even when you’re
not at work? Does someone else hold the key to all
your data, business and personal?
Here are some things to consider before you
decide to go bring your own device into the
workplace and, if you decide to go forward, some
tips on how to proceed.
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Make sure you are comfortable with the
idea that personal email and documents could
be backed up by your company
Read your company’s usage policies
You might find that your employer requires control
over your device so if it is lost or stolen they can
remotely wipe your phone. This will typically delete
your personal content, including photos, emails,
texts, you name it. Rarely do employers exercise this
option, but you should be aware that it is possible.
Your employer could own your data
Many employers will want to back up your emails
and documents to keep them centralised and
safe if you leave the company. Make sure you are
comfortable with the idea that personal email and
documents could potentially be included in this
policy before using your device for work purposes.
Know your industry limitations
In certain cases, such as when dealing with sensitive
customer information, medical records, intellectual
property and financial data, consolidating devices
might simply be verboten or even illegal. It isn’t
worth jeopardising your career for convenience.
Do not use unsecured networks
If you decide to use your personal phone or tablet
to access work applications and data, you must be
careful about what networks you hop on to. Make
sure that they are safe and that all data is encrypted.
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Set a lock-screen password
While this might seem like a no-brainer, many
consumers do not enable this basic safeguard.
Swipe-to-unlock isn’t going to stop anyone from
getting into your phone. Oh, and make sure your
password is not your birthday, anniversary or any
other commonly used number combination. Also,
if your device has a biometric feature such as
fingerprint recognition, use it.
Use all available controls if you share your
device with family members
It is tempting to hand your child your tablet to play
a game on a long car ride, but be careful. She
could accidentally switch over to your email and
send a message or make in-app purchases on your
company credit card (if it is set as your preferred
payment). Also, she could snap a picture of herself
and accidentally send it to your client list. Make sure
that all applications are password-protected and
not linked to one other, or that parental controls are
enabled (if it’s available on your device).
Read the fine print on all applications
Yes, the fine print on installation warnings can be
teeny-tiny, but that doesn’t mean you should click
through them. Many ask for permissions that might
A child could accidentally make
purchases on your company credit card,
or send a selfie to your client list
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get you in trouble. For instance, social-media apps
often want access to address books. If your contacts
include co-workers and customers, you do not want
them getting an invitation to play a game or to see
your latest postings on Instagram.
Make sure you trust each app’s vendor
It’s tempting to download an app because a friend
or colleague won’t stop talking about it. But apps
can be dangerous. Check who created the app,
if you recognise the name and if the company is
trustworthy. Apps hook into all parts of your device
so be careful before you allow them on yours. Try to
stick to apps from the Google Play store, rather than
Partition as much as you can
One way to keep home and work separate is to use
two different accounts for your email. Even better,
use different apps to access those accounts. That
way you will be less likely to send mail from the
wrong one. Also, be careful when texting. Use the
device’s native SMS for personal and a companysanctioned app for professional communication.
Enable safeguards such as remote locator,
lock and wipe
Find as many ways as you can to protect your
smartphone and tablet, including turning on GPS so
the device can be found if lost or stolen. And make
sure you back it up often so if you have to erase it
in the event it’s compromised, you won’t lose your
data. Apps such as Lookout can help secure and
back up your device.
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Control notification lights
with Light Manager
Force your phone’s LED to blink custom colours for
different apps, contacts and system statuses
any Android devices have notification lights:
small LEDs that blink to indicate missed calls,
new text messages and battery status. These
lights are great – silent and unobtrusive to those
around you (unlike ringtones and vibration patterns),
and colour-coded to denote different types of
notifications. A hastily blinking red light, for example,
usually means your phone is about to die.
Think of how helpful these lights would be if you
could harness the LED and force it to blink custom
colours for different apps, contacts and system
statuses. You’re in luck, because you can customise
your handset’s notification light with a simple, free
app called Light Manager.
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There are several light management apps out
there, but Light Manager is our favourite, because
it’s free, easy to use, and light on system resources.
Light Flow, another popular LED management app,
is almost three times the size of Light Manager,
and we’ve found it has a tendency to drain your
Getting started with Light Manager is simple – just
download, install and open the app, and you’re ready
to start customising your notification lights. The app
can look a little overwhelming at first, but its simple
black-and-white menu is pretty straightforward. At the
top, you’ll see the app’s settings menu:
Here, you can choose the operating mode: Normal,
which flashes only one colour notification light at a
time, or Alternating, which cycles through colours if
there are multiple notification lights. Light Flow has a
similar feature, but its cycles take about 12 seconds if
you’re using the free version (2.5 seconds in the paid
version). In the settings menu you can also configure
advanced settings, such as adjusting LED brightness
and redefining colours (via hex code).
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Below the initial settings menu is the meat of the
app: LED Setting for Notification. Here, you’ll see a
list of apps and functions that you can set custom
notification lights for, including missed calls, text
messages, email, and Facebook and Twitter.
To set up a custom notification light, tap an app or
service to open its notification menu. Here you can
enable the LED, choose a flash rate (between 1 and
5 seconds), pick a custom colour (choose a preset or
enter your own hex code), and test the notification
light to see what it looks like. For some notifications
(such as missed calls) you can add individual custom
notification lights for different contacts.
Light Manager lets you set custom notification
lights for apps, services, network connections (for
example, a light might blink if you’re no longer on a
3G/4G network) and system statuses.
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When you’re finished setting up your custom
notification lights, go to the top of the screen and tap
Restart Light Manager to restart the app and enable
any changes you’ve made. Light Manager starts
running when you start up your device, so there’s no
need to ever open the app again. Tuck the app away
in a miscellaneous folder on your home screen and
enjoy your new rainbow of notification lights!
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Get started with
Android’s user profiles
Set up your Android tablet as a family PC, with separate
accounts for each member of the household
f you live in a multi-person household where your
Android tablet is frequently used by more than
one person, you might want to take advantage
of Android’s built-in ability to manage multiple user
profiles. You never know who is going to pick up
your tablet to quickly check their own email, so
you might as well keep your personal data safely
shielded away from prying eyes.
Google enabled multi-user accounts almost two
years ago with the release of Android 4.2.2 Jelly
Bean, and added restricted profiles with Android 4.3
(think: Kids Mode). The functionality is still limited to
tablets at the moment. Here’s how to properly share a
tablet between friends and family.
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Decide who will have fulland partial access
Before you begin, it’s essential that you figure out
what type of access you want to give to the various
parties sharing a tablet with you. Regular and
restricted profiles are vastly different in what they
allow users to do, but both serve their own purpose.
Also, keep in mind that you can create up to eight
different user profiles.
First, head to the Settings page, then select Users
underneath the Device settings. You’ll see a list of
profiles already available, including yours, as well as
the option to add another. Select Add a user or profile
and then designate what type to make.
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Now we’ll walk you through the specifics of setting
up each type of user account.
How to give full access to anyone
If you’re sharing your device with, say, a spouse,
you’ll want to add them as a ‘User’ in order to give
them full access to the Android operating system.
Android will ask for that person to go through the
same Google account setup process you did.
You’ll always be considered the primary owner
of the device, but other, unrestricted users will have
unfettered access to everything, including apps and
settings. For instance, if they download an app, it’ll be
made available to everyone else.
However, every photo taken, note written, and
calendar entry made stays contained within that
user’s profile, so you won’t have access to that
information – only the ability to delete the account
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if necessary. Those users can also set up their own
password to keep the owner of the device from
snooping in on their stuff.
How to create a restricted profile
Whether it’s a nosy relative or a kid with curious
fingers, a restricted user profile can ensure that no
one gets themselves into a sticky situation.
From the user accounts Settings screen, select
Restricted user profile. Android will ask you to
create a lock screen passcode if you don’t have
one already set up.
Then it’s time to tediously pick and choose which
apps the restricted user has access to. You can even
restrict them from some of Android’s core apps, too,
like the camera app.
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Keep it safe. You know, for kids
If you’re creating the restricted profile for your little
ones, enable access to the Google Play Movies & TV
app, and then select Set app restrictions. From here,
you can set rating limits on TV shows and movies.
Always use your powers for good
As tempting as it might sound, you won’t have
access to the information contained within other
user accounts if they’re secured with a lock screen
passcode. Do use discretion, however, and be sure
to communicate with the other members of your
tablet’s family about what their needs are.
When you’re ready to rid of an account, just click
the trash can icon to delete it.
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