Archive for September, 2009

Hands-on with the Nokia E55 (or how I learned to live with half a QWERTY)

e55_newI’m generally a fan of Nokia’s business focused Eseries smartphones, while for day-to-day use I require a device with a QWERTY keyboard (preferably a portrait one). Combine the two and the Nokia E71, released around 18 months ago here in the UK, is as close as I’ve got yet to the “perfect” smartphone — I even named it in my top ten Digital Lifestyle products of 08 — although, obviously, it’s far from perfect. Perfection is, of course, a moving target in the world of smartphones.

The subsequently released Nokia E75, which features both a traditional numeric keyboard and a generously large landscape slide-out QWERTY, came in at a close second and even offers a few of improvements over the E71, such as a faster processor, updated software, better camera and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

I was therefore keen to try out Nokia’s attempt at a third QWERTY touting form factor, with the announcement of the E55. As you can see from the photo above, the device adopts the traditional candy bar shape by featuring something the handset maker is calling a “compact QWERTY”. Essentially housing two QWERTY letters per key (can I say half a QWERTY?) and utilizing predictive text to bridge the gap. But, in everyday use, how does the E55’s keyboard perform?

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PlayBite: Hands-on with the UK/GSM Palm Pre

I’ve just got back from PlayBite in London, a press event organized by PR agency Bite. The mini press-only expo showcased products from a number of consumer tech brands, including Palm. In fact, the event was in part billed as the first chance for UK journalists to get a hands-on with the Palm Pre, and I got to do just that. 

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Motorola just bet the house on Android and social networking

motorola-cliqOn stage live at GigaOm’s Mobilize 09 conference, Motorola just unveiled a large part of its comeback strategy (there seems to be a lot of “comebacks” in the handset market at the moment) based on a new smartphone powered by Android, the Google-led mobile OS, featuring a custom UI that puts social networking at its heart.

The phone, to be called the Motorola Cliq and offered exclusively on T-Mobile in the US, and the Motorola Dext in Europe, features 3G, WiFi, a 3.1 inch touch screen, slide-out landscape keyboard, and 5 megapixel camera, amongst its specs.

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Opera wants to put Internet widgets on the TV too

Opera-TVOpera, the Norwegian company behind the desktop and mobile web browser of the same name, wants to be a major player in the nascent Internet-connected TV space.

Like Yahoo’s ‘Widget Channel’ or the boutique gadget maker Chumby’s own platform, Opera’s newly released Opera Devices SDK 10 is touting the ability for TV and set-top box manufacturers to add Internet widgets to their feature set, along with full web-browsing if required.

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BBC iPlayer on PS3 gets a makeover, higher quality video and 1080p UI

ps3_blog_01_600The version of iPlayer optimized for the PlayStation 3 has been given a major update that delivers improved video quality and a User Interface designed for High Definition televisions that operate up to 1080p.

That explains why Sony’s recent advertising blitz for the games console is pushing the Beeb’s UK-only TV catch-up service pretty hard, along with the company’s own video download service that only recently launched this side of the pond.

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Spotify hits the iPhone and Android app stores

The stars were already aligned: a preemptive PR strike, a premium business model, and regulators questioning anti-competitive practices with relation to the iPhone’s app store — making it less and less surprising that Apple should give Spotify the green light.

See also: How Spotify can beat Microsoft [music streaming]

As of today, the iPhone version of the music streaming service is available for download from Apple’s official App Store — UK, Sweden, Spain, France, Norway and Finland only (with the U.S. debut planned for sometime next year) — while a mobile client for the Google-led Android has also launched. The app is free for either platform but you’ll need to be a Spotify premium subscriber — £10 per month in the UK — to access the service.

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Samsung Blu-ray players to support YouTube and Blu-ray rips!

This is one of those press releases that made me chuckle. Samsung today announced that it has added support for YouTube, along with video formats that utilize the Matroska (MKV) container. While just about every media player — from set-top boxes to mobile phones — can access the Google-owned video sharing site these days, MKV support is less common and, perhaps, for a good reason too.

The open source format is fast becoming the standard for Blu-ray rips and, like DivX/Xvid before it, the main choice for sharing pirated movies via the Internet. Only in this case they are in full HD. That’s something that Samsung, understandably, doesn’t quite say.

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Nokia's all-you-can eat music service now "comes with" its own flagship touch screen phone – Nokia X6

Nokia_X6_white_blue_homescreenAlthough I’d put poor marketing, carrier resistance, and possibly DRM, ahead of the lack of a flagship device to explain why Comes With Music, Nokia’s all-you-can-eat music service, hasn’t been the hit the handset maker had hoped for, the company’s newly announced X6 music phone is encouraging.

The device, unveiled at Nokia World today, is to be a Comes With Music exclusive offering, and sports a 3.2-inch touch screen display (16:9 ratio at 360 x 640 pixels), 32 GB of built-in storage, a 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and dual LED flash, A-GPS and WiFi, amongst its impressive stats. And in a first for Nokia, that touch screen is capacitive (not resistive), meaning that its should be a lot more responsive to the touch of a finger. Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of old skool stylus optimized resistive screens.

A quick recap of how Comes With Music works: you purchase a qualifying Nokia handset and then get access to the entire library of the Nokia Music Store for 12 – 18 months and get to keep any downloaded tracks once the subscription ends. For that privilege, the Nokia X6 has an estimated retail price of EUR 450, although the handset maker is stressing that ‘in many, many markets’, thanks to carrier subsidy, the device should be closer to “free”.

Nokia dumps location-based service Friend View, falls in love with Facebook

During the opening keynote at Nokia World, which kicked off today, CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was at pains to point out that the handset maker didn’t view Internet “services” as an interesting side business but that it was still the future of the company.

And along with music, messaging and turn-by-turn navigation, location-aware social networking, which the company calls SoLo, and other types of location-based services are key to this future. After all, Nokia has invested heavily in GPS-related technologies and applications, the boldest example being the $8.1 billion purchase of Navteq in late 2007.

What was and still is unclear is how much of Nokia’s SoLo strategy involves building out its own social networking offerings or partnering with and supporting established social networks. With today’s announcement of a tie up with Facebook and with it the death of the company’s own ‘Friend View’, with regards to the simplest of ‘SoLo’ applications — share my current location with friends — the handset maker has seen sense and decided to do the latter.

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