Tag Archives: mobile

Foobar2000 goes mobile: funding secured for iOS, Android and Windows Phone versions

Popular free music player foobar2000 is coming to mobile platforms, following a successful community fundraising campaign.

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Curiously this is not a Kickstarter campaign even though it looks similar.

The project is the outcome of collaboration between Steve Elkins (known as “Spoon”) who is the creator of dBpoweramp, an excellent audio converter and CD ripper for Windows, and foobar2000’s originator Peter Pawlowski.

The mobile version of foobar2000 will run on iOS 6 or later, on iPhone, iPod and iPad; Android v4 or later on phones and tablets; and Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.1 tablets, ARM and Intel.

There will be both free and “fully featured premium” versions.

Additional projects for cloud synchronization and backup, and for social interaction built into foobar2000, have not yet received enough funding to proceed, and look unlikely to do so.

Foobar2000 is loved for its speed and efficiency, easy extensibility with plug-ins, and advanced functionality. Its user interface is functional rather than beautiful, though it is also easily customised. I use foobar2000 with a large collection, mostly Flac files ripped from CD, and foobar2000 manages the database transparently and with instant results.

Exactly what features mobile foobar2000 will have is not clear. The best source of public information I can find is this thread which includes input from Spoon. There may or may not be ads in the free versions; the cost of the premium versions is unannounced.

Samsung Galaxy S5 with Gear 2, Gear Fit: quick hands-on, screenshots

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 Android smartphone at an event last night in Barcelona, during Mobile World Congress. I attended the launch and spent some time trying the new Galaxy after the event.

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The first thing that struck me is how light it feels. It is 145g according to the spec.

Here is the home screen:

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The UI in general is clean and easy to use:

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I was interested in the camera, having looked at the camera on the new Sony Xperia Z2 yesterday, in comparison to the Nokia Lumia 1020. The S5 has a 16MP camera and Samsung showed off its fast automatic focus in the press launch. Here are the camera options:

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I took a couple of snaps with both the S5 and the Lumia 1020 for a quick comparison. The Lumia easily bested it. I’d judge that the Xperia Z2 would easily best it too. That said, the camera is fine and I doubt users will be disappointed; it’s just not the best choice if you are particularly keen on photography.

Health is big theme, especially in conjunction with the Gear Fit band. Samsung’s JK Shin said that keeping fit is a third key feature in a smartphone alongside camera and connectivity. Here is the fitness app:

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Samsung has included a heart rate sensor, so I took my pulse:

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There is a Kids Zone, reminiscent of what Microsoft has done for Windows Phone:

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Other notable features are water and dust resistance, fingerprint sensor with PayPal integration, and apparently new Enterprise security features of which I hope to learn more later today.

It looks like an excellent phone. A game changer? Enough to draw users from Apple? It feels more like just another smartphone, albeit a good one, but that may be just what the market wants. No silliness like the S4’s air gestures, just a solid new smartphone.

On sale date is April 11 2014.

Key specs:

  • LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps)
  • 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display
  • 2.5GHz Quad core application processor
  • Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat)
  • Camera: 16MP (rear), 2.0MP (front)
  • Video: UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization
  • IP67 Dust and water Resistant
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2×2)
  • Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+
  • USB: USB 3.0
  • NFC
  • IR Remote
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart rate sensor
    2GB RAM
  • Storage:Internal Memory: 16/32GB, microSD slot upto 64GB
    Size and weight:  142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
  • Battery: 2800mAh Standby time: 390 hrs / Talk time: 21 hrs
     

Samsung takes over Times Square, New York City, for Galaxy Note 3

Samsung is launching the next Galaxy Note, its stylus-equipped phablet, at IFA in Berlin and Times Square, New York City.

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I am here for another event but who knows, might get a sneak look at the new Galaxy later.

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I am not keen on styluses but do like the idea of a converged device that does phone, tablet and notebook-like productivity all in one.

Review: Bayan Audio Soundbook Bluetooth dock

The Bayan Audio Soundbook is a portable wireless speaker system for your smartphone, MP3 player, tablet or laptop. Oh yes, and an FM radio too.

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It measures 160 x 88 x 38 mm –  chunky for a portable unit, and at 530g not that light, though heavy is often good when it comes to audio. Not something for a pocket or small handbag, but fine to tuck in your case.

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The unit feels solid and has an unusual design. The front flaps down and folds back to make a stand, and the action of opening it also switches the device on. Hence the Soundbook name: open and play.

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This is a Bluetooth 4.0 device, and supports A2DP and aptX for high quality audio. Pairing your smartphone is a snap, with no codes involved. It also supports NFC (Near Field Communications), which worked well using a couple of Android devices I tried, a Nexus 7 tablet and a Sony Xperia phone. Just tap against the NFC logo on the underside of the flap, and a dialog appears to confirm the connection.

The Soundbook, in combination with your mobile, is also a speakerphone. There is a built-in microphone, and it behaves like a Bluetooth headset, pausing the music to let you take a call and resuming afterwards.

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You can also connect without Bluetooth, using an input on the rear. Finally, there is an output jack socket so you can use the Soundbook as a wireless input to your hi-fi.

Battery life is up to 10 hours for radio or wired connections, shorter if you are using Bluetooth.

The USB power connector is the Mini-B type. A shame that Bayan did not choose the Micro-B standard which is now more common.

So how is it? It seems a lot of thought has gone into the design and the flexibility is impressive. The actual sound quality though is only so-so, thanks to the small 1″ internal speakers, and lacking in bass despite a 2″ passive bass radiator. It is stereo, though you will not notice unless you are very close and I wonder if Bayan should have borrowed an idea from Logitech’s excellent Squeezebox or UE Radio, and gone for mono. At maximum volume it is pretty loud though rather strident.

Still, this is all a matter of expectations. It is miles better than the tinny speaker built into your smartphone or tablet, and the speakerphone feature is useful.

The FM radio is not too good unless, perhaps, you are particularly close to the transmitter. Bayan says there is “an advanced integrated FM antenna” but in practice I found it difficult to get decent reception other than for a couple of local stations, and even then only after careful placement. There are no presets; you have to press and hold tune up and tune down buttons to scan for channels, which is inconvenient.

You cannot switch between Bluetooth sources other than by disconnecting the current source in order to connect another. However, it will remember up to 4 pairings at a time.

Pros and cons

The Bayan Soundbook is nicely designed and supremely flexible. I particularly like the speakerphone capability, which means you can stick this on your desk, enjoy the music, but still take hands-free calls.

That said, if this is a device for a desk, Bayan should have made it a bit larger and bumped up the sound quality.

This is best for portable use then, for which it is not bad, though a little bulky and heavy. I could more easily forgive that if the sound quality were just a bit better.

Review: Seagate Wireless Plus combines hard drive and wi-fi for storage on the go

Need more storage for your tablet or smartphone? If so, the Seagate Wireless Plus could be just the thing. In a nutshell, this is a 1TB USB 3.0 external drive with battery power and a wi-fi access point built in. Attach it to your PC or Mac and fill it with stuff: a zillion MP3s, or a pile of videos, or pictures, or boring business presentations, or whatever you need. On the road, you power up the drive, connect your mobile device to the built-in wi-fi, and play what you want – though note there are a few complications, of which more below.

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In the box you get the drive, a USB mains adaptor, a USB port that attaches to the drive, a USB 3.0 cable, and a brief getting started manual.

To be clear, there is a protective cover on the end of the drive which pops off to reveal what looks like Seagate’s GoFlex port. Another piece plugs into this, converting it to a USB port. Slightly awkward, because you may well lose the protective cover and end up having the USB adaptor permanently attached.

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Setup is a matter of charging the battery and then connecting your mobile device to the drive’s integrated wi-fi access point. By default this is an unencrypted open connection, and if you intend to travel with the unit I recommend setting a password, which converts it into a secure encrypted connection.

Next, you download the free Seagate media app for iOS or Android, at which point you can view the contents and playback media such as music and video. What if you have a mobile device other than iOS or Android? Hang on, all is not lost.

The inherent problem here is that connecting storage to a mobile device is not as simple as on a computer, where it just appears as another drive, especially on Apple’s iOS which does not directly expose a file system to the user. This is the reason for the Seagate Media app.

Second, the obvious problem with connecting to a dedicated wi-fi access point on the Seagate drive is that you will no longer be connected to any other wi-fi network and therefore may be disconnected from the internet, or forced to use your data connection.

Fortunately Seagate has a solution, called “concurrent mode”. You use Seagate’s app to connect your drive to a second wi-fi network, such as your home wi-fi, and then your internet connectivity is restored.

While this mostly works, it is an inconvenience, since if you are out and about you will need to do this for any new wi-fi connection point you want to use. Further, as soon as you turn the drive off (or the battery runs out) you will have to connect your mobile device separately. If you then later want to reconnect to the Seagate, you have to change the wi-fi settings on the mobile again, so it is a little bit of hassle.

I used the drive on both an iPad and an Android phone, and found the setup fairly straightforward, though the Android mysteriously needed restarting before it worked properly. Playing media from the drive via the app works fine for video, images and music.

If you have a device that is neither Apple nor Android, you can still use it by connecting the wifi on the device to the Seagate, and then browsing to a mini web server on the drive. The question is: where to point the browser? Help was not helpful on this point, suggesting a wirelessplus URL that did not work at all for me, but I noticed that the network was in the 172.25.0 range, took a stab at 172.25.0.1 and found that it worked. Using a Nokia Windows Phone, for which there is no Seagate app, I could connect to the device, stay on the internet, and still easily play the media. Here is the browser view on Windows Phone:

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You can also access settings from the browser and check status:

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That said, as I connected various devices to the Seagate I found its behaviour increasingly unpredictable. On the iPad I got a mysterious message saying I was connecting through another device and should connect directly, even when I was connected directly as far as I could tell. Sometimes you lose internet connectivity and the second network connection needed to be kicked back into life through settings. You are meant to be able to have up to eight devices connected, with up to three streaming media simultaneously, but maybe this is optimistic.

The wi-fi complications are not Seagate’s fault, but inherent to providing additional storage for mobile devices, though I wonder if the firmware could be improved a bit.
Connecting the drive to a computer over USB disables the network connectivity but is otherwise straightforward. The drive is formatted with the Windows NTFS format, and a read-write NTFS driver is supplied for Mac users. Apparently you can also convert the drive to Mac HFS+ format though I did not try it. It uses a fast USB 3.0 connection when available, which is a big plus since it is much faster than USB 2.0.

There is some sync software for Windows supplied but I do not really see the point of it; personally I prefer simply to copy stuff across as needed.

According to the manual, the drive takes 3 hours to charge fully, and then has about 10 hours battery life streaming, or 25 hours standby, which is enough for most journeys. If you fancy using this on a flight, note that some airlines may not allow wi-fi to be enabled which would prevent use of the drive, other than via a laptop and USB.

Despite the fact that it is not hassle-free, I rate this drive highly based on its generous 1TB capacity and the fact that it also works fine as a standard USB 3.0 external drive, making all the mobile and battery-powered capability a nice bonus. If you need serious extra local storage for a tablet or smartphone, I cannot think of any better option.

That is the question though: do you need extra local storage for a mobile device? Internet-based storage like Dropbox, Skydrive or Google Music is more convenient, provided of course that you can connect. Most mobile devices come with built-in storage that is enough for a few videos or a fair amount of MP3 music.

There are certain scenarios where Wireless Plus will be useful, but I am not sure how common they are for most people.

Update: The Wireless Plus can also be used as a DLNA server and I have successfully used this feature both on the iPad (you can download a DNLA client from the app store; I used 8player Lite) and on Windows:

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Can you use this then as a standalone music server? Yes, though it is a shame there is no option to join the Wireless Plus to your existing network directly. I am guessing there is a way of hacking this though, if you can figure it out. It is not too bad, since once it is connected to your network using concurrent mode, other devices on your network can see it.

You can also play media from the Wireless Plus to Airplay devices such as Apple TV.

First sight of Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress

Alcatel OneTouch has a preview of its Firefox OS smartphone on display at its stand here in Barcelona.

3.5” HVGA, 1Ghz CPU, 3.2Mp camera, 256Mb RAM, 180Mb internal storage, MicroSD, 1400mAh battery.

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and to give you the scale

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The phone looks ordinary, but bear in mind the Mozilla philosophy which is more geared to universal, open access than to high-end smartphones for the few.

Several well-known names have signed up, but that in itself does not mean much. What counts is the extent of that commitment. A device like this one looks more about “let’s put it out and see who bites” rather than serious investment.

The app story (HTML 5 based, naturally) is key and I will be investigating later.

NVIDIA Tegra 4 chipset: faster performance, longer battery life

NVIDIA has announced the Tegra 4 chipset, which combines an NVIDIA GPU with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU.

According to ARM, the Cortex-A15 delivers around twice the performance of the Cortex-A9, used in Tegra 3, and is able to address up to 1TB of RAM.

The Tegra 4 GPU has 72 cores, compared to 12 cores on Tegra 3.

In addition, NVIDIA is including what it calls “Computational Photography Architecture” which uses both CPU and GPU to improve photographic capability.

The part of the announcement that most caught my eye though is the claim of “up to 45 percent less power than its predecessor, Tegra 3, in common use cases”.

Tegra 4 will enable high-performance smartphones, but I am more interested in what this and other next-generation chipsets will offer for tablets. Microsoft’s Surface RT would be more compelling with Tegra 4, rather than its current Tegra 3, since it suffers from poor performance in some cases (Excel, for example) and longer battery life would do no harm either.

There will be even less reason to want a laptop.

NVIDIA’s newly announced Project SHIELD gaming portable also uses a Tegra 4 chipset.

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Review: Edifier MP250+ Sound to Go Plus

The problem: small mobile devices are great for portability but their built-in speakers (if they exist) are poor, thanks to their tiny size and sub-optimal enclosures. The latest tablets sound better than earlier models, but it still pays to plug in an external powered speaker.

Edifier’s Sound to Go Plus could be the answer. This wedge-shaped single-unit powered speaker system is 261mm long and 36mm high – in other works, a shade longer than a 10” iPad.

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Several things are distinctive.

First, it feels robust and high quality, thanks to its brushed aluminium shell. Second, it is not just a powered speaker, but also a USB sound device that was recognised immediately by the Mac, Windows 8 and Windows RT devices I tried.

Third, it packs in four 1.25” drive units and a 30mm x 90mm passive bass radiator for a fuller sound that you might expect from such a compact speaker.

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The unit comes with audio cable, USB cable, and a simple black bag, though you will struggle to get the cables as well as the device into the bag.

Charging is via USB and no mains adapter is supplied. Many smartphone adapters will work, or you can charge from a PC or Mac.

Operation

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The Sound to Go Plus has two modes of operation. The first is USB-based, and works by attaching the gadget to a PC or Mac and then selecting it as the default audio output device. The second is based on a standard 3.5mm jack socket. This is necessary, because most smartphones and tablets, including Apple’s iPad, do not recognise USB audio devices. Microsoft’s Surface RT is an exception, and worked fine with the Edifier and a USB cable.

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The existence of two modes does add some complexity though. Edifier has designed it so that the analogue jack input takes priority. This means that if a jack cable is connected, the USB audio connection does not work. If both are connected to the same machine, neither works.

The advantage of the USB connection is first that it sounds better, and second that the device will charge while it plays.

Volume buttons are on each end of the device, down on the left, up on the right. Once connected, you turn the device on by depressing both simultaneously. This is smart, since it is unlikely to happen by accident in your bag.

Sound quality

Sound and mobile is all about compromise. I compared the Sound to Go Plus with several alternatives, from built-in speakers on an iPad or Surface RT, to various other portable systems.

The Sound to Go Plus was a big improvement on the built-in speakers. Sound is deeper, crisper, smoother and more detailed.

Compare to a grown-up pair of powered speakers like the superb Audyssey Lower East Side, admittedly more expensive and less portable, and the Sound to Go Plus is boxy, bass-shy and constricted.

That said, the Edifier sounds miles better than a old Creative Labs Travelsound unit I tried. The Travelsound is also a one-piece design, but with only a single drive unit per channel and no passive bass radiator. The Edifier won easily.

I was less sure about the comparison with the X-Mini Kai. The Kai is a mono unit but even with only one drive unit it lost only narrowly to the Edifier. The Kai’s brighter sound made the Edifier sound slightly muffled and the bass on the Kai is also decent, though in the end the Edifier’s smoother, weightier sound won my preference. The Edifier also feels stronger and more business-like than the quirky Kai with its concertina design.

Still, a unit like this is not about the ultimate in sound quality. It is about getting acceptable sound while on the go, and in this respect the Edifier impresses. It is not squawky or annoying, build quality is good, and watching a movie or playing background music with this is more fun than using what is built into a tablet.

Volume is just about good enough, though I would have liked a little more power.

Conclusion

The Edifier Sound to Go Plus is a great little device and worth considering if you are looking for better sound while travelling.

 

Nokia forms 71% of Windows Phone market according to AdDuplex research

These figures from AdDuplex, which runs an ad network for Windows Phone, surprised me. The company studies its stats for a random day in November, the 30th, and reports that 71% of the Windows Phone devices contacting its servers were from Nokia. The Lumia 710 leads with 24%, followed by Lumia 800 at 18%, and the Lumia 900 at 7%.

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The obvious conclusion is that Nokia dominates the Windows Phone market. Bad news for HTC, which seems to be making a real effort with its 8X release (the 20th most popular device according to the stats).

Dominating the market may sound good for Nokia, but unfortunately the entire market is relatively small. The risk for the platform is that it becomes in effect a Nokia-only OS with all the other OEMs focused on Android.

How bad is the Surface RT?

I have just read this piece on Slate entitled Why is the Surface so bad? after using the device for most of yesterday, on a train and at a technical event.

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Oddly, I like the Surface RT increasingly, though I too am puzzled by some of its shortcomings.

Here are some of the issues I am aware of:

  • The apps. This is the biggest issue. Where are the delightful apps? For example, the mail client is barely adequate. The music app is annoying, though there is plenty to stream if you have an Xbox Music Pass. It cannot play FLAC files, which I use for my Squeezebox-based system at home.

    How hard is it for a company the size of Microsoft to write a superb mail app and a superb music app for its critical new product? I would guess that a small fraction of the advertising budget would have been enough. Why was there no one at Microsoft with the guts to throw them back at the team that developed them and say, “Not good enough, we do not have a product.”

  • Performance is so-so. It is not terrible in my experience, but at times makes you wonder if Windows 8 is too much on a Tegra 3; or whether it needs a whole lot more optimisation. Battery life is also OK but could be better. I got 7 hours or so yesterday, with wi-fi on constantly, and some of the time powering a phone being used as a wi-fi hotspot.
  • I got errors updating Microsoft Office. Mostly fixed by exiting the Office Upload Center. There’s no excuse for that. This is the appliance model. Microsoft knows exactly what hardware I have and what software I have, and has locked it down so I can only install sandboxed apps from the Store. Testing various update scenarios is easy.
  • For that matter, why is there an Office Upload Center? It is dreadful error-prone software. Dropbox has no Upload Center. Is it so hard to sync documents with SkyDrive or SharePoint – how long has Microsoft been batting at this problem?
  • I am concerned by reports of early keyboard disintegration, though mine is still OK

Enough griping though. Here is why I like this device.

First, I have no problem with the weight and I like the solid feel of the unit. The Surface is compact. The Surface with its keyboard is about 350g lighter and 4mm slimmer than my Samsung Slate without a keyboard; I am including the cover because I would never travel with a slate without a cover.

Second, unlike the Slate (magazine) reviewer, I do think the keyboard cover is a breakthrough. The Touch keyboard provides a usable full keyboard and trackpad while not adding any significant bulk; it forms a useful cover when closed, and when folded back it does not get in the way while you use Surface as a slate. I find myself using it in Slate mode frequently. Do not believe those who say you need keyboard and mouse to operate a Surface; there is only an argument for this if you never venture out of the desktop.

I can do more than occasional typing on the Touch keyboard; it is fine for longer documents as well.

Third, I can do real work with the Surface. Yesterday I sat with Surface on my lap, typing notes into Word, with Mail docked to the left, and Twitter open in desktop IE alongside Word. For all its faults, I found that the Surface worked well in this context.

Fourth, if you know Windows, there are things you can do that are difficult with other tablets. VPN to my office and remote desktop to a Windows 7 machine there is built in and works well. SharePoint via WebDAV is a shortcut in the Windows File Explorer.

Of course you could do all this with a laptop. So why not have a laptop, which you can buy for less money than a Surface? It is certainly an option; but as I have adapted first to the Samsung Slate running Windows 8, and now to the Surface, I find laptops bulky and inconvenient. I think of a laptop more as I used to perceive a desktop PC, something which is best suited to permanent siting on a desk rather than being carted around.

Further, the Surface really is a tablet. Imagine you want to show some photos to a friend or colleague. On a laptop that is awkward. The keyboard gets in the way. On a tablet like the Surface it is easy; just open the folder in the full-screen photo app and swipe through the images, with the keyboard cover folded back. Pretty much any tablet will do that equally well – or better if you have a Retina iPad – but it shows that Surface is not just a laptop in disguise.

There are reasons why I get better results from the Surface than some. One is that I know Windows 8 well, having used it intensively for many months. Another is that I am familiar with Windows foibles, so when these appear in the Surface I am likely to know what to do. Of course they should not appear at all; see above.

Microsoft seems to have created a device with many flaws, but one that is useful and sometimes delightful even despite those flaws.