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While most of us were sleeping last night, Nokia was hard at work at Nokia World in Abu Dabi announcing new devices. They also announced many other things, but I’ll talk about their other announcements in future articles.

Nokia Lumia 1520

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The 1520 was the star of the show this morning. This is Nokia’s newest spec monster, but it goes in a slightly different direction than the 1020. I see this device as more of a replacement of the year old Lumia 920 than the 1020. The spec barf is below. So, notice a few things on the specs. First of all, its clear this phone’s main selling point is going to be its huge 6 inch screen and 1080p resolution. This will be the first truly high definition phablet for Windows Phone. Also notice in the pic below how the extra pixels are used on the start screen: You’ll essentially get two additional medium tile columns.

Nokia-Lumia-1520-2

While not a huge deal, the extra glance and go info will be nice for some. The extra pixels will also make text, pictures, and videos a bit more crisp, but I don’t expect a very noticeable difference from the existing 720p screens. Also of note is this model is sporting an IPS LCD instead of the AMOLED screens present in the more recent devices. You may remember that the venerable 920 had an LCD before the 925, 928, and 1020 came out with their AMOLEDs. While I’m typically critical of LED screens for being over-saturated or unable to generate a good white screen, Nokia’s implementation has converted me to AMOLED. My 928 is brighter, more vibrant(but not too vibrant) and presents much better blacks than the 920, and there is a lot of black space to Win Phone 8. So its slightly disappointing to see the 1530 with an LCD, but Nokia seems apt to use LCD with new screen tech to save money at first, so hopefully further variants will opt for the AMOLED.

This thing is also a spec monster even compared with the latest Android phones, but especially for Windows Phone. Win Phone 8 runs well even without super high end hardware, so the phones don’t have to have the latest and greatest processors but instead Nokia tends to innovate in other area of the experience like the camera or screen. But this time, Nokia wanted to show off and has outfitted the 1520 with the latest and top of the line Snapdragon 800 quad core processor running at 2.2 Ghz, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. Basically, this phone will fly through anything you can throw at it. But I think its pretty impressive that Microsoft and Nokia have managed to put out a phablet that goes spec for spec with Android flagships mere weeks after the G2 and Note 3 are released. While the timing isn’t perfect, Microsoft and Nokia are managing to adopt newer hardware and newer trends much quicker than before, and that’s important when faced with the breakneck pace of hardware innovation present in the Android market.

One final hardware mention about this phone is that it will be sporting a 20 MP back camera, rather than the 41 MP beast the 1020 has. Once again, this pits the device as a 920 replacement. The 1020 will continue to dominate as the best smartphone camera, but the 1520 brings the 1020’s advancements to a well-rounded flagship. The camera will still take advantage of Nokia’s oversampling technology (using multiple pixels to generate one better and higher quality pixel) and can even shoot a RAW image as Nokia announced for the 1520, 1320, and 1020 today (a RAW image takes the full camera sensor input and outputs it in s digital form, giving a photographer an unconverted and unmodified picture to edit). Oh and yes that is a 3400 mAh battery. Battery life should be awesome.

As usual, the 1520 will be an AT&T exclusive, but expect variants of this device (like the rumored 929 for Verizon) to show up on other carriers later. This is one thing in really disappointed in. The fact that the 928 and 925 both outsold the 920 should have enough evidence to Nokia that they need to expand their carrier reach a bit.

Nokia Lumia 1520 Specs

  • Screen: 6′ IPS LCD ClearBlack display w/ 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (368 ppi)
  • Display glass: Corning Gorilla Glass 3 w/ Super Sensitive Touch
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core @ 2.2 Ghz
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Storage: 32 GB built in / microSD card support up to 64 GB
  • Camera: 20 MP PureView with f/2.4 aperature
  • Camera Flash: Dual LED
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac / Bluetooth 4.0 / NFC
  • QI Wireless Charging: Yes
  • Battery: 3400 mAh
  • Dimensions: 162 mm H x 85.4 mm W x 8.7 mm D
  • Weight: 209 g
  • Colors: Yellow, Red, Black, White
  • Price: $750 (unsubsidized – contract price unannounced)

Nokia Lumia 1320

Lumia-1320-Hero-2-jpg

This guy will be a cheaper variant of the impressive 1520. It’ll be running for the equivalent price of $339, but the 1320 is more geared towards Asian markets. Its not exactly a slouch though. Its 6 inch screen, even if is only 720p, should be very popular in its intended market as phablets quickly replace conventional laptops.The device is powered by the still quite capable Snapdragon S4 Pro dual core processor that powers most 900 series Lumia phones and will even come with 4G LTE capability, which will be a nice addition as Asian markets begin to ramp up LTE attenna support.

There are a few areas where its cheaper price tag does show, though, like its Lumia 520-like 5 MP camera and removable backs, but this phone doesn’t really seem “cheap” by any stretch of the imagination. From what I’ve seen from the event coverage, the device is rounded and comfortable to hold like the Lumia 620. Also of note, the device will still be carrying the same 3400 mAh battery as it’s beefier cousin, so the lower specs will probably translate to even more ridiculous battery life.

Nokia Lumia 1320 Specs

  • Screen: 6′ IPS LCD ClearBlack Display w/ 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Resolution: 1280 x 720 (245 ppi)
  • Display Glass: Corning Gorilla Glass 3 w/ Super Sensitive Touch
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Dual-core @ 1.7 Ghz
  • Memory: 1 GB RAM
  • Storage: 8 GB Internal / microSD support up to 64 GB
  • Camera: 5 MP with f/2.4 aperture
  • Flash: Single LED
  • Wireless Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n / Bluetooth 4.0 / NFC
  • QI Wireless Charging: No
  • Battery: 3400 mAh
  • Dimensions: 164 mm H x 85.9 mm W x 9.8 mm D
  • Weight: 220 g
  • Colors: Red, Yellow, Black, White
  • Price: appx. $340 (before local import taxes)

Nokia Lumia 2520

Nokia-Lumia-2520

The oft rumored and leaked Nokia tablet became official as well. When the leaks and rumors were going around, I didn’t think much of the device, but its kinda growing on me. Incidentally, the biggest problem with this device is not going to be the hardware. The hardware is wonderful, powerful, and beautiful, but inevitably its going to be criticized for taking on Microsoft’s struggling Windows 8 RT ecosystem. While Win Phone often gets wrongly accused of having a weak ecosystem, there are few apologists that would claim the Win8 ecosystem is anything but weak. I was pleasantly surprised how many gaps were filled with upon checking out the Windows 8.1 store, and I think I could get along doing a lot of what I like to do in the Metro environment, but the app ecosystem needs some work. Nokia’s work in Windows Phone really helped bring the apps the ecosystem needed and brought a lot of attention to the platform, so I can only hope Nokia’s software talent will continue doing great things for the Windows platform as well. Now on to the hardware.

The device is really incredible and actually stands out in a variety of ways against the Surface. First of all, look at that hot red exterior. This device simply looks beautiful. Even the keyboard looks great as a contrast with that vibrant backing. To make the hotness even better, Nokia brought their display innovation to the tablet world with a 10.1 inch ClearBlack IPS LCD running a full 1920 x 1080 resolution. Supposedly, Nokia built the display as close to the glass as possible, removing any air between the two and resulting in an experience in which the screen literally looks like it’s on top of the glass, rather than underneath it. I’m also impressed with the display’s insane 665 nit brightness. The screen on this tablet should be completely visible even in direct sunlight.colozeum-682x1024

This is going to be a pretty powerful tablet too. Rather than grabbing Nvidia’s fairly untested Tegra 4 processor like Microsoft did with the Surface 2, Nokia opted for the above referenced Snapdragon 800, which is the current ARM hotness. This is rounded out by 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage, microSD expansion, a USB port, an HDMI-out port, and even LTE connectivity for the pretty decent price of $499. Oh, and because this is Nokia, it of course has a decent camera. It will have a 6.7 MP PureView camera with Carl Zeiss optics and a fairly impressive f/1.9 aperature (smaller aperature is better). So all you wonderful people who hold up tablets to take photos will be happy to have that.

The most interesting part of this tablet is going to be what it can bring to the Windows ecosystem. For instance, a Nokia Lumia smartphone can pair with the tablet over NFC and transfer photos, music, and videos wirelessly. I’ve honestly been waiting for someone to use NFC in this way for years and I’m surprised Samsung never put NFC in their tablets for this reason. Finally, Nokia announced their new Video Director app for Windows 8, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds. It’s a simple but well designed video editing app for Windows 8. There’s not much to say about it but WPCentral did a pretty good hands-on video if you want to check it out.

That nice looking detachable keyboard cover on the above picture will also be available separately but is similar to the Surface 2’s power cover. While the 2520 is estimated to get about 11 hours of battery life, the Power Keyboard will give it an additional 5 hours along with providing a tactile keyboard experience. About that experience though, while the keyboard may be nice, Mary Jo Foley recently tweeted that its actually pretty floppy, so don’t expect it to be a hard plastic keyboard like Microsoft’s Power Cover. The additional keyboard should debut at a surprisingly affordable $149.99.

All in all, a pretty impressive showing for Nokia’s first tablet. While Windows 8 is yet another ecosystem that needs some work, Nokia’s presence certainly helped catapult Windows Phone 8’s ecosystem in ways that Microsoft could never do. So hopefully between the second generation Surfaces and the Nokia 2520, Microsoft can finally carve a niche for itself in the tablet sphere when this device ships in November.

Nokia 2520 Specs

  • Screen: 10.1′ IPS LCD ClearBlack Display w/ 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (218 ppi)
  • Display Glass: Corning Gorilla Glass 2
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Quad-core @ 2.2 Ghz
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Storage: 32 GB Internal / microSD support up to 64 GB
  • Front Camera: 2 MP HD w/ f/2.4 aperature
  • Camera: 6.7 MP with f/1.9 aperature
  • Flash: None
  • Wireless Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n / Bluetooth 4.0 / NFC
  • Ports: 1 USB 3.0 / 1 micro HDMI
  • Battery: 8000 mAh
  • Dimensions: 168 mm H x 267 mm W x 8.9 mm D
  • Weight: 615 g
  • Colors: Black, Cyan, Red, White
  • Carriers: AT&T / Verizon
  • Price: $499 (unsubsidized)

A Splash of AshaAsha-502-Dual-SIM-KSP-4-jpg

The last three device announcements were Nokia’s new Asha 501, 502, and 503 Symbian phones. While Symbian is in no way a modern operating system, it is still being supported and allows Nokia to build some really cheap hardware. Those in American may be surprised to note that Nokia actually sales a rather large amount of Asha phones and comprises a significant amount of Nokia’s device sales revenue. As long as these incredibly low cost devices continue to sell and as long as Microsoft doesn’t say anything about it, Nokia will continue to produce more of them.

So, onto the devices. All three of them are dual-sim devices (useful for constant travellers), all seem to be clad in a durable crystal plastic shell, and they come in a variety of colors. The most interesting advancements for the new devices is actually on the software front. These new Ashas will come with Nokia’s new VoIP app, Nimbuzz messenger, which allows users to utilize cell data or WiFi to make domestic and international calls to cell phones and LAN lines. They also sport a newly redesigned user interface with one-swipe camera access, a one-touch share option, and a new FastLane screen that aggregates Facebook and Twitter updates, favorite contacts, new apps, and calendar appointments on a single page.

New FastLane Screen

New FastLane Screen

There are some minor differences between the three models as they are separated by minor variations in price.

Asha 500:

  • 2.8 inch screen @ 320 x 240 resolution
  • 2 MP camera w/ f/2.8 apature
  • No flash
  • 2G radio only
  • Red, black, white, green, cyan color options
  • $69.99 off contract price

Asha 502:

  • 3 inch screen @ 320 x 240 resolution
  • 5 MP camera w/ f/2.4 apature
  • LED Flash
  • 2G radio only
  • Red, black, white, green, cyan color options
  • $89.99 off-contract price

Asha 503:

  • 3 inch screen @ 320 x 240 resolution
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 2
  • Glance screen & double tap to wake
  • 5 MP camera w/ f/2.4 aperature
  • LED Flash
  • 3G and 2G radios
  • Red, black, white, green, cyan color options
  • $99.99 off-contract price
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For those who don’t know, Windows 8.1 officially launched yesterday and so its time to upgrade. Although I’ve been kept busy with work and other obligations, I still want to keep you in the loop with the upgrade process.

First of all, yes you should get Windows 8.1. With the addition of the start button,the ability to make the start screen mirror the desktop background, and new “all apps” start screen option, i feel that 8.1 addresses the “jarring transition” of the original start screen. Combine that with the improved performance, improved file system, and better integration with online services, and you’ve got something I think is highly worth an upgrade. If you absolutely cannot stand the start screen and will never adapt to the change, you’re probably going to need to look at different OS options, because the start screen is here to stay and will probably become a more integral part of Windows as times goes on. If you can give the new interface a chance, I think you’ll be greeted with a more efficient and improved user experience.

I would also like to point out that upgrading to Windows 8.1 from anything other than 8 will force you reinstall you desktop applications (but your files and settings are preserved). But there is a solution. Fortunately, resellers are still selling Windows 8, which is not only cheaper in some circumstances, but will also upgrade from Windows 7 without killing your programs, and give you a free and easy upgrade path to Windows 8.1. So if you are upgrading from Windows 7 I recommend picking up Windows 8 while you still can. If you are upgrading from Vista or XP, you will have to wipe your programs but the installer will still keep your computer’s files.

If you’re upgrading from Windows 8, the process should be straight forward and easy (it was for me). However, if you want one, Paul Thurrott has the best guides on the net right now. So if you haven’t upgraded yet and are a bit nervous or curious about the process, check out the following links:

Before You Start: Upgrade Options And Tips

Step By Step Upgrade From Windows 8

Also, once you’re upgraded, check out this list of tutorials from the Windows Observer.

Windows 8.1 Tutorials

After months of rumor and speculation (which I typically avoid), HTC finally made it official. The HTC One Max is HTC’s first entry into the phablet market. While its clear there are some compromises that were made, and it doesn’t truly compete in the same sphere as the Note 3, it still seems like it will be a fairly solid device. For all intents and purposes, this device is a big HTC One.

Ginormous Screen

The HTC One Max earns its Max moniker (although it slightly steals it from Motorola) by having a freaking giant screen. It still has the same older Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, the same front facing boom-sound speakers, the same 1080P resolution and also presumably the same Super LCD screen technology, but this device will have a 5.9″ screen. The device narrowly beats the Samsung Galaxy Note 3′s similarly giant 5.7″ screen and is much bigger than it’s 4.7″ progenitor, meaning if you want a beautiful aluminum device and the most gigantic screen you can get, the One Max is the one to get. However, if you’re not quite sold on the benefits of a phablet, the One Max isn’t going to win you over. Sense 5.5 does offer some welcome changes to the Blink Feed Social Media aggregator, such as Instagram, Google+, and RSS integration, in addition to offline viewing and its still the cleanest and fastest skinning of Android available. However, while the fast and efficient user experience is a welcome change from Samsung’s bloated TouchWiz, there doesn’t seem to be any additional features that really make use of the bigger screen. It has the same resolution, there is no stylus support, and no Galaxy Note style-app windowing. Despite this though, big screen phone fans will be happy to get more options than just Samsung.

Fingerprinting Comes (back) to Android

The last Android phone to have a fingerprint scanner was the Motorola Atrix for AT&T. Unfortunately, Fingerprint scanning tech was just not ready yet so it was the last…until now. On the heels of the iPhone 5S’s home button front facing fingerprint scanner, HTC is hoping to capitalize on the trend by putting the sensor in a more natural position.

HTC-One-Max-Peter-Chou-Leak-07

And here it is. That plain looking black square under the camera lens is HTC’s new fingerprint reader. The placement is a little odd, as its clear there may be quite a bit of smudge marks on that camera lens, but as I am holding my 4.5 inch phone, my index finger naturally rests close to the camera lens (which is roughly in the same position as on the HTC One). With a large 5.9″ screen, the natural position for my index finger would be just below the camera lens, which is where the fingerprint sensor lies.Those that are making a big deal about smudgy camera lenses are making much ado about nothing. We’ve had glossy camera lenses in the backs of our phones for decades and only when HTC puts a fingerprint scanner below it has it become a problem? I’m not so convinced that will be problem.

Although the hardware is here, the features are a little light so far. While Apple’s fingerprint scanner allows you to unlock your phone, authorize purchases and assign passwords to a fingerprint, HTC’s implementation is currently limited to unlocking the phone and launching apps. Due to the placement of the sensor, I would prefer that it could be used to sign into apps and services as the index finger is really the only finger that can comfortably swipe across it. While it’s cool that apps can be assigned to open with any of your fingers, it’s made a bit silly by the fact that utilizing that feature is a bit uncomfortable. However, adding a bit of hardware with this much potential on an open platform like Android is delivering a truck load of Legos to a room full of engineers. You are bound to get some awesome stuff out of it.

Some Strange Compromises

This isn’t just a HTC One with a big screen and fingerprint scanner, though. HTC took this opportunity to make some additional changes to the hardware. The only welcome change is that the back cover is now removable. In a time where most modern smartphones are impenetrable slabs that are just daring you to run out of space or dunk it in water, it’s refreshing to see phones like the One Max that are okay with a little more bulk for the ability to add microSD storage (up to 64GB worth of it). However, removable back plates normally mean a removable or replaceable battery, but this is not the case with the One Max. I find it odd that they made such a distinction, but with a giant 3,300 mAh battery, I suppose they couldn’t spare the room to insert a removable battery and battery terminals.

Another strange compromise is the removal of Optical Image Stabilization on the camera. For those who don’t know, OIS is a technology that keeps the camera lens steady within a spring-locked frame even as your hand will natural shake. This allows for quicker, more natural, and less blurry shots, buttery smooth video, and has been one of the most innovative pieces of technology to come to camera tech in many years. Now that many manufacturers are introducing OIS in their smartphones, it’s disappointing that HTC has decided to remove the technology, but it is possible that the fingerprint scanner’s close proximity to the camera sensor limited their options. In that case, however, I would have preferred to keep the OIS and move the fingerprint scanner, but I’m just guessing. The innovative Ultrapixel camera is otherwise unchanged, so it should still be able to take some pretty decent shots.

Finally, there’s the hardware. Oddly enough, HTC chose not to upgrade the One Max with a Snapdragon 800 but instead kept the slightly lower powered Snapdrahon 600. Does this matter? Absolutely not. HTC’s Sense UI runs much faster and efficiently than TouchWiz and that will mean more for performance than the processor. The user experience should be cleaner and more consistant than the Note 3, but I wonder how many will be duped by the spec sheet.

Great Phablet, But Why?

This device is the most beautifully designed phablet in existence, but it’s a bit of a strange device. The addition of the fingerprint reader and microSD expansion are certainly great, but I feel that anyone seeking to compete against Samsung in the phablet market will need to do something other than give a great phone a bigger screen. As much as I hate to pit Samsung favorably against HTC, Samsung does phablets better by giving the Note line some innovative features that actually make good use of the screen real estate. By removing OIS, not upgrading any of the hardware, and not offering any real reason to use a 5.9″ screen over a 4.7″ screen, HTC has created a product for a very small user base: those who want an HTC One, but don’t feel it’s big enough. I certainly hope that HTC’s beautifully machined casing and potentially hackable fingerprint sensor will be enough to entice phablet buyers away from the Note, but I don’t really know why this device exists.

Source: Pocketnow

Hey readers. This article is partly to explain why I haven’t written a lot lately and partly to get up on a soap box and talk about one of the biggest problems facing the tech industry today. Rabid fanboyism. As much as I will try to talk about this without sounding like a fanboy myself, the fact is that it is unavoidable. Since tech giants are trying and succeeding in locking users into their respective walled gardens, it seems unavoidable that people who loved their walled garden experience won’t be rabid about their enjoyment of it. Despite the fact that every single person is different in some way and will thus have different desires and usage patterns with their tech, it seems unreasonable to us that anyone else would choose a different product then we did. However, since we are social creatures, it is difficult to just enjoy our decisions. We have to seek verification with our peers, and when they disagree, we have to convert them. Kind of makes technology sound like religion, eh?

So all that is just to say that this write up will not be free from bias, nor is any write up ever made about any piece of technology ever free from bias. I will admit that I can be fanatical about my love of Windows Phone and I will honestly say that I give Windows 8 and Xbox much more of a chance in my personal life then they might deserve, at times, just because I want my personal choice of a walled garden to succeed. But my reasons for choosing Windows Phone are almost entirely aesthetic with a slight bit of practical. I love the quality of Lumia devices. I love the Nokia’s emphasis towards mobile cameras. I love the innovative way Windows Phone deals with camera apps (Lenses). I really want a smartphone experience that “just works” without me having to constantly tweak and change and edit. I love how fast and fluid Windows Phone 8 is. I loved the customization of Android but hated how much my rapid love of customization would inevitably lead to slow down. Windows Phone gives me a “just right” amount of customization. Nokia Music and Xbox Music are amazing and as a music fan, both these things are incredibly important.

I can go on and on, but unless you are me or are a Windows Phone fan, you don’t care why I like my phone. I understand that Windows Phone is not without faults, but the faults it has I am willing to live with because they are not super high priorities for me and many of them should be fixed in soon to come updates. iOS and Android are not without faults, but those that use the platforms accept the faults because they are not high priorities and they enjoy the benefits. But, like all other things, priorities, likes and dislikes are different for every person. Smartphones are very personal devices. They are constantly nestled in the pocket of our jeans, attached on our arms or clothing via a strap, or stuck between your touch-up makeup and wallet in a purse. They are also our primary way to stay connected to friends and family and sometimes to our careers. Smartphones are intensely personal and this is why every single comment board I’ve ever seen regarding any tech news always degrades into some sort of platform flame war. Like I said before, no article is ever unbiased and when our need for verification is not fulfilled but degraded, we lash out. It’s human nature.

But I just want people to be aware of this aspect of human nature and to try to restrict it. Unfortunately, tech blogs thrive on this kind of flame war. Divisive headlines will always lead to more page views as millions of well-meaning but vindictive readers jump onto the comments board to flame the writer and other commenters. But the writer doesn’t care. They’re laughing all the way to the bank with the ad revenue. I guarantee you that the kind of writer that will purposely post a divisive headline or an obvious biased article will not care one lick what you say about their writing. It is impossible to create an unbiased article, but you should support those that try and stop reading the articles of those that don’t.

The fact is, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and even Blackberry 10, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Mobile, etc. are all amazing feats of software engineering. The fact that you can grab any of these phones and have a half way decent computing experience is amazing. Since there are expected to be almost 2 billion smartphones sold this year and the market is only growing, I think it’s rather important to have a rather large array of options. And with that many smartphones being sold, there is certainly room for there to be several viable platforms. Even if Android picks up 70% of the smartphone market, that still leaves 600 million smartphones to share and its not exactly like selling a 100 million units of anything is a bad thing. But it is a bad thing if you compare 200 million versus 1.4 billion. And that’s where the problem lies. Reviewers point out a new OS’s lack of maturity and constantly give good graces to the “established” platforms just by virtue of them being around for a few years longer. Buyers don’t buy into new platforms because they are afraid of a lack of support. Developer interest wanes and the platform never really gains support. Wall Street pushes down the stock value of publically traded companies because nobody buys it and developers aren’t interested. Company dies. Innovation and choice dies with it.

This is exactly what happened to Blackberry. Yes they were late. Android was late compared to iOS. It took Android almost 5 years before it became a truly mature platform. Honestly, it didn’t matter how good Blackberry 10 was. It’s the fear of not having “apps.” Many believe that my beloved Windows Phone is going in the same direction, and maybe it is. It’s still around because Microsoft is a slow moving company and once it’s dedicated time and resources, it won’t give up easily. It’s not that it’s not selling though, it’s just that it’s not selling like Android is. Every single time I see a Windows Phone device reviewed, there is a pointed remark about the “lack of apps.” Is there a lack of apps? Maybe for some people, but I haven’t found anything I wanted but couldn’t find. The reviewers never point out what’s missing and if they do, they point out apps that lack 1st party support but have a plethora of 3rd party support (No Instagram? There’s a half dozen 3rd party apps!) Maybe their favorite app isn’t on Windows Phone. Maybe they legitimately don’t like the OS and the only way he or she can quantify this is with a consistently repeated meme. But I feel that the size of a mobile OS’s store is never an acceptable form of criticism. Platforms take time to mature. The most egregious form of this that I’ve heard was in this article where the author mentioned Windows Phone 8 being an immature platform and explained that “It’s not even 3 years old, iOS has been around for nearly twice that long and Apple is adding new features every year and polishing old ones.” Okay. I don’t think Microsoft can speed up time. Another word for “immature” is young and another word for mature is “old.” The fact that Microsoft has had three updates to an OS they released last year (Windows Phone 8 is a completely different kernel than 7) where iOS has a yearly update cycle says volumes. Yes, mobile OS’s are being released all the time and they are all newer than Android and iOS, but just as Android and iOS weren’t built overnight, neither can anything else. There is also the fact that many platforms don’t even really focus on apps. iOS and Android are app launchers, so of course they have to have a lot of apps. Windows Phone and Blackberry have a lot of the functionality from Android and iOS’s apps built straight into the OS. Firefox OS is entirely based on webapps and HTML5, so arguably an app store is irrelevant. Whether a platform is “mature” or not is a ridiculous criticism because that is based on factors that have nothing to do with the companies that build the software. By labeling a platform as immature, tech bloggers are essentially shooting it in the foot and preventing new platforms from getting the traction they need. Tech bloggers have a lot of sway with their readers, and they should realize it. It is possible that reviewers have written off minority platforms and have decided to focus on what they’re interested in (Android or iPhone). As someone who writes a blog in his spare time, I can totally understand that it is literally impossible to have a constant and thorough understanding of every phone and platform. But don’t pretend to say that your cross platform review is unbiased when it clearly is not. Just as I am getting trapped in defending my platform of choice, once again, I’m sure many other tech writers will absent-mindedly do the same.

When doing a review and comparison, it’s very alluring to compare specificatoins. Specs sometimes matter when comparing Android phones because the experience can very greatly based on the power of the hardware, but the user experience is almost always tied into software optimization. For instance, while the current top spec monster, the Galaxy Note 3, is highly regarded for its incredible feature set, interesting design, and great use stylus input, it is still noted as having inconsistent performance and occasionally lags behind the user’s input, despite having the beefiest quad core processor on the market and 3 GB of RAM. The reason for this, however, is that Samsung’s build of Android has become bloated with features. LG G2 and the Xperia Z1 actually both run quite well with similar specs and new Android builds. Even the Moto X, with it’s older dual core processor, runs really well. The Note 3, Z1, and G2 all have similar specs but widely differing user experiences. I’ve tried the Note 3, G2, and Moto X in stores and while the Moto X has much lower specs, it runs the best out of all 3 of them, in my opinion, because it has an unskinned version of Android. Also to note, many Android OEMs (most famously, Samsung) are now including software optimizations for hardware testing, meaning that running performance tests may provide results that are inconsistent with the actual user experience. The Galaxy Note 3 would certainly beat any phone running a performance test, but because of software bloat, the experience is actually slower than a lower spec’d phone. The performance situation on Android is so different  primarily because Google allows it’s OEMs to customize the OS as they would like. Software optimizations vary wildly across the board, leading to different experiences from phone to phone. Once again, this is an excellent state of affairs due to the amount of choice it allows people.

However, the situation on iOS, Windows Phone, and many others is very different. Where Android was built to be open and highly customizable, iOS and Windows Phone are built to be highly optimized for a specific set of hardware. iOS is built for small set of hardware that doesn’t tend to vary all that much from generation to generation. Because Apple builds the hardware and the software, they can optimize the OS to run perfectly on all their devices. This is the reason why a friend of mine has a 4 year old iPhone 3GS that still runs perfectly fine and runs most of the apps in the app store (although it won’t be getting iOS 7). For Windows Phone, Microsoft intended to sell this to OEMs to build hardware, but they wanted to ensure a certain performance standard, and thus the OS supports a limited set of hardware. While this limits Windows Phones in that Microsoft has to update the OS to support their OEM’s demands to use new hardware, it does mean that the most popular Windows Phone currently in use, the Lumia 520, runs the OS and a vast majority of apps with only 512 MB of RAM and a single core processor. An Android phone with those specs could hardly run Gingerbread, much less anything newer.

Android’s flexibility has allowed manufactuers to play with hardware and has also helped to catapult mobile technology much faster than it would of otherwise. Because of this quick hardware innovation, it’s always alluring to compare the high spec’d top end Android devices with the latest from Apple and Windows Phone. But the fact is, hardware is only a skeleton over which the user experience is made. While hardware helps, it is only how the software and hardware interact which defines whether a noticeable difference is detected. Android’s highly customizable UI and heavy feature set makes sure that any innovation in hardware is easily felt in the user experience. A Snapdragon 800 is a noticeable innovation over a last generation dual core. I suppose many will argue that 1080P screens are a noticeable improvement from 720P, and perhaps because of giant phablet screens and Samsung’s windowing apps, such a difference can be noticeable, but I don’t see it. But when Apple’s new iPhone did not see a resolution boost, many were disappointed, but remember that the original design of the Retina display assumed that a screen with higher pixel density would have no point because the human eye could not tell the difference. I find that I agree, not that higher density displays are unnoticible, but that the iPhone’s UI would not really look much better with a higher density display. The thing is, more pixels do not mean a better looking display. Brightness, color accuracy, and vibrancy make better displays, and I think a great AMOLED screen (please not Samsung) with retina-like PPI would be an improvement in the user experience.

The last few paragraphs are all to say that comparing specs between smartphones is comparably worthless. Tech journalists should be interested in none other than the user experience. While specs are easy, they are misleading, and if there is something the tech reporting industry needs to avoid, it is misleading information. Criticizing a phone because it’s processor is slower or its screen doesn’t have as many pixels is an indictment of ignorance and laziness if the spec difference is not backed up by a difference in user experience. Do you think the millions of iPhone fans are clamoring for a more powerful quad core processor? Of course not. Do they care about a lower resolution display? Maybe, but probably not. Do Windows Phone fans suffer because they can’t get a snapdragon 800? Absolutely not. Is the screen of a Lumia 925 ugly because it only has 1280 x 768 pixels? Absolutely not. So why are we even comparing these things? Tech blogging should be all about the user experience. Even if opinions will differ from person to person, getting multiple opinions but free from worthless jargon and repeatable but inaccurate misinformation will be much more useful to the average smartphone shopper.

If you gain anything from this article, please acknowledge that just because someone else didn’t buy your favorite smartphone, it doesn’t somehow illegitimise your decision. In the end, you chose what you liked and that should be enough verification. Some people love their iPhones, and that’s totally fine. Some people love the power user experience and ultimate amount of choice given to them with Android, and that’s totally cool. Some people like me love Windows Phone, and that’s totally cool. Even as Blackberry dies, there are people who bought those devices and still love them. It’s sad that there probably won’t be any further updates to the platform or many more apps developed for it, but thankfully, the OS has a lot of great built in functionality that doesn’t require a big app store. To those still holding onto their love of Blackberry phones, I salute your stalwart dedication to a platform you loved and I hope that someone will buy the company and give it a future. To those wanting the uncompromising web experience of a Firefox OS phone, good on you. To those who pledged money to the Ubuntu Edge project, good on you and good luck to the company. To those who bought an HTC One or an LG G2 or an Xperia Z1 or any other Android phone other than a Samsung, good on you for supporting choice. I want more choice. I don’t want Samsung and Apple to be the only device companies. I don’t want Android, iOS, and Windows Phone to be the only viable platforms. Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we just enjoy the technological marvels that millions of brilliant engineers have given us? Can’t we just enjoy our tech and use it to talk, laugh, cry, communicate and share with each other? The cell phone was built to improve communication and collaboration, not to inspire division.

So Microsoft and Google are fighting about YouTube again. If you don’t remember the original battle, I’ll give a synopsis.

During the early days of WP7, MS shipped the phones with a YouTube “app” that really just redirected you to the mobile YouTube site, because Google prevented access to the same “metadata” that Android and iOS has, and therefore a conventional app was not possible. MS further filed an anti-trust complaint with the Euopean Union, stating that “Without proper access to YouTube, Bing and other search engines cannot stand with Google on an equal footing in returning search results with links to YouTube videos and that, of course, drives more users away from competitors and to Google.” Of course, this complaint went nowhere, and nothing really changed, despite MS’s promise, earlier this year, that they are still seeking resolution. Well things got a bit more heated in May, when MS released their own app…without ads and with an offline viewing option.

For those who don’t know, Google does not sanction either of these things and they are both against the terms of service agreement, but typically some 3rd party app makers somehow manage to put in offline viewing options and even prevent ads. But, while Google is willing to let Joe Schmo app developer do his thing for a couple bucks, they certainly wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate Microsoft doing this. The hilarious twist is that Microsoft basically built an app around what they had been using all along, the mobile YouTube website, which has never show ads before. However, Microsoft did reverse engineer a Google API, which is fairly shady. But in any case, Microsoft was clearly trying to get Google’s attention, and they did.

On May 16th, Google’s Larry Page got up on stage at Google I/O and demanded that tech companies stop bickering about little things and described a dreamy vision where people were free to experiment and build radical new things and not be afraid of patent lawsuits. At the same time, Google sent a cease and desist letter to Microsoft, demanding that the company not only remove their YouTube app from the Windows Store by May 22nd, but also force remove it from their customer’s handsets (which it can do, by the way). Many in the tech world were stunned by the ironic timing and the hypocrisy of it all. Microsoft quickly responded in a quote given to Neowin: “Google has refused to work with us to develop an app on par with the apps for other platforms…We’d be more than happy to include advertising but need Google to provide us access to the necessary APIs” and also referenced the hypocrisy as they said “In light of Larry Page’s comments today calling for more interoperability and less negativity, we look forward to solving this matter together for our mutual customers.” Now, not to say that Microsoft’s rather childish tactics were justified, but why the heck would Google, who’s corporate motto is “Do no evil” and staunchly fights for open internet and open source, refuse to provide access to an API to Microsoft? In any case, Microsoft did not remove the app as Google requested. Instead, the tech giant updated the app and removed the offline view mode, although it still lacked ads.

On May 24th, a joint Google/Microsoft e-mail went out to multiple tech feeds like The Verge and Neowin, stating that the two companies would be working together on a new version of the app for Windows Phone and would work together to bring the app into compliance with Google’s API terms of service. Many of us finally breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, Google had taken the high ground and agreed to provide API access to Microsoft. But the saga was still not over. You see, while many of us believed that they were working together, nothing could be further from the truth.

wp_ss_20130819_0001

On August 13th, Microsoft publicly announced that the new YouTube app was now available in the Windows Store, but now with ads. Many flocked to download it and it seemed to work fairly flawlessly on day 1. On day 2, however, users were welcomed to this error message. As it turned out, Google was blocking the API key that Microsoft was using to run the app. Apparently there was more bickering behind the scenes. You see, Google really wanted Microsoft to rebuild the app from the ground up, in HTML5. Microsoft was as floored by this request as I am learning of it. As much as it would be great if HTML5 was used for developing apps, since all modern desktop and mobile browsers utilize the standard, nobody develops for HTML5 because it simply sucks. HTML5 is hard to develop for, not very powerful, sluggish, and also has a lot of limitations, especially on an OS like Windows Phone and iOS, which puts HTML content in a fenced off box for security purposes.

In a rather nasty blog post entitled “The Limits of Gooogle’s Openness,” Microsoft laid out their side of the story for why the YouTube app was submitted and later blocked. In the letter, Microsoft claims that they devoted significant technical resources to exploring the possibility of an HTML5 app, but after a lot of time and effort, both they and the Google experts they were supposedly working with, agreed that building such an app would be “technically difficult and time consuming”, which is really putting it mildly. LIke I said, while HTML5 was built to transition into successful webapps, it is nowhere near powerful enough to build a app like YouTube. To make things worse, Google doesn’t even adhere to this standard. There has never been an HTML5 YouTube app ever made. Ever. For any platform. Ever. I would imagine that Google wants to eventually transition into HTML5, but the fact is, it hasn’t yet. So why place this arbitrary restriction on Microsoft when Google employees clearly understand that such an app would be difficult or impossible?

So, Microsoft did something that’s justified, but in a snarky manner. You see, Google had requested as part of the agreement that it have final approval over any app that’s published to the Windows Store. This is certainly justifiable, as YouTube is Google’s property and they own the content. On August 13th, Microsoft released their YouTube app that was built with native code, still without an offline viewing option, but now with ads. However, it sent the application to Google on the same day that it published it to the store. Microsoft, this move was childish. On August 14th, Google blocked the API access that Microsoft was using for it’s native app, and it was then, as it still is now, broken for Windows Phone users. On August 15th, Microsoft’s Vice President of Litigation and Antitrust uploaded the aforementioned blog post, which chides Google for preventing Microsoft from providing WP8 users a YouTube experience that’s on par with the Android and iOS experience of the platform. It is a very snarky blog post and perhaps a bit bitchy at times, but it clearly shows how frustrated Microsoft has become with Google.

But I’m confused. Why the heck is this fight still going on? I know that Google considers Windows Phone to be beneath them and undeserving of their attention and effort, but why is this still going on? David Howard brings up a good point in his snarky blog post: “When we first built a YouTube app for Windows Phone, we did so with the understanding that Google claimed to grow its business based on open access to its platforms and content, a point it reiterated last year….We did this all at no cost to Google, which one would think would want a YouTube app on Windows Phone that would only serve to bring Google new users and additional revenue.” The reason Google has become such a jewel in everyone’s eye is because it gives away stuff. Android is free and open. YouTube is free and open. Google search is free and open. The reason for this is clear, advertisements. Google makes money on delivering advertisements and collecting data to provide more targeted advertisements. This revenue is bolstered by all of it’s services, including YouTube. A WP8 YouTube app with advertisements is a source of revenue for Google, and Microsoft is willing to give it to them for free. That’s a pretty killer deal and I feel like if I was Joe Google, I would be okay with providing whatever Microsoft needed for that. Bing is nowhere near a serious competitor to Google search. Windows Phone is nowhere near big enough to compete with Android.

The only reason I am writing this article is because of the responses I’ve seen throughout the net. Microsoft is being petty, sure, but so is Google. The fact is, Microsoft is known for this behavior. Google, however, is showing a real ugly side that perhaps hasn’t been shown before. I’ve seen so many articles and heard so many podcasts lamenting that “This is old Microsoft baiting and bullying Google.” Is it? Or is it Google that is baiting and bullying Microsoft? You see, Microsoft is no longer the dominant power it used to be. It’s quickly losing the only advantages it used to have. Windows is losing marketshare. Windows Mobile has died and Windows Phone is struggling to gain back some of that traction. Google completely dominates over Microsoft in ever single market that they compete. Why are we saying that Microsoft is bullying Google when clearly it’s the other way around? I’m not saying that we should take Microsoft’s side, as we still have not heard an updated response from Google, but maybe Google should be considering that it has so much more to lose over this than Microsoft. Google will not only lose ad revenue and meta data to mine, but also it’s reputation is on the line. And Google’s reputation is really what props up that company. If the “Do no evil” mantra is removed, do we really trust Google with our digital lives and marketing data? The fact is, Microsoft is building an empire of digital services to compete with Google. The more Google blocks Gmail, Maps, YouTube, etc. from Windows Phone, the more Windows Phone users, the fastest growing segment of the mobile economy, will agree to let Microsoft steward their digital lives.

Oh and by the way, if you want a truly great YouTube experience on Windows Phone and can’t wait for the official app, try a 3rd party. MetroTube isn’t free, but it has all the features that Google’s making Microsoft remove. Or there’s this free one. Or if you want an alternative, you could always try Vimeo.

lg-g2

Yesterday, the hyped-less-than-the-moto-X flagship LG G2 was announced alongside its more budget oriented cousins, the Optimus F6 and Optimus F3. Obviously, the lionshare of the coverage is going to the G2, and many are wondering how this handset compares. Its a powerhouse that will sell decently at first, but ultimately I think it will be a forgettable handset.

Hah! Take that Samsung!

Most of the internet is comparing this to the Galaxy S4, and for good reason. From its cheaper plasticky body to its beefy spec sheet, to the S-View-like QuickWindow optional covers, LG is clearly targeting Samsung’s typical M.O.

Where the G2 really suceeds against Samsung is in performance. It features a 2.3 Ghz Snapdragon 800 quad core processor with an Adreno 320 GPU. To those not as technically inclined, the previous performance beast, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a slightly less powerful 1.9Ghz Snapdragon 600. Will 400 Mhz matter on Android? Absolutely not. However, a quick look at Qualcomm’s comparison shows that there are a few extra additions: a built in cell radio (normally means better battery life), USB 3.0 support for faster transfer speeds when you plug it into a computer, a GPU that supports 4K content, and a dedicated ISP which should make picture taking and editing a bit more speedy. Round those specs up with 2GB of RAM, 16 or 32 GB of storage, and a rather gigantic 5.2″ 1080p but unfortunately IPS LCD (read: not of the AMOLED variety) screen, a 13 MP camera with optical image stabilization, and a 2.1 MP front camera, and you’ve got a pretty decent one-up to the Galaxy S4.

But the fact remains that Galaxy S4 is not a slouch. No one really complains about performance. While its nice to see hardware improvements, a bump from Snapdragon 600 to 800 is not a feature that will sell phones except to benchmarkers. In order to try to differentiate themselves a bit more, LG skinned Android and threw in a few software tweaks.

Wierd Software Stuff

With the G2, LG is following the typical Android OEM path of skinning the base Android and trying to differentiate themselves with various pointless bloatware software features. Interestingly, Motorola seems to be more unique by offering a completely unskinned version of Android, but unless the Moto X becomes a runaway hit, this won’t change. So out of the box, it’ll come with the already old and skinned Android 4.2.2. Thankfully the skinning is fairly minimal, compared to the heavy modification that HTC did with Sense 4, but still comes with a full compliment of LG specific software.

Plug and Poplgsoft8

When the device is plugged in via USB or the headphone jack, a software pop up shows you apps you can use with that. I can guarantee you that this will be more annoying than useful. I normally have my music player up before I plug in my headphones. Those who don’t will have to scroll through their music players until they find the right one, instead of tapping once on the homescreen like normal people. And what if it doesn’t recognize the right app? Not to mention: every time you plug in your phone to charge? Really?

Slide Aside

Perhaps a homeage to their recent purchase of WebOS, LG threw in a quick close gesture. Swipe three fingers from the edge if the screen and you’ll essentially force-close the app. Kinda cool, but only because it saves you one tap.

Knock On

Tap the display twice and wake the phone. Not exactly new as the Moto X already has it and Lumia phones are getting it too, but its nice to see this feature becoming more standard. Considering LG’s track record with software, though, I’m curious to see how well it’ll work (and how often it’ll go off in your pocket).

Answer Melgsoft9

Bring your phone to your ear and it’ll answer it for you. Also kinda cool, but it saves you a single tap. LG’s really looking out for your fingertips.

Quick Remote

Supposedly, this thing has an IR reader that can “learn” from IR remotes and control many types of devices like home theater systems, TVs, DVRs, and Blue-Ray players. Theoretically, anything with a remote will work. Honestly, this is a pretty cool feature, except that I’m sure you’ll have to create and load profiles for each device. It might work well, but its more likely that it’ll be more work to open get your phone ready than to just grab your remote.

Guest Modelgsoft5

Hide any apps you want from your friends so when they steal your phone, they can’t out your homosexual desires on Facebook. All joking aside, this is a fantastic feature for people who frequently forget their phone somewhere, or let friends use their phone, or especially parents that let their kids play with their phones. This is an example of an OEM moving slightly ahead of Google since Google hasn’t built in multiple user accounts into the phone version of Android yet.  Restricted user accounts just became available in Android 4.3, but only for tablets.

Wierd Design Featureslgg2

So the G2 has its power button and volume rocker on the back. Wat? No that’s on a typo. These normally side-mounted buttons are on the back. According to LG, its more ergonomic. The first look reports I’ve seen report that the buttons are in a more natural position considering the design of the phone, but since I haven’t fondled one yet, I’ll have to take their word on it. Upon looking at that back though, at least it doesn’t seem too unnatural.

To finish up the feature set, the G2 will have a screen that can light up a small window in the top-center portion of the display (see below).

LG-G2-QuickWindow-CaseCheck out those cases. Is it me or is this a blatant rip off of Samsung’s already gimmicky S-View cases. These are optional cases for the G2 that you will have to buy, and they are called QuickWindow. Despite the fact that lighting up a small amount of an LCD screen would take much more power and battery life than an AMOLED, I still don’t get why this feature exists. I don’t need to turn my phone into an iPod Nano. It’s already better than an iPod Nano. I guess the advantage is that if you are going to cover your screen with foldy polyurethane, like an iPad Smart Cover for phones (theres a reason Apple doesn’t make these), it would be nice to interact with the phone while in the case. But if it’s interactible, it doesn’t protect the screen. So…let part of the screen be exposed? The whole idea behind this gimmick makes no sense to me and I’m not entirely convinced that in the age of Gorilla glass, Invisishields, and OtterBox’s, that there is really a reason to cover my phone’s screen with an obnoxious piece of foldy polyurethane. So S-View and QuickWindow create a solution to a problem with a product that doesn’t need to exist.

If It’s Not Cheap, It Won’t Sell

In my mind, LG’s G2 has a few slight edges over it’s clearest competitor, the Galaxy S4. It’s software customizations are at least mostly useful, it’s more powerful, it has the same gimmicky case design, and it has a bigger screen. However, the trade-offs are that it has an even cheaper looking plasticky case, an LCD screen which will burn through your battery when you’re using your ridiculous QuickWindow, and it’s also running Android 4.2.2 with no clear signs towards 4.3 in sight. Oh, and it’s LG. Despite how much brand name doesn’t matter in practicality, it does matter on the sales floor and in the show room. In order to LG to stand against Samsung, it needs to have a device that is clearly and definitively better than the Galaxy S4, and I can’t honestly say that the G2 is that device.

But, this is LG we’re talking about. Despite all the benefits of the Moto X, Motorola will be hampered by price and the fact that it’s one killer benefit (customizable design) is exclusive to AT&T. HTC’s beautiful phones are hampered by a slow movement to multiple U.S. carriers and a heavy software overlay. LG will be launching the G2 on all four U.S. carriers. That’s pretty big. No matter how good your phone is, if people can’t get it on their carrier, they won’t be buying it.

But of course, the one major factor in this equation is price. LG is in a peculiar situation with this phone. Apple will certainly be releasing an Phone 5S in a few months, the Moto X will be releasing before this phone does, and in addition, Samsung is sure to announce a Galaxy S5 in about 6 months or so. This puts the G2′s launch at the most precarious and damaging position that it could possibly be at. I believe that their only saving grace will be price, which of course was not announced. T-Mobile did say it will be a “no money down” phone, but that doesn’t tell us much. If LG were to release this phone at $150 or even $99 on contract, I think it would have a chance. However, it would have had a better chance if it were to be released 2-3 months after the Galaxy S4, because it would have taken some sales away from the rapidly selling and heavily discounted Galaxy S3. But unfortuntately, releasing this phone at the end of the year, even if it is cheap, will mean that it only has a few months of being able to compete against Samsung before the Galaxy S5 completely blows it away (or the Galaxy S4 is price-dropped to blow it away), and it will also be taking hits from the Moto X and iPhone 5S. But then again, this is just more evidence to show that competing as an OEM in the Android ecosystem is as perilous as ever.

I have no doubt this phone will sell a few units due to it’s powerful nature, but I don’t think it will have anywhere near the impact that LG hopes it will. In this case, I don’t mind. The LG G2 is a disappointing attempt to clone Samsung’s success, and I feel that true innovation should be praised. But of course, in this ideal world, the HTC One and Moto X would be at the top of the Android tier.

Source: LG

 

 

moto-x-colorsSo, its official. The most badly kept secret of late has been released as the Moto X. Many have complained, many have shown interest. I, for one, am intrigued.

First the Bad News…

The Moto X’s relatively weak specs were not a surprise. It’s been widely understood that the Moto X be coming with an older dual-core processor, so lets just get this out of the way. The Moto X will be featuring a modified Snapdragon S4 processor dubbed the Motorola X8, which is the same chip in their new Droid Ultra, Maxx and Mini. Its not an octo-core processor, bur a last-Gen 1.7 Ghz dual core ARM chip. Throw in a 2200 mAhr battery, a 10 MP back cam, 2 MP front cam, a 4.7 inch 720P display, an unmodified but already old Android 4.2.2, and the standard compliment of LTE and bluetooth radios, and you’ve got a fairly ho-hum but solid mid-range phone.

But then there’s that price. You see, rumors up to the announcement had always pointed to a $200-$300 price point off-contract. This would put the phone squarely in the territory of the fairly well received (but often criticized) Nexus 4, albeit with a slightly slower processor. But we could forgive Motorola for that by including LTE. But boy was the collective internet surprised and pissed the phone will be running for $199-$249 with a 2-year contract! In an age when the $199 subsidized American market is saturated with the surprisingly well performing Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, both with quad core processors and 1920 x 1080 screens, not to mention the stalwart iPhone 5, has Moto flipped its lid? Much of the internet has exploded with disappointment over the price and its seemingly mid-range specs, and I was certainly hoping to be able to pick one up cheap off contract (as I am in the middle of my current contract). However, it’s not all bad news. Motorola claims that it has made improvements to the chip to make sure it will perform well. Also, frankly, mobile quad-core processors have turned out to not be worth all that much more than good dual-core processors. Most of NVidia’s quad core chips have proven to be mediocre at best and the quad-core chips in the Galaxy S4 and HTC One haven’t proven to be that much faster than their dual-core counterparts. Thanks to the improvements Google has made in the more recent versions of Android, dual-core processors may be good enough, but certainly it sucks that people who buy this phone will be stuck with an older processor for 2 full years.

What About The Other Six

Despite the fact that the X8 processor only has two CPUs, there are indeed 6 other cores on the chip. This is a “system on a chip” design, as most mobile cpus are, so four of the cores are GPU cores (graphics), but the other two are Digital Signal Processors or DSPs. The first DSP is a dedicated processor designed towards filtering out outside noise in the microphone, which is cool but whatever. The second DSP is apparently a non-ARM core that runs in the background when the screen is off and processes background notifications and ambient voice input. This core allows the phone to turn on parts of the screen to show you notifications without your input and also allows you to give voice commands to the phone without your input.

So in other words, all those times you reach for your phone while driving to text, e-mail, navigate, etc… No more. Just yell “OK Google” and Google Now will pop up and you can say your command. Pretty cool, I’d say, and a unique way to solve an old problem.

Of course the very real and creepy downside is that your phone listening to you…all the time…everywhere…in your pocket. This notches up the creepiness factor of Google Now a few more levels as your phone, the most intimate electronic device in your life, is listening to and processing everything. How creepy it is depends on how much you trust how Google handle that information, but as a company that makes money almost completely from ad revenue and from using data to provide their customers with accurate ad targeting, I’m a little creeped out by Google Now and definitely this implementation of it.

The good news is, it will be turned off by default. But, if you’re fully invested in Google’s ecosystem and Google Now, this will be a killer feature for you.

Colors n Stuff

The biggest appeal for this phone was always going to be aesthetics. The original promise for this phone was that it was going to be the most highly customizable phone EV4R! Motorola promised the Moto X to be the first phone “built by you.” What does that mean? Colors and materials of course.

moto-x-colors-wheelThis is a strange place for Moto to go. Throughout most of their life as a smartphone OEM, Motorola has built the “Droid” moniker to mean heavy duty, industrial, monochrome, and filled with testosterone. With the Moto X, I feel like Motorola just switched from a gun-toting football-watchin’ ‘Murican to an artsy ‘Frisco hipster. I mean look at those colors! There’s a lot of them. And most of them are not shades of black or white! The only strange omission is an orange, but pretty much everyone else will be satisfied by the amount of options available. Of course, most of these colors will require you to special order it from Motorola (retail stores will likely only carry white, black, and a few other options), but I love the amount of color options. Nobody has every created a green smartphone. Or a burgundy one. Or a flesh colored one.

And just in case you weren’t already sold, you have not just colors, but different materials as well. Yesterday, Moto also announced several different varieties of wood varnishes. Nobody has ever done that before. Various metal materials were also originally rumored, but I have heard no confirmation yet.

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I love this much customization in hardware aesthetics. However, with this much custom ordering, combined with the fact that these phones are being assembled in a new American factory (supposidly to knock off some shipping time), Motorola can sorta start to justify its off-contract starting price of $574.99 ($629.99 for 32GB). But only if you are one to prioritize aesthetics over specs. Honestly, I’m sure many will.

Made by Google

Also, in case you didn’t know, Google owns Motorola Mobility. Although Motorola had a device lineup in the pipeline before it was bought, this phone is the first fruit borne of that merger. And boy does it show.  From the built in expanded functionality of Google Now, to the un-modified version of Android, to the highly customizable appearance and modest but decent specs, this phone practically sweats Google. As a result, I think this phone is going to get a lot of attention that it otherwise wouldn’t have gained. While it may not be a Nexus in name, you can bet the phone buying crowd will treat it that way.

But wait, there’s more…later

So, this phone announcement was apparently for America only. While its not surprising that Motorola, a company that has never done well in Europe, is focusing on the American market, Motorola’s CEO did allude to more versions being offered in the future, including a European version. In the announcement, CEO Dennis Woodside referred to Moto X as a “brand,” meaning that there will be multiple devices under the same moniker. Does that mean that a $300 lower specced version is coming? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath that that phone would be worth a damn. I wouldn’t recommend an Android phone running any lower specs than this. Nokia and Apple may be able to get away with a dual core processor in Windows Phone 8 and iOS, but those OS’s are considerably more efficient at dealing with lower end hardware than Android is. The point is, there will be more, there will be phones destined for other shores, and this is just the beginning.

Because of the innovative custom ordering process alone, I would love to see this phone succeed. I love the expanded features of Google Now, but I’m also conflicted about them. I fully expect that this phone will get a lot of attention, but I honestly don’t know how I expect it to perform. The fact is, Motorola is appealing to a crowd that we’re not really sure even exists. The Galaxy S4 is the only Android success story these days, and it’s clear that nobody picks the phone because of it’s beautiful hardware or variety of colors (I’m convinced the only reason Samsung succeeds is because of a combination of popularity, copious advertisements, and kool-aid drinking salespeople). Motorola might as well be fighting against the beautiful but ultimately poorly selling HTC One. Will people be willing to order their custom Moto X, wait for it to ship, and deal with ho-hum specs just for the sake of aesthetics and a few extra Google Now features?

I really hope so. I really want beauty and custom hardware to be the one to finally topple Samsung.

Source: Motorola