The Story Behind the OnePlus Phone

October 17, 2014   Comments
The One by OnePlus - Photo credit: Jim Wilson/NY Times

By Allan Pulga

The New York Times published an interesting profile (Oct. 8) on OnePlus, the Chinese company behind the affordable phone called the "One."

"This month, OnePlus, a start-up based in Shenzhen, China, will begin taking orders for the One, a fantastic low-price phone that tech enthusiasts across the globe have been lusting after for months," wrote the NY Times' Farhad Manjoo.

Manjoo raves about the phone. He's been using it for over a month and calls it "one of the best smartphones (he's) ever used." He says it's loaded with the latest specs and it runs CyanogenMod, a version of Android that's more flexible and user friendly than "the cumbersome flavors of Android now stuffed into rival phones."

I suppose Manjoo means the One is less bogged down by manufacturer bloatware. Very interesting.

The best part? The phone sells for $299 unlocked, which is amazing if it's truly loaded with competitive specs. Manjoo later added that the One is "just about the fastest Android phone you can buy, and its 5.5-inch screen is stunning," however its camera does not deliver the sharpness or color accuracy of some of its rivals.

Manjoo likens the One to the Nexus 5, "another high-quality, low-price phone — but over all the One is more powerful, and far prettier, than the Nexus."

Another catch may be customer service, tech support and repairs, which may be hard to come by here, across the Pacific let alone in English.

So who's making this phone? "OnePlus was founded late in 2013 by Pete Lau, a veteran of the Chinese tech business who was taken with the idea of creating a high-end smartphone for the masses," Manjoo writes.

"His vision was not unique; as the price of the components in smartphones plummeted over the last few years, a rash of Chinese start-ups emerged to make high-quality, low-price phones."

OnePlus is different, though, because of its desire to take its phones beyond the Chinese market. "Early on, Mr. Lau divided the company into two semiautonomous units, one catering to Chinese customers and the other devoted to the international market," Manjoo noted.

OnePlus estimates its sales to date are between 150,000 to 300,000 phones a month to the U.S. and up to a million devices a month over all, which Manjoo calls "an admirable feat for a tiny, year-old start-up."

These are definitely a company and a phone worth keeping an eye out for. I'm curious to see this device if/when it arrives in Canada.

Google Announces Android L, New Nexus Devices

October 17, 2014   Comments
Android L - Source: The Verge

By Allan Pulga

On Wednesday (Oct. 15), Google announced the latest version of its Android OS, along with three new Nexus Devices.

The new version, called Android 5.0 Lollipop (Android L for short) will power the new Nexus 6 smartphone, Nexus 9 tablet and Nexus Player streaming media device.

"Lollipop's most obvious new features come in the form of visual enhancements and user interface changes, which Google has dubbed Material Design," wrote The Verge's Dan Seifert (Oct. 15).

"The platform has new, more fluid animations, a cleaner design with a bolder color palette, a revamped multittasking menu, and offers new ways to interact with your voice. Many of the new Material Design features can be seen in the recent updates that Google has released for its own Android apps such as Google+.

"The Material Design initiative is meant to unify the software's look and feel across various form factors, whether that's a tablet, smartphone, home media streamer, or something else."

Amazon Fire Phone Sales at Zero Percent: Study

October 17, 2014   Comments

By Allan Pulga

FierceWireless reported yesterday (Oct. 16) that basically nobody is buying Amazon's new Fire smartphone.

A study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found that the Fire phone -- which sent on sale in the U.S. on July 25 (exclusively offered by AT&T) -- has only sold a few thousand units so far.

"Effectively zero percent (of customers) own an Amazon Fire phone," said Mike Levin, a partner and co-founder at CIRP. "In contrast, approximately one quarter of U.S. Amazon customers have either or both of a Kindle Fire tablet and Kindle Reader, and about 5% report owning the new Amazon Fire TV set-top box."

"In early September, just weeks after releasing the phone, Amazon dropped the price of the Fire phone to 99 cents with a two-year contract with AT&T," wrote FierceWireless' Phil Goldstein. "Such price drops often indicate sluggish demand for a product."

Amazon representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


BlackBerry Passport Reviews: Good, Not Great

October 8, 2014   Comments
BlackBerry Passport - Credit: Josh Miller/CNET

By Allan Pulga

BlackBerry had high hopes for its latest smartphone, which is a throwback to its QWERTY days of old. Reviewers like it, but don't love it.

I thought it appropriate to include a couple reviews from financial publications (i.e. WSJ, Forbes), since stockbrokers were long the prototypical BlackBerry users. One of the resounding conclusions on the Passport, fittingly, is -- for better or for worse -- this phone is from a previous era.

"The Passport has some neat tricks and longer battery life than the competition, but it's living in the past. It's not 2005 anymore," wrote the WSJ's Joanna Stern.

Forbes' Ewan Spence wrote: "The BlackBerry Passport does feel like a throwback to earlier handsets from BlackBerry (see Research In Motion) and an attempt to bring all of those ideas up to date. Unfortunately BlackBerry’s approach to updating the hardware for 2014 is to reimplement the ideas that were present on its older handsets, while other manufacturers have iterated those ideas through the years to create user interfaces that are far better placed for the needs of a modern smartphone."

Computerworld's Matt Hamblen: "I'm pretty sure tat anybody under age 35 is not going to care a whit about Passport's qwerty keyboard, including the ability to swipe with the physical keys. Getting all this questionable technology capability inside a heavy-to-the-feel smartphone doesn't seem like an effective way to grow BlackBerry or expand its future beyond its existing user base."

And that sort of captures it for me. I don't imagine many smartphone users will switch from their iPhones or Android phones to a Passport. Sure, BlackBerry has its loyalists, but they are, at last count 0.5% worldwide (Q2 2014, according to IDC).

As Hamblen alluded, BlackBerry's relevance depends on its ability to lure smartphone users away from their existing devices. According to the reviews I read, the Passport will not do that.

Glowing Reviews for the New iPhones

October 2, 2014   Comments
iPhone 6

By Allan Pulga

I tested out my co-worker's iPhone 6 last week and read a bunch of reviews on it and the iPhone 6 Plus. In spite of the bending and the hating, these phones unanimously review well.

iPhone 6:

iPhone 6 Plus:

I had to look up whether Engadget and The Verge were owned by the same company. How else could you explain identical ratings on both devices? (They aren't. They are owned by AOL and Vox Media, respectively.)

We also took a bunch of photos of my co-worker's iPhone 6, so the phones you'll see in this post are of the iPhone 6 only (with an iPhone 5 in a couple of them, for scale and design comparisons). Unfortunately, we couldn't get our hands on an iPhone 6 Plus in time for publication.

iPhone 5 (left) and iPhone 6 (right)

I subsequently played around with my buddy's iPhone 6 Plus the other day, however, and I can tell you it's huge. It warrants the title of "phablet," much like the Samsung Galaxy Note devices.

My current phone is an iPhone 5s and I still love it. Upon testing out the iPhone 6, however, I was immediately struck by the size of its screen.

  • Obviously, viewing photos and videos is better.
  • Typing is also easier on the bigger screen. (Note: I exclusively type in portrait mode, never in landscape mode.)
  • Twitter was a little more interesting as embedded photos appeared larger while scrolling through tweets.
  • Facebook didn't seem all that different. Neither did email.

iPhone 5 (left) and iPhone 6 (right)

As for other major improvements, battery life is a big one. PhoneArena reported on the specifics (Sept. 9), and anecdotally, my co-worker told me she gets about a day-and-a-half worth of juice out of a full charge. My iPhone 5s gets me an 8 to 5 workday at best.

iPhone 6

A number of minor improvements related to iOS 8 are also worth noting:

  • Recent contacts appear atop the screen when you're multitasking or opening/closing apps, which is handy.
  • SMS/iMessage is accessible atop the screen as well. It allows you to reply to a message without leaving the app you're in.
  • The keyboard is also improved, and features suggestive typing (a feature stolen from Android), which is helpful. (Note: On smaller iPhone models, however, the keyboard interface is squished and in landscape mode, the typing area reduces to only two lines, making it difficult to read what you're typing as a whole.)
iPhone 6

Galaxy Note Edge: Why the Edge?

September 11, 2014   Comments
Galaxy Note Edge - Source: Engadget

By Allan Pulga

I meant to blog about this last week, but didn't get a chance. Have you seen this phone? Does it need an edge?

Engadget's Brad Molen did his best to explain its value (Sept. 3):

"Since the whole point of the phone's very existence is the screen, Samsung made sure to add enough functionality to put it to good use," he wrote. "In fact, it serves many different purposes, and once developers have access to the SDK (which Samsung says should come out very soon), there will be plenty more ways to take advantage of it.

"The UI of the bar is straightforward and basic, since there isn't much you can do with a narrow strip of display space. Often, what's shown here will depend on the app: If you're in the camera or watching videos, this strip becomes a sidebar containing all of your shortcuts and settings so they don't take up other valuable screen space or get in the way. However, you can still access a plethora of different types of bars, whether in or out of the app; notifications, weather info, stock tickers, clocks, news feeds, quick shortcuts and even games are available from nearly every screen."

Molen notes that the edge is tailored to right-handed users. Samsung says it's fine for lefties too, as they can flip the phone and use it upside down. Molen responds that it's still "a huge inconvenience if you plan on using the home button or making phone calls at all."

Gizmodo's Darren Orf  pointed out (Sept 3) the Edge comes with its own SDK (i.e. app developers must develop for it specifically, not Android "edge" phones in a general sense). "Samsung says it isn't incredibly hard, but a unique SDK means adoption will be a slow-going process, so don't expect functionality for all your favorite apps anytime soon…or ever."

That sucks.

VentureBeat's Devindra Hardawar called the Edge "stylish yet awkward" (Sept. 3). "The Note Edge looks cool, to be sure, but after spending a few minutes with it today, I’m not sure why anyone would want to use it. Its curved edge makes it even wider than the already-wide Note 4, which made it impossible for me to hold comfortably. And no, I don’t have small hands."

That's my inclination too: The additional edge looks neat and I could see it having value for things like notifications or a live ticker for sports scores or stock prices, but from a UX standpoint, it just seems cumbersome. Do you accidentally open apps and settings, when you quickly grab the phone to answer a call? It doesn't seem useful. To me, it's just a gimmick.

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