Is Rockstar Games trying to tell us something about smartphone owners in GTA V?

Just a funny little observation from Reddit user praefectus_praetorio. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about what they might be implying by which character is using which smartphone… I’d like to think the “Psychopath” is using Windows Phone because Nokia phones are pretty much indestructible…

gta v smartphone owners reddit(via Reddit)

 

Review: Toast Wood Cover for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2

toast in portland wood phone case cover galaxy note 2 somegadgetguyI like finding quirky, new, and unique accessories for personalizing our technology. Toast in Portland is one of my favorite finds this year. Using wood and leather surfaces which are laser cut and engraved to precisely fit our phones and our personalities.

Let’s take a look at how I turned my Galaxy Note 2 into a wooden phone!

For more info check out: http://ToastMade.com
My interview with Toast CEO Matias Brecher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7x1YOTRaFg0

FreedomPop offers up totally free Smartphone Plan

freedompop free smartphone plan screenshot somegadgetguyOk. This is a pretty significant shot across most of the other MVNOs out there.

FreedomPop has been working for a while now to popularize entry-level free data. You buy a relatively inexpensive portable modem, and you get a small pool of data every month for free. Need more data, pay extra. They’re bringing that same business model to smartphones starting today.

The phone isn’t the most exciting handset ever, the HTC EVO Design 4G, but it does come with actual 4G in the form of Sprint’s aged (but still pretty quick) WiMAX network. The good news is it’ll only run you $100 to pick it up. For that price it’s REALLY decent hardware.

FreedomPop has built all of its services off of that network, so I would image that if you’re not in good WiMAX coverage that you’ll fall back on to Sprint’s improving 3G infrastructure. As Sprint has been going through their “Network Vision” clean up, I personally saw a decent little bump to network speed and reception in LA.

The FreedomPop plan starts you off with 200 voice minutes, 500 texts, and 500MB of data per month. Stepping up to unlimited voice and texts adds $11 a month. You can bump up data as well, 2GB for $20, 4GB for $35, even 10GB for $90.

We’re starting to see some pretty cut throat competition from the smaller virtual carriers, with Republic Wireless recently scoring the Moto X, but no one has had the guts to offer up a free plan yet. Now if only we could start talking about some LTE FreedomPop…

(via FreedomPop)

Softbank unveils Arrows A Smartphone, 10 minute “All Day” charge, coming to Sprint?

softbank arrows a colorsSo this was a small blip because of some impressive claims, but could we potentially see this coming to the USA soon?

Softbank took the wraps off of the Fujitsu Arrows A smartphone. On the whole we’re seeing pretty standard specs for a premier handset. A 5″ 1080p screen will be powered by Qualcomm’s monster Snapdragon 800 chipset. It’ll be joining the ranks of other phones like the LG G2 as a high end alternative to the Galaxies and the Ones in the Android ecosystem.

What was a little fresh however was the claim that thanks to its custom charger (and some internal whizbangery) the Arrows A can charge “a full days use” in about 10 minutes. The next audacious claim is that even though the phone has a decently sized battery (2600 mAh) Fujitsu says the device will run for three days on a full charge. That’s something I’d certainly be interested in testing, but even if it doesn’t meet that kind of run time, fast recharging could be a benefit to many mobile users.

Also of note, the Arrows A will include a fingerprint reader. It looks like even though it’s not terribly secure tech, biometrics will be coming to many smartphones over the next year.

Now. Why do we care about a Japanese phone announcement? Well, Softbank is the company which pretty much owns Sprint. They completed the merger back in July, and Softbank has poured Billions into Sprint’s coffers. In strengthening Sprint’s handset portfolio, we could maybe start to see a little cross-pollination of devices which used to be exclusive to specific countries/markets.

Likely? Probably not right away, but an interesting possibility to shake up the mid and high end smartphone segments. Expect to see Arrows A in Japan this December.

Hit the jump for the full PR (translated).

Continue reading “Softbank unveils Arrows A Smartphone, 10 minute “All Day” charge, coming to Sprint?”

Windows Phone hitting double digit market share in Europe

nokia lumia 920 windows phone 8 smartphone homescreen live tiles somegadgetguyI keep telling you people, the actual gadget matters less than the ecosystem of customers+hardware+software+accessories. You can’t fake that. Customers will not be impressed by one new handset no matter how good it is. Every manufacturer wants to jump into this market and sell as well as the iPhone does. It’ll never happen, and people forget that the iPhone didn’t just waltz into the smartphone market without some teething pains. Anymore, a company needs to show us at least three years of steady growth, refinement, and support before they’ll start to crack into consumer awareness.

Well wouldn’t you know it, Microsoft is getting to that three year point, and I’m starting to see the occasional Windows Phone out in the wild. Here stateside, MS is a distant third place competitor growing to only around 3% of the smartphone market, stealing the third spot from Blackberry. Recently announced by analysts at Kantar World Panel however, Windows Phone is cracking into double digit share in Europe. WP is within one percent of the iPhone in Germany, makes up 10% of the French market, and stands at 12% in Great Britain. Averaging the five largest European markets Windows Phone is currently at 9%.

The Nokia brand still counts for a lot in those markets, especially the blend of unique design and bleeding edge camera technology. Unfortunately Nokia somewhat abandoned us here in the States, so they’re pretty much rebuilding their consumer base from scratch. We do get to see some very general trends though, and from my anecdotal experiences, the push into entry level devices is serving Nokia very well. Doesn’t hurt that outlets like CNET can’t figure out the difference between a phone which costs $100 out the door, and a phone which costs $100 on contract. Surprisingly, Nokia’s 520 does a remarkably good job of competing against phones which cost four times as much.

Plus with a two faction war between Apple and Samsung, those consumers who want something a little different only have Microsoft to turn to. Never underestimate someone’s desire to go a little hipster. We live in an age where new smartphone consumers will know Apple like people from my generation saw Microsoft.

Read the full write up at Kantar World Panel.

Do we need mid-range phones anymore?

WP_20130728_004

Nailing pricing in the mobile industry is a delicate and necessary balance. We accept $50 tiers separating the highest of high-end premier phones all the way down to the cheapest off contract entry level affair. Where a phone lands on that spectrum can make or break a device. Premier phones typically make sense. You put the most cutting edge gear into a slab and we expect it’ll be around $200 on a two year contract. Ditto the low end, slide in well known low power hardware and a price between $100 and $200 off contract can be compelling. The mid-range is a lot trickier. Which leads me to wonder, do we even need mid-range phones anymore?

It’s around that $100 on contract price point we start really running into issues. Purpose building a phone for that price point is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition. Manufacturers can still make a nice device at that price, usually with very few compromises, but you still need to ask your consumers to accept a “lower end” experience while paying more than the entry level kit. Often those compromises involve less storage, lower resolution screens, and reduced processing power. All those things which make using a phone nicer.

htc one mini synthetic benchmarks somegadgetguy video reviewAlso there’s a certain cachet to using a premier phone. Geek is chic. It’s fashionable, and we recognize the difference between Galaxies and iPhones like we do the difference Audi and BMW.

Outside those image concerns, we also have a timing problem. Tech devalues fast. If you need to exist at the bleeding edge, you pay a tax not unlike buying a new car. If you can wait a month or three, what was once a premier expensive handset can usually be purchased at a mid-range price. For example, at $100 on a two year contract you can get a perfectly acceptable HTC One Mini. Not a bad buy by any means. I’m really enjoying it. However, for that same $100 on contract you could also get an LG Optimus G Pro phablet. I just sat through a commercial offering a promotional deal for the Galaxy S4 for the same price too. Is the HTC One Mini as “good” as the GS4? Probably not.

We also see around a two year lifespan for phones. Apple popularized this with the iPhone. When a new iPhone is released the current iPhone drops in price. At carriers you can often find phones like the Galaxy S3 still kicking around. The GS3 still gives phones like the HTC One Mini a run for its money in terms of specs and it’ll carry more of that fashion statement. To continue a bad metaphor, people will be more impressed by last year’s Lexus than this year’s Toyota.

iPhone5c_34L_AllColors_PRINTLastly, manufacturers could save a little money by purposely pushing older premier phones into the mid-range. Releasing a phone comes with its own unique design, quality assurance, and support issues. Bug fixes, software updates, warranty issues, a company goes through that once for their top of the line gear, then they could purposely ride that investment for several years after. It would also be a boon to third party accessory manufacturers, knowing that their R&D will have a longer tail to recoup. That can only improve a company’s ecosystem when customers know they can count on accessories, replacement parts, and service for a while after they purchase, even if they purchase late.

I’m usually the first person to celebrate more choices and options, but right now we’re in an era where even successful companies are trying to manage consumer and stock holder expectations against risk. Unless I’m missing something glaring (and please point it out in a comment if I am) releasing a phone into the mid-range seems like the riskiest move a company can make…

iPhone 5S Launch Day Adventure – SomeGadgetGuy at the AT&T store in West Hollywood, California

somegadgetguy juan carlos bagnell iphone 5s launch day att store west hollywood californiaAnd no fights broke out…

I might just start doing this for all launch day activities. The folks at AT&T were kind enough to open a store early for me to check out the iPhone launch. I got hands on with the iPhone 5S, and got to see a store in action on one of their busiest days of the year.

I did the whole day on about three-ish hours of sleep, so I might’ve gotten a little goofy… Yes I’m holding a Lumia 1020… This photo of me MIGHT have been taken with an HTC one…

Yay iPhone!

Pick Your Poison: OS Fragmentation or Feature Fragmentation?

One of the most impressive aspects of owning an Apple phone or tablet is how good Apple is at rolling out OS updates. With very few meltdowns, MILLIONS of devices are updated on launch day, and the entire ecosystem moves forward very quickly. Early estimates point to almost 30% of iOS users are now on iOS7. By controlling the hardware and software environment, Apple has created a process Google will probably never be able to approximate.

TheAppleLounge iOS-7-Comparison-ChartWhile even older devices will get these OS updates, iDevices like the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 wont be getting all of the new features of the OS. This makes sense as it’s older, under-powered hardware, and Apple is ruthless about protecting the user experience. However, as what we get excited about during an OS update are new features, claiming the iPhone 4 “also gets iOS7” is a very small touch disingenuous. It does get iOS7, just not ALL of it.

The Apple Lounge built this great graphic detailing which devices would be getting new features, and which would be left out. On the whole Apple has done a terrific job of moving things like Control Center and Multi-tasking forward, but some lost features might be a touch frustrating.Things like panorama photos and in-camera filters might be kind of a bummer for folks who prized the iPhone’s camera. Also, for as frustrating as it can be to transfer files on and off iDevices, the lack of AirDrop on older hardware might be frustrating for some.

This also brings up weird splits in product lines. The iPad Mini is largely the same internal hardware as the iPad 2, but the iPad 2 will not be receiving Air Drop support while the iPad Mini will. Ditto the “iPad with Retina Display”. If you have the iPad 3, no Air Drop for you, but the iPad 4 is good to go. Definitely a bummer as we would imagine the hardware in the iPad 3 is probably more robust than in the iPad Mini.

Contrast that with the scattered OS update path on Android, and Apple still has the cleaner process, but Google is taking steps to improve the Android ecosystem. They wont be able to corral all of the various manufacturers, they’ve been trying to do that for a while now, but they can go around them to a degree. Over the last several months we’ve been watching Google slice pieces off of Android and putting those pieces up as stand alone apps. While it might seem like a small thing, it shouldn’t require a full new OS update to install a small improvement to something like the keyboard, and now Android users can install the stock Nexus keyboard as a separate app.

google settings app screenshot somegadgetguyTaking that idea a step further, the new Google Settings app shows up in your app drawer now and gives you a lot of control over gaming, Google+, and remote device management (like tracking your phone if it gets stolen). Google Play Services is also updated through the Google Play app store. Rather than waiting out full OS updates, all of the peripheral services and controls, things that developers interact with for instance, can all be updated independently of the OS.

While most services like G+, Play Music, and Maps have always been this way, and people are somewhat used to them being one part hardware and one part cloud, I hope this idea extends soon to other features on our phones like the camera. Taking a cue from the Nexus Keyboard app, it would be a nice way to unify the camera experience on Android handsets, that there would be one simple Android camera experience if people want something simple and familiar. Ditto the photo Gallery, as it can be jarring moving to a new phone and having a completely different experience for organizing and sharing photos and videos.

This solution isn’t perfect either, as some improvements will still require that full OS iteration, and things like hardware controls have to be buttoned down (hello Bluetooth funkiness), but as Google implements more individual component updates, fewer and fewer Android users will be left out in the cold as app developers and services move forward.

I’ve come to the opinion that there really isn’t a “best” phone, tablet, or ecosystem anymore. For a couple years now, the question you have to ask yourself is: What compromises are you willing to live with? As even low end phones now can be surprisingly capable, I think service and support will become even more meaningful to the end user.

So pick your poison. What kinds of updates work better for you?