Nokia is Dead. Long Live Nokia!

It’s been an interesting 7 days when it comes to Nokia’s phone legacy. Last Wednesday, the 18th, Nokia announced it was going to license its name and IP to a new company called HMD to make Android phones together with Microsoft giving a similar deal for feature phones. Microsoft also announced they were selling the logistics side of the Nokia feature phone business to HMD’s manufacturing partner Foxconn. Then today, came the bad news that everybody saw coming. Microsoft is putting an end to the Lumia Windows Phone division it bought from Nokia just a couple of years back. We’ll talk about that first.

Under Nokia, the Lumia line was one of the most regarded lines of cell phones out there. Those who had one loved them and the there was a lot to love about Windows phone 7, 8, and 10. However, they never gained commercial success and Nokia agreed to sell its phone business to Microsoft for just over $7 billion in September of 2013. It only got worse from there with Windows Phone effectively a non-player. In 2015, Microsoft cut 7,800 jobs mostly related to the former Nokia properties and took a $7.6 billion write-off. Now they’re going for the rest. With another 1,800 jobs lost, 1,350 of those in Finland, and another write-off at just shy of $1 billion. It was Steve Ballmer’s last major move as CEO and to say it backfired is putting it mildly.

However, as I said in the opening paragraph, Nokia’s phone legacy doesn’t end with the death of the Lumia line. HMD will be designing phones and tablets under the Nokia name. Like Blackberry’s rebirth, the new Nokia’s will be powered by Android. The phones themselves will built by Foxconn. Nokia will not own a stake in HMD, but will has a presence in the company to ensure the devices coming out of the new venture reflect the Nokia brand.

There is no firm timeline when we will see the first HMD-designed Nokia device or whether they plan to enter the North American market. What is known that that Nokia branded phones will go on. At least for now.

source: Nokia, The Verge

Apple Refreshes Retina MacBook

Last year, Apple announced the 12″ Retina MacBook ultraportable. Today, the machine got its first update. There’s a lot of things you’d expect and others that are a little surprising. Let’s take a look at what the 2016 model brings.

The 12″ is based around a 2304 x 1440 Retina display. This doesn’t change neither does the casing itself the difference is what’s inside. The Broadwell Core-M has been traded out for its updated Skylake Core M3 counterparts. The new CPUs share the same clock speed, but are a bit more powerful. According to Apple, the new Intel Integrated HD 515 graphics are a not insignificant 25% more powerful than the HD 5300 of last year. The chips are also more efficient offering an additional hour of run time now between 10 and 11 hours. The flash storage has been upgraded to a faster PCI-E standard and system memory is now 1866mhz.

For I/O, you still have two options: a 3.5mm headphones jack and a one-size fits all USB 3.1 Type-C jack. Many, including myself expected this port to be upgraded to Thunderbolt 3 with Skylake. That will presumably happen with updated MacBook Pros later this year. However, given the tasks this Core M-powered machine is expected to perform, one could argue that Type-C was good enough.

Pricing and configurations for the 2016 MacBook are the same as the 2015 models starting at $1299 for the base model. You can still order your MacBook in silver, space gray, and gold with fan favorite Rose Gold adding the fray for 2016. The MacBook’s predecessor, the MacBook Air also received a minor refresh with all 13″ models now coming standard with 8GB of memory.

Source: Apple

Amazon Launches Prime Subscriptions

Amazon’s Prime service is one of the e-tailer’s more compelling offerings. It offers not only free two-day shipping or same-day if you have a fulfillment center in your city, but access to their Prime Video service, access to eBooks & Music, and early access to some deals. However, not everyone is completely sold on buying a year at a time for $99. That price is not going away anytime soon, but it’s being joined with some other options. First, Amazon is offering Prime Video on its own for the first time at a competitive rate of $8.99 monthly. That’s a little bit less than rivals Netflix and Hulu. There’s also available options to add Starz, Showtime, and quite a few others for additional fees. For that price, you get Amazon’s full catalog of content including their own shows and exclusives like BBC America’s Orphan Black and Doctor Who. For $2 more a month at $10.99, a full subscription to Prime is also available. While these are available monthly, Amazon does make clear that the original $99 one time early subscription will save you money.

While Amazon has not offically announced the change via a press release, the new monthly plans are live on Amazon’s website

Source: Amazon

HTC 10: It Looks Like the Best Android Smartphone Yet

HTC’s flagship line has been know as the One series. You’ve had the HTC One M7, HTC M8, and HTC One M9. Today, that title is getting shorted and the product title is simply know as the HTC 10. The title change kinda sums up the HTC in general, a flagship phone which dispatches a lot of bloat while adding useful features. Let’s take a look.

HTC 10 Specs

The HTC 10 is exactly what you’d expect from a flagship Android phone is 2016. The Display is 5.2 inches, a little bit bigger than the M8 and M9, and finally makes the jump from 1920 x 1080 Full HD to 2560 x 1440 Quad HD. Like Apple, HTC is still using a LCD variant, called Super LCD5, in lieu of AMOLED technology. At this point, LCD screens still have a few advantages over AMOLED, but that gap is narrowing every year. The larger display makes for a phone that nominally taller and wider, but its also thinner than the M9 and has a comfortable curved design.

The system on chip is the Snapdragon 820. Unlike the 810 used in last year’s flagships, the 820 is not a repackaged ARM reference design. The core is based around a quad-core Kryo CPU. Like the Krait in the Snapdragon 800 series, the Kyro is completely a Qualcomm design. It finally gives Android the power to hang with Apple’s latest A-series CPUs. The GPU, the Adreno 530, is also much improved.

The camera is 12mp with laser autofocus and OIS. That’s on par with its main competition, the Galaxy S7. The front is 5MP and also has OIS. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this may be the first time a front camera has been stabilized. The aperture both front and back is f/1.8. For video, the front camera is 1080 while the rear is 4k. If you’re looking to shoot video or photos, this looks like one really interesting device.

Rounding out the hardware specs, there’s about a dozen LTE bands, so it should be at home on any carrier. The LTE is also class 9 capable for speeds up to 450Mbps. I/O is what you’d expect with dual band AC wireless, bluetooth 4.2, NFC and a bunch of sensors. Physical connections are through USB Type-C at full USB 3.1 speeds. The SD Card slot stays and and take cards up to 2TB. Wirelessly, it supports not only the expected HTC connect, Google Cast, and Miracast, but very surprisingly Apple Airplay as well. That should be a great feature in if you’re an Android user in an Apple Household. Rounding out the spec sheet is a further Improvement on the front-facing Boomsound speakers called Boomsound Hi-Fi. Its also got a 24-bit headphone amp, so high end audio aficionados should be pleased.

Software Less is More

Android’s biggest weaknesses have been fragmentation and bloatware. Honestly, it’s just confused and angered customers who, for the most part, have just used Google’s apps. HTC and its Sense launcher have been among the worse. For the 10, HTC has gotten rid of many of its own apps except when it adds to the feature set, like the camera. It makes for a much cleaner Android experience. However, it does offer an interesting new launcher layout called Freestyle. This phone puts the user first, make no mistake.

There’s also some software level improvements that give the phone up to 30% more battery life. With hardware and software improvements, HTC is advertising up to two full days of charge.

Pricing and Availability

The HTC 10 is available starting at $699 with pre-orders starting today. The phone itself will be released in May. There will be be versions for most carriers as well as an unlocked version.

Final Word

The HTC One-series was never lacking on design, but never managed to full catch on. That is also the question here. HTC has designed one hell of a phone, they did their job. Their marketing department has their work cut out of them and if they fail there may not be a HTC 11. If any device can unseat Samsung, its this one.

Source: HTC

iPhone SE: It’s Not About Us, Its About Everyone Not Us

If you’re reading this, chances are that the iPhone SE is not for you. We’re the geeks, the power users that always want the latest and greatest. What we aren’t is the majority, no matter what we think we are, we’re a very vocal minority in Apple’s sales. You’ll hear about how boring the SE is and how Apple should have done more. On the contrary, Apple made the device they needed to. I’ll tell you why.

When moving to larger screens, Apple moved with all deliberate speed. The 5 & 5S were more about moving the iPhone to the industry standard 16:9 than actually making the iPhone screen larger. It was just longer, but that set the table for what was to come. The iPhone 5 also introduced a new metal unibody construction that was thinner and higher quality than previous iPhones. It also introduced the lightning port. The next year the 5S added 64-bit ARM A8 processing and Touch ID, another important stepping stone, and honestly the feature I appreciate most. Being able to use my thumb print instead of my passwords has made the mobile experience much more enjoyable and convenient.

The next generation iPhone 6 and 6 Plus finally ushered in the medium and large screens I had been waiting for since I laid my eyes and hands on the Samsung Note II. Having larger screens was a godsend for me. I could use it. We also saw NFC and mobile payments make their debut on iOS leading to Apple Pay. The 6S generation brought a 4k rear camera and ability to use the screen as a selfie flash.

Apple found something out along the way. While many people were happy about the color choices and features of the new phones, sone size never fit all. Despite the new phones, 30 million people continued to buy the smaller 4” iPhones. Why? Because it fit them and their uses as much as my 5.5” 6 Plus fits me. The iPhone 5S was definitely a great phone, but it was behind of the features. Apple decided it was time for an upgrade. With the iPhone SE, Apple combined the best of the iPhone 5S with the best of the 6S.

While the iPhone SE may be Apple’s least expensive phone at $399, it is not in any way, shape, or form a low end phone. In fact, its one of the most advanced devices on the market. The A9 CPU is lifted straight from the 6S as is the 12mp rear camera and secure element for Apple Pay. The front camera, screen, and Touch ID sensor are the same as on the 5S. That said, decidedly unlike the 5S it has the Retina flash feature. If you’re looking for 3D touch, its not here. But considering the price and reusing the 5/5C/5S screen, I wouldn’t have expected it.

The most surprisingly controversial design element is reusing the 5S casing for the S$, though now with the same 4 colors as the 6S. The opposition to this perplexes me. Its a smart move for the consumer. The 5/5S have a mature and complete accessories market. Other than the design crowd, who would changing an already excellent design benefit?

The big question is who is this for? Let me tell you. First, its for the person who just wants to have an iPhone. This is your mom, dad, aunt, grandparent, etc and just want an easy to use smartphone experience. The other man crowd is people who even the 4.7” iPhone 6/6S to comfortably use. Lastly, its for the Apple Pay user. Apple wants mobile payments in everyone’s hands. Whoever you are, the iPhone SE gives you the high end features of the latest iPhones in a 4” form factor. You get the full iPhone experience at any size without compromise.

With the iPhone SE, the iPhone lineup is complete. If the SE doesn’t float your boat, you have two other options. Small, medium, and large everyone now has an option.

#CES2016: Harman’s JBL Launches, Most Afford CarPlay and Android Auto Car Receiver Yet

Harman, one of the leading audio companies in the world, has released a new and very interesting car receiver: The JBL Legend CP100. The CP100 is built around a 6.75″ Capacitive Touch screen and is compatible with both Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto. Its powered by a iMX6 ARM CPU. It doesn’t have a CD or DVD player, but it has everything you’d expect in an entry level smartphone connected car stereo including USB inputs, bluetooth, a Mic, a rear camera jack, and steering wheel control input. Its not anything that you wouldn’t find on the Pioneer App Radio 4 or Alpine ILX-007, well, with the exception of Android Auto.

Where the CP100 excels is at price. It’s able to offer a competitive feature set at $399. A full $200 less than the competition. It makes having a connected stereo much more affordable. We’ll find out if this is as an amazing buy as it seems when it hits stores in a couple months.

Source: Harman

#CES2016: The Year of USB Type-C

USB Type-C debuted in the year world with the iPad-eque Nokia N1 in November of 2014 in its USB 2.0 variety, but the one port to rule them all really came onto the scene with on March 9, 2015 with the unveiling of the ultra-slim MacBook. It was the only port the little notebook needed with USB 3.1, Displayport & HDMI, and up to 100 watts of power mixed into one port barely larger than Lightning or Micro USB. It didn’t take long to understand that this lone port was the future. That was further solidified with Intel with them making Thunderbolt 3 essentially a supercharged version of Type-C with direct access to the PCI-E bus and 40Gbps speeds instead of 480Mbps of the USB 2.0 variant or 5-10mbps of the USB 3.1. It would take a while to get going for sure, but if CES has shown anything it’s that while legacy ports aren’t gone, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 are here to stay with a barrage of products.

razer-blade-stealth

Computers

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple should be very flattered. Just as the MacBook Air became the inspiration of a generation of Ultrabooks, there’s a lot of insanely thin fanless 12″ laptops this year wearing little more than a Core-M and a USB-C port. There’s plenty of options from HP, Dell, Samsung, and LG. Yeah, apparently LG makes laptops now. The creme of this crop seems to be the HP Elitebook Folio with high-end construction and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. There might actually be more devices announced with USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 than not.

Likewise, the full power of Thunderbolt is fully realized this year. Acer has introduced its 12.5″ Aspire Blade Switch 12 S 2-in-1. This tablet/ laptop hybrid features Full HD and 4K Ultra HD displays and an Intel Core M CPU with HD515 graphics. This can be enhanced by an external Thunderbolt 3 graphics card in the Acer Graphics dock. Gaming accessory maker Razer takes this concept further with the Razer Blade Stealth. This ultrabook also features a 12.5″ FHD or UHD screen but includes a Intel Core i7 6500 with Intel 520HD graphics. Its external graphics solution is much more extreme. The Razer Core features a 500 watt power supply with 375 watts reserved for graphics, 4 USB 3.0 ports, gigabit ethernet, and a full-length double-slot PCI express slot for a graphics card of your choice. That includes even the most high-end extreme graphics cards on the market. Of course it can also take professional Quadro or FirePro graphics turning it from a Mini gaming monster to a tiny workstation.

acer-usb-c-display

Displays

I fell in love with my AOC 15″ portable display despite some issues with DisplayLink and relatively low quality displays. With USB-C, DisplayLink is no longer needed as USB monitors can natively use DisplayPort and have access to more power. The first USB-C display in the form of ASUS’s MB169C+, a further evolution of the company MB168B+ USB 3.0 DisplayLink monitor. The new version also replaces the 1080 TN panel of the previous version with a much higher quality IPS display. I don’t think this will be the last either.

A lone portable display is far from USB Type-C’s only appearance at CES. It turns out a single connector for video, power, and USB was a bit popular in the medium-to high end range. Acer’s 2016 version of the H7-series comes in 25 and 27-inch Quad HD (2560×1440)flavors and features USB-C, HDMI 2.0, a pair of full size USB 3.0 ports, and a MacBook-friendly gold finish. Lenovo is offering pair of displays in the 24″ Full-HD Thinkvision x24 Pro and the 27″ 4K Ultra HD Thinkvision X1. LG also added a 27″ 4k entry in the 27UD88-W.

Dell However, took first in class when it came to USB-C compatible Displays with the New UltraSharp 30 OLED. As the name gives away, this display eschews traditional In-Plane Switching LCD technology for Organic Light Emitting Diode displays. While OLED technology has become affordable in mobile screens, it is still expensive with larger panels and this Dell is no exception at just a hair under $5 grand. However, it might also be the best 30-inch display on the market. If there is one thing Dell knows, it is professional displays. Dell is also offering a dock in regular USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 variants for use with legacy displays.

lacie-chrome

Storage

Seagate’s stylish and Mac-Friendly subsidiary LaCie hit USB-C hard this year offering products from the affordable and portable LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive and its desktop brother to the high end Chrome. Samsung is also in the game with the portable SSD T3 with solid state capacities up to 2TB.

griffin-breaksafe

Accessories

I Could list every USB Type-C accessory that was announced, but honestly, that might take the rest of my life so I’ll talk about the one that stands out: Griffin’s BreakSafe Charing Cable for the MacBook, Google Chromebook Pixel, and other lightweight USB-C powered laptops. This power only cable has a magnetic break near the connector much like Apple’s MagSafe connectors. In other words, the cord reversibly splits in two instead of sending your computer flying. Why couldn’t have Apple and Google have done this in box?

Other than that, you have a bevy of docks, hubs, and cables from the usual high-class suspects like Griffin, Belkin, Satechi, and Incipio.

macbook-usb-c

The Elephant in The Room

The one company that didn’t announce anything at CES might be the company most looked at for USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3: Apple. They effectively ushered in the USB-C era just under a year ago and have spearheaded convergence of ports through Thunderbolt 1 & 2. In other words, the industry might be getting on it big time, but its effectively Apple’s train.

We won’t be waiting long to find out. The MacBook is nearly a year old and is due for its Silverlake update. Given the amount of similar machines with Thunderbolt 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if the original MacBook is the first and last Mac with just plain USB Type-C. The top of Apple’s line, the Retina MacBook Pro is also due for an update. It was well ahead of its time in 2012, but the Industry has changed a lot. It also uses traditional USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 2. Both are due for replacement by Thunderbolt 3. I’d expect more a complete design than a mere update this go around with the Retina form factor being around for 4 iterations.

While it could drag on into March, I suspect we’ll see the first Thunderbolt 3 Macs by the end of spring.

#CES2016 Acer Introduces Insane 2-in-1 with Thunderbolt 3.

Imagine a 12.5″ Windows 10 tablet with a 6th Gen Silverlake Core M CPU. Now imagine that that tablet has a dock for a keyboard. At this point you have a standard 2-in-1 with maybe a little more kick with the Core M instead of an Atom. Now add Thunderbolt 3 to that mix to make it compatible with high end storage & I/O devices. Next, let’s use some of that Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth for an external discreet graphics card. You have machine that goes from bit tablet to mini-workstation. This isn’t theoretical or a concept, Acer is actually nuts enough to build this and they’re calling it the the Aspire Switch 12 S. They have my attention.

As I said in the opener, the Switch 12 S has a 12.5″ screen with a pair of options: 1920×1080 Full HD or an option Ultra HD, yes as in 4K, display at 3840 x 2160. 4K on something that can be used as a tablet is utterly insane. Either option has Gorilla Glass 4 with further Acer enhancements to maximize viewing angles and reduce eye strain. They’re flanked with Dolby-Premium compatible speakers Acer is calling True Harmony. Power is provided by the aforementioned 6th generation Intel Core M though Acer did not specify which ones. For I/O you have two full size USB 3.0 ports, Micro-HDMI, MicroSD, and your standard 3.5m audio jack. Its also has a 720P front camera and a 3D Intel Realsense R200 on the back. Memory is either 4GB or 8GB and you can have 128 or 256GB of solid-state storage. Its super light too weighting under 2 pounds as a tablet and just over 3 with the keyboard dock. Speaking of said dock, it uses Smart Hinge gold connections that secure magnetically while providing 6gbps transfer speeds and charging the keyboard. In other words, its designed to be a tablet when its a tablet and a laptop when it’s a laptop. For other accessories, that afore mentioned optional external graphics haven’t been fully fleshed out as for as details, but it’s coming. It won’t make the Switch 12 S a gaming PC, but it will give it a boost for gaming and professional graphics work.

The next two questions are pretty obvious: When and how much? Its be available next month, February 2016. but the exact date has not been released. Pricing for the base model is a very affordable $999, but it’ll go up from there once you add the really intriguing options.

Acer has come with a really intriguing option that lives in multiple worlds. Hopefully The Acer Aspire Switch 12 S will live up to its great promise.

Source: Acer

#CES2016: Ford & Fiat-Chrysler Get on CarPlay, Android Auto Bandwagons

I’m not going to lie, the rollout of mobile car connectivity platforms Apple Carplay and Android Auto have been slower than I expected. They’ve been given a major shot in the arm for 2016 as the Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have both announced support for both platforms as part of their in-car entertainment systems. Both automakers had been long-term holdouts to the platforms. Let’s take a look at the details starting with Ford.

Ford’s implementation of Carplay and Android Auto will be part of their new QNX-based Sync 3 ecosystem. It will come standard on the 2017 version of Sync 3 with an update to 2016 MY vehicles coming later during 2016. Ford will take full advantage of Carplay enhancements in iOS 9 with not only touch control, but the vehicle’s physical buttons able to control the Carplay interface. The platforms are joined by additions to Ford’s own AppLink platform including a AAA app and in-car LTE internet support.

Not very long after Ford’s announcement, Fiat Chrysler announced its fourth generation of its Uconnect system. The new Uconnect will feature a 8.4-inch touch screen and also have Carplay and Android Auto support. The system will be available in the company’s Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, and Ram vehicles. Unlike rival Ford, FCA did not announce an upgrade path for older vehicles. They did, however, announce a special 12.1″ version of the Uconnect for first responders. The extra large version will be available on the Dodge Charger Pursuit police package and feature a resolution of 1024×768 compared to the 640×480 resolution of the 8.4″ version.

With Ford and FCA, almost every automaker will have both Carplay and Android Auto in their 2017 model year lineups.

Source: Ford, FCA

Review: iBolt mPro NFC Micro USB Car Dock

Earlier this year, I reviewed an great car mount from iBolt called the iPro2. How good is it? I still use it every day. Its sturdy, well built, adjustable, and keeps my iPhone secure and easily accessible for Maps. The best part of it is that it comes with a quality MFi compliant lightning cable built it with a long enough cable for any car. It’s something I would recommend for any iPhone owner, even more so now then back in February. But what about Android or Windows Mobile users? You’ll be happy to know that iBolt has another device for you guys, the mPro NFC.

The Only Android Dock You’ll ever need.

mpro-back
The mPro is very closely related to the iPro 2. The cradle, adjustment arm, and accessories are similar, if not identical in design including the ball joint connector for the cradle. This allows for use of use and 360* operation on your dash, connected to your windshield and in landscape or portrait. Its long extension arm, optional spacer, and rear tabs allow this dock to securely fit almost any phone from small to jumbo sized.

It also works with most cases. The catch is that it has to have a MicroUSB port with the long end of the port facing backward. Fortunately that includes most devices including the popular Samsung phones. The port is technically reversible, but it requires removing two small screws, turning the connector, and then replacing the screws. This won’t be something you do on the fly in your car. The Micro USB connector is connected to a 6ft cable that will give you enough lead to plug in almost anywhere. In the practical sense, its almost too long. Most other docks on the market are bring your own cable and the mPro gives you one for very little more money. Its full charge and sync as well, so you can plug this right into your car stereo, or into your USB 12v adaptor.

Dock n’ Drive and NFC

dockndriveapp
There is only major difference between the mPro and the the iPro 2: NFC. While you won’t be making any payments with this dock, the NFC tag allows you to set up the mPro to automatically launch iBolt’s Dock n’ Drive car interface app when you place your phone in the cradle. This is something I very much wish Apple will allow them to do if they ever release an API for the NFC chips in the iPhone 6 and 6S.

Dock n Drive is a bit limited on iOS, but it’s a really great full featured interface on Android. It’ll show you your speed with full compass, your address, and give you full audio controls, but it also acts as a launcher for other Android apps, functions, and contacts. You get up to 30 in total. The app’s settings also also give you a lot of control over what does and doesn’t work while your driving. This helps not only keep distractions out of the way, but also keeps those with small data plans from blowing through their allotment while driving. There’s also a companion app called Dock Mode that gives you a floating icon on top of your other apps to quickly switch back to Dock N’ Drive. It also integrates well with a dash cam app, but you that might not be usable depending where your device maker put the camera.

In short, Dock N’ Drive is as as good to a full screen environment while driving as you can ask for. Its optimized for the car, but gies you full control of your device. Did I mention its free.

Pricing and Availability

The mPro NFC is $39.99. Combined with the free app and integrated 6ft MicroUSB cable, that’s a price you should gladly pay.

Final Thoughts

mpro-connector
If I had to have one car dock for an Android phone, this would be it. It takes everything that was great about the iPro2, customizes it for Android, and adds in NFC and a more useful app to boot. Why are you even reading this? Just buy the damn thing. The only reason you might not want this is if you have a newer phone with USB Type-C and hopefully iBolt will do something there as well.

Pros

  • Sturdy
  • Adjustable
  • Full 360* ball joint for full motion
  • Fits most cases
  • 6ft Micro USB charge and sync cable
  • Great free app

Cons

  • Reversing connector isn’t practical in the field.
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