Ultrathin form factors are back in style, with Huawei, HTC, Panasonic, and others all looking to shave their devices down as much as possible. As Nokia's Stefan Pannenbecker says, "thinness isn't everything," but it's certainly a major selling point for these phones, which make anything over a centimeter thick look downright chunky.
Feb 28, 2012
The black version of the One S is where HTC has set itself apart, applying a process called "micro arc oxidation" that was originally created for satellites. HTC bathes the aluminum body in a plasma field, blasting it with 10,000 volts of electricity to turn the surface into a ceramic that's four times harder and more scratch-resistant than untreated, anodized aluminum. The result is a very dark black finish that feels a bit like a chalkboard — HTC calls it "feathery," but we'd say that's an overly euphemistic way to describe it. HTC showed a video of the process during its keynote, and it's quite a sight to behold:Read Article >
Finally, HTC also had the black version of the HTC One X, which was a pre-production unit and felt very slightly rougher than the white version, but HTC tells us that both are made the same way and the final finish on them will be identical.
ZTE Era and PF112 HD: two Android 4.0 smartphones that should be just one (hands-on photos and video)
Despite being the so-called flagship, the Era managed to get shown up by the PF112 HD in at least one category: the screen. Of all of ZTE's phones today, the PF112 stands out the most with its 4.5-inch 1028 x 720 screen. It's not the best screen we've seen here at MWC, but it's certainly the best standout feature ZTE had on display, and it's a bit of a bummer that it came on a device with no announced processor or clear launch plan that we could divine — it is also an HSPA+ phone.Read Article >
As far as styling goes, neither phone tries anything extreme. Capacitive buttons are still present, as is a look that somehow manages to "borrow" from both Samsung and HTC in equal measure. That's not a knock on their build quality, which seemed fine, but ZTE clearly hasn't established its own brand identity yet.
Feb 27, 2012
Stefan Pannenbecker is the Vice President for Industrial Design at Nokia, where his job consists mostly of trying out a variety of crazy new ideas in search of the one or two that would help Nokia maintain its edge in design. The company's fiercely loyal fanbase has grown at least in part due to some iconic designs (remember the 8110?) and a consistently excellent build quality in its phones. Those are the hardware design department's chief competencies and the things Pannenbecker has been entrusted to maintain. Keep reading for our full interview below, including a guest visit from Kevin Shields, who just wanted to tell us that everything at Nokia is presently, has always been, and will forever continue to be awesome.Read Article >
Vlad Savov: With Marko Ahtisaari being the overall lead in Nokia Design, what is your particular role?
ZTE has announced the Era, a quad-core Android 4.0 smartphone with a Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, 4.3-inch 960 x 540 qHD Screen, and a body that's only 7.8mm thin. The Tegra 3 processor's a quad-core chip clocked at 1.3GHz, which ZTE has backed with 1GB RAM and 8GB storage.Read Article >
In terms of connectivity, the handset offers a quad-band cell radio with HSPA+ support, along with Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi, and UMA support for Wi-Fi calling. There's also a MHL port for hooking up your handset to the TV, HD Voice capability, Dolby-engineered sound, and DLNA for streaming your media to other capable devices. Judging by the images, ZTE's Mifavor skin doesn't look like too much of a departure over the stock Ice Cream Sandwich experience. The company says that the handset will launch in Europe and China in the second half of 2012, though it hasn't announced a price just yet.
Update: The rest of the specs are in: a 1280 x 720 screen, 8GB of storage, 8-megapixel camera, and "superfast" charging that can power the phone up halfway in a half hour.Read Article >
The 4.3-inch version of the Eluga was also on-hand. It's remarkably thin at 7.8mm and feels even thinner than that because of how the back edges curve up to the screen — it's really quite svelte. It's running Android 2.3 with a twitchy custom skin from Panasonic that includes a completely unnecessary custom swipe to unlock: you have to follow the dotted lines along a strange arc. The metallic finish on the back is very solid, underneath which are a dual-core processor, 8GB of storage, an NFC chip, and an 8-megapixel camera. Panasonic says it will get ICS by summer.
HTC has shortened startup time for the camera to 0.7 seconds and autofocus time to 0.2 seconds. Onscreen buttons for recording video and stills are now right next to each other (no more mode switching), there's an intelligent burst mode that lets you pick only the best shot, and you can extract stills from video with a single tap. The only thing that would've made this a more appealing phone to camera enthusiasts is a physical shutter button.Read Article >
One of the other ways in which HTC diverges from the stock Android 4.0 experience is by omitting the trio of onscreen menu buttons and instead offering them to you as a set of capacitive keys below the display. That may seem like a retrograde step, but its practical impact is actually positive: moving those buttons off the screen gives you more real estate to work with. Only aesthetics snobs will find reason bemoan this decision. Less forgivable is HTC's decision to leave the One S without a microSD card slot or a user-replaceable battery. While ultrathin phones will necessitate compromises, I hate to see storage and power flexibility being among them.
Camera performance has been a real priority for HTC with the One series and all three of its newly launched Android handsets come with a selection of important optimizations. Firstly, a dedicated imaging processor has been added to allow the One phones to manipulate pictures before compressing them to JPEG format. HTC expects this to result in lower image noise, greater color accuracy, and higher overall quality.Read Article >
Most of the improvements in the One cameras actually relate to speed. Startup time of the camera app is said to be 0.7 seconds and autofocus takes a blistering 0.2 seconds, making it quicker than the blink of an eye. Holding down the onscreen shutter button (you'll find no physical camera keys on these phones) automatically flips you into burst mode, with an intelligent selection menu then allowing you to pick the best shot of the bunch and discard the rest. There's no longer any need to switch between video and photo modes — the software buttons for capturing stills and video sit right next to each other now, and HTC's neatest trick is that it also allows you to snap photos while recording video. And if you want to pull out a still from a video recording you've already made, HTC lets you do that too.
Huawei's latest flagship device, the Ascend D quad, is supposedly "the world's fastest smartphone." So, naturally, as soon as the company's MWC press conference was over, we had to go take a look for ourselves. The D quad is definitely a sight to behold, particularly the 4.5-inch 720p display — the screen's very bright, and the viewing angles are excellent. It's not the thinnest phone we've seen, but its 8.8mm body definitely cuts a slim figure, and actually feels smaller in the hand than most 4.5-inch phones.Read Article >
Of course, most of the appeal of the D quad is its internal processing power, and that's hard to grasp fully from only a couple of minutes with the device. We'll keep trying to put the phone through its paces, and we'll keep you updated as we go.
MWC is just getting under way, and Huawei's kicking off the show with a new flagship smartphone: the Ascend D quad. Part of the company's new "Diamond" series of handsets, the D quad is powered by a quad-core processor, and Huawei says it's "the world's fastest smartphone." It's running Android 4.0, with three capacitive buttons below the 4.5-inch, 720p display. The handset runs on Huawei's new K3V2 quad-core processor, clocked as high as 1.5GHz, and is just 8.9mm thick and weighs 4.6 ounces — it's not LTE compatible yet, but Huawei said it will be this year. There's an 8-megapixel rear camera, and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter — the former shoots 1080p video. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is integrated, along with earSmart technology that does some pretty remarkable things with noise cancellation. There's an 1800mAh battery keeping everything going, and given the sheer power inside this phone it'll need all the battery it can get — though Huawei claims its new processor tech should make your phone considerably longer-lasting.Read Article >
That K3 processor is the real hook here. Huawei claims the Ascend D quad is 49 percent faster than "the other fastest smartphones in the world," and though we're not sure what those phones are, it's a pretty bold claim. Reps focused on everything from the Dialer to the Gallery to rooting, saying over and over that the Ascend D quad is as fast as it gets. Throughout the company's announcement, various features of the D quad were compared to the iPhone 4S, Galaxy Nexus, and other flagship phones, none of which could measure up — Huawei's swinging for the fences with this device.
The Vu has a small button on the top that brings down a custom menu where you can select different pen sizes and colors, and then you can doodle on the screen. We use the word "doodle" intentionally, because this is a straight-capacitive screen and the styli that LG have on their display are the large, rubber type. Proper note-taking requires a full tablet or a more accurate stylus, neither of which apply to the Vu.Read Article >
If somehow the 4:3 aspect ratio and large size don't deter you, there is a lot to like with the Vu. The 1024 x 768 display is easy on the eyes and we weren't able to detect too much lag within any of the apps. Outside of the apps in LG's skin we did get a bit of lag from time to time, despite the dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor inside. Unfortunately, the Vu is running Android 2.3.6, but LG promises than an Ice Cream Sandwich update is on the way within the next three months.
We played with the 4X for a few minutes here in LG's booth ahead of the official opening of Mobile World Congress tomorrow, and it definitely feels like a departure from every other Optimus model we've used in the past — the texturing on the rear and the clean squared-off styling is definitely indicative of a high-end device (which the 4X certainly is). In our brief testing, it's fast, but you really can't be sure about how well the Tegra 3 is going to hold up under pressure until you load the phone down with apps and full desktop versions of websites.Read Article >
Is it ready to take Samsung's next-gen Galaxy S model head-to-head? We've got a couple complaints that knock it down a notch: for one, there's some odd design in the chrome styling along all four edges, which looks more suited for a low-end device that's trying to look aspirational (and failing). Don't get us wrong — the appearance of the 4X overall is quite nice — but this particular detail is oddly out of place. Perhaps more importantly, the 4X has just three capacitive buttons along the bottom (as most native Android 4.0 devices are expected to have), but strangely, the third button is operating the menu, not the multitasking screen. This seems like it's probably just a nuance of the pre-release firmware, though, because a hard menu key simply doesn't make sense here — and the iconography leads us to believe that multitasking is the intended function anyway.
Feb 23, 2012Read Article >
We've already seen leaked benchmarks for the LG Optimus 4X HD (née X3) and they're quite good: it grabbed a Quadrant score of 4,412, well above even the Galaxy Note. LG says it will be available in Europe in the second quarter.
Feb 20, 2012
Panasonic announced that it was re-entering the smartphone market in Europe this spring, and now the company has officially taken the wraps the Eluga, a 4.3-inch smartphone with a 960 x 540 resolution and NFC onboard. The phone was unveiled at the Panasonic Convention 2012, is headed to Europe in March, and will be waterproof, dustproof, and "very light." The company hasn't posted any other details or specs yet, but said it would be officially releasing information on its website tomorrow. Visually, this phone appears identical to the prototype the company showed off back in December, and it also bears a striking resemblance to the recent Disney phone unveiled for NTT Docomo earlier in the month. We've reached out to Panasonic for more details and will update with any more specs or information we can find.Read Article >
Update: Panasonic has sent us the official specs: the Eluga is indeed super thin and light, weighing only 103 grams with a thickness of 7.8mm, making it just a bit thicker than the Droid RAZR. There's 8GB of onboard memory, an 8MP camera, and a dual-core 1GHz processor. Unfortunately, it'll only have Android 2.3, not 4.0, though Panasonic says that updates to Ice Cream Sandwich will come in the summer of 2012.
Feb 19, 2012
When LG surprised us with a teaser for the Optimus Vu smartphone, touting its 4:3 aspect ratio display, we expected an official announcement to come at Mobile World Congress. It turns out LG had another surprise in store, officially announcing the phone in a press release. Many of the previously-rumored specs proved accurate: the phone features a 5-inch 1024 x 768 IPS display, a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, an 8-megapixel camera, and will support LTE. What's new is the storage capacity — the phone will come with 32GB of storage — and the full dimensions. The phone measures in at 5.49 inches by 3.55 inches, making it wider than the already substantially-sized Galaxy Note, but thinner at just 0.33 inches thick (8.5mm). Taking another cue from the Note's playbook, the Vu will support the use of a stylus as well.Read Article >
The phone will be running Android 2.3 Gingerbread at launch, but LG is promising an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade within three months. The Optimus Vu will be available on South Korean carriers LG+ and SK Telecom in early March, though no pricing has yet been announced.