IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Smartphone makers unleash their 'heroes'

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 18, 2013

The battle of the smartphones has entered a new phase with leading smartphone makers unveiling their new flagship models over the last two weeks. Apple's iPhone 5s and 5c took centre stage last week, and before that the limelight was on Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 and Sony's Xperia Z1.

With this release of flagship smartphones, consumers can look forward to bigger screens of at least 4.5 inches, and improvements in cameras and processors, said Ms Kiranjeet Kuar, IDC Asia Pacific's senior market analyst.

While Apple is sticking to a 4-inch display for its flagship smartphone, Android smartphone makers are busy making their screens bigger than 5 inches. When screens reach this size, this tablet and smartphone hybrid is better known as a phablet.

Samsung continues to enlarge the screen for its flagship phablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 sports a 5.7-inch display, a slight increase from the 5.5 inches of its predecessors, and has various hardware upgrades, such as faster processor speed and more camera megapixels.

Mr Gong Lei, who currently uses a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, prefers a bigger screen. "A bigger screen is better for almost everything, such as gaming, reading and photo editing," the 29-year-old bank executive said.

However, some smartphone users, such as MrTang Weng Sing, think that "phablets are too big" and do not fit into their pockets. The 41-year-old senior manager at a software engineering firm prefers a device which is more stable and "just works", standards which he felt the Apple iPhone with its iOS ecosystem meets.

"I still like the quality feel and finish of the iPhone," Mr Tang said. He intends to upgrade to the new iPhone 5s from his iPhone 4S.

Users who love to use their smartphones to take photos can look forward to better cameras in the upcoming flagship models.

The upcoming Sony Xperia Z1 has an image sensor similar to that used in a compact digital camera, while the Nokia Lumia 1020 has a huge 41-megapixel image sensor.

Mr Mohd Nizam is considering getting the Lumia 1020 because of its camera. The 37-year-old customer care officer uses his Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone as his primary camera.

"In terms of the camera, the Lumia 920 is more impressive than the Samsung Galaxy S III and S4," he said. He is looking forward to see if the 41-megapixel camera is as good as advertised.

Whether it is larger screens or better cameras, the main beneficiaries of the smartphones space being heated up are the consumers. They can look forward to a greater range of smartphones to suit their personal needs and purposes.

Digital Life looks at the latest smartphones which will be released in the coming months.

trevtan@sph.com.sg


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Nokia Lumia 1020

For those who want to combine a camera with a smartphone, the Nokia Lumia 1020 provides a strong proposition that is hard to resist.

The 10.4mm-thick smartphone has a whopping 41-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss 26mm f/2.2 lens. Using a new feature called dual capture, it can take a high-resolution 38-megapixel image for post-processing purpose and create a smaller 5-megapixel picture which is easier to share on social media.

Although the camera does not have any optical zoom, the massive resolution of the picture allows you to zoom into the picture by cropping it accordingly.

Or you can use the camera's 3x lossless digital zoom, in which the camera will capture the zoomed-in picture as well as the "un-zoomed" version.

Plus, the smartphone comes with the Nokia Pro Camera app that allows you to take photos easily with its intuitive controls that adjust focus, shutter speed, white balance and other settings. The app also allows you to edit and share the photos with your friends.

But it is not just about shooting pictures. The Windows Phone 8 smartphone comes with Microsoft Office and the customisable Live Tiles and People Hub, which you can use to keep in touch with your friends around the world.

TECH SPECS

Price: To be confirmed

Availability: To be confirmed

Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core

Operating system: Windows Phone 8

Display: 4.5-inch Amoled; 1,280 x 768 pixels

Cameras: 41 megapixels (rear), 1.2megapixels (front)

Weight: 158g


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LG G2

Not to be outdone by its close rival Samsung, LG has launched the G2, its own interpretation of the phablet.

With screen sizes getting bigger, accessing the buttons with one hand is harder. So, LG has decided to place all of the G2's buttons on its rear, where the index fingers usually will rest when holding the device. According to the South Korean chaebol, the rear keys allow for better control.

Wondering how to unlock the phablet's display? Well, you tap the display twice to turn it on and tap twice to turn it off.

When there is an incoming call, the ringtone volume will automatically decrease when you pick it up. And when you put it close to your ear, the call will automatically be put through. This is great when your other hand is holding a chicken wing and you do not want your oily finger to touch the display.

The lack of buttons on the phablet's side and front has allowed LG to integrate a super-thin 2.65mm bezel on the sides of the 5.2-inch full high-definition display. The display is equipped with in-plane switching technology which exhibits accurate colours and clearer images without any colour shift when viewed from an angle.

To protect your privacy, the phablet has a guest mode that displays only pre-selected apps; this mode is accessed using a secondary unlock pattern.

In addition, the phablet can be used as a remote control for LG home entertainment devices as well as some non-LG Blu-ray players and home entertainment systems.

TECH SPECS

Price: $898 (32GB) without contract

Availability: From Saturday

Processor: 2.26GHz quad-core

Operating system: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean

Display: 5.2-inch full high-definition Super Amoled; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Cameras: 13 megapixels (rear), 2.1megapixels (front)

Weight: 143g


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Sony Xperia Z1

Made of a solid one-piece aluminium frame with tempered glass on the front and back, the Sony Xperia Z1 combines beauty and durability.

It is the only water- and dust-resistant smartphone in this round-up and it complies with international protection rating standards. It can endure low-pressure jets of water from all directions and can be kept under 1.5m of freshwater for up to 30minutes. You never have to worry about splashing coffee on this phone or dropping it into a water basin.

The smartphone's 5-inch display features Sony's unique Triluminos technology, which is capable of exhibiting more than 16million colours to display rich and natural colours.

Despite its 8.5mm-thin body, the smartphone has a wide-angle 27mm lens with a large aperture of f2. Its camera uses a high-sensitivity 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor - the size of image sensors found in many digital compact cameras - and Sony's Bionz image processing engine to produce images with less noise and sharp crisp images.

The smartphone features the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz quad-core processor that uses the latest graphics processing unit and dual image signal processor unit for better graphics, video and gaming performance.

It has a 3,000mAh battery that has a long battery life and uses Sony's Battery Stamina mode to automatically switch off certain functions when they are not in use to save power.

TECH SPECS

Price: $998 (16GB) without contract

Availability: Oct 4

Processor: 2.2GHz quad-core

Operating system: Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

Display: 5-inch full high-definition Super Amoled; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Cameras: 20.7 megapixels (rear), 2megapixels (front)

Weight: 170g


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Apple iPhone 5s

Apple's new flagship smartphone might share the same physical dimensions as the iPhone 5, but it is better in many ways.

A major highlight is the Touch ID, which is a new fingerprint sensor located in the Home button. The sensor allows you to unlock your smartphone with just a touch; relegating the passcode to a backup security feature. You can save up to five fingerprints.

The smartphone's next big feature is its new A7 chip, which was designed for 64-bit desktop- class architecture. It is the first 64-bit smartphone to be released.

According to Apple, the A7's processing and graphics performance is two times faster than that of the A6 chip found in the iPhone 5.

Also, 64-bit processing is more power efficient, giving the smartphone better battery life.

In addition, the smartphone has an M7 co-processor which measures motion data from the phone's accelerometer, gyroscope and compass; these tasks were previously done by the main processing chip. Unlike processors in other smartphones, the M7 knows when you are walking, running or driving. Thus, fitness and health apps will be more accurate in tracking your daily activities.

Apple has decided to use a large image sensor in the iPhone5s. This allows its sensor to collect more light to produce images of better quality. Plus, the camera's aperture has been enlarged to f/2.2 to allow even more light to enter the image sensor.

The iPhone 5s has 13 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) bands, more than any smartphone currently on the market. It is able to work with both 1,800MHz and 2,600MHz LTE bands in Singapore to fully utilise the faster mobile network speeds.

For a more in-depth review of iPhone 5s, catch next week's issue of Digital Life.

TECH SPECS

Price: $988 (16GB), $1,148 (32GB), $1,288 (64GB), all without contract

Availability: From Friday

Processor: A7 chip with 64-bitarchitecture, M7 motion co-processor

Operating system: iOS 7

Display: 4-inch touchscreen; 1,136 x 640 pixels

Cameras: 8 megapixels (rear), 1.2megapixels (front)

Weight: 112g


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Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Galaxy Note 2 won this year's DL Awards Editor's choices for Best Overall, Best Android and Best LTE Smartphone. Now, its successor has been upgraded in just about every department.

The Note 3, now considered a phablet, has a bigger 5.7-inch full high-definition Super Amoled touchscreen display, a faster processor, more system memory and a higher camera megapixel count. It also supports the new Wi-Fi 802.11ac technology.

Despite all these improvements, it is actually 1mm thinner and 16g lighter than the Note 2. And instead of the plastic back of its predecessor, the Note 3 now has a soft and textured back with stitching around the edges.

But the highlight of the phablet is its S Pen stylus. Pulling out the SPen will bring up Air Command - a pop-up menu that allows quick access to five functions - Action Memo, Scrapbook, Screen Write, SFinder and Pen Window.

Action Memo lets you write a note with the stylus and converts the handwritten information into neat, typed-out words.

The Scrapbook function helps you to track and organise content taken from the Web, while Screen Write captures the full-screen image of what you are looking at on your screen and allows you to write comments over it.

The S Finder allows you to search the contents on your phablet using keywords or filters; it even searches handwritten content. Finally, the Pen Window allows easy multitasking as you can open another application window without closing the app you are on. You only need to draw a window on the screen.

TECH SPECS

Price: To be confirmed

Availability: Sept 28

Processor: 2.3GHz quad-core

Operating system: Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

Display: 5.7-inch full high-definition Super Amoled; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Cameras: 13 megapixels (rear), 2megapixels (front)

Weight: 168g