Why switching to iPhone is more compelling than ever?

Every year, many people switch their smartphone ecosystem from iPhone to Android or the opposite way. However, this year Apple seems to be more compelling option than ever.

The early sales numbers show growth in Apple iPhone sales, and Apple has even ramped up the production by 10% to meet the demand of the new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro models. This is like back in the old days when Apple surprised themselves every year by selling more iPhones than expected. This year, there are legitimate reasons for that.

Price is the first reason. As every other manufacturer is rising their prices, Apple is keeping theirs the same. When you can get the proper status symbol with a fruit logo on the back for only a few hundred more, why would you buy a Samsung or a Pixel?

Apple Watch is now in the class of its own. And it only works on an iPhone. It looks like Google has given up with the WearOS and there are no interesting new models showing up. Samsung uses their own watch without Google apps like Fit. Who wants to add Samsung apps to their phone if they don’t already have a Samsung? Apple seems to be the only choice right now for those who want to use a smartwatch.

Features. Apple hasn’t passed Android phones yet but they are getting closer. Dark mode, triple cameras, fake emails for apps to add privacy, better water resistance and much improved battery life. Add this to the ones they already had over Android, superior performance, better accessory options, superior build quality and updates for five years. They are even doing most of the features right or more right than their competitors.

Sustainability. Every company has to polish their shields. Apple however has done some actual improvements. The iPhone 11 Pro models are more modular than ever. Single components seem to be replaceable and it doesn’t look like the whole phone must be swapped every time something breaks inside.

These are just a few examples and the users that have used iPhone and Android phones side by side lately, surely can add more to that list. I switched my number 2 phone to Android a year ago and have only Android since. I don’t think I’m going to get an iPhone any time soon but maybe this year will push Google to improve more.

Rebranding, Huawei’s change to survive

Huawei has been released from the black list but its reputation is ruined. Can the Chinese company survive in the mobile device business after that mess?

As every one of us have heard, Huawei was put to the black list of US trade commission. That meant that US companies could not trade with Huawei in any way. It lead to the big headlines about Google banning Huawei and so on. Now the company has been released from the black list and life goes on, or does it?

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It is very hard to understand customers’ reactions to the entire Huawei mess if we think about different regions. In America, Huawei really hasn’t been a big player in smartphone market but a relatively competitive in the network business. Very little Huawei phones have been sold by the carriers and that’s still the way Americans buy their phones. The little market share they had in smartphones, is now gone.

From a European standpoint, Huawei hasn’t changed that much during the debate. The US and China trade war has been going for a while now and for most of us Europeans, the Huawei ban was just a part of that trade war. I personally don’t find Huawei phones that attractive anyway but their two brands, Huawei and Honor have been some of the best selling phones in Europe for the last few years. That trend is unlikely change too much after the Huawei debate is completely over.

However, the way Huawei could turn this into gold, is to rebrand their phones and make some other changes as well. From this point onward, this article doesn’t base on facts but on my personal smartphone preferences. First of all, the rebranding. Huawei has been making phones under the Honor name for a while now, so that name is done. They’ll need to find a new, catching name like Vulcan or Wraith.

They should also drop their own UI and use Google’s Android One as a base. All Huawei’s own extras should be added as applications that could easily be updated and has to yield to same permissions as any other apps. This could win the doubters to their side. Camera app of course is important as Huawei has been known for its great smartphone cameras.

Oh, and as I accidentally just made another Nokia / HMD Global, Huawei’s new brand would differentiate itself by being the first at new technologies, like it has been. Their own SoCs are half a year ahead of their competitors even though they are a bit slower. Their display technologies and especially their product design has been top notch for the last couple of years.

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There are currently no clean Android phones on the flagship market other than the Pixels and maybe the Sony Xperia 1. There used to be some Moto phones and that’s it. Nokia’s 9 was a big disappointment and it is also competing more with the upper mid-rangers like OnePlus 7 or Galaxy S10e. More competition in the clean Android market is better.

5G & Cloud Computing – The duo of the future

I love to speculate. That’s why we are talking about cloud computing and 5G today. Many people have questioned the importance of higher speeds and lower latency than 4G LTE can already provides. I think applications using cloud computing are some of the most interesting things that could benefit from the better network.

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What if you would have nearly unlimited computing power with you all the time?

Cloud computing means that the computing is done somewhere else on someone else’s computer, to put it bluntly. It means that one doesn’t necessarily need to have the world’s most powerful workstation to complete tasks that need massive amounts of computing power.

When the actual computing is done off site, it doesn’t really matter what kind of  device the commands are given from. That makes work less dependent on the end device but more dependent on the network. That’s where the 5G comes in.

Even here in Finland, we usually get only 100 Mb/s LTE speeds with 20 ms ping. That slows down immediately when it rains or many people are connected to the same cell tower. 5G has promising technologies to fix this. In densely lived areas, the 5G towers will be closer together and be able to serve devices from fridges to smartphones and laptops. The latency will be lower and allow better response time to the cloud applications.

Some day the 5G will be able to support big file transfers like video files to be edited on a cloud based computer. That will be a revolution because nowadays ones video editing and rendering speeds are limited by their computer’s performance. In the future the limiting factor will be the network speed.

Video editing could sound distant to some but what about gaming? Google is already bringing their cloud gaming system Stadia later this year and they are not the first. NVIDIA has had their solution available for a while now. Running the game on a remote computer and just streaming the video of the game, is going to make gaming – again – less dependent on the end device but more on the network.

I really don’t have plans to get either, 5G or Stadia just yet but I’ll be following the headlines. 5G and cloud computing will be the duo to follow in the future.

Google Fuchsia – What should it be?

So, Google opened their Fuchsia developer page and it’s time for us to speculate. What should the Fuchsia be from customers standpoint?

There are a very little facts about the Fuchsia right now. Google just opened the developer page at fuchsia.dev but the site barely tells us anything. From Google I/O, we know that the OS should be working on many different kinds of devices and form factors.

Developers, software, applications

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Developers, developers, developers

How ever Google decides to make the apps work, they should work regardless of the form factor or device. Microsoft has got this wrong several times with its Windows Phone and RT systems. If a developer wants to build a great app for the Fuchsia, the app should work on all the form factors from desktop to tablet and smartphone, maybe even on the wearable devices.

The best way to get the developers interested is money. Money interests anyone but there are also other things, like trending languages and ways to create software that would attract developers. More ways to create apps, more apps, more users, more money. It is also probable that Google will promote the web apps that would work on any device like iPhones or Windows computers to generate profit for Google.

However, the cloud computing is growing all the time and it’ll be interesting to see, how Google will want to use that in Fuchsia. Could we see a cloud based video editing app or will the Stadia game streaming system be a big part of the new OS?

Android fragmentation

Android fragmentation is probably one of the most used geek terms on this site. It is used to describe the problem Android has with the older versions dominating the Android distribution chart.

One big task Google has with the Fuchsia is to prevent this kind of fragmentation from happening. It is essential to keep users safe, applications up to date and features widely spread.

Android has developed this problem over the years by leaving the system updates to the manufacturers, not Google. In the last few years, Google has tried to fix this but the cruel fact is that most Android devices are still running older version of Android than the project Treble, and very few manufacturers have updated their older models to support Treble anyway. In Android 10, there will be new features to fix this mess but it’ll still take years for them to reach the majority of the devices.

All this has of course allowed manufacturers to make their own customizations on their Android UI. It’ll be interesting to see how this will be introduced in the Fuchsia, or will the UI be similar on all manufacturers’ devices?

Security 

At this day and age, Google will need to make everything to keep Fuchsia safe. Running the OS on any device and form factor makes it vulnerable for issues that other companies have. For example Microsoft had to fix Windows for multiple times because Intel’s CPUs had big vulnerabilities.

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This is continuity to the fragmentation part because there must be a fast way to deploy these security updates when necessary. Our part is just to hope that Google isn’t trying to swallow a too big of a bite.

IoT integration

Wether we ask it or not, everything is going to be connected to the internet. You can already buy fridges and microwave ovens that are connected to the internet. Everything else is to follow. Creating a new operating system and skipping IoT would be foolish.

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Most likely, Google is going to add their own IoT control environment to the Fuchsia. That’ll be another interesting thing to follow.

Device management for enterprises

One thing where Google is way behind Apple and Samsung, is mobile device management. From enterprises standpoint, it’s quite easy to buy Samsung and Apple phones and manage them via Knox or Apple DEP / MDM. Although Google is trying to catch up, it’s going to take time before Google’s solution will be the number one solution for most companies.

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That’s why I hope that Google is taking this seriously and creates a full on management system for all devices from desktops to smartphones and company cars. The management system should have everything from AD to remote connections, software deployment and remote device actions. This is an enormous task that Microsoft has worked years and years to improve.

The enterprise market could do with a competitor. Easiest way for Google to start is to make the device management better than any competition on the market with a competitive price tag. That would get them more customers and resources to create the full on server ecosystem.

 

I’ll just hope all the best for the Fuchsia project and wait impatiently writing these speculations.

The state of mobile tech and Superzeppo

It has been way too long since I have updated this site. There are several reasons to that but those are not my talking points today.

 

Getting stuck in old technology is easy. All you need is way too good tech that you don’t want to get rid of. 

I have pretty much always been an early adopter. I was very early with my Nexus 10 purchase and I’ve used a WearOS Watch since the first Huawei Watch came available. Since then however, I have slowed down with my upgrades to a point that I feel like I’m Google, coming a generation behind.

The fact that I’m using a Google phone is not helping. The Pixel 3 XL that’s my main smartphone, was a generation behind the trends with it’s huge notch and single camera. Still I got one. Am I getting old?

Last year, I bought a Note9 and I kind of liked it at first. Although, after a while, I started to feel the worse sides of Samsung’s mobile UI. There were duplicates of all Google apps and the camera was just outright bad for my liking compared to my old Pixel 2 that I had back then. I decided to feel old and go back to Pixel.

Conservatism in mobile tech is what sells

You can see what Apple is doing. They may have the best SoC and video recording but everywhere else they are behind their Android competitors. Still Apple sells their iPhone 7 and 8 models like crazy and they are not slowing down. The iPhone 8 from 2017 is basically an iPhone 6 with a better SoC. Still it sells.

Have you tried the new swiping navigation on either iPhone or Android? It’s awful. You feel like dropping your phone and navigation is way slower than on a traditional three button navigation on Android. Normal people unlike me and probably you, are not interested in new ways to drop your phone which the new home gesture is.

Normal people also don’t want to get a mortgage to buy a phone. That’s another reason why older models sell.

Innovation is still needed

I’m not saying that the new technologies are not needed or the smartphone tech has reached its peak. The expensive new technology always dribbles down to the more affordable devices and at some point every one of us do have a notch and a swiping navigation.

However, at that point the early adopters are using the next generation of foldable phones. The first gen seems to be priced just for the richest of the geeks and with the issues that Samsung and Huawei are having, probably won’t make Google and Apple rush their foldables out.

The smartphone market is going to be very interesting soon. I’ll try to keep this blog updated with my thoughts on the current and future tech.

What a laptop can be – HP Spectre x360 15″ review

Overview

According to Wikipedia, HP was the biggest PC vendor in 2017 with a 20.8% market share. The test unit of Spectre x360 15” is probably much higher-end than an average laptop the company sells but it represents pretty much the best they have to offer. The exact model I’m testing is 15-bl102no. It has a 15,6” 4K 2160p IPS display, Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, Nvidia GeForce MX150, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB NVMe SSD.

The laptop is meant for enthusiast users that need to do some productive work but keep moving while doing so. The laptop doesn’t come with a Pro Windows, and HP has a separate Spectre Pro lineup for business users. There’s a Spectre x360 13” version as well but it can’t be fitted with discrete graphics card and the 13” 4K display is even more overkill than in the 15” model I have here.

The only store that currently lists the laptop in the exact same configuration, has it priced at 2000€ but similar versions are listed at around 1800€. The Spectre is a jewel kind of a laptop but at this price range, the laptop also needs to perform well, have a great display and a solid battery life.

For the rest of the review, I’ll name the 15” Spectre x360 as just Spectre. I’ll mention 13” or similar if I’m talking about a different device than the actual review unit.

Design

Visual appearance of the Spectre is one of its key features. As the lid is closed, the laptop is quite understated. The sides of the review unit reveal a bit of its fanciness on the sides with the polished copper color. The hinge design is one beautiful feature with its curves and the new simplified HP logo is subtle enough for this kind of premium device.

As the lid is opened, the main features are revealed. The 15” 4K display has slim bezels on the sides but the bottom bezel is large to lift the display up a little bit and improve the user experience. The top bezel is quite typical for laptops but this one actually packs some important features on that bezel.

The keyboard is quite typical compact keyboard in a space that could have hosted a numpad as well. Although as this Spectre isn’t meant for business use, the B&O tuned speakers around the keyboard are probably more important feature than the numpad would have been. The touchpad is very wide but not too tall.

Overall, the design of the Spectre is an interesting mix of design-first and function-first thinking. A typical laptop customer probably sees the design as too dominant feature of this laptop but the Spectre also is out of the price range of a typical customer. Personally, I feel that the design represents the laptop’s potential quite well. It looks precious but subtle at the same time.

Look and feel

The HP Spectre is meant to be used. All the materials are premium and carefully selected. The display turns into the tablet mode very easily and without any squeaking or sounds. The hinge design is beautiful to look at. Especially in the copper color.

The display glass is reflective due to the touch functionality, but it has some anti-reflective coding that helps in bright scenarios. The oleophobic coating on the display is similar to many smartphones. It lets fingers to slide easily on the glass but the oleophobic part of it is quite bad. The display is full of fingerprints very quickly.

Using the Spectre in daily life feels premium. The laptop is cool to touch, and feels rigid when carrying it around. It is also kind of heavy for its size at 2 kilograms.

Specifications

The Spectre really is equipped with the best hardware that is possible to be packed inside this chassis. The CPU is a 15W 4 core 8 thread Intel Core i7-8550U with 1.8GHz base frequency and 4.0GHz max boost. Although the test unit claims to have a 2.0GHz base frequency, the official spec is 1.8GHz. This doesn’t matter too much because the CPU is almost always boosting over the base frequency anyway. The CPU is manufactured on the 14nm Kaby Lake refresh process and has 8MB of L3 cache. There’s also an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU on board.

The test unit has two 8 GB 2400 MHz DDR4 SODIMMs for a total of 16 GB of RAM. The CPU and motherboard support maximum of 32 GB and the RAM sticks are user accessible under a couple of screws. The 512 GB NVMe SSD is made by Toshiba and the actual model can be found by Googling ‘THNSN5512GPUK’.

The Nvidia GeForce MX150 is an ultrabook oriented version of GT 1030. It uses the Pascal architecture, has 384 Cuda cores, 2 GB of GDDR5 memory and runs at up to 1911 MHz according to a little test.

Display

The display is a 15,6” UHD BV LED touchscreen that is by my understanding an IPS display. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 which in the size 15,6” means 282DPI. There’s no official claim on Adobe RGB color reproduction but the colors look quite correct to my eyes without any actual equipment to prove it.

However, the display has some amazing light bleed from every corner. Viewing black images on dark environment reveals the grey blacks of an IPS display and the massive light bleeding. I haven’t been in touch with HP support, but I believe this could be a reason to replace the unit if it bothered me.

Performance

The Spectre has some serious hardware under the hood which means that it flies through typical benchmarks. However, I was able to completely jam the machine while running some graphically intensive tests like 3DMark Time Spy.

The test suite was quite large for an ultrabook review, and the benchmarks were driven 3 to 5 times each. The following screenshots are the best results. I’ll include the results in the text as well for those who can’t or won’t load the images.

Disclaimer: The Spectre is running on an Insider preview version on Windows 10. That does affect the results and the reproduction of the results.

Cinebench R15 tests the CPU’s single- and multi-core performance. Multi-core result is 538 cb and single core is 169 cb. For comparison, the full desktop 6700K on stock clocks scored 931/182.

Geekbench scrores were 4922 for single-core and 14119 for the multi-core test.

PCMark 10 score was 4043 with sub scores of 8086 (Essentials), 6201 (Productivity) and 3578 (Digital Content Creation).

CrystalDiskMark results for sequential read and write were 1653.1 MB/s and 607 MB/s

Unigine Heaven benchmark returned 28.4 FPS and 716 points on 1080p high DX11.

Sunspider score on Chrome was 240.5 ms.

Octane score on Chrome was 40365.

 

Here are also screenshots of CPU-Z and Open Hardware Monitor.

 

Day-to-day performance

Daily performance has been snappy with the NVMe SSD and 16GB of RAM. The CPU also boosts very high when browsing the web or doing some productive work on Adobe CC. On short time load, the machine is extremely quick.

However, gaming or video rendering on this machine could be a relatively bad experience. The CPU isn’t meant to stay cool under full load for a long time. The cooling fans are loud, and the fan curves are set up such a way that the CPU package gets really hot before the fans really kick off.

The performance is very good for a casual user in most situations. Of course, a laptop is not the ideal machine for hardcore video editing anyway, so I’m not too concerned on that. Some older games and less GPU intensive titles are also very playable on 1080p resolution.

After a two hour session of a CPU intensive Hearts of Iron IV in 1080p, the CPU was running at only 1.7 GHz because of the thermals. Lifting the bottom of the laptop off the surface helps somewhat.

Battery life and charging

The Spectre has an 79 Wh battery with a 90-watt USB type-C charger. Battery life is surprisingly good. The laptop easily lasts an 8-hour work day with high screen brightness and somewhat demanding workload. Usually after a day of using the Spectre on battery power only, I’ve had more than 50% left on the 6 cells it has. The charger is also very quick, and it can also charge a modern Android smartphone with the type-C connector.

Other Hardware

Keyboard and trackpad are pretty much the opposite of each other. The trackpad is wide but not tall enough. It’s usable in most circumstances but for example the right click is so far on the right that it’s hard to reach sometimes. The trackpad uses Synaptics drivers, not Windows drivers. That’s important for those who use Windows’ trackpad gestures.

The keyboard on the other hand is very good to type on. The keys have a decent travel and even somewhat noticeable activation point. After a couple of minutes, I was already happy typing longer texts on the Spectre.

In some markets, the Spectre comes with an HP Active Pen. It is a brilliant addition to the control methods of a laptop. It can be used to navigate the OS but Windows Ink is actually very good software for those who like to draw some little sketches or take hand written notes. The pen is capable of doing some real work as well. It recognizes 2048 pressure levels, has two programmable buttons and lasts for months with the one AAAA-battery. One thing missing is the angle detection.

The speakers are tuned by B&O but they sound quite tinny. One would think that it would be possible to add better speakers on such an expensive laptop and such a big space around the keyboard. But there must be a good reason for this because one would also think that B&O name wasn’t used if they hadn’t at least tried their best.

The Webcam takes Full HD videos at least in theory. The image is very noisy even in very good lighting but it gets the job done in Skype video calls. The microphone on the other hand is decent. My voice was very clear through it even if I sounded a bit tinny.

I/O

After seeing what Apple’s example has done to smartphone market, it’s a welcome surprise to see that the HP Spectre has a decent selection of I/O ports despite its thickness. The Spectre has two type-C ports on the right side of the laptop. Both support charging but only one is Thunderbolt 3 capable. On the left side are one type-A USB port, a headphone jack and a full-size SD card reader.

The power button is on the left side of the laptop and the volume rocker is placed on the right side. Both sides of the laptop have holes for the exit fans.

Windows and HP stuff

The Spectre comes with an HP spiced version of Windows 10 Home. HP has added its usual software suite. HP support assistant is easy way to keep drivers and firmware up to date. Otherwise, the software is the same all over again. Pre-installed Candy Crush Saga and typical pushing of Microsoft’s own apps is something Windows users are familiar with at this point.

Windows Hello

Windows Hello is an easy way to unlock the laptop for those who are not worried about their privacy on a level that they would have taped off their webcam. The Spectre has two IR blasters that recognized my face quickly in most circumstances. However, in low light and bright sunshine, it couldn’t recognize me at all. I wish this model had the fingerprint scanner for those situations like its smaller sibling, the 13” Spectre has. Some 15″ models also have a fingerprint scanner on the side.

Test notes

Don’t ever put Insider Preview on a review laptop ever again. Weekly or daily updates are changing the performance of the laptop so drastically that benchmarking the thing was a challenge to say the least.

Summary

The HP Spectre x360 15″ is a marginal product. It won’t be bought in masses by companies because it’s a consumer machine, not a business laptop. Most customers are shopping for a PC of under $500 and if they have $2000 to spend, they’ll blindfoldedly go and buy a Mac.

The Spectre is a way to show what Windows PC’s are capable of. All this technology will be dropping to the biggest selling laptops eventually. The Spectre is a brilliant showcase.

Huawei launches P20 Pro with 40 megapixel camera

Huawei tries to breath new life to the stagnant smartphone market with the new P20 Pro. It uses AI to stitch together images from three different sensors.

As the smartphone market is getting less and less interesting with iterative updates, the Huawei P20 Pro is a welcome exception. Huawei launched a full lineup of P20 devices at Paris but the Pro model is easily the most interesting.

The Huawei P20 Pro is a glass and metal sandwich with a 6.1″ 18.7:9 2240 x 1080 resolution notched OLED display. It has the Huawei’s in house Kirin 970 chip, 6 GB of RAM,  128 GB of storage and a 4000 mAh battery. On the camera side though, things get more interesting. The front 24 megapixel camera is placed in the notch and on the flip side, there are 3 cameras.

The main camera, on the middle, has a massive 1/1.7″ 40 megapixel sensor for nearly Pureview-like resolution. The top camera has an 8 megapixel sensor with a 3x telephoto lens. The bottom camera has a 20 megapixel sensor with a monochrome lens. To turn this massive amount of data to a beautiful image in all conditions, Huawei is using AI. The monochrome lens lets in more light in dark situations, so the AI can for example take the colors from the main camera, and the details from the monochrome sensor.

Like said, this camera setup is like the Pureview of 2018. We are hoping to see more of innovation like this in the future to keep the smartphone market evolving. The notches are not good marketing pointers.

Speaking of notches and Huawei, they actually made their notch a marketing point. They compared it to the iPhone X notch and said that their smaller notch is better because the user can see more notification icons. I’d say that every notch is a notch, and should be got rid of.

The other two P20 models are the regular P20 and the P20 Lite. The P20 has a smaller 5.8″ LCD display with the same 2240 x 1080 resolution, 4 GB of RAM and the battery is 3400 mAh in capacity. The front facing camera is the same 24 megapixel unit but on the rear, there are only two cameras, a 12 MP main camera and a 20 MP monochrome one. Rest of the specs are the same.

The Lite has a Kirin 659 chip, 5.8″ IPS display with the same resolution, 16 and 2 megapixel cameras, 3000 mAh battery, 4 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage.

Innovation is good for the smartphone market. We have heard some rumors about a Nokia phone with an impressive camera setup. Hopefully we are getting some real facts of it soon. Of course, other manufacturers are allowed to innovate too. It just turns out that some are too busy removing features.