Archive | July 2011

Memory

I’ve been watching the memory on the phone the last few weeks, mainly since 2.3.3 was implemented and since a colleague in Test Lab commented on excessive memory bleed. Today my phone had been up for 40 hours and it was slllllllllooooowwwww. Accessing Auto Memory Manager showed I had around 92MB left in the memory. Killing a couple background apps freed up a little more.

Before I continue with the results of my experiment I’d like to note (and I’m sure many of you have noticed something similar) there are certain apps on the phone which can’t be killed by conventional methods or otherwise. If anyone at Sony Ericsson could explain to me why my phone apparently needs to run THREE widgets for the clock I’d be grateful:

  • The blue digital clock widget – which I use on my homescreen
  • The black digital clock widget – which I don’t use
  • The analogue clock widget.

Furthermore I’d be thrilled to know why the following services need to be running on my handset? The Sony Ericsson Facebook service which, despite being killed in sync etc (as I hate Facebook Inside Xperia), still manages to run in the background, along with

  • the stock Music app,
  • HDMI control,
  • Maps,
  • BBC iPlayer,
  • BBC News and
  • Skype.

Quite why Skype runs in the background when it’s not even logged in is bewildering. Why the HDMI controller is running, perpetually poised to spring to life, despite the absence of an HDMI lead, is equally perplexing, bordering on plain stupid.

Anyway, back to the memory issue. There’s definitely a problem somewhere as I did a quick reboot and the phone was back up to 169MB. However within 5 minutes of this power up, 5 MB has mysteriously disappeared into the ether. 10 minutes after this point the phone has dropped below 140MB and sure enough, Skype is lurking in the background, along with Maps and HDMI control. I’m sure by the time I check the phone at bedtime despite clearing caches and killing unused apps it will have bled out a few more MB.

One of the many joys of Symbian was the ability to leave the phone on for DAYS and it still run at the same speed. My k800i, switched off but used as an alarm, lasted a MONTH before the alarm failed to activate. The big problem with smartphones is no-one’s looking past the end of the working day. 


Most manufacturers aren’t interested in TWO working days use from the phone. The assumption is users will rag their phone until the battery is exhausted, usually in one day, and the handset will power down. The subsequent overnight recharge rejuvenates the phone and you carry on as normal. This is generally where Mugen Power et al pick up the slack.

What happens though, when you don’t turn the phone off? I use my phone as my alarm clock, and one of the limitations of the Android system is the phone MUST be on for the alarm to work – it doesn’t have the internal counter like Symbian handsets have. So if your phone never goes off, it never gets the chance to rest, regroup and press on again. In short, it chokes on it’s own crap.

Now there are apps on the market like the aforementioned AutoMemoryManager, that help Android manage it’s memory but I feel this is something Android should be able to do itself. Cleaning the app cache can sometimes free up 10-20% of the available memory, but why is it left to be done manually? The OS should be smart enough to keep itself ticking over efficiently (or more efficiently than it currently is), rather than getting bogged down under the weight of self-generated crap.

Fantastic Voyage – Xperia 2011

Following the progress of the 2011 Xperia range certainly makes for interesting viewing.
When I got the X10HD in January I was suitably impressed with the handset, however a big step was taken with the Arc, moving from plain old black to the glossy purple, shiny-shiny veneer of the Arc, which quite obviously trumps the X10HD in terms of style and grace.

However, what’s more fascinating to me is charting the evolution of the handsets and the technology contained therein, from the Arc through to the Ray. The Arc was quite a large handset, purposefully designed to be sleek and slim but to cram as much tech onboard as possible. The Neo was supposed to be out at the same time as the Arc but was delayed due to production issues following the tsunami in Japan in March.

Released at the end of June. It has the same features as the Arc, albeit a slightly smaller screen, throws in a front-facing camera, but still manages to be smaller than it’s predecessor. Sure it’s a bit chunkier overall, but it does more than the Arc could do (Skype video calling is brilliant!) and does it very well.

In fact if I’m going to be honest and totally biased, it’s a blinder of a handset, probably in joint first place with the amazing k800i. Considering 6 months ago Sony Ericsson were top of my shitlist, for the Neo to come along and go straight to the top of the list, that’s saying something as:

1. I’m not very forgiving
2. I still love the k800i handset!

Moving on, the Xperia Ray, due out late August/early September has very similar specs to the Neo but has managed to squeeze the same features into an even smaller chassis probably a teensy bit bigger than a 5 th generation of iPod Nano.

First up for the Ray, software improvements. Those of you who read my blog would know I complained bitterly back in April about the lack of digital zoom on the Arc handset, when it had been in place on the X10HD. Why release a phone with Exmor-R capabilities and BRAVIA picture improvements and then take a step backwards by removing zoom capabilities? Madness!

So, at a recent Test Lab meeting I thrilled to be able to play with the Ray for a bit and discovered improvements to the camera software. Yes, digital zoom is back! Hurrah!

Coming back to the physical aspects of the Ray, there have been some necessary sacrifices to accommodate the reduction in size; we lose LED flash (replaced with a horrific photo-light, similar to the travesty that blighted the X10HD) and an HDMI port.

These sacrifices may mean a lot to some (dirty photo-light), but when you consider the phone retains the front-facing camera, the 8.1 MP rear camera (still with 720p HD video) the 1GHz Snapdragon processor and throws in some subtle but welcome software improvements, that’s impressive.

And for the handsets to go from the size of an iPod Classic to just about iPod Nano 5G size (and I mean ‘just!’) in a mere 6 months (Arc –Neo –Ray) that’s very impressive indeed.

LiveView

Having heard multiple stories about the LiveView, both good and bad, I decided to acquire a unit for myself. Receiving the package in the post at 11.30 today (Friday) I plugged the unit straight into the computer and repaired the software, making sure I was running a clean unit. Everything fine and dandy.

Installed a couple plugins – Gmail and FB – all worked fine. Went out @ 13.30 for the afternoon to see Harry Potter (more on than later). By 14.30 I had received notifications for messages, Facebook, Gmail and a couple phone calls. Was feeling very pleased with my purchase, until the unit slipped out of it’s housing as I was reaching for my phone and bounced on the floor from waist height.

Now, the phone will charge but will do very little else. It will turn on and off, but won’t show notifications retained on the device or even do the really cool ‘Find My Phone’ routine. It will also tell the time, but won’t connect to SEUS to repair itself.

The curious thing is, the ‘select’ button is registering somewhere in the unit, as when the screen dims and I hold the button in, the screen comes back to life. So I’m wondering whether the little knock has scrambled the unit – I refuse to believe it’s so weak it can’t surface one drop.

Unless I can repair the unit, and I fear my skills as a precision engineer may have left me, the LiveView is a watch that essentially doubles as a buggy, near-useless wireless controller for your Android phone, And that’s being generous.

Xperia Duo

The rumour mill kicked into overdrive this afternoon with the publication of an article from International Business Times, detailing the much-rumoured Xperia Duo. It’s picking up enough buzz to have made the news on Techradar, who claim the specs are a little outlandish. I don’t think so, at all:
  • A 4.5 screen is a pinch bigger than the HTC Sensation. So, it probably can be done.
  • A 1.4 GHz DC processor? The best (HTC Sensation/Samsung Galaxy S2) are running at 1.2 but the natural evolution of technology means it can be done.
  • LED Flash? Done
  • 1080p video recording on a mobile? Done – HTC Sensation setting the benchmark again.
  • 1.5GB of RAM? Not done, probably possible but given SE don’t like to give too much RAM, I’d say this is at least 500MB over the top.
  • 2500mAh battery? Mugen Power offer significant battery upgrades but these come at a cost of an increase size to the handset, which SE won’t want to compromise on.
  • Rumours abound of 8GB or 16GB memory cards with the phones. Personally I hope it’s the latter as 12MP stills and full-HD videos are going to eat space like there’s no tomorrow.
It’s all interesting stuff, the vast majority of which may be bullshit. Bearing this is mind, even though the story only broke today, it’s generating significant enough buzz to have warranted a full story on Techradar this very afternoon. And a post here on my blog. And probably a load more stories (one here) as well before the week is out.
I really hope this phone turns out to be more than just a rumour. Consumer reports indicate the Play hasn’t sold very well at all which, seeing as though SE appear to have pinned their hopes on the Play more than say, the Arc or Neo, isn’t really the success story they’re hoping for. 
With the release of the HTC Sensation, the Motorola Atrix and LG Optimus 2X having occurred from March – June, the time is right for SE to bring out a handset to quite thoroughly trounce the aforementioned handsets – and wrestle the iPhone 5 for the position of the best and most desirable handset of the year. SE – it’s over to you.

Data Monitor

At the Test Lab meet last week we were shown some new phones; the Ray and the two new Minis. Inspecting the software for these I found a couple new apps in the app drawer. One that caught my attention is Data Monitor.

It basically does exactly what it says on the tin, monitors the mobile data going to and from your phone. You can set alarms and things to notify you when you go over your allowance. For those on small data plans this is a very useful tool.

There are other apps out there that can do the same thing, but I think it’s interesting SE have developed this app and I get the feeling this is the first in a line of in-house apps that I think are going to compete with other third-party apps on the Market.

Video calling, Facetime and all that jazz.

Ever since FaceTime was announced last year as a ‘new’ feature for the iPhone 4/iOS4, I’ve wondered why we keep coming back to video calling?

Let’s be honest, video calling isn’t all that new. It’s been around in various forms, believe it or not, for nearly 80 years. So Apple proudly boasting about FaceTime being innovative yada yada yada is really a load of tosh; my great-grandmother, the inimitable Nanny Biscuits, has been around longer than video calling.

My first dalliance with the technology was back in 2005 when I got my Sony Ericsson k800i handset. At the time, the technology in mobiles was VERY new and I was very much in the minority. As I recall didn’t get much chance to test it until late 2006/2007 and even then, just four years ago, I wasn’t all that impressed. It was blocky, it was done over 3G/UMTS networks and it really just wasn’t very good unless your phone was specifically built for it. To be honest, I thought the idea of video calling on mobiles had largely been abandoned by the end of 2007!

Fast forward three years and Apple, in yet another attempt to lay claim to something they didn’t invent, introduce FaceTime to the iPhone 4 as a ‘new’ technology. It might be new – to iPhones – but it only works with iPhones so is useless to anyone who is able to think outside the box and get a real smartphone.

Skype Mobile is bringing video calling to Android-based mobiles in a big way, as is Android 2.3.4 which brings standard video calling. I’ve no intention of making a video call using my data plan but I have experimented with Skype-to-Skype video calling using a webcam and the front-facing camera of the fabulous Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo.

It was a good experience, much better than in 2007. It’s on a par with using Skype on a computer, the connection was nice and steady, good picture, good sound. Much better, in fact, than the new video messaging service from Facebook…room for improvement there for sure..!

Time will tell whether video-calling really takes off again, but I think with the prevalence of WiFi in so many homes these days, we could see more people having face to face conversations and I reckon a significant portion of these will be done through a mobile phone.

As a further note, the upcoming Xperia Ray and the Xperia Pro handsets both feature a front-facing camera and will definitely be worth a purchase to take advantage of the ability to video call with Skype from anywhere on the planet with a decent WiFi connection. These handsets are expected to launch in September/October.

The Path of Neo

The release history of the Neo has been interesting. It first had a hands-on review back in early February with TechRadar and they said reasonably nice things.

The handset was due for release at the same time as the Arc and Play, though sadly the terrible disaster in Japan affected supply of crucial components and delayed the release until July. Techradar reviewed the handset properly at the end of June, here, and gave it 3.5 stars out of 5. Their main dislike? Some sort of problem with headphones – I don’t feel this is a good enough reason to mark a phone down, especially when I’ve had no problems using headphones with the phone or with Bluetooth attachments.

Electric Pig did something similar when reviewing the Neo, here, they marked it down claiming the handset didn’t know where it should sit.

My opinion of these reviews are that certain publications are only too happy to give Sony Ericsson and their handsets a good kicking at every opportunity. Granted, SE may well give these publications a reason from time to time, but most of the time it’s a pity this bashing occurs…

A real pity, as after almost a  week of using the Neo I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the balls. It’s my preferred handset. The Arc may well be slick and sexy, and while the Neo may well be it’s cheaper, stubbier cousin, it rocks harder than the Arc.

Sporting a metallic blue finish and some considerable heft in the hand, the Neo feels better – sturdier – straightaway. It also packs in ALL the features of the Arc into a smaller, less cumbersome housing; features including: 

  • 1GHz processor, 
  • 8.1MP Exmor R camera, 
  • HDMI-out
  • Mobile Bravia Engine 

And still manages to produce a fabulous wild-card; a front-facing camera. Testing out Skype-to-Skype video calling the other night (from PC to phone) was very interesting and rewarding – this is something that should’ve been on the Arc and the Play as it’s brilliant! Other advantages over the Arc:

  • Less cumbersome size of the phone
  • Headphone socket on top of the phone, not on the side. Fits in the pocket better.
  • All other sockets on the top of the phone
  • Camera more centrally located on the body, less chance of covering the lens with a finger.
Dislikes:
  • Message notification light is STILL on the side of the phone – WHY?! The Arc has a proximity sensor on the front plate, the Neo has TWO? Whatever for? One of these could’ve been ditched for a proper notification light which could be viewed from pretty much any angle.
  • Earpiece is a little small, could’ve done with being at least twice the size.


That’s it! Two gripes, neither of which were picked up on by major publications. I don’t know why Electric Pig slated the handset as much as they did in their biased review – well, I do – they are iPhone fanboys after all – it does everything the Arc did and more; personally I think, had fate not dealt it’s awful blow in Japan, the Neo should’ve been released with the Play and the Arc kept as a luxury upgrade if people wanted it.

In short – you need the Neo in your life. It’s awesome.


I recommend one of these cases, they’re the business too.