Friday, 30 October 2015

Apple Music Review

Apple Music Review.

First off, this is going to be a real review and not a regurgitation of an Apple press release.  This is why it’s coming now some weeks in, it takes time to use a service to play with it, to figure out how it works and how it meshes with you.  It also should take time for it to get used to you, for it to learn what you like, what you don’t and how you want to use it. It’s a two way street but let’s just hope that shall be a fruit full one.  With that said, lets plough onwards and see what it’s like shall we.

Logging in the first time, card details duly updated so that should I forget to cancel it it’ll start billing me automatically. (Though I note that apparently US$10 is the same as £10 to Apple.)   Still it’s a 3 month free trial so that should be easily ample time.  That done I’m presented with a bunch of red circles.  They each have music types, such broadly sweeping one word titles.  I mean just what is “world” music?  Do they mean hippies in a forest banging sticks or some French lady, Gauloises barely clinging to her lips?  These sorts of categories just ever make sense to me, why not use more descriptive terms like vocal centric, bass driven, slow and melodic, etc etc?

Ah next up some artists, this is much more constructive stuff.  However clicking More Artists does essentially nothing, repeated pressings change a couple of names but it’s not worth the bother.

It is at this point I realise that it’s uploading my music collection currently in Itunes.  There is about 60GB, I halt this immediately, frankly it would have been nice if it said it was going to do that, or better yet ask if I wanted it to.

Clicking in a playlist it recommends, “Chilled Out R&B” I click a track that I recognise.  Nothing happens.  2 min later, still nothing’s happened.  Hmm, I click another track.  Ah, after a couple of min it starts to play so I try the first one again.  Nothing.  Am I missing something or does this suck?  A restart later and 30 min in and I’ve still not yet seen a song that I recognise or heard anything I like.  Have apple not used my “genius” information to find or suggest anything I might like?  And what is with the painfully slow song skipping?  I know I don’t have a great connection but it’s always lightning fast on Deezer and Spotify, are Apple’s servers getting hammered maybe?

I am not impressed.  So not impressed.  After tiring of trying to find playlists that don’t suck I search for a band I like, ahh there is a “band” Radio option.  Cool, that should play stuff like them right?  Hmm Apple it seems have gone the bother of putting the “F you Google plus” song from Youtube on here.  Apple this is screaming childish and petty. 

Compatibility:  It works in Itunes so, OSX and widows are covered.  Phone wise, no Windows, Android they say is coming but it’s not yet.  iOS has it but only on 8.4 and later so you have to have one of the up to date versions.  Unlike every other service, it doesn’t work just through a browser.  In short, a computer or and Iphone is what you need.  Even Apple TV doesn’t work with it, its promised to be coming, like the Android app this autumn which is nice and narrow a time frame.

Musical Range:  They claim to have millions, over 30 million they say.  I’m sure they do, though if its 30 million songs you don’t like, they do have things I like if I search for them but it just seems so reluctant to play anything I actually like.  It doesn’t have to be old songs I know, just anything that doesn’t have me thinking “what the F is this S” and hitting the next button.  Though I’m told Taylor Swift is on there if that matters to you.

If I actively search for something specific it is mostly always there, although I should not that the search feature is rubbish.  If you accidently typo something it offers you nothing.  It tells you that nothing was found and that’s it.  No suggestions close to what you typed.

Quality:  Having previously played with Tidal and its lossless quality I had mixed hopes about the Apple offering.  They claim the output will be 256kbit AAC files.  Now that should be mostly good enough.  However, more than once even through my speakers the treble was a scratchy mess.  While my speakers aren’t rubbish they don’t hold a candle to the headphones I have and I’m a little bit shocked.  256bit AAC should be good enough that I can’t notice high end breakup just with the speakers.  Have they done something to the tracks?  Maybe tried to bump up the volume, dynamically compressing and flat lining acoustic spikes as is often found in the treble ranges? 

Windows application:  Otherwise known as Itunes.  Honestly I wish they were separate applications as they seem to blend a little too much but I guess this is what Apple want.   Anyway, since this is not an Itunes review, I’m not going to comment on it really, you will have used Itunes before.  The consensus seems to be that Apple fans think it’s great, anyone who uses windows seem to think it’s an abomination that needs to killed with fire.

Browser: Unlike every other music streaming service Apple music insists you use Itunes on a computer.  No browser support.  That has plus points like my hard coded play / skip buttons working with it but it means you must install the bloated beast that is Itunes.

Android:  Apple have said that an android version is coming.  They however are fairly closed lip about when that may happen.

iOS:  Well the app it fine.  The service is still awful.

Other Streaming:  It’s Apple and they don’t play nice with others.

Musical Range:  Well in theory it has a huge range and when I manually search for things it’s got loads of stuff.  It’s highly varied too like the acoustic master piece that was “***** You Google Plus” 

I say in theory because in use it’s seemed to me to have a very clear intention that I would like what is profitable for them and therefor they were going to keep throwing it at me until I grew to love it. 

I did not.

Value:  Well it’s poor.  It costs vastly more in the UK for no good reason and on that basis alone I’d tell them where they can go.  Granted the Family plan is slightly less bad value.  If you’re in the US then the value is much better.  I still wouldn’t buy it though, a bucket of sh*te is still a bucket of sh*te no matter the price.

Conclusion:  I should be writing more words but frankly, I can’t be arsed.  The service just sucks.  Like Apple are so fond of doing, they act like they know best and they are going to give me what they think I should like, not what I want.  Maybe if I had no idea about the range of music out in the world then maybe that would work. 

However I do know what’s out there, I like lots of things but Apple music consistently opted to throw crap at me a hated.  How I don’t know.  It’s like they looked at my iTunes playlist that is regularly uploaded to the mothership and said, okay here’s what he likes.  Let’s not play anything like it.

So would I pay for it?  No.  It was terrible quite frankly and this review accelerated because I traditionally use a reviewing thing while I’m writing up said review.  I want it gone, I am growing to loathe it and will be glad to see the back of it.  Apple have another Ping on their hands with this one.

Apple Music Quick Review

Apple Music Quick Review

Brief:  Ping 2.0

Price:  10 Currency Units for month, 15 for a family plan.  £ or US$ Apple don’t care.

Specifications:  Apple will stream at just 256k AAC.  Granted AAC is better than mp3 but still.  Can’t you afford the bandwidth Apple?

Platforms:  It works on Itunes so OSX and Windows are fine, iOS naturally works and were told Android will too, sometime, eventually.

Variety:  The number say Apple music has a huge range, as big as the other big players but…… it seemed to want to keep throwing the same crap at me over and over again.  As though Apple thought I was incapable of knowing what I didn’t like and kept pushing and pushing.  I ended up either picking my own albums or setting it to the Disney music channel.

Sound Quality:  The audio quality itself is so so.  256k AAC isn’t awful and while I’d have liked to see higher the sad fact is most users wouldn’t notice the difference.  Most users wouldn’t have anything that’s good enough to make the bit rate the limiting factor. The quality is “fine” but really I see no reason why its not 320k AAC, why Apple, why????

Value:  Don’t buy it.  So it is in theory alright value if you’re in the US and you take the family plan but what your buying is rubbish.  Deezer or Spotify are simple vastly superior products.

Pro’s:  My media control buttons work in iTunes.

Con’s:  The music prediction abilities are spectacularly bad.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 Review

Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 Review

Thanks to Vodafone UK for the loaner.

First Impressions:  The Smart Ultra 6 isn’t a brand new device and neither in the one that I have here.  It box is, a box.  It’s all natural unglossy card which I still find I like.  It’s a brave move in what’s obviously a budget device, risking that people will think it’s a cost choice rather than an environmental sustainability one.  So there is the phone, as it is in most boxes.  The underside of it hiding the manuals and junk you’ll never look at, then below that the accessories.  Grrrr, I see they are white.  Is it a white phone I have here?  No it bloody well isn’t so why oh why are the accessories white?!?!?!??  I hate that, hate it deeply.  Personally it means if it was mine to keep they would be remaining in the box for all time.  There is a white UK plug with a USB socket, a micro USB cable and some white, Apple esq ear phones.  Hmm, by the look of them they can stay in the box too.  I really would rather phones came with no earphones rather than ones that are total poo.

Powering the phone up, it’s a big old thing and I can’t help but mentally flash, Iphone 6.  Black face with the flash of silver round the outside.  Sides all rounded and smooth.  In fairness all phones are not exactly wildly different from one another.  Its light though, plastic does that and I can never decide if I like phones to be light or heavy like the P8000 I have here also.  It’s quite nice really though the back is just so smooth, I would have liked some soft touch coating for grip.  I feel the need for case with some grip to it.

Screen looks nice, as do the buttons on the bottom and it is very, VERY welcome to see that ZTE/Vodafone have put the buttons in the right order and not the idiotic backward way Samsung puts them.  Back on the left, home in the middle and then multitasking button on the right.

Hardware:  Looking up the specifications and it’s got some really nice bits inside.  It’s what I’d call the upper / mid-range with its Snapdragon 615, 2GB of RAM, 5.5 inch screen that is a full HD (1920 x 1080) 13MP camera on the back and a 5MP pixel on the front.  In fact the only bit of hardware I would say is in the slightest lacking is that it doesn’t support 5GH WiFi.  That’s it, that really is the only thing I felt was lacking full stop, never mind taking into account the thing costs only £130.  ZTE (the people who actually make the thing) really have packed in a heck of a lot for the pennies.  I don’t know if Voda is making a profit on the handsets, I suspect they aren’t as its exclusive to them.  If you want this handset you have to buy it from Vodafone.

Storage wise it comes with the more or less standard 16GB.  I can’t really complain at that, it’s a big step up in usability from just 8GB that is still often found in cheap handsets.  Ahh but it also comes with a micro SD card slot which they say will take up to 64GB.  I dare say it would also take a 128 but I don’t have one to try.  In fairness 64 is rather a lot and if you’re buying a “cheap” handset your probably not buying 128GB cards anyway.

CPU and GPU are on paper pretty good.  Lord knows I’m not one that gets caught up in benchmark number as I think we have reached the phone plateau.  Just as with computers before them, once there was a time that you needed the fasted each and every year because they were simply too slow for what we wanted.  Now for most normal users they really don’t need a quarter of what the most powerful computers can do and now, with phones everyone no longer needs the “best” available.  The innards here reflect that they are good enough, they feel fast and smooth in everyday use.  Not once did I find myself wanting.  It’s a phone, I’m not running some 4 million cell excel spreadsheet or running Photoshop. 

Running the updated 3DMARK ”Slingshot using ES3.0” the phone scored just 140.  My aging nexus 5 scored 1006.  The positively ancient Nexus 4 got 329.  My Moto G 4G however scrapped in at 52 and lastly the P8000 (a prime competitor to the Ultra 6) came in at 179.  Compared to the Nexus, very old Nexii the Ultra 6 looks very poor but benchmarks are intended to push the limits of hardware.

Firing my own “benchmark” Asphalt 8 I put on high graphics and ran the first race.  It ran it perfectly.  No stuttering or juddering, so to me it would seem capable of running games just fine.  Granted if you’re keeping the phone for 2 years that may not be something true by the end of it.

The last curious addition, is the inclusion of NFC.  I believe all phones should have it but what really makes its addition here curious as that Vodafone offer their own NFC wallet app.  You top up your separate Voda wallet account and then you can use the phone to pay for things.  I wish Voda had slapped on a tenner or something so I could go try it and buy a coffee or something but I wasn’t adding my own money to an account I won’t then have access to shortly.  (When they take the handset back.)  Still I am pleased to see its inclusion and I’m pleased to see at least one network doing something about wireless payment.  It might have been nice if it just added the cost to your normal Voda bill / Voda call credit but hey.

Audio Software:  While Voda felt the need to have a video player it hasn’t installed an audio player.  Good.  Google Play will do nicely and naturally I’m installing Deezer too.  Of course being android there are 53 million music app’s out there for you to choose from which is just how it should be.  You can choose what works best for you, not what ZTE or Vodafone thinks is best.  Oh it does also have an FM radio in there, so err yeah if that matters to you but as its not 1973 the odds of me ever firing that up are about the same as me sprouting wings and taking flight. 

Audio Hardware:  Ahh, now things get serious.  With the track record of audio bits from the Snapdragon 400 phones I have high hopes for the 615.  My hopes are, well, not really fulfilled.  It’s not to say that they don’t sound good, they do I had hoped that being the superior and newer chipset that it would be even better but it’s just not.    As I fire up the Moto G 4G with its 400 chipset I am not really noticing much between the two of them.  In quality that is, in output power the Moto is pulling away and it can drive the Senn Momentum 2.0 Over-Ear’s I’m playing with better.  I’m hesitant to say that the treble is better but that extra power does seem to be refining them more.  Then I go back to the 6 and I may be imagining it but is it a little more open in the mids? 

Lows:  Good.  They do lack in the power department to truly drive and sustain low end, taught and lithe.  It is best when it’s punching or softening at the depths.  The fact is that several years ago the quality level is what I’d have expected from a DAP at this price range.  That it’s just a tack on feature is a little bit of a modern marvel.  I mean I’m sitting here using a pair of headphones that cost significantly more than the Ultra 6 does, quite happily listening to the tracks the Deezer is throwing my way.  I’m enjoying it.  It feels unkind to point out the areas where it slips up a little.  It’s such a little trier, it’s trying so hard to be as good as the bigger boys.  It’s really trying its itty bitty little heart out.

Ultimately it hasn’t the capacitance and electrical power to hold a powerful, low reaching low down into the acoustic depths and when you crank the volume dial (and I can pretty much max it) it’s such a valiant effort but….. ultimately, here is a reason why audiophiles buy separate amps and DAP’s.

Mids:  It’s arguably the easy bit and again it’s trying its soul out.  It’s really, really trying its very damnedest to be as good as it can possibly be.  In cleanly simple acoustic stuff its really nice too.  I could live with this if I had to.  I almost want to say there is a little tiny fraction more cream to the mids than in the 400.   There seems to be a tiny bit of energy sapping and a push towards the sumptuous and smooth.  It’s no secret that is playing to my personal tastes.  I like just that sort of vocal style.  Lingering and delicate, though there is a hint of air, they lack the detail to truly be called airy.  They cream, smoothly on the ear but it’s a light, single cream with a splash of milk.  Adel like.

It’s not what I’d pick for gym use as it’s just not quite got the edge and speed for that.  Though you could get it by paring it with something sensitive and rather dry.  Something like the DBA-02 would liven it up dramatically.  I should really fish it out and try but I’m not.  I’m joying them as is and with the DBA-02 I won’t.

Highs:  Good.  However its caveated, it’s good for a phone.  I never at any point fount their treble playback to be offensive to my delicate ears but I opted not to push it.  The clarity as is, is very good for what it is and I cannot justifiably complain about it.

Still for all its accomplishments, when you pair it to something that costs more than the phone itself does you do hear its shortcomings.  The detail is good but not amazing, the extension is again good but not amazing.  It actually rolls away quite notably and dampens the hard metallic edges that should be there.  It’s just not got the power to shift a drive with the speed the best requires.  Not that your typical pairings are going to be capable of displaying that anyway so you could argue it doesn’t matter.  The simple fact of the matter is thus, highs are the hardest bit to do and cheap stuff doesn’t nail it.  If it could then there wouldn’t be £1000 DAP’s out there.

Soundstage/Instrument separation:  Nice.  It hasn’t the power needed to really shine in separation but its soundstage is nicely full and rounded.  It’s nice. Not awesome but pleasantly enjoyable to sit and listen to.  Scale is moderately big, think small church hall sorta scale. 

Battery Life:  Well it’s hard to truly assess given there are so many factors that alter the battery life you’ll get.  Signal strength is a huge one, if you scrape a signal your phone will drain itself dry due to the increased power output needed over being next to a mast.  Then there is what you have installed.  App’s will run, consume power, especially if they use data.  Then there is the big one, the screen.  You keep that baby powered up and you can practically watch the battery gauge drop.  Spec sheet says it’s a 3000mAh battery which is fairly good.  I got a good couple days before I really needed to charge it.  Still, for comfort sake I’d still charge nightly.

However I feel I must note that in the battery consumption chart, Vodafone Updates, Direct Accessories, Call+  & Message +  were all in there as being significant battery eaters.  That did not please me.  I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to Call+ & Message+ and presume that it contained all my phone calling.  However Vodafone Updates and even more so, Direct Accessories, I can’t forgive.  That Voda’s accessory shop should appear on the battery consumption list is unforgivable. 

Build Quality:  Nice.  It was all very cleanly put together, seams all perfectly tight, all very neat.  The screen looks lovely, the little buttons at the bottom light up most pleasingly and evenly.  There is nothing that I have any issues with.  However, I’m not one of those people who equates heavy as being “well built” as the Ultra 6 is not heavy.  It’s plastic and as such its very light in the hand.  The Ultra 6 feels VERY light.  It’s a big thing but in the hand it feels like it weighs practically nothing.  So the plastic construction won’t be loved by all.  Personally my only issue was that the plastic backing was smooth.  It felt so light, so smooth, like it could just fly out of my hand at any moment or a gust of wind would carry it away.  I don’t know what a soft touch backing would have cost but for V2 I’d suggest Voda go for something with more grip.  In fairness if it was mine to keep adding a more grippy case would solve the issue of course.

UI:  The wonderful thing and simultaneously the worst thing about Android is that you can change the User Interface.  In android speak they are called Launchers.  Is it me or is the Launcher used Stock Android?  I am stunned.  I remember the Sonyericsson K700 I had back in the day, with something like 12 shortcuts to “Vodafone Live” now sure Voda have added a few apps but it’s very refreshing that they have used plain old Android from Google.  Naturally it lasted all of 1 day before I installed Nova Launcher.  Still the Voda apps they add on for you are mostly removable.  Though the only one I really wanted to get rid off was that battery eating “Direct Accessories” on the whole I’m really impressed with Vodafone not trying to coat it in Voda junk that users don’t want like they did with old K700.  A big thumbs up from me here.

In The Hand:  I like it, it’s very comfortable with its rounded edges, it’s a little big for my hands but what isn’t these days.  It’s not an amazing, wow look at me device. It is nice.  In every way that matters I just keep coming back to nice, it’s really pleasant to use.  My only misgiving is its slightly slippy nature but if it was mine I’d just slap a case on it.  That back is just too smooth for me, I feel like it want to fly out of my hand if given half the chance.

Format Support:  It Android, it plays anything you want.

Volume:  I am not one for cranking the volume to silly levels so for me it was fine.  However I regularly had it at the upper reaches of its volume output.  Higher up the scale than I would on most devices.  While I was happy it may not quite be loud enough for all.  Of course it greatly depends on what your plugging into it which I why I loathe that moronic French “volume” cap law.  It’s like a law saying you can only have one coffee per morning, so everyone just starts using giant 2 litre mugs.  Idiocy from idiot law makers, nothing new I know but still.

Accessories:  Well as touched upon earlier, I loathe with a passion companies that bundle white accessories with a black phone.  Hate it, hate it, hate it, there is no excuse for it whatsoever.  Here they also include some white earphones that not only do I hate visually, I’m not putting them in my ears.  I mean if your going to bundle what clearly are rubbish just don’t bother, it’s a waste of money.  Let people buy their own earphones.  Anyway……. Moving on to what’s otherwise available I am pleasantly surprised.  Being a network exclusive I’d expected the case and screen protector option to be limited but there would seem to be plenty on eBay.  In fact there is a very nice selection available so if you’re like me and buy 3 cases for every phone you should have plenty of options.

Speaker:  Well anyone using a phone speaker for music needs to be shot but, if your wanting to watch a little TV show or something in your lonely hotel room while away for work, then you sorta could.   The volume is so so and in MX Player where you can over drive the volume its fine.  However pulling up Netflix and slapping on The Good Wife, it is too quiet.  Even in a silent room it’s not comfortably loud enough to watch stuff on Netflix.

Camera:  The numbers say a 13MP rear and a 5MP on the front.  Both pretty big for a cheap handset.  Now as I’ve mentioned before, I am not a camera person so I really can’t speak with any authority on the matter.  For my eyes they look pretty reasonable and by what I’ve read other think so too.  I mean it can’t compare to a real, proper camera much like it can’t compete with a high quality DAP.  To me it looks good enough to use and be happy with.

Reception:  It’s hard to be exact on the reception ability as Vodafone is not my normal network so I don’t know where the questionable signal spots are so I can’t really say what is network and what in phone.  However….. it’s been rather good.  For some reason today as I write this it has taken somewhat of a nose dive and signal strength is flitting between full bars and two bars.  The throughput has taken a dive too and is only giving me about 12mbit down and about the 14mbit up.  So while I say it’s taken a dive it’s not exactly unusably slow!!!  Even in this state it’s down load speed as about twice what my land connection can get me and is a dozen times better than my upload.  Still, with the phone being plastic clad and not metal I would expect it to a little better than most of holding onto a signal.

The Good:  Value.  The phone is a middling to upper ish range device but with a middling to low end price tag.  There isn’t anywhere I feel the device stands out as being great, maybe its screen which is a full HD, 1920 x 1080.  That’s the same number of pixels as your 42 inch TV has but in your hand, for the budget the screen is probably the single most impressive feature.  The whole however is that the Ultra 6 is just better in every aspect than you would think you should get from a device with its price tag, nothing is exceptional but it skimps nowhere, everything is better than it deserves to be.

The Bad:  Well there isn’t really anything that’s bad.  If anything it’s the backing, it’s just too slippy for my liking but if I was keeping it I’d put a case on anyway.  That’s it.  Well, maybe that it’s tied to Vodafone could be an issue for some if Vodafone is poo where you live or you simply don’t live in the UK.  I’m really struggling to find anything bad.

Value:  All the reviews I’ve seen of the Ultra 6 all declare it to be super good value.  It is.  The “no ifs no buts” it’s the new “Orange San Francisco,” it’s beyond good for what it costs.  It is very probably the single best value phone you can buy in the UK, in a shop, right now.

Conclusion:  The Ultra 6 is a crazy good value device.  Plain and simply if I was looking for a new phone and I could only have one, this would have to be a contender.  It’s not just cheap, its sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cheap.  You put this phone next to any phone, no matter how expensive and there just isn’t anywhere it falls behind except in benchmarks.  It really can’t match the most powerful CPU and GPU’s but who expects it to????  it’s what, maybe a quarter  of the price of flagships?  The Iphone 6s Plus starts at £620 and it can’t take a micro SD card.  That’s £500 more expensive!!!

Price really is the headliner feature of the Ultra 6.  Its specs are all amazing for the price, not as absolutes in themselves.  The price therefore is key, utterly central to how you must think of the Ultra 6. It is the defining aspect that means you will buy it or not.  You can get the same specs, better specs in a variety of other places.  You can even pretty much the same specs from other devices if you look hard enough but I have never found one to be available in the UK high-street.  The closest I could find was the Sony M4 Aqua but its £200 and only has a 1280 x 720 screen.  Upon asking one the helper chaps at The Carphone Warehouse, when I asked if there was anything they know of comparable the reply was “There unfortunately is nothing comparable from other networks.”

I believe that is the core of the Ultra 6.  There just is nothing available in the UK for the other networks that can compete with it.  Its specs are outstanding for the money, it is that simple.  It may not be the world greatest phone but I cannot think of anything that represents better value for money.

Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 Quick Review

Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 Quick Review

Thanks to Vodafone UK for the loaner.

Brief:  The new Orange San Francisco from Vodafone.

Price:  £125 PAYG or “free” from contracts starting at £17 a month.

Specifications:  As Voda themselves area little Spartan with the details the best source as ever is GSM Arena

Accessories:  Infuriatingly this black phone comes with white bits.  Charger, micro USB cable and a pair of ear buds.  I loathe that, it’s a black phone, come with black accessories for god sake!  Anyway they are all easily swapped for ones to my tastes that I already have.  Then hitting up eBay there is a very good selection of cases and bits, literally thousands.  I do love random eBay cases for phones and it’s nice to see a relatively rare, carrier phone get some accessory love.

Build Quality:  It’s good.  Though if you are one of those that equates heavy with quality then you won’t be pleased, its exceedingly light in the hand.  It feels like it could blow away in a stiff breeze but the fit and finish is nice.  It’s just super light plastic.  The back however, it’s too smooth and I felt really could have done with a soft touch finish for grip.

Aesthetics:  It looks like an Iphone.  I can’t say that makes me swoon, actually it’s a little off putting.  It looks so much like a phone trying to look like an Iphone to me it says, I wanted an Iphone but I couldn’t afford one.  That is a shame as its really nice device.  Just visually, it’s got no personality of its own.

As a phone:  Very good, actually very, very good.  CPU is good enough to always feel snappy, likewise the GPU can manage to Run Asphalt 8 on high with no problems. (Antutu score of 25978 and Geekbench 3 score of 638 and 2289.) Its 1080p screen is VERY good, a tremendous showing for a budget handset.  To think it’s got the same number of pixels as your 42 inch TV does. Is that not a modern marvel?  Its battery could easily see me through a normal day.   In fact the only thing I missed was 5GHz WiFi support but then I remember it’s an el cheapo phone.  The specs just don’t belong to that of cheap device.  God if it just had a more grippy back it would be just about everything I want in a phone.  Then it seals the deal with practically stock Android on top and Vodfone seriously have a phone that is worth changing networks to get.

Sound:  It’s fine.  However like the camera, it’s nice and probably better than you expect, certainly than you expect for the money.  But….. I wanted an improvement over the DAC with the Snapdragon 400 and there isn’t any, if anything this here falls behind the aging little Moto G 4G.  Not that most normal would notice or find anything to complain about.  Its overall quality is good but when you stretch things, you pair with harder to drive things and it begins to show up that the little capacitors in there aren’t as big as I might want.  If anything it’s that the phone is so amazingly good else where I wanted the same to hold true for the audio and it doesn’t.  It’s good for sure but I wanted amazing.  Mids are really nice mind, a dab of cream splashed in that paired ever so nicely with the likes of Nora Jones.  Lovely for sure but in a phone I think a more assertive, gym like bounce might be more appropriate for its audience.

Value:  Off the charts.   For what you get, for what you pay it has me wondering if Vodafone is taking a hit on every one it sells.  For its price tag the Ultra 6 is hands down the king of value right new. 

Pro’s:  Insanely good value.  Specs are stupendous. 

Con’s:  Vodafone exclusive, if you live somewhere without Voda UK signal (like America.)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

OUKITEL A28 Smart Watch Review

OUKITEL A28 Smart Watch Review

First Impressions:  As I have already taken a “First Look” at the A28 I knew somewhat to expect.  That is I mean aside from it looking suspiciously like an Asus Zen watch.  Which frankly I think is a good thing, not least of which because I’m already convinced that if you’re going to have a smart watch, displaying text, then you should put it on a rectangular screen.  There is a good reason we don’t make round books people!  The fact is writing doesn’t do well on a round screen so I’m really hoping this is the cure to be greatest issue with the Sun S2.

The box, its typical watch shaped, squarish and in that raw card “natural” which is kinda nice.  The inside though is nothing fancy.  You get the watch situated as you would expect and then under there are the charging cradle thingy and a cable.  The cradle is pretty good, it holds the watch firmly in place and leaves no doubt it’s actually on charge.  Still Qi would have been preferable.  No comment on Micro USB or not, it’s ugly for sure to have but then you have cables everywhere, you don’t have multiple cradles.

Specifications:  Brand: OUKITEL, Built-in chip type: MTK2502, Bluetooth version: Bluetooth 4.0, RAM: 128M, ROM: 32M, Waterproof Rating: Life water resistance, Bluetooth calling: Phonebook, Call log sync, Phone call reminder, Answering, Dialing Messaging: Message reminder, Message checking, Health tracker: Sleep monitor, Pedometer, Sedentary reminder, Heart rate monitor, Remote control: Camera remote, Music remote, Notification: Yes, Find phone: Yes, Other functions: Alarm, Calculator, Calender, Voice recorder, Groups of alarm: 5 sets, Alert type: Ring, Vibration, Locking screen : 4 kinds, Screen: IPS, Screen resolution: 240 x 240 px, Screen size: 1.54 inch, Battery type: Li-polymer battery, Battery capacity: 250mAh, Standby time: About 100 hours

They do give you far more specs of the thing but there is a limit to what’s useful.  It’s nice though that you get every detail imaginable. 

Was there anything that stood out there?  Not especially, I did like the “Life Water Resistance” as I’ve no idea what that’s supposed to mean.  I am presuming its fine for the rain, washing your hands but do not go swimming.  Also I didn’t mention the straps, I got the black strapped silver faces one but as they use standard watch strap fittings, you can whip it off and change it to anything you fancy (hear that Motorola, Sony, standard watch strap fitting!!!)

Screen:  Praise be its square.  You really don’t grasp how much the display of text benefits from a square screen.  Shape aside though the screen is otherwise nothing terribly special.  It’s nice, reasonably bright, colours look rather natural for me.  I’d have preferred bumped up colour saturation for icons but I can’t say being natural is a flaw.  Viewing angles, in short are perfect.  Turn it far as you like and it doesn’t colour distort so big kudos there.  Then double kudos as its perfectly usable in its lowest power state and its super bright at its highest power state.  For a dirt cheap product you expect a crap screen but it’s really quite good.

UI:  Well I’ve long said, China and most of the Far East in general (Sony is the exception) that companies can nail the hardware but they just can’t do software.  The UI here is pretty reasonable and obvious.  Still there are some oddities, I mean do we really need a file manager?  On the whole however it’s pretty innocuous, it’s got the obvious things clearly tagged and sensibly located.  It could do with more than 3 themes though and it sure as hell could be with more fascias.  It numbers only 4 and frankly, I don’t like any of them.  Not only don’t I like them but they are just plain and simply crap.  They all are simply completely naff stylistically making no use of anything, like giving the pretend red LED one faint traces of the LED’s that are pretending to be there but not lit up.  Why?!?!?!?!?!?  The mostly black face with the faux greyed bits of background?!?!?!?!? Why would you do this?!?!?!? It looks terrible and it’s just plain idiocy.  Then we come to the one that has a couple of buttons, its thumbnail looks nothing like its actual fascia once selected.  It gives you the time, date and call and phonebook button.  Useful, right?  Then it slaps above it “Company mode” why would you do this?????  It looks terrible.  It does to me anyway.  The fascia options are a real disappointment to me.

Features:  It’s got pretty much all the “smart watch” things you would expect to be there.  Pedometer, sleep monitor, heart rate monitor, call and message notifier, an audio control app.  The couple I think are more unexpected are the camera control app, whereby you can take photos on your phone but you use the watch as the viewfinder.  Now be warned the picture quality is rubbish and its frame rate is terrible.  It’s having to stream video over its Bluetooth connection which it’s just not meant for.  Still it’s an interesting feature even if I don’t know why you would use it.  I mean maybe if you were pairing it up to a great camera, on a tripod but for your phone?  What’s more curious still is I like it, not that I’d ever use it but it is just plain cool that you can.  The other nifty thing is that you can make and take call on it.  It’s got a little built in mic and speaker.  As features go I recognise that it’s silly, that it’s more convenient to hold the phone to your face than to hold your wrist up nearing your face.  That may be useful on TV shows where you need the audience to hear both sides of the call but in real life?  Do I see myself ever using this feature?  No, no I do not.  However the 10 year in me just loves that you can make a phone call from your watch however impractical it may be.

Build Quality:  I like it.  The strap they say is real leather which it may be, but I’m not wild about it.  I just don’t like that faux crocodile pattern it’s had embossed on it.  A plain simple flat strap would have appealed more to me.  Still if you don’t like the strap you can just remove it and put on any normal watch strap.  The watch bit though is really nice.  It’s all metal and glass, it feels lovely and far beyond its itty bitty price tag. (Much nicer that the Sun S2 in my opinion.)

Usability:  Tied so much to the UI but its square screen makes it really easy to touch things and what’s more its touch screen is nicely accurate.  That the screen is out there in front, no big bezel sticking out to get in your fingers way it’s just so easy to hit what you want.  Then to swipe, again with no bezel sticking up your finger can slide from side to side just as easy as you like.  Firing up the camera remote control worked great, the call making option worked perfectly (though scrolling through your address book on a tiny screen isn’t a joyful experience.)  It’s amazing just how much of a difference the square and flat screen of the A28 makes to usability.  It’s a pleasure to use.  Oh and I must also mention its vibrator, it’s really good, very noticeable when it shakes your wrist to notify you.  That is what I most want a connected watch for too.

Battery:  They claim it as 100 hours.  So that’s 4 days, which seems a reasonable claim to make.  The thing is if you have that screen powered up a lot then it will eat through that battery much quicker so don’t just assume you’re going to get 4 days, i.e. check your battery levels.  This however, sadly, is a bit of a chore.  For some reason that utterly escapes me the front fascia’s do not display the battery life.  If you want to see it you have to go into the app drawer.  I know it’s not that hard but it’s a stupid annoyance that just emphasises how rubbish the facia options are.   So I would say if you’re not planning to use the sleep monitor function, then just charge the thing every night.  If you miss a night you’ll be fine but just get into the habit of charging when you sleep.

Connectivity:  Bluetooth 4.0.  So that’s the low powered one, so as long as your phone supports it you’re good.  In terms of keeping connected, the A28 was pretty good with the Moto G.  I did try it initially with the Huawei P8 but it has documented Bluetooth “issues” and they regularly stopped talking.  It’s ridiculous that this is an issue but it’s one I’m squarely laying at the feet of Huawei.  The G though worked great.  The Fundo app Oukitel suggest though didn’t always connect to the watch.  The phone was, calls and the handy “Find my phone” app without fail worked every time.  The Fundo app though would fail to sync randomly for no reason that I could discern.  Curiously Gearbest (where I bought it from) seem to suggest using the Meditek SmartDevice app. However as the features I cared about (call notification mostly) worked great without it I declined to wrestle with it or the potential 40 other apps that claim to work.

Value:  Well I don’t think there is any way to claim it as anything other than awesome value.  Sure it’s not a perfect device but if this has better fascia’s and a nicer strap it would be pretty much exactly what I want from a “smart watch.”  By that I mean as a call and message notifying device.  It does that very well.  It’s vibrate is good, powerful and its call handling abilities are great.  It normally goes for £37 ish but with the discount code (A28) we got it brings it down to under £33.  That’s delivered too!!!  Is it as fancy as a proper Android Wear watch or Apple watch?  Obviously it’s not but its sooooooooo cheap.  Side by side with the Sun 2 I’d pick the A28 every time with no hesitation.

Conclusion:  I like the A28.  It’s got a stupid name but I really do like it.  I like how it looks, I like how vigorous its vibrate notifyier is, I like pretty much everything about it.  Okay I don’t love the strap but that I can change.  Then the big one, the fascia’s.  They are the single greatest detractor of the A28 as they frankly are just meh, at best.  It’s something that I hope will be fixed, it’s not like they can’t update the facia options but I won’t hold my breath.  Still I don’t hate the black one.  I don’t like it but I don’t hate it, I can live with it.  It tells me the time and actually most of the time when I look at the thing it’s to see the notification displayed and not to check the time.  I simply don’t see the watch face that often for it to really upset me.

Compared with the other “wearables” I have here I find that the A28 is the one I like second best.  The fact is it’s a nice object, it’s nice to look at and it’s nice to the touch.  It’s a nice object to have strapped to you.

Would I get one, well I did.  If you don’t need the variety of Android Wear apps and just want notifications stuff then the A28 works great and its silly cheap, honestly if they would just change those fascias.  Its maddening that such a silly little thing spoils such an overall great little bundle.  Seriously Oukitel get it fixed!!! I mean how hard is it to make a not ugly facia and include a battery notification on that facia?  Still for less than £33 delivered to anywhere in the world I feel like I’m being unjust to criticise what is otherwise such a fantastic wee gadget.    I have a feeling one may feature in the nephews Christmas.

OUKITEL A28 Smart Watch Quick Review

OUKITEL A28 Smart Watch Quick Review

Brief: Zen Like watch experience

Price:  US$57 (£37.49) or with the code A28 US$50 (£33)

Specifications:  Brand: OUKITEL, Built-in chip type: MTK2502, Bluetooth version: Bluetooth 4.0, RAM: 128M, ROM: 32M, Waterproof Rating: Life water resistance, Bluetooth calling: Phonebook, Call log sync, Phone call reminder, Answering, Dialing Messaging: Message reminder, Message checking, Health tracker: Sleep monitor, Pedometer, Sedentary reminder, Heart rate monitor, Remote control: Camera remote, Music remote, Notification: Yes, Find phone: Yes, Other functions: Alarm, Calculator, Calender, Voice recorder, Groups of alarm: 5 sets, Alert type: Ring, Vibration, Locking screen : 4 kinds, Screen: IPS, Screen resolution: 240 x 240 px, Screen size: 1.54 inch, Battery type: Li-polymer battery, Battery capacity: 250mAh, Standby time: About 100 hours

Accessories:  You get a Micro USB cable and the little charging dock for the watch.

Build Quality:  The strap is fine I suppose, the watch itself however is nice.  It is all glass and metal, it feels really nice in the hand.  The strap not such but you can change it for any normal watch strap.

Comfort/Fit:  Hmm it was fine, I was never keen on leather straps on watches and it would seem that I’m still not.  However you can whip it off and change for any normal watch strap.  Otherwise it’s a watch, you get used to something on your wrist very quickly.

Aesthetics:  I like it.  It shares a look not unlike the Zen watch, which from photos was my favourite looking Android Wear watch, it was stupidly priced in the UK so I got the 360 instead.  The A28 I think is rather attractive.  Not so much the strap but that’s changeable.  I like it.

UI:  Mostly fairly reasonable.  We don’t really need the file manager and we really, really could do with the facia showing the battery level but otherwise it’s fine.  That lack of battery info unless you enter the menu is most annoying.

Functionality:  What I really want is a notification device.  I want a call or message coming in, to be brought to my attention and a phone in my pocket doesn’t always manage that.  The vibrate on the A28 is great.  Goodly vigorous and noticeable which is exactly what I’m after.  Calls and messages are displayed very well on the screen, it being square is so much more usable than round screens are.  For reading messages especially, you get who whole thing.  Sooooooooooo handy!  The other bits it can do, pedometer for instance is a bit useless.  You have to specifically turn it on.  That would work if you want to measure a run but it’s not totalling up your whole day.  The heart rate monitor is pretty good.  The sleep monitor, again you need to turn it on.  The camera control is cool but why would you use it?  The main things, the notifications, its superb at.  Calls and messages its very explicit in its display.  Telling the time it does well but its fascia’s are not very attractive and they don’t show you battery life which is annoying.  To see it you have to go into the menu then its there at the top.

Battery:  Life is good.  They claim 4 days and that seems fair but lighting up the screen a lot shortens it greatly.  It should be displayed on the main front facia but it’s not so just charge the thing every night regardless.  It should survive 2 or 3 days without but you know, just get into the habit.

Connectivity:  Good.  Didn’t like the P8 but worked great on the Moto G.    The Fundo app though wouldn’t always connect to the watch despite the phone happily communicating with it. 

Value:  Bargainlishious.  The discount code (A28) price is just US$50 which is today about £33 and that delivered anywhere in the world.  Stupid cheap for a nice object. I don’t love the strap but that can be easily changed. 

Pro’s:  Silly cheap.  Attractive looking.  Takes standard watch straps.

Con’s:  Ugly fascia’s.  Fascia’s not showing battery level. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Axgio Sprint Review

Axgio Sprint Review

Thanks to Axgio ( UK & US )

First Impressions:  Fairly simple box, don’t show off their inner shiny bit though which I don’t get why.  Anyway nothing especially interesting here.  Inside we get the buds, the charging cable and two baggies of tips.  Ooh one is some silicones’ and the other a bunch of foamies.  Yey for foam tips.  The buds have some gunmetal polished inner which I rather like.  Black plain on the outer which seems weird but whatever.  Wait, where’s the case??? No case, really?  To eBay then we go.

So after a plugging in to charge them a bit I pair them to the Iphone 5 that’s sat on my desk.  (I do like iOS’s default displaying the Bluetooth devices battery level.)  Firing up google music, oh!  It’s completely foundation less as I’ve not heard anything else today but these sound good.  Really good for some US$40 bluetooth earphone.  It got to be packing in DAC, amp battery and Bluetooth bits into a small package so I expected them to sound, so so.  First thoughts are these spank the BLU-100’s with some ease.  Damn, I thought these would be a bit meh and so a super quick thing to review.  Darn.

Source:  Not that it should matter but predominantly an Iphone 5, Moto G 4G 1st gen and a Lumia 735.  Note the Lumia supports aptX.

Lows:  Unsurprisingly they have a somewhat elevated bass response.  It’s not the most linear either, it trails off fairly rapidly and it’s got a fair bit of that mid/bass hump.  Honestly though I really don’t mind too much.  It’s a cheap product so were know were weren’t going to be getting an ER4 challenger here.  It fun, it’s rhythmic and it’s playful.  It’s not trying to be some paragon of neutrality and it just runs with it.  It’s goodly rounded with a tiny slant towards punchiness. There is a bit of bloom and softness to the impacts which I’m not sure if intentional or not.  Either way it pairs up well with the elevated scale to be big and hearty yet not overbearing.  Actually it’s really a fun and lively little bugger. Dark enough when it’s asked to be dark and soft enough when it’s asked to be rich and mellow.  I find myself really rather liking slow and sweeping tracks, such an John Steven’s rendition of “This Love” the lows being genteel, woody with a full bodied roundness.  They are really pleasant on the ear.  Flicking to Miss GaGa’s “Teeth” the bass kick it up a notch and does its best to be mean and aggressive as the track demands.  Is it quite brutal enough?  Na it’s a bit cheerfully mellow to be convincingly brutal.  Still these are supposed to be a cheap little gym / run IEM.  It’s really quite credible audio wise.

Mids:  Again I thought it should be meh yet I find myself genuinely enjoying it.  Its clearly not a top tier master but for some cheap Bluetooth thing you could really actually live with it!!!  Des’ree’s “Darwin Star” while she has to battle to sing through the wall of low end noise, she vocally belts it out.  Slicing right through like some grand master samurai sword and yet retains that faint and delicate quiver.  I think I like this more than I ought to.  Male vocals aren’t quite as well rendered as they start to bleed into the mid/bass humpy zone but the girlies are great.  The detail level and nuances are to a degree captured and not just what you need for crappy, gym motivational beat line music. 

You know maybe these are too nice, too creamy for really being gym IEM’s.  These aren’t giving me that cold, hard, grrrrr aggressiveness.  They are a big old German Shepard playing with a squeaky toy.  They aren’t the fearsome police barking and snarling at you to make you shift that backside of yours. 

Highs:  Pretty restrained.  There is a little flourish of treble shimmer of the top but it’s never near centre stage.  For my tastes, bang on.  You can’t get treble perfect at a low price so better not to try and shred people’s ears.  Given that it’s Bluetooth and it’s very, very likely to only ever play back compressed music dialling down the treble is wise.  It’s well, it is there but it really rolls of with some speed and what is there isn’t energy filled.  Again that’s works for me but treble heads will not be pleased.

The quantity is also fairly slight.  It’s fairly clear but never hard or edgy, it never has that cutting edge to it.  It’s all shimmer and the more you throw at it and the more there is the more it becomes a general shimmer rather than anything particularly distinct.

Soundstage:  While it is quite good in terms of simple scale and body, there isn’t what I’d call any real distance.  You’re in a moderate sized room with a big hearty speaker set up.  Placement is, well it’s a bit so so.  You can generally get a vague impression of location from the mids in the front and the bass and highs off behind.  Placements is best when there isn’t much going on.  Separation, hmm it’s not super.  Vocals pull away from the rest but highs and lows are pretty much all rolled together.

Fit:  I was rather pleased with their fit.  They were a bit big bud wise but the curvature to their body was excellent.  I heartily suggest that other makers have a look and try to get some design tips.  They are big yet they fit me perfectly.  I wasn’t so keen on the memory wire but it fairness I’ve never encountered a memory wire and thought “ooooh that was so handy I’m glad that was there.”

Comfort:  Ever so closely tied to fit and generally if ones good the other is too.  Fit was great and so the comfort was too.  Big wireless buds that essentially weighed nothing and I could wear for hours at a time.

Aesthetics:  The outer black of them is just like everything else out there but the inner section being some glossy gunmetal type colour, I really actually liked that.  I’d be happy if the whole thing was the same.  Glossy but not a bright glossy, in your face blingy.  Otherwise they are black.  Nothing that really demands mention, they look fine.

Microphonics:  Sadly there was some.  The wire connecting the two side was a just a bit long for me and it regularly hit my collars if I turned my head about.  It didn’t matter I wore them under my chin or at the back of my neck.  I almost always wear polo necks so I have colours and it did irritate me a bit.  It wasn’t like it was a huge problem but it did exist as an issue.

Isolation:  For a big old dynamic really good actually.  I’d expected them to be more vented but they stood up with the better end of dynamics.  It’s the fine for on a bus, in a gym, out for a run but you know, not really for a flight or Tube commute.  If you do run with them, for the love of god do look where you’re going because you won’t hear people around you or that bus that’s right behind.  Eyes people!

Cable:  Well it does have a cable, a very short cable just linking the ear pieces but it’s a fairly noisy thing.  Looks fine in terms of durability but what really got on my nerves, whoever it was that arranged the buttons on the controller / mic thingy.  Everyone uses the layout volume up / play pause skip / volume down.  Oh but no, the play pause skip on off pairing super button is at the end rather than in the middle.  Why?  I know it’s not the end of the world but expect to regularly hit the wrong button until you get used to it.

Build Quality:  They seem rather nice.  There is something rather plastic looking about the black plastic back of the buds.  I don’t know what it is but they just don’t look like something anyone’s going to mug you over.  It all feels sturdy but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on.

Accessories:  You get a selection of tips including foam ones, yey!  You also get a micro USB cable.  While it’s nice to give the cable you need to charge them, I suppose they have to don’t they?  Just I don’t know about you but I’ve got at least 3 million Micro USB cables already and a little case therefore would have been more welcome.  Of course if you want a little case there as ever eBay.

Value:  Cracking.  I mean you can’t not compare these to the BLU-100.  These are cheaper and they are better.  Annoying cable aside there are fab for cheapo Bluetooth earbuds. 

Conclusion:  I must confess I’d never even heard of Axgio when they contacted me to review these.  I didn’t expect much from them, you know a new entrant to the audio world.  Things are usually a nice try, good effort but they just doesn’t quite get everything right on their first time out.  Well these really nail it.  They are of course a Bluetooth, wireless, so built in DAC and amp and battery so I really can’t quite put them head to head with what US$40 gets you with a wire from the best value brands.  Still I’m way impressed at their first outing.  I mean these come in a hair cheaper than the BLU-100 and they are better, hands down.  (Sorry Brainwavz, I love you guys but Axgio have bested you for now.) 

The rate at which electronics and drivers are getting better / getting cheaper, is scary.  The Sprint is clear evidence of this.  Though it’s annoying because it pushes the quality of IEM’s ever closer together and makes it harder to put some distance between products.  Still these are little belters for the price.  Maybe a little rich and creamy for gym motivation but for just listening they are excellent.

So, buy one?  Yes.  I don’t love the cable, tie or no and I’m not wild over the button arrangement.  However that’s pretty much it for downs.  Its audio quality is great, its base is rhythmic and lively with a rich warmth still.  Mids are flowing and oozing with great clarity for the money.  The highs are shimmery and pleasing.  What’s not to love, at this price and wireless to boot!!!