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2012 in Review: Google

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Join Current Editorials as we take a look back at the top trends, gadgets, and companies of 2012 in our year-end series “2012 in Review.”

Google enjoyed what I would call a blockbuster year in 2012. They made a few major acquisitions, released a successful line of new Android products, bolstered their internet services, and introduced their vision for the future of computing. In 2012, Google cemented their position as an unstoppable internet behemoth, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

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Mini Review: HTC Windows Phone 8X

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Mini Reviews are a new review format from Current Editorials that allows us to take a look at a selection of interesting gadgets and present you with the details you care about most in a bite-sized article.

HTC and Microsoft partnered up this year to launch the premiere Windows Phone 8 handset, the HTC Windows Phone 8X. It’s running the latest Windows Phone 8 software, and features top-notch, stand-out hardware design. Microsoft and HTC are promoting the 8X as the Windows Phone 8 handset, but can it live up to that title? And more importantly, is it worth your hard earned cash?

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HTC and Microsoft Announce Windows Phone 8X and 8S

HTC CEO Peter Chou and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today announced two new Windows Phones, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S. The 8X is the higher end of the two devices with a 4.3 inch 720p super LCD 2 display (most likely the same phenomenal part used on the HTC One X), NFC, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage, while the 8S is forced makes due with 512MB of RAM and a 4 inch WVGA screen. The 8X and 8S use similar dual core Snapdragon S4 processors, but the 8X’s CPU is clocked 500MHZ higher. Both phones have Beats Audio, a feature not available on HTC’s latch batch of Windows Phones, and come in a variety of colors.

Pricing and carrier availability haven’t been announced for the 8S, but HTC did let slip that it will launch in early November. The 8X will launch on “over 150 carriers in 80 countreis;” includingAT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in the United States, a few days after Microsoft’s late October Windows Phone 8 launch.

Both the phones are incredibly well designed, and should have no trouble going head to head with Apple’s iPhone 5 or Nokia’s Lumia 920. Their rectangular shape isn’t quite as striking as the look Nokia put together for its Lumia series, but first impressions seem to indicate its more comfortable to hold. Both phones are thinner than the Lumia, and weigh about half as much.

It’s interesting that Microsoft has allowed HTC to use the Windows Phone name. Not even Nokia, which was presumed to have a closer relationship with Microsoft than other OEMs, has been allowed to use the name of the platform as the name wiof its phone. It’s almost impossible to overstate the potential power of the Windows name, which could sell a lot of HTC phones this holiday season.

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HTC One X review

Of all the companies out there making Android phones, I have always admired HTC. Back in the days of Android 1.0 and 2.0, HTC Sense was truly a breath of fresh air. Sense brought beauty to an operating system which was sorely lacking in that department. Not only did HTC innovate with their software design, but their hardware was top notch too! I remember ogling the original HTC Hero when it was unveiled, and dropping my jaw at its stunningly beautiful successor, the HTC Legend.

Then things got a little out of control. HTC started releasing new phones left and right, at a pace that not even an Olympic sprinter could keep up with. These phones were all extremely similar, just rebranded or repackaged for a regional carrier.

Even HTC admitted that they got carried away with device launches in 2011, and they promised that 2012 would see a smaller flagship line of phones launch across the globe. I was so happy to see them fulfill this promise at Mobile World Congress this year with the launch of the “One” line; a family of three phones consisting of the low-end One V, mid-range One S, and powerhouse, top-of-the-line One X.

Today I’m taking a look at the HTC One X, the matriarch of the One family. As HTC’s flagship superphone for 2012, the One X has to stand out as “the phone to buy” in a market largely over-saturated with Android phones. So, is the One X deserving of this title? Is this the best Android phone available? Let’s find out.

HARDWARE / DESIGN

The HTC One X definitely starts out strong: this is one of the most beautiful phones I have ever used. In fact, I prefer this design to both the iPhone 4S and the Lumia 900 which I reviewed last month.

The One X is constructed from a unibody polycarbonate shell that feels extremely durable. The back features a matte, soft-touch finish, while the edges are smooth and polished. The entire body of the phone is actually curved, as are the edges of the glass display, which makes the phone really comfortable to hold in hand or against your face while on a call. It has a very smooth, ergonomic feel, which I really like. It was a pleasant change from the sharp, straight edges of my daily driver, the iPhone 4S.

              

A gorgeous 4.7” HD Super LCD display dominates the front of the device. While the One X is a really big phone (measuring 134.8 x 69.9 mm), it doesn’t feel huge in hand. It does, however, feel pretty bulky when you slip it in your pocket. Despite it’s large footprint, the One X is very thin and lightweight, measuring just 8.9mm thick, and weighing in at just 130g. It’s a wonder that HTC managed to pack everything they did into a phone this thin and light.

“Simply put, this hardware is superb!”

Simply put, this hardware is superb! I can’t think of a single complaint to make against this design. It looks great, and it feels great. The HTC One X is definitely one of my favourite smartphones when it comes to design.

INTERNALS AND DISPLAY

Once again I’ll keep things simple: I am in love with the gorgeous 4.7” display on the One X. The display is bright, vivid, and the quality is remarkable! This is a 1280 x 720 display at 4.7” inches, putting the pixel density well within Retina territory at 312.5ppi. While the iPhone does have a higher pixel density, the difference is virtually indistinguishable. To the naked eye, the One X screen looks super crisp, and you can’t discern individual pixels. This is a killer display, definitely on par with the industry leading Retina display on the iPhone.

I also really like the added screen real estate that the 4.7” display provides. Browsing the web, reading and responding to emails, and keeping up with Twitter is really enjoyable on a large yet still pocketable display. The only downside of having such a large touchscreen is that it can be difficult to use with one hand. While I expressed similar concerns with the Lumia 900’s 4.3” display, the one-handed problem really becomes evident with the extra large 4.7” display on the One X. It’s nearly impossible to reach across the screen with just one thumb, so at times you will need to use your other hand.

One other minor complaint I have about the display is that some colours appear too bright. This is particularly evident in games like Draw Something, in which colours appear visibly more “neon” when compared to iOS. I also noticed this at times in the web browser or when viewing photos.

“…a 1.5GHz dual-core SoC is still cutting edge, and future-proof enough that the phone won’t feel slow anytime soon.”

The One X is packing some future-proof internals. The North American LTE variant runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm MSM8960 processor and 1GB of RAM. All of that adds up to a phone that screams! I didn’t notice any serious issues with performance, save for some minor lag when loading widgets on the home screens. While some may find themselves envious of the quad-core Tegra 3 found in the international variant, a 1.5GHz dual-core SoC is still cutting edge, and future-proof enough that the phone won’t feel slow anytime soon.

Internal storage is limited to 16GB, with no microSD slot for expansion. HTC has partnered with Dropbox to offer One X buyers 25GB of storage free for 1 year, which unfortunately won’t be of much help if you need extra room for apps or multimedia.

HTC is touting Beats Audio integration as a selling point for their smartphones these days, but I don’t understand why. It’s nothing more than a gimmick, offering no real enhancement to audio coming from the built-in speaker or through your own headphones. Perhaps this would prove useful if you actually have a pair of Beats headphones? I’m not enough of an audiophile to own a pair.

CAMERA

At the introduction of the One series, HTC touted a number of camera improvements that together they call “ImageSense”, which does present an innovative software experience for photo taking. Photo and Video buttons are integrated into the same viewfinder, so you don’t need to toggle a switch or change camera modes. Press the shutter button to take a still, or the video button to shoot video. You can even press the shutter button while shooting a video to take a still shot without interrupting your recording. ImageSense also features zero shutter lag for near instantaneous capture of still shots. The insanely fast shutter did lead to a few problems with motion blur, but most of the time worked really well.

  

While the camera software is top-notch, image quality isn’t a game changer. Don’t get me wrong: photo quality was good, comparable with most high-end smartphone cameras these days. Indoor shots were clear and detailed, while outdoor shots were bright and vibrant. Likewise, 720p video capture resulted in good quality video with a smooth frame rate. On the other hand, low-light shots appeared visibly grainy and discolored in spots, so you will still need to rely on the built-in flash from time to time.

Overall, the One X packs a good camera for a smartphone, but it won’t be replacing your point-and-shoot. For a closer look at the camera, check out these uncompressed test shots taken with the HTC One X.

        

PERFORMANCE

To be honest, my experiences with Android in the past have been less than stellar. I always found the OS to be slow and filled with lag and jitter. I was worried that the One X would suffer from some of these performance deficiencies as well. I’m pleased to say that these Android performance fears were squashed by the One X.

As I mentioned before, the 1.5GHz dual-core processor inside the One X is more than capable of powering the software. Sense 4.0 was generally very fast and zippy, with almost no lag or stutter to speak of. There were a few times when I encountered some home screen lag directly after unlocking, though I suspect this was caused by the number of widgets I had running at the time.

Games run really well on the One X as well, very smooth and responsive. Unlike the Lumia 900, games feel “native” on Android, and I encountered no stutter or lag.

In terms of call quality, the One X performed admirably. The built-in earpiece produced clear, loud audio during calls, and reception on Rogers’ network was always solid. Exactly what you expect from a modern smartphone. The external speaker was a little quiet, and its placement is quite odd; it is located on the back of the device near the bottom. I found that my hand would cover the speaker when holding the phone, muffling the audio. Likewise, setting the phone down on its back covers the speaker and distorts the audio.

Battery life was good on the One X. Most of the time the phone would last through a full day of mild use, though I did notice that the battery seems to drain at a consistent pace even on standby. You’ll notice that the screenshot on the right confirms that the 720p display of the One X is a serious battery hog, topping the list by a wide margin. As with most smartphones, the One X will need to be charged every night.

SOFTWARE

Android really has come a long way since the last time I tried it; it feels a lot more polished and responsive than it used to. HTC has also taken steps to tone down Sense with this latest incarnation, Sense 4.0, which looks fairly similar to stock Android.

Ice Cream Sandwich with Sense 4.0 is very smooth and responsive, which is probably the most important thing for me. I hate encountering lag when trying to do something simple like scroll through a list or zoom into a webpage. Luckily, Android 4.0 handles all of these tasks with ease.

“The role of Android skins has diminished, and luckily HTC has acknowledged that with Sense 4.0…”

While previous versions of Sense were actually nicer looking than stock Android, Google stepped up their game with Ice Cream Sandwich. The role of Android skins has diminished, and luckily HTC has acknowledged that with Sense 4.0, which has been severely toned down compared to previous versions. Sense 4.0 is a very unobtrusive skin that looks like a slightly skinned version of stock ICS. The home screen dock is much better than the old Sense dock, providing 4 user customizable shortcut icons and a button to launch the app drawer. These 4 icons also appear on the lock screen, providing a convenient way to jump right into those apps. Speaking of, I really like the Sense 4.0 lock screen as well. HTC’s unlock ring is really unique, and users can also choose from a number of lock screen themes that will display weather, stocks, or even photos.

The software works well, looks nice, and there are no major problems with Sense 4.0 or Android. Though I was very impressed by the software on the One X, I do have some small complaints as well.

In some places, HTC’s Sense 4.0 skin does clash with Google’s Holo design of Ice Cream Sandwich. Google’s stock apps utilize the Holo design language, which doesn’t match HTC’s Sense aesthetic. There are aspects of the operating system that HTC has skinned for seemingly no reason. The Sense 4.0 icons look cartoony and out of place next to the default Android icons, and HTC’s re-skinned checkboxes are hard to see and difficult to press. Another needless change that HTC made with Sense 4.0 was re-skinning the Ice Cream Sandwich multitasking tray. Sense 4.0’s task switcher only shows one app on-screen at a time, and I found the horizontal scrolling awkward and sometimes difficult to land on the app you want.

A particularly sore spot for me was the Sense keyboard, which I really didn’t like. Some keys, such as the Numbers key, were oddly placed compared to other software keyboards. In iOS, stock ICS, and even Windows Phone, the Numbers key is located at the bottom left of the keyboard, but HTC put their number key at the bottom right. I also found the space bar to be too small, and I often missed it when I was typing. HTC also saw fit to include a row of navigational keys for some reason; perhaps had they removed those they could have made a larger space bar. These seemingly minor annoyances really screwed up my typing speed and productivity. Looking back, I wish I had installed a stock ICS keyboard from Google Play, which could have fixed all of these problems.

Another text-related issue came when trying to summon the text cursor or select a misspelled word to correct it, neither of which I ever figured out how to do. In iOS, if you’ve misspelled a word, you simply double-tap the word, it gets highlighted, and you can then change it. I could never figure out the proper way to do this in Sense 4.0, so most of the time I ended up frantically tapping the text area hoping a cursor or highlight would appear somewhere.

I had a very pleasant app experience with the One X. I always assumed that the iOS App Store was ahead of Google Play, but I found that be largely untrue. Browsing through Google Play, it looked very similar to the App Store, in that many of the same apps and games were present. I tried out a bunch of apps, namely social apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which all worked really well. Scrolling was smooth, loading times were quick, and feature wise they are on-par with their iOS counterparts. I also quickly replaced HTC’s reskinned Android Browser with Google’s Chrome Beta, a far superior choice both in terms of usability and functionality.

The gaming experience on the One X was great as well. I played Angry Birds Space, Cut The Rope, Draw Something, and Fruit Ninja, to name a few. Games ran super smooth and felt like native games, as opposed to the emulator-like games I encountered on the Lumia 900. Though, interestingly enough, one of my favourite gaming experiences on the One X was Pokémon Yellow running on the GBC A.D. GameBoy Color emulator. That’s one thing I wish the App Store had.

As a whole, the software experience on the HTC One X was great. Everything was super smooth and responsive, which are the biggest positives in my eyes. Sense 4.0, while toned down, still goes too far in unnecessarily skinning the OS. HTC’s apps and widgets don’t match Google’s stock Ice Cream Sandwich design language, leading to a veritable mish mash of UI styles. HTC is on the right track with Sense, though, so perhaps we will see an even more refined version next year in Sense 5.0. For now, the underlaying Android experience is really good, which outweighs most of the negatives of Sense.

WRAP-UP AND SCORE

It isn’t hard to judge a phone that flirts so closely with perfection. The One X is packaged in a beautiful body that looks fantastic and feels great to hold. Performance-wise the phone screams, with little to no stutter or lag to report of anywhere. The cameras take decent pictures, though nothing mind-blowing. Android has really matured as an operating system, and despite being somewhat held back by Sense 4.0, most of the issues I had with the software were cosmetic, things that could easily be changed with a replacement app, keyboard, or launcher.

“It isn’t hard to judge a phone that flirts so closely with perfection.”

In short, I loved the HTC One X. To answer my own question, the One X deserves the title of “best Android phone available”. This is the one to buy. Whether you’re looking for a new Android phone specifically, or a new smartphone in general, I have no qualms about recommending the HTC One X.

Hardware 10

Display 9

Cameras 8

Call Quality 8

Performance 10

Software 8
 

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HTC One X and One S Review Round-Up

Image Credit: The Verge

HTC’s One Series represents an entirely new philosophy for the company. Gone is the overly complicated HTC Sense of the past, replaced with the newly streamlined Sense 4.0, and beautifully designed new hardware brings with it the promise of a smaller, more focused product line.

While we hope to provide our own thoughts on HTC’s One series soon, for now we offer you this convenient HTC One X and One S Review Round-up.

(Editor’s Note: these HTC One X reviews look at the international quad-core Tegra 3 version. AT&T in the U.S. will launch an LTE variant with a dual-core Snapdragon processor).
 

HTC One X

Chris Ziegler, The Verge
“…the One X isn’t just one of the best Android phones I’ve ever used — it’s one of the best mobile devices I’ve ever used, period. Seriously, HTC has done something pretty special with the One line, and I’m encouraged that Peter Chou and company appear to be back on the right track.”

Myriam Joire, Engadget
“There’s absolutely no doubt that the One X is a masterpiece of an Android device: it obliterates pretty much all of its competitors by giving even the mighty Galaxy Nexus a run for its money. HTC’s really crafted something special here, with a brilliant combination of branding, industrial design and user experience.”

Chris Davies, Slashgear
“The new flagship is distinctively designed and well constructed, has an admirable camera and a solid screen. The Tegra 3 chipset is capable of both speed and endurance depending on what’s demanded of it, particularly gaming and HD video, though the non-expandable storage could prove limiting if your connection isn’t up to streaming from cloud storage such as Dropbox.”

Matt Brian, The Next Web
“Having had just over a week to play with it, there is no doubt in my mind that HTC is back on form with the One X. It has a few minor annoyances (mainly software related) but it’s a supremely fast phone that gets the job done whilst looking good doing it.”

Phil Nickinson, Android Central
“Indeed, the HTC One X has set the bar high for this new generation of Android phones. That bar’s always going to inch higher as the year goes on. But for now, HTC’s back in the saddle and is riding high.”

Chris Hall, Pocket-lint
“With the HTC One X we were prepared not to be disappointed, but that isn’t the case. HTC’s attention to detail in design has created a device that looks great as well as being practical to use. Yes, it’s large, but it works as a large device and the display is fantastic.”

Todd Hasselton, TechnoBuffalo
“The HTC One X is without question the creme de la creme of Android phones right now. It’s the phone Android users have been waiting for. There wasn’t a single issue that I can think of that disappointed me.”

Vincent Nguyen, Android Community
“It’s too soon to say whether the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5 will prove the One X’s undoing, but one thing is for sure: HTC has thrown down the gauntlet with its new flagship, and the One X sets the bar high.”

 

Image Credit: Engadget

HTC One S

Vlad Savov, The Verge
“Simultaneously one of the thinnest and most powerful phones on the market – but held back by HTC’s addiction to Sense.”

Mat Smith, Engadget
“With a tactile finish and enough power to go toe-to-toe with HTC’s quad-core entrant, it comes down to whether you’re willing to trade a technically weaker screen for a noticeable price difference and better battery life. It’s a decision we’d prefer not to make.”

Chris Davies, Slashgear
“The quadcore One X will gain the lion’s share of attention, yes, but the One S is the mainstream device that should go a long way to changing HTC’s fortunes in 2012.”

Michael Oryl, MobileBurn
“Though the HTC One S might find itself overshadowed by its quad-core endowed brother, the One X, this device has nothing to be ashamed of. It features a far more hand-friendly design, is available with a cool micro-arc oxidized aluminum body, and makes use of the exact same software and 8 megapixel camera as the X.”

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AT&T to Unleash the HTC Titan II on April 8th at $199

Photo: Engadget

AT&T is preparing to unleash one beast of a Windows Phone. On April 8th, the nation’s second biggest carrier will be releasing the HTC Titan II. Boasting a 16 megapixel camera and a 4.7-inch super LCD display, the phone will arguably be AT&T’s best Windows Phone to date.

The phone was shown off at CES earlier this year and stunned many with the inclusion of the 16 megapixel shooter.

HTC’s Titan II will be available for $199.99 on contract.

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Mobile World Congress 2012 – Day 0 Recap: Huawei, Sony, and HTC

Every February, smartphone makers and technology journalists converge on Barcelona, Spain for the annual Mobile World Congress. Like the gaming industry’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (aka. E3) held every June, Mobile World Congress is the platform many technology companies use to unveil their latest and greatest smartphones and tablets, and outline their mobile line-ups for the remainder of the year.

For the last few years, Android devices have dominated the showfloor and various press events, and they continue to do so this year (though Windows Phone and even Symbian still have a presence at the show). Though today marks the official Day 1 of Mobile World Congress 2012, Huawei, HTC, and Sony – in true tradeshow style – held their press events yesterday, showing off the latest and greatest of their upcoming smartphones lines. Here’s a look at what Mobile World Congress brought us on Day 0.

HUAWEI

Huawei kicked things off by announcing the Ascend D Quad, a 3G quad-core smartphone that the company claims to be “the world’s fastest”. The Ascend D Quad runs Android 4.0 atop Huawei’s new K3V2 1.5GHz quad-core processor, and sports a 4.5” 720p display, a relatively standard resolution for smartphones these days. The phones weighs in at 4.6 ounces, and a svelt 8.9mm thick. In terms of shooters, we’re looking at a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, and an 8 megapixel rear camera that shoots 1080p video. Huawei also promised an LTE variant for later this year.

Huawei rounded out their D Series lineup with the Ascend D1 – a dual-core version of the D Quad – alongside the Ascend D Quad XL, which packs a whopping 2500mAh battery. Huawei did not announce pricing or availability for any of these three models.

SONY

Sony started off their first MWC sans-Ericcson by announcing two new members of their Xperia family: the Xperia P and Xperia U.

The Xperia P is the higher-end of the two: an aluminum unibody handset with a 4” display. Sony has introduced a new display technology they call WhiteMagic that adds an additional row of white pixels next to the standard RGB configuration, which the company claims will make the phone more readable in direct sunlight. Inside you’ll find a 1GHz dual-core processor running Gingerbread – though Sony promised an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade for Q2 – as well as an NFC chip. The Xperia P also sports an 8-megapixel rear camera that shoots 1080p video. The Xperia P will be available in Silver, Black, and Red.

Sony’s Xperia U features a 1GHz dual-core processor, 3.5” Reality Display, and a 5-megapixel camera – it’s essentially a smaller version of the Xperia P. The Xperia U and Xperia P both feature the glowing transparent bar below the screen that was first introduced at CES in the Xperia S. Unlike the other Xperia phones, the Xperia U’s transparent bar will illuminate different colours for notifications, and will change colour to match on-screen elements like your homescreen wallpaper. The Xperia U also features a removable bottom cap below the transparent bar, which users can swap out to change the colour. The phone will come in Black (with an additional pink bottom cap) and White (with an additional yellow bottom cap).

Both the Xperia P and Xperia U are expected to launch globally sometime in Q2.

HTC

Arguably the biggest and best announcements of Day 0 came from HTC. The company has previously stated they plan to take a “quality over quantity” approach in 2012, focusing on making better phones and releasing less models. The company used Mobile World Congress to unveil HTC One: their flagship line for 2012.

The HTC One X fills the high-end slot of the One smartphone family. Featuring a 4.7” screen, the HTC One X is the companies first phone to employ a quad-core Tegra 3 processor. The phone runs Ice Cream Sandwich with HTC’s new Sense 4.0 interface, and comes equipped with NFC, 32GB of storage (though unfortunately no microSD card slot), a 1280×720 Super LCD display, 1800 mAh battery, and an 8-megapixel rear camera capable of 1080p video capture, as well as a front-facing VGA camera with 720p video. The One X features a unibody polycarbonate design and employs a microSIM slot, allowing the device to be thinner and lighter, and will come in both White and Grey. AT&T has already announced they will carry the One X in the United States, albeit with a few sacrifices being made: in order to include LTE connectivity, the AT&T One X will run a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 in lieu of the international version’s quad-core Tegra 3. HTC says the One X will launch in all territories “within 60 days”, meaning it should be available by the end of April. The LTE variant of the One X will also be coming to Canada by way of Rogers Wireless.

Next up is the HTC One S, the mid-range member of the One family. The One S packs a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor, with 16GB of onboard storage and a 1650 mAh battery. It features a 4.3” qHD Super AMOLED display (that’s 960×540), as well as an 8-megapixel rear camera and VGA front-facing camera, all in a package just 7.6mm thick. It’s an aluminum unibody phone, and the body is treated by a process called “microarc oxidation”, which HTC says will make the shell five times more resistant as regular anodized aluminum. No need to worry about tossing this baby in a purse or pocket alongside your keys. Like the One X, the One S utilizes a microSIM card, and unfortunately lacks microSD support. T-Mobile will bring the One S to the US in “spring” while Bell and Virgin Mobile will launch the device in Canada.

Occupying the low-end is the HTC One V – my personal favourite. Sure, it’s the least powerful in terms of specs, but it features a design very reminiscent of 2010’s HTC Legend, which I still regard as one of the most beautiful smartphones ever released. The One V sports a 3.7” WVGA (480×800) screen, with a 5-megapixel rear camera capable of 720p video recording. It runs a 1GHz single-core Qualcomm processor, and unlike it’s One siblings, supports microSD cards due to its lack of onboard storage. HTC plans to release the One V around the same time as the One X and One S, around early April. No US launch plans have been revealed for the One V, but Bell has already claimed this one as well for the Canadian market.

HTC has made considerable upgrades to Sense 4.0 on Ice Cream Sandwich, features that all of the aforementioned HTC One phones will benefit from. The company has placed a particular emphasis on camera improvements, dubbing their new system ImageSense. A dedicated image processor helps reduce image noise and increase quality when compressing shots to JPEG. Camera speed has also been greatly increased: the camera app takes only 0.7 seconds to launch, and autofocus is clocked at 0.2 seconds. HTC has also merged the camera app’s photo and video modes, allowing users to snap a still while capturing a video. The UI is said to also have been improved and unified. HTC has also struck a deal with Dropbox, providing HTC One owners with 25GB of storage free for two years.

MORE TO COME…

Mobile World Congress 2012 is just getting started, and we’ll have more announcements from the likes of Samsung, Nokia, Microsoft, Asus, and others in the coming days!

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I’ve Been Looking at Android All Wrong.

I have never really been a fan of Android, as evidenced by the editorial I wrote back in February titled “Why I’m afraid of Android”. But that is not to say I hate Android. I understand the need for competition in the marketplace, and I understand that Android is a fantastic operating system that many people love and use every day. Still, all I could see when I looked at Android were the fundamental problems surrounding software updates and never-ending hardware launches, and that turned me off.

Joshua Topolsky of The Verge recently published an interview with Android’s lead UX designer Matias Duarte about the latest version of the OS, Ice Cream Sandwich. In the article, Duarte explains that his goal was to find the soul of Android, and to bring that soul out and let it shine through in the next version of the operating system. What he and his team created was Ice Cream Sandwich – the most stunningly beautiful version of Android yet. Duarte truly believes in the power of great design, and that shows in Ice Cream Sandwich on Google’s newest flagship device, the Galaxy Nexus.

It was in reading this man’s words that I thought, “Yeah, Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus are great, but we’re never going to see the OS in this form on any other device, so why bother getting all excited?” And then it hit me.

I’ve been looking at Android all wrong.

What I have been missing is that Ice Cream Sandwich (and stock Android in general) is to Google as iOS is to Apple. Google releases one “true Android” device running stock Android every year, just as Apple releases one iPhone running the newest version of iOS every year. Apple and Google are taking the same approach here: one phone, one operating system.

HTC, Samsung, Motorola, and all of those other Android hardware manufacturers are essentially releasing phones running their own operating systems, which shouldn’t really be viewed as Android. Android itself isn’t the operating system; it is the base for many customized operating systems. Duarte even calls Android “the Lego system” (Topolsky) that other companies will build their products out of. HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, MotoBlur; these should all be viewed as separate operating systems, with Android hidden somewhere deep in the background. There should be no expectation for these devices to be updated to the next version of Android, but instead to be updated to the next version of their unique OS.

What does it matter if the DROID RAZR, for example, gets Ice Cream Sandwich? Do you think it will have a beautiful new UI like the Galaxy Nexus? Will it feature Face Unlock? Will the camera have an “instant shutter”? Will it have the Android Beam tap-to-share feature? Will the new ‘Roboto’ font carry over? Chances are the answer to most of these questions will be “No”. Motorola has their own way of doing Android, as do the rest of the Android device manufacturers. Ice Cream Sandwich on other devices will feature none of the soul that Matias Duarte worked so hard to infuse into this new version of Android. It won’t really be Ice Cream Sandwich.

But that is the philosophy of Android, a philosophy that had eluded me until now. To Google, Android is an operating system. To companies like HTC, Samsung, and Motorola, Android is the building-blocks with which they will build their own unique devices. Google makes Android phones. Apple makes iOS phones. HTC makes Sense phones. Samsung makes TouchWiz phones. Motorola makes MotoBlur phones.

I suddenly get Android.

This editorial was originally published on Gadget Leaf and TechnoBuffalo.

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