Enjoy our round-up of ten mobile phone related news stories you may have missed this week including estimates that 50% of the world will have 4G by 2017, and a very blue Facebook concept phone…
Enjoy our round-up of ten mobile phone related news stories you may have missed this week including estimates that 50% of the world will have 4G by 2017, and a very blue Facebook concept phone…
You could say the original Sidekick was the first shot fired in the smartphone revolution.
With a flip of the thumb, you could expose the physical keyboard hidden behind the screen. It was aligned horizontally to make typing easier, but it wasn’t too bulky. And the large screen — bigger than most other phones in 2002 — made tasks like browsing the web and writing e-mails on your phone actually seem like ideas worth getting used to.
Over the years, the Sidekick and its successors ended up losing out to the newer breed of smartphones ushered in by the iPhone — devices with advanced operating systems and apps, and with touch displays in place of physical keyboards.
So, can the Sidekick make a comeback? Samsung hopes so: The latest iteration of the old classic, the Sidekick 4G for T-Mobile, stays true to its heritage while bumping up its specs and adding a host of media and entertainment perks.
It’s an Android phone built for the 4G now, but it has some hardware and software quirks that make it feel several steps behind.
Samsung stuck with the traditional Sidekick silhouette, with two buttons placed on either side of the 3.5-inch 480 x 800 resolution touchscreen. A Home button and Jump button grace the left side. A Menu key and Back key are situated on the right, with a small optical track button sandwiched in the middle.
Being right handed, it took a while to get used to this button placement. I really wanted the Home button to be on the bottom right when it’s held in landscape orientation, with the Back button above that and the Menu and Jump keys on the left. My thumbs got lost often.
The phone has about the same heft as an iPhone 4, but is slightly longer and about 50 percent thicker. It fits in a front pocket, but it is a bit chunky. That thickness comes from the physical keyboard under the screen. The Sidekick’s screen slides out using a unique “pop-tilt” mechanism, revealing the display’s sassy pink underside, after it’s snapped into a comfortable viewing angle.
Sliding the screen out takes a bit of practice: You need to use both thumbs, applying pressure to the crack between the screen and keyboard. But all you have to do is nudge it free of the body, and the screen springs out the rest of the way on its own. You can’t apply the force horizontally, which is a departure from other slide-out keyboards, and from the swivel screen on older Sidekicks.
Also, the volume rocker and power button sit just a hair below where you need to place your thumbs to push the display out. This leads to a lot of unintended volume adjustments, screen shut-offs and other accidental button-presses when flipping the screen up. Sliding the screen back in without pressing any of the buttons also takes some getting used to.
For my dainty lady thumbs, the QWERTY keyboard was a little uncomfortably spaced out, dropping my texting speed a few notches. Male friends with longer — normal-sized? — thumbs thought the keyboard size was just right.
The Sidekick 4G comes with Samsung’s Kick UX skin for Froyo onboard. It’s less than intuitive — there are three ways to access just about every app or feature of the phone, which can be a little confusing. But it’s fine once you find one method you prefer over the others.
The Jump key (a Sidekick legacy) was particularly handy in this respect: It lets you switch from one recently used application to another while bypassing the home screen. It’s not exactly multitasking, but it is a timesaver.
Once inside an app or widget though, you lose those options. With some apps, like the Facebook widget, you have no choice but to use the Back button (heavily) to navigate. That’s a bit of a shame on a touchscreen device. And although the handset is clearly meant to be used primarily in landscape mode, several apps and functions require it to be in portrait orientation.
The Sidekick 4G stays true to its chat roots with a slew of messaging options, including Google Talk and the phone’s signature Group Text and Cloud Text Features. Group Text provides functionality similar to that of other app- or web-based group texting services like GroupMe, allowing you to create and manage a group of contacts and send mass SMS messages. This is great for getting a message out to a specific group of people (your family, your co-workers, a circle of friends) speedily and easily.
But those subscribed to limited texting plans may not appreciate the barrage of texts that result from the reply-all nature of the service. Cloud Text is similar, but works across platforms, so you can text from your PC or the Sidekick.
There’s a VGA front-facing camera you can use to video-chat through Qik’s service. Around the back, there’s a heftier 3.2-megapixel camera. That’s subpar by today’s standards, but the software offers multiple settings that photo geeks can use to tweak images. You can shoot photos in black and white, sepia and panoramic modes, and adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Video quality is nothing special.
If you actually use your phone to make calls, you’ll be happy to hear that the call quality is superb. The phone’s noise cancellation is so well-implemented that during a lull in conversation with my dad on my bus ride home, the line became so silent that he thought the call had been dropped.
During my testing, I found T-Mobile’s network speeds — HSPA+ 4G or otherwise — to be generally good. The latest episode of 30 Rock downloaded in minutes, and web pages loaded at least as quickly as on comparable smartphones. T-Mobile says you’ll get 5-to-10-Mbps download speeds wherever it can connect to 4G, and I found no reason to dispute that claim. The Sidekick will also act as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices.
Overall, the Samsung Sidekick 4G gives a modern update to the traditional look and feel of the old Sidekick handsets, but it suffers a bit from some odd hardware-design choices, and from software quirks. Viewed as just another Android phone, it’s tough to recommend it over other Android handsets out there. However, longtime Sidekick users or Blackberry owners transitioning to Android will like the Sidekick’s big keyboard, and they should be pleased enough with the user experience.
WIRED Physical keyboard will keep thumb warriors happy. Tons of media options and chat features keep you entertained and connected. Speedy 1-GHz Hummingbird processor gets things moving: Games like Angry Birds Rio don’t stutter in the slightest. Battery life easily lasts all day for normal mixed usage. Background noise? What background noise?
TIRED Screen-popping mechanism is a bit tricky. Button placement is downright poor. The mix of onscreen-touch and physical-button navigation is perplexing and redundant. It takes a lot of work to get a good photo –- if I wanted to mess with that many settings, I would have gotten an actual digital camera.
Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired.com
It’s official: 2011 is the year of incremental progress. Mobile handsets have settled into a groove featurewise and are now gently nudging their way upward in speed, power and capabilities.
If we’re going to be stuck in a climate of baby steps, at least Samsung’s Galaxy S 4G is an example of baby steps done right.
From the moment I got my mitts on the S 4G, something felt eerily familiar. I’d seen many of its elements before — the unsettlingly light chassis, the glass and faux-chrome accents, and even the flashless 5-MP camera. As it turns out, the feeling of déjà vu was completely warranted.
The S 4G is essentially a mildly tweaked Samsung Vibrant with a couple of extra goodies. For those keeping score, a lot of the Vibrant’s perfectly serviceable features (1-GHz processor, 4-inch 800 x 480 AMOLED screen, 720p video recording) are back.
So, what’s new? Android 2.2, for starters. Also, as the phone’s awkward moniker boasts, this handset brings T-Mobile’s particular brand of 4G (HSPA+) to the fold.
I honestly wasn’t expecting too much given the piecemeal rollout of this next-gen data network, but the difference was noticeable immediately. Heavy hitting image-rich sites like (ahem) Wired.com loaded with virtually no hesitation, and raining down large file downloads from Dropbox produced nary a stutter.
Converting the phone into a hot spot was also one of the more useful data-centric features, though the option is strangely buried within the menu tree. Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface has never been especially appealing, and this is another nail in that coffin.
Yet another addition is the S 4G’s front-facing VGA camera. Though it’s perfectly poised for video conferencing, I was a little underwhelmed by the options on the app side. Getting the service up and running is simple enough thanks to a preloaded Qik app, but the occasional stutter and noticeable lag left a lot to be desired.
Lack of polish aside, I can’t really fault the VGA camera in terms of functionality. I was able to make and receive video calls just fine. They just resembled fireside chats with Max Headroom.
Other goodies include a copy of Inception offered from Samsung’s Media Hub storefront. Normally I’m prone to ignore extras like this entirely, but watching the film on the S 4G uncovered some interesting tidbits. Due to the smart combination of a workhorse battery and a power-sipping display, the film’s hefty 2-hour-28-minute run time only slightly dented the Galaxy’s gas tank.
As the movie finished I noticed that only 20 percent of the battery had been depleted. It’s doubtful that I would ever force myself into a back-to-back four-peat viewing of Inception, but it’s good to know that Samsung realistically views the S 4G as an entertainment device.
If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that incremental improvements are incredibly easy to flub. Even with our lingering gripes with the S 4G, we can’t give the phone too much guff.
Samsung managed to transform an already well-appointed blueprint into an even stronger contender. Sure, it’s not the overwhelmingly overhauled quad-core beast of our dreams. But even incremental progress still counts as progress.
WIRED Stronger iteration of a solid design. Mostly smooth navigation thanks to a humming 1-GHz processor. Great call quality. Awesome battery life and power management. Gorgeous high-def 720p video (in well-lit environments). Ready for downloads and app-tion thanks to an included 16-GB memory card (expandable to 32 GB).
TIRED Accessing the movie storefront requires a tedious login process. Bloatware aplenty. Where’s my HDMI out? HSPA+ service is fantastically fast (where available). 4G to 3G to EDGE handoffs are often slow. White backgrounds often produce the dreaded “screen-door effect.” Froyo is already old hat — give us Gingerbread!
Photos by Jim Merithew/Wired.com
All the high-end phones coming out these days match up pretty closely on features. So how about something totally different — a phone that doubles as the guts for a full-sized laptop?
The Motorola Atrix is a 4G Android phone for AT&T that performs well enough on its own, but it’s also available with one crazy-unique accessory: a laptop-shaped dock. There’s no additional processing power in the laptop, but with the phone piggybacking on the laptop’s rear hinge, your tiny device instantly gains a much more human-sized interface: a big keyboard and a big screen.
It turns out this is better in concept than in execution, and the dock is a bit too expensive for most, but we give Motorola points for going against the grain.
First, the phone. The Atrix is one of the nicest Android phones I’ve used. As a piece of hardware, it’s marvelous. The back is thin plastic, which may turn some off, but I found the weight and feel to be just about perfect. The screen could be bigger, but at 4 inches, it’s certainly big enough. The image is bright and sharp. And it’s Gorilla Glass, so it has a pleasing feel. Perhaps most importantly, the Atrix passes the pocket test — it’s comfortable in my front pocket and my keys couldn’t scratch it up.
There are two cameras, of course, with a 5-megapixel sensor and an LED flash on the back. The quality of photos and HD videos is only OK, not spectacular but about as nice as others in this generation of smartphones.
The sleep/wake button is at the very top-center of the phone, and — this is very cool — it doubles as a fingerprint sensor. To my surprise, it actually works quite well. You can set it up to unlock the screen with a swipe of your left or right index finger, and most of the time, it recognized me on the first swipe. I passed it around to friends every change I got, and nobody else could unlock it.
Inside, there’s a 1 GHz dual core processor, which supplies some serious brawn. Scrolling through apps and web pages is very fast, and with very few exceptions, the response time for the pinch-to-zoom and double-tap-to-zoom interactions is the fastest I’ve seen on an Android phone. I installed mobile Firefox, and even though the pre-release browser is sluggish on other phones, it was snappy on the Atrix. Video playback is flawless. It’s only running Froyo (Android 2.2), so you’ll have to wait for that Gingerbread update.
Motorola has loaded its Motoblur skin on top of Android, and it adds some nice customizable conveniences like the ability to see recent messages and social updates inside little widgets on the phone’s desktop. You can also set up one-tap tweeting, automated photo publishing, quick access to media playlists and a stack of favorite contacts. Motoblur does bake the social experience into the phone on a deep level, so you can kill the widgets if the social web isn’t your bag.
Now, about that HSPA+ 4G radio: Your results will obviously vary depending on where you live and the availability of 4G in your neck of the woods, but even here in San Francisco where our AT&T network is notoriously sucktastic, I got data speeds noticeably faster than my iPhone 4. It also held calls better — no drops! — and calls connected in just a few seconds. I took it with me on a trip north into the wilds of Marin county, and even in places where the iPhone 4 and other AT&T 3G phones couldn’t get a signal, the Atrix showed two bars and had no problem completing calls or sending and receiving data.
The Atrix can also be used as a mobile hotspot, which works exactly as advertised, though AT&T tacks on an additional $20 monthly fee to your data plan. To access a piece of functionality that’s built into the phone, that’s super weak.
We did our standard battery run-down test — playing a video on a loop with the brightness cranked and all the radios on — and the Atrix lasted a little over six hours. It was the same when slaved to an HDTV via the phone’s HDMI port. Just making calls, browsing the web, using apps and talking to some Bluetooth speakers, it lasts well into the second day without needing a recharge.
So here you have a solid phone that’s well worth the price: $200 with a 2-year contract, $600 on its own.
There are a few docks available — a multimedia dock, the big laptop dock and an automotive dock (which we didn’t test).
The multimedia dock seems superfluous. It has an HDMI port and USB ports for a keyboard, but you get an HDMI cable with the phone, and you can just as easily use a Bluetooth keyboard, so really, the dock mostly just props your phone up while it charges. It does come with a remote you can use to browse your multimedia when you have the Atrix connected to an HDTV, but you can also use the phone’s touchscreen. The dock costs $130, or you can buy a version that comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse — both of which are quite nice — for $190.
The laptop dock is more exciting, but it’s $600 — or $500 if you take advantage of the Atrix’s launch promotion, which requires you to buy the phone and the dock together and sign up for the top-tier $45 monthly data plan.
Whether or not that’s a good deal depends on how you work, what sort of software you require, and what you like to carry when you travel.
I’m not always sure where HTC draws its inspiration from. But the new Inspire, the latest top-tier Android phone offered by AT&T, definitely filled me with a sense of déjà vu.
Like HTC’s EVO 4G and HD2 before it, the Inspire is a hefty, slate-style smartphone. Below the huge 4.3-inch 480 x 800 WVGA touchscreen lies the usual strip of capacitive navigation keys. Centered on the upper portion of the phone’s back is the standard protruding camera lens. Everything else — from the brushed aluminum body to the recessed volume and power buttons — follows the same pragmatically drab blueprint. Snore.
Though my inner phone fashionista was a little deflated, there’s actually very little to knock. Save for eyesores like a finicky battery door and an oddly placed headphone jack, the Inspire is extremely responsive, easy to use, and, even with the exceedingly large screen, it’s comfortable in the hand. Like most slate phones, its overall looks are designed to take a back seat to the big screen, where all the e-mailing, browsing, YouTubing and sexting happen, so we can’t fault it too much for being a wallflower.
On a similarly predictable note, the Inspire’s vitals are what we’ve come to expect from modern Android devices: a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor, 4 GB of onboard memory (with an 8-GB card included), a sharp 8-megapixel camera, and even a little Dolby sound.
So the main differentiating factor here is the software, and HTC has wisely overhauled its Sense UI for the device. The response when switching between tasks is noticeably faster, and even boot times are speedier. Pinch-to-zoom is snappy and web pages scroll smoothly. It’s still a bit of a nightmare for the widget-averse, but otherwise everything works swimmingly.
Of course, the other big draw is the Inspire’s speedy 4G data and hotspot capabilities. (For those keeping score, the Inspire cruises on AT&T’s HSPA+ flavor of 4G and not LTE. Be sure to check out our primer on the fundamental differences over at Gadget Lab.)
Though it isn’t bleeding-edge fast, the Inspire’s connection speed is a noticeable improvement from what we’re used to seeing on AT&T’s network in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paired with the Inspire’s ability to spread the love with up to five other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, I was pretty much sold on the whole package.
To be fair, I did have a few complaints. It was a struggle to get the phone to last for an entire day without a recharge. And Android’s weak video chops — in this case, I used Blockbuster and a live TV app — are made painfully apparent by the phone’s gorgeous, sharp screen.
Despite these minor quibbles, I can’t really dis a serviceable, feature-filled, sub-$100 smartphone of this caliber. Would I brave a snowpocalypse full of wolverines to get one? Absolutely not. But with its balance of value and power, you can’t deny the Inspire’s appeal.
WIRED Powerful phone at a great price. Lookit that screen! Dual mic noise canceling keeps calls clear. Overhauled Sense UI is snappy. Finally, a camera worth using. Built in DLNA for streaming media to home theaters.
TIRED Accessing the battery results in broken fingernails. Hotspot occasionally drops devices (like they’re hot) and tethering service will cost you extra. Headphone jack is woefully located at the bottom of the phone.
Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, was treated to a VIP demonstration of a rather a peculiar looking touchscreen phone that has since been dubbed a dual-screen, 4G, Android touting handset. Now, we’re not suggesting for a moment that this is something we’re likely to see anytime soon; as you can see in the video below, the phone is clearly a very, very early prototype. However, the concept behind the prototype is intruiging if not a little confusing; we’re not quite sure how the two screens are both of use and struggle to see how they would appeal, unless what we’re looking at is a dual-sim phone with a screen controlling each sim.
Our Russian isn’t really up to scratch, so we’re going by the loose translations that our floating around, but if you should happen to speak Russian, feel free to correct the translations of the video in the comments below.
What now, Verizon? We kid, we kid — regional player MetroPCS’ bid to become the first American carrier to launch a commercial LTE network won’t likely have much bearing on the competitive landscape, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. We’d already known on the record that the company was on track for a launch before the end of 2010, but Samsung — which is producing MetroPCS’ inaugural 4G handset, the Craft — is now saying on no uncertain terms that they’re ready to flip the switch in the service’s first two commercial markets, Dallas and Las Vegas, next month. Interestingly, MetroPCS won’t confirm Samsung’s statement, so we suspect Sammy just blew the lid off this thing before MetroPCS was ready. Whoops! Service pricing — and device availability beyond the Craft — both remain to be seen.