After three long years, Google have finally released a version of Chrome for their Android mobile operating system. Why the long delay? Google engineers say that it’s because they wanted to deliver a full-fledged version of Chrome for Android, rather than a watered down ‘lite’ version. I’ve been putting it through its paces since it was released last Tuesday, so let’s have a look at how it fares.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Chrome for Android provides access to pretty much all of the data you’ve stored on the desktop version – bookmarks, history and passwords. It also provides something new, which is access to the tabs that you left open on the desktop version of the browser, meaning it’s very easy to jump from platform to platform without breaking your stride. It also includes that useful incognito mode, which can be even more useful in a mobile browser.
Another thing that’ll jump to your attention is the amount of polish that’s been applied. The browser looks great, even better than the stock Android browser, with everything well laid out. The animations used are also top notch, giving convincing feedback without slowing things down. From the deck of cards paradigm of open pages (including that useful swipe to close gesture that’s great in Ice Cream Sandwich) to the way you can switch between open tabs by pulling from one side of the screen to another, each animation is adroitly done.
In terms of actual speed, Chrome for Android is a little bit behind the stock Android Browser in Ice Cream Sandwich. I’m willing to excuse this for now however, as Chrome for Android is still classed as Beta software and has only just been released to the wider world. It’s not something that’ll likely notice in daily use, and hopefully will be sorted out quite expeditiously. A bigger problem might be the lack of Flash support. This is something that Adobe have publically said will never be supported on Chrome for Android, so you’ll have to rely on the stock browser for any sites that haven’t switched to HTML 5 content.
Even with these minor issues, Google Chrome for Android (Beta) is quite easy to recommend. I’ve been using it as my default browser for almost a week now, and there’s a lot to like here. If you’re running Ice Cream Sandwich, you can download Google Chrome for Android here or by searching for ‘Google Chrome’ in the Android Market.
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance copywriter and tech journalist. William writes for MobileFun.co.uk, the UK’s leading online retailer of Skylanders merchandise, including the Skylanders Triple Pack G and the Skylanders Triple Pack H.
MMORPGs are an utterly unique genre of videogame. Not in their actual mechanics, which are the logical combination of single player RPGs and multiplayer aspects, but in their Siren-like appeal to publishers. Many big franchises have gotten into the business, and all have been dashed upon the rocks of Blizzard’s titanic World of WarCraft – Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XI and Warhammer Online, to name but a few. Now, a new challenger has appeared, bearing perhaps the biggest license of them all - Star Wars. Is it destined to fail as well? I don’t think so – let me tell you why – legendary developer Bioware is at the helm, and they know how to craft a beautiful singleplayer RPG experience.
The Old Republic is set in a new time frame for Star Wars: 300 years after the events of Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic (abbreviated KOTOR) series of singleplayer RPGS and 3,500 years before the events of the film trilogies. That gives Bioware a rich canvas on which to draw, with enough fan material to make things recognisably Star Wars but far enough away that there’s also a degree of creative freedom.
The developers used the opportunity well, giving life to experiences that are memorable and gratifying to experience as a fan: Building your own lightsaber and then using to defeat a massive beast. Flying space combat missions against massive early Star Destroyers and the whine of proto TIE fighters. Laying down covering fire as a massively armoured Republic commando. In The Old Republic, you can fulfil your nerdy fantasies.
Companions are another mechanic taken from Knights of The Old Republic that complement the game’s singleplayer focus. While here you only receive one companion instead of three or five, they still serve to shore up your weaknesses and allow you to overspecialise your character. Where a healing-centric character would normally have a hard time with the singleplayer, here you’re given a strong tank companion upon whom you can use your healing talents. If you’re playing as a tough tank yourself, then the companion choice is a healer; if you’re playing as a hard-hitting but fragile DPS (damage per second) character then you’ll receive a support companion. It’s a clever move, and gets better as you receive companions of different archetypes as you progress through the story. This gives you even more tactical freedom.
As well as a gameplay role, they also serve to provide reaction to the decisions you make in the game. These decisions, in the form of old-school conversation trees, are another old school mechanic that work brilliantly in SWTOR. These give you a much more active role in the game’s story, as you’re free to shape quests (and their long term outcomes) as you see fit. You can play as an evil Republic Soldier or a good Sith in the Empire, and the choices you make seem to have real impact down the line, particularly quests that are specific to your class. Your actions can sometimes have unexpected consequences, and as you can’t load the game if it goes badly, you are left thinking about your choices.
Ultimately, I believe that Star Wars: The Old Republic stands a better chance of competing against World of WarCraft than other MMO that’s come before. Legitimising the single player experience by setting the game in a rich universe and adding likeable companions and dialogue trees gives The Old Republic has a chance to attract and keep a different kind of player. I’m only level 29 out of 50, but already I’ve found enough here to like that I’m convinced I’ll take my Jedi to level 50… and probably try several other classes as well, on both sides of the Empire-Republic divide. If you’re a fan of strong single-player experiences, then you should definitely check out The Old Republic.
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance copywriter and tech journalist. William writes for MobileFun.co.uk, the UK’s leading online retailer of ringtones, including a classic phone ringtone and the Formula 1 ringtone.
The rumoured Lumia 910 first teased on Twitter by Eldar Murtazin has been given additional credence from a Dutch retailer.
The phone includes most of the same specifications as the US-bound Nokia Lumia 900, including the 1.4 GHz single core CPU, Windows Phone Mango and a 4.3” display. The big difference is that the LTE-support coming to the US has been stripped out, and a 12 megapixel camera has been added instead of the 900’s 8 megapixel snapper.
While ultimately the listing could be the work of an over-eager staffer, it does seem likely that we will see such a phone announced for the EU market. While it may be called the Nokia Lumia 900 or Nokia Lumia 910, that 12 megapixel camera sounds quite reasonable. Expect to hear more about the phone over the next few week as we await the Mobile World Congress at the end of February.
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance copywriter and tech journalist. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of phone chargers, Galaxy covers and cases for iPhone.
Huawei’s latest smartphone is part of the Chinese company’s push to offer more high-specification phones that high-end consumers will take a serious look at.
The single-core phone does an excellent job at keeping up with its dual-core competitors though, showing surprisingly good scores in a number of synthetic benchmarks. The results are perhaps the best we’ve seen for a single-core device, showing that Huawei definitely know their stuff.
It’s not even running Ice Cream Sandwich, which provided the Galaxy Nexus’ incredibly good benchmark results. We do know that it’s launched in China with Ice Cream Sandwich just recently, so hopefully that update will be hitting the rest of the world sometime soon.
Elsewhere, the phone impresses. The phone has a simple but classy look, and it’s available in six colours. The battery is giant for such a small single-core device (1930 mAh) and lasts for about a day and a half of moderate use. The eight megapixel rear snapper and two megapixel front camera are both excellent as well.
All in all, it’s a surprisingly excellent phone. While I doubt many will rush out to buy one if they’ve already got the Samsung Galaxy S2 or a similar phone, it’s definitely a great sign for their upcoming ‘Diamond’ series phones. These handsets are reportedly quite high-specification and thin to boot, so if Huawei can wring the same kind of performance out of them then they’ll be sure-fire winners.
The Ascend P1 S, the ‘world’s thinnest smartphone’ at 6.68 mm, will come out soon as well, so definitely be sure to check out the reviews of that one as soon as they’re available in the second quarter of 2012.
Sony have announced that their latest handset, the Sony Xperia S, will be heading to the UK in March.
The smartphone, which was previously leaked under its codename Nozomi, is a high-performance beast. It boasts a 4.3 inch 720p HD display, a 1.5 GHz dual core processor and an impressive 12 megapixel rear camera. There’s also a few lovely extras, like NFC and PlayStation certification. The only small flaw is that it is expected to ship with Android 2.3, but Sony assures us that it will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich by the second quarter of 2012.
The phone is very much the Europe-based counterpart to the Xperia Ion, which will ship with a slightly larger display and LTE support. LTE isn’t scheduled to arrive in the UK until 2015, so it’s a well-reasoned decision.
The phone has been picked up by at least three retailers in the UK thus far – Phones4U will exclusively stock the white version of the phone, while 3 and O2 have both independently claimed that the phone will be available on contract on their networks. Three have even published a short video teaser of the phone, so check it out if you like:
Sony have a reputation for producing very solid smartphones that drip style, and the Xperia S looks no different. Look for them to be a popular choice when they launch in March, particularly when they get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Samsung have revealed the latest upgrade to their Galaxy line — the retooled Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus. While there’s no word on the cost or when it’ll hit consumers, we do know all about its delicate internals.
So what’s inside the value-orientated Galaxy phone? Well, there’s an upgrade to a decently quick 1 GHz single core processor, a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash and a glossy plastic back. The screen has also been upgraded to 3.65”, although the resolution is only 320 x 480. There’s also the standard assortment of wireless connectivity, via Bluetooth 3.0, HSPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 n as well as assisted GPS.
All in all, it’s a nominal upgrade that isn’t going to set the world on fire. Of course, Ice Cream Sandwich is going nowhere near this phone - this is a purely budget affair. Still, TouchWiz and Gingerbread are still decent choices if you’re not paying top dollar, and the original Galaxy Ace was well-reviewed in its time.
The Galaxy Ace was available on contract for £15 a month on its release, so expect a similar price point for this one too.
This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s largest online retailers of the Griffin Survivor, Jabra HTC Wildfire skin and Amazon Kindle cover. Source originally spotted by Adam Whitworth.
Homeworld is one of my favourite games, developed in that incredible period of PC game development in the late nineties that also saw the release of classics like Fallout and StarCraft. The revolutionary title was the first fully 3D real time strategy game, a stark contrast to the low resolution 2D graphics of StarCraft just a year and a half before. Its large-scale space fleet combat was complemented by a rich setting, with a unique art style, chilling music and moving storyline. The game was developed by Relic Entertainment, who would later find great success with other strategy titles in the Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000 series.
As with any studio, a number of the original Homeworld developers have since left the studio. Many of these have now formed a new development house called Blackbird Interactive, which is working on a large-scale sci-fi title called HARDWARE. It is still in an early stage of development, as its official website at longmarchindustries.com contains only concept artwork and an invitation to request access to the game on Facebook.
This concept artwork though, is quite something. Immediately recognisable as being in the same visual style as Homeworld, it features massive spaceships buried in sand (a motif from the very beginning of Homeworld’s story) and massive land and space-going vehicles designed to explore and excavate them.
Like Homeworld’s expansion Cataclysm, these vehicles are operated by groups of miners, all of whom are loosely affiliated under the banner of the interstellar megacorp Long March Industries. The gameplay will revolve around these groups, as the miners fight to explore and control sections of the world and its hidden treasures.
The gameplay also seems as though it may be similar, with commanding “a fleet of massive vehicles” being promised by the developers. The game is expected to include some social elements as well, in a blurring of the boundaries between social and AAA games. A persistent world, where you’re fighting with and against groups of your friends, could be quite something. Blackbird have also stated they’d like to start off on social networks like Facebook, jump to iOS and Android (both phones and tablets), and finally conclude with a PC build on Steam, with console ports being a later possibility.
If the new team, which does include many of the key figures from Homeworld’s development, works well together then this might be one of the hottest games of the new year. A hybridisation of the AAA and social games space paired with a new sci-fi IP is an intriguing combination, and I’ll certainly be looking to cover the game in more detail in the months to come. The game is due to be released sometime next year, so stay posted.
If Sony employee Siddharth Sai G is to be believed, those of you with recent Xperia handsets should be getting Ice Cream Sandwich in the very first week of the new year.
The tweets posted by the Sony Entertainment employee were hash-tagged with #InsiderNews and read “#ICS expected on Jan 1st week for all 2011 Xperia™ branded devices.”
The employee later went on to state that there wouldn’t be an OEM-themed release of Ice Cream Sandwich; instead a skin-less version would be developed. I would take this to mean that basic functionality, e.g. device drivers and other compatibility issues, would be looked at first, before branding. For a Sony Ericsson that has traditionally lagged behind in sending out updates, this a bold change of pace. The update should be available for the entire 2011 and 2012 Xperia-branded line (some eleven phones so far), in stark contrast to Samsung and LG who are focusing on bringing the update to only to their top handsets.
However, the tweet goes against to previous statements by Sony employees, including an official blog post by Sony Ericsson Italy which said that the update wouldn’t arrive until March at the earliest. Siddharth was reportedly intrigued by the confusion, but reiterated he was still hearing that Ice Cream Sandwich was still scheduled for the original date of the first week of January.
The story got more interesting when he tweeted just yesterday that Sony have released an alpha Ice Cream Sandwich ROM to developers. While the build doesn’t yet have all device drivers functioning (meaning no cellular data, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc.) you can have a play with Ice Cream Sandwich and see how it performs. The catch? The release has only been made for three Xperia phones — the Arc S, Neo V and Ray.
This is a very good sign that he was right about the early release date; so if you’re a Sony handset owner then you might start getting your hopes up for a big scoop of Ice Cream Sandwich sometime soon.
Samsung have reported a record year in 2011, surpassing 300 million handsets shipped in the first eleven months of the year. Even without the busy Christmas period, Samsung have already sold 20 million more phones than they did last year.
That success is largely down to the popularity of their Galaxy S line, including the older Galaxy S and the newer Galaxy S2, which still holds the record as the best selling Android phone this year with 10 million sales by itself.
With a strong lineup of expensive phones including the tablet-like Galaxy Note and Ice Cream Sandwich reference phone Galaxy Nexus, Samsung are likely to continue their success into the new year. They’re also expected to announce a followup to the Galaxy SII, the Galaxy SIII, which is expected to ship with even more powerful hardware and the latest version of Android as well.
All in all, it’s excellent news for the world number 2 smartphone manufacturer, as they continue to outpace Android rivals HTC and LG. With a potentially a new Retina display tablet that could potentially beat the upcoming iPad 3, their futures look very rosy indeed.
Samsung is set to announce an 11.6” tablet at the Mobile World Conference in February next year, just ahead of Apple’s rumoured release of the iPad 3 in June. The tablet would be the Galaxy Tab 11.6.
The rumour, which comes via a “trusted source” speaking to BGR, includes some iPad-killing specifications for the new tablet. The tablet is dominated by an 11.6” display at a frankly stunning 2560 x 1600 resolution, a doubling of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, resulting in the same 16:10 aspect ratio. According to the source, the slightly larger display is compensated by a much thinner bezel, producing a tablet not much larger than that 10” standard.
How does that compare to other products thus far?
Well, the proposed tablets biggest competitor would be a Retina display iPad, which would have a resolution of 2048 x 1536 (again, double that of its predecessor) and presumably the same 9.7” display. That works out to a pixel density of 263.92 pixels per inch (PPI) for the iPad 3, whilst the Galaxy Tab 11.6 would be slightly lower at 260.25.
That’s still a ways behind smartphone resolutions these days, with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus having 315.83 PPI and the iPhone 4S 329.65 PPI. With a much larger display though, expect this new Galaxy Tab 11.6 to provide more than enough pixels for your viewing pleasure.
This new tablet’s not just about its display though – it’ll also ship with a dual core 2 GHz processor and Android version Ice Cream Sandwich including NFC-powered Android Beam. Not bad indeed.
The Barcelona-based conference is looking to be quite spectacular, with a number of announcements rumoured, including quite a few Android tablets and smartphones from leading manufacturers including HTC, Asus and now Samsung.
This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of a Kindle cover range as well as the Nikon l120 case. All pixel density calculations performed via pixeldensitycalculator.com.
Japanese giant Fujitsu has announced its latest smartphone: The incredibly thin Arrows ES IS12F.
The new phone’s long name belies its svelte figure, which measures just 6.7 mm at its thinnest point. In comparison, the supermodel-esque Motorola RAZR is 0.4 mm thicker. The Arrows is also 105 g, a full 22 g lighter than the RAZR. That’s a difference you can feel in your pocket.
Like the RAZR, the Arrows also includes a surprisingly wide array of quick components and extended functionality. The phone rocks a 4” AMOLED display at 480 x 800 pixels as well as a 5 megapixel camera with (rarely found in smartphones) image stabilisation. Inside the case, you’ll find a 1.4 GHz single core CPU and the normal assortment of wireless connectivity, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, CDMA and GSM. The battery isn’t particularly capacious at 1,400 mAh, but is still good for 400 minutes (that’s 6 hours, 40 minutes) of talk time.
The Fujitsu handset also includes a few Japan-specific features, including a water-resistant coating, digital TV tuner and IR receiver. It’s certainly an interesting phone, and hopefully it’ll make it out of Japan after its release there in January next year.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a phone that I’ve been excited about for a while now. As well as supporting a large 720p HD display, it’s also the latest Google reference phone, a designation given to phones that accompany a new Android version. That version, 4.0, is called Ice Cream Sandwich and brings a host of modifications to the Android experience. The combination of exciting new hardware and software could be quite something – let’s see how it compares to its predecessors and the giant in the room, the iPhone 4S.
The Galaxy Nexus sports an evolutionary rather than revolutionary design, with the primary innovation coming from the enlarged 4.65” HD display. Playing 720p HD content, whether streamed from YouTube or played from a downloaded film, is quite something. The display is incredibly crisp and clear, with the Super AMOLED screen providing good colour saturation and respectable brightness.
Beyond this, the Galaxy Nexus is a combination of the popular Galaxy S2 (with its plasticky back cover) and the previous Google reference phone, the Nexus S (with its curved frame and screen). There’s little here that we haven’t seen before, but the overall package is well crafted. The phone sits nicely in the hand despite its massive size, with the backing providing excellent grip and the rounded corners making the phone seem a bit smaller than it actually is.
The Galaxy Nexus comes with similar specifications to the Galaxy S2, albeit with a different chipset. There’s a 1.2 GHz dual core processor and 1 GB of RAM. Inside, you’ll find 16 or 32 GB of internal memory, but there’s no micro SD slot to expand your storage capacity.
Overall, things are much better than you’d might expect, and it seems to be largely down to Ice Cream Sandwich. Everything feels speedier, whether it’s swiping around the home screen, navigating long menus or browsing the web. This last task is much faster than any other phone on the market – 10% faster than the iPhone 4S, its nearest competitor, and almost twice as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4.
Videos and games played on the HD screen also play well, without any kind of stuttering or artefacts. It’s hard to judge the video performance completely, as there are few natively 720p 3D games at present.
The biggest flaw when it comes to performance is that of the phone’s camera. While it’s a five megapixel sensor backed with a complete lack of shutter lag, it’s some way behind the iPhone 4S. Too often, photos come out criminally blurry – I’d much rather have an option to toggle instant shots for certain scenes and then have it perform as a normal camera other times.
It’s here that the Galaxy Nexus really sings. Whilst its design and performance aren’t the best on the market, the addition of Ice Cream Sandwich makes a huge difference when differentiating the Galaxy Nexus from other smartphones on the market.
The operating system is a combination of two lines, Gingerbread (2.3) for smartphones and Honeycomb (3.2) for tablets. This means a lot of changes that smartphone users haven’t seen have been ported across, most notably better multi-tasking. In addition to the changes made between Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, there have also been a whole host of revisions from Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich.
Visually, things are much different. A new font (Roboto) and colour scheme (blue and grey) has been implemented, giving the whole thing a very futuristic look. The entire OS has also had its UI streamlined and organised, make it arguably as easy to use as iOS. Generally, things have been moved outside of menus and made more easily accessible.
If I had to pick one word to describe the new OS, I’d say consistent. While Gingerbread’s design guidelines seemed to only be sporadically applied, Ice Cream Sandwich feels like a more polished experience, where every nook and cranny has been revised.
With these changes (which are detailed here) in place, I honestly feel that Android finally can claim to be just as easy to use as Apple’s iOS, whilst retaining its lead in functionality with traditional strong points like dynamic widgets, notifications and content sharing are more polished than ever before.
So how does the Galaxy Nexus stack up? As it stands, it’s got two unique features – that 720p screen and Ice Cream Sandwich. There are a few other points of interest, like the inclusion of NFC, but these won’t make a difference to the average consumer.
That 720p is thus far unique in the EU, but won’t remain so for long. The HTC Rezound has already launched in the US, and packs the same amount of pixels into 4.3” for a higher pixel density. The Galaxy Note also steals a bit of the pie, although it’s status as a phone-tablet hybrid disqualifies it somewhat. Nevertheless, by the middle of next year we’re sure to see a whole host of Android phones at this new standard.
Ice Cream Sandwich will be an even more short living selling point – Ice Cream Sandwich has already been unofficially ported to a number of handsets from a range of manufacturers, and will make its official debut elsewhere in early next year. Still, the Galaxy Nexus will be the first to get new updates for Ice Cream Sandwich, and will come with an entirely stock Android experience, which can be a selling point to some.
However, the loss of both of these points don’t really matter. It’s pretty much a given that a phone released today will be outdated in a matter of months. What does matter is how it stacks up against its competition. Against the Galaxy S2 or the HTC Sensation, I’d say that it holds a fair lead – the 720p display makes a big difference to your everyday use, and the new OS compounds this.
Against the iPhone 4S, it’s a bit closer but I’d still give the edge to the Galaxy Nexus. While it does have one glaring failure in the disappointing camera, in every other area it provides a better experience than the iPhone 4S – a bigger display at equally high pixel density and a modern and fresh operating system.
If you’re looking for the title of ‘best phone in the world (for the moment)’, then the Galaxy Nexus is that phone. It won’t be there forever, but if you’re looking for a solid phone that’ll compare well against phones of the next six months, then the Galaxy Nexus is a good choice. If you’ve already got a Galaxy S2 it’s a closer call; with Ice Cream Sandwich coming soon the best thing to do might be to wait.
All in all, the Galaxy Nexus is an excellent phone and a fitting reference phone for Ice Cream Sandwich. While it doesn’t beat every phone in every category, for its unique blend of ICS and 720p I’d still call it the best phone in the world.
This article was written by William Judd. William writes for GearZap.com, the UK’s leading online retailer of the new Kindle cover, third party Kindle covers and the Panasonic Lumix case.
Samsung have just unveiled their latest handset in China, the SCH-W999. The phone is certainly unique in its design, sporting twin screens back to back. The phone, which is a China Telecom exclusive, looks to be targeted towards the country’s wealthy business market with an expected price tag of $1600 or ¥10,000.
The phone’s specifications are fairly good for a 2011 Gingerbread handset. As well as the two 3.5” screens, which run at 480 x 800 resolution, there’s a dual core processor running at 1.2 GHz and support for dual SIM cards (noticing a theme here?) which can be useful for international travel or separating your business and personal lives. The phone runs Gingerbread with Samsung’s Touchwiz additions, and also sports a five megapixel camera, Bluetooth 3 and Wi-Fi.
If you’re not dissuaded by the high price, then you could potentially buy one when it’s released next year – the phone supports China Telecom’s CDMA2000 as well as penta-band GSM. At $1600 though, you could instead buy three iPhones or Galaxy Nexii – it’s a hard sell to us foreigners!
Motorola have just announced that one of the rumoured RAZR variants for the Chinese market is real — the Motorola XT928. The new handset, which is exclusive to the China Telecom provider and its CDMA2000 network, is quite a beast.
It comes with a 4.5” screen at 1280 x 720, a dual core 1.2 GHz processor and a massive 13 megapixel camera. While it’s slightly thicker than the original RAZR, it still packs an impressive amount of tech into a very small space.
The XT928 runs Gingerbread, but will likely be upgraded to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with the rest of its RAZR brethren sometime next year. Will we see the XT928 released worldwide? It’s hard to say, but Motorola may be forced into a move sooner rather than later, as 720p screens and high-megapixel cameras are quickly becoming the standard for top-of-the-line smartphones.