Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
Today, large companies, especially corporate giants like Samsung, do not surprise users with extraordinary products...
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Spillikins #78. Solar Chargers from Suntrica in Summer
I spent the entire week on trifles and could not finish several phone reviews. First I had to postpone the release of Sagem PUMA review, because the new firmware solved some issues and added Russian for the first time. I had to go back to the drawing board and make some changes, so the article will be published this week. I also could not complete the work on Qwerty from MTC, because I was overwhelmed by new Sony Ericsson models I had to study. I think the next announcement from the company will be interesting, but we will have to wait a long time until the models hit the shelves.
I hope to finish the reviews during the week, but now I will mention other things of importance.
Finally all manufacturers released their figures for the second quarter of 2010 and international research companies published their reviews of the current state of the market and its volumes. There are no mixed readings in the data provided by different surveys, so we will take the results of IDC.
Nokia is still the king of the mountain, but it lost 2.2 % of the world market during one year and the average price of its phones is decreasing as we have mentioned in the Spillikins many times. Samsung is growing slowly, but surely and its worldwide share of the market increased by 1.2%. Surprisingly, but Canadian RIM (which sells its products under Blackberry brand) moved ahead, though it produces only smartphones. They even managed to overtake Sony Ericsson, which stays profitable two quarters in a row, but its market share is shrinking considerably.
LG figures are interesting to analyze. The number of sold items increased marginally, which led to the decrease of its market share. The average selling price went down considerably and in the second quarter of the year the losses of the mobile department reached staggering USD101.2 mln. It is explained by the damping practices of LG in some markets (USA and Russia). In Russia they offer touchscreen models at prices comparable to Samsung handsets or lower, which eats out into the margin due to lower volumes. This way LG "buys" the market share. In the long term this strategy does not bring any clear advantages, because at some point they will have to make a U-turn. The company will have either to concentrate on the smartphone range (there are only separate models at the moment) or put emphasis on cheap models, which is not profitable as well. LG forecasts the growth of sales in the second half of the year, but the deliveries will increase by a single digit figure, so there will be no breakthrough here.
I remember how five years ago or more I had to go to the service center to update a firmware on a phone. For an ordinary user it was simple: drop in at the service center and in half an hour you get your phone back with all mistakes corrected. In 2000 I advised all people who wanted to get a new firmware: "If everything works well and you do not have any serious issues, there is no point in this". New firmware did not offer additional features, but just eliminated the bugs and added support for international carriers. It was an ordinary and mundane activity without any visible results. You had to look through the list of changes to realize what was added and so on.
During the review of the models I had to live in some service centers to find the changes in the firmware. Courtesy of Siemens we could update the firmware on an ordinary PC through a cable. Surprisingly, Siemens became the pioneer in this area. As a result we received many custom firmware created by users. Even after the demise of the manufacturer such firmware was being released. They offered new option, like apps for e-books reading and so on. It was not an initiative of the company, but the achievement of its fans. From 2004-2005 FOTA (firmware over the air) became prominent. With the help of GPRS connection the phone could receive a firmware update. This kind of update could boast only minimum corrections and it was only a share of the full firmware. In those days this way of firmware dissemination was long, expensive and unpopular. Everything changed during the last couple of years when the phones received WiFi, which offers a cheap and fast access to the Internet. Since then the size of the firmware became unimportant and the manufacturers became free to choose how to update their models.
In 2007 Apple iPhone changed the whole system. The manufacturer with one model only became a trend setter when a new firmware brought new features and apps. The concept was a revolutionary one for the mobile phones market as it required not only error correction, but new features as well. It was not only ground breaking, but it disrupted business models of Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG. Despite one platform for many models, for example, S40 for Nokia, a particular firmware for a model was controlled by the team responsible for this model. Nothing changed today. In one handset, which has been around for half a year, many bugs can be corrected, while a similar model to be launched may have all the above mentioned bugs. It happens because different teams do not exchange information about bugs effectively and serious issues may be left unattended for a long time. The manufacturer with one model does not have such problems, because they have only one team of developers, who are concentrated on one model. The end product is completely different here.
This Apple move changed the marketplace rules. People wanted to get updates not only with corrected errors (it is just a default feature now), but to receive new games and applications. Android used this approach from the very outset. They not only update the firmware, but offer a new OS version. The same strategy is also used for iOS. For Nokia it was a blow, as the company cannot update the OS itself (Maemo was an exception, which is present in the form of MeeGo, but the poor sales do not have any influence). All updates for S30, S40 and S60 provide error corrections and a limited number of unimportant applications, which was made under the external influence. The main problem of all proprietary OS is the software update, addition of new features and the change of OS versions.
A mere three years after 2007 we have completely different expectations from users. Remember how HTC promised to make Android 2.1. available for HTC Hero. The release date was postponed from month to month and the irritation of customers grew accordingly despite the availability of custom and unofficial versions of firmware, which offered not only 2.1, but other features as well. It was not a problem to install these versions, but the users wanted an official release.
Many criticized Samsung and its Android models for long delays in software updates. For example, Galaxy S released a month ago will get an update to 2.2 only at the end of September or slightly earlier. Is it long? Not really if you take into account the fact that the first Android phones from Samsung did not get updates for months.
Users want everything and as soon as possible now, so the companies should promise with caution. Over this weekend HTC promised to start updating HTC Desire to 2.2 (and add 720P video recording). By Sunday morning users on Twitter and Facebook started getting frustrated because they expected to receive new features on Friday. The update began around 13.00 BST on Sunday. These 90 MB make the phone work faster and add several simple features. Everything was transferred over the air through WiFi. You don't have to visit service centers and connect to your PC, which is not necessary here. Cool!
Unfortunately, Russian users lost HTC keypad available earlier and now they have some problems when they press ENTER (and get Russian symbols "Э", "Х") or SPACE, which inserts a question mark. I can't guess how the company tested the update to allow such serious bugs.
Have Apple and Google managed to break the stereotype? Yes, they have. It's a shame now to release a serious software update without additional free features. Even Nokia tries to offer new features for its flagship models when they are updated. At the same time the situation with ordinary phones is different. They become obsolete not only due to their characteristics, but because the manufacturers don't offer regular updates, among other things.
Unfortunately, this market strategy offers other possibilities. Manufacturers can not only update your software remotely, but uninstall "harmful" applications as well. Nobody abused their power yet, but it is only the beginning. I hope my historical review was not tiresome and helped to remember your first and second phones alongside with associated activities.
Nokia considers the product to bring it salvation; it is the Nokia N8 that Anssi Vanjoki is planning to rival the competitors with. That is probably why the model is delayed again, this time till September. They are busy with the final trimming, trying to emphasize its advantages. Let's take a look at what has been changed.
The model is slated to appear on the key markets at the end of September, around the 25th. The estimated price is EUR 460-475 depending on the market. In Russia, the price is going to be RUR 18,990, one thousand less than the initial plan. The price has been revised due to the delay (according to Victoria Eremina, Nokia Eurasia PR Director, the model was to be available on August 25 at a price of RUR 19,900).
As far as I can remember, it is for the first time that a model undergoes a significant price cut before being released to the market, even if the delay is taken into account. Usually, it's vice versa. I believe, the reason is that the Russian office is not sure that any reasonable sales can be made at a price of around RUR 20,000. At the moment, they are struggling to convince the partners that the device can be sold, and in large quantities. But that's a myth and illusion.
Stylus is part of the standard bundle for China and a number of Asian markets, but won't be available in European shipments (unless demanded by the carriers). In Russia, because of the review by your most humble servant who hasn't been singing the praises there, some first shipments are to be reinforced with a free silicone case. Regardless of the device color, the case is black, which is not very good.
In reality, the case (they insist on calling it bumper, as it is with the iPhone 4) doesn't look very appealing. The device looks better without it. Below you can find an example of a more interesting case, which however, will be available at the end of the year and through the authorized partners only (as of this writing).
In my opinion, in the light of the iPhone 4 problems and free bumper giveaways, doing something similar for one's flagship calls for unnecessary analogies, which need to be avoided at any cost. It is a very bad PR move.
To prevent problems similar to those with the Nokia N97 and Nokia X6, the Finnish company decided to restrict the early N8 shipments. That is why in October, the device will have limited availability, both in terms of numbers and countries. In effect, based on the user feedback during the first few weeks, a firmware update will be prepared and offered to everyone in the middle or at the end of November.
The delay is also related to the company trying to make the most of Symbian^3, which includes stability for all applications. One month is a lot of time, so let's wait and see what they can do.
In Russia, the device will be available around September 25. At the moment, it is not yet decided, whether the free case will stay part of the bundle in the shipments to follow. However, most likely, it won't be available to any distributor. Some 15,000 units will be provided during the first month. The quantity will then become a standard monthly shipment, which is comparable to other models of the same price range, like the Samsung Wave.
In August, Nokia bought some extra codecs, such as DivX, to install on the device. That is, support for DVDRips and other similar things should be available out of the box.
As the weeks are passing by, the stability is getting significantly better, yet a noticeable amount of some minor problems still remain.
The company is planning to have made a new browser a standard option (over-the-air update; N8 only) by the end of September. Unfortunately, we are not likely to see the browser before October or even November. At the moment, Nokia is focused on creating a browser for S40 Touch to be announced in the nearest future (the Touch platform, not the browser). Anyway, the N8 is one of the first devices with the new, enhanced browser (are you interested in a separate review of it?).
The expected arrival time of the PR firmware is the middle of August. A lot of changes are being made on a weekly basis. At the moment, they are working on the social services update (the client is to get a significant improvement).
Nokia is also considering including some free OVI Store games (those that are being offered for 1 euro or dollar or pound during August) in the bundle. The game collection can turn out to be quite an impressive one. But that will happen only if the company is very generous. At the moment, the device is becoming significantly more expensive for the company (due to e.g. its delay, extra developing time, richer software bundle).
As an example of Android opinions out there, below you can find a typical message from my account. I have been receiving at least two such messages per day during the recent several months. It is one of the latest.
Dear Eldar. I would like to thank you for your excellent reviews; I always try to read news and reviews on your website, especially those written by you.
Eldar, I would like to ask you for advice. I have been a Nokia user for many years (have owned the N70, N73, N93i, N95, 5800, and N97), and as you can understand, I have the N97 right now. To be honest, I am very disappointed with the device, no need to mention its steep price at the beginning of sales. I have read your opinion about the N8. You know, I like the Finnish company, but feel cheated after the N97. Since I have been using Symbian based phones only, I am very cautious about new operating systems. Can you please tell me what to do now? I like technological novelties and flagships very much. However, my unfortunate experience with the N97 prevents me from even thinking about the N8. Should I maybe turn to Android? Alas, I have zero experience with the os. Tell me, should I wait for the N8 or move to another "system"? In your opinion, what phone is a technological leader now and will remain so for a significant amount of time?
Thank you in advance.
I believe, no comments are needed; you can get it all from the message itself.
While RIM is readying the official debut of version 6 of its operating system, some bad news come from unexpected places. Starting from October 11, RIM services (e.g. chat, e-mail) will be banned in UAE. The reason is that the government wants to control its citizens' correspondence, and the innocuous wish cannot come true with the servers being out of the country. The situation is similar to that in Russia, the only difference being that RIM agreed to its servers being moved to Russia and controlled by the intelligence service. I cannot understand why the company couldn't reach an agreement with UAE. If they managed to do the trick in Russia, there shouldn't be any moral, technical or ethical problems on the RIM side in UAE. It's a big secret to me.
Let's get back to the RIM announcements, though. On August 3, there will be a joint presentation with AT&T in the U.S., where the slider will probably be shown. If you can't wait to see the BOLD 9780 for Europe, the corresponding video is already available online. Just take a look.
Sergei Villianov from 3dnews.ru and I are puzzled. Neither of us has ever come across an AMOLED screen with a reflective layer for a better outdoor performance. From my experience, AMOLED should be readable in direct sunlight (taking into account the Nexus One, it may not be that straightforward, though). I can hardly believe that there exist AMOLED screens with a reflective layer in the world today. I will be very grateful, if any of our readers can debrief me on whether that is theoretically possible or not and what advantages and disadvantages such devices may have.
Talking about displays, I remember to have missed the issue of HTC switching from Samsung AMOLED screens to Sony Super LCD. At the moment, that is true for two models only – i.e. the HTC Desire and Nexus One (European version). The new screens are claimed to be even better. The official reason for the change is Samsung's inability to supply the volumes required. I believe that the real reason is that HTC is preparing to compete with Samsung in the Android market, where the latter has Super AMOLED as an advantage. I hear that Sony Super LCD is no worse, which is possible. But we will have to wait for some commercial devices to make the comparison. For some five minutes, I did get my hands on a sample, and the picture appeared better than that in the HTC Desire but not as bright as in the Samsung Wave (unfortunately, I didn't have the Galaxy S nearby). In a word, we will give the devices a proper treatment once they make it to the retail.
My groaning over the HTC Desire battery not being enough, which is also true for any other phone, has forced me to start using a car charger more often (something I am not accustomed to) and taking the mains charger with me downtown (just in case, the more so because it's small). I am also in the market for a standalone battery now. Perhaps I should take some of those from several different companies for a test and pick the best one for purchase. But I don't have time for that.
Unexpectedly, an old lady friend of mine shows up and offers me to have a look at the solar batteries by Finnish Suntrica. It is a young company that offers solar chargers with batteries for sale. You wear the battery on your backpack or shoulder bag during the day and then connect it to your phone. I have an old W-102 solar panel, but it has been discontinued and is not sold anymore. Hence there isn't going to be a word about it.
The W201 SolarStrap is a more interesting model. The special thrill is that, in contrast to many Chinese analogues in solid cases, this one is flexible. Its two main parts have a Velcro fastener, which allows you to attach the battery to a bag strap. It is not that easy with a shorts side pocket, as one of the pieces is always sticking out and hitting against your leg. That is quite annoying. Hence I'm wearing the battery on my bag strap, which is quite fine.
The initial charge should better be done at home; an old Nokia charger (the one prior to the 2-mm plug) will do. It is some former Nokia employees that created Suntrica, but I don't understand why they chose that particular connector design. If due to some reasons microUSB is not okay, the 2-mm plug would be better. Around the globe, the battery ships with a regular Nokia adapter only. In Russia, the early shipments will feature an assortment of those: Nokia 2.1 mm, Nokia microUSB, USB female, Samsung D600, Samsung G600, LG KG80, and USB HTC-1.
Based on my experience, a sunny day in Moscow with the battery roaming from the car to the office chair and further on will give you about half the charge or slightly less than that. In my case, that is one quarter of the HTC Desire charge. Looks like an emergency solution to me, nothing to write home about. According to the user guide, it requires 12 sunny hours to charge the battery fully (you can't even dream of that in Moscow). Is it suitable for our region? Not really.
The technical characteristics of the battery are as follows: 5.5 V, 800 mAh, 3.4 Wh. There exists a variety of similar but "non-flexible" solutions, with better characteristics and an astonishing price range from USD 50 to several hundred in the market. The difference between them all is not that apparent to me.
The battery under review costs EUR 49 in the company shop in Europe. The price for Russia is yet to be finalized but will definitely be higher. It appears to be a niche device; moreover, not a cheap one and only for summer, which limits the demand even further. It will be a good choice if you hike a lot or need an emergency power supply, though.
The build quality is good. Somehow, I didn't like the idea of a blinking indicator during the test period. You have to keep track of how many times it blinks and remember what charge percentage that corresponds to. It is similar to the wireless headset blinking, which I am always annoyed with. Why can't they make a cheap and which is more important, simple power indicator on the battery case? That would be both stylish and more useful.
Suntrica also has the W202 model with bright colors specifically for the iPod or iPhone.
I don't know to what extent it is something that you would buy for yourself. Getting one as a useful present is obviously fine, though. Do you think that there is a market for external batteries? Does anybody need them, and if yes, what for? Thank you in advance for the replies on our forum.
Have a good working week. Despite the heat, I believe that you can do good deeds and smile more often to those around you. Thank you for that.
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Published 03 August 2010
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