x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mobile phones morph into computers on-the-go

Technology review Call them what you like - mobile phones, smartphones - we do more and more with our mobile devices and we take them everywhere.

Mobile phones have become closer to computers, making them handy on-the-go machines.
Mobile phones have become closer to computers, making them handy on-the-go machines.

Call them what you like - mobile phones, smartphones - we do more and more with our mobile devices and we take them everywhere. They have evolved from devices purely for making phone calls to tools for browsing the web, sending e-mails, playing games, watching videos, taking photos and much more. This requires an input interface that lets us interact with the device in ways not well supported by the traditional keypad. Interface mobile phones that you control just by touching them with a finger or a small pen-like stylus have been on the market for many years now. Only in the past couple of years, however, have they become universally popular. We have taken a closer look at some of what is on offer among touchscreen mobile phones. Keep in mind that the iPhone 3G is the only phone on offer that has a contract included, which includes SMS, voice minutes and data. Making fair price comparisons goes beyond the scope of this article.

iPhone 3G, from Dh375 with a 12-month contract shuffle.to/iphone3g Apple revolutionised the mobile phone industry when it released the first iPhone in 2007, and it arguably set the standard. With the iPhone 3G, released about a year ago, Apple took great strides forward in speed and functionality. The just released version 3.0 of the iPhone software added full Arabic support, copy-paste functionality, MMS and more. With iPhone 3G you get a user-friendly device tightly integrated with a desktop computer (Mac or Windows PC). The touchscreen technology Apple uses on the iPhone 3G is second to none. The interface is well suited to touch control since it was built with touch in mind from the start. On the hardware side, you get 8GB or 16GB of memory (not expandable), a 2-megapixel camera that cannot record video, Bluetooth with limited functionality, and Wi-Fi. Compare the individual specifications of the iPhone 3G with any other device in this article and it falls short in most aspects. What makes the iPhone 3G a winner is the interface, the integration between the mobile device and a desktop computer, and the applications and games available. The iTunes AppStore, available for customers in the UAE, has just turned one year old and has already published more than 50,000 applications and seen more than one billion downloads. One limitation is that with a UAE account on iTunes you cannot purchase and download music and movies. The successor to the 3G model, iPhone 3GS, is expected to be launched in the UAE by Etisalat next month. It sports the same 3.0 version of the software you can download for free for the iPhone 3G and adds features including a 3-megapixel camera that can record video, a compass and an improved screen. For the 16GB iPhone 3G, the prices of the plans range from Dh375 down plus Dh499 a month, to Dh2,575 up front plus Dh199 per month on a 12-month contract.

LG KM900 Arena, Dh2,399 shuffle.to/lgarena In many aspects the LG Arena is similar to the Samsung Jet. The screen has responsive multi-touch functionality, and graphics and video look good on the display. The Arena has a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus that can capture video at 720x480 pixels and 30 frames per second. It also comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio and GPS. LG made sure there is plenty of memory, with 8GB built-in, expandable to 32GB using a MicroSD slot. The user interface is based on a cube that you can turn around to reveal one of four sides: contacts, widgets, shortcuts and a customisable home screen. It is fun, but does not really add anything in terms of functionality, in my opinion. However, I find it more user-friendly than the Jet's interface and it is well adapted to touch input using fingers. With support for Dolby surround sound, MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV and many other media formats, the Arena can perform as a very good portable media player. In conclusion, the LG Arena is a very stylish mobile phone with advanced functionality, especially when it comes to multimedia.

Nokia N97, Dh3,299 shuffle.to/nokian97 My first impression of Nokia's new flagship mobile phone - or as Nokia wants to call it, mobile computer - is that it is smaller than I had anticipated. Nokia has managed to pack a lot of features and functionality into a small package. With a gentle push the screen slides out of the way, revealing a physical keyboard. I love physical keyboards but to me the N97's leaves something to be desired; it's too soft for my taste and the layout is non-standard, making it hard to get used to. The N97's 3.5-inch screen is less bright and crisp than some of the competitors' displays. Both the LG Arena and the Samsung Jet are better choices if multimedia such as photos and video are what is important to you. The N97 has a good 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and dual LED flash, which is also capable of capturing video at 640x480 at 30 frames per second. The stereo speakers are good for such a small device and the N97 both receives and transmits FM radio. One impressive aspect is that it comes with 32GB of memory built in, expandable to 64GB with a MicroSD card. The main problem with the hardware is that the N97 is underpowered. It desperately needs a faster processor, as starting applications, switching applications and doing almost anything takes too long. Combine this with some aspects of the user interface not being well designed for touch by fingers and it is enough for some customers to look elsewhere. If you want more applications and games for your N97, you can get them from store.ovi.com and you can buy music from music.nokia.ae. If you want a mobile device that can do almost everything your notebook computer can, the Nokia N97 is a good choice. If you are looking for a multimedia device, however, there are better choices.

Samsung Jet, Dh2,249 shuffle.to/samsungjet Samsung's Jet has been called the fastest mobile phone in the world and, since it is running an 800MHz processor, that label might just be true. Turn the Jet on and you will see the 3.1-inch screen is bright and crisp, the best of any reviewed here. With a 5-megapixel camera capable of recording video - 720x480 at 30 frames per second - watching what you capture on the Jet's display is a joy. The camera has autofocus, a two-LED flash and plenty of storage space with 2GB built-in memory, expandable up to 16GB with a MicroSD card. The Jet is well equipped for communication: 3G high-speed data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio and GPS. The Dolphin web browser - built on WebKit 3.0, the same foundation as the Safari browser on the iPhone - is impressive in functionality and displays web pages well. As with most other similar devices, the Jet has an on-screen keyboard, and while it is good, unfortunately you have to press pretty firmly on some keys. The thing that annoys me with the Jet is the way the interface is based on a screen representation of a cube that you can spin around with a flick of a finger, with each side representing different functionality. To me this is, much like the LG Arena, nice to look at but frustrating. One aspect of the interface I do like is the customisable home screen. The Jet comes with lots of widgets for Facebook, YouTube and more, which you can place on the home screen as you like. Overall, Samsung's Jet is my pick if you want a fast multimedia-capable mobile phone but do not necessarily care about some otherwise typical smartphone features. It is fast and responsive, has a gorgeous screen, and though the interface takes some getting used to, it is not a deal-breaker.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, Dh2,349 shuffle.to/xperiax1 Sony Ericsson's Xperia X1, launched last year and with rumours of a successor coming soon, is the only device in the review that runs Windows Mobile 6.1 - and that is also the main drawback. The interface is built for a stylus, not fingers. Luckily a stylus is included. An upgrade for the phone to Windows Mobile 6.5 would be welcome, but I can find no such official upgrade. Of the devices reviewed in this article, the Xperia resembles the Nokia N97 the most. Like the N97, the Xperia's physical keyboard is hidden behind the screen and by gently pressing the screen it slides out of the way revealing the keyboard. I like the Xperia's keyboard better than Nokia's. Even though it is obviously small, it is relatively easy to type on and similar to the full-sized keyboards we are used to. It does have an on-screen keyboard as well, and it is a good backup if you do not want to slide out the real keyboard. In communications the Xperia is well equipped: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G data. The Xperia's web browser, Opera Mobile, renders websites very well considering the small screen size. One interesting thing is the Xpanel interface, with up to nine customisable positions or panels; think of it like having different virtual desktops on your computer screen. In many ways, I like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1; I like the keyboard, I like the solid feeling of holding and using it, and it is packed with useful functionality. Unfortunately, the fact that you need to use a stylus and that it runs Windows Mobile detracts from the otherwise good impression. However, if you're looking for a Windows Mobile device with a great physical keyboard, check out the Xperia X1.

Magnus Nystedt is the managing editor of Shufflegazine.com