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Amazon Fire Phone first impressions

19 Jun 2014

Amazon has been trying to fully break into the hardware scene since the launch of its first Kindle e-reader. Yet, to date, despite the success of the Kindle, and the launch of its subsequent Kindle Fire range of tablets, for years there's been one serious gap in Amazon's portfolio – its lack of a smartphone.

Last night Amazon plugged this gap, unveiling its first-ever smartphone, the Fire Phone. Featuring a number of innovative software and hardware features, including a glasses-free 3D display, the Fire Phone has sparked debate within the smartphone industry, leading many to question how it will fare in the increasingly competitive market.

Apart from the Fire Phone's four front-facing cameras, Amazon's handset is fairly unassuming in its look and features a rubber frame, Gorilla Glass front and anodised aluminium buttons on its sides.Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon claims that, while the Fire Phone isn't waterproof and dustproof, like many of the recent IP-certified top-end Android smartphones we've seen this year, it is tougher and significantly more scratch resistant than the average handset. This could prove a key selling point differentiating it from key competitors, such as the HTC One M8 and Sony Xperia Z2, which are both prone to picking up marks.

A consequence of the Fire Phone's "tough" design is that it is thicker and heavier than competing handsets in its size bracket, measuring in at 139x67x8.9mm and weighing 160g. The Fire Phone's weight could be an issue for smartphone users who are accustomed to feather-light handsets, such as the 112g iPhone 5S.

The Fire Phone's 4.7in HD LCD 1280x720 315ppi screen is one of its most interesting features, with its custom Dynamic Perspective technology. This is designed to offer users glasses-free 3D viewing experiences in key applications, such as maps, the Fire Phone web browser and e-reader.

Amazon claims it creates the 3D effect by tracking the user's iris and head movements via the four front cameras and adjusting displayed images accordingly. If the technology works as well as Amazon claims, it could prove a key selling point for the Fire Phone when it is released. But its long-term appeal will be decided by how many application developers choose to take advantage of the functionality and use the newly released Amazon Dynamic Perspective software development kit (SDK) to make apps for the phone.Amazon Fire Phone maps press shot

The Fire Phone runs using Fire OS 3.5.0. Fire OS is a heavily customised version of Google's Android operating system (OS) that radically redesigns the menus and pushes Amazon's Video and Music, Kindle Store and Newsstand to the front of the user interface. The OS also adds a number of custom-made Amazon applications, one of the most interesting of which is the Fire Phone's Firefly service.

Firefly is an information-gathering feature that can be activated anytime using a physical shortcut key. At a basic level Firefly uses the Fire Phone's rear camera to recognise and draw information from Amazon's database on a number of sources including books, DVDs, phone numbers, QR codes, CDs, URLS, famous artwork and barcodes. Amazon claims that the feature is so advanced it can also be used for contact-building, as it can obtain information such as phone numbers and email address from business cards, fliers and advertisements.

Firefly can also use the Fire Phone's microphone to access information on music or television shows as they are playing.

While some privacy advocates, such as anonymous communications firm Silent Circle, have questioned Firefly's potential snooping and profiling powers, the feature could be particularly useful for regular networkers, or those who often shop on Amazon.

When it comes to processing power, the Fire Phone does lag slightly behind most other 2014 flagships, coming loaded with last year's 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU and featuring 2GB of RAM. Considering the fact that the newer Snapdragon 801 processor has been out for quite some time now, we're a little disappointed about the Fire Phone's use of an older chip.Amazon Fire Phone in hand press shot

Amazon made a big deal about the Fire Phone's 13MP rear-facing camera, claiming its multi-frame HDR, auto-focus, optical image stabilisation, f/2.0 five-element wide aperture lens and LED flash technologies will help it easily outperform competing top-end handsets. This is a pretty big claim considering the wealth of top-end camera phones to arrive this year, which currently include the Sony Xperia Z2 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

The Fire Phone is powered by a 2,400mAh battery, which Amazon lists as offering up to 11 hours of video playback off one charge. If true the Amazon Fire will have above-average battery life compared with most other smartphones, which usually offer between six and seven hours of video playback during our battery burns.

The Fire Phone is available with either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. Most users won't have to worry about running out of space with either option, as Amazon has bundled the Fire Phone with unlimited free space on its Amazon Cloud Drive storage service.

The Amazon Fire is due for release in the US on 25 July, with prices starting at $200 on a two-year contract with AT&T or $649 SIM-free. There is currently no word on when and if it will be released in the UK, but the US price indicates that it will be around £450 SIM-free if it does.

At first look, the Amazon Fire Phone is very interesting. The Fire Phone includes a number of features that have never been seen before on a smartphone, such as its Dynamic Perspective screen technology and Firefly service. But it also features a few flaws that could put off smartphone buyers, such as its slightly heavy, boxy design and use of a previous-generation Qualcomm chip.

This makes it difficult to know how the Fire Phone will fare in its battle to draw interest from more established smartphones. Considering the Kindle Fire tablet's lukewarm reception, the potential privacy issues and the price tag, Amazon is likely to face an uphill struggle to push uptake of its smartphone.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Galaxy Tab S vs Xperia Z2 Tablet spec by spec

19 Jun 2014

Sony kicked the tech year off with a bang, unveiling a fresh wave of Xperia smart devices that many observers have considered to be its most innovative to date.

One of the best of these was the Xperia Z2 Tablet. Featuring a sturdy yet slim design, a wealth of top-end components and up-to-date Android software, the Xperia Z2 Tablet remains one of the best Android tablets currently available.

But a few months on, Samsung has returned to the tablet scene with its upgraded Galaxy Tab S, leaving many buyers wondering if Sony's day in the sun as leader of the Android tablet market is already over.

We've pulled together the key specifications from both devices here to see which is the daddy, at least on paper.

Galaxy Tab S: 213x177x6.6mm, 465g
Xperia Z2 Tablet: 266x172x6.4mm, 439g

Both Samsung and Sony designed their respective tablets to be as light and thin as possible. In this area Sony is the clear victor, with its Xperia Z2 Tablet being over 20g lighter and 0.2mm thinner than the Galaxy Tab S.

The Xperia Z2 Tablet is also better in terms of build quality, at least on paper, carrying IP55 and IP58 certifications so it can survive an accidental submersion in water.Samsung Galaxy Tab S with 10.5in screen in black

Galaxy Tab S: 10.5in, 2560x1600, 288ppi Super Amoled
Xperia Z2 Tablet: 10.1in, 1200x1920, 224ppi TFT capacitive touchscreen

Neither the Galaxy Tab S or Xperia Z2 Tablet's display breaks the 300ppi count, but the Samsung tablet's screen is superior on paper.

Outside of its higher pixels-per-inch density, this is largely due to the use of Super Amoled technology. This lets screens display richer colours and deeper blacks, by electrically charging each individual pixel to generate colours and creating blacks by turning off the relevant pixels.

Galaxy Tab S: Android 4.4 KitKat
Xperia Z2 Tablet: Android 4.4 KitKat

Both The Xperia Z2 Tablet and Galaxy Tab S run using customised versions of Android. However it's worth noting that Sony's appraoch shows a much lighter touch than Samsung when skinning the Xperia Z2 Tablet, with the only notable changes being the addition of a few custom applications, such as the PlayStation Store.

Samsung has taken a heavy-handed approach to skinning the Galaxy Tab S and has completely reworked the user interface, installing a number of custom software services. These include multi-window support, multitasking and a new software service that lets users answer incoming calls to their mobile phone via the tablet.

Galaxy Tab S: Exynos 5 Octa (1.9GHz quad-core and 1.3GHz quad-core)
Xperia Z2 Tablet: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801

The Xperia Tablet Z was amazingly fast and scored an impressive 35573 using the Antutu benchmark. By comparison, Samsung's other Exynos 5 Octa-powered tablet, the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, scored a slightly lower 32727 on the same test, indicating that the Galaxy Tab S may also be a fraction slower.

We'll be interested to see how the Xperia Z2 Tablet and Galaxy Tab S perform head to head in our full head-to-head review coming soon.Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet in black and white

Galaxy Tab S: 8MP rear, 2.1MP front
Xperia Z2 Tablet: 8.1MP rear, 2.2 MP front

On paper, both the Galaxy Tab S and Xperia Z2 Tablet are fairly evenly matched when it comes to camera technology. We'll only know which performs better when we get a chance to put the two tablets head to head with real-world testing.

Galaxy Tab S: Non-removable lithium polymer 7,900mAh battery
Xperia Z2 Tablet: Non-removable lithium polymer 6,000mAh battery

The Galaxy Tab S has a slightly larger battery than the Xperia Z2 Tablet and is listed by Samsung as offering users "above-average battery life". If true this could be a key differentiator, as the Xperia Z2 Tablet lasted for around eight to nine hours of multimedia use in our review, which by tablet standards is fairly average.

Galaxy Tab S: 16GB, 32GB, expandable by up to 128GB via micro SD card
Xperia Z2 Tablet: 16GB, expandable by up to 128GB via micro SD card

The Galaxy Tab S comes with more internal storage options than the Xperia Z2 Tablet. But both tablets can have a further 128GB of space added via their respective micro SD card slots, so most users shouldn't have to worry about running out.

Galaxy Tab S: £420
Xperia Z2 Tablet: £399

Despite offering on-paper equivalent specs to the Galaxy Tab S, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is £20 cheaper, with prices starting at £399.

When viewed from a purely technical perspective both the Xperia Z2 Tablet and Galaxy Tab S are fairly evenly matched. Both tablets feature powerful processors and ultra-slim, lightweight designs. Hopefully the Galaxy Tab S will make good on its promise when it is released later this year and buyers will have a second viable top-end 10in Android tablet to choose from.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Galaxy Tab S vs iPad Mini 2 spec by spec

18 Jun 2014

Apple and Samsung have been fighting for control of the tablet market for some time. But despite Samsung's best efforts, it has traditionally been Apple's iPad tablets that have ended up as each year's top-selling device.

Unperturbed by Apple's past successes Samsung has returned to the battleground in 2014, unveiling one of its highest-specced tiny tablets ever, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

Featuring an ultra-thin design and wealth of top-end hardware and software, the Galaxy Tab S has caught the eyes of many buyers, including us. But, to make good on its promise, the Galaxy Tab S will first have to overcome its key rival, the iPad Mini 2, which has become a benchmark in many buyers' eyes.

Galaxy Tab S: 213x126x6.6mm, 294g (WiFi)
iPad Mini 2: 200x135x7.5mm, 331g (WiFi)

In a move many have taken to be a clear swipe at Apple, Samsung designed the Galaxy Tab S to be as thin and light as possible. As a result the Galaxy Tab S is both thinner and lighter than the iPad Mini 2.Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4in

The Galaxy Tab S also has a radically different design to the all-metal iPad Mini 2, featuring aluminium sides and a perforated polycarbonate back. So despite being lighter and thinner, the Galaxy Tab S may not be as sturdy as the purely metal iPad.

Galaxy Tab S: 8.4in 2560x1600, 359ppi Super Amoled
iPad Mini 2: 7.9in 2048x1536, 326ppi Retina display

Apple has always claimed its Retina display technology is the best currently available. Traditionally, at least in the tablet market, there has been some truth to this claim and the iPads' Retina displays have always been superior to the screens on Android devices.

Samsung has worked to fix this on the Galaxy Tab S, loading it with its own Super Amoled screen technology. Super Amoled technology works to let screens display deeper and richer blacks by electrically charging each individual pixel to generate colours, meaning it can create blacks simply by turning off the relevant pixels.

Galaxy Tab S: Android 4.4 KitKat
iPad Mini 2: iOS 7

The Galaxy Tab S comes loaded with a customised version of Google's Android operating system (OS). In the past we've found Samsung's changes have sometimes been to the detriment of the OS and have made devices significantly less user-friendly than their iOS competitors. Hopefully this won't prove true with the Galaxy Tab S.

Galaxy Tab S: Exynos 5 Octa
iPad Mini 2: A7 plus M7 coprocessor

When it comes to performance, we've always found picking between iOS and Android handsets quite difficult. This is because iOS system requirements are significantly lower than Android and allow Apple devices to match or beat the performance of competing Google devices with higher on-paper specifications. Because of this we won't be able to know which tablet performs better until we thoroughly test the Galaxy Tab S.Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina display

Galaxy Tab S: 8MP rear, 2.1MP front
iPad Mini 2: 5MP iSight rear and 1.2MP FaceTime HD front

Cameras have always been one of the iPads' weakest points, and sadly this remains true on the iPad Mini 2. The basic 5MP rear camera is capable of at best average imaging quality, even when shooting in regular light. Given other Samsung tablets' superior cameras, we think the Galaxy Tab S will outperform the Apple iPad Mini 2 when it comes to imaging performance.

Galaxy Tab S: 16GB, 32GB, expandable via micro SD up to 128GB
iPad Mini 2: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB

The iPad Mini 2 is available with more internal storage options. However, the Galaxy Tab S is the only one of the two that has the option to upgrade its storage.

Galaxy Tab S: 4,900mAh (11 hours)
iPad Mini 2: 10 hours

Samsung's 11-hour multimedia playback score means the Galaxy Tab S should last an hour longer than the iPad Mini 2, which is listed as offering 10 hours of life off one charge.

Galaxy Tab S: £329
iPad Mini 2: £319

Apple iPads have always carried a premium price tag and are generally significantly more expensive than their Android competitors. Interestingly, though, the iPad Mini 2 is cheaper than the Galaxy Tab S, with prices for the basic 16GB WiFi model starting at £319. Pricing for the equivalent Galaxy Tab S starts at £329.

On paper the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a very impressive machine and generally beats the Apple iPad Mini. We'll be excited to see if the tablet makes good on its early promise, so look out for our full review later this year.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Galaxy Tab S first impressions

13 Jun 2014

Samsung's been working hard to get a stronger foothold in the tablet market for some years now. Yet despite its best efforts, as noted by SAP global vice president of mobile strategy Bill Clark during an interview with V3, most companies are still favouring Apple's iPads over Samsung's Galaxies.

Aware of this Samsung has come out swinging with its latest flagship Galaxy Tab S 10.5 tablet, kitting it out with a number of top-end components and software features that on paper make it one of the most business-friendly Android devices ever made.

In a clear swipe at Apple, Samsung has designed the Galaxy Tab S to be thinner than the 7.5mm iPad Air at just  247x177x6.6mm. The Galaxy Tab S is also very light, with the WiFi model weighing 465g and the LTE model 467g.Samsung Galaxy Tab S with 10.5in screen in black

The Galaxy Tab S sports a similar design to the Galaxy S5, coming with a slightly rubberised perforated back, metal sides and custom fingerprint scanner built into its physical home button.

If the scanner performs as well as that on the Galaxy S5's it will be a definite bonus to businesses, making it easier to secure data stored on the tablet should it be lost or stolen.

Samsung made a big deal about the 10.5in 2560x1600 Super Amoled touchscreen of the Galaxy Tab S, describing it as "industry leading" during the tablet's launch. Specifically, Samsung claimed the screen's 100,000:1 contrast ratio will let the Galaxy Tab S display deeper blacks and brighter whites than rival tablets.

Considering our past experience with Samsung's Super Amoled screens, this may well be true. Super Amoled is a custom version of the traditional Amoled screen technology. Basic Amoled technology is designed to let screens display deeper and richer blacks by electrically charging each individual pixel to generate colours, meaning it can create blacks simply by turning off the relevant pixels.

The downside of this is that the technology reduces battery life and increases the device's thickness as it requires manufacturers to place the capacitive layer - the component that senses touch - on top of the main display. Super Amoled fixes this by integrating the capacitive touchscreen layer directly into the display, reducing its thickness and making it more power efficient.

The Galaxy Tab S runs using a heavily customised version of Google's Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system. The custom skin added by Samsung radically reworks the operating system's user interface and adds a number of custom services and applications, including multi-window support, multitasking and a new software service that lets users answer incoming calls to their phone using the tablet.

The Galaxy Tab S also features Papergarden and Kindle for Samsung applications. Papergarden is a custom app designed for viewing digital content, while Kindle for Samsung lets Galaxy Tab S users download a free book each month.Samsung Galaxy Tab S white

While these additions sound good, in the past we've found Samsung to be rather heavy-handed with its software and can make its device UI feel a little cluttered. We'll only know if this is the case on the Galaxy Tab S when we get our hands on it and actually test it.

The Galaxy Tab S is powered by Samsung's own Exynos 5 octa-core processor and features 3GB RAM. This puts it on a par with Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, which features the same specifications. This is no bad thing as in the past we've been impressed by the performance of Samsung's octa-core processors.

As an example, the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 scored 32727 on the Antutu benchmark, putting it well above most other 10in tablets when it come to performance. In comparison, the Google Nexus 10 scored 13483 on the same test. If the Galaxy Tab S matches this it will be one of the fastest tablets available on its release in July.

Traditionally, camera technology is one area where tablets have lagged behind their smartphone siblings. This remains true on the Galaxy Tab S, which features basic 8MP rear and 2.1MP front cameras.

The Galaxy Tab S is powered by a 7,900mAh unit that Samsung claims will "let you enjoy hours of entertainment". We won't be able to know how good the Galaxy Tab S' battery is until we've thoroughly tested it.

The Galaxy Tab S will be available with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. Both versions can have a further 128GB of space added via their microSD card slots.

Samsung is yet to disclose the Galaxy Tab S UK price, though in the US pricing for the 10.5in model starts at $499, putting it on a par with most other top-end 10in tablets.

On paper the Galaxy Tab S is a very impressive machine. Featuring a top-end Super Amoled display, powerful octa-core processor and wealth of custom software features, the Galaxy Tab S has the potential to be one of 2014's finest Android tablets. We'll be interested to see if the Galaxy Tab S makes good on its early promise when we put it through its paces for our full review later this year.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro 3 hands-on review

06 Jun 2014

TAIPEI: Microsoft unveiled its long-rumoured Surface Pro 3 tablet last month with a bigger and better 12in HD screen, touting it as "the tablet that can replace your laptop".

The Surface Pro 3 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor with an Intel Haswell processor, and is set to be made available in Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 chip variants.

Intel, which has worked closely with Microsoft, gave us a close look at the tablet at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week, powered by a Core i5 CPU and running Windows 8.1.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - kickstand

Design and build
Measuring 9.1mm thick, the Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product "ever made", according to Microsoft, which it credits to the device's "fanless build". It might not sound like a vast improvement over the Surface Pro 2, which was 13.5mm thick, but you'll immediately notice a huge difference in aesthetics. It is much nicer to hold owing to the thinner design, and it's apparent that Microsoft has made an effort to make the device much more attractive to consumers.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - comparison with Surface Pro 2

The Surface Pro 3's aluminium chassis feels robust and this makes the device feel expensive, probably because it is. It will retail from £849 for the Core i5 model when Microsoft launches it on 31 August. However, it's reassuring to think that you're getting premium kit for your money.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - stylus

Picking up the tablet we noticed that it feels much lighter compared with the Surface Pro 2, despite its larger screen size. Unfortunately, one thing that hasn't changed with the Surface Pro 3 is the keyboard dock. We are simply not fans of this, especially the coloured version that we saw in our hands-on review. Not only does it cheapen the overall look of the device but we found that it makes it difficult to use because of the odd layout of the trackpad and cheap-feeling keys, which have poor travel.

Although Microsoft has updated the trackpad, which we can confirm works much better than the previous version, it feels more akin to those found on full-size clamshell laptops.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - side

On first impression we were rather impressed with the overall design of the Surface Pro 3. Its best feature is the display upgrade. This is the first time we've seen a Surface device with a form factor that actually makes us want to use it.

The Surface Pro 3's 2160x1440 resolution HD display is the tablet's biggest overhaul since the previous iteration and is also now its nicest feature.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - tablet

While it's around 1.5in bigger than the Surface Pro 2, it feels much bigger in the hand, which is probably accentuated owing to the slimmer design. It's quite bright and the resolution doesn't lie - images displayed are impeccably detailed with no jagged text and with deep colour representation. It also proved very responsive to touch in our tests, in the same way the Surface Pro 2 did before. The updated screen is a welcome improvement over the Surface Pro 2's 1920x1080 display.

The Surface Pro 3's kickstand is also an improvement over the last version, which had only two angles to choose from. The Surface Pro 3's "full friction" kickstand allows the tablet to sit in almost any position, and in our tests it rested well at any angle without slipping, even when applying pressure to the screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - back

Microsoft has said that an optional docking station will also be available at or sometime after launch, allowing users to hook the tablet up to a 4K display. It will ship with a Digitizer Stylus, too, which we can confirm works accurately.

Unfortunately we didn't have long enough with the Surface Pro 3 to really put it through its paces, but we did have a quick play around. Operations were fluid and the Windows 8.1 operating system proved very responsive. However, we are looking forward to testing the Surface Pro 3 thoroughly in a full review.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - overall

The Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 will hit the UK sometime towards the end of August, priced at £849 and £1,109 for 128GB and 256GB storage options respectively.

The cheapest, an Intel Core i3-powered Surface Pro 3 model, has already gone up for pre-order in the UK, priced at £639. The most powerful and expensive Core i7 model will set users back an eye-watering £1,649.

How to get Mac OS X Yosemite beta for free

05 Jun 2014

Apple took the wraps off the next iteration of its Mac OS X operating system on Monday, dubbed Yosemite, and is now looking for Mac users to try out the beta version.

Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite will ship this autumn, but a select group of users - well, a million of them anyway - will get to download it much sooner than that and offer their feedback to Apple.

Apple Mac OS X Yosemite beta signup

"The OS X Beta [Programme] lets you take part in shaping it by test-driving pre-release versions and letting us know what you think," Apple noted. "Your comments will help us make OS X better for all Mac users."

This is a privilege normally restricted to the Apple developer community, so Apple must really want to keep its desktop and laptop users on side, or just encourage them to upgrade to the latest version early.

During Monday's WWDC keynote, Apple chief executive Tim Cook noted that, of the 80 million Macs shipped, the current Mavericks release is running on 40 million of them, making it the biggest OS in Apple history. This compares with only 14 percent of Windows machines running the latest version, Cook said.

The Apple chief was also keen to share the news that, while PC sales are down by five percent, Mac sales are up by 12 percent.

Apple did not reveal when the Yosemite pre-release will be available to download, saying only that "the beta software will be available for you to install soon".

To get one of the million free pre-release copies, you just need to sign up using your Apple ID. Once the software is ready, Apple will send out a code to install the beta from the Mac App Store.

However, you'll need to be running Mavericks to take part in the Yosemite testing, which you can also grab free from the App Store.

But don't expect to test out all the new, and some of the more exciting, features once you get hold of your Yosemite beta. Apple advised that phone calls, SMS, Handoff, Instant Hotspot and iCloud Drive won't be available, while Spotlight suggestions will work only in the US.

The firm also gave a disclaimer against any glitches. "We recommend installing OS X Yosemite Beta on a secondary Mac, since it may contain errors or inaccuracies. Please be sure to back up your Mac using Time Machine before you install the beta," Apple said.

Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Mac OS X Yosemite brings the user interface closer to the 'flat' look and feel of Apple's iOS mobile platform, and offers better integration between the firm's desktop and mobile products.

Key additions are a translucent sidebar and dock, a new Mail Drop mimicking services like Dropbox, the ability to work on documents and files across Mac and iOS devices, and Markup, which lets you edit an image via the Mail client.

Apple iOS 8 vs iOS 7

04 Jun 2014

Apple unveiled iOS 8 during its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday and, while it isn't a drastic overhaul like iOS 7, it will bring lots of new features to the iPhone and iPad.

We've stacked up iOS 8 against last year's release to see what features you can expect.

Apple has made some fairly major tweaks to Notification Center, a feature which was first introduced in iOS 7, and therefore somewhat limited.

Chief among these tweaks is the addition of interactive notifications, which lets you reply to messages or 'Like' a Facebook post, for example, without having to leave the app you're already in.

Apple has also introduced Android-style widgets, which developers can start building to appear in the drop-down menu. Apple's Craig Federighi showed off an eBay app that's already available, which will allow users to bid on items from the notifications screen.

Compare this with iOS 7 and Apple's tweaks will be welcomed by most, with the feature presently limited to viewing notifications and tapping to jump into apps.

Apple's most interesting iOS 8 updates arguably relate to messaging, and the firm has introduced a number of new features.

iOS 8 on an iPhone 5S

First off, Apple introduced Quicktype, a feature that could signal the end of Autocorrect. This is a smart word-prediction service which Apple claims will quickly learn how you talk and what words you're likely to type next, depending on who you're talking to. Support for third-party keyboards was also announced, which means iPhone users can soon opt to replace Apple's proprietary offering with Swiftkey, for example.

Apple also announced that iOS 8 users will be able to use Do Not Disturb on specific group iMessage conversations to silence frustrating notifications. The firm has also introduced a Snapchat-style Destruct feature, allowing users to send images, videos or audio messages that will be automatically deleted, unless specified otherwise.

These features are likely to be welcomed by current users of iOS 7, although the firm has been criticised for "ripping off" features from Snapchat and Whatsapp.

Apple's voice-activated digital assistant, Siri, will see a fairly major update in iOS 8. Mimicking Google Now, users will be able to say "Hey, Siri" to activate the feature, which will soon be capable of recognising songs (thanks to Shazam) and will be able to recognise streaming voice recognition.

Healthkit and Homekit
iOS 7 didn't introduce many new apps from Apple, the firm instead focused on touting its redesign. iOS 8, however, sees the arrival of Healthkit and Homekit, with which Apple is looking to challenge the likes of Samsung while making its mark in the Internet of Things (IoT).

iOS 8 features on iPhone 5S

Healthkit is similar to Samsung's S Health feature, allowing users to track data such as the number of steps walked, calories burned and so on. Unlike the app found on the Galaxy S5, however, Apple's Healthkit app supports third-party apps, including Nike+.

Homekit is Apple's rumoured smart home application, allowing users to easily control internet-connected devices, such as Philips Hue lightbulbs, from their iPhone or iPad.

Apple's Camera application saw a major overhaul in iOS 7, Apple adding features such as photo filters, slow-motion video and the ability to shoot square Instagram friendly photos.

Camera hasn't seen such a huge makeover in iOS 8, but Apple has added a handful of features that are likely to be welcomed by users. New shooting modes will be introduced in iOS 8, including Time Lapse mode and a Timer, and brings Panorama mode to iPad users. An improved Photos interface will also be introduced.

iOS 8 memories photo feature

The biggest news, however, was that Apple has opened its camera controls to developers, which means there's likely to be more to get excited about when the software launches in the autumn.

Mac continuity
If you own a Macbook and an iOS device, iOS 8 will introduce a bunch of features that improve continuity between devices - something almost non-existent, bar iMessage support, in iOS 7.

First off, Airdrop now works between iOS and Mac OS X, which means you'll no longer have to email yourself images, for example, and can instead ping them straight to your Mac. Handoff was perhaps the most impressive feature on show, allowing a user to start writing an email on an iPad, for example, and then easily finish it on their Mac.

Apple also shocked with the news that Mac owners will be able to answer phone calls on their laptop or desktop computer with the introduction of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, while text message integration has been expanded to non-iOS devices. This sees Apple addressing the long drawn out bug which has seen Android users unable to receive texts from iPhone users.

Although it brushed over the subject during its WWDC keynote, Apple has added a bunch of new enterprise tools in iOS 8, making the operating system much more attractive to businesses when compared with iOS 7.

iPhone 5S iOS 8

First, security within apps has been improved, Apple adding the ability for expanded data protection in the form of password protection of all the major data types - Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messages, Notes, Reminders - and third-party apps.

Apple has also introduced per-message S/MIME, allowing users to encrypt individual messages, along with VIP threads, a feature that allows users to mark an email thread as important to receive instant notifications on it.

Beyond that, iOS 8 will also bring support for Exchange out of office replies, busy/free notifications in Calendar and encrypted backups, among others.

In Short
Apple's iOS 8 operating system might not seem like a big change aesthetically, but the new features it brings, such as Mac Continuity, improved Notifications and its Healthkit and Homekit apps, are likely to be welcomed by users of last year's iOS iteration.

However, some might be disappointed that Apple hasn't changed its design, with iOS 7 receiving much criticism for its "flat" design and parallax effects, which will remain in iOS 8.

LG G3 hands-on review

28 May 2014

LG has been working hard to increase its presence in the European smartphone market, releasing a steady stream of innovative handsets that challenge existing technology and design conceptions.

This started in 2013 when LG released its G2 smartphone. Featuring top-end internal specifications and a clever design that placed the handset's power and volume controls on the  rear, the G2 was one of 2013's most interesting phones.

The LG G3 follows on from this and aims to refine the user experience debuted on the G2 by adding a number of new technologies that on paper make it one of 2014's highest specced handsets.

Design and build
It's no secret that we here at V3 are big fans of metal smartphones. As we've noted time and time again when testing handsets like the HTC One M8 or Apple iPhone 5S, the use of metal not only makes phones more robust, it makes them feel better quality. As a result we're delighted LG's chosen to redesign the G3 and build its chassis out of metal, as opposed to polycarbonate.LG G3 three quarter

During our hands-on the G3 felt significantly better built than its predecessor, the G2. We were also impressed with the G3's ergonomic curved design which meant that, despite measuring 146x75x8.9mm and weighing 149g, the phone fits neatly into the contours of your hand and never feels unwieldy.

This was helped by the G3's intelligent button placement. The G3 features the same button configuration as on the G2, which places its power and volume buttons on the top of the phone's back. While the placement takes a little time to get used to, as past smartphone designs mean most users will intuitively look for the volume and power buttons along the phone's sides, we found the G3's layout superior and quicker and easier to use one handed.

LG G3 home screen

Smartphone makers in the past might have claimed that the human eye can't discern the difference between resolutions past the 300ppi mark. But LG has moved to quash this claim with the G3, loading the device with a Quad HD, 2560x1440, 538ppi IPS capacitive touchscreen which it said will offer noticeably improved display quality over competing handsets.

LG claims to have increased the G3's screen's pixel per inch count past the 500 mark by reducing the size of displayed pixels by 40 percent, making it the crispest and most vibrant currently available.

Testing the G3's display at the launch event's brightly lit showroom floor, we found that, while colours weren't quite as vibrant as those on competing Super Amoled displays like the Galaxy S5's, the G3's screen is very impressive. Icons and text were sharp and the brightness levels were dazzling.

Operating system and software
The G3 runs Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system overlaid with LG's custom Graphical User Interface.

Normally we're not big fans of custom skins as the majority either make needless, or detrimental, changes to Android's native UI. LG claims its GUI is designed to do the exact opposite of this and will actually improve Android's native user interface by doing things like using "simpler, cleaner typefaces" and adjusting the menus and settings layouts to reduce clutter.

Testing the G3 we found the custom UI significantly cleaner than some of the skins we've seen, like Huawei Emotion and Samsung Touchwiz, but not significantly better than the vanilla Android version. We also noticed that the G3 comes with a number of bloatware applications, although being fair to LG we were using a Korean demo unit so couldn't tell what many of them were meant to do.

Android's security has been a constant problem hampering business interest in the platform, as the OS' open nature makes it easy for criminals to flood the ecosystem with things like trojanised applications.LG G3 back

Aware of this, LG has worked hard to roll out a number of security services onto the G3. The three most important of these are the G3's Knock Code, Content Lock and Killswitch security services for Android.

Knock Code is an anti-theft feature that unlocks the phone only when the owner taps a certain sequence into the screen. Content Lock lets users encrypt files stored on the G3 and set them to not appear until the phone is connected to a computer, while Killswitch can remotely wipe, lock and disable the G3 should it be lost or stolen.

On paper the combination of security features means that the G3 should be a safer option than most Android smartphones. However, the demo unit we tested had the features disabled and we didn't get a chance to test them during our hands-on.

Despite rumours that the G3 would come loaded with Qualcomm's next-generation Snapdragon 805 chip, the phone uses a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM. On paper this puts the G3 on a par with other 2014 flagships, like the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5, which feature identical specifications.

While we're slightly disappointed that the rumours of a newer chip were unfounded, the use of the Snapdragon 801 chip is no bad thing. As we found on past Snapdragon 801 handsets, the G3 was very quick and dealt with all our opening tests hassle free.

During our hands-on the G3 opened applications in seconds and smoothly transitioned between menu screens. Sadly we didn't get a chance to properly benchmark the G3 or see how it dealt with more demanding tasks, like 3D gaming, but will be sure to do so for our full review.

The G3 comes with a 13MP, 4160x3120 rear camera with dual-LED (dual tone) flash, Optical Image Stabilizer Plus and Laser Autofocus and a 2.1MP, 1080p front camera.

LG made a big deal about the G3's Laser Auto Focus technology, claiming that the G3's camera focuses images in 0.276 seconds. While we didn't get a chance to accurately check LG's time claims, we were very impressed with the G3's camera. Snapping images on the showroom floor, the rear camera focused on our intended subject and captured images close to instantly.LG G3 camera hands on

Image quality was fairly impressive and photos shot on the G3 featured decent contrast and brightness levels and looked suitably crisp when viewed on the phone's screen. We'll be interested to see if the image quality remains as good when we blow the images up on bigger displays.

Image quality wasn't stellar when taking a few shots on the G3's front camera, but it was more than good enough for video calling.

Battery and storage
The G3 is one of a select few smartphones to come with wireless charging support so, if you're willing to shell out some extra money for a wireless charging plate, it should be quick and easy to sporadically charge the handset's 3,000mAh battery throughout the day.

The UK version of the G3 will come with just 16GB of internal storage. Luckily users will be able to add a further 128GB using the G3's microSD card slot, meaning they shouldn't have to worry about running out of space.

Overall, our opening impressions of the LG G3 are very positive. Featuring the same intelligent button placement as the G2, but with a redesigned metal chassis that feels sturdier and more top-end than its predecessor's, the G3 is one of the best looking smartphones this year. Add to this its wealth of components, like the Quad HD display, and what appears to be above average rear camera, and we can definitely see the G3 being a contender for phone of the year.

Hopefully the G3 will make good on its opening promise when it is released in the UK in July. However, a big part of its ability to do this will depend on one key factor that LG's keeping quiet about: its price.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the LG G3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

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