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Last October Google announced that a dedicated team had started working on an exciting modular and fully-customisable smartphone that could well change the way we look at the mobile phone industry for good.

Code-named Project Ara, the smartphone will consist of one framework and a series of separate sections. The thinking behind it is that people will be able to swap out these different sections as easily as buying a new app, completely changing their phone as they go.

We've heard a relatively small amount about Google's ambitious plans - apart from the odd photo and teaser video. But this week a few new details have emerged following the first Project Ara developer conference, which took place at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

Until we learn more about what took place at the conference, here's everything we already know about Google's Project Ara and its exciting plans for a fully-modular smartphone:

You'll be able to customise EVERYTHING about your phone

The Project Ara device will consist of an endo (short for endoskeleton), which is a basically a chassis to hold everything together. Onto this framework you're than able to attach any module you like. So are you into mobile photography? Attach an awesome, huge camera and a flash. Get mad when your phone runs out of charge? Add a much bigger battery. Like to show off about how big your gadgets are? Get a screen that's MASSIVE. You get the picture.

It'll (probably) be ready early next year

Those at the Project Ara developer conference have revealed that some users will be able to order their Ara from January 2015.

But it might start its life out as a cheap device in developing countries

Although the Project Ara smartphone may sound like something for early adopters and tech geeks, it looks as if Google might concentrate on launching the modular devices to those who don't have phones already first. With this in mind, it's set to be very cheap to begin with (possibly around $50) and only have the basics attached. People will then be able to add more as and when they need to.

It's much slimmer than you'd imagine...

If we told you that Google is building a phone out of lots of different blocks, you'd think it'd be a chunky toy-like device, right? Well according to sources and early prototypes, it'll only be 9.7mm thick. Surprising, but necessary if it's going to compete with current smartphones on the market.

....And it won't fall to bits as easily as you'd expect

Not only is the Ara smartphone not going to be super thick, but it isn't going to fall apart like a lame Jenga-version of a phone. All of the different components will be attached to the Endo skeleton using a series of super strong magnets on the back and small latches on the front.

It'll come in a few different sizes

According to those at the conference, there won't just be one endo to choose from, but three. Sizes are expected to range from a mini version to one that's much more like the sizes of the phablets we've seen from Samsung, Sony and HTC.

It won't be a Google-branded product (well not all of it)

The Endo base of the Ara will be Google-branded, but everything else, the battery, the camera, the screen, will be produced by other companies. This is great because it means lots of smaller, third party companies can get involved, but it also means enough need to get involved and see a future for the Ara to make it a success.

It could really change the industry (and it could also be a massive anti-climax)

If Project Ara is successful it'll mean that we'll be happier with our phones for much longer. If you're able to customise everything about your device, then why would you need a new one? You'd just swap out a bigger camera for a smaller battery, buy different coloured components to give your gadget a refresh or buy a finger-scanning module that's just as good as what the latest smartphone has to offer.

On the other hand, there's a long way to go before this ambitious project is actually turned into a working device anyone will want. After all, is a customisable smartphone something that we're all after? Or just the next big thing?

Let us know whether you'd love to get your hands on a modular device or whether you'll stick with the flavour of the month instead.


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This week Samsung launched a low-end handset called the Galaxy Ace Style. The curvy, affordable device is designed for young social media addicts and looks set to compete directly with Motorola's Moto G.

Powered by Google's Android 4.4 KitKat, it features a 1.2GHz dual core processor for seamless multi-tasking and fast app responses. It also has a 4" touchscreen display and 4GB of internal memory.

Obviously the camera is a vital part of a phone aimed at young, social types, so the Galaxy Ace Style comes with a 5MP camera with autofocus and VGA for pretty good quality snaps.

There's not much else to get excited about here, but of course this handset won't tempt anyone away from the Galaxy S5 and all of its truly WOW features, because it'll be priced at around £150.

According to a press release from Samsung, the Galaxy Ace Style will be available globally in white and grey later in the month. We'll keep you posted about exact pricing and UK availability as soon as we get the latest info.


The new Samsung Galaxy S5 is packed full of new and very enticing features, but the one that's excited us health and fitness tech fans here at Shiny Shiny the most has to be the built-in heart rate sensor.

But if you can't afford a new handset anytime soon then don't worry, because it turns out the smartphone you already have is probably just as capable of telling you what your heart rate is. Although this is great news for most people, it's a little disappointing (yet hardly surprising) that the heart rate sensor that's being touted as an integral part of Samsung's new offering is a bit of a lame gimmick.

The video below, created by macmixing, takes an in-depth look at the Galaxy S5's heart rate sensor in comparison to the Android and iOS app Runtastic, which does a bunch of things as well as read your heart rate from the flash and camera on the back of your phone.

Don't believe us? The macmixing team put all of the different options to the test and prove that, although the Samsung Galaxy S5's dedicated heart rate sensor may sound appealing, our current phones with the Runtastic app provide us with a result that's just as accurate.


No one knows for sure what the newest iphone - rumoured to be unveiled in a few months - will look like, but there are plenty of design concepts already online and these from iCulture are our favourites so far.

Teaming up with Martin Hajeck, iCulture has published a series of photos showing off a handset that looks a little like a beefed up iPad Nano. It has curved edges, a narrow bezel, a larger screen and a much slimmer body.

Let us know what you think of the concept in the comments below.

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It's been one of the worst kept secrets in the world of tech, but today HTC made the announcement of its latest flagship handset, the HTC One M8, official.

The newest iteration of the One is marginally bigger than its predecessor, with a 5" full HD resolution screen. However, the thing that has us most excited is the handset's dual camera. HTC spokespeople are claiming that (just like the Lytro) the new phone can capture lots of depth information from your photos, opening up loads of different possibilities when it comes to editing them afterwards.

Great news for all of us mobile photography nerds!

According to Cnet, Carphone Warehouse, Three, EE, and Phones 4U will have the M8 in London stores from 4pm on Tuesday 25th March. If you're not a London-dweller, then you'll be able to buy it online and in stores over the next couple of days.

When it comes to pricing, if you don't want a contract, the unlocked, SIM-free M8 will cost you £550. Vodafone will be offering the M8 for free from £42 on its Red 3G plans, which comes with unlimited calls and texts.

We'll keep you updated...

Image via Cnet's Live Stream from the HTC event.

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Although the cameras built into our iPhones are slowly evolving with each model, we can still all agree that night time photos look REALLY lame. If you don't put the flash on then you're left with dark, indistinguishable blurs and if you do you're left with an unflattering image that makes everyone look much more pale, shiny and terrified than they are in real life.

This is why we love Ember, an LED iPhone case that casts a nice warm glow over your subjects rather than a glaring white light. The team behind Ember are currently seeking funding on Kickstarter and according to their page the compact case is packing 56 LEDs and can provide a light that's ten times brighter than the iPhone's flash. The reason it casts such a flattering glow is that it also has a built-in diffuser, to soften and spread light evenly (check out the comparisons below for proof).

The case works independently from the iPhone itself, so there's a slider for the brightness amount, a slot to add in your own colour filters and a separate battery, which charges through a micro-USB port.

We have to say that the case looks a little bulky from the back and sides, but we won't be too picky until we've tried it out for ourselves.

You can take a look at Ember on Kickstarter here. There's a whole day to go before the funding ends, so get donating and for $59 you can get your hands on one of your own.

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Microsoft's new voice-activated personal assistant, called Cortana, is expected in the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update and The Verge got its hands on a set of leaked images that reveal the Siri clone is a small, blue animated circle (nothing like the AI woman also called Cortana who features in the Halo game series).

Although many of Cortana's features won't be that different to Siri's, Microsoft's assistant will be able to suggest things to you throughout the day based on your preferences rather than waiting for you to ask questions. This may sound a little irritating, but Cortana also has access to a so-called Notebook, which contains all of the information about you it has access to - meaning you can pick and choose what's available to the little fella before it starts barking tips at you.

For those interested in cultivating a Her-style relationship with Cortana, you can also programme it to address you by any name or nickname you please to build a more meaningful connection.

Both Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1 should be with us sometime this Spring.



Ellen DeGeneres has managed to break the record for most retweets EVER with this awesome star-studded selfie taken at last night's Oscars.

So far the tweet has had more than two and a half million retweets and counting, which reportedly even scrambled the platform's servers and contributed to a (very brief) Twitter outage.

Image via @TheEllenShow.

So far we've been focusing on the newest wearable devices and smartwatches from the big names at Mobile World Congress, but let's not forget about the stars of the show: the mobile phones.

Here's our rundown of the best smartphones and tablets that have been unveiled this week:

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Huawei wants you to be better at taking selfies
The Ascend G6 is a 4.5" phone with a 960X540 pixel resolution, a 1.2GHZ processor and, oh yeah, a front-facing 5 MP camera built to totally make your selfies look better.

The handset is due to launch here in the UK at some point during April and although there's no word on exact pricing details just yet, we expect it'd have to be a lower-end smartphone given it's geared up to a young, selfie-loving audience.

Sony launches the camera king of all Xperias
The Xperia Z2 is Sony's latest version of its flagship phone and packs a 20.7 MP camera complete with new image sensing technology and 4K video capturing capabilities, which basically means all of your photos and videos will look awesome.

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Samsung launches its latest flagship Galaxy handset
The Galaxy S5 has landed and although there's no big headline feature to shout about, it's packing all kinds of interesting bits and pieces, like a finger print scanner, heart rate monitor, advanced camera tools, a water and dust resistant exterior and the clever ability to make downloads faster by combining regular signal coverage with Wi-Fi power. Its release date is set for the 11th of April.

Nokia announces a wave of Android smartphones just called X
Shortly after being sold to Microsoft, Nokia has announced the launch of a range of Android smartphones, being referred to collectively as Nokia X. The devices may be running on Android but have some Microsoft services, like Skype and OneDrive.

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Sony unveils a flashy, show-off tablet
Sony has a lot to shout about when it comes to its latest tablet, the Z2. Not only is it the slimmest device on the market at 6.4mm, but it's also the only waterproof one. Not content with these impressive feats, Sony also claims its tablet is the world's most powerful as well, as its packing a Snapdragon 801 processor with 2.3GHZ quad-core Krait CPU and an Adreno 330GPU.

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Huawei shows off its tablet phone hybrid
Although the term 'phablet' is becoming overused and a little annoying, the Huawei MediaPad X1 is, undoubtedly, a phablet.

The Android device is being officially labelled a smartphone, but with a huge 7" screen and a SIM card slot we can't be so sure it knows what it wants to be. The X1 also boasts a full HD display, a beautiful edge-to-edge screen, a 1.6GHZ quadcore processor, a 13 MP camera and an interesting metal body. No details on cost or availability from Huawei just yet.

LG unveils the G Pro 2
MWC has been packed full of smartphone giants (or is that tablet dwarves?), but the LG G Pro 2 is a great-looking device that at 5.9" could just be on the right side of stupidly big. Many have already commented that the plastic exterior makes the device feel a little bit too, well, plastic, despite the fact the price is likely to be high when further details are revealed later in the year.

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Lenovo reveals another super bendy Yoga tablet
Lenovo unveiled the Yoga Tablet 10 HD+ at MWC this year, the latest version of its flexible tablet laptop hybrid but this time with a full HD screen.

HTC launches a mid-range flagship device
The HTC Desire 816 comes equipped with some impressive specs for what has been officially called the company's mid-range flagship device, such as a 5.5" screen, a 1.6GHZ quad-core Snapdragon processor and 1.5GB of RAM.

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Mozilla will make smartphones cheaper than ever for the developing world
Mozilla's Firefox OS is planning on leaving the developed markets to Android and iOS after announcing a partnership with Chinese chip company Speadtrum Communications, which means smartphones as cheap as £15 could be available to those in the developing world. A number of phone manufacturers, like Indonesia-based Polytron, ZTE and Huawei, have already started developing products.

A new survey has confirmed what we all assumed was the case anyway: that nobody really uses landlines any more... and those who do are all really old.

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The survey, carried out by cable.co.uk, spoke to 4000 people and found that 62% of UK consumers under 45 years old never use their home landline.

Conversely, of everyone surveyed 29% said they use their landline every day - with 14% never picking up in the first place. The latter stat isn't too surprising if all you get on your landline is PPI calls.

Aged between 16 and 25 it is just as stark: only 43% of them use their landlines at least once a week, with 27% never picking up the dog & bone. The only group found to use landlines more than mobiles were the over 65s - with 64% have daily landline calls.

What's interesting too is that according to the website that carried out the survey, apparently despite the volume of mobile calls eclipsing those on landlines every year since 2010, the cost of line rental has steadily increased anyway. Presumably the phone companies are treating this as a tax on your broadband connection - no one wants a landline but is forced to in order to have internet.

So there we have it - just as you'd expect, landlines are slowly dying - and what's especially satisfying is that this news reinforces your prejudices. It's like scientists conducting a study and concluding that yes, your favourite band's earlier stuff definitely was better after all.

What phones do Sherlock and Watson use?

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Finally the greatest mystery of all has been solved! I'm talking of course, about the case of the ambiguous phones. One fan of the BBC's Sherlock reboot has finally figured out what phones all of the main cast of the series use. Now it's just a case of figuring out how to make them all receive the same text message at exactly the same time.

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The Wear Sherlock Tumblr, a blog dedicated to identifying the wardrobe and props in the series, has the full list:

Sherlock Holmes: iPhone 5
John Watson: Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini
Mary Watson: HTC One X
Mycroft Holmes: Nokia Lumia 920
Magnussen: HTC One
Laura: HTC Desire C
The Homeless Network: Nokia Lumia 820 & Blackberry Curve 9380

Whether or not the Homeless Network using Blackberrys and Windows Phones is a subtle satire on those platforms being... well, a bit rubbish, we're not sure. Similarly, quite how Mycroft can get anything done on a phone with no apps we're not sure - presumably he must get one of his minions to manage his Vines for him instead.

Like all good mysteries there is a twist: When Sherlock was on the roof of the hospital at the end of series 2, as we later found out in series 3, he was using an iPhone 5... yet the end of series 2 was broadcast in January 2012, and the iPhone 5 wasn't released until November/December of that year. Though with a bit of deduction, we can probably assume that it's because of a continuity mix-up when filming the start of series 3 back on the roof, rather than Sherlock having the time to switch to a prototype phone before jumping to his 'death'.

Let's just hope Sherlock doesn't use Apple Maps to navigate, or those taxi rides are going to get even more expensive.

It can happen to us all. Just one moment of neglect on a night out can lead to our phones or tablets being stolen by a fast-moving criminal. Though the loss of the physical device is bad enough - and may leave you out of pocket if you have to buy a new phone, there's now a much bigger risk: your data.

Modern mobile technology means we're not just carrying around our money, but essentially our entire lives - and identity theft is a big risk. So what can you do to minimise the damage? Here's a guide that errs towards the paranoid.

Protect your phone before it is stolen

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1) Put a lock code on your device - make sure that it isn't instantly accessible.

This means that if your device is pinched, the thief will have a much trickier time getting access to your data.

On iOS this can be enabled in the "General" section of Settings. Then look for the "Passcode Lock" section. On Android devices, this can be setup in the "Location & Security" section of settings. Look for "Screen Unlock" options.

2) Enable remote finding options.

Both iPhone and Android have functionality that lets you find the device once lost.

On iPhone, simply download "Find iPhone" from the app store, and then login to your Apple account in it to set it up. On Android, if you're running a version later than version 2.2 (you probably are), this should be enabled by default.

3) Sync your data to the cloud to enable better recovery

Don't want to lose all of your photos and contacts if you lose your device? Then make sure you're syncing everything to the cloud.

Many apps do this by default - certainly if you're an Android user you'll find that your Google account automatically backs up your contacts. Similarly your calendar and emails will of course be available online. Just check you've got these setup to sync in Settings.

Similarly, many of Apple's apps can also sync - in many cases to Google. (You can even make your iPhone notes app sync to Gmail). Apple also have their own cloud platform - iCloud - which can automatically backup everything - even your iWork documents.

On both operating systems, you may also wish to use an app like Dropbox to automatically upload photos that you take.

My phone has been stolen - what next?

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The worst has happened. You've checked your bag and coat... and you've checked them again. Your tablet is missing. Here's what to do:

1) Don't panic

Getting this next bunch of stuff sorted is important!

2) Lockdown your device

It's a good job you setup remote location of your devices, right?

If you're an iPhone user, you can use the "Find iPhone" app on another iOS device registered to the same Apple account (say, use your iPad to find your iPhone), or you can login to icloud.com using your Apple ID.

If you're an Android user, head over to the Google Android device manager, which does the same thing.

On both services you can use a map to see if your device is nearby - it'll record either the current location or the last known location. Here you can trigger a "remote erase", that will erase the contents of your device next time that device is connected to the internet. In the case of Android, you can even setup a remote password lock if you haven't already, or even get it to display a message on the screen (though these will both be erased if you do a remote erase on the phone).

This will mean that all of your data will be removed - hopefully preventing any thieves from accessing it... although...

3) Change all of your passwords

Even if you can remote erase, it is still good practice to go through all of the services you use on your phone.

If you have an Android, the first thing to change should be your Google password - as that's the key to everything else on the phone. If you have an iPhone, get that Apple ID changed.

And then there's the multitude of other apps and services you'll have on there. Here's a list of some common ones that you really should change ASAP:

Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Dropbox, Paypal, Online Banking, eBay.

In fact, if you're an Android user you can view a list of the apps you've downloaded before by checking out this list in the Google Play store. Make sure you've changed your password for every app on that list. (Sadly no similar list function exists for iOS, so use your memory!).

Be extra vigilant for shopping apps, as these are going to be most attractive to thieves as they may contain your bank details.

4) Consider cancelling your credit and debit cards

With so many online services linked to bank accounts, it might be wise to phone your bank and cancel your cards, just in case your data is exposed in a vulnerable app - lest you wind up with a massive bill for stuff you didn't buy.

5) Check your inbox

This is going to sound completely paranoid - but is worth considering. Though hopefully by this point a remote wipe will have kicked in, or a password prompt screen will have appeared, preventing further access, if your device hasn't been connected to the internet since it was stolen, and there isn't a lock screen, the thief may be able to use it offline to garner details about you. An obvious place for them to look would be your email inbox. Whilst most of your emails will be only accessible with an internet connection, the most recent may be cached on the device.

So have a look through your most recent emails (and indeed, text messages and other communications) for any information contained within that could give away important data. For example, online shopping receipts could give away your banking details (another good reason to cancel your cards).

6) Recover your data

So you've done the best you can, and your device has hopefully been locked down and only minimally compromised. You've got your new phone... now you just need your data back.

Hopefully this should be pretty straightforward - when you setup your new device, choose to download your old data from the cloud and your phone will be repopulated as though nothing happened.

Since 1994 trains have been doing something that would have astonished our ancestors. Not only do we have high speed horseless carriages, but they are capable of travelling under the sea. A clear affront to God, but a popular one nonetheless - as now 20 million people every year take the Channel Tunnel.

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What's perhaps surprising though is that when travelling on this engineering marvel, passengers aren't constantly left jaws agape in wonder - but are bored during the 35 minute subterranean trip across national frontiers. Which is perhaps why EE have today announced that they'll be installing mobile services in the tunnel, that will give their customers access to 2G, 3G and eventually 4G signal all of the way to Calais. Apparently 2G and 3G should be active by March, with 4G following in the summer.

This follows Vodafone also announcing that they're planning similar - but with no 4G just yet. Sorry O2 users - haven't heard anything there yet.

What's interesting is that this (and Voda's announcement) so far only covers the southbound tunnel. The Chunnel is actually three tunnels - one for trains heading from Britain to France (that's the southbound one), one for trains heading from France to Britain, and a service tunnel in the middle. So it remains to be seen whether this will later be extended to the northbound tunnel, or if this will be restricted to French mobile networks.

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What EE do tell me though is that the signal will continue all of the way until Calais - rather than terminating half way along the tunnel where the official border with France sits.

So it's good news for travellers who want to eek out a few more minutes of Twitter and Facebook before hitting the other side of the channel... when you have to go roaming and pay extortionate fees for data. Let's hope the mobile companies sort that out next.

archos_45_titanium.jpgProduct type: Android smartphone
Price as reviewed: £100

Over the years Archos has primarily been known for manufacturing and selling tablet style entertainment devices. However, this has now changed with the firm grabbing a slice of the mobile market with its very own range of Android smartphones like this budget-orientated offering, the 45 Titanium.

Design

Interestingly the design of the 45 Titanium reminds me of the Sony Xperia T. Which, while it won't mean that Archos scores highly for originality means that is has delievered a stylish and solid looking and feeling handset.

The front houses a, these days average for a budget smartphone, 4.5- inch display. Above that, you'll find the speakerphone and a front-facing camera. Below the display are three touch-sensitive buttons: menu, home and back.

The left has been kept completely blank, with the right stealing the limelight with both the volume rocker and power/lock button placed next to each other. The top is where you'll find a 3.5mm audio jack and micro-USB port for charging. Kudos to Archos for placing everything in a nice order.

Display

Archos has done an OK-ish job with the display for the 45 Titanium, espcially bearing in minds its budget status. Its 854x480 resolution is capable of providing an overall satisfactory contrast and density for viewing photos and watching videos. Maybe blacks could be a tad darker, but every other colour seemed OK. Oh, and whites - they seem too yellow for my liking.

Interface

The 45 Titanium comes pre-loaded with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, so sadly not Kit Kat, the latest version. That said, you do get access to all of Google's latest services and apps, including GTalk, Gmail and of course, the Play Store.

Little customisation to the user interface has been implemented by Archos, with the handset sporting a more stock feel. This isn't a necessarily a bad thing, but with the 45 Titanium I found everything to be too slow for my liking - which isn't me being awkward.

The keyboard, particularly, is problematic. It seemed that I was having hassle with it
constantly: you could be typing out a perfectly short email and it wouldn't do anything but freeze and stop altogether.

Power

I hate slow smartphones, and the 45 Titanium is one of them, despite being powered by a 1.3GHz dual-core processor which you could argue is quite reasonable for a device of this sort of price. And to be even more negative (I'm by no means the Grinch), you only get 4GB of internal memory.

The battery life also disappointed me. After a full charge, the phone 45 Titanium barely reached three-quarters of a day - and I had only been using it for sending a few emails and browsing the net.

Camera

Archos has supplied the 45 Titanium with two cameras: a 5-megapixel rear-facing and a VGA front-facing. The rear-facing is obviously the main camera for taking photos and videos with (which is at 720p quality), though I found the quality rather poor compared to pricier models. That is often the case with budget smartphones though.

Verdict

I must admit I am not too keen on the phone. It is slow, with a poor battery performance and a not great camera. There are better budget smartphones out there.

Battery life has long been the bane of our lives. Who hasn't suffered from the anxiety of going out for more than a few hours and worrying that our battery will run out? It turns out, we're not alone.

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A new analysis by mobile comparison website Versus has come up with a list of most desired smartphone features - apparently by filtering "sentiment" from over 45 million requests on their website. Here's the list in full:

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As you can see - almost 10% of users apparently want a better battery life. Personally I'm delighted by this, as I've been banging on about it for years.

What you may not know about batteries is not that they're just rubbish - they're actually getting better all of the time. The trouble is that when it comes to inventing a new phone, the people at Apple and Samsung and the like demand more powerful phones, which require more power to function. Faster processors and bigger displays draw more power from the battery - sapping any surplus power from the batteries, making it seem just as measly as ever.

Other most wanted features are a faster CPU, higher pixel density and higher resolution screen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the more obscure stuff that people are less familiar with is further down the list (do non-nerds really know what DLNA is?).

Apparently other data to come out of this analysis suggests that users don't care about the iPhone 5S's fingerprint recognition functionality, and they reckon that new features and higher specs often form the deciding factor in making purchases (duhh?).

So let's hope that Apple and co are reading. Fingers crossed that we'll at some point see a phone that can last an entire day with moderate usage.

three-feel-at-home.jpgSome interesting news from Three, especially if you are a regular Transatlantic jetsetter. The network has announced that it is extending its Feel at Home service- which basically allows the subscriber to use their current data and text plans outside the Uk for the same price - to several new countries, and top of that list is the USA.

So why is it a big deal. Well as Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com, says:

"It is the addition of the USA that now makes this plan really stand out. A fifth of Brits have returned from a trip across the Atlantic to a mobile bill shock - averaging over £90 - so this could be make a real difference to Three customers.

Other destinations that Three users can feel at home include Austria, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Macau, the Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka and Sweden.

5 Things iPhone should steal from Windows Phone

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Let's face it - when it comes to mobile there's only two major players. Apple's iOS and Google's Android together dominate the phone market - and anyone who wants to pretend that Windows phone or even old man Blackberry stand a chance are either deluded or working for those companies respective PR departments. But that doesn't that they never have any good ideas.

Whilst I'd hesitate to recommend switching to Windows Mobile for the time being, due to a chronic lack of apps (see here to read me banging on about ecosystems), the Windows 8 mobile operating system does have some good idea. So here's some ideas I'd like to see iOS pinch - so that they can be used by everyone, and not just the contrarian in the room with his weird phone.

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Price as reviewed: £450

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 combines the Note moniker's raison d'etre for combining both the power and performance of a tablet PC, but all chucked into the slim body of a phablet. Thanks to that glorious 5.7inch screen it has been built to add delight to daily tasks such as browsing the internet, playing games and watching videos. It also sports an overall improved design and spec line-up when compared to its predecessor.

Design

Ok, so it is big, but then again nowhere near the size of the Galaxy Mega. It measures in at 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3 mm, which means that you could well need a suitcase to carry it in. Maybe that is a bit of an over exaggeration, because it should fit into most trouser pockets quite reasonably - but it's definitely a large device to use as your daily driver. However, in saying that, it is a lot lighter than its competitors, weighing only 158g.

Looking at the front of the Note III, you can clearly see that it is a Samsung product due to the fact that it sports pretty much the same layout that has been used right across the Galaxy range for the last two years. The rest of the Note III's facial is dominated by the 5.7- inch display that I have already said is large.

On the left side, you'll find the volume rocker which I personally found very responsive, with the power on/off button located to the right that also felt extremely good to use. The top houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, with the Micro-USB placed at the bottom, alongside the loudspeaker.

The back is where you'll find the camera sensor, but interestingly, it now offers up a faux leather look, which I found much more appealing and nicer to touch and feel when compared to other Galaxy Models that I've seen in the past. Some people do dislike that it's not real leather, but it works for me.

Display

Samsung has an excellent track record for producing gorgeous displays, and they have done it yet again with the Note III. Thanks to its 1080x1920 resolution, colours look amazing, perfect for watching a movie or two. And when I took it outside (on a nice day), I found out that it's viable when in the sunlight - which impressed me, because when testing the Note II back in 2012, I found that it needed to improve in this area. Plus, the 5.7- inch touchscreen is nice and responsive to use.

Interface

Samsung's TouchWiz user interface, chucked on top of Android Jelly Bean, is in my opinion, much better than the stock version and competing UIs such as HTC's Sense. I love the whole simplicity of the UI and how sleek it is, yet sporting apps that you could arguably say are suited for people who you may call 'tech experts'. And if you want to download more, then you can easily head over to the Google Play Store where there are thousands of options to choose from.

One of the main plus points of the Android operating system has to be the ability to personalise the whole layout. During the testing process, I haven't once stopped fiddling with the Note III's homescreen, constantly adding new widgets and taking old ones away. Don't ask, but I've always found that a lot of fun! Perhaps it's because I've been using iOS for far too long.

One of the main software features of the Note III is the ability to use the S Pen - which has been redesigned, now looking a lot better than ever before - to take down notes and draw pictures. I found the S Pen very useful when I needed to write something down and couldn't find a pen or any paper. Some people won't like it, but others will think it's awesome.

Media

I have to be honest, the Note III is probably one of the best options to go for should you want a device for entertainment purposes. Watching videos and playing games is a dream, and it has a good speaker, too.

Power

If you pay more for a phone, then the chances are that it's going to be impressive in terms of power and performance. The Note III is exactly that, producing amazing speeds as the result of a quad-core 2.3GHz processor, backed up with 3GB of RAM and choices of 16/32/64GB of memory. The battery life was also great, lasting a whole day and a bit on a full charge - much better than my iPhone 5.

Camera

With the Note III, you get a 13- megapixel camera and 4K video recording - a feature for Samsung to brag about, as it's something most current smartphones/phablets don't offer. In terms of the overall quality, I was very happy with photos taken with the Note III, although I didn't really find the flash strong enough when using the camera in the night. However, in saying that, I had no obvious problems when it came to taking videos - the quality is quite superb - I really do mean that.

Verdict

The Note III may be huge, but it's certainly not as big as some of the phablets that you can find on the market today - using the HTC One Max as a great example - meaning that if you want a something bigger than the average smartphone, yet don't want it to be humongous, then the Note III could be the best option to go for. This is a sound re-invention of what is fast becoming a classic device.

samsung-galaxy-granbd2.jpgSo, after the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy mega Samsung has announced the impending arrival of yet another large screen mobile, The Galaxy Grand 2 boasts a 5.25-inch display with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 with a 16:9 aspect ratio.

It also comes with a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, just 8GB of internal flash storage and a 2,600mAh battery with a promised 17 hours of call time and 10 hours of video playback. There is also an 8-megapixel rear camera which is accompanied by a slew of Samsung software features like Best Face, Best Photo and Continuous Shot.

It comes in white or pink and features twin SIM card slots but is not 4G compatible.

I guess this is Samsung offering a lower specced cheaper big screen phone largely for buyers in emerging markets. There are no details yet on whether the handset will be available in Europe or the US. I hope they do bring it over as I think it could tempt some British buyers who liked the idea of the Galaxy mega, but may have been put off by its non Quad core processor.

Samsung Galaxy Mega review

2 Comments

gmega1.jpg

Type: Android smartphone

Price as reviewed: £300

Fancy a really big phone? Well Samsung isn't just touting its high-end Galaxy S3 Note. There's also a cut down version - the Mega - which sports a huge 6.3inch display. That's significantly bigger than the Note 3. In fact only the Sony Xperia Z Ultra - from the big name makers at least - is bigger. Yet the specs, and the price are lower than the Note 3. I get the impression that this is aimed at people who can't afford both a tablet and a phone. In fact Samsung has even muttered about students being its prime audience.

Design

When you take the Galaxy Mega out of its box, the size is a real shock! It really is almost comparable to a 7-inch tablet...it's that big. And due to it being so humongous, I found it very hard at first to comfortably hold it. After a while, using it with one hand become easier, although you'll probably want to use two hands just in case you were to end up dropping the Mega or even causing physical damage to your arm or hand. It's also worth mentioning that it's not the lightest of devices at 199g, either.

Looking around the Galaxy Mega, you get a 3.5mm audio jack at the top, with the volume rocker on the left side, the power/lock button to the right, and the micro-USB charging port placed at the bottom - everything placed nicely as they should be! And all the elements are lovely and responsive to use.

Probably the biggest attraction - and excuse the pun - has to be the Mega's gigantic 6.3- inch display. Sporting a resolution of 720x1280 pixels (note the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and Galaxy Note S3's screens are both 1080 x 1920 pixels), colours are not only sharp, but they're also vibrant and bold - perfect for watching plenty of YouTube videos. And thanks to the responsive capacitive touchscreen technology used, I had no problems whatsoever when navigating around the display.

Under the hood, the Mega is powered by a somewhat disappointing dual-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, mainly because you would expect to see a high-end smartphone, especially a phablet, sporting a quad-core version. But nevertheless, I had no problems when it came to the overall performance - probably down to the fact that there's plenty of memory (8/16GB) and 1.5GB RAM. It has more than enough oomph for most applications, it just isn't as speedy and as highly specified as some of its rivals.

Interface and apps

While the Galaxy Mega is pre-loaded with Android Jelly Bean, Samsung's very own TouchWiz user interface is way more apparent. I currently use an iPhone, but I have used a few Samsungs in the past, and happen to really like TouchWiz - I find it sleeker and packing more punch that its HTC counterpart, Sense. Maybe that's just me, but I just think it is a lot easier to use and really enjoy customising the homescreen with the variation of Samsung widgets that are available to use.

More on the Google side of things, you get access to many of the search engine's popular apps such as Gmail, Talk and Google Plus, as well as the Play Store where you're able to download free and paid items such as apps, games, magazines, e-books, music and movies - just like with iTunes.

The stock browser is also impressive. I found it very easy to use and I really liked the overall look and feel of it! Plus, because of the Mega's huge display, I had no problems when it came to using the keyboard - its keys are spaced out well and it was very responsive. It made messaging a dream, too.

Another thing that I was happy with when testing was the dial pad. Again, just like the built-in keyboard, the keys have been spaced out nicely to ensure you never accidently press a different number. And call quality is excellent too.

Camera

Samsung has supplied the Galaxy Mega with a 1.9- megapixel front-facing camera for video calling, along with an 8- megapixel rear-facing sensor and 1080p video recording for serious stills and videos.

When using the camera for stills, I was very happy with the user interface - again, very easy to use - as it should be! And I was well impressed with the quality of my photos: they look lovely and crisp, along with the videos that I took.

Battery life

When it came to battery life, I never encountered any time where I was faced with the handset running out - unlike my beloved iPhone 5 - this is all thanks to the Mega's 3200mAh battery.

Verdict

Personally, I'm a huge fan of the Galaxy Mega and what it stands for. If you want an inexpensive big screen mobile, and aren't too fussed about the latest super fast processor and the highest res screen, this is ideal.


Review by Nicholas Fearn of GadgetXpert
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