Posts tagged ‘smartphones’

The pain of living without 4G

Mobile World Congress may have ended a month ago but am only now getting ‘closure’ on the event. The reason – I’ve just been reunited with my iPhone that I thought had been stolen at the event. What happened, in case you were interested, is that I had placed my iPhone in one of the many charging lockers around the venue only to find that it wasn’t there when I returned. I couldn’t believe it. The locker was locked when I left it – but when I returned, to my amazement the phone wasn’t there.

A search using the ‘Find My iPhone’ feature did not help – as I had put the device in ‘Airplane mode’ before placing it in the locker in order for it to charge quicker. (A handy tip for you there – as long as you don’t need to try and locate your phone shortly after).

The incident rather put a damper of the show and I returned home rather forlornly.


Happy days then when I got an email from staff at the venue saying that my phone had been found! While I was pleased, I was very confused by what had happened. Where had it gone? Had I done something stupid and simply looked in the wrong locker? As such, I decided I would keep it to myself and not tell anyone what happened. Apart from my colleagues. And my friends. And family. And this blog post.

After two weeks of some frustrating failed courier pickups later the phone was sent back to me safe and sound by regular post. 

What came of the experience is that for nearly three weeks I had to borrow a phone, kindly lent to me by a friend. It was a two-year old HTC One X. This was noteworthy as it would be the first time that I would be using an Android phone for any length of time since I reviewed the second Android phone ever released, in a previous job.

In those days Android and the iPhone were still light-years apart – can you believe that there was no multi-touch on Android, but these days it’s Android that’s ahead in terms of feature.

Initial impressions using the phone were good. Compared to last time I used it there’s an Android app for nearly everything – though my favourite iOS Podcast app Downcast isn’t there and the interface for BeyondPod, the Android equivalent had me scratching my head somewhat.

But widgets! That’s a feature that I really enjoyed that isn’t present in iOS. You can place a small version of your app on the phone ‘desktop’ – so you can, for example, play or pause a podcast with one tap, or see live train timetable information, without having to launch the app, and then search within in it. It’s great.

However, once past the widgets the experience soon palled. The phone felt very plastickly, apps were slow to respond, while the touch screen seem oversensitive.


The biggest issue though, was network speed. This was a 3G phone, and while I expected things to be less speedy compared to 4G I was surprised by how unresponsive everything felt. As Joni Mitchell once sang that: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

What once seemed easy – checking Facebook or Twitter, downloading a podcast, or just reading a web page now was an almost painful experience. Apps didn’t seem to respond, and the spinning download circle was permanently on screen, either when checking web pages or waiting for the bike hire app to update with some useful information.

Speed tests revealed that despite the ‘H’ insisting I was in an HSDPA area most of the time I was getting less than half a meg of speed. Combined with the high latency inherent in 3G it all made for a frankly poor experience. Rubbish.

However all was finally restored to normal yesterday when I finally was reunited with my iPhone. It was something of process getting it back to working order – charging it up, backing it up, watching it automatically erase when it went online, restoring it from a backup, and then physically cutting down my replacement combi-SIM to an iPhone 5 friendly nano SIM – with all the attendant will it work drama that this entails. That was a fun evening.

Now I have it back to working order, it really struck home that 4G really does enable smartphones to live up to their billing as smart devices and I really appreciated being able to do the things I had taken for granted.

I’m now back at my desk streaming hi-res FLAC music files from my NAS box at home, something that would be completely impossible with standard 3G. But while that might be an extreme use, even for more conventional use 3G simply doesn’t cut it. Yes you can use smartphones at speed on Wi-Fi, but real mobility and freedom comes from being able to able to use the power in your device when and wherever you are.

4G then is now no longer to my mind a next-gen technology– it simply enables you to use your phone as it should be.

Now, where my 5G?

Is the UK holding up LTE smartphones?

It seems that I was wrong the other day about HTC bringing the first LTE phone to Europe via Vodafone. While the HTC is little while off, according to ITWorld, the Samsung Galaxy S II LTE is apparently winging its way to stores in Sweden. The country, along with Norway, has had an LTE service since TeliaSonera launched in 2009, making it one of the first launches in the world. However, up till now there have been no smartphones available, which compares unfavourably with the US, which has a whole bunch on offer on AT&T, Verizon and even ‘lil ol’ Metro PCS.

The reason is simply one of economies of scale. As all LTE phone in the US operate on one of the 700MHz bands and there’s quite a large market, it’s worth it for it for Samsung and HTC to produce LTE phones. In Europe, LTE has been scarcer than a train running on time on my work commute, so there’s been little incentive for the device manufacturers to produce one.

Now it seems that smartphones are beginning to trickle through, and no doubt we’ll see a lot more LTE related announcement at Mobile World Congress in a couple of weeks. What we want is it to turn into a flood and the damn holding it back though is likely to be the UK (damn UK).

It might not be the largest but there’s no doubt that the UK is one of the major markets in Europe, and as the LTE auction isn’t even taking place until later in the year no one is expecting a live network until 2014 at the earliest. The sluggishness of the UK market could well have a knock on effect on the whole of the European smartphone LTE market. Once European users start carrying LTE enabled handset it might spur the UK operators to make sure they stop their bickering and press on with their LTE plans.

Samsung beating HTC to the punch is also another blow for the Taiwanese manufacturer which has recently been struggling with poor recent results, mainly down to the rise of Samsung’s Galaxy line.

Is there an LTE network on its way near you? Do you already use LTE but are you frustrated at the lack of a compatible handset?

Selling LTE: Is Verizon getting it wrong?

In the UK we tend to think of LTE as something of a specialist subject due to the fact that the average ‘normal’ person on the street hasn’t heard of it. That’s fair enough, as it’s not coming to these isles until 2014 at the earliest, and probably 20014 if the operators are allowed to drag their heels. But that’s another story. In the US however, it’s mainstream enough for Saturday Night Live to run a skit, making fun of Verizon’s advertising of the service.

The customer walks in and is clearly savvy enough to ask the sales rep to tell him more about ‘4G LTE’, and is then promptly bamboozled by a stream of confusing network specifications.

Best lines? “1 song, 4 seconds.” Puzzled look. “The song is four seconds?”

After being flung a list of buzzy Android phone names he asks, “What happens if I drop it down the toilet?” Response. “It breaks immediately”.

Tagline? “Verizon – an old person’s nightmare”

(Apologies for poor screen cam quality, but original not available on YOuTube due to draconian location limitations – (i.e. you’re outside of the US? But there’s nothing outside of the US!).

The point is clear. Verizon might be well known as the LTE leader in the US, but is doing a poor job at communicating the benefits of the technology and the gadgets that come with it. Lesson to other operators – do it better.

It might be terribly predictable to say, but there is one company that will do a probably better job of explaining why LTE is great, while offering a simpler, clear strategy to deliver it to customers via a single device. And they’ll probably do it this summer. Answer on a post card below. No prizes.

Has LTE hurt HTC?

LTE has been a drain on HTC fortunes. Can it do better in 2012?

It seems that things aren’t going so well for Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, after it reported lower than expected quarterly earnings, bringing to and end four quarters of growth. Oops.

For a company that was famed for its stratospheric rise into public consciousness, it’s a bit of a come down. HTC was known to mobile aficionados, (or geeks as they are more commonly known), as the manufacturers behind early smartphones such as the Windows Mobile powered Orange SPV. It first introduced a touch screen device in 2007 (called the HTC Touch – brilliant) just before the iPhone was released. When Android came along HTC was able to really express itself though, producing powerful, affordable, quality hardware, married to an advanced, cutting-edge OS, enhanced, in the main, with its own ‘Sense’ overlay. It was a successful formula – and led to it quickly becoming the standard bearer for Android.

In fact, consumers were soon talking about an ‘HTC’ as a rival for the iPhone, rather than an ‘Android’.  No mean feat.

However, it turns out the problem wasn’t Apple, it was Samsung. The Korean manufacturer has stolen its thunder as the goto Android alternative, with its Galaxy line taking over from ‘HTC’ as that ‘not-an-iPhone’ brand leader. Samsung quadrupled its smarthone sales in 2011 compared to 2010 and with the iPhone leaving hot cakes in the shade for umpteenth year running, it’s been at the expense of HTC rather than Apple.

So what is the problem for HTC? A big issue in the US is that instead of technical leadership, in 2011 it became known for producing too many phones that were hard to differentiate. It’s also clear that LTE hindered rather than helped. The phones were generally 3G devices with LTE functionality bolted on. This obviously requires a lot of power, but HTC tended to keep the batteries relatively thin, in order to avoid burdening the phones, and the users pockets, with an even larger footprint.  iOS5.0 battery issue Snafu aside, Apple also puts a lot of work into battery life optimisation, which is inevitably harder to do when OS and manufacturer are not vertically aligned.

The end result is that HTC LTE phones have quickly became known as power hungry clunky bricks rather that the technical, speedy tour-de-forces that it probably had intended. Not cool.

Indeed HTC’s top brass have come out and said as much, with its CFO admitted that it had “dropped the ball” with its recent line-up. In comparison, Apple’s reserved and patient approach to LTE looks ever more sensible.

A Nokia 6310 – last charged in 2003, and still going. Fully multimedia too – Calls AND texts.

LTE in Europe is still limited and HTC and Samsung have clearly been concentrating on the 700MHz LTE frequencies used in the States as that’s where the volume is right now but HTC has just announced that the Velocity is coming to Vodafone Germany soon. As LTE starts to roll out in the Europe and the Middle-East though, we could soon be faced with the same LTE-induced battery pain that the US has (One advantage of the UK not having LTE until the mid 22nd century, (probably), is that the chipsets will at least decidedly mature and the chronic battery issues will presumably be sorted. Presumably).

So if you’re in Europe will you be jumping on board with LTE as soon as you can get your mits on a smartphone? Will you keep your phone and go with a Mifi device? Wait for the iPhone 5? Or see how it all pans out and just stick with your Nokia 6310. Now that was a phone…

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