Asus Zenfone 2 Challenges Competition with Low Price

Citizen journalists beware: There’s a new Android smartphone in town that’s slim, powerful and downright cheap and comes from a company you may not have even known was making smartphones: Asus.

Asus Zenfone 2 Android 5.0 smartphone.

Asus Zenfone 2 Android 5.0 smartphone.

At a crowded New York press conference Monday, Asus, better known for its PCs and tablets, showed off the new 5.-5-inch Asus Zenfone 2 Android 5.0 smartphone–a unit with plenty of photo and video features amateur and professional journalists and social media mavens might appreciate. And its phone and data features aren’t bad either.

Not only does the Zenfone 2 come with a powerful Intel Atom processor, a high-quality 13MP PixelMaster camera and sophisticated low-light technology, but it also comes with something one might not expect from an unlocked smartphone: an attractive price.

At $299 for an unlocked Zenfone 2 with 4GB of internal RAM, 64GB of storage and a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3580 processor or $199 for one with 2MB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a 1.8 GHz Atom Z3560 processor, the Zenfone 2 is significantly cheaper than unlocked flagship smartphones like the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6 and the LG G4.

Asus Zenfone 2 colors and finishes.

Asus Zenfone 2 colors and finishes.

At 4GB of RAM, the $299 Zenfone 2 also has more built-in memory for running programs than the iPhone 6 Plus, which gets away with 1GB of RAM by running memory-effiicient iOS 8, and Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 (3GB) and LG G4 (3GB).

The slim Zenfone 2 has a 1920-by-1,080-pixel 5.5-inch display and a 13MP rear camera which can—with a little software magic—capture 52MP images. The camera’s F2.0 lens, combined with special low-light and backlight modes, make it possible to capture clear images dark conditions without turning on the flash.

Asus Lolliflash external LED flash.

Asus Lolliflash external LED flash.

Speaking of flash, a cute, but useful photo accessory is the Asus Lolliflash, a small, bright LED light that pops into the headset jack and provides additional lighting for nearby objects.

Also notable is the Zenfone 2’s fast charger, which switches between a fast-charging 9-volt, 2-amp mode to a standard 5-volt, 2-amp mode as needed. With the charger, a 10-minute charge provides 4 hours of 2G talk time or 2.7 hours of 3G talk time, according to Asus.

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih touts Zenfone 2’s Super Resolution mode.

The Zenfone 2 can handle two active SIM cards at the same time—a useful feature for overseas travelers. One SIM can handle up to 4G data speeds while the second card handles only 2G data speeds.

ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih introduces Zenfone 2 to New York media.

ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih introduces Zenfone 2 to New York media.

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih, who hosted the press event, said the Zenfone 2 was well-suited for impatient, get-it-done-now New Yorkers. The Zenfone 2 went on sale Tuesday at numerous online and retail outlets.

Second photo courtesy of Asus.
Text and all other photos © Copyright 2015, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Exclusive: Motorola Moto X Software Update Cures Its Wired Headset Headaches

Moto X lead small

The affordable, yet sophisticated Motorola Moto X succeeds in making life with a smartphone as simple, colorful and touch-free as possible, but until recently it stumbled with one of the most basic of all cell phone accessories: wired headsets with microphones.

Fortunately, a new Moto X system software update cleans up the glitch, allowing these headsets to work as they should. The free update is now being pushed out to AT&T and T-Mobile handsets. Moto X owners can wait for the notification screen to pop up or scroll through the phone’s settings to the “About Phone” section, where they can manually initiate the update.

When a Moto X with the original system software was tested with apps such as Skype and voice recorders, it often failed to recognize wired headsets with built-in mics. The earpieces would go silent and the mics wouldn’t transmit audio.

To see if your Moto X still has the original system software, download Skype and try this: Plug a wired headset with a mic to your Moto X and make a voice call to the “Echo/Sound Test Service” entry that’s preinstalled as a contact in Skype. Once connected, try to listen to the automated recording and try to record your voice when prompted.

If you have the original system software, you won’t hear and thing and won’t be able to make the recording. Try the call again without the headset–Skype should work fine. Skype and Motorola public relations representatives were contacted for comment about the wired headset problems; neither responded.

Screenshot_2013-10-04-17-49-17

A Moto X which once failed the Skype test now works perfectly after the five-minute software, which also cures other Moto X issues, was installed.

The wired headsets used for testing included Audiofly AF45 and Lenovo 57Y4488 earbuds and a Native Union Pop Phone handset. The above problems were limited to wired headsets with mics–they did not occur with wired headsets without mics or with wireless Bluetooth headsets.

The wired headset problems were ironic since the Moto X, which has three built-in microphones, actually works very well with voice-activated apps such as Google Now since one of the mics is used for noise cancellation. With the new software update, the Moto X becomes an even better value.

Moto X headset 1

Overall, the Moto X is a remarkable smartphone with good looks–which can be customized–and quality high-end features like a sharp, 4.7-inch display and a 10-megapixel camera. (Click here for full review).

Text and photos Copyright 2013, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Motorola Moto X: Fun, Friendly & Fast Enough

Motorola Moto X

Motorola Moto X

Motorola’s Moto X smartphone is an admirable balance of style and usability. It doesn’t try to outdo Samsung, Apple and others in the race to squeeze in as many high-tech features as possible but instead aims to please with its hand-shaped curves, cool voice-activated features and touch-friendly camera.

The Moto X succeeds as a sophisticated mainstream smartphone but is no speed demon. Its user-friendliness and simplicity are apparent from the start: Instead of a cluttered home screen, the Moto X offers pretty much a plain vanilla Android home screen that allows the new owner do the customizing. And that’s not surprising since Motorola Mobility is now a division of Google, the maker of Android software.

To start the camera, you pick up the phone and twist your wrist twice–that’s it; the Moto X immediately switches to camera mode. To take a photo you can touch any part of the screen–there’s no need to hunt for a shutter button. The Moto X’s 10-megapixel camera uses Motorola’s ClearPixel technology, which allows each sensor to gather 75 percent more light, thus making it possible to get clear photos even in low-light situations. according to Motorola.

The Moto X can be customized with numerous color combinations for its keys and shell (including an all wood case available later this year) by ordering the unit via the Moto X website, which only offers AT&T units at the moment. Since the Moto X is manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas instead of somewhere overseas, online buyers can expect to see their new phones–already initialized with their Google accounts–in four days or less, according to Motorola.

Motorola's Moto X can be ordered in a variety of color combinations.

Motorola’s Moto X can be ordered in a variety of color combinations.

“We think this represents a very interesting future,” said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president for product development at Motorola during a press event in New York. He said the Moto X is aimed at “the mainstream user,” not the feature-frenzied geek.

Rear of Motorola Moto X.

Rear of Motorola Moto X.

The Moto X uses what computing power it has fairly efficiently. It runs Android version 4.2.2 and has a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon processor. Other top-shelf smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 have quad-core processors, but they also have more sensors and higher-resolution screens, making the additional processor muscle necessary.

Moto X Active Display

The low-power Active Display mode on Motorola’s Moto X.

The Moto X is built with what’s called the Motorola X8 computing system. It’s a set of eight processor cores assigned to different tasks. Why is this important? By using different cores for different tasks, the entire processor doesn’t have to be awake all the time–each core wakes up as it’s needed. This design extends the life of the Moto X’s 2200 mAH battery to a full day of average use, according to Motorola.

Two of the processor cores are used for basic application processing (this is what makes the Moto X a “dual-core” smartphone) and four are used for graphics processing, thus speeding up video and photo functions. The other two cores take care of voice commands and sensors like the accelerometer and the ambient light sensor and help the Moto X detect how fast you’re moving and what you’re doing with the phone.

When tested with voice commands, the Moto X worked very well and was able to verbally answer questions about the time, the weather, directions, baseball scores and many other queries. The quality of the speech detection is aided by the phone’s three microphones, which work together to cancel stray noises and enhance voices.

A useful Active Display shows notifications in a simple, low-power mode, thus letting you know if you have incoming e-mail, text messages or other items even when the phone is in standby mode.

The Moto X lists for $199 (16GB of user memory) or $249 (32GB) with a two-year plan and is sold by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular and major retailers.

Do you have a Moto X? How do you like it so far? Comment or vote:

Text and photos Copyright 2013, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Amazon’s New Kindle Fire HD Family: Take That Apple iPad!

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Not many companies can make Apple sweat, but Amazon has just turned up the heat with the new Kindle Fire HD tablet/ereader family: The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD ($199 with 16GB of storage; $249 with 32GB), the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD 8.9 ($299 with 16GB; $369 with 32GB) and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 4G LTE Wireless ($499 with 16GB; $599 with 32GB).

The classic 7-inch Kindle Fire, which recently sold out on Amazon.com, is back in the Kindle lineup with a faster processor, more memory and a really cool new feature: A lower $159 price tag.

New 7-inch Kindle Fire HD in portrait and landscape orientation.

The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, which has a better display, more storage space and Dolby stereo audio but the same $199 starting price as the old Kindle Fire, is available for preorder now and will be in stores Sept. 14. The other models will be available Nov. 20.

As a family, the new color Kindle HD units are poised to make a huge impact in three key tech sales areas: the affordable entry-level tablet market, the muscle Wi-Fi tablet segment and in the do-it-all-always-connected-big-tablet competition. Apple may have something interesting in the works as it rolls out a new iPad or two this fall, but for now Amazon has delivered a stunning first punch to the 2012 holiday-season tablet market.

Aside from HD displays, the new Kindle HD units have two Wi-Fi MIMO (Multiple In/Multiple Out) antennas, which means that both antennas can receive data simultaneously on 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks, thus resulting in better wireless Internet reception, according to Amazon.

Also included in the new units are front-facing cameras, a custom version of Skype videoconferencing software, free unlimited cloud storage for Kindle media, Bluetooth wireless adapters for wireless headsets, speakers and other accessories and an HDMI out port.

With a starting price of $299, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is far more affordable than the least expensive Apple iPad, but offers an admirable array of features, including its 1,920-by-1,200-pixel, 254-pixel-per-inch IPS display and a 1.5 GHz, dual-core processor. It has the same look as the smaller Kindle HD, which has a 1.2GHz processor, in terms of its dark case and thick border around the display area.

The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE Wireless offers the same features of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 plus high speed always-on LTE data service at a very competitive price: $50 a year for 250MB a month data, 20GB of additional cloud storage and a $10 Amazon app store credit.

Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the company’s Kindle press conference that Amazon was willing to lose money on hardware since it could make up the loss selling content in the Kindle Store.

The new Kindle units can take advantage of new Amazon content services, including Kindle FreeTime, which lets parents set time limits on content for their children. FreeTime will be available in October.

Also introduced Thursday were other Kindle devices, including two monochrome devices using new Kindle display technology:  the $119 Kindle Paperwhite and the $179 Kindle Paperwhite 3G.

Of course the best feature about all Kindle devices is easy access to Amazon’s huge arsenal of ebooks, audiobooks, MP3 music downloads, Android apps and other downloadable media. Amazon tries to make things easy on technophobes by providing a simple interface.

At Thursday’s unveiling in Santa Monica, California, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos readily admitted that Amazon was willing to lose money on hardware since it could make up the loss with content sales from its Kindle store.

In boxing, the best punch is often the one you get off just ahead of your opponent: Even if it doesn’t floor him, you have his attention. Apple, are you listening?

Images and video courtesy of Amazon.

Text © Copyright 2012

Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

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Motorola Sharpens Droid RAZR Lineup with RAZR HD, RAZR MAXX HD and RAZR M

Motorola Droid RAZR HD

Motorola tried to snatch the smartphone headlines from Apple and Samsung Wednesday by introducing three robust additions to its Android lineup: The muscle-bound Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD and the affordable, but still power-packed Droid RAZR M.

The Droid RAZR M, which has a 4.3-inch display, is available now for $100 when purchased with a two-year service plan. No specific dates or prices were announced for the Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD, which have 4.7-inch screens. All come with 1.5 GHz dual-core processors, 1 GB of RAM and front- and rear-facing HD-video-capable cameras. [Update: The Droid RAZR HD is now available for $200 and the Droid RAZR MAXX HD is $300, in both cases when purchased with a two-year service plan.]

“I’m here to tell you that the new Motorola starts today,” said Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola Mobility, now a part of Google. “In many ways, Google and Motorola have only just begun.”

Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside talks to the press as the image of Martin Cooper, who led the Motorola team which invented the mobile phone in 1973, looms behind him. Cooper was in attendance at the New York press event.

Motorola’s three new RAZR models offer 4G data speeds via the LTE network from Verizon Wireless, long-lasting batteries and are the first to ship with Google’s Chrome for Android Web browser, which has a handful of finger-friendly features.

For example, to switch between tabs on Chrome you simply swipe your finger from one side of the screen to the other. A swipe to the side also gets rid of a tab while you’re looking at a group of them. Users also have the option of synchronizing bookmarks with Chrome browsers on other devices. Unlike the standard Android Web browser, Chrome has no limits on the number of tabs you can have open at once.

According to Motorola, the Super AMOLED displays on the Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD have 78 per cent more pixels than the original DROID RAZR, resulting in a sharper, smoother-looking display. The key difference is that the Droid RAZR HD, available in black or white, comes with a lithium-ion battery which provides 24 hours of battery life while the thicker RAZR MAXX HD (black only) has a larger battery which promises 32 hours of phone use per charge.

Droid RAZR M

The Droid RAZR M, which is available in black or white, has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen and a narrow bezel, which allows it to offer the same size screen as phones with larger bodies, including the original Droid RAZR. Its 2,000 mAH battery provides 20 hours of battery life, according to Motorola. The new RAZR phones also offer power-management controls that can further enhance battery life.

Like its larger siblings, the Droid RAZR M has an 8-megapixel camera on the back but has a lower-resolution, 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera while the other two new RAZR models have 1.3-megapixel front cameras.

During a demonstration at Wednesday’s press event a Droid RAZR HD unit provided remarkably sharp and smooth HD video playback even with bright ambient light. As expected, the new RAZR models are thin. The RAZR M comes in just under a third of an inch, the RAZR HD is just over a third of an inch thick and the RAZR MAXX HD is slightly fatter at 0.37 inches thick.

Woodside noted that not only will all of  the new RAZR phones be upgraded from Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) later this year, but added that all Motorola smartphones capable of handling the new software will get it as well. Owners of Motorola smartphones that can’t be upgraded to Jelly Bean can get a $100 credit toward a new phone, he said.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the Motorola RAZR product launch in New York.

“They really shouldn’t be called smartphones, they should be called mobile computers,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who led off the press event.

How will the new RAZR entries compete with the Samung Galaxy S3, the current and future Apple iPhone and recent entries from Nokia, LG, HTC and others? The holiday shopping season will provide the answer soon enough.

Text, video and images © Copyright 2012

Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

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LooxcieLive: Walk, Talk and Stream Live Video from Smartphone to Facebook

Mock-up of new Looxcie for Facebook App

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own TV network, Looxcie has an app for you. As of this morning, you can download the revised version of LooxcieLive, a free smartphone/tablet app which lets you stream live video from your device’s front or back camera straight to your friends who are using the same app.

No app? No problem. In a few days a new Looxcie App for Facebook will allow anyone who can access Facebook to view your live videos or those broadcast on Looxcie’s public user channels.

LooxcieLive smartphone and tablet app

LooxcieLive, available for Android 2.1-plus and Apple iOS 5.0-plus devices, is compatible with front or rear cameras on smartphones or tablets. Not only does the app let you speak to your viewers, but viewers with LooxcieLive on their own smartphones can talk back. They can use a push-to-talk button or can send text messages to the videographer.

The introduction of LooxcieLive means that you no longer need one of Looxcie’s lightweight, wearable video cameras to broadcast live videos via a smartphone app.

“If you don’t have a Looxcie [camera], you can still have a Looxcie experience,” said Jay Moore, vice president of marketing at Looxcie during a phone conference.

However, the Looxcie LX1 and Looxcie LX2 cameras have superior optics and offer better resolutions than most tablets and smartphones. The Looxcie cameras, which link with smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth, can be hung from an ear like a Bluetooth headset, clipped to a baseball cap, put on a tripod or otherwise used completely hands free.

“There’s still an advantage to using a Looxcie camera,” said Moore. “At a minimum we’re engaging new users.”

LooxcieLive

Videos streamed with the LooxcieLive app can be made private, where only invited friends can view them, or left public where anyone with the app or using the Looxcie for Facebook App can see them. The app allows users to send live broadcast notifications to Looxcie and Facebook friends.

The live streaming works over 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connections, according to Looxcie, and videos are archived to the cloud, where they can be viewed later. The app supports a top streaming video resolution of 480p at up to 15 frames per second, so the result is not exactly HD-quality.

Moore noted that the app can be useful for citizen journalists or anyone who wants to make a simple broadcast that he can share.

“We definitely pride ourselves with trying to provide an easy experience for our customers,” said Moore.

Images courtesy of Looxcie.

Text © Copyright 2012
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
info@paperpc.net

Samsung’s Mysterious Bluetooth S Pen: Talk to the Hand… Really

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen was silently introduced to the press after the Aug. 15 New York launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Android tablet.

James Bond would be proud. While the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen HM5100 doesn’t contain poison or shoot bullets, the handheld unit, like many of 007’s toys, isn’t as simple as it looks. While this new tablet accessory looks like a mild-mannered stylus, it’s actually a wireless Bluetooth handset you can make calls with.

As Samsung’s glitzy launch event for its new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet wound down on Aug. 15, members of the press were sent packing with a press kit which included the Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen. Most recipients seemed unimpressed at the seemingly mundane going-away gift and quietly packed them away. It was only upon closer inspection later that many realized what the BT S Pen actually was.

The front of the box does little to describe its capabilities other than to mention that it’s “compatible with Galaxy Note series” and one side of the box simply reminds you that it can “Enhance your mobile smart life.”

However, the Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen is basically a pen-shaped Bluetooth handset with a stylus that’s compatible with the magnetic resonance circuitry built into the display of the  Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. When the BT S Pen is used with the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, the tablet can detect more than a thousand levels of pen pressure. This means you can draw a thick line by pushing down harder on the screen with the S Pen and a thinner line by easing up on the pressure.

The BT S Pen has the same side button that comes on the S Pen styli packed with Samsung’s Galaxy Note smartphone and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet plus a rocker switch to control volume and a power button that’s also used to pick up and disconnect calls. The BT S Pen pairs with any compatible Bluetooth device by holding down the power button for three seconds. The unit’s built-in battery can be recharged via a standard microUSB slot hidden below a cap at the top of the device.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen: It looks like a stylus, but it’s actually a Bluetooth handset you can speak into.

 So how does it sound? Surprisingly good. Since it’s easy to hold the tiny speaker grill close to your ear canal, volume is not a real problem. A small microphone is embedded in the middle of the Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen, which can be set to vibrate when a call comes in.

The unit has an indicator light, but no display and doesn’t call out the number of the incoming call. The biggest disadvantage of the S Pen, however, might be the perplexed glances you might get from people who spot you chatting with a pen.

So when can you purchase the Galaxy Note 10.1 BT S Pen? Good question. (UPDATE: The BT S Pen is now available for purchase.) The product doesn’t exist on Samsung’s US website and the box itself doesn’t even have a UPC code printed on it. Since the current Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet is a WiFi-only device, the BT S Pen may–or may not–debut with a future version of the tablet with built-in cellular data capabilities.

So if you spot someone with a pen nestled in his ear who seems to be talking to himself, don’t take pity on him. Ask him where he got that pen.

UPDATE: The BT S Pen is now available for purchase.

Text and images © Copyright 2012
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
info@paperpc.net