All things Mobile Tech

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Panasonic's GX85 is a lite version of last year's GX8 | The Verge

Panasonic has announced the GX85, a smaller, cheaper update to the advanced amateur portion of its interchangeable lens camera lineup. The new camera offers better image stabilization, a tweaked design, and lower resolution than its predecessor. The GX85 will be available in black or silver this May for $799 with a 12-32mm kit lens.
The biggest difference between the GX85 and last year's GX8 is an all-new Micro Four Thirds image sensor. Panasonic has actually taken the resolution down from 20 megapixels to 16 here, but claims that the new sensor can still capture great detail because there is no low pass filter. Camera companies usually employ low pass filters at the expense of some fine detail because it helps get rid of moiré, but Panasonic says that a new version of the Venus image processing chip in the GX85 is able to reduce that effect.
The sensor can still capture 4K footage at 30 or 24 frames per second, and the camera is also equipped with Panasonic's range of "4K photo" modes. These let users shoot smaller 8-megapixel images at a speed of 30 frames per second, which is useful for when photographers want to make absolutely sure that they don't miss a particular shot.
Panasonic is also enhancing the "dual image stabilization" that debuted on the GX8. The camera body now has 5-axis image stabilization, which works in tandem with the the 2-axis stabilization in the camera's lenses.
The GX85 is slightly narrower, shorter, and thinner than the GX8, and weighs a few ounces less. That makes it a much less imposing camera, but it lacks the tilting viewfinder and full swivel LCD of last year's camera. Unfortunately the GX85 doesn't improve much on the build quality of the GX8, which was a bit plasticky, though its a little easier to swallow with the 85's lower price tag.
Panasonic has made some other, smaller tweaks as well. The GX85 has a revamped electromagnetic shutter (the GX8's was spring-driven), which should reduce the rolling shutter effect when shooting at high frame rates. The electronic viewfinder has been bumped up from 2.36 to 2.764 million dots, And the Wi-Fi function is supposed to be much easier to use, with Panasonic opting for a QR code over password protection.
With the GX85, Panasonic is bringing some of its more advanced technologies and features down to a more accessible price, while leaving behind some of the things that less experienced photographers might not appreciate. If you've been holding on to an older GX model and couldn't stomach the price tag of the GX8, the GX85 may be just what you've been looking for.

Panasonic's GX85 is a lite version of last year's GX8 | The Verge:

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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Windows Phone hacked! Unlock Lumia bootloader, get root access, flash custom ROMs

If you are the type of person that likes to tinker, Linux-based operating systems are for you. You would probably have many hours of fun playing with an Android device or Raspberry Pi. With that said, Linux is not the only game in town.
Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile are probably the last operating systems you would expect to be hacker-friendly. After all, despite its occasional embrace of open source, Microsoft is largely a closed company. Today, this perception could begin to change, you see, as a new tool rocks the mobile community. Called "Windows Phone Internals", it allows Lumia owners to unlock their bootloaders, gain root access and even flash custom ROMs. Whoa.
"I am proud to announce the immediate availability of Windows Phone Internals 1.0. This tool allows you to unlock the bootloader of selected Lumia Windows Phone models. After unlocking the bootloader, you can enable Root Access on the phone or create and flash Custom ROM's. I created a short introduction video to show the features of the tool", sayscreator Heathcliff74.
Heathcliff74 further explains, "root Access allows you to load your own homebrew software onto the phone with high privileges. Apps can escape from their sandboxes. The tool can also create backup-images of the phone and access the file-system in Mass Storage mode. The tool supports most versions of Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile. For a complete list of supported phones and Operating Systems have a look at the Getting Started section of the tool".
Want to to try this tool? You can download it here. With that said, I would caution against using it for now. Why? For one, you could end up bricking your phone -- neither I, nor BetaNews, will be responsible for any potential damage. More importantly, however, we have not had the ability to independently test it. There is the potential for malware and other bad stuff.
Will this be the thing that finally makes Windows 10 Mobile popular? Probably not. Then again, many Android users flocked to the platform for this type of tinkering. We will have to wait and see.
If you are willing to continue despite the risks, you should watch the below videos first. Please tell me how it goes in the comments below.

Photo Credit: mickyso/Shutterstock

Windows Phone hacked! Unlock Lumia bootloader, get root access, flash custom ROMs:

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sony Xperia Z5 review: A decent phone overshadowed by the competition

At the start of 2015, Sony effectively gave up on making smartphones in the hope of recapturing former glories. Its mobile division now loses the company nearly $2 million per day even after being slimmed down to a fraction of its former size. The few devices that it launches each year are merely placeholders; products designed to keep the company's hand in just in case the next next big thing requires mobile expertise. It's an unenviable position for Sony's employees, knowing that they're effectively operating in a vacuum. When faced with that truth, there are only three options available to them: give up, throw every mad idea at the wall, or build a grand valediction and go out on a high. This is the starting point from which we will begin our examination of the mid-rangeXperia Z5.

Sony Xperia Z5 review


Xperia Z5

  • One of the best smartphone cameras on the market
  • Great performance
  • Lovely screen
  • Sony's design language is getting tired
  • Underwhelming battery life
  • Last year's version of Android
Sony’s Xperia Z5 is a mobile photographer's dream with a breathtaking camera and great display. However, you’re likely to be turned off by the underwhelming battery life. It’s a respectable choice, but other Android handsets are even more compelling. 


    Depending on how you count, this is either the fifth, eighth or tenth handset to bear the "Xperia Z" name. They're all pretty similar-looking on account of the firm's Omnibalancedesign language that emphasizes symmetry and inoffensiveness, so not much changes year over year. Whereas previous generations of the device featured a prominent sleep/wake button on the right-hand side, this one adopts a flatter, wider alternative. That's because the button now doubles as a fingerprint sensor.
    It's a uniquely Sony thing to do, since most other companies would simply have either discarded the feature or added it somewhere more convenient. HTC, Samsung and Apple have all placed fingerprint sensors on the home button, while LG and others have placed it on the underside of the device. That wouldn't have been good enough for Sony, however, and so it had to make it work so that it fitted in with your natural grip. It's an impressive amount of effort that will probably go unnoticed by a large number of users.
    Another thing that Sony has clearly put plenty of effort into is ensuring that the 5.2-inch device feels a lot smaller than it actually is. At first blush, you might think that it's all hard angles and straight lines, but the sides of the device have all been rounded-off to ensure it doesn't dig into the fleshy, pain-sensitive parts of your palm. It all adds up to a piece of kit that's comfortable to hold for prolonged periods of time, although the trade-off here is that the phone's smooth glass back is pretty frictionless -- so there's that lingering risk that it could slide out of your greasy paw.
    As with most of the company's devices, the Xperia Z5 is water and dust proof with an Ingress Protection rating of 65/68. In English, that means that it'll theoretically work in the harshest of sandstorms and can withstand immersion in shallow water for a short period if time. Of course, that only applies if the port cap that hides the SIM and microSD card trays is sealed, otherwise there'll be no comeback if the device breaks. Meanwhile, the micro-USB port that lives on the bottom of the device is "capless" and so the company advises that, should the worst happen, you let the phone dry out before attempting a recharge.
    To finish off our hardware tour, the combined SIM and microSD tray is housed on the left side of the device, while the micro-USB port sits on the bottom. Remember the dock port that popped up on previous generations of Xperia Zs? That's gone too, making the whole device look less fussy and cluttered. Up top, you'll find the usual 3.5mm headphone jack, while down on the right you'll find the power sleep/wake fingerprint sensor, volume rocker and the dedicated camera button. The only features on the front beside that display is a super-subtle Sony logo and an adjacent 5-megapixel selfie cam, while the primary lens is in its usual place in the top left corner of the back.

    Display and sound

    Were you aware that Sony produced HDTVs and high-definition audio equipment? Because, come on, you should be; it's 2015, guys. As such, you'd expect this 5.2-inch 1,920 x 1,080 Triluminos LCD display to be one of the finest mobile screens on the market. The short answer, is that yes, it is, with faithful color reproduction, beautiful black levels and decent viewing angles that'll enable the person next to you on the plane to at least have a decent view of what you're watching.
    As for sound, Sony has included the usual forward-facing stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the device that do a similar job as HTC's BoomSound setup. At full volume, audio is crisp, clear and just loud enough to enable you to hear it from across the room, but I wish it was louder and had stronger bass. Sony disagrees with me, of course, opting instead to bundle in its own high-res audio converter that trades loudness for clarity. That becomes more obvious when you put on a pair of half-decent headphones, since the phone can even make your average YouTube clip sound special.


    Sony's famous for dragging its feet when it comes to getting users onto the latest and greatest version of Android. We may be celebrating the arrival of Marshmallow, but the Z5 is still lagging behind with Lollipop, although Sony is promising an update at some point. Sony has done its usual job of almost, but not quite, leaving Android alone, albeit with the usual additional apps and overlays that remind you that the company has video and audio stores it'd like you to buy from.
    I won't bore you with discussions of Lollipop because, at this point, it's a year old and Sony's touches aren't noteworthy enough to talk about in detail. The one thing worth discussing is how the power button can pull double-duty as a fingerprint scanner. Setting this up was relatively easy. The app will repeatedly ask you to place your finger on the pad until it's developed a comprehensive picture of your print. If there's an issue with that, it's because, unlike when you shove your finger on a home button, you're not really thinking about where you drop your digit in its natural hold stance. Unfortunately, that means it fails to unlock the phone about a third of the time until you re-adjust your fingers.


    Sony makes cameras for itself, components for firms like Nikon and Fujifilm, and imaging sensors for devices like the iPhone. It should come as no surprise that the Z5's 1/2.3-inch Exmor RS 23-megapixel camera is this device's standout feature. Behind the science and jargon is the claim that the phone's autofocus will be able to snap images into clarity within 0.03 seconds. In the company's promo materials, much was made of the phone being fast enough to catch your baby's first word or steps. In reality, the only thing that lets the camera down is the app's slow load time, which would delay you just long enough to miss being able to capture junior's first words.

    Sony Xperia Z5 sample shots

    As a weak photographer, I often trust my smartphone to produce far better images than I'm capable of achieving with hours of fiddling in the settings. Thankfully, the Z5 can either take you in hand and do the legwork for you, or give you plenty of additional control in the manual mode. If you're a smarter shooter than me, then you'll be able to pick and choose between various scene options, as well as tweaking the white balance and exposure compensation.
    As for the pictures themselves, they're some of the best you'll find on a smartphone and whatever I could throw at this lens, it was able to deal with. Sure, on a bright, clear day, the shots that I took have beautiful, subtle colors and sumptuous amounts of detail. On a walk through the graffiti-covered streets of East London, the Z5 was able to pluck out plenty of neat little details and even that 8x digital zoom produces shots you'd be happy to upload to Flickr.
    It's the phone's night time performance that's more special, and while the images are still plenty noisy, it's still capable of capturing a lot of information. Take some of those shots of the night-time sky where you can actually see definition in the cloud and the different shades in the night. Even in a dark auditorium with only minimal edge lighting, the phone was able to produce images that may even beat the classic Nokia 1020. In fact, if Sony produces another QX10-style portable lens camera, it could do worse than just shove the Z5's sensor into a device the size of something like the Narrative Clip. I know I'd struggle not to buy one.

    Performance and battery life

    I've never been a huge fan of benchmarks, since an artificial number can only hint at how your device will behave in the real world. A lot of the time it's a false measure, since how a phone works when grinding fake pixels isn't at all similar to making sure that Instagram refreshes properly. That prelude aside, here are the boring bits: The Xperia Z5 packs an octa-core Snapdragon 810 chip paired with Adreno 430 graphics and 3GB of RAM, putting on the same level as the Nexus 6P. If you won't be satisfied until you've seen some hard numbers, the benchmarks are listed below. For everyone else, rest assured, this phone is pretty damn fast.
    AndEBench Pro6,9897,3777,75010,552
    Vellamo 3.25,2045,1052,5853,677
    3DMark IS Unlimited23,19021,8479,07621,632
    GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)23.3256.625
    Each app loads within a second, there's no slowdown or jerkiness and you won't be left grunting in annoyance at the device, no matter what you're doing with it. If the benchmark for taxing apps is to play a demanding game like Asphalt 8 with the graphics turned way up, then the fact that the Z5 rarely dropped frames should be encouraging. The only thing that's worth mentioning is that the device gets appreciably warm when you run a performance-heavy app for a prolonged period of time.
    Sony's Xperia Z5 comes with a 2,900mAh battery and a promise that the device will last up to two days on a charge. That's certainly the case if you're only using it casually, although playing some of those demanding mobile games will reduce its lifespan by quite a measure. In day-to-day use, I got down to 40-or-so percent by bedtime with a usage pattern I'll call "Engadget Editor at Home." Our standard rundown test involves playing an HD video on repeat with the brightness set to 50 percent; under those conditions, the device lasted seven hours and 19 minutes. If I'm honest, that's a little less than I had expected from a battery of this size. For comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S6managed to last for 11 hours under the same conditions on a 2,550mAh cell.

    The competition

    Sony may want to sell its devices through a US carrier, but can't seem to get the networks excited enough to try. The launch of the Verizon-exclusive Z4v was a will-they, won't-they until the moment the pair ultimately decided to cancel the launch, not long before the arrival of the Z5. There's no guarantee that the Z5 will ever reach the US, but it's currently on sale, SIM-free in the UK for £549 ($843). That figure includes the country's 20 percent sales tax, so we'd assume that if it ever made the trip across the pond, it would cost somewhere in the region of $500. That, at least, is the best guess we can make in order to suggest to you some comparable devices.
    For that sort of cash, you could pick up the Nexus 6P, which has the same Snapdragon 810 chip, Adreno 430 graphics and 3GB of RAM. The 32GB edition is priced at $499, putting it roughly on par with the Z5, at least in our guesswork. The key differences between the two is that the 6P has a bigger display and battery, but arguably a weaker camera. For $429 you could pick up the Nexus 5X, which has reduced internals but a camera that we described in our review as "pleasantly surprising." If you're reading this before the end of November 7th, you could also do worse than picking up a 32GB HTC A9 for $399. It's less powerful but also a pretty sweet handset for a lot less cash, which is something.


    In all of the areas where Sony has a long and storied history of producing products, the Xperia Z5 is able to show its strengths. The camera has a fair claim to being one of the finest mobile lenses on the market today, and there's already a rumor that Samsungwants it for the next Galaxy. Same for the display, which I'd quite happily stare into for hours at a time, not to mention the performance, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its Android contemporaries.
    But it's in those areas where Sony has less experience that things become problematic, like the battery life which can only be described as lackluster. If you judge your phone's longevity on how long it's likely to last during a long-haul flight, then the Xperia Z5 will barely get you from London to New York without a spare battery. Same too for the speakers, which aren't powerful enough for you to use your phone as a portable audio player without headphones. The same goes for software, and it's ludicrous that Sony would lag behind the curve here, considering Android M has been publicly known for months now. Even if the company was totally isolated from Google and wasn't given a heads-up beforehand, it's still had since June to get the latest version working on the Z5. No, software development isn't as simple as just installing a ROM onto your phone, but Sony can't claim to be an amateur here.
    I guess it boils down to the fact that Sony is an engineering firm, and that engineering-led approach means that the Xperia Z5 is a beautifully constructed piece of hardware. The downside to that is that the device lacks any sense of personality, and that puts it behind some of its more popular rivals. It's certainly a good phone, but I'd struggle to say that it's a great one.

    Sony Xperia Z5 review: A decent phone overshadowed by the competition:

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    Thursday, 22 October 2015

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop

    Whether you’ve put in an order for a Nexus 6P or you’re patiently waiting for Android version 6.0 to reach your Galaxy S6, you’ll want to know what Marshmallow can do for you. It’s not a dramatic leap forward for Google’s mobile OS, but there are still a number of useful new features you’re going to want to know about.
    Of course, unlike Apple, Google updates all its key apps independently of the OS as a whole—that means there’s not quite as much to talk about with an Android update as there is with an iOS one. At this stage (stock) Android is pretty much Google Now with a settings page and a dialer app, but Marshmallow still offers plenty of reasons to look forward to your upgrade.

    1. Get Google Now on tap

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    Google Now on Tap is the biggest new feature here and is activated with a long-press on the Home button. It’s designed to understand context better than ever before, so songs, movies, venues and the like are automatically identified inside the current app and you get a bunch of relevant links.
    If there’s a place reference, for example you get navigation directions and a link to its Street View. In the case of movies, the links go to the IMDB app (if installed), YouTube, Wikipedia and so on. It’s still in its early stages, but it shows promise. The usual Google Now interface is still in place, too.

    2. Make the most of USB Type-C

    Your Android device isn’t going to magically sprout a USB Type-C port as soon as Marshmallow arrives, but Google’s latest code update does provide native support for the next-generation connector standard—which is why you’ll find it on newer phones like the Nexus 5X and the OnePlus 2.
    If you’re completely new to the USB Type-C party, it essentially provides faster charging, faster data transfer, advanced multitasking (if you want to output video and charge your device at the same time, say) and most importantly of all, reversible cables. Not a bad little upgrade.

    3. Manage permissions more easily

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    It was obvious that iOS had it right as far as transparent, granular app permissions were concerned, and Android Marshmallow admits as much, because it now has a very similar system. Permissions are asked for as and when they’re needed, rather than all at once during installation.
    That gives you a better idea of what’s going on and also let’s you, for example, give Facebook access to your camera but not your contacts. If you want to check which apps have what permissions (and edit them), go to Settings: tap Apps then the cog icon, then choose App permissions.

    4. Use a fingerprint as security

    Third-party manufacturers have been adding fingerprint sensors to their hardware for a while now, but Android 6.0 Marshmallow represents the first time it’s actually been supported by the core OS itself. As on the iPhone, you can use the new feature to unlock your device, make payments in Android Pay, and more.
    You’re still relying on your actual phone to offer a fingerprint sensor, but most future handsets will include such capabilities now that Google has seen fit to add support for it to Android. Everything should work quickly and seamlessly, and Play Store purchases support fingerprint authorization, too.

    5. Manage volumes more intuitively

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    Lollipop made some volume setting changes that were designed to be more flexible but just ended up being confusing. In Marshmallow, it’s much clearer. Put the volume to zero with the hardware buttons to enter ‘quiet mode’ and tap the down arrow to adjust all the device volumes independently.
    Tap the Do not disturb button on the quick settings panel to switch between total silence, alarms only and the Priority Mode from Lollipop. As before you can still allow certain events, apps and contacts to make an audible alert on your device while the volume is down (Sound & notification in Settings).

    6. Let your device Doze

    Doze is Marshmallow’s new battery management trick: It puts your device into something close to airplane mode when you’re not using it. Your phone or tablet automatically senses when it’s not active and when it’s been stationary for a while, and this is when Doze swings into action (or rather inaction).
    There’s no setting to enable or disable Doze, so you can simply enjoy the extra battery life. It cuts down on background processes and increases the time between checks for less important updates. Important messages and calls are still going to come through to your device immediately, however.

    7. Get the real web inside your apps

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    This is more for developers, but end users are going to notice it, too. A new Marshmallow feature called Chrome Custom Tabs makes it easier for apps to display websites without kicking you out to the full Chrome app. It’s like an app-branded version of Chrome that quickly displays links you tap on.
    That means you get access to all of the standard features inside Chrome (like your saved passwords) rather than having to put up with some lightweight web viewer put together by the app’s developer. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s something else to look out for while you use Marshmallow.

    8. Select text more accurately

    One for those of you struggling with small screens (or large fingers). When you’re selecting text using Android Marshmallow, the OS automatically extends your selection to match whole words so you spend less time fiddling about trying to get exactly the right words or phrases highlighted on screen.
    If you still need character-by-character selection then you can drag the blue handles back in from the front or end of your selection— but as you drag them out you’ll go a whole word at a time. Perfect for sharing a compelling turn of phrase you’ve come across somewhere on the web.

    9. Share to your most-used apps

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    One of the minor but neat tricks Android Marshmallow has up its sleeve is the ability to automatically understand the people and the apps you share with most often. If you’re always posting links from the web to Twitter, then Twitter is the first app that’s going to appear in the pop-up Share menu.
    It’s the same with your contacts, and you should find Marshmallow learns more about your habits and your favorite people to share to as you go. Of course all of your share-enabled apps are still available as before, but the ones you use most frequently are going to be easier to reach.

    10. Swipe left to access voice controls

    The lock screen gets a major change in Android Marshmallow: When swiping left, you now get access to the standard Google voice search instead of the dialer app (presumably more people want to search Google rather than make old-fashioned phone calls to the people they know).
    That means you can quickly look up the time in Sydney or the conversion rate between dollars and pounds without diving into the main OS. If you try and run a personal Google search (“show my flights,”“next appointment”), access to the results is blocked until you unlock the device as normal.

    11. Access the System UI Tuner

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    Pull down the Quick Settings pane (a two-finger swipe from the top), then press and hold the cog icon to activate the System UI Tuner, an experimental new feature in Android 6.0 Marshmallow that most users may not decide to bother with. You can find it at the bottom of the main Settings app.
    The new utility lets you move around the various icons in the Quick Settings pane and add or remove tiles as you see fit. There’s also the option to hide certain indicators from the status bar (from airplane mode to Bluetooth) and you can also toggle a new battery percentage indicator on or off.

    12. Check default apps

    Managing default apps is a bit of a mess in Android at the moment (but at least it’s there right, iOS fans?) and Marshmallow tries to help without actually doing much good. As before, you can clear default associations for a particular app by finding its entry on the Apps screen in Settings.
    However, you can also tap the cog icon on the Apps screen and then selectDefault Apps to manage associations for the big stuff: Browser, camera, SMS, pictures and so on. From what we can tell these settings take priority over everything else, so head here if you want to make changes to default apps.

    13. Monitor device memory usage

    14 Things You Can Do in Android Marshmallow That You Couldn't Do in Lollipop
    In recent versions of its mobile OS, Google has been giving users more information on local storage, battery usage, and so on. With Android Marshmallow, details of the state of your device’s memory are added, too. Tap on the Memory entry in the Settings app to see what’s on offer.
    As well as checking up on average memory use as a whole, you can see which apps are hogging the biggest slice of your system resources—the utility lets you break down the statistics for the last 3, 6, 12 or 24 hours. The new feature will probably be of most use when you’re troubleshooting problems.

    14. Back up everything in your apps

    Previous versions of Android were able to back up lots of important data, like wifi passwords and app installs, and of course apps like Gmail and Google Calendar keep everything in the cloud anyway. Marshmallow gives developers the opportunity to add their own data to the mix, if they want to.
    That means not only will all of your apps come back like magic whenever you do a restore, but all of your app settings and preferences are going to come back, too. There’s not a user-facing option to enable this—it’s up to developers—but at least the feature is finally available.

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