Putting a Samsung Gear 2 Neo to the test

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

I speak and write quite a bit these days about wearable technology, a topic I have a keen interest in.

While the overall tech is a major part of my interest, it’s also largely about how people use it, especially in one area that’s getting a lot of attention – smartwatches.

As I don’t have one myself, I’ve been thinking about which one to get. It surely is hard to talk about a device with even a little credibility if you don’t use one yourself.

After spending time these past few weeks in considering different devices, including asking friends for opinions and reading many reviews, today I bought one – a Samsung Gear 2 Neo, pictured above.

Of all the smartwatches currently on the UK market that I considered – the list included not only direct competitors like the Pebble Smartwatch, Sony SW2 and the LG G at the premium-price end, but also really low-cost brands out of China such as Foxnovo, Lemfo and Lenofocus – I kept circling back to the Gear 2 Neo.

Part of the reason is trust in the Samsung brand as someone whose other mobile devices are Samsungs. And the big plus – the Gear range is geared, as it were, specifically to Samsung devices to enable a range of rich features, many of which I find compelling.

These include:

  • Seamless pairing via Bluetooth with my Galaxy S4 smartphone (Samsung has made 17 smartphone models able to pair with the Gear 2 Neo).
  • Receiving notifications of incoming messages, etc, from a wide range of apps installed on the S4 smartphone including Twitter, WhatsApp, Google+, Facebook and many more.
  • Ability to manage and customize many aspects of the smartwatch from the smartphone with the Samsung Gear Manager app.
  • The Gear 2 Neo has 4 gigs of internal storage so you can store lots of content, from video and audio to installable apps from Samsung’s App Store.
  • Very easy-to-understand interface – you don’t really need to read the manual.
  • Excellent hardware build quality including dust and water resistance.
  • Beautiful screen size and resolution – 1.64-inches, 320 x 320 pixels, Super AMOLED touch screen.

I expect to discover more as I get to know the Gear 2 Neo.

The device also lets you interact with it for a range of fitness-type activity such as heart-rate monitoring, a pedometer, etc. Those don’t interest me at all – so played no factor in my purchasing decision – and as a Twitter friend mentioned to me earlier today, devices like Fitbit do a far better job of that.

Where I think the Samsung Gear 2 Neo will excel is in areas like notifications of events from apps (how seamless will that be especially in a workplace environment or when out and about?), customization and installing third-party apps.

One other device I did briefly consider was also from Samsung –  its entry into the Android Wear market with the Samsung Gear Live, coming very soon. In my view, that’s one for the very early adopters (see this review by TechRadar), which I don’t want to be for my first smartwatch.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is a really nice device; I am pleased with it and feel I made a good decision. Still, time will tell: review to come once I’ve kicked its tyres a while.

iPhone 6 review: Is this the most desirable smartphone in the world?

iPhone 6I don’t think many people would disagree that Apple creates some of the most beautifully-made products in their range of mobile devices.

None currently is more desirable than the iPhone, a smartphone that is held in high esteem by the millions of people around the world who have used one or more of the evolving models since the first-generation device was launched in 2007.

The iPhone and Apple’s iOS operating system, together with smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, collectively accounted for over 96 percent of global smartphone shipments in August 2014, according to IDC, a market intelligence firm. Such a metric has been so for a significant period of time. Windows Phone, Blackberry and others are mere blips by comparison.

It’s an impressive market position for iOS and Android devices.

What’s probably more impressive to note is that smartphones that run iOS – ie, iPhones – are made only by one manufacturer: Apple. On the other hand, Android-powered smartphones – think of dominant player Samsung’s Galaxy range, for instance – are made by ten different companies.

Such light analysis of the smartphone market and where the iPhone sits in it runs through my mind when thinking of the latest generation of the iPhone launched in early September – the iPhone 6.

I was fortunate to be able to examine an iPhone 6 up close up a few weeks ago for this review thanks to mobile operator Three UK.

In the few days I had to get to know the iPhone 6 – it arrived on the day when the fiasco of Apple’s iOS 8.0.1 upgrade began – I focused mostly on the device itself rather than the apps you can run on it. As an ex-iPhone user (I was a firm iPhone fanboy with an iPhone 3G many years ago) and now a firm Android user with my current Galaxy S4, I was interested in what this latest generation of iPhone looked like and how it performed, and how it compared to my own experiences with my Galaxy S4.

In a nutshell, these are key specs that most people might ask about when considering an iPhone 6:

  • Overall size: 138.1mm high x 67mm wide x 6.9 mm thick (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches).
  • Display: 4.7 inches (diagonal) Retina HD display, 750 x 1334 pixels – bigger than any previous iPhone model.
  • Processor: A8 chip with 64-bit architecture, plus M8 motion coprocessor.
  • Internal memory: 16Gb (the model I reviewed); other capacities: 64Gb, 128Gb.
  • External memory: None (and no capability for any, eg, SD cards), in common with all Apple mobile devices.
  • Cameras: 2 – primary (rear) 8 megapixels; FaceTime (front) 1.2 megapixels.
  • Video: 1080p HD video recording (30 fps or 60 fps), Slo-mo video (120 fps or 240 fps), time-lapse video.
  • Cellular and wireless connectivity: 3G, LTE 4G (depending on model and plan with mobile operator); 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC.
  • Battery: 14 hours talktime on 3G; 10 hours online (internet) use; up to 10 days (150 hours) standby time.
  • Sensors include: Touch ID for optional secure sign-in to the device and to your Apple account using your fingerprint (first introduced in 2013 with the iPhone 5S).
  • SIM card type: Nano-SIM. iPhone 6 is not compatible with micro-SIMs and other card types used in iPhone models earlier than the iPhone 5S.
  • Colours: Space Grey (the colour of my review unit), silver and gold.

Would my getting to know the iPhone 6 in a short space of time make me desire one?

Here’s a concise overview of my impressions of the iPhone 6 with photos, and with my conclusions at the end.

[Read more...]

The Apple Watch is very much in the fashion game

Apple Watch fashion

Until last week, “iWatch” was the name widely and wildly speculated about for months if not years for what Apple’s expected entry product into the wearables market would be called.

As Apple’s announcement on September 9 made clear, “iWatch” was just so much fancy by all and sundry as the firm broke with its use of the letter ‘i’ starting a brand name and announced the launch of Apple Watch.

Such name-guessing reminds me of what happened in the lead-up to the launch of the iPad in 2010.

Whether wearable tech interests you or not, I’m sure you can’t have missed seeing, reading or hearing about the Apple Watch this past week. It was the final (but, arguably, the most anticipated) of Apple’s three announcements on September 9 – the new iPhone 6, the Apple Pay contactless mobile payment system, and Apple Watch. Note that Apple Pay has no ‘i’ either.

While iPad created a new market – global sales of tablet computers including iPad grew from scratch in 2010 to over 195 million units in 2013 according to Gartner, just three years after iPad launched – the same isn’t really true with Apple Watch as there are quite a few smartwatches already on the market, with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear probably the name that you’re most familiar with.

While much of the reporting, commentary and opinion since September 9 has been on the technology of Apple Watch – especially its pros and cons versus what else is on the market – I’ve seen increasing views on the design and build quality of it.

And that’s what catches my attention most as when I first saw the Apple Watch on my computer screen during the live Apple event on September 9, my first reaction was seeing it as a desirable fashion brand more than simply the latest wearable tech.

I mean, just look at this picture of an 18-carat gold version (yes, there’s an 18-carat gold Apple Watch in two types of gold).

Apple Watch 18-carat Gold Edition

(Check the picture at the top of this page, too – it’s the watch the model is wearing, so see it in that context.)

It’s beautifully designed and looks the epitome of feminine elegance, class and minimalist style. It wouldn’t look out of place in the display cabinets of a Bond Street jeweller or among the luxury accessories you’d find in Harrods or Saks Fifth Avenue.

It would also look at home gracing the wrists of women on the cover of the likes of Vogue magazine.

If 18-carat gold isn’t your style, there are plenty of other choices: this masculine-looking stainless steel model with a Milanese Loop metal mesh bracelet, for example.

Apple Watch with Melanese Loop mesh strap

Smart-looking, to be sure. None of that clunky tech look that is the hallmark look of most other smartwatches (although there is a version like that, too).

Seeing the full array of Apple Watches reinforces the fashion aspect in my mind of what Apple is introducing when these devices go on sale in early 2015 at prices starting at $349 in the US (and perhaps $1,200 for the gold edition).

The Apple Watch portfolio embraces three collections (note that word) offering over 30 model variants in two different sizes together with different straps.

In Apple’s press release, there’s much talk of personalization, with CEO Tim Cook saying the Apple Watch is “the most personal product we’ve ever made.”

And Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design – and designer of the Apple Watch – offers this:

With Apple Watch, we’ve developed multiple technologies and an entirely new user interface specifically for a device that’s designed to be worn. It blurs the boundary between physical object and user interface. We’ve created an entire range of products that enable unparalleled personalization.

Such talk of personalization reflects a prescient post last year by Om Malik after the news broke that Apple had hired Angela Ahrendts, CEO of luxury British fashion house Burberry, to run Apple’s global retail operations, embracing the bricks-and-mortar Apples Stores together with online.

Annual revenue from Apple’s worldwide retail operations exceeded $20 billion in 2013.

In his post, Malik talks about wearable technology like smartwatches as “intimate computing,” two words that are most apt when looking at Apple’s offering nearly a year on from Malik’s post and thinking about the words of Tim Cook and Jony Ive.

Malik states:

This new intimate computing era means that Apple has to stop thinking like a computer company and more like a fashion accessory maker whose stock in trade is not just great design but aspirational experience. And it has to do that at price points that are not quite luxury, which is going to be the challenge. The fact that Cook brought in YSL’s Paul Deneve tells me that the company is already thinking about the intimate computing future.

I reckon Apple is thinking like a fashion company. Who should be paying most attention – Samsung and other traditional technology competitors? Or Swiss watch-makers and luxury brands?

Probably all of the above.

The Apple Watch could kick-start the wearables market, one that just looks like it’s waiting for a proverbial boot (as in re-boot) with products that combine the latest in high technology in a package that appeals strongly to emotional concepts like desire and status, and is, well, reassuringly expensive.

See also:

  • A Watch Guy’s Thoughts On The Apple Watch After Seeing It In The Metal (Tons Of Live Photos): “I’m not even sure we can call it a watch. Okay, it goes on the wrist, and it happens to tell the time, but that’s about where the similarities between Apple’s just announced watch and the hand-assembled, often painstakingly finished mechanical watches we write about, and obsess over, end…”
  • Advertisers, Meet Apple Watch: “Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re served a location-based ad or coupon for Sephora on your shiny new iPhone 6. You enter the store, pick up a product and bring it over to the checkout counter. If you use Apple Watch (or your phone) to pay, then the loop is neatly closed…”
  • How Apple Is Invading Our Bodies, TIME magazine’s take: “The Silicon Valley giant has redrawn the line that separates our technology and ourselves. That may not be a good thing…”

The future looks mobile for Facebook

Facebook mobile

Facebook posted its financial report on July 23 for the second quarter of its 2014 financial year.

The report shows financial pluses across the board for the mega social network in significant areas:

  1. Overall revenue for the second quarter of 2014 was $2.91 billion, an increase of 61 percent compared to the same period last year.
  2. Revenue from advertising was $2.68 billion, a 67 percent increase over the same quarter last year – and around 92 percent of overall revenue reported for the second quarter 2014.
  3. Mobile advertising revenue represented about 62 percent of advertising revenue for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 41 percent compared to the same period last year.
  4. GAAP net income for Q2 2014 was $791 million, up 138 percent compared to the same period last year.
  5. GAAP diluted earnings per share was $0.30, up 131 percent compared to the same period last year.

Holders of Facebook stock will no doubt be quite happy, like Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, who remarks drily:

“We had a good second quarter,” [Zuckerberg] said. “Our community has continued to grow, and we see a lot of opportunity ahead as we connect the rest of the world.”

What struck me most about the numbers as shown in the concise earnings announcement is the advertising revenue growth and the high proportion of that growth  – nearly two-thirds – that comes from mobile.

Facebook mobile advertising growth /via FT

Indeed, the FT reports on Facebook’s earnings with two interesting charts – the one above showing the growing shift to mobile of Facebook’s user base since the start of 2013; and the one below, showing a clear growth trend since mid 2012 of mobile advertising sales.

Facebook mobile advertising growth /via FT

As for the opportunity Zuckerberg refers to, to “connect the rest of the world,” put that in the context of the latest user metrics included in the company’s earnings report:

  • Daily active users (DAUs) were 829 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 19 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile DAUs were 654 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 39 percent year-over-year.
  • Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.32 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 14 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile MAUs were 1.07 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 31 percent year-over-year.

Plenty of room for growth.

(Picture at top via DigitalTrends.)

Test driving Samsung’s new 28-inch 4K UHD monitor

Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD 28-inch monitor

An important item on my tech shopping list is an ultra high definition (UHD) monitor to go with the new desktop PC I’m planning to buy for the home office. So when Samsung UK’s PR agency asked me if I’d like to test drive Samsung’s new 28-inch LED UHD monitor just launched in the UK, why would I say no?

And so late last month, a big box arrived containing a brand new Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor manufactured in May 2014, a sticker on the back said. And it’s been the primary display screen connected to my Dell home office desktop PC for the past few weeks. It’s certified for Windows 8 (the Dell mine is connected to runs Windows 7).

One key thing to mention straightaway – this is not a touch-screen monitor.

Here’s a quick summary of what I noted and was particularly impressed with from the moment I hooked it up to the PC:

It’s simplicity itself to set up. Unpack from the box, peel off all the protecting plastic film, affix the stand, connect to the graphics card port on your PC, plug in the mains lead, turn it on. Your PC or Mac will recognise it and set up a monitor driver. You should then install the specific Samsung monitor driver for this model that comes on a CD or let your operating system find it online. That’s basically it to get started.

One preparatory step I did take beforehand was to update the graphics card driver on the PC. It has an Nvidia card installed and, if you run a Windows PC, it’s always a good idea to have the latest WHQL-approved driver whatever brand of card you have.

The screen resolution is fabulous even if you can’t get the full 4K UHD experience and have to settle for what your PC and graphics card is able to support, which will likely be full high definition (FHD, also known as 1080p), the native resolution of many modern LCD or LED monitors, typically 1980 pixels wide by 1200 pixels high for a 24-inch monitor (which is the size of the AOC LED FHD  monitor I have that the Samsung replaces).

Absolutely gorgeous colours – a billion, says Samsung, if it runs at 4K UHD resolution if you connect with the DisplayPort 1.2 interface – along with crisp and clear graduation of colours and shades of grey. This is the best I’ve ever seen on any monitor.

4K UHD is stunning compared to FHD – rich, vibrant colours and four times the resolution. The peacock picture below tries to illustrate this to show the difference in colours and resolution between FHD and UHD.

FHD vs 4K UHD

Screen refresh is literally instantaneous with no visible pauses or juddery imaging, which is what you might expect to experience if running a program, watching a movie or playing a game that is extreme in its demands of the graphics processing system and memory of your computer. This is where a powerful graphics card with a fast GPU and lots of video memory is important, along with a DisplayPort interface ideally, or an HDMI port to connect the monitor to the PC. (The Samsung monitor has one DisplayPort interface and two HDMI ports, both to the version 1.4 HDMI standard. I’m currently connected via HDMI.)

That works on a similar principle you may already be familiar with on televisions – you need the biggest bandwidth connection between the TV and, say, an Xbox or even your cable TV box to pump the significant amount of audio-visual data at the highest speed you can get. Hence DisplayPort or HDMI, both far superior for this than the typical DVI ports you find on most computer monitors (and many TVs).

I haven’t yet played any contemporary games with this monitor, but I have watched quite a few movies, both on high-definition Blu-ray disc and streaming via Netflix, as well as live TV from the BBC and catch-up TV via iPlayer. In every case, the viewing experience has been an awesome one with smooth, crisp and clear images that make the most of the monitor’s capabilities (plus the PC’s processor and memory,  graphics card and HDMI connection, as well as a pretty good 154Mbps wired broadband internet connection).

And I’ve created, edited and watched a fair number of PowerPoint presentations. The ones I create tend to have lots of graphics, mainly screenshots, so saving content and displaying it can be quite resource-heavy on the computer’s graphics system. With this monitor, it’s a breeze with hardly a lag in screen refresh when I open up a typical 80-meg PowerPoint deck.

In case you’re wondering what’s the big deal about UHD and 4K, let’s address that.

UHD means that the monitor can display content at 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall resolution, which is four times as many pixels as full high definition (FHD), the resolution typically at 1920×1080. The American Consumer Electronics Association has a great definition of both terms of direct relevance when it comes to computer monitors like this Samsung one.

Okay, I suspect some of you reading this may be at the start of eyes glazing about now. To me, what’s important is that this monitor delivers on the essential elements of resolution, colours and screen refresh times that combine to make a terrific experience whether you’re playing TitanFall, watching House of Cards on Netflix or making a fabulous PowerPoint deck.

So here are some key features:

  • UHD resolution 3840×2160 pixels - 4 times the resolution of Full HD
  • 1 millisecond response time – that’s almost instantaneous
  • Minimalist design
  • Display port interface plus 2 HDMI 1.4 ports
  • UHD upscaling – great when watching HD video
  • Game Mode for a terrific gaming experience

I’ve not yet explored everything this monitor is capable of – things like picture-in-picture, picture-by-picture (two PCs connected to the single monitor to see the desktops of both simultaneously on one screen that’s divided into two), or game mode (detects the changes in scenes, enhances the colour and alters the screen’s contrast to make dark spots darker and light spots lighter so you can see all the action at all times).

Picture-by-picture: two PCs connected to the single monitor

Such experiences are still awaiting me in the coming months.

In summary, the Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor is an excellent display device. Its sleek minimalistic design fits my expectation of a piece of advanced technology that I like to have on my desk. It’s beautifully made and looks pretty good.

The U28D590D is on sale in the UK now (Amazon UK has it at around £460) and you can see it soon in retailers like PC World. Its feature set pits it extremely well amongst competing products from the likes of Dell, Asus and AOC whose similar-spec UHD monitors cost more, significantly so in some cases.

On the Samsung UK website:

Putting wearable tech in the business context

Google Glass

A quick search on Google for the term “wearable technology” will produce some 162,000 results, about what you might expect for two very broad key words on such a topic.

The focus of course is very much a consumer one, where there is plenty to find about products like Google Glass, fitness bands, smartwatches, wearable cameras, healthcare devices… the range and scale of products is almost breath-taking.

In the US, online retailer Amazon just launched the Wearable Technology Store, offering consumers all of the above and more.

Amongst all the consumer and media excitement such products generate, I find my focus shifting more and more to the utility aspect of these shiny new objects as they come into the business realm and, inevitably, into our workplaces.

Where such technology gets interesting in this context is precisely that – the context in business.

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble zero in on context in their best-selling book, Age of Context, published last year that speaks of five technology forces that will have a profound effect on individuals, businesses and society as a whole in the next decade – social media, mobile, data, sensors and location-based technology. I see ‘sensors’ equating to ‘wearables’ to a huge extent.

This week, the BBC reports on an academic study that addresses wearable tech in the workplace. Among its positive findings – wearable devices designed to help improve posture and concentration could boost productivity by eight percent in an office.

So we can already see some of those effects Israel and Scoble talk about through the devices we’re becoming more familiar with, such as the examples above, and how and where we use them. And I believe we will see more – and faster – acceptance and adoption in business of wearable tech when multiple tipping points converge:

  1. New or evolved devices come to market that match more closely what people wish to use in a business context.
  2. The functionality of a given device offers the user an easier, simpler, faster, more effective, more convenient and/or cheaper way to get something done or gain access to valuable and useful content.
  3. Above all, a device offers its wearer (a deliberately-chosen word: not ‘user’) a compelling experience that satisfies singular or multiple desires that form a key part of the overall experience.

Om Malik‘s description of wearable tech as “intimate computing” could be close to the mark. And that does make ‘wearer’ a far more apt choice of word than ‘user’ whatever the context, business or otherwise.

It will make you think of ‘wearable’ in a new way. For instance, if you drive a new car a lot – especially a car crammed with tech – is it just a car, or an intimate computing device aka wearable technology?

Which brings me to good old ERP, the backbone of many businesses – and the last place you’d expect to see cool tech such as this in use, right?

Wrong! Just as the cool tech of only four years ago – iPads, iPhones, the emerging smartphone landscape, and an embryonic mobile-device ecosystem that’s today hugely focused on apps – was unlikely to be seen in the corporate workplace or the factory floor, now you can’t move for tablets and other devices of all shapes and sizes, connected to networks – private and public, wired and wireless – and used universally and ubiquitously for business in ways we wouldn’t have imagined at that time.

So the idea of a smartwatch that lets you engage with content from your enterprise systems to not only read messages but also actually make transactions is one whose time is almost upon us.

IFS on Gear 2

Take  a look at what IFS Labs has developed – IFS’ business applications that run on a new Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch:

The fully working proof-of-concept demonstrates how notifications from IFS’s business applications can be delivered to wearable technology. Using Samsung’s APIs for notification alerts, IFS connected components of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems to send alerts in line with updates to certain processes.

For example, field service operatives could be alerted when important items are shipped, key projects are started or completed, or be notified when invoices are paid.

This is just the tip of an iceberg and you can expect to read, see and hear reports, opinions and other content about this topic in the coming weeks.

Powerful context.

(I wrote this post for first publication in the corporate blog of IFS, a global enterprise software vendor, on May 1, 2014. IFS is a client.)