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29 February 2016 ~ 5 Comments

New smartphone batteries could last a week

Upp Cartridge image via Intelligent Energy.

What is the number one item on the wish list of nearly everyone who owns a smartphone? Batteries that last longer than 24 hours! As phones become faster and more powerful, batteries are struggling to keep up with the increasing demands for power and this is the number one feature we’ve been campaigning for since we started reviewing handsets.

British company, Intelligent Energy has just announced that it has signed a £5.25 million ($7.60 million) joint development agreement with an unnamed “emerging” smartphone original equipment manufacturer to develop an embedded hydrogen fuel cell which could potentially power a smartphone for up to a week.

The Loughborough based company has been at the forefront of fuel cell technology development for over 25 years. Fuel cell technology offers possibilities which mobile phone users currently can only dream about. By embedding a fuel cell into a phone it would then be feasible to enjoy off-grid power for long periods without any reduction in the capabilities of the smartphone. In addition, overheating batteries would also be a thing of the past.

The fuel cell generates electricity from a chemical reaction that combines hydrogen with oxygen. The process generates energy and the only waste product is water – it’s the same science behind hydrogen cars work. It is not clear at this stage how the waste water will be discharged since this would inevitably require a vent of some kind which could feasible impact on some of the waterproof phone designs.

Intelligent Energy has already developed and taken to market a hydrogen fuel cell power pack for recharging smartphones off the grid. The Upp cartridge, currently available in the UK, is a fuel cell that provides a user around five smartphone charges and can then be exchanged for a refilled cartridge that the user must purchase. It is available online and in some Apple stores for £5.95 per cell.

As well as being a huge benefit for everyday users fed up of huge power-hungry screens and poor wifi battery performance, an integrated fuel cell will be a very desirable for heavy users or users who operate in remote regions away from convenient charging points. But a service fee, like the one currently needed to recharge the Upp cartridge, could make this an expensive way to keep your phone charged. Battery sourced power is hard to beat for convenience and low cost although it does have a tendency to lose its charge inconveniently quickly.

Will the fuel cell replace the traditional battery in the future? It’s a problem that desperately needs to be solved but at present, it seems unlikely until a cheaper option can be found to recharge it.

10 February 2016 ~ 1 Comment

Sony Xperia Z3+ is 2016’s best waterproof smartphone


In a recent review of the best smartphones for 2016, as chosen by leading technology critics, the Sony Xperia Z3+ was chosen as the best waterproof smartphone.

It was hardly a surprising choice since Sony has been committed to waterproof phones since the release of the Sony Z in 2013. All their new phones have an IP68 rating meaning that they are both waterproof and dustproof.

The Z3+ is an upgraded version of its predecessor the Z3, with improved specifications, a thinner body and the Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system. It still retains the same 5.2 inch, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution display, but has a slimmer and sharper design at 6.9 mm which makes it the thinnest Sony handset, with the same thickness as the iPhone 6.

The new octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, clocked at 2 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 430 GPU and 3 GB of RAM, makes for a powerful package with excellent speed. Although not class beating, it certainly competes well with other premier range smartphones. But the processor is also a problem for the Z3+. It is prone to overheat, and at this stage, this means that the phone will often shut down in use when it starts getting to warm. Hopefully, this problem will be addressed in future software releases.

The Xperia Z3+ has 32 GB of onboard storage which can be expanded up to 128 GB via a microSD card. It has all the standard connectivity including 4G LTE support.

One of the features most critics were unanimous in approving was the dedicated camera shutter button. It makes taking photographs easier and the soft press to set focus is a welcome touch. The main camera itself has not changed in this model and is a 20.7 megapixel unit. Image quality, although good, is not exceptional. One feature where Sony stands alone is its commitment to high-quality audio. The Z3+ has unequalled high-res audio.

There are a few problems with the Xperia Z3+ which unfortunately tarnish its otherwise excellent features. The Z3+ is capable of recording video in 4K, but recordings often fail after about 20 seconds due to overheating. The battery is also not good enough for the device. It allows around 3 hours of screen-on time although with lighter use you might be able to eke out power for a day.

The UK version of the Sony Xperia Z3+ is currently available at a 45% discount on the recommended retail price of £549.99. At just £305 SIM-free, it is an exceptionally good phone which is both attractive and durable, as long as Sony can do something about the overheating.

07 February 2016 ~ 1 Comment

How Windows Phone is growing faster than Apple and Android in the UK

Windows Phone is regarded by many as not being able to compete with the mighty Apple iOS and Google’s Android-powered smartphones. Indeed, we’d usually agree with the argument that Microsoft is “doomed to irrelevance in the mobile age”. However, it may be time to reconsider the reports of the imminent death of Microsoft’s smartphone operating system. According to the latest figures, it certainly is not dying in the UK.

Smartphone operating system market shares for the year ending December 2015 compared to the year end 2014 shows some interesting trends. Android’s market share grew by 1.8 percent while Apple’s iOS declined by 3.1 percent. Meanwhile, Windows Phone showed better growth than Android at 2.3 percent (albeit from a much lower base).

A curious fact which emerges from the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech global analysis shows that the UK is the only Western market where Microsoft phones are showing growth. In China, Windows showed a 0.5 percent growth in a market currently dominated by Apple.

The performance of Windows Phone in the UK is probably linked to the success of Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL handsets which were launched in November. Both phones have been well received by the public and if they had been released earlier in 2015 the UK sales growth for Windows Phone would have been even more impressive. This success contradicts Gartner’s view last year, which predicted that the Lumia won’t have much of an impact on Microsoft’s dismal performance in the global markets.

It’s not all good news for Microsoft though as the overall Windows Phone market share has tumbled across the globe to 2.2 percent and analysts do not see much hope for improvement from that base. Without strong support from OEM partners and mobile app development, the future looks bleak for Microsoft mobile. However, the new Lumia handsets are very popular with users who want a functional smartphone without much need for additional software or applications. And this market will probably keep driving the sales of Windows Phone.

What do you think? Where do you see Windows Phone this time next year?