A first look at the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

So slim it’s silly – the 6.1 mm Xperia Z4 Tablet is beautiful and powerful.

xperia-z4-tablet-groupWe didn’t get a flagship phone reveal from Sony at MWC, instead we had to make do with still intriguing M4 Aqua. What we did get however was a confirmation of the Z4 branding in the form of a new 10 inch tablet. Surely this means a Z4 phone is also on its way soon…?

Putting that thought aside for one moment, we’ll take a look at that very slate which Sony chose to make the focus of their announcement.

First things first is the screen – Sony have decided to drop a 10 inch 2K (2560 x 1600) panel into the Z4 Tablet, so for the first time a manufacturer has hit the magic 300 ppi on a 10 inch slate. This is significant as it currently marks the most detailed screen available from any major manufacturer and confirms Sony’s commitment to delivering and displaying high quality media.

The other stand out from the specification sheet are the dimensions. At just 6.1mm thin and weighing in at 393 grams, this could well be the most portable full size tablet around at launch. That doesn’t just match the iPad Air 2 for shapeliness, it also shaves a significant amount of weight too.

Other key features include the octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, a wide angle 5 MP front facing camera, support for PS4 Remote Play, a new waterproofed USB port alongside the usual Xperia Z IP 65/68 rating and global LTE support (bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 28, 40).

Sony have gone all out here and just like the Z2 tablet that sold well through 2014, the Z4 tablet is shaping up to be the right choice for anyone looking for a high end Android tablet in 2015.

Sony’s press release below states a global launch of WiFi and Cellular versions in June, let’s hope they can start shipping a bit sooner than that!

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet – register your interest with Clove

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YotaPhone 2 Pros & Cons

YotaPhone2-official-heroThe YotaPhone 2 is a new breed of smartphone, offering something truly different and innovative to everything else on the market. We often spend our time with smartphones reading – news articles, sports results, emails, all simple tasks that drain battery.

Yota have decided that one solution is to offer a second, low power screen. What would usually be the back cover is in fact an Electronic Paper Display or EPD, similar to an e-reader device. You can transfer any content to the EPD – for moments of extreme power management you can even control the entire Android OS from here!  

Like every phone there’s both good and points to the new Yota handset, read on below for a full rundown or skip to the end for Jon’s 60 second review.

What could be better

The EPD is not new technology but takes a fair amount of getting used to as it is not ‘normal’ for phone technology. The monochrome colour scheme and much lower resolution can be frustrating, however one does have to remember this is really designed for text only, not complex tasks.

Refresh rates on EPD are still quite low and so this can suffer from a ‘ghosting’ effect. This is a residual image on the screen from the previous frame. Apps designed for EPD will make a habit of flashing the screen to remove these traces, however if simply browsing online on using an app not optimised for EPD then you will encounter this a lot.

EPD also cannot be read in the dark as it requires light to reflect the image. The flipside is that contrast rates are very high so it can be read in comparatively low light, as long as there is some!

One for the more clumsy among us – you now have two screens to take care of! Both come with anti scratch protection, however you do need to take a bit more care of the YotaPhone 2 than other handsets as whichever way is up, there’s always a screen facing down…

Image and video results from the main 8 megapixel camera are quite lacklustre. It is a shame that they don’t live up to the other premium qualities of the phone. This was clearly an ambitious project and it has succeeded very well in every respect apart from this. Images are passable, however it seems that Yota simply shoved a standard mobile camera module into the phone and didn’t really put any thought into the software or how it would work. Some care in this department would have made the YotaPhone 2 truly exceptional.

Finally a minor gripe is that audio from the speaker is a little quiet and directional but otherwise very clear. Having got used to powerful dual front speaker set ups from Sony and HTC, other designs are now far more noticeable in their quietness.

YotaPhone 2 on table

What doesn’t need changing

The design, build quality and materials are all spot on. The YotaPhone 2 looks and feels like a solid smartphone, with a smooth, subtle curvature reminiscent of the Google Nexus S from Samsung. Lesser known manufacturers often fall short when it comes to production value, not so here. Yota’s new device isn’t cheap – to be expected with a second screen – however they more than justify the price tag through specification and build.

The overall feature set is actually very impressive. Putting aside the EPD screen for just a moment, the YotaPhone 2 showcases a high-end quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 2 GB RAM and a hefty 32 GB internal storage. There’s also NFC and wireless charging which many top-tier manufacturers are still failing to include in every phone, alongside HDMI output via Slimport.

Tech fans will also be pleased with dual-band ac WiFi, LTE support and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for both screens. There’s a lot of phone for your money here and Yota haven’t been afraid to price accordingly.

With so much focus on the EPD, the standard 5 inch screen is an incredibly capable AMOLED panel that rivals top Samsung phones for colour reproduction and contrast.

The YotaMirror app has been developed in-house by Yota and is seamlessly integrated with Android. You can use it to mirror or flip content directly from the front to the back display. You can effectively control the entire Android OS from the EPD if you want serious power management. Otherwise it only ever takes a few taps to send an interesting article, email conversation or long read over to the EPD.

Battery life is excellent if you manage your EPD use effectively. It is perhaps the major selling point and does take some retraining to do, however if you ensure your text heavy work is sent to the back, even power users can cram 2-3 days from the YotaPhone 2.

Finally I’m sure there’s plenty of you out there that like to be seen with something new or different. Yota’s new handset is exactly that, a completely unique proposition in a crowded market that justifies itself at every turn.

The HTC Vive VR headset built with Valve is an intriguing new direction

Eyes right Oculus, the HTC Vive is the newest player in the VR game

htc-vive-heroThe consumer Virtual Reality space just got a little more crowded thanks to the HTC (RE) Vive. Not heard of it yet? Well you will soon enough, as the manufacturer traditionally known for crafting award-winning smartphones has teamed up with big time software and gaming company Valve to announce this foray into VR technology.

For those not familiar with Valve, they are the company behind the critically lauded Half Life and Portal series of video games (among many others), as well as developing the hugely successful Steam digital distribution platform for PC gaming.

VR technology has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple of years, thanks mostly to current industry darlings Oculus and their Rift headsets.

Improvements and miniaturisation of high density displays, graphics reproduction and, increasingly, mobile technologies, have paved the way for the current wave of headsets and ideas for the future of not just gaming, but all kinds of entertainment and content delivery.

HTC CEO Peter Chou even teased some ideas for future applications beyond video games including attending concerts, seeing the latest movie releases and interactive learning experiences.

Developer edition available soon

HTC-Vive-RenderBeing shown off at MWC right now is prototype headset which will probably be very similar in appearance to the developer kit HTC/Valve intend to start delivering in the next few months. The kit is covered in sensors and cameras and makes the wearer look a little bit like Jeff Goldblum’s transformation in body-horror classic The Fly.

It’s certainly not the prettiest bit of kit you’ll see anyone wearing this year, although by the time consumer models become available towards the end of the year, we can expect a more polished final design. Those interested in a developer kit will need to apply through Valve’s contact form.

Sensors galore!

The front of the Vive is covered in over 70 sensors to create a “Full Room Scale 360 Degree Solution”, that will eventually allow you to move and interact within a 15 x 15 ft. space. HTC are also developing a pair of wireless tracked controllers to come with each headset.

The full tech details are far from being announced yet; we expect HTC to drip-feed these to the industry in a bid to gain hype over the Vive. We do know some basics though – each eye will have a 1,200 by 1,080 screen, with refresh rates up to 90 frames per second – a combination which aims to eliminate refresh flicker and push back the “uncanny valley” effect.

The headset will pair with a couple of base stations to create the (up to) 15 x 15 ft. virtual space, whilst the controllers will allow you to interact with virtual items and objects within that. You can watch the initial teaser video below and read on for the full HTC press release.

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HTC One M9 announced

HTC keep the same award-winning design and move Ultrapixel to the front for the selfie generation.

HTC One M9 (Clove)Samsung may have excitedly showcased two new phones at MWC last night, however HTC kept things conservative yet classy with a slick iteration on their now iconic HTC One design.

The all new HTC One M9 may look very similar to last year’s M8, although there are a number of new features to draw in new users and tempt existing customers to upgrade.

Let’s get straight to the official spec. sheet, then we can take a peek under the hood.

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop – full access to Google Play services
  • HTC Sense 7 – new location based widgets and applications
  • Qualcomm 810 octa-core processor for super fast performance
  • Global 4G LTE connectivity (bands 1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 20 / 28)
  • 3 GB RAM
  • 32 GB base storage
  • micro SD card support
  • 5″ SLCD 3 display at 1080p
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 4 display
  • Hand-polished aluminium and scratch resistant coating
  • Machined unibody construction
  • BoomSound dual front speakers
  • Available in Grey, Gold and two-tone Silver/Rose Gold
  • 20.7 MP main camera with UHD (4K) video recording
  • Sapphire lens cover to avoid scratches
  • HTC Ultrapixel (4MP) front camera – excellent low light selfies
  • HTC Zoe and One Gallery

Availability

We will be stocking the HTC One M9 as soon as HTC UK make the device officially available SIM free and unlocked. RIght now we’re pencilling in an April launch, however we need word from HTC on exactly what date they’re looking to hit.

Of course as soon as we know more we’ll update our product listing and post right here on the Clove Blog.

Whilst we wait for word on pricing, we don’t yet have a pre-order list available. This will be coming soon. You can instead head over to the Clove retail site and sign up for notifications. That way when we open our pre-order campaign soon we’ll let you know, as well as keeping you updated as the release date gets closer.

HTC One M9 – Register your interest

We’re also expecting a number of official and 3rd party accessories for the HTC One M9. We already have listings from Case-Mate, although we’re just waiting on images and dates from them. HTC have announced an updated 2nd generation Dot View case for the M9 with a transparent back, as well as an IP68 rated Active Case and Headset for adventurous types.

Images

There’s a number of press rendered images of the HTC One M9 below, showing off the 3 colours all currently expected to launch. The Gunmetal Grey and Gold options appear to match up with the M8 releases in 2014.

The version getting the most attention at the moment though is the two-tone Silver / Gold. This is silver backed, with ‘rose gold’ edging and a golden tint to the front bezel. My opinion of the grey, gold and silver is simple, flash and classy in that order, although I’m sure everyone will form their own opinions!

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Samsung Galaxy Tab Active Pros & Cons

Galaxy-Tab-Active-Front-C-PenSamsung are a company with a scattergun approach to releasing products. It can be difficult to keep track of every phone or tablet they release, especially with the ‘Galaxy’ brand being diluted into several sub categories over the years.

With this I wouldn’t blame you for having missed the excellent Samsung Galaxy Tab Active. Designed with businesses in mind, the Tab Active is also a good choice for consumers with a lifestyle that could include outdoor pursuits or situations where something more rugged is required.

It’s not for everyone, so there’ll be some down points in this overview, however there’s plenty of highs to shout about. If reading’s not your thing, check out Jon’s 60 second overview at the end of the article.

What’s not so cool

It’s great that Samsung provide a stylus with the Tab Active, frustratingly there’s no way of attaching this to the tablet. There’s a silo built into the case but nothing else.

You also can’t use a lanyard or strap with either the tablet or the separate stylus. Neither this nor the above are deal breakers by any means, however when you consider that the Tab Active is being targeted at enterprise, this is the kind of additional feature that many users would want.

The camera isn’t great. Like most modern devices it can take passable images, however I have seen better not just on most phones but also several tablets too. At only 3.1 MP this is probably the weakest overall specification on the Tab Active.

Samsung’s TouchWiz Android skin tends to get a fair amount of berating from reviewers. With a device like the Tab Active you see why – the base specification is very good however pick up another Android 4.4 tablet and you might be surprised that it is noticeably faster.

There’s a lot of apps and features built into the Tab Active’s system, depending on your use you may use lots of them, however a good number could also sit unopened forever. The Tab Active still performs well, just be aware that a chunk of your storage and system speed is sacrificed on things Samsung install.

Samsung have only provided one option/version. Often Samsung get chided for releasing too many versions of a device, although this time it’s the other way round! Just a WiFi only version could have kept the cost down for users that don’t need the cellular connectivity.

Finally the battery life and loudspeaker could be better. Again neither is terrible, although at this cost one could expend them to be longer and louder respectively.

Samsung_Galaxy_Tab_Active_Hands_On

What we like

Whilst ruggedly built anyway, much of the protection comes in the form of a removable case. This makes the Tab Active a good option for users moving between environments, or for keeping the weight down if relaxing with the Tab Active after a day of work.

The cellular connection is useful for workers on the move or for consumers taking the Tab Active out and about away from WiFi hotspots. 4G/LTE support is also included for high speed connections, perfect for downloading files or possibly uploading videos.

With some wizardry and science, Samsung have made both the microUSB port and headphone jack not require covers. It seems minor but the complete lack of flappy port covers is decent design. The inclusion of pogo pins for simple docking station charging is also welcome and useful for enterprise.

The rugged rating is certified to IP67 for immersion in water and dust resistance. You can also be pretty confident of the tablet’s protection against drops with testing from 1.2 meters.

Samsung KNOX security is perfect for enterprise users. It has been signed off in many corporate environments and allows for siloing of data and the locking down of app installation to an administrator.

As a complete package the £450 price point (£375 ex-VAT) is actually very impressive. Considering the overall specification, rugged case and stylus and design work, you’ll be hard pressed to find a comparable portable tablet in this category.

Sony Xperia E4g – pre-orders live at £125

xperia-e4g-black-front-landscapeJust a couple of weeks ago we let you all know that Sony Xperia E4 pre-orders were live at just £99.

Well to add to that we can also confirm that Sony’s E4g, complete with LTE connectivity, is now expected to be with us in early April at just £125! Pre orders are now live on the Clove site.

Pre order Sony Xperia E4g from Clove

Although both coming under the E4 branding, there are some slight differences between the two models which we’ll outline here.

The E4g screen is slightly smaller at 4.7″, compared to the cheaper E4’s 5″, although the processor speed jumps up to 1.5 GHz from 1.3 GHz. You’ll also find that the E4g version is slightly smaller and lighter, plus the E2003 model number Clove will be stocking has NFC as well.

With the Moto E 2nd generation now released and shipping from today, the LTE capable entry level scene could well be getting quite crowded soon. This E4g from Sony offers a larger screen and a better camera performance than the new Moto E though, plus an LED flash, so it’s certainly worth considering and definitely justifies the extra few notes.

Sony Xperia E4g at a glance

  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat – guaranteed update to 5.0 Lollipop
  • 4.7″ qHD 540 x 960 IPS LCD screen
  • 1.5 GHz quad core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB storage / micro SD support
  • 5 MP camera with autofocus and LED flash
  • LTE coverage (Bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20)

ASUS smartphones in 2015

asus-zenfone-2-close-up-sidA name that has long been a staple in the home PC and notebook world, ASUS also have an active smartphone and mobile division which has been releasing products for a few years now.

The ‘Zen’ brand has already spawned a fair number of ZenFone models over the past 12 months, alongside a very well designed and received smartwatch in the ZenWatch.

ASUS are also no stranger to producing innovative, niche products; their PadFone range beautifully executed a (literally) combined smartphone and tablet experience and survived more than one iteration on the line.

It’s good to see then that the Taiwanese manufacturer is continuing along these lines with two stunning looking devices in 2015: the ZenFone 2 and ZenFone Zoom. Both have a lot to shout about, so it’s almost a shame anyone choosing ASUS this year will have to pick just one!

Right now both of these handsets are set for email registration only. Once we know more about their release dates and prices, we’ll be sure to open pre-order for both.

asus-zenfone-2-camera-apertZenFone 2

On paper the ASUS ZenFone 2 looks like a pretty standard set of high end specifications. We can probably expect many of 2015’s flagship handsets to have a similar reading table of features.

A few key things pop out from the list – first off a configuration with 4GB RAM, the highest yet seen on a mainstream smartphone. We’ll need apps and software to make use of the extra memory of course, however with an Intel processor under the hood, this could be an interesting productivity booster.

Also ASUS may be no Samsung when it comes to mobile, however seeing another name go against using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips this year is an interesting development.

We can expect the ZenFone 2 to launch with Android 5.0 out of the box, albeit with ASUS’ own ZenUI layered on top. This has proven to be a fairly lightweight skin in the past, so with some converging features between other Zen products expected, this could be a slick touch.

We don’t know how much the SIM Free ZenFone 2 will be when it launches, however it appears that ASUS are looking to release at a very disruptive price. This could be a huge selling-point, although we need to play the waiting game to see just how low ASUS are prepared to go.

Thankfully that wait might not be too long, we’ll hear more for sure at MWC in a few weeks, yet we’re expecting to see ZenFone 2s in the wild by late March / early April.

zenfone-zoom-camera-close-upZenFone Zoom

One to get photography fans buzzing, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom will feature a custom camera module with 3x optical zoom.

We’ve seen similar feats of smartphone engineering when Nokia developed their PureView technology and stuck a huge 41 MP shooter on the back of the Lumia 1020.

Whilst the design might take some cues from that particular phone, things are slightly different with the ASUS as we’ll be looking at a more traditional 13 MP sensor; more details regarding pixel size etc. are still to be announced. Handled correctly though, this has potential to take the crown of best Android camera phone.

The rest of the specification seems to line up pretty neatly with the ZenFone 2, although floated prices has a definite premium – whatever secrets that camera tech is hiding, they could be pricey. Just like the ZF2 we’ll learn more at Mobile World Congress.

CAT B15Q Pros & Cons

Cat_B15Q_Hands_On_ReviewgCat have been steadily making moves in the rugged phone space for well over a year now with both feature phones and their original B15 smartphone from 2013.

The B15Q built on this by refreshing the specification and keeping the unique styling that has served the brand well.  So what stacks up well and what doesn’t? Read on for a blow by blow or check out Jon’s 60 second review at the bottom of the page.

The not so great

The camera, whilst an improvement on the original, is still not that great. The 5 MP module is relatively outdated now, although seen on a number of  entry level and mid range phones. The camera can take passable images, for instance the standard will be high enough if used for taking shots on site to share with base, however the standard camera application included is quite sparse in terms of features and not the best for photography fans.

Released before 4G / LTE was becoming as widely available as it is now, the B15Q doesn’t have the capability to connect to 4G networks. This does keep costs down, however with newer entry level phones including the tech it does now have to be seen as a detraction.

More for the serious technophiles – there is no 5 GHz wireless support. If you’re not in the know, WiFi connections can now come in two frequency flavours, standard 2.4 GHz and more recently 5 GHz. The major benefit of 5 GHz connections is a lack of interference, not just from other WiFi users but also Bluetooth, microwaves and other wireless tech that tends to sit around the 2.4 GHz band. It’s far from a deal breaker but a neat feature to be able to utilise, especially if you’re entering a crowded enterprise environment.

With ruggedness comes an inevitable reduction in consumer design and desirability. You can argue the B15Q isn’t targeted at those who care too much what their smartphone looks like, although many users do want to meet in the middle for function and design. The Cat range is known for a better look than other chunky rugged bricks, however there’s a long way to go before a rugged phone could contend against an HTC or Sony.

Finally the screen resolution is fairly low. At just 480 x 800 the result is quite noticeably rough even compared to qHD 540 x 960 screens the seen on many newer mid range devices. The screen covering is also fairly reflective. This may well be due to the material used, which admittedly is more resilient than others, however it does result in some difficulty reading in direct sunlight.

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What we like

At the time of release the base specification was a marked improvement on the original and continues to de decent value for money. With quad core processing power and increased RAM, the performance was clearly improved, plus the Android version was brought up to date and with it new system features.

The design might detract from the average consumer however it is the best in a world where rugged phones tend to be huge slabs of rubber with unresponsive screens. The B15Q is protected in all the key areas; the frame is metal with the corners reinforced, Corning Gorilla Glass 2 has been used on the screen and the speaker grilles were redesigned to improve the waterproofing. It’s chunky but still practical, looking like a worker’s phone without sacrificing practicality like many enterprise oriented handsets.

An LED flash was included in the B15Q, something sorely missing on the original. Not only can a flash dramatically improve image quality (and simply make low light shooting possible), this can also double as a flash light. It’s powerful too; much, much better than just trying to use your screen to illuminate your surroundings and saves you searching for a separate torch.

The IP67 rating allows for complete immersion in fresh water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 metre. The military 810g rating has also been achieved, by being able to withstand repeated drops from 1.8 meters onto concrete and consistently perform in temperatures as low as minus 20°C.

Not one to make many lists – the loudspeaker performs very well. In consumer devices this might be reserved for playing some music or showing your friends a video, however it’s easy to see how you might want to make a call in a loud environment with the B15Q. Switching to loudspeaker if it’s not convenient to put the phone to your ear is made better by providing clear sound at a decent volume.

Finally, the battery life is quite long in comparison to other similar phones, plus the battery itself is removable. If deployed to a team, users can keep a spare cell handy should they be running low or working an extended shift.

LG Tone Infinim HBS-900 Review

harman/kardon technology? Give me retractable cables. Sometimes the little ideas are worth more than the big…

lg-tone-infinim-sbh900‘Wraparound headsets’, if that’s now a common term, have recently become a fairly large player in the mobile accessory world.

A standard Bluetooth earpiece still has the uncomfortable connotation of making anyone who isn’t a very busy and important person look a bit like they’re trying to be one, however an upsurge in wireless and wearable tech has turned the category into something a lot more desirable.

Almost a year ago I took a look at Sony’s still brilliant and lightweight SBH80. Things have moved on considerably, however it remains a benchmark to test against and one that has been used for inspiration by manufacturers since.

Full disclosure – I’ve personally been using the previous LG SBH-730 for about 4/5 months, so take the comments in this review from the view of someone upgrading.

Read on after the break for the full review of the LG Tone Infinim HBS-900

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Samsung Wireless Charging Vehicle Dock

samsung-qi-wireless-charging-car-holder-cloveWe’re starting to see a lot more wireless charging accessories appear on the market now, both from major manufacturers and from smaller producers.

Samsung might not yet put Qi technology in their phones as standard, instead giving consumers the option of adding the feature through accessories, yet they have embraced the tech insofar as these accessories are widely available.

Their newest addition to the range is a sleek universal vehicle holder, complete with retractable arms to hold device from around 4″ screens all the way up to 5.7″ – even the mighty Galaxy Note 4 fits in here.

The mounting pad is suitable for your dash or windscreen (or perhaps even a work desk), plus the USB charging cable and cigarette adapter are included in the pack also.

You can pick up the full kit for just £79 (£65.83 ex-VAT)

Order Samsung Wireless Charging Vehicle Dock

You may also be interested in these other Qi charging products:

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 S View wireless charging cover (official) – £44.99

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Qi charging receiver card (3rd party) – £24.99

Samsung Galaxy S5 Qi charging covers and receiver card – from £17

enCharge universal charging cards for all devices – £19.99