At the Windows Phone 7 launch event in London yesterday, all four (or five, depending on how you count) UK networks had a presence, as did Samsung, HTC, and LG. All three companies will have handsets available on October 21st. Relative cellphone newcomer Dell will also have a handset available at launch.

Across the world, HTC announced five handsets: HD7, 7 Mozart, 7 Surround, 7 Trophy, and 7 Pro. The HD7, 7 Mozart, and 7 Trophy are launching in the UK on the 21st, and the 7 Pro should arrive early next year. Company representatives said that the final phone, the 7 Surround, may or may not see a UK launch.

The HD7 will be exclusive to O2, the Mozart will be exclusive to Orange, and the Trophy will be exclusive to Vodafone. HTC gave no indications of which carriers would receive the Pro.

HTC’s lineup

As is going to be a recurring theme with Windows Phone 7 handsets, the phones were more similar than they were different. The HD7 had a glorious 4.3″ screen, and the Mozart had an 8 megapixel camera. Aside from that, there was little to significantly differentiate the models. All of them felt solid, though the two smaller phones felt uncannily light.

What HTC does do to differentiate is bundle applications. Each HTC handset is preloaded with a bunch of HTC-developed custom applications. There’s HTC’s now familiar weather software, a post-it note-taking program, audio and photo enhancing programs, and a stock ticker program. All can be pinned to the home screen, or accessed via HTC’s hub application.

The HTC hub
Adding a kind of cine camera appearance using the Photo Enhancer

Apart from apps, another area that the hardware companies can differentiate is the camera application. Though the basic operation of the camera is standard across all the phones, companies can add their own effects and processing; for example, they can offer different metering modes, ISO ratings, or autofocus modes, and they can include special effects. HTC, for example, has a solarize feature.

HTC’s phones all included Dolby Mobile and SRS Surround audio processing, which should in principle make them better for listening to music and watching videos than any of their competitors.

LG is launching its Optimus 7 exclusively with Vodafone. There was no word on whether the 7Q—the same phone but with a hardware keyboard—would launch, or if so, when it would launch.

LG: exciting software

LG’s software was, to my mind, the most exciting, as it really exploited the fact that it was running on a phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures, due to the awkwardness of trying to photograph the device while using it. The Optimus 7 is a DLNA device. It can play back pictures, videos, and music to DLNA TVs directly, without any need for manual connections. I’m not entirely convinced that audio or video playback is a big deal, but the ability to show photos on a TV is very attractive; for many people, their phone is their camera, and showing pictures on TV is a popular option. This kind of integration is thoughtful and useful.

LG phones will also use an augmented reality program, ScanSearch, for finding restaurants, banks, theaters, cinemas, and so on. The ability to actually try out this feature at the launch event was limited, but as with the DLNA capability, it’s an application that’s exploiting the capabilities of a phone. We use smartphones for navigation, for finding places to eat and figuring out where to go, so using the camera, GPS, and compass to enhance those tasks is a good idea.

Also using the compass was a panoramic photo app. Thanks to the compass, the phone knows which way it’s pointing, and so can tell you where to aim to ensure that your panoramas have enough overlap to join seamlessly. It seemed to work pretty well, and just as with ScanSearch, it showed off how developers can use the sensor capabilities of the phone to do something a little out of the ordinary, and write software that wouldn’t work on a regular PC.

The final trick up LG’s sleeve, which unfortunately it couldn’t demonstrate today for some technical reason or other, was speech-to-text. All Windows Phone 7 devices offer voice-based commands; hold down the Windows key and say “call So-and-so,” and it will dial for you. LG takes this further, allowing voice input as a generalized alternative to keyboard input. This was a kind of customization that I didn’t know was possible, and it could prove to be a useful capability. Of course, it’s something that’ll be enormously dependent on the quality of the recognition, and that’s as-yet unknown.

Samsung’s Omnia 7 and the Now Hub

Samsung’s Omnia 7 will be available on Three, T-Mobile, and Orange in the UK.

Samsung’s customizations seemed limited. The company has its own hub, the “Now Hub,” that offers weather, news, and stock updates. I was disappointed to see that it wanted me to tell it which city’s weather I wanted; since the phone knows which city it’s in, it should have figured that out by itself.

The other custom feature is extended photo sharing. Windows Phone 7 can upload photos to Facebook and SkyDrive, and this feature is built-in. On Samsung phones, there are more options: Flickr, MySpace, and Picasa, among others. To my mind, this is much more useful than the Now hub; I use Flickr for photo-sharing, so the ability to directly upload there is welcome. As with LG’s applications, this feels like a far better use of the platform: when I’m out and about, I like the ability to upload photos automatically, it’s one of the virtues of a smartphone over my DSLR. Making this work better is more useful to me than showing me a stock ticker.

Like HTC, Samsung also has some kind of audio enhancement technology.

Dell: similar Venues

Dell’s apparent lack of telco tie-in is disappointing. The other Windows Phone 7 handsets being launched in the UK are far more similar than they are different. There are variations in screen size (3.7″-4.3″) and technology (TFT or Super AMOLED), storage (8 or 16 GB), and WiFi standards; the three mandatory buttons on the front of the device (search, Windows logo, and back) also had some variation (HTC used nice capacitive buttons, some of the other handsets used physical clicky buttons). Overall, though, the phones were not hugely divergent. If you can use one Windows Phone 7 device, you’ll be instantly familiar with any others.

Dell’s phone, the Venue Pro, bucks the trends somewhat, with its vertical keyboard—unusual compared both to the other phones available at launch, and to old-fashioned Windows Mobile keyboard phones— and looks interesting and worth trying. It may struggle, though; no network operator partnership was announced today, and without the physical retail presence that partnership with an operator provides, selling any phone is a struggle.

The OEMs aren’t the only ones who can add applications; network operators also get to bundle software with the phones. To be honest, the operators didn’t appear to do much. O2 had nothing more than a custom color and lock screen image. Company representatives said that more may follow later, but for launch, that’s all they’d offer. Of the customizations they did, Three’s seemed fairly representative: the company added a hub with quick links to account management and the like. None of their software seemed as adventurous as that from the OEMs.

As for Windows Phone 7 itself, it feels slick and polished. The interface is fast, the transitions are attractive, and built-in programs like e-mail are a pleasure to use. Anyone who uses a handset is going to want to explore it and learn more about it. If Microsoft can get good positioning in retail outlets, the platform should flourish. However, to get a feel for how well the operating system really works as a smartphone OS requires more time than we had today. First impressions are definitely positive, but it’s going to be a while before anyone knows what the software is like to actually live with.

[Via Ars technica]

, , , , , , ,

Chatty teenagers could be the world’s next renewable energy source. In the search for alternative energy sources there’s one form of energy you don’t hear much about, which is ironic because I’m referring to sound energy.

Sound energy is the energy produced by sound vibrations as they travel through a specific medium. Speakers use electricity to generate sound waves and now scientists from Korea have used zinc oxide, the main ingredient of calamine lotion, to do the reverse – convert sound waves into electricity. They hope ultimately the technology could be used to convert ambient noise to power a mobile phone or generate energy for the national grid from rush hour traffic.

“Just as speakers transform electric signals into sound, the opposite process — of turning sound into a source of electrical power — is possible,” said Dr. Young Jun Park, a scientist at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, and Sang-Woo Kim, the two corresponding authors of a new article in the journal Advanced Materials.

“Sound power can be used for various novel applications including mobile phones that can be charged during conversations and sound-insulating walls near highways that generate electricity from the sound of passing vehicles,” the co-authors added.

Harvesting energy from phone calls and passing cars is based on materials known as piezoelectrics. When bent, a piezoelectric material turns that mechanical energy into electricity.

Lots of materials are piezoelectric: cane sugar, quartz and even dried bone creates an electrical charge when stressed. For decades, scientists have pumped electricity into piezoelectric materials for use in environmental sensors, speakers and other devices.

Over the last few years, however, scientists have made dramatic advances in getting electricity out of piezoelectric devices. Most of these devices, which are not yet available for consumer purchase, would generate power as a person walks, runs or, in this case, talks. The U.S. Army is even looking at partially powering some vehicles by channeling the physical impact of a bullet into a small electrical current.

The Korean scientists, however, want to harness a different kind of power source: sound waves.

Using zinc oxide, the main ingredient in calamine lotion, Young Jun Park, Sang-Woo Kim and their colleagues created a field of nanowires sandwiched between two electrodes. The researchers blasted that sandwich with sound waves, which at 100 decibels were not quite as loud as a rock concert. A normal conversation is about 60-70 decibels.

The sound waves produced a mild electrical current of about 50 millivolts. The average cell phone requires a few volts to operate, several times the power this technology can currently produce.

The new research is interesting, said Michael McAlpine, a scientist at Princeton University who also builds energy harvesting devices.

“But the real question though is whether there is enough ambient noise to act as a power source as for a cell phone,” said McAlpine. A consumer probably wouldn’t want to attend a rock concert or stand next to a passing train to charge their cell phone.

The Korean scientists agree: 50 millivolts is not a lot of power, but they also say their research is proof of concept. As they continue their work, they expect to get a higher power output.

(Via Discovery News)

, , , , ,

I personally see no point in buying a mobile phone considering the option of how well you can play games on it. One of the reasons for my views has been based on the fact that games for mobile phones especially for Android platform haven’t been that great. The other reason is that handheld gaming consoles like Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP have become very advanced.

But if this news from Engadget is true, I might change my mind. The world is about to see a big surprise from Sony Ericsson: a PlayStation-branded gaming phone, powered by Android 3.0.

Sony Ericsson is “actively and heavily developing a brand new gaming platform, ecosystem, and device (possibly alongside Google) which are already in the late stages of planning,” Engadget quotes a trusted source.

According to Engadget, “the device is described as a cross between the Samsung captivate and the PSP Go.” It supposedly includes a landscape slider complete with PSP-like controls, a touchpad in place of the joystick, a 3.7?-4.1? screen, a 5 megapixel camera and a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The phone will carry both the Xperia and PlayStation brands.

“On the software side, it looks like the device will be running Gingerbread (Android 3.0) with a phone-specific skin, and there will be a new area of the Android Market specifically for the games,” informs Joshua Topolsky at Engadget.

With such features if this phone ever arrived in the markets, I surely will be one of the early birds to get one.

This post originally appeared on Mouse2house blog where I regularly contribute on Technology

, , , ,

Augmented reality on the iPhone

Don’t act too surprised if, some time in the next year, you meet someone who explains that their business card isn’t just a card; it’s an augmented reality business card. You can see a collection and, at visualcard.me, you can even design your own, by adding a special marker to your card, which, once put in front of a webcam linked to the internet, will show not only your contact details

Read the rest of this entry


,