Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On Coronavirus 5G Conspiracies


Here are my thoughts and analysis to address the rampant 5G conspiracies that are flooding social media. I do not claim to be an authority (Like a renowned professor) in the field of 5G propagation, neither am I at a senior level in this field. I have put my qualification in this field towards the end, so that you may judge for yourself, my level of understanding of the technology concerned.

Whilst some organisations or governments are generally understood to seek to weaponize technology, the theories peddled in this case show ignorance on what 5G is. 5G is NOT a single device, or a single piece of technology or system that a govt may clandestinely use. 5G is a collection of standards, protocols and technologies, which enables cross compatibility between devices and systems, making sure that anything that is certified to be 5G compliant, can communicate with another in an expected manner.The conspiracy theories seem to focus on the propagation. Delving into detail of the physics in this area will show you that the statements that are being said by the conspiracy theorists are factually WRONG!. In this case the only way one can weaponise 5G is to take advantage of its efficiencies and connectivity for something else. It’s like saying because cyber-crime and online identity theft is rife nowadays,  then we blame the Internet as a technology. Can we or should we blame the Internet for cybercrime? So there is no need to single out 5G when we indulge in our favourite conspiracies about the AntiChrist. We may as well include ALL the technological breakthroughs ever since our existence, because 5G depends on these previous breakthroughs, and builds upon them.

To cut it to the chase, for those who are particularly worried about the 5G radiation, you would more likely (if at all) be affected by the WiFi in your home, than 5G, and furthermore, you are 100 times more likely to be affected by an incandescent light bulb in your room, than 5G.

Contrary to popular belief, not all 5G is going to use high frequencies. Many concerned about radiation, are saying 5G uses high frequencies (eg over 40GHz). To elaborate on this, like I said, 5G is a collection of technologies and approaches, it has no stipulated frequency, so it depends on the technology that you are using, to achieve a 5G compatible service. Millimeter Wave (mmWave) is one such connectivity technology, which utilizes high gigahertz frequencies (over 24GHz)., but there is also Massive MIMO (MaMIMO) (which is implemented as Multiuser MIMO (MuMIMO) in 5G) which uses frequencies some which are lower than WiFi (WiFi uses up to 5.8GHz ). (I happened to have worked on the later for over 4 years, and was using 3.5GHz). Also note that 60GHz has already been used in a WiFi-esque technology called WiGig (alternatively known as 60GHz WiFi). Microwaves (used in microwave ovens, and in some existing communications infrastructure and satellites) also use frequencies greater than 5G mmWave. In any case, it is important to note that most of the current and on-going 5G installations are using sub-5GHz frequencies. The screenshot below, is taken from a response provided by Three (a UK Mobile Operator) to someone who raised the same 5G questions;

The basics of physics specify that Velocity = Frequency x Wavelength. mmWave signals, because of the high frequencies, have shorter wavelengths (hence called millimeter wave). Notice velocity in this case is the speed of Electromagnetic (EM) propagation, which is fixed, and generally taken to be the speed of light. This means mmWave propagation is severely limited (generally, a coverage radius of 200m expected). This is why there will be a need to deploy a large number of base stations (on lamp posts and buildings in the city centre etc), this is what is generally referred to as “Densification” by deploying “Pico base-stations”.

The two proponent 5G connectivity technologies leverage advances in computer processing, electronics and clever mathematics. It is these advances that make the technology possible. One key facet of this I am currently working with is exploitation of antenna diversity, spatial multiplexing and clever matrix inversion in MaMIMO. These technologies make the receivers much smarter. 5G utilises multiple antennas at the base station.

I happen to be among the pioneers in demonstrating the clever electronics, mathematics and computer processing that makes 5G possible (See links towards the end).

The engineering in the above technologies seeks to utilise either beamforming (in case of mmWave) or Spatial multiplexing (MaMIMO) meaning the propagation will be directed to a particular user. This means there is no need to transmit a lot of power hence in actual fact, each antenna will transit SIGNIFICANTLY less power than current mobile systems (in our case, power was reduced a factor of 10 compared to 3G - that’s a lot of power saving). Beamforming may actually be used to focus energy on a single object (which in theory may be weaponised), but the practical reality is that there is a limit on the power that you can transmit out of each antenna, governed by both the standard and the electronics (Digital-to-Analogue Conveters (DACs),  Power Amplifiers, etc). This means if someone flouts the standards, they will also need to “fry” the transceivers and yet magically transmit a power enough to harm a human being.

Without knowing what Frequency is, we cannot possibly dispel the "High Frequency" myth. In simplest terms, frequency refers to how often an occasion is repeated, over a fixed period of time. In RF terms, its the the radiating power that is pulsating (specified in decibel-milliwatts or dBm). This means you may have a very high frequency signal but with very low power which effectively diminishes the radiation energy in it. An example of 5G transmit power is 25dBm which equates to 0.3162Watts. If you could wrap your head around the 5G antenna, that's the power that you will receive, if you only place your cheek next to it, you receive a fraction of that ( By comparison, an incandescent light bulb radiates 60Watts). As the distance from the basestation increases, the power becomes minuscule. Original 1G (GSM) transmit powers were considerably higher (because they needed to cover large distances) than current technologies. There are stories of an engineer who climbed up a 1G tower with a chocolate in his pocket and it all melted :D. You were more likely to have been affected by 1G than 5G. So forget about frequency, the right question to ask is what transmit powers are being used in these technologies?

In any cellular communication, the power that you receive on your mobile is significantly smaller that what your mobile is transmitting back to the basestation. A critical thing to worry about is the quality of your handset. Those substandard  handsets that are sold cheap, most from unscrupulous manufacturers in China, are VERY dangerous, you do not know what its transmitter is doing. Best is to buy handsets that are certified to comply with published standards, like FCC (America) or CE (Europe). You can see those markings at the back of your handset or inside the cover.

Radio Frequency (RF) radiation is non-ionising (unlike say nuclear radiation, x-rays, gamma rays etc). This is an established fact. So the effect of RF radiation on biological tissue is only limited to heat, and insanely extreme transmit power is required inorder to deliver heat that can burn tissue. Its possible (outside of communication systems), but there is NO known communication system is capable of that. That would be downright illegal. To put it into perspective, the two images below shows the high end of 5G spectrum (range of frequencies available for 5G use).


Furthermore, there are very cheap devices that measure EM radiation. Anyone can buy these anytime from countless online shops or high street electronics shops. There is nothing that is stopping anyone to buy one and move around measuring radiation levels across any city. You can use them to compare radiation between a 5G base stations and a 4G base station. These are plausible approaches to take for anyone concerned, than propagating downright dumb conspiracies.

Now consider the power reduction and efficiencies in 5G, by sending energy only to the mobile you want (beam-forming in mmWave or even spatial multiplexing in MaMIMO) and combine that with the fact that the mmWave signal dies faster (inverse square law - 300m away from a 5G base station, you don’t get any signal), you then realise that the fears about 5G radiation are unfounded. 5G’s main goal, beside specified system improvements like lower latencies and larger bandwidths (which may have come without 5G) is to improve efficiencies, i.e. Power efficiency (transmit little power and still be able to communicate clearly) and Spectral efficiency (transmit more data to many mobiles using the same frequency resource within the same time slot). I happen to jointly hold world records in the this later area (https://techxplore.com/news/2016-05-world-5g-wireless-spectrum-efficiency.html).


I have been involved in public 5G trials for both mmWave and MaMIMO:

https://www.evaluationengineering.com/industries/communications/wireless-5g-wlan-bluetooth-etc/article/13015180/ni-supports-bristol-lund-5g-field-trials-at-bt-nearing-100bshz-spectrum-efficiency

http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2017/february/massive-mimo-trials.html

https://www.watershed.co.uk/news/bristol-hosts-uks-first-public-trials-on-new-5g-testbed

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/engineering/research/smart/events/layered-realities-weekend/#

https://phys.org/news/2016-04-bristol-5g-wireless-showcased.html


I have been mainly researching MaMIMO, specifically tracking mobile users (which happens to be another field that is fanning the conspiracies). These trials were done in public places, with no known or reported health effects. 

I have also been to conferences where I met in person, the people who originally proposed some of the approaches that are used in 5G and also met the leaders of HUAWEI research on 5G, during one of these conferences (one was a keynote speaker) and we discussed both our research groups progress pertaining to 5G connectivity (of course at high level). All these are people like you and me, funded by national bodies like EPSRC in my case, and other regional bodies, with NO influence on the day-today research activities.


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

UK Spectrum Scale User Group Meeting - 2019

Related image

Intro
The UK/World Wide 2019 Spectrum Scale User Group took place on the 8th and 9th May at the IBM’s South Bank Client Centre. I had the pleasure of attending this meeting alongside two colleagues from our office. The first day  hosted talks from the Spectrum Scale CTO who presented an interesting history of GPFS from its inception to the current status.

Networking
The key benefit that I personally got from attending the user group meeting was the networking. We are looking into a implementing Spectrum Archive solution and getting into contact with people who have practical experience with this offering was key. I was able to have a good discussion with Khanh Ngo, who the the IBM STSM responsible for Archive. He gave me his contact details and allowed me direct access to contact him whenever I want something pertaining the his product offering. He presented his product on the second day of the conference, and his presentation was top-level but concise. We discuss about my rough design sketch and we ended with him offering to drop by our office the next time he is returning to Europe, and that around Aug when he is coming to Amsterdam.

The next person I was pleased to meet was Dan Foster, who happen to be my predecessor. Dan has done some dev implementations of both TSM-HSM and LTFS-HSM, so he quite knowledgeable on these product offerings. The key issues with Archive, that Dan pointed out to me are the Reclamation and Reconciliation. While the Archive had baseline functions to perform these tasks, an admin with need to know, in a verifiable way, the actual tapes that/files that will be involved in these processes. This requires some scripting on top of the base functions provided by Archive, is automation has to be implemented. Dan himself has a product that provides this functionality and more, offered by his organisation.

The other key person I got in contact with, wrt to the above project, was Patrick Dekkers, who is a Storage Specialist at Amsterdam UMC Locactie VUmc. Patrick has implemented the Archive for his organisation. His is a Stretched-Cluster configuration and he gave a presentation of his overall storage infrastructure, which was helpful to understand how they are using Spectrum Scale and Archive. It would be a good think to keep in contact with Patrick to exchange notes on our experiences, and probably a working visit to his facility to catch-up and see stuff in action.

Other observations
Two technical presentations by the Spectrum Scale developers were quite interesting for me. The first was titled "Deep-dive on Spectrum Scale Reliability, Availability and Serviceability improvements". The talk centred on network reliability, outlining cases, causes and troubleshooting of network related issued in Spectrum Scale. Key was the improvements in v5.0.2 that make log messages more clearer. Having implemented Spectrum Scale Object Storage a few weeks ago, I was quite happy to see the commands I have gotten accustomed to, accompanied by easy to read messaged, and enhanced context as provided by the developer on the day.

The other presentation that I found interesting was the "Overview: Spectrum Scale support for NFS and SMB
Spectrum Scale Best Practices for Snapshots" The bit about Snapshot best practices was interesting. I realised that there is actually a careful consideration that has to be taken designed processes for snapshotting and backup. My hunch was that most of the time people use badly designed processes, which just work mainly because the systems are not performance constrained, or end applications (and or users) are tolerant of the effects caused by bad practices. One key think I was reminded is that even with Fileset Snapshot, the cluster run a filesystem-wide quiesce which means taking and deleting of a large number of filesystems can result in a big impact even without end-user I/O. The choice and time for deleting snapshot has to be carefully considered.

Lighter notes
Overall I enjoyed my 2 days in London with a first day rendezvous at the Jazz Cafe were Hypnotic Monkeys produced a superb performance. I especially like their Afro-Jazz sounds garnished by Rap lyrics. Also the days coincided with UEFA semifinals which we enjoyed in the local pub which were often full to the hilt.
Being my first ever user group meeting, I was thorough impressed with the level of organisation and attendance. Meeting the developers, most of whom I had seen their names in user group forums/mailing lists, that was refreshing to put faces to names.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Huawei Mate20 Pro - A great spec'ed flagship!



I received this product as part of a review program in return for an unbiased review
The Huawei Mate20 Pro smartphone is essentially, according to me, a phablet if we are to go by the screen size. But let's face it, size really matters! I do not want to squint my eyes when i am watching videos on Youtube and Video Hub or other “tubes” and “hubs”. Screen real-estate is a critical factor, as the trends have proved. The Mate20 Pro’s screen is "Yuuuuge" at 6.39 inches, whilst the phone weighs only 189 grams and is 8.6mm thin. This is probably the best screen size to weight ratio I have seen. Moreso, the phone fits snuggly into one's' hand allowing one hand operation without any problem, thanks to the much reduced width of only 72.6mm, slimmer than even the P20 Pro. The key feature here is the edge-to-edge screen, which monopolises the phone's real estate. You will probably instantly notice the "top notch" (pun or no pun, you decide). The notch can be turned off if one doesn't fancy it.




There is no home button on the front, like on the P20 Pro, instead, the fingerprint scanner comes embedded into the screen. Like most modern smartphones the Mate20 Pro ditches the home button so as to dedicate the front, to the screen. Other interface features of note are the screen recording, which allows one to record all screen interactions, and the split screen, which allows two applications to be run on separate screens simultaneously. This seems to be a standard feature for most Huawei phones now
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The battery on the Mate20 Pro is a humongous 4200mAh, thats 200mAh more than the already juice-saving record breaking P20 Pro. This means the Mate20 Pro will be able to keep things ticking for 2 days easy-peasy, after a full charge. I managed a whole 3 days uptime despite my intensive use of the camera as I was testing various modes and scenarios during the same period. Couple this with the quick-charge feature, you realise that you soon forget about the yesteryear wores of cellphone charging.

Like its predecessor, this phone is all about the camera. The phone has got 3 rear Leica cameras which work together to provide appropriate lighting, depth, focus and colour performance. Indeed the power of AI is summoned on this phone to aid in object auto detection, auto camera mode sand settings accordingly, making this behemoth, a perfect point and shoot buddy.

The Mate20 Pro has all other bells and whistles that one would expect from Huawei’s flagship. It's all IP68, IR sensor is versus, NFC etc etc. but this phone has its shortcomings like all things “many-made” and man-made. The in-display fingerprint sensor is sometimes inconsistent, failing to recognise my fingerprint, meaning i have to use other authentication modes. Also if one uses a tempered glass screen protector, this problem can be made worse. This technology could be in its early stages and one hopes this will improve with time.

However, the Mate20 Pro comes with all PIN, Fingerprint and 3D face recognition mechanisms, this allows one to choose the methods they feel is most effective considering their circumstances.


Monday, 8 October 2018

HP Sprocket Plus: An ultra portable photo printer showcasing the future!

The HP Sprocket Plus, is an ultra portable device, that is showcasing what the future of photo printing is like. The technology is very sound and the pictures are convincing.

The Sprocket Plus has external dimensions of 141.9 x 89 x 18 mm (5.59 x 3.50 x 0.71 in) and weighs only 0.205 kg (0.45 lb). It can print photos of size; 2.3" x 3.4", which is 30% larger than the standard Sprocket.




HP Sprocket Plus, showing size relative to a standard mobile phone.


Setting it up is a breeze,and its operation is straightforward, with the Sprocket App that is available on both Android and iOS. It is enough to know that you can take a photo on you phone and make a couple of presses to print that photo to the sprocket.

Mine came with 20 Photo paper and 10 sticky-backed photo sheets. The sticky-backed sheets are a fun addition to this device. It means you can now be able to print your own stickers, yes, that's right, stickers. The size is not big enough for framed photos, but not small enough for kids stickers, so I will call these “Adult stickers”. Fun uses for these stickers could be DIY postcards, wallet stickers, luggage stickers and memoir or travel book photos. For the creative types, this can be a very useful feature, making the Sprocket Plus a fun, ultra portable , social and creative gismo.



Sticky-backed paper (pack of 10)

I know some may have questions about the quality of the photos, so I will say my opinion so that you may be guided. These photos are nothing near the quality of professional photos printed on photographic paper. But as a guide, the quality is comparable to 1990’s film-based camera photos which were commonly printed on Kodak paper. Some of you may still have such photos in your drawers, so you should rest assured you will get something similar from this device.

This device does not require cartridges, and for that reason, I will say the price for it (retailing around £160) is not bad at all. I am yet to get authoritative information on the durability of this device, but a 2 year warranty will be enough for such a device.

Having said all this, I expect HP and other Tech companies in this niche, to take this technology further, to bring newer models that are capable of printing bigger photos, with much improved quality.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Huawei Flagship: P20 Pro - The Super Crafted AI Laced Behemoth

"Probably the best Android Smartphone out there!" - me

I received this product as part of a review program in return for an unbiased review

I am talking about the Huawei P20 Pro Smartphone. This is Huawei flagship phone, which is mearnt to compete with the likes of Samsung Galaxy S9 and Apple's iPhone X (or 10 if you like). I have beena able to play around with this beauty and boy oh boy, I fell in love!

The P20 Pro is a smartphone which is supposed to be in the category of so called phablets, if we are to go by the screen size. I say "supposed" because the moment you get hold of this phone, you will realise how its profile is deceptive. The screen is "Yuuuuge" at 6.1 inches, whilst the phone weighs only 180 grams and is 7.8mm thin. Moreso, the phone fits snugly into ones' hand allowing one hand operation without any problem, thanks to the reduced width of only 73.9mm. The key feature here is the edge-to-edge screen, which monopolises the phone's real estate. You will probably instantly notice the "top notch" (pun intended), reminding you of the iPhone X's notch, except that Huawei's was done much better, leaving useful screen space (for status icons) either side of the notch. Also the notch can be turned off to leave just a rectangular screen. You may want to berate Huwei for "copying" here, go ahead, I totally understand (but who doesn't)

I will not bore you with specs, which can be found in  full, on Huawe's website via THIS LINK.  This phone is all about its camera, but I will appetise you with other features before I give you my 2  cents about the camera, and my thoughts on what the camera AI direction can produce, in next-gen smartphones.

Interaction
The home button is very much present on the front bottom, for those like me, who like the button style for tactile control. Th button also holds the fingerprint scanner, which is where I prefer it to be, than at the back of the phone. Other phones may have ditched the home button so as to dedicate the front space, to the screen, but Huawei did it in a very effective way, that doesn't take much screen space, by using a very slim button. Other interface features of note are the screen recording, which allows one to record all screen interactions. This is especially important if one is creating usage manual or tutorials for apps etc. There is also the split screen feature, which allows two applications to be run on separate screens simultaneously. This seems to be a standard feature for most Huawei phones now.



Battery
The battery on the Pro 20 is a decent size 4000mAH, which for me has been able to keep the juices flowing for  almost 2 days after every full charge. This was despite my intensive use of the camera as I was testing various camera modes and scenarios during the same testing period. If you couple this with the quick-charge feature, you realise that you soon forget about the yesteryear wores of cellphone charging, especially if one is making use of portable power banks.

IR Remote
This phone comes with an InfraRed (IR) LED. This means that you can be able to control about any IR device like TVs, Radios, Set-top boxes etc. I have used an app called SURE Universal Remote on Android for over 5 years and it works perfect on this phone.



Camera and AI
Now, this phone is all about the camera, so my camera highlights deserve to be mentioned here. The phone has got 3 cameras which work together to provide appropriate lighting, depth, focus and colour performance. More detail on how this is achieved, can be found on Huawei’s website, but the more critical ingredient in this recipe is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing. Indeed the power of AI on this phone is evident through the camera. The camera is able to detect objects and adjust the camera mode and settings according. One good example, which I noticed immediately, was how colours were being enhanced whenever I was capturing photos of food at restaurants (one of my favourite hobbies) In my experience the AI has been able to provide the touted “Point and shoot perfection” in Huawei’s speak.




Starting with the Huawei PSmart, the front facing cameras have been using beautifying algorithms that make selfies very flattering. I have used beauty selfie features on Samsung phones, but I have to say Huawei's algorithms are probably the best I have seen so far. On Samsung, the processing seemed excessive that all the blemishes where being removed, leaving a face that looked like it had had a heavy application of make-up. On one instance, my friend had to ask me if I was now wearing make-up. With the P20 Pro, the skin tone is smoothed out without excessively taking out detail, which leaves selfies more beautiful while preserving natural features.

Possibilities with AI driven camera
Imagine capturing a photo of your friend John, and the phone aromatically save the photo with the filename "John" and tagging location and weather details at the same time. AI with the camera can be useful in various ways. Software can b developed that regularly capture the self of the user, records various health metrics and be "aware" of surroundings via AI object recognition algorithms. this can be exploited to monitor health and wellbeing of elderly or disabled people. Augmented reality is another easier way of exploiting AI camera features, but that has already been demonstrated in many smartphone applications available today. An extension to that, will be turning the phone into a real companion. Using smart speaker AI, like Alexa, together with Camera AI like on this phone, A smartphone can be turned into a companion for a blind person, who strap the phone on their neck, speak to it, and the camera continually sensing objects around and providing audio warnings and instructions via smart speaker, to guide the blind person around a place like a public square.
There are probably other use cases which we may not comprehend now, but which I am sure are already in the pipeline, that's how technology has always been.

Cons
It would be blasphemous to claim that Huawei has come up with the holy grail of a phone. The P20 Pro has its shortcomings, but like all things, those may actually be someone’s meat. Mine came  with 128GB internal storage and that cannot be extended because there is no microSD card slot. For me, that capacity, plus my cloud storage facilities, means the storage is much more than what I need. Secondly, the 4K video capturing is not stabilised, so if one want to do some serious 4K videos, they may want serious gear like gimbals for a smoother output. However, for most personal video requirements, the full HD 1080p is adequate. Lastly, there is no headphone jack, so if like me you were still using those wired earphones, you are out of luck. Fortunately for me i had Bluetooth earphones as well, which i had not been using, but turned out they are actually better quality than the one i had been using. Only thing i hate it having to charge the earphones everyday

Verdict
Not perfect, but still probably the best Android smartphone on the market currently...



Sunday, 22 April 2018

A Budget Android Smartphone Punching Above its Waist

A Great Value for Money, Mid-range Android Smartphone

I received this product as part of a review program in return for an unbiased review


First Impressions:
The Huawei P Smart smartphone is probably one of the nicest looking mid-range android smartphones around. Mine came in black, but immediately I was drawn to its sleek looks and feel. The phone is slim (see detailed specs here) and packs a screen that covers a satisfying amount of the phone's real estate. The placement of ordinary features like speakers, cameras and headphone jack, are nothing out of the ordinary. This means that the phone will provide a seamless experience to most of the popular phones that we have now been accustomed to. The profile and curved edges makes it look and feel like one of the most popular brands, so nothing new there, and if you had loved some of these already popularly available phones then you will love this one. New to me is the fingerprint scanner at the back and also you will notice the 2 cameras there as well.


Judging by its cover:
The looks are quite suave. I like the thinness. the screen is bright, and big. The phone's slim width profile makes it snag in the hand. Branding is spot-on, so for these reasons, I would quickly judge this to be the "best value" android phone. Obviously its durability, reliability and functionality are not being judged in this statement.



Innards and gonads:
Screen
The phone boasts of a 5.65 inch TFT screen made of 2.5D toughened glass. It packs 468 pixels per inch, making its pixel density, average, although not top of the available range. Perceptively, the colours are very vivid and bright giving an impression that the screen quality s top quality.
Operationally, the P Smart is allows a split-screen, meaning you can run 2 separate app/tasks in two separate windows at the same time. You may be familiar with this from Samsung’s modern Galaxy Note range. Although the screen width is slimmer, the bezel is very minimal, giving an edge-to-edge screen look, hence why it was possible to have a big screen, while maintaining a slimmer look and lightweight.

Audio and video
The is a 3.5 standard headphone jack, so no surprises like those one pulled by Apple. The is a loudspeaker at the bottom edge and an earpiece at the centre top just like the iPhone 6 range. Volume buttons are on the right edge where there is the power button, just like Samsung Galaxy phones, everything is standard as far as these are concerned. The sound quality is decent and video quality is full HD.

Camera
The P Smart has 13MP dual cameras at the rear, and a 8MP front camera. The dual camera at the back allows shallow depth images to focus properly. Larger aperture lenses makes photos very accurate in terms of lighting and also capturing the real colours. Swiping left when using the camera, brings up the settings and most of the modern setting's like GPS tagging, voice control, etc. are present. The front camera comes with a very useful feature called Smart Beauty, which makes selfies stand out.



Pictures taken using the P smart



Pictures taken using the P smart


Hardware and performance
The one I received came with 32GB internal storage, but there is an MicroSD card slot which takes upto 256GB sd cards. Next to this sd card slot, is the nano sim slot and the phone comes sim-free.
The phone boasts of an Octacore processor and 3GB RAM which keeps everything ticking nicely and smoothly. Latest Android 8 operates all these inards and provides that popular OS feel that we have all grown to love.
The 3000mAh (probably now the standard) makes sure that you get a good solid 20hr talk time from your phone. Obviously when you install some power hungry apps, your battery juice may drain much more rapidly, but you are assured that you will be fine for at least your average working day period.

Network
Obviously this beauty is 4G ready and all other usuals are versus, like WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS. Sensors available are the fingerprint scanner, compass, gravity, proximity, ambient light sensors.

USPs and Appeal
I am giving a summary of features which I feel stand-out for this device, especially when compared to other phones in the same price range.

Smart beauty
For me, this feature takes the trophy. I have used beauty selfie features on Samsung phones, but I have to say this one is probably the best I have seen so far. On Samsung, the processing seemed excessive that all the blemishes where being removed, leaving a face that looked like it had had a heavy application of make-up. On one instance, my friend had to ask me if I was now wearing make-up. With the Psmart, the skin tone is smoothed out without excessively taking out detail, which leaves selfies more beautiful while preserving natural features.

Dual Bluetooth
This feature allows the phone to maintain and manage 2 Bluetooth connections simultaneously. This, for me, means I am able to connect BOTH of the in-ear Bluetooth earphones, In-ear BT earphones that come without any cable are very popular nowadays because they are very small and are not noticeable, allowing one to wear them without anyone noticing. However, most, only one can be connected with most phone, so you would only be able to use one at a time. Now with the P smart, one is able to connect 2 of such earphones and enjoy an immersive audio experience.

Split screen
This feature is common with the Samsung Galaxy Note range, where you can have two windows on your phone with each widow doing a different task, like playing a video in one, whilst beside it having a Chat with a friend or browsing the web. Just like with the Galaxy note, not all apps would be compatible with this, but this had been a very welcome feature in the past for me, something I have missed whenever I had to use any other phone. Now its available with this “budget” phone, how nice!


Split-screen (2 windows; gmail and facebook)

There are also other features that one would find interesting, like use of hand gestures to take photos (handsfree capture), speed sharing, where you can send files without having to pair phones and also without need for internet, and also use of the fingerprint scanner as a shutter button, as a trackpad for navigation and as a wake button.

When all is said and done:
This phone will be ultimately be judged on the basis of what it offers, vs its price. For that reason, I would say the phone is priced right, currently available at some retailers at the price sub £200. That's a good balance between performance, brand reputation and price. Its worth every penny.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

New Samsung Gear 360 and Gear VR headset

Intro 
This post is seeks to review 2 Samsung devices namely the new Gear 360 (2017) and Gear VR headset. You will notice that I have previously reviewed the earlier Gear 360 version on this blog, so this post will primarily talk about the new model in a comparative manner. If one want to see the specs and capabilities of the old model, please see my previous review on this link


New Gear 360 
The new Gear 360 camera is an awesome and well made product. It keeps the best parts of the previous model, vis-a-vi, stylish aesthetics, a sturdy construction and indeed being easy on the eye. with its beautiful colours, especially the white version. This new camera is about 40% smaller than the previous model, with a few modifications to the position of the small display, which is now on the integrated handle. No more separate tiny tripod handle. Setting it up is a breeze, quite straight-forward even without reading the instructions lol! (even though I always read first). No differences to the previous model. 

New Model Specifications
Physical
    Dimension (HxWxD):  100.6 x 46.3 x 45.1 mm
    Weight (g):  130
Battery
    Battery Capacity: 1160 mAh
    Removable: No
Run time
    Video Recording Time (Dual 2560x1280@30fps): Up to 130 mins
    Video Recording Time (Single 1920x1080@30fps): Up to 180 mins
Audio and Video
    Video Recording Format: MP4
    Video Recording Compression: H.265(HEVC)
    Audio Recording Compression: AAC
    Number of MICs: 2
Camera
    Image Sensor: CMOS, 8.4 MP x2
    Default Output Pixel (Count Equivalent to): 15.0 MP
    Video Recording Resolution: 360° (4096 x 2048)@24fps
Memory
    External Memory Support: MicroSD (Up to 256GB)
Connectivity
    USB Interface: USB Type-C
    USB Version: USB 2.0
    Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4+5GHz
    Wi-Fi Direct: Yes
    Bluetooth Version: Bluetooth v4.1
Compatible Phone Models

    Galaxy S8, S8+, S7, S7 edge, 
    Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge, 
    A5 (2017), A7 (2017) 
    *Android 5.0 or later
    * iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, SE  with iOS 10.0 or later

Of particular importance, you will realise that this new model is compatible with almost all modern phones. For me, I wanted compatibility with the iPhone and they did not disappoint. For most of the operations that I wanted , like viewing live footage in different formats - panoramic, fish-eye or 360, the iPhone app is capable. Also capturing photos and videos directly from the phone, the app handles that well, as well as automatic stitching of files, to redden them for sharing. This is a major plus for Samsung, which allows its devices to be adopted by a wide base of users.

Operation is quite similar to the previous model, so I will not dwell on this. I got the sense that Samsung was trying to address the short comings of the previous model, with this one, so it is probably important that I pay attention to the differences. I have my original blog at (http://pro-blog.chitambira.com/2017/01/the-future-of-photography-is-here.html) and there, one can find information on the software, Action Director, that one can use to deal with the files. Just like with all 2-lens 360 cameras, one needs to take consideration of light sources when shooting. It is best practice to make sure that both lenses receive roughly same amount of light, so its best to point the nose of the camera to the light source than pointing one lens. However, having said than, I realised that the new camera deals with lighting much better than the previous one, so the light source issues are not prevalent. Stitched-up photos look more seamless this time.

Video quality has been greatly improved as expected because of the specs changes. To my layman eye, the videos are quite vivid now and also somewhat better stabilisation seems to be employed. On the hardware itself, the camera is IP53 certified, so is still dust and splash proof. However, there is no more the rubber-sealed door to the ports, I am wary of even letting splashes on my camera. The SD card and Type C USB ports are external and the battery is no longer removable (make what you want of this)







Generally this new camera offer better video quality, is smaller and lighter, and better battery life. The smaller size means that the distance/gap between the two lenses is reduced, leading to better stitched photos, no more blind zones. Performance is also great, quick response times for quick shots not using timers. The other thing I realised is the better sound quality on recorded videos. Previously, the sound in my beach videos was pretty bad.

Photos captured using the new camera

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Comparisons of images created using the older and newer models

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Old camera
New Camera


Old camera
New Camera


Gear VR Headset

Samsung Gear VR is a well thought-out product that delivers true VR experience thru a simple affordable platform.
I have played around with my Gear VR well enough to know the true difference and benefits this gadget offers, when compared to other headsets.
First, we have to talk about the build quality of the device itself.  The key differentiation here is obviously the fact that this device comes with modular connector mechanism which allows you to interchange the connections from USB, USB type C or possibly other standards, by swapping the connection module.
Also the phone slot is adjustable to accommodate phones of different sizes.
The construction is plastic, obviously to keep weight and price low, but it comes with a good portion of cushion to deliver unparalleled comfort.
The lenses have a focus adjusting wheel which is much welcome especially for us who wear glasses. Now we do not need to wear the headset over our spectacles.
Another stroke of genius is the inclusion of on-board controls. You can control playback, menus etc even without the separate controller. this is especially useful in cases where one loses,  misplaces or simply do not have the Bluetooth controller.
The controller itself is a well made product, fitting snugly in the hand, well, placed buttons with a pistol trigger like button which works as the OK/Select button. The fact that you can also recenter it or modify its default aiming direction means it can be used by people with different handicaps or natural hand orientation.

It is possible to charge you phone while its still within the Gear VR. This is thanks to the USB Type C connection on the headset itself. If you connect this while playing, the headset will use the power from the charger directly, otherwise it will charge the phone inside.

Samsung Gear VR Virtual Reality Headset quarter view
Gear VR headset


Samsung Gear VR Virtual Reality Headset Controller
Bluetooth controller

Now we have to talk about the operation itself. Its comforting to know that one does not need to be a tech guru to operate this headset. Everything is straightforward. The key thing is that you only have to slot your phone in, and the VR software/platform spring into life. Just slot you Samsung phone into the glasses, and make sure the connector is firmly connected to the phone, and the Oculus system will automatically start (I talk more about the Oculs later)
Then we move on to the software platform itself.  The Gear VR provides hardware assisted rendering and features using the  Oculus technology and platform. The Gear VR is only compatible with Galaxy S6/S6 Edge or newer devices, so if your phone is not compatible as above, then you are out of luck.
However, there is a good reason why the compatibility is that much limited. For starters, these new Samsung phone have got good screen resolutions. For example, iPhone 6S has 1334 x 750 = 1,000,500 pixels, while Samsung Galaxy S6/Note4/5 etc has 2560 x 1440 = 3,686,400 pixels, thus almost 4x the resolution of iPhone, so the iPhone 6 or 6S would be terrible for VR.

Secondly, there is no VR operating system for iOS. The Samsung Gear VR includes an Oculus launch app, along with stores from both Samsung and Oculus. ... The iOS apps for iPhone does offer a rudimentary interface to some Google Cardboard apps, but not to all VR experiences available on other platforms. In simple words, the iPhone as it is at the moment, was never built with VR in mind.

Whilst one may be able to play Zombie shooter VR games on iPhone, the extent of movement and rendering is pre-defined within the game and the headset can not independently explore all the VR FOV (bound specified in the game or app) where as the Gear VR platform allows you to explore all possible dimensions. In terms of the experience, this can be summarised as a factual statement that one can be fooled to think they are in a different environment/place./world when using the Gear VR where as that is not possible with most budget headsets with which the iPhone may be compatible.

Watching and enjoying content created using the Gear360 camera, on your Gear VR means Samsung provides a full VR ecosystem which is easily accessible to the masses. The Gear VR headset obviously does not break your bank and the two Gear 360 cameras can be bought for a song on Amazon

The key thing as far as VR is concerned is content. What use does it servers when you can have a perfect VR headset, but without any content to  enjoy it with? Well if you are reading this and wondering the same, you are in luck. Samsung's teaming up with Oculus provides a platform that is pregnant with content and possibilities.

Oculus home screen

The most compeling downlods that you can use as proof of the unmatched imerseive capability of the Gear VR are the following appls (available within Oculus platform)
 (i) Try the VR effects especially Magga's dances on Amaze 3D Videos
(ii) Amazing Cinema offers an experience equivalent to watching Cinema on the night sky (with the sky being the screen, that's pretty awesome!!
(iii) Oculus Video offers videos and movies you can watch in realistic cinema setting if you want.
(iv) There are loads of other channels (apps) that can offer you a VR environment for your usual entertainment sources. These include  National Geo, CNN, Discovery etc.

Video of Oculus cinema

There is also the meeting rooms where you can meet with your Facebook friends who are on the Oculus platform as well. Meeting in the virtual reality is just fun on its own, and you can strike conversations using the phone's microphones which make the whole experience unusual and fun.

A large selection of games are multiplayer, so you can play with friends over the internet. The Oculus platform makes use of Facebook for social networking, so if you have Facebook friends with an Oculus compatible VR headset, then fun-times will be unending...

Zombie shooting games are fun with the Gear VR. As already described above, the Oculus platform/operating system, allows an immersive environment which is adequate to fool your senses to feel and believe one is actually transported to a different place. This is possible because of the impeccable graphics capability, image resolution of the phone, and perfect head tracking and motion rendering capabilities of the sensors of the Gear VR headset. This combination is what most experts call the premium VR experience.

Overall, the Gear 360 and Gear VR are a must have gadgets for modern (or rather futuristic) entertainment. These are not half backed gimmicky devices, but real challengers which I think are worth your coins.