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.

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.

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.

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

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:
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.

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.

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.