Category: Wireless

Eyes-on with the Samsung Galaxy S III

So what do you do when you want to come up with the next version of one of the world’s most popular phones?

You start by not messing with a proven formula. Samsung’s Galaxy S III, unveiled today at a London, England event, is evolutionary not revolutionary and that’s just fine with us.

They’ve kept the large-but-not-too-large 4.8″ screen, they’ve used a variety of materials including metal to give the phone a more sophisticated look and up-market feel (Samsung says this is the first of their phones to be built from a designer’s perspective, not an engineer’s) but most of what sets the GS III apart from other Galaxy phones and indeed other Android smartphones in general, are the software enhancements.

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But before we get to that, let’s talk about the screen. As mentioned, it’s 4.8″ in size and has  720 x 1280 HD resolution. It’s the same Super AMOLED HD technology found in previous Galaxy devices, but they’ve managed to give the display better readability without sacrificing the vibrance that AMOLED screens are known for.

This isn’t a small thing. Some people have noted that while they love the incredible richness and saturation combined with deep blacks that Super AMOLED offers, this same brilliance can make it harder to read when compared to the IPS-LCD technology found in the current generation of iPhones and iPads. And while we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the GS III, I think Samsung has found the right balance.

The rest of the hardware specs are almost exactly what you’d expect: 8MP camera with 1080p video, 4G LTE (with HSPA support), MicroSD, WiFi N, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and MHL.  What’s new here is the 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Cortex-A9 quad-core chip that’s powering the whole experience. When you hold the GS III in your hand and compare it to the current GS II HD LTE, they feel very similar. The GS III might weigh ever so slightly more, but that serves to make it feel more substantial (Galaxy phones have always felt a tad light in the hand for my liking). The back plate now has a smooth finish instead of the texture panel on the GS II. Again, you might like this more or less, but I found it pleasant enough.

The GS III is the first Galaxy smartphone to ship with Samsung’s interpretation of  Android 4.0  (the Galaxy Nexus which Samsung makes, is Android unadulterated, as it comes directly from Google), and this is where you find most of the differentiating features.

Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, which has only soft buttons, that take up screen real-estate and are embedded into the OS, the GS III uses hardware buttons – 2 soft-touch buttons and one central home button which is physical, slightly rubberized and has a pleasing soft-click action. Samsung indicated that this was done not only to increase the amount of available screen real-estate for actual content, but also because users like having physical buttons – we agree.

On a deeper level, Samsung has added their own touches to the Ice Cream Sandwich experience. Some are subtle – like the camera’s ability to automatically suggest the best picture from a series of rapid-fire shots. Others could end up being game-changers: a contextual calling feature lets you call the person you’re texting with by simply pressing a finger to the screen and then raising the phone to your ear – the GS III immediately places the call.

Physical gestures such as this are part of Samsung’s effort to re-make the smartphone interface into a more human and intuitive experience. Another great example of this is the option to have the GS III “read” your face when you’re using it: using the front-facing camera, the GS III can tell if you’re watching video, or reading a web page and automatically prevent the screen from slipping into power-saving mode.

Speaking of video – you know the picture-in-picture feature that most modern HDTV’s have? Well the GS III has it too. You can now keep a video window open on the phone, regardless what other task you’re involved with. This works for both local and streamed videos and you can reposition the window anywhere you want.

Whether you find these engineering tricks to be your cup of tea or not, Samsung is clearly hoping that they will help set the GS III apart from an increasingly crowded Android field where their current leadership is anything but assured. They might also be harbouring some hope that these extras will appeal to those who are contemplating leaving Apple’s juggernaut on their next phone refresh.

Obviously, Samsung wasn’t quite ready to let us spend some serious time with the Galaxy S III, but rest assured we will be doing so in the very near future, and will have all the details regarding price, carrier availability and Canadian launch dates – stay tuned!

May 29 is the European launch date, with the Canadian release slated for this summer.

Here’s the full list of specs for the GS III:

Network

2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G (HSPA+ 21Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
4G (Dependent on market)

Display

4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED (1280×720) display

OS

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Camera

Main(Rear): 8 Mega pixel Auto Focus camera with Flash & Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
Sub (Front): 1.9 Mega pixel camera, HD recording @30fps with Zero Shutter Lag, BIS

Video

Codec: MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark
Recording & Playback: Full HD (1080p)

Audio

Codec: MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X

Additional
Features

S Beam, Buddy photo share, Share shot
AllShare Play, AllShare Cast
Smart stay, Social tag, Group tag, Face zoom, Face slide show
Direct call, Smart alert, Tap to top, Camera quick access
Pop up play
S Voice
Burst shot & Best photo, Recording snapshot, HDR

Google Mobile Services

Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Latitude
Google Play Store, Google Play Books, Google Play Movies
Google Plus, YouTube, Google Talk,
Google Places, Google Navigation, Google Downloads

Connectivity

WiFi a/b/g/n, WiFi HT40
GPS/GLONASS
NFC
Bluetooth® 4.0(LE)

Sensor

Accelerometer, RGB light, Digital compass, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer

Memory

16/ 32GB User memory (64GB available soon) + microSD slot (up to 64GB)

Dimension

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm, 133g

Battery

2,100 mAh
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Pre-orders for the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 in Canada start today

Have I shared with you my enthusiasm for remote-controlled helis and their quad-rotor brethren?

No? Well I love ’em.

I’m 42-years-old and there’s just something about these little indoor choppers that fulfils a boyhood dream which I’ve apparently been harbouring for a long time.

The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 pictured without its optional indoor hulls

Whatever the reason, I think these things are awesome so I was delighted to learn that the coolest remote-controlled toy on the planet, the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 will be up for pre-order at The Source starting March 9th. General release for the device is May of this year.

What’s this? You’ve never heard of the AR.Drone? Allow me to introduce you: The Parrot AR.Drone is remote-controlled quadrocopter (4 rotors instead of the usual 1) that can be controlled via your iOS or Android device of choice over Wi-Fi and comes equipped with 2 on-board cameras – one that looks forward, the other looks straight down.

The latest version (2.0) of the AR.Drone lets you watch the feed from the forward-facing cam on your controlling device in real-time to give you a “pilot’s eye-view” of the action, but you can also record this video feed for acquiring the bragging rights to an especially impressive flight. These videos can be recorded to your smartphone/tablet’s memory or saved via the built-in USB port on the AR.Drone.

We got a chance to see the AR.Drone 2.0 in action at CES 2012 this year and their demo was impressive.

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Of course, the original intent behind the cameras was to enable AR gaming (thus the AR or Augmented Reality in the AR.Drone’s name) is still very much the focus of this craft, and with the optional game downloads you can engage in air-to-air combat with other AR.Drone pilots.

Just like the original AR.Drone, version 2.0 comes with a removable set of indoor “hulls” – basically styrofoam bumpers that surround the blades of each of the four rotors. You can keep these on when flying outdoors for greater crash protection, but the vehicle will be much less stable in windy conditions.

Until now, the only Canadian retailer who carried the AR.Drone was BestBuy, but it seems Parrot has established a slightly larger distribution network for the 2.0 release of the product by partnering with The Source. This move makes tons of sense. Not only are there way more The Source locations in Canada (over 700) but The Source is already the go-to shop for RC enthusiasts. I doubt there is another bricks and mortar retailer with a greater selection of RC toys and the AR.Drone is the perfect complement to that collection. The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 will be $329 when it goes on sale later this year.

Bell improves call quality with HD Voice

Cellphones. I have a love/hate relationship with them.

I love the functionality they offer. I love the way I can reach into my pocket and have the entire internet at my finger tips wherever I happen to be. I love the freedom of being able to share the details of my life with those who matter to me be it on Facebook, Twitter or a simple text message.

But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been happy with the nature of voice calling on these things. There’s just something about the majority of cellphone calls – especially when you’re *not* the one on the cellphone. The compression of sounds, the occasional latency, that sensation that the other person is a the end of a very long and narrow tube through which you both must shout to be heard. It doesn’t matter which handset you own or whose network you’re on. It’s so commonplace these days that I think many of us have just learned to put up with it.

So when I heard that Bell is about roll out an upgrade to their voice network that will dramatically improve the quality of these voice calls, I was all ears.

The new feature is called HD Voice, and Bell is going to be the first national network operator in Canada to offer it. The system has already been introduced in Europe from Orange.

Effectively, HD Voice doubles the amount of network bandwidth allocated to voice calls. More bandwidth means less compression and thus better quality. It’s a little bit like the difference between an audio CD that has been converted into an MP3 file at 64kbps vs. one that has been encoded at 128kbps. As any MP3 aficionado will tell you, the 128kbps version sounds a lot closer to the original CD. HD Voice also improves the amount of noise cancellation on calls, so if you’re calling from an especially busy place like a mall or a street corner, those background sounds should be greatly reduced.

Curious to know just how much better HD Voice will sound? So was I. Bell doesn’t have any sample audio clips to share with us at the moment and I haven’t been able to test the system myself, but I was able to find the following video from the U.K. thanks to the gang at MobileSyrup, and if Bell’s version of HD Voice is anywhere as good as this, I’ll be a much happier camper.

 

 

Alright, now that we’re all sold on the whole HD Voice promise, let’s talk about how you actually get this feature.

First the good news: Bell will be making HD Voice an automatic and free upgrade for all of their mobility subscribers.

Now the caveats: HD Voice only works on specific handsets for now. Specifically: HTC Sensation, HTC Incredible S, Nokia C6-00 and Nokia C6-01. According to Bell, these handsets are currently the only ones they carry that have the necessary software to enable HD Voice. It’s expected that many more handsets currently on the market will be given a software upgrade to make them HD Voice capable, but no details have emerged just yet.

And, more importantly, you’ll only benefit from HD Voice if you and the person you’re speaking with are both using compatible handsets and you’re both on the Bell (or Virgin) HSPA+ network. Unfortunately, this means that landline parties or those on a different mobile network will still hear the lower quality call, even if you’re using an HD Voice handset.

Bell notes on their site that there are still a few areas of the country that won’t be able to support the service, and none of the coverage areas that are outside of the HSPA+ 4G footprint will be able to handle it

(Image credit: Photodisc/Winston Davidian/Getty Images)

Disclosure: Sync.ca and Sync-blog.com are owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE, the parent company of Bell Canada.

All McDonald’s restaurants getting free Wi-Fi across Canada

Starting today, over 1,000 McDonald’s locations around the country will be flipping more than hamburgers – the fast-food chain will be flipping the switch on free Wi-Fi access for their customers.

The network, which is being implemented by Bell, will deliver free and unlimited internet access at a very respectable “up to 11 Mbps” which should be more than enough bandwidth for surfing the web, watching YouTube and maybe even the occasional Skype call.

You don’t even have to buy a Big Mac to use the free service; just log-on using the 1-click entry point, which doesn’t require a username or password.

The company expects to have 1,400 or 90% of their Canadian locations enabled with free Wi-Fi by the end of May.

If you’re scratching your head and thinking to yourself, ‘wait a minute, I thought they already had free Wi-Fi,’ you’re right. McDonald’s first implemented free Wi-Fi in their stores back in 2003, but it was a very limited roll-out with service at only a handful of participating stores.

Now if you’re serious about free, consider this: Between free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and free Wi-Fi at Starbucks,  you’re virtually guaranteed to be no more than 5 minutes from free web access of some kind, anywhere within a major metro area.

Okay Tim Hortons… your turn… you don’t want these other guys having all the fun, do you?

Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Media.

Air Display: The perfect $10 gift for an iPad owner

air-display-iconScreen real-estate is a lot like money, there’s really no such thing as too much. So if you’ve every gazed at the screen of your iPad and thought, “it would be so awesome if I could use this thing as a secondary monitor,” you’re not alone.

The good folks over at Avatron have, in fact, been secretly reading your mind via Wi-Fi, and have come up with a brilliant solution: their Air Display app.

In truth, it’s more than an app. It’s the combination of an app that runs on your i-device and program that you install on your PC or Mac that runs invisibly in the background. The magic happens in the communication between these two chunks of code, over your home Wi-Fi network.

When everything is setup and configured correctly, you can extend your desktop onto the target device with a couple of clicks. As long as your gadget is running the Air Display app – zap – there’s your background wallpaper from your computer magically rendering itself on your iPad, iPhone, etc.

If this was all that Air Display could do, it would be worth the price of admission right there. But wait – as I wade dangerously into infomerical territory – there’s more…

The Air Display app extends your desktop via Wi-Fi onto an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. You can even use the touch screen to interact with whatever is being displayed. Image courtesy of Avatron Software. (click for larger image)

The Air Display app extends your desktop via Wi-Fi onto an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. You can even use the touch screen to interact with whatever is being displayed. Image courtesy of Avatron Software. (click for larger image)

Air Display automatically recognizes the orientation of your secondary display and rotates the contents of the screen to match. You can also – via the server software on your computer – designate where in space, relative to your primary monitor, you’ve placed the iPad. If you’ve ever used dual (or multi-) monitor mode in Windows or in Mac OS, this will be completely intuitive for you.

Finally, and possibly the coolest part of the whole package, you can actually interact with the content being displayed on the i-device. Browser window? You can scroll and click with your finger. Calculator? Tap those number buttons. Painting program? Paint away my friend.

The first time you try it out, you’ll get that same giddy feeling you probably got the first time you surfed the web on your laptop via Wi-Fi without a single cord restricting your movements. It’s really that great. At least, it is when it works. Keep in mind there are several things that can influence the performance of Air Display, such as the number of apps running in the background of either your i-device or your computer, the network activity on your Wi-Fi network and other factors.

If there’s one thing I’d change about Air Display – and this is going to sound a little silly given the app’s name – I’d like the option to connect my device via the USB cable for a truly bullet-proof experience. I don’t know if this is even possible within the limitations of the iOS SDK, but it would be a welcome upgrade.

So if there’s an iPad owner on your holiday gift list this season and you’re looking for an inexpensive gift that will elicit a disproportionately large amount of gratitude, I humbly suggest Air Display. It should fit the bill nicely.

On a somewhat related note, readers, do you find app reviews like this one valuable or not? We’re thinking of making it a regular feature here on Sync, but not if you think it’s a waste of pixels. Please take our poll below, or just leave us a comment.

If you’re an app developer and you think your work is so ridiculously awesome that the whole world (or at least the Canadian part) should know about it, drop us a line and we’ll be sure to check it out.