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HTC 8X Great display, bad camera

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The 8X is HTC’s first Windows Phone 8 model. SEAN BACHER discovers it is well priced, has a great screen and sound, but really lacks in the camera department.

HTC initially started making phones based mostly on the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system, but in 2009 branched out to Android. Although HTC is now better known for Android phones, the company has followed in Nokia’s footsteps and embraced Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8. The 8X is one of the first in HTC’s Windows Phone 8 line. While it has not done much in terms of changing the Windows interface by plastering its own skin on top of it, the phone gives a sense of style and sophistication.

We put it through the Gadget 10 Question Users Test to see how it fares in other departments.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

As with many current smartphones, the HTC 8X uses a unibody design, meaning that there is no removable battery or back plate. The micro SIM is slotted into the left of the phone but, unlike the iPhone where a pin is needed to get the card out, this one can be easily removed with your fingers.

The 8X design puts it in a class of its own. It is slim and light and uses a tapered design, which makes it feel thinner than it actually is. The polycarbonate chassis gives it a ‚”rubbery‚” feel, which also means that the phone has more chance of surviving an accidental drop.

Overall, the HTC 8X feels great in the hand and, at 130g, it is significantly lighter than rival Windows Phone 8 models.

8/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

At just over 10-mm thick, the HTC 8X is not the thinnest out there, but the clever tapered design will allow it to fit into most pockets. I did, however, find that the rubbery coating made it more difficult to slip in and out of a pocket in a hurry.

The buttons are well hidden around the phone in fact, too well hidden. Due to the fact that the buttons are flush with the phone, it is nearly impossible to feel for the Power button or Volume rocker without looking. The Camera button, located at the bottom right, was too easy to push accidentally, so one must make sure the screen and phone are locked before putting it in a pocket.

The well-designed tapered body definitely counts in favour of the 8X, but the almost hidden physical buttons will make it a pain to use in the dark.

7/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

The HTC 8X uses a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, putting it on a par with most other leading smartphones. The CPU, which is backed by an Adreno 225 GPU and 1GB of RAM, makes the phone’s navigation seamless, with no freezing.

Apps launched one after the other without showing any sign of slowing the phone down. Because the 8X runs Windows Phone 8, you need to set up a Microsoft Live account before downloading any apps. In addition, downloading games needs a Microsoft Xbox account. Although this was a tedious process to set up, once done, accessing apps and games was as simple as clicking on the relevant tiles on the home screen.

Angry Birds was easily tamed by the powerful CPU, and more processor intensive apps like 3D Moto, which uses the phone’s accelerometers to navigate a bike through traffic, ran effortlessly.

Holding the virtual Back button on the phone launches an application manager that brings up mini windows of active applications. Swiping from one to the other was easy enough, but there is no option to force an app to close right there.

Overall, the phone’s performance did not disappoint. The active tiles running on the Home screen were always up to date and switching between open apps was a breeze, but the lack of control when dealing with them was a bit of a disappointment.

7/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

The 1 800mAh battery is good enough to get you through a full day of browsing, sending and receiving e-mails and tweets. It will also provide you with enough power to watch a few videos on YouTube.

That said, the phone is 4G enabled and so will continually hunt for that network. If you are not in an area covered by 4G, it is a good idea to force the 8X down to a slower network. Included under the Settings menu is a Battery Saver option. This automatically closes all apps running in the background and turns off the automatic synchronisation of Facebook, Twitter and any e-mail accounts when the battery level drops below a certain point.

Like the Nokia Lumia 920, the HTC 8X offers wireless charging, but I was unable to test this. It is best to check which charging mats are compatible with the 8X before buying one.

7/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The HTC 8X’s 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen really stands out from the rest. It offers a maximum resolution of 720×1 280 pixels with a pixel dimension of 342 pixels per inch. Not only is the screen bigger than that of the iPhone 4s, but is also clearer. The screen is also bigger than that of the iPhone 5.

The bright Corning Gorilla Glass 2 screen shows its true colours when one is watching high-definition video, but its clarity is completely lost when taking videos and pictures. Although the phone uses an industry standard 8MP camera, the images pixelate and don’t have the quality found on many other smartphone cameras.

Browsing the Internet was simple and effortless, and is well integrated with the phone’s voice commands. Unlike Apple’s Siri, that doesn’t understand half of what you say and ignores the other half, the HTC makes a proper effort at trying to work out what you are saying and getting the correct information to you.

The superb screen, combined with the great voice integration are stand-out features. But HTC really needs to improve both the front and rear camera if it wants to compete with the big toys.

6/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The sound quality that comes out of the rear mono speaker is pretty standard, but the HTC is designed to integrate with Beats Audio by Dr Dre headphones. When they are plugged into the 3.5mm head jack, and the Beats Audio feature is activated under the Settings menu, sound is taken to a new level. No longer is the music tinny and distorted, but feels like it has got some volume and oomph.

Beats Audio by Dr Dre headsets are not included with the phone, so normal headphones can be connected to it and it also connects to Bluetooth enabled audio devices.

9/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

The messaging apps on the HTC 8X are all standard. E-mail, tweets and Facebook messages are all pulled into a single app, which can be shown as an active tile (the Windows equivalent of a widget) on the Home screen. I found this really confusing, and so opted for separate apps. Windows Phone 8 does the same for your contacts, but in this case things worked better. Instead of ending up with duplicate contacts, all details were merged into a single contact. Once again, you have the option of displaying this as an active tile, with images of random Facebook and Twitter contacts popping up.

8/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

As mentioned, the physical buttons located around the phone’s edge were very difficult to use. The Back, Menu and Search buttons below the screen were easier to find as they light up and give full control of the phone, no matter which app is in use.

A problem I find with many tablets and smartphones is never knowing if I have tapped a button or not, but the HTC 8X offers tactile feedback on the three buttons below the screen. A knocking sound is also made when tapping away at the keys on the virtual keyboard.

The hardware buttons are a let-down, but the easy-to-use keyboard and the tactile feedback evens the score out.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

Although the HTC 8X offers some vast improvements over its predecessors and other smartphones, it offers nothing innovative.

6/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

The HTC 8X comes in at around R7 000. This beats the Samsung, Apple and Nokia equivalents hands-down, and makes it a viable Windows alternative to competing Android and iOS devices.

9/10

Conclusion

Total score: 74%

Overall, the HTC 8X scores well in the looks, functionality and price departments. But, due to the fact the Windows Phone 8 is still a new operating system, the variety and number of apps available for it is limited. This is by no means a drawback on the phone, as next year more Windows Phone 8 devices will become available and so to will the number of apps available for it.

The camera, on the other hand, is a real drawback. A camera that took decent images and video would have complimented the beautiful sound offered by the Beats by Dr Dre integration and the dazzling display.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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Nokia 7.2: The sweet-spot for mid-range smartphones

Nokia has hit one of the best quality-to-price ratios with the Nokia 7.2. BRYAN TURNER tested the device.

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Cameras are often the main factor in selecting a smartphone today. Nokia is no stranger to the high-end camera smartphone market, and its legacy shows with the latest Nokia 7.2.

In many aspects, the device looks and feels like an expensive flagship, yet it carries a mid-range R6000 price tag. From its vivid PureDisplay technology to an ultra-wide camera lens, it’s quite something to experience this device – especially knowing the price.

Before powering it on, one notices the sleek design. The front features a large, 6.3” screen, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Like many phones nowadays, it features a notch, but it is smaller than the usual earpiece-and-camera notch. Instead, it features a small notch for the front camera only. It hides the front earpiece away in a slim cutout, just under the outer frame. While it’s not the highest screen-to-body (STB) ratio, it has a pretty slim bezel with an 83.34% STB ratio. It loses some of this to an elegant chin on the bottom that shows the Nokia logo. This is all protected by a Gorilla glass certification, which makes it a little more difficult to shatter on an impact.

It’s encased by a Polycarbonate composite outer frame, which seems metal-like but will withstand more knocks than an aluminium frame. On the right side, it features a volume rocker and a power button and, on the left side, a Google Assistant button, which starts listening for commands when pressed. Above the button is the SIM and SD card tray. On the top, it houses a very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, it has a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. Overall, the positioning of the buttons takes some getting used to because the Assistant button and power button are similarly sized, and many smartphones place the lock button on the opposite side of the volume rocker.

The back features a frosted Gorilla glass panel, like the front. The frosted design is quite understated and yet another elegant design feature of the device. A fingerprint sensor sits in the middle and, towards the top, the device has a circular camera bump, not too different from the Huawei Mate 30 series. The bump features two lenses, a depth sensor, and a flash. The camera system has been made in partnership with Zeiss optics to produce high-quality photography.

The back of the Nokia 7.2, showing off the 3 camera array

When powering on the device, one is greeted with the Android One logo, which is Nokia’s promise that its users will always be among the first to get the latest Android security and feature updates. This is one of the defining purchase points for users looking to get this device, as it features the purest, unedited version of Android available.

This, in turn, allows the device to run the latest software by Google that enables the device to get better over time. This is done by using Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine, which learns how one uses the device and optimises apps and services accordingly. That translates to the phone’s battery life actually extending over time, instead of deteriorating like other smartphones that are weighed down by battery hungry apps. The concept was pioneered by Huawei in the Mate 9.

The rear camera is excellent for snapping pictures and features a 48MP Sony sensor for accurate colour reproduction. This puts the device in the league of the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone devices, which also use Sony sensors. By default, the device is set to take pictures at 12MP, which is what makes the photos look great, as it blends 4 pixels into one for a high level of sharpness and colour accuracy, but users can bump up the resolution to the full 48MP if they want to zoom in a bit more.

The 8MP wide-angle lens spans 118-degrees, and proves extremely useful for getting everyone in the shot. It also features some great colour accuracy. The 5MP depth-sensing lens is purely for the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo. It features a 20MP selfie camera, which also provides excellent sharpness and a portrait mode.

Picture taken with the Nokia 7.2 in Pro mode

The most impressive part of this system is the Pro camera setting, which can help take photos from excellent to extraordinary. We managed to get some excellent low light photography by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. The setting is pretty easy to use and it’s worth it for users to learn how it works.

The PureDisplay also helps make photos and video look great. The 7.2’s PureDisplay has a 2160 x 1080 resolution, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi). It also makes use of HDR10 and covers 96% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which makes the colours very vibrant. Some of these display features are not even found in some high-end phones on the market, so it’s very surprising that this tech is in a mid-range device.

At this price, there is one drawback: the processor. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is neither bad nor good. It performs well in many situations, but begins to stutter on heavier graphical applications like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. That said, all other applications of the device work perfectly, and multi-tasking is very fluid between regular apps.

At a recommended selling price of R6,000, the Nokia 7.2 is one of the most feature rich and aesthetically pleasing devices available in this price range.

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