The Photo & Print Ecosystem in India —  Something isn’t right.

I am not directly involved with setting up any print house or photo lab. However with my experience in dealing with small, medium and large players in this segment, I feel something is not right with the Photo & Print Ecosystem of India. Let me cut to the chase; here’s what I think:

  1. Where is the next Vistaprint or CeWe?

Companies like Shutterfly, Vistaprint, Cimpress or CeWe Color were no overnight success. There are regional players like Moonpig in UK who established themselves in Europe or Snapfish from HP. Which Indian company from the Print & Photo domain managed to establish itself at a global level?

So what is wrong? With due respect to the Indian contributors in this field, most Indian print houses aim to be rent-seekers and not wealth creators in the true sense. They are not interested in the bigger picture, in solving genuine problems, being innovative or trying to go global in the true sense.

At the risk of generalizing, I want to say that most Indian photo or print labs by and large look to copy an existing model, and fine tune it to serve the local need. You ask any print lab what new have they done in recent times and the answer would not sound convincing. I agree that it also depends on the attitude of their photographer customers and the end users that they serve. But unless and until, there is no innovation brought to the table and we are just playing the pricing game, they all look the same.

  1. The Vistprint Syndrome

Ever since Vistaprint has created a rage, every printing company wants to be a Vistaprint. The little things called marketing or technology to be damned. And those sugar-coated, half-told success stories floating on the internet of some overnight success haven’t helped either.

What these print houses miss or forget is that companies like Vistaprint or Zazzle slogged for years, invest millions of dollars in marketing, invest in technology, innovation and strategy before they became successful. Such things are immaterial to these Indian (or let’s say many global) print companies. They want to buy maybe a SaaS based solution or create a website and it should automatically churn out numbers as Vistaprint.

This is where the Indian print company decision makers falter. They do not want to wait. They have been overfed the idea that an ‘IDEA’ is all you need and you need to move fast, unless someone else beats you. Misinterpreting the overnight success of new age brands like Blurb or Adoramapix etc., they do not want to invest in honing their skills or gaining perspective.

They should ask themselves — where is innovation in selling photo albums? Saying that my design is superior, I give quality or have better pricing is no innovation. It might be better to call it a normal business instead.

  1. The dichotomy of VC and Angel Funds

It is interesting to note that many of the first generation print houses in the US and also in China were bootstrapped. That played a huge role in their successes. Why? Because it is the human nature which drives us that extra bit when our own money is involved.

On the contrary, many large Indian print or photo labs right from the beginning are heavily marinated with huge VC and Angel funds. However ironic it may sound, this is rotting the entire system. Young, creative, enthusiastic professionals leaving their jobs, higher education etc, drawn by the charm of easy investor money and an imaginary million dollar idea and start selling photobooks, iPhone covers, mugs etc without any ground work done. Well, any idea would seem like a million dollar shot when funding is a non-issue.

The companies eventually sell the same type of albums or products that even a small shop could sell. In totality, both don’t want to innovative.

  1. Forcing western strategies onto Indian markets

Let me explain by quoting an example — luxury wedding albums in the USA or Europe where printing and binding is done locally. With logistics also being handled locally, the albums are preferred by a sizeable audience. But when we try to sell the same albums in India which is a price conscious market, you will seldom achieve the same success. Here wedding albums won’t be bought unless the album is priced correctly.

Thus, the Indian market for luxury albums gets restricted to certain areas which may have an NRI or rich population. But wedding albums are no Audis or iPhones that people can flaunt and hence the fad phases out. So the point is many such ideas trying to fit in a model without working on the ground realities hit a roadblock when it comes to scaling.

  1. The mind numbing valuations

I am old school. Hence, I believe that profit is the main driving force behind any venture. And that any venture should be valued according to how profitable it is presently, or might be in the definite future. However the number projections should be justifiable. Sometimes print companies invest in high-end printers; inflate profit projections, don’t want to spend on technology or marketing efforts, don’t do any ground work and expect huge numbers. It is like the startups in India which get valued in billions of dollars while being loss making for years; the equation which a layman like me fails to understand.

The problem is exacerbated in case of small print companies as well who in the name of growing lose the plot owing to these inflated numbers and end up being loss makers.

  1. The right resources or the lack of it

Majority of print companies rely on their outsourced companies or vendors. Technology decisions are totally influenced by those firms. It is no secret that Indian or rather many global print houses lays little emphasis on practical training. The success of web-to-print system isn’t about doing jobs for your pre-press department or automation of your production (those are important) AND they don’t matter one bit if customers aren’t using the system.

I would like to conclude that it is easier to consult, rant and point out faults. Companies like Vistaprint or CeWe Color had an advantage of being backed by strong and developed national economies and an acceptable audience. The Photo & Print ecosystem in India does have its own challenges. But I honestly wish some Indian print or photo lab scales up to the level of these companies making a name for itself as a truly global brand.

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New Trends in the Mobility & Technology World in 2015

Mobility:

1. Smart Mobility will continue to increase its influence over daily life. Service schedules, ordering groceries, controlling appliances, school updates, managing finances – you name it — mobile will influence our lives in many different ways.

2. Enterprise Apps and Platforms will mature as “Mobile First” strategies. Mobile Application Programs will manage scalability, security and analytics amongst the portfolio of enterprise apps.

3. The world is becoming mobile-centric and app centric. Amongst plethora of Apps, those with simplicity, refreshing clean UI and intelligent context will emerge as true winners.

4. The smartphones pecking order will change. Xiaomi has already broken into Top 5 smartphone sales. Samsung will be challenged. There would be rise of niche phones and purpose-driven phones with flexible displays.

5. Localization Apps and Specialist App Stores will be the next big thing. Curated App Stores and Curated Content will be the first call of the masses.

Technology:

1. The Top 4 Enterprise IT spend areas for 2015 will be the same as last year: Mobility, Security, Cloud and Big Data (The Big Four)

2. Wearable Technologies will get a big boost with Apple Watch and several Health and Fitness trackers. The first versions are already out but the refined version will determine the direction for future. Basis is a smart evolution over initial watches.

3. Mobile Wallets will be a reality. Managing expenses, rich analytics, money recommendations – things what credit cards cannot do will be possible now!

4. Smart Cars, Smart Homes, Smart Offices, Smart Cities – Our world will driven by technology like never before. Even TVs and Passwords will move to next level – think of Biometric passwords.

5. Big Data has been the over-used & over-heard term. But it is the technology that will impact our daily life. The world is generating and gathering data at a great pace. Tools, technologies & people around big data will be in big demand!

6. Industrialization of Innovation for everyday and human challenges will matter more. Like waterless toilets, quick housing materials etc. Like the “Le Chal” shoes by Anirudh Sharma – shoes that use haptic signals and Google Maps to guide the visually impaired people. Can these innovations achieve success like Narayana Hridalalaya or Arvind Eye Hospital? IT Giants like TCS, Accenture, Infosys need to help them.

7. Innovations and business models from East will inspire West and Tech world.

8. Data Scientists, Data Architects, Mobile App Developers, Social Media Specialists, Business Analysts, UX visualizers, Mobile Testers – Top Job roles that will be in demand!

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Smartphone Comparison: Samsung Galaxy S5 vs HTC One (M8) vs Sony Xperia Z2

Shootout of top smartphones: HTC One (M8) vs Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Sony Xperia Z2
When it comes to smartphone launches, the first quarter of 2014 has been action packed. We have already witnessed the launch of flagship smartphones from leading brands like Samsung, HTC and Sony and there is one key trend that we observed — the upgrades have been rather iterative and not radical.

Having said that, if you’re in the market for a new smartphone and want nothing but the best, this confusion could make your buying decision difficult. To resolve this dilemma, we pit Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 against each other to see how they fare on different parameters.

The three biggest Android smartphones of the year — Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) and Sony Xperia Z2 — have hit the Indian market. With the top-end segment being headed by these heavyweights, it is very difficult for buyers to decide which one they should go for. We take a look at the key differences between the three, including design, hardware, software and unique features.

Looks and build quality

HTC One (M8)
There’s no doubt that among the current crop, HTC One (M8) is one of the most well-designed smartphones. Of the three smartphones, we’d recommend HTC One (M8) if design and build quality is a critical factor influencing your buying decision. Not much has changed if you compare it with the original HTC One, but the company has improvised on the design, taking care of finer nuances.

The phone comes with an all-metal unibody chassis, chamfered edges and premium brushed metal design that sets it apart from the competition. Its two front-stereo speakers also enhance its unique look. Despite featuring a 5-inch display, the form factor of the phone makes it fit for single hand use.

Size: 146.36×70.6×9.35mm
Weight: 160gram

Rating: 9/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 sports a design similar to the previous Galaxy S phones. Unfortunately, it still features the same plastic body and the chrome frame we’ve seen on its predecessor, giving it a staid look. However, to its credit, Galaxy S5 is water resistant and features a plastic flap that covers its USB port for the same reason. The phone’s back cover also sports a different design and has a perforated, matte finish which looks less cheap. The phone is the lightest among the three and is the slimmest as well. However, the phone’s design is still uninspiring. Among the three, Galaxy S5 is the only one to feature a hardware key and capacitive touch buttons. You may prefer the standard on-screen buttons.

Size: 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
Weight: 145gram

Rating: 7/10

Sony Xperia Z2
In terms of design, Sony has decided to stick to the tried-and-tested shatterproof glass body with metal frame on the sides. The phone appears sturdy and the combination of glass and metal makes it stand apart from HTC One (M8)’s all-metal chassis and Samsung Galaxy S5’s plastic body. Though the heaviest and biggest of the three, Xperia Z2 is not difficult to carry around, or to use regularly.

Compared to Z1, there are a few design tweaks, such as slightly rounder edges of the metal frame and speaker placement. The flap covering the earphone jack is gone too. The overall effect is quite pleasing to the eye.

Size: 146.8 x 73.3 x 8.2mm
Weight: 163gram
Rating: 8/10

Display

HTC One (M8)
HTC One (M8) sports a 5-inch Full HD display that looks bright, offers great viewing angles and vivid, yet accurate colours. It’s one of the best displays seen off late.

Rating: 9.5/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 features a 5.1-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen. The display is bright and offers vivid albeit over-saturated colours. Samsung allows users to balance out colours through profiles and the display is better compared to the Galaxy S4. It offers good viewing angles and sunlight legibility. You may prefer LCD displays over AMOLED ones when it comes to colour reproduction.

Rating: 8/10

Sony Xperia Z2
With Xperia Z2, Sony has improved a lot in terms of display quality and can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Samsung and HTC’s top products. The display is vibrant, offers very good viewing angles and reproduces colours. Some colours, like red and blue, appear oversaturated at high brightness, but become a little dull when brightness is less than 50%. And it is the only top-end Sony phone whose colours do not wash out under direct sunlight.

Rating: 8.5/10

Software

HTC One (M8)
HTC One (M8) comes with Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the latest version of the OS with Sense 6, the new version of HTC’s custom UI, running on top. The new version of Sense offers flatter icons, a sobered down settings menu and on-screen navigation keys. HTC’s BlinkFeed homescreen utility that brings personalized updates from the user’s preferred news sources and social networks has also been updated.

The native HTC system apps are colour coded and these colours change with the theme. HTC doesn’t include a lot of preloaded apps and just covers the essentials. It is good that the phone has less bloatware compared to the Xperia Z2. The keyboard also offers a faster typing experience. While it looks very different from stock Android, we quite like the Sense 6 interface. It’s much more organised and cohesive than Samsung Galaxy S5’s TouchWiz UI.

Rating: 9/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 comes with Android 4.4.2 KitKat with TouchWiz UI, Samsung’s custom UI, running on top.

The UI comes with relatively flatter but loud and colourful icons that may not appeal to everyone. Samsung has made changes to the settings menu and the settings toggle in the notifications tray, making icons flat and round. The settings interface looks like it’s from another phone and the default ‘list view’ makes it an endless list of menu items.

Samsung has got rid of the menu button and made it the app switcher. It also offers a BlinkFeed-like My Magazine news feed app when you swipe to the right from the home screen (powered by Flipboard). The quick access bar for essential apps is now called Toolbox and looks less intrusive.

Samsung has also reduced bloatware in form of preloaded content stores and apps, which is a welcome move. Overall, Samsung’s UI is the loudest among the three phones and the most different from stock Android.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sony Xperia Z2
Like almost all major manufacturers, Sony has overlaid Android 4.4 (KitKat) with a proprietary user interface. However, this UI is rather subtle compared to HTC and Samsung’s software skins and you would find most software tweaks to your liking. Except for the preloaded apps. Xperia Z2 comes with 59 apps out of the box, but the good thing is one can uninstall some of them. Even with a proprietary skin and several pre-loaded apps, the smartphone never seems slow.

You won’t get software like My Magazine (Galaxy S5) or Blinkfeed (One M8) with Xperia Z2. Instead, you will have a few nifty battery optimization software to save power when you are running low on juice. It has a Simple Home mode that gives you a simpler interface and restricts the number of apps you can access.

Rating: 8/10

Special features

HTC One (M8)
HTC One (M8) comes with a Duo Camera or two cameras at the back. The second camera lens helps in detecting and separating backgrounds and foregrounds as it scans depth and adds that information to the picture. It doesn’t capture images. The Duo camera feature also allows users to create silhouettes, alter depth and add bokeh effect through the UFocus feature, in tandem with the phone’s software.

One can even cut and paste subjects across photos. It also lets you shoot 3D-like pictures with the Dimension Plus effect, though it will be visible only on the One (M8). Except for UFocus that allows you to refocus after clicking a picture, we found the feature to be gimmicky. Unlike the Xperia Z2 and Galaxy S5, the One (M8) doesn’t record 4K videos and is not water and dust-resistant.

It does offer an Extreme Power Saving mode that restricts background data and offers access to Phone, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Calculator apps. According to HTC, activating the mode will make the phone’s battery last for 2 weeks. It also claims that the phone can offer 30 hours of talk time in the mode even when the battery’s charge level is 10%.

Rating: 7/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 boasts of a water resistant body (up to 1metre) to protect against minor splashes and using the phone in rain. It also features a fingerprint scanner and a heart rate sensor. The finger print scanner can be used as an authentication method to unlock the phone. Unlike Apple’s TouchID, it requires you to swipe across the Home button and not just touch it.

It is a bit cumbersome especially when you’re driving. The heart rate sensor at the rear of the phone measures your heart rate when you keep your finger against it. It’s not exactly a revolutionary feature as a number of apps are available that make use of the camera lens for the same purpose. However, readings are more accurate compared to the apps.

Galaxy S5 also boasts of 4K video recording. It is not seen as a mainstream feature in India at this point in time.

Samsung Galaxy S5 also offers an Ultra power saving mode that restricts app usage, turns off connectivity features and mobile data when the screen is off. It also changes the phone’s UI to greyscale mode. Samsung claims that the phone can offer 24 hours of talk time in the mode even when the battery’s charge level is 10%.

Rating: 9/10

Sony Xperia Z2
Sony Xperia Z2 does not have any special features that HTC One (M8) and Samsung Galaxy S5 have. Not that you will notice. To its credit, the Sony phone has a rugged, water-resistant and dustproof body. It also has 4K recording and 3GB RAM, unlike the 2GB in other two. But the only exclusive feature to the device is the extra RAM, since waterproof body and 4K recording are present in Galaxy S5 as well.

Rating: 9/10

Performance

HTC One (M8)
The HTC One (M8) performed extremely well and there is no lag or stutter while launching and switching between apps, editing photos, browsing the web, clicking pictures, watching high definition videos, or playing graphics-heavy games like Asphalt 8 and Riptide GP2.

We don’t endorse synthetic benchmark tests, more so with HTC reportedly tinkering with benchmarking apps and running the phone’s hardware to extract the maximum performance when these apps run. However, for those interested, One M8 scored 36,219 in AnTuTu, 24,930 in Quadrant, 59.3 in NenaMark 2 and 2,777 (Multi-core) in Geekbench 3. The phone scored 24.5fps and 24.9fps in T-Rex and T-Rex 1080p Offscreen tests and 9.3fps in Manhattan test of GFXBench.

Multimedia performance is great. HTC One (M8)’s audio quality and output are much better and the other two phones cannot match that.

Rating: 9/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 offers great performance and it’s one of the snappiest phones we’ve used. However, sometimes the phone was a little sluggish when compared to HTC One (M8). For instance switching between apps is almost instantaneous on One (M8), while it’s not as swift on Galaxy S5. Perhaps this is because of the bloated TouchWiz UI skin that Samsung employs. But you’ll perhaps not notice it in day-to-day use. The phone does not lag while launching and switching between apps, editing photos, browsing the web, clicking pictures, and watching high definition videos. Gaming experience is also good.

Galaxy S5 scored 33,922 in AnTuTu, 23,203 in Quadrant, 59.9 in NenaMark 2 and 3,077 (Multi-core) in Geekbench 3. The phone scored 26.8fps and 26.7fps in T-Rex and T-Rex 1080p Offscreen tests and 3.7fps in Manhattan test of GFXBench.

Multimedia performance is good with the phone supporting all major video formats. However, unfortunately the speaker outlet is still at the back stifling sound output when the phone lies on a soft surface.

Rating: 8/10

Sony Xperia Z2
Sony Xperia Z2’s performance is at par with that of HTC One (M8). It consistently delivers a smooth experience and never shows even the slightest lag. Apps open as soon as you tap on their icons and you would be more than happy with the zippy processing power. There is no doubt that it will suffice the requirements of any power user.

Xperia Z2 scored 33,906 in AnTuTu, 17,556 in Quadrant, 59.8 in NenaMark 2 and 2716 (Multi-core) in Geekbench 3. The phone scored 29fps and 27.5fps in T-Rex and T-Rex 1080p Offscreen tests and 12.5fps in Manhattan test of GFXBench.

Multimedia performance was great and with the positioning of the speaker outlets at the front, sound doesn’t get muffled. Sound output was not as brilliant as that of HTC One (M8) though.

Rating: 8.5/10

Camera

Samsung Galaxy S5, with its 16MP rear camera, wins the camera battle against HTC One (M8) and Sony Xperia Z2.

Battery life

HTC One (M8)
HTC One (M8) comes with a 2600mAh battery. With moderate to high usage, the phone will last you a full day or about 12-15 hours, even if you put the screen brightness at the maximum level and keep 3G turned on.

Our usage included about one to two hours of making calls, playing games, clicking some pictures, using a third-party Twitter app, listening to music and browsing the web. You’ll get more hours of use if you primarily use your phone for making calls and sending a few emails or messages.

Rating: 8/10

Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S5 features a 2800mAh battery. In our usage which also included clicking a number of pictures and constantly keeping a track of our Twitter timeline, in addition to making calls, playing games and sending emails, the phone lasted almost a full working day, or about 12-15 hours. You’ll get better backup if you’re not a heavy user of social media apps and don’t use push email.

Rating: 8/10

Sony Xperia Z2
Of the three smartphones, Sony Xperia Z2 comes with the largest capacity battery of 3200mAh. Battery life of the handset is commendable. Xperia Z2 easily runs for one-and-a-half days once the battery charge touches 100% if you don’t keep the display on full brightness. It lasts a little less if you keep the screen brightness full. Our usage included watching video clips, browsing the web, making a few phone calls and playing some games.

Rating: 9/10

Verdict
We’ve come to a point where it’s getting hard to differentiate between user experience offered by flagship smartphones from different brands. The three phones in question offer almost identical performance thanks to the powerful hardware, come with the latest features and software improvements, and are even priced in the same range. Having said that, each of the phone has its strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re looking to own a phone that looks premium, feels solid and offers unmatched performance, then its recommended to go for HTC One (M8). The only weak point is the camera, but unless you want your photos to look flawless, it does the job pretty well. It doesn’t come with 4K recording or a fingerprint scanner, but we’d rather wait for technology to evolve for these features to become mainstream and consistent. Unless you own a 4K TV, you won’t be able to view 4K videos. Similarly, Samsung’s fingerprint scanner is not that easy to use.

Sony Xperia Z2 comes next with its good looks, powerful hardware, great display and amazing battery life. While the phone comes with the highest resolution camera sensor, its performance is inconsistent.

Samsung Galaxy S5 is also a great smartphone and we were really impressed by its camera. In fact, images captured by the phone were the best out of the three phones. However, Samsung should overhaul its TouchWiz UI that looks tacky and makes navigation laggy.

One of the major areas where the phone is outmatched by the other two is build and design. The phone doesn’t look like a premium phone with Samsung deciding to go with a plastic shell again. It won’t command attention and offers no snob value with Galaxy S5 looking similar to other Samsung phones that have flooded the Indian market. Also, the heart rate sensor and fingerprint scanner are gimmicky features.

Having said that, in a market like India, Samsung commands a good mindshare (and marketshare) and people trust the brand.

Final ratings
HTC One (M8): 9/10
Samsung Galaxy S5: 8/10
Sony Xperia Z2: 8.5/10

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Sony Xperia Z2 Review: A tough rival to Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8)

Sony has had a rough time over the past year, with both its top smartphones being outmatched by rivals’ products. Xperia Z was a good smartphone that was marred by a poor display, and its successor Z1 was an improvement, but only slightly.

The company started off 2014 with the unveiling of Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress in February. This device is an evolution of Xperia Z1, but features enough alterations and tweaks to make it a worthy competitor to the likes of Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8).

The review of Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone shows how well it compares with the rivals and if it calls for an upgrade if you are already an Xperia Z or Z1 user:

Display
One of the key features of Xperia Z1 is its 5.2-inch display, and boy, is it good! Both Xperia Z and Z1 were plagued by displays that washed out as soon as you stepped in sunlight, and nothing you did could make the screen legible. Not so with this smartphone.

The change has been because of the screen panel used by Sony in the new phone. Instead of the TFT panels that Xperia Z and Z1 used, the new Xperia Z2 employs an IPS display. IPS displays are known for their vibrant colours and adaptability to extreme viewing angles.



However, a better display (than the predecessors) does not mean it is great. It is observed that colors reproduced by the display are a bit over-saturated when brightness is set at highest levels, but that is something that happens with most phones, including Galaxy S5 and HTC One.

But the problem comes when the brightness is set at 30% (sufficient for indoor usage). At that time, colours seemed a little dull. Compared to the other two new top-end devices in the market, the colours at low brightness in Xperia Z2 are not as vibrant, showing that Sony still has work to do on this front.

These are things that you are will probably not notice unless you, like us hacks, handle too many smartphones day in and day out, and therefore, unlikely to be the deal breakers.

Sony Xperia Z2 has 1920x1080p resolution and has the same clarity that you get with the older phones, but with better colours. For those who put much stock with numbers, Xperia Z2 has 424 pixels per inch, lower than the 441 pixels per inch for its predecessors. But in reality, you would be hard-pressed to identify individual visible pixels on the screen.

Design
Sony Xperia Z2 carries on the Omnibalance design that was introduced last year, but there are enough subtle tweaks in the design to make it look better than its predecessors. The smartphone has the metal frame on the sides that made its debut last year with Xperia Z1.

The overall design of the smartphone is slightly updated, but largely remains unchanged. The Power button is smaller in size this time and the speakers are no more at the bottom. But apart from these, there are no apparent changes in terms of looks. A closer inspection, however, reveals that the frame has more rounded edges, which looks better.


The body of Xperia Z2 is made of glass and metal. The glass on the back is placed at a very slight recess compared to the metal, so that you can avoid scratching the rear panel when you place it on a flat surface.

To give credit where it is due, Sony has does a great job of moving the speakers to the front without making it apparent. You probably won’t even notice that the speakers are located at the top and bottom until you turn on the sound.

Xperia Z2, with its 5.2-inch screen, is slightly smaller in overall dimensions than its predecessors. It is marginally thinner and ever-so-slightly smaller in width. But it is longer than both Xperia Z1 and Z, as well as most other smartphones in its league.



And it is heavy, weighing more than most flagship smartphones we have encountered in recent past. In fact, it is just 5gram lighter than the Galaxy Note 3, which has a 5.7-inch display.Yet, that is not something that should worry you too much as a user.

What is significant is that the heft and length do not make Xperia Z2 unwieldy. On the contrary, it feels pretty solid and can be held in one hand comfortably. Like many other big-screen devices, the smartphone has a one-handed mode, where the keyboard occupies only a certain portion of the screen so that you can reach all the keys easily. However, we never felt the need to use Xperia Z2 in one-handed keyboard mode.

Another great part: The handset is also resistant to water and dust, and the glass back is said to be shatterproof although we resisted the temptation to drop it on floor to verify the claim. However, even if you dunk the smartphone in water after securing all the ports; the device can continue to operate smoothly, as expected.

Hardware
Sony Xperia Z2 has most of the key features that a top-end smartphone today must have. It sports a big, high resolution display, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB RAM, 20.7MP camera, supports microSD cards up to 128GB and a big 3,200mAh battery. You get 16GB internal storage, with 10.6GB accessible to user.



Connectivity options in the device include 2G, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB 2.0 and NFC. Though the smartphone supports 4G connectivity, there is no official word yet whether it will support the TD-LTE band of India. Sony has also retained the magnetic pins on the right side, so you can use the charging dock to recharge the battery even as you watch a movie.

Software
When we talk of software, we can easily put Xperia Z2 and bloatware in the same category. The Android 4.4 (KitKat)-powered smartphone comes preloaded with a total of 59 apps. Fifty-nine!!! Thankfully Sony has given user the option to delete a few apps, such as BigFlix, Box, LinkedIn, Pixlr and NeoReader, among others.

The Japanese manufacturer has also added a few proprietary apps to set itself apart from rivals who do not have as rich a content portfolio. You can use the PlayStation Network app to connect with your friends and buy games.

However, this app lacks many cool games and is rather rudimentary. Similar is the case with Sony Entertainment, which shows you several TV shows on the go, but if that is something you dig, you have it right here. Sony Music Jive will let you download or stream the music owned by the company while you are on the move.

A downward swipe with one finger will open the notification panel, while doing the same with two fingers will give you Quick Settings, which holds the toggle buttons for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness etc. Xperia Z2 also has a proprietary app to find your handset in case it is lost, but we swear by the default Android app for this.

Performance
Despite all the extra software (that you may want to uninstall), the handset’s performance is at par with that of Galaxy S5 and One (M8). The smartphone consistently delivers a smooth experience and never shows even the slightest lag. Most apps open as soon as you tap on them and you would be more than happy with zippy processing power; there is no doubt that it will suffice the requirements of any power user.

Media playback is great too. The screen is big and gorgeous, so watching videos is a treat. The stereo speakers are now positioned in front, so the sound does get not muffled. However, it must be pointed out here that HTC One (M8)’s audio quality and output are still much better and the Sony phone cannot match that.

Running on KitKat, Xperia Z2 features immersive mode, so the on-screen keys retreat to the background when you use the whole screen, such as while reading ebooks, watching videos or playing games.

Battery life of the handset is commendable. Xperia Z2 easily runs for one and a half days once the battery charge touches 100%. It comes with two main power saving modes — low battery mode and Stamina mode.

The former is to be used when the battery is critically low and you need as much juice as you can. It will disable all internet access and restrict app usage, so that resources can be conserved as much as you can. Stamina mode will let you select which apps can still have internet access, and you can set the battery threshold when its power-saving features will come into effect.

Location-based Wi-Fi is another great battery saving feature of Xperia Z2. With this feature turned on, you can save your work and home Wi-Fi networks and the phone will automatically turn on Wi-Fi when it senses you are around these networks. Rest of the time, Wi-Fi will shut off automatically.

Camera
Sony has used a 1/23-inch 20.7MP Exmor R for Mobile, backside illuminated sensor in Xperia Z2; the setup also includes the G Lens. This is the same configuration as the Xperia Z1. But there is a noticeable improvement between the camera performance of the two smartph
ones.

While clicking images in Manual mode, you will notice more accurate colours and excellent details in daylight images. Things were not as good indoors, but still, there was a lot less noise than expected; contrast and white balance was great in both cases.



Lowlight photos turned out pretty well too. Don’t expect too much detail under poor lighting conditions, and this smartphone can easily give any top-end smartphone a run for its money in the camera department.

But Superior mode is a whole different story altogether. Photos taken in this mode were highly overprocessed, so you would get some good-looking images with vibrant colours, but they won’t be true to the actual scene. You may also notice a bit of softness on the edges of the subject in these photos.



Two key new camera features in this Sony phone are 4K recording and slow-motion video capture. The 4K (or movie hall-quality) recording gives you extremely high-resolution videos — that you cannot view anywhere! No doubt, this is a great feature and most manufacturers are using this in their phones nowadays, but there are very few monitors or TVs that can support the playback of this video. In fact, Xperia Z2 itself downscaled the video quality to 1080p in order to play it.

Timeshift mode allows you to select any part of a video and slow it down. The process is simple and can be done easily even if you have never used this feature on another device before. Oh, and it fills up the 10.6GB user accessible internal storage pretty quickly.

Then there’s the background defocus feature. It allows you to bring the subject in sharper notice by blurring the background scene. The results do not match the promise though, and the final image looks unrefined; HTC One (M8) does a much better job with the same feature.

Using the default Xperia Z2 Camera app, you can capture Vine videos, upload photos to Evernote and look up information about a monument or any landmark you are visiting on the internet.

Apart from these, Sony has used a host of other camera features that have been part of its products, such as live-sharing a video on Facebook, HDR and overlaying objects (like a hat etc) on the subject in an image.

Gaming

You can play Asphalt 8 at the highest settings to test the chipset, without a hint of a hiccup in performance. The gaming experience on all resource-consuming games such as Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2, is consistently good and the smartphone did not heat up very much. There were no instances of the phone freezing or frame drops.




No novelty though
Nowadays, what features a top-end handset has does not matter as much as what special features it lacks. Samsung Galaxy S5 has a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor and HTC One (M8) has two rear cameras to add depth. Sony Xperia Z2 has… well nothing ‘special’.

The only thing that this smartphone has and rivals don’t is extra RAM (3GB in Xperia Z2 vs 2GB in One (M8) and Galaxy S5), and that’s not something you can really show off.

This can be a point of concern for some buyers, who would expect a phone costing Rs 50,000 to have at least some feature that sets it apart in the crowd. So, if you are into showing all your friends what unique super cool feature your new (and expensive) handset has, then Xperia Z2 is not for you. Key differentiator it is not, but practically speaking, extra RAM may have its impact felt over a longer period of intense usage.

Verdict
Xperia Z2 is a big step forward for Sony and one would be hard-pressed to find many problems with this smartphone. In fact, it has enough chops to stand up against the two big Android smartphones.

However, the problem is that HTC One (M8) is indeed a better smartphone what with the beautiful all-aluminium body. If you are spending Rs 50,000, then why not spend it on the best smartphone. But if you plan to cover up the body with a back cover anyway, then we do recommend Xperia Z2 to you.

If you are an Xperia Z or Z1 user, then upgrade to Xperia Z2 only if you are troubled by the screen quality. If you feel that you can work with the old smartphone’s screen, then there is very little you will find worth appreciating in their successor.

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AMD to introduce ARM-based server chips

AMD unveils ARM-based server chips
AMD has expanded its licensing technology agreement with Britain’s ARM Holdings as the US company seeks growth outside the slowing PC industry.

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has expanded its licensing technology agreement with Britain’s ARM Holdings as the US company seeks growth outside the slowing personal computer industry.

AMD has acquired an architectural license from ARM, the Cambridge, England-based company. ARM’s low-power technology is widely used in smartphones and tablets and is also behind an upcoming crop of energy-efficient server chips.

The new license provides more room for AMD to customize its chip architecture and differentiate its products from others based on ARM technology.

The Sunnyvale, California, company is planning this year to launch low-power server chips based on ARM technology to compete in data centres against Intel Corp’s high-end Xeon processors. Those chips will use off-the-shelf technology licensed from ARM in a previous agreement.

With PC shipments falling for eight straight quarters as consumers shift toward tablets and smartphones, AMD aims to get half of its revenue from new, fast-growing businesses such as game consoles and microservers by the end of 2015.

AMD also plans to expand further into making chips for other markets, including industrial equipment and medical devices.

AMD executives repeatedly described AMD as unique in its ability to create chips using technology combining ARM and x86, the personal computer architecture it has historically used to compete against Intel Corp .

Proponents of microservers, which have yet to be widely implemented in data centres, say that servers built with several low-power chips can be less expensive to buy and manage than servers built with Intel’s high-powered chips.

AMD is also supplying processors for Microsoft Corp and Sony Corp’s latest game consoles.

Strong Playstation 4 sales helped AMD beat expectations in the March quarter but the company has yet to convince investors it can transform its business. Twenty-one analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters rate AMD’s stock as neutral or negative, while just six recommend buying it.

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Nokia Creative Studio 6: First Look

It’s been a staple favorite for many Lumia owners since it’s inception in early 2012. Now, the soon-to-be-released Nokia Creative Studio 6 will make editing your photos quicker, simpler, and more fun.

Nokia-Creative-Studio_filters

The latest version of Creative Studio sports an entirely redesigned user interface. While previous incarnations launched you straight into the filters menu, where you would first apply an effect, then make any further edits, Creative Studio 6 now presents your photo with various editing options in a menu bar alongside your image.

Reframing is a concept that is introduced with Pro Camera for the Lumia 1020. Creative Studio 6.0 supports the dual capture, which means that you can rotate, straighten and change the aspect ratio of any image after you’ve shot it, over and over again without losing any quality.

The New Creative Studio makes it super easy for you to turn your shots into professional looking photographs. To get the right look we’ve worked with a professional photo studio to create ten high-quality filters, which can change the mood and feel of a photo dramatically.

Finding the right one for your photo is half the fun. You’ve got these to choose from:

  • Vivid
  • Warm Caress
  • Warm Horizon
  • Retro Fade
  • Retro Cool
  • B&W Fade
  • B&W Strong
  • B&W Antique
  • Pure
  • Nightlife

And if you want to make your pictures brighter, or add more color to it, you can go to the enhance module, where you can adjust brightness, shadows, clarity, vibrancy and colour tone. And if you don’t feel like adjusting it manually, they also have a very simple auto-fix feature.

Nokia-Creative-Studio_reframing

Nokia Creative Studio 6 also provides non-destructive editing, meaning you can work and rework your image as many times as you like, until you’re left with your perfect photo.

This also means that you can always revert back to your original image. You also have the option to save your edited image as a copy into your camera roll.

They have also enhanced the blur functionality, and made sure that you can add circular blur or simulate the effect of a tilt-shift lens, or draw freehand which part of the image you want to blur, just like in CS 5.5.

The new CS 6.0 makes this process easier and more accurate, and also non-destructive, which means you can remove the blur from your image at any time. This makes the whole experience very playful.

You can add a filter, adjust brightness, add blur, and then go back to change the filter or reframe without loosing your edits. You can even save the image, and one week later you can still go back to your image and remove the blur if you so wish.

The much-loved colour-pop feature is something our engineers are working on, but will not be available until Creative Studio 6.1. The same goes for Red-Eyes-Reduction tool.

Nokia Creative Studio 6.0 launches with the sale start of Lumia 930, and will replace Creative Studio on all Lumia devices.

Nokia-Creative-Studio_reframed

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Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 Tab Review

Tablets are finally becoming a pretty good alternative to notebook computers. They are portable, perfect for media consumption, and now full of features that the common user can enjoy without getting drowned in technical mumbo jumbo.

But one thing tablets are still not good for is serious work. You still can’t do with a tablet some everyday tasks for which you rely on laptops. They don’t allow you to open multiple applications on the same screen at once.

Then, typing on a virtual keyboard is not as easy as it is on an actual keyboard. You don’t get enough storage to save all your files and media freely. And even in this BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) world, there are several hiccups hindering the wider adoption of tablets in the enterprise culture.

Samsung in January took the covers off what is deemed to be the world’s first professional-grade tablet, the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. As the name suggests, it has a 12.2-inch screen, bigger than what any other mainstream manufacturer offers today.

Design and display
The first thing you will notice about the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet is its display. It’s huge. Bigger than what you might think, even if you use the 10.1-inch Note tablet.



The display panel features resolution of 2560x1600p, same as that of Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet launched last year. The screen gets thumbs up for its warm colours and excellent quality; there’s no noticeable pixilation at all, making reading and watching videos a pleasure.

One downside of this big display is that its viewing angles are pretty steep; colours wash out if you see the screen from the sides. It also needs a much longer swipe to unlock than other tablets.

Despite the big, big display panel, Samsung has managed to ensure that the device remains pretty sleek. It weighs just a little over 750gram and is 8mm thick. In comparison, laptops are much bigger in size and harder to carry around.

Having said that, carrying the latest Galaxy tablet around is a pain. It is simply not a gadget we liked using while travelling in the metro or sitting at a coffee house. For that purpose, Nexus 7 or iPad mini will remain the go-to devices for most users.

In terms of appearance, Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 carries over the looks of its 10.1-inch sibling, offering the same faux-leather finish on the back, metallic lining on the side and wide bezels. The Home, Back and Task Switcher keys are positioned below the screen (in landscape mode).



On the back is the 8MP camera with flash, while the S Pen stylus resides in a slot on the top right corner. The right side has the microSD and sim card slots, along with the microUSB 3.0 port.

Software
Samsung is not known for its software prowess, but we are pleased with what it has done with the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. Gone are all the unnecessary apps that make Samsung products look cluttered. Instead you get apps that you actually use everyday, such as Evernote, Flipboard, My Files.

The South Korean company has also thrown in a few paid apps like The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek+ and Hancom Viewer to justify the rather high price tag. For enterprise users, Samsung has preloaded e-Meeting, Remote PC and WebEx on the tablet, and each of them can be useful for one professional user or the other.

What makes Galaxy Note 12.2 different from other tablets in the market and actually useful for professionals? Android has supported multitasking for long and Samsung devices already allow users to open two apps on the screen simultaneously. With the new tablet, the company has gone a step further and allowed users to open four apps at the same time!
And it is not limited to just that. Double tapping an app in the Multi-Window pane opens it in floating mode. Below is the screenshot of the same:

You can resize all the windows, move the floating apps around and close them with a tap.

But does all this really help productivity?
To an extent, it does. It becomes easier to open more than a couple of apps on the same screen quite often possibly to watch a YouTube video, write/edit a document, look up something on Google Chrome and chat with others on Hangouts at the same time due to this functionality. And that is a big boon.

When tired of working, you can open a video from the Multi-Window pane as a floating app, so that you do not have to close any of the other apps (namely Hangouts, YouTube, Chrome and Gmail) that you might be using at the time.

The trouble with this setup is that not all apps are compatible here. For example, MX Player Pro — a popular video player on Android — does not open as a floating app and using it in only a small portion of the screen simply ruins the experience. WebEx and Remote PC, two apps that are popular among enterprise users, do not support multi-window format at all. Neither do most of the apps that common users download on a regular basis.

Magazine UX
Samsung has also introduced what it calls Magazine UX with Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. It is a custom launcher that resides on one of the home screens and cannot be removed. You must have at least one home screen with Magazine UX, even if you don’t like it.

However, the good thing is that we do like it. It does look a little bloated, and may be even unnecessary, but in time we learned to appreciate how handy it can be. One screen is dedicated to Flipboard, giving you the latest news and curated articles on topics you follow. Another screen can be dedicated to small windows showing your emails, appointments, calendar etc. Yet another screen can give you shortcuts to all your SMSs, photos, videos and music.

At times getting all the information right at the home screen seemed a bit much, but Android is loved all over the world for its widgets, and Magazine UX is just a bunch of widgets placed aesthetically.

Typing: Real keyboard vs on-screen keyboard
This is where the main problem is. Anyone using an actual keyboard would not willingly give away the ease and pleasure of typing on hard keys to gingerly tapping on the virtual ones. Typing on a real keyboard is faster, more accurate and simply feels more natural.

Of course, since the smartphone boom we have all got accustomed to virtual keyboards. However, the on-screen keyboard experience on Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 appears to be inconsistent even otherwise. The keyboard takes up nearly half of the display in landscape mode when an app runs in full screen mode. In Multi-Window mode, the keyboard becomes too small to be used comfortably and you will have to use the stylus to punch in alphabets and numbers.

While the small-sized keyboard is simply unusable if you try to use your fingers, the full-sized keyboard is a bit better. It has sufficiently big keys, with enough spacing to type comfortably. However, despite the layout, you may not like the typing experience and started using SwiftKey in its place. Swype, though a good keyboard for smaller screens, is not a good pick for this 12.2-inch behemoth.

You may rather use a Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard dock to type on a gadget with screen of this size.

Hardware
Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 has no dearth of computing prowess, boasting of the octa-core chip (1.9GHz quad-core processor and 1.3GHz quad-core processor) and 3GB RAM. We did not experience any lag at all and a significantly improved performance over the Galaxy Note 10.1.

Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 comes packed with 32GB of internal storage, of which approximately 6GB is used up by system files — giving you about 28GB of storage space. Other than that, you can use a microSD card (up to 64GB) to expand storage. Samsung also offers 50GB of free Dropbox storage. So, the tablet covers the storage space part quite well, but so do other high-end Android tablets.

The tablet features microUSB 3.0 and, thus, uses a different charging port than devices with microUSB 2.0. Of course, you can use a standard microUSB adaptor, but it won’t recharge the battery as fast.

You can access the internet using Wi-Fi, 2G and 3G networks on Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, while Bluetooth, microUSB and NFC can transfer data.

If you hadn’t guessed already, Samsung has added voice calling to this device — a 12.2-inch calling tablet!

Performance
Samsung has made its proprietary Android launcher a little lighter with the recent releases. Combined with the lightweight Android 4.4 operating system and the fast octa-core processor, the user experience is pretty smooth and free of most bugs that we have seen with previous Samsung tablets. Even while working with four apps open on the screen, there is no lag.

Audio output of the tablet is pretty good too, as it fills a small room with sound even when the volume is not increased to the maximum.

Gaming performance of the device is top notch too. While playing Dead Trigger 2, we did not encounter any lag or frame drops. The best part about playing such a game on this tablet is that you get ample screen space to carry out different manoeuvres to kill the enemies. Heavy car racing games like Real Racing 3 also played smoothly.



However, since the device is quite heavy, it can be a little too heavy to hold for long hours if you are a fan of car racing games as well as the likes of Temple Run and Subway Surfer.

The Galaxy Note 12.2 comes with an 8MP camera with LED flash on the back. We are not fans of rear cameras on tablets and firmly believe that using a smartphone to capture photos is the best solution in most cases.

You can still concede that Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 delivers the best camera performance among all the top-end tablets including iPad Air, Galaxy Note 10.1 and Xperia Tablet Z. The colours are accurate and well-saturated, and the image is pretty clear and detailed in daylight. Low-light images are, as expected, grainy even though the flash is bright enough to ensure that they are still usable.

But the front camera is what most would use much more often, considering businesses call for a lot of teleconferences and web meetings. The 2MP front camera of the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is not particularly impressive, as the image in video calls is just okay and even slightly grainy around the edges.

So, the big question: Does it replace a laptop?
That depends on what kind of job you do. For designers, tablets have already been pretty good options and the bigger screen size and improved user experience help in creating as well as editing images.

For sales people too, Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 can be a good option, considering it can perform most Office suite tasks with ease. Giving presentations is pretty easy on the tablet. Considering it is easier to carry than laptops, it becomes a better choice for those who travel a lot.

If your job require requires mostly creating and editing documents, then too you can go for Galaxy Note Pro 12.2. But in that case, we would recommend a device like iPad Air or Galaxy Note 10.1, simply because this tablet’s price tag does not justify its applications for those in the world of content.

In case your organization has created apps to facilitate your work on the go and has a strong BYOD infrastructure, then also you may consider buying Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.

But for all these cases, do remember that a tablet can still not replace a laptop.

Verdict
Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is the closest we have come to a tablet with desktop functionality. Multi-Window function has improved over time, showing Samsung’s own as well as Android’s potential in possibly replacing desktop OSs. However, limited apps that open in the multi-window format at present, issues with the keyboard experience and steep price tag of Rs 65,575 are Galaxy Note 12.2’s bane.

With this tablet, Samsung has indeed taken a solid first step towards blurring the lines between tablets and laptops, but work still needs to be done before a tablet replaces a fully-loaded laptop from our lives.

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