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Breaking news out of London, and Motorola have announced that the Moto X, their high end Android phone will be available in the UK as of the 1st February.

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The X is a complement to the recently launched Moto G, but offers an enhanced suite of functions and a more powerful engine under the hood. Spec-wise this means that there's an Snapdragon S4 Pro processor inside - running at 1.7ghz, with additional processors built specifically for language processing and "contextual computing". There's 2GB of RAM, with 16GB storage as standard- and a 4.7" AMOLED display that can push 720p HD graphics at 316 pixels per inch.

But what's more interesting is the extra bells and whistles that Motorola are hoping will differentiate the phone from the competition.

The 10 megapixel camera, for example, is pretty neat. Doing away with on screen buttons it is entirely gesture controlled - so you can tap anywhere on the screen to take a picture, and hold down to shoot in a burst. Zooming is controlled with a swipe - as is the settings menu to enable different types of photo. Motorola claim that this will make snapping a picture even quicker - with it taking only two seconds from pocket to having a photo taken - great if your, umm, surveillance target is fast moving.

The other big feature is so-called "Active Display", which aims to make more sense of notifications. As texts and calls stack up, whilst the phone is in locked mode, you can subtly swipe up to get further detail on what the notification is, without having to go through the faff of unlocking your phone and having your bright screen show to the world that you're not paying attention to the meeting you're in. What's quite clever about this too is that the phone will figure out when it's in your pocket or face down - so won't waste battery life unnecessarily, and will similarly avoid pocket dialling.

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The other big feature appears to be voice control - with the phone taking on some Google Glass-style functionality, with "OK Google" being used to trigger voice functions, from sending text messages to setting up navigation. When coupled with Motorola's "Assist" app, this could be especially useful when driving - using Assist, you can set the phone up to do specific functions in specific contexts. For example, set it to driving mode, and the phone can read out all of your text messages and notifications so you can stay hands free.

From the (very) brief demo I've had this morning, it certainly seems like a decent phone and it has some interesting differentiators in a saturated Android marketplace. The phone will be available on February 1st, and will be available at Phones4U, Carphone Warehouse, O2 stores and on Amazon. Apparently a special white version of the phone will be exclusively available at Phones4U - so if you want one, unfortunately you'll have to brave a conversation with the aggressive sales staff they have there.

Until now if you wanted a phone running the latest version of Android, KitKat, then you'd have been stuck with the Nexus 5. Whilst the Nexus is a great phone, it is always nice to have a bit of choice - which is why there's good news today as Motorola have started rolling out the 4.4.2 upgrade to their Moto G handsets in the UK.

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The phone has been available since last November - with a "guaranteed upgrade" a key part of the sales package. This comes in tandem with the announcement that the Moto G will also be available shortly on Vodafone in the UK.

The phone itself is a pretty decent mid-range device: sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor that clocks in at 1.2ghz - with 8GB and 16GB of on-board storage available. There's a 4.5" display that runs at 1280x768 - so can run 720p HD, and there's even a 5 megapixel camera in there too.

If you have one, the update should start appearing on your phone in the next week, and updates include a swisher look, better power use, a full screen mode and more emojis. Crucially too, it will guarantee the phone's compatibility with all of the latest apps, built for the KitKat platform.

A word of warning though - this is also the update that controversially merges text messages and Google Hangouts. So be careful!

According to the Bloomberg website, Samsung executive vice-President Lee Young Hee has confirmed that we'll be seeing the Galaxy S5 in around March or April this year.

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The phone, which will become Samsung's flagship handset will be arriving bang on time - as history shows that the S line has always been upgraded at this time of year. So if you're thinking of upgrading to a Samsung - it might be worth holding off for a few months.

Interestingly too, Lee says that the phone will come with an upgraded Galaxy Gear - the smartwatch that pairs with your phone via bluetooth, and lets you receive notifications and carry out certain tasks on your wrist. Despite the endorsement on none-other than Kevin Bacon in those intensely annoying EE adverts, apparently the existing Gear isn't very good - so it'll be interesting to see what improvements the new one has (we can presumably expect slightly better spec and a smaller form factor).

Also intriguingly is Bloomberg's speculation that the Galaxy S5 could come with a form of security to trump the iPhone 5S's fingerprint recognition... iris recognition. Who needs fingers when you've got eyes? Whilst it isn't certain the new phone will include this functionality, the flagship phone would be a good place to start with it - as we saw last year with the inclusion of Samsung's "swishy gestures where you don't have to touch the screen" being premiered on the S4.

Personally, my only hope is that the reveal of the phone isn't as earth-shatteringly hideous as the S4 launch last year - when Samsung thought it wise to rent out a theatre on Broadway and have musical theatre actors hamming it up whilst playing out "scenes" in which they solved problems using the tenuous technological innovations in the phone.

Seriously - watch this and see how much of it you can get through before clawing out your eyes:

Good news for owners of Sony's Xperia Z1 and Z Ultra smartphones - Sony have announced they're rolling out an update that will bring the handsets up to Android 4.3 - better known as Jelly Bean.

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It's welcome news as Ice Cream Sandwich is rapidly seemingly increasingly outdated - what with the new Nexus 5 running Android KitKat (the one after Jelly Bean) now out in the wild too.

4.3 isn't the only big update though - Sony are promising a bunch of other updates. Z Ultra owners are getting Sony's "Smart Social Camera" app, that Z1 owners will already be familiar with. The app has a wide range of functions in addition to photography - such as augmented reality tourism features that will flag up famous stuff in your field of view, and there's even augmented reality DINOSAURS.

Both handsets will receive updates to Sony's suite of apps - Messaging, MyXperia, Smart Connect, Small apps, TrackID, Sony Select - and all of Sony's media apps too. Apparently the Walkman app will be enhanced with access to the Sony Entertainment Network.

Perhaps most ominously, Sony have announced that the update will come with the "unique custom interface experience" called Xperia Themes. Will it be nice to use, or will it add unnecessarily bloat on top of Android - we're not sure yet... but is this ever a good sign?

The updates should be rolling out from today - though the exact timing will depend on country, carrier and the various dark arts that go on there, but you should get it soon. Merry Christmas!

amazoncoins.pngNot content with controlling a big chunk of Britain's retail needs, Amazon have today announced they're going a step further, and are launching their own currency. Well, sort of. Amazon Coins can be used to buy apps and content, and make in-app purchases on the Kindle Fire - and possibly make it cheaper than using cash.

So how does it work? The exchange rate is essentially 1 Amazon coin = 1 pence (or 100 coins = £1). So why would you want to buy coins? Why not just use cash?

The clever bit is that the more coins you buy in bulk, the cheaper it gets. You can get 500 coins for £4.80, 1000 coins for £9.50, 5000 for £45 and 10,000 for £90 (a whole £10 less than the hundred that would be without the scaling discount).

When you've got the coins, they appear as another payment mechanism in the Amazon app store - and developers won't have to change their apps to support them, as it will be built in to the existing payment dialogues. So if you're addicted to wasting money on Candy Crush, this could be a marginally cheaper means of getting your fix.

Whilst the plan may seem pretty silly, it's actually a rather savvy move on the part of Amazon. If you've ever received a high street gift voucher you'll know how silly it is that it's like proper money, but limited only to a specific shop (as a young boy, one Aunt always sent me Boots vouchers... what the hell would I do with those?). Amazon Coins are smarter as they incentivize this limitation by using the incremental discounts to make it seem worthwhile. This means that if you want the big discount and go for 10,000 coins, you're locking up a guaranteed £90 into Amazon's coffers, and not spending £100 elsewhere.

Now all we need to do is convince Amazon to pay their tax - and NOT let them pay it in Amazon coins.

At some point, tablets are going to get so large they're going to become touchscreen suppositories instead. Hannspree have today made another giant leap towards achieving that goal with the unveiling all 13.3" inches of the HANNSpad SN14t71.

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So what do we know? The 13.3" screen is driven by an LED backlit panel and runs at 1280x800 resolution - so full 1080p HD, which is great. And it's powered by a 1.6ghz quadcore ARM processor with 1GB of RAM.

As is standard with non-Apple tablets too, it's running Android (Jellybean) - so hopefully we'll see an update to KitKat soon. Better still - it's proper, pure, uncut Android - rather than filled with manufacturer-specific bloatware.

Storage-wise there's a healthy 16GB (expandable with an Micro-SD card up to 32GB) and connectivity-wise there's everything you'd expect: 802.11n, and Bluetooth 4.0.

What's nice though is that there's also a mini HDMI output so you can plug the tablet into your TV - for if the massive screen isn't already big enough. One clever bit of functionality is that there's also USB-On-The-Go support, meaning you're able to plug in, say, a USB keyboard and mouse and have them operate the tablet - creating an impromptu desktop PC... which might actually be workable with a screen of this size.

There's cameras are nothing to write home about, alas - 2MP on the rear and 0.3MP on the front... though frankly, who's going to want to lift up this beast?

It's being positioned for quite a good price point too - only £199, which is half the price of an iPad and has a bigger screen to boot. Not bad at all.

The 7 Best Apps for North Korea's Tablet

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Move over iPad Air - there's a new tablet on the world stage. The Samjiyon has just been launched in North Korea by the government there and according to 38North, who recently reviewed it, it runs on a modified version of Android - and surprisingly, isn't that bad spec-wise. It has a 1ghz processor, a front facing 2 megapixel camera, and even has an analogue TV tuner in it (take THAT, iPad!).

Delightfully too, the default background on the phone is a photo of a North Korean missile launch.

So next time you're strolling down Pyongyang high-street, it might be worth picking one up. But what about apps? Here's our pick of the seven best apps for the new tablet.

Hanspree unveil a cheap 10.1" tablet

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Hannspree have announced a new 10.1" Android tablet - and at a price point much lower than it's bigger-name competitors.

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So who are Hanspree? Whilst the name may not ring any bells, their parent company are a Taiwanese display manufacturer who also make the displays found in a wide range of other devices - so they know what they're doing. Apparently they've made everything from the Touch Module, Touch Sensor Cover Lens, the firmware on board and even the glass covering the screen themselves.

The HANNSpad (yeah...) SN1AT71 will set you back only £149.99 - a bargain for a 10" when compared to, say, the £296 Google Nexus 10 or £281 Samsung Galaxy Tab 3.

Spec-wise too it isn't bad. There's a quadcore 1.2ghz processor inside (though this is a little lacklustre compared to more expensive competitors), with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.

It's also running Android Jellybean - and there will be an update for download once KitKat has launched. Similarly there's all the connectivity you'd expect (Wifi, Bluetooth, Micro SD card expansion and Mini HDMI) - as well as USB on-the-go, enabling you to plugin USB keyboards and the like. Camera-wise there's a 2 megapixel camera in the rear, and a 0.3 megapixel on the front.

So it all looks rather nice - especially at that sort of price. This looks like it could be a great way to get in on the 10" tablet scene - and the best bit is that you can even cushion it in your bag by wrapping it in the £250 you saved by not buying an iPad Air.

Will buttons make a comeback?

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Earlier today I had my first hands-on go with the forthcoming Archos GamePad 2 - Archos' second attempt at turning Android into a gaming platform that can compete with the likes of the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PS Vita.

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Traditional mobile gaming (if there can be such a thing - only a few years ago we were all playing Snake) has been on the more casual end of the spectrum, with simple games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja dominating. Serious gamers would have picked up a dedicated handheld to play something a bit more intensive on the go.

Recently though we've seen games developers take Android (and indeed, iOS) more seriously. Take a look at EA for example - they've recently published Fifa 14 for Android, and it's pretty much the fully featured console game. There's different tournaments, online play, even fantasy team building and an incredibly clever feature where injuries and bans on the real life pitch are reflected in the videogame too.

We've also seen big console games re-released for mobile platforms. Both Grand Theft Auto 3 and it's sequel, Vice City are now available for Android - not cut-down versions (a la GTA China Town Wars for the Nintendo DS), but the fully fledged game.

This is great news for gamers but there is one little problem. Whilst touch screens are great for managing emails and browsing the web, they're frankly crap for gaming.

Most games like this rely on on-screen touch controls - so a pretend virtual thumbstick, and some on screen buttons - can you think of anything more horrible to use in an intense firefight?

What makes the GamePad 2 different from other Android tablets is that unlike, say, the Nexus 7, it actually has physical buttons. The screen is surrounded by Playstation-style controls. And this is where it does something really clever.

Whilst only a proportion of games have gamepad controls built in (there's a common Android GamePad control), Archos have built a button mapping app - so you can map out where on the screen should map to the physical buttons around the edge, so even if the game doesn't natively support real physical buttons, you can trick any game into thinking so. Apparently the new tablet already has 700 older titles pre-mapped too.

So I'm wondering - could we see a resurgence in buttons? We've got the convergence of 'proper' games coming to tablets and built-in support, and the GamePad 2 can serve as a proof-of-concept for the whole industry. If it proves popular, you can bet every other tablet manufacturer will come up with their own version.

The only stumbling block is likely to be aesthetic - after the sleekness of the iPhone and iPad, buttons make a device look ugly. But if buttons prove to be popular once more, could even Apple start to put them on their devices again?

We hope to be reviewing the Archos GamePad 2 in the next couple of weeks too - so stay tuned for that!

htcmax.pngHTC have confirmed what we all thought - the HTC One Max is real and is coming soon. They've announced the spec - and when we should know the release date.

Taiwanese HTC have a bit of a mountain to climb to meet Samsung as King of the Android handsets, though it looks like the HTC One Max could be the phone to help get there. The new phone will sport a 1080p 5.9" screen, and will be powered by a 1.7ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor - so should be nice and speedy.

There will be separate 16GB and 32GB versions - though it will also support MicroSD expansion up to 64GB.

Sensor-wise it'll have everything you'd expect on a modern top of the range phone: gyro, accelerometer, ambient light, proximity (think like the wavy hand gestures on Samsung's Galaxy S4) and perhaps most intriguingly... yes, they've added fingerprint sensing, just like the new iPhone 5S.

Like the HTC One before it, the Max will have "HTC Boomsound" support - that is to say the dual front-facing speakers it is best known for.

Perhaps the biggest differentiator is that it is a HTC - so comes with the HTC Sense suite of apps and software - rather than Samsung's S-apps. The most interesting these is "HTC Blinkfeed" - which replaces your home screen with a social newsfeed, with HTC claiming it will pick the most relevant Facebook/Twitter/etc stories and displaying them.

Release-wise HTC are yet to confirm a date - though rumour has it that we should be seeing a launch later this month - which some sources are suggesting could be as early as tomorrow. No word on pricing either yet - but given this is a premium device, expect it to be in a similar range to the recent Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Vodafone's 4G offering recently launched here in the UK and the network have just announced the addition of three new phones to the 4G ready line-up that will be particularly enticing if you're into photography.

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The Sony Xperia Z1 is a powerful beast - sporting a 2.2ghz Snapdragon process. It has a 20 megapixel camera with a 27mm wide angle lens - and get this, unlike the new iPhone 5S - it is actually waterproof, up to a depth of 1m. And you can get one for free on contract for the, er, bargain basement price of £47/month for two years.

It's joined by the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom (click the link to read Chris's review!), a phone with a massive camera lens bolted on that'll be attractive to any photographers with it's 10x optical zoom.

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Completing the set is the Nokia Lumia 1020, which instead runs on Windows Mobile. Available in either yellow or black, this has an astonishing 41 megapixel camera on board with a fancy Carl Zeiss lens and all that. (Stay tuned for our full review of the phone on TechDigest soon!)

The Lumia will also set you back £47/month, but Vodafone are sweetening the deal by extending a free Spotify subscription or free Sky Sports to 4G customers with these phones.

So if you're a photographer looking for a new phone, it might be best to focus on these handsets. I'm so sorry.

5 best new free Android games

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Android is increasingly a gaming platform to be reckoned with. Both hardcore and casual games have found a home on the platform - and lately we've seen the release of some of the most ambitious games to date - as well as some great casual titles.

The Google Play store on Android is full to bursting with games - but which to choose? Here's our pick of some of the most interesting recent releases.

Amazon have unveiled the latest addition to their tablet line up - the Kindle Fire HDX. Not only is it a powerful beast, but it has an intriguing new tech support feature, that could change how the whole industry operates.

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Let's start with the technical specs - it's got an 8.9" screen that runs at at 2560x1600 resolution - which Amazon claim has an "unsurpassed" pixel density, along with "perfect" (100% sRGB) colour accuracy - which they think will make images on the screen appear even more detailed.

Under the hood there's a 2.2ghz processor and an 8 megapixel camera that can shoot video in 1080p. And there's 2gb of RAM packed in there too.

To put this into perspective this is premium product. The Kindle Fire HDX has almost double the screen resolution of the also recently-announced Tesco Hudl, and the 2.2ghz processor compares favourably to the Hudl's 1.5ghz.

So the numbers are interesting - but here's the really potentially revolutionary thing. Amazon has announced that the new OS (Fire OS 3.0 - built on Android) will have a "Mayday" button. This - they claim - will put you one button press away from a live video chat with someone at tech support. That's right - apparently cutting out any clunky instant message system on the company's website, or a phoneline - video chat, so you'll be able to see the person helping you. They won't be able to see you though - they'll just get a picture of your Kindle screen, so no need to worry if you surf in the nude.

The people at tech support will be able to guide you through doing what you need to, or even take control and show you (or perhaps more likely, your not-quite-as-tech-savvy parents) how to do it.

The implications for this are huge. If Amazon can do it and make it work - and that's a big if - then this surely force the likes of Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google into doing the same thing?

lg-vu3-top.jpgSquare, 4:3 smartphones, rather than widescreen phones, are a bad idea right? Sure, it's a nice try by LG to try to stand out from the crowd with the 4:3 dimensions of the LG Vu 3, but when the majority of the Android software that your handset will run is optimised for widescreen devices, as is the majority of video content these days, it does feel a needlessly contrary design decision.

That hasn't stopped LG from going out all guns blazing with the LG Vu 3 though. Making use of a super-powered 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, a 5.2-inch 1280 x 960 screen and coming complete with a stylus, there's also a 13MP camera around the back. Though squared off and featuring a number of physical buttons, there's more than a whiff of the flagship LG G2's design ethos having trickled down to the Vu 3 too.

Launching in Korea on September 27, the handset will be priced around £465, substantially more affordable than the off-contract price of comparable rival, Samsung's Galaxy Note 3. Though the Vu range has only seen modest sales in the west, they still seem to be proving popular in eastern territories, so perhaps it's not all completely bonkers. That screen shape would make for quite a nice web browsing experience, admittedly.

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android-4.4-kitkat-1-big.jpgThe launch window for Google's next Android operating system upgrade has been revealed by a somewhat unlikely source - chocolatiers Nestle.

Following the reveal that Android 4.4's desert-themed nickname would be KitKat in homage to the Nestle treat, tech fans have flooded the company's Facebook page in order to try to glean information on the reworked OS's launch. And Nestle Germany have obliged; responding to one users request for KitKat launch info, a Nestle representative replied "Kit Kat Hi Tim, Android 4.4 KIT KAT ist ab Oktober verfügbar," or "Android 4.4 KitKat is available from October" in English.

The post rings well with rumours of an October 14 launch date for the operating system.

Do Nestle have the inside track on the launch date, or is this merely a company rep speculating based on the same rumours we've heard? Who knows. One thing is for certain though - October is increasingly looking like the month we'll get full confirmation of the KitKat release and likely the Nexus 4 successor it will lead with.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 11.17.06.jpgName three things the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Sony Xperia Z1 have in common. Both have sizable 5-inch displays, for starters, both use quad-core processors (the S4's rare octo-variant notwithstanding) and both will cost you a fair bit more than £150. Which is what makes the new Kogan Agora 5 so appealing - it's packing in a 5-inch display and quad-core processor and, at £149, will give you change back from three crisp £50 notes.

Of course, some concessions must be made to hit that price. For starters, you're getting a 720p display rather than a Full HD one, and at 14.4 x 7.4 x 1.1cm it's hardly the slimmest phone on the market. But those facts aside it seems (on paper) a decent blower.
Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 11.17.14.jpgRunning Android 4.2.2, the quad-core processor is clocked at 1.2GHz backed by 1GB of RAM. 4GB of internal storage is onboard while a decently-sized 2000mAh battery is also included.

Even the camera, an 8MP number, doesn't sound too shabby, while those trying to mix work and play will enjoy the dual-sim functionality onboard.

"Some big tech companies think they can launch a phone for the budget-conscious consumer and still price it at over £450. At Kogan, we know better," said Ruslan Kogan, founder and CEO of Kogan.

"We think everyone should be able to afford a great smartphone that has all the main features that you want, without paying for features you don't need. Thousands of customers said they want a phone that looks stylish, but is also powerful and feature-packed - and that's exactly what the Kogan Agora Quad-core Smartphone delivers."

Available for presale now and shipping on October 9, you can grab the Agora 5 direct from the Kogan online store.


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From Lenovo comes a new Google Nexus 7 rival, the S5000. Unveiled at IFA 2013 in Berlin, the compact 7inch tablet measures just 7.9mm and is also quite light tipping the scales at 246 grammes.

Running Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), the S5000 packs in a Quad-Core processor, optional 3G HSPA+ connectivity and has a battery capable of up to eight hours of non-stop WiFi web browsing or six hours of HD video viewing - so people can catch-up on the latest music, movies and news from the palm of their hands.

The tablet also comes preloaded with custom apps that allow people to share photos, videos, and documents, protect their device from malicious software, as well as backup and restore important data. The S5000 will be available to buy in 4Q of 2013, priced from £179.99.

For capturing and sharing photos and videos on the move, the S5000 has a 5MP rear-facing camera and boasts sharp, high definition video capturing capability, while the front-facing camera allows for Skype video chats with friends and family.

Also joining the PC+ portfolio today is the Vibe X smartphone sporting front and rear cameras and a high resolution beveled edge glass display. The Vibe X will be available in China from October, and in countries where Lenovo smartphones are sold from the beginning of December.

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HTC Desire 601_all colours.jpgIf you haven't got enough readies available to bag the HTC One Mini, but still fancy a taste of the company's latest Sense UI enhancements, the newly revealed HTC Desire 601 may be just what you're looking for.

Though its specs place it firmly in the mid-range of the market, it's still managed to launch with many of the flagship HTC One's interface features intact. These include the BlinkFeed social and news aggregating homescreen feed and Zoe, merging video and still image highlight reels together. The handset also makes use of HTC's BoomSound speaker tech, which on the flagship handset proved surprisingly capable of delivering clear and loud audio if your headphones aren't to hand.

It's the hardware then that gives the phone its mid-range placement. Though offering the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.4GHz dual-core processor as the HTC One Mini, it's housed in plastic casing (red, black and white shades will be available). And while its screen is slightly larger than the Mini's at 4.5-inches compared to the Mini's 4.3-inches, the quality drops down from the Mini's 1280 x 720 resolution to the Desire 601's 960 x 540 resolution.

The camera tech is scaled back too, with the Desire 601 offering a 5-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture and 28mm lens instead of HTC's UltraPixel camera found across the One range. 4G LTE is supported though, meaning you'll be able to take advantage of the freshly launched superfast networks in the UK.

Set for release in September, no exact pricing has been revealed yet. Expect to shave a fair few quid off the HTC One Mini's £380 price tag though.

Looking to drum up some interest ahead of next month's IFA showcase, Sony have just tweeted a teaser video, showing off a few more moodily-lit glimpses of the company's next flagship phone, rumoured to be called the Xperia Z1.

The video sees the handset get a good slow-mo water dunking, as well as focussing in on the smartphone's camera, revealing a dedicated shutter button and suggesting that the snapper onboard should be something special.

At the close of the clip, Sony also give the hashtag #Sept4, all-but-confirming that the handset will be making its debut at IFA 2013 on September 4.

Leaked specs so far suggest that the Xperia Z1 will feature a 5-inch 1080p display, and make use of the speedy Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, backed by 2GB of RAM. 16GB of internal storage is thought to be onboard, expandable with microSD cards, while 4G LTE, NFC and a 3,000mAh battery are also set for inclusion.

As for that camera, it's rumoured to be a 20MP number. With Nokia already touting a 41MP unit in the Lumia 1020 and Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 said to be capable of 4K video recording, Sony's better have some tricks up its sleeve if (as the teaser suggests) its going to be a headline feature.


img_zoom_product_4.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Type: Android smartphone (Jellybean 4.2.2) with 10 x optical zoom lens

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £399 (without contract)

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 A jack of all trades smart phone with a built in compact camera complete with optical zoom lens, the Samsung S4 Zoom is unique alright. But can it be possibly be the master of two very different disciplines. Read on to find out...

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Is it a camera, is it a phone? I still don't know

Having been a loyal iPhone fan for many years, I must admit it has been difficult to consider being unfaithful. After all she was so beautiful when I first met her and all my friends seemed to love her. But just recently she seems to have let herself go a bit and then all these attractive new models keep turning my head. 

And although I haven't been tempted by the big Phablet beasts I must admit having secretly lusted after this design for a few weeks - lured by newspaper ads and the thought of having a decent enough smart phone with a camera that is, on paper at least, better than anything else on the market.

That was until I held the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom in my hand for the first time and began to wonder what the hell I'd done. Don't get me wrong, it's a brave concept and for that it must be applauded. It's just I'm still not sure I made the right choice to leave the iPhone. Here's the deal; on one side the S4 Zoom is really just a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, while flip it over and basically it's a compact camera with a decent-ish 10x optical zoom. 

Get it out in a meeting lens side up as I did the other day and people will automatically assume you are taking their picture and start grinning. Put it in your pocket and people really will think you are pleased to see them, especially with the zoom lens out! Even with the zoom lens in it's a pretty bulky beast. Samsung claims it is just 125mm thick, but that doesn't include the metal housing for the lens or the grip handle which adds another 100mm or so. Nor is it light either. Tipping the scales at 208g, it's even heavier than the Nokia Lumia 920. Certainly I found it quite heavy in the hand when out running with it using the Nike Running app.

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Thanks for the memory - not

Yet despite its bulkiness I am enjoying using the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Screen resolution isn't the highest at 256 pixels per inch (compared to the iPhone's 326ppi and the HTC 1's 469ppi) but I certainly haven't had any issues reading text or even looking at pictures. Perhaps the screen has a little more contrast than I am used to, but this is a problem I find with all Samsung devices which seem a little 'zingy' to me. 

One thing's for sure, Android is very different to the Apple iOS and this has taken a lot of getting used to. Whereas Apple tends to offer limited functionality and keep you locked into their eco-system, with Android (this is running Jellybean 4.2.2) there are options for just about everything which means endlessly sifting through menus to get things how you want. 

One big criticism I would have though is the lack of storage on the device. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has just 8GB on board which is a bit crazy, given this is a phone aimed at photo and video enthusiasts. By the time I'd added my music, image and small video library I'd filled up the memory entirely. This was before adding any apps from the Google Play store. This meant a trip out to Maplin to invest in a 64Gb Micro SD storage card (an extra £60 on top of what's already a £400 phone). Processing speed isn't the fastest either meaning internet pages don't always load up quickly even on a decent speed wi-fi connection (to be honest that's true of the iPhone too). Rather than a quad core processor favoured by many of the latest smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with a dual core processor running at 1.5GHz. So it does feel a little slower than I was expecting.

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Say cheese!

Curiously for a device that's supposed to be half phone, half camera, actually switching the camera on is quite difficult. Unlike a compact camera where you just have to press a button to take a picture, with the Galaxy Zoom you either have to boot up the phone or - if it's already on - press the camera icon or hold the shutter button down for several seconds. Whichever way you do it, it takes well over five seconds to even get the lens open and ready to take the picture (not great for photographers taking spontaneous shots). That said, the camera isn't half bad at all once it's ready. Obviously this is the only camera phone on the market with optical zoom lens so it's difficult to make direct comparisons. Perhaps the nearest model on the market is the 41 Megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 and although the Nokia offers much higher resolution on paper, the reality is that it's still better to have a proper zoom lens than having to artificially crop from a larger image. 

In the couple of weeks since getting the phone I've spent a lot of time taking pictures with it and have been happy with the results. One criticism I would have is that it does feel a little slippy in the hands, not helped by the glossy white finish. Taking pictures of The Thames I was terrified that I was going to drop the device in the River - hence I've already ordered a silicone case to give me a bit more grip. 

Various photographic modes are provided including Night mode (good for taking pictures in low light conditions where flash isn't appropriate - ie. gigs), Macro (for close ups, see flowers below) and even a Beauty Mode where you can enlarge people's eyes and make them look a bit thinner - a bit gimmicky that one I thought. 

For budding professionals there are also several manual modes, including aperture control (to control the amount of light coming to the lens) and shutter speed to give more control especially when shooting fast moving objects.

In addition to the 16MP CMOS Sensor there's also a 1.9MP front facing camera. Focal length starts at a very wide angle 24mm and goes up to an impressive 240mm. Either you can zoom using the plus and minus buttons on the touch screen or you can use the sturdy zoom ring on the front to zoom in up to 10x. The Zoom ring can also be used to show detail in images you have taken on the 4.3inch display and is handy for getting close ups when shooting video too. All in all the camera works quite well once you have managed to switch it on!

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The globe theatre taken from the North bank of The Thames - click on picture for full sized image. 

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A flower bed outside City of London School for Boys, taken using the camera phone's Macro mode. Click on picture for full sized image.


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A view of St Paul's taken from close to the Millennium Bridge. Click on picture for full sized image.

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Suede on stage at Kenwood House, Hampstead, London. This was taken with Night Mode using the zoom lens. Click on picture for full sized image. 

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Verdict:

You know what they say about Jack of all Trades. Well never has this been more true of a device than than the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. You have to applaud the manufacturer for continuing to innovate. If nothing else it gives journalists something to get their teeth stuck into. It's just this particular model doesn't quite work. As a camera phone it's not bad, but there are better. As a camera it's much better in terms of quality than any other smart phone I've ever used. But there are limitations - most notably that it adds considerable bulk/weight to the phone and the camera takes much longer to switch on than a standard compact camera

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3/5

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