Categories
Features

Say Hello with Google’s Allo – Messaging Platform

In an era of technology, we do have multiple ways to communicate. With the rising users of smartphones ,we have rising numbers of messaging apps across the platforms. WhatsApp; Hangout; Facebook Messenger; Snapchat are some key apps to mention.

Recently, the search giant Google has introduced Allo, a messaging app specially for mobile users, which also acts like a personal assistant.  Google Allo helps you say more and do more right within your chats including making plans, finding information, and expressing yourself more easily. Packed with innovative features including smart reply, options for sharing photos, emojis and stickers.

Officially, Google announced the app in May in a mega event of Google I/O. With this announcement Google venture into the domain of Artificial Intelligence. Google also plans to introduce Allo to desktop in near future. Google introduced Allo, soon after the launch of Duo a video calling app which is available for both the platforms Android & iOS.

For Indian users, Google has enabled smart replies in Hinglish. Further, rolling out at launch are over 200 stickers created by popular independent artists that are relevant to and will appeal to Indian users.

Allo India Hinglish Inputs

Allo user interface is very similar to other Google apps and maintains the clean UI philosphy.  Allo syncs with your phonebook & you can chat with anyone from your phonebook. Phonebook sync is the key where Google has kept a difference between Hangout & Allo.

Allo a smart messaging app, works on the suggestive response.
The presence of inbuilt chatbot in Allo makes it easy as virtual assistant provides responsive answers to the users. Here, chatbot is trying to be artificially intelligent.

The virtual assistant helps in giving specific information, setting reminders, timers and serving up the news as well. Not only this, the virtual assistant has a conversation with you – shares a joke, chat about any & everything. Google Allo gives fun features to the users, stickers, group chatting; the message expire option as well.

Allo provides you with the feature called Whisper or shout. This will let you slide up or down on the send button to change the size of your reply, meaning you do no need to write in caps all the time when you’re angry. Simple subtle UX features to make people use the platform to have conversations.

The best feature of Allo is using of Google inside where one needs to, mention Google by typing “@Google” and words to search for — like things to do or places to eat. Google Assistant also has access to Google’s Knowledge Graph, so it can help you with all sorts of situations. Imagine this scene, you are talking to your friend on Allo and making plans for lunch. You loop in @google and ask for suggestions for places around you. Everything in one single window.

google-allo

Messages in Allo are encrypted by Google servers, only sender & recipient can see the messages. All chats in Google Allo are encrypted using industry standard technologies like Transport Layer Security (TLS). Anyone who tries to interrupt will see the jumbled characters. Google Allo also supports incognito chat; the app hides the name of the sender when the notification pops up. Also, there’s also a way to erase chat history by setting the expiration anywhere from five seconds to one week. Here each user can reset the expiration time for any of the messages, as well thus keeping your messages private.

Unfortunately, some of the questions ends up being a Google Search result or basically asks you to search on Web. Makes one wonder, why should you ask Allo in the first place. I believe, integration is going to be the key. Like we saw yesterday, Allo is built as an Personal Assistant right inside the OS for Pixel, so that the users can use it on the go. It would take time to get better.

Categories
Features

Switching from iPhone to Android; Pleased as Punch!

I have been using an iPhone for quite sometime. While I love iOS for the optimised software and applications, the camera has always been the standout reason, why I choose to stay with an iPhone. As smartphones evolved, there has been some great Android based Smartphones in the market, which were worth trying.

More than anything, I look for a great camera and software experience when I buy a phone. People, who aren’t aware, I am a photographer and run my gig called iclickd. Every-time I wanted to use an Android, I had challenges with the quality of software regardless how great the hardware and the cameras on some of the phones were. Apps have also been a great concern on Android for me. If you do not agree, try the same game on an Android phone and iOS, the performance, ads and the experience are totally different.

This year, Although many people loved the Samsung S7’s camera, I wasn’t all that impressed with the image processing and the contrasts which the software adds to the photos; This makes the pictures look great on the phones, but very unrealistic when you move then to your computer. The HTC10 was a brilliant phone as well, however, the display was a let down. The LG G5 was very close to being my favourite, mostly for the Wide Angle lens.

In the past couple of months, I have been using the Huawei P9 as my primary phone, and to be honest, I am very impressed with it. Not too great in terms of specs or latest of greatest tech; but it offered a great experience and images were pretty good. They weren’t too saturated and even the colours and details felt very natural (almost as good as an iPhone did). I like to process the images my way, so prefer the tones to be at a normal level.

Dual Lens on the Huawei P9

The twin camera was worth looking at. The Leica branding made it even more compelling to try the phone as a photographer. Read our camera review if you would like to know more about how this works.

Anyways, Now that I have started using this device as a primary phone, I was on a look out for some great UX apps to solve my other problem.

Having most of my work stuff on Google, using an Android made more a logical sense for me. The Google Suite of apps works the best on Android. Other than the usual Social and messaging apps like Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Google+ etc, Here are some apps I loved on my phone.

My Favourite list of Apps:

top android apps

  • Solid Explorer Its by far one of the best file and Cloud manager app in Android. With the all new material design, It’s better, faster and solid when compared to the competition. Dual pane file browsing also helps. Solid Explorer is also a great file manager for viewing your media. It has a built in music player and image viewer, which even allow you to play remote content stored for example on your PC, Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive.
  • I personally like the keyboard from Google, however if you are looking for an alternative one, you should consider the Swiftkey Keyboard. This keyboard uses Artificial Intelligence to automatically learn your writing style, including the emoji you love. Most importantly, it also supports 100+ languages.
  • Wunderlist is one of the best productivity apps on Android for maintaining To-Do List & Tasks on your phone. Makes it easy to share your lists and collaborate with everyone in your life. This app instantly syncs between your phone, tablet and computer, so you can access your lists from anywhere.
  • If you enjoy listening to Podcasts, the Pocket Casts is a great app. This is very stable and has a great user experience as well. It allows you to download or stream various podcasts.
  • Pocket works great as a Bookmark. This is great when you’re browsing the news or some interesting stories on your social sites; be it Facebook or Google+ or even Twitter feed that you want to read later. The app is very simple to use. You can share from Pocket to other apps as well. The app also supports browser extensions so you can use it on a computer as well.
  • As you must’ve already figured out, I click a lot of pictures. The Google Photos is very interesting and the most useful app for me. The photos are automatically organised and searchable. Automatically backup all your photos and videos. The app also creates montage movies, interactive stories, collages, animations, panoramas, and more from your photos. You could also instantly share pictures with anyone regardless of the smartphone they’re using.
  • With so many social and online accounts, remembering passwords is always a challenge. LastPass is a password manager and password generator that locks your passwords and personal information in a secure vault. LastPass autofills web browser and app logins for you, and generates new, secure passwords instantly.
  • 1Weather is a nifty weather application. The app helps track current conditions and forecasts for your location and also up to 12 additional locations you choose from.
  • If you like to automate tasks and settings on your phone, Tasker is the one application worth considering to buy. This is one of the most powerful android app. This allow users to create custom made commands & actions; and use them in various places based on NFC tags. You can even use Tasker to create very complex commands based on your use-cases.
  • Drive Agent is a neat app to automatically respond to messages when driving.  If you like to have more customisable lock screen notifications, I would recommend you try DashClock or NiLS. If you want to customise the LED colour, Light Flow is a great tool. for the Moto X style notifications that light up your screen when notifications arrive, you can try ActiveNotifications.

Summing up, the experience with Android as a primary phone has so far been good. The Android ecosystem is definitely more powerful than the iOS one. With so many variety of devices in the market, android has more challenges in screen dimensions as well.

Android does give users a lot of options to customise. That is one reason, why most of the geeks do love playing with it. However, I just wish Google had a more strict policies to verify apps before it loads it up on the Play store. That would ensure good quality applications. And yea, companies should talk beyond the spec war and emphasise on experiences. These things will make the entire experience on this ecosystem even better.

Categories
Features

MIUI 8 – Top Features Explained

Xiaomi has already started rolling out MIUI 8 stable ROM to its devices through OTA updates. While MIUI 7 brought in lot of performance improvements & power saving features to MIUI, MIUI8 brings in cool features like second space, dual apps, quick ball, scrolling screenshots, video editing etc. to MIUI fans. Also, there has been feature additions and design overhauls to Gallery, Camera, Dialler, Notification shade, Calculator, Notes and Battery saver.

Second Space

With second space, you can create another user profile/workspace in your phone with its own mi account, google account, wallpaper, home screen, apps, files, photos etc. with completely different device settings from the primary workspace. In a nutshell, second space allows you to have two profiles say one for official use and another one for personal use on the same device.

You can setup different pass-codes or fingerprints to access the primary and secondary space directly from the lock screen. You can also switch between these two spaces any time by authenticating with the passcode or fingerprint. After creating a second space, you can import photos, files, apps from first space. You can also download apps separately from second space later. Finally, second space also allows you to export contacts, photos and files to first space.

Dual apps

Dual apps feature is a boon to dual-sim smartphones which unlocks the limitation of setting up two different user accounts for a given app on the same phone. Basically it allows you to have two instances of the same app, thereby letting you to login into two different accounts on the same smartphone. What it means to you is now you can have two accounts of Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype, Viber or any app on the same device.

Cloning an app is as simple as going to settings à Dual Apps and enabling dual app support for a given app which creates a fresh clone of the app immediately with its own set of data and settings. Now a different account can be added to the duplicate app. There is a clone symbol shown on the left bottom corner of the clone app’s icon for differentiating the duplicate app.

Quick sharing

In MIUI 8, you can quickly share your favourite photos in gallery. Gently do a swipe up gesture on your picture to share it with friends using Mi Drop, Bluetooth, Email or on any social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook etc.

Mi Cloud Photo Sync

With MIUI 8, you can free up close to 90% of storage space utilised by high resolution photos & videos by enabling cloud photo sync. In other words, when the “optimise local storage” option is enabled, full-resolution photos on the device will be replaced with optimised versions after backup to the cloud, thereby freeing up more space in the local storage.

Scrolling screenshots

Now you can easily share a long article on a web page or news app to a friend with a single screenshot instead of taking multiple screenshots. So, whenever you take a screenshot using the quick toggle or keys, there is a quick thumbnail of the screenshot shown for 5 seconds towards the right top corner. Clicking on the thumbnail will allow you to scroll through the page and capture a screenshot longer that what is currently shown on the screen. Please be aware that the scrolling screenshots cannot be taken in few apps. Finally, you can crop, doodle or apply mosaic to few areas before sharing.

Redesigned Notification shade

notification-miuiv8With MIUI8, the notification drawer and quick toggle screens can be combined together into a single window which shows the quick settings on top as a single row followed by notifications below. Please be aware that the new layout may be difficult for single handed usage. For users who would still prefer the old layout, there is an option to go back to separate windows.

Quick Ball

Quick Ball is Xiaomi’s answer to Apple’s AssistiveTouch, in Android. It is a quirky touch assistant which is a circular transparent button available on screen all time. Quick Ball is a blessing in disguise for people who prefer single-handed phone use and to users with large screen devices like the Mi Max or Redmi Note.

Quick Ball provides a fully customisable 5 gesture shortcut that pops up on tapping it. You can add your favourite app or frequent actions like Rotate Lock, Enabling WIFI, Mobile Data, Bluetooth, Screenshot, Screen Lock etc as of one of the 5 shortcuts. The quick ball can be kept anywhere close to the left of right of the screen for left handed or right handed usage.

Dialer Redesign

There has been a major design overhaul with the dialer on MIUI8. With the redesigned dialler, you can now add a relevant note quickly during a call. Also, MIUI 8 is the first OS to support Hindi T9 dialer.

Caller Identification

messages-identificationCaller Identification is now integrated with the native dialer app. You can instantly identify calls from popular services like Swiggy, Zomato, Domino’s Pizza and more. Using crowd-sourced information, you can now identify and avoid scam and sales calls right before answering.

You can even contribute to the community by flagging telemarketing/sales calls to the database, so that other users do not fall into their trap.

Calculator

In addition to the existing calculation functions, calculator in MIUI8 now provides scientific & mortgage calculation functions and a set of handy conversion tools, thereby eliminating the need for thirty party apps once again. Conversion options include standard units like Currency, Time, Length, Volume, Temperature, Speed etc.
MIUI v8 calculator convertor

The Mortgage Calculation feature comes up with detailed monthly repayment information (principal, interest, balance amount) for the entire period for a given sum, period and interest rate.

miui v8 calculator mortage

Finally if you have entered a wrong number during a series of calculations, then you need not redo all the steps. Fixing the erroneous entry is as simple as clicking on the entry itself and correcting it on the fly as below.

Notes app

In MIUI 8, the Notes app has been redesigned completely. A set of beautiful background templates have been added for a refreshing experience. There is a new double swipe up gesture that delete an existing note with a cool animation. For privacy, a passcode or fingerprint can be added to unlock the Notes app.

Camera

The camera interface has been given a face-lift in MIU8. The new layout and text reminds us more of the iOS camera interface. The live camera filters are no more present on a separate screen and they are now available on the same screen as a row at the bottom pretty much like 3rd party photography apps and there are new filters available as well.

camera-editing-miui8

Beautify feature on the front camera has two new Smart and Pro modes. While the Smart mode enhances only the skin tone and complexion, the Pro mode offers a slim feature in addition that can make your face look slimmer on a user scale of 1-10.

Image & Video Editing

Image editing in MIUI 8 has been improved with new filters and options. Now you can even doodle on your favourite picture from the image editor. Gallery now supports native video editing. You can now trim, apply video filters, add title & credits and even add custom background music to your videos right from your smartphone before sharing.

Video Editing MIUI8

Power Saving features

MIUI 8 takes MIUI 7’s battery saver features to the next level by offering a new battery optimising app which analyses current power usage and warns user of apps consuming high battery. Needless to say, Xiaomi has been constantly replacing all 3rd party apps in your phone with their native app as part of every release. In one way this is good since there are no bloatware/ads with the native apps.

If you are not too concerned about being online all the time or receiving frequent notifications, you can go one step further and enable a new battery saver setting which disables mobile data when device is locked.

battery miui8

Also, the new battery saver when enabled limits chain startups which prevents unnecessary apps from starting up and in turn reduces any lag and additional power consumption. When the ultimate power saver mode is activated, it will freeze all background app activities and suspend sync, updates and background tasks which may otherwise consume additional power.

List of devices that support MIUI 8 include Redmi 1S, Redmi 2, Redmi 2 Prime, Redmi Note 3 Qualcomm, Redmi Note 3 Special Edition, Redmi Note 2, Redmi Note 3G, Redmi Note 4G, Redmi Note Prime, Redmi 3, Redmi 3S/Prime, Mi 2/2S, Mi 3, Mi 4, Mi 4i, Mi 5, Mi Note, Mi Max 32GB.

Categories
Features Smartphones

Huawei P9 Camera Review: The Leica Powered Dual Lens is Magical

Huawei P9 has been one of my favourite Camera Smartphones I have tried this year. With dual lenses, the P9 does a lot more than the competition. This is the second phone after LG G5 to come with a dual lens setup this year. While on the G5, the secondary module is a wide-angle lens, Huawei’s approach is slightly different. The P9 has been co-engineered with Leica, to bring out great details and tones on photographs. Let us look through the Huawei P9 Camera Review, its Features and how you can snap great pictures with this device.

If you have already bought one or thinking about buying one, this would be useful. While the camera is the most interesting feature on this phone, the oct-core chipset, The EMUI, and a fast fingerprint scanner are worth appreciating as well. Read our full review here.

How does the Twin lens System on the Huawei P9 Camera work?

Like mentioned earlier, The Huawei P9 Camera has two 12MP sensors set at f.2.2 Aperture, where one of them shoots monochrome only. When you click a picture, the monochrome sensor gauges the picture in terms of the light thats hitting the sensor through the glass and different objects in the frame. Using all these information available, the system then adds the colour onto the picture from the other RGB sensor. Using the colour and monochrome cameras simultaneously helps in producing a superior image with deeper blacks and vivid colours than a conventional one-sensor setup.

Dual Lens on the Huawei P9

Further, Image information from both sensors makes the Huawei P9 camera 100% more light-sensitive than the competition. The Dual camera systems also enables you to take pictures with an adjustable depth of field to create background blurs. Let us look at how can you do that a little later.

Camera UI and Modes:

When you launch the camera button on the Huawei P9, you see a very simple UI which still looks very iOS‘ish. However, Swiping towards the right, brings in various modes to choose from.

Camera-Modes-Huawei-P9

One particular mode worth mentioning is the Monochrome one. The quality of the output is fantastic. The contrasts and tones are worth falling in love with. Have a look at some samples below.

While on the camera screen, when you swipe towards the left, you get these different menu options. These let you set the resolution of the photographs to either standard format or the wide-screen one. There is GPS Tag, if you like to tag your pictures to the location. Pretty useful option, if you are a traveller and want to make a summary of your route & sort at the end of your trip. There are few more straight forward options.

Huawei P9 Camera Options

Similar to Leica cameras, there is a Film Mode which gives you three options to tune your images while shooting. They enhance the colour quality of your pictures. Although, each one of us have our preferences when it comes to colours and saturation, Its still worthwhile checking out.

Leica-Filters

You also have live filters in the camera. Once you click the icon, you will be able to see all the filters in action. You can then choose according to your taste.

Camera Filters Huawei P9

Pro Mode Huawei P9 CameraMost of the settings on the Huawei P9 Camera are visible when you are on Pro Mode. To activate the pro mode, you will need to swipe up above the shutter button. Once you are in Pro mode, you will be able to adjust the focus points, shutter speed, Exposure Values, White Balance Settings and even the focus modes. Notably, it was weird not to find the option to tune the aperture settings. As a photographer, I really missed this.

Once you are in Pro mode, you can again swipe left and now you can find more options show up. The first notable feature is the option to store photos in RAW (DNG format). In a RAW mode, the pictures are captured as-in with all the information intact available for you to post process the image later. This is very nifty, if you love playing with your images on Lightroom or Photoshop. You have an option to change the camera grid, if you prefer to get some aid while composing the pictures. There is an optional level scale too!

Tap to Focus:

The Dual lens systems on the Huawei P9 Camera enables you to take pictures with an adjustable depth of field to create background blurs, what we call Bokeh. On the camera screen, once you select the Aperture icon here, you will have an option to click a picture with aperture settings and option for tap to focus; which results in specific part of the image being focused. You can also click a picture and then adjust the depth later.

Tap to Focus on Huawei P9 Leica

When you go to the gallery, you can see these images with a small lens symbol. You can then tap open the picture and adjust the settings. There is a slider which appears next to the icon. This helps you to change the width of the aperture. Wider (least the number) the aperture, greater the background blur. This way, you could tune the image to your preference – as shown below in this image.

Defocusing-on-Huawei-P9

The software Emulates as open as f 0.95. That makes the picture focus sharp at that point and everything else has this creamy blurred effect to it. Since it’s a software made, its easy to identify as the edges get very smooth.

Auto Focus could’ve been even better. Although, the above mentioned software focusing options does come to rescue at times.

The Video mode gives you some options for manual controls as well. The video quality is decent and the colours looks good too. The P9 only records upto a 1080p and doesn’t support the 4K resolution output. Further, Lack of Optical image stabilisation also means, you may face some issues in low-light conditions; or if you want great quality, I recommend using a tripod.

I hope the latest version of the software, EMUI 5.0 with Nougat, would bring in even better camera software optimisations as well.

Summary:

The Huawei P9 camera maintains a good exposure regardless of the conditions you shoot. Highlights are just about right. The noise levels are impressive too.The camera also bumps up the details in some of the photos especially in the low light scenarios making the picture look neat.  Food pictures look great too. The camera adds the right amount of contrast and saturation to make the picture pop and appealing. The highlights are well separated from the shadows.

HDR is pretty good as well. It brings down the shadows and increases the colour saturation. The dynamic range of the images are pretty good. The two cameras working in conjunction definitely helps the device click great pictures. The pictures look even more good when you have a high dynamic range in the scene.

The option for RAW file processing might really impress people who love tweaking their images. Something I really miss on this phone is a hardware camera button. That would’ve been a nifty addition.

I recommend using the monochrome mode when you have too much of dark zones in your scene. That makes the contrast of the images look Magical.

Categories
Features

Meet Alibaba YunOS: Third Most Popular Mobile Operating System

YunOS, also called Aliyun OS is a Linux distribution designed for smartphones and other devices based on the Android Open Source Project. In Chinese, the word ‘Yun’ means Cloud. It is developed by AliCloud, a subsidiary of Chinese company Alibaba Group.

According to research by ZenithOptimedia, YunOS is the third most popular mobile system, which comes after Android and iOS. YunOS was introduced in China on July 28, 2011. YunOS 5 ATOM is the latest version from the company!

Why YunOS Matters:

Alibaba-PassportYunOS revolves around the idea of bringing cloud functionality to mobile devices. YunOS features a cloud-based e-mail, Web search, weather updates, and GPS navigation tools.

With unified accounts, the cloud services are available everywhere. One gets a cloud storage space which can be used for backup and sync personal data. YunOS supports backing up system settings that can be accessed online from any other platform. It also allows users to access applications from the Web, rather than download apps to their devices.

Through smart Cloud recognition and resource scheduling technologies, the devices running YunOS can accurately identify unwanted background programs/applications, set them low on priority and increase running speed of current applications by 30%, thereby giving users a smoother experience.

Alibaba YunOS - Aliyun OS

YunOS also has a built in system security app which includes – SMS payment protection, anti-phishing URL library, intelligent recognition in phone calls and text messaging, anti-virus application, ad blocker, etc.

YunOS System Security App

For a simpler UX for elders, YunOS also brings in a neat Senior mode which not only increases the fonts and icon sizes, but does a lot more stuff.

Alibaba YunOS Senior Mode

The AppStore on the YunOS is neat as well. You have apps in various categories, including ranks to choose from. Some of the Android applications crashed on load; not sure, what the real problem was. I will update, when I figure out a solution.

The YunOS is simple and content-centric.

How does Alibaba YunOS Work?

While there is a common myth that YunOS is a custom skin over Android, its different. It is a Linux platform based on the cloud running applications online. It synchronises multiple user devices and provides a good amount of cloud storage as well. The supporting contents and platform is pretty much aimed at attracting customers into the ecosystem of one company, Alibaba. 

A skin is an overlay that runs on top of the Android Operating System. It sometimes brings in more software enhancements, UI customisations and uniqueness to a brand. If you want more to know more, we reviewed Meizu Flyme few days ago.  

Cloud Services YunOSYunOS synchronises and stores call data, text messages, and photos in the cloud which can be accessed across other devices and computers.

Here is a simple illustration that shows the difference between the YunOS and Android.

The underlying most important part of the system is the kernel. This is completely open source. Many use this kernel to build the operating systems. To name a few, Android, Ubuntu, Firefox OS and YunOS.

The Board Support Package (BSP) helps connecting hardware and the system, similar to what BIOS does in the PC. The YunOS has 2 BSPs, one is for Android compatibility and the other is for its own system.

The virtual machine which runs the applications of each OS is entirely different. While Android runs on a Dalvik VM, the YunOS has a Ali Cloud VM implementation. Its reported that, Ali Cloud virtual machine offers around a 11% increase in performance when compared to the Dalvik VM.

Alibaba YunOS vs Android

YunOS has a app framework to run native apps and has an additional compatibility Framework to support running of Android apps. Furthermore, YunOS has its own cloud server framework which functions similar to Google Mobile Services (GMS) in Android. They work on their own with no support from any other Android apps.

On YunOS open platform – Ali accounts, payments, cloud storage system API, data services are all open for partners.

Top Features of the latest version of YunOS 5 Atom:

With Alibaba’s huge investments in Big Data technologies –  one can easily identify pictures and articles to get related digital contents. While surfing, you can easily jump to Taobao to buy among the million products available there.

YunOS 5 introduces a new interface with colour support, allowing users to customise the colours all through the system applications as well.

Colorful Screen YunOS 5 Atom

The Camera software has a Beauty mode which comes with real-time functionality. As crazy it sounds, with the operating intelligent assist in the search image by content and use, you can directly buy Beauty Supplies from Taobao.

The OS also supports facial recognition for device unlocks. It also introduces a Built-in intelligent assistant, that can detect motion data and operating habits of users and provide personalised advice.

The latest version also brings in the Qeexo’s gesture recognition technology – FingerSense, which can identify fingers, fingernails and knuckle’s touch responses. This is the same company which powers Huawei devices as well.

With this integration, developers and device OEMs have multiple options for customisations, including launching a shortcut menu to favourite or featured apps with a simple knuckle tap, Drawing letters to launch third-party apps from any screen. Knock to save a full screenshot or simply circle a section of the screen to crop, save, and share that section.

Qeexo also plans to include FingerAngle, that adds 3D touch capabilities to the mobile screen, and EarSense, which replaces physical proximity sensors for better performance and design. These new features will be available to YunOS developers through simple software updates.

Summing up:

There are a few devices that are available in China which runs this out of box. The company has also made the ROMs available for other devices as well; you can check the list of devices here. International readers, there is an installation package for Google’s Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 as well.

Understandably, most of the content is still in Chinese. Hopefully as the company prepares its expansion for other markets, we should start seeing International versions of the OS.

Alibaba YunOS running on a Xiaomi Mi4
I flashed the ROM for the Xiaomi Mi4. It was quite straight forward to do that. You just had to download the file and then flash it using TWRP.

YunOS integrates Alibaba Group’s Big Data, Cloud services and technological intelligent device operating systems which can be mounted on a smart phone, smart set-top boxes, Internet TV, smart home, smart car, smart wearable and other intelligent terminals.

The OS had around 40M active users around the end of last year and it aims to have 100M users by end of this year. The company is challenging the Android market in China and is also slowly looking to expand into Western markets.

Considering the fact that Google services isn’t available in China, Alibaba YunOS has obvious advantages over Android there. Along with running Android Apps, it also brings Ali’s e-commerce, Internet services, Cloud Storage and Content benefits for Chinese users.

Categories
Features

Xiaomi in India: A Journey that Transformed the Smartphone Scene

This week, Xiaomi celebrates its second anniversary in India and is offering great discount on products for its customers. Its quite intriguing to learn how this company made its way to glory over the past two years.

Early 2014, It wasn’t easy at all for any new company to establish itself in the smartphone market which was dominated by Samsung in India. However, Xiaomi adhered to its goal of providing affordable technology to people and managed to strike a cord by offering great products at reasonable prices. They have been progressing in the right direction ever since.

Xiaomi was founded in 2010. They’ve been able to bring together like-minded people from Microsoft, Google, Motorola, Yahoo and other big players in the industry with a focus of making innovative products at ground breaking prices. They reached great heights in China by 2014. Mi 3 was Xiaomi’s top performing smartphone in China then, so it was a logical move to introduce this phone in India.

xiaomi-mi-3

The Beginning:

Mi started its journey with Mi 3 in July 2013. This was one phone which transformed the Indian Smartphone market. Until Mi3 arrived in India the concept of ‘affordable flagship phone’ was non-existent.mi in india first invite

Xiomi had a different approach to things and had a clear road map in their mind.I can still remember the conversations which Hugo and Manu had with the media and blogger community. Instead of having the launch at a fancy venue, they focused on small group discussions with us to understand the market and our thoughts. They also explained to us what they bring to the table. This approach was something new to many of us and today we know that it was indeed a great way to start.

I loved the honest approach this company was taking. It was a new learning for many of us to understand how they could price the phone at such a great price.

The Mi3 India announcement came with this beautiful theme designed exclusively for the launch which showed their dedication and interest in bringing great products to our country.

mi-in-India-theme

Xiaomi Mi3 also introduced a new concept to Indian e-commerce business – The Flash Sale which was new to us and it became a routine for many of us to sit in front of a computer and wait till the clock strikes 2.00 PM to hit the submit button and buy phones. On a lighter note, the initial sales also did a regression analysis on the Flipkart’s infrastructure which went down many times during these sales.

flipkart-mi3-server-down

“The site saw an unprecedented 250,000 users simultaneously accessing the Mi 3 page shortly after the sale opened at 2pm today. This traffic load was 4 times higher than the heaviest level ever experienced by Flipkart’s infrastructure. At 2pm sharp, when the countdown timer on the Mi 3 page hit 00:00:00, users were able to instantly add the product to their shopping carts (resulting in liquidation of the entire inventory in just under 5 seconds) and were then taken to the payment and checkout pages which they completed at their leisure.” – Flipkart

More Phones to the Market:

Hugo scratching the phone screen
Hugo trying to scratch Redmi 1S using a pair of scissors to show the quality of the glass.

Following the Mi3 success, the company introduced Redmi 1s – which was the best entry level smartphone. The company also partnered with Airtel for the first time to help users experience how 4G can help them with faster internet using the Redmi Note 4G This also got company more traction which till then was only by online sales and branding via Facebook & Flipkart.

By the end of 2014, the company had already sold about 1M phones in India which was a massive number considering the fact, they were just 6 months old in the country.

Mi PowerBanks, which were launched in October 2014 was an instant hit as well. No one could imagine buying a 10,000 mAh power bank for as low as 999 INR.

Mi4, Mi4i and Mi Band:

2015 saw variety of devices coming from the company. The Mi4, Mi4i, Redmi 2, Mi Pad and Mi Band. The Mi Band became one of the most successful product for the company. In a short period of time, Mi also became the Number one wearable brand in India with over 27% market share according to IDC survey, 2016 Q1.

India Wearables Market Share 2016Q1

Days after the Mi4i launch, the company also announced that Ratan Tata, chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons has made an investment in the company. Ratan Tata’s investment was the best affirmation of the strategy the company has undertaken in India so far.

Manufacturing smartphones locally was a significant step which Xiaomi took.  Around August 2015, the company partnered with Foxconn to bring in the first Made in India phone to the market – The Redmi 2 Prime. Further, generating more jobs in India.

MIUI, offering the User Experience that matters:

MIUI helps the performance and offers great user experience along with a variety of options to control your phone. Over the years there have been a lot of customisations specific to the Indian market like directory integration, copying OTP from messages etc.

You never buy a phone just because it has great specs. You buy it for its reliability, design, style and most importantly, the user-experience.

MIUI is more of an experience and gives you similar feel without worrying about the latest version of Android available in market. The company has been very vocal about supporting all their phones. Their latest release – MIUI v8 will be available to every device which was sold in India.

Mi Phones in 2016:

Early this year in March, the company announced the Redmi Note 3 which has seen incredible success for the company in India. They have sold over 600K phones within 60 days of launch. It was quickly followed by Mi5 and Mi Max  which reached India within months of their Global release.

Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Mi Fit App

Around April 2016, Xiaomi invested in Hungama which also got them an exclusive partnership to deliver content to Mi customers.

Earlier this month, Mi India expanded its offline presence with two new partners. Being primarily an e-commerce company, the company has taken its learning from the online model to offline model. As they expanded to more than 5000 offline outlets, it allowed more people to experience Mi products and purchase them easily.

The People behind and their Approach:

Hugo has always been a great guy to talk to.He has been honest and clear in his approach from the very first meet. A lot of people love his presentation style. The attention to detail in his talks is also worth mentioning!

Manu is very approachable as well. In the past 2 years, every-time we met him, he has always welcomed us with a wide smile. Its impressive to see, how he has built his team in India and taken ‎the company ahead in the region. Not to forget, his dedication on being part of the every launch and lending ears to our feedback. 

Mi Press meets have always reminded me of the good old Nokia days. They are not about flashing the technical specs or marketing content with numbers but one gets a lot of  insight by being a part of the detailed technical and feedback discussions.

Xiaomi also introduced the culture of Fans in India. While some companies used fans just to celebrate success or have them at their launches, Xiaomi involved them in testing/building the products as well. For their latest Redmi Note 3, Explorers identified 100 fans and planned a lot of activities and explore the phone through them.

Challenges the Company Faced:

Xiaomi’s journey in India has not been just a bed of roses; they faced many challenges as well. To begin with, the entire ‘Flash Sale’ model backfired when many people started to report it to be fake and questioned the integrity of Flash Sales itself. This also brought a sense of disappointment to the few who wanted to buy a phone but never managed to buy one through these Flash sales. Thereby, tarnishing the brand name on social media.

This was followed by concerns of data privacy as there were reports claiming that Mi devices store data on Chinese servers which could be hacked easily. The company had to step up and convince the users about how serious they were about user data and how they planned to move it out of China.

Now everyone expects Xiaomi to bring every cool product the company announces in China to India. Be it the MiTV, The Rice Cooker, Home Automation solution, Variants, Accessories etc. Unfortunately, its not that easy for the company to get them all here. There are definitely logistic constraints as of now and we hope to see them soon.

Customer Service is also the most discussed topic online. To be honest, every company suffers in that segment. I can’t think of any company other than Apple which excels in Product and Customer Service. But Apple has the luxury to do that. With Xiaomi things also went haywire as outsourced Customer Service companies could not live up to the expectation. Early this year, the company introduced its first in-house customer service offering.

A lot has changed in the past 2 years and its definitely worth looking back what this company has done in the Indian Smartphone Business. They changed the way how many people look at buying smartphones, technology got more affordable and a lot more people got connected. We hope they come up with more ground breaking and innovative technologies that anyone can use and adopt in their lives. We wish Xiaomi a lot of success in years to come, and Well, Happy Anniversary Xiaomi India!

Xiaomi Mi Anniversary

Categories
Features Internet of Things (IoT)

SAM Labs Helps Kids Learn Coding through IoT

SAM Labs, Maker of educational technology kits to learn coding, engineering, and DIY; SAM teaches incredibly complex concepts through a hands-on and visual approach. Without any prior knowledge of coding or programming, one can program the SAM building blocks by connecting the dots in the SAM Space app to form wireless circuits and learn.

The journey for this company has been exciting. Great ride since the Kickstarter campaign, the pop-up at the Science Museum and Joachim’s TED talk has been giving them great lime-light, attention and of course learning.

The kits are comprised of sensors and actuators (inputs and outputs). These are what we call SAM blocks.

SAM Labs

Within each kit, there is an assortment of blocks that hook up to our app, SAM Space. The blocks and the app are designed with one project to get you started, but not to give too much away. They want users to feel they have gained a springboard to inventing. You can see the whole process below.

Within the app, circuits can be customised with dynamic elements and inventions can even be internet connected. With a wide range of sensors and actuators, a diverse range of add-ons within the app, and endless projects to complete.

SAM Labs Circuit Design

Great design isn’t just about great and colourful looking products, it has to provide for great user experience. Simplicity and user-friendliness is what makes it a good product.

SAM Labs is currently being used in some schools around the globe to aid teachers and students alike to learn coding and programming. Microsoft has also been a fabulous helper in promotion and a driving force of users to SAM from the fantastic articles published throughout the past few months.

They want to ensure that kids have the skills to be able to build their futures. By using SAM, they gain a visual and hands-on approach to coding and STEM subjects that engage all kids – no matter their gender, ethnicity, abilities, or age.

If you’re wondering, how do you get started for your kid, first download the app and teeter around with it for a bit. Then, pick the Inventor kit. This is a fantastic one to introduce coding and engineering principles through scientific exploration as this kit was designed in collaboration with the London Science Museum.

SAM Science Museum Kit

They hope to bring in more awesome projects and a new industry standard within the educational field to gamify education and make school feel like play. “Internet of Everything for Everyone” is one statement the company vouches on.

The powers of engineering and the IoT are crucial to the development of technology and innovation in the future. By giving these to kids, we’re giving them the power to sculpt the future of technology, not just use it.

Categories
Features Interviews

Tanmay Bakshi at 12, A Prodigy who not only Codes, but Inspires.

Last week at the IBM developer Summit, I had a chance to chat with a young champ called Tanmay Bakshi. Tanmay is 12 year old and he is the world’s youngest IBM Watson Programmer. He isn’t just a software developer but also an Author, Keynote Speaker and a Honorary IBM Cloud Advisor. Tanmay had his first iOS app, tTables, accepted by Apple when he was just 9 years old. Let us read Tanmay Bakshi’s Interview.

What got Tanmay to Technology and Coding?

He started coding when he was 5 years old. I was amazed when I heard him say that; For a moment, I couldn’t even remember, what I was doing at 5. Today, Kids have great access to Technology and Gadgets. When groomed well, it empowers you to do something super awesome!

Like it does for many of us, Technology excites Tanmay as well. He didn’t just stop at being amazed, but took a step to learn and create something which is phenomenal. At first, he was super excited to first see his name on screen and whatever he types on screen. It was just a magic for him.

He couldn’t stop laughing while he explained about how he helped fix his teacher’s computer in his senior kindergarten.

His first app, tTables was primarily designed for children: You answer multiplication questions and, depending on your knowledge, you hear applause or the ominous buzzing of bees.

Tanmay says, Swift is his most favourite. Scripting languages aren’t very powerful with Syntaxes. However, you end up using them because performance matters. Swift is a perfect mix of everything. You can either use it like a full fledge programming language or you can use it like a scripting language like Ruby or Python. Swift is even cross platform now and that gives it an edge among other programming languages at this moment.

How should Kids approach Programming?

According to Tanmay, Dedication and never give-up attitude is what matters than anything else. One has to solve problems and learn new things. Start with one language and others will be easy to pick up. Coding isn’t all that difficult, he says! Tanmay has also written a book called “Hello Swift!: iOS programming for kids and other beginners”.

This year’s Apple WWDC also saw the company showcasing Swift Playgrounds, an interactive app for iPad which helps kids and aspiring developers to learn Swift Programming easily through activities and games.

Tanmay Bakshi's Interview

What does Tanmay like to do?

While I asked, if he loved creating games or tools? His answer quite amazed me. He says – “I like making open source tool which can be useful for the developer community and also general public. Something like AskTanmay, where you get answers to questions asked and not just documents like Google does”.

This documentary on IBM Watson: Smartest Machine ever built influenced Tanmay on his research; and his tool, AskTanmay is a web based NLQA system built of IBM Watson’s Cognitive Capabilities in the NL Field.

Tanmay has learned most of the coding on his own, playing on his computer and online tutorials after school. Learning from Videos has definitely helped him and he believes in giving back to the community. He runs a YouTube channel which has over 89 videos on technology learning and he spends time with his subscribers to solve their problems related to programming, Watson, Maths and Science.

Role of Parents, How did they really help him?

Tanmay’s parents do encourage Tanmay’s ambitions and are a part of his efforts in problem solving. While many parents are worried about the screen time their children get, Puneet says – Tanmay isn’t using computers aimlessly; He has a motive and we would always support him for what he does. As a parent, you need to understand kids. They have open minds and lots of time. They can think fearlessly.

Tanmay-Bakshi-ParentsPuneet further added in – we adults have a fear of losing; whereas with kids, thats not the case. Tanmay doesn’t even care if his program is going to crash the computer. He just plays with his code and his machine. He loves doing that.

“Provide the right set of resources to your kids, and while you give, you also monitor if they are using it right. That’s a very important thing to do. If it is heading in the right direction, provide even more resources so that, they can excel in what they are doing”, says Puneet.

What next for Tanmay?

Tanmay is currently working with his mentors from IBM on creating various IoT enabled devices. He wants to continue making videos for his YouTube channel and build more and more applications. He also wants to write more books on Swift, Cognitive Computing, Machine Learning, IBM Watson and more. Tanmay is also a huge Amitabh Bachchan fan and hopes to get his book autographed by the legendary bollywood actor.

While we were having this conversation, his hand gestures and confidence was worth admiring. I wasn’t getting a feel of talking to a kid anymore. All I could see was an App inventor sitting beside me, explaining about technology and how it is going to touch lives. Yes, I was inspired as well.

Hope you enjoyed reading Tanmay Bakshi’s interview. Let us know your thoughts.

Categories
Features Interviews

Meet Shankar Parasaram, Head of India Operations at Nextbit

Last week, San Francisco based Nextbit launched its flagship smartphone ‘Robin’ in India. Priced at INR 19999, the phone was available for pre-order on Flipkart. The smartphone brings in an unique cloud-based smart storage feature. This Feature enables Robin to free up space by backing up apps and photos to the cloud ahead of time. The smart storage feature combines 32 GB local storage and 100 GB cloud storage.

Today, we chat with Shankar Parasaram, the head of India operations at Nextbit to know more about the company and their plans in India.

Shankar-nextbit

Hello Shankar. Thanks for taking time to talk with us. Good to see you in Bangalore. Could you give us an introduction about you and your background?

Basically, I am from Chennai, I did my masters from IISc Bangalore, that was way back 1993-1997. Then I worked for a year in Bangalore for Digital Equipment Corporation where we were making all the UNIX servers, then I moved to Chennai and worked at HCL for few years and then, I went to the US, worked there for a few companies; later,  I joined QualComm in early 2004 at San Diego.

While I was at Qualcomm, I was initially working in the audio team; and then I did some work on the graphics side. I moved to Android, where I managed android software on snapdragon chipsets. I then started managing the Android OS transitions from Kitkat to Lollipop and Lillipop to MarshMallow. I led the worldwide team for QualComm. There were teams in San Diego and Hyderabad. That is what, I was doing recently.

I have done a lot of work with Qualcomm in Hyderabad – established a few teams, in 2005 when they started here. I used to manage them from the US. Work used to involve a lot of early morning-late night calls and traveling. Later, I joined Nextbit in September last year.

Thats an interesting journey.  Can you share the story of Nextbit with us? About the company and how did it shape up?

Nextbit was founded by Tom Moss and Mike Chan. Tom is the business guy; Earlier, he was the business development lead for Android at Google and established all the business relationships. For a while he was also leading and managing the Google team in Japan. Mike Chan is the CTO. Mike worked in the android engineering team at Google, where he had done lot of work on power management.

After the initital days, Tom and Mike quit Google and started a company called 3LM – They were doing some sort of corporate security stuff on Android something similar to the “Android for work”. Motorola bought 3LM, and Google bought Motorola and they were back at Google. They felt that, they enjoyed work more in small companies than in bigger ones. By the time they came back to Google, the company was way bigger than how they left.

So they left Google again and started Nextbit. The initital goal of Nextbit was to advance Android OS. So they were doing a lot of development work, and making it easy for people to migrate from one android phone to another. One cool feature is Baton which is still available on PlayStore. The way it works is that, say, you have an Android Phone and a tablet. You’re playing a game on the phone, you should be able to migrate the game from the phone to the tablet without losing any of the context. So with a few gestures, you can move the game to the tablet and continue playing on the tablet. They also had few solutions to solve the storage challenges which was there in Android then, and some of them got licensed to the OEMs.

Probably, around end of 2014, they thought it would be better to have their own device,as that gives them the control; also helps them towards the goal of advancing android experience. Otherwise, you are always dependent on the OEM; you can develop whatever you want, but then you have to license it to the OEM and then the OEM has to use it without destroying the underlying idea behind the things. That was a challenge. Having their own device would make it easy for them to innovate on the OS side. And at the same time they, roped in Scott Croyle.

Scott is currently our Chief Product officer. Previously, he was a senior VP at HTC and he led the design aspects of HTC one M7 and M8. He is well known in the phone design world. He is the one that pioneered the Metal unibody design at HTC which is now being used by pretty much every OEM right now. At HTC, Scott was also leading the visual design aspects for the HTC Sense UI. He is an industry design professional, but he was also leading the visual design.

And in addition to innovating on the OS, the other thought process they had was to change how the phone looks. If you look at the Android phones in the market today, every phone pretty much looks similar. There is nothing great that differentiates one phone from another. You have a phone in your hand, the other person can guess it to be probably a Motorola or a Samsung, or a OnePlus etc. They all look very similar. You can’t pin point and identify a phone and say, that’s a Motorola. Even if you take an iPhone, many other phones look like an iPhone now. There wasn’t much innovation happening on the design side of devices. People were taking a very tried and tested approach to design. So they wanted to create a phone that stands out, that is bold, has a fresh look design and solves some real world problems of phones running out of space. That’s how it all started and yeah, we have the Robin now.

Btw, Why the name Robin?

We had an internal code word for the phone. But then at some point, we had to start the marketing aspects of the phone and were looking for names. We wanted the phone to have a close to human name. A name that people can relate to. Not some random numbers or Sci-Fi names. We wanted something that has a life to it. A name that is easily pronounceable, people shouldn’t mispronounce it and if that gives a different meaning it is still a problem. Also, the name should be close to be gender neutral as possible. Thinking about all these constraints, the suggestion of Robin came up. It fitted all the criteria. You can take it as a bird or a person; this brings life to it. And in every geography, people would pronounce it similar.

What got your interest in NextBit? How did the move happen? Considering that you were working for a real big company.

That’s little bit interesting. Around June last year, I felt that, I have been in QualComm for a long time and I should start looking out. Qualcomm is a great company, it gives you lot of stability and even in the industry, it is still a king in the space of mobile processors. At the same time, things were getting a little boring for me. Being a big company, there are only few things that you could do. If you want to do something out of the box, you don’t have much options. I felt that, I should probably join a startup. Because, if I want to go for a big company, then there is no reason why I should leave Qualcomm. Its probably as good as it can get in any big company.

I started doing research, and somehow I stumbled upon Tom’s name in LinkedIn. That’s when I looked at his company – they were doing something in the android space, I felt good because I had something in Android. At that time, they hadn’t published on the website that, they were making a phone. They were working on the Android software stuffs like I described earlier. It sounded interesting and then I felt, there is a company which is doing some innovation in the android space, and probably that’s something I can contribute to. Later, I reached out to the company through a mutual friend, and then I got into a phone interview. They were very interested in my profile, they found it fitting because they were looking at someone to look at the Snapdragon and Android aspects.

So Mike was the android expert, he was spearheading all the innovation in the company. It was difficult for him to manage the product innovation and also look at the other aspects of smartphone development like understanding how Qualcomm works and with Foxcomm being our ODM, managing all that was getting difficult to Mike. So he was really looking for someone, who could help in managing all aspects of phone software, Foxconn and other 3rd party relationships that we have. So they found me to fit the bill really well.

At that time, they also had a challenge. They had started the development for Lollipop, and they knew that, they had to migrate to Marshmallow. I had managed the OS migration at Qualcomm as well, so that aspect also helped in being a right fit. So only in the first phone interview, I got to know that, NextBit were indeed looking at making a phone. I was very surprised that, with so many OEMs around, how does this small company have the guts to make a phone. But I had just started with my job search, I thought let’s go through the process and then see how it is.

I had a phone interview with Scott and Mike. Post that, they called me for an onsite interview at San Francisco. Scott spoke to me, He had a neat white box with some phone mock-ups in it. He wanted to show me the mock-ups but he was teasing around and talking about other stuff. I wasn’t paying any attention to what he was saying. I was just curious to see, how the phone looks. I was thinking, If the phone looks like any other phone in the market, I am out of here. He finally opened up the box and showed me the phone. Coincidentally, I was wearing a shirt of the same color that day.  The phone impressed me. I don’t really like curved edge phones. That’s been my preference. Even when I wanted to buy a car, I was quite clear to buy something that has a nice sharp design. When I saw the phone, I really liked it. Even if the edges were sharp, it was comfortable to hold it in the hand. It doesn’t hurt because of the softness to it. I liked it and felt, this is something I should try.

It’s little bit difficult to switch to a small company, coming from a big one, but I felt that, its now or never. If I don’t take the plunge into a startup company now, I would probably never do it. For me the biggest challenge was travelling from San Diego to San Francisco as my family is still in San Diego. Other than that, there is lot for me to do here, and way more than what I could’ve imagined. I am getting my hands into any technology that gets into the phone. Talking to partners, signing agreements, India Launch – the last 9 months have been the best in my career so far in terms of learning. Its been a real fun ride for me except for the fact that, I stay a lot away from my family these days. They are still in the US. A lot needs to happen before I move them here to India. Taking one step at a time.

I have a problem with the Android Device market today. They are primarily specs driven. Every company just places the tech spec card and a budget price to gain attention. What’s your thought on this? Do you think the timing was right for Robin in India?

I think the main problem is lack of choices. There are no real choices that differentiates in other aspects of the phone. People naturally gravitate towards spec oriented buy. For example, in Robin, the looks really standout. When that attracts people, the spec becomes secondary. So we need to create a differentiating factor outside of the specs.

At Robin, we don’t differentiate with other phones saying that phone has a 2GB RAM and we come with a 3GB one. We don’t speak about that. We emphasise about how our phone looks different, and how it is more beautiful and elegant. And when these kind of differentiating factors come out, the perspectives changes. There is a good enough hunger in the market, and there is a good enough market segment that values other things than specs. I think, people will start paying attention. Because, people are bored with what is there in market today – “Why this, why not that. If all are same, that has an extra GB of RAM, I will take that“. That will change when more options come out.

nextbit-robin-cloud-storage

You definitely need to have good specs. If you don’t do that, no matter what experience you build it, its not going to show up. But you don’t have to micro-compare yourself with other’s specs, show your innovation. Even spec-wise, the 808 is a good processor. Even though we talk about Cloud, the phone still has a 32GB of onboard storage. 3 GB of RAM, 13MP/5MP camera, 5.2’ inch LCD, USB Type C, Finger print Sensor and dual front speakers. Of-course, 808 can’t compete with 820. It isn’t an old phone. I don’t think, we are late for this processor.

I like the design on your phone. To be honest, I even found the touch very impressive. Almost close to what an iPhone gives.

Thank you for the feedback. I am proud about that comparison. Apple creates incredible quality products. If you benchmark our phone with iPhone, its good in a way!

There has been a lot of reports online about Robin being a cloud phone; and with Bandwidth Speeds like what we have in India, would Cloud Storage be an ideal option that would encourage an user to go and buy a robin? What’s your take on this?

nextbit-storage-dashboardFirst of all, it’s a big misconception. We are looking at people like you to kind of help us dispel this wrong notion. To begin with Cloud (smart) Storage is completely optional. Like I said, the phone is a fully spec’ed phone – even if you don’t sign into the cloud storage, its as good as any other phone in the market.

The second aspect is that, the smart storage can be used completely on Wifi. There is no dependency on cellular bandwidth at all. Here is how it works – you buy the phone, you start using it normally; when you connect the phone to the wifi and power, it will start backing up your pictures and APKs on the cloud. The default configuration is that, the backup would run only when you are on Wifi and Power. As a user, you can configure it to not backup, backup only apps or pictures etc. Everything is configurable. If a user wants to backup using cellular data, he can still do that. So this backup happens from the day one.

6 months or 1 year down the lane, if you fill the phone with apps and pictures – the operating system will see that you’re running low on memory, and it would’ve also learnt about what apps pictures you haven’t used or seen in a while. Then when it needs to make a space for you, it will archive those applications and pictures that you have not used in the long time to the cloud. When the backup happens, it does on Wifi. Any application that is archived, will turn grey. A skeleton information is still maintained on the phone. Similarly, a lower resolution of a picture will be saved. You can still view it. When you pinch and zoom, it will start downloading the full sized image from the cloud. At that time of restore, you will have to be on a network. Its in your hands, you can choose to get that application via Mobile Data or Wifi.

For example, its like if you want to install an application, you are generally careful about it right? You may not install an application via Mobile Data all the times. You would choose either a home or an office Wifi Network to do so. Its pretty similar to it.

How is India in Nextbit’s Radar. What’s your plans? Where would the first office be?

We first need to sell phones, satisfy our customers and support them. We know that, we need to have an office here in India. It would mostly be Bangalore or Hyderabad. We don’t even have a legal entity here here. I am also in conversations with few customer support organizations for product support. That is a very important part of selling phones and we understand that. For the immediate time-frame, it would be a combination of online and email support. Flipkart will also provide phone support to begin with. We also have a community to help people when they have issues. We are certainly looking at walk-in customer support as well.

To give you an idea, we may be looking at some roles like Engineering support, Community Management, Social Media etc. But that’s two steps away. Our first priority is to get a legal entity here.

How has the registrations on Flipkart been so far? Can you share any details on the sales?

The initial demand was beyond our expectation and all the phones were sold out. The pre-order started last Thursday and ran out of stock. We are expecting the next batch to come in within a week. I am sorry, I can’t disclose the numbers at this moment.

Alright Shankar, It’s was great talking to you. All the very best for Nexbit in India. Hope to see you guys explore and innovate to make Android device market a better place.

Thanks Vijay, we are definitely working towards it. It was nice talking to you. Will look forward to read your review.

Categories
Features Software

Flyme 5 OS Review: Great Design and Simplistic Approach to Android Customisation

Today, most of the mobile phone companies make their own version of forked android for their phones. The idea is simple – Give a better user experience and features/software that the stock android doesn’t provide. This also gives them an opportunity to stand out among the competition where most of them offer similar specs and hardware almost at the same price. Out of all the versions available, my personal favourites are EMUI, Flyme, and MIUI.

Flyme OS is a firmware developed by Meizu for smartphones based on the Android operating system. The key features are its simple UI, one-handed usability and performance optimisations. The latest version of this OS is the Flyme 5.

International Meizu customers can download the Flyme 5.1.5G for m1note, m2note, MX4, MX4 PRO, MX5 and PRO5 now. Indian customers can download Flyme 5.1.5IN for MX5 and m2note. The m3note comes with Flyme 5 by default. Download here.

meizu-mx5-m2note-box

Flyme OS is very minimalistic. While many people love jazzy colours and UI transitions, I still love clean and simple UI on my phone. Thats probably, one of the reasons why I love Meizu’s phones for its flat looking icons, simplistic approach to Android and few tweaks which makes it faster than other phones.

Not only, the UI is simple, the gestures and toggles throughout the device are impressive. It does take a little bit of learning to understand Flyme, the moment you do its super simple and fast. Especially, when you want to use the phone one-handed.

With smooth animations, large and easy icons to press the UI stands out the most on the Flyme OS. We have a number of interesting gestures on the Flyme OS. To name a few – While on the locked screen, you can Double tab to wake up,  swipe up to goto the home screen straight away, while on the locked screen, you can swipe down from the top to bring on the notifications to control quick settings.

gestures-meizu-flyme

From the lock screen you can configure your favourite application when you swipe right, and swiping left starts the camera. You can also configure custom gesture settings; you can draw any letter to start an application. While on the home screen, you can swipe up to get a spotlight search option like on the iOS. Swiping up from the bottom left bezel near the single capacitive touch button brings on the multi-tasking switch and the most recent apps. You could quickly switch between them. Its pretty neat and very simple.  Swiping up from an icon closes the program, and swiping up from the background will close all currently open applications.

Flyme both looks good and works really well in a nice iOS/Android hybrid way. Similar to iOS, the stock FlymeOS launcher carries all installed applications on the home screens. Personally, I feel this to be lot cleaner than many other Android interfaces, which hide apps away in an app drawer. Today, many other companies are moving away from app-drawer approach. The keyboard is good too.

The Flyme gives you a good range of application permissions and notification controls to play with. The fingerprint sensor doesn’t just work to unlock screen but also to open private folders and applications. You also have a vault, password protection feature where you can protect private folders and applications. The File explorer is pretty neat and gives you easy categories to look up.

meizu-flyme-file-explorer

Flyme also supports Multi-screen mode, where two applications can be displayed at the same time in multi-screen mode in an adjustable ratio (only few applications are supported at this moment). Icons can be selected and moved in batch mode to different pages by long pressing Home screen and selecting Icons to move them; further, you can also shake the phone to sort all the icons on the page.

The startup speeds and App launches are pretty quick. While you uninstall an application on the phone, Flyme reminds if you want to clear the app cache simultaneously, thereby providing better and fast performance. The Scan and clear option can also be scheduled. The Immersive Mode where the color of status bar at the top will changes accordingly makes the whole interface more natural and very artistic.

Things can definitely be polished better. Maybe, because of the china first approach, the text sometimes aren’t aligned right and even the translations are too literal. The designers at Meizu have done a pretty good job in working on the icons. That gives a very fresh and a minimalistic look to this version of Android which really feels light.

Hope you liked the review. Which forked version of Android do you like? Any specific reason behind it? Do let us know your thoughts.