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On Saturday I picked up a printed hardback novel I ordered from my local public library. When I got home I sat down to read. And read.

I read for five hours straight. On Sunday I woke early and read for another three hours without disturbing my sleeping wife.

Which is more than I can do with an ebook

Neither would have been possible with an ebook. I know, I’ve tried three specialist ebooks, Apple’s iPad 2 and an Android phone. None work for me when it comes to a serious reading session.

This undermines my plan to be a paperless journalist.

I’ve found I can’t read an ebook for one whole hour, let alone five. There are three problems, two are physical, the third may be a personal failing.

Blurry vision, headaches

First, my eyes go blurry after about forty minutes. They weep. I don’t mean I’m crying, I mean water fills my eyes and runs down my cheeks. On some occasions the ebook experience also gives me headaches.

When this happens my eyes stay blurry for some time after I stop reading. At least an hour, maybe more. I can’t drive or do much that requires good vision.

This doesn’t happen with printed books.

Sleep deprivation

If I read a printed book last thing before switching out the light, I can usually fall asleep minutes after hitting the pillow. If I read using a screen I struggle to sleep at all. I suspect the colour and brightness of the display has something to do with this. You may have another idea. Please share it if you do.

Butterfly concentration

My third problem with sustained ebook reading is I get distracted. This may be a failing on my part or it may be related to the discomfort described above. Either way, I find it hard to concentrate on an ebook. This isn’t a problem reading novels, it is a problem when I’m reading non-fiction.

I’m in a race to see whether I lose my concentration or my vision first. It turns out I’m not alone.

Backlighting blues

When I read a printed book in bed early in the morning, it doesn’t disturb my wife. When I tried reading an ebook early one morning, it woke her.

I should confess I haven’t tried a specialist ebook device in months. The technology may have improved. Perhaps I should try again. In recent weeks I’ve read books on an iPad – I took one loaded with a library on a recent trip.

 

I wrote about the Palm T|X for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007. It’s republished here to shows how far phones have come in the last five years.

If smartphones haven’t killed off traditional handheld computers yet, the day can’t be far away. Sales of non-phone Palm and PocketPC devices are stagnant or falling. There’s been nothing much in the way of new hardware for a couple of years.

Sure, but something huge was on the way.

This is a pity. I’ve found my $500 Palm T|X to be one of my most productive tools. It goes way beyond managing my contact file and calendar information.

My word, what low expectations we had in those days.

The T|X has a 3.8 inch 480 by 320 display. While you wouldn’t call it large, it’s half as big again as the screen on most phones.

But nothing compared to the 4.3 inch 540 x 960 qHD display on my HTC Sensation and there was no camera.

It makes reading text, browsing web pages, viewing photographs and even watching movies a better experience than squinting at a smartphone display.

Which was true at the time.

The 128MB of built-in memory doesn’t sound much by today’s standards, yet I’ve got a dozen or so applications running on my handheld and scores of stored documents. If I need more memory, I simply slot in an SD card.

That sounds even less now.

And we’re not talking about any old documents. The T|X comes with a bundled version of Documents To Go, an application that allows you to read and, in a limited way, edit, Word or Excel files. It can also be used to read .pdfs, making it the nearest thing to an electronic book.

OK, this looks a bit daft today, but at the time the T|X was a realistic ebook reader.

The T|X’s best feature is its built-in wi-fi. When I’m travelling around the city, I stop for coffee where’s there’s a free hot spot and catch up on emails. Sure you can do this anywhere with a smartphone – but the bigger screen makes a difference.

Wi-Fi is still wonderful.

I use wi-fi to sync my Palm with my desktop before leaving home and then reverse the process when I return.

The T|X isn’t perfect, text entry is clumsy and the battery won’t make it through an extended working day if the wireless is switched on. Yet, all-in-all, it manages to better the specification of smartphones in most departments. When I’m on business away from home I carry a smartphone and a T|X.

No doubt a phone manufacturer will marry the features of the T|X with a smartphone before much longer – judging by the announced specifications Apple’s forthcoming iPhone could get there first.

And the rest is history

HTC’s Sensation is not a direct competitor to Huawei’s Ideos X5.

At NZ$1100, HTC’s flagship Sensation costs almost twice as much as the NZ$600 Ideos X5.

How much extra hardware and user expereince does an extra NZ$500 buy?

It boils down to four things:

  • Display quality,
  • processor power,
  • battery life and
  • bundled software.

There are other minor differences. These are the ones that count.

Smartphone display

Spending an extra NZ$500 buys a better display. The HTC Sensation’s screen is 110mm across the diagonal compared to the Ideos X5’s 97mm. This doesn’t sound much. More important, the Sensation has 960 by 540 pixels while the Ideos X5 is just 800 by 480.

In practice these numbers add up to a huge difference.

Photos look better on the Sensation screen. Movies are stunning.

The Sensation’s 906 by 540 resolution is one-quarter of an HD screen. In a tiny handheld package it feels almost as good as watching HD. And there is sound. It is not great, but you can hold the Sensation in your hands and watch a movie in relative comfort. The Ideos X5’s screen isn’t bad for movies, but there’s a wide quality gulf between the two.

That extra resolution is also put to good use displaying text and web pages. Reading documents, email and other information is far better on the Sensation. Text is clearer and crisper. I can read the Sensation’s screen for much longer without tiring my eyes.

Dual core processor and bundled software

At first sight HTC’s 1.2Ghz dual core processor gives less of a performance boost than you might imagine.

The Ideos X5’s powerplant runs at just 800Mhz, so you’d expect a leap moving between the phones. In practice, HTC swallows much of the extra grunt with the Sense user interface. This is overlaid on top of the standard Android front end.

Sense is nicer to use and the animations are pretty. But there’s nothing essential about it.

There is little difference between the phones when performing most tasks. Sure, the Sensation is smoother experience. Yet the extra power doesn’t translate into extra productivity. There may be applications where it matters – so far I haven’t used them.

HTC says Sense boots faster – that’s true the Sensation phone boots faster than the Ideos X5. Yet, this doesn’t matters, I wouldn’t expect to book an Android phone more than once or twice a month. There’s some clever caching – which speeds some applications – and a built-in social networking hub. The customisable lockscreens are a good idea, but once again, not productivity boosters.

A great weather widget that comes as standard on the Sensation. I managed to download the same software from the Android store on my Ideos X5.

Battery life

In theory there should be nothing between the Ideos X5 1500 mAh battery and the Sensation 1520 mAh. In practice, the Sensation lasts longer despite its bigger screen and more powerful processor.

Over the long haul the Ideos X5 is good for about 12 hours use between charges. Of course this depends on which power-draining components you switch on. Also on whether applications update often and your usage pattern.

I found the HTC Sensation offers a few more hours before running out of juice. This could be because the review phone has a newer battery. I suspect the phone does a better job of managing power during down times.

What’s important is the Sensation can make it through an extended working day. There is still have enough power left to call a cab at the end of the evening.

Is the Sensation worth an extra NZ$500?

There’s no question the HTC Sensation is a better phone than the Ideos X5. What’s harder to decide is how much better and whether the extra stuff is worth  NZ$500. It comes down to what you want from a phone.

I work from home and generally only spend a day or two each week on the move in town. I’m a journalist, so I often carry a laptop computer – and may carry an iPad. The extra features of the Sensation are nice to have, but they do little to help my work. I could find better ways to spend that extra $500.

If I was working in an office, I would find the extra for the HTC Sensation – especially if I needed to spend lots of time reading information on its screen.

Huawei’s Ideos X5 is a full-feature Android smartphone at the price of a dumb phone.

In New Zealand 2degrees sells the phone for NZ$549. That’s less than half the price of Apple’s iPhone 4 and lower than other smartphones.

The price is low, but the phone comes with all the key features. It has an 800 by 480 pixel touch screen display which measures 98mm across the diagonal. In practice the screen is sharp enough for reading text and showing images. The display struggles in bright sunlight – show me a phone that doesn’t.

Huawei hit the size sweet spot. There are smartphones with larger displays, yet the X5 will fit in any pocket – the larger phones are harder to carry. It feels comfortable in the hand with smooth curves – I’ve tested more expensive smartphones that are awkward and less solid feeling. It feels fine when used as a phone and is held up to your ear.

Smooth-running Android 2.2

Some Android phones feel underpowered. Not the X5. I’ve used Android on slower phones and have been frustrated by sluggish behaviour and lags between using a command and getting a response. The X5 rips through all the tasks I’ve thrown at it. I wanted to leave it for a few weeks before writing this review to see if my impression of the speed changed with familiarity – it hasn’t. Applications load quickly, things happen fast.

Huawei has opted for Android 2.2 but, thankfully, without swamping it with a custom interface. This, coupled with the speed, means you get to experience Android the way Google intended.

I’ve previously had problems with Android keyboards. My fingers aren’t especially big or clumsy, but they struggled to type on earlier Android phones. The Huawei Ideos X5 comes with Swype keyboard which lets chubby fingers glide over the letters to form words – it doesn’t work perfectly every time but is an improvement on the hunt, peck and endless corrections on the earlier keyboards.

If the keyboard gets too much, there’s always the built-in speech recognition. I’ve had mixed experience in the past with voice controls, but they work so well on the X5 it feels like magic – especially when searching the contact book for names or triggering a Google search.

The phone comes with Documents to Go, but it costs extra to use its editing ability. I bypassed the program and installed Dropbox which allows me to share text and pdf documents with my PCs. I’ve previously paid for Documents to Go on a Palm Pilot and found I never used it. There’s also a built-in ebook reader. One can read books on the X5 at a pinch, but it isn’t a top-notch experience.

Google’s navigation works well using the phone’s GPS receiver. I tested it finding my way to obscure parts of Auckland – my only concern is it is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving so I had to rely on the voice directions and not the screen.

Surprisingly good camera

I’ve never been excited by mobile phone cameras in the past. They always come with so many hardware compromises that the pictures are instantly forgettable. The X5 has a 5 megapixel camera which takes remarkably good photos and 720p video.

Using the camera can be fiddley as there’s no physical shutter button – instead you need to push a software button on the touch screen and this can jerk the lens. The camera flash seems to work as expected although I found indoor pictures lacked colour vibrancy. However, there are plenty of image controls to play with if you’re keen to get the most out of the phone’s video and photography – I’ve made a mental note to explore this later.

The Ideos X5 comes with plenty of non-phone communications options. There’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a USB port which doubles as the charger plug. The Wi-Fi works well most of the time although I did experience drop-outs on my home router – this may be a setting that needs tweaking as I had no problems using the phone where there is public Wi-Fi.

Inevitable downside

You wouldn’t expect any smartphone to be perfect. While the Ideos X5 is unquestionably the best value smartphone on sale in New Zealand at the time of writing it has one minor flaw: battery life.

This won’t trouble most people, there’s enough juice to use the phone to listen to music on public transport to and from work, put in an eight-hour day with a little light smart phoning. But if you tend to work extended hours you might not get to the other end of the day in good order. I found a 12 hour workday with some browsing and using the smartphone features for roughly an hour saw me reach the 15% power remaining warning before I started on my return journVerdict – Huawei Ideos x5

The Huawei Ideos X5’s price is hard to get past. The phone has all the features you’d expect from a smart phone costing twice as much. Apple fans might feel otherwise but if you’re comfortable with the Android OS then you won’t find better value.

Social networking means getting and staying in touch with others has never been easier. We pack pocket-sized electronic devices that should help. So you might expect the days of printed paper business cards to be numbered.

They are not. At least not yet.

My collection continues grows at the same steady rate it always did. I understand it is the same for others.

There are two reasons they will not disappear in the immediate future.

  • Paper is universal. You don’t need the right hardware or operating system to read business card data. The batteries won’t run flat and paper technology will never be updated to the point where old cards are no longer readable.
  • Business card etiquette has yet to transfer to the digital realm. Think of the polite bows and protocols that come in to play when exchanging business cards with the Japanese.

Business cards are a metaphor for other printed media.

Despite this, the technology surrounding business cards has changed in recent years. I scan cards and send the data to an electronic contact book. I’ve known others to use their phone cameras to shoot business cards and store the images. This makes it easier to find contacts later.