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mobile

Would you switch bank for a phone app?

Levi Allan demonstrating ASB mobile banking app
Levi Allan demonstrating the ASB mobile banking app

Last week Levi Allen ASB’s digital channel manager demonstrated the latest version of the bank’s mobile app. The newest features allow you to deal with TradeMe directly from your phone, get balances from up to three accounts on the opening screen, manage Kiwisaver accounts and handle Facebook payments.

ASB wants to carve out a reputation as mobile banking leader. The new app – or more accurately apps, there are three – are a slick way of doing banking on the move and pack a lot of functionality – almost as much as you can get from doing internet banking on a device with a larger screen.

ASB has apps for the iPhone and Android. You’d expect that. It also has an app for Windows Phone. That shows commitment, Microsoft’s phone software is still something of a niche – certainly less than 5% of smartphones used in New Zealand.

Each phone’s app is fully native. ASB’s developers didn’t simply write one lot of code then port between operating systems. The Windows Phone version has that swipe left and right to get different screens approach used by all the best apps.

My bank is Westpac. I’m happy with the service and I’m in boots and all with a mortgage account, Kiwisaver and the works. Until recently I used the Westpac Android app – not often admittedly because the desktop browser software offers a better experience. So I’d only use mobile banking in an emergency.

Westpac’s Android app is at least one whole generation behind the ASB app and that’s being generous. However, I’ve recently started using a Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows Phone device. There’s no Westpac app at the moment.

Which brings me to my question: is a first-rate mobile banking app enough of a reason to switch banks? Unpicking all my existing accounts would take a lot of effort – I’ve a long history with my bank and, mobile apps aside, I’m happy with the relationship. Not having a mobile app is a disappointment, but not enough to make me switch.

On the other hand, if something happened that made me want to take another look at where I bank, I’d say the ASB apps would be a drawcard. So the app is a smart move on ASB’s part. All other things being equal, it would be the first bank I’d look to if I was about to switch my accounts.

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mobile review

Nokia’s Lumia 920 through a journalist’s lens

Image taken with Lumia 920 while returning home on the Birkenhead ferry and uploaded to SkyDrive while still out on the water
Image taken with Lumia 920 while returning home on the Birkenhead ferry and uploaded to SkyDrive while still out on the water – click through to see it at full resolution

Like most modern freelance journalists, my work is about words and pictures. While getting the story is important, editors usually expect me to return from an assignment with a handful of decent images. Not disappointing them is the best way to put food on the table.

So how does the Lumia 920’s camera rate for on-the-run press photography?

The Lumia 920 certainly looks the part on paper. It has an 8 megapixel sensor with a CarlZeiss lens and Pureview technology. Those last two words may not mean much to readers, by the end of this post you’ll realise they are vital.

Oh the pain
Getting pictures used to be a royal pain. Before smartphones it meant lugging digital cameras to jobs, remembering to take pictures as well as getting a story, worrying about picture quality and then quickly uploading images so designers can get to work.

Smartphones packing decent cameras mean there’s less to carry. Until recently that convenience came at a price: the results were often disappointing and early phone cameras were fiddly to use. Juggling note-taking and picture-taking with complicated tools could mean neither job was done well.

While it is unlikely Nokia designed the Lumia 920’s camera especially for freelance journalists, it ticks the boxes.

No panic
First, there’s a physical camera button on the case that takes you straight to photography. There’s no need to panic racing through menus and the like when a photo-opportunity arises – just depress the camera button for a few seconds and you’re immediately in shooting mode. This feature alone lightens my burden. It gets better, much better.

The camera has a two-LED flash, which comes in useful indoors or at night. This is not always necessary because Pureview technology means there’s an optical image stabilisation system that helps you get sharper pictures even when there’s not much light.

In practice, the Lumia 920 takes dramatically better quality pictures than any other smartphone I’ve used to date. It’s possible to tinker with the settings, but that’s the last thing I want to do when I’m on a job. I simply point and click the shutter button three or four times – one of the images will be useful. The camera does all the hard work.

8 megapixels
Having 8 megapixels to play with helps. This is higher resolution than any of the publishers I work for can use – although it may be different if I ever get asked to take a fashion shoot for Vogue. Capturing higher resolution pictures gives me or a picture editor more scope to crop out the interesting parts. While I understand it’s possible to do basic editing on the phone – the big 4.5 inch 1,280 by 768 pixel display certainly helps – I prefer to wait until I’m in front of a large desktop screen before this kind of tinkering.

I’ve only briefly tested shooting video, but that image stabilisation appears to deliver surprisingly good results there as well. The Lumia 920 also does a fine job capturing audio. One day soon I’ll try videoing a media event instead of taking notes – that’ll be interesting.

Most of the images I’ve shot with the phone use 3552 x 2000 pixel resolution – they weigh in at around 1.8MB to 2.6MB. Emailing them from the phone takes around 20 seconds on the XT network. For some reason it takes far longer to load pictures to Twitter or Facebook.

While I could send them automatically to SkyDrive, I’ve switched that off because the journalist’s trade secret for picture-taking is to get a lot of shots – that’s dozens. It’s not difficult to chew through 100MB of data on a single assignment. If I’m in a hurry I pick the best ones and send them, otherwise I wait until I get home or to a free public Wi-Fi hotspot.

This story also appears at Scoop Techlab.

Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger’s own. Find out more about the Nokia Lumia 920 here you can find our more about Windows 8 on the Telecom Network here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

Categories
mobile

One problem reviewing phones… frustration

Phones are developing fast.

Apple updates its iPhone about once a year, but Android phone makers offer new models every three to four months. Admittedly each cycle may only mean small improvements, that still makes for a rapidly changing market.

There’s plenty of innovation. In some cases this leads to dead-ends: does anyone who didn’t buy one remember 3D smartphones?

I was in technology journalism throughout the entire PC industry boom and for much of the 8-bit microcomputer wave that went before. I simply don’t remember there being such a dramatic refresh cycle with those computers.

Makers would update models roughly twice a year.

Frustration

This makes reviewing phones difficult, because you’re dealing with a moving target. Nokia’s Lumia 800 looks at least as good to me as last season’s Android phones and the most recent Apple iPhone. But a new model from another phone maker could surpassed it any day now.

If reviewers find it hard, phone buyers find it harder. Plonking down the thick end of NZ$1000 on Friday to find your shiny new tool is outdated on Monday is an exercise in frustration.

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mobile review

Three weeks with the Lumia 800

Nokia Lumia 800There are two ways to review a phone. The first is to break open the box, dive in and knock words out as quickly as possible hoping to be the early bird catching the worm. This is a more reflective look at Nokia‘s Lumia 800. I’ve used it, put it down, collected thoughts, slept on them and reflected.

My conclusion is the Lumia 800 is a great smartphone. It delivers the reboot Nokia needs and a technically successful re-entry for Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system.

Whether it sells in large enough qualities to rescue the two company’s reputations remains to be seen. Given the quality of the phone, that’s now a marketing problem, not an engineering one.

What’s to like about the Nokia Lumia 800? First, the phone is beautiful. I’ve got a black version, which is smart enough to pull out of my pocket in any business or social circles.

Comfortable

According to Nokia it has a polycarbonate unibody with a curved Gorilla Glass screen. For me the important points are it is comfortable in the hand, unscratched in the pocket and has a wonderful minimal feel. The dedicated camera button doesn’t intrude on the minimalism, sadly the USB cable socket is a flimsy touch on an otherwise solidly built phone.

It weighs around 150g and the screen is about the right size at 3.7 inches. The 480 by 800 pixel Amoled screen is sharp and bright. Blacks are true black, the display is exceptionally good with text.

Camera meets my journalist needs

The camera is fine, I’m a journalist so I sometimes need to snap scenes at conferences and the like – it meets my needs and then some. Pictures are sharp and colours are realistic, it can sometimes take a while to get ready when taking indoor shots, but like I say, it has everything I need.

Nokia says its phone has a single-core 1.4GHz processor. What this means in practice is a a smooth acting phone, I didn’t see any lag or other problems. Battery life is longer than on my current Android phone, but it still needs to be charged overnight to make sure there’s enough juice to power through a busy day.

Good voice quality

Although direct comparisons are hard, I’d say the voice quality for calls is better than may current Android phone and better than on the last iPhone I used.

Overall I can’t think of any serious negatives. Apple fans might prefer a phone with a front-facing camera, I don’t consider this important. The worst feature is the USB socket – and that’s a minor gripe. Storage is tight at 16GB – there’s not much room for music, stored docs and so on, but cloud services mean that’s less of an issue.

I’m planning to write more about Windows Phone 7 in a future post, what needs saying here is the operating system is better than Android, at least on a par with Apple’s iOS and the operating system integrates well with the hardware.

Should you buy one?

If you’re not happy with Android or Apple, this is definitely a worthy alternative. The Lumia 800 is also the best option if you and your business is closely wedded to Microsoft Windows and Office applications. At the thick end of NZ$900, the phone unlikely to win many converts from Apple’s iPhone, but I guess it can carve out a slice of Android customers looking to upgrade. As for me, well, I’m thinking about it.

Categories
mobile

Samsung top phone brand in New Zealand

It should surprise no-one to learn Samsung has moved past Apple to become the top phone maker in New Zealand.

The latest figures from IDC Research show Samsung has a 28. percent share of the smartphone market. Smartphones now account for 43 percent of the New Zealand mobile phone market.

NZ behind Australia on smartphone ownership

That puts us a long way behind Australia where smartphones account for 65 percent of the market. Why?

  • Australian incomes are higher than New Zealand salaries. Buying a smartphone is less of a financial stretch for Australians. At the same time, Australian carriers offer phones with plans and in many cases lock phones to networks. That doesn’t happen in New Zealand. Although locked phones on plans often work out more expensive in the long run, the lower bar means more kit is out there in the wild.
  • Australians have access to a better range of phones and, usually, get the good kit earlier than New Zealand. It helps that there are 13 Apple stores in Australia — and that would certainly be one reason why Apple is relatively more popular over there.
  • Australia was earlier to the mobile broadband party. Telstra had a fast, relatively reliable network long before Telecom NZ got its XT network off the ground. And speaking on Telecom NZ, the company only began offering Apple phones when the 4S launched last month.

Samsung phones are good

Many reviewers consider the latest Galaxy Nexus, which arrived too soon for the IDC survey, to be comparable with, or even better than, the Apple iPhone 4S.

I can’t confirm this. I can say the experience I get from an older Android phone is way better than I saw with the earlier Apple iPhone 4.

Android is a poor experience on a tablet when compared to the iPad, on a phone there’s no noticeable quality gap between the two rival operating systems.

Samsung’s Galaxy S II was the earlier flagship phone. Reviewers often compared it favourably with the iPhone.