Posts Tagged ‘reviewing the best smart phones’

Seven ways iOS 9 will change your iPhone

Monday, August 10th, 2015

iphone images

OS9 features a lot of small changes that add up to one big one.

When you first boot up the iOS 9 beta on an iPhone, things don’t seem that different. Same old apps, same old homescreen, same old camera.

With a few minutes, this familiarity begins to fracture. It’s kind of like visiting your parent’s house after they slightly rearrange their furniture: things are seemingly the same but you still feel slightly nauseous.

In other words, there is plenty of new stuff here, it’s just not jumping out at you like the massive redesign of iOS 7, or the complete reworking of notifications in iOS 8 last year. Here are seven seemingly small things that add up to a pretty hefty change to your iPhone.
1: New font

No, there isn’t a redesign, but there is a new font, everywhere. After wedding itself completely to Helvetica over the years — particularly in iOS 7 — Apple have broken free of the Swiss typeface hegemony, using their own ‘San Francisco font’ for the operating system. San Francisco is inherited from the Apple Watch, where it was built for greater readability on that tiny screen.

Here’s the thing though: Helvetica and San Francisco are both sans serif Akzidenz-Grotesk-inspired typefaces, so they don’t look too different. I follow this stuff closely and I forgot there was a new font at first.


2: Low power mode

Apple are certainly not the first to envision a ‘low power mode’ for users to turn on when they need that extra boost to get them through the day. Many users, myself included, have been hacking their own low power mode for years — you turn the brightness to nothing, you turn on airplane mode whenever you’re not actively using your phone, and you pray.

But Apple’s power mode does much more than just dim the screen, while still letting you use your phone as intended: it handicaps the processor, so you can still do everything, only a teensy bit slower. An iPhone 6 will feel like iPhone 5S, an iPhone 5S will feel like an iPhone 5, and so on. It also disables background app refreshing and mail fetching (mail fetching is often the biggest culprit when it comes to battery life), and disables all the obvious things like animated wallpapers.

Unlike Samsung’s offering, it doesn’t do anything as drastic as grayscale the screen — but with the type of display Apple uses, that wouldn’t save much power anyway.
3: Selfies and screenshots folder

It’s a small change that will save a lot of people a lot of frustration. While iOS 8 enraged many with its new organisation of photos into ‘collections’, the organisational features for your camera roll that iOS 9 introduce are much less intrusive.

Specifically, Apple now build a smart folder of your screenshots and selfies. Your big ‘one bucket of all my photos’ camera roll is still there, but if you quickly want to get to something you screenshot a few weeks ago, you can do it in seconds. It sure makes doing writeups with multiple screenshots easier!
4: Lowercase keyboard

Another small frustration-busting change — the iPhone keyboard now shows lowercase letters when you’re in lowercase mode and capital letters when you’re not. No more tapping the shift button endlessly trying to work out which mode you are in!
5: New app switcher

One of the larger visual changes in iOS 9 hits you right in the face the moment you double press your home button. Gone is the 2D row of app previews; in is a 3D stack of apps which reminds me a whole lot of the old Windows 7 alt-tab screen. This change doesn’t make app switching any more usable — in fact, in the beta it is quite buggy — but it is certainly a new look.

6: Back to app button

You know when you open a link on Facebook in Safari, but then want to go back and comment on it, but can’t find the original post? Or one app opens another app for authentication, but doesn’t send you back in a hurry? It’s easy enough to forget you are in an app at all, but iOS 9 gives you a status bar reminder/button of however you got to wherever you are, allowing you to quickly go back to the app you originally opened.

In the Beta, it displays a ‘back to search’ button if you got to the app through a search — which might be slightly annoying for those of us who open almost all of our apps through the search interface.
7: A general tune-up

iOS 9 feels snappy, and it’s a lot slimmer than its predecessor. It’s a beta, so there’s bugs, but my main iPhone with iOS 8 feels slightly sluggish in comparison. Apple promise serious speed and battery improvements, particularly for those with a 4S. I haven’t had a chance to seriously check out the 4S performance yet, but some of the improvements just seem like common sense. For example, if your phone can’t use a certain feature of an app because it is too old, it won’t download all the code for that feature, saving precious precious space.

While we’re talking space, here’s the big news on the tune up: iOS 9 is just 1.3GB, while iOS 8 was 4.58 GB. For anyone on a 16GB iPhone, this is a pretty big deal.

For everyone else, Apple’s ‘Metal’ programming language should make apps hand off more tasks to the GPU, increasing performance and battery life. Apple promise a whole extra hour of battery life.
And one big thing: Intelligence

Okay, this is cheating a little bit. Apple’s new ‘intelligence’ features — an updated search, an updated Siri, and a general feeling of proactive smarts throughout the system — are easily the largest part of iOS 9, but also the hardest to appreciate in an early glance. These new features worm their way into every part of the system, hopefully making your iPhone feel like a smart personal assistant instead of a slow calendar.

Want to remind yourself of an invitation you just said yes to? Just ask Siri to “remind me about this”. Want to know that random number who is calling you? iOS will look through your email and try to work it out. These features, which mimic and extend the kind of functionality Google pack into Android with Google Now, signal a completely new course of computing that we’re all embarking on.


Henry Sapiecha


Sunday, October 20th, 2013


The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone is both versatile and useful

Another long season of mobile phone reviewing is drawing to a close.

As we do every year (though usually only in our imagination), it’s time to sit back, take stock, and ask ourselves the all-important philosophical question: if a nuclear war broke out and we had to jump on a plane to escape to Antarctica, and if for some reason there was room for only one smartphone per person on the plane, which phone out of this year’s crop would we take?

Watching videos on the Note 3 is unbeatable.

The iPhone 5s with its fingerprint scanner (hard to use with gloves on)? The waterproof Xperia Z1 (not quite so useful when all the water is frozen)?

No. Much as we’d like to squeeze those phones on board, if we could only take one phone, I think it would have to be Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3.


I say that for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that, daydreams of nuclear winter aside for a moment, the previous Galaxy Note was always the phone we actually did reach for whenever any of us here in the Labs had to travel overseas this year. The Note 2 is an incredibly versatile, incredibly useful device, and the Note 3 is even more useful. If it fits within your definition of a phone (and given its huge, 5.7-inch screen, it might not), it’s probably the most useful phone money can buy.

>>View an interactive comparison of 10 smartphones and see the Samsung Note 3 in action on

The Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone.The Sony Xperia Z1. Photo: AP

The Galaxy Note 3 has all the fancy gestures you get in the Galaxy S4, such as the ability to scroll through web pages with just the tilt of your head (useful if your hands have frozen solid in an Antarctic blizzard), plus it’s got all the terrifically handy things you can do with its little stylus (now better and more useful than ever, as I’ll get into presently), plus it’s got a bigger screen than just about any other phone out there, plus it’s incredibly fast and has a long battery life. I really can’t think of another phone that even comes close to the Note 3.

Another reason for grabbing the Note 3 is because, if nuclear bombs were about to go off, I imagine you’d be in a bit of a hurry, and the Note 3 has a new feature that looks like it was designed with that very race-against-the-clock in mind: USB 3.0. I don’t know about you, but when I’m about to fly, the very last thing I remember to do is the most important thing of all: load the phone with TV shows to watch on the plane. It’s stressful sitting and watching the file transfers slowly tick over when you know the cab will arrive any second. How much more stressful if it’s the imminent blast of a bomb?

USB 3.0 is the thing you need in the apocalypse. It’s a much faster way to load files onto your phone, and while it won’t come in handy very often, it will be very handy when the crunch comes. In our tests, we were able to load anywhere between 2.5 and 3.2 times as many TV shows onto the Note 3 in a given amount of time using its new USB 3.0 port, compared to using the old-fashioned USB 2.0 port you find on most mobile phones. A video that took 54 seconds to upload onto a Galaxy S4, for instance, took just 17 seconds to get onto the Note 3. Quite literally, that could be the difference between life and death.

And, of course, with a screen that borders on the too big (but just manages to keep on the right side of the line, in our estimation) watching videos on the Note 3 is unbeatable. But the main reason we’d choose the Note 3 over all the terrific phones that came out this year is its stylus. It may seem like a bit of a blast from the past (tee hee!), but it’s not. It’s great.

The main improvement in this year’s version of the stylus is a little dial, known as “Air Command”, that pops up on the screen whenever you pull the stylus from its slot or press the stylus button while hovering the stylus above the screen.

Air Command quickly gets you to a number of useful apps, such as the Scrapbooker app for cutting and pasting anything that’s on the screen (a super-useful new function that could only be more useful if it synchronised with Evernote the way some of the other stylus apps do); the Action Memo app that lets you jot down tasks with the pen and assign those tasks to other apps (you can jot down a number, assign it to the phone app and Action Memo will recognise your writing and put the number in your dialler, for example); or the Pen Window app that lets you draw a little window on your screen and then run small apps, such as calculators, in that window (nifty!).

Oh yes, the Note 3 is a great device, no doubt about it. It’s so good, it actually has me looking forward to living in Antarctica. But I do have one question. Will there still be mobile phone reception during the Armageddon?


Henry Sapiecha

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