Saturday, October 18, 2014

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review: Far More To Offer Than Apple's iPhone 6 Plus


The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has been my phone of choice for the last year. I’ve used a lot of others, like the LG G3, which I’ve also loved. But I’ve ended up back on the Note 3 every time. That, to me, is the best indication that the Note range is perfectly designed for my needs.

So who should consider a Note 4? Well, my first advice would be that if you have a Note 3, the upgrade is going to be small for you. You’ll get a better screen, nicer design and some nice health and fitness tools, but it’s not a revolution – more an evolution. So those on two-year contracts shouldn’t fret if they’re going to have to stick with the Note 3 for another year.

But for those looking to go down a new route, switch from an iPhone or smaller Android, is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 worth it?

Spoiler: yes, without doubt.

I picked up my Note 4 last Friday, and had an initial look at it. The first thing I noticed was that the design is a modest update, but it does leave the phone looking fresh. My Note 3 is the same colour – white – so the comparison between both is easy to make. I had no problem with the style of the Note 3, in my mind it was a significant upgrade from the cheaper, less interesting looking Note 2. But the Note 4 takes things to a new level, with its new shape, better materials and a much toned-down “leather” effect on the rear case.

Better than the iPhone 6 Plus, really?

Honestly, I’m not a believer in “better” when it comes to different devices, from different manufacturers running different operating systems. Even so, the Note has some features that clearly make it more attractive for some than Apple’s latest iPhone. For example, the screen resolution is higher and there’s built in monitoring for blood saturation, heart rate and even UV light.
Heart rate, oxygen saturation and UV are all monitored via this sensor

Heart rate, oxygen saturation and UV are all monitored via this sensor – photo: Ian Morris

Also, an important part of the Note range has always been the S Pen. This device allows you to interact with the phone in a way that is unique to Samsung. It’s actually very good and when used right a really handy tool, especially for business users. I use it for handwriting recognition, and with every new device this gets better and better. Many of the early problems have been fixed now, and the recognition is very usable. With practice, it could even be faster than typing if you invest some time into learning how to use it.

Also, there’s a really important thing to remember when it comes to storage. The Samsung Galaxy Note has just 32GB of storage, which sounds weak next to the iPhone which can go up to 128GB. However, the Note can accept MicroSD cards that offer as much as 128GB of additional storage for about $100 – generic cards can be had for a fraction of that price, but I’d advise avoiding them for intensive video capture, though they would be fine for just music.

And, of course, the replaceable battery in the Note 4 means you can carry a spare for when your power runs out, or you can just replace the cell when it reaches the point where it no longer lasts as long as it did when new.

The screen

There is just no denying that the 1440×2560 resolution screen on the Note 4 is amazing, it’s one of the highest resolutions of any phone, and really does look amazing. Because it’s an AMOLED, it’s very bright and very colourful. Does it trade accuracy a bit for that, yes, possibly, but for a phone it’s a great choice. Sometimes I found it too bright inside, and the problems with Samsung’s slow-to-respond ambient light sensor persist. I do also have some reservations, because a higher resolution screen has a huge impact on two areas of a smartphone: it puts a strain on the processor and it increases battery drain.

To be fair, processor usage isn’t an issue on the Note, there’s loads of power here, and I didn’t notice any lag at all when using the device. In fact, it feels a lot snappier than my Note 3, and Samsung seems to have tweaked its TouchWiz UI to make it less laggy too – this is well overdue.
The screen is absolutely amazing

The screen is absolutely amazing – photo: Ian Morris

Battery life is a problem still. I didn’t find the Note 4 to be disastrous though. What I noticed mirrors the Note 3, and that’s using the display for long periods will destroy your battery life at a rate of 10-20 per cent per hour in daylight conditions. The Note 4 has a larger power pack than the previous phone, but this is really just to keep pace with the screen. I’d quite like to see Samsung expand the battery in these devices. As it stands, I never leave the house without a backup charger now anyway.

Samsung does, however, do one very useful thing with the Note 4. That’s the Ultra Power Saver mode it has brought over from the Galaxy S5. Here power is saved by shutting down Wi-Fi, stopping most background apps and turning the screen black and white. This allows you to get about 24 hours out of 10 per cent charge. So, when I turned it on at 21 per cent, the phone suggested I would get 3.5 days out of the phone.
Ultra power saving is a handy feature, and one that can get a lot of juice out of the last of your battery power

Ultra power saving is a handy feature, and one that can get a lot of juice out of the last of your battery power – image: Ian Morris

And, it has to be said that the Ultra Power Saver isn’t as limiting as I expected. You can still use data, and a few select apps. You’re allowed to pick and chose, so I asked it to let me use Facebook and Twitter, and the choice is fairly limited. What you do get are the Samsung web browser – Chrome, though installed, is not an option. You can also add WhatsApp and the phone and text messaging services remain in place.

There’s also a lot of value in the fast charging mode, which puts 50 per cent charge into the battery in as little as 30 minutes. One missing feature though is wireless charging out of the box. The phone is capable of doing it, but Samsung opts not to send the right back out with the phone. This is stupid as LG, Nokia and others all have their phones shipping, ready to be wirelessly charged.


Samsung deserves credit for taking security on its devices seriously. Perhaps it’s the desire to beat Apple at corporate sales, where the iPhone has taken a large chunk of Blackberry’s market.

To help keep your data secure, there are several features that you can use. Samsung’s own Knox allows you to keep work and personal apps apart. This means that if, by some chance, there is malware on your personal handset, it should be kept away from your work files.

In addition to that, there’s also the standard Android feature of device encryption, which means that if your phone gets stolen, the files on it will be unreadable by a third party. For those of us that have enormous amounts of personal data stored on our phones, that’s a reassuring move.
The fingerprint scanner on the Note 4 is dreadful

The fingerprint scanner on the Note 4 is dreadful – photo: Ian Morris

Sadly, the attempt at using biometrics for security, namely the fingerprint scanner, are as dismal now as they have been on every other Samsung device I’ve tested. The problem here is that the fingerprint reader on the iPhone is more sensitive, doesn’t need you to “swipe” across its surface to scan an image, and it works – for me at least – pretty much every time. Samsung’s scanner is so bad that on every device I’ve used, I’ve needed to disable it, because it’s just too frustrating. Some people have told me that you need to enroll your fingerprint sideways, so you can unlock the phone as you hold it, but for me that never worked.

If Samsung can’t get fingerprint scanning as accurately as Apple, then honestly I think it should just stop it all together.


As with the Note 3, 4K video recording is present and correct here. As with the previous model, it’s a nice thing to have but it eats a lot of space up if you use it for much more than short clips. Now though, the recorded video more closely matches the display resolution, which kind of makes sense if you’re showing people clips on the screen. While 4K isn’t essential on a phone, it is yet another thing that separates the Note 4 from the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
The camera is excellent, and 4K video beats the iPhone hands down, although the Note lacks good slow-motion modes

The camera is excellent, and 4K video beats the iPhone hands down, although the Note lacks good slow-motion modes – photo: Ian Morris

The stills camera is improved too. I’ve grown to love the camera on the Note 3, it’s capable of some great quality results. The Note 4 improves things again by tweaking the resolution from 13- to 16-megapixels. The front-facing camera gets a boost too, with a new resolution of 3.7-megapixels, it’s still awful though and while I’m sure it’s fine for “selfies” it looks awful for anything actually photographic in nature. Still, its main purpose is for video calls, and for that it is fine.

Health and fitness

Samsung has now added a heart rate monitor, blood oxygen saturation monitor and even a way to see how much UV radiation there is outside. All of this is built into the newly revised S Health, and I have to admit I sort of like it.

As a hub, it works well. The pedometer now counts steps without any wearable like the Gear needed. This means that you get to see some rough numbers about how far you’ve walked, and how many calories you’ve burnt. You can add in foods, track your heart rate over time and generally keep an eye on your health.
Health tracking points to a whole new world for mobiles

Health tracking points to a whole new world for mobiles – photo: Ian Morris

While I don’t think these measurement tools are accurate enough to be much use to medical professionals, they do give you a comparative way to track your stats at home. The design is great too, and the whole thing feels like a nice piece of software.

I have some problems with the heart rate monitor though. These are much less severe than for the fingerprint scanner, but there are still times when it just refuses to measure properly. On the whole though, I still feel like it’s a good feature and these measurements are becoming more useful with each year as more and more of our lives are folded into our phones.

Data and voice

LTE on the Qualcomm version of the Note 4 can download at speeds as high as 300mbps where supported by your phone company. Along with 802.11ac wireless, this is a phone that should offer some impressive internet connectivity.

Samsung also employs some nice tricks, like smarter Wi-Fi switching to get the best possible connection and speeds to the internet. There’s also its download booster, which allows you to speed up transfers by using both 4G and Wi-Fi at the same time.

Happily though, there’s no problem with voice either. I have spoken with people on both standard and HD calls and both are crisp and clear. HD calling, where supported, is just amazing and I’m always thrilled to have conversations with people on the same network as me.


There isn’t really any doubt here, but the Note 4 is one of the best phones on the market.


This is an area that Samsung can claim to be the leader of. Many, many people laughed at the Note when it launched, and a lot of them – including some of my friends – were still laughing when I used my Note 3 to make calls – it still looks ridiculous. But Apple entering the market will shut a lot of those people up quite nicely. The larger phablets have become a real segment, and a lot of that – most of it – is thanks to Samsung’s Note.

The Note 4 improves significantly on the last generation, there are some great features here and the screen, in particular, is stunning. LTE users should find this phone to be blazing fast, if their service provider supports Cat 6 4G and I really like the call quality – where supported, HD calling is just amazing.

If I had to pick a phone right now, the Note 4 would be top of the list. That’s impressive, given that it is a great time for phones right now with the new Nexus 6 from Motorola and devices like the iPhone, Nokia Lumia 830, and the LG G3.

It is, however, worth noting that we’re only weeks away from Android 5.0 being launched, and Samsung has launched this device with KitKat. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that version of the OS, but with Android Lollipop so close, I wonder if it wouldn’t have made more sense to wait.

NOTE: As always with my reviews, there’s plenty left to explore beyond the first week. Is there something that the Note 4 does that you’re interested to know about? Put a comment below, and I’ll do my best to test and get an update on the page.

Toyota Leads 'Best Global Brands,' But Audi, VW, Nissan Rise Most

Toyota remained the most valuable automotive brand worldwide for the 11th straight year in Interbrand’s new ranking of the 100 Best Global Brands. But Audi , Volkswagen and Nissan comprised a trio of “top risers” that are pushing the envelope and mixing the picture for car brands worldwide.

“The auto industry in general has done pretty well” in the new ranking, Jez Frampton, global CEO of Interbrand, told me.

Automakers generally “have gotten smart in recognizing that they have to build strong brands for the future,” he added. “To succeed in the new world of mobility, they have to reposition themselves in slightly different ways, and so their attempts to build brands have become much more sophisticated.”

Toyota held sway in the industry once again, at No. 8 in the overall list that was headed by Apple , Google and Coca-Cola . Toyota moved up from No. 10 overall last year, Interbrand said, based in part on campaigns such as “Let’s go places” and “Go fun yourself.”


“Traditionally perceived as a solid, trustworthy brand that is perhaps better known for its high-quality products than its personality, Toyota’s campaigns … are clearly designed to add a more exciting and playful dimension to its communications,” the New York-based firm said. In fact, adding “excitement” to the brand across the board – also to be reflected increasingly in its products and pace of new launches – is a top priority of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder.

Toyota also has made gains in areas ranging from workforce diversity to mobile technology and alternative powertrains, including its new fuel-cell vehicle.

Frampton was especially impressed by Audi’s 27-percent increase in brand value, to $9.83 billion, a percentage rise that led its industry as Audi ascended to overall spot No. 45 from No. 51 in 2013.

“Audi is building stronger experiences with its customers and owners in part through embracing the digital experience in dealerships” and even in shopping malls, he said. “It sticks out in the auto industry. Audi isn’t just putting configurators on its web sites. It recognizes that the way we want to experience things as consumers depends on where we are and who we’re with and what we’re doing. There’s a greater recognition of how people buy automobiles.”

Meanwhile, sibling brand Volkswagen also was a “top riser,” with its assessed brand value shooting up by 23 percent, to $13.72 billion, and rising three spots to No. 31.

Volkswagen has been working on its green credentials,” Frampton explained, as Interbrand cited VW’s “Think Blue” sustainability initiative as well as its strong performance in China this year, even while sales lagged elsewhere, including in the United States.

Nissan was the other biggest riser among car brands, with its brand value increasing by 23 percent, to $7.62 billion, and its place on the overall list rising to No. 56 from No. 65 the year before.

“Nissan has really exhibited its leadership with innovation in terms of electric vehicles, with the largest number on the road, and with deep commitments to autonomous driving as well,” Frampton said.

Overall, he added, “as differences among actual vehicles become narrower and narrower, the real differentiation that can be created in the auto business is through brands, what it means to you as and owner and user of the vehicle, and the way it expresses you among your peers and among people who see you driving.”

Interbrand’s take on the other highest-ranking automotive brands included these observations:

Mercedes-Benz, No. 10 overall: The brand has “revitalized itself” with new models and fresh expressions of its brand. “Continuing to provide the comfort, performance and safety consumers have come to expect from the brand, while also offering dramatic styling and innovative new features, it’s no wonder Mercedes-Benz’s models still captivate.”

BMW, No. 11 overall: “Has been able to build on its premium status, while driving sustainable mobility forward” with its electric-vehicle program including the all-new i3 all-electric and Tesla-fighting i8 plug-in hybrid, Interbrand said. Also, over the last few years, “a focused brand strategy, internal clarity, and external brand consistency have all contributed to BMW’s success.

Honda, No. 20 overall: The brand is aiming to “improve its relevance and responsiveness” in various global markets “by tailoring regional products more quickly” and partnering with Google and Apple in in-dash technology. But Honda also “has been plagued by recalls” lately. And “it could be argued that the product strategy isn’t as original or as responsive as those of its competitors.”

Ford, No. 39 overall: Ford remains “on a roll,” the brand consultancy said, citing Focus as the best-selling car in the world and F-Series as the best-selling U.S. vehicle, as swell as a nearly 50-percent increase in China sales. “By making the new Mustang globally available,” Ford is taking another step forward. And the brand excels in sustainability, outpacing even Toyota in Interbrand’s 2014 Best Global Green Brands ranking.

Hyundai, No. 40: The marque is “delivering on the brand direction ‘modern premium,’” Interbrand said, with new vehicles such as Genesis and even Sonata. Also cited was Hyundai’s global strategy for creating “customized” products by national market, such as the HB20 in Brazil.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kawasaki Z250 launched at INR 2.99 lakhs

Bajaj today launched the Kawasaki Z250 and the ER-6n in India. The Z250 marks a new chapter for the Japanese manufacturer, as it is the most affordable product in the lineup priced at INR 2.99 lakhs, ex-Showroom, New Delhi.

The Z250 borrows its styling from the larger and more expensive Z800. Based on a tube diamond steel frame, the motorcycle measures 2,010 mm in length, 750 mm in width and 1,020 mm in height. It has a wheelbase of 1,400 mm and a ground clearance of 145 mm. The Z250 weighs 168 kg and has a 17-liter fuel tank.

The street-fighter is assembled with a 37 mm telescopic fork at the front and a Bottom-Link Uni-Trak with gas-charged shock and 5-way adjustable preload at the rear. Even more impressive are the dual semi-floating 300 mm petal discs at the front and the 220 mm single petal disc at the rear.

However, the highlight of the Z250 is its liquid-cooled, four-stroke, parallel-twin, 249 cc 8v DOHC engine. This fuel-injected unit is paired to a 6-speed transmission, and sends out 32 PS (31.54 hp) at 11,000 rpm and 21 Nm of torque at 10,000 rpm.

Kawasaki says that the engine is fitted with a sleeveless, plated, die-cast aluminium cylinder and lightweight coated pistons to ensure reliability.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cyclone Hudhud blasts India's east coast, at least three dead

Cyclone Hudhud blasted India's eastern seaboard on Sunday with gusts of up to 195 kilometres an hour (over 120 mph), uprooting trees, damaging buildings and killing at least three people despite a major evacuation effort.

The port city of Visakhapatnam, home to two million people and a major naval base, was hammered as the cyclone made landfall, unleashing the huge destructive force it had sucked up from the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Upended trees and wreckage were strewn across Visakhapatnam, known to locals as Vizag. Most people heeded warnings to take refuge, but three who ventured out were killed, officials said.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the state that bore the brunt of Hudhud's onslaught, said the extent of damage would only become known after the storm abates.

"We are unable to ascertain the situation. Seventy percent of communication has totally collapsed ... this is the biggest calamity," N. Chandrababa Naidu told Headlines Today television.

"We are asking people not to come out of their houses," Naidu said, adding that damage assessment would start on Monday. "We are mobilising men and material immediately."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Naidu and promised "all possible assistance in relief and rescue operations", his central government said in a statement.

The low toll reported so far followed an operation to evacuate more than 150,000 people to minimise the risk to life from Hudhud - similar in size and power to cyclone Phailin that struck the area exactly a year ago.

After a lull as the eye of the storm passed over the city, winds regained massive potency. Forecasters warned Hudhud would blow strongly for several hours more, before wind speeds halve in the evening.

"Reverse windflow will be experienced by the city, which will again have a very great damage potential," L.S. Rathore, director-general of the state India Meteorological Department (IMD), told reporters in New Delhi.

The IMD forecast a storm surge of 1-2 metres above high tide that could result in flooding of low-lying coastal areas around Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam.


A Reuters reporter in Vizag said the storm had smashed his hotel's windows and flooded the ground floor. It was difficult even to open the door of his room, he said, as wind rushing through the corridors drove it shut again.

"I never imagined that a cyclone could be so dangerous and devastating," said one businessman who was staying in the hotel. "The noise it is making would terrify anyone."

An operations centre in state capital Hyderabad was inundated with calls from people seeking help, including 350 students stranded in a building with no food or water, said K. Hymavathi, a senior disaster management official.

Vizag port suspended operations on Saturday night, with its head saying that 17 ships which had been in the harbour were moving offshore where they would be less at risk from high seas.

The city airport was closed and train services suspended.

The IMD rated Hudhud as a very severe cyclonic storm that could pack gusts of 195 km/h and dump more than 24.5 cm (10 inches) of rain.

The cyclone was strong enough to have a "high humanitarian impact" on nearly 11 million people, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), run by the United Nations and the European Commission, said.

The evacuation effort was comparable to one preceding Cyclone Phailin, credited with minimising fatalities to 53. When a huge storm hit the same area 15 years ago, 10,000 people died.

Hudhud was likely to batter a 200-300 km stretch of coastline before losing force as it moves inland, forecasters said.

According to the IMD, peak wind speeds will drop to 60 km/h by Monday afternoon. Hudhud is expected to continue to dump heavy rains in northern and northeastern India and, eventually, snow when it reaches the Himalayan mountains.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Abortion law pioneer David Steel asks MPs to reject change

David Steel, the former Liberal leader and architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, has lobbied ministers to vote against a bill to change the counselling system for women who want terminations.

Lord Steel, who has talked of the need to amend his original legislation to limit late abortions, said that there was no need for the proposed amendment to the health and social care bill, which MPs will vote on this week. He has written to key figures in the government to urge them to reject it.

The amendment, put forward by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, would strip established abortion providers and charities of their role as counsellors to women with unplanned pregnancies. Critics say the move would create a gap that would be filled by religious anti-abortion charities and medical professionals.

Steel said: "Under the Abortion Act, the Department of Health has complete power over licensing and de-licensing clinics. If there were any evidence of failure to carry out proper counselling of patients, they can close clinics. More positively, there is nothing to stop them issuing guidelines on counselling if they think that necessary. There is no need to amend the health bill."

Dorries has emerged as the figurehead of the "right to know" campaign that has emerged in the run-up to the vote. Her amendment is almost certain to be rejected this week after the government indicated it did not have the support of David Cameron or the Department of Health. But there is unease among pro-choice campaigners that a US-style anti-abortion agenda is starting to take root in the UK, supported by American Christian evangelical movements.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS (formerly the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) said: "Over the past couple of decades, anti-choice organisations in the US have moved away from arguing about the morality of abortion, towards presenting their cause in the language of women's health. This often leads them to promote misinformation – for example, that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility or mental illness – as a means of scaring women about abortion, or encouraging legislators to restrict access to abortions. There are important moral and political arguments that should be had about abortion; hiding behind non-evidence based, pseudo-scientific health claims reveals the moral bankruptcy of some anti-abortion campaigns today."

She added: "The Dorries amendment – tagged on to a bill which has nothing to do with abortion – seems to be an example of using legislation to interfere with women's access to a legal abortion service, with the goal of making the experience more unpleasant."

Other providers are worried they may have to take on a new role. "We are not the place for moral or political arbitration," said one pregnancy counsellor. "Our job is to support women and make sure they are making the right decision for them. The last thing I want is to have to spend my time defending the rights and wrongs."

The Royal College of GPs and the BMA have said they do not see any reason for the amendment. Any GP who has an ethical or religious object to abortion is allowed to "conscientiously object" and take no part in referring or treating a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Christian Medical fellowship, which has more than 4,500 doctors as members, said GPs were the right people to give independent counselling. "They would not need to state their own ethical position until it gets to the point that the woman says she would like an abortion and then the doctor can explain to her that they are not able to help," said Saunders, who has advised Dorries.