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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Thursday, 29 December 2016

IMO Q review

OUR VERDIC

The IMO Q is eye-catchingly affordable, but that comes at a cost, as headache-inducing performance, a rubbish screen and poor battery life turns this cheap phone from a bargain to a bad investment.T


The IMO Q is the sort of phone you might buy for your kids, for a festival or a mad holiday you think your iPhone might not survive, as it's cheap enough to be almost disposable for many buyers.
Given its tiny price, undercutting even the likes of the Moto E3, the IMO Q is predictably basic. It’s slow, the screen is ugly and it’s one of the few handsets this year to use a microSIM rather than a nanoSIM.
Phones a little more expensive than this have improved massively in the last few years, while the IMO Q is a trial to use, just like the ultra-cheap phones of old.
But, y’know, that’s just IMO. And at this end of the market even a small difference in price can be significant, so despite its failings is the IMO Q still worth considering?

IMO Q price and release date 

  • Out now in the UK
  • RRP of £49.99 but often available for less
The IMO Q is available now in the UK and its RRP is just £49.99. But as cheap as that is you can already find it for less online.
And you will have to venture online, as this isn't a phone you'll find in high street stores or on the shelves at the big networks.
Shop around and it can be yours for free on tariffs from £10 which include 1GB of data - ensuring the IMO Q is affordable however you decide to purchase it.

Key features and design 

  • Very low price
  • Bland design
  • No 4G
From one angle, the IMO Q is a phone for the common person, for those who can’t afford or can't justify mobiles encased in glass and the type of aluminium we always hear called “aircraft grade”.
You could daydream a meeting where the people behind IMO got together, incensed by the amount of cash Samsung and Apple expect people to pay for a phone. And so, the IMO Q was born.
This never happened, as far as we know. But if we started by describing the IMO Q in plain terms, you might have stopped reading already. It’s plastic, grey and dull-looking, a classic low-cost, low-effort design that could have been picked at random out of the great big catalogue of Chinese handsets.
The IMO Q is the sort of phone that could have been released any time in the past 5 years. We’d have perhaps been impressed in 2010. Now? Not so much.
However, it’s small, it’s comfy to hold and unlike some dire old budget phones the top layer of the screen is glass rather than plastic. It doesn’t have a fingerprint-resisting oleophobic coating and doesn’t use brand-name toughened glass, but we’ve not managed to scratch it yet.
This is a style of phone we don’t see too often anymore, one whose back is a single piece of plastic you can pull off to get access to the battery, the SIM slot and so on. It takes us back to 2012, and there’s really nothing wrong with this build other than that it’s not ‘fancy’. At this price we don’t expect fancy.
It almost goes without saying that you don’t get water resistance, a fingerprint scanner or other such flashy bits. The most serious omission is 4G, as this is one of the few new non-4G phones. Whether this is a problem or not really depends on the quality of your network’s 3G.
Contrary to 4G’s messaging, 3G internet can be decently fast, but it certainly isn’t a lot of the time. If you have a 4G phone at the moment, you can give 3G a test drive by switching off 4G in the settings menu. Our Three UK test connection was passable, but a clear step down from 4G.
The IMO Q has a few big holes, but there are some notable elements. It has 8GB of storage, which doesn’t sound like a lot but gives you a few spare gigabytes to play with, thanks to the relatively slimline Android install used here. 
It’ll fit a few storage-chomping games or a reasonable on-the-go music library. Older phones at this price used to have just 4GB: truly piddly.
Under the back panel there’s also a microSD card slot, so you can upgrade the memory banks.
The IMO Q also has dedicated pads for the soft keys below the screen, rather than pure software ones. It’s a good job they’re here, as with a 4-inch screen there’s much less display space than most of us are used to.

Display 

  • Low resolution
  • Weak viewing angles
  • Washed out colours
This is among the smallest-screen Android phones you can buy, and the technology the IMO Q features is quite basic. The majority of phones sold today have IPS LCD screens, a panel type designed to stop displays looking weird when viewed from an angle.
The IMO Q has a more basic TN (twisted nematic) display that only looks right dead-on. Tilt it back and the image appears washed out, tilt it forwards and a shadow creeps over the screen. This is called contrast shift, and it’s an ugly effect we don’t see very often in phones these days.
We doubt many people after a phone this cheap are hardcore mobile gamers or looking to watch Netflix on their handset, but this panel type spoils enjoyment of these activities.
Even dead-on, the IMO Q’s image quality is quite a lot worse than some phones just a little pricier. Colours are cold-looking and washed out, and the resolution is low at 480 x 800 pixels.
We notice the other issues more than the low pixel density, but if you’re ‘upgrading’ from a busted 720p phone this is a major downgrade. It also lacks an auto brightness setting, meaning you have to manually play with the brightness slider as you head outside.
One alternative phone to consider at the bottom end of the market is the Moto E3. It has a higher-quality IPS LCD screen with much better colour and resolution.
Unless you’re used to typing on a tiny screen, you’ll find typing on the IMO Q a chore too. We knew it was going to be a struggle, our fingers more accustomed to 5-inch-plus displays these days, but there also seems to be issues with where the touchscreen registers presses towards the edge of the display, and it mistakes fast taps between characters as swipes.
All-but-forgotten cheap Windows Lumia phones like the ancient Lumia 520 really nailed typing on tiny screens, but it’s borderline painful here. There is a solution, though: swipe typing. This is where you draw a line between characters rather than tapping on them individually.
However, you need a bit of know-how to get this working, as you need to install a different keyboard from Google Play and turn the feature on. We doubt whether many prospective buyers would necessarily have read enough of our tips and tricks articles to know this.

Interface and reliability 

  • Dated version of Android
  • Slow at moving between apps and screens
The IMO Q runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. This is a very dated release at this point, and is more prone to slowdown than Android 6.0 when dealing with limited RAM.
You can guess what the IMO Q has. That’s right, limited RAM. It’s slow throughout. Slow to turn on, slow to load apps, slow to make the keyboard pop-up and even a little slow to skip between the home screens and apps menu at times.
If you’re low on patience, this probably isn’t the right phone for you.
The interface is similar to vanilla Android 5.1 in a very broad sense, but the IMO Q has a custom skin that changes the look.
For example, the icons are different and where normal Android has an apps drawer backed by a blank ‘sheet’ of white, this one uses a slightly dimmed version of the home screen background, and pages rather than a vertical scroll of icons.
It’s a mostly inoffensive alteration. We’d prefer the generic Material UI look of standard Android 5.1, but we’d be happy enough if it wasn’t for the headache-inducing performance. This is compounded by quite how tricky we find typing on the tiny, possibly poorly calibrated touchscreen.

Movies, music and gaming 

  • Few pre-installed apps
  • Flat sound
  • Weak display makes it rubbish for games and video
The IMO Q is not a great phone for movies or gaming, this should come as no surprise. Its screen is small and is not of great quality.
It’ll do the job in a pinch, of course, but we honestly can’t imagine watching a whole film on this screen. The display also has an impact on gaming. While the resolution isn’t a huge issue thanks to the teeny display size, the poor colour and limited contrast are. And as you’ll see in the next section, there’s not enough power on tap for high-end titles.
Speaker quality is nothing special either. While the sound doesn’t distort at max volume, the IMO Q isn’t very loud and the tone can charitably be described as basic. It’s flat and crude.
If you do want to play music or video, you’ll have to find your own apps to do so. The IMO Q even lacks the ‘Gallery’ app that is so often the default barebones media player.
This is really a better outcome than its polar opposite: a phone so rammed with ‘complimentary’ apps it resembles a rubbish dump. Downloading a few extra apps from Google Play only takes a couple of minutes, so this is no major problem.

Specs and benchmark performance 

  • Poor gaming performance
  • Very low Geekbench 4 score
The IMO Q has a Spreadtrum chipset. This isn’t a hugely popular or well-known brand, but even Samsung has used some of its chips in low-end phones.
It’s a quad-core 1.2GHz SoC using dated Cortex-A7 cores. While we primarily blame the limited 1GB of RAM for the phone’s dire day-to-day performance, this chip is also not quite strong enough to do justice to Android’s more taxing games, despite the low 480 x 800 screen resolution.
There’s enough chug in 3D racer Asphalt 8 to dilute your enjoyment. Casual games run passably well, but they’re still tripped-up by very slow load times, a finicky touchscreen and the low display quality. The IMO Q zaps some of the fun out of mobile gaming, so spend a little more if you play a lot.
In Geekbench 4, the IMO Q achieves a multi-core score of 982, and that says it all. This is a very low score, almost doubled by other ‘budget’ phones.
For the hardcore techies out there, the CPU is a 32-bit chipset made using a 28nm process. Both of these are rather out of date at this point, although to give Spreadtrum some credit, the latest low-end Snapdragon 212 is still 32-bit/28nm.

Year in review: Cameras

                  


2016 has proved itself to being a busy year for camera manufacturers, with many flagship models replaced and a plethora of more junior cameras arrive with the latest technology.
Here’s a quick look at what we saw from each manufacturer and few thoughts on what we may see coming in 2017.

Canon 


Canon has thoroughly refreshed its DSLR line at all levels this year, from the baby EOS Rebel T6 / 1300D through to the enthusiast EOS 80D, and culminating at its flagship EOS-1D X Mark II
Arguably the most significant release, however, was August’s launch of 4K-toting EOS 5D Mark IV, a camera that’s already fast being adopted by well-heeled enthusiasts and professionals shooting stills and video.
Outside of its DSLR line, the Japanese company has also managed to address the main criticisms of the PowerShot G7 X with a Mark II model, which it no doubt hopes will win over those otherwise drawn to Sony’s RX100 series. 
It’s also done what many were hoping for by updating its mirrorless EOS M series with its most enthusiast-focused model yet, the EOS M5
With so much going on it’ll be interesting to see what 2017 brings. Perhaps an update to the EOS 7D Mark II? More lenses for the EOS M series? Whatever we see, the company leaves 2016 with an impressive assortment of cameras for novice and professional users alike. 

Nikon 


Like its rival Canon, Nikon has also had a busy year rejuvenating its DSLR stable, with the entry-level D3400 and mid-range D5600 through to the superb D5
And, like Canon, one of its models stood out from the others. The D500 DSLR, a true successor to the ageing D300s, has already won much acclaim for its excellent autofocus capabilities and the quality of both images and 4K videos. 
Elsewhere, the company has also made clear its intentions to crash the action camera market with three KeyMission models. While early impressions from the lucky few that have managed to get their hands on them have been mixed, Nikon has promised to update their firmware and the corresponding app to iron out some of these issues. 
Those patiently waiting for the long-promised DL compact cameras, however, will have to wait a little longer due to the impact of the Kumamoto earthquakes (and, potentially, reported issues with the technology too). Hopefully 2017 will welcome these to the market. 

Pentax 

In contrast to the abundance of options from Canon and Nikon’s corners, Ricoh Imaging has only unveiled two Pentax-branded DSLRs this year – but both have been well received. 
Crucially, it finally delivered on its promise of a full-frame DSLR in the shape of the Pentax K-1. Its superb feature-to-price ratio and laudable image quality unquestionably make it one of this year’s highlights. 
The other release, the K-70, has only just come out but it’s already impressed reviewers and a few early users. Its tempting asking price should also ensure it continues to be popular in the new year. 

Fujifilm 

What a year for Fujifilm. Not content with the dual smashes of the X-Pro2 and the X-T2, it also used this year’s Photokina trade show in Cologne to announce the medium-format GFX 50S mirrorless camera. 
The GFX 50S is set to enter the marketplace in January, and will be an interesting challenger to the Hasselblad X1D that was announced earlier in the year.
All of this came alongside a mildly refreshed X-E2 model, the X-E2S, as well as a fixed-focal length X70 compact camera. Impressively, it’s maintained focus on the junior end of the market too, with the X-A3 and X-A10 compact system cameras targeting novice users looking for their first interchangeable-lens camera. 
All of this, and it still managed to find time to update its colourful waterproof compact line with the XP90. So, a fruitful year all round for Fujifilm – but there’s plenty of potential for 2017. 
The X-M strand of mirrorless cameras hasn't seen any love since the debut X-M1 back in 2013, and we’ve also not had any updates to the X100 line since the X100T back in 2014. If we’re lucky, 2017 may even play host to a refreshed version of the excellent X-T10.

Sony 

Having successfully introduced mark II versions of its three full-frame A7 mirrorless models over the previous two years, Sony spent 2016 largely focusing on the enthusiast user with a string of APS-C and 1in-sensor-based offerings. 
The A6300 received rave reviews, although this has already been followed up by the A6500, while the popular RX100 line welcomed the stellar – if pricey – RX100 V compact. 
There was also the third iteration to the company’s RX10 line of superzoom compact cameras, the RX10 III, a camera that’s currently vying for the attention of the travelling photographer (albeit one with £1,500 / $1,800 to spend). 
There was one somewhat unexpected full-frame arrival, namely the Alpha A99 II. Its arrival quashed the idea of that Sony had abandoned its full-frame SLT line, and provided existing SLT users a more up-to-date alternative to the four-year-old Alpha A99. 
Hopefully 2017 will see more full-frame offerings from Sony, perhaps even third-generation A7 models. 

Panasonic 

This year, Panasonic bolstered its popular Micro Four Thirds system with the Lumix G80/G85 and Lumix GX80/GX85, and also catered for a more junior crowd with the stylish Lumix GF8, but it was the announcement of the forthcoming flagship Lumix GH5 that got many excited.
The model, which arrives at the start of the new year, builds on the success of the GH4, and is set to feature a 28MP sensor for the very first time inside a Micro Four Thirds model. 
With 10bit, 4K video recording at 60p and the option to extract 18MP frames from footage, it will be a refreshing challenger to the many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that have caught up in offering 4K video in recent years. 
There’s been plenty of action in the Lumix compact line too. 2016 saw Panasonic introduce the first pocketable superzoom camera with a 1in sensor, the Lumix TZ100/SZ100, as well as the 1in-sensor-based LX10/LX15, the company’s first proper alternative to the likes of the Sony RX100 and Canon PowerShot G7 X lines. 
The Lumix FZ2000/FZ2500 also made a welcome appearance. This updated the respected, but ageing, FZ1000 with a slew of advancements that included a fresh optic. 
Apart from a few promised lenses to go alongside the Lumix GH5, its difficult to know what Panasonic might update in the coming year, given how much it’s refreshed over the past couple of years. A successor to the Lumix LX100 compact would be very welcome though.

Olympus 

Just a handful of releases this year from Olympus, with the jewel of these being the flagship O-MD E-M1 Mark II
With a revamped AF system, 4K video (for the first time on an Olympus camera) and a staggering 60fps burst-shooting option, the camera appears to be far more significant upgrade than many were expecting. 
Elsewhere, the company twice updated its PEN line, first with the beautiful PEN F and subsequently with the PEN E-PL8, the latter joining a raft of options targeted towards bloggers and first-time users looking for a selfie-friendly, interchangeable lens camera. 
Hopefully both the OM-D and PEN lines will see new arrivals in 2017, ones which will no doubt pack superior video functionality. An update to the OM-D E-M5 II would no doubt please many.

Leica 

Following a busy 2015, Leica made just two additions to its various camera lines in 2016.
The waterproof X-U arrived at the start of the year, and the beautifully minimal TL model reared its head just a few weeks ago. 
We’d love to see a new APS-C based X-series model and potentially another addition to the SL camp over the next year, but we’ll just have to wait and see what the German company has in the wings for us.

Best photo editing software in 2016

          Best photo editing software in 2016



There's more to image-editing than Photoshop, and we check out some smart and affordable alternatives
Once upon a time, if you asked anyone which was the best photo editing software, they'd always say Photoshop. OK, so Photoshop is still the most powerful program there is at what it does, but what we want to do as photographers has changed.
Photoshop is not much good if you need creative inspiration – it can create any effect you ask of it, but you have to know what you want. If you need creative inspiration, there are better places to look.
  • What better way to edit photos than with a brand-new MacBook?
It's not much good at organising your photos, either. It does come with Adobe Bridge, but that's just a glorified folder/photo browser, not an image cataloguing tool.
And while many photography experts understand the value of shooting unprocessed raw files and processing them later on the computer, very few are aware that not all raw converters are the same and that Adobe Camera Raw – as used by Photoshop – is not necessarily the best.
So can Photoshop hang on as the best photo-editing software on the market, and which are the rival apps you should be looking at too? Read on to find out.

1. Adobe Photography plan :

Get Photoshop and Lightroom for a single and surprisingly affordable subscription
Platform: Mac and PC | Image-editing: Yes | Cataloguing: Yes | Raw conversion: Yes
Adobe caused a storm when it moved over to a subscription system for its software, and it did initially look like a pretty pricey deal. But the price has dropped, the dust has settled and the world has carried on turning on its axis. Now, if you take out an annual subscription, you can get Photoshop and Lightroom for just £8.57/$9.99 per month.
And you do need both programs. Photoshop is sophisticated but limited. For layers, masks, selections, retouching and complex, multi-step imaging processes, it's impossible to beat, and it manages to present these tools in a remarkably clean, fast and efficient interface. On the downside, it doesn't offer a library of single-click creative effects or any way of organising a large and growing photo collection. Photoshop is like a giant box of spanners – it has all the tools you could possibly want, but it's not going to show you how to fix your car.

That's why Lightroom is an indispensable part of the Adobe double-act. Lightroom combines an image cataloguing database with Adobe Camera Raw's 'non-destructive' editing tools in a slicker interface. It means that you can make non-permanent adjustments to an image which you can change later – and your original photos are never modified. These tools can't do everything – for selections, layers, masks and many more complex effects you'll need Photoshop. But that's OK, because you get both programs in the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan and they complement each other really well.

Xiaomi Air 12 Laptop

            Xiaomi Air 12 Laptop

OUR VERDICT :
A very stylish laptop let down by a few design and component issues. Still, this is a great first attempt by Xiaomi and one that will entice punters who want a MacBook Air look without paying the Apple price.
Rumours about Xiaomi, the big Chinese smartphone vendor, launching a laptop have been going around for a few months already. Turns out that the company had not one, but two laptops in the pipeline.
Xiaomi is known for producing very nice looking smartphones for not a lot of money, the Mi5 being an excellent example of what the company can achieve, so anything emerging from its design team is likely to get heads turning.
And this was the case when the Xiaomi Air 12 and its bigger brother, the Xiaomi Air 13, were launched in August 2016. Both of them have an air of familiarity that can't merely be coincidental.
Even the name alludes to another laptop produced by a firm based in Cupertino, California – the MacBook Air is the model we're referring to and there are a lot of similarities here as we'll find out.

Note that the Xiaomi Air 12 was sent to us by Gearbest and costs £471 ($590 for the US, which is around AU$780) at the time of writing. Because it caters for a Chinese audience only, everything is Chinese-focused including the plug and the accompanying literature.
It's worth noting as well that the laptop currently comes with Windows 10 Home Edition (Chinese version) – Gearbest optionally offers a trial version (non-activated) Windows 10 HE allowing you to buy a license. This isn't ideal as it adds to the cost of the machine.
Also if you're thinking of a purchase, we strongly advise you to read our article on the pros and cons of buying from Chinese retailers (and generally speaking, outside of the UK).

Design :

Before you even see the laptop, one thing you cannot help notice is the box. As a reviewer, we're used to laptops coming in BBBs (boring brown boxes).
This one is different, on par with far more expensive, premium laptops that try to differentiate themselves from cheaper alternatives by making an impression before the product is actually unboxed.

The next thing you'll notice is that the box contains a charger, an envelope and a laptop; nothing else. The 45W white charger is very much MacBook-esque with the plug and the power supply unit integrated as one.
That's all good and well, but just bear in mind that you will need clearance around the power socket as the charger is a tad bulky. And you will need an adaptor to use it outside China. The cable, which is a USB Type-C affair, is about 150cm long, another point to bear in mind.
As for the Xiaomi Air 12 itself, the laptop looks like a metallic roof tile, almost uniform in thickness and, surprise, surprise, devoid of any logo or logotype on the cover.
At 292 x 202 x 12.9mm, it is smaller than an A4 sheet and its thickness is reasonable for a device of this size. Its weight – 1.08kg – puts it bang in between Apple's MacBook and the Dell XPS 13.

Rather than drawing from the MacBook Air or the MacBook, Xiaomi seems to have sought inspiration from the MacBook Pro. The machine has a similar black bezel and an almost constant thickness – there's no wedge here.
You'll also notice the same brushed aluminium finish, the same chamfered cut in front and that single, long hinge which connects the base to the screen.
The keyboard – which is backlit – has a shorter travel compared to the MacBook Pro, and is on par with the Dell XPS 13 with rather mushy feedback. There's a bit of flex when touch typing but nothing deal-breaking.
Surprisingly, the letter keys on the Xiaomi Air 12 are actually bigger than on the MacBook Pro (16mm compared to 15mm). Note that the power button is located on the right-hand top corner of the laptop which can cause some issues since it is located near the delete button.

The touchpad's dimensions (103 x 62mm) make it just a tad smaller than the XPS 13. As expected, there are no physical buttons and its surface is as smooth as that of the aforementioned Dell laptop.
Flip the laptop over to expose the belly of the beast: there are five grey rubber feet, two speaker vents and a sticker that can be peeled away. The bottom cover is secured using eight screws, one of which is hidden – compared to some of its competitors, the Xiaomi Air 12 is particularly upgrade-friendly.

As for connectors, there's a grand total of four: one HDMI port, one full-sized USB 3.0, a USB Type-C port which doubles as the power connection and an audio jack. This is better than the Apple MacBook but falls short of the XPS 13 which has an extra USB port plus a card reader (yes, there's no card reader here).


Once you open it up, perhaps the most distinctive part of the Xiaomi Air is the screen. It has edge-to-edge glass covering most of it, which scores a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. In comparison, the popular Gorilla Glass 3 scores 6.8.

Sadly, the Air 12 is not touchscreen-enabled – adding the glass may therefore be confusing and introduces a significant amount of glare for no reason, and that's despite being fully laminated. Sure, it looks great but expect a few customers to be befuddled by the lack of response when they try to touch the screen.