The buy local movement has plenty of appeal, but the philosophy often extends more readily to tomatoes than tablets. Not so in Romania, where Evolio has served up its share of slates and laptops for the home crowd. Now, the company is back with its first quad-core tablet offering, the 10.1-inch Evolio Quadra. The slab of aluminum and glass weighs in at 1.18 pounds (535 grams), and is outfitted with a 1.2GHz quad-core Cortex A9 CPU and the Vivante GC1000 GPU, which sits on the lower end of Vivante’s offerings. Other specs are largely standard fare, such as a 1,280 x 800 IPS LCD, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage and Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). The Quadra’s 5,000mAh battery is on the weaker side, and its connectivity is limited to WiFi (outside of an external 3G adapter), but that’s what you’ll get for 999 Romanian leu (roughly $ 296). This slab of Eastern European engineering is available for pre-order now on Evolio’s website, and it’s said to hit store shelves in mid-June.
Filed under: Tablets
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Nokia has given its Series 40-based range of touchscreen Asha smartphones another push to try to keep up with the low end reach of Google’s Android platform today. The mobile maker has announced a new addition to the range — the Asha 501 (pictured left & below) — which also ushers in a new version of the Asha touch UI that’s designed to be quicker and slicker, and has a focus on swiping gestures to make it feel more fluid.
The three-inch capacitive screen Asha 501, which has Wi-Fi but no 3G and costs $ 99 before taxes & subsidies, is expected to start shipping in June, via some 60 carriers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Nokia’s Asha range typically targets emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America but Asha devices have also been ranged in Europe.
Although Nokia has retired its other in-house platform Symbian, to concentrate its smartphone efforts on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, it has continued to expand its portfolio of low end Android alternative S40-based devices — adding in a variety of new hardware and software features to devices in the range, including full Qwerty keyboards; dedicated keys for Facebook/WhatsApp; refreshed industrial design; its Bluetooth sharing technology Slam; its Xpress browser to lighten the data consumption load; preloaded social networking apps; free games downloads; and a focus on long battery life.
But keeping up with low end Androids also means improving Asha’s usability — and that’s what its latest platform refresh is all about. The Asha 501 is in fact the first fruit of Nokia’s 2012 acquisition of Smarterphone, a Norwegian company that made mobile OSes for feature phones designed to give them smartphone looks and capabilities.
Nokia said the new Asha platform is faster and more responsive. It also introduces a touchscreen UI refresh — with a dual homescreen view: the Home screen is a “traditional icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature”, while the new Fastlane view changes based on device usage, showing things like “recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps”.
Fastlane “provides a record of how the phone is used, giving people a glimpse of their past, present and future activity, and helping them multi-task by providing easy access to their favorite features”, according to Nokia’s press release. The feature sounds a lot like certain portions of Motorola’s Android skinning software — such as the widgets deployed on 2012 devices like the Motorola Motosmart.
The overall idea of the design refresh is to make it easier for Asha users to get to the apps and features they’re after, according to Nokia – with the two main screens accessible by a “simple swipe”. ”Fastlane is integral to the whole Nokia Asha 501 experience, but so is the ‘swipe’ motion,” a spokeswoman told TechCrunch. “With swipe as you experience it on the device, we were able to make optimal use of screen space, so you see just what you need. You swipe to everything else, including pull-down menus and of course, Fastlane. The whole user experience is faster and more responsive.”New Asha, New Apps
So what about apps? The new Asha platform does require developers to rework apps for it — either by writing them afresh or porting them over. Which does mean Nokia is pushing the reset button yet again, but the company would probably argue that at this price point with these price-conscious consumers, users aren’t expecting hoards of apps — just select key apps. It’s also added in-app purchases to the new Asha platform, offering developers a new way to monetise Asha apps, along with its Nokia Advertising Exchange and carrier billing network.
“A good percentage of existing apps can be ported to the new platform,” said Nokia’s spokeswoman. “We already have many developers working on this. Going forward and with the new Nokia Asha Software Development Kit, developers can write an app once, and it will be compatible with future devices also built on the new Asha platform, with no need to re-write code.”
Apps that are already available for the new Nokia Asha platform include CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco Bandai and Reliance Games. Nokia said its HERE location software will also be available as a download, starting in Q3 this year — and will “initially include basic mapping services”.
Messaging giant WhatsApp is noticeably absent from the list but Nokia’s spokeswoman suggested that may change in future, noting: “WhatsApp and other key partners continue to explore new Asha.”
In select markets, certain carriers are also offering data-free access to apps including the Facebook app and mobile website on the 501 for a limited time, offering another hook for the target cost-conscious consumers.
The 501 comes preloaded with Nokia’s cloud-based data compressing Xpress browser. Nokia has also created a new web app, called Nokia Xpress Now, which ”recommends content based on location, preferences and trending topics”. It said this will be available via the Browser homepage or as a download from the Nokia Store.
“Nokia has surpassed expectations of what’s achievable in the sub-100 USD phone category with a new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with design cues from Lumia and a mix of features, services and affordability that is valued by price-conscious buyers,” said Neil Mawston, executive director, Global Wireless Practice, Strategy Analytics, in a supporting statement.
Commenting on the launch via Twitter, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi added: “Asha 501 shows what you can achieve when you design bottom up rather than strip down features to hit the right price point.
“Asha 501 Dual SIM with hot swap very important to users but what is most striking on this device is the user interface.”
The full device specifications for the Asha 501 are as follows:
Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm; 98 grams
Camera: 3.2 MP
Single SIM standby time: up to 48 days
Dual SIM standby time: up to 26 days
Talk time: up to 17 hours
Additional memory of 4GB (card included in box), expandable up to 32GB
Forty free EA Games worth €75 downloadable from Nokia Store
Available colours: Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black
Suggested pricing is 99 USD before taxes and subsidies.
In promising unemployment news, the ancient ruins of Stonehenge are seeking their first general manager. Job responsibilities presumably include sleeping in late, making sure nothing has fallen over, and leaving work early. What is Stonehenge anyways? I always imagined they’re like, the ruins of some ancient sorcerer’s workshop.
The English Heritage organization, which oversees English historic sites, is searching for a general manager of the mysterious monument — the first time such a position has existed since Stonehenge was built, sometime around 2,500 B.C.
The senior manager will lead 80 employees and 100 volunteers in this new burst of modern activity at the ancient site. The person selected for the position will be expected to work with druid leaders who make regular pilgrimages to the Wiltshire stones.
English Heritage’s Tim Reeve told BBC that the organization is seeking a special someone who can maintain “the dignity of the stones.”
First of all (and despite what I said in the title), they shouldn’t really say the person chosen will be Stonehenge’s FIRST general manager, because it may have had one back in 2500 B.C. when it was first built. Hell, there could have been a whole line of them. Applicants should send their résumés via messenger owl to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, care of Rubeus Hagrid.
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The torrent of leaks these past few days haven’t left much to the imagination, but HTC’s Peter Chou has just officially pulled back the curtain on the first phone to ship with Facebook Home — the HTC First — at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.
According to HTC CEO Peter Chou the First will be the “ultimate social phone,” though he declined to dig into the device’s specs during his brief moments on-stage. The device will ship in four colors, and will support AT&T’s LTE network right out of the gate. Can’t wait for your chance to take it for a spin? The First will be available for $ 99 (with a 2 year contract naturally) starting on April 12, and pre-orders for the device kick off today. Those of you outside the U.S. will be able to join in the fun shortly too, as Mark Zuckerberg also noted that the phone would find its way to UK carriers Orange and EE in short order.
The mid-range First will be available in black, white, red and blue, and sports a 4.3-inch display that jibes with earlier reports. Facebook Home obviously serves to obscure the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean build that’s actually running the show, while one of Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon 400 chipsets (and not the MSM8960 that was previously reported) provides the horsepower from inside that smooth, curved chassis. It’s not a bad looking phone and the internals aren’t quite as lousy as many had expected them to be, but all this begs a very important question — will anyone actually buy this phone when you can fire up Facebook Home on your (supported) Android handset for a whopping zero dollars?
I mean, c’mon — I’m a sucker for even mildly neat hardware, but so far neither HTC nor AT&T (whose CEOs both appeared on-stage to talk about how darned great the thing is) could provide a compelling reason why it’s worth buying. LTE? A handsome design? Neither of those are exactly hard to come by these days, are they? Facebook has said that the First will feature better integration for all those notifications you’re bound to get than if you had just installed the app, but at this point there’s little way of knowing how big a difference it’ll actually make. HTC knows how to make great hardware and I don’t mean to diminish that, but a lame device that’s been put together well is still a lame device.
This marks the second time that the social networking giant and the beleaguered Taiwanese OEM have collaborated on a peculiar hardware play. The first, if you’ll recall, were HTC Status (nee Chacha) and the Salsa released back in 2011– their main claim to fame was a dedicated Facebook button for quick access to your friends and feeds. Considering that neither device was exactly a runaway hit, it’s no surprise to see that Facebook and HTC have taken things in a different, more substantial direction with the One. Of course, the First is going to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Facebook Home devices — Zuckerberg also pointed to a Facebook Home Program which allows hardware manufacturers to build Facebook Home into their own forthcoming handsets.
The HTC hardware that’s being prepped as the delivery mechanism for Facebook Home, which has lots more potential than the device itself, supposedly leaked in the image above. The render, tweeted by Evleaks, a consistent source of pre-release Android hardware info, doesn’t look like much: it’s destined to be a mid-range device, after all, according to early leaks.
The leak also suggests it’ll be called the HTC First, which sounds like a not-so-great play on the HTC One naming scheme. Previous info had it codenamed the HTC Myst, which at least brought to mind the popular point-and-click adventure game. The name ‘First’ at least evokes the idea that you’ll be the first of your friends to spot all the activity going down on Facebook, but again, don’t expect the hardware to account for any of the ‘wow’ factor of Thursday’s announcement at Facebook HQ.
What we’ve heard about the phone itself so far indicates a modest but capable performer, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5 megapixel rear camera and a 4.3-inch display capable of 720p HD resolution. It’s so yawn-inducing that if Facebook spends more than two minutes on hardware and specs on Thursday, I might actually nod off. But it’s an example of what Facebook can offer other OEMs, regardless of device specs: the angle of ‘it’ll even run on your broadly aimed pre-paid handsets’ is a good one for FB’s purposes of establishing a much wider, more entrenched mobile platform.
Even if the phone itself does look a little like a cheap iPhone knock-off.