Friday, March 17, 2017

The Little Phone - Panasonic T44





I recently parted ways with my Nubia Z9 Mini. Gave it to my younger sister as her Karbon S1 Titanium ran out of steam. Thing is I can do with an entry level phone. So I was on the lookout for a decent and cheap android. There are some compromises though - screen is going to be small, RAM not much - 512MB to 1GB, and battery life might take a hit depending on the capacity and model. After browsing through multiple times on the roaster, I settled on a Karbon A91 Storm but the unit I received came with a damaged battery - with a dent in it. It did work when I popped it in risking an explosion, haha. The phone was totally meh with a terrible build of android and the hideous champagne-white color scheme (which by the way I mistakenly selected :C) made it a no go. 
Further hunt led me to a number of cheap phones - some from companies whose names were totally new to me, didn't even have websites etc, to costly entry level phones from established brands. I also decided that I needed to up the budget - The Karbon was for INR 2200/- which is about $22. So I stretched it to INR 3000/- which is $37. For this much money I think with the Panasonic T44 I'm getting a good deal. It set me back by INR 3300/- = $41. For this much money I'm getting following:

Android 6 Marshmallow
4" 800x480 TN Screen - kind of okayish.
Mediatek MT6580 SoC (Arm A7 4 core at 1.3GHz + Mali 400 MP2)
Dual SIM Dual Standby - One Mini SIM One Micro SIM Slots. 
Separate SD Card slot - can take upto 32GB SD Cards
Proximity, Light, Accelerometer sensors.
Removable back cover with 2400 mAh LiIon removeable battery
Front Capacitive buttons
Cameras 5MP Fixed Focus with LED Flash back / 2MP Front
3.5mm Headphone Jack
MicroUSB charging/Data port with 5v 1A charger provided

Overall it's a nice phone for such low price. The tradeoff from my point is the screen - which is not nice. I remember buying ZTE Blade C V807 for INR 4000/- three years back and it had an IPS screen - which was tremendous value for money. All other specs were very much entry level but that screen did save the day. Not so much for this Panasonic. Anyway as I have accepted it as a compromise, lets move on. 

The two SIMs are interesting - one Mini SIM and one Micro SIM means you can start using your old SIM as it is. These days service providers provide new precut SIM's, but again, if you have an old cellphone, just pop in the old SIM and get ready to go. Most mid end phones these days need nano SIMs, while only few provide Micro SIMs.

The separate SD Card is also a win in my mind, since you are not crippled in any form. The hybrid slots are the ones I always look to avoid, since even if the device has 32GB of storage, you can max it out with just a bucketload of stuff like 3-4 big games and few movies. Also in case the phone dies - has happened to me a few times - you can at least pop out the SD Card and get some data out like your photos. And don't tell me about online backup - google can pull the plug on your account any time, and data connectivity is not best in india anyway.
The battery was a bit flaky at start but after couple of full charge - discharge cycles it seems to have settled down. Being 2400mAh, it gives solid two days runtime. I remember the ZTE V807 used to give me about a day on it's 1600 mAh battery with moderate usage. So this - T44 - is good at battery.

The call quality is below average. The other side sound like we are talking in a long pipe. But at least it's loud. Maybe that's because this does not have active noise cancellation. In Nubia Z9 Mini with noise cancellation the call volume was a bit low - but much clearer. Here it's like back to a feature phone but then again lets not ignore the elephant in the room - the price. So I would say that for the price telephony is okay.

The cameras - I'm not considering them. The main reason for me purchasing Nubia Z9 Mini was the cameras. It's cameras are really great. In fact I have a number of great selfies, and a boatload of incredible photos I captured on it. Here it's not the cameras so I'm not even going to talk about it. For someone else - yes, they are there and they give you some pictures - fitting to price.
Lets come to Android. Having Marshmallow is kind of great. Nubia Z9 Mini officially doesn't have Marshmallow. But then again this T44 is definitely going to have Nougat anyway. I guess it's the case with android - updates are just not in the focus. Doesn't matter for me, because for the price I am getting a quite smoothly running, just previous to latest version of android. It's enough. It runs fine. Panasonic has installed some bloatware which you can easily disable. There are some extra apps like memory cleaner baked in - they are almost inobstrusive and in some cases useful. 

Storagewise 8GB is limiting, but for my kind of usage it's more than enough. Here on T44 we get about 4GB memory. After in installing the usual suspects, I have about 1.6GB of space remaining. Again I have a 8GB SD Card which I use for bulk data use like download location, music and other data etc. So spacewise it's fine. 

Plastics quality is average, but not as bad as the Karbon A91 Storm. Fitting is nice, edges are well aligned, there are no untoward squeeks or any kind of flex. The buttons are clicky and not squishy. The front capacitive buttons are well responsive. In case of Karbon A91 Storm the home button was not that responsive. But here there's no such case. The back-cover is like a shell that wraps around the phone 2/3rds of the way. The corners are sticking out but it's excusable on such entry level device. The Electric Blue color of back cover is very dark and most will mistake it for black. But it's good since it doesn't attract any attention. 
What grabs the attention on front is the shiny Panasonic logo done in chrome, and the capacitive navigation buttons too. Looks weird. Even weird is the front camera location - it's right in the middle below the earpiece. Totally freaky! But now after a few days I have gotten used to this eye like feature. Worst case though is the blue colored notification LED - I think it's misaligned. So instead of a proper blue light, you see a blue point of reflected light appearing somewherenear top left corner. Funny thing is my ZTE V807 had similar notification LED - it was properly aligned, but it was so effing dim - it was useless!!!
From screen protection point of view, I really don't know if whatever's on the display is glass or just plastic. There's nothing that I can find on the net either. It's not gorilla glass for sure!

So that's it - my review of the Panasonic T44. Mind you there's a Lite version with 2MP back VGA Front camera circulating in the market. It's similar to this one but only with lower quality cameras. As to the Panasonic T44, it's good bang for the buck with right compromises and even some good points. I would say total value for money!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Using Intex AquaFish as a daily driver for a month

It just so happened that AquaFish was the only smartphone I had at hand when my Nubia temporarily died. I used AquaFish for almost a month and these are my findings.
It's a good device - screen is good, call quality is above average, Sailfish OS runs well, almost no weird behavior like dropping signals/missing SMS/ call hanging. Telephony was quite good. The handset feels good in hand and I had people asking me which this orange phone is!!! The crown is of course Sailfish's gesture driven UI. It's quite natural and I have never missed android's home/recent/back buttons.
The UI is responsive and there were not one native application hangups. Few android applications hanged up in various use cases - e.g. WhatsApp with GIF's etc. Not a huge deal breaker. The SD Card support worked fine, MTP connection to Laptop Windows/Linux was solid. No weird 0 Byte files or anything. Camera worked fine. In fact I captured some good photos. I have attached a snap here. Notifications worked and the so like quick toggles were more than enough.
Overall good experience. I can say Sailfish OS 2.0 is indeed ready for the masses.
Now the negatives:
One of the biggest hurdle that I faced was Sailfish OS yet doesn't support Enterprise WiFi networks which meant I was offline in office time, because I am not subscribed to any data packs right now.
Second issue is there are boundary bugs - like multiple SMS reception and call connect disconnect related issues. There's more missing functionality like Keyboard autocorrect, more multi-lingual support, and some enhanced system functions like Battery monitor. From customization and home-screen point of view
Sailfish is on par with android - especially if you ignore replacement home-screens. To be frank I prefer Sailfish approach to home-screen and find it more usable and unique. But then again Sailfish has it's own quirks like the five second action timer - this complicates certain action like deleting pictures etc. There should be a better approach to this.
Still there are a lot of positives and far less negatives. This says something about the tremendous work Jolla guys are doing with a small team.
Looking forward to Sailfish OS 2.1 lijoki!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bringing back Nubia Z9 Mini

I was almost ready to give up on the Nubia - already had given up on it.
But then today I put it up for charge and lo behold! The notification LED
started blinking in an SOS pattern. So I googled the internets, and found
similar cases for various brands of mobiles. I let the phone charge on.
There was nothing on the display yet.
Then on one post someone mentioned that they had more luck with a 2.4A
charger. I remembered that I had one microUSB power adapter I had purchased
for my Raspberry Pi3. So I plugged in the phone to this 2.4A 5V adapter.
And suddenly the charging animation showed up. I cannot explain my joy!
Then I let it charge till 20% on it. After I used normal 1A charger to
fully top up.
And now the Nubia Z9 mini is back!!!