HTC One X9 pictures and alleged specs spill online

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HTC could be close to introducing its next Android smartphone, the so-called One X9, reports Chinese site ANZHOU. But don’t expect this to follow up last spring’s flagshipOne M9; this one could be more of a middle-of-the-road device.

Midrange phones are proliferating the market at a quicker pace than top-tier models and prices are falling across the board. Phone makers don’t want to stake their entire fortunes on a singular, annual flagship model, which is why phones like this November’sOne A9 offer cheaper alternatives.

The possibly forthcoming One X9 will reportedly feature a 5.5-inch display with a screen resolution of 1,080 pixels. It could have a 13-megapixel rear camera and front-facing UltraPixel shooter, which is HTC’s name for its slightly altered 4-megapixel camera module. Powering the show could be a processor made by MediaTek, the eight-core Helio X10.

According to the leak, customers may have two storage capacities of the One X9 to choose from. If true, the 16GB version will come with 2GB of RAM, while the 32GB option is bolstered by 3GB of RAM.

Other custom HTC touches could include dual front-facing speakers, called BoomSound, and a metal body. We’re also hearing that the phone could have a 3,000mAh battery and a microSD expansion card slot.

And how about the phone’s design? Based on the allegedly leaked photos, the phone may have softly rounded corners and a smooth metal finish, plus a decorative strip across the top back where the camera module lives.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL review

Microsoft launched the Lumia 950 XL and its little brother, the Lumia 950 to usher in the new era of Windows 10 for mobile. The 950 XL is the larger of the two phones, packing a 5.7-inch display, but bringing few features of its own.

Just as you’d expect from the flag bearers for Microsoft’s latest mobile software, the phones are stuffed with the latest technology on offer. The 950 XL has a pin-sharp high-res display, a powerful octa-core processor and a great 20-megapixel camera, but it’s all let down by the software.

While Windows 10 for mobile is a refreshing change from iOS or Android, and it’s pretty straightforward to use, it’s plagued by the same issue that faced Windows Phone 8 before it: apps. The app store is still woefully understocked compared to Android and iOS, and app developers rarely put any effort into bringing new releases to Microsoft’s mobile apps first.

This could change with Microsoft’s universal apps which theoretically can work across the mobile and desktop versions of Windows 10. App developers then would have a much larger audience to develop for and would therefore be more keen to bring their apps to Windows sooner.

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App issues aside, the Lumia 950 XL is a perfectly capable phone, and if you’re already a Windows Phone user who isn’t keen to switch operating systems it’s the most powerful Windows phone you can buy right now, even slightly more so than the 950. Windows 10 for mobile needs a lot of work however before it becomes a compelling choice over Android or iOS — at this rate, that doesn’t seem likely.

You can pick the Lumia 950 XL up now in the UK for £530, in the US for $649, and for $1,129 in Australia, all directly from Microsoft.

How much bigger is the 950 XL over the 950?

Quite a bit, as it has to squeeze in that larger 5.7-inch display. The XL measures 152mm long and 78.4mm wide (5.9 x 3-inches), versus the standard 950’s 145 x 73.2mm (5.7 x 2.8-inches). You’ll notice the extra size of the XL when you try to stretch your thumbs across to type — it’s not a phone for one-handed use. If you prefer your phones a little more compact and easier to hold, the smaller 950 might be better for you.

What other design elements should I know about?

There’s a minor cosmetic change to the camera unit — the 950’s has a silver ring around the lens, while the XL has a black disc — but otherwise both phones look identical. They have the same removable plastic back panel, which feels every bit as flimsy here as it does on the 950. It’s a very plain design, as well, and certainly not one that will pique much interest in gadget fans. If style is your chief concern, look toward the curving glass and metal of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

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Beneath the plastic back panel is a microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 200GB. The battery is removable and the phone charges using the latest USB Type C — features shared on both the 950 and the XL.

How good is the display?

Both the Lumia 950 and 950 XL share the same 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution. As the XL’s screen is physically bigger, however, it means those pixels are spread out over a wider area, reducing the pixel density. While the XL has a pixel density of 513 pixels per inch, the smaller 950 has that beaten with 564 ppi. It’s not a difference that you’d ever notice though.

The XL’s display is crystal clear, lending high-res photos and videos a satisfying level of clarity. Black levels are deep, resulting in good contrast too. Its larger size helps show off photos and videos in a more immersive way, but both screens are great for everyday essentials.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 review

Xiaomi’s latest smartphone, the Redmi Note 2, is the kind of phone you’re looking for when you need a big screen and features at a low cost, even if its specs aren’t all that exciting. As the last new phone the Chinese smartphone maker is selling outside of China for the rest of the year, this is the budget large screen phone to try especially if you’ve never heard of Xiaomi before.

Personally, I don’t really like displays larger than 5 inches, as they make it a tad uncomfortable to use with one hand, but the 5.5-inch Redmi Note 2 didn’t seem too hard to get used to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been testing out the Apple Watch with the 5.5-inch iPhone 6S Plus, which may have made the transition easier.

Like all Xiaomi phones, the Redmi Note 2 runs a custom version of Android called MIUI, and like most Chinese smartphones it takes a page out of Apple’s design handbook and puts all the apps on the home screen by default. Also, Xiaomi likes to keep things lean, so you’ll find a lack of irritating bloatware, which is always a plus. The 13-megapixel camera isn’t the best, but it will take pretty decent pictures with enough natural light.

The phone retails for a mere $150, which converts to around £100 or AU$210, though if you’re getting one from third-party online retailers, expect to pay a slight premium. It’s a pretty decent phone, especially if you’re looking for a cheap device you can take overseas, and it works well for this thanks to its dual-SIM capabilities.

Where can I get this phone?

Xiaomi sells the phone in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. There’s no word on whether it will ever be sold in the US, UK or Australia, but based on Xiaomi’s pattern, likely not. The company is making inroads in India and Brazil, so if we were to see it land anywhere else, I’d put my money on one of those countries.

Can I still by the phone if I don’t live in Asia?

Third-party online retailers usually stock Xiaomi products, so there’s a good chance you can get one for a slight premium. There are a few caveats to note, firstly, warranty may be limited, and you’ll have to make sure you’re getting the non-China version if you want the Google Play store preinstalled. Otherwise you’ll have to do some work yourself to get the apps working on the phone.

Which 4G networks is the phone compatible with?

There’s good and bad news. Right now, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 supports a range of 4G networks, which includes UK carriers like Three and EE, and should support the LTE networks of Optus, Telstra and Vodafone in Australia. The bad news is that 4G won’t work in the US, although 3G will.

What are the Redmi Note 2’s main features?

Apart from having a 5.5-inch full-HD display, the Note 2 sports a MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core 64-bit processor. It also has 2GB of RAM, which isn’t a lot, as well as a mere 16GB of onboard storage, but it does have a microSD card slot if you need more storage. The Redmi Note 2 comes with dual-SIM 4G, which is pretty good if you are traveling overseas and want to use a local SIM card to save on roaming fees, without removing your everyday SIM.

I like taking photos — is the Redmi Note 2’s camera any good?

The 13-megapixel rear camera is fine, but not terrific. If you’re in the bright outdoors, you’ll find that pictures generally turn out sharp with colors that are generally true to life. It struggles a bit indoors under fluorescent lighting, and does have some issues with color accuracy then.

The Note 2’s camera locks onto objects pretty quickly thanks to its 0.1s phase detection autofocus, which is another plus and there are a bunch of software enhancements, such as panorama mode for taking wide landscape shots. The front camera isn’t too shabby; you’ll be able to take good-looking 5-megapixel selfies thanks to the phone’s built-in Beautify mode.

Why buying anything on your smartphone stinks

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Hey cool, I just found some awesome Festivus-themed socks. I’m going to buy them right now!

All I have to do is use my smartphone’s tiny keyboard to oh-so-carefully tap in my name, email, password…then my address…then my credit card number…then…sheesh, forget it. I’ll just play Candy Crush.

A scene like that may seem meaningless — hardly anyone cares I didn’t get those socks — but such aborted purchases point to a big problem in US smartphone shopping that’s frustrating customers and retailers alike.

The process of buying physical goods on your phone stinks. Consumers complain that product images are too small and that entering payment information is aggravating and stressful. So while we all use our smartphones more and more to compare prices and research products, we don’t tend to make purchases on the devices, according to data from several retail researchers. Most people use desktops instead, where a larger screen and physical keyboard make buying a breeze.

“The reality is,” Anuj Nayar, PayPal’s senior director of global initiatives, told me while holding up his iPhone, “it’s very, very difficult to pay with one of these.”

The results of this situation are crummy for those on both sides of the transaction. US retailers are seeing a big increase in their online traffic coming from smartphones, but they aren’t able to turn those visitors into buyers — and they’re likely annoying potential customers along the way. That’s a huge missed sales opportunity, industry experts say. The situation is unproductive for consumers, too, sincethey spend three hours every day on mobile devices for activities not involving phone calls.

“My little iPhone 5 just is not conducive to shopping,” Marisa Falcon, a 30-year-old Brooklyn resident, said while checking her phone on the street in Manhattan. “Entering your credit card on that touchscreen is a total drag.”

Data from the busy holiday-shopping season is a drag, too. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday this year, nearly half of online retail traffic came from smartphones, about double from the year before, reports market researcher ChannelAdvisor. But smartphones accounted for just a quarter of purchases. Desktops brought in 60 percent of sales while accounting for less traffic than phones.

Just 20 percent of US shoppers using smartphones tend to complete a purchase after placing an item in their virtual shopping cart, according to Visa. That figure is about 60 percent on desktops and 40 percent on tablets. Just how bad is that? If those people were in-store customers waiting at the checkout line, four out of five would be ditch their carts and walk out of the store before making their purchase.

Toys “R” Us is working to change that by simplifying its site on smartphones and making mobile checkouts easier, said Richard Barry, the company’s chief merchandising officer. Those efforts have started convincing more shoppers to follow through with their purchases, he said. But there’s still a long way to go.

It’s difficult and expensive for traditional retailers to make these changes. Most don’t have widely used mobile apps and employ just a handful of mobile developers, so change comes slowly. For now, Amazon and eBay seem to be benefiting from other retailers’ lousy mobile sites, said Scot Wingo, ChannelAdvisor’s executive chairman. Both online sellers have popular apps that store customer information, making shopping much easier.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In China, mobile shopping is much simpler for customers, thanks to better integration of payment information on phones and more-developed mobile shopping websites, Wingo said. That lets retailers including JD.com and Alibaba make large chunks of their sales on the same devices customers now use the most. Alibaba reported that, as of September, 47 percent of its sales came from mobile, a figure most US retailers would envy.

There are several efforts afoot to make smartphone shopping in the US less miserable, but they’re still young.

PayPal last year launched One Touch, which lets people buy items on retail sites without having to constantly re-enter their information. However, the service has attracted only a sliver of PayPal’s 173 million active accounts.

Visa is working on a similar concept, called Visa Checkout. Yet the number of users amounts to a rounding error relative to its 2.1 billion accounts.

Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest also are starting to offer “buy now” buttonson their sites to make buying easier.

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Apple’s Apple Pay and Google’s Android Pay might also jump into the mix as they evolve and gain adoption as places for consumers to store their payment information, Wingo said. Both services today focus on in-store purchases, not online shopping.

As those efforts ramp up, next year could be a critical one in helping make the smartphone more than just a place where people go window-shopping.

“We’re still in the early days of enabling the smartphone as a great commerce vehicle,” said Sam Shrauger, senior vice president of Visa’s digital solutions.

Maybe it won’t be too much longer before I actually want to use my phone to nab those Festivus socks.