OK, so it probably won't generate as much excitement as a new iPhone, nor result in the kind of round-the-block queues we see outside Apple stores when an updated model is released, but if you're a fan of Samsung's smartphones - and there are a lot of you out there - then you're probably pretty excited about the fact that the Galaxy S5 is now available to purchase.
Samsung reckons it "redefines how technology innovation enhances our lives" and focuses on the features and capabilities that matter most to smartphone users. But of course Samsung was always going to tout its latest offering as the best thing since sliced bread, so here we take a look at what the critics have made of this shiny new gadget.
The S5's camera is supposed to be one of its big selling points, since it boasts the world's fastest autofocus speed - 0.3 seconds to be precise. Matt Warman, the Telegraph's head of technology, is a fan, noting that the autofocus is so fast "you barely notice it happening" while high dynamic range makes images look "consistently excellent".
CNET's Jessica Dolcourt reckons the S5's 16-megapixel camera is "one of the best you can find on a smartphone" and Owen Williams from technology blog TNW said it takes "incredible" shots for a phone and that using it on a day-to-day basis is "delightful".
However, the Wall Street Journal's personal tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler wasn't quite as enthusiastic, claiming it doesn't perform very well in low light.
The fitness features
A nifty set of fitness tools was another of the features Samsung bigged-up when it unveiled the S5. There's a personal fitness tracker as well as a pedometer, diet and exercise records and a built-in heart rate monitor - all fantastic additions for users who work out regularly.
Chris Hall from Pocket-Lint said the inclusion of the heart rate sensor on the back of the S5 sets it apart from other smartphones on the market, but the fitness apps don't really offer anything new.
Business Insider's Steve Kovach didn't see the point of the heart rate monitor, insisting that Samsung's new Gear Fit fitness tracker and smartwatch offer better ways of tracking your heart rate. Most of the reviewers also mentioned that in order for the sensor to work correctly, you have to hold your finger very still.
This seems to be where the Galaxy S5 falls down. Samsung said the phone was "modern" and "glam" with a sleek and contoured shape, but the critics don't seem to be quite so enamoured by its looks, with most of them commenting on the fact that it's made of plastic rather than metal.
Gareth Beavis from TechRadar described the device as "creaky" and reckons it's not up to the same standard as rival handsets from Apple and HTC, for example, while the Telegraph's Matt Warman rather politely declared that the design is a "matter of taste".
Time magazine's Harry McCracken didn't like the dimpled back of the phone, describing the white model he looked at as "a little like a golf ball that got flattened by a steamroller".
This isn't the be-all and end-all though - and a high-quality Samsung Galaxy S5 case should solve any issues users might have with the feel of their phone.
TNW's Owen Williams, on the other hand, thinks that while the S5 is "not the prettiest girl at the party" it is actually quite an attractive device, and definitely an improvement on its predecessor. Indeed, most reviewers are in agreement that the design of this new smartphone is significantly better than the S4 and that it looks and feels much better in hand.
Other standout features
So what else made the reviewers tick? And what did they find a turn-off? Well the battery life was one thing that impressed, as were the download speeds and the fact that the phone is waterproof.
Of course there are other waterproof phones on the market, such as Sony's Xperia models, but these have sealed backs and the batteries can't be removed. David Phelan from the Independent said a waterproof phone with a pop-off back like the S5 was quite a "technological achievement".
The fingerprint scanner didn't really attract much praise though, with critics pointing out that Apple has been there and done it better. They noted that Apple's Touch ID is much easier to use, with the Samsung scanner often requiring two hands to use.
Overall the critics were impressed with the S5 and definitely saw it as an improvement on the S4. However, while they do think it excels in some areas, it is entering what is a very crowded market and doesn't quite have the mind-blowing innovation some were hoping for. Overall, they agree its very much a case of evolution rather than revolution..
The big news in the tech world this week has all been about Facebook and its surprise $2 billion (£1.2 billion) purchase of virtual reality (VR) firm headset maker Oculus. This is a bit of a departure for the social networking firm, whose recent acquisitions have a history of being mobile-focused firms that had the temerity to trespass on its own territory - witness Instagram and WhatsApp for two of the most high-profile examples.
So is Facebook really worried about the possibility of VR social networking, where you get to read your friends' descriptions of their breakfast on a literal virtual wall and make that ten thousandth hour of Farmville that more immersive by putting you in the fields? Or, more likely, is the firm looking to branch out and experiment with new applications and ways of interacting with tech that use the Oculus Rift headset?
Oculus Rift? Wasn't he one of the Transformers?
Unless you're a serious gamer, the rise of Oculus and its Rift headset over the last couple of years might have passed you by. But it's been creating huge excitement among this crowd for a while now with its huge promises of more immersive gaming though its motion-sensitive technology.
It works by the user placing a goggle-like headset over their eyes, which contains a couple of displays - one for each eye that creates the illusion of a 3D image that fills the user's field of vision. This therefore tricks them into thinking they're actually in the middle of the game, rather than just watching it on a screen.
Haven't I heard this before?
Probably, yes. VR technology is an idea that's been around for decades, and if you were a fan of Tomorrow's World in the 80s, the chances are you heard it mentioned then as the next big thing. But that was then and this is now.
As well as much-improved graphics and improvements in materials that means it no longer feels like you have a bowling ball strapped to your forehead, where the Rift really excels is its use of motion-sensors. This means that if you turn your head while wearing it, the display changes to reflect that instantly, so you really can explore the world in front of you as if you were there.
Yes, and it's impressed a lot of people. The Oculus Rift was one of the stars of this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and its potential has been recognised for a while - so much so that it convinced thousands of ordinary people to pitch in for the development costs and get it off the ground.
The Oculus Rift actually started life back in 2012 on US crowdfunding website Kickstarter, which invited wannabe tech investors to chip in. A $10 investment got you a polite letter and a warm feeling of having made a contribution, while if you wrote a virtual cheque for $5,000, you got a development version of the hardware and a chance to visit the team's headquarters to check out their progression person. And a T-shirt.
Oculus aimed to raise $250,000 through this effort, but such was the excitement over the promised new era of gaming, eager consumers shelled out almost ten times that amount.
So they'll be well-rewarded with this deal?
Actually, no, that's not how Kickstarter works. The online backers may have put money into Oculus, but they weren't getting a stake in the company in return. Most users of Kickstarter know this but, as you'd expect, there are some who've been less than happy with the idea of funding a Facebook acquisition.
They don't like Facebook?
Apparently not. The social network has had its fair share of critics over the last few years, with concerns about privacy and how the company uses the vast amounts of information they hand over frequent concerns. One high-profile game developer, Markus Persson - creator of the hugely popular Minecraft game - even said he'd ditched plans to bring the title to the Rift, saying on Twitter: "Facebook creeps me out".
Still, while the reaction of some hardcore gamers has been less than enthusiastic, with even Oculus admitting it was surprised by the strength of feeling, the deal is done and Oculus has been on the offensive to convince doubters of the benefits of the deal.
So what are they then?
Apart from promising to make the technology cheaper and better than it would otherwise have been, Facebook envisages a future where VR is at the heart of how we communicate, with founder of the firm Mark Zuckerberg describing it as the "most social platform ever", adding it will "change the way we work, play and communicate".
Brendan Iribe, co-founder and CEO of Oculus, added: "We believe virtual reality will be heavily defined by social experiences that connect people in magical, new ways. It is a transformative and disruptive technology, that enables the world to experience the impossible, and it’s only just the beginning."
One thing that's for sure is Facebook has big plans for the Oculus Rift that aim to take it far beyond a niche gaming accessory. So perhaps in the coming years, we'll all be wearing VR headsets when we go online to check in with our friends.
Last week, the internet went into a mild state of meltdown when a bug in a widely-used security software was uncovered - and could have left millions of websites open to exploitation by hackers.
Known as 'Heartbleed', the error affects an extension in the open-source OpenSSL tool - which is designed to encrypt communications between a user's computer and a server - something that's essential if you want to do any sensitive activities such as online shopping. Without this encryption, you might as well be shouting your credit card number to the checkout assistant from the other side of the store.
No-one's still quite sure of just what the scale of the problem is, but the frantic moves by many companies to patch their systems and doom-laden warnings that everyone's passwords might be under threat aren't without merit. And it's not just people browsing on desktops that may be affected, as the bug could extend to people using mobile devices as well.
What is Heartbleed?
The bug got its moniker because of the way it compromises a specific extension to the SSL encryption standard that's dubbed Heartbeat by engineers - which should give you some idea of how critical it is to many web operations.
Essentially, it allows anyone to read the memory of systems supposedly protected by OpenSSL, which could compromise the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the name and passwords of the users and the actual content.
What it means in real-terms is attackers could be able to intercept communications and use the information gained to steal data directly from services and users, as well as impersonating people elsewhere.
Who's at risk?
Next time you're browsing the web, take a look at the top left corner of the address bar. If you see a little green padlock symbol, that's the indicator that the website you're using is likely protected by SSL.
Of course, it's important to remember not all sites will use the vulnerable version - so don't panic and set fire to your PC just yet. But some estimates are putting the number of potentially affected sites at around half a million - including popular services such as Yahoo!
Some security experts have recommended people change all their online passwords, though there's a great deal of confusion about what best practice actually is here. Google, for instance, has told its users they do not need to change their passwords, as the company patched its sites before Heartbleed was made public.
Are mobile apps at risk?
Security firm Trend Micro explained: "Mobile apps, like it or not, are just as vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug as websites are because apps often connect to servers and web services to complete various functions." The company estimates five per cent of the top million domains are affected by the bug, so it's perhaps inevitable that some mobile apps will be caught up in this as well.
"What we can advise you to do is to lay off the in-app purchases or any financial transactions for a while (including banking activities), until your favourite app's developer releases a patch that does away with the vulnerability," Trend Micro said.
Read more at www.proporta.co.uk/blog
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The last few years have already seen a huge jump in the number of things you can rely on your smartphone for. Far from just making calls and texts and a few limited personal organiser features, the typical person's smartphone is now a satnav, an entertainment centre, a workplace, and a social hub. In fact, if a few years ago, you were to carry around individual gadgets to perform all of these functions, you wouldn't so much need a handbag as a suitcase to fit them all in.
And soon it seems you'll be able to add 'wallet' to the list of things your smartphone can magically turn into with the tap of a touch screen, as a range of new technologies to make transferring money faster, easier and safer have arrived in recent times, and over the next few months you can expect to hear a lot more about them.
From idea to execution
The idea of using a mobile phone to make a payment isn't exactly a new one. Most major banks have offered their own apps for a while now that let you check your balance and set up a payment, but they were often a bit fiddly and time-consuming - and not exactly suited to those times when you're at the front of a long queue at the till and are starting to hear impatient mutterings from the people stuck behind you.
A few ideas - such as Barclays' Ping.it - have sought to make it easier to send money casually, allowing people to send money to anyone provided you know their phone number. Great for convenience, less so if you're still coming up with excuses why you can't pay your mate back that £20 you borrowed weeks ago.
Hitting the mainstream
But now, it seems these ideas are really set to take off, with the introduction earlier this month of a new industry-wide solution. This could be the key thing that's needed to make the leap into the mainstream, as until now, you had to have an account with the right bank or credit card to make a payment.
Called Paym - pronounced Pay Em - the scheme was unveiled earlier this month and is set to arrive in the UK later this year. And the people behind the idea, which include a number of banks, building societies and the Payments Council, have big plans for it.
Like the Ping.it app, it will allow people to send money to anyone using just their phone number - so no more back and forths with friends and family asking for their account numbers and sort codes before you can complete a payment.
According to the Payments Council, the scheme has the potential to link every bank account in the country with a mobile phone number and take much of the hassle out of these payments. The body said: "It will be easy to pay a friend back for dinner, pay the plumber or even transfer money between accounts on the move." All you'll have to do is pick the person from your contact list - it's as simple as that.
At launch, customers of nine bank and building society brands - Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Cumberland Building Society, Danske Bank, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Santander and TSB Bank - will be able to use the service, with it set to be extended to many others over the coming years. So if yours isn't mentioned just yet, a little patience goes a long way.
But what about in-store?
While Paym could mean you never have to owe friends money again, this is far from the only way that people's smartphones are increasingly being used to replace a wallet. With the advent of technology such as near field communications (NFC) the concept of contactless payments for mobile devices is also showing much promise.
If you've ever tapped an Oyster card on London's public transport system, or even if you have one of the new generation of contactless credit or debit cards, which are increasingly common, you'll be familiar with the concept. And as more of the latest phones are coming equipped with the same short-range NFC chips installed, it may only be a matter of time before all of us are paying for items in store with just a tap of our mobile phone - no more tapping away at chip-and-PIN machines or filling up our pockets with copper change when paying by cash.
Visa's payWave technology and Google's Wallet app are some of the big players offering this technology. At the moment, places where you can use it are still fairly limited - but as more people gain access to the technology, you can be sure that in the coming years, you'll start seeing it more and more. And the result might be you can add your wallet to the pile of gadgets gathering dust in a drawer as smartphones take over their jobs.
Read more at: http://www.proporta.co.uk/blog/article/will-new-service-boost-mobile-payments/801703920
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