Nothing Phone(1) looks a little busier in black

There is probably nothing more frustrating than being emotionally invested in an upcoming product, only for its very creators to take the wind out of its sails. That is undoubtedly what some of the believers of Nothing’s inaugural smartphone felt when the company officially revealed what the phone would actually look like. On the one hand, the startup tried to beat leaks to the punch so that no one could claim they didn’t protect their secrets well enough. On the other hand, they are tempting fate by either confirming fears or calming them, and, as expected, camps are split on whether the white Phone(1) does live up to the hype that Nothing itself built. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there completely, and the black finish of the same phone could still win some people over. Or it could cement their decision to stay away completely.

Designer: Nothing (via Roland Quandt)

It almost seems like Nothing’s early years will be marked by a lot of controversies, partly thanks to how it has been building up expectations about the company’s mission. Just like OnePlus, which Carl Pei also helped found, Nothing presents itself as a revolutionary that is trying to go against the excesses of the smartphone industry. Well aware of the current trends in the design industry, Nothing espoused values like transparency and minimalism, which would translate to both product design and company management.

Its first product, the Nothing Ear(1) TWS buds, already divided people between those who lauded its unique, partly transparent design and those that felt short-changed from the brief hype that preceded it. History is repeating itself with the Phone(1), which Nothing has been teasing as nothing short of revolutionary, pardon the pun. That, however, might only be in relation to what is available in the market, so it’s not exactly lying in that regard.

After official revealing the transparent yet occluded back of a white Nothing Phone(1), unofficial images of a black variant have now become available for everyone to see. Compared to the white phone, the black plate underneath makes the “glyph” lights even more visible. In a way, this makes the back look even busier compared to the white model, which sort of takes away from the minimalism appeal of the phone. Then again, if the Nothing Phone(1)’s back were completely transparent, it would definitely be a lot more chaotic inside.

There is also some disappointment or at least growing concern about the choice of hardware that will go inside the Phone(1). Nothing has already confirmed that it will use a custom Snapdragon 778G+ processor, which was made specifically for it, adding wireless charging and reverse wireless charging capabilities that are absent in the plain version of the silicon. It is, however, what would be considered a mid-range chip, which sounds a little disheartening for a new flagship phone. Pei explains to Input magazine, however, that the choice goes in line with the company’s message that tech specs aren’t always relevant. In terms of balancing performance, thermal management, efficiency, and overall sustainability, the Phone(1) will do just fine.

Whether that will be enough to translate interest into sales, we’ll see in two weeks when the Nothing Phone(1) is officially launched. The company is taking a more cautious approach, however, mimicking the chaotic invite-only system from the early years of OnePlus. Of course, that also creates an artificial scarcity that makes the product look like a very limited edition, pumping up the hype even more.

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Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus Review: e-Readers have grown up

PROS:


  • Stylish, business-minded design

  • Runs Android 11 with Google Play Store

  • Responsive and accurate stylus with paper-like screen

  • Crisp and clear display for text and images

CONS:


  • A bit heavy to hold for long periods of time

  • No buttons for page-turning

  • Localization in some languages is incomplete

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

The handsome Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus takes e-Readers from consumption to creation, giving book lovers the power to take what they read and put them into action.

E-Book readers, or e-Readers for short, have endeared themselves to book lovers for their simplicity and, to be honest, their dirt-cheap prices. Devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble NOOK allowed them to take hundreds if not thousands of books, magazines, and work documents in a device that might even be lighter than some smartphones. But just as the audience that flocked to these pocket libraries has grown up, so have the devices themselves evolved through the years. Sure, Kindles have mostly remained unchanged through the years, and some might even see them as being stuck in the past. Other e-Readers, however, have changed drastically, for better or for worse, and have become something almost unrecognizable to long-time users of e-Book readers. The new Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one such creature, and we give it a closer look to see how much e-Readers have grown by now.

Designer: Onyx Boox

Aesthetics

Traditional e-Readers were designed to put the focus on text and get out of the way, pretty much like a normal paper book. Given the cost of E Ink displays back then and the product’s target price, a lot of compromises were made on the device’s design, both in terms of appearance and material. To put it bluntly, the earliest versions of e-Book readers were unappealing slabs of plastic meant to be cheap and functional but nothing more. While some might scoff at any attempt to make e-Readers pretty and premium, the mediocre form of the device only reinforces the perception that it is so far removed from an actual book. It doesn’t capture the joy of holding and seeing a well-made book, especially those with some gimmicks on materials and textures.

Fortunately, the new breed of e-Readers has started paying attention to good product design lessons, and the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one of the shining examples of this new trend. For one, its body is made of an aluminum-magnesium alloy that gives it both durability as well as a degree of class. It also has an asymmetrical design with an extended band of metal to the left, looking like the margin of a notebook. The device’s straight edges and sharp corners give it an air of professionalism in contrast to the sometimes toy-like appearance of run-of-the-mill e-Readers.

There are a few other details that strengthen the visual and tactile association with books and notebooks. While the edges are all black, thin strips of color make it resemble the spine of a book. The official case that ships with the device has a felt surface almost similar in texture to some hardbound books or notebook covers. All in all, the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus tries its best to actually look and feel like the next evolution of books rather than just a device for displaying text and whatnot.

Ergonomics

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus is admittedly larger than your typical Kindle or NOOK, with a 10.3-inch e-paper display and a 229.4×195.4×5.8 mm (9.03×7.69×0.23 in) frame. It also has a metal body that is naturally heavier than those traditional e-Readers at around 445g (0.98lbs). The design does distribute the weight evenly across the device, but there’s no going around the fact that it is going to tire your arm if you hold it up long enough. That might not make it a suitable bedtime companion, though its size would also let you stand it on your chest for support.

Given the wider left edge, the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is biased towards being held with the left hand and using the right hand to swipe on the screen to turn pages. That might be uncomfortable for those used to holding devices with their right hand instead. Additionally, there are no hardware buttons to help with page-turning, so faster readers might find their arms or wrists getting tired easily.

The device ships with a stylus that magnetically latches onto its side to make sure it doesn’t get lost easily. The pen’s barrel has flat edges that not only prevent it from rolling off tables but also provide a more ergonomic grip. Given the size of that barrel and the length of the pen, the Onyx Pen Plus is very comfortable to hold and use, even for long stretches of time. The e-Reader’s paper-like screen texture makes it feel like you’re writing with a real pen on paper or at least a close approximation of the experience. It might surprise some to hear that the authenticity of that experience can be a major deciding factor for many people trying to cross the bridge from analog notebooks to digital ones.

Performance

The Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus’ specs, which include an octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage, might sound overkill for an e-Book reader, but that’s also where this new generation of devices break away from the fold. Rather than being simple e-Readers, they are pretty much full-blown tablets with E Ink displays and custom user experiences. This one, in fact, runs Android 11 and even comes with Google Play Store right out of the box. That means that the device has plenty of power to run many of the familiar apps you’d have on your phone or tablet if you’re fine with using them on a black and white screen.

That screen is, of course, a 10.3-inch 1872×1404 E Ink Carta that has a rather high 227 dpi, at least for an e-paper display. Text comes out clean and crisp, and images from magazines and comics or manga are also clear. Page-turning is fast under default settings, about half a second to redraw a manga page, but you can kick the refresh rate up a few notches by sacrificing image quality. You can even watch videos in a pinch, but don’t expect an enjoyable experience, of course. The device has speakers on its bottom edge to enable listening to audiobooks, but you might want to use your favorite Bluetooth speakers or headphones for better-quality audio.

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus goes beyond just reading books or even typing out notes on books. Where it really shines is in how it is pretty much an all-in-one learning and productivity device that barely crosses the line over into tablet territory. You can open almost any digital book format and install almost any Android app you want, but the display and hardware limitations will pretty much make sure you won’t go overboard and install distracting social media or games. You might, instead, focus on apps you can use to boost your productivity, both at home and at work.

Onyx’s Pen really shines in this regard, especially when used with the built-in app. Designers might miss the colors, but those who often scribble notes or rough sketches with pencils and paper will feel at home. The note app supports multiple layers and a variety of brushes that goes perfectly with the pen’s 4096 degrees of pressure sensitivity, so all that you’re really missing is the color palette. And if Onyx’s note app isn’t to your taste, you can also install your favorite Android note-taking app. And since it’s running Android 11, you can also turn the device on its side and split the screen between two apps to maximize your productivity.

Sustainability

The one area where all generations of e-Book readers haven’t yet grown out of is their impact on the environment. Most e-Readers still use environment-unfriendly materials like plastic, but some, like the Boox Note Air 2 Plus, have fortunately started incorporating more metal into their products. That said, these devices are all built to be as tightly closed as possible, making repairs and replacements difficult and costly, especially since service centers for these devices are far and few in between.

Very few e-Reader manufacturers have made any strong statement or commitment towards sustainability, such as in the materials they use, how they source those materials, and how they plan on making sure their devices are disposed of responsibly. Given how affordable many of these devices are, they almost seem like disposable electronics. The one thing going in favor of e-Readers, in general, is that they are more resilient and more long-lasting than more expensive tablets, so they are thrown away less often. They also consume significantly less power, decreasing their overall carbon footprint.

Value

Why would you spend $500 for an e-Book reader when you can get a Kindle for a fifth of that price? If reading plain text from Amazon’s library is all you ever want to do, then there is really no reason for you to break the bank. What the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus offers, however, is the capability to do more, a lot more, without drowning you in the complexities and distractions that come with a smartphone or tablet. It is still an e-Reader at heart, but it also supports the activities and tasks related to reading, such as learning and taking action.

The Boox Note Air 2 Plus is technically an Android tablet, but one whose design and user experience have been distilled for a very specific purpose. It is a digital library and notebook in one, and it excels in both areas with very few problems. It might not be the most affordable e-Reader, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an e-Reader and digital notebook in a single device that performs as well as this. Especially one that can actually play games and videos in black and white if you ever want to go down that rabbit hole.

Verdict

Considering the very first commercial e-Reader, E Ink’s own Rocket Book, launched more than two decades ago, it is almost surprising how the device has practically remained unchanged to this day. It may be in Amazon’s and B&N’s best interests to keep devices cheap and basic in order to sell more e-Books, but the stagnation of the market and the device category doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run. Fortunately, companies like Onyx Boox are pushing the boundaries of e-Readers with much success, and the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is one shining example of that thrust.

Going beyond just consuming content, the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus opens the doors to taking action on what you read, whether it involves annotating a work document, sketching a design for a new product, or scribbling ideas for your next novel. Using the Pen for that purpose is enjoyable thanks to the responsive stylus and the textured screen that feels almost like the real deal. The Note Air 2 Plus supports these use cases and then some, thanks to its decent hardware and support for Android and Google Play. And it looks good while doing it, too, throwing e-Reader design conventions outside the window. It does require you to make a bit of an investment, but it’s one that will last you quite a long, long time.

Hiromu Nakamura contributed to this review.

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Realme GT Neo 3 Naruto Edition Hands-on: Design Ninja Moves

You might not be a Naruto or anime fan, but you still have to give Realme mad props for its manufacturing trick.

Smartphones have become so important to our daily lives that they are pretty much extensions and expressions of ourselves. Sometimes, you can tell a lot about a person based on the phone they’re using, especially if the devices are adorned with accessories or decals showing off their preferences. There are plenty of ways to customize a smartphone, and there’s an almost endless supply of cases and themes catering to different fandoms, but there’s still something to be said when a phone maker officially creates a special edition for a specific franchise, especially when that manufacturer bends over backward to create that special design, just like what Realme did for the Limited Naruto Edition of the GT Neo 3.

Designer: Realme

Realme is a brand that was born out of the desire to tap a younger market than most smartphone companies do. That focus is reflected in Realme’s business model and, of course, its designs. Realme phones often get editions themed around activities and brands that a more youthful audience gravitates towards. And there is perhaps nothing more “youthful” (despite embracing fans of all ages) than one of the most popular anime characters in recent memory, the ironically boisterous ninja Naruto.

It would have probably been easier, simpler, and cheaper for Realme to just throw in a custom case specially themed around Naruto, alongside themes and accessories designed the same way. In fact, Realme does have that, though some, like the customized GT Neo 3 case and a Power Bank 3 Pro Naruto Edition, are sold separately. The large and rather hefty 160W SuperDART charger that ships with this Naruto Edition phone do have the character’s iconic flaming orange color as its main hue. The USB-C cable, on the other hand, is predominantly black but does have orange bands on each end. Even the SIM tray ejector pin is designed to match the theme.

Realme, however, went the extra mile and gave the GT Neo 3 phone itself a Naruto makeover, inside and, most especially, outside. You might immediately be taken by the phone’s rear design, sporting that same fiery orange and black motif that the shinobi (Japanese for “ninja”) wore during his Shippuden era. The camera area even looks like the standard headband for ninjas hailing from Naruto’s hometown of Konohagakure, completing the semblance of a “Naruto Phone.”

What makes this Naruto Edition particularly intriguing is the design and manufacturing process that went into producing that design. Rather than simply painting over or under the matte glass back, Realme employed a painstaking and costly process that allowed them to have different textures and colors on the same single piece of glass. The orange and black areas of the case are easy enough to tell apart, but the Uzumaki clan’s crest in the middle is also part of that same whole piece. More impressive, perhaps, is that metallic section that does feel almost like metal and is even a fingerprint magnet like the real thing. They even used micro 3D patterns to create the illusion of rivets on the metal plate.

This is definitely more than what you might expect, even from a company like Realme that has been putting unique and unorthodox designs on the back of its phones. It also shows its attention even to the minutest details that may escape most people’s notice. The matte black area, for example, features three glossy stripes on each side, symbolizing Naruto’s distinctive facial feature.” You can even feel the difference between the two areas as if those stripes were engraved into the phone’s back and coated with a different material. Fortunately, most of the phone’s back has a matte texture for better grip, but those who still find it slippery can use the clear gel case included in the box.

As for the hardware, the Realme GT Neo 3 is quite on par with many flagships launched early this year. The 6.7-inch Full HD+ display is bright and colorful, making it the perfect canvas to show off Naruto-themed wallpapers and icons. The MediaTek Dimensity 8100 5G processor and 12GB of RAM (expandable up to 7GB) handle mobile games without breaking a sweat. The phone’s superpower, much like Naruto’s Rasengan, is its super-fast 150W charging capability. And in line with that theme, the phone plays a custom lock screen animation when it’s being charged (using that UltraDart brick), which also happens to be a five-element Rasengan.

Sadly, the special manufacturing process used to create that striking design is also part of the reason why this has to be a limited edition phone. Realme says that only 5,000 units (shadow clones) of the GT Neo 3 Naruto Edition are being sold, and all of them are in China only. It is definitely worthy of a Naruto fan’s attention, especially when they learn how much work Realme put into delivering something that isn’t just a faithful tribute to the character but also one that pushes the limits of phone designs.

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Google Pixel tablet is coming, but it might not be what you expected

Google is finally making a tablet again, but what it revealed could have some questioning whether it should.

Normally, you wouldn’t put “Google” and “tablet” on the same sentence unless you put “doesn’t like” somewhere in between. Although Android tablets have existed for as long as the iPad has, its existence hasn’t exactly been one filled with love from its creator. It wouldn’t be until more than a decade later that Google would finally put its weight on making the Android tablet experience better, but even then, it hasn’t proven its commitment by coming out with a tablet of its own making. At this year’s Google I/O conference, the company finally made that promise, but the supposedly premium Pixel tablet that’s coming next year has left some wondering if Google is trying to pull a fast one instead.

Designer: Google

A Rocky Start

Android’s history with tablets has been anything but smooth. The first devices, particularly those from Samsung, had extremely customized user experiences because Android itself didn’t have the necessary bits to support running on large screens. When Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” came out in 2011, it brought rudimentary support for tablets, but thanks to some lukewarm reception from Google and app developers, those never really stuck that much. The Android tablet market itself was like a roller coaster ride in terms of profits and popularity, but the experience itself was far removed from “standard” Android as it could be, at least until now.

Whether it’s the resounding success of the iPad Pro or events of the past two years, Google seems to have become more invested in making Android work better on larger screens, which includes tablets naturally. But while it is refining the software and the operating system to be a better fit for slates, it felt like there was still a piece missing from its commitment, like hardware that would prove it’s really going all in. That’s finally coming next year, but it might not be what many have hoped.

Pixel Slate Redux

It’s not that Google has never made tablets, Android or otherwise. It actually launched at least four Android tablets under the old Nexus brand and two under the newer Pixel name. The Pixel C was the last Android tablet that had been made by Google, and the Pixel Slate was the first and last Chrome OS tablet it ever launched. In both cases, it felt like Google made half-hearted attempts to appease tablet fans, but there was no follow-up, nor was there long-term interest and support from the manufacturer.

That’s why it’s rather surprising that Google is giving into expectations and announcing that it’s making another tablet. Based on reports and quotes from Google’s own hardware chief Rick Osterloh, this tablet will be a perfect match for the Pixel phone and be a premium contender in the tablet market. Based on the glimpses that were shown during the keynote presentation, however, there might be some confusion on what the exec actually meant.

The tablet that was shown there had rather thick bezels all around. Its profile was also thick, and the material on its back looked like matte plastic. The general design bore no resemblance to any Pixel phone, which made it feel like the black sheep of the family. To put it bluntly, its design looks dated and unappealing by today’s standards, not exactly the best first step you’d expect for Google’s comeback to the Android tablet market.

Expectations versus Reality

Compare that to what fans and market watchers have imagined Google’s next tablet would look like. One recent concept, in particular, actually tried to follow Google’s design language while also extending it a bit further for a modern tablet. Bezels, for example, are considerably thin, with only a punch-hole cutout for the front camera.

Designer: Giuseppe Spinelli (Snoreyn) via LetsGoDigital

The design didn’t have room for a camera on its back, but it’s not difficult to imagine it would be placed somewhere in the middle. The slightly curved back employs a dual-tone color and material scheme, just like all Pixel phones so far. The middle part that encloses the Google “G” logo seems to be made of glass, and it’s surrounded by a matte-like material, probably frosted AG glass. Comparing the concept art from what Google teased is like comparing two different worlds, and it probably doesn’t take too much thinking to know which one would appeal better to people in 2023.

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OPPO Find X5 Pro Review

Smartphones are cool tech gadgets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be breathtakingly beautiful as well.

It has been a long time since smartphones crossed the line between geeky devices to everyday must-haves. They have gone past being something that only grownups used for serious work to become a reflection of one’s lifestyle. Along with those changes in objectives, smartphones have also changed a lot in their designs over the years. Few, however, managed to successfully strike a balance between form and function, uniformity and identity. That’s part of why the OPPO Find X5 Pro piqued our interest because of its particular attention to design, earning the top spot in our Best of MWC 2022 awards list. That said, we take it for a good spin to see if it’s more than just a pretty face and if it offers enough to make it stand out from a market dominated by giants like Apple and Samsung.

Designer: OPPO

Aesthetics

Unless you’re a smartphone aficionado, smartphone designs probably won’t speak to you. Although they have shed their polycarbonate shells of the past, most smartphones today are plagued by large warts on their backs known as camera bumps. Many phone makers seem to have just given up and have, instead, decided to actually highlight those large structures in sometimes obnoxious ways. They dominate the visual center of the phone’s design, but in some cases, they look and feel almost simply slapped on rather than being an integral part of the device.

The OPPO Find X5 Pro’s design distances itself from that crowd in two notable ways. The most important is also the most obvious, the fact that it doesn’t have a camera bump in the traditional sense. Yes, there is still a raised area to house the inevitably big camera hardware, but it is seamlessly integrated into the body of the phone. Rather than a separate bump made of metal, the Find X5 Pro’s array gently rises out of the phone’s back, more like a dune on the soft sands of the desert.

Even the cameras themselves lie flush against the flat surface of that mound. If it weren’t for the black rings around the lenses, it would almost look like they’re actually part of the back cover. This creates a visual continuity that’s often taken for granted in designs, especially in smartphones. There is nothing that forcibly calls attention to itself, generating a more pleasing aesthetic that lets the eyes gently flow over the phone’s back.

The OPPO Find X5 Pro also stands out as one of the very few to use ceramic in a regular, mass-produced edition of a phone, though it is only used on this “Pro” variant. Given how hard it is to work with the material, most manufacturers only apply ceramic on the back of more expensive limited editions. Ceramic is notoriously difficult to shape into specific forms, like the one that this phone has, so it’s a testament to OPPO’s skills that it is able to make it available to a wider audience at a more accessible price tag.

The decision to use ceramic instead of typical glass goes hand in hand with its “futuristic” fluid design. Ceramic feels warmer in the hands, as opposed to cold glass, but also dissipates heat better. It also has a bit more grip even when compared to matte glass, making it less likely to slip from your hand. It has almost the perfect texture to complement the Find X5 Pro’s smooth form, generating a sense of calmness when holding and looking at the phone. Overall, the OPPO Find X5 Pro’s design feels more “human” than any other phone out there, offering a product that almost stands out like an oasis amidst the chaotic world we live in today.

Ergonomics

As a tool, it’s not enough for the OPPO Find X5 Pro to be good to look at. It also needs to be good to hold and use, especially for something that stays in the hand most of the time. Fortunately, the phone does meet ergonomic standards, though probably less perfectly than its visual design. It’s comfortable to hold and settles into your hand securely, but it could prove to be a bit tiring after long periods of use.

The ceramic back is smooth but not slippery, especially compared to AG frosted or matte glass. There’s almost a slight stickiness to it even, though not exactly in a gross kind of way. Along with its natural warmth, the material makes the Find X5 Pro a joy to hold. And depending on how you hold the phone, you might even find yourself unconsciously brushing your index finger against the soft curves of the camera bump, almost like a fidget toy.

The phone, however, is also slightly heavier than most of its peers. It’s not uncomfortably hefty, mind, and you’ll only realize that fact when you try holding other phones as well. It might not matter much, but if you’re the type who tends to hold your phone for long periods of time, you might find your hand, wrist, or arm tiring more easily with the phone.

Unfortunately, the Find X5 Pro can’t escape being a fingerprint magnet, especially with the black finish where smudges are more visible. It takes a simple wipe to banish those marks, though, but sticklers for tidiness might want to grab the white one instead. Fortunately, that doesn’t get easily smudged and embodies the purity and serenity of the phone’s design even better.

Performance

We’re not going to bog you down with specs and numbers, mostly because the OPPO Find X5 Pro is a powerful machine that can stand head-to-head with the best that the smartphone market has to offer this year so far. It comes with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and up to 12GB of RAM, but there’s no support for storage expansion, so you’ll have to make an upfront choice of what configuration you need when you buy it. There are a few standout details worth mentioning, though, that really make the phone shine.

The 6.7-inch 2K screen, for example, is bright and vibrant even under the sun. It boasts 1 billion colors, which will really make your photos pop, which goes perfectly well with its cameras. Designers and artists will appreciate how accurate the colors are, which is critical when trying to take photos and videos for reference.

In terms of specs, the Find X5 Pro’s crowning glory is really its camera system. On paper, the 50MP main camera might not sound like much, even if it has optical image stabilization. But thanks to the company’s new MariSilicon X chip, which was designed in-house, the images that its cameras produce look too good to be true. Fortunately, they really are.

Photos come out crisp and detailed, no matter the lighting condition. Of course, Night Mode has special tricks to make the scene look perfect, but nighttime photos, with just enough lighting, still look sharp even without that special mode. There’s no loss of detail when switching to ultra-wide because it has a similar 50MP sensor as the main camera. The 13MP telephoto camera, unfortunately, tells a slightly different story. With only 2x optical zoom, you might actually feel it’s not worth the loss in quality and stick to the main camera anyway.

In terms of software, the OPPO Find X5 Pro already runs the latest Android 12 with the company’s ColorOS 12.1 on top. It tries to stick as close to the vanilla Android experience, just with a few embellishments on top. Of course, there are also some major features you won’t find in Google’s version of Android, mostly around themes and customization. There are also your usual pre-installed apps, some of which can be uninstalled, thankfully. One, in particular, is quite interesting in how it meshes well with the overall theme of the phone. The new O Relax app uses a variety of sounds, including those associated with bustling cities, to create a relaxing audio space. Together with its design and ceramic material, this makes the OPPO Find X5 Pro one of the most calming phones on the market.

Sustainability

The Find X5 Pro scores high on most of our marks, but this is one area where the phone is sadly just like any other. Although the smartphone market is slowly taking steps towards more sustainable practices and materials, the Find X5 Pro doesn’t exhibit those efforts just yet. Just like many phones before it, it is a beautiful and high-performance phone that wasn’t designed to be easily repaired and recycled.

Admittedly, ceramic is a more sustainable material compared to plastic, but its costs will mean that repairs and replacements will be much higher as well. The phone is also sealed shut, making repairs more difficult. OPPO, of course, has its authorized service centers, but there is also a new trend these days where the likes of Apple, Google, and Samsung are opening their doors to third-party service providers. Other companies have yet to catch up to these, especially smaller brands that might not have the margins to afford that kind of business strategy.

To its credit, OPPO tries in its own small ways to at least prolong the life of its phones and delay their inevitable fate in garbage dumps. In particular, its battery health engine tries to preserve lithium-ion batteries for as long as it can, even going as far as “healing” them over time. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

Value

As a high-end phone, the OPPO Find X Pro is nearly perfect. It has powerful hardware that cuts through your daily tasks like a hot knife through butter. Its cameras are among some of the best we’ve seen in the market, proving the wisdom of the company’s investments in its own imaging processor. It has snappy and useful software that truly offers added value, though we could do without most of the bloatware.

In terms of product design, the phone scores even higher. Its seamless and fluid design is a strong statement against current design trends in the market. With its choice of ceramic and the new O Relax app, OPPO boldly embraced a theme that guided its overall design, offering an oasis of calm in your hands in the middle of chaotic times. As with its design, the Find X5 Pro looks and feels like a more holistic product than yet another phone with a laundry list of must-have features.

The one catch to its overall value is its availability. At $1,300, it is on the more expensive end of the price range, but the real problem will be availability. OPPO’s phones aren’t present in all markets, and the Find X5 Pro is even less so. But for those who do have a chance to get one, it’s almost a steal.

Verdict

Almost all smartphones, especially those from Samsung and Apple, talk heavily about the design process that goes into making their latest models. Few can actually claim to deliver something that will tickle the aesthetic taste buds of those with design inclinations. Although it’s not completely new, the design language that OPPO perfected in the Find X5 Pro this year definitely stands a chance in that area. It has won many awards, in fact, including our Best of MWC 2022.

It isn’t just a pretty face, though. Unlike most of its peers and rivals, the OPPO Find X5 Pro actually has a story to tell and a message to get across. Its seamless design, its choice of materials, and even its software all point to a single theme, one that puts design thinking and attention to detail on a pedestal. In effect, the Find X5 Pro has graduated from being just another premium phone or even just a product. It has become a lifestyle choice.

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Top 5 Sketching Apps on Android for Product Designers

Android tablets come in a variety of sizes and prices, making them easily accessible to a wide range of people. Although they have been in the market for years, only a notable few have reached iPad Pro status, especially when it comes to being an important part of creatives’ workflows. There are, of course, some Android tablets, like Samsung’s top-end line, that come with all the bells and whistles you’d need for working on the go, but navigating Google Play Store for noteworthy, not to mention safe, apps can sometimes be a daunting prospect. Product designers on Google’s side of the fence need not fret, though, as we have here five of the best apps that can let you exercise your creative juices anywhere you have your tablet or even phone with you.

Infinite Design and Painter

Designers don’t always think within confined spaces when brainstorming or sketching out ideas. Although most are used to the boundaries imposed by physical paper, many probably wished they had an infinite canvas to explore ideas with. That’s impossible to pull off in the physical realm, of course, but there’s little reason you can’t do so with apps.

This infinite canvas is the cornerstone of Infinite Studio’s twin apps, Infinite Designer and Infinite Painter. As their names imply, each caters to specific audiences and needs. Both, however, have some features in common, like that infinite canvas, as well as a configurable user interface you can move around to fit your workflow. Both apps are also free to use with in-app purchases to unlock some functions.

Infinite Designer works with vector shapes and lines to create forms that you can tweak with fine precision. It has some features created specifically for designers, like text tools and perspective guides. Infinite Painter, on the other hand, is designed for those with more artistic inclinations, especially those that need to create their own brushes for painting textures.

Designer: Akash Kumar

Designer: Peter Sakievich

Concepts

Just like Infinite Design, this app’s name clearly screams “concept design.” What started out as an iOS-exclusive eventually made its way to both Windows and Android, giving designers a new and powerful tool to give a visual form to their thoughts. And just like Infinite Canvas, Concept’s key feature revolves around its infinite canvas.

Concepts‘ drawing tools mostly revolve around vector shapes as well, but it has a larger set of brushes that would make artists also feel at home. Ever since day one, the app’s designer focus has been a selling point. Concepts’ implementation of its color wheel as a COPIC wheel is definitely still a unique feature.

Concepts does have a rather unusual pricing scheme that might put off some Android users. It’s free to use with a number of features that can each be unlocked with separate in-app purchases. However, there’s also a monthly or annual subscription option that delivers even more, which can be handy for those really knee-deep in using this app.

Designer: Yael Arama

Designer: Rafael Alvarez

Sketchbook

Just like Adobe, Autodesk doesn’t need much introduction among designers and digital creatives, especially those who depend on CAD software for their living. At one point in time, its Sketchbook was even regarded as the de facto drawing app on mobile devices in the absence of Photoshop. Sketchbook is now its own company, but it didn’t lose any of its capabilities. In fact, it might have gotten more.

All of Sketchbook’s features are now available to all users, absolutely free of charge. Those include dozens of brushes that each can be customized to fit a designer’s needs. Symmetry tools, rules, and guides help give some structure to sketches, and blending modes let artists exploit a large number of layers as much as the device can support.

One of Sketchbook’s key strengths has always been its simplicity and cleanliness, with the UI quickly getting out of the way once you put the tip of the stylus to the screen. Even the tool icons are designed to look clean and minimal, helping to reduce the cognitive burden when using the app.

Designer: Robert Kiss

Designer: Sketchbook

Clip Studio Paint

With Photoshop landing on iPads just a year or so ago, the chances of it arriving on Android are slim to none. While there are a few that have tried to fill in the gaps, Android sadly doesn’t have a household name like Procreate, at least not yet. Fortunately, designers have plenty of other options available, especially when they need painting tools more than photo editing ones.

Clip Studio Paint is actually one of Photoshop’s biggest competitors in the digital illustration space, and it is now available on all the major platforms, including on Android phones and tablets. It is actually one of the go-to solutions of illustrators and comics artists because of its wide array of tools specifically designed for those use cases. These same tools are, of course, also useful in sketching design concepts or preparing final illustrations for presentation.

The one catch to Clip Studio Paint’s powerful arsenal is its rather confusing pricing scheme. Although there’s a free trial available, further use of the app requires a subscription that differs according to platform or type (PRO vs. EX). New owners of Samsung’s Galaxy phones and tablets, however, do get some special treatment with a 6-month free trial unavailable to other brands.

Designer: Andre Pelaes David

Designer: Prentis Rollins

Krita (Beta)

Almost all the apps above except Sketchbook come with a price, whether hidden or explicit. Free apps get a lot of flak because many of them are cheap in price and quality. That’s not to say there are no exceptions, and Krita is definitely one of them.

On desktops, Krita has become a strong contender in rivaling Photoshop for artists and designers. It has a strong set of tools for digital art creation, including an animation feature. Krita is also “free as in speech,” in other words, open source, with a thriving community of artists and developers making it grow at an astoundingly fast pace.

Although already well-established on Windows, Mac, and Linux, Krita is a newcomer to Android. It’s still available only in a beta release, but it is quite usable in its current state. More impressively, Krita on Android nearly has all the same features and capabilities as the desktop version, something that Adobe has yet to deliver for Photoshop on iPads.

Designer: Chou-Tac

Designer: caseyclan

Bonus: Noteshelf

Sketching and creating concept art is really only one part of the design process. A lot of it also happens with words and other media. Some designers still keep a physical notebook around even if they do a lot of their work on computers and tablets. If you want to go all out on digital, though, Noteshelf offers a decent analogue to your analog notebook.

With Noteshelf, you can add your sketches and PDF documents to your notes for a particular concept you’ve been working on. You can handwrite your notes as well and even record audio while doing so. Noteshelf will sync the two and will replay your handwriting stroke by stroke as you play the audio recording. All of that for $4.99, no hidden costs included.

Designer: alexa

Designer: kate

The post Top 5 Sketching Apps on Android for Product Designers first appeared on Yanko Design.

Pixel 6 Launch: Google gives us a deep-dive into the new Pixel’s refreshed product design





It’s rare for Silicon Valley companies to actually explain their design choices and decisions to their customers. Google flouted convention by beginning their Pixel Fall Launch keynote with a pretty comprehensive look at how they designed their latest flagship phone, from its hardware right down to its software.

Just yesterday Apple had us baffled with their MacBooks bringing back ports, connectors, and keyboard elements that Apple took away 5 years ago. Apple’s design process has always been a complete mystery, so it was really odd to see them finally walking back on their past design decisions and bringing MagSafe, HDMI, the SD Card slot, and the Function keys back to their MacBooks. While the Cupertino giant has a reputation of being shrouded by secrecy, Google on the other hand is perceived as much more open, forthcoming, and vocal… After all, they deliberately leaked their own Pixel 6 design MONTHS before it actually launched.

Just 10 minutes into the Pixel 6 reveal, head of hardware Rick Osterloh hands the stage to designer Isabelle Olson to talk about the Pixel 6’s design. Isabelle mentions the Pixel 6’s redesign on the back involves highlighting its breakout feature – its camera. With a bar running across the screen almost like a highlighter running across important text, the Pixel 6’s camera is the first thing you look at.

“So the Industrial Design team designed the phone to celebrate the camera”, Isabel mentions. “The camera bar brings a clean, symmetrical design that puts the camera front and center.” The bar, as strange as it looked back when the images were first leaked, is now an icon of the Pixel’s not-so-subtle evolution, and provides the perfect separating element for the phone’s dual-color back. The Pixel phones originally pioneered this with their split-tone design that had two different colors on the top and bottom of the phone’s rear surface. With the Pixel 6, that split-tone design gets a hearty refresh, with a black belt adding its fair share of contrast in the middle. The phones instantly look refreshing, and are immediately recognizable (a feature that really helps in a market where all smartphones are beginning to look alike).

The Pixel 6 comes in two variants, a 6 and a 6 Pro, which are different sized, and have slightly different designs, but are unified by the same visual language, UI, and the Tensor chip inside the phone. The 6 sports a black metal armature, with 3 color variants with their signature quirky names – Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral, and Stormy Black. The 6 Pro, on the other hand, has a more chrome armature (the team used jewelry references to highlight the differences between the Pro and regular models), and comes in Cloudy White, Sorta Sunny, and Stormy Black.

A concern I had earlier with the Pixel 6’s odd camera bump (it’s now referred to a camera bar) was how it made case-design impossible, or rather, difficult to elegantly execute. To subvert these worries, Google even released its own set of cases with a slightly tinted frosted design, matching colors with the phone you have underneath. When paired correctly, the case would actually complement the phone and highlight its color palette rather than being an obstructive piece of plastic that’s only purpose was to protect the phone. The cases, Isabelle claims, are also designed out of recycled plastic (the phone’s chassis is made from recycled aluminum too), helping further Google’s mission to build devices that have a minimal negative impact on the environment. From what it looks like, though, the cases don’t do much to protect the Pixel’s camera bar from direct impact, although that’s the kind of thing you find out months after customers actually buy and use the phones.

Moving onto software, Google has big plans for the Pixel thanks to how powerful its Tensor SoC is designed to be. The new chip unlocks a new era of Material Design that Google calls Material You. Instead of having you adjust to your phone’s settings, Material You has the phone adjust to YOU. For starters, the entire screen’s color palette changes to match your wallpaper, giving you an experience that’s unified. Widgets, icons, and elements complement your theme and they change when you change your wallpaper too. The phone also understands context exceptionally well, serving you up with the information you need right when you need it, from your fitness app’s stats while you’re jogging, to your boarding pass while you’re heading for a flight. As Rick Osterloh keeps reiterating, the Pixel 6 is a completely new take on smartphones, both inside as well as out.

Designer: Google

Watch the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro video below.





BlackBerry Passport 2 concept images emerge, sporting iconic physical QWERTY keyboard + a dual-lens main camera





It seems like the ‘berry still has some juice left in it! The Passport 2 concept builds on the successful 2014 BlackBerry Passport, and does what BlackBerry does best… provide a uniquely different smartphone experience that’s characterized by that beautiful QWERTY keyboard.

For everyone who thought BlackBerry was done and dusted, 2020’s been a pretty interesting year for the company. Chinese giant TCL no longer holds the rights to manufacture BlackBerry phones, and since August of last year, the Canadian smartphone company has been partnering with American brand OnwardMobility to keep the BlackBerry name alive. While both companies have been pretty mum about what’s in the pipeline, Ts Designer and LetsGoDigital have been cooking up some concepts based on the fragments of news they’ve gathered from press releases and company statements. Meet the Passport 2, a conceptual Android-running BlackBerry phone with a 4.5-inch touchscreen display, a physical keyboard, and a 5G chip on the inside.

I have to admit that seeing a new BlackBerry does give me a bit of nostalgia. I’ve never been a fan of touchscreen keyboards, and that’s a complaint that BlackBerry and I have always had in common; although BlackBerry phones have an archetype, and it’s safe to say that the archetype isn’t really popular anymore. However, there are still probably some people who would prefer a BlackBerry in 2021, and I’d venture a guess that the Passport 2 concept is targeted firmly towards them. LetsGoDigital reports that the Passport 2 is envisioned as BlackBerry’s first 5G-ready phone, with a waterproof exterior and Android OS interior. The overall aesthetic of the phone hasn’t deviated too much from BlackBerry’s signature style, and it looks every bit like the Passport from 2014, although with a slicker design featuring a slimmer upper bezel, gold accents around the sides and the keyboard, and a nifty dual-lens camera on the back… you know, to keep the customer happy!

Sadly though, the Passport 2, as exciting as it may look, is just a fan-made concept for now. OnwardMobility and BlackBerry are definitely working on a 5G Android phone according to reports, and I’ll be pretty happy if it looks even half as good as this!

Designer: Ts Designer for LetsGoDigital

Images via LetsGoDigital

The JingPad A1 is a Feature-packed, Flagship Level… Linux Tablet?!

An 11″, 2K, 4:3 AMOLED touchscreen. A 1.8GHz 8-core ARM SoC. 8GB of RAM. 256GB of storage. USB-C. An included stylus. Sounds like an awesome tablet right? But the thing that makes the JingPad A1 truly special is that it’s running JingOS, a Linux-based operating system.

The idea is simple – to have access to Linux applications in a slim, light, and powerful tablet. The JingPad is the first hardware product from a company called JingLing. They actually started with the operating system first – a smart move, considering they’re sourcing the hardware components anyway. In fact, you can download JingOS right now. The OS supports multitouch, has basic apps and widgets, and has a desktop mode similar to Samsung’s DeX. Arguably the most important feature of JingOS is that it can run Android apps, although it doesn’t seem like you can simply sideload them. JingLing will have a dedicated app store for Android apps.

As I said, the JingPad A1 comes with a stylus. But it also has an optional keyboard and trackpad accessory. I like the integrated kickstand. That’s a neat implementation.

Here’s the JingPad A1 pitch video:

And here’s a brief demo of the tablet running popular Linux apps:

The touch response seems a bit iffy, but it looks like a polished product. If they can nail the compatibility with Android apps, I think JingLing has a winner in their hands. Pledge at least $549 (USD) on Indiegogo to get the JingPad A1 with the stylus. Pledge at least $699 and you get the keyboard too.

From Apple to Android, these framed disassembled smartphones make for a worthy designer gift!





When you buy a new phone, all that’s worth appreciating is the design engineering of this little gadget that rules our lives. Disassembling your phone and then preserving it in a picture frame is not an everyday affair, but some creatives have made a skillful enterprise from this. Not a long while ago, we saw Indie art studio GRID amaze us with the iPhone 5 Framed Edition. And now we have a featured artist with a massive collection of teardown smartphones and tablets well preserved in photo frames for generations to appreciate – because why should iPhone users have all the fun!

Computer engineer Kevin, inspired by Todd McLellan’s Things Come Apart series, went on to dissemble popular phone models right from the nostalgic Android Blackberry and Nokia models to the much modern ones like the Apple iPhone 8 and Honor 6 Plus. It all started with his first iPhone that was taken apart and then framed in his living room. Then he couldn’t stop himself from dismantling his old gadgets, including iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and Sony rx100m2. On posting the setup on social media, the pictures attracted fans who also wanted their gadgets to be framed for cherished memories on their living room wall or bedroom desk. This fueled his passion, and Kevin ultimately opened his own Etsy shop that goes by the name FEIPPO. The idea is to keep your keepsakes safe – maybe it was the first gadget you bought with your own salary, a gift from your spouse, or just because you love watching the individuals that make up these complicated gadgets. This is a great way to memorialize your device instead of having it collect dust in the corner of your desk.

The taken apart mobile devices are meticulously preserved in glass frames with the optional frame choice in chestnut, tan, black or white. These decorative art pieces for any desk setup are absolutely hypnotic, especially how all of the disassembled parts are explained in detail with accompanying text descriptions. Since Kevin’s collection is enormous, we have handpicked our favorite Android and Apple devices for you to enjoy. If you are also thinking of framing your old gadgets in this manner, you deserve a hi-five from me!

Designer: Kevin

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