Posted on 1st March 2013
'So', we ask Margarita, the Samsung girl demoing us a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, born and bred in Barcelona, 'you've been here for a day and half with the Note 8.0, what's your favourite thing about it?' 'That I can personalise it.' She says, setting a picture she drew with the S-Pen as the homescreen background. Devices in 2013 have untold numbers of features, from TV remotes to GPS trackers, but it's clearly important to people that their phones and tablets can be tweaked, chopped and changed to look how they want and do what they want.
Margarita was referring primarily to the way you can rearrange apps on homescreens and change the colour of various parts of the OS, not to mention the myriad of accessories for the tablet. Many Samsung devices, including the popular Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, also let you tweak the 'colour temperature' of the screen, adding in a bit more blue or adding in some red to tweak the screen colour to your liking. Samsung's Touchwiz is one of the more personalisable versions of Android out there, but Android is not the only OS with easy homescreen customisation. Wondering over to Nokia's stand in Hall 2 at MWC, there are, naturally, phones of all types scattered across the large stand, from the high end Nokia Lumia 920 and the newly announced Nokia Lumia 720 to the budget end Nokia Ashas. Every phone we looked at had a completely different homescreen, especially the Windows Phone smartphones. The Live Tiles on the homescreen of WP phones lets you pin shortcuts to apps, and also select from three different sizes of Tile. But, what really helps with customisation is the Tiles' ability to update with live information. Different apps populate with different updates, so there is different news and photos on every handset, and all personalised to what its owner wants.
But that's not all we saw that was pretty nifty. Over on the Motorola stand they were demoing the brand new Motorola RAZR HD, the UK version too. Bespoke apps are a strong reason for buying specific phones, and Motorola has a couple of great ones. The new RAZR HD, and actually the RAZR-I, both include Round Widgets. Pinned to the homescreen, by default they include the time, weather and power icons, arranged in a trio of circles. Flick them with a finger and they spin round, showing you extra information, an alternative version of the widget or a shortcut. Tap on the widget to open up the options to alter what's being picked up. It also updates with information about any texts, missed calls or emails you've got, and so acts as a good looking and handy notification hub.
But that's not all Motorola work on, they also have Smart Actions. While not a new app, it has been updated and now covers even more options. Essentially it's a built in app that lets you tell your phone to do something automatically. Don't get daunted, it's simple to set up with walkthroughs, but the range of automated options is mindboggling. You can turn Wi-Fi when you reach certain destinations, have an album play when you plug in headphones, time the Bluetooth to turn on at certain times of the day and much, much more besides. There are other aps available on the Google Play Store such as Locale and the free Llama, but having apps like this preinstalled really helps everyone get exposed to these technologies, and encourages you to make the most of the features available to you. It also means right out of the box you can customise your phone to fit into your life, to be quiet when you want it to, and do things without having to ask it.
Huawei has taken the personalising and built-in apps aspect of the smartphone a step further with it's remarkable Huawei Ascent Mate smartphone. This is a big phone, with a 6.1" screen (almost twice the size of the screen on an iPhone 4), and a high end smartphone if we've ever seen one. Because of its size you can customise the keyboard to squidge up to one side for easier one handed typing, but it also has a Suspend Button. This is a small on-screen button that floats above every screen you have open. It's transparent so you can see though it, and you can move it wherever you like. It acts as a short to open up apps that also float over screens such as a browser and calculator.
That's not all. Pull down the notification bar and there's a Profile option. This lets you switch a whole collection of settings at once, automatically, just by clicking on a different profile, such as Sleep or Outdoors. Screen brightness, ringtone and volume, Bluetooth connectivity, even whether you receive calls or not are all controlled, great for if you're in a meeting.
The Mate had one more ace up its sleeve; you can actually change the whole layout of the software. The feature is known in the Android world as a Launcher, and changes the theme of the phone. This includes the style of the widgets, menu colours and layouts, and even gives you extra shortcuts on the homescreen. It's like having a whole load of different software packages built right into the phone.
So, there's just a few of the latest built-in features that enable you to make your smartphones and tablets look and do exactly what you want.
For the latest rumours and tech gossip, head over to our Launchpad