Smart Phones! What’s your pick, Architects?

This blog post forms the first article in a trilogy of tech articles related to Architects and their Boy Toys.
 The mobile phone market in India is the fastest-growing market in the world. Ever since the advent of the chunky block of Motorola mobile phones, that were heavy enough to potentially murder with, the ‘Mobile’ has captured our imagination. All major international players, and a host of Indian manufacturers, offer a plethora of choices that try to tap into the Indian consumers’ psyche. It’s a difficult, but rewarding market. The mobile phone is a handy technological marvel that repeatedly tantalises the consumers with lures of added features into upgrading their model every 2-3 years… the ultimate test of capital consumerism.
Smart Phones! What's your pick, Architects? 1
Phones we invited opinion polls for.
Architects, as woefully underpaid as they may be, were one of the first of the many professions to realise the use of mobile communication, although Architects in India have been traditionally conservative in accepting new technologies. Previously it was just a phone without wires that could be carried on site, and through which one was always accessible to Clients. Soon, the SMS became a handier and less intrusive method of poking Clients for releasing their bills, through which their employees could inform the boss that they would be absent or late (without having to listen to his caustic response). Soon, the mobile phone transgressed itself, into a device that not only allowed communication but actually improved communication, made it more intuitive, allowed for social connections and allowed for minute-by-minute updates during the social networking revolution. These devices also became prominent multimedia tools. Taking a picture on a mobile phone was no more a make-do compromise to a digital camera. Improved optical lenses, better imaging processors and improved software allowed for at-par general photography in most light conditions; and Xenon and LED Flashes allowed for night photography too. Smartphones allowed for powerful multi-tasking. Projects could be collaborated on remotely through the phone. Drawings could be shared. Presentations shown. A rough sketch made. Money transfers completed. Notes taken. Documents summarised and amended. All in all, the mobile phone became a Smartphone and increased productivity for the Architect, in a singular, handy device, that became an essential enhancement and attachment to the Architect himself.
More than anything, and more than we would like to admit, the mobile phone also became a thing of evolved design that spoke of the persona of the Architect himself. A good piece of technology is worth designing and being designers ourselves, we would take some pride in showing off a well-designed piece of instrument! No-nonsense Architects would have a robust, functional device that did what it primarily does best – make phone calls. The younger brigade, nifty with touch and swiping would vouch for a sleek touchscreen. The Apple iPhone became the industry benchmark for being a beautiful, elegant Smartphone that made calls, took photographs, engaged one’s multimedia desires and showed off a refined sense of aesthetic sensibilities. But since the advent of the iPhone, many companies have come up with wonderful sets that achieved similar feats – competitively called by the market-“iPhone killers”.
This article is not on the best mobile phones at present, but specifically, the best phone that money could buy for Architects. How would that be different? Are we a clan apart? Elementarily… no. But we do crave some extras that would both set us apart and give us a lead in the profession as well. Emphasis is given to multi-tasking power, elegant design, above-average photography (for catching situations on site), good internet connectivity (3g, 3g+, HSDPA), and stunning graphics. Some weeks back, we tried an online poll where we asked Architects their preferred phone of choice; and to simplify things, we gave them a few options, based on brand value, product ratings available on various forums worldwide, styling, ease of use, and product specifications. The options were –
  1. Apple iPhone 4s
  2. Samsung Galaxy Note
  3. Blackberry Bold Touch 9900
  4. HTC Sensation XE
  5. Nokia Lumia 800
More than 130 Architects throughout India responded, and the results echoed my personal opinion on the matter as well. An overwhelming 60% voted for the highly popular Samsung Galaxy Note, while 37% voted for the worldwide leader, and exceptionally created, Apple iPhone 4s. The era of the business standard Blackberry seems to be on a downward slide if these polls are to be believed, and HTC and Nokia have barely caused ripples, despite HTC being extremely well-designed and feature-rich, and Nokia’s effort of re-capturing the market with its Windows Smartphone after failing to capitalise on the touchscreen-based Smartphone era earlier.
The Samsung Galaxy Note is rather oddly sized in between a regular modern-day touchscreen Smartphone device and larger tablets. This hybrid phone attempts to create a niche market by creating a new screen size of 5.3” significantly larger than typical 4” phone screens and larger 7” or 10” screens of tablets. What this allows for is a size that makes viewing images and web pages a sheer joy. Coupled with its Super AMOLED capacitive touch screen technology that offers 800 x 1280 pixels, the display is rich in colour and deep blacks, unparalleled in other devices, except for the iPhone itself. The toughened Gorilla Glass is scratch and shock resistant and allows wide-angle viewing.
Smart Phones and Architecture
The size, while impressive to most, does cause an uncomfortable grip for those with smaller or dainty hands. When pressed to the ear while taking a call, the humongous size does seem visually out of scale, but for better or for worse, does attract attention (“have it… flaunt it!”). The single-hand operation may be difficult unless someone is built like Dolph Lundgren! However, basic ergonomics apart, Samsung has done their R&D well, for it surprisingly fits snugly in any standard pocket size of one’s jeans or trousers. The in-built flip cover that ships with the device is well-designed and protects the screen without other ungainly protective attachments.
Its dual-core 1.4 GHz processor is similar in processing speed to a basic computer not so many years ago and allows for fast usage of most mobile applications and processing. It runs on Google’s Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) version which is well-optimised for touchscreen usage. Newer models are touted to run on the newer Android 4.0 (Ice-cream Sandwich) software that has several improvements and enhancements. The software is well designed, well tweaked by Samsung, and easy to use. Android allows for a wide variety of apps that are available through Google Play, both free and for a nominal price. Some Apps, I would highly recommend for any Architect, and I’ll be listing this at the end of this blog.
Hardware specifications of the device include:

· Dual-core 1.4Ghz Exynos processor
· 5.3” Super AMOLED display with RGBG-Matrix (Pentile) and WXGA (1280 x 800) resolution
· 8-megapixel main camera that can record 1080p video and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera
· 802.11 b/g/n support for Wi-FI
· Quad-band HSPA+ 21Mbit/s 850/900/1900/2100 mobile network support
· Global positioning using both the a-GPS and GLONASS systems.
For a detailed specification list of the Samsung Galaxy Note, click HERE.

The Galaxy Note’s USP would definitively have to be the return of the stylus. The stylus was prevalent in some high-end models at the turn of the century – a piece of plastic stick that would press microscopic on-screen buttons where fingertips could not navigate accurately. What Samsung has done is reinvent the Stylus, by using Wacom’s exceptional digitising technology, and THIS is what sets the Galaxy Note apart, and makes it such a great device for Architects. Samsung calls the stylus an “S Pen”. The stylus tucks neatly into the bottom panel of the phone and can be used in a variety of apps. It can simply replace the use of a finger in situations where precision is needed, but it is also equipped with a “shift” button, which when pressed enables other functions such as grabbing screenshots (which can then be drawn on using the stylus) or for writing sticky notes with drawing/handwriting, text input, and pictures. The stylus and screen are coordinated using a Wacom digitiser system which results in accurate pressure-sensitive input. Wacom is the world leader in digital pens and is used by graphic designers throughout the world. With the advent of Samsung’s S Pen, making a quick sketch on site, taking descriptive notes on architectural drawings, or handwriting minutes of meetings is easy, of exceptional quality, and definitely fun!

The Note has an impressive 8MP camera (and 2MP front camera) with Power LED flash that takes impressive photographs, both indoors and out. The resultant quality of images is one of the best in comparable phones. One feature that personally I love using on my Galaxy Note (yes…. this is a biased assessment cause I own it too), is the panorama function, which seamlessly stitches panorama snaps when panning the phone camera from left to right. It’s extremely useful at expansive sites. The camera also allows for full HD video recording. With 16GB of in-built memory (you can expand with a micro SD card too), this allows for hours of HD recording.

The Note has HSPA+ connectivity. For novices, this means that when you connect to available 3G networks, the Note allows for up to 21 Mbps download speeds, while conventional 3G phones would have only up to 348 Kbps. That’s 60 times the internet speed as compared to other phones! Presently, however, major Indian cities have bandwidths to support 3.2Mbps speeds, but it’s good to be future-ready. Internet surfing, installing Apps, sending emails with attachments and downloading heavy files is much less time-consuming. The large screen allows for full page views of most internet sites with good readability. Text can be entered using a choice of methods: plain on-screen keyboard, with handwriting recognition using the stylus, and using the Swype keyboard input method, which replaces direct typing of a word with a single movement of the finger or stylus across the desired keys. I personally find the Swype tool, extremely fast, and suitable for even long text inputs, like, when writing a document, sending emails, etc.

Many would argue that the Apple iPhone 4s is a better device. Apple’s Retina Display is exceptionally excellent, and its camera gives brilliant output. Apple’s own operating system is still unbeatable in its fluidity, and ease of use. The Apps available on Apple App Store offer more and sometimes better options than what is available on Google Play (formerly Android Marketplace). Also, the ‘flaunt-factor’ or ownership pride related to this beautifully designed Apple product may be a testimony to the Architect having ‘arrived’. I personally feel that the Apple iPhone is an excellent option to own, not just as an Architect, but anyone with a discerning eye towards top-notch design and overall quality.
Having said that, where the Samsung Galaxy Note scores above the Apple iPhone, especially in context to the Architect, it relating more to the creative aspirations of the Design & Architectural community, by projecting the Note as a creative tool, through the innovative use of its S Pen and Wacom engineered screen. It’s a wonderful addition to have in one’s armoury and well-used in actual life. The 5.3” screen also sets it apart and offers excellent and unparalleled readability, for drawings, documents and image close-ups. Strong marketing and competitive pricing (as compared to the iPhone) have made the Galaxy Note a success story in India and worldwide, much more than its anticipated niche market appeal.
Available online and at all prominent mobile stores, the Samsung Galaxy Note is available for Rs.30-32,000/- (estimated street price). Have the moolah? Go get one!
Must-Have Android Apps for the Architect –
  1. Google Maps
  2. Polaris Office (bundled in Galaxy Note – for creating and editing MS Office Docs)
  3. AutoCAD WS (for seeing and editing DWG and DXF files)
  4. Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile Express (excellent sketching and illustration software; compatible with S Pen)
  5. Wiki Encyclopaedia
  6. Super Compass (uses the Note’s own compass & GPS features to give an accurate orientation anywhere)
  7. Sea Level (uses GPS to position the device accurately in metres above sea level; the Note also has an in-built barometer, which might subsequently be used to take accurate levels based on atmospheric density, but apps for the same have yet not been created)
  8. Angry Birds Space – awesome game, amazing stress buster, incredibly addictive, and best suited for the Galaxy Note (you get extra levels!)

There are apps specifically being developed for the S Pen. An array of options should be available just around the corner.

Author – Dwaipayan Chakravarty, is Sr. Architect – Urban Designer at Asso. Space Designers Pvt. Ltd., Pune. He is a self-confessed technology aficionado. Click here to view his profile on LinkedIn.

4 Responses

  1. A very good read, not just for architects, but designers at large. Well researched and explained. Enjoyed the funny snippets and author’s opinions in between.. 🙂

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