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Tag Archive | "galaxy tab"

The State of Android Tablets (2011): A Survey of Thoughts From Carrypad Staff

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At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that, by the summer, there would be a dozen different Android tablets available for order from reliable, first tier manufacturers, I would have told you to get outta town. We were likely all desensitized to the constant stream of news that seemingly had the same message: “Company X announced the Y Tablet today. It features blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. No information was released on a launch date or pricing.” It had gotten to the point that I immediately went to the bottom of any announcement of a tablet-device, and if it had the standard blurb about no launch date or word on pricing, I did not read the article.

Flash-forward to the present. That standard blurb I mentioned above is something that we are seeing several times a day now. The difference is that with each instance of an announcement, there is a level of confidence that we are actually reading a press statement about a device that will be delivered to the market and will not just become vaporware. A year ago, this was not the case. I regarded almost every announcement of an Android tablet as a veritable Chupacabra that I would never actually see. Now, launch events for tablets and the equally interesting Android OS updates are major media events, commanding the undivided attention of the journalists in attendance, and the readers reading the live-blogs in real time or catching up on the ensuing hands-on later in the day. Keeping up with the state of the tablet market is now almost a hobby in and of itself.

As we head into the closing month of this watershed year in the tablet industry, with still more compelling Android tablets promised to hit retail before we turn the corner into 2012, I have been reflecting on the past year and pondering what is yet to come. I have a few ideas of what the recent past has meant, and what the future might hold. Not convinced that there is any way that I could possibly have all of the answers, I engaged my fellow editors and contributors from Carrypad in a dialogue on the topic. We each took a shot at answering three key questions that we felt were critical things to consider and might very well define the picture of the Android tablet market today. Each writer answered the questions in-the-blind, unaware of the answers from the others. Please join us in this dialogue and post your thoughts on our perspectives, as well as your own original thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

Many pundits talk about the belief that there is no tablet market, there is just an iPad market, and the other manufacturers are just flailing, trying to tread water in a marketplace that does not exist. Are they right? If not, what do Google and its hardware partners need to do in order to compete for consumer dollars and a place as the the second or third screen in users’ personal computing kits?

  • Ben: Apple definitely created an iPad market, not a tablet market. You can see this easily with many of the capacitive-only Windows slates that are trying to pull a “me too” move, but are absolutely failing when it comes to user adoption. Trying to shoe-horn a touch (finger only) keyboardless experience onto a Windows machine is just silly. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for Android, but at the moment, Google has a product for geeks, while Apple has a product for everyone (including geeks). I often look at it this way: iOS and Android are comparable, but Android needs heavy customization out of the box to be brought up to the level of iOS usability. Because of this, the iPad dominates the mainstream (probably more so in the US than other places). There’s also something to be said about app-quality and system stability. The competition between the iPad and Android tablets is absolutely healthy for consumers, and it’s great to see the wide range of computing-styles that are offered by Android devices. If the iPad was the only game in town, they’d stagnate (in some regards they have), but thanks to Android, Apple has to be ever vigilant, and vice-versa.
  • Damian: There has been a tablet market, although small, for many years before the iPad. Many of the readers of Carrypad will have had windows tablets since the old days of Windows XP Tablet Edition, which was officially released in 2001. The tablet market then was mostly a business or enterprise market and you’d have to credit the iPad with launching the mass scale consumer tablet market for an easy to use consumption device. The iPad dominates the consumer consumption market but Android tablets are gaining ground. Both still can’t quite make it as an enterprise device and the first one that cracks that will have an advantage. With rumours of Microsoft Office being developed for the consumer tablet OS’s this might be the tipping point. I think adding a stylus that works well changes the equation considerably and a well implemented, pen driven solution (ideally running Office) that allows users to create, in a common, accessible format, will boost the Android tablet market share.
  • Jerry: I don’t think these guys (the pundits) are right. There are some 6 million plus Android tablet devices in operation, and that constitutes a market to me. It took a long time for Android to gain traction in the smartphone market, with the G1 being just interesting, but things really started taking off with the arrival of the original Droid on Verizon. For Google and its partners to push more adoption, I am not sure if the saturation tactic that was has worked in the smartphone market is going to work for tablets. I think general consumers will be compelled by more content. Android has a great hook with its one-source approach to aggregating access to all content mediums via your single Google account. But they need a better library in Google books, a music source for procuring music (Blast it! I drafted this before the Google Music launch), and further integration with Google TV. It would be a huge plus if I could be watching an episode of a show on my tablet, and then have my stopping place synced with a GoogleTV device to continue watching the content from the same place… and for there to be worthwhile, current TV content.
  • Chippy: In terms of tablets there really is only an iPad market at the moment. Android tablets remain a niche, rather geeky option. The reason has nothing to do with hardware design or OS, it’s to do with the apps. There simply aren’t enough devices out there to justify any serious large-screen/fragments-enabled quality developement work. By my estimate there are between 10 and 15 million Android tablet devices out there. Some 5″, some 7″ and some 10″ devices, some running Android 2.x and some 3.x. The effort required to make a quality app across this fragmented product base is too big for the potential returns. For this to change, the number of fragments-enabled devices out there needs to grow considerably. ICS will help slowly during 2012 but for Android to stimulate major development work, soon, it needs a breakthrough product. The Kindle Fire could have been that product but with its 2.x OS it won’t stimulate the important use of fragments. 2012 looks like another difficult year for Android tablet apps.

The pundits also say that fragmentation of the Android OS is a key detractor from the product category gaining ground, not only in the tablet market but across smartphones as well. How do you define fragmentation, or do you feel it does not really exist? There is also a discussion of ecosystems and its criticality in the mobile market. How do you define a mobile ecosystem, or do you think this factor does not exist, or is not as relevant as some suggest.

  • Ben: “Fragmentation” is not an issue inherent to Adroid, but rather a desire of Android device manufacturers. Apple only markets one line of phones and one line of tablets, and at any given time, there is only one model that is considered the flagship device. For Android, any number of phone/tablet makers may have comparable devices, so how can they ‘differenatiate’ (aka fragment) their devices to appeal to customers over their competitor’s devices? The answer often comes in adding custom skins, pre-baking in selected applications and services (some of which may be unique to a given device). This means that the specific experience between tablets is somewhat different. Depending upon the hardware, you might not be able to see the same applications in the Android Market because not all applications are supported on all Android tablet hardware. If a non-techie user buys an Android tablet and enjoys using a specific application that comes with it, they may be surprised to find that when they get a new tablet, that application is not available for it. The only way to avoid this issue is for the user to understand the way this ecosystem works, but that can’t be expected of non-techie users. When it comes to the iPad, you can expect the latest iPad to be capable of running every iPad app (and iPhone app for that matter) that’s ever been made. Furthermore, because all apps are made with the top-end hardware in mind, you can expect any app available to run well if you have the current generation of iPad or iPhone.
  • Damian: I think fragmentation, which I define as multiple hardware manufacturers making different spec’d devices and different implementations of the same OS, is a major factor in consumer uptake of Android tablets, not smartphones. The Android phones need to act as a phone first, then web consumption device, then app using, game playing devices. They usually don’t tend to be used as a consumer of complex media or producer of enterprise content. The phones have different hardware for sure but the manufacturers seem  to be doing a good job of making sure their hardware works in most scenarios, i.e. plays all the media formats it needs to, opens pdf’s and documents when attached to email, renders different websites, etc. The tablet space is more complex and the fragmentation hurts it more. Some devices have full sized USB, some devices have SD card slots, some devices have docks, some devices play all of the video formats and some don’t. This is where the split of the manufacturers seems to hurt most. It’s frustrating when one video plays well on your android phone but not on your tablet. Aren’t they both Android? A website looks great on your Android tablet but when you send the link to anther Android tablet it breaks. Sure you can download a new browser which is one of Android’s strengths but it’s also a hassle. If you see something on one iPad it will work on another iPad – that’s the advantage of controlling the whole ecosystem, both hardware and software.
  • Jerry: I do not think fragmentation exists in the way that I hear a lot of other journalists discuss it. I do not agree that that skinning Android is a form of fragmentation, and the discussion about any difference from the baseline version of Android being fragmentation seems to be a very conservative view. I do not think these perspectives are so close to the reality, and I do not classify mods like HTC Sense or skins like TouchWiz as examples of fragmentation. Where we were as recent as a year ago, there were many new phones being sold that were already whole baselines behind. In other words, tablets and phones were being released with Android 1.6 when Froyo was already out:  that’s an example of fragmentation. More so when those devices were immediately abandoned and never saw updates to a 2.x version of Android, that was also an example of fragmentation. It is the analog to Windows XP laptops being sold when Windows 7 was already out, and then those laptops not supporting  a path forward to Windows 7.  Android is open source, and variety in deployments should be expected, just the same as we expect it with LINUX. Yes, ecosystems are important.  I define ecosystems as a collection of hardware, connectivity, and services, without which, the hardware as a standalone device would offer very little value.  They are obviously important for smartphones, and they are perhaps even more important for tablets. The tablet by itself represents very little functionality. It is only in combination with its network connection, app store or market, and back-end cloud services (email, contacts management, plug-ins to social networks, content availability, and online profiles) that a tablet becomes useful. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has a better fighting chance of being a viable competitor than the Nook Tablet because it brings a kitchen sink of content availability via  its ecosystem and consolidation of that content in one repository channel. The Nook Tablet will have to be configured with several accounts to have access to the same volume of content, and then the content will be available via a spread across multiple channels.
  • Chippy: Fragmentation is a real issue when it comes to developing apps which, in turn, affect the value of the whole Android product range. ICS is the right step, almost a first step, in removing some of the fragmentation but we must not forget that screen sizes, processing capabilities, and sensors all cost development and testing time and are part of the fragmentation problem. ICS development will remain focused on handsets first until the numbers rise significantly. The screen-size/platform fragmentation will remain in the Android ecosystem so Google has to make it as easy as possible to develop. That means fast, quality dev tools and emulators.

What are your current Android devices of choice (tablets and smartphones)? What is your projected next Android acquisition and why? What are your thoughts on Android Tablets as media consumption devices versus their utility for productivity?

  • Ben: I haven’t yet found an Android smartphone or tablet that has quite cut it for me, but I also feel like I have no need for a tablet at the moment, it is too redundant between my smartphone and laptop. It’s quite possible to get done work on tablets, regardless of the platform, but it really comes down to the applications and how well they run on the hardware.
  • Damian: The Asus Eee Pad Transformer with keyboard dock is my current tablet but I am in the market to pick up for an Asus Eee Pad Slider. I don’t need the extra battery life the keyboard dock gives me and I don’t want the extra weight either but I love having the ability to use a full keyboard. What I’d like is a touch screen with a full keyboard when I need it without having to carry around a dock or external keyboard and this is what the Slider gives me. I’m also relatively happy with the build quality and Android implementation that Asus did. The Slider has a full sized USB port – killer feature on a tablet. If you want to provide a level of productivity capability at any volume and have a chance in the enterprise market, manufacturers need to make tablets with a keyboard and possibly a stylus – there I’ve said it start the flames :). I run a Motorola Atrix 4G for business and personal use and it is the best phone I have had to date. I sold an iPhone for the Nokia N900 and the Nokia for the Atrix and I have never looked back. Fantastic hardware coupled with a great implementation of Android and cool, very functional accessories make this a very productive and useful phone. I have yet to defeat the phone with any media format or file type and I credit Motorola with doing a great job of implementing Android and a fantastic out of the box Android experience.
  • Jerry: My current kit includes an HTC Evo 3D as my primary smartphone and a Samsung Nexus S 4G as my secondary, both on Sprint. My tablet kit consists of the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 16GB, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 16GB, and the Motorola Xoom 3G. The two phones break even as far as the one of choice. I like the stock Android load on the Nexus, and I prefer the display over the one on the Evo 3D. But I like the Evo for its faster processor and speed, and the availability of the 3D camera. Amongst the tablets, while I like them all, my ThinkPad is the device I carry with me every day and I love the utility of digital inking on it over using a capacitive stylus with the Xoom or Iconia. When I originally drafted this, I thought my next acquisition was going to be a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. I mainly wanted it to replace my iPad, which recently died, with  a smaller form-factor option for increased portability. Instead I grabbed a Kindle Fire. It is a lot easier to grab and carry than some of my 10″ devices. I have access to the right amount of my cloud services and content that it makes sense for me to grab it as I head out the door probably about 50% of the time. My initial hour after waking in the AM is spent using the Kindle Fire to read content, communicate with friends, colleagues, and co-workers, and plan out events for the day.
  • Chippy: 15 minutes before writing this sentence I was given an iPad 2. Let’s see what happens in the following weeks but I’m currently writing this text on the Galaxy Tab 7 and I suspect that my mobile productivity will remain in this 7″ space due to size and ease of thumb-typing. Currently that means an Android-based solution. I don’t use an Android phone because of short battery life and poor cameras. Yes, I was locked-in by a test of a Nokia N8 which I still think is a fantastic cam/phone. I’m currently looking at the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and Galaxy Tab 7.7 as a future upgrade possibility but I may wait for proven Ice Cream Sandwich products first as, to be honest, the Galaxy Tab 7 is still working well for me as a productivity, media consumption, reading and social networking device, despite still running a 2.x build of Android.

Notes: Galaxy Tab upgrade to 2.3.5 (Stock, EU)

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A few people noticed that I upgraded to 2.3.5 on my original Galaxy Tab 7 and wanted to know how. Apparently the upgrade is rolling out and UK and NL owners of some variants have received the update through the standard Kies software. Try that first of course (you can download it from Samsung) but if you’re desperate to get it you’ll have to take the complex, risky route. Here are a few links to get you going.

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The firmware I used was from here
ODIN, the flash upgrade software, is available here. Use V1.7
Generic instructions are available all over the net. Here’s one.

If you’re going to upgrade I recommend taking the change to do a full factory reset, clear all storage areas including your microsd card. You’ll have a much smoother device if you do this.

One more reference link. This is a report I did on an upgrade to 2.3 using the sane method.

Charge device fully before starting, back everything up, be aware that you are taking your own risks.

My upgrade has been 100% successful although there are very few significant changes!

One Year with the Galaxy Tab 7, What Next? Huawei Mediapad?

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One year ago I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the world to get a retail version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7. The unboxing video has been one of the most viewed videos I’ve ever done. A quarter of a million views was largely due to early excitement but even today, the video regularly gets 300-500 views per day. The Galaxy Tab 7 was a success not just for me though because sales figures and charts tell the same story. It proves beyond any doubt that there is a market in the 7” space.

The fact that the follow-up Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 was launched at IFA (video, article here) and that the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is also on its way proves it too which is good for me and for many ultra-mobile fans because it means we have an upgrade choice; and it’s about time to start thinking about those choices.

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The Galaxy Tab 7 is still my most used daily device (yes, more than my phone) but next to newer Android Honeycomb / Tegra devices it’s feeling slow and clumsy. I want my browser to sync. I want my widgets to be resizeable and I want better processing power. Honeycomb 3.2 is mature enough to recommend now and from this point on I won’t be recommending the Galaxy Tab as a new choice unless you find a great deal somewhere and just want to use it in a casual fashion.

Upgrade Time!

(There’s an active discussion happening on Google Plus right now too.)

It’s fun looking for upgrades and when I tested the Galaxy Tab 7.7 at IFA this year, I was almost sure it would be my next device. That was until the Apple patent issues had it taken off the table, literally. Since then though we’ve seen the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus which solves 2 out of the 3 problems I have with the Galaxy Tab.

The CPU is improved to a dual-core 1.2Ghz part and the OS will be Honeycomb 3.2. The third issue, that I don’t believe it does solve, is the screen. I’m happy with 1024×600 but I’m not happy with the outdoor or even bright daylight use. The glass seems milky and it limits the ease of use in many situations when I’m out and about.

In Europe we’re expecting the 7 Plus with 3G and 32GB for €499 at the end of this month. Definitely something to think about! There are other options though.

The Acer Iconia Tab A101 is available in Europe today for around 400 Euro. The specs  and price look great but personally, I have two issues. I have the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and I’ve learnt that Acer may not have the best Android OS team. Early firmware for the A500 wasn’t good at all and it makes me hold back from going further with Acer Android tablets. The second issue is the screen on the A100/101. It isn’t an IPS screen which means in portrait mode it has un-equal viewing angles. See this video for a demo and an an explanation.

There’s the Archos 80 (G9) although I find that a little big for my use (I need to be able to slip the tablet into a back pocket to free up two hands)

I’ve had the HTC Flyer too and while it’s at a better price now, it’s still an Android 2.x device. Having said that, it’s supposed to be updated to Honeycomb eventually. The screen is better than the Galaxy Tab, build quality and battery life are top quality but do I want to pay 500 Euros for a device that I already had once, and then sold? Even though the price has improved, the 3G, 32GB version is still a rather expensive 550 Euros.

There’s one more device that I’m looking at though and it’s rising to the top of my list very quickly. The specs are right, the price is right and, as a blogger there’s nothing better than getting a device on the day it launches. The Huawei MediaPad with 8GB and 3G, dual-core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm CPU, a 1280×800 IPS display and Honeycomb 3.2 is going to be available in about 2 weeks for 399 Euros. That’s a deal worth taking a closer look at.   Given that someone needs to give this baby a damn good test, it makes sense for me to test it out so I’ve decided to go ahead and buy the Mediapad as soon as it’s available later this month. Unless I hear some bad news between now and then you can expect some decent reports from me, here on Carrypad.

The Mediapad is in the database.

Powerocks Stone 3 Full-Speed USB Power-Pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab

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The Powerocks Stone 3 portable power pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab solves a problem. It’s all very well having a common interface for charging but when people break the specs it becomes less useful. The iPad and Galaxy Tab charge using very high currents through a USB port that excedes the capability of the USB port you’ll find on nearly all laptops and PCs which means you generally have to carry the mains charger around with you. I found a portable power pack at IFA that supplies the correct current to allow full-speed charing on the go and it works. At least with the Galaxy Tab I tested with it.

There’s no European distributor for the Stone 3 yet so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for availability. Alternatively, wait a while because I’ve got a unit coming from Znex. The Power-Pack IP is said to do the same so i’m looking forward to testing one that’s available right now.

Here’s a video and you’ll find some images below that.

Review: The 700gm Mobile Reporting and Blogging Kit

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700gm turned into about 1.2kg last week as I tested a smartphone and tablet combination for content creation. I used the Samsung Galaxy Tab for writing the text, staying connected on social networks and I also used it as the ‘business grade’ 3G connection via a T-Mobile true day-flat option.
The Nokia N8 performed camera, video and video editing duties as well as back-up Twitter client and of course, mobile phone.

The extra weight came from two changes to the kit. Firstly, a bag. Yes, I’m sorry bit I’m not the sort of person that wears cargo pants and it was way too warm for a jacket. The 200gm “>Jack Wolfskin body bag (aff.) that I’ve been using for four years (Now available as the ‘Subway’) did the job nicely and gave me a little space for bits and pieces picked up during the day.

The second weight addition came from a power-pack. Even on the journey up to IFA I experienced problems with battery life on the N8 so after getting caught short on the Samsung booth I quickly picked up an 18Wh USB power pack that was more than enough to keep the N8 topped up. It even managed to trickle charge the Galaxy Tab on a few evening occasions. The Variotek power pack details are here. (aff.)

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When I look back at my content I see that YouTube and Twitter became my main delivery channel with some posts being made around the 30 videos that i took. It’s a similar story for most bloggers – getting videos on to YouTube is critical for revenue generation. Without it many of us product bloggers wouldn’t exist. Recording in a relatively low bitrate at 480p was a major advantage and I would do it again although there’s something  in my head that tells me I really could record in 720p and use an Intel Sandy Bridge based device to do super quick conversion to 480p. The Samsung Series 7 tablet has got me excited to test that possibility. Maybe I’ll look into that soon. Hardware image stabilization is also something I need to look into. I suspect I won’t be using the N8 for much longer despite it being connected. Having said that, the quality of the videos was, I think, acceptable to most YouTube viewers. Product hands-on at press events is normally a chaotic experience anyway so while it didn’t please me to be posting wobbly videos that weren’t always in focus, YouTube viewing stats show that it worked from a business perspective. Your recommendations for an ultralight compact with good low-light performance, 720p video with hard and software stabilization are gratefully received.

I struggled to post many images despite being very happy with the quality and that was due to a silly process at our blogs that I’m going to have to change. We use Gallery2 which doesn’t have much support through Android apps! Writing was kept to a lower level than would have been if I had been using a laptop. I had some help from Ben on press day and was grateful for that.

I want to have a little moan about sharing on the Nokia N8 because its near-useless. Why Nokia don’t have a way to share videos to YouTube is something I don’t understand for such a video-focused camera. The YouTube site link is difficult and annoying to use. Sharing is such a second-thought on Symbian.

As for the Galaxy Tab, everything went well, as long as I remembered to reboot once per day. I’m noticing that the Tab slows down excessively when pushed hard. Google Maps is especially problematic although I was grateful for cached maps when traveling the underground train system.

Screen brightness in the Galaxy Tab 7 could be a lot better in daylight. After getting hands-on with the gorgeous Galaxy Tab 7.7 I see how much better it can be. Bonus points go to the YouTube app for being very robust for uploads. It handled switches from WiFi to 3g without dropping the upload. Minus points go to the built in gallery. I used Fishbowl as a replacement gallery. Battery life under full use is about 6hrs so I was nearly out of juice a few times on long days. You need to keep an eye on settings and apps to get the best it of it but I don’t want to complain because most phones would only last half the time given the same scenarios. All in all it was a great performance from the Galaxy Tab. If only it had a decent camera and a video editing app. That’s something that might be interesting to look at on the Tab 7.7 although I know already that it doesn’t have continuous auto focus.

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One area where I had a problem was system admin. Both command-line and web back-end work was next-to impossible. There really is only one way to fix that – a notebook. It doesn’t requires processing power but it does need a keyboard and a quality browser. How do you fix that? I don’t think you can without adding a netbook. That’s 1kg added! Oh, and remote desktop was not an option either. . .

The connectivity at IFA was the worst I’ve ever experienced at a European trade show. The press room WiFi and wired connections were overloaded when needed and the 3G from both Telefonica’s O2 and a €5 per day T-Mobile connection were useless for any image or video uploading. This was a major issue and highlights the growing problem of overcrowding on 3G. How to fix? Jump to WiMax where possible. It’s on my list now.

There’s one other thing to mention – respect. I simply looked like an amateur. It’s a bigger problem than you think because PR people tend to have an eye-out for big cameras, lights and 2-men recording teams. My week was successful though so I guess I managed to ignore or work-around that issue.

Would I do it again? I’m going to IDF next week where there will also be a lot of news. It will be detailed though and could require more than just a quick video. I know how huge the keynote hall is too so a camera with a big lens can be helpful. I also know, however, that there are PCs available for use. I feel good about this week so I’ve decided to go for the 1kg again next week. Being at an Intel conferences with an ARM-based reporting kit could be fun too. In the meantime, I’m going to do more research on using a real camera with a Sandy-Bridge based editing device because it’s only the video quality of the N8 that worries me.

It can be done. There’s no need for huge devices and heavy, battery-eating equipment when reporting. Whether it works for you depends on a number of things. Do you need a keyboard? Is the quality good enough? Do you need a full browser or large screen?

[ Posted via the Galaxy Tab. Ultra-Mobile at IFA 2011. For more IFA coverage, follow me on Twitter. @Chippy ]

Breaking: TouchWiz “Emulator” for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Goes Live + Review Roundup

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Breaking: The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 TouchWiz Interactive Emulator just went live. Samsung calls it an emulator, but its really a simulator! Still, it gives you a way to play with TouchWiz before installing it on your device.

I am not a fan of OEM UI’s. I am even less of a fan when they are not optional (more on that later). User interfaces added onto a device by their OEM, instead of just using the one that is part of the associated OS, are always better when they can be enabled or disabled at the user’s discretion. They tend to be burdened with a lot of content that is just marketing or sell-through fluff, so being able to enable or disable them at will makes the bitter seed more palatable. 3rd party UI’s, in contrast, are designed to be competitive, and to make the developers money, and are therefore typically more lean and arguably provide more value. None of these trends have prevented Samsung from rolling out its TouchWiz UI for its flagship tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, however, and maybe it is a good thing that they did.

We’ve taken some time to scour the web and bring you an aggregated perspective of how the media has received the software update so far. There are some good takeaways and some bad. Read on to familiarize yourself with the basics:

Software updates are big news these days. A press event to announce a new version of an OS would sell seats like a Justin Bieber concert, but to a much cooler crowd of people. There is no other tablet on the market today that is running Honeycomb with a custom skin, so Samsung’s release of the TouchWiz UX overlay is a first. My own exposure to TouchWiz (TW) was with an overlay for Windows Mobile 6.5. In that instance, it made sense. WM6.5 did not have much going for it in the GUI department, and Samsung took a very textual interface and made it graphical and object oriented.

The most noticeable thing that most of the reviewers picked up on is how TouchWiz on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 brings what is arguably Android’s biggest differentiator, widgets, to the forefront. Samsung has implemented a customized widget system that brings a slightly more appealing color palette and some added functionality. The new GUI version is very much about liveness of data, and goes a long way towards increasing awareness from the surface of the GUI without making you dig too much further into an app. Many views, like news and weather, are aggregated so that you spend less time bouncing through apps to get up to speed on the latest.

TouchWiz is, however, not just about widgets. Several new features come along for the ride with the update. One of those, Samsung’s MediaHub, reveals a pair of trends; one good, the other not so much so. The first trend is that there is this third tier of developer that is growing out of Android. You can think of it as Android being an engine, and developers using that engine as an SDK. But what is significant is that companies like Samsung and HTC who are going this route, are seeing the need to have their own media services coupled with the Android-flavored code-base their devices run on. MediaHub provides access to a lot of recent content, but it requires its own account and login credentials. The downside of this trend is the set of restrictions that we have seen on the rise concurrent with these services. In this case, Samsung restricts you to 5 devices that can access MediaHub content through one account. While it is unlikely that any one individual will have 5 Samsung devices, I am curious as to how MediaHub handles device retirement. Hopefully a little better than iTunes.

The major downside to TouchWiz is what might happen to you of you don’t opt-in for the upgrade. Reportedly, if you do not install TouchWiz, your Galaxy Tab 10.1 will not receive future updates to the OS. Now, it is unclear to me exactly how far this goes. Engadget reports that, at a minimum, it means no Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade. I would believe, however, that actual firmware fixes to correct a problem with the device would still be delivered. However, even for that, it is tough to have a high degree of confidence. If Samsung has to spin two versions of a firmware update (one for TouchWiz and one for non-TW), then I can see the company dropping support within a year. Of course, not every firmware update should have an interface to the classes that govern the UI, although it is feasible that some would. Either way, it sounds like if you have bought into the Galaxy Tab, then you have, by Samsung’s definition, bought into TouchWiz as well.

Regardless, most of the reviewers were pleased with the value and performance that the TouchWiz UI seemed to bring to the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The update will turn the current version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 into the first Android Tablet to market with an OEM skin on top of Honeycomb.

Could TouchWiz set off a new trend of skinned Honeycomb devices? It all depends on how well the Galaxy Tab 10.1 does at retail. If it does significantly better than other tablets out there, that just might encourage other manufacturers to roll their own skins for Honeycomb. Right now, it seems like general consumers are driven primarily by price-point. The technoratti seem to be mainly encouraged by performance. Every Android lover is looking for the same immediate-response experience that the iPad delivers. TouchWiz will need to prove itself fast and unintrusive to make it a positive differntiator of the Galaxy Tab product.

Here are some links to the original Engadget review, as well as some additional perspectives from the usual suspects. Read on after the gallery for my more of my own assessment of what the TouchWiz UI may mean for users and Samsung.

Source: Engadget

Further Reading:
PhoneDog
CNET
PCMag

My personal assessment is that TouchWiz worries me, and the requirement to opt-in in order to continue to receive support firmly strikes the Tab 10.1 from my “I Want” list. A few key notes:

  • On the Android platform, Samsung has had a poor record of quickness to deploy Android updates. I firmly believe this is due to the additional qualification time needed to test Android updates against their customized UI’s. They have gotten better, but are still not as quick to OTA as some others
  • On Windows Mobile 6.5 (running on a Samsung Omnia II), one of the things I did not like about TouchWiz was the replacement of key apps with TW variants. So when you called up Calendar, if TW was enabled, you received a different view and different functionality in terms of input to create appointments, edit appointments, and so forth. This pervaded into text messaging, notes, and the phone view. in some cases, the TW variant was actually better, but in others it was not.
  • The good thing was, you could disable TW in WinMo 6.5. Of course, it was all on or all off, so you got the better TW apps enabled along with the apps where you would have preferred to just run the native Windows Mobile version. This incentivized me to more often then not to run with TW disabled
  • I have found a similar effect in HTC Sense (running on the HTC Evo 3D); the Calendar app is the HTC Sense variant, which is not a 1:1 replacement for the Android calendar. This gets aggravating when running several Android devices, and then going to a Sense device and having things oriented slightly differently than every other instance of the app that you run.
  • This is where the overlay starts to get in the way of using the device rather than the overlay being a helper. The bad thing is, you cannot turn Sense off, and when running stock, the Calendar app is not even available as an app, only as a widget. Hitting the widget even, just launches the HTC Sense version of the Calendar app.
  • If TW has similar hooks, then users who run more than one Android device may not see it as appealing a differentiator as Samsung would like.

Windows 8 Brings More Mobility, but Should You Wait?

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Win8-3I, like many others, believe that Windows 8 will re-enable the pocket productivity market and lift us out of this strange consumer-focused mobile mess we’re in at the moment and get us back to a place where we have ultra mobile PC choices for our mobile, flexible working practices and scenarios. Marketing, social networking, price wars and tablet fever are getting in the way of what many people want – productivity in the pocket.

I love Android and IOS of course but I’m not letting that change my opinion that there is a requirement for a full desktop capability in a handheld form factor. The market is indeed fairly small but it’s in many different niches and sectors. [Raise your hands in the comments if you’re one of those ‘niche’ users.] Android and IOS have done a lot for mobility, sharing and mobile media and have quickened the pace of mobile processor developments so much that we’ll all benefit in the end but when you look at the software, the pace of development of productivity software is just embarrassing. On the whole, It’s a sector that focuses on quick-hit, fast turnaround, short-lifecycle software and it’s vastly different to the full-fat, long lifecycle, productive and flexible software you get on the desktop. Two years after this consumer mobile market started taking off there still isn’t a way to buy an off-the-shelf DVB-T module, extend the screen or even log in with multiple user IDs. There are literally hundreds of features that are missing and each one of them is a potential roadblock for the advanced mobile user.

That’s why Windows 8 is an exciting operating system to look forward to. It will retain probably all of the flexibility of Windows 7 but will introduce important features from the world of consumer mobile devices. Always-on, improved sensor support, touch user interface, quick-hit apps and sharing along with support for ARM-based platforms and new X86 platforms that remove some of the old legacy PC features and introduce new boot and power management subsystems. Between now and, lets say, mid 2012, I doubt we’ll see any of the existing mobile operating systems advance so far that they challenge Windows and none of the new operating systems have much of a chance either. Buying an ultra-mobile PC has never been so hard but 12-24 months is a long time to wait for Windows 8. If you’ve got a requirement, you need a device and it’s as simple as that.

Your first strategy would be to sit tight and do nothing.  That assumes you don’t have a new requirement or your current device(s) can be stretched out until then. If you have a new requirement though, be it speed or scenario, and you don’t have a device you can cover it with you could believe the rumors that Windows 8 will arrive early or you could do one of the following things:

1 – Go netbook

It’s a low-cost solution but requires a table or a lap. That’s not quite ultra mobile computing is it! Having said that, if you want to save money until Windows 8 comes along, searching for a surface or using your lap might not be too much of a problem to put up with. My advise would be to look at some of the Atom N550 or N570-based devices with a focus on Samsung who still seem to lead with better build quality and more efficient electronic engineering and screens than others. The NF310 continues to get good reports. Asus are also worth considering and the Eee PC 1015 with N570, 2GB RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium is a real bargain at under 400 Euro in my opinion. There’s even the updated T101MT with N570 and 2GB, Windows Home Premium and capacitive touchscreen at around 500 Euro in Europe. Drop a fast SSD into that and it should make quite a nice Windows convertible.

2 – Buy a Menlow UMPC

Given the age of Menlow and the lack of choices around it’s not something I would recommend to everyone but if the pocket is the destination and Windows is the requirement, what option do you have than to buy a Viliv N5 or a UMID mbook SE? Both companies appear to have disappeared from the radar though so be very aware that major failures may not be fixable.

3 – Wait for an Oaktrail UMPC

ECS and Viliv have both talked about building a 7” Oaktrail-based Windows tablet but unless a major customer or market is found, neither of those solutions are going to hit the market. By all means, wait and see but I personally think it could be a very long wait.

4 – Buy an Oaktrail-based tablet

Early review of Oaktrail-based devices aren’t singing the praises about performance and with the CPU inside being basically the same as before, it’s no surprise. The RAM will need to be 2GB, the SSD will need to be fast, Aero will need to be turned off and I dare say there’s some GPU driver improvements to be made but despite the claims of speed issues, you’ll still be able to render full flash and javascript-enabled web pages with 100% accuracy and faster than any ARM-based tablet out there. Battery life reports are showing marked improvements too so if running a PC in a 5W power envelope is your aim, take a close look at Oaktrail. The Samsung PC7 (TX100, Gloria) slider is one to watch out for and although my recent queries to Samsung don’t return any new information, they certainly don’t indicate that the project has been scrapped. I’ll keep you updated on that one.

5 – Go IOS or Android, adapt your requirements and track the developments

You may want to plug in your DSLR and run the remote capture software but there are alternatives. In this case, check out the Eye-Fi card. For those wanting full Microsoft Office support, look at the Asus Transformer and think about a remote desktop solution. For full-internet-experience browsing, look at whether IOS or Honeycomb will satisfy your needs. On smaller Android tablets, the Dolphin HD and Opera Mobile browsers are coming along nicely. Firefox is progressing too.  Think about a Dell Streak (only 299 Euros here in Germany right now) or a Galaxy Tab (350 Euros) along with a low-cost netbook. Look at PC keyboard sharing solutions for Android. Think about the Google suite too. Android also offers a lot that you can’t get in a PC yet. Location, Sharing, always-on and a large amount of fun!

If you’ve read this far, you’re into ultra mobile computing which is a good thing. It’s fun, flexible and productive but you will also have very individual requirements. The private pilot. The dentist. The courtroom assistant. The musician. The world-tourer. Take a close look at your requirements and see what would want and compare it with what you, realistically, will need. If possible, take a risk or two and ignore that extreme scenario that you’ve got on your list. One thing I would advise all of you to do though is to check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab. I’m not joking when I say it changed my mobile computing world. I no longer have a netbook. I no longer have a high-end smartphone and there are very few scenarios that I can’t cover with it now. I’ve heard people say the same about the Dell Streak (5”) too. If you really can’t swallow that, the iPhone 4 has to be high on the list, the netbooks I mentioned above and even some older devices like the Samsung Q1 Ultra Premium.

Oh, and don’t forget to look at the Toshiba Libretto W100/W105!

Galaxy Tab Gingerbread Test Notes + Videos

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120520111538Last night I took the plunge and dumped the official 2.3.3 Gingerbread upgrade on my Galaxy Tab via the ‘side-loading’ method based on an copy of the firmware being rolled out in Europe (but not available here in Germany yet.) I used simple instructions from The Galaxy Tab Forum (Hat Tip XDA Developers) and flashed the firmware along with a full factory reset and spent about 4 hours late last night testing, restoring my apps and listening to music.

The music wasn’t just for fun. Previous builds of the Galaxy Tab were never that good at being an MP3 player due to stuttering under load. I’m please to report that this problem has gone. I had 8 programs running to the point where even text input was failing but the audio kept-on playing.

So what else is new?

If you’re happy with your Tab right now I don’t recommend going the side-loading route to get Gingerbread. It’s easy but risky and for what you’re getting it’s not worth the risk. I’m not saying the upgrade is underwhelming, I’m just saying that the upgrade isn’t a huge one in terms of instantly noticeable changes. A new, lighter font, greets you and as you swipe down the notification area and then across home screens you’ll notice that it is super smooth but that’s pretty much it for obvious changes.

The text select method has changed slightly (in-line with the new 2.3 text selection tool I beleive) but Samsung already had that on 2.2. They were also ahead of the curve on audio enhancements and a few other 2.3 features.

120520111539

There’s a few videos below showing part of the upgrade and a review of the upgrade below. Here are my notes so far.  I should note that if you’re into ‘rooting’ your Galaxy Tab,  please double-check that this upgrade doesn’t lock the bootloader.

  • Smoother transitions in some areas. Noticeable in notifications area and browser scrolling.
  • New sketch note app
  • SIP/VOIP support removed from Gingerbread (at least I can’t find it!)
  • Pulse app included
  • No new themes or backgrounds (a feature of Gingerbread)
  • Better battery usage section possibly not working properly. (screen, WiFi usage doesn’t appear to be correct)
  • No WiFi dropouts (i experienced this on a previous EU stock firmware)
  • No truly noticeable web speed improvements. Some checkerboarding when scrolling quickly while page is loading.
  • Modified indicator icons in top home-screens bar
  • New text selection tool (as per standard android 2.3 i believe)
  • Audio playback now stable under load. No stutter
  • One user interface crash/reboot experienced after playing Need For Speed.
  • Browser download manager

Overall the Tab has been stable and reliable. I’m looking forward to apps that take advantage of the new touch responsiveness APIs. (The browser does appear to be one of those apps.)

Galaxy Tab Firmware Update ‘JMG’ (Europe) – Worth Having!

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Update: See notes about wifi below. I’m still having problems.

I haven’t been keeping a close eye on Galaxy Tab firmware updates as I’ve been very happy with the stability but, in preparation for V2.3 which appears to be confirmed, I took the chance to set up Kies, the Samsung phone/tablet management software this evening. I downloaded and installed the latest firmware for my region and ended up with an update to the ‘JMG’ version which dates from late March.

260420111456

Interestingly, it did more than I thought it would.

The AllShare DNLA app seems to be updated (although it still doesn’t work with my Vista-based media center,) the Gmail app is updated to the latest version (supporting some great new features) and there’s a new Social Hub application. At least I think it’s new on my Tab!

More importantly though. The device is working more smoothly. it could be that a firmware re-build has deleted all the cache and temp files but there’s one other test that proves it’s more than just a clean-up. DrumKit is an application I use to test the touch latency of the Tab and other Android devices. It has steadily been getting better over time through developer optimisations but I have never seen it this responsive. It’s far from perfect (actually far from usable in any serious manner) due to the delay that still exists but it’s noticeably better. Version 2.3 has specific enhancements for touch responsiveness so it will be very interesting to see how it improves with the big 2.3 upgrade.

Other things I’ve noticed (that may or may not be new!) Take a look at the new Sunspider result.

  • The application library seems to be sorted by alphabet. (Or was it originally, with new apps just being added to the end of the list?) Update: No changes there.
  • My Wifi connectivity didn’t come up as default. Despite settings being saved it switched to 3G data. Update: It dropped my Wifi connection a few times while I wrote this article. That’s not good. Update 2 – After 2 hrs my wifi seems stable. Could be because 2 members of the family with 3 wifi devices have left the room. Will continue to monitor this. Update 3 – it dropped again and locked into 3g mode.
  • All screen layouts, widget setups were lost
  • Am I seeing a few new widgets? Date,Time,Weather – Dual Clock? Not too interesting though.
  • Fonts – Look smoother. Maybe the font even changed slightly. I noticed it when I went into WordPress. I’m also seeing some changes in color to improve contrast in some pre-installed apps. Calendar for example.
  • Sunspider 0.91 – Using Dolphin Browser – 5948ms.
  • Sunspider 0.91 – Using default Browser (All running applications closed) – 6009
  • Original sunspider result from my review – 8455ms. The results show a 30% improvement in JavaScript processing speed.
  • Quadrant -  1007 (Original result 1050)  The I/O part of the Quadrant result is still very poor.
  • Benchmark Pi – 1423ms –  (Original result 1387) Slight slow-down.
  • Linpack – 6.07  (Original result 5.94) Slight slow-down.
  • Readers Hub new design. (Clearly I need to update the apps within it though and that wood effect still looks very plastic to me!)

SC20110426-214804

I’m sure there are more changes under the skin too and many more aesthetic changes I haven’t seen yet. Maybe, however, you’ve already got these features. My Tab was an original from the first batch and has only seen one firmware update since launch and of course, while these updates are welcome, it’s Gingerbread we’re really waiting for right?

Galaxy Tab Keyboard Case

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There are rows and rows of accessory manufacturers at every computing expo and much of it is the same stuff over and over again. This Bluetooth keyboard case for the Galaxy Tab stood out though.

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (6) Galaxy Tab Keyboard

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (2)

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (3).jpg Galaxy Tab Keyboard (4).jpg Galaxy Tab Keyboard (5).jpg

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (1).jpg

The keyboard was a rubber membrane design and in my short test I recon it was faster than thumb typing but you do need to concentrate hard. Still, it’s a nice little compact solution if you’re looking to assemble a smart-book-like device.

Rosen Groups, Shenzen, China are the people you need to contact if you fancy importing a box of these at $27.50 a piece. If you do, put me down for one please!

You’ll also find a few other images in the gallery and check out their website for more info and stay tuned because we might be popping back to check out their Galaxy Tab stands and chargers too



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