Finally! I’ve been looking for something like this for quite a while and I think Motorola might have done it. The Motorola Smart Controller is a Bluetooth controller that uses various BT profiles that allow you to control the tablet (good when it’s docked across the room and connected via HDMI to a big screen perhaps?) and take calls. I couldn’t confirm if it allows voice controlled calling and it would have been nice to see it used as a remote notifier for alarms, numbers, notifications. it also seems to be lacking audio controls such as play/pause, next track etc. I’m definitely going to check it out in detail when I can get hold of one.
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 ofÂ confidenceÂ 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 aÂ veritableÂ Chupacabra that I wouldÂ neverÂ 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:Â 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-sourceÂ 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:Â “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)Â their devicesÂ 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 seemÂ 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 â€“ that’s the advantage of controlling the whole ecosystem, both hardware and software.
Jerry:Â 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: Â that’s an example of fragmentation. More so when those devices were immediatelyÂ abandonedÂ 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 supportingÂ a path forward to Windows 7. Â Android is open source, and variety in deployments should be expected, just the same as we expect it with LINUX.Â Yes, ecosystems are important.Â I define ecosystems as a collection of hardware, connectivity, and services, without which, the hardware as a standalone device would offer very little value.Â 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 viaÂ 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:Â 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:Â 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 theÂ 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:Â 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, withÂ 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.
Every once and a while, our favorite deal-a-day site — Woot.com — offers up a nice treat for tablet fans such as ourselves. Today they’ve got the very first Honeycomb tablet to hit the streets, the Motorola Xoom, for a reasonable $349.
This is the WiFi-only 32GB version of the Motorola Xoom. Aside from lacking the components that facilitate WLAN capabilities, and a silver metalic back (instead of a black rubbery one), it’s nearly identical to the carrier version. Here are the vital specs:
10.1″ screen @ 1280×800
Dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU @ 1GHz
1GB of RAM
Android 3.1 Honeycomb
5MP rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing camera (720p video capture)
WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS
Micro HDMI, Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack, AC adapter (cannot charge through Micro USB)
After playing with the Xoom a while back, I have to say that I was underwhelmed by it’s performance. Updates to Honeycomb helped, but it was still far too buggy for my taste. I also looked at the unit as a video editing platform, but came away with the same sense that I had with Honeycomb — they need time to mature.
Next to Amazon’s just announced $199 Kindle Fire, I can’t say the Xoom is too appealing right now. Still, you may be itching for a 10″ tablet rather than Amazon’s 7″ offering. If that’s the case, Woot has a good deal for you. Their $349 price tag is $109 (24%) less than you’ll be able to find it on Amazon at the moment, and $150 (31%) less than you can get it directly from Motorola!
Go check out Woot.com to get in on this deal. Don’t forget, Woot sales are only good for one day, which means this deal will be gone forever at 1AM EST (and has a chance of selling out even before that time)! Good luck.
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If I had been waiting patiently for the Droid Bionic since its announcement 8 months ago, I would be a little bit disappointed that the Droid Bionic is basically the same phone at the Motorola Atrix (minus the 4G) which was released back in Februaryâ€¦ oh and it was cheaper.
For those of you who were waiting for the Droid Bionic, was it worth it?
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The story of the Droid Bionic is a rather interesting one. The phone was announced ages ago (in tech-world time, anyway) back at CES in January. It was also announced next to the Motorola Atrix (a similarly speced phone, designed for AT&T). The powerful 4G LTE Bionic was presumed to be released alongside the Atrix, but then was oddly removed from Verizon and Motorola’s sites. It seemed that the Droid Bionic would be one of the first 4G LTE devices available on Verizon, but it was beaten to the market by the HTC Thunderbolt, Samsung Charge, and the LG Revolution.
Later, Verizon and Motorola indicated that the Bionic would be released this summer, and it appears they meant the tail end of summer!
The real question is, why the delay? I’m betting it has a lot more to do with some production issues and corporate politics than the excuse given on the Droid Bionic twitter account: â€œThe Droid Bionic has been taken off from Motorola’s website. As you know we have already announced that we are improving the Bionicâ€, and, â€œThe NEW Motorola Droid Bionic is packed with jaw dropping features that will make your wait well worth it.â€
Though the launch date has been confirmed, there’s still no useful information about the Droid Bionic or the â€œNEWâ€ Droid Bionic from Motorola or Verizon.
One thing that the Droid Bionic was originally announced with, that I hope to see changed, is the inclusion of Android 2.2. The Motorola Atrix was also announced and launched with Android 2.2, but was officially updated to the latest Android 2.3 build in July. Hopefully we’ll see the Droid Bionic make it out the door with the latest version of Android on board, as these update debacles are becoming ever tiring.
As far as I’m aware, the Droid Bionic is going to be packing the same specs that were announced at CES. I’ll be happily surprised if they managed to add anything â€œjaw droppingâ€, but I’m not holding my breath.
Among the devices listed are the Motorola Droid Bionic (I accidentally didn’t note it as being 4G), which has seen a number of delays, and the Motorola Xoom 4G upgrade, both of which we had already heard were coming in September, so corroboration makes this leak seem quite legit.
According to the leak, Verizon is set to add five additional 4G LTE devices to their shelves that weren’t part of their initial 4G lineup. Those devices include:
The Droid Bionic and Xoom were part of Verizon’s early 4G lineup, so we already knew they were coming down the line. The ones listed above, however, are mostly new.
I say mostly because we’ve been eyeing the Galaxy Tab 4G which, at first, was announced as a 4G version of the original Galaxy Tab 7, but it may end up being the Galaxy Tab 8.9, instead. Verizon had it listed as the “P8â€ on the leaked chart, but it is unclear exactly what that means. Whichever form it comes in, the leak tells us that it’ll be happening sometime in November.
The HTC Vigor is specifically designated as being a replacement for the HTC Thunderbolt which was Verizon’s very first 4G device. Similarly, the Revolution 2 is going to replace theâ€¦ wait for itâ€¦ Revolution (bet you didn’t see that one coming!), which I’m hoping will provide better battery life, faster charging, and better standby than the original.
The Blackberry PlayBook is also listed on the leaked list, but its launch date is listed as â€œTBDâ€.
What’s obviously missing here is any information regarding the iPhone 5 or iPad 3, but any information regarding those devices is unlikely to be known outside of Apple until they announce it publicly. Still, that doesn’t stop us from speculating.
If all of this turns out to be true, Verizon has a powerful pre-holiday lineup; I can only hope that the other major carriers have such an exciting group of devices ready to go!
I love Android. Actually, on any given day of the week, I am probably in love with various mobileÂ Operating Systems. Every once in a while, I even do a desperate Google-Bing deep-dive in an attempt to find a viable WindowsCE device. On those different days, I am likely to be most in love with the mobile OS that is aggravating me the least. Due to this dynamic, it gets a little unfair for the most popular OS in my current kits, because it gets more chances to irritate me due to the increased exposure.
Android comes with a decent set of cons for every pro that it carries. I love the suppleness of the software design, which allows developers to bend it to their will and deploy many different flavors of operability. The Android Market features many different riffs on common themes for apps, which allows you to find one that is tailored to your particular tastes. I think this effect is less prevalent in the Apple App Store, where I feel like once one developer figures out the hook that gets everyone on-board with their app, then we just see derivations of that common design. As a consequence, I run significantly fewer apps on my iOS devices than I do on my Android devices.
However, Android could be perceived as suffering from more instability due to the very openness that makes it so powerful and attractive. Instability in core apps that any Android user would be dependent upon has occurred. Add the multiple sources of apps that so many of us access, vice the one-stop source that the vast majority of iOS, Windows Phone 7, and Blackberry OS users go to, and the risk of instability increases. Users and the media go on-and-on about how Flash gives Android an advantage over iOS, yet it is one of the first things I disable on any desktop OS or mobile device. Besides the security vulnerabilities, I absolutely despise the performance hit that occurs whenever I go to a site that automatically Â runs a heavy flash video that I have zero interest in seeing.
But then… maybe I am not the best Android user, because I am arguably a horrible system administrator. If things start to go bad, I do not have a lot of time to troubleshoot. My regular job, writing for the various tech sites, the dog, grad school…when something does not work, I am likely to just punt.
I have had to reset my Motorola Xoom to its factory defaults and start over for the first time this week, after about 3 months of use. Unfortunately, this is not the first Android device I have felt compelled to take this approach with. I have been using Android extensively for about 15 months. I have gone through about 7 devices so far. With each, there always seems to come the point where I install the one app too many. Or some setting that I configure injects a level of instability that just never recovers to an acceptable state, despite power cycling and soft resets. This happened numerous times on my Motorola Droid. I have felt compelled to wipe my Dell Streak 7 twice. I will admit that the original Archos 7 Home Tablet was a questionable product and perhaps I should not count its instability in my Android reset totals. Still, I had to perform a do-over several times in the brief time that I ran that device.
You may have been following my series on using the Acer Iconia A500 for business purposes. One thing that I am doing vastly different in that use-case is that I have installed a very specific set of apps, and I do not intend to add anymore. I also do not run any widgets on my homescreens, other than the Calendar Widget. It is vitaly important that I retain a robust level of stability on that device. When my business device goes down, I amÂ severelyÂ hamstrung. That need for stability is in fact one of the reasons I went with a new Android device for this go-round, rather than try and use one that I was already running. Which brings me to why I cannot solely blame Android for my problems.
The truth is, I knowÂ what I need to do to stop some of this instability. I know that I need to stop deploying widgets across every homescreen as soon as I set up a device (see Ben’s article from last year on his feelings on widget-oriented OS’). I know that I need to establish a set of baseline apps, install them, run that configuration for a few weeks, and then add apps a few at a time. But I cannot help myself. On Android, I exhibit the same app junkie behavior that I chastise so many iOS users for. In that vein, I am a digital hypocrite. And for that reason, I sometimes wind up paying the price in running my little Android farm.
The good news is that a wipe and reset of an Android device is not has destructive as, say, doing the same on a Windows desktop system. In fact, in certain ways it is even fun. And backing up and syncing your apps to your Google ID makes restoring any Android device a snap. So, while self-administering devices that have a skosh less stability than some others incurs an additionalÂ burden, it is not yet at the level that I am considering reducing my Android entrenchment. Maybe one day; but not today.
How about everyone else out there? Do you find the need to do a total restore on your devices toÂ reinvigorateÂ them, or have you been happy from day one?
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I recently had a late evening flight delayed which left me with about an hour before boarding. While waiting in the lounge I thought I’d seize the moment and catch up on some work. Unfortunately I had forgotten my AC adapter for the laptop and, in the interests of saving weight, decided to not bring the tablet. Running out of power is the curse of the mobile worker and that’s why all day computing on a device has been such a sought after feature. I had my Motorola Atrix with half a charge in battery which meant I could easily do all my work and even watch a movie on the flight home with battery to spare, but it would all be on the small screen.
As anÂ experiment rather than give up I decided to try to get my tasks accomplished using the phone only. I had to check some emails which wouldÂ undoubtedlyÂ require responses, check on my RSS feeds, and I had some things I needed to add to a document I have been working on.
Having resigned myself to the fact that I would have to use the small on-screen keyboard I actually found it surprisingly easy to do so. Consumption of content was simple, the high resolution and goodÂ brightnessÂ of the screen made reading simple. With the text an appropriate size in the RSS readerÂ and the ability to zoom in on web pages the phone does a great job of making an hours worth of reading easy.
I spotted two or three people using iPads and they were all in what I’m calling the “iPad stance”: holding the device at uncomfortable looking angles to allow reading. I can’t imagine getting any really productive work done on this style device and even consumption of content would be made hard by the form factor and screen resolution.
I prefer a laptop form factor for lengthy reading tasks because I find it easier to operate without having to hold the device. That’s what appeals to me so much about the Asus Eee Pad Transformer; tablet when you need it, laptop when you need it.
I think things would have been made easier if I had taken the lapdockÂ along but that is almost laptop-sized and would have been a burden if I had taken it in addition to the laptop. I think the Atrix lapdock is a neat device but it seems to be like taking a laptop with you from a weight and size perspective but with half the features of a laptop.
I responded to emails, surfed, texted and read and then watched a couple of TV shows on the flight. All on the phone and still had juice in the battery at the end of the day. Maybe next trip I’ll try taking a small mouse and a foldable keyboard with me and leave the laptop on the desk where it belongs.
The Motorola Atrix has been AT&T’s flagship device for several months. No other carrier has had a similar handset from Motorola to-date, until now. With the debut of the Photon 4G on the Now Network, Sprint has a hardware set that might be able to entice more customers in the market for a super-smartphone featuring the latest version of Google’s mobile OS for smartphones. Reviews have started popping up around the web, so we thought it was a good time to give you a consolidated view of how the media is receiving the device. Common themes from the usual suspects are discussed below for your perusing pleasure.
Hardware impressions are pretty good all-around. The Photon seems to be the start of a wave where the manufacturers are starting to figure out how to deliver 4+ inchÂ displaysÂ and dual-core processors in packages that are a little less chunky. I love my own HTC Evo 3D, but it is certainly not svelte. While that does not particularly bug me (you guys know I will take ruggedness over litheness any day), it does bother a lot of the mainstream, so this is a good direction for Motorola to move in. The edges have a diamond-cut to differentiate the device from HTC’s handsets. Given that HTC tied RIM for spot number two in the most recent Nielsen sales charts, it is either a really good idea to look different from their kit… or really bad. Regardless, most reviewers give Motorola a nod for trying to not look cookie cutter in this age of all-slab smartphones, even if it is only just a little.
Other hardware touches of note include a kickstand, a soft-touch back panel, and an 8-megapixel camera. If you want to get the remainder of the very detailed hardware overview, we would recommend reading Phil Nickinson’s review over at Android Central.
As a flagship device, the Photon carries plenty of packed in features in addition to the core specs. There are business-centric capabilities, such as global data roaming and support for Microsoft Exchange Active Sync. The display is a qHD SuperLCD. Sound out of the speakers exceeded both quality and volume, and caused the reviewers over at LaptopMagÂ to question whether they were actually listening to a smartphone’s speakers.
Motorola’s ‘MotoBlur’ interface is gone as a brand-name, but a lot of its elements remain in the proprietary GUI implementations on the Photon 4G. Most reviewers felt they were not nearly as intrusive as Blur used to be, but there are a lot of the technoratti who are never pleased with anything that disrupts the stock Android experience and removes them from that layer of customization control.
Early indications are that battery life is on par with the Evo 3D, and a little better than the average for most super-smartphones. There are mobile dock accessories that areÂ availableÂ for the Photon; one for at home use, and one for the car. The at home dock also comes with a remote. Once connected to a TV via the HDMI port, a full-screen Firefox browser is available.
A lot of the reviewers have tagged the Photon with their editor’s choice award. Of critical interest, of course, is the question as to whether or not this becomes the premier phone to get on Sprint if you are in the window for an upgrade. And does it trump the HTC Evo 3D and Samsung Nexus S 4G, arguably Sprint’s top two smartphones as the Photon arrives?
I would have to say that a very slight majority of the reviews declare that the Photon trumps the Evo 3D and Nexus S 4G. I will add my personal assessment that I did not agree with some of the reasons behind those declarations. In one case, the Photon was designated the winner over the Evo 3D because of the kickstand and standard HDMI-out. I personally never use my phone to display video on my TV, so for users who are not worried about this feature, aother criteria would need to beÂ establishedÂ to determine a tie-breaker between the Photon and Evo 3D. Additionally, there are adapters which will allow HDMI out over microUSB from the Evo 3D, although the content that can be sent is restricted to content shot from the phone itself. This is an example of how your own use-cases may make deficiencies pointed out in some of the reviews be complete deal-breakers, or perhaps not matter at all.
The Photon was also considered a trump card to the Nexus S 4G based on call quality and internet speeds. I have personally found the call-quality on my Nexus S 4G to be better than on my Evo 3D, and better than any recent phone that I have owned. Additionally, the recent software update that was rolled out to the Nexus S this past week has improved internet access speeds somewhat. At $99 on-contract versus the $199 for the Photon, price versus features that a user may or may not use should be weighed. The Nexus S 4G is still a great deal at $99, and it has the advantage of providing the pure Android experience that some users clamor for.
This is not to discredit the opinions of reviewers that actually had hands-on time with the device, since I have not. It is to say, consider all reviews with a grain of salt, read several reviews to get an aggregate picture, and go into the store yourself to put any device through the paces as best you can, if at all possible.
Motorola is definitely going to get a bad rap for this one. Remember that Xoom that Motorola claimed would be the first 4G LTE tablet, once sent in for an after-sale upgrade? Yeah well the Xoom has been out for months now with no word on when that upgrade would become available. Today Samsung has officially beaten Motorola to offering the first tablet with 4G LTE, much to the chagrin of Xoom owners.
The Xoom, which launched back in February, was purportedly going to be upgradable to 4G at some point in the near future. While the device is indeed upgradable, it seems that Verizon/Motorola’s definition of ‘near future’ isn’t quite aligned with the definition the people who bought the device.
After months with no official information about when the upgrade would actually happen, Motorola is now (right as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is launched) sending emails to customers letting them know that the upgrade process will begin in September â€“ nearly 7 months after the Xoom was made available.
The upgrade process, which requires that customers actually ship their devices in, will take 6 business days to complete, according to Verizon.
I really think Motorola should offer an apology to those who had to wait so long for the upgrade without and communication from Motorola as to when the upgrade would become available. Perhaps they could even offer a little something to owners of the Xoom, like credit to the Android Marketplace to buy an app or movie.
Good news for all Android owners: AT&T says that all Android devices that they offer that were introduced in 2011 will be upgraded to Android 2.3 gingerbread, and those updates start today beginning with AT&T’s version of the Motorola Atrix which they call the Atrix 4G.
You may be saying â€œWhat the heck, Ben, I’m not even on AT&T, this has nothing to do with me you jerk!â€ Ahâ€¦ but you should take a moment to realize that this is good news for anyone who uses an Android device, and I’ll tell you why.
According to Google, 80.5% of Android device’s that accessed the Android market over a 14 day period (ending July 5th) were still running Android 2.2 or below. Now that AT&T is announcing these updates for their phones, the pressure is on for other carriers to follow in their footsteps.
What we can only hope will ensue is competition between carriers to show that they have the best update record, and with this announcement, AT&T is about to be the leader in that regard. I’m doing my part by putting this news in the headlines in the hopes that Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and other carriers around the world will realize that keeping devices updated in a timely manner is really important to the people purchasing these devices (you can do your part by spreading those headlines).
Having the latest firmware on Android means access to the latest features, the latest apps, and usually the most secure version of the software.
So you see my pointâ€¦ even though this particular bit of news might not impact you directly (if you aren’t on AT&T), it is one small step on the way to ensuring all Android devices are receiving timely updates.
Currently, 18.6% of devices accessing the Android Marketplace are running Android 2.3+ (this isn’t including Honeycomb [3.0+] devices), that’s way up from the 2.2% we saw back in May. Once Android 2.3+ devices pass the 50% mark, developers are going to begin expecting the tools and features available to them with 2.3+ and hopefully we’ll quickly see new Android devices being released with 2.3+ pre-installed instead of them being released then (hopefully) updated.
Anywayâ€¦ AT&T announced, in one of the one of the only press releases I’ve ever seen with a funny title (â€œAT&T Customers to Enjoy Gingerbreadâ€), that the following devices will be updates to Android 2.3:
It’s nice to see a company releasing a press release that involves them actually doing something for their customers rather then simply making claims that they are better than their competitors.
It isn’t clear whether or not this has anything to do with the update alliance that Google is supposedly working on; I still think Google and partners need to market their update promises intelligently to target the majority of customers who don’t read tech blogs and don’t know which companies tend to update their devices.
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Thanks to the folks over at deal-a-day site, Woot.com, you have the option of picking up the first ever Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola Xoom, for $399. This is a refurbished 32GB WiFi-only unit. The 10.1â€ tablet is running Honeycomb 3.1 (the latest version).
If you don’t mind picking up a refurbished unit, you’ll be saving yourself a cool $200 off the asking price of $599 that you’ll find for a new WiFi-only Xoomdirect from Motorola. This deal even beats the device new from Amazon which would run you $499.
It is my personal opinion that Honeycomb is not yet good enough for the mainstream. If you want value in a tablet today, go buy an iPad 2. The Xoom itself is a decent bit of hardware, if a bit heavy, but the software still needs time to mature. The Android Marketplace is not yet loaded with enough Honeycomb apps to make the Xoom shine as a tablet, and the Honeycomb interface is not intuitive enough for your average user.
That said, you may not be a mainstreamer, and may be willing to put up with Honeycomb’s rough edges for the sweet customizability that is Android’s hallmark. If that’s the case, we’ve had our hands all over the Xoom; if you need some questions answered, feel free to comment below. We’ve also got some Xoom related content that might aid in your potential purchase decision (also check below for specs):