Tag Archive | "slate"

Transformer Prime Official Page Leaks Early. Manual, Details, Source Code Revealed

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The Transformer Prime is still not featured on the front page of Asus.com, and a support page hasn’t gone live yet, but if you’re sneaky, you can find the Transformer Prime’s official product page on Asus’ website.

It would appear as though the product page has gone live earlier than intended as Asus is still advertising for the original Eee Pad Transformer on the front page of their site. Additionally, the Transformer Prime micro-site still shows the “Prime is Coming” teaser text. Though we already know most of what there is to know about the Transformer Prime, the official product page gives us the first official list of specs as well a the user manual of the upcoming Tegra 3 tablet.

The launch of the official page may indicate that a Transformer Prime release date is not far off.

Don’t miss the Prime first look hands-on video from Ritchie’s Room.

Colors

We can also finally see the two colors (Champagne Gold, and Amethyst Grey) that the Transformer Prime will be available in, thanks to some new photos:

Manual

Though most of us glaze over gadget manuals, I’ve come to find that there are occasionally great tidbits to be found within. Thus, I’ve done you the courtesy of pulling out some of the good nuggets from the Transformer Prime manual so that you don’t have to.

From the manual we can see that you won’t get anything too exciting out of the box, which comes with nothing but the Transformer Prime itself, a USB charger, regional wall adapter, docking-to-USB connector, manual, and warranty card. And yes, you read that correctly — the keyboard is not included standard, it’s an accessory that will cost you $149.

The manual also tells us that the trackpad on the keyboard dock has two defined areas that will function as left and right mouse clicks. This will surely be handy for VPN applications (like the built-in ‘My Desktop’) and make the Transformer Prime even more capable of functioning like a full-blown computer:

Among other keyboard shortcuts, pressing the Fn-key along with the Up or Down arrow keys will jump to the top or bottom of a given page respectively.

We can also peek at some of the customizations that Asus has made to Honeycomb which runs on the Transformer Prime. Most interesting among the adjustments to the quick-settings panel. There is a special screen-brightness button that you can press to boost the screen-brightness for better outdoor readability. There’s also a performance toggle which can switch between Power Saving, Balanced, and Normal modes. It’s unclear whether or not these settings will impact the clock speed of the Tegra 3 hardware or simply adjust some of the system settings such as screen timeout and background app updates:

For the original Asus Eee Pad Transformer, one of the popular tweaks was to download a widget that would independently display the battery life of the tablet and the keyboard; by default the system only specified the overall battery levels. This time around, Asus is adding that funtionality out of the box. Thanks to the Asus Battery Level widget, you’ll be able to see the charge of the keyboard and the tablet without having to download any third-party applications or widgets. In addition to the widget, you’ll be able to see the battery levels on the notification bar and in the quick-settings panel.

 

If you’re curious about the supported media formats for encoding and decoding on the Transformer Prime and Tegra 3, the manual gives us full details:

  • Decoding (audio)
    • AAC LC/LTP
    • HE-AACv1 (AAC+)
    • HE-AACv2 (Enhanced AAC+)
    • AMR-NB
    • AMR-WB
    • MP3
    • FLAC
    • MIDI
    • PCM/WAVE
    • Vorbis
    • WAV a-law/mu-law
    • WAV linear PCM
    • WMA 10
    • WMA Lossless
    • WMA Pro LBR
  • Decoding (video)
    • H.263
    • H.264
    • MPEG-4
    • VC-1/WMV
    • VP8
  • Encoding (audio)
    • AAC LC/LPT
    • AMR-NB
    • AMR-WB
  • Encoding (video)
    • H.263
    • H.264
    • MPEG-4
The Transformer Prime comes with the MyLibrary app which seeks to compile all of your eBook into one place (something you’ve probably been longing for if you’re like me and have eBooks across Amazon, Google, and more). MyLibary supports ePub, PDF, and TXT and has your typical page-turning interface on a sepia background.
If you are thinking about using your Transformer Prime for enterprise work, Polaris Office is another included app which will be handy for your document editing needs. You can hook up your Google Docs or Box.net account to the app for some cloud storage action. It supports the following:

Asus is including the SuperNote app which will let you take hand-written and typed notes, completed with photos, audio recordings, and more. Without an active digitizer and stylus this seems somewhat out of place, but I suppose this will be enjoyed by those who can get along with capacitive styli.

Source Code

In the download section of the official Transformer Prime product page is a section called ‘Source Code’. This 89.9MB file is presumably the Transformer Prime’s software image, and might be useful for those hacksters over at the XDA Developer Forums.

Pricing for the Transformer Prime starts at $499 (+$149 if you want the dock) but the release date has not yet been announced.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime Hands-on First Look [video]

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The Transformer Prime is the first tablet to be announced with the Nvidia Tegra 3 platform, and while the price and release date have yet to be officially announced, it is likely going to be in even higher demand than it’s predecessor, the Eee Pad Transformer.

Our pal Ritchie has a detailed writeup of his hands-on experience with the Transformer Prime along with some great photos to whet your appetite of this thin and powerful device. If you’re the visual type, he’s also prepared a video summary of the Transformer Prime for your enjoyment:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0D-mXIzlKc

Ritchie says that the Super IPS+ display looks great, and this will be an upgrade over the original Transformer’s regular IPS display, while retaining the durable Gorilla Glass. Asus added a display brightness boosting function to the Transformer Prime which is intended for better viewing during outside use.

Tegra 3′s performance is also in full force; it appears as though it can handle 720p and 1080p video with no problems. That could make the Transformer Prime a great portable home-theater (thanks to the micro-HDMI port), with the only problem being the relatively weak Android codec support. I’m curious to know how well the Transformer Prime can handle software video decoding that comes along with some third-party applications.

The unit itself is slimmer and lighter than the iPad 2, and attached with the keyboard, the Transformer Prime is rated to run for 18 hours which is pretty awesome.

For more detail about the Transformer Prime, don’t miss Ritchie’s write-up.

Unless there are any unforseen issues leading up to it’s launch, the Transformer Prime is certainly setting the new bar for Android tablets, and I would go as far to say that Apple better pay attention as well. The Transformer Prime has nearly everything one could want in a tablet today except for a little Ice Cream Sandwich action.

 

Ocosmos OCS9 Windows 7 Slate, Get $50-off from Dynamism [video]

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ocosmos osc9The elusive company is back with the Ocosmos OCS9 — Ocosmos has tantalized us with awesome UMPC concepts for years, but the devices have always turned to vaporware seemingly just prior to release. Well, it seems Ocosmos is at it again, but this time, we’re certain that they’ll actually be bringing a product to market, thanks to the folks at Dynamism.

Surprisingly, Ocosmos actually showed up at last month’s IDF, only after Chippy, Avram Piltch (of LaptopMag), and I chatted about how unlikely it would be! The Ocosmos OCS9 was on display as well as the Android powered “Smart O-bar” controller. Here’s our hands-on (unfortunately we lost the first 50 seconds of audio to technical difficulties!):

The Smart O-bar has a 3.5” 320 x 480 touchscreen as well as two hybrid D-pads (they move like a joy stick, but have individual directional buttons as well) and shoulder buttons. The Smart O-bar is designed to be complimentary to the Ocosmos OCS9, allowing you to connect it for keyboard input and for use as a game controller.

According to the company, the Ocosmos OCS9 is the world’s thinnest Windows Slate, and at 11.9mm, that might just be true. Here are the specs:

Processor
Intel Atom Z670 (Oak Trail) CPU (1.5GHz)Memory
DDR2 2GB RAMDisplay
10.1″ MVA-TFT LCD Display
1280×800 Display ResolutionIntegrated Ports
2x USB 2.0
1x microSD Card Reader (up to 32GB)
1x HDMI (via Docking Station)Power
Li-Polymer (3650mAh)
Up to six hours battery lifeOperating System
Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
Motherboard Features
Intel SM35 express chipsetStorage
16 / 32GB SSDCommunication
802.11 WiFi b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
GPSInput/Output
Front-facing 1.3MP WebcamPhysical Features
267 x 173 x 11.9mm

There’s also a few accessories available for the Ocosmos OCS9, including a nice looking dock, a keyboard folio, and even a bag. These will run $70 for the first two, and $90 for the latter. The Smart O-bar is optional as well and is offered for $140.

And the price for the Ocosmos OCS9? Actually, a rather reasonable $699. Dynamism is taking pre-orders for the unit and is giving an additional $50 off for those who order before November 18th, bringing the price to $649. They expect the unit to ship on the 30th of November. We’ll have one on hand for review in the coming weeks.

Full Toshiba AT200 Specs

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02092011501_2_resizedChippy just showed you how thin the AT200 is (7.7mm!) and now we’ve got full specs to share:

    • Android 3.2 Honeycomb
    • 10.1” capacitive LCD touchscreen @ 1280×800
    • TI OMAP 4430 CPU @ 1.2GHz
    • 1GB of RAM
    • 5MP rear camera, 2MP front camera
    • Up to 64GB of in-built memory
    • Micro USB, Micro SD, Micro HDMI
    • WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth (unspecified specification), and GPS
    • Accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass), ambient light sensor
    • Stereo speakers
    • Rated for 8 hours of video playback

Nothing groundbreaking here, but this is in line with modern tablets and it is pushing the limits of thickness and weight which is sure to be appreciated by users.

Toshiba AT200: Hands-on With the World’s Thinnest and Lightest 10” Slate [video]

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At IDF, Toshiba is showing off its second entry into the 10” Honeycomb Slate category with the AT200, which currently holds the title of both thinnest and lightest 10” Slate.

Toshiba’s first 10” Honeycomb tablet was the Thrive which went for a utility-over-style approach. The Thrive is 16mm thick and weights 725 grams, but it also offered a range of full-sized ports such as USB and HDMI.

With the AT200, Toshiba is showing that they’re just as capable as the rest when it comes to making a svelte slate. To prove it, the AT200 beats out the current champ, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in both thickness and weight.

The Tab 10.1 is 8.63mm thick which the AT200 bests by 11% at 7.7mm. For weight, the AT200 undercuts the Tab 10.1′s 564 grams by 3% at 550 grams.

Impressively, the AT200 is even thinner than the recently announced Galaxy Tab 7.7 which is in the 7” category and has a thickness of 7.89mm.

Of course, the margin for these titles is quite thin, so things could change slightly, but just enough to unseat it, by the time the unit hits production – especially when they throw 3G/4G into the mix.

Toshiba says that the AT200 will be available in a WiFi-only incarnation in December, while you’ll have to wait for sometime in Q1 2012 for a data-equipped model. Pricing is not yet official and specs are quite thin at the moment, but a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU has been confirmed so far. We’ll track down full details for you though, stay tuned!

AndyPad Preps to Launch Two Inexpensive Android Tablets Running Android 2.3 [video]

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UK company AndyPad will launch a  new line of inexpensive (but hopefully not ‘cheap’) 7″ Android tablets on August 31st. Advertised features for the pair of 7 inch slates include mini HDMI-out, a micro USB port, a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot. Both pads will run the same processor, a Cortex A8 CPU listed at 1.2 GHz. The aptly named AndyPad and AndyPad Pro will also share the same Android Gingerbread 2.3 OS, WiFi, and claimed 1080p HDMI out capabilities. The lower-end AndyPad will cost £129 ($210 USD) while the AndyPad Pro is listed at £179 ($291 USD). Right now there is no mention of the AndyPad devices having official access to the Android Marketplace, though the video embedded below does show the Marketplace icon on the device. We’ve reached out to the company to confirm whether or not the device will ship with Marketplace access and are awaiting a response.

The two versions of the device differ is in size of internal storage, touchscreen technology, and cameras. 8GB of storage for the Andypad, and 16GB for the AndyPad Pro. The non-Pro unit only has a rear-facing camera, while the Pro version has both front and rear-facing cameras. The Pro unit also carries a higher resolution screen, with a 1024 X 600 “SensaTouch” (capacitive) touchscreen. The baseline AndyPad has a 800 X 600 “ResiTouch” (resistive) touchscreen. The AndyPad Pro also adds Bluetooth to the mix.

I am a user of the Dell Streak 7, which also features an 800 X 600 touchscreen. While this resolution is passable for browsing, it limits how much can be displayed on a screen when a user is trying to run a productivity application. While we realize that some users may consider productivity use-cases invalid for a 7 inch tablet with an 800 X 600 resolution in the first place, that does not keep me from trying. As far as the AndyPad Pro’s display, I have not had much hands-on time with the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, but it is, of course, also a 7″ tablet with a 1024 X 600 resolution. I have been impressed by the screen on the Galaxy Tab, so if the Andypad Pro can match it, that should count as a plus for potential buyers.

As readers can probably tell from the feature-set so far, the Pro model is targeting the adult, ultra-mobile crowd, while the base model will likely appeal more to tweens and teens. It is still a tough sale to get mainstream consumers to buy into the 7 inch form-factor when 4.5 inch smartphones are available. Still, as 10 inch tablets become more appealing, the “next-step down” effect may continue to bring 7 inchers to the stage as appealing alternatives.

NetbookNews caught wind of an official video from AndyPad showing the device in use:

These devices represent interesting things, both in terms of the implementation, and in terms of what they represent for the market. Android Tablets in this price range have a pretty poor track record for how well they perform once retail product actually hits store shelves. All my hopes are with AndyPad that they score even a mid-range hit with tablets for this price. We’ll be keeping our eye on the AndyPad(s) and see if they can stand up to some other recently announced well priced (albeit larger) devices.

Sources:

AndyPad Official Site

Android Community

GadgetFolder

GeekyGadgets

Lenovo Ideapad P1. Lightweight Tablet with Digitiser, Multi-Boot Possibilities

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Go into our product database, select Tablet Devices (Windows), click the weight and screen size column headers and you’ll get a list showing the lightest 10” Windows Tablet. The only device that comes in at under 800gm is the Viliv X10 which, as we now know, isn’t going to happen. The Lenovo Ideapad P1will be dropping into that list very shortly as one of the lightest Windows Tablets there is. It’s a trend that’s happening more and more now that Oaktrail is here. The great thing is that battery life is going up at the same time and this one even has a digitiser layer. We broke news about the P1 when it was being referred to as the Ideapad Slate back at CES. Lets take a closer look.

Ideapad_P1

Full gallery here.

Full specifications and news tracking  here.

The Ideapad P1 will go head-to-head with devices like the HP Slate 500 and Fujitsu Q550 as alternative dual-input slates but I have a feeling the P1 will get quite a lot of attention based on the name.

The 1.5Ghz Oaktrail platform is certainly not going to be a powerful one. Unzipping large packages will be a chore as will any serious multitasking but the battery life should compensate for that with something like a 6W average drain. Expect the P1 to last for 6hrs with Wifi on. The digitiser layer, 3G options, 2GB RAM options, 32GB or 64GB SSD storage, Windows 7 OS options, a docking port and a high-resolution 1280×800 screen mean this is likely to be interesting to many of our audience here.

The other interesting thing is the possibility of Meego and Android for the Ideapad P1. Lenovo have good relationship with the Intel marketing groups. The Ideapad S10 3T was used as a reference netbook for Meego development so there’s a good chance that the Ideapad P1 will get picked up as a reference Oaktrail device for Meego and Android and that could mean even longer battery life and a good reason to think about a 7” version. In fact, reading through the presentation PDF (Available here), it also looks like Lenovo might be offering an app-store. This could be Intel AppUp-based which leans further towards an Intel relationship and increases the chances of Lenovo exploring a Meego build. Yes, it’s a tenuous link but one we need to keep an eye on. Meego-based Chromepad anyone? Multi-boot on this tablet could give the user an important choice.

The Lenovo Ideapad P1 is, unfortunately, targeted for Q4 which means we’ll probably see it at IDF and IFA shows in September with availability in October or November. It’s a shame it’s taking this long to bring it to market as for those that see more than Engadgets fasion-focused eyes, this is an interesting option.

Today Only! Motorola Xoom 32GB WiFi-only for $399

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woot xoomThanks 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 10.1” 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 Xoom direct 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):

Have a look at the specs:

  • Android Honeycomb 3.1
  • Dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU @ 1GHz
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 10.1” capacitive multitouch screen @ 1280×800
  • Micro HDMI-out
  • MicroUSB port
  • 32GB of built-in memory
  • Rear-facing 5MP camera (capable of 720p recording)
  • Front-facing 2MP camera
  • WiFi a/b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • GPS, magnetometer, proximity sensor, accelerometer, and gyroscope
  • Android Marketplace access
  • 3250 mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Adobe Flash capable
  • 249.1 x 167.8 x 12.9 mm / 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches
  • 708 grams / 25 ounces

Don’t forget that this deal be completely gone at 1AM EST, and may sell out (likely will!) before that time comes. Best of luck!

Onkyo TW317 Slate Full Review

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IMG_3696

This device was graciously provided by Dynamism for review.

Oh where to begin with this review…

The Onkyo TW317 [tracking page] is a rare breed of soon-to-be-extinct computer known as a “capacitive touchscreen Windows 7 Slate”. What this means is that the TW317 lacks a real keyboard or mouse. Unlike some other slates which add accurate handwriting and mouse-hovering abilities with an active digitizer — which supplement the removal of the keyboard/mouse —  the TW317 relies completely on its capacitive touchscreen for finger-based input.

To put this into perspective, may I ask you if you’d like to purchase a car from me? I’ll give you a great deal, but there’s some caveats… the car doesn’t have a steering wheel or tries. Did I mention that you can find other, more powerful, versatile, and usable cars on the market for less?

Here’s what you need to understand before reading any further: removing the keyboard and mouse from a Windows computer, and not adding an active digitizer, makes it fundamentally harder to be productive (or to just use the computer for anything, really). While the parts of the computer itself may be perfectly well made and put together, you will run into annoying situations (frequently) where your controls on this computer are not conducive to what you actually want to accomplish. For further reading on this, see here.

In fact, you’ll find that some of the limitations of a mouseless and keyboardless Windows computer nearly prevented me from bringing you a large portion of this review…

With that fresh in your mind, let’s begin.

Tour

Here’s a quick look around the hardware as well as the specs:

IMG_3713

IMG_3710

IMG_3715

And that’s really all there is to it. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s a full spec breakdown:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 10.1” capacitive touchscreen @ 1366×768 (16:9)
  • Intel Atom N450 CPU @ 1.66GHz
  • 1GB of RAM
  • Intel 3150 graphics
  • 32GB SSD
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • 0.3MP front-facing camera
  • 1000gm

Hardware

IMG_3706The Onkyo TW317 is actually quite impressive when it comes to hardware. Considering that we’ve got x86 internals inside the casing, Onkyo did a superb job at keeping it thin. The TW317 is only slightly thicker than many of the mobile-OS slates currently on the market.

IMG_3721There’s a small fan inside, but it runs quietly most of the time and vents out the top of the device which is good because your hands won’t usually be covering the port, and the heat won’t be venting directly into your lap. Though the back does get hot after continuous use.

When you pull the TW317 out of the box, you know it’s a well-built product. You can feel it all the way around. Shake the device and what do you hear? Nothing. It’s almost as if there are no moving parts (there are probably very few beside the fan).

Design

IMG_3703As a Slate, there isn’t a lot you can do to make the device aesthetically interesting beyond the choice of casing material, but they at least attempted to keep the TW317 from being totally bland.

The glass on the front of the device extends over the bezel which keeps everything on the front on one plane (this is good). There isn’t much to look at on the front except a simple Intel Atom sicker. The black bezel is about 3/4” on the left, right, and top of the screen, while it’s more like 1” below the screen. Though a wide bezel is usually an undesirable trait, when it comes to slates, it’s necessary to be able to hold the device without accidentally pressing the screen.

The corners of the screen are square while the corners of the device itself are round. This creates an unsatisfying aesthetic that could have probably been avoided by making the corners of the device tighter, and then moving the corner of the screen to be aligned horizontally and vertically with the beginning of the curve of the device’s corner.

That being said, the TW317 is quite heavy and it’s also quite a bit longer than it is tall because of the 16:9 shape of the screen. This means that you’ll have a lot of leverage working against your wrist if you attempt to hold it in one hand from the side in landscape mode. Holding it in the center (using the large bezel space below the screen with your thumb) works pretty well, but only being able to use the slate with one hand really limits your ability to input text (which is already limited because the on-screen keyboard is not nearly as fast/responsive as a real keyboard, or other mobile OS OSKs {iOS, Android, etc}).

IMG_3709The back of the device is a rubberized plastic, a material that I tend to like as it won’t scratch easily like aluminum. There’s also a curved line toward the top of the back to make it a bit less boring. There’s almost no flex of the back, even in the center where support is usually the worst. This again attests to the device’s great build-quality.

The back rounds into the front which makes it easier to pick up with one hand than if it were completely flat. On certain surfaces like my desk, however, it’s almost impossible to pick the TW317 up with one hand from the top or bottom, as the static friction is overcome before you can apply enough force to get your fingers underneath the device. Grabbing from the right side of the device, or going for one of the port openings (the left side or bottom dock connector), makes it possible to pick up with one hand because it’s easier to get underneath.

The bezel hangs closely over the USB ports on the right side of the TW137, so if you have any particularly bulky USB plugs, don’t anticipate being able to plug them in without an extension/hub. For instance, the LG LV600 4G USB modem would never fit.

Screen

IMG_3698The TW317′s 10.1” capacitive touchscreen has a 16:9 resolution of 1366×768. The 16:9 ratio makes the tablet wider than it is tall which isn’t preferable with a slate as the center of gravity is further from the edges and there is potential for extra leverage on your hand. This means that holding sessions will become tiresome after short periods, and holding it above you while lying down is pretty much impractical as you’d need to put your palm over much of the screen in order to get enough support to resist the weight of the device.

The viewing angles are poor and you’ll see brightness reduce greatly at 20 degrees or so, with colors beginning to invert around +/- 45 degrees (in this case, looking directly at the screen is 0 degrees). Because the device is heavy, and is used most effectively with two hands, you’ll be prompted to set it in your lap. Unfortunately the viewing angles don’t jive with this as you will rarely be looking directly down at the tablet in your lap (otherwise you’ll be risking serious neck strain).

Tapping items on the screen is definitely a bit easier and more consistent than devices from the resistive-screen era, but if you are imagining the responsive and accurate touch input that we’ve become accustomed to with modern smartphones, don’t get your hopes up. You’re likely to experience a lot of frustrating near-misses when attempting to navigate around the OS. Grabbing windows to resize them, in particular, is a major pain.

One issue with the screen I found was that tapping in the very bottom-right corner was difficult at times. This could be a calibration or hardware issue.

Speakers

The stereo speakers on the bottom of the device actually weren’t as bad as I was expecting. They are completely lacking bass which isn’t unexpected, but they sound much less tinny than I was anticipating.

Software

win 7 logoIf you’d like a good laugh, you should absolutely head to this page and watch the brief “Windows Touch” video from Microsoft. The irony (and awful acting) contained within couldn’t be more hilarious. To be fair, they are talking about using a device that actually has a keyboard and mouse, most of the blame here should be placed on Onkyo and any other capacitive touchscreen slate manufacturer that thinks that keyboard and mouseless slates running Windows 7 are a good idea.

Remember how I was telling you at the beginning of this review that you’ll run into issues operating a Windows slate because it lacks a keyboard and mouse? Well it turns out that I’m currently experiencing this, and it nearly inhibited my ability to bring you much of this review.

It turns out that the BIOS has rudimentary cursor support with the touchscreen, which I wasn’t actually expecting. However, portions of the BIOS/pre-boot environment do not have any touchscreen support, which means that if you don’t have a USB keyboard on you, you won’t be able to use your computer. And as it turns out, I didn’t have a USB keyboard on me, so the Onkyo TW317 was an unusable paper-weight for quite some time. Fortunately I’ve managed to get one and was able to break out of the BIOS in order to continue reviewing the device.

This is just one of several examples of how a keyboardless/mouseless Windows computer is a total joke when it comes to usability. It’s not just the fact that entering text on the OSK is far slower than with a real keyboard, or that the inability to float the mouse renders plenty of programs hard or impossible to use, but could you imagine taking your Onkyo TW317 on an important business trip and having to tell your boss: “Sorry, I can’t send those vital reports because I forgot to pack a USB keyboard, and the computer is stuck in the BIOS”? That’s just insane; no normal user should have run into such a stupid situation because the computer lacks the basic tools necessary to interact with it.

Sumocat, resident tablet PC expert from Gottabemobile.com, has informed me that Microsoft had once-upon-a-time set up some slate-device guidelines which specified that slate devices such as the TW317 be fitted with D-pads to ensure that they are fully compatible with the OS and the BIOS. It’s not clear whether Microsoft is still publishing such guidelines, but what is clear is that Onkyo decided not to equip the device with a D-pad, and users will suffer because of it.

As with the Asus R50A of old, I found redundant built-in utilities. Two different utilities that would run automatically both wanted to control the brightness and wireless radios of the device.

Automatic rotation of the screen orientation absolutely would not work on the Onkyo TW317 even though it was supposed to. No amount of playing with the utility that had the auto-rotate option seemed to help. Not sure if this is a software or hardware problem, but you can at least manually change the orientation.

I’ve got a video that was taken a little while back that will give you a decent idea of what the touch experience is like on the TW317:

Keyboard

keyboardThe keyboard brings new meaning to the phrase “hunt and peck.” Each key-press must be very deliberately placed which is a real pain. There’s extremely rudimentary predictive-text, but in a world of great OSKs (on-screen-keyboards) being offered from Android, iOS, and even WP7, the OSK on the TW317 simply doesn’t stand up. This keyboard is hardly good for entering URLs, let alone writing notes. You’ll have to manually call the keyboard up, and usually dismiss it manually which is bothersome if you’re used to rarely having to think about the keyboard on modern smartphones.

In a select-few applications, a keyboard button will pop-up when you click inside a text field. Tapping the button will open the OSK. Unfortunately this box pops-up inconsistently even where it is supposed to. In the vast majority of applications, the box will not even appear automatically, so you’ll have to launch the keyboard manually from the button that hovers on the side of the screen. Inconsistency is a big no-no in interface design and this is a great example of what not to do; having to look in one of two places for where to launch the OSK is worse than simply relegating it to the side of the screen every time.

Aligning your cursor for editing text without a real mouse is awful and very frustrating. Sadly, this problem has already been solved on Android, iOS, and even Microsoft’s own WP7.

Scrolling & Snap

Scrolling and Snap are some of the only things found in Windows 7 that actually feel natural with the touchscreen. Scrolling within any explorer window can be done anywhere, rather than attempting to grab the tiny scroll bar. It’s got inertia and generally scrolls smoothly. There’s even a rubber-banding effect shown by the whole window to indicate when you’ve hit the top of the bottom of the list. It’s unfortunate that this great scrolling implementation doesn’t make its way into third-party applications.

“Snap” is the term that Microsoft uses to describe the window size gestures that are done by grabbing the window’s title bar. If you grab the bar and push it to the top of the screen, the window will maximize. If you grab the bar and pull it away from the top, it’ll restore to a smaller size. You can also make the window occupy half of the screen by pushing the bar against the left of right sides of the screen (good for looking at two things at once). It’s very natural to do, and is way easier than trying to hit the relatively small buttons at the top-right that are normally reserved for maximizing/minimizing windows.

You can also use the “Peek” function which involves shaking the window from the title bar which cases all other windows to be minimized. This works fine through touch but I don’t ever really use it.

Multitouch

Multitouch in Windows 7 is currently (and for the foreseeable future) just a buzzword that Microsoft likes to toss around. The only place you’ll find multitouch implementations is in paint, Internet Explorer, and the default Windows Photo Viewer (and maybe a few obscure programs). It’s up to third-party application developers to add multitouch support to their applications, and pretty much no one is doing so.

This makes the multitouch capability of the device essentially useless. Unless of course you want to draw two things at the same time in paint:

smileys

Touch Pack

Touch Pack is a group of programs and games from Microsoft that are optimized for touchscreen use, presumably released because no one else is making them. I would have loved to have given it a try, but… well I’ll let this photo speak for itself:

touchpack fail

Performance

IMG_3700“Painfully slow” is the best way I can describe the overall performance of the Onkyo TW317. I will say that I was wholeheartedly impressed that the device handles 720p video from YouTube with no issue, if only because the performance in other parts of the device were in no way indicative that it would be able to play-back HD video.

Microsoft wants you to use Internet Explorer for your web touch-based web browsing as they’ve built in a lot of little optimizations for touch. Inertia scroll is there by default, so is multitouch zooming. Unfortunately, both perform horrendously. When attempting to browse a site like Engadget, I’d see regular lockups that would last for several seconds. Simply trying to scroll up and down the page to browse stories was incredibly sluggish and almost unusable. If you weren’t already using Chrome or Firefox, you will be shortly after using IE on the TW317.

Chrome helps keep the scrolling lock-ups at bay, but it’s by no means smooth. Part of this is hardware/performance based, and the other part is that scrolling in Windows is quantized, meaning that it has set increments in which it can jump, leading to unsmooth scrolling.

You’ll need to supplement the missing inertia-scrolling with addons/extensions in Firefox and Chrome.

Benchmarks

Flash
The Man in Blue flash bechmark runs more slowly on the TW317 than on the Motorola Xoom which is a bit sad considering the difference in price. You’ll see around 20-24 FPS on the TW317 and 28-30 FPS from the Xoom. For some context, my laptop (several years old) pushes around 50 FPS with several applications open.

CrystalMark
The TW317 scores worse in CrystalMark than one of the very first devices that I ever reviewed here on UMPC Portal, the Acer Aspire One.

onkyo tw317 crystal mark

Back in 2008, the Acer Aspire One scored 27k, and it didn’t even have an SSD. The TW317, which gets a 2k bonus from the SSD, still only scored 25k in CrystalMark. This is only slightly better than my five year old Sony VAIO UX180 which scores around 23k.

Sunspider
The Sunspider javascript benchmark is very browser dependent, but it gives us a way to compare cross-platform performance. I ran Sunspider on the TW317 and found a score of 2122.4ms (using the latest public release of Chrome). It turns out that the Xoom outperforms the TW317 in Sunspider by scoring 2045.9ms in the default browser. I’m not sure if I should be impressed by the Xoom or ashamed of the TW317. For context, my Windows 7 laptop scores 567ms in Sunspider.

Video Playback
As mentioned, playback of 720p YouTube content actually worked with no issues. I was also happy to find that local 720p content played fine through VLC. I tested the same 720p content encoded with AVI, H264, and OGG. All of them played smoothly through VLC.

If you push the resolution up to 1080p with H264, you’ll actually find relatively smooth video with the occasional freeze. It’s not entirely unwatchable, but I would prefer smooth 720p over 1080p with occasional freezes.

Video encoded with OGG in 1080p tends to freeze much more often, while AVI/MPEG4 1080p actually sees better performance than H264 and plays with no lockups.

Battery Life

Battery life on the TW317 wasn’t all that bad, but the lack of removable battery makes power options on this slate less flexible than with other devices. Using the classic BatteryEater benchmark, which runs the computer at 100% CPU until the battery discharges, the device ran for 2 hours and 45 minutes. This figure indicates approximately the least amount of time that the slate can be run on battery power, so normal use would likely see around 4 or 5 hours of use. The discharge graph was very uniform so you can expect consistent battery run times.

Conclusion

Aside from some unexpectedly good video handling, the Onkyo TW317 is a joke. On paper, the device might not sound so bad, but when you remove vital components (mouse/keyboard) from a computer running an OS that is designed from the ground-up to take advantage of those components, you shouldn’t be surprised when things go wrong. There’s no way that I would ever recommend this device over a convertible tablet PC, or a slate with an active digitizer , or even a consumer tablet (iPad/Xoom, etc.). Sluggish web browsing, near-complete lack of finger-touch-optimized applications, and horrible end-user usability make my recommendation for this device an easy one: don’t buy one. Ever.

P.S. I’m fully aware that there will be at least one person out there who thinks that I’m out to give slates a bad name. This couldn’t be more wrong. If this was a product that worked well and was actually useful, I’d be happy to report that. Unfortunately I can only go on the true usability/practicality of the device, and that’s exactly what you’ve read above.

Edit: A little clarification in the comments –

I’m not dissing touch on Windows. I’m dissing slates WITHOUT keyboards or mice (active digitizer is an acceptable replacement for keyboard/mouse). I OWN a tablet PC and I love it. The different between a slate and a tablet PC is that slates do not have keyboards or mice, while tablets are convertible. I love the ink input. I even love the occasional touch input (it’s resistive however so I use it less commonly). The issue is that touch only works effectively for a SMALL portion of the overall Windows OS. This is why it makes sense to have a convertible which still has a keyboard and mouse so you can switch between the different input methods as needed. As soon as you remove those two components, you are forcing the user to use crippled input that Windows was not designed for. The fact that the user can get stuck in the BIOS without a USB keyboard, or the fact that some applications are rendered nearly unusable when you only have touch input clearly shows that touch-only is not a good experience and was not well thought out by the people who are creating slates.

Blackberry Playbook Quick Impressions

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I managed to get a few hours hands on with the Blackberry Playbook [tracking page] today. First impression out of the box was: Wow, it’s tiny.

Laptopmag has done a comprehensive review of the device and they are pretty much on the money with their assessment. I didn’t experience any of the software issues they had though except for the slowness to rotate the screen when I turned the device.

The form factor is very similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab and as you can see in the picture it’s roughly half the size of the iPad 2.

I actually found the square design refreshing and it definitely looked and felt different to the other rounded edge tablets. The unit felt solid and well built. The Playbook has a soft-touch almost rubberised back and this gives a nice grippy surface to hold onto. It was easy to hold in one hand and light enough to do so for an extended period of time. The Playbook measures 7.6 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches, and is thinner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab but is slightly heavier.

It has a 7 inch display but interestingly the bezel forms part of the touch sensitive surface of the screen and allows gestures that make the tablet do things. For example you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to return to the home screen. The gestures were easy to learn and remember, and I picked them up and was using them naturally very quickly.

There’s a 3-megpaixel camera above the screen, along with a notification LED. There’s also a 5-megapixel camera on the back and the quality from both was very good. Two small slots on each side of the display are the speakers and they were surprisingly good in the quiet room.

The top of the PlayBook has a power button and volume controls with a Play/Pause button as well – a neat feature for media. A headphone jack is on the top right.

The device also has a micro-USB port which allows connection to a PC as a hard drive for file sharing. This worked as advertised and almost made up for the lack of a full sized USB port. As long as you have the cable it will be pretty easy to get files onto the device. A micro-HDMI (D-port), and charging contacts for an optional charging dock (no extra ports on the dock) are located on the bottom edge. The unit will charge from the supplied adapter or via USB when plugged into a computer.

Output from the HDMI was good and allowed full HDMI mirroring as well as presenting mode which meant you could be sending an image, slideshow or video to an external monitor while using the tablet for other tasks.

An interesting option in the settings was for the power management. This affected the multi-tasking capability. The options are Showcase, Default and Paused. On the homescreen if you swiped to switch between apps the running apps became smaller windows. Each app continues to run in these windows demonstrating that the OS is multi-tasking these apps and switching between them was ast and smooth. In the showcase power setting the apps still operated in the windows and this was demonstrated by showing a video still playing in the smaller window and while flicking the app selector left and right. This is obviously the most power hungry setting. In Default mode the setting employs smarter power management and in paused mode every app pauses it’s behaviour automatically when you navigate to another app.

Connecting to the Blackberry phone was simple and I tested out the Blackberry Bridge function as well as 3G tethering. The Playbook is WiFi-only and therefore doesn’t have a 3G capability without tethering to your Blackberry phone. Using the browser over a 3G tether was slow and even with a good 3G signal it then had to travel over Bluetooth which may be the bottleneck. Accessing email, files, and calendar functions over the bridge connection was easy but when opening larger files I really felt the slowness as it could take 20-30 seconds to open a 3MB PDF. I think I would use the bridge connection for email as having a larger screen and big on screen keyboard is much better than the small phone screen but for reading larger word documents or PDF files I would have to download them before attempting to read as otherwise it was just painful waiting for the pages to render.

The RIM sales represtative also mentioned that they will definitely be releasing a 10 inch version within months and hinted at some special features on it but refused to reveal what. While I prefer the small, pocketable size of a 7 inch device I know guys in my organisation prefer a 10 inch screen so the playbook 7 inch will not get a lot of interest from my co-workers. I feel that RIM has realised this barrier to entry in the enterprise business market and that’s why they are releasing a 10 inch version.

Overall the Tablet was well made, had lots of processing power and felt like a well rounded unit with a good mix of features.

Acer’s 7-inch Iconia Tab A100 and A101 Running Android 3.0 Available for Pre-order, Launching on the 14th

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acer iconia tab a100-101While Acer’s Iconia Tab A500 10” tablet has already been made available and been reviewed, its smaller sibling, the 7” Iconia Tab A100 (WiFi-only) and A101 (3G equipped) is now up for pre-order from Amazon UK. The site also lists both version of the device launching on the 14th of May, just 10 days away!

The asking price for the 3G equipped Iconia Tab A101 is £399 ($661 USD!), however, you stand to save 100£ ($165 USD) off of that price if you go for the WiFi-only Iconia Tab A100.

We’ve got full specs, links, and more for the Iconia Tab A100 in our product database. Be sure to have a look, but here are the vital bits:

  • Android 3.0
  • Tegra 250 Dual cortex A9 Processor @ 1GHz
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 7” capacitive touchscreen @ 1024×600
  • 5MP rear camera with flash, 2MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB of memory
  • MicroSD slot (supports up to 32GB)
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1 (Huawei EM770W 3G module on A101)
  • Mini HDMI-out

Chippy had a brief hands-on with the Iconia Tab A100 at Mobile World Congress 2011, though it was shown running Android 2.2 back then:

It’s odd that there’s a home button on the bezel considering that Android 3.0 moves the home button (and back/app switcher/menu buttons) into the software. I’m also somewhat worried about the width of the bezels on the top and bottom of the screen; there may not be an optimal amount of bezel-space to hold the device in portrait mode. Only time will tell.

Honeycomb Upgrade Confirmed for HTC Flyer Tablet, but How Will It Work with Inking and HTC Sense? (Updated With HTC Response)

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flyer android 3.0After watching the official HTC Flyer intro video, you’ll see that a lot of the device’s identity relies on customizations made to Android 2.2 made by HTC. The inking, for example, is completely dependent on the proprietary HTC ‘Sense’ UI, which has been modified from it’s phone roots to play nicely with tablets.

HTC has now confirmed that the Flyer will receive an upgrade to Android 3.0 once it becomes available. On their official Twitter page, they responded to someone inquiring about Android 3.0 on the Flyer with this:

We will be offering a Honeycomb upgrade when it’s made available. What feature are you most excited about?

What is less certain is how this will impact the Flyer’s inking capabilities and the features that rely on the custom HTC Sense UI. For the time being, Google has delayed the Android 3.0 source-code which means that developers have not yet been able to get their hands on the raw software for modification. Google also may desire to keep a tighter grip on the modifications that they will allow to be made to the tablet-specific interface (likely to reduce the potential for fragmentation that has been seen with the smartphone version of the Android.

There’s also the issue that the HTC Flyer has capacitive Android buttons built into the bezel of the device while Android 3.0 moves these into the software… which would create an odd redundancy, or force HTC to disable the buttons on the tablet (or within the software).

I’ve reached out to HTC to find out whether or not they’ll be able to retain the important inking features, and whether or not they’ll be allowed to bring the HTC Sense interface over to Android 3.0. I’ll update this post if we hear anything back from them.

via NetbookNews

Update: HTC has responded, rather vaguely, when asked if they’d be able to make Sense and inking customization to Android 3.0 with the following:

HTC will continue to implement the popular HTC Sense experience on future Android updates.

I’ve asked for further clarification, but this seems to indicate that there will be no barriers to adding HTC Sense and inking to the Flyer post Android 3.0 update.



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