If there’s one place glasses-free 3D might work while it requires relatively direct-on viewing angles, it’s tablets. This 1080p demo from Qualcomm and Master Image 3D is a great example of it working well.
Of course you won’t see it in this video but the effect was good. There were a few angles where the 3D effect wasn’t working so well but even off-centre, the effect was good. In a direct-on situation though, it’s quite immersive.
We just had a demo, the first, of Qualcomm’s next generation Snapdragon platform, the APQ 8064 which contains four Krait Cores running up to 1.5Ghz. There’s a new graphics module coming too and that’s based around an Adreno 320.
Today HP announced the first cellular version of their recently launched HP TouchPad. The device appears to be launching first with AT&T and will be braded as the TouchPad 4G (which I hate because AT&T’s ‘4G’ network is slow as hell compared to Verizon’s LTE). The real news here is that the TouchPad 4G comes with its CPU clocked to 1.5GHz, bumped up slightly from the 1.2GHz clock speed that we saw in the WiFi-only model that launched not even two weeks ago.
Clocking to 1.2GHz means that they’ve got some room to play with the speed down the road, and we may see a bump in clock speed at a later date, to keep the performance competitive
I will admit that I didn’t see it coming this early.
We knew early on that the Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 found in the touchpad supports a maximum clock speed of 1.5GHz, but HP decided to take it down to 1.2GHz, likely for performance and battery life considerations. Qualcomm states that the APQ8060 offers a 60% increase in performance over ARM A9 dual-core CPUs that have been seen in a number of recent Android tablets, though I figured this stat is only valid when the APQ8060 is running at its full 1.5GHz speed.
Now that the TouchPad 4G will be running the MSM8060 (the variant of the APQ8060 that supports 3G/4G modems) at its full capacity, perhaps we’ll see that claim reflecting reality a bit more than early reviews have indicated.
According to This is My Next, HP won’t be bringing the just-shipped WiFi-only version of the TouchPad up to 1.5GHz through a software update or a subsequent hardware refresh. This seems a bit silly, and I think they may indeed decide to push the update through to WiFi only devices at a later date.
I also still stick to my prediction that we’ll see an HP TouchPad ‘1.5’ within 6-months of launch which has updated hardware (rather than a mere overclocking), though that may come in the form of a third-party WebOS device:
In my mind, I see HP releasing a TouchPad 1.5 sometime around 6 months after the TouchPad is released that adds some important ports and to bump the performance to compete with Kal-El devices and the iPad 3.
HP has recently announced that the HP TouchPad will be available for pre-order on June 19th, and will be hitting the streets in the US on July 1st. A few days later, you’ll see it officially available in the UK, Ireland, France, and Germany, followed by Canada in mid-July. They’re also planning on taking it to Italy, Spain, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Singapore later in the year.
Sounds like they’re doing a good job with wide distribution, but my primary concern is whether or not it’ll be able to stand up to the competition and secure a strong foothold in the market for future WebOS devices. So in this article, let’s have a look at the competition, and what the TouchPad hopes to bring to the field.
The first thing we need to look at is price. HP’s biggest competitor right now is undoubtedly the iPad 2. Apple sells the iPad 2 (WiFi only) in 16/32/64GB options at $499, $599, and $699 respectively.
The TouchPad is coming out of the gate with an important characteristic; matching the iPad 2’s price. For the WiFi-only model, HP is offering 16/32GB versions at $499 and $599, but they’re lacking a 64GB option.
The TouchPad also won’t launch with 3G/4G models available, but we’ll see them at a later time.
Ideally, HP would have undercut the iPad, but with a level playing field in the price department, customers can begin to compare features. This is important as I think when put side-by-side with the iPad 2, customers are going to find some compelling reasons to go with the TouchPad.
Despite being announced more than four months ago, the TouchPad boasts some impressive features that we haven’t seen on many (if any) devices to date. Let’s look at what the TouchPad is doing right:
Murmurs of wireless charging have been floating around as possible iPhone 5 features for some time now; Palm (now acquired by HP) has actually been doing it since the launch of their Pre smartphone.
HP is bringing that technology to the TouchPad by including the necessary hardware in the back of the device, and offering what they’re calling the ‘Touchstone’ dock as an accessory.
While wireless charging is certainly convenient, it’s important to realize that the Touchstone dock is sold separately and has still not been priced. Wireless charging would set it apart from the crowd, but if the Touchstone dock isn’t priced competitively, we may as well forget about the feature. I’m hoping to see the pricing for the dock come in under $100, ideally around $50, making it an easy add-on sell at the time of purchase.
This just in: HP has announced Touchstone dock pricing at $80. Not bad, but hopefully we’ll see it come down after launch or eventually be bundled as a bonus for a period of time.
The TouchPad has a visually compelling multitasking interface. Using a card-style system, WebOS allows the user to flick through all of their currently running applications. Applications are not viewed as simple icons as in iOS, but rather as large cards that show the application in its current state.
Being able to see exactly what you were working on when deciding which application to switch back to is more valuable then it may seem. In iOS you have nothing but an icon in a recently used list to decided which applications to jump between. The problem being that some applications have redundant uses, so it can be difficult to remember exactly which application you need to return to.
For instance, if a friend shares a link on Facebook and I click on it in the Facebook app in iOS, that app will open the webpage within itself. If I switch to the Messages app to respond to a message then want to return to what I was doing, I have to remember that I was viewing a webpage inside the Facebook app, not the browser. Often times I’ll instinctively switch to the browser only to realize that I was actually viewing the website within Facebook. A visual representation of the app state would totally fix this problem, and that’s exactly what multitasking on the TouchPad will do.
Honeycomb does graphically represent multitasking apps in a limited way, but the view of other applications is relegated to a relatively small thumbnail which somewhat serves to defeat the visual functionality.
The BlackBerry Playbook is definitely the closest to the TouchPad when it comes to visual multitasking (and some might say that they borrowed quite a bit from WebOS’s multitasking scheme).
Being able to see your open apps before you start interacting with them is great, and WebOS also gives you the ability to stack related applications together to keep yourself organized.
And it’s easy to close applicationsâ€¦ just flick them off the screen â€“ a single gesture. To stop an application in the background on iOS, you have to double-tap the home button, then hold your finger on an icon until they shake, then tap the little X that appears at the top right of the icon. To close background applications in Android you have to press the back button until you back all the way out of the application, dig through the settings menu, or use a task manager.
Synergy is embedded in WebOS and aims to keep all of your communication from various sources in order.
For messaging, SMS and IMs from the same person are shown in one threaded conversation. This has always intrigued me as a feature. On one hand it seems intuitive and useful, but on the other, I feel like you’d be majorly confusing the other party if you were responding to something they sent in IM through SMS, or vice versa.
You can sign is with a number of sources, such as Facebook, Google, and Exchange, and Synergy will consolidate your contacts and their information into single entities in your contacts list, and if you make changes on your phone, they’ll be reflected online automatically. You’ll also be able to get email from all of these sources in one inbox.
Synergy will pull calendars from these sources into a single view, and allow you to manage personal and work calendars easily. Once again, if you make adjustments to calendars on your phone, you’ll see their online counterpart adjusted as well.
For photos, Synergy will present your online albums right on your device as though they were local. HP says they’ve currently got support for Facebook, Photobucket, and Snapfish, though they’re obviously missing two major ones â€“ Picasa and Flickr.
Apple’s iOS does some of the things that Synergy does, but Synergy is open to developers, which means there is potential for more services and more functionality than iOS allows for.
This is probably the TouchPad’s strongest point, and it’s something that does not exist elsewhere on the market right now.
HP is going with the ‘better together’ mantra. You’ll be rewarded if you go with HP for both your tablet and smartphone needs, thanks to some tight integration between the upcoming Pre 3 (or Veer) and the TouchPad.
First, you’ll be able to pair the Pre 3 and TouchPad via Bluetooth and this will allow you to answer calls and receive and reply to SMS from the TouchPad. This is great because if you’re relaxing on the couch with your TouchPad, why should you have to get your phone (with a small screen) out of your pocket just to reply to a text? If you’ve got the big screen right with you, it seems to make much more sense to use it, and with the TouchPad, that’s possible.
Then there’s a particularly cool parlor trick that you’ll be able to pull using the Pre 3 (or Veer!) and the TouchPad. If you’re browsing a website on your TouchPad but you’ve got to run out the door, you can easily just touch the Pre 3 to the tablet and, voila, the website will be automatically transferred from the tablet to the phone. This will work between tablet and phone or between phone and tablet.
This relatively simple trick is going to ‘wow’ non-techies with it’s simplicity, and hopefully HP will extend this functionality to allow you to send any number of items between devices, from photos to maps.
Free for Devs
It’s free to begin developing for WebOS which is certainly attractive for small developers, who would otherwise have to pay a $99 iOS developer fee.
This is good for attracting the little guys but probably doesn’t have much of an impact on larger companies who will be more worried about a larger user base to distribute to rather than the existence or non-existence of a relatively small fee.
This one tends to be overlooked when it comes to tablets, but if you’re looking for a productivity device, the ability to print can be a key feature.
Because HP is one of the largest printer manufacturers, they’ve been able to built in wireless printing support for their massive connected-printer ecosystem directly into WebOS.
As we can see, the TouchPad has a lot going for it in the features department. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect however. There are some roadblocks in the way to it becoming a major player the tablet market.
HP is a big company, but currently, Apple is king of content, and Google looks to be hot on their heels with some recently announced content partnerships.
HP says that the TouchPad will be great for digital publishing, but it’s unclear whether or not they currently have the relationships necessary to compete with Apple’s iBooks and upcoming Newsstand.
Music and video is an even more challenging place for the TouchPad. HP doesn’t have an existing music or video marketplace from which users could purchase content. This means that users will need to find content elsewhere, all the while leaving HP without a cut of profits from content that might have been sold through a store of their own.
Connectors and Memory
This is a particularly troubling area for the TouchPad. The device is extremely barebones when it comes to connectors. In fact, the only connectors on the device are a single micro-USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
There’s no full-sized USB, micro-SD slot, or HDMI.
HDMI is particularly troubling as the TouchPad will be one of the only tablets without this feature. Nearly every Nvidia Tegra 2 based device features some form of display output, and even the iPad 2 can do 1080p display mirroring wirelessly or with an HDMI adapter.
Because the TouchPad doesn’t have a dock connector, there’s no room for adapter accessories (unless they are wireless, but they’d be slow BT 2.1 connections), and this could be a major problem for people who want to be able to output videos and presentations at work, or share movies and pictures at home.
Then there’s the fact that HP is only offering the TouchPad in 16/32GB iterations with no slots for memory expansion.
Despite all of the great features, the TouchPad is unlikely to succeed if it doesn’t stack up when it comes to performance.
Performance will be derived from a combination of hardware capabilities and optimized software, so let’s take a look:
Apple’s iPad 2 is using their custom A4 CPU along with a PowerVR SGX 543MP2. Most 10â€ Honeycomb devices are using the current industry standard â€“ Nvidia’s Tegra 2.
The WiFi-only version of the TouchPad, on the other hand, is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8060 dual-core CPU which runs at 1.2GHz (the future 3G/4G versions will likely use the MSM8x60 which has support for 3G/4G modems). The GPU is Qualcomm’s Adreno 220, which will offer over 4x performance when compared to the Adreno 200 GPU which is already found on devices that use the Snapdragon QSD8x50, according to Qualcomm. They also claim the the Adreno 220 will offer â€œconsole qualityâ€ graphics, but that’s very loosely defined terminology.
Qualcomm says that their APQ8060 will be able to handle 1080p video playback and capture (though the latter doesn’t matter because the TouchPad lacks a rear camera, and the front cam isn’t high resolution enough for 1080p capture). Accelerated video codecs include MPEG-4, MPEG-2, H.264, H.263, VC-1, DivX, WMV-9, Sorenson Spark, and VP6.
No other consumer device has yet been shipped with the APQ8060, but Qualcomm says that the CPU will provide a 60% increase in performance and lower power consumption than standard ARM A9 dual-core CPUs that have been seen in a number of recent devices. That stat may only be valid when the APQ8060 is clocked to its maximum 1.5GHz, however, HP is only clocking the TouchPad to 1.2GHz (likely for heat and battery life balance).
Clocking to 1.2GHz means that they’ve got some room to play with the speed down the road, and we may see a bump in clock speed at a later date, to keep the performance competitive (as we’ve seen Apple do with their iPod Touch line).
Qualcomm claims that the real advantage is the asynchronous design of the APQ8060’s two cores, which allows for each core to be clocked and powered independently. They say that this will lead to large power savings over competing chips, but the CPU is now a relatively small part of the overall power footprint â€“ the TouchPad’s large screen is likely to be the biggest energy drainer in the system.
When it comes down to it, these figures won’t mean much unless the software is optimized to take advantage of the features afforded by the CPU and GPU. However, it doesn’t seem as though the TouchPad will be coming out of the gate underpowered, which is definitely a good thing; it could possibly lead the pack until we start seeing Nvidia Kal-El devices which are slated to begin production in August.
App Catalog & Developer Traction
HP’s application store is officially dubbed the App Catalog. Though it has been existence since June of 2009, the App Catalog has less than 7000 applications, according to Pre Central. The vast majority of which are designed for WebOS phones, not tablets.
This is in comparison to the Android Marketplace’s 200,000+ apps and Apple’s App Store which has 425,000+ apps.
An app store can make or break a platform, and building one from the ground-up, when the competition has such an insane lead, is tough.
Numbers of apps matter little to consumers, as long as the major apps are there, but in order for major apps to be created for the platform, you need developers.
No matter how popular the TouchPad is when it launches, it’s got a long way to go before reaching a similar customer base for app developers (a major factor when a developer decides which platforms to create apps for).
And because HP uses the same revenue share for developers as iOS and Android (70% of an app sale goes to the developer, 30% to the company), there is almost no incentive for a developer to create a WebOS application before an iOS or Android application when the customer base of the latter two is so much larger.
HP is a big company and they are certainly well recognized, but definitely not for tablets or mobile operating systems. Marketing is going to have to convince the mainstream that the HP TouchPad isn’t a â€œme tooâ€ move, but rather that the device and the ecosystem has a serious plan backing it up (along with a future roadmap).
While iOS and Android are now more or less household names, WebOS is practically unheard of in the mainstream. Combine that with the fact that HP isn’t known as a company that manufacturers tablets (or even mobile devices in general) and you’ll see that HP is looking at an uphill battle when appealing to non-techies.
HP is in a peculiar position because they are in the middleground of a model that once only had two extremes. Let me explain:
Apple uses a closed-ecosystem approach and they’re known for doing it extremely well. From their OS to their devices, everything is in Apple’s control.
Android uses a open-ecosystem in which OEMs are welcome to create numerous devices, and developers have way more freedom in creating software for the platform.
Now here comes HP with WebOS and a closed-ecosystem approach but the difference between them and Apple is that HP doesn’t have a proven track-record for making that model work.
So when a customer looks at the options, it seems likely that they’ll either go the open-ecosystem, or go with the well established closed-ecosystem â€“ Apple.
HP is going to have to work to convince people that their closed-ecosystem model is as good, if not superior to Apple’s, if they want mainstream consumer adoption.
Honestly I think there’s a good chance that we’ll eventually see third-party WebOS devices if HP is unable to tempt people away from one closed-ecosystem (iOS) to another.
Wrapping it Up
All and all, the TouchPad will be walking out the door on the 1st of July with a decent chance to succeed.
They’ve hit the all important iPad 2 price-point and they are some really neat features to temp people toward this new player in the tablet market. On top of that, the Snapdragon CPU that the TouchPad is launching with should provide ample performance that is on par if not somewhat better than what we’re seeing on existing tablets.
In my mind, I see HP releasing a TouchPad 1.5 sometime around 6 months after the TouchPad is released that adds some important ports and to bump the performance to compete with Kal-El devices and the iPad 3 â€“ this ‘1.5’ device could come along with a 7â€ version of the tablet.
What are the features that you are most looking forward to from the TouchPad? Which of it’s weaknesses concern you the most? I’d be very interested to know in the comments.
Tweaktown shared a video of a new Honeycomb tablet that stands out form the crowd because it’s running aÂ Qualcomm snapdragon processor. It’s made by Quanta, one of the world’s biggest contract PCÂ manufacturers. It’s only a prototype but the first look video shows it has some good capability.
It uses the MSM860 processor which is dual-core and a competitor to the Tegra 2 which all major Honeycomb tablets have used so far. Qualcomm has no intention of selling the device but is looking for a manufacturer to bring it to market. The tablet looks to be nicely put together and the Company has a good pedigree of creating quality stuff given that they manufactureÂ the iPod Touch and iPhone for Apple.
Here’s hoping they findÂ someoneÂ to release it with:
Its not difficult to understand how HTC posted $33.8b market capitalisation figures for the last quarter. HTC’s early Android adaption has propelled the company from a small Taiwanese manufacturer to a global player, overshadowing both Nokia and RIM with the market cap figures.
HTC’s popularity is ever increasing with both tech savvy and those new to the smartphone world, a theme they will hope to follow with the announcement of their newest flagship handset, the Sensation [product database].
Powering this new â€œmultimedia superheroâ€ is a 1.2Ghz dual core Qualcomm MSM8260 Snapdragon with a powerful Adreno 220 GPU, 768MB of RAM and 1GB of user accessible storage which can be expanded with the use of a microSD card. The multi touch 4.3inch S-LCD screen runs at a qHD (540×960) resolution, offering up HTC’s newest version of Sense (3.0) and Android 2.3, Gingerbread.
This new version of Sense includes customisable lock screen widgets displaying quick information on items like stocks and weather and also allows you to unlock the device by dragging an application icon into a circle, taking you straight to said application. Also on board is HTC’s Watch service, allowing downloadable movie rentals or purchases but on this occasion, unlike the Flyer, access to OnLive’s game streaming service is notably missing.
Europe is expected to see the HTC Sensation around May, with Vodafone getting a month of exclusivity in the UK. It will be released in the US as the Sensation 4G on the T-Mobile network sometime this summer.
It would be silly of HTC not to consider bringing an Android Tablet to the market. They’ve done a few tablet-like devices in the past but with the 7-10â€ consumer tablet sector booming, this is one that could set some seriously big sales numbers, especially given the maturity of Sense, HTCs well-respected user interface, utilities and applications suite. Looking at the rumored specs I see strong competition for the Galaxy Tab but there’s lots more to find out before it can be recommended.
Of course, price is unknown along with size, weight, battery life and all the other important things you need to know to make a decision. We’re hoping they will be revealed/leaked during MWC or CeBIT at the latest. With lots of people talking about dual-core, don’t get led into thinking it’s yesterdays CPU. Dual-core means less battery life under load, more cost and that GPU could outperform the one on the Galaxy Tab. A 3.0 upgrade should also be taken into consideration.
Acer announced a set of Android tablets this afternoon that are sure to make people pause before they put an order in for the holiday season. The 7â€ Tablet looks like a belter and you can be sure that Acer will compete heavily on price.
The 7â€ model on the left (neither model has a name yet) will come with a dual-core 1.2Ghz Snapdragon CPU,Â a 1280×800 resolution screen, 3G, Wi-FIÂ and we hear, Android 2.2 with Flash 10.1. With front and rear cameras it looks like it will be suitable for Google application certification so we should see the Market and Google applications on this.
The 10â€er on the right above, looks to be aimed at the home market and will also be a dual-core device. HDMI-out, dual-cams and ten-point multitouch, indicate a high-end experience. Interestingly, reports are saying that this one has a dual-core Tegra 2 CPU at 1Ghz. Maybe there’s a gaming slant here.
There’s also a 4.8â€ super-wide-screen device with 1024×480 on the cards. The strange resolution might be very good for landscape browsing.
Without full specs and pricing it’s difficult to position the devices but it looks like Acer is taking the tablet market seriously because Windows Tablets were announced too. I can’t believe all these devices are going to make it to the same markets but CeBIT in March will certainly be interesting!
There are a few consumer tablets that stir excitement more than others. Of course the iPad is a leader in terms of being a complete product but there are three others you should watch out for. The Dell Streak gets Android 2.2 in November giving it a leading position in the Android tablet space. The Galaxy Tab should launch in November too. It will be expensive but will bring some large-screen optimised software to the Android platform for the first time. The third one on the ‘watchlist’ is the Viewsonic Viewpad 7. We were slightly disappointed to hear that it’s an ARM11-based device last week which means it definitely won’t have the ooompf to compete with the other devices mentioned here but having tested it and seen that it’s a complete ‘phone’ tablet with 3G, GPS and a surprisingly fast UI, we’re still happy that it competes. Pricing is said to be competitive.
The Viewpad 7 is a re-badged device manufactured by Foxconn and we’ve already seen that it will appear as the Olive Pad, the Camangi FM600 and the CSL Spice Mi700 Droidpad and it’s the latter version that is getting some attention right now because it’s already available in Malaysia and the blogger that made the in-shop review we highlighted last week now has a review model. Not only that but he’s found out that there’s a Snapdragon version in the works too. No doubt it will be more expensive but it certainly shouldn’t take long to get it to market if they use the same design. Foxconn aren’t using the same design though because our friendly Malaysian blogger says â€œDroidPad 2 slimmer, Snapdragon, will meet Android 3.0 req, planned release in Q1/Q2 of 2011.â€
With Foxconn being one of the largest computer design/manufacturing companies in the world it’s safe to say that they’re well connected in Google. Knowing exactly what’s required for Android 3.0 is a good indicator too.
In terms of mobile productivity, I’m sorry to have to report that the Compaq Airlife 100 has a lot of holes. It does, however, prove that there’s a lot of potential in the ‘smart’ platforms. Long battery life (due to extremely low idle drain) and always-on/connected are features that, once you’ve experienced them, are hard to let go of. Android has potential too but there are 2 key things that need to be done. 1) The browser needs to be improved. The Airlife 100 is not up to doing any web-application work. 2) The marketplace needs to be put into place so that developers have a channel for productive and large-screen apps.Â Once these two issues are fixed though, it’s only a matter of time before productive mobile computing moves to ‘smart’ platforms with advanced mobile operating systems.
Do you agree?
As a consumer device, the Airlife is also missing a few features. Better media support and management is badly needed for a start so with the costs running close to that of the iPad, I suspect the latter would be a better choice.
Great progress by HP and signs of real promise mean that smart books have a future for mobile computing / mobile productivity but it could be 2011 before we se a real netbook competitor.
I feel I could already write an extended 10-page review on this potential game-changer after the marathon open-review session we broadcast on Tuesday but time is at a premium this week so let me just give you a basic but detailed review of the Compaq Airlife 100.
[Article text written on the Airlife 100 using the WordPress application (installed via ‘apk’ file.) Post-processing done on a netbook. The device we have here appears to be a final build with final packaging but there’s a possibility that firmware will change before launch so bear that in mind as we go through things here. Thanks to HP Spain for sending this over.]
I want to start by highlighting that I’m very positive about the potential for ‘smart’ laptop-style devices. Always-on, always-connected, location-enabled, app-store capable, dynamic and mobile-focused features are missing from most of today’s netbooks so any device that comes in and demonstrates these features is good in my book. These ‘smart’ devices show new angles on the old theme of desktop-laptops and highlight the separation of mobile and desktop Internet experiences. Unfortunately, these smart devices, have downsides. The mobile operating systems are built with short-term use in mind and although they offer new and interesting features that you don’t get on your desktop, they don’t offer the full internet experience that we all expect. If you use the Airlife 100 as a traditional laptop, as one might expect from something that looks like a traditional laptop, you will run into issues. Not only is there a learning curve and a new set of usage methods but you’ll trip yourself up looking for features that you take for granted on a standard netbook. The USB ports are missing for example. This is a slave device designed to be connected, in much the same way as an iPad, to a PC. This isn’t a device that you can simply plug a printer, webcam or smartphone into. User confusion, frustration and disappointment is going to feature heavily in early feedback.
The design of the Airlife 100 is nice. Good clean lines, a light, 1KG, weight, large and quiet keyboard, good plastics and silent operation leave a good impression. There’s only one design fault of significance and that’s the screen angle. It simply doesn’t open up far enough and you end up with the screen pointing at your chest. This wouldn’t be a problem if the screen had a wide viewing angle but it doesn’t so you’re left with the constant desire to adjust the screen. I’m finding it frustrating. The screen frame houses a 10″ resistive touchscreen of 1024×600 which doesn’t provide iPad-levels of dynamics but does the job well. Coming from a touch-enable netbook myself, I found it useful and quick to use. The touchpad provides a mouse-pointer and integrated select button though so you have an option if you’re not used to touchscreens on netbooks.
The Compaq Airlife 100 uses Android 1.6 with some HP enhancements but doesn’t provide the Google experience. This is the Achilles heel of the device and we’ve seen it on so many non-smartphone products now that we’re beginning to wonder what game Google is playing. They’re protecting their valuable smartphone marketplace from splintering into multiple screen sizes and yet failing to offer OEMs and developers the chance to expand into new form factors. The Airlife is crying out for a set of productivity applications. Even a twitter client that takes advantage of the huge screen real-estate would be nice but unfortunately, it’s not going to happen on the Airlife. Not only is the Market missing but all the important, ney, expected Google applications are missing. No Gmail app, no contacts sync, no buzz, no maps, no Goggles, no Sky map. As a Google user and Android phone user I find this extremely disappointing. 3rd party marketplaces like the Andapp store and SlideMe just don’t fill the gap so you’re left with a very sparse application suite. In HP’s defense, they too have created an app store framework that carriers can use to funnel applications to users but if it works anything like the Appslib framework on the Archos products, it is going to be very underwhelming. We can see how carriers could potentially do a deal with Google to cherry-pick applications and place them in this channel but based on Google’s history with Market, we don’t see it happening. Hunting down APK’s is possible, and the reason I’m able to write this article on the Airlife is because I found a raw install package of the WordPress application. That sort of work-around doesn’t fit with where I see the Airlife being targeted.
Let’s talk about this always-on component for a minute. It’s groundbreaking, lock-in and a feature that netbooks need to work towards. For mobility-minded users like me, it also enables scenarios that aren’t possible on a standard netbook. In the live review session, JKK (JKKMobile.com) argued well that the phone is the notifier and that always-on is not a critical requirement but in my opinion, not only is it nice to have a device that takes the load off a smartphone for high-load events like podcatching and file syncronisation but it’s also nice to have a device that provides a secondary notification system for events, especially when in the home zone where your mobile phone may not be by your side. Its also nice to think about push applications too. Tracking is one example. Finally, never having to turn a laptop off and having it ready and connected to the internet the instant you open it is something I’m going to miss when I go back to my desktop-style netbook after my time with the Airlife 100.
Not only is the always-on feature good but the battery life overall is excellent too. In regular measurements in the live session, we saw a consistent 12-hours when we extrapolated the drain rates. The device has a 28Wh battery which means this device is running in under 2.5W of power requirement when in-use. That is, quite frankly, stunning. Latest generation netbooks are taking three times that amount of energy. In a 24hr test (on, connected to 3G and Wi-Fi, unused, screen off) the device used just 4% of its battery. Not only is the processing platform very efficient, the Wi-Fi and 3G modules seem to be very efficient too.
Finally, in this ‘brief’ review, I want to mention the browser. As we’ve seen on the iPad, ARM-based devices can be fast and the Airlife is another example of class-leading speed although with default settings, you’ll be getting the full versions of most websites and noticing that it isn’t as fast as an Intel-based netbook. Flash is missing along with important AJAX features used in online applications. Hover, too. Accessing the back-end to WordPress has its its issues and most Google applications aren’t working. Not even the full version of Google Mail. Without applications to fall-back on, there’s a huge gap in the full internet experience with this device. This is a very serious issue. People expect the full internet experience in a $250 device. Why not in this?
Screen is matte finish.
Stereo loudspeakers are reasonable quality
Audio playback application is basic
Video playback is a hit and miss affair on this device. Very few codecs are supported. (Maybe this is something not fully implemented yet?)
The device works as a USB hard drive.
3G reception seems good.
No external indicator for notifications.
Keyboard has been good throughout the writing of this article.
Web cam works although it can only be used for video snapshots for saving locally. Quality is low.
Language can be changed between Spanish, English’US and English-UK. Maybe this is an indication of target markets?
Once again, the lack of Google experience is a big disappointment.
No way to turn off 3G and just run on Wi-Fi without removing the SIM card.
Built-in data usage tracker
This article will have to be post-processed on my netbook in order to check spelling, add formatting and images!
NDrive application is pre-installed, GPS locks quickly. (Western Europe maps are 2.5GB, 39 Euro)
Last.fm, Aldiko, WordPress and Seesmic apps all work.
Roadsync apps are included for exchange sync support.
Ebuddy app (Instant messaging) is included
Occasional hiccups in scrolling where the screen bounces back to where it was
SMS application is included
Bluetooth stack is typical of a smartphone and not able to act as a data recipient (in my photo transfer tests.)
Dolphin browser and Opera Mini 4.2 being tested.
At 1500hrs today, the Airlife needed its first charge. It’s been on, heavily used and connected via Wi-Fi and 3G (including 7hrs ‘screen-off’ time overnight) for 18 hours on a 90% charge with no attempt at configuring the device for long battery life.
More notes on productivity issues can be found here. The article is focused at the iPad but many of the considerations apply. The Airlife is clearly not targeted at productive or business use but for those thinking about (like me, like many have done with the iPad) this article is worth reading.
The Airlife 100 does the ‘smart’ thing better than any other ‘smart’ laptop we’ve seen before. The balance of amazing battery life, weight, communications features, always-on and performance matches casual and social scenarios well and netbooks will need to take-on some of these features to compete when the software issues on Android are solved. The lack of USB host support will be an issue for some but as smart books develop with more features and customers get more used to the application and cloud-driven usage model, the need for USB may fade away. On the subject of performance, don’t expect netbook-style browsing speeds and multitasking. What the Airlife offers is just enough for a pleasing two-at-a-time experience but there’s very little overhead.
We don’t know all the details about the pricing but with a 24 month contract, the total cost of ownership reaches up over â‚¬1000. That includes data of course and compares well with the iPad 3G that would cost more over the same period but without the applications store, you haven’t got the hope that amazing applications will develop over the next year. We suspect an outright purchase of the Airlife 100 would be about â‚¬400 to â‚¬500 which says two things. 1) That the $99 smart book is as hard to deliver as a $99 netbook and 2) That customers probably won’t be picking these up in the hypermarket for the next family holiday.
The biggest take-away from the Airlife is that it’s a smart book that ARM and their partners promised to bring us over a year ago and it’s still not ready for prime-time. The Airlife does have a customer but it’s still only a very specific type of customer. Adventurous, flexible, traveling types need to take a closer look. Unfortunately, there’s not enough ‘wow’ in the device to generate sales from marketing to other types of customer so sales will probably be limited to those that we see in the niche tabletPC and ultra mobile PC markets. Having said that, HP are doing the right thing by testing the Airlife out in a relatively small country-specific market in Europe. They will learn a lot and will be able to gauge potential for a larger project in 2011. The rest of the world needs to take a close look at the potential too because there are only a few software elements that need to be fixed before it becomes quite the competitor.
Fantastic, always-on, always-connected and long battery life operation are desirable features but the gaps in the internet experience and lack of marketplace mean it’s only possible to use this device for casual purposes although video support needs to be fixed before that scenario is truly covered. [this may be happening in final builds â€“ we don’t have that information yet] Although the Airlife is an important step forward for ‘smart’ books and it proves that the hardware platform itself is fit-for-purpose, it also proves that work is needed on the software. Android may work well on leading-edge smartphones with slick overlay software and a ton of supporting applications but it appears extremely immature in large-screen, laptop-style scenarios. It’s possible that we’ll see the software evolve quickly but as a product, the Airlife 100 won’t hit the mark to become a huge seller, especially considering the price.
Thanks to over 500 people that stepped into the live Open Review of the Compaq Airlife 100 yesterday. We spent 2.5 hours going over the device and tested as much as we could. Thanks also to JKKMobile for joining-in via Skype and helping out. During the session we made three live recordings which are now available at Ustream. They’re relatively long but hopefully interesting to people looking towards the ‘smart’ devices sector. There’s a lot to learn from this ‘always-on’ device segment.
I’ve embedded part 1 of the session below and the links to the two extended segments are included below that. Check back on Carrypad tomorrow for a review article.