Tag Archive | "android"

Changing My Tablet Loadout, Iconia A100 is My New 7 Incher — Video Impressions and Photos

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Early last week, I received my notification that my HP Touchpad order was going to be one of the final production run we have all heard about, and that it was expected to ship in 6 to 8 weeks. This stuck in my craw for a few reasons. I had seen the charge from HP flutter back and forth between pending and then disappear for several days. I thought HP was actually trying to fulfill my order out of current stock. While the TouchPad is a case outside of the norm, my usual schtick is not to let people hold onto funding for an order for product that I am not going to receive for several weeks. When I put my order into the HP Small & Medium Business site during the TouchPad firesale, I originally received a notice of intended shipment two days later, so I thought I was ordering from stock. None of this is to say that I cancelled my TouchPad order because I felt HP had dropped the ball. I cancelled my order because I had lost interest in the TouchPad in the face of not getting it immediately, and I had other issues to deal with as well.

While I was ecstatic at getting HoneyStreak to run on my Dell Streak 7, the experience was not without its issues. HoneyStreak is a custom ROM that implements Android 3.2 Honeycomb on the Dell Streak 7. The major thing that was corrected was my Streak’s constantly dropping Wi-Fi connection, but I also received a boost in battery life. However, I lost a few things like the external SD card reader. Keeping the Streak 7 as part of my kit became called into greater question as the number of apps that I wanted to run as part of my routine were found to be broken or partially functional under the Honeycomb ROM. I experienced problems with Gallery, IMDb, and then Google Books. At the end of the day, the partial functionality of my collection of apps on the Streak 7 went beyond what I was willing to bear. My plan had been to run HoneyStreak on the device until my TouchPad showed up, then replace the Streak 7 with the TouchPad. When the HP date moved 6 to 8 weeks to the right and my problems with the Streak 7 increased, I decided it was time to make a different call.

Before I go any further, let me say that the issues with HoneyStreak were likely not insurmountable. I did not hit the XDA forums to see what issues others were having or what work-arounds had been figured out. For all I know, there was an updated version of HoneyStreak available. DJ_Steve, the code’s primary author, has been curating the build since he got his hands on 3.x earlier this year. However, the demands of school have been increasing, and, for the devices that I am going to employ, there is just not as much time to tinker. Loading the custom ROM was a cool thing to do during one soft-spot in my summer semester schedule, but I could not afford continuing maintenance and tinkering. I needed something stock, which is really where I live anyway. So my conundrum was: a Dell Streak 7 which was borderline unusable with its stock install, a custom ROM load that was not sufficiently functional when interacting with some of my more important (or at least frequent) apps, and the planned replacement suffering a 6 to 8 week delay in delivery.

The decision I made was to first cancel my HP TouchPad order. I decided I would be better off taking that $150 and  putting it towards a device I could get my hands on now. I then ordered an Acer Iconia Tab A100. I was very satisfied with my Acer Iconia Tab A500 so far, so the concept of the same device in a 7-inch form factor was appealing. While I awaited the arrival of the A100 from TigerDirect, I flashed the Streak 7 back to its stock install. Well…almost. I actually replaced some of the image files with some from the Wi-Fi stock install. I am not sure exactly how much difference there is, or if that difference even matters, but I will say that for the short time I had with the Streak 7 after the roll-back, I was no longer seeing the Wi-Fi disconnects that I had been before. I also saw a trend indicating even better battery life than I had seen when the device was running Honeycomb. I can only say that I saw these improvements as trends that hopefully prove to be truly improved functionality on the Streak 7. After the rollback to the stock OS image, I only had about 12 to 14 hours with the device before I handed it off to a potential buyer to demo over the weekend.

You can see and hear some of my early impressions of the Acer Iconia Tab A100 after the first 24 hours of use in the embedded videos below. I do some comparisons between my other two Android tablets, the Motorola Xoom 3G and the Acer Iconia Tab A500. My apologies for the low resolution  and framing. The only thing I had available to shoot video with this weekend was my Sony point-and-shoot camera. I have also dropped some pictures in for viewing. So far, I like what the A100 is bringing to the table in its 7-inch form factor. It is a huge improvement over the Streak 7, and a good compliment to my current set of mobile gear options. I will be posting later short-term and long-term reports as the device gets put to more use.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5qA3KBJ3w0

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7r_v3DGsS4o

 

The Amazon Tablet — An Ecosystem Move

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On Friday (isn’t that when all big tech news comes out these days?), TechCrunch’s MG Siegler detailed the now long-rumored Amazon tablet that is due to launch this fall. Despite it being a Friday afternoon leak on a three-day weekend, many of the tech media streams picked it up, including James Kendrick, founder of jkontherun and now a blogger for ZDnet, who compared his own earlier predictions with MG’s “leak”. My own personal take-away is that this is an ecosystem move by Amazon, and could therefore have less of a direct impact on the tablet market-proper as many of us may think of it. If the Amazon tablet takes off, it may be another case, much like the iPad, where a new vertical market is created where there is a demand for the Kindle Tablet, but not necessarily increased demand for tablets in general.

Amazon will have some obvious apps pre-installed on the device, and, when looked at holistically, they pretty much cover most basic functions that I would think most tablet users want/need:

  • A version of the Kindle App for reading ebooks
  • The Amazon Cloud Player for music and other audio content playback
  • Amazon Instant Video for video content
  • Amazon’s Android Appstore for apps

For content, these four apps cover everything that Google includes as part of the Android base-install for content consumption. Despite the fact that Damian has found a tablet useful as a productivity outlet, and the fact that I insist that any tablet I own be used for some productivity applications, the fact is that the average user applies a tablet for media consumption. Amazon is planning on putting several hooks in place to encourage buyer’s of its Kindle Tablet (the popular name the media is applying to this device; not officially announced or endorsed by Amazon) to use the four apps mentioned above and others to consume their fair share or more.

MG claims that the device will come with free access to Amazon Prime. Which, to me, it is a lot like Playstation Plus; you subscribe, and for your trouble, you get some free perks, and several deals on a continuous, rolling basis. So will all of this work? Yes, and here are some pretty obvious possible reasons why:

  • I do not think that the average consumer “gets” tablets as a product category. Very few consider picking up a tablet from the productivity standpoint, increased connectivity and awareness, or leveraging the advantage of a third screen in their mobile/IT setup. For most, they decide that they want an “iPad”. Not “I want a tablet so which one should I get?”
  • My own link to Amazon does not take me to the homepage, so it is not that often that I get reminded of how the front-page can visually mug you with a Kindle assault. “Flagship device” is a term that does not do justice to what the Kindle represents to Amazon. At the expected pricing (supposedly to be $250), there will be a chunk of consumers in the market for the high-end Kindle 3G, currently selling for $189, who will see it making more sense to get the more capable device for $250
  • People like bundles. The average consumer may not be as technology averse to gadgets as they were 10 years ago, but the wall that keeps a lot of them from going over is the threat of having to monkey with a device to get the stuff on it that they are supposed to use it for. The concept of a device that basically has everything on it that they want to use it for, and a pre-configured means for getting more of it, will be a factor that brings a lot of the stay-aways over the wall
  • Why will Amazon’s bundling hook people who have not taken the iPad plunge yet? Because some of the stay-aways still see iOS devices as luxury items at their current price points. Also, despite the relative ease that most of “us” handle an iOS device or other tablet, a part of the non-techcentric consumer population of America still does not get the tablet paradigm.
  • Why will Amazon’s bundling be any more effective than Google’s that comes stock with Android? Because you have to be invested in the Android ecosystem already before you understand what is available. Google’s services are not a storefront. Unless you are already an Android user, you do not go to the Android Market website on your laptop or desktop to window-shop. You only get there because you already have a device and you are using a desktop environment to manage it. Ditto for iTunes and the AppStore; places you do not normally go unless you already have an iOS device. Even if you use iTunes, I do not think people go to the AppStore section just to see what might be available on an iPad if they had one already. But millions of people go to Amazon everyday, and the Kindle Tablet and its bundles services will be front and center.

There has been some discussion among the technoratti as to whether or not the Kindle Tablet will be a premium device that will compete with the iPad and other, higher-end tablets. But I also do not know how much that matters. The fact is that most people who have iPads do not need them. And when I say “need”, I am saying that from the perspective of someone who has already decided to buy a tablet and buys an iPad. I mean that if they are only using the tablet to surf the web, read email, and take in an occasional eBook, they could have purchased a less expensive device and been ok. But a lot of people are averse to devices that are not from a big-name brand, and do not market themselves based on simplicity. Most of the Android devices on the market are being marketed on the basis of their power, and the average consumer doesn’t have a good understanding of what a more ‘powerful’ device really means, or how it benefits them directly.

The Kindle Tablet will reportedly run a forked and skinned version of Android 2.2. And that is skinned to the point where the average user will not be aware that they are running Android, and therefore may potentially not get turned off to the device on that factor. Most consumers will likely buy this because it is an Amazon tablet, not because it is an Android device. The presentation layer will be in-your-face Amazon, and its services will be the hub around which the user-experience revolves.

Who will not want this device? Those of us who want/need the other Google Services (Gmail, the Android Market, Gcal) that will not be natively on the Kindle Tablet. Also those of us who want the stock Android GUI, or an ability to load our own chosen launchers, as the Kindle Tablet will only run the Amazon Appstore. Of course, I am sure someone will hack the device eventually, but we are talking about the device running its stock install.

The point is, whether or not the Amazon Tablet is a premium device may not matter. I am not convinced that there is a defined tablet market for strata of devices based on price anyway. My own feeling is that there is an iPad market and a very limited premium Android market. I am saying that there are not strata within the market in North America because there is not a lot of consumption of budget-Android devices here. People are either buying an iPad or an Android device that is in the $499 MSRP range (sometimes as low as $349 with some of the recent sales).

The current tablets are being positioned as an alternative to the laptop with a minimum comparative savings for increased portability. In other words the strategy is “You don’t need a laptop, you can use a tablet that will accomplish most of what you need and comes in a little cheaper than a capable laptop”. I am simplifying this part of the assessment in order to not get entangled in the minutia (the value of cheap laptops at less than $499  in comparison to their capability compared to laptops that are only a skosh more and their reduced portability in comparison to a tablet).

The Amazon approach is positioning the tablet has an outgrowth of the eReader. The “in other words” here is “For a skosh more than our 3G eReader, you can get this device that does a ton more, comes with a free Amazon Prime account, and, incidentally, does everything that eReader you were going to buy does anyway”. I think this is a story that the average consumer is more likely to buy into, and will start pulling buyers away from the iPad potential buyer population. When Amazon presents a device that costs half-as much, does everything that most potential iPad buyers want to do, and will be supported by an ecosystem that is manageable from a desktop browser and that many of them are familiar with, it will be clear that Amazon does not need to deploy a premium device to compete with the iPad. If the Kindle Tablet goes over well, we will have an example where the value of the service infrastructure that a tablet product plugs into might be more than important than the tablet hardware itself.

Amazon is also attempting to put deals in place similar to the 3G service that is available on their high-end eReaders now. If Amazon locks this in, and if, while seemingly impossible, they are able to lock this service in as either part of the Amazon Prime subscription, or at a very reduced rate and the buyer never has to interface with a carrier — that could be the factor that allows the Kindle Tablet to eat every other tablets’ lunch.

Right now, the Kindle Tablet will reportedly only launch with a WiFi version, so the 3G advantage may not come into play until later. Linked below is to the original TechCrunch article. Join the conversation below, as I am sure there are plenty of opposing views to the ones I voiced here. As always, this assessment is just my own opinion based on my own experiences. Feel free to present a differing perspective; that is kind of the whole point in us posting this stuff anyway!

TechCrunch

Galaxy Tab 7.7 Hands-On Images

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We were lucky! Thousands that turned up to see the Galaxy Tab 7.7 at IFA were disappointed to find out that it had been removed from IFA.

We’ve got a good hands-on video up already but here are some images to add to that.

You can also find full specs, stats, links, and more on the Galaxy Tab 7.7 tracking page in our mobile device database.

TabCo is Fusion Garage – Grid is the OS, Grid 10 is the product.

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Chandra Rathakrishnan is on stage right now telling us about a product that slipped out about an hour before the presentation…

Actually it’s two products.

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Grid is a new operating system. A re-build of Android.

The first product is the Grid 10. It’s a 1366×768 resoution device using the Nvidia Tegra 2.

We’re tracking the Grid 10 in the database right now.

This isn’t a Google authorised OS which will mean Google maps, Android appstore.

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Price: 499 Wifi-only ($100 extra or 3G)

Shipping 15th September.

Amazon.com ordering available (not available as we write this)

As for the OS, it looks smooth, new and fun. Full-screen browsing is referred to as ‘Chromeless’ browsing.

 

The second product is a smartphone. Surprise!

This is the Grid 4

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The live webcast demonstrated the user information.

Pricing was given at:

$399 unlocked. 16GB storage. Shipping in Q4

Operator availability will be announced nearer the launch.

Known specifications:

  • 4” screen
  • 800×480 resolution
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon dualcore CPU
  • GridOS operating system

Good news for Fusion Garage JooJoo customers. They will get a free upgrade to the Grid 10.

So, now the presentation is over and we have specs (in our database here) let’s talk about it! A forum has been created already.

Using the Eee Pad Transformer as an Enterprise Productivity Device

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I’ve been inspired by Jerry to make the move to using only the Asus Eeepad transformer at work. I’ll be using only my Atrix and Eee Pad Transformer for all business related activities, no PC at all. I am passing my Vaio down to my wife to replace an old netbook and the budget doesn’t stretch to a new laptop. Actually it’s pretty slim pickings trying to find a true replacement to the Vaio TT anyway at the moment.

My needs are similar to Jerry’s actually in that I have a new baby on the way, a new house, a netbook past its expiry date and recent purchases of both the Eee Pad Transformer and the Atrix + lapdock.

As I mentioned before I considered a MacBook Air, another Vaio, or perhaps a Windows tablet; cost, portability and battery life are all competing priorities for me. So following Jerry’s lead I thought: why not see if either (or better yet, both!) of us can do it.

This has partly been facilitated by work putting in some software that will allow me to access email and my work calendar on my Android devices, natively rather than having to use webmail or some remote access solution. In the wider enterprise world it’s proving hard for IT to resist the demands of business bringing in iPhones and various tablets. My workplace is no exception so we kicked off a project to put in a solution to meet the mobile needs of our workforce. One of the key requirements was to work across all platforms which was great because even though iOS products outnumber others 5 to 1, those of us with Android devices can now connect to business systems including email.

Today was day one and it was fairly successful. Polaris Office worked well for Word documents and the PowerPoint I needed to edit. Evernote is my business app of choice for meeting notes, tasking and brain dumps and I used Thinking Space and sent the mindmap to Evernote as a picture so that I can keep evrything organised and in the one place. I occassionally felt a pang for a laptop but I think this was separation anxiety as there was no actually need for it in al the work I did today. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow.

A Critical Look at the Interface and Ergonomic Issues of Android

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In this article, it is my intention to take a critical look at the Android user interface. Some people may read this as though I’m lambasting Android, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I quite respect Android as an excellent mobile operating system, but I also believe that looking critically at anything can be a healthy way to see what can be improved.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. In fact, I mapped the whole thing out almost a year ago, but it fell down my priority list and hid away for quite some time. After blowing the virtual dust off of my original organizational diagram for this article, I can see there isn’t much that needs changing. Many of the issues of the Android interface that I highlighted have not improved, or have even worsened.

I should clearly specify that this article is about the phone version of Android (ie: anything in the 1.x or 2.x range).

Another important part of this analysis is the belief that a good mobile phone interface is one that allows the phone to be held and operated with a single hand (ie: with your thumb). Smartphones go with us wherever we do and there are many times where we need to quickly reference something on them and don’t have two hands available to do it (or shouldn’t need to dedicate both of our hands to operating the device). There are definitely times where you’ll use both hands with your phone, but that’s often with you’re sitting down and focusing directly on it. One-handed use is the primary way we should be able to use our phones while on the go. Leave it to the larger tablets to require both of our hands for effective use.

The reason for the worsening issues is that Android phones are going through an unnecessarily-large-screen fad (at least, I can only hope it’s a fad). Increasing the screen size on a mobile phone, which should be able to be effectively used with one hand, makes a number of the problems worse than they would be with a smaller screened device.

I should also say that I’m not a GUI designer by trade, but I do spend a lot of time using and thinking about the devices and the interfaces that I interact with every day.

Well then, let’s get started.

Origins

It’s important first to look back at how it all started. Before I begin talking about screen ratio and sizes, let’s look at the very first Android device, the HTC G1 (AKA Dream). The G1 was the very first Android phone ever released, and the phone was made specifically to fit Android the way it was originally designed. So how was Android originally intended to be shaped and sized? The G1 had a 3.2″ screen with a 3:2 [1.5:1] aspect ratio. Today, all the new latest and greatest smartphones are 4.3″ with a 16:9 [1.78:1] aspect ratio.

Screen Ratio

Based on the number of Android smartphones on the market that use a 16:9 [1.78:1]  aspect ratio (960×540, 854×480) or something very close (800×480 [1.67:1]), you might think that 16:9 is some sort of holy ratio. Actually, it’s not so great for one-handed mobile use, and here’s why.

At its most basic, we can think of the range of thumb as a stick on the end of a pivot. When holding a phone in our hand in an orientation to use it with our thumb, the thumb hesitates to go any further down than about parallel with the ground. From this point, its range of motion is aprox. 90 degrees, up to a position where it is perpendicular to the ground. As soon as the ratio of the screen is increased beyond 1:1 (meaning for every unit of width, there is an equal unit of height {ie: 1:1 = square, 1:2 = rectangle}) you are decreasing the amount of the screen that the thumb can reach without “shuffling”.

Shuffling is the word I’m using the describe the act of moving the phone up or down within your hand to be able to reach parts of the screen. Here is a visual that my buddy @bendrexl whipped up to help me explain:

This is the issue with widescreen aspect ratios on phones. The further you push the aspect ratio, the more screen real-estate exists outside of the range of the thumb. In general, the more square the screen and resulting interface, the more area the thumb will be able to effectively utilize it without uncomfortable shuffling.

It might be interesting for some to note that Apple’s iPhone has been using an odd 3:2 [1.5:1] since the first generation of the device, which is aprox. 16% ‘more square’, if you will, than the 16:9 [1.78:1] aspect ratio that’s commonly found on Android smartphones. As mentioned above, the original Android device, the G1, used the same 3:2 [1.5:1] aspect ratio as the iPhone, and an even smaller screen. The more square shape of 3:2 [1.5:1] means less shuffling than 16:9 [1.78:1] screens of the same size. The iPad uses an even more square 4:3 [1.33:1] shape.

Having a very rectangular ratio is also a pain for landscape app use. If you pull up the keyboard in landscape mode, the entire screen becomes dedicated to whatever text field you’re trying to type in and you can’t even see the context of where you’re typing.

Phone makers are going with 16:9 screens so that they can claim that their devices are great for watching movies, but honestly, how often are people sitting down to watch full length movies on their phones? Most phone screens still leave a lot to be desired over a real TV (not to mention, real speakers!). I’d much rather have a phone with a screen shape that is designed to be as easy to use as possible (because that benefits me every single time I use the phone) rather than shaping the screen for one particular activity which I rarely ever do on a smartphone.

Screen Size

Screen size also plays a very important part in how effectively our thumbs are able to reach the entirety of the screen. The 16:9 aspect ratio wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it was smaller, because a smaller 16:9 screen would be completely within the range of the thumb.

Unfortunately, phone manufacturers as of late are insisting that when it comes to screens, bigger is better. As an industry observer, I see this screen size push as a result of two things. 1) An attempt to ‘outdo’ the iPhone wherever possible, which has been using a 3.5” screen since the first generation of the device. 2) Compensation for the impreciseness of Android touch input, which is a somewhat worse, in my experiences, than iOS; a larger screen means it’s easier to hit the buttons you want.

We’ve seen phones like the original Motorola Droid ship with a 3.7”, which was quickly trumped by 4” screens on phones like the Samsung Fascinate and Sony Ericsson X10. Then came the 4.3” giants like the HTC Evo 4G, Motorola Droid X, and HTC HD2. [Before you say I forgot about the 4.8" Dell Streak -- that was designed to be used in landscape, which means two thumbs which cover much more of the screen]

And that’s where we are today. 4.3” is the defacto mega-screen-standard for new Android phones. Don’t believe me? See the Droid Bionic, Droid X2, Motorola Atrix, Motorola Photon, HTC Thunderbolt, LG Revolution, HTC Sensation, and plenty of other already released and upcoming phones. Across the board, phone manufacturers believe that 4.3” is actually a reasonable size for a phone screen, but pushing the screen size up to 4.3” has major implications for the ergonomics of any phone, especially an Android phone, because of the interface (more on that later).

I’ve seen numerous commercials, advertisements, and press releases for these devices which tell us how “awesome” the “huge” and/or “gorgeous” 4.3” display is (and presumably how it blows the 3.5” screen of the iPhone out of the water), but when I see these ads I just cringe. Here’s why:

The screen size increases, but the size of our thumbs does not. The range of our thumbs does not increase either. See the diagram to the left which shows two phones with approximately the same aspect ratio. One has a huge screen which leaves a large portion of the screen unreachable to the thumb without that atrocious shuffling, and the other smaller screen which is almost completely in range of the thumb.

The diagram obviously shows an exaggerated example, but phone manufacturers seem to be completely ignorant of the fact that our thumb reach does not increase as the size of their screens do. Huge screens mean more shuffling!

Look at this photo of someone wielding the upcoming Droid Bionic (4.3”, 16:9). Notice how they’re using two hands! [photo via Android Central]

droid bionic

 

Interface Design Compounds Screen Ratio and Size Issues

Screen size and screen ratio wouldn’t be a problem if the interface was designed in a way that clusters all of the important buttons and components in the area that your thumb easily reaches, reserving the harder to reach places for data and information that only needs to be seen, not interacted with (or at least not frequently interacted with).

Unfortunately, the design of Android’s interface does exactly the opposite of this. The most important/most used parts of an interface should be the easiest to reach. Let’s think about the most important parts of operating an Android phone:

The most important and persistent parts are the four Android buttons along the bottom of the screen and the status bar at the top, which pulls down to reveal notifications and sometimes other stuff like a wireless radio toggle.

Both the buttons (which I’ll call the ‘Android buttons’), and the status bar, are always persistent, no matter where you are in the OS. You have to constantly use the Android buttons to navigate through apps and the home screen, and you have to pull the status bar down with your thumb to access any notification that comes through to the device. The core functionality of the device involves reaching your thumb from even further below the bottom of the screen to hit the buttons, then all the way to the very top of the screen to pull the notifications menu down.

Can you see the issue here? The people responsible for the Android UI have placed the two most persistent and used parts of the interface on opposite ends of the phone, which, when it comes to large phones with eccentric aspect ratios, requires constant shuffling of the phone to go back and forth between them!

droid chargeSome phones make this even worse by placing their Android buttons further down from the screen than most. Look at the Samsung Droid Charge on the left; they put a freaking logo between the screen and the Android buttons, pushing them even further away from the rest of the screen, requiring even more stretching and shuffling!

There’s a simple software fix that could help alleviate some of this shuffling, and that’s to simply put the status bar at the bottom of the screen so that you can flick it up with your thumb without shuffling to the top of the phone to pull it down, then shuffling back down the phone to flick it back up! Putting the status bar at the bottom would put all of the important and persistent parts of the interface right in one convenient, easy to reach, location.

As far as I have found, no one has developed such a tweak yet, though I wish they would.

Inconsistency and Legacy

Inconsistency really irks me. It’s a huge no no in the interface world and yet some of the core interactions that happen every time you use an Android phone leave you not knowing exactly what will happen when you press certain buttons, or where you should be looking for certain buttons in apps.

The Back Button

Let’s start with the worst offender, the back button. The back button is one of the four Android buttons and you’re supposed to use within pretty much every app. When I press the back button on a phone I’m using, half the time it will not do what I expect it to do, and that’s because it can do so many different things. It isn’t always up to the user as to what it does, it depends on the situation (ie: it’s inconsistent).

Some questions that can be asked before you press the back button:

  • How far back will it take me (back to the last webpage maybe? or maybe all the way out of the app?)
  • Will it drop the keyboard?
  • Will it close a menu?
  • Will it take me back to another screen with the app I’m using?
  • Will it take me back to the homescreen?
  • Will it take me back to another app?

Unless the user is expected to track all of their prior actions and know what sort of back button usage every app has programmed into it, there’s absolutely no way for the user to know which one of these scenarios is going to happen, and sometimes when you just wanted to get rid of the keyboard, you’ll exit the app instead. Sometimes when you just want to go back within the app, it’ll take you back to another app that you might have come from previously. There’s no sure way to know.

Long Press ~ Right-click

Android sometimes favors the ‘long press’ that is: hold your finger down on something to get additional options.

I see the long press function as a legacy right-click. There’s a huge problem though. Think of a standard mouse. There’s two buttons on it, right? Naturally, you can see this and you will press both buttons because there are two there.

The long press, however, does not have a physical incarnation. There’s not button for the user to see and say ‘”hey, I’ll try this one”. I’m sure there are many novice Android users out there who have no idea that the long press even exists, and I’m sure they’ve been digging through applications looking for some button and have been unable to find it because they don’t know how to long press (and I don’t blame them, there’s nothing that would make them think that a long press exists, unless they diligently read their manual, or carefully read all instructional app pop-ups {which I can safely assure you, few people do}).

Inconsistent App Paradigms

One thing Apple has going for its strict app guidelines is consistency. All iOS apps work on quite similar concepts by presenting everything within the interface (instead of relegating the back or search buttons to hardware buttons). There’s very rarely any long-pressing (in fact, I think Apple might actively discourage it).

I’ve sat and watched my 84 year old great-aunt, who has never owned a computer, operate an iPad with no problem. Part of this is because once she learned the basics, most everything else is very consistent and works on the same concepts, meaning that an entire new app is intuitive to use because it navigates and operates more or less the same way as other apps.

When it comes to apps on Android, inconstancy flourishes. Part of this is actually the fault of the popularity of iOS:

Google sets the example of how it thinks Android apps should operate by making its own apps. Take Gmail for instance, which uses a strict Android app paradigm. In Gmail, all of the navigational buttons are kept hidden away in the menu button, while most item-specific actions are kept to long presses.

Foursquare for Android, on the other hand, uses an iOS app paradigm which presents much or all of the navigational buttons directly on the screen. See here:

foursquare vs gmail

Because of the popularity of iOS, there are inconsistent app paradigms used across apps in the Android Market. Some use the Android paradigm, some use the iOS paradigm, and others yet use a confusing combination of the two where you’re unsure whether or not you should be looking on-screen, in the menu button, or in the long press menu to find what you’re looking for.

Because Google doesn’t enforce app design guidelines, you may end up with two apps on your device that work completely different. Neither paradigm is outright, better, but for the sake of the user, things should be consistent to encourage intuitiveness across apps.

I really hope that the mega-screen fad is just that… a fad. Perhaps the responsible companies will come to their senses eventually and realize that greater usability across the board is far more important than having a screen that’s slightly more enjoyable to watch movies on because of the shape and slightly larger size. When I use my phone, I want to be able to use it effectively, on the go, with one hand, rather than dedicated my full attention and both hands to its use. Furthermore, I’d love to see better consistency in app designs in the Market to make things intuitive, and not have to guess what the back button is going to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Engadget

Further Reading:
PhoneDog
CNET
PCMag

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

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

Openness and Stability — the Self-Administered Mobile Ecosystem

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I love Android. Actually, on any given day of the week, I am probably in love with various mobile 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  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 am severely 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 know 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 additional 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 to reinvigorate them, or have you been happy from day one?

For $15 You Can Always Have a Charge/Sync Cable for Your Smartphone with You Thanks to This Excellent Accessory

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scosche 2When it comes to technology gifts, I generally tell people not to get them for me. Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but having a non-techie try to find a good tech gift for a tech-geek is like an atheist shopping for the Pope.

Somehow, this last holiday season, my mother actually managed to get me an awesome tech related gift which I’ve been making great use of. Check it out:

scoscheThis is the Scosche FlipSNYC USB iPhone adapter (fear not, they make Micro/Mini USB version as well!) which is incredibly compact, enough so that you can easily throw it on your keychain. I was impressed by the smart design which manages to keep it so compact, even in lieu of Apple’s relatively massive connector. This isn’t one of those “you can totally put it on your keychain!” ordeals that you might find see on a TV infomercial, where in reality the thing is so bulky that you’d never actually want to put it on your keys — it’s actually small enough to go on your keychain and not attract any unwanted attention.

I’ve always got my keys with me, so even if I run out of the house without thinking I might need to charge or sync my phone, I don’t have to worry about it; if the time comes, out come my keys and this useful little bit of kit.

I’ve been using mine regularly for about 8 months and it shows no sign of breakage or wear.

Scosche sells these things for $15, and even though mine was a gift, I’ve easily justified the price with the amount of use I’ve gotten from it. It’s so handy to be able to plug into any USB port to get your charge on in a pinch and I’d definitely recommend one to any serious smartphone user.

scosche 3Fortunately, Scoche makes the aforementioned iPhone/iPod Touch version, and they’ve also got one for the same price that has both Micro and Mini USB plugs on it, which means that pretty much the entire modern smartphone world is covered.

The iPhone/iPod Touch version is also sold in red or white, just in case you’re too stylish for plain old black.

Scosche is also selling a second version of these called the FlipSYNC II, but they cost $5 more and the only differences seem to be a USB plug with full metal casing (rather than a ‘half’ plug) and the key loop is slightly larger. You can find those here (iPhone version) and here (Micro/Mini USB version), if you’d like to see for yourself.

Asus Makes Eee Pad Slider Official With Press Release Following FCC Sighting

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When we reported earlier in the week that the Asus Eee Pad Slider had passed through FCC approval, there was no official announcement from Asus. However, yesterday, the official press release announcing the device as part of the Asus product line went live on the Asus website. The official launch brings some additional tidbits that further pique our interest in this device.

One of the trends that is disturbing me in the Android infrastructure is the implementation of proprietary solutions to various use-case problems in new premier devices. Asus bundles Asus WebStorage with the Slider as a solution to cloud storage and populating an on-line archive with data you might need to access from multiple mobile devices. It is a nice touch (I guess), and I am sure one or two users will decide to use this solution instead of already existing cloud file services like Google Docs and DropBox, or cloud notebooks like Evernote or Springpad. My main issue is that every time a manufacturer deploys one of these in-house services on a tablet, the app is usually not uninstallable. The problem goes away if you wipe and root, but if you want to just run the device stock, these pre-loaded apps are annoying. It is very clear that the pre-loaded epidemic that plagued desktops and laptops for so long is creeping into the tablet market, as well.

Fortunately, that rant gets any negative take-aways I have from the press release out of the way. Most everything else is good news, or at least enticing news until we see some more definition from various allusions in the release. One of those items is in the area of the Slider’s ports. We were aware of the microSD port, but the Slider’s specs now also call out a 16/32GB Embedded Multi-Media Card (eMMC) port. This is called out as a discrete port in addition to the microSD port, so it makes me wonder if this will be a full-sized port like the Toshiba Thrive and Dell Streak 7 feature.

Also revealed is the fact that the device will be available in both pearl white and metallic brown color schemes. That designation appears to apply to the brushed layer applied to the slide-out keyboard, as can be seen in the pics attached. Android 3.1 will be pre-loaded and Asus indicates an upgrade to 3.2 as an OTA delivery, as we would expect. In case we were not certain before, the launch announcement confirms an IPS display (similar to the one used on the iPad) with a claimed 178 degree wide angle of view.

You can peep the specs in our product database here. A link to the press release is included in the source citations below. There is nothing in the press release on pricing or a release date.

So…is anyone holding off on that Asus Eee Pad Transformer purchase to snag a Slider instead?

Sources:

Gizmodo

Asus Eee Pad Slider Press Release

Acer Iconia A500 Enterprise Test Pt. 2 — the Business War So Far (and other strange things)

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Iconia - Day 1

It has been 3 working days since I started my self-initiated challenge to have my Iconia A500 replace my HP 2730p at work. It took the first day to get it set up and configured, and a second day that I was out sick to really solidify how I was going to run the Acer for the foreseeable future. In that time, I have downloaded and applied the step up to Android 3.1 (the Iconia came stock with 3.0). I have also tested several functions of the various ports. I thought it would be a good time to give a brief synopsis of the story so far. Please note that some of the Carrypad crew have performed these tests in the past, so this is a refresher and a specific update as to how it all appears to be working under Android 3.1. Some of the notes will also reflect my specific perspective from attempting to use the A500 in the enterprise space.

Configuration and Apps: A few notes on my current configurations and why they are what they are for using a tab in the workplace

Homescreens and Calendar: I run fewer apps on the Iconia than I normally do on an Android device. While I use only one homescreen on my iPad, with all apps sorted into folders, and run almost all Widgets on Android homescreens, I have gone back to the function-specific homescreen paradigm on the Iconia. My main page has all of my productivity apps, the Advanced Task Killer widget, and my Calendar widget, which I have sized to its maximum size. I originally thought I would not use the “Iconia Tab” default account that comes already set up in calendar. But because I want to limit the amount of cloud syncing that occurs on this device, I have used this account to enter my daily work meetings. I then keep the calendar view suppressed to only the Iconia Tab account during the work-day, so I am not distracted by future Google appointments from my main account that is also synced with the device.

I keep one homepage for nothing but stickies and Whiteboard Pro tiles. The left-most homescreen has buttons for my weather apps and the Browser widget. These are so I can check weather before my commute home or on travel, and to quickly check tech news over my lunch break. The right-hand homescreen has any media apps that I use to assist me at work: Camera (for taking snaps of whiteboard exercises), Gallery (for viewing those snaps), Music (to work to), Recorder and Voice Recorder (for taking voice memos for myself). This screen also has MailDroid and GMail for checking personal mail over lunch.

The right-most homescreen has all of my admin utilities. ES File Explorer, the Android Market, JuicePlotter, Battery Dr, and Settings shortcuts for Bluetooth, Display Settings, Sound, and Wi-Fi.

I primarily run this device disconnected at work. I boot my hotspot upon arrival, again over lunch, and maybe right before leaving in the evening for a quick connection, minimal sync, and personal email check. Other than that, I keep Wi-Fi off.

Physical Set-Up in the Office: I use a CaseCrown Wood Tablet Stand on my desk to place the Iconia in the corner where my two desks join at a right- angle. While I plan on rotating keyboards and mice, this week I have been using my Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard 6000 and a generic USB laptop mouse, plugged in to a CP Technologies 4-port USB 2.0 Hub. I have been using the Targus Capacitive stylus along with it.

 Port Testing and Peripherals: While not all of this has an impact on my use of the Iconia A500 at work, I wanted to note the results of various hook ups I have attempted during initial setup.

  • USB Hubs: every USB 2.0 hub I have tried so far has worked. I have tried USB keyboards, mice, and thumb drives plugged into these hubs and have successfully connected and utilized each. The largest thumb drive that I tested was a PNY 32GB thumb drive. The one USB 1.1 hub that I tried did not work at all, leading me to believe that the Iconia’s full-sized USB port is only compatible with USB 2.0 hubs
  • Keyboards and mice: I have tried several USB keyboards and mice with the Iconia and each one has worked. I have used a TabletKiosk Foldable Keyboard (pictured below), and an i-Rocks keyboard successfully. I have used several mice, including a Logitech G5 and they have all worked. I only tried using the left and right mouse keys, and have not tried the scroll-wheel button or the forward and back buttons. The scroll wheel itself does work in most apps to scroll through the page.

TabletKiosk USB mini-keyboard - no longer for sale through TabletKiosk

  • Thumb Drives: another round of completely successful tries. I have tried the aforementioned PNY 32GB drive, as well as two 4GB drives
  • MicroSD Cards: All successful. I used a 4GB and a 16GB card. Both cards were wiped and formatted to FAT32 file systems. With both of these, as well as the thumb drives, I was able to use ES File Explorer to access the contents. I was able to access Word, Excel, .PDF, and image files. It is not intuitive for a normal user as to how you get there (click the SD Card button, select the folder titled “mnt” and select the extsdcard folder), but any average tech-head will figure it out in a couple of tries

Surprise Findings:

  • I plugged my HP HDMI-to-VGA adapter that I use with my HP Voodo Envy 14 (yes, I still insist on calling it a Voodoo) into the mini-HDMI to male-HDMI adapater that I received today from Amazon. Amazingly, it actually worked. This means being able to use the Iconia, and likely any Honeycomb Tablet that has HDMI out, with VGA monitors if, say, that is all your job provides. I plan on trying this hookup out with the Motorola Xoom 3G to see if I get the same results. I also have a straight mini-HDMI to full-HDMI cable that I need to try out with my 23″ Acer monitor later this week. Pics of the hook-up are below (not great pics; apparently my Samsung Nexus S 4G does not do so well in low light). If you replicate this hook up, you will need to use headphones or speakers plugged into the headphone jack for sound, as audio-over-HDMI will not work through the adapter. I do not expect that I will run with this configuration very frequently. The combination of the HP adapter + VGA cable is heavier than the tablet itself, and I did not like the strain I saw being placed on the mini-HDMI-to-male-HDMI connector. My VGA cable at work is much lighter though, so using this setup there might be less of an issue.
  • I plugged in a Logitech Dual Action gamepad into the USB port and it allowed me to swipe back and forth between homescreens using the D-Pad and analog sticks. At one point I was able to highlight the app icons and cycle through rows and columns using the D-Pad but I have not for the life of me been able to figure out how to do it again
I am out of time for tonight, so that will have to be a wrap. Stay tuned for the next update, which will include a discussion on what productivity apps I am employing, inking on the A500, whether or not it is fast enough for meetings, and whether is physical characteristics make it good or bad for office use.

 

AT&T Promises All Android Phones Released in 2011 to get Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Atrix Update Available Starting Today

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android version chartGood 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 “What the heck, Ben, I’m not even on AT&T, this has nothing to do with me you jerk!” Ah… 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.

Google announced integrated video calling in Google Talk back in May, but only approx.. 2.2% of Android users were running firmware that could even use the new feature.

So you see my point… 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.

Anyway… AT&T announced, in one of the one of the only press releases I’ve ever seen with a funny title (“AT&T Customers to Enjoy Gingerbread”), that the following devices will be updates to Android 2.3:

  • HTC Inspire 4G
  • LG Phoenix
  • Motorola Atrix 4G
  • Pantech Crossover
  • Samsung Captivate
  • Samsung Infuse 4G

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.

Toshiba Thrive Trades Function for Girth — Hands-on from Liliputing [video]

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There is a part of design that is math and engineering. Weight, power, SAR ratings, maintenance envelopes… the basic stuff you get in any mechanical or systems engineering curriculum at your friendly neighborhood college. Then there is part of design that is art. And an additional part that is empathy; that part where the designers try and guess the subjective viewpoint some users will take, and use that to drive some of the design trade-offs they choose to make.

Why do I wax so poetic about the art of design? Because I think Toshiba deserves some credit for making some bold moves in its design choices resident in the Toshiba Thrive [tracking page]. Our pal Brad Linder over at Liliputing got his hands on a demo unit and offered his first impressions. What has me most impressed about the Thrive is that Toshi went with function over form, and that’s not something easy to do in the face of the class-leading iPad.

The primary focus of the Thrive is for the device to offer hooks into more standard ecosystems and infrastructures that most tablets do not. The list of proprietary apps that come pre-loaded on the Thrive is a mile long. One of these implementations that jumps out at me is the app that allows you to connect to universal plug-and-play (UPnP) devices on your home network. This should make the Thrive capable of reaching out and touching NAS units and UPnP capable DVRs. The thought of accessing all of my video files and photos on my NAS or streaming from a compatible DVR is very compelling, to say the least.

Typically, a long list of proprietary apps on an Android device today is indicative of a lack of Google licensed apps. Fortunately, the Thrive comes with the standard (properly licensed) Google app package, including Gmail, Gcal, and, most importantly, access to the Android Market. The device runs Google’s Android 3.1 Honeycomb OS. Thankfully, this OS has recently received updates that add more functionality when a tablet interfaces with USB devices that require USB-Host. Toshiba strives to take full advantage of these updates by equipping the Thrive with a full-size USB port, as well as an SD Card slot, mini-USB, and full-size HDMI.

Full-size means not having to compromise or hunt for adapters for USB components a user would like to pair with the Thrive. It means reaching behind your TV and grabbing the standard HDMI cable you might already have plugged in to a device and connecting your Thrive instead of ordering a min-HDMI cable for one device. While I am very happy taking only my iPad along on a photo shoot and using the camera adapter to immediately view photos on a larger screen, the problem is just that…I have to use an adapter. It is an extra piece of gear on my photo checklist. A lot of people might say “So what? Big deal”, but the point is that it is just one more thing that might be forgotten. The Thrive eliminates the need for taking along these pieces of pocket lint and lets you run the devices as they were originally intended.

All of these advantages come at a price, however, and that is primarily in weight and girth. The Thrive comes in at 1.6 pounds. That is about a quarter of a pound heavier than the iPad 2, and around 0.35 pounds heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Toshiba’s web site does not officially list the dimensions on the product sales page, but you can see photo comparisons against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 here.

I am personally ok with this trade-off. Much ado has been made recently about how a device is not innovative unless it is the lightest device in its class. However, I think that weight, like any other characteristic in a consumer electronics device, is an attribute that can be traded for other advantages. I spend a lot of time with my tablets in cradles or on easels. I do not mind holding a tablet with two hands. The Toshiba Thrive also has a soft-touch, textured back, which, as I have mentioned before, can go a long way towards making additional weight a non-issue. Any of these trade-offs might be worth it to a user more concerned with breadth of functionality over weight.

The Toshiba Thrive, with models ranging from $430 to $580 for 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB models, is priced very competitively against other 10inch tablets on the market. Liliputing has yet to post a full review, but Brad appeared to be very interested in Toshiba’s approach.

One problem with the tablet market these days is that there are a ton of “me too” devices in the retail and online channels. Each of the manufacturers is going to need to come up with a riff on the general theme that grabs the attention of potential buyers. Toshiba’s approach of hooking the Thrive into more conventional desktop and laptop infrastructures might just do the trick.

Liliputing’s video of their first impressions is embedded below.

Source: Liliputing – First Impressions: Toshiba Thrive Android tablet

 

Sony Lets Media Get Their Fingers on New Tablets [video]

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Sony S1 Tablet

Some members of the media were granted access to a Sony event held in Germany yesterday. Front and center at the event were the Sony S1 and S2 Tablets (which were first announced back in April), both of which take a differentiated approach to the tablet solution. Quite a few sites got some hands-on time, so let’s go through some of the general impressions.

As one would expect, Sony seems to have nailed the hardware design. The S1 is a “full-sized” 9.4 inch tablet running Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Most of the press seem to feel that its design invokes the feeling of a folded newspaper or magazine. One item of note is that the rear of the device is textured, which should result in better grip. I think a lot of tablet manufacturers fail to recognize the importance of grip in a tablet device. Good grip can compensate for a device that might otherwise be deemed too heavy.

In stark contrast to the S1’s design, the S2 features two 5.5 inch screens, and folds into a clamshell position for transport. It also currently runs Android 3.0 Honeycomb. I suspect that the actual OS version at launch might be a step-up of the 3.x-series by the time the S1 and S2 ship. Sony was mum on specs today. However, they did announce that the S2 will launch running on AT&T’s 4G network. AT&T has an HSPA+ network now, and is deploying LTE networks this summer. No one from the press appeared to get specific word on which variant the S2 will support, or if it will support both.

While most 10-inch Android Tablets are deploying with 1200 X 800 displays, the S1 has a 1280 X 768 screen. Despite the slightly lower resolution, the report from Germany is that viewing angles were good from both side and overhead perspectives.

Both devices are Playstation Certified. The jury is stil out on whether or not this feature is truly value-added. It certainly has not hepled reception of the Xperia Play, which debuted to lukewarm reviews.

This Is My Next caught a solid video of the S1 and S2 in action:

All-in-all, the hands-on reports seem to indicate positive interest. Of course, the proof will have to wait until the actual launches. No one is really certain how the Sony proprietary customizations of the Android OS (Quick View and Quick Touch) will be received. Sony’s Android solutions have not been hits so far, neither have they been complete failures. We’ll definitely let you know if these devices hit the mark or not when they release later this year.

Galaxy Tab 7 Props-Up Q1 Android Sales

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tab fingerThere are quite a few sales stats floating around for the tablet market. A recent report from IDC gives us two important checkpoints that, when considered with other stats, point towards a popular 7” Android tablet market that could be purely dependent on Galaxy Tab 7 sales unless Honeycomb ramps up quickly.

Firstly though, take a look at these exciting numbers from IDC.

  • Q1 2011 tablet sales were 7.2 million worldwide
  • Forecast for 2011 sales: 53.5 million
  • Android tablet sales now 34% of the total

Why are they exciting? These numbers are big enough to build quality software development projects on. I mean serious software development. Word processing. Audio editing. Photo editing and other applications that are generally rather ‘light’ on the ARM-based tablet platforms.

Clearly IOS is moving forward at a fantastic pace and we’re seeing productive software advance very quickly but there’s something in the Android figures that might be worth considering.

If about 350,000 Google experience Android devices were activated on average per day through the period (source) and Honeycomb runs at 1% of all Android versions (source), it means we can derive the following:

  • Android tablet sales in Q1: 2.45 million
  • Total Android activations in Q1: 31.5million
  • Assuming all sales will be activated, Android tablets account for about 8% of Android device activations
  • Honeycomb tablets in the market = 1% of 31.5 million = 315,000. This could rise fast due to sales/activation lag.
  • Non-Honeycomb tablets in Q1: 2.135 Million (88% of all Android Tablets activated in Q1)

Yes, there’s potential for error in those figures as you can’t compare sales with activations for the same period but the important think here is that Android 2.x is most popular on tablets at the moment. When you think carefully about that, you’re effectively saying that the 7” tablets are taking the lions share. With the Galaxy Tab sales figures indicating a possible 500,000 sales per month,  you have to wonder just how much of those Android tablet sales are just Galaxy Tab sales. Probably most of them. The Android Tablet market lived because of the Galaxy Tab 7.

Why?

It could be the form factor. Many, many people have commented on the portability. It could be the availability. The Galaxy tab has an incredible global distribution. It could be the price. At 350 Euros here, it’s a bargain and way cheaper than the larger, Honeycomb products. Quality is also going to be a factor. There aren’t many bad reviews of the Galaxy Tab out there.

What does that tell us for Q2-Q4?

The Galaxy Tab had good early reviews which is important for setting up great search results for subsequent sales of a product. Global carrier and shelf distribution is important. Price helps a lot. It also means there are few players that can achieve the same figures. Any Honeycomb device will suffer from the lack of tailored apps. Pricing needs to drop quickly. Only global players have a chance. Given the age of the Galaxy Tab and the momentum Samsung have, they look set to dominate again if they bring out a new Galaxy Tab 7”

10”, Honeycomb devices are in a pickle. Early reviews weren’t fantastic and the numbers of sales are low too which means developers won’t be interested in investing time and money into apps. If Samsung don’t update the Galaxy Tab, will overall Android tablet sales suffer unless another global player comes along with a killer product or will combined sales of new products start to ramp up numbers to solve the applications problem? Or will I write a similar article about Amazon this time next year?

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!

Toshiba Thrive: Not Just Another 10.1″ Honeycomb Tablet — Now Available for Pre-order

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Toshiba has recently jumped on the Android 3.1 Tablet bandwagon with its Thrive offering that is now available for pre-order on amazon.com.

See full specs, links, and more info on the Toshiba Thrive in our device database.

The Thrive has a 10.1” screen @ 1280×800, flash support, 1G RAM, dual-core Tegra 2 processor and comes with Android Honeycomb 3.1 as its operating system. There are two cameras: a 5MP back camera and a 2MP front facing camera for video conferencing.

Before we all throw our hands up in the air and moan about “yet another wannabe 10.1” Android tablet”, bear in mind that Toshiba is well known for designing and making quality, sturdy laptops and this tablet looks very solidly constructed and would seem like it can take a knock or two!

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Having look at the back cover (pictured above), it is made of Easy Grip surface which is textured and looks like it’ll provide you with a great non slippery gripping experience.  The cool thing is that this Easy Grip surface is replaceable and you can customize the surface with different colored skins if you wish to stand apart from the crowd.

Here’s more good design Toshiba has thrown onto the Thrive:

1) Replaceable battery – I am always a fan of tablets that allows you to replace a worn out battery or carry an additional to extend your road warrioring hours, so big brownie points for Toshiba for this!

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2) Connectivity ports galore (picture above) – the Thrive comes with SD slot, mini USB, full sized USB 2.0, and a full sized HDMI out, again, another standout inclusion. I really like that the two most commonly used connectivity interfaces are full sized and you don’t have to hunt around for mini or micro HDMI cables (eg, Acer Iconia and the Asus eeePad Transformer). There’s even a dust cover to protect the slots when not in use. Lack of ports is one of the biggest threats to the HP TouchPad.

The Thrive will come in three models, for the budget conscious: 8GB ($429.99), 16GB  ($479.99), and the top of the range 32GB ($579.99). These capacities are currently available as WiFi-only but Toshiba has said that they will be releasing the 3G or 4G versions shortly.

Toshiba has certainly made the effort to ensure that the Thrive tablet doesn’t become ‘just another 10.1” tablet’ with some great attention into its design.

The ultimate sacrifice that manufacturers, such as Toshiba, are making by offering full sized connectivity interfaces and replaceable batteries will be the size and particularly the thickness of the device — it can never come close to being as wafer thin as the iPad2.

Still, the Thrive may win the hearts of road warriors like me that need a productive tablet that can interact with other devices and peripherals.

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