Tag Archive | "galaxy tab"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upgrade Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mediapad is in the database.

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

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

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

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

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.

Galaxy Tab Gingerbread Test Notes + Videos

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

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

So what else is new?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interestingly, it did more than I thought it would.

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

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

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

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

SC20110426-214804

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

Galaxy Tab Keyboard Case

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

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (6) Galaxy Tab Keyboard

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (2)

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

Galaxy Tab Keyboard (1).jpg

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

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

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

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Hands-On. Sunspider Test – Good!

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On the last day of MWC I just had one more task to do and that was to spend as much time as possible with the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Contacts at MWC had already told me that it was good so I headed over to Samsung with time to spare.

Galaxy Tab 101 (14)

Yes, the Galaxy Tab is a quality bit of industrial design. The back feels slightly disappointing if you’re looking for appeasing materials but it’s practical and I’m sure that it’s going to be of long-lasting quality. The camera is good – not awesome, but good enough. The speakers disappoint. The other part of the product that disappoints, and you might hear this from other reporters is that the UI was a bit underwhelming. Beware, this is incomplete software so we should’nt use it as any sort of indicator. In its current state it’s worse than that Galaxy Tab so I feel certain it can’t go out of the door like that. It was missing Market, some BT features and the browser had a lot of trouble with Google Mail and iGoogle.

In a Sunspider test I managed to get some idea of how Honeycomb and Tegra 2 are going to perform together. The score you see below is 4x better than the iPad and a lot better than results I have from Android 2.1 on Tegra2. A 7” Galaxy Tab returns about 7000 ms

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Yes that’s 2256. Over 2x faster than the Galaxy Tab 7”-er!

Sunspider live test on video.

Galaxy Tab 10.1 Gallery

Here’s my hands-on video. I’ll be happy to answer questions below.

Samsung Announce 10.1” Honeycomb Galaxy Tab

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tab1

It’s not been long since the Galaxy Tab first hit retail stores however Samsung have wasted no time in announcing their next tablet device, the Galaxy Tab 10.1. If the name doesn’t give it away, Samsung’s latest Android tablet sports a 10.1” display, is powered by a 1GHz Tegra 2 core and of course runs the latest and greatest Android 3.0 firmware.

This device follows the recent trend of large screen Android Honeycomb tablets however it’s quite surprising that Samsung decided to transition from the original 7” sized Galaxy Tab as the original device was extremely popular for it’s fairly mobile form factor.

tab2

Unlike the original Galaxy Tab, the 10.1 provides a stock Android experience like many other Android 3.0 tablets and will not have a modified user interface that is often present on many Android phones, including Samsung’s Galaxy S range.

Samsung are yet to announce when the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be launching.

Source: Engadget

50 Ways to Improve the Galaxy Tab (and other Tablets)

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Last year I wrote two report about tablet design. The first was written a year ago and discusses things to consider when designing or buying a tablet-style device. The second was a checkist for a quality handheld internet tablet.

Galaxy Tab and iPad _10_

The iPad and Galaxy Tab are currently the best examples of consumer tablets in the market today and for me the quality and mobility of the Galaxy Tab means it has been working well in my family of devices. I’ve had it for over 3 months now and during that time I’ve been compiling a list of issues and improvements I either think are possible now or in future versions of the Galaxy Tab. The list applies to other tablets too so if you’re designing or buying tablets for the market in 2011, this is the sort of list you should already have on your whiteboard. If not, take this one and make it better. (A donation is appreciated if this list does make it to your company whiteboard!)

The list is over 50 items long and is split into three sections. Changes that could be made to the current Galaxy Tab are listed first and this is a good place to scan through if you’re looking to buy a Galaxy Tab. The second section includes what I would call reasonable hardware expectations for second-gen or late 2011 high-quality tablet. I don’t expect all of these features to be included but it’s a list of possible improvements. The third section is a little way-out there and includes hardware changes that may not be possible this year or could be too niche. I did have a section including third party software but that list got very long indeed and is not really relevant here.

IMPORTANT: There’s more to be added to this list and a great discussion about tablets to be had here. Chip in with your thoughts too. You’ll have ideas that no-one has through of yet so don’t be afraid to dump them in the comments below. If it’s not too wild (lets keep it within a 2-year timeframe) i’ll add it to the list and credit you.

Software and experience changes

  1. Web browser.  Faster, mouse/finger over. Higher quality. Plugins. Password sync. Common gestures.
  2. Better protection of UI experience under load. (Run UI in separate core? Possible hardware change required for that.)
  3. Improve UI physics. Response rate needs to be 20ms or less. (I believe from my audio work in the past that 20ms is where delays become noticeable. I could be wrong but you know what I’m getting at right?) Try a drum-machine programme, It’s impossible. (Android 2.3 bring in features that can improve this through the use of the NDK)
  4. DLNA improvements. (Receivers and senders need to improve compatibility.)
  5. Protect the audio playback from stutters in multitasking scenarios. Critical. (How about a ‘dedicated’ mode where the application is brought to ‘realtime’ status – in effect, like iOS does.
  6. Vastly improved audio library features. playlist import/export, cross-fading, id3 tag editing, jukebox mode, cover retrieval, radio streams, integration with Last.fm amd similar services. Much quicker media scanning.
  7. Easier way to auto-organise applications list. Sort-by: most used, alphabetical, recently added, categorise (based on market categorisation) Apps list is as important as an audio catalogue. Genres, personal ratings on client should feed back to Market.There are a ton of improvements that can be made here.
  8. Samsung apps style improvements. Lose the wood-grain effect or allow theming! Some feature improvements are also possible.
  9. More video content to buy / stream. Major issue outside the U.S.
  10. Full BT 3.0 (wifi TX support, near-field pairing)
  11. Longer battery life (of course!) Important – battery save mode that schedules network usage. Significant improvements will require hardware changes.
  12. More tablet / pro apps to be included via the Samsung catalogue
  13. Better gallery with sort, date search, rename, tagging, face detection etc. Stock Gallery is very limited.
  14. Better printing support. Google Cloud Print service should fix this.
  15. Apt-x codec support over BT A2DP. (Or some other HQ wireless audio transmission capability)
  16. SMS remote kill feature
  17. Compatibility with camera applications
  18. Timed profiles, turn to silence.
  19. Improve speed of re-scanning Wifi access points. Can be extremely slow in some situations.
  20. Occasionally boot-up time can run into 2 minutes or more. This needs to be improved
  21. Hot-swap SIM cards (where applicable)
  22. Slippery when dry. The smooth, easy wipe finish needs a couple of high-friction areas for book-reading
  23. AC3 and DTS soundtrack handling. (Down-sampling to 2-channel and pass-through for HDMI)
  24. Lower the lowest screen brightness (for in-bed, next-to-partner usage.)

Essential Hardware changes:

  1. Longer charger cable (and micro-usb port)
  2. Camera Quality: Glass lens, better sensor, continuous AF when recording video. Lens cover.  Flash options.  HD recording.
  3. Camera shutter release button
  4. Fm receiver + transmitter
  5. USB OTG support for external storage, keyboard, mouse, other peripherals (midi, dvb-t, external cam)
  6. Better GPS.  Sensitivity, speed.
  7. Analogue video out built-in. Is that old-school? E.G. VGA, S-Video, Composite
  8. HDMI-out port.
  9. Storage improvements. Speed of core storage needs improving. 32GB, 64GB option.
  10. Indicator lamps – multiple for use with different applications. Programmable colour.
  11. indicators and alerts need to feed to paired Android phones.
  12. Replaceable battery
  13. Kick-stand
  14. SDXC card compatibility
  15. Higher quality screen (at same or lower power utilisation.)

For the ultimate tablet:

  1. Digital radio reception.  DAB (Update: and other standards)
  2. Digital TV reception. DVB (Update: and other standards)
  3. Digitiser for graphics and handwriting input.
  4. HQ audio recording. External mic over BT? Array mics.
  5. Near field payments support (Probably best on a phone tho)
  6. Daylight readable screen (transflective)
  7. Quick Fingerprint reader for security.
  8. Midi support (be a midi sequencer/controller)
  9. HQ Audio synthesiser and audio effect support in hardware. (for use as effects unit)
  10. Built-in mini projector
  11. Remote mini handset accessory for using tablet as a phone. (Over BT with address book, dialing, voice dialing, CLI
  12. Screen extension (slideable, removable)
  13. PVR facility and dock. (hardware video encoding – 720p)
  14. Wi-Di and wireless audio over Wifi
  15. Rear panel controls and gestures area.
  16. Glasses-free 3D (plus content)

…and lastly. Lets have a penta-boot system with Windows, Android, MeeGo, Ubuntu and WebOS!

Update: Reader contributions

  • Better device security including encryption of sensitive information (BryanB – via comment below)
  • Good design and implementation of user interface frameworks and the design/implementation of the applications. Really poorly coded application user interfaces can use all the CPU available. [Chippy: I think that’s really part of the Android framework though.] (Sam – via comment)
  • Samsung Keyboard Editor – (Max – via comment)
  • A hinged back cover with a kick-stand that would allow easy battery replacement, SSD upgrades, and safe storage of extra SDHC cards. (jjsjjsva via comment) [Chippy: I love that SDHC storage area idea. That’s a winner!]

Opera Tease Tablet Browser

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You have to love this time of the year, CES is starting and companies are providing all sorts of sneak peaks into what they have been working on to keep our gadget appetites suitably moistened.

Opera haven’t disappointed with quick preview of a new version of their popular mobile browser designed specifically for tablets. Announced on the Opera blog, this new version appears to be tailored for the larger screens of tablets.

Opera used the Samsung Galaxy Tab to preview the browser meaning an Android version is certain although I also suspect an iOS version for the iPad will be announced, especially with the rumored iPad2 looming for sometime this year.

As you can see the browser uses Operas visual bookmarks layout called Speed Dial and appears to run smoothly on the Galaxy Tab although its hardly surprising given the hardware.

As far as I am aware this will be the first browser customised specifically for tablets so it should be interesting to see what other features Opera can pack into this new edition to differentiate it from the vanilla mobile version.

Via jkOnTheRun

Nokia N8 + Galaxy Tab Companions for CES Tested

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We’re all unique customers and all have our unique requirements. I categorise myself as th ‘boy scout’ type. I am not a fan of highly converged devices (the N900 was not something for me) but I do like being prepared with a good, mobile set of kit. I have a tendancy to want to cover as many scenarios as possible with my mobile devices but I balance that with the realisation that you can’t have one device for each task. Some convergence is needed. But how much?

One device I’m testing at the moment is the Nokia N8 which I think (although I’km not 100% sure yet) will slot in as my personal high-end featurephone with the Samsung Galaxy Tab and a netbook/notebook. I have a long-term love of what I call mobile online photography. Sharing and moving images wirelessly is important and having a camera in the pocket at all times is critical to catching memories. It’s the reason I used an N82 for so long.

Dovetailing…

Note that I didn’t call the N8 a smartphone. Technically, it probably is but when lined up with the best smartphones out there, it falls short. It has a specific target audience and my Sister summed it up when she bought an N8 recently. She told me she wanted a phone, a camera and an MP3 player. She does a bit of Facebook and Web access but not enough that the N8, with it’s relatively low-end web performance, was going to be a problem.

Those three requirements are the primary ones I’m thinking of too as I look at the limits of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s too big to be an MP3 player or phone and as a camera, the size also has disadvantages. Samsung didn’t exactly go OTT with the camera specifications too!

The N8 also brings in some other important features.

  • Notifications in the pocket.
  • Clock / Alarm clock
  • FM Radio / transmitter
  • One handed messaging / reading
  • Offline maps

As a bonus, you get HDMI and analogue A/V out, AMOLED screen, USB On-the-Go (with USB HDD, keyboard and mouse support) a relatively open filesystem and, in my opinion, quite an original, smart design. I have the Orange version and it’s on loan from Nokia in the UK. Thanks to them for letting me test it out.

At a push, the N8 can do everything a smartphone can but having had great experiences with Android and iOS, it’s a real step back to be using Symbian for some of the things I used those operating systems for. Image, URL and selection sharing becomes a chore. ‘Share’ in Symbian-speak means OVI services (Twitter or Facebook) and ‘Send-to’ allows other services to link-in. Some apps such as the popular Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook application Gravity, don’t link into these share services at all. In fact, applications like Opera don’t even offer an integrated share option.  Notifications seem to appear in random places too and setting up internet connectivity between WiFi and 3G is a bit of a juggle to start with.

I’m pleased to say that the battery life is OK, voice quality is good, it feels strong and the audio player and camera application are fast. HDMI and USB converter cables are included and there’s a dual-charger option. Both the mini Nokia connector and the micro-USB ports charge the device. I like that! In fact, I like the N8!

The CES Plan

Last year I did CES with a tripod, camera, phone, mid and netbook,battery pack and of course, mains connectors. This year I want to do at least one day with a lightweight mobile setup. I will use a Sprint 3G Mifi while i’m in Vegas so unfortuinately, while it gives me a mobile hotspot, it does mean strapping a battery pack onto it to make it last all day. The idea is to do photo blogging during the day and the videos I take will be uploaded during the evening. The N8 will take 720p videos at up to about 8Mbps and even has on-device editing which could help.

Here’s the set-up I plan to use:

image

In the image you can see a ‘device’ strapped to a battery pack. I used a battery charger to simulate the MiFi unit that would actually be there. Today, my MiFi unit is being used elsewhere.

The total weight:

image

What advantage will I have?

CES is a brutal show and there’s lots of walking. I’ll be extremely happy if I can reduce the weight from around 5KG to 1KG. Importantly I should get some speed advantage too as the photo blogging process is simple and fast.

What disadvantage will I have?

  • No detailed video editing during the day. (In fact, Video on the N8 doesn’t really lend itself to close-up product videos so I may have a bigger problem here. See testing notes below.)
  • Higher bitrate (unedited) videos will take longer to upload.
  • Video camera will be higher resolution but without stabiliser, good optics, zoom, continuous auto-focus, the end result will look lower worse than my previous set-up with a VGA-capable camera.
  • I won’t have a keyboard during the day.
  • No tripod (always bad when handling a product and trying to film at the same time)
  • No ability to upload multiple images into my gallery. All will have to be posted direct to WordPress in a compressed format.

Testing

This afternoon I took an hour to simulate some CES work. I used my studio to simulate the low-lighting product bays and moved around my house, inside and out, while I wrote the blogs. I pushed out 4 posts in an hour which isn’t bad. You can see the test posts here. I’m happy with the keyboard input on the Tab. Happy with the battery life of the kit. Happy with the camera (pushing photos to the Tab is simple and quick over BT) and I’m happy that I’ll have enough connectivity. As a photo-blogging set-up, this is awesome. In fact, if I wasn’t having to use a MiFi, this setup would be well under 1KG, including the bag, my Wallet and a few other bits and pieces.

I’m not happy with the video though and this could be a showstopper for me. Videos are extremely important for my work. During 2010 the number of video views I got per day on YouTube grew by at least 4x to around 12000 per day. Views on articles are not growing that quickly. I currently use VGA for file-size and usability but I am definitely wanting to upgrade to 720p in 2010.

I took a video with the N8 during the test and it was very poor indeed. The problem is that the N8 has a fixed-focus video configuration which means it doesn’t work well for close-up work and that’s exactly the scenario I need to cover. Despite recordings being high-bitrate and high-resolution files, the quality isn’t good enough for this close-up work. I’ve used the video function in typical smartphone scenarios and it’s great but my special requirement is a real problem. Does this mean I’ll have to take my old Canon S2IS for videos? If I do, why bother with the N8 at all?  Sure, the Canon adds 500 grams  but even at 2KG, I’m saving a lot of weight and I get that critical video capability back.

Maybe there’s even a better, lighter camera option?

I’m now taking a look at a new standalone camera that includes WiFi, Bluetooth, 720p recording and weighs just 168gm. Remembering that professional photo and video blogging is not the same as professional photography and that mobility is absolutely key to my work, the Samsung ST5500 might work out well.

It really looks like the N8 won’t quite fit in as my mobile video device. I’m sad! I really thought I’d found an amazingly light and flexible mobile reporting kit for trade shows but now I know that if the N8 can’t do the video part, no smartphone can offer the photo/video performance I’m looking for.

Tomorrow i’ll be heading out to at least try a Samsung ST5500. At 200 Euro it’s not that expensive and there’s a possibility it will lift my mobile reporting kit to the next level. Happy to hear your suggestions for a sub 200gm compact for low-light and close-up moblogging though!

As for the N8 it still could fit in well. Despite the problem above It still seems to fit my setup better than any other phone. I love the quality of the build and the small features like the fm transmitter, usb on-the-go, metal body and even silly little things like timed profiles and the lock/unlock slider. For general family/friend videos it’s going to be fine too. I’m also reading that software updates are coming soon. Browser improvements, sharing improvements and continuous focus video recording will really help. As for the market and third party apps, I’m actually very happy to be doing that on my Galaxy Tab. The dovetailing really does seem good. There’s no doubt I will take the N8 to Las Vegas in a few weeks so standby for more reports on it.

Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock Review

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Dock in action _2_ Sometimes we’re lucky in Europe, sometimes not. With the Galaxy Tab we’re generally lucky because Germany was one of the first countries to get mass-market availability. It’s also one of the first places to get the Galaxy Tab HDMI Docking Station. Model number: ECR-D980

Recommended price is 49,90 Euros but let me just say this now – don’t buy it for that price. Not only is it available for much less (I bought it for 36 Euro) but it simply isn’t worth 50 Euro. It’s nothing much more than a stand and a break-out cable and once you’ve bought the HDMI cable to go with it, you’re looking at a lot of money just to get the digital video signal from one connector to another.

Yes, there’s no HDMI cable included which completely caught me off-guard. I ended up heading out to the local electronics shop where, of course, the lowest cost cable was out of stock. I paid 29 Euro for a mini HDMI to HDMI cable which is again, too much. The other thing you’ll need is the power cable from your original Galaxy Tab because again, it’s not provided and you need it to activate the HDMI port. That means if you want to charge the Tab somewhere other than the dock or use the cable for PC connectivity, you need to remove it from the dock. A royal pain in the arse and certainly not user friendly. The other cable problem has to do with the original USB cable. It’s all of about 50cm long and just doesn’t reach to most plug locations. Samsung have not thought this one through.

One more thing, there’s no 3.5mm audio cable proved either but I guess that won’t surprise you now.

As you’ll see in the images, there are just the three ports on the dock. Mini HDMI, 3.5mm audio and the power cable input. Analogue video is not exposed on the docking port so you’ll have to buy another cable for that (17 Euro street price) which means you’ll have to remove the device from the dock, stop charging and connect the A/V breakout cable. Again, not elegant. The build quality is good and the base-located speaker openings are routed well.

Galaxy Tab Dock Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock (4) Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock (3)

Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock (12) Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock (8) Galaxy Tab HDMI Dock (11)

You can also flip the Tab into landscape mode and use the dock as a stand…

hdmi dock as stand (1)

More images in the Gallery.

Video Playback

Once you’ve got over the cable issue and got things connected up, you’ll see various output styles that depend on device orientation and application control. For example, the home screen flips to fill the screen when you put the device in landscape mode. YouTube plays in full-screen regardless of device orientation. Games, such as Asphalt 5 HD, only show in landscape mode and video playback through the local video player or through the DLNA ‘AllShare’ player always show in full-screen.

I tested the output on two devices. One, an LG digital TV, the other, an LG monitor (both 1080p capable) and got two different results in terms of quality. It also highlighted some audio issues that you need to be aware of.

The LG digital TV worked well and seemed to display in a ‘native’ resolution although there were a few lines missing at the top and bottom of the screen. If the monitor has 1080 vertical resolution and the Tab, 1024, why are there lines missing? There’s some overscan or scaling issue here on my TV. Playback of videos from the local storage was great and a 1080p trailer played just beautifully although without sound due to the lack of AC3 down-conversion. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Google Earth was fun too although the up-scaling from 1024×600 definitely shows up on-screen! I even tried a racing game. By holding the dock and device in landscape mode you can use the Tab as a controller and watch it on the screen. It’s fun but not that practical with two cables hanging out of the back. Roll-on wireless HDMI because that game/controller scenario could really be something special.

On the second screen, an LG monitor, I got poor results. The screen showed the Tab as a 1080i input at 30fps but the resolution was very poor indeed. The home screen and browser text was pixelated and ugly; The scaling on this device just didn’t work-out, even after checking monitor configuration. For reference, the display is an LG W2261VP as seen here on Amazon. Interestingly, when I played out a 1080p video, the quality was perfect as on the LG TV.

Audio playback

Audio is presented in digital format over the HDMI cable so you have the opportunity to break that out from your TV or HiFi system if supported but it it would have been nice to see an S/PDIF or TOSLINK connector for direct routing to a Hi-Fi system. Sure, many A/V Amps have HDMI inputs now but many (including mine) still use dedicated digital audio connectors. On my LG TV the digital audio pass-through worked and allowed me to connect my home Hi-Fi through an optical digital link.

In the monitor configuration mentioned above you need to be careful about audio because although an analogue audio out put is provided on the dock, this is disabled when HDMI is working. If you are using a monitor without audio subsystem and speakers, you need to make sure that monitor can decode the audio to an analogue audio port or pass it through to another digital audio port.  With a TV, you’ll probably be OK. At least you’ll have built-in speakers and you’re likely to have a digital audio pass-through too.

Multi-channel audio

I experienced a problem with digital audio when you get to surround-sound tracks like AC3 WMA multi-channel or DTS. The Galaxy Tab does not decode these tracks to a stereo track for playback, either on-board or through the HDMI port. It would be OK if the raw digital audio track was simply passed through to the HDMI cable but doesn’t appear to be. There’s no way at all to get a surround soundtrack to an external decoder and this is something that could catch a lot of people out.  The only hope here is that Samsung include this in the next firmware or that I’m an idiot and have missed some configuration somewhere. [It could be that my TV is not passing through the raw digital stream to my Hi-Fi. Let me know if you have a the dock and have success with raw multi-channel digital audio pass-through]

Powerpoint Presentation

The ThinkFree Office presentation software outputs in landscape mode only which means that although the HDMI output is always full-screen, you’ll have to rotate the HDMI dock through 90 degrees for on-Tab viewing. I tested a demo presentation with an image and default transition and although the transition wasn’t smooth (see performance issue below) it was acceptable and interesting to see. A downloaded PPT with no transitions, worked well.

Bedside dock problem

The main reason for me buying the dock (apart from testing it for Carrypad) was to use it as a bedside dock. It would be an easy way to charge and an easy way to bring my media server content up to the TV I occasionally use. I also wanted to hook up some mini speakers for music. The problem is that as long as the HDMI cable is connected and there is some form of connection at the other end, the backlight stays on. If your TV completely disconnects the HDMI (and any terminating resistance I that I suspect is being detected) then it might work for you because unplugging the HDMI cable turns the backlight off but if you’re not lucky, the backlight stays on. Even at low levels it’s too much for many people and in my situation, i’ll have to leave the HDMI cable disconnected until needed. That’s not what I call user-friendly! A ‘bedside’ app that fixed these problems would be perfect. Timed profiles, easy access to alarms, backlight off (or very low-light clock) and other features would make it perfect.

Performance issues

Plugging in the HDMI cable affects performance. It’s easy to see. The UI goes choppy and things take longer to operate. For video playback, the Galaxy Tab screen is frozen so there’s no real issue there but you’ll notice it in mirrored-screen scenarios. Although this is a noticeable issue, it hasn’t affected the way I wanted to use the dock for A/V operations. If you’re thinking of anything like PowerPoint presentations (from ThinkFree Office for example)  then there is a slight smoothness hit.

Remote PMP using DLNA

If you have the mini-HDMI cable though and are confident that you have content in the right format and a TV that will work then the dock could make a really nice and good-value remote video playback unit. I’ve been testing out various DLNA solutions and although Windows Vista media server doesn’t work and Twonky Media Server (on Vista) isn’t working 100% with the Tab,  I’ve been getting better results from a pure Windows 7 solution although not without the occasional problem. In a working set-up it makes quite a tidy remote media player using the provided ‘AllShare’ application. Note that large libraries take a long time to show on the AllShare application and don’t appear to be cached for future use.

Dock in action (9) Dock in action (4) Dock in action (11)

Dock in action (2) Dock in action Dock in action (1)

Click to enlarge. More images in the Gallery.

Round-Up

For most people, I don’t think the HDMI dock is worth it. If it was 30 euro with a cable then, yes. If it was 35 Euro with a cable and power adapter – a must-buy but I’d recommend waiting for price drops or and aftermarket solution before going ahead unless you have a specific need that is covered above.

However well it works out though, I’ll probably always be reminded of the poor power cable solution and that 20 euro HDMI cable I had to buy and when those surround-soundtracks don’t play, I’ll be annoyed all over again. The HDMI dock hasn’t really worked out for me yet. Be careful when you make your purchase because it might not work out for you too.

Galaxy Tab Game – Need For Speed Shift

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Just arrived in the Samsung Apps market today is Need For Speed Shift – Full version – Free. This is the second racing game to appear in the last week. Previously we had Asphalt 5 HD, again, full and free. If you’ve got a Galaxy Tab these apps might not be appearing in your Samsung Apps catalogue due to country restrictions. My Tab was bought and is operating in Germany although it is set to English language. Need For Speed Shift does not appear in the standard  Android Market here so I’m not sure if there’s an alternative route for it. Let me know if it’s available where you are (and if it’s also free – indicating that the Samsung App catalogue is largely a marketing channel!) Oh, and before you ask, no, I’m not putting up the .apk , Sorry!

I am putting up a video though. You can see Need For Speed Shift demonstrated in the video below. Watch in HQ/480p  for best version.

It works well! Smooth, responsive, enjoyable! If you’ve got a Tab, look for it in the Samsung Apps application.

Soft Keyboard Wins Thanks To Galaxy Tab

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Hard vs Soft

I didn’t expect this to happen but I’ve reached the point where an on-screen keyboards is better than hardware keyboards on my mobile devices. The soft keyboard on the Galaxy Tab is now my fastest mobile text-input device.

Can you remember the on-screen keyboard delivered that was delivered with XP? Oh….my…God!

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It was meant for accessibility and emergency use and it was basic, to say the least. The XP Tablet Edition keyboard wasn’t much better so it’s no wonder many of us went for hardware keyboards on our mobile devices. I went for quite a few of them.

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The appeal of a weightless on-screen keyboard was always there but in practice, the execution was terrible. Either the devices were too heavy or the keyboards just weren’t responsive enough. Resistive touchscreens, screen sizes,  lack of haptics and dumb software didn’t help. Sure, the hardware keyboards were often poor too, Using long-throw keys for thumb-typing isn’t optimal but there were some good ones out there.

With the introduction of capacitive screens and intelligent on-screen keyboards, things started to change. The iPhone led and my own experience hit a peak with the HTC Desire. Still, portrait mode isn’t easy on these single-hand devices and landscape mode was blocking most of the screen so I still longed for something that slides-out but when I got the Galaxy Tab, the crossover point was reached. I am now faster on the Tab than on any other hard or soft mobile keyboard. With concentration, I can reach 80% of the speed I have on a full size keyboard and without, an easy 70% and I still have over 50% of my screen free when I’m using it.

How am I using it?

See this article with video demo. I’m using the device in portrait mode and thumbing on the Samsung keyboard with about 30% haptic feedback strength. Since that video was made, I’m even faster.

The low weight means that device doesn’t get top heavy. The width means the thumbs can cross-over across the keyboard.

The capacitive screen and haptics work quickly and give the feeling of real physics although the OSK can get held back occasionally meaning you have to type ahead and hope it buffers. It usually does but that problem definitely needs sorting out.

The intelligence in the Samsung Keyboard is great. I have to assume they are using variable hit-patches. (e.g. the hit area of the U increases if you type a Q and so on) and XT9 predictive text is more value than hindrance once you get used to it. I don’t use word completion but you’ll see the settings I do use below…

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That combination of virtual physics, size/weight and intelligence has me using the Tab for far more than I thought possible. I’ve written 5 reasonable sized blog posts and a ton of emails, Tweets, IM’s, comments and annotations. I’ll be taking it to CES and I bet I use it a lot. Thank goodness the battery life is good!

Landscape mode is a problem for the on-screen keyboard but I rarely use the device in that mode. Video playback usually forces it along with the occasional rotate needed for photos.

Could it be improved? Yes. I mentioned the occasional pause above and I think there’s scope for a wider screen with 800 pixels width. I’d also  like to see an option for a dedicated number row. Haptics can always be improved too but right now I’m very happy and importantly, no longer lusting after hardware keyboards on my mobile devices.

Anyone else experienced this cross-over point with a mobile on-screen keyboard?

Galaxy Tab worked Hard!

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While I wait for my (6 hour) delayed flight here in Frankfurt it’s probably worth putting some text down about how the Tab has performed today, a day of snow, cold and cancellations.

Unplugged at about 10am today the Tab was fully charged and performed its first duty by giving me the time of the next bus the the main station. From that point onvit’s been non-stop tabbing. My day has been turned upside down and the Tab has been the hub of my communications. Emails to family and customers to keep them up to date. Sms’ and tweet all the way, looking up my hotel details, phone numbers for the hotel, more train times and status updates, flight information and of course, keeping up with news and RSS feeds. It’s coming up to 2000hrs and that’s ten hours of work with wifi on, Bluetooth in use, 3g on and a bunch of apps (Facebook, email, twitter, wordpress,  contacts) updating regularly in the background.

The experience has been great.

But I also had a phone with me! The old N82 was critical for calls to travel agents, hotels, family and customers. It was also my camera for the day.
The Tab is good but not 100% converged. I just couldn’t be bothered to plug in a headset and the camera, in comparison with the N82, just sucks.

So as I hot the last 10% of battery I’m pleased that I can send you all this little blog. Written on the Galaxy Tab portrait mode woth the on screen keyboard and the WordPress application!

Typing error left in so you can see how good/bad it is!

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