Tag Archive | "honeycomb"

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.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Owner’s Impressions and 13 Apps for Getting Things Done

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I have only had my Amazon Kindle Fire for about four days. I have admittedly spent a lot of that time in my Amazon account on a PC setting up my account to access more services and content channels than I have been using in the past. I have also not had much time to put a lot of these apps through their paces on the Fire, but my initial checkouts indicate that they are as useful as they are on my other Android devices, so we wanted to make sure that other users or potential Kindle Fire buyers know that they are out there.

A bit of preamble as to why I have this thing in the first place. After a brief recovery, my iPad’s critical display fault resurfaced, rendering it useless. There are a few options out there for replacing it for $299 and up; mine is a 1st generation 64GB 3G + WiFi model. In order to replace it at the same level of capability, the options move to the higher end of the price spectrum. Truth is, I felt like right now was a bad time to replace it with either a refurbished 1st gen iPad or an iPad 2, with a potential iPad 3 within six months of announcement. Perhaps more importantly, as I surveyed the other gadgets at my disposal, I questioned whether I needed another 10″ tablet in any flavor of mobile OS. The Kindle Fire was an inexpensive choice, and I had already fallen in gadget-love with my Kindle 3 that I had picked up over the summer. At $199, the Kindle Fire is just outside the impulse buy window. Picking one up meant not giving up much in terms of any future purchase opportunities.

For initial setup, I used a method that I typically employ in using another device already in my mobile kit as a reference configuration. In this case, I used my Spring HTC Evo 3D, and spent a couple of night after work plumbing the Amazon App Market for all of my Android Apps or suitable substitutes. I could have tracked down the .apk’s for each app, but I do not know that doing so would have been any less time-consuming than searching for them on Amazon. And while side loading the apps would have been a good way to exercise my freedom, I wanted to at least make an attempt at using the device as Amazon envisioned. If I can use it with the vendors constraints, than general consumers should be fine with it, and enthusiasts can determine how much they will have to go over in order to tailor it to their needs.

I have 56 apps loaded on the Kindle Fire right now. Here the top productivity and utility apps that I felt were essential to have onboard. Where pricing information is indicated, it is always in reference to pricing on Amazon:

13 Kindle Fire Productivity Apps

AK NotePad [free] – AK NotePad does not do much other than act as a no-muss, no-fuss text editor. I do a lot of writing in this app, anywhere from starting my blog posts to simple notes on home maintenance projects and sysadmin projects. I use this app on every Android device that I own, and was quite happy to find it available on Amazon for the Kindle Fire.

Battery Percentage Status Icon Alert [$0.99] – I always insist on being able to see my battery percentage without having to drill all the way down into the Settings menu on an Android device. This app does not implement the status view as optimally as I would like. In my other Android apps, the percentage is visible in the alert area of the display. On the Kindle Fire, you have to open the Alerts menu in order to see it. Still, that is a single drill-down versus the 3-step process to get to it via the stock Android method.

CalenGoo [$2.99] – In the wake of making my decision to procure the Fire, I have been on a few boards and seen comments on debating the value of the Kindle Fire. One of the big ones is the Blackberry Playbook versus the Kindle Fire argument, and I have seen Fire proponents claim the Fire’s advantage of having native email, calendar, contacts, and notes. Well, for calendar and notes, I do not know what native apps were supposed to be on my Kindle Fire, but I did not find them before I decided to just get CalenGoo. The app syncs with my Google Calendar and even syncs with my Calendar Task list. It also displays both my personal calendar as well as the one my wife and I share. In fact, it has several display options that the stock Android Calendar apps (both the Gingerbread version and the Honeycomb version) do not provide. I will likely be switching all my Android devices over to this app for my Google Calendar needs.

Colornote [free] – I suspect that just about every Android user is familiar with this app, as it comes pre-installed on many Android devices. Of particular note is that the recent updates have added a calendar view for your notes so that you can make them specific to a date. The big advantage of that feature is to then make a date specific widget on your homepage, but, admittedly, the Kindle Fire does not allow widgets on the homescreen. Still, this is a great app for making checklists and taking general notes.

Documents-to-Go Full – There are a couple of reasons why you will need an office suite on your Kindle Fire if you are going to use it for document editing on the go. The main reason is, well, so that you can do document editing on the go, if you feel that is a use-case you need the Fire to fulfill. The other reason is because Google Docs and DropBox do not exist in the Amazon App Store. So I put Documents-to-Go Full on my Fire, as I do on every Android device. I needed it anyway to meet the first need I mentioned. But I also use it if I need to access my Google Docs from the device. (the Main App which only allows you view documents is free; $14.99 for the full version, and I could not find a way to use my registry key that I have for the license that I purchased from the Android Marketplace to use on the Kindle Fire, although I did not spend a lot of time trying and I reckon that there’s some way).

ES File Explorer [free] – Surprisingly, it is compatible with the Kindle Fire and appears to work the same as it would on any other Android device. I half expected that Amazon would not want you to have visibility on the Fire’s folder structures, but that is thankfully not the case. ES File Explorer is an essential utility if you want to store files in areas other than the defaults that other apps select for you.

Evernote [free] – I have not signed into my account on the Fire yet, but this app was available on Amazon, and indicates that it is compatible with the Fire. I tend to keep my online research notes in here, article ideas, thoughts on tech and any forum posts I write that I think might be good content for a later article.

Note Everything [free / $3.99 for Pro] – I do not know that we will ever see anything like the desktop version of Microsoft’s OneNote for Android, but in its absence, Note Everything does a decent job of allowing you to organize notes and encapsulate them in different folders to reduce your in-app clutter. (Free for the baseline app; $3.99 for the Pro version; I normally run the Pro version, but I am not certain what the differences are between it and the base version I am running on the Kindle Fire yet)

Office Calculator [free / $1.69 for Pro] – Another thing that the Fire is missing is a built-in Calculator. This one does the trick. (Free – I am running this version; $1.69 for the Pro version)

QuickOffice PRO [included / $9.99 for Pro] – The non-pro version comes per-installed on the Fire. The Pro version can be used to access your DropBox account. (Free or $9.99 for the Pro version)

Read It Later [$1.49] – A Kindle Fire client for accessing your Read it Later account.

SpringPad [free] – As important to me as Evernote; possibly more so. I primarily use this for some of the same duties that I mentioned I use Evernote for. But sometimes, Springpad is faster, and so there are some notes and files that I retain there.

The Weather Channel and AccuWeather – I counted this as one for purposes of the title, because I am pretty sure that one of them was pre-installed on the Fire when I bought it. There is nothing much to say about either of these apps, other than that they both do what they need to, which is admittedly not much!

So that is the quick and dirty…grab these apps if you plan on doing anything more on your Kindle Fire than just consuming content. I will admit that not being able to attach an external keyboard puts a dent in my gadget M.O. of trying to see how much productivity I can achieve out of any device. I will also admit that my current assessment is that the Kindle Fire, for me, will be an uber-eReader or uber-PDA, falling short of full tablet utility. Without being able to attach keyboards, mice, and external monitors, the Fire will be the center of my reading experience, but only short duration productivity stints. I would not take off on travel like I did for the Thanksgiving break carrying the Kindle Fire as my productivity device; the lowest end I will go to for that would be something like my Acer Iconia Tab A500, which is what I took along with a USB keyboard and wireless mouse. However, I am completely confident walking out of the house for a day trip or with a laptop stuffed in a bag knowing that I can work and read from the Kindle Fire while in transit and leave the laptop to rest until I get to my destination.

Addendum:

Let me close out with a few words on a couple of the controversies surrounding the Kindle Fire. On the debate of Kindle Fire versus the Nook Tablet, I was driven by my poor experiences with the Barnes and Noble website service layer and its linkages to the Nook, a component of that term that everyone keeps using…ecosystem. During the time that I owned my Nook, I was locked out of my account 3 times, and in each instance, I received no indication from the website that the reason I could not log in or make a purchase was because my account had been locked. When this happened for the third time (and when I was on travel to-boot) I lost my patience for it. It will be a long time before I am ready to tether myself back to my Barnes and Noble account and a corresponding device. On the choice between Playbook versus the Kindle Fire; I was very interested in the productivity I could get out of the Playbook. However, I was not confident in the level of app support and being able to find everything I needed. I was also not confident in the degree of support RIM will be able to provide at all. Spending an extra $100 to get a Playbook (my local stores are out of the 16GB for $199 model), that may or may not ever see the 2.0 OS update or BBX, was a sketchy proposition. As a long-term investment, I felt confident that Amazon was not going to cast aside the Kindle Fire and remove support for it any time soon.

For my other thoughts on other debates surrounding the Kindle Fire, I am attaching my comment post to a Boy Genius Report article that ran near the end of last week. The article reports on a study conducted by a market analysis firm, which tracked ad impression counts for the Kindle Fire during the weeks covering its launch through the week ending after the Thanksgiving holiday. Because the number of ad hits dropped off during the days following Thanksgiving, the firm drew the conclusion that most buyers of the tablet had become unenthusiastic about the device after the initial purchase window. The analyst further goes on to say that, because the Kindle Fire does not have all of the same features as the iPad, that it cannot compete in the tablet market, and that consumers want devices that have the same feature-set as Apple’s tablet. My response frames a lot of how I perceive the utility of the Kindle Fire, and what type of user I think the device is good for.

Comment Response to Amazon Kindle Fire already cooling off, study suggests:

 “A very questionable study with conclusions drawn based on very limited data points. And what else besides price-point would “fall inline with consumer demand”? If it was features or specs, then it would seem that a lot more Android devices would be getting sold. I believe that tablet vendors have tried to compete with the iPad by going toe-to-toe on features and specs, or by even trying to clearly exceed the iPad on features and specs, and have encountered very little success. As one commenter indicated below, this a classic case of drawing a conclusion from a single metric and then extrapolating its relevance as if it was conclusive evidence of a definitive trend.

In the first few days with a Kindle Fire, I have spent all of my time in apps and pulling down content locally to the device and consuming it there. I have not spent anytime in the browser, yet I have essentially used no other mobile OS devices but the Kindle Fire. So I have expended many hours of usage, none of which would have contributed to this metric.

My belief is that users are employing the Kindle Fire as a device that receives all of its content through Amazon and in-app data streams. I believe users are more likely to buy digital magazines or newspapers than go to those publications’ websites via the Silk browser. This allows them to consume that content on the go, in an entirely encapsulated experience, without continuing dependency on connectivity once the download is complete. I also believe that Kindle Fire users are using the devices to do very specific things in very specific apps, and are not plunking down on a couch and engaging in general web surfing sessions for extended periods of time. A 7″ display would seem to lend itself to relatively brief surfing sessions of somewhat constrained and previously bookmarked websites.

I do not believe that ad impressions is the right metric to estimate Kindle Fire usage. It is designed to meet a different overall CONOP than other tablets. Just because it is in a slate form-factor does not mean that its degree of attraction to consumers can be measured using the same metrics and subjective assessments that can be applied to other slate form-factor devices. I do not believe that trying to compare the Kindle Fire to the iPad is an apples-to-apples comparison (no pun intended); a perspective that a surprisingly large portion of the tech analysis and tech media population seem to not be considering.

A more effective metric I think would be to look at the amount of content being purchased from Amazon either directly from Kindle Fire units, and/or the amount of sales growth in the Amazon App store, regardless of point-of-purchase (I have selected a lot of apps for the Kindle Fire via my PC, and then sync’d and installed those purchases to the Kindle Fire).

And I think the original analysts ending conclusion is just way off. Amazon is not trying to “truly compete in the tablet market”; at least not in the way it has been defined so far this year. And basing the win-lose assessment on what perceived consumer demand is…I do not know how anyone could assume to define this effectively. There was little to no concrete demand for a slate-style, media consumption device before the iPad’s arrival. There were a very small number of us who used TabletPCs and UMPCs, and the rest of the world who looked at us and the slate form-factor in general like we were crazy. Most consumers bought the iPad in droves without being able to effectively articulate how they were even planning on using it, or what use-cases they thought its capabilities would satisfy. What I think the Kindle Fire is trying to do is to provide a low-cost device, that has above crap-tablet level specs, and provides a 1-stop, integrated, homogeneous consumption channel for content. I can do pretty much everything that my Kindle Fire can do on my iPad, Xoom, Iconia A500, or ThinkPad Tablet. But in order to do it I have to have several different accounts, launch multiple apps from different vendors that get updated in different increments…you get the point…those experiences are very non-cohesive. And once I start moving, many of them become dependent on continuous connectivity.

I have an iPad, my wife has one, and our friends have them. But the way I use mine is vastly different than the minimal use-cases they employ theirs for. I believe that 80 – 90% of the use-cases that the average consumer would use an iPad for, can be met with a device like the Kindle Fire that provides that 1-stop shopping experience, that is highly reliable, and provides support and reach-back if you make a purchase and encounter problems, and can act as a single trusted-agent. Metrics that define those experiences are the ones that I think would be more relevant to look at than ad hits. You cannot make sweeping, broad, all encompassing assessments based off of singular data points.

I think if analysts are going to assess the indicators of Kindle Fire purchases and their impact, maybe one angle that needs to be looked at is how many consumers will see the $200 Kindle Fire as meeting their minimum need and preventing the need to step up to a $500 iPad? Certainly an argument can be made that the $500 iPad is more capable, but the more relevant question seems to be whether or not consumers perceive that they need that extra $300 worth of capability, or if the $200 package will be good enough. My regrets for voicing an opposing opinion.

– Vr/Zeuxidamas.”

Hands-On With the Sony Tablet P Android Clamshell

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From Sony Tablet P

Thanks to Al Sutton of Funky Android at Droidcon NL in Holland this week I got a lot of hands-on time with a retail version of the Sony Tablet P that has just arrived on the shelves in the UK. It’s the Psion 5-like dual-screen Android clamshell that I found quite exciting at IFA in Sept. It may look strange but there’s some nice mobile usability features tucked inside. Sony have done a reasonable job of optimizing Sony apps and gaming capabilities for the screen but there are some issues with standard apps and text input which mean the Sony Tablet P may only be interesting for people wanting the Sony media and gaming experience.

Obviously the clamshell form factor brings a natural screen protector into play which improves ruggedness. There’s also an interesting 12wh removable battery, a fantastic screen, a fast processor, Honeycomb build (with possible, not promised, upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich) and a useful 5-row on screen keyboard.

From Sony Tablet P

In terms of size and weight it feels a little bit dense but it’s about the same weight as a Samsung Galaxy Tab. It fits into most pockets for short term transport but it’s very thick indeed. Its design certainly doesn’t shout ‘manly’ either.

Although there’s a gap between the screens I found myself ignoring it when reading content. It was great to see a full readable version of Carrypad across the screens and the Tablet P could make an interesting page-per-view reading device. The split screens bring a little issue when dragging across two screens. When the contact is lost the dragged item gets dropped.

From Sony Tablet P

Thumbing is possible in portrait or landscape but I didn’t find it as easy as the Galaxy Tab in portrait mode and the sharp corners dig into your hand. Angling the screen closer to 90 degrees allows a level of table-toppecking but there’s no haptics and its a little hit-and-miss. You certainly won’t enjoy inputting large amounts of text in this way. Again, I find a 7″ portaint-mode Thumbing experience to be much more comfortable.

From Sony Tablet P

I tested a number of apps and was impressed with the amounts of content being presented to me but many apps default into a single screen view. Using Honeycomb’s stretch feature apps are encouraged to spread across with screens. This isn’t always successful though. Google Reader refused to expand and crashed at every attempt. I saw other apps doing this too. This is a critical problem.

From Sony Tablet P

Having a removeable battery is a real advantage to the ultra-mobile user. Battery life looked, after a few hours of testing, very similar to that of the Galaxy Tab 7 – 6hrs screen-on usage over an active period of 12 hrs. It’s not quite all-day capable if you’re relying on this for some productivity.

From Sony Tablet P

Other notes:

  • The Sony Tablet P is not phone-capable but 3G version (4Gb storage) is just under 500 UK pounds
  • Speaker quality is very poor
  • Brightness and viewing angles on screen are excellent
  • No games tested – this is a key feature of the device.
  • Content catalogue not available from on this UK model tested in NL – This is another key feature of the device.

Summary

The Sony Tablet P is an interesting mobile device with some unique and useful features but text input was a little clumsy due to an uncomfortable thumbing grip and lack of haptics. Desktop-pecking is possible, but not efficient.  It seems that gaming could be the only serious unique feature here and I haven’t tested it. If that part of the device works well it’s the entertainment user that is the only type of user that really needs to take a close look at the Sony Tablet P. The reading experience was good and the Tablet P is easy to hold but the weight needs to come down a bit to match some of the best reader-capable tablets. Others looking for a more mobile all-round Android experience may find more pleasure in the Samsung Galaxy Note or 7″ Android slates.

 Gallery

Sony Tablet P

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

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

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

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

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

Colors

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

Manual

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Source Code

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

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

Huawei MediaPad 7 Honeycomb Tablet Review [video]

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I recently got my hands on a trial Huawei MediaPad 7 and over the last week I have been using it instead of my Eee Pad Transformer to see how it stacks up in the workplace.

The screen is one of the Huawei MediPad 7’s strongest features. It’s a 7” capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1280×800 and is IPS. It’s bright and produces colors well and is perfect for photos and videos but is also great for reading text. E-books look fantastic and the text jumps off the “page”.

Build quality

Firstly I am impressed with the look and feel of the MediaPad 7 and it seems to be very well made. The materials are first rate and the fit and finish equal to any other high grade tablet I’ve used. The device feels solid in the hand and it’s ergonomically easy to hold. The MediaPad7 feels a bit heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 (380g vs. 391g) and this may have an impact if you intend to carry it around a lot or hold it for extended periods while reading or watching videos.

Personally I like the smaller form factor but with a high resolution screen and the 7″ size if you don’t have good eyesight you may struggle with the MediaPad 7.

The Cracked Screen

I found out the hard way that the MediaPad doesn’t have Gorilla Glass screen as unfortunately my Son dropped the tablet and it landed screen first and slid a bit. It scratched badly and has a crack running edge to edge across the top of the screen. And this from a drop onto a wood floor from a height of less than 2 feet!  I’d highly recommend a screen protector and a case as the first accessories you buy. Personally I don’t like screen protectors and haven’t fitted any of my devices with one and the Eee Pad, for example, hasn’t got a scratch on it. I don’t know whether it was just bad luck or a soft screen but this scratching is the worst I’ve ever had on a tablet or phone screen and it didn’t take that much of a fall. YMMV as it could also have been a freaky perfect storm of impact and angle.

Cameras

Moving on to the device, I tested the cameras and I was pleasantly surprised by the rear facing camera.  It’s a 5 megapixel camera and just using the standard Android camera interface it handles low light well and the image looked nice and crisp. This photo of a teddy Bear was taken in the middle of the loungeroom with filtered light from a window about 10 feet away and there’s little grain in the image. The front facing camera is 1.3 megapixels and also handled room-only lighting easily. Under low light the MediaPad 7 performed as well as any of the other Android cameras I’ve tested and so would be fine for video conferencing or VOIP calls.

Test image from Huawei Mediapad camera

Keyboards and Mice 

Periperals like my portable Bluetooth keyboard and mice setup worked fine. I couldn’t connect any USB devices or drives because the MediaPad 7 doesn’t have a full-sized USB port, so this was untested.

Battery life

Huawei claims 6 hours for the battery and this feels right to me. I didn’t run any formal benchmarks on the battery but I could easily get through the day and night using it and have 25% left in the battery when I plugged it in at night. I had WiFi and Bluetoth on, auto brightness, and default screen time-out and sleep settings. My ‘all day’ is from 7 am to midnight usually. The MediaPad 7 will do well for active all-day use.

Overall

I liked the Huawei MediaPad 7. Cracked screen aside, the Medipad 7 is well made, fast, has a great screen, and is very portable. With the right accessories, like a good case and a keyboard, it could work OK in an enterprise environment (of course with the standard Android limitations) but the lack of a full size USB port hamstrings the MediaPad 7 for enterprise work. This may be the tradeoff you have to make to get a 7″ form-factor so you need to asses whether the ability to connect drives or peripherals via USB is a real need for you. I prefer the 10″ screen tablets for work but a 7″ is great for portability and as a quick around-the-house consumption device. I’d consider the Huawei MediPad 7 if it’s priced correctly — stay tuned for pricing announcements which should be coming soon from Huawei.

Video

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp5WO-XzEEU&version=3&hl=en_US]

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