Tag Archive | "smartphone"

With Medfield and Android, Intel Prove They’re Ready to Play

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Intel_Smartphone_Reference_Design_front_575pxWhen I tested an Intel Menlow-based MID in July 2008 and saw the PC architecture streaming music into a browser-player running at 2.8W I knew Intel were on the right track. Two years later with their next-gen architecture, Moorestown, they tackled the standby power drain and managed to get it into a phone. I had exclusive hands-on and although the device was hot and eventually deemed uncompetitive, it was clear to see where this was heading. This week at CES I put my hand on the back of an Intel Medfield-based smartphone and felt nothing. No heat! On the front, I saw a quick user experience and when I tested Sunspider I saw an impressive result of 1290ms, with Android 2.x.

Over at AnandTech, meanwhile, Anand has been discussing more details about the performance and energy consumption figures.  Not only are we seeing good performance but Intel are telling us that the efficiency is in the leading class too.  The most impressive figure on the article? 1W browsing. That’s with screen-on and 3G-on. 1 WATT! Intel are now able to control a ‘PC’ to the point where everything turns off except the parts required. That doesn’t mean that Intel will be competitive in all areas though. Like Ultrabooks, the platform is likely to have a high ‘dynamic range’ and probably a higher system thermal design characteristic but if the work that Intel have done on Android is solid, that may not be a problem.

What a shame though that Meego wasn’t around to benefit from Medfield. I’m sure there are Meego devices in the Intel labs working just fine and I’m sure that Tizen is likely to re-surface too (My bet – Samsung + Intel + Tizen make an announcement at MWC) but it would have been nice to see Intel’s Meego work result in a product. I wonder how Nokia are feeling at this point? With the N9 having been a success and the figures on Medfield/Android looking good, Intel may get sweet revenge!

P1010989 (800x600)What Intel need now are product partners and platform advantages. Being competitive isn’t going to be enough to make the best product in the market so this is where 1080p hardware encoding, hardware-based image processing, Wireless-Display, McAfee and other technologies come into play. Intel Insider (for securely streaming first-run movies) and integrated radios, hardware encryption and of course, Intel’s silicon process advantage. if you consider how far Intel have come in the last 4 years, look at their technology portfolio and think about what’s going to happen in the next two years there should be no doubt that Intel will be playing, and possibly leading in the years to come.

I won’t discount Cortex A15 and similar ARM architectures and we must not forget that ARMv8 is going to be feeding in after a few years but Intel’s position with Medfield now enables it to go and court some of its biggest customers for phones, tablets, set-top boxes and more and that partner ecosystem could be the real advantage for Intel.

Intel Smartphone Hands-On. Video, Perf Test

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The Intel Smartphone is here at CES and we’ve just had hands-on. It’s running a Medfield-based platform (Intel Atom Z2460 – 1.6Ghz with Hyperthreading) with Android 2.x

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The design is a certified reference design connected to the AT&T network here and the Android build includes all the Google goodness too. We tested a few apps and responsiveness was good. The phone comes with micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports and the video is hardware accelerated. The 4” 1024×600 screen doesn’t make the design at all bulky.

As for performance, we’re getting the idea that this could be a scorcher. A Sunspider test here resulted in 1290ms – and remember that’s with Android 2.x. We saw some video and game demos too and they were all smooth. Scroll down for a video hands-on with the Intel Smartphone.

 

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Hands On Video

Everything You Need to Know About the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango Update

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Windows Phone 7.5 (AKA Mango) has been previewed by Microsoft for months now. Numerous bloggers have been given access to early builds of it, and it’s been pretty much revealed from head to toe… or so we thought.

Today, Microsoft is officially announcing the rollout of Windows Phone 7.5. Along with that announcement comes the reveal of tethering functionality and a browser-based version of the application store which will offer an easy way to peruse the application store on a computer, much like https://market.android.com/.

Microsoft tells us that Mango updates began this morning around 10AM PST. The process is beginning gradually and will slowly ramp up — they hope to have the update available to most existing customers within 4 weeks. The update is being deployed globally, across all carriers and phones. They say that 98% of existing Windows Phone 7 devices will have access to the update when all is said and done. Kudos to Microsoft for getting the update to nearly all devices, rather than just to a specific carrier or specific phone before everyone else (*cough*Google/Android*cough*).

If you want to find out where your update is, Microsoft has a page which will give you some detail as to the status of the update for your particular carrier. If you’re on a US carrier, you’ll want to check here. International folks should give this link a try for Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update status. You’ll receive a message on your phone when the update is ready, and you’ll need to plug it into your computer for the update to commence. If you don’t already have the Zune software, or Windows Phone 7 Connector (OSX) installed, you’ll want to do that as they are required for update instillation.

If you’re looking for a final list of what will be included in the Mango update, Microsoft has a fairly extensive list of features that you’ll find in Windows Phone 7.5. If you’re a new customer and considering a Windows Phone 7.5 device, take a look at Engadget’s exhaustive review.

As mentioned, previously not revealed facets of Windows Phone 7.5 include tethering functionality and a web version of the App Marketplace. Reports indicate that tethering will only be coming to new phones with Mango installed; it’s unclear whether or not this is a software or hardware problem (my vote is on the former). The web Marketplace is already available for browsing and is part for the course — offering ratings, screenshots, top app lists, and the ability to download apps to your phone wirelessly, thanks to your phone’s association with your Windows Live account.

A Critical Look at the Interface and Ergonomic Issues of Android

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well then, let’s get started.

Origins

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

Screen Ratio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

droid bionic

 

Interface Design Compounds Screen Ratio and Size Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inconsistency and Legacy

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

The Back Button

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

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

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

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

Long Press ~ Right-click

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

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

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

Inconsistent App Paradigms

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

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

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

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

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

foursquare vs gmail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Seeing Really is Believing… Never Point Your Smartphone’s Camera at an Airplane Propeller

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If I saw this out the window of a plane, I’d be a little bit terrified:

 

This seemingly horrifying scene is the result of the way that images are captured by the sensors that we find in many modern smartphones.

Unlike real film cameras, active pixel sensors (like those found in many smartphones) don’t expose every pixel at the same time, but rather, do so in sequence. While the consequences of capturing photos this way is trivial for most things, objects moving at high speed may seem to exhibit some strange behaviors, like the propeller above which appears to be literally falling away from the airplane.

This is definitely tough to explain with text alone but you may find this visual explanation helpful. In the video, the line that moves from the top to the bottom represents the sections of the sensor that are actively capturing data:

If seeing really is believing… never point your smartphone camera at a propeller while in an airplane!

LG Revolution Full Review

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DSC_5161Verizon is well on the way launching all 6 of the initial 4G devices on their roadmap. First was the HTC Thunderbolt, then the Samsung Droid Charge, and now LG’s Revolution. I was expecting the LG Revolution to represent a lesser performing and lower cost entry into the 4G-equipped phone sector though it’s actually priced up there with the others, but also performing better than I had expected.

Hardware Tour:

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Specs:

  • Snapdragon CPU @ 1GHz
  • 368MB of RAM
  • 4.3” capacitive touchscreen @ 800×480
  • Android 2.2.2 with Bing search and custom skinning
  • 16GB memory stick included
  • 4G LTE data connectivity
  • 5MP rear-facing camera with flash (720p HD recording)
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 3.0
  • 6.06 oz. (5.03”x2.64”x0.52”)

Droid X2 Official and Available Soon, Looks Just Like Predecessor With One Strange Omission–Full Specs in our Database

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droid x2 camdroid x camera buttonSo this is interesting. Motorola and Verizon officially announce the Motorola Droid X2 which seems to be a very well speced phone, but the external design appears to be identical to the original Droid X [tracking page][review] except they apparently decided to remove the dedicated camera button. Is that weird to anyone else?

Sure, I complained about the quality of the buttons in my review of the device saying “the volume rocker and lock/power buttons are top-notch in their firmness and clickability, however, the longish camera button could be used as a mini-seesaw and the four front buttons aren’t much to write home about either,” but I was asking for it to be improved, not removed!

The only reason I can think of that would have led to the removal is if Motorola was seeing a high breakage rate on the button – because they didn’t redesign the phone, the button was removed to fix the issue instead of improved. They may have also needed a tiny bit of space inside the phone that would have been saved with the removal of the button, but that seems less likely.

I’m also very surprised to find the Droid X2 lacking a front-facing camera as we don’t often see top-end phones launching without one these days (I blame the lack of redesign).

Shadow_Front_4, 4/16/10, 1:55 PM,  8C, 5088x2704 (480+2768), 100%, bent 6 adjuste,  1/20 s, R57.9, G42.0, B69.7 Anyway, the Droid X2 is here and should be available for purchase online from Verizon by the time you read this. The phone will not surprisingly run you $199 on-contract. The X2 will hit stores a bit later than its online availability; be on the lookout on May 26th for the device in your local Verizon store.

Now what you’re probably really interested in is the specs. The X2 is nearly identical to the Droid X in appearance, but the internals have been beefed up, big time. As usual, these are all official — check it:

  • Android 2.2 (with a promised 2.3 update down the road)
  • Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU/GPU @ 1GHz
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 4.3” “qHD” capacitive touchscreen display @ 960×540 (Gorilla Glass with glare reducing coating)
  • 3G EV-DO
  • 8MP rear camera with dual-LED flash (captures up to 1280×720 video)
  • Micro HDMI-out with 1080p-capable display mirroring
  • 8GB of memory onboard, 8GB MicroSD card pre-loaded

Those a the major details, but we’ve got a full page in our database dedicated to tracking detailed specs, links, and more on the Droid X2. Be sure to check it out for additional details. Oh and don’t forget to see the Droid X2 gallery. It wouldn’t hurt to look at our original Droid X gallery as well considering the circumstances….

Looks like there will be an updated version of Motorla’s Android skin included on the X2. On the original Droid X It was one of the first things I found a replacement for from the Android Market, so I really hope they make the widgets more space conscious this time around.

HTC Droid Incredible 2 Now Available, New GPU Offers 4x Performance Over Original

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droid incredible 2HTC and Verizon have finally gone public with the HTC Droid Incredible 2, which has been known about for some time. It’s available now from Verizon for $299 on-contract.

While I’d love to tell you that the Droid Incredible 2 is going to be the best thing since sliced bread, it actually doesn’t have many distinguishing features, even when compared to the original Droid Incredible. While you may not see many new features, it looks like there may be a good performance bump in the graphics department (see below for more detail). Have a look at a comparison table that I whipped up:

htc incredible comparison chart

While most of the changes are relatively minor, internationally traveled types will enjoy the fact that the Droid Incredible 2 will play nicely when travelling abroad.

The jump from the Adreno 200 to the 205 doesn’t appear significant at first glance, but according to Qualcomm, it’ll provide over 4 times the graphics performance of the Adreno 200 in the original Droid Incredible. Along with the additional 256MB of RAM, it looks like the Droid Incredible 2 will bring the popular phone up to spec for current generation phones.

I’m sure many folks will be disappointed to find that the sequel to their favorite phone doesn’t feature 4G. I’d definitely recommend that anyone looking into buying a Droid Incredible 2 wait for one of Verizon’s several upcoming 4G phones, or go with the Thunderbolt [product page] which is already available.

Samsung/Google Nexus S Review

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DSC_3851Google’s Nexus phone program aims to combine top-end hardware and the latest Android software to create a flagship Android smartphone (and arguably, a developer phone). The first phone from the Nexus program was the Nexus One (HTC). Just recently Google has partnered with Samsung to bring the intuitively not intuitively named Nexus Two Nexus S to market. Does Google + Samsung = Success, or is the Nexus S being quickly superseded by other devices, even if they aren’t yet running the latest Android built? Step inside to find out.

All About Updates

gingerbreadThere’s one thing we should talk about up front. Google’s Nexus phones offer updates to the very latest Android built right as it’s released regardless of the carrier or manufacturer. On pretty much every other Android phone/device, updates are pushed through the carrier or OEM. This means that if users want the latest enhancements for Android (and who doesn’t?) they have to wait for a middle-man to get around to setting everything straight before they get the update. Unfortunately promised updates have failed to come to fruition in a number of cases, leaving users without important feature updates and performance improvements. And even when promised updates do eventually come through, they aren’t always as simple as upgrading right on your phone, making updates unobtainable for those less versed in the computer world.

With the Nexus program, Google provides access to the very latest Android software. Updates always come as soon as they’re released from Google, and they install straight through the phone. This gives any of the Nexus devices an advantage over most other phones. The Nexus S is one of the only [perhaps the only] devices on the market today that comes out of the box with Android 2.3 installed. And, even then after powering it on, the phone will ask to install several incremental upgrades that have been made since the initial Android 2.3 release.

And now back to our regularly scheduled reviewing!

Hardware

DSC_3812Let’s has a quick look at the specs of the phone and a tour around the device. As usual, you can see detailed specs, links, photos, and even compare devices with the Nexus S at it’s tracking page in our device database.

Briefly, before we get to the aforementioned, you might be interested in having a look at our Nexus S overview video:

Specs:

  • Android 2.3
  • Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) CPU @ 1GHz
  • 4” curved Super-AMOLED capacitive touchscreen @ 800×480 (1.67:1 aspect ratio [non-standard])
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 5MP rear camera (only capable of 720×480 [DVD quality] video recording) with single-LED flash
  • 0.3MP front camera (640×480)
  • 16GB of internal memory
  • WiFi b/g/n & Bluetooth 2.1
  • GPS & digital compass
  • 129g (0.284 pounds)
  • NFC (near-field-comm) chip, acelleomoeter, light sensor, proximity sensor, 3-axis gyro

Hardware Tour:

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And that’s all! Yup, it’s a pretty simple phone.

Sony Xperia Play Game Demo and Look-Round

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xperia play

I am certainly not qualified to talk in-depth at the Xperia Play gaming experience but I was certainly quite excited to see the hardware controls and game quality. In the video you hear me talking to a Sony Ericsson representative about the product. We discuss battery life, pricing, availability, get a gaming demo and take a look round the device.

The Xperia play runs Android 2.3 on a Snapdragon 1Ghz CPU (MSM8255with Adreno 205 GPU) with a 4” ‘Reality’ display at a true 16:9, 854 x 480 resolution. Note that Android 2.3 brought in some touch responsiveness extensions and enhancements.

What’s important to me is that another major company is now switching to the ARM/Android chassis for another product category which means Android is now in phones, tablets, media players, cameras, gaming devices, TVs and smartbooks. What’s category do you think Google are looking at for it’s next ‘device-specific ’ branch of Android? Set-top-boxes is something I’ve been keeping an eye on.

Samsung Continuum Review

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DSC_2625.NEFSamsung previously piqued my interested with it’s Galaxy S Fascinate [tracking page][review], so I’ve been excited to give the Continuum a try. The Continuum is much like the Fascinate except it has a 1.8” 480×96 AMOLED “ticker” display underneath the main screen for notifications and quick access to info like time/date/weather/twitter/facebook/etc. Does the extra display equal extra functionality or is it merely a monotonous novelty without much depth? Read our full review to find out!

We’ll start out with the classic hardware tour, but before that I want you to know that, as I mentioned, the Samsung Continuum is very much like the Samsung Fascinate that we reviewed a little while ago. It’s pretty much the same device in a slightly different body and without the Continuum’s extra display. We aren’t in the business of boring our readers so I’m not going to hit you with information that we’ve already covered. I’ll point you to the Fascinate review if need be, but for the most part this review is going to focus on the Continuum’s unique aspects (ie: the ticker display) and it’s particular performance. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Hardware Tour

Here’s a quick visual rundown of the Continuum to get you familiar with the device:

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And here’s the specs (as always, you can find more detailed technical info on our Samsung Continuum tracking page in the device database).

  • 3.4” capacitive Super-AMOLED screen @ 800×480
  • secondary 1.8” capacitive Super-AMOLED @ 480×96
  • Android 2.1 (custom Samsung overlay)
  • ARM Cortex A8 CPU @ 1GHz
  • PowerVR SGX graphics
  • 366MB of RAM
  • 5.0MP auto-focus camera with single-LED flash (capable of 720p HD recording)
  • WiFi b/g/n & BT 3.0

Nokia / Intel / Meego Phone at MWC – Highly Unlikely

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I’ve been seeing a lot of talk and getting a lot of questions about a possible Nokia / Intel / MeeGo phone that could be launched at MWC. Rumors center around the Nokia N9 which is a slider phone said to be running MeeGo and to be launched at MWC. While it might be launching, I doubt very much it’s got Intel inside.

Intel MeeGo Phone

I’ve already predicted 2012 for Intel/MeeGo smartphones because Moorestown’s 2-chip solution isn’t quite perfect for a high-end smartphone. Especially one with limited space for battery as in the slider design you see. I’ve also had private hands-on with MeeGo on Moorestown and seen the work that needs to be done on the MeeGo core before it’s ready. I doubt Nokia want to release another developer-focused ‘demonstrator’ phone in the way they did with the N900

Report: Timeline for MeeGo Devices

With Moorestown not quite right and MeeGo not quite ready, can you imagine the risk of Nokia would have to take showing a beta product or prototype based on MeeGo? No. Nokia and Intel will have agreed to make a splash with the first smartphone and I expect them to wait until later in the year.

Could the N9 be a MeeGo phone on a Ti platform? Yes. Ti were a Gold sponsor of the MeeGo conference in November.

Could we see it launched soon? I’m guessing May based on the fast that Nokia could be working with MeeGo 1.2 beta releases.

Will Nokia pre-announced the N9 at MWC? Assuming it’s a MeeGo product, I doubt it. Nokia have stated that they don’t want to ‘leak’ or preview devices any more.

And here’s another data point:

I spoke to Intel at the end of November about Moorestown and Medfield progress. Here’s what they said:

  • Is Moorestown in full production now?
    Yes, Moorestown has been in production since we rolled it out in May 2010. Our tablet and smartphone customers are using the platform to build their own devices and this is the current focus on Moorestown.
  • Target was 2010 for products, Why the delay?
    You can expect Moorestown based tablets in 1H’11 and smartphones later in the year.
  • What operating systems options are you planning to offer for Moorestown?
    Moorestown supports both Android and MeeGo.
  • Are you accelerating Medfield?
    Medfield is on track and scheduled to launch in 2011

There’s a hint of of a Moorestown smartphone in the answer to the first question but look at the timescales in question 2. ‘Later’ than 1H 11 sounds like 2H 2011 to me. If a Moorestown smartphone is going to happen, it’s not happening until the second half of the year. Medfield isn’t being accelerated as far as I can see based on the answer to the last question.

Finally, my native Finnish-speaking co-podcaster JKK of JKKMobile doesn’t read any solid fact in the Finnish article that started this rumor.

MWC is going to be big for Nokia and big for Intel. Look at the floor space that Intel have this year. Two booths, a Meego hospitality suite, the Wind-River subsidiary and a keynote with Paul Otellini. Rene James , head of the Software and Services Division says this:

There are things we’ll announce at Mobile World Congress that will shed a lot more light on why the value proposition [of MeeGo] makes a lot of sense for consumers and device manufacturers. [ref]

MWC will be all about software for Intel. AppUp on MeeGo. Tablet UI. Major ISV partners. MeeGo V1.2 beta announcement. Major brand joining the MeeGo partnership. All these things are more likely than the Nokia/Intel phone.

As for Intel hardware, expect to see tablets based on Moorestown running MeeGo 1.2 beta and Android. If that’s done right, it could be big enough news to keep the momentum going until later in the year.

LG Gets Official with the Optimus Black

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크기변환_Optimus_Black

Today at CES LG have gone official with their latest Android smartphone. It sports a 4-inch NOVA display which LG claim is “the brightest, clearest and most readable” mobile screen available, promising to be extremely bright while at the same time being more power efficient than both LCD and AMOLED mobile screens.

If the name doesn’t give it away, the phone has a black finish and LG also claims it’s the worlds slimmest mobile phone at an impressive 9.2 mm, which is 0.1 mm thinner than Apple’s iPhone 4. It will be interesting to see if it can still claim to be the worlds slimmest phone by the end of CES.

The Optimus Black seems very similar to the LG Optimus 2X that was announced late last year, however the LG press release gives no indication on what processor is at the heart of this phone leaving me feeling sceptical on whether this device is Tegra 2 powered like the Optimus 2X.

LG say this is also the worlds first ‘WiFi-Direct’ phone which is a very interesting technology that allows direct data transfers between enabled devices.

The Optimus Black will launch with Android 2.2 preinstalled however LG plan on updating the device to Gingerbread which they claim will also provide higher quality video calling through it’s 2 megapixel front facing camera.

This appears to be a very promising phone and I look forward to a hands on when it launches globally in the first half of 2011.

Source: LG

Viewsonic Viewpad 7 Live Review – Videos and Detailed Impressions

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We’ve had the (final version) Viewsonic Viewpad 7 for 2 days now and last night we completed 3hrs of live testing in front of an audience of 480 people. We’re now in a good position to be able to bring you a good round-up review of the device. Live recordings of the stream are embedded below. Unboxing video is here. Thanks to Viewsonic Europe for sending the device over. UK customers can find details of a trade-in offer and retailers here.

Overall quality of the £400 pound tablet is good and we feel that Viewsonic have got the price/quality ratio right. This is a lot more than a £200 open-source Android tablet here and less than a £500 high-end 7” Tablet (e.g. Galaxy Tab) and it sits alone as the cheapest 7” 3G+Voice Google Android tablet on the market. ‘Google’ means that it really does have everything that you find on a Google Android phone including voice capability, compass, GPS, compass, capacitive touchscreen and the latest Android software.  So why is the Viewpad 7 cheaper than the Galaxy Tab then?

Viewsonic Viewpad 7 (7) Viewsonic Viewpad 7 (8)
Click to enlarge. More in the gallery.

Let’s start with the processor that tricked me. I was originally told it was a Snapdragon CPU at 600Mhz but despite some reasonable Web performance, it turned out to be an ARM11-based device. In real-use yesterday I was still quite happy with the browsing speeds and although I would never recommend anyone get an ARM11-based device for serious web work, when laid-back in a passive usage mode, it’s quite acceptable. You’ll see some browser tests in part 3 of the video review below. The GPU, Adreno 200 – the same as that found on the Snapdragon platform, is probably helping a lot here because UI actions seem smooth, if not ‘physical’ like the iPad.  Android 2.2 helps too. It’s a far more efficient build than 2.1 and helps to pull everything possible out of the platform. This is probably as good as we’ll ever see on an ARM11-based device and at this point it has to be said that this is the best ARM11-based mobile internet device I’ve ever used.

Full specifications, gallery, news and more in our Viewpad 7 tracking page.

There are more hints of ‘value’ though that don’t hide themselves so well:

  • Screen – At 800×480 this isn’t the sharpest. Although Android apps are only designed for up to 800×480 screen, there are photos, videos, ebooks and browser pages to consider. A full-screen, page-to-fit web page is not easily readable and will require a pinch or double-click to zoom to readable quality. It’s bright enough but there are differing results from vertical and portrait viewing angles. This is a typical horizontal-optimised LCD. I won’t go into detail here but portrait mode is not perfect. Text seems to stretch vertically too indicating that the pixels aren’t square. It’s a good screen, but not top-of-class.
    Note: After measuring the screen, pixels are indeed not square. Resolution ratio: 1.666:1  Size Ratio: 1.78:1
  • CPU – Mentioned above. Don’t expect to squeeze much more out of this CPU in the future. There are already applications that aren’t supported on this CPU (Flash for example)
  • Software – This is, to all intents and purposes, a raw Android experience. Some people will prefer this and at least the Market is there to help. In the live review we downloaded and installed about 15 applications suggested by viewers in less than 10 minutes. Try doing that on a Windows 7 laptop!
  • Camera – The 3.0MP camera shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than a snapshot device and the results show high grain and huge traces of plastic lens. It’s easy to smudge fingerprints over the camera lens too so quality can degrade even further. Videos aren’t anything to get excited about either.
  • Video Playback – There are quite a few video formats out there and each has variable bitrate and ‘profile’ levels. Codecs cost money and Viewsonic have chosen not to add them in. You’ll get 3GPP, MPEG4 (not Xvid/Divx support) and H.264 support for low bitrates and resolutions (sub 720p/1Mbps) but that’s it. Software players such as RockPlayer add new codecs in but the CPU isn’t powerful enough to deliver anything above about 1Mbps. Disappointing.
  • User Interface and touch – While not up there with the best ‘physical’ user interfaces, this is a reasonable capacitive touch experience and fine for everyday use. It’s a lot better than a resistive touchscreen for this type of finger usage.
  • On screen keyboard – Typical of loaded Android systems on ARM11 CPUs, the response on the keyboard slows down if there are other things happening around the device. Coupled with a rather ugly layout (we loaded ‘Better Keyboard’ and found it, better!) and a hit-rate that doesn’t come close to the Galaxy Tab or Apple iOS devices, we can’t recommend it for anything more than micro-mails, tweets, SMS and other short-form messaging.

On the positive side, we saw great 3D performance in synthetic tests and games with Angry Birds and Raging Thunder Lite working perfectly. There are other high-points too.

3G throughput in our tests was good. We haven’t tested reception performance.

.Viewsonic Viewpad 7 (14)

Battery life. In our 1-hour test with screen, Wi-Fi, GSM enabled and under testing conditions saw the battery drop 15% indicating a 6-hour heavy-use run-time. It matches the Viewsonic specs and in the rest of our testing over the last few days we were also seeing similar battery performance. We estimate the battery life to be 10-15% less than the Galaxy Tab but still, very good. Charging over USB is a slow process. Expect 8-9hrs for a full charge over a standard USB cable. We can’t get the supplied charger to work through our UK-EU adaptor but we’re told it does enable a ‘fast charge’ mode of around 3hrs.

Speaker quality is good which makes the Viewpad 7 perfect for radio, MP3 and podcast duties around the house. In a 20-minute speakerphone call, quality was very high. We also made a successful Skype call without headphones.

Other points

  • No heat or noise
  • Quadrant scores around the 250 mark
  • Launcher Pro works well (and is recommended) as a home-screen alternative. It enables portrait mode homescreen which the standard build doesn’t.

Example Launcher-Pro Setup

  • YouTube (tested with the latest player available in the Market) works flawlessly
  • Neocore benchmark returned 32 fps
  • Kindle reader and the pre-installed Aldiko reader work well.
  • PDF reading with the included, full version of Documents To Go, worked well
  • Again, note that Flash 10.1 is not available for ARM11 devices such as this
  • The Viewpad 7 is slightly smaller (about 4mm in width and depth) than the galaxy Tab. Same thickness. Same weight.
  • Storage on the device is limited to 512MB and after installing 20 applications, we were down to 24MB of storage space. Inserting an SD card is necessary in order to move some applications over (where possible) and to store audio, image and video files.
  • Wifi reception was average (b/g standards) We haven’t tested Bluetooth
  • Hotspot mode works. (Wifi sharing of 3G connection – We expect 8-10hrs on this mode with screen off)
  • No stand. (Update below)
  • Case is plastic
  • No USB On-The-Go
  • GPS locked quickly (sub 10 seconds with A-GPS enabled) indoors, 1M from a Window
  • No video out (digital or analogue)
  • Skyfire (and included flash video playback) works

Update: Case will change for final retail versions.

Viewsonic notified me that the case has been re-designed for the final version. Its good to see that it now includes ‘standing’ capability.

At £400 we find the Viewpad fairly priced. If you’re in the UK and have a working netbook or laptop you want to trade-in, Viewsonic retail partners will give you 100 pounds cash-back which makes it tempting if that old EeePC 701 is gathering dust for you. Ultimately though, Viewsonic need to capitalise on the fact that this is a well-rounded ‘value’ tablet with a complete feature set, today. In 3 months time when Android devices 2.3 appear, when ARM11 becomes ‘end of line’ for some applications, when high-end applications start demanding more of a CPU and when the market fills with other device options, it may not look so attractive and at that point Viewsonic and their retailers will have to compete in a price war. We say, ‘take the risk’ and drop the price by 50 pounds to capitalise on holiday-season buying and make this an even more attractive package. Throw in a 4GB micro SD card, a cleaning cloth and maybe a free version of ‘launcher pro’ to solve that portrait mode homescreen limitation and you’ve got yourself a great little mobile internet device.

Continued on page 2…

Motorola Droid X Unboxing

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droid x The Droid X [portal page] just showed up today and we’ve got a quick unboxing with more coverage coming soon! Check it out:

Motorola Droid X Unboxed, Now Tracking in the Portal

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droid x I’ve been quite surprised by how many of my non-tech friends have heard of the Motorola Droid X. Generally I’ve found that non-techies pretty much only recognize the iPhone, but Verizon must be doing a decent job of marketing upcoming devices here in the US.

Tnkgrl, who always seems to have her hands on the latest smartphones, has graced us with a great Droid X unboxing. You can find one of her videos below (for the other, click through to her site for the first power-on video).

One of the most surprising things that you’ll probably find is how large the Droid X is. The HTC Incredible, iPhone 4, and Nexus One all look quite tiny by comparison. The screen is a whopping 4.3” and the only current smartphone screen that I know of that surpasses it is the Dell Streak’s 4.8” screen [Portal page].

In addition to the videos, tnkgrl has a bunch of great shots of the device in a flickr slideshow.

If you want a detailed run-down of the Droid X’s specs, check out our Droid X tracking page in the Portal. There has been some initial confusion over what CPU the Droid X uses, but we’ve confirmed it to be a 1GHz Ti OMAP 3630 CPU. The Droid X specs that you’ll find in the Portal are from an official source, and not cobbled together from rumors.

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