Tag Archives: Samsung

HTC Butterfly: The practical alternative to the HTC One and Galaxy S4


The 2013 is proving to be the year of Full HD screens, and where quad-core is become a minimal requirement for a flagship.  However HTC launched a small scale release of an interim flagship to the HTC One X, when they released the HTC Butterfly, also known as the HTC J and Droid DNA in other markets.

The Butterfly was the first Full HD phone from a leading manufacturer, and also featured an even more improved LCD compared to the HTC One X (which was already considered one the best) and named the Super LCD3.   In addition year 2011/2012 had been the year for Nvidia to rule, but as with the Nexus 4 setting the trend late 2012 saw Qualcomm take the lead ,and the Butterfly followed suit featuring an awesomely powerful QUALCOMM Snapdragon Pro S4 quad-core paired to a very powerful Adreno 320 graphics core.

Hence the Butterfly was equipped to the very best at the time of its launch on the hardware side, and matched by an sleep and light body.  But being planned as a limited edition, it was meant to be replaced by the HTC One, which was to feature a major “shift” in camera expectations, and some in HTC felt that playing it safe and have a backup plan would be a good idea.  Turns out the decision was a good one, lack of supplies and issues with the microphone patents have dented HTC One supplies, and the Butterfly has now been launched in many more markets to fill in.

DesignP1000083small

The Butterfly maintains a simple and clean design, but does not feature anything outstandingly new, as HTC kept all this for the HTC One.  In many ways the HTC Butterfly is a upgraded HTC One X, compared to all out new phone.

The phone features the same Polycarbonate body, but this time without the matte finish HTC has opted for a gloss finish, targeting the Asian market for the phone.  The body is now more sharper than rounded, and gave clues to the HTC One design that was to come.

The centerpiece was the large 5” Full HD screen, with minimal bezel. The sides have the speakers grills, but only one side actually has speakers, the other is merely for the design, shame as that would have been awesome.  The speaker grills are colored red for the red, which mutes the design, but in the white the silver grills look awesome.

The back is standard HTC with nothing but the camera and flash, and the Beats Audio logo. 

The phone is super light for a 5” specially if you happen to have used a Galaxy Note 2 🙂 (the Apple users feedback was of course, my word its so huge, wonder what they will say when they hold a Galaxy Note 2) and the balance is superb.  It feels so much smaller than the 5” and can be easily used single handedly.  Its what you call a very likeable phone, similar to the HTC One X.

HARDWARE

The Nexus 4 set the trend with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, the Butterfly features the same, and in many ways its identical to the highly regarded Sony Xperia Z and ZL.  The Butterfly features the Snapdragon S4 Pro, before it was mildly tweaked and rebranded the Snapdragon S600, and has a 1.5Ghz Quad-core processor, coupled to a super fast Adreno 320 graphics that is capable of providing 60fps+ even at Full HD resolution.

Unlike the HTC One X, the Butterfly also has now upgraded in the memory area, with 2GB of RAM, making it future proof and also capable of supporting the memory requirements for the newer games and applications.

INTERFACE

The Butterfly is current still running Sense 4+, but its going to be the first HTC from the “prior to the HTC One” to get the Sense 5 upgrade, scheduled to happen in end May 2013. Hopefully HTC will stick to their schedules. 

Update: The update to Sense 5 was rolled out a bit later than scheduled by HTC, but only for the Taiwan phones with CID HTC_621.  Months have gone and yet the rollout has not happened for the other region phones, while the same update was rolled out for HTC One X+ phones for more regions. This has frustrated a lot of users based on the feedback visible on the HTC Singapore, Malaysia and India Facebook sites.

I checked out a HTC One, and noticed the new Sense 5 has a really nice font and simple interface, though the BlinkFeed launcher seems to be a bit “marketing” to me, but i need to try it to really see it.  However the fancy Zoe photography feature is missing in the leaked ROM and all hope that it will make it to the final drop since the Butterfly and HTC One have near identical hardware, so there is no real reason to drop it saying there is no processing power to handle it, so lets wait and see.  For now if you have an HTC One X/X+, the interface on the Butterfly is on different except for a new “App & Shortcut” widget which seems to be a HTC Butterfly one inclusion.

P1000109small P1000111small

UPDATE: The Sense 5 update has almost all the features first seen with the HTC One, with the only exclusion being Zoe which seems to be an exclusive for phones with Ultra pixel type cameras (possibly this might be linked to the different imagechip used for these phones).

However once the Sense 5 update comes, I will update it, as that’s the true upgrade that has many cool features which we have come to expect from new phones and have seen Samsung and Sony include in their customizations in recent times.

DISPLAY

HTC remains faithful to the LCD brigade and i am for one are happy for that, since the LCD screens have proved to be more accurate on colors than the AMOLED units. In addition many of the AMOLED units even in the S4, S3 (and the HTC One S) are pentile units, which have lower number of pixels than in reality.  The new Super LCD 3 screens is superbly sharp, and the colors are very natural.  The Full HD resolution means the pixel density is one of the best, and the text is sharp and clear.

Unlike the Xperia Z, the HTC has touch buttons so the screen resolutions is a true 1920x 1080, and you really appreciate the quality of the screen when you keep it next to a lower resolution screen.  Viewing angles are pretty good with the Butterfly and the screen is very rugged as its protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 2.

CAMERA and VIDEO

The back camera is where HTC has played it safe, and it seems the Butterfly features the same sensor and lens as the HTC One X+.   The camera in the One X+ was one of the best cameras in 2012, but was beaten by the Galaxy S3 and IPhone 5 for outdoor shooting, though the F2.0 lens cut down the advantage by offering good indoor performance. 

While the camera performance is good, the pictures tend to be a tad noisy, a historic issue with the HTC range in recent times.  However under low light the camera performs quite well, possibly due to its large aperture lens. One of the advantages with HTC is that the Field of View (FOV) of their cameras are exceptionally wide, both in stills and videos, an advantage for group shots and landscapes compared to Samsung.

The HTC implementation also supports constant focusing on video, similar to the Sony Xperia, and under good light this works quite seamlessly but under lower light conditions, the focus tends to hunt and its best that this is disable if being used indoors.  The video quality though is definitely lacking in detail compare to the video footage from the Samsung S3 (see

The camera interface is superbly implemented, and provides a great set of features including very easy to select camera effects to be applied on the fly.  The camera also supports real time HDR, which is very useful when taking photos in testing light and bright light situations. The focus and burst performance are exceptional, as it was with the HTC One X.

The front camera features a new introduction, that would be seen on the HTC One, with a F2.0 lens for low light, and a wide angle 88 degree view for group and a 2.1MP, and is considered the best front camera in the market, even better than the one on the Galaxy S4.

PERFORMANCE

Well with the hardware spec it should fly and it does fly, though if you already use a HTC One X/X+ or Samsung Galaxy S3, you will notice that the interface is smoother, and browsing is faster but you are not going to say wow, coz the snapdragon S4 Pro does not really make this that faster on normal usage, but it does so in gaming and also sustain the performance when there is high load from background processes.

image

The popular Antutu benchmark shows that the Butterfly outpaces all the older devices, including the near identical configuration Google Nexus 4, and this is commendable considering Antutu includes a 2D and 3D test run at native resolution, and here with almost twice the pixels to push the scores are still better for the Snapdragon S4.  However the Xperia Z is faster than the Butterfly, and evaluation of the scores indicated that the Xperia Z had better scores on 2D and 3D, so Sony has tweaked things better than HTC?  I feel the HTC Butterfly being the first Snapdragon S4 Pro, and HTC wanting to make the HTC One shine may have not tweaked things much, and the next release of the 4.2 Jelly Bean should match the Xperia Z scores.

image

One test for browsing performance is the Vellamo test suite.  Here we see that the Butterfly does manage to beat the older generation quad-core units, but is again second to the Xperia Z.  Clearly HTC has work to do.  This is also one test where the Nexus 4 a Snapdragon S4 processor device with lower resolution seems to struggle, a question that has remained a puzzle. Some say that many “leading manufacturers” have tweaked the phone software to detect the benchmark being run and made things “artificially fast”, and with the Nexus 4 having no such tweaks, could this be the reason 🙂  Another good news is the suspect usually have been Samsung and many Chinese firms such as Huawei, etc.

DESIGN PROBLEMS

Every phone has their different quirks, and some maybe user opinionated since each of us have different usage styles, however here are mine with regard to the butterfly.

  • The POWER button placement at the top for phone of this size is not very ergonomic and is rather hard to use, a side placement or side mid (as in the case of the Xperia Z) is definitely a must
  • The covers for the charger and connectivity port (bottom) and the micro-SIM and SD-card (at the top) are very hard to remove, and if you are not careful you can easily crack the cover.

CONCLUSION

The HTC Butterfly may have been an interim flagship and shadowed by the “Ultra Pixel” camera bearing HTC one, but it offers an unique design, excellent handling for a 5” phone, exceptionally light but practically rugged including the waterproof feature.  The hardware is top of the line, and specially the 2GB RAM makes it very future proof.

For those who may not like the IPhone-ish design of the HTC One, and its “premium” price, the HTC Butterfly offers nearly the same for much lower price, and comes the the added  goodies of a waterproof body, larger screen and microSD expansion and flexibility of storage which for many could be a lot of practical advantages.

The Sense 5 release for the Butterfly is due soon (as i write this) but HTC could have done better by offering the update since its been more than a few months since the HTC One release, and the Butterfly has been used to fill the void in the supplies for the HTC One.  Sadly this is an area that HTC continues to be late, which is releasing new firmware updates, specially for phones which are still very much high end (e.g. the HTC One X and One X+ are due to get the Jelly Bean 4.2 update with Sense in Sep 2013!). 

HTC clearly is showing they are wanting to get back loss business from Samsung, but Samsung is not the same company it was 2 years ago when HTC was able to compete in equal terms, and hence has to be a Mohamed Ali, and move like a bee, and be fast as lightening.  This means quicker updates on software than Samsung, while continuing to stay focused on providing only useful new custom features (Samsung puts out a lot of crappy features, good for marketing but mainly useless for most users) and very importantly improve their camera photo quality, an area they have beaten by all the big boys right now.

Ultra pixel is going to take time, so HTC needs to keep improving the camera implementation and performance tweaks of phones such as the Butterfly, HTC One X/X+/S, and the mid range to make it big again.

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Samsung Galaxy S3 Jelly Bean update is slower than ICS


I recently got hold of an Samsung Galaxy S3 which was running the 4.0.4 ICS firmware.  I then update the phone with the recently released Jelly Bean update (4.1.2) expecting a further boost in performance in addition to to improved tweaks courtesy Samsung with their Nature UX skin.

Sadly when i updated it i noticed that the phone seems to be very laggy than the ICS build.  This was quite surprising when the recent update to an Galaxy S2 had not shown any dramatic lag.  With the phones nearly identical on memory (mine was the 1GB international version), the additional power of the quad-core should have made things far from laggy.

Key areas that i could feel the lag to a point of irritation were,

1. Very slow loading of contacts option

2. Very slow rendering of the phone dialer

3. Laggy switch between applications

I ran a few tests and the outcome seconded the laggy feel in using the phone.  And yes Power Saving was disabled.

Sorry for the rather numeric type of review, but though i will share this for those who might be interested.

Android Version Antutu 3.1.1 Quadrant Geekbench 2.0 Vellamo HTML5 Vellamo Metal
4.0.4 14300 5343 1824 1569 559
4.1.2 11596 5195 1170 1684 551
           

Antutu analysis

The drop in Antutu is huge, the current 4.1.2 performance is now closer to a Galaxy S2 performance! The SD card performance was identical and the DB IO performance was actually in favor of the Jelly Bean update.

The significant drop can be seen across the board for most test that involve processing and memory.

  Score RAM CPU Integer CPU float 2D 3D DB IO
4.0.4 14300 1962 3465 3166 1290 3692 395
4.1.2 11596 1827 1165 3070 1266 3482 455

Quadrant analysis

Here the outcome contradicts Antutu, and the main slow down is the IO aspect while all other test are actually higher.

  Score CPU Mem IO 2D 3D
4.0.4 5343 12826 4609 6212 1000 2069
4.1.2 5195 13385 4646 4789 1032 2124

GeekBench 2.0 analysis

Geekbench confirms similar outcomes to Antutu, massive drop in performance on the processing and memory perspective.

  Score Integer Float Memory Stream
4.0.4 1824 1471 2784 1378 596
4.1.2 1170 1266 1525 765 403

Vellamo 2.0 analysis

Jelly Bean definitely has a new JavaScript engine, and almost all phones have shown great improvement in the HTML 5 test. The S3 confirms this that even with the supposed slow down on all aspects the HTML5 performance has improved.

Conclusion

While there are several improvements in the phone features, the lag in performance is a heavy penalty and it would be best that Galaxy S3 users wait for a firmware that fixes the performance issue than update to this version right now.  The ICS 4.0.4 build was pretty fast and it would be shame to get irritated with the phone that is far more capable than what the current 4.1.2 Jelly Bean update makes it feel.

The term old is gold seems an suitable quote when it comes to Samsung’s first Jelly Bean update for its current flagship.  What is surprising is how the 2011 flagship the S2 Jelly Bean update performs better, makes you wonder if Samsung did not test this firmware properly.

Samsung Galaxy S2 : Flagship from 2011, now with Jelly Bean, and still running strong


The first wave of droids mainly got the interest of the Apple haters, Symbian and Windows Mobile users and techie junkies.  The next wave of the droids lead by Samsung @ the forefront is what truly started the crossovers not just from the existing Symbian and Windows Mobile users but also Apple IPhone fans who were getting hampered by the limitations imposed by ITunes for synching content.

The  Samsun Galaxy S (now called the S1 by many) set the trend but it was the Galaxy S2 that stormed the market, and also got the Apple worried (and rather than compete on technology, took Samsung to the legal arena to slow their progress)

The SG2 was powered by what was definitely the most powerful and optimized mobile chipset and GPU (graphics core) combinations feature on a droid at that time, resulting in awesome gaming and browsing performance.

Backed up with a very thin profile and an stunning AMOLED+ display it made all other droids ancient, with the only complain being why Samsung had not opted for a 1280*720 display and gone with 800*480. While limited versions came out with the higher resolution, it was a bit too late as competition had already caught up and led by the SG2’s predecessor the s3!

However two years down the s2 still delivers great performance on day to day use, multimedia and gaming, a feat that none of the competing droids have been able to match.

Samsung has ensured it did not forget it’s breakthrough phone unlike what it did with the first generation Galaxy S, and continues to provide major updates that contains enhancements found on the newer Samsung phones. First Gingerbread was upgraded with Ice Cream Sandwich in 2012. A few months after the freshly launched Galaxy S3 got Jelly Bean, the GS2 (and its larger partner the Galaxy Note I) got its second major upgrade early 2013.

Strangely the updates continue to be snappy on the SG2, when newer Droids from rival firms are struggling mainly due to poor hardware combinations.

Hardware

The SG2 featured Samsung own mobile processor the dual-core 45nm Cortex-A9  Exynos 4210 clocked at 1.2ghz. While it may be “slower” on clock speeds compared to competing chipsets in the likes of Qualcom and Nvidia Tegra 2, it features far more optimized internals that it continued to be competitive not just again these dual-core units, but even against quad-core chipsets that followed.

In addition to the processing the SG2, multi-core Mali 400 graphics core was ground breaking at that time, knocking down all devices including the Apple IPhone 4 (which had Apple launching a quick update featuring the multi-core processor and beefed up GPU in the form of the 4S).  While the newer GPUs featured on the mid and high end phones of 2012/13 are now making the Mali 400 look a bit slow, its still able to provide solid 30fps+ rates for games.  The decision by Samsung to opt for a lower resolution screen that what most would have wanted, may have enabled the SG2 to remain competitive even in 2013 as the GPU does not have that many pixels to push.

Early 2012 featured phones with Tegra 2 and Adreno 220 based devices, but both these could not match the performance of the 2011 released multi-core Samsung optimized Mali GPU and Exynos dual-core performance.

Another very solid and important decision done by Samsung with the SG2 was to go with a 1GB memory configuration. This was a very rare spec for the 2011 phones, and even in 2012 this was only common among the high end phones.   The 1GB definitely made sure the SG2 was able to handle the memory hungry Google ICS (while Sony, HTC, Motorola all had problems as the 512MB memory impacted them in releasing ICS).  Now with the optimized Jelly Bean the SG2 is still flying 🙂

Design

Samsung’s quest to have the slimmest phone, lightest phone means the SG2 designers have given more priority to these than the design.  The end result is quite evident that the SG2 has very little in design innovation.

However the design is very practical in that its easy to hold, aided by the wider display form factory than the more cramped and narrow display form factory used by many including Apple 🙂 The phone works nicely even for single handed operations, and feels good to hold.

Sadly the super slim battery cover can be very nerve wrecking to open for many, and sadly our wish to have better quality and design would always be second to marking opportunity for vendors to say they have the lightest or thinnest phone 😦  The IPhone 5 saga of the peeling paint is also another such case study that will i am sure be repeated!

Display

The SG2 featured a cutting edge 4.3” AMOLED+ screen that challenged the industry benchmark set by apple’s IPhone 4 retina display. The screen also had a coating of Corning’s Gorilla glass to provide a layer of protection from scratches and small falls.

Superbly efficient with blacks it also helped the s2 post excellent video playback times on battery power.

The only sore point was that 800×480 (WVGA) seems to lacking the pixel density compared to the much high res IPhone4 and 4S that came in a small screen area, specially when HTC was already pushing a slight higher res 960×720 screens.  The launch of the Galaxy Note with a 1280×720 display was also a sign that Samsung could have easily put the SG2 with the higher density screen but seems to have held it back for the next version of the Galaxy 😦

However now two years down the line, one of the benefits of having a lower resolution is that the SG2 still has great gaming performance as the GPU has less pixels to push.

Camera and Video

Samsung may not have a great pedigree on camera though it’s fast becoming one now, but the engineers had done great here in understanding the mass consumer. Rather than going with a big aperture lens such as HTC or Sony they went with a smaller but still good F2.4 lens coupled with a 8MP backlight sensor. Samsung balanced the smaller aperture lens by including a powerful flash unit that ensured decent photos indoors.

Reviews by major phone reviewers all showed that this combination resulted in the SG2 taking far better quality stills than much more fancy spec’d camera units from Sony Ericsson, HTC, etc with only the Apple IPhone 4S and the Nokia N8 outdoing it (again in some areas).

The SG2 also features 1080p video recording in addition to what was the standard in 2011 of 720P.  The video however does not feature continuous auto focusing but still provides very good quality video clips for the mobile user.

The camera interface sadly has nothing much to brag about it, being rather conservative.  However focus is pretty quick and accurate, specially when it comes to macro stills and landscapes.

UPDATE: With Jelly Bean Samsung has tried to match HTC and Apple by including a few features into the camera app, however it still remains regimental.  I am still a bit hazy why phone companies don’t look at digital camera interfaces and try to learn from them, as they feature far more cooler interfaces that are optimized for photography.

The SG2 also feature a 2MP front camera, which provides decent performance even under low light for video calls (which the SG2 supports natively) and quick portraits if you are fine with VGA resolution:)

Multimedia

Video playback and sound

One of the criticisms with the SG2 over the first gen Galaxy S was what most considered a cost cutting measure of using a Yamaha audio chip compared to the highly regarded Wolfson chip in the Galaxy S.  For the hardcore audio fanatics this was raised as a major concern, but based on more everyday tests the Yamaha audio chip has fairs well even when hooked to a headphone or earphone.

Going back to everyday telephone the sound from the earpiece is clear, and the loud speaker performance average, where it it feels to be a bit insufficient in volume even in slightly noise environments such as when using it in a car being driven on a highway.

The SG2 typical to Samsung comes with codec’s for almost all popular multimedia formats, unlike Apple, Sony, HTC who expect you to buy or download third party apps to playback.  In addition the Samsung chipset provided hardware acceleration for many of these formats including 1080p H.264 ensuring smooth and high quality playback.

Storage

The SG2 comes in two flavors on the internal storage aspect, the more easily found 16GB and the slightly rare 32GB. The phone also has a microSD slot that can handle upto a 64GB microSDXC card providing the option for quick expansion and replacement of content.  However the design of the phone means you have to shut down and remove the battery to replace the microSD card, but strangely you can change the SIM without removing the battery.

The SG2 also support USB on the go, which allows you to connect a flash drive or externally powered portable hard disk to be connected using the USB/microUSB cable.  However this feature is now quite common among Android phones, but for an Apple user sadly this very flexible and easy transfer capability is only a dream!

Battery

The SG2 came with a crop where smart phones could only managed a day at most when properly used as a smart phone.  However for many who use the smart phone for lesser demanding use, the SG2 could easily handle 2 days of use.

Performance

The SG2 performance in 2011 is truly outstanding, and with the latest Software updates the browser performance has kept improving. Here are some comparative performances,

Android Version Antutu 2.9.x Antutu 3.0.x Nenamark 2.x GeekBench Vellamo 2.x Quadrant
Samsung S2 GT-9100 4.0.4 ICS

5663

10279

50.6

727

1133

3695

Samsung S2 GT-9100

4.1.2 Jelly Bean

9791

48

1017

1570

4336

Sony Arc S

2.3.4 Gingerbread

3638

15

1364

Samsung S2 LTE E110S (Qualcom) 4.0.4 ICS

8689

53.8

716

3531

Xperia S LT26i 4.0.4 ICS

8219

37.9

996

1393

3306

HTC One X 4.0.4 ICS

12465

54.1

1369

1519

5700

The results provides some “simulated” comparisons of the SG2 against the 2011 flagship from Sony (Arc S), and the 2012 flagship from Sony (Xperia S), and the HTC flagship of 2012 (HTC One X).

Nenamark shows how the lower resolution helps the phones post great fps, as the S2 LTE version with identical hardware to the Xperia S posts results surpassing even the SG2 with the Mali GPU, as both the Galaxy phones have the lower resolution compared to the Xperia S.

Compared against then competing Arc S the performance of the dual-core SG2 shows how much more capable the Samsung hardware was against what everybody considers a highly optimized Sony Gingerbread implementation on the Arc S. The SG2 also fares well with Sony’s 2012 flagship the Xperia S, which featured the Qualcom chipset paired to an Adreno 220 graphics.

Compared to the 2013 S3 challenger from HTC, the SG2 still does a fair job with software becoming more optimized for multi-core, Antutu and Quadrant indicates the performance the quad-core can provided when combined with optimized apps.

The Jelly Bean vs ICS battle of the SG2, provides mixed results.

  1. Vellamo clearly shows the HTML5 performance has been improved significantly on with the Jelly Bean firmware,
  2. Processing and graphics scores seems to have dropped a bit.
  3. Based on Quadrant, Geekbench and Antutu detailed scores, one are the Jelly Bean seems to do well is on IO and memory performance, which as improved.

Jelly Bean and the S2

I updated the firmware using Odin, since the CSC code for my phone still had not got the update.  The newer Nature UX from Samsung has a bit more modern look and shows some of the fluid movement that one is to expect from Project butter from Google.  However to me the interface still is a bit held back and lacking flair compared to other Droids specially HTC.

Samsung Wallpapers are horrid to say the least and why they can’t get some modern and wider variety is ridiculous. Which is why you will see the screen shots i have taken feature the Xperia 2013 wall paper and lock screen, than Samsung provided!

Features that caught my eye

  1. The ability to change the display font size, and also having a tiny size (with ICS the display fonts was elephant sized!, and you had to use a third party app to reduce it, took Samsung a while to add it)
  2. The new camera app has a few more features on adding effects to photos, etc
  3. New font that looks lot more modern and cooler
  4. Improved keyboard that also features SwiftKey like features in downloading language packs
  5. Improve music player UI (which also seems to have a bug if you select a folder, that you can’t seem to switch back!)
  6. Galaxy S3 features of calling the person when you bring the phone near to the face, or the screen staying on when you are looking at it, etc
  7. Improved image viewer
  8. New widgets such as Favorite apps, settings, and improved widgets for dual clock, alarm

Conclusion

I kept away from the highly popular SG2 simply because i favored a bit more design flare, but then got TI OMAP based Galaxy S2 (GT-9100G) and subsequently an normal GT-9100 Galaxy S2 (for my wife).  Still favoring the cooler HTC One designs and the Xperia line up from Sony, for me the S2 is what you call a mass market phone which ticks most of things people need and does a great job around it.

What has made the S2 really sell well is the aggressive marketing and the fact that Samsung has continued to support the 2011 flagship, even though the much more fancy S3 was released in 2012.  The Samsung S2 has got two major updates after the S3 was released, which is something not many can tell about competing droids.  Further the updates have been full updates which new features that were initially featured on the newer S3, and Samsung has to be given all credit for taking that brave decision.

To many normal smart phone users, the larger S3 remains a bit too large for daily use, and also expensive, and the S2 will remain a popular choice.  The launch of the face lifted S2 Plus and the slighter lower spec S2 Advance will serve this market well in the same line of how the IPhone 4S is doing for Apple.

HTC One X review, Tegra 3 quad core power


I usually held back one model from the current since the review units are personal purchases, and hot of the block means high prices in our market.  However the HTC One X had a rather dramatic  drop in price, mainly due to the wifi issue, and more importantly the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 which seems to have trounced it most departments, except price and possibly on camera performance.

This gave me the opportunity to dispose my Galaxy Note and obtain the HTC One X, and get the first hand flavor of the quad-core Tegra 3 platform.

Initial Impression

For a phone with a 4.7″ screen its very light and extremely nice on the hand.  However just like all phones in the market, manufacturers tout low weights and they achieve this by creating unbelievable thin and skimpy back covers (hint hint samsung) or advanced constructions that sadly are prone to scratches.  The One X belongs to the second category with a unique construction that oozes class and quality, but sadly use it without a cover it shows scratch marks that will make you cry on your investment.

However going back to the subject, the phone is wonderfully  balanced and stunning design, and truly asks you should you use an external case that will hide all the great design.

The responses are blazing fast, but even with all this horsepower and running ICS there is a bit of lag, however I hear that Jelly Bean improves on the smoothness, and the One X has been confirmed to receive this update (and it should, it is just months into the market!).  And if anyone is hoping to get the HTC One V, avoid seems HTC is not going ahead with the update for the V (and not really a big surprise since that’s one of the few in the 2011 line up to feature a single core)

The camera’s super fast focus, and the lovely usability feature of the idle screen where you drag one of the 4 common apps that launches the application as the phone unlocks is super and very different.

I got the black  version but I am told the white version is simply stunning and the pictures on the net clearly indicate that.  I hope to get hold of the similar design HTC One S in white color as a phone sometime soon to see this 🙂

Display and Touch experience

The screen is a very advanced dual IPS LCD, and in you really feel the quality of the display in the colors and quality.  However if you have used a Samsung Super AMOLED screen you will feel this screen is maybe a notch below in quality, but the screen colors are very natural compared to the very high contrast in the AMOLED screens.  The screen has a coating of Gorilla glass, but unlike the S3 it features the V1 of it, the S3 being one of the first phones to feature the V2 version of the Gorilla glass, however what the real world advantages remain to be seen.

The touch sensitivity of the display is very good, and backed by the quad core its very very smooth and fast running ICS.

The display is very bright, but you need to set it to full brightness to work outside, though indoors it can be run at even minimal brightness for normal use.

Interface

This was my first HTC and I have seen many units owned by my friends, and it has one of the beautiful skins, and the standout being the very clean time widget.  The HTC Sense 4.0 on the One X did not dissapoint and the interface truly was something special, that all my former phones from Samsung, Sony could not come even close.  The level of customization on themes and the way its represented on the screen is very user friendly and cool.

The widgets are top quality and there is an immense variety of it, that one may not need to try out third party widgets for many.  However there are too many clock widgets to my liking!

The nice touch on the standby screen to drag one of the four regular used apps to start is very useful, and I wish the other phones had this feature.

Even the settings menu has been customized and the lovely touch of the toggle for switching a feature on and off is nice however HTC could make this button a bit wider for chubby fingers as it can be a bit hard to use.

Another interesting customization is how you kill an app from the current running apps.  While this breaks the standard way ICS work, the implementation is cool.  In ICS you have to long press the home button and then swipe to the right to kill the app.  Easy and most phone manufacturers have left this as standard.  However HTC has gone one step up and here you get a beautiful portrait preview of the screen, and you swipe upwards.  The usability though favors the standard ICS version, but for pure coolness the HTC implementation stands out.

A notable omission is the lack of a quick access button in the alert drop down, as found in the Samsung S3 phone and even the older range.  While this can be easily overcome using third party widgets such as Power Controls  or Notification Toggles, with such high interface customizations I expected something special from HTC in this area as well.

Size and Handling

It can be an 4.7″ but it feels so much smaller and lovely to use and feel. One of the best balanced and nicest phones I have come across on size and handling.  It simply feels so light, and the touch of that ultra cool design is very very addictive.

Processing and Storage

The 1.5Ghz quad-core Tegra 3 is fast on most benchmarks, and I believe  there is a lot more optimizations to come for that chip since its early days.  It did blow the benchmarks until the quad-core Exynos processor came along, and the S4 Krait dual core units, after which the Tegra 3 though fast is not the quickest in some of the benchmarks.

One area touted is the 5th core, supposedly to handle the idle processing and hence ensure decent battery life from the monster processing unit.  However how much the 5th core comes into play is a bit questionable since the battery life of the One X is not exceptional, and according to reviews inferior to the more powerful Samsung S3 unit which does not have any power saving option. However the S3 (32nm compared to the Tegra 3 40nm) does have an advantage its hardware die is made using a new method that inherently make it more frugal on power aspects.

From memory aspects the One X comes with 1GB which is only featured on the higher end phones currently and definitely required for ICS and beyond which are proving to be memory hungry.  But with ICS known to be memory hungry (as ICS with just a few apps running has a tendency to use around 600-700MB of RAM, and with Chrome now available its going to be using even more), most of the mid level phones are also now featuring 1GB.  Possibly understanding this Samsung increased the ante on this with the S3, as it rolled out with 2GB giving it the edge.

The phone comes with 32GB in-built storage, but there is no expansion ability as there is no microSD card. Though 32GB is a sizeable amount, the One X is marketed as a multimedia phone with BeatsAudio enhancement, etc hence large amounts of music and video files are definitely going to fill up that memory.  Add to that the full HD recordings will also take space hence the lack of expansion is definitely a major let down considering the rival S3 having a microsd slot. In Asian markets people have an obsession to share using the sd card, since they rarely carry cables with them to allow them to use the mass storage mode, and hence lack of a memory card slot really impacts their normal sharing patterns.  Sadly not only HTC but even Sony has fallen into this trap, and Samsung seems to be understanding the market better.

Voice quality

The voice quality was very good, with clear and natural sound that really made you like the phone.   The speakerphone is loud and clear, definitely among the best I have used in recent phones. However for a BeatsAudio branded unit the loud speaker volume is definitely a bit low though its refined, and that’s something the Sony Xperia range does better.

Camera and Multimedia

One of the areas strongly marketed is its camera,  boasting a F 2.0 lens, the fastest in the market besting the Apple  4S and Xperia S (F 2.4) and has its own Image processing chip called HTC ImageChip. The lens is also quite wide at 28mm and also packs a very quick auto focusing unit.  Sadly camera phone focus drops from there, with no hardware shutter button for the camera, or a focus assist light as found in the N8.

The autofocus is extremely fast, but under good light, and slows down understandably under lower light conditions.  So check one for HTC one that.

The camera interface is superb, one of the best I have seen and really makes it easy for an user to add special effects, etc.  The downside is that it can also be a bit limiting on finer control points for advanced users, as there are no options to control things too much.

The picture quality is where things started to go down hill, the camera has a ugly habit of loosing the depth in the photos towards the edges, and seems to be a processing issues than hardware as photos taken using the CameraZoom app did not have this problem.  The end result of the photos is that it has the effect that one might see with the Nokia fixed focus camera units.

Another low was the amount of noise in the images, this is specially noticed indoors of if you take  a photo of a color document.  The resulting images don’t do justice for the special lens, and one wonders if the actual camera sensor is a below par compare to rivals from Samsung and Sony.

The protruding out lens may help work low light, but sadly the design makes the glass very scratch prone and this will definitely take the toll on long term use, and a scratched glass is something you really hate.

The headset that came with it was not a Beats unit but it was also something much better than normal headsets.  I compared it against headsets provided with the Iphone 4, Sony Xperia Ray, and my standard Koss and I found this to be far superior.

The front camera sadly is an atrocious quality for a flagship its miserably dark indoors and slow that it seems to be a token inclusion.  The front camera in my Xperia Ray and Xperia P though of the same resolution are far superior, but the top spot here goes for Samsung. The one one the Note is pretty good, and front what i have read the on the S3 is fair replacement for a rear camera of many cameras.

Browsing

The native HTC browser is fast when its working properly but the interface is very clunky for some basic uses.  For example if you want to switch tabs you have to go to the Menu, select tabs and then you are shown a preview to select the tab ,which is extremely cumbersome.  The browser also has the habit to sometime get stuck in processing and you have to reload pages to complete the page load.

I opted to use Opera and Chrome which were far superior to the native browser on the phone.

Battery

Based on forums the battery life was an area the One X had fallen short, and the unit I had was already updated with a fix in firmware to improve this.  I am a person who connects to the net on need and don’t have it permanently connected, and for my usage I actually could managed around 1.5-2 days. Yet when you switch 3G one and start browsing the battery does deplete quite fast, much faster than the Galaxy Note I  had, and getting 1 day would be a challenge in such usage patterns.

While the argument of the replaceable battery goes on, I feel that’s not a big deal since you have to power on and off the phone to get the new battery in.  I am sure a 20-30$ investment in an external charger (I use a tine 1300mAzh unit from Duracell) would be the solution than having to replace batteries.

Connectivity options

First the phone joins the Iphone band with a micro SIM.  Micro SIMs are not yet popular in most markets, and with us switching between phones this is a royal nuisance until this becomes  a standard.  Looking at the design I feel this was a market move than a requirement as it could have fielded a normal SIM.

However the biggest omission I feel that lets this phone down is the lack of microSD card.  If HTC could have a protruding lens on their camera, why not just tweak the design there to allow the expansion as in a world of full HD, 32GB is now just bog low.

Network Connectivity

The unit I had was said to be impacted by the wifi issue, and I was able to come across this.  I had my wifi unit placed two rooms away (brick walls) and the distance was around 30 feet and I lost signal, something I had not come across in any of my devices.

Further another problem I noticed was that when I had the phone in my pocket it also lost signal,  again something that I had not faced before.

These were signs that something was wrong with the network connectivity both 2G/3G and WIFI.

Benchmarks

I have compared the One X to the fastest phone I had prior to that which is the Galaxy Note.  Both feature similar resolutions, though the Note has a larger display.  However it gives a good idea to compare one of the 2011 best dual-core units against the Tegra 3 quad-core.

Antutu is a benchmark that has been tweaked for multi-cores and you can clearly see that impact of the additional cores in that.  With applications getting tweaked for multi-core the impact of the multi-cores will definitely make their presence going forward so this is a clear sign how much more the quad-core can do.

However Nenamark results shows that the extremely powerful Mali GPU on the Note can hold its own against the Nvidia Geforce GPU, and benchmarks of the newer Mali unit on the S3 outpaces the Tegra 3 by a fair degree.  However one area the Tegra is strong is on game compatibility since most developers favor the Nvidia platform on Android.

HTC One X (ICS 4.0.3) Samsung Galaxy Note (ICS 4.0.4)
Linpack single 51.9 48.9
Linpack multi 147.8 80.9
Antutu 2.8.3 10518 6475
Quadrant Standard 4126 3547
Nenamark 2.3 54.1 42.4
Vellamo 1.0.6 1535

Conclusion

The phone design was truly something special, and the build also excellent.  The audio quality is very good, and the processing definitely very powerful and outclassing the dual core units (bar the Krait units that power the HTC One S for instance).

The user interface is truly superb and something that makes the phone even more special, and that’s one area the HTC definitely remains above the rest.

The low light performance of the camera matches the F 2.0 lens but sadly the image quality is a let down, and the video is also not that great.

The lack of an micro SD may not be a big issue for some, but I feel 32GB is not quite enough for a flagship phone, and featuring a microSD expansion would have been optimal.

However the issues with WIFI and network connectivity and the image quality issues was a big let down for me.  I am keen to try the HTC One S which is similar to see if this resolves this problem that that current flagship seems to suffer.

Photo Gallery

Some pictures taken during good lighting conditions.  When going through the image gallery i found that many were not sharp, and have chosen examples that were sharp.

Some taken indoors or under poor lighting conditions.  Here the lens definitely making its presence, but the photos taken with flash sadly were lacking in sharpness and focus.  Again i have taken good representatives, but the chances of getting such were less than 20%, definitely not in the class of a N8.

Samsung Galaxy Note GT-N7000 Gingerbread and ICS review


I decided to see if I could switch from a Tab + Smartphone to a single device, and that’s where the Galaxy Note came into the equation.   So off went the Sony Arc, and in came the Galaxy Note.

With the arc running ICS, the first thing I wanted to do was to update the Note the recently released ICS version, however I found that the update was not available for the CSC code of my phone.  So the elementary move was to see if I could change the CSC code and get the update, and the option was available and this is the time I also came across the warning of the eMMC bug which was randomly effecting Galaxy Note phones, though the issue was supposedly in existence in many of the Galax Note devices due to a hardware issue which required a particular flag to be disabled (impact being slower access to the internal memory).  Still uncertain is that fact if the 4.0.4 update has fixed this issue, as Samsung has not formally confirmed a fix as to date.

So like it or not I had to be stuck with Gingerbread on my Galaxy Note, and though ICS has many issues with application compatibility what is clear is that it does improve the browsing and usability on devices that have the hardware to harness it, and the Galaxy Note is definitely one of them.

UPDATE July 2012: Subsequently i tested devices owned by my friend with ICS 4.0.3 and the got myself a new note device that had 4.0.4 running out of the box. Review has been updated to reflect these findings.  The latest update also brings a lot more features to the Note including the formerly Galaxy S3 exclusive pop-up video feature.  A note only feature introduced in 4.0.4 is the signature unlock that leverages the stylus.

Initial Impression

A big phone for a phone, and many may shy from directly using it as a phone without a hands free or headset.  However while it was a bit awkward I had no problem using it like a typical phone.

One good thing is it does not heat up like the Sony arc for long term use, or when browsing, though it does get hot on long use.

The proximity detection feature that is also there in select Samsung models, where  when you take a call to shut the display is very useful as it does reduce the “ouch I put the call on hold, or damn I just cut it/ dialed someone else) in addition to saving  the battery by cutting out the display.

Display, Touch and Stylus experience

Switching from the 800×480 resolution of the Arc to the higher 1280×800 on par with many of the tablets I had used immediately made its presence with more real estate on the screen, and the Samsung AMOLED screen on the Note was extremely vibrant even at its lowest setting. The Galaxy Note is also special for a 2011 phone that it has the higher resolution that only started to get used on the Samsung built Google Nexus, and recently launched Samsung Galaxy S3 (however there are select variants of the Galaxy S2 also having this resolution in some markets).

The AMOLED screen is superb making it excellent for video and internet use. The text is clear and the higher resolution combined with a larger screen area makes it even more effective. I recently switched to a HTC One X, and also tried a Galaxy S3, no matter what you say the 5.3″ of the Note is still more important for any video or internet browsing user than a 4.7/4.8″ screen.

The Exynos processor coupled with the Mali 400MP GPU has a substantial increase in the fluidity and part of the reason must be also the larger amount of RAM on this (1GB).  While there was some lag in some screens in Gingerbread in ICS this has been reduced that one feels why you need a quad-core at all!

The much touted Stylus was something I had to try, and I tried it with the S-Memo application.  The default pen thickness to me is a bit too thick and does no justice to the what can be done.  Making the nib thinner makes it quite ideal for writing quick notes or scribing a sketch.  However when I used it on Gingerbread I felt that the application was lagging and lacking in smoothness.

Subsequently when I tried it on an ICS running Note I found that the writing was super smooth and  vast improvement over the Gingerbread version.  I am not sure this was entirely do with the ICS, or if the version included in the ICS build was far more optimized by Samsung.  On ICS the pen application seriously has very good potential for drawing, diagram creation, and for taking notes though the Samsung applications usability to be frank is rather dismal and bordering crap!

A major use of the pen was also to take screen captures,  where it proved to be a bit more usable than using the power and volume key combination for ICS native screen captures.

Interface

This was the first time after my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 that I was coming in contact with the Touchwiz interface. While the interface is quite slick and has some interesting features,  it also brought in a lag, and subsequently resorted to using third party launchers for a more slicker navigation.  However due to the Galaxy Note having a thumping hardware spec even Touchwiz is more than bearable for me!

I used the Nemus launcher on my Note, though I find Apex to be better launcher for ICS.  Both these launchers maybe less full of eye candy compared to ADW or Go launcher, but seems to be far more tuned and lighter.

Size and Handling

While the phone is rather larger for a phone, it can still be used for taking calls but one handed operations are extremely hard for a normal person to use.  However the device is superb for use in landscape mode with both hands, making it ideal for gaming, reading, browsing, etc.

Processing and Storage

The dual-core Exynos processor from Samsung has been something that set the trend as the best of the breed in 2011, and even into mid 2012, its manages to compete well against the quad-core Tegra, and the quad-core Exynos.  The dual core S4 krait seems to be the unit that is breaking records, but the unit is more than capable of providing the required power not for this year but for the next if you hope to hold on to the device for a long term.

Another thing that makes the Note still a worth purchase is that unlike most phones in 2011, it comes with 1GB RAM, which is definitely required for ICS and Jelly Bean which require a lot more RAM than Gingerbread.

The Note comes with a fair amount of internal storage 16GB (some variants have 32GB), and it also comes with a microSD slot that can take up to another 32GB, providing ample storage.

Voice quality

The voice quality when using the phone is quite good. However for for its size I expected better from the in-built speaker phone. I felt that the Galaxy SII speakerphone was louder than the Note.

Multimedia

Samsung is known for bundling hardware support for practically all popular video formats, something many other manufacturers shy from.  Hence the default video player can handle all formats, but here again I prefer to use the MX Player for its better usability.

The Samsung music player is cool, and one of the features I like which I did not find in my Sony or HTC I the folder view, which is very useful when playing your music.

The camera unit seems identical to the Galaxy SII and its excellent for a camera phone. One of the key advantages that the Note and Galaxy S2 phones have is that they use a very very powerful flash, coupled with a fairly fast lens and decent sensor (for a camera phone) they produce top notch photos that even are hard to improve by the newer models such as the Galaxy S3 or the HTX One X/ Xperia S.  The video is also very good, and the Note is all ready to do 1080p, something that other brand phones only brought into the 2012 range!

The speakers on the Galaxy Note are adequate, but for the larger size I expected better.  Having tried both the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy 7.7 tab I find that the speaker unit is either identical to the S2 or worse.  The worse could be due to the form fact or design that muffles it,  hence its not that loud.  My former Sony Arc thumped a fair bit of sound when it comes to music than the Note.

Battery

If you look at the battery life tests, this device just stands out for voice calls due to the extremely large capacity battery which is at least 50-80% more than what a normal phone battery is in the top of range phones.

However once you start to use the screen a lot for browsing or reading (and remember AMOLED is not very efficient when the screen is entirely white, a major problem when it comes to browsing or e-reading), the battery drain is greater than a smaller screen with an smaller battery.

However with general use similar to my Arc I can easily take the device over 2 days, something very hard to accomplish with most smart phones, though heavy internet users (one of my colleagues who owned a Note falls into this category), and in his case the battery ran dry in less than a day.

Connectivity options

An aspect that I did not write or consider much in my past reviews were on the SIM type, since the micro SIM is something we mainly associated with Apple.  Well seems like more and more of the newer crop are joining the micro SIM band.  Fortunately the Galaxy Note still uses a normal SIM, very useful when you suddenly need to remove and use the SIM on an older phone.

Benchmarks

I had the luxury of using my version of the Note running Gingerbread and also subsequently try the device of my friend which had been upgraded to ICS.  Here is a quick summary of standard results.  Nenamark results have shown explosive increments with ICS across all phones i have tested so it seems to be either some tweak on ICS or how the benchmark works.  Reasons for Antutu dropping so much has baffled me, and when i compared the CPU scores had dropped, but power saving was definitely disabled, and i had also stopped any background applications.  I will try to rerun that test and see if that had been a freaky result, since the overall graphical interaction responses of the Note with ICS had improved vastly compared to Gingerbread.

I again got myself a Note, and this time it had ICS 4.0.4 running, and performance had improved beyond the Gingerbread version and much better than the ICS 4.0.3 firmware.

Gingerbread 2.3.6 ICS 4.0.3 ICS 4.0.4
Linpack single 65.0  48.9
Linpack multi 90.5  80.9
Antutu 2.8.2 6280  5210  6475
Quadrant Standard 2819  3415  3547
Nenamark 2.2 27.0  41.7  42.4

Even Vellamo scores for web rendering related had dropped in 4.0.3. Here are the two captures for Gingerbread (above) and ICS (below). However with the 4.0.4 update the figures are back indicating the initial ICS release was not properly tweaked.

Impact of power saving on the Galaxy Note

When I first ran the results on my Gingerbread Note, I was rather disappointing if i had got a dud unit since the results were very poor.  Then I realized the reason was that I had the default power saving enabled.  Here are some results showing the impact of the power saving on tests

No power saving Power saving enabled
Antutu 2.8.2 6280 3898
Quadrant Standard 2819 2264

Conclusion

Many laughed at the size, and all expected it to crash just like the Dell Streak. But how wrong people were, including myself, the device has a niche, and a large niche at that which seems to be growing, and the upcoming 5.5″ Note 2 and the sales numbers for the Note tell the story of its success.

With smart phones growing in size, the current flagship phones are touting 4.7/4.8″ screens that are not too far shy of the Galaxy Note, indicating that people want screen space, something that the Apple phones are now loosing out on, and this is where the Android devices are hitting hard.

The story is not just resolution, its also about the screen space, and with more and more users now moving to texting, browsing, and video calls coupled with seeking to use the phone as a multimedia device, the Galaxy Note has hit a spot and unlike past device its comes with superb hardware, an excellent screen that matches anything in the market, and the stylus that has its uses. It has not fallen into the trap of compromising on its multimedia and comes with an excellent camera that produces superb photos and videos.

So if you own a Note, or want to own one don’t think big is stupid, trust me it is note, and many in office who had a laugh when they saw me using it have purchased the same and are very happy as it does cater to the modern generation!  My kids pediatrician who is a techno geek, has a Note, and thought he upgraded his day phone a S2 with the S3, he still has  the Note indicating the more powerful S3 with the larger screen still cannot replace what the Note can do!

Galaxy Note as a Phone

For many the Galaxy Note will be far too large to use it as a normal phone, since it is far to large for single handed use, and also too large in size to be keeping it to your ear in size and weight (can also impact your clown factor in office!).

However if you are a Bluetooth headset user, this issue completely vanishes, and the larger battery and practically of the Note makes it a superb device.

Also if you are rare voice caller and mainly  text person, who also wants to browser or view videos, then look no further unless you prefer a larger size in a tablet format either 7/7.7/10″.

Galaxy Note as a carry along Tablet

While the Note is large, my belief is that its suitable for browsing but falls short on the e-reader department as its just too small for long term reading.  The size is also too small to be comfortable for long term use, and this I where the 7/7.7″ format comes into use.

Hence if you are into texting and take only a rare call, then the 7.7/7 in tabs are far more suited as they have the ideal reading size, and usually also come with better battery life and equivalent hardware.  I also got the opportunity to buy and use a P6800 Galaxy 7.7 tab and believe this suites such users far more than the Galaxy Note for heavy e-reading and movies than the Note.

Photo Gallery

Samsung Galaxy Note users – careful updating to ICS 4.0.3 or custom ROM, you risk bricking your phone due to the eMMC bug


Just replaced my Arc with a Samsung Note.  Could not resist the allure of trying out what you call a Phone/Tab hybrid 🙂

My phone seems to have origins from Romania based on the CSC code, and the update for the ICS was not available as yet for that CSC code.  Was about to change the CSC code when i came across several forum articles where the ICS update for the Galaxy Note has a serious bug for some firmwares that it can brick (make your device not usable).   The issue is not due to the flashing but after you flash and try to do a factory reset.

In case you have updated to the said firmware versions, avoid doing the factory reset and wait for a new version.

The firmware versions impacted seems to be ZSLPF and XXLPY.

Check out the xdadeveloper forums for the eMMC bug and the http://ykkfive.blogspot.com/2012/05/galaxy-note-official-ics-zslpf-and.html#.T889TbD9OJg.

More details on the bug, which also seems applicable to some other Samsung devices, see the forum response  http://www.sammobile.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5843

Samsung has finally accepted that there is a fault with the update, and have informed people from refraining updating their Galaxy Note (and some variants of the Galaxy SII).  See http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_responds_to_galaxy_s_ii___note_emmc_bug_problem-news-4394.php

How to find if your phone has the faulty eMMC unit

Seems like a kind person has written a software, not guaranteed to detect all faulty units, but seems to be pretty updated on identifying the faulty eMMC units.  Check the good friends at XDA http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1693704 for the APK to test your device.

Will post an article after using the device for a while shortly 🙂

UPDATE – JULY 2012

Samsung just released the Android 4.04 update for the Galaxy Note, and it fixes a lot of bugs that were with the 4.0.3 release, and also improves the performance of the phone (it had gone down from the Gingerbread version in the ICS 4.0.3 release).  In addition some cool features have been introduced, including the pop up video playback feature that was exclusively available only for the S3 until this update rolled out! However there is no formal information if the brick bug has been fixed, but i did a factory reset on a device and did not have any problems. However the brick bug does not effect all phones, hence this is not a confirmation that the brick bug has been fixed.

Some details of the new features of the 4.0.4 update for the Galaxy Note http://www.allaboutgalaxynote.com/top-10-new-features-in-galaxy-note-after-ics-update/

 

Huawei MediaPad review, 7″ Dual-core 3G Tablet S7-301u


The MediaPad was launched by the local Telco’s.  However Huawei’s past record with the S7 and S7 slim had been poor, and many still think MediaPad is the same device.  The MediaPad in contrast seems to evolution of the S7 Pro devices with similar hardware but with HoneyComb 3.2 rather than Gingerbread as the base OS.

The MediaPad however has been available in the US much earlier, though with some slight changes to the design as the T-Mobile Springboard.

I had been waiting for the Asus Prime to be launched, but the device had been delayed once again, and decided I will try out a new device until the Prime was freely available in the market.

A device that caught my eye was the Galaxy Tab 7.7, however Samsung once again continues it long delay from launch to available in the retail market.  The MediaPad caught my eye because it had very similar specifications for less than half the price.

The decision was made easier when my Telco offered me a 15% discount for long term clients, and here is a brief review of the device that I currently have.

 The device

The device sadly has no unique design and looks like a shrunken IPad device in look and feel.

However the device is fairly light, and definitely much lighter than the long service Galaxy Tab 7 and slightly slimmer as well.

Unlike the Samsung devices the external cover is made using Aluminum that makes if look and feel more like an small IPad.

The main change is in the rear of the device, where there are two black plastic covers at the top and bottom.  The bottom one is removable and contains the SIM card slot and the MicroSD slot.  The top is purely for design, and my personal opinion is that they could have skipped the black on top as it ruins the design of the device.

Hardware

 Unlike the old Huawei Android tablet devices, this comes fully in line with what the current market has.  The key notes of the hardware are,

  • Dual-Core 1.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 processor
  • Adreno 220 Mobile graphics with 1080P video playback
  • 7” Capacitive Multi-touch IPS LED LCD touch screen with a very high resolution 1280×800, with a PPI of 216 making it very sharp (yes the pixel density is much higher than an IPad)
  • 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage
  • 5MP rear camera with auto focus and zoom (digital) feature and 720P HD video recording
  • 1.3MP front camera that will allow video calls
  • Large battery for a 7” (4100mAh) compared to devices such as the Acer A100
  • Sensors: Light (for auto brightness) and Accelerometer sensor
  • Built-in 2G/3G with HSUPA (5.76Mbps) and HSDPA (14.4Mbps) support
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Dual-speakers with SRS

The hardware definitely is in par with the latest crop of Android tablets.  While most are familiar with the Tegra based devices on tablets, the Snapdragon is more commonly seen on phone devices.  However with the Adreno 220GPU is more than capable for gaming, and has the advantage that it can play 1080P video natively.

Screen quality

For any tablet the screen is important, and specially for a 7”.  The screen on the MediaPad is pretty good, which very good sharpness and brightness.  For most times I have the brightness at 30%, as its more than good enough!  The light sensor also means you can set it to auto brightness.

The viewing angles are good, which is expected for an IPS type screen.  With a PPI of 216, the text is sharp and clear, and is very good for browsing and reading.  I had no problems reading PDF magazines with no zooming even for small fonts, something that was hard to do on the Galaxy 7” tab with the lesser resolution.

The device also strangely comes with a feature that says standard resolution and high resolution.  When I ran software to see if the resolution changed, I noticed  no difference but what seems to be done is the image, fonts are scaled down lower when set to high resolution.

In standard resolution the multi-touch is good, though I have noticed that you have to give the odd double touch once in a while, a problem with several Android devices I have used, something you never come across with the Apple IPad which definitely has a superior touch experience.  Hopefully Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream with its UI acceleration feature (a first time on Android) will resolve this problem.

In high resolution the icons are much smaller and can be problem for the chubby fingered folks (such as myself!).  However the screen is definitely sharper in the high resolution mode.  The captures below are scaled down, and the actual is much sharper.  I will try to attach a higher res capture at the end of the review.

A common question is how good is it to a Samsung Galaxy series which is fast becoming the most spoken of the Android tablets, though the sales figures may indicate that other devices are selling in equal share!

  • The screen is much bright than the older 7″ Samsung Galaxy tab, and with the higher resolution much sharper
  • Compared to the new 10″ Galaxy tab, this screen is not as good, and lacking in the color vibrancy.  However to be fair the Galaxy 10″ and 8.9″ screens are considered the best in the market, beating even the Apple IPad screen.  Hence the screen in the new Galaxy 7″ Plus will definitely be more vibrant, though it may not be as sharp due to the lower resolution.   The Galaxy 7.7″ due soon however may be the reference model with its super AMOLED screen, but with a price that is over 2 times this device its market placing is very different
  • Compared to the Acer device i tested which was  TN based LCD, this screen is on par or better.

Build Quality

The device build quality is quite good and feels very solid with no noticeable squeaks.  However the metal cover means it is easily prone to dents and scratches and hence a case is compulsory.

I would have preferred if Huawei had stuck to the T-mobile Springboard scheme of white covers at the back, and avoided the plastic at the rear top.

Software and Updates

The device comes pre-installed with Honeycomb 3.2 and has the over the air update feature.  Interestingly it has two options update via Google server and Huawei server.  I am a bit curious why the Google update feature is there, since Huawei has dome some minor customizations on top of the standard Honeycomb.

The device also comes with Huawei’s HiSuite Software, which does provide some decent features though the user interface is rather old-fashioned!

Features include,

  • Ability to install software by dragging and dropping into the interface
  • Backup contents and restore
  • Take images of the screen being shown of the tab onto your PC (screen captures)

I also found on the net that the device has been rooted, which should make things a lot more flexible.  .

Bundled Software

Unlike many tabs, this does come bundled with a file manager that is very good news, though you will definitely replace that with File Manager such as File Expert or Astro.

The device also ships with Google Market, so you have access to all the Google software, that definitely makes it a better proposition than generic tablets.

Complementary you also get the following softare,

  • Games: Angry Birds, Asphalt 6 and Let’s Go Golf
  • Yoko Office

Video Multimedia formats and Playback

[Under testing].

Camera

Consider the device has a back camera and front camera, but don’t expect too much from the back facing 5MP camera. The camera is rather low end in nature and the picture quality is noisy.  No LCD means that it will not be very useful in low light situations.

The video quality is acceptable, but just like the stills it is noisy.

Audio Quality

The dual speakers are decent, and quite loud, an issue I had with the Galaxy Tab 7”.  The sound is a match in volume to my IPad2 in sheer loudness.

Music playback is pretty good, though the speakers are definitely not very good on bass.  While it does not distort, it can be bit shrilly.

Being a 7” if you were to hold the device with your hands in landscape mode, you could end up blocking one of the speakers, which is a problem for such speaker placement. However there is very little option for such devices to locate it elsewhere.

Connectivity Ports

For a 7” this device comes with a rich set of connectivity options, which include,

  • Micro USB, you can connect a micro USB to USB connector and then connect a flash drive if require as the device does support USB on the go
  • Micro HDMI
  • 3.5” headphone jack
  • MicroSD card slot

Hence compared to the very popular Galaxy Tab devices the presence of the Micro USB and MicroSD provides greater flexibility.

The MicroSD is definitely needed since the tab only has 8GB of internal storage.  However while you can hot swap the Micro SD, you need to pop the rear cover.

One weak point similar to the Galaxy tab is that the device cannot charge over the micro USB.  You have to carry the bulky adapter that is given.  However unlike a Galaxy Tab, adapter is a 6V, which means Huawei could have made this charge of the Micro USB.

Storage

An area for controversy for me at least.  According to official Telco banner and many sites the device was supposed to have 8GB internal storage.  However I found it only has 5.8GB, and popular mobile review sites have varying configurations on this area.  Huawei in their official site DO NOT MENTION the size of the internal storage, which adds to the mystery.

Over 2.5GB of the internal storage is used at the start and the bundled software definitely is not that large.  Need to check with another Honeycomb device to see if the base OS actually takes such a large size!

Sensors

Here is a capture from Quadrant indicating the detected sensors.

Battery life and recharge time

Since my reviews are purely on feel, I don’t have measures to prove this but I am sure you can find reviews from sites on actual facts.

For a start any device with 3G enabled is going to drain battery, but what is important is how it performs with this feature disabled.

With 3G disabled the overnight loss in battery is around 2%.  The device definitely can last a few days without charging.

But as a user I feel the battery drain is much greater than an IPad on regular use such as browsing, video playback.  The recharging time is not slow as was the case with the Samsung Galaxy tab (that takes hours which is very painful), and is more akin to an IPad charging, which is bearable.

However the good news I that the battery recharge times are not as long as the Samsung process, and you can recharge the device in around 2-3hrs to full capacity.

I also found a charger on ebay that can be connected to your PC USB port, with the other end compatible with the Huawei Media Pad.

Benchmarks

Quadrant Standard – 1901

LinPack (Single/Multi) – 46.088MFLOPS / 53.224MFLOPS

NenMark1 – 52.2 FPS

AntTuTu (2.4.3) – 5362

Gaming

I tried out the some racing games including the bundled Asphalt, ROC, Drift Mania.  Seems my device has a hardware problem, as the steering using tilt does not work properly (refused to turn to the right).  I posted on the Huawei Facebook wall, and i got a response that i should get the device checked.  Will update if this is a problem with my unit or if this is an incompatibility with the device once i take it to the service center.

Firmware updates and ICS upgrade

The good news is that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is in the works for this device 🙂 and seems the next batch of the devices will be shipping straight with ICS, making this device among the first to be shipping with ICS after the ASUS Transformer Prime tablet.  The updates for existing devices has been scheduled for March 2012, hope it comes earlier!.

The device has two options one to update from Huawei and the other from Google server.   Each time i tried it says the version i have is the latest. However i went Huawei site and found  more newer version that what i had.  The direct link for downloads from Huawei is http://www.huaweidevice.com/worldwide/productFeatures.do?pinfoId=3135&treeId=3290&directoryId=5011&tab=0.

I noticed the following improvements with the HUAWEI_S7-301u_FIRMWARE_adroid3.2_C232B016_General_VersionForUser_05010SJR  (9-Jan-2012) update.

1. Fixed the issue where the device switched to 2G far to easily, now it works better.  However sadly it does not have the features that we find standard on the Gingerbread (GSM, GSM/3G, 3G only) which is far more simpler.

2. The update also has improved the touch implementation and i find the experience a lot more smoother.

3. Has updated versions of the bundled apps

4. Built-in file manager now detects the external SD card properly and seamlessly

5. Issue with games involving the tilt has been fixed.  Now i can play my racing games!

On the negative side i noticed the following,

1. WIFI connectivity does not work properly (big bummer, since some apps and games insist on using a wifi connection to download larger downloads)

However the update using the download had some quirks which one should watch out,

1.  Remember to back up your data and apps using the HSuite and also app backup, because if you update using the download it clears the local storage contents and the tablet is back to new state with the updated firmware. No such warning is mentioned in the Huawei guide for updating the firmware!

2. If you run the update and don’t remove the SD card, the device keeps updating on each re-boot.  So make sure you remove the SD card after the update, and then re-insert the card back.

3. Once the update is done and OK comes on your screen the tablet will reboot, but the update is not done yet.  It will then start the bundled app updates and then reboot again while showing the startup screen.  the messages come in an ugly yellow DOS-like font 🙂

Conclusion

The device is definitely well built, and also very competitive priced.  Currently its priced below even the older Galaxy Tab 7”, but is much higher configuration with faster 3G, higher resolution and brigher screen, better battery life, faster processor and graphics and greater flexibility in connectivity ports.

Another very important upgrade is that it is running Honeycomb and should be getting the much sought after Google Ice Cream update soon.

On the device per say, the screen and multi-touch are good and making it ideal portable device for your internet and video playback.  The screen is very bright and the video is very crisp and clear.  The audio is sufficiently loud for such a small device.

The connectivity options are great and giving you several options to easily transfer files into and out of the device. The connectivity options are far better than the popular Samsung Galaxy tab series which is hell bent on following Apple strategies, though the new 7” devices are now offering more options.

The cameras may not be great, but they will do their job, and the front camera makes it ready for video calling.

The battery life is decent, and based on some professional reviews it can do over 6.5 hours of non-stop video, which put it above the older Galaxy 7” tab, and far better than the Acer A100 which has less than 3+ hours in similar tests.

The device is better than generic chinese tabs since the hardware is more standard.  My only hope is that Huawei who are now getting serious with their devices under their own name, will improve their software support services.

MediaPad and Google ICS update

Installed the near final ICS firmware, see my comments and benchmarks at https://rayazmuthalif.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/huawei-mediapad-ics-first-impression/

Where can I buy it in Sri Lanka and the experience when buying it

Currently only the Telcos are selling it, and the local supplier for Huawei (MiTech computers) is only getting shipment in January 2012. They have indicated they will bring down accessories for this device as well.

The local supplier also mentioned that the Telcos were getting these devices in bulk, and that pricing was much cheaper than the retail prices since they seem to be keen on pushing tablets to benefit from the eventual data usage!

Comparison with other popular 7″ tablets

Did a quick chart for the spec crazy group.  The prices of the tabs are very different, and also differ from market to market.  Selected them more with an Asian availability (devices from Motorola, Acer and Toshiba for example are hard to find here).

MediaPad vs other 7in tablets 2012

Accessory links

Finding accessories is something that is harder compared but that applies to most Android devices.  Sadly Huawei has not yet got into the full thick of things by selling original accessories as done by other tablet vendors.  The source hence is ebay, and the well known PDair case manufacturers.

I ordered some, will update the review once i get the goods.  But here are some that caught my eye.  I ordered a matt finish anti glare screen protector and microfiber case in addition to the USB charger.  While many don’t like the matt finish specially since impacts the gloss of the screen, i find it more easier to use and like the non-glare feel.

Microfiber case : http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sikai-MediaPad-MibroFiber-case-Huawei-IDEOS-MediaPad-leather-case-Black-/190616907526?pt=PDA_Accessories&hash=item2c61a72f06

Silicon case : http://www.ebay.com/itm/SiKai-MediaPad-Top-Sensation-Protector-cover-Silicone-Huawai-Media-Pad-case-/190610235740?pt=PDA_Accessories&hash=item2c6141615c

Low down on Advanced / Pro Compact Digital Cameras


What are Advanced/Pro compact cameras actually?

Advanced/Pro compacts are cameras that are considered the top of the line point and shoot digital cameras, though in features and usage they are more akin to a DSLR than standard point and shoot cameras.  The key features that make pro compacts superior to the other point and shoot cameras are,

  1. The camera sensor is much larger than what you find with most normal point and shoot cameras
  2. The lens of the camera will be very high quality, and very fast (have a large aperture) to allow shooting in low light.  The lens also might be developed by a professional lens specialist firm, and also actually manufactured by the specialist.
  3. The camera body will have loads of buttons and controls to access functions that allow maximize the use of the camera (similar to a DSLR)
  4. The camera will have full manual controls (M) in addition to the auto modes and aperture, shutter priority and program auto modes
  5. The camera will support advanced auto focus capabilities that will allow it to focus better under testing conditions
  6. The camera will allow connecting an external flash (usually one from the DSLR range made by the same manufacturer)
  7. The camera body will be made of special materials making the camera very high in quality and

Who actually buys these camera’s

With the prices of such cameras actually being same or more than some of the lower end DSLR cameras, one may question why not buy a DSLR camera and avoid paying so much what to one’s first impression is a fancy point and shoot digital camera.

  1. DSLR cameras are still much larger than advance compact digital cameras, hence you cannot carry them when you go for a private function
  2. Not everyone likes to have a DSLR camera due to the fact that after a while you get sucked into the “I need more lenses and accessories” game
  3. DSLR kit lens are not that great quality and also have smaller apertures (slower lenses).  Hence these advanced compacts can match or exceed the performance of the low end DSLR with kit lenses in the lower ISO ranges, which is good enough for most.  In addition the faster lenses on these smaller compacts can make them perform better than the lower end DSLR’s indoor.
  4. A DSLR lens with zoom that has the same aperture as the one’s offered by the compact lenses can cost you at least 2-3 times the price of such advanced compact.
  5. The advanced compacts also has a far better wide angle (24mm in most cases) than DSLR camera kit lens which are usually 27 or 28mm.

The primary buyers are the users who don’t want to own the DSLR, and want a camera that can take good to very good photos for family, home, adventure use opt for these advanced compacts.

The secondary buyers are the DSLR camera owners who usually have an advanced compact that they carry with them.  It also provides them the ability to take a quick shot without having to miss the opportunity while the try to change the lens that suits the shot!

What about the entry of the mirror-less compact system cameras

The introduction of the mirror-less compact system camera’s by Panasonic and Olympus, initialy laughed away by the giants Canon and Nikon, has surprisingly caused a large stir.  So much so these camera’s outsold DSLR camera’s in 2011 in Japan, a market that is more open to new innovations than the western markets.  Even the sales in US has increased to almost 20%, and has cause Canon and Nikon to also start developing mirror-less solutions.

Panasonic and Olympus are now challenged by products from Sony and Samsung, which feature the larger sensor found in DSLRs in the same mirror-less configuration.

This year saw two more entries, one from Pentax, a rather odd mirror-less since it features a body hosting a point and shoot type sensor (a sensor smaller than what you find inside an advanced compact!) yet with removable lens, baffling.

The latest entrant has been Nikon with the J1 and V1 models, which have been just released, and these have smaller sensor than the Panasonic and Olympus camera’s  though larger than an advanced compact camera.

The key selling point of these camera’s is that with the omission of the mirror shutter, resulting in these cameras shrinking in size so much that some of them have bodies smaller than the advanced compacts. However the term smaller is only valid when they are usually fixed with a fixed aperture lens, and when a zoom lens is added these are again larger and bulky compared to an advanced compact.  Olympus offers a folding type lens to make the zoom lens configuration also even more leaner, but this is also still larger than the largest advanced compact.

These mirror-less compact systems, with their larger sensor, smaller yet better quality kit lens (most of the kit lenses from these systems are much higher quality than the kit lenses that come with DSLR) offer very good picture quality though they are significantly smaller than DSLRs.  These cameras definitely out perform advanced compacts, but still have some limitations as the DSLRs such as the need to change lens, buy multiple lenses (and the need to be swapping lenses), high quality lenses being very expensive and being bulky than an advanced compact when fixed with a zoom lens.

Hence the need and market for these flagship high quality advanced compacts is not going to vanish very soon, as seen by the increase in the number of competitors in the market.

What models are current and recent Advance Compacts

In recent times the Nikon, Canon and Samsung cameras all use the same sensor supposedly manufactured by Sony, hence it’s the lens, software, features, and size of the cameras that make the difference.   The perennial challenge is from the Panasonic LX, that uses a different sensor but competes and matches the trio.  The newcomer from Olympus also seems to use the same sensor as the Panasonic.  Fuji was the newcomer with a new Fuji EXR sensor that is a bit larger than the other two sensors used by all other cameras.

Canon seems to be doing gentle upgrades mostly to fix the complaints of older models every year, so there are very little notable improvements, with the newer models doing better video and having faster auto focus being key improvement.  While the zoom levels are increased in some, you will notice the lens are also slower at the telephoto end, so be vary of that.

 Model Size (in) Size (mm) Megapixels aperture Zoom Lens
2011 Nikon P7100 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F2.8 – F5.6 7.1 Nikon
2011 Canon S100 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 12.1 F2.0 – F5.9 5 Canon
2011 Fuji X10 2/3″ 8.8 x 6.6 mm 12.0 F2.0 – F2.8 4 Fujinon
2011 Olympus XZ-1 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F1.8 – F2.5 4 Olympus Zuiko
2010 Canon G12 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.8 – F4.5 5 Canon
Nikon P7000 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F2.8 – F5.6 7.1 Nikon
Samsung EX1/TL500 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.1 F1.8 – F2.4 3 Schneider kreuznach
Canon S95 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.0 – F4.9 3.8 Canon
Panasonic LX5 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F2.0 – F3.3 3.8 Leica Vario-Summicron
2009 Panasonic LX3 1/1.63″ 7.89 x 5.81 10.0 F2.0 – F2.8 2.5 Leica Vario-Summicron
Canon G11 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.8 – F4.5 5 Canon
Canon S90 1/1.7″ 7.49 x 5.52 10.0 F2.0 – F4.9 3.8 Canon
Post 2009 milestone models Canon G-Series (G10, G9, G7, G6, etc)Panasonic LXNikon P5000/5100

Apple IPad vs Samsung Galaxy Tablet comparison


Not an easy topic, and i am sure fanboys from both groups will hotly dispute any negatives that you point out.  Frankly speaking the decision between either is very dependent on the user, since both are very capable (and expensive) devices.  So lets take me give my view on various aspects of usage,

Size and Handling : If we were to say the Galaxy being considered as a overgrown gorilla phone 🙂 is fairly a valid statement considering the Touch UI still has to much phone it in than a true tablet.  However the overgrown gorilla phone is definitely more light and carry friendly compared to the whale like IPad 🙂  Though the larger IPad screen definitely is a superb magazine reader, the fact remains that currently it is tad to heavy for long periods of use, as the balance is simply not there.  The Galaxy tab in comparison is a lot more balanced and ideal for this purpose, though a slightly larger screen would have made this perfect (hint- LG with their 8.9″ G-slate/Optimus Pad may have the ideal solution assuming they have perfected the balance of the device).  Do note that both run the same resolution, so there is no difference in the pixel sizes, though the upcoming range of tablets are all set to boost the pixel size (though the IPad2 rumored specs say the screen res will remain the same, though nothing wrong with the current no of pixels!)

Expansion:  The IPad currently comes in 3 different capacities 16/32/64GB and this is important, as you need to decide how much space you really want, since you cannot load and play content from any external media such an SD card or USB stick.   The Galaxy in comparison has an microUSB slot built-in that supports upto 32GB microSD cards.  So in addition to the built-in 16/32GB memory you can expand it.  However note the issue, even if you expand the Galaxy its going to top off at 64GB, so while the flexibility is there you really don’t get any additional space.  However the advantage is that you can load and play media from any microSD card, so you can have multiple cards, or use cards from your friends to play content, which is gives it the advantage.

Communication: The IPad 3G version comes with the ability to use an microSIM that means you can connect to net without the need of an WIFI router.  While most reviews talk about the fact that the WIFI is faster, this will be applicable for countries where WIFI is freely available.

However for most asian countries this will not hold true, and 3G is more important and accessible.  In my country (Sri Lanka) the speeds on the 3G connections can average around 1-2Mbps, and for the same price you only get 1Mbps on fixed lines, so 3G is a better alternative.  The Galaxy too supports 3G and though both the IPad and Galaxy Tab offer high speed supports you may find that your provider will not be able to provide sustained speeds at these levels.  However the place where the Galaxy out does the IPad is again in the area of BlueTooth, as its has the newer spec, and also has no restrictions.  The BT on the Galaxy Tab is just like any phone (not Apple!) so you can transfer files, explorer, etc unlike the rather limited voice only and limited device connectivity supported by the Apple BlueTooth support on the IPad.

Camera and Communication: Not really a comparison, as the IPad gets slammed big time as it does not even have a front facing camera though it ports a mic to allow voice calls.  While having a normal camera may not be essential for a Tablet, the front facing camera i think is fundamental considering the price of these devices, and that these are pitched as the mobile devices you may have with you.  The Galaxy front cam allows the video calls, and since its a normal phone you can use it for standard video calls over 3G as well.  The back camera is a 3.2 MP pixel and is of average quality, but surprisingly the flash that is included is very powerful and does very well indoors.  However i would have liked a bit more mega pixels in the camera, since you may need to take photos of white boards or books and here the mega pixel is important and 3 MP has insufficient detail for this purpose.

However not everything is sweet, as the most popular call software Skype is poorly implemented on Android, and is also now not available for many devices and regions, while this issue is not there with the Ipad/Apple iOS or for that matter even Symbian!  While Fring is available, the lack of a proper skype implementation i think takes the home advantage of the front camera.

Being able to take calls on your Tablet is something i feel is not that vital, since you would need to carry a mobile in addition to your tablet as the tablet cannot be carried for all events.   Hence while this is an advantage, I think its not vital and would be fine without it.  If samsung could have done this and reduced the price of the Galaxy tab i am sure the number of devices sold would have been far greater.

PDF support:  I included this as a separate criteria as i felt it was important, and maybe its just me as i read a lot of material in PDF format.  Here while the Android platform has many PDF readers the PDF reader on the IPad is far smoother and better implemented.  You notice that you can flip through pages (and the page is rendered) much faster on the IPad, and also the loading time for a PDF is significantly better on the IPad.  In addition the zoom feature is a lot smoother on the IPad, and hopefully the HoneyComb Android upgrade will improve this on the Galaxy Tab (and other Android tablets).   And again here is where i felt the 7″ form factor being insufficient specially for magazines, and the IPad 9.7″ screen a lot more suited as you could read the content with no zoom needs.

Microsoft Office support:  Again since these tablets are more than simple ebook readers, you will end up having to view and possibly edit MS office documents. Here there is not built-in product provided by Apple on the IPad, while Samsung bundles software that allows you to view and edit documents, so definitely something that again makes the Galaxy a better option.

Multimedia: I covered this in my individual review, as here the Galaxy wins as it supports more formats natively including Divx/Xvid than the IPad.  The Galaxy form factor also makes it use the full space for wide screen content, while the IPad will have the two black streaks that reduces the effectiveness of the larger screen space.

—- to be continued

Samsung Galaxy Tablet – Hands on


The urge to join the tablet group has becoming increasingly hard, specially with the long term fascination of wanting to read my automobile magazines at my finger tips.   The move to the Xperia X10 with android though not as ga ga as expected, also got me the opportunity to test out a brand new Samsung Tablet.   The contact offered it an awesome price (in local terms), and though i was about to commit, he suggested that i go try it out over the evening and make the decision or return (now that’s what you call trust, thanks Rizwan).

Externals

First the device definitely is small compared to the IPad, its like a CR book vs a standard exercise book in local equivalents for size.  The build quality is good, but you don’t see anything that is impressive.

However the Gorilla glass is a practical selection, even though the viewing angles may not be great as the Ipad or Barnes and Nobles Nook Color IPS screens.  To me the screen seems fine, though the reflections are a bit of an issue specially indoors in the night.  The back white cover is supposedly scratch proof too, but seems rather thin, specially at the slots for the SD and SIM card, that seems to be a potential area where the device may potentially crap if mishandled.

Connectivity

Proprietary USB connection seems so ridiculous considering microUSB is now becoming a standard, and i think its also being pushed as the standard in Euro.  Why Samsung wants to make a bit more pocket money selling these cables when the device is already so overpriced seems ridiculous.  Shame on your Samsung (okay okay, we know you want to be another Apple/Stevy J).

The SIM slot and microSD slot are on the right side, and has rubber covers to protect the ports.  Requires you to have nails to pry open, but nothing seriously flawed in the design.

Android OS – Froyo 2.2

Ah to the meat, my first experience with Froyo (android 2.2), since my beloved X10 is on 2.1 (yet to find time to root it and try the XDA ROMs).  The large touch friendly icons makes it seem a bit toyish, and also means a lot of flicking.  Now i know when they say that Android 2.x is not tablet friendly, coz the interface looks like a magnified phone interface. The reviews of the new honeycomb 3.0 android looks more like an desktop OS which may fit tablet computing better.

The interface is quite nippy and flicking through the desktops and loading apps have no noticeable lag.

However one quirky thing which i think was bad coding on google was that initially i could not get on the web or sign-in to my Google account to enable me to get access to the market.   The error was more like my login credentials were incorrect. After while i just had a feeling it was a network issue and then remember that the auto APN setup had not worked on my X10 as well, and i had to create it manually.  However the settings were downloaded a while later.

E-Reader

I downloaded Adobe PDF for Android and loaded a few digital contents, as one of the main reasons for this purchase would be to read my auto magazine collection, and also do my referring up on technology (my actual job of software engineering related aspects!).  Here is where i noticed though the 7″ form factor was more convenient, that reading full page was out, as the fonts were too small.  Switching to landscape helped, but the rather non-friendly approach to page switching on Android / Adobe for Android made it rather messy.  The Adobe PDF reader seems to be in its infancy on the the Android platform on features, as the zoom features were limited, and though you could not set a specific zoom that would stay across pages. However the page switching was quite smooth even for very graphics heavy magazines.

I also tried BeamReader, and though this was a bit more pleasant on usage, thank to the two arrow buttons for navigation, this reader was less smooth and had trouble with large graphics pages with rendering being painfully slow.

On the whole while it might be good for pure text based books, the 7″ form factor could be limiting for specially for PDF compared to the 9.7 or 10.2″ screens.  So make sure you see your usage pattern.

Multimedia

Camera: 3-mega pixel, oh come on Samsung clearly you want the buyer of the Tablet to also buy a phone since that’s just not enough!  One thing i am sure any tablet user might want is to take a picture of a white board, or paper article.  The camera just has not enough detail at the mega pixel, and is also lousy for macro shots.   General outdoor shots seem fine, and the flash is quite powerful that it does sufficiently fine indoors though the photos have a rather dull output.

Camera Video: The video is decent, and the ability to use the flash as a video light useful.

Video playback: Tried out various formats such as MP4 and DIVX and things were smooth.  The standard player played divx with no issues, something that my xperia cannot do.  Maybe the new hummingbird implementation has native support for Divx compared to the Snapdragon processor based implementation on the X10.  The built in speakers are loud enough, though headphones are recommended.

Calls

While using it suddenly i noticed it ringing, until then i had completely forgotten that the tablet was also a phone.  Was impressed that you could take calls without even the headset though it felt weird talking to a book like device 🙂

Battery

Used the tablet for about 2+ hours, and it was on full charge.  Connected to wifi for about 30mins, and on 3G data for around another 30 mins, the rest it was viewing complex pdf files, a few photos and video trials and general mucking around.  For all this the battery only dropped by less than a bar, so definitely impressive.