Tag Archives: Tablet Devices

Huawei MediaPad ICS first impression


Could not resist waiting for the official update, and plunged in and installed the March release of the ICS International release from the xda forum.  Installation went very smoothly and remembered to back the apps prior to the update using HiSuite, and the restored back up after the update.

First impressions

Initially felt a bit of lag in the UI, when i was expecting lightning fast responses that i encountered using ICS with a friend who had a Google Nexus phone.  However found that the ICS build downloaded being still not fully final had logging enabled, and disabling logging improved the overall smoothness immensely making the device very usable.

The build is definitely close to final as the camera, video, wifi, 3G all work fine.  The device now officially has the phone and messenger.

Strangely the theme and look and feel still remains very much like Honeycomb, that you don’t feel a WOW factor from the ICS update is something that let me down.

The new option where you can change the font size available in ICS is very useful as you can select high res mode and customize the font size to suite your visual preference.

Screen shots

Start screen nothing very different, notice the “emergency call”, which is because the phone is airplane mode.

The interface here is not the standard, as i am using the APEX launcher since default ICS launcher is rather unattractive and feature limited.  However APEX launcher itself is something hard to understand since it has so many configuration settings.

The version in case you have a doubt what is running on the device 🙂

Settings menu for display, notice the font option. Also nice is the power saving option available under settings.

Benchmarks

Attached a few benchmarks to give you an idea on more where the MediaPad stands compared to current devices.

AnTuTu 2.7.2

Competes well with similar configuration devices, though all seem to be blown by the Transformer Prime here!

Quadrant

Quadrant seems to having some issues with there benchmarks, and are unable to show against the latest crop, i am awaiting the update to rerun the benchmarks.

Vellamo

My Internet connection was very slow, and noticed this test ran slow, i am not sure if this impacted the networking score.  However here the device is very competitive.

 

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Acer Iconia A500 Android Honeycomb Tablet review


Two of my friends decided to join the tablet bridge, and wanted my advice starting with the perennial question Apple IPAD or Android tablet.  I gave them an update based on my ownership of both IPad and Android based devices.  After much thought they decided that they really needed more control over their tablet device than the apps, and since the user of the tablet was mainly for business use, the apps available in the Android market should be more than adequate.

So the next decision was to decide which tab. Here in Sri Lanka the tablet market had limited options, and options were Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 (3G version), Toshiba Thrive and the Acer A500 and A501 as branded Honeycomb devices.

Though they were initially tempted by the sexy slim design of the Galaxy Tab, they realized the benefit of the full USB and Micro SD capability, and decided to go with the A500 (they were going down the MIFI router path so the 3G version the A501 was not considered).  The Thrive was instantly discarded, since the local Toshiba agents price it way higher than the Acer A500, when it’s the other way around in other markets!, talk about stupid agent pricing.

Initial experience

I joined the two to go check out the A500, which strictly was to be a hands-on trial to aid the purchase decision which at the end of it became an immediate purchase by the end of the session.

Reading all the reviews, and loaded with Android experience as a former owner of an Xperia  X10, and then an owner of the Galaxy Tab 7” I felt confident I could easily demo the unit to the friends, since they had no experience of using any Android device, and were hard core Blackberry phone users!

Was I in for a shock with Honeycomb, it felt so very different to the phone OS version, and looked very much like a simplified version of Windows OS.  However one thing was sure, it definitely was not simple to use without some reading, and one can understand why many find the Honeycomb experience a bit daunting.

Fortunately for me, one of my buddies said why not take his device for a few days and play around and then update him, saving him time on learning. This means I got a chance of writing another review to my blog, and saving me the trouble of having to actually buy a device which has become a key limiter for articles.

Also featured this time are photos taken from the Nikon D5100, using the 35mm lens 🙂

The device

The Acer A500 was my initial choice before I then reverted to a buying an IPad2, main reason being the bug with the battery leak which was a concern initially.  This bug was fixed with the 3.0.1 update.

Now that I had the device with me, I was surprised how very different a 10.1 wide screen layout felt compared to the 4:3 format IPad device.  It felt much smaller though in fact it was not really.

While the Acer A500 was heavier than an IPad2, it was not something you call heavy, and once you do add the usual case, all tabs are pretty much too heavy for long time use, so I would not take that as a major reason unless you want to use a your tab for hours and hours.

A comparison photo with my IPad2, IPad 1 and the A500.  The topmost is the IPad2, right below is the Acer A500.  Below the Acer is the IPad1.  Resting under all this is the silicon cover for the Ipad1 🙂

Hardware

Well with a spec that is a match to any dual-core Tegra-2 based tablet, and considered one of the most powerful currently in the tablet market, it definitely has the horsepower for current and future tablet computing.  The main lag I feel is the Google Honeycomb OS itself and possible that the drivers by Nvidia are still being optimized and improved for the Android platform, considering Nvidia has been an relative late entry into the Android space, though it came out fighting with an awesome spec for the Tegra-2 platform.

Build Quality

The device is VERY VERY well built with a lot of metal being used.  The device passed around to many nearby colleagues in office!  One of them actually told that it looked like a big Nokia N8 in shape and build.  A Samsung Galaxy 7” tab user actually felt very envious by the gun-metal finish of the Acer, compared to the real plasticky feel of the Samsung tab.  It definitely felt classy and rugged.

Screen quality and use

Yes its may not be an IPS screen, and all the reviews talk about the viewing angles, etc.  However most users will find this screen more than good enough for personal use, considering the screen is way better than most laptop screens!  As an IPad user you also notice the extra resolution specially when looking at the small fonts on PDF files.

Being a capacitive screen, the multi-touch implementation is good and quite fluid.  However a common complaint by a person who has used an IPad is that that fluid-ness of the Google implementation is definitely not in par with the Apple implementation.

Also remember the screen has a Gorilla glass coating making it rugged.  However don’t forget a screen protector, as Gorilla glass does not mean scratch proof 🙂

One factor that was very evident was that in direct sunlight the screen is impossible to view, using a matt finish anti-glare screen protector may improve things, but it did not have a screen protector when I tested it.

Updates

When I connected the device, it first updated to 3.0.x and then updated to 3.1 and then to 3.2.  My friend who brought this device over the Samsung 10.1 was quite happy, since the Samsung had yet to give this update.  Kudos to Acer for giving the updates fast.  Oh yeah the other thing I forgot to mention is that the updates are OTA (over the air), and you don’t have that dreadful Samsung Kiev like software to work with.

Bundled Software

The device is bundled with several apps which I felt were actually messy to use, and there were much better free and paid ups on the Google market.

One crazy omission for a tablet that is actually having a full featured OS is the lack of a file manager as standard.  I am quite surprised why Google does not include this as a standard.  However Astro for Honeycomb tablets available free in the market provides a super file manager experience that may even have Windows users feeling a bit jealous.

Acer also does not bundle any Office application, which is a shame since the users of this tab would definitely like a complimentary copy of a Office application.  Samsung has this well covered, and so does many of the other Android tablet manufacturers.

Video Multimedia formats supported

Most reviews talk about it, but it’s worth noting that the default player provided by Acer does not have support for Divx/MKV which is disappointing.  However you can easily download free players from the Android Market that will help play these formats.  However one expects support for such formats considering these are standard formats in the present day multimedia playback needs.

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 very noisy.  The positive is that the camera also has a LED flash which means you can take photos indoors as well. However the Android default camera software is quite featured, something I felt very lacking in my Nokia N8 which has such a great camera but poor software.

The video quality is decent, but not mind boggling.  The quality I felt was bit worse than the quality of the video that was produced by the Galaxy Tab 7”.

Audio Quality

A key reason that I sold the Galaxy Tab 7” which was more used by my son to watch videos and try out the pre-school apps was that the speaker volume was not very great, especially when used in an place where other people were speaking.  The IPad in contrast has a very loud and clear speaker that works quite well under such circumstances.

The Acer with its stereo speakers with Dolby was much louder and better than the 7” Galaxy tab but still not as loud as the IPad speaker.  The speakers being located in the behind also meant it could be muffled depending on use.

Picture below shows one of the speakers.  Looks cool 🙂

Connectivity

The most irritating thing with an IPad is that you have so many limitations in storing content into the device.  Default browser does not allow you to save any kind of video or music file, and while you can use other alternative browsers it still not a very intuitive way.  In most case you have to depend on ITunes to sync contents with your PC / Mac to get content into the tab.

Android is capable of being just like Windows with support for loading storage devices on the fly in the likes of SD cards, flash drives, portable hard disks and even USB mouses, as long as the device has the ports.  However not all Android devices have these ports, specially the most popular Samsung devices which are cool designs but skip on these and you have to use adapters to work around for some.

The acer has most of the required ports a FULL USB, very cool, a micro SD  which is very useful too (no full SD card like thrive the swiss knife of Android tablets).  It also has a built-in micro HDMI (sadly the cable to connect to a HDMI device has to purchased separately, only Nokia is well known for providing all cables!) and it also has a micro USB as well.

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.

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.

Gaming

Sadly did not get much time to install any games and test, but tried out one racing game and found it very fluid and jerk free.  The accelerometer and Gyro are definitely things that make gaming on tabs a cool feature.  The Tegra-2 has the GPU power to handle gaming well, so in case you are looking for gaming in addition to the normal business usage of the tab, this is a match to any other Tegra-2 Android device.  Just in case you want to know where the Tegra-2 falls currently, it’s much more powerful than the one in the Apple IPad1, but is not in the same league as the IPad2.  However this is purely on the GPU capability as the gaming experience is based on many more factors than pure GPU capability.

Conclusion

I will write my story of Honeycomb on a separate blog, but these are my takes on the Acer A500.

  1. It may not be an IPad2 or Galaxy Tab in the slim feel, but it definitely is not thick and I am sure most could be very happy.  It is definitely a balance between coolness and actual usefulness.  The Acer A500 is quite cool but is superbly useful.  The built quality is super and really oozes class.
  2. The screen may not be IPS screen but is definitely a very high quality LCD screen, and is more than good enough.  However it’s very reflective, so make sure you get a good matt finish anti-glare screen protector.  The Gorilla glass coating also means the screen can take a degree of punishment, something an IPad user will be hesitant on.
  3. The built-in device connectivity features are awesome and makes this one of the best Android tablets for geeks, and power users.  You can simply transfer and load content in every conceivable way USB flash, portable hard disk, micro SD, Bluetooth.  IPad users can only sulk on this propositionJ, and even Galaxy Tab owners will be red faced unless they have an USB adapter to get some level of equality.
  4. The battery life is decent, though not in the league of the IPad device.  Based on reviews it’s a bit low compared to the Galaxy 10.1 Tab as well.  However it definitely is sufficient for over 4-5 hours of use, which makes it suitable for most tab owners, is my feeling.  The quick recharge counters the Galaxy Tabs longer battery life.  If you want more juice get a Sanyo enelope charger that can overcome this limitation easily!
  5. Having both a front and rear camera is useful, as you can take a candid photo, or use it for video calls.  However don’t expect the camera to replace your point and shoot or DSLR.
  6. The audio quality from the speakers is good, but its not very loud.  Compared to my older Galaxy Tab 7” it is way louder, but not a match for the single speaker IPad 1 or IPad 2.

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

The Acer is only sold by the agents in Sri Lanka, but the pricing is very competitive.  The only issue is that the agent has ridiculous way of selling.

  • They don’t have this device in any showroom, and you have to go to their head office.
  • The sales lady draws the tablet from her desk and then you had to stand around her desk and use the device!
  • Since we were considering the wifi version, there is no wi-fi to connect to the Internet and test the device.
  • The person selling has no idea of using the device or the configuration (we had to find out how much storage it had)
  • The agent only sells the tab, they do not sell any of the accessories.  So you have to find a way to get them down from overseas, or depend on eBay for the screen protector, case, and other goodies!
  • Once you pay for the device you are given a receipt and told to go to the basement of the building (a dark and gloomy place) to pick the device from the warehouse

This is indeed sad, considering the Acer A500 is a very good Android tab and sells over 10K less than the Samsung Galaxy 10.1.  I also feel in the local context, the connectivity options in the Acer makes it more applicable for most users if they are going Android over the Samsung tab.

I do hope the agents realize this and make this tab available among their retailers (the retailers sell the Acer laptops but not the tab, puzzling) and also bring in some of the popular accessories that are a must (screen protector, case at the minimum).

Cheap (Chinese) Android Tablet devices any good?


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While the expensive IPad and Android based tablets from Samsung, HTC, Toshiba, Asus, Acer fight it out for sales in the markets that people can afford, the allure of the tablet in the year the tablets outsold the PC’s in US has effected many of us as well.

This has seen an explosive rise in various Chinese tablet devices, that have found nirvana with Google Android, a full fledged open OS that they can use on a compatible device.  These devices sell well under $100 even in the US markets, but when the come to markets to which they are originally intended (for people who have lower budgets), the prices sadly are more closer to the 200-300$ mark.  Still very cheap when you consider that the expensive devices are even more expensive in these markets.  E.g. The IPad2 16GB WIFI that sells at 499$ in US sells close to 800-900$ locally from small dealers who bring them in small numbers since Apple only sells there products in selected markets.

Sadly the market for Android tablets have not seen the popularity as much as the IPad, since these are purchased by many more for design than for their use.  The lower cost tablets of course are a different ball game, and the expectation from the purchases it seems that it will do the same as the expensive counterparts for a lot less money.

But is that correct, or are there things we need to watch, or could these devices be actually better than their expensive counterparts?  Let me share some of my thoughts, you work it out if it makes sense for you.

Can these in-expensive devices be better?

The expensive brands are fighting it out for “slimmest tab”, “most featured tab”, “longest battery life”, “best screen”, “fastest CPU” and also try to sell you accessories.  So that means you can find most devices don’t have,

  1.  A full USB port, some don’t even have a mini/micro USB port
  2. Some don’t even have any expansion ports (microSD/SD cards), so you are stuck with the storage that is internal to the device
  3. Most don’t have 3G or you have to fork out more for the 3G version.  There too you may have the CDMA vs GSM versions, and now the LTE versions to stop you using it in all markets.

Strangely the low budget tablets have loads of features,

1. They usually have a full USB port, or if not they definitely have an micro USB port.

That means you can hook up a USB or card reader and access stuff on flash drives, memory cards.  Since they run Android 2.2 in most cases or newer, you can access these storage and increase your storage space.  Something you definitely can’t do with an IPad, and for that matter with a lot of expensive branded tablets.  For instance the currently IPad2 challenge the Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 has no expansion slots or USB.  You need to buy an accessory that is hard to find that fixes to the proprietary slot to connect an USB or card reader.  Makes the whole idea of slim design so less practical.

2. Wifi is standard, but 3G is prompted by saying simply use a 3G USB dongle!

Since these devices have a full fledged USB device, they can use a 3G USB modem directly and the latest modems have support for Android.  You can do this only with a very few branded expensive tablets such as the Toshiba Thrive, Acer A500.  None of the Samsung Galaxy tabs have this directly on the tablet, and definitely the IPad can’t do this 🙂

3. They come with all the accessories

These devices come bundled in full kit.  The package will usually consist of a basic carry case, and for devices with an micro USB connector, the adapter that connects a full USB devices, etc.  Such consumer oriented thinking sadly is not there with the expensive brands, they want you to spend spend and spend..

So that’s the nice part of the story.  Part 2…

What should one be vary/careful when buying?

Less price does sometimes means a bargain good buy, but in this case i have dug deep and have to say you have to be a tad cautious and also see what kind of use.  In the event the usage model is suitable then these devices are the thing for you.

1.  Don’t be deceived by the specification

We all love specifications.  The chaps who sell this know this well.  Which is why they prominently state the CPU speed,  Screen Size, Connectivity Options.  A bit lower in font you see the Android version.  The other points are either not listed or hard to find.  Why ? Let us see.

2. Android support and upgrades

Android is developing at an unbelievable pace, and with it just like desktops the expected hardware capabilities to support the newer operating system and applications are also rising steeply.   Google and rest don’t seem to be too bothered about backward compatibility, though in recent times Google has started to apply more regulations on the standards to ensure the app market grows, which has been on area that has ensure Apple still was popular, as even their older devices can run the newer operating systems and applications.

Read carefully and see what features are missing in the Android OS that your devices ships with, since some features are very necessary such as USB tethering, support for mass storage devices, multi-touch support, etc.   In addition some of the new applications won’t run on older versions as they depend on the new operating system to work better.

These in-expensive tablets have poor software update support, so you will have to rely on custom ROMs, the popular place for that is http://xda-developers.com/.

The forums on this site are also good to find which of the in-expensive tablets are the one’s are less risk or less problematic.

3. CPU speed alone is not enough

The reason these devices can run Android is that all the mobile tablets are ARM based.  Hence if they comply to these standards the devices are technically compatible to run Android.  However 1GHZ speed is not the only thing, just like in a desktop / laptop CPU, you have different manufacturers, and you also have different versions.  You have the low end, mid level and the high end.  Most of the Chinese devices are using the older (1-2 era’s in mobile terms) chips. These support less features and hence the performance is a lot slower.  This will be definitely noticed when you run power hungry apps or try to multi-task.

Also Chinese tablets are very well known to “lie” about the CPU.  Dig around the Internet as you will find that though the brand various many originate from the same manufacturer.  The manufacturer usually states the correct spec, but the companies that brand it and sell these devices spice it up.  They sometime indicate higher speeds than what is running, or say its an newer version of the processor when its actually based on an older ARM spec.

Another danger that has been found was that these vendors used binned processors (processors that failed quality tests) or overclock the processors above the maximum threshold.  This can mean your device can fail in a short period of time, or can get warm or unpleasantly hot when used for even short periods of time.

To find the ARM processor types see –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_architecture ,

http://www.arm.com/products/processors/index.php ,

http://www.arm.com/community/partners/cores.php

For vendors who make processors,

http://www.arm.com/community/partners/company_list/rw/ProductTypes/1,2/

Remember ARM is standard, and different manufacturers make processor that comply with these standards including Samsung, Qualcomm, VIA

4. Don’t have GPU acceleration (no dedicated GPU, your CPU has to do the GPU work)

While your every day usage of the tab can live without GPU acceleration if you are patient, even these apps such a wall papers, document viewing, email viewing, browsing all would do with some GPU acceleration. And with an Android tablet would you not try out Angry Birds at least 🙂 No GPU acceleration means lots of apps will either not run, or will be bog slow, and will also drain your battery.

You can find more details on the GPU configurations for devices from this Wikipedia article – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Android_devices

5. Battery life can be low to pathetic

This is another area where these devices can be great downfall.  They are packaged with batteries that have 50-100% less capacity compared to the branded tablets. That means while the branded expensive devices can happily run for 6-10hours or weeks on standby mode, these cheap tablets can barely run for 2-3hours or stay on standby for more than a few days.  This can be big issue for some.  Definitely a big issue for me.

The next area is the battery origins are not known, finding replacements are not going to be easy.  Most tablets are designed where the battery is sealed unlike mobile phones, and battery replacement is not simply buying and inserting the new battery.

6. Screen resolution, quality,  pixels and TYPE

One of the biggest issues is that most of these devices are still resistive touch, not capacitive.  Resistive means you can use a stylus, but you have to really thump into the screen.  The low smooth scrolling you get when you use an IPad/IPhone, or the new Android/Symbian devices are only possible with capacitive touch devices.  However the good news is that some of the newer devices are now moving into these type of screens.  However again be careful, as the marketing literature will say it is but the true hardware maybe not.  One quick way is to try the famous pinch and zoom, which can only be done with a multi-touch capacitive screen technology.

800×480 or 800×600 might seem a lot, but in a 7″ or 10″ tablet that is way to little and you will immediately notice it any form of usage.  When other devices are going past the 1024×768 into 1280×800 or better, you are going to miss a lot on picture quality when you view on these screens.

Another area is the brightness and clarity, most low end displays will be useless in direct sunlight or indoors under bright light, and that will make the device useless.

Branded vendors will also use technologies that are applied as coatings on top of the glass that will reduce glare, are resistant to finger smudges, and also more resistant to drops (the most popular and supposedly strongest being Gorilla Glass by corningware, yes the same guys who the kitchen pyrex stuff!).   I doubt if any of the cheap tablets have this protection, the list of devices that are shipping with this type of screen is constantly updated at http://www.corninggorillaglass.com/products-with-gorilla/full-products-list.  IPad avoids this glass, and works with another glass company called Akashi glass in Japan, the IPad1 was very suspect for cracking, but the IPad2 is lot more resilient as it uses a technology called DragonTrail glass, that is also fairly tough but not at the same level as the Gorilla glass.

7. Repairs

These items are usually made by companies based on what is available in the market.  Hence the models change from batch to batch.  They may look the same but internally the components can very tremendously.  Hence if you item is out of warranty you may find it very hard to get it fixed, but on the counter argument it might be cheaper to buy a new one than fixing it, something you will not be able to do if you buy an expensive branded Tablet.

8. Codec support

Google Android does not provide codecs for all video formats as standard.  Hence the vendor packaging the device has to included the additional codec and pay royalty to the firm they get the codec from.  Some current popular high dev formats such as MKV, DIVX are not bundled with most tablets in the in-expensive range, and surprisingly even expensive tablets from manufacturers including the IPad does not support this as standard and you need to user other free or paid software to play such formats. One of the manufacturers who does provide most codecs is Samsung.

Though you don’t have the codec you can use players such as RockPlayer, etc to play all formats, but in most cases this is entire software and CPU based rendering, lacking the hardware support which means possible skipped frames, poor quality rendering and drain on the battery. Since tablets are regularly used for viewing video related material, this is also another important area to consider.

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

Apple IPad – Hands on


The same contact who gave me the Samsung Galaxy tab also gave me a 1 day evaluation loan of his Apple IPad, as he senses i was keen on getting a tablet.  While i had several fleeting experiences using the IPad this was the first time i had a complete experience, and coming just a few days after trying out the Galaxy tablet also ensured i had a good idea of what the non-Apple tablet products offered. Note that my comments are mainly using the IPad as a ebook reader and portable computing, and not as a gaming platform where i am sure the IPad may have a far superior set of games available than the Androids (for now). Though the IPad got was the 3G version i could not try out the 3G or the wireless since i did not have a microSIM, and my trusty router gave me trouble.   My attempts at using the X10 as a router failed as i found all the apps on the Android market for using the phone as a hotspot required the device to be rooted.

Positives

  • The larger screen definitely made it an ideal magazine reader as you could manage to read a magazine without any need for a zoom.
  • The PDF reader was able to flip through pages with practically no lag which is very impressive, since you sometimes have a lag even on your desktop
  • Built-in mic useful for skype video calls

Negatives

  • No SD card slot or ability to play video and content from a memory card even with the camera kit which has a SD slot.  All content has to be copied to the on-board memory (which is why you have to decide the capacity you want in th IPad as there is no going back).
  • The lock on file transfer is so tight that even the bluetooth is purely only for voice, and has no support for any file transfers.  Considering we are used to transferring files through BT using our phones (non Apple phones atleast!) this was very limiting.
  • Limitations in syncing on multiple computers – The Ipad already had a load of applications installed, however i could not install any new apps without loosing all that was there, since iTunes sync detects that you have set it up with another desktop and disallows any additions without erasing all existing apps. Another high security feature of the Apple to avoid people misusing the licenses on apps i guess :).  However it does seem to allow upto 5 computers to officially registered for syncing, though the restriction still limits the flexibility you need.
  • No DivX support (officially) – You cannot import DivX videos into iTunes and transfer to iPad directly.  You have to convert DivX videos to iPad compatible videos or purchase an app such as CineXPlayer/OPlayer HD or stream divx content through apps like AirVideo.  The third party DivX players though have many limitations, where some files may not be playable.
  • No front facing camera – Sadly paying $500+ for an IPad just for the ebook reader seems criminal, when other pure ebook readers sell for less and have much longer battery life, albeit that most of these are eInk implementations (grayscale only, bar the Barnes and Noble Nook Color which however seems more tablet than ebook reader!).   However the IPad not having a front facing camera for video calls seems a criminal omission (Bet Stevey J wanted to sell the next gen IPad with the camera, and suddenly now finds that omission is hitting him hard as all the Android devices are featuring cameras and even dual 3D cameras to lure clients away from the IPad).
  • Micro SIM.  Possibly another move by apple to allow their telecom partners to make things harder for the users to use the device with other providers.  Thankfully a simple modification to the normal SIM makes it a Micro SIM to overcome this rather stupid decision.  See http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/apple/how-to-make-your-own-ipad-or-iphone-4-micro-sim-681020 in case you want to DIY.
  • No official headset with mic for IPad – unusually though the device has a built-in mic, the headset accessory with a mic is not available officially and you have to try and find an unit that will do this job

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.