Cool Random Tech Stuff

Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast

Category Archives: Android

HTC One X (AT&T) – Review

The HTC One X is the latest HTC super phone. It is from the same line as the international versions, as opposed to Verizon that decided to have the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE with lower specs. The One X from AT&T is a 4.7” Android phone with HTC’s Sense UI. It is being offered for $199 on contract at AT&T. This handset includes the newest version of HTC Sense 4 built on top of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). At the time of phone’s release on May 6th, Ice Cream Sandwich was the latest Android OS; it is now outdated just by a minor visual upgrade in Jelly Bean. HTC has confirmed that the One X is on the slate to receive the upgrade at some point.

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HTC Rhyme Review


The HTC Rhyme is a new 3.7” Android phone being offered for $199 on contract at Verizon Wireless. This handset includes the newest version of HTC Sense built on top of Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread). It is clear that this phone is marketed to women with the plum color as well as the LED charm notification light that is advertised as something to hang out of your purse to both see notifications and to fish it out of it. Maybe Desmond Howard could use it with his satchel in Europe (yup, that’s a shout out to ESPN Gameday). This device also comes with an inductive charging dock that sweetens up the deal for the price.

Bottom Line


At $199 on a 2-year contract, this phone is a mid-range device with unique accessories bundled in. If design and the plum color piques your interest, then definitely consider this device. For everyone else, there are better phones out there on Verizon for the $199 price point.

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AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II Review

The Samsung Galaxy S II is a line of phones that first were available globally in May of this year. These lines of phones were made into three variants for the U.S. carriers and have been released in the September-October time frame. The Sprint version is the Epic 4G Touch, while the T-Mobile and AT&T versions being called Galaxy S II.

This review covers the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S II, which was launched October 2nd, 2011 for $200 on contract.

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What a crazy week in tech!

This week has been pretty crazy in big tech news. Monday morning started off with the early announcement by Google that it was going to acquire Motorola Mobility. On Thursday afternoon HP announced it was discontinuing their WebOS hardware for the time being and getting out of the PC market.

Google to Buy Motorola Mobility

This was personally shocking to me, and probably to most as well. Google, a software company, was buying a hardware company! The motivations behind this move are not completely revealed. On the investor conference call Monday morning, Google was not shy about talking up the patent portfolio of Motorola Mobility but would not comment on their entire strategy. They said they would keep Motorola running as a separate company, even having them compete with other OEM’s in their Nexus phone program. So that would mean Google wanted the patents to protect Android, and would just get Motorola Mobility as a side business. Seems cheery and the best defensive stand for Android.

There has also been talk about Google buying Motorola and their patents to protect Android from partners suing each other. Motorola was threatening to sue other manufacturers of Android devices, such as HTC and Samsung. This would be disastrous for Android as a complete system. This would also point out problems with the open source nature of Android where the manufacturers carry more of the patent burden than Google. This is in contrast where Microsoft licenses Windows Phone 7 at a price because it has the patents to back it up. (Apple doesn’t license their software to other companies, but has plenty of their own patents).

So what now for Google and Motorola? I wouldn’t mind a sweet Google TV box with their Motorola set-top box business. Or how about more plain Android devices instead of skinned phones everywhere? (Is it that difficult to ask for a pure Google experience on Verizon?) Google could also be aggressive with the patent portfolio and begin suing the likes of Apple and Microsoft instead of maintaining a purely defensive strategy, but I don’t see that being a popular option.

The HP Bombshell

Thursday afternoon I started seeing alerts about HP spinning off its PC business. Then a little bit later it was revealed they would be discontinuing their WebOS hardware. Nothing really shocking there. The TouchPad wasn’t selling well, nor were the WebOS phones. The only shocking thing was that this came a little bit over a year after HP bought Palm for over a billion dollars in July 2010.

The real bombshell in my opinion was the fact that HP was getting out of the PC market. The number one PC manufacturer was throwing in the towel saying the tablet effect on PC sales is real. Instead, HP will be focusing on the enterprise and business side of things. This is more profitable for the company and they are trying to drive more value for the shareholders. They also announced a purchase of a British software services company to move more in to the higher profit margin services market.

Conclusion

Google buying a hardware manufacturer for patents, and maybe more. HP moves out of the consumer space and more into enterprise and software services. I don’t know many who would have guessed that for this week in August. I’m sure things will calm down a bit, at least until next month. Until then, try to digest the magnitudes of these two announcements.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Review – Available Nationwide June 17th

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a tablet designed to compete with the design and sleek look of the Apple iPad 2. It was redesigned after the announcement of the iPad 2 and the old version is now the Galaxy Tab 10.1v. The newly designed Galaxy Tab 10.1 really does make an impression with how thin and light it is.
Bottom Line

At $499 for the 16GB WiFi version and $599 for the 32GB version, this is definitely a top runner for tablets in the market. It is sleek, stylish, and has the full web experience with Adobe Flash technology. It also runs Android Honeycomb 3.1, which is lacking in the quality app selection of the iPad 2. The differences between the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 come down to what you use them for. I think the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is more of a laptop replacement than the iPad, but neither complete the transition for me.

Specs

10.1” Widescreen (1280×800 WXGA TFT LCD)
Android Honeycomb 3.1 OS
1 GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor
WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz (no cellular modem)
Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR Connectivity
3-Megapixel rear camera with auto-focus and flash
2-Megapixel front camera
7000 mAh battery
A-GPS (Assisted GPS)
10.1” (W) x 6.9” (H) x 0.34” (D)

Review

Software

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 ships without TouchWiz, instead shipping with stock Android Honeycomb 3.1. This means a lot to me just because I am not a fan of manufacturer software customizations on Android. There are some improvements, but the updates usually are slow compared to stock Android devices. The only custom features that I could find were the camera application, the keyboard, and the Samsung Hub.

The camera application looks out of place with the Honeycomb UI but also brings hidden features to the forefront. The camera application swap out seems like a user preference to me. The interface different between stock Honeycomb does not make a difference to me.

The keyboard and Samsung Hub are two “enhancements” that I would prefer being left off. I changed the keyboard to the stock version and liked it much more than the Samsung customization. One thing about Android is customization. You can choose the keyboard that works for you or get another one to install. The Samsung Hub is easily not used as you can use the Android Market or Amazon Appstore.

Games and Apps

This thing plays games like a champ. With a Tegra 2 chip this tablet is designed for gaming and flawless video processing playback. I played Gun Bros, Dungeon Defenders, Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies. All of them seemed to play very well. The only hiccup I saw was Plants vs Zombies. The graphics seemed to be pixelated since the screen is just blown up, whereas the other games played just fine. The Plants vs Zombies app would also need to reload or resume when you would change the volume or tap the notification area in Honeycomb. This is more a critique of the app with use in Honeycomb rather than the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

On the apps side of things, I really enjoyed the News360 app for reading news as well as TweetComb to interact with Twitter. They both used fragments very well to show different panes of content on a larger screen instead of scaling up a phone interface. There are not as many app selections in the Android Market as there are in the Apple App Store. There are plenty of opportunities for Honeycomb optimized apps, utilizing the big touchscreen devices. At the time of this writing though, quality app selection has to go to the iPad 2.

Hardware

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is slightly thinner than the iPad 2, but it is not noticeable without a caliper. It is lighter though, and pretty easy to tell the difference on weight. With the screen being a beautiful HD widescreen, it can be awkward to hold the device in landscape mode while trying to type and hold a conversation as in Google Talk. Typing in portrait mode is slightly easier than the iPad because of the less height on the product, but still felt uncomfortable with longer conversations. The widescreen aspect ratio and vivid screen makes for good viewing experience for movies.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a power button, volume rocker, and a headphone jack that support the earbuds included with the unit. The headphones are of decent quality, and come with three different sized rubber in-ear pieces. The built-in speakers are heard through two small slits on either side of the tablet in landscape mode. They are nothing special as speakers go. You can enjoy the music or movies you play through the speakers, but the true sound quality can be heard through the included headphones.

The cameras on the tablet are about par for tablets. They’re there to video chat and take pictures when no other device is available. You won’t get stunning pictures as you would from a regular camera, or even decent camera phones, but it will allow you to capture life moments when no other devices is there. A note about the quality, they did seem better than the iPad 2 cameras but that does not mean too much.

The tablet also has assisted GPS which helps better locate your devices for all those favorite location tracking services you use. Checking in on Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, Urban Spoon, and Latitude. All of these services benefit from the GPS even on the WiFi models.

This Honeycomb tablet has integrated flash in the browser. This allows for the complete web experience to be seen, at least on sites that do not block mobile devices such as Hulu. You can view restaurant menus, fashion websites, awesome flash ads, and any other Flash content you like to look at, even the questionable stuff. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s philosophy of withholding flash content from its mobile devices. The reasons behind that can be many, including some performance issues (that can be minimized by hardware acceleration) as well as Apple wanting to control their platform and money stream for apps. If you are looking for a laptop replacement, consider the Tab 10.1 over the iPad 2 because of the Flash aspect.

The notable hardware that are missing from the devices are a USB port and HDMI port for external video viewing. These two major features of the Motorola Xoom are missing from the Galaxy Tab 10.1 mostly because of thickness limitations and cost control. The Tab uses a proprietary cable to charge and connect the device to a computer for file transfer. The cable seems cheap, similar to other Apple iPod devices. The proprietary port also supports extra add-ons similar to the iPad 2. You can currently buy an expansion for a USB port through the connector, which will enable the USB hosting of Honeycomb 3.1. This means you can put a camera in the slot or a flash drive and read the data on the tablet.

Common user recommendation

The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is very feasible as a common user device. The interface is slick and pleasant to use. The device itself is thin and light and what I consider fashionable. It’s a great alternative to the iPad 2, but the app selection on the iPad 2 is still far better. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is a great way to enjoy the new tablet ease of use while staying out of the Apple walled garden.

Power user recommendation

Power users may want to stay away from this device just because of the USB and HDMI built-in option not there. The Xoom might be a better full featured option. This comes at the cost of size and weight though. Android is definitely the option for operating system if you are a power user. The customization far exceeds anything available for iOS.

Thoughts On Openness

Recently I have read more about what open means in the technology world. In the last week, HTC has said they will no longer lock down the bootloader. This probably means nothing to a vast majority of users, but to power users and those who tweak their experience it can mean a lot.

There are theories in this world that seem to be a perfect system on paper but the real world application proves to not be perfect. Government systems such as communism and democracy can both be ideal solutions on paper but might not work in real life. The reason things like this happen is mainly because no one can think of every variance or fork in the road possible.

This applies to the tech industry and openness of products. The idea of an open product or software is that everyone can contribute and not be controlled by a closed door corporation. Also, loopholes and flaws in the code can be analyzed by anyone, which gives a power in numbers approach to fixing problems.

In reality things don’t work that perfectly. Corporations like to lock software down for many reasons: user experience, security, revenue protection, and various other reasons.

A company selling a handset typically provides a level of customer support for problems, thus locking down unauthorized changes reduces that monetary cost of support.

Carrier revenues are also protected by locking down the software. Certain features of phones are billed based on system settings that are locked down so that you are properly paying for usage. With unlocking software it may be possible to circumvent said lock downs. Also, carriers and phone manufacturers make deals to pre-load software on phones. Yes, someone is making a lot of money to have Bing as the default search engine instead of Google on an Android phone. A lot of times these software additions are locked down so you can’t uninstall them without voiding a warranty.

Finally, the thought of more security through locking down a system or having open source to fix a problem.
Open source does provide a way for the good people to fix problems, but it provides the source to the criminals too. No software is perfect, thus it is a race to see who will find the flaw first. The other school of thought is to not release source code. This does not mean a system is more secure. Microsoft Windows has a closed source approach but has security flaws, as does Apple Mac OSX.

With the argument over mobile platforms being open and closed, there is no clear answer on what is better. Engineers and business leaders make decisions on what they think is best for their purposes and so should consumers. Apple locking down the iPhone and Appstore while pushing for an open HTML5 standard, and Google claiming to be open while working with carriers to lock down the software; keep in mind that there are not black and white sides to “open.”

Any solution, tech or otherwise, is not perfect but the solution used must be a compromise for all involved. Corporations are in business to make money and consumers want some freedom in their products that they spend the money on.