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Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast
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 At the time of phone’s release on May 6th, Ice Cream Sandwich was the latest Android OS; it is now outdated just by a minor visual upgrade in Jelly Bean.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.
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.
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.
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.
|From Dell Inspiron 14r|
The Inspiron 14r second generation (N4110) is a refresh of the original lineup. This includes the second generation Core i3 or Core i5 chips, as well as Intel WiDi. The model I was sent to review seemed to include more of the upgraded options on this model, which I will base most of my review off of. Keep this in mind if you are considering a purchase of the 14r with other options. I priced this laptop with the review specs and it came out to $799 after a $209 discount, but you can get one for as low as $499 depending on options.
I absolutely love the chicklet style keyboard. I have one on my HP dm4 as well as my Logitech Revue keyboard and will never go back to a non-chicklet style keyboard. Thank you Apple for popularizing them. I am not a fan of the overall design of the Inspiron 14r (N4110), especially the hinge system for the screen. It will suffice for a laptop if it is the one you choose though, and comes with decent options. Who couldn’t save a few bucks these days while still getting updated hardware internals?
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” x 6.9” (H) x 0.34” (D)
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.
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.
The HTC HD7S is a new 4.3” Windows Phone being offered for $199 on contract at AT&T. I was able to spend the last week with phone and I was pleasantly surprised by it. This was my first Windows Phone 7 review device but I will try to limit this review to more of a handset review than software review.
At $199 on a 2-year contract, this phone is a good alternative to the walled garden of iOS and the fragmentation of Android. The operating system is very smooth and the hardware seemed adequate to handle what I could throw at it. However, it is lacking the app support and advanced features of the other two major phone operating systems. There are other phones at this same price point that may provide a more mainstream alternative, such as the iPhone or Droid X2.
If you are making the switch to Windows Phone 7, then the HD7S on AT&T is a good option with a good screen and phone built for media consumption.
Windows Phone 7 OS, with “No-Do” update (copy and paste)
GSM/GPRS/EDGE Quad-band (world phone)
4.3″ SuperLCD Display (800 x 480 WVGA)
1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor (QSD 8250)
576MB of RAM
16GB internal memory
5 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash
720P video recording camcorder
1230 mAh battery
This phone has a single core processor and does not have 4G, nor does it have a front facing camera.
The HTC HD7S will ship with the Windows Phone 7 operating system, with the No-Do update that provides copy and paste functionality along with performance updates. Copy and paste worked very well everywhere that I tried it on the phone. It did take some getting used to with selecting and editing text from my personal Android phone, but was easy to learn.
With the being a Windows Phone, there are a lot of integration with the various Microsoft services such as Windows Live, Exchange Server ActiveSync, Office, SharePoint, Xbox Live, and Zune. The Windows Live features allow you to sync pictures and One Notes to the cloud and view them from a desktop browser. You can also locate the phone when lost, as well as ring it, lock it, and remotely erase it. These are nice features to have on increasingly important pocket devices, which usually will cost money on other platforms.
I am a fan of the Zune music player on Windows and thus Windows Phone integration with it is a positive for me. Syncing music is done similar to iTunes and thus is an improvement over the Android music mess, even with Google’s launch of their cloud music service. Music, movies, podcasts, and marketplace purchases can be accessed through the phones “Music + Videos” app.
The major drawbacks of the operating system are the lack of multitasking and the lack of third party app support. Multitasking was noticeably missing when trying to use the TuneIn radio app while then attempting to go to the browser. The radio application does not play in the background and stops playing when returning to the main screen. However, preloaded music will continue to play through the “Music+Videos” app. The lack of third party apps was noticeable for me when looking for Dropbox, Evernote, SiriusXM, and Angry Birds applications. There is a paid app for a Dropbox client, but it is not created by the website itself. I did not find an Evernote application in the market, but the phone does come with Microsoft One Note. This is a good product, but would be locked down to only Windows Phones and require a change of software if you already use Evernote. Angry Birds is said to be releasing a Windows Phone app in the very near future, but nonetheless it is not released yet.
The keyboard on this phone was pleasant to use. The 4.3” screen provides a big surface to type on the nicely laid out keys. I was able to efficiently type in portrait mode at high speeds even with my slightly larger than normal fingers. The landscape keyboard was also pleasant, as the keys did not simply stretch to fit the wide portion of the screen. Menus adjusted and keys were pretty square on the screen, unlock some Android keyboards. Editing text involves either clicking at the beginning or ends of a word or to long press the screen until a cursor pops up and then you are able to select which letter to edit.
The HTC Hub is included on this phone since it is an HTC phone. This includes a weather animation similar to Sense on their Android devices, as well as a list of featured apps available to HTC phones. These animations are nice eye candy but seem to be misplaced on a Windows Phone. The pièce de résistance for Windows Phone is its simplicity and the weather animations detract from that.
The kickstand on the phone is a nice feature to have when you want to play that YouTube video for a couple of friends. Having the 4.3” Super LCD screen with the kickstand really make this a media consumption product. I did experience a feeling of the phone tipping over while reading articles with the kickstand and trying to scroll up and down. You’ll have to be careful to scroll lightly or use two hands to make sure the phone doesn’t fall off the surface it is on or slide too much.
The display was sufficiently bright and clear and seemed okay in the sunlight. It performed better than my Incredible in daylight with both displays turned up to the maximum. Neither were as clear as they are inside but the HD7S seemed to be brighter.
Sound quality on the headphones was better from the HD7S than the Incredible, especially when the HTC sound application was installed and Dolby Mobile was turned on. It seemed clearer with more bass than did the same sample songs on the Incredible. However, sound from the speaker left something to be desired. It is a phone, but the sound seemed saturated quickly when turning up the volume while playing media. It’ll play media and let you hear phone calls, but it is not the best speaker setup out there.
The three physical buttons on the device are the power button on the top right, the volume rocker on the upper right, and the camera button on the lower right. The power and camera buttons seemed too flush with the edge and sometimes difficult to press. The camera was easy to focus with the button but at times required precise pressing of the camera button to snap the photo, which can get frustrating. However, the phone would start the camera application once the camera button was pressed even when locked. This allowed for quicker snapshots, especially in those moments where time is of the essence. The camera is 5MP and does okay for a phone, and has dual-LED flash to help with lighting. It will capture the moments that you don’t have a camera but won’t replace a dedicated camera. I liked the placements of the headphone jack on the bottom of the phone since it allows you greatest length of headphone cable while the phone is on a desk, unlike the top placement on the Incredible.
The battery life on the phone seemed okay. I could go the majority of a day using the phone for average use of text messages, web browsing, light phone, and light game usage. It does have a smaller battery compared to other devices in its size class (the EVO has a 1500 mAh battery and Thunderbolt has a 1400 mAh battery while the HD7S has a 1230 mAh battery). It is considerably smaller in physical size than my Incredible battery, which is 1300 mAh.
|HD7S battery (black) compared to Incredible battery (red)|
Common User Recommendation
The HD7S is a good device for the common user. The hardware may be slightly outdated compared to newer Android devices, but it still works well with the Windows Phone operating system. It is a device that still has a lot of room for improvement through future software updates so you would be on the beginning wave if you bought into Windows Phone with this device (Windows Phone 7 came out in October of 2010). That said, not all applications will be designed for it yet. It provides a great experience that is smoother than Android without the obtrusive notifications of iOS.
This device would also be good for business integration for Exchange ActiveSync. It does lack the staple data encryption that BlackBerry has been known for and Apple implemented in 2009.
Power User Recommendation
I would not recommend this phone for true power users. Android still provides the ultimate experience for users who will customize anything and everything. Windows Phone is a platform that fits between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in that it has tight control of the OS but licenses it to hardware manufacturers to produce various form factors. Microsoft also puts constraints on specs to help fight fragmentation and user experience, but you are able to get a Windows Phone with a physical keyboard, or one with a big screen and a kickstand.
One caveat of Windows Phone is that even with the bloat-ware that can be preinstalled, such as some of the AT&T apps, can also be easily removed through uninstalling. This is in contrast to Android where you sometimes have to root a phone to remove unwanted apps.
|Photo from Barnes and Noble: Nook Color Website|
At $250 this is a great small tablet for the average user and reader. A web browser is included and an April 2011 update is supposed to bring Flash support and Angry Birds out of the box, among other improvements. If you are a heavy reader, maybe consider the Amazon Kindle. If you want the latest and greatest technology, consider the iPad, any of the Android Honeycomb Tablets, or the soon to be released BlackBerry Playbook. If you want something just to look up random things on the internet and play the occasional game and read a few books, newspapers, or magazine then the Nook Color may be the choice for you.
7-inch, 1024 x 600 IPS display
800 MHz TI OMAP 3621 CPU
512 MB of RAM
8GB internal flash storage
microSD card slot, supports up to 32 GB
Light sensor on front (was removed in the latest hardware family)
Surprisingly, the specs on the Nook Color are decent, even for it being about 4 months old as of this writing. It won’t be the top of the line specs but it works well.
I ordered the Nook Color because I wanted a lightweight, small tablet device to do the occasional web browsing or Twitter surfing. I read online about the Nook Color and it’s development community (XDA Forums) where the community rooted the device and loaded custom ROMs on the device. This would allow for unlocking more functionality out of the device. But more on that later.
As a device out of the box, the Nook Color does an incredibly good job at bringing casual content in a color format. The Nook Color is first and foremost an e-reader designed to deliver content from Barnes & Noble, including books, magazines, and newspapers. The device also supports PDF viewing, which is good if you have any publications that you receive outside of the Barnes & Noble world. This was beneficial for me as I had some IEEE Magazines in PDF format that I was able to load on the internal memory. The color screen allows for the inclusion of newspaper and magazine graphs and pictures similar to their print equivalents. The color LCD screen will not allow for extended reading sessions. If you are a reader who likes to read for hours at a time, you might want to consider the Amazon Kindle.
The Nook Color has the Barnes & Noble Nook shop included and is where you can search for your content to purchase. It has recommendations depending on what you buy. For example, I signed up for the Wall Street Journal and the shop recommended other newspapers such as The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The shop is presented in a nice graphical format that provides a enriched media experience. There are also offers from the Barnes and Noble cafe; I currently have an offer for a free Chocolate Mint Mousse Parfait with the purchase of any venti beverage at participating B&N Cafes. You have to use WiFi to download any of the content or to browse the web as there is no 3G connection on the device.
The device itself weighs in at just under a pound, which makes it light enough to hold while reading. The device itself feels sturdy and I do not feel like I am going to break it even though it is a thin device. The form factor also allows you to hold it in one hand while not being too large and heavy like most of the 10-inch tablets on the market now.
Extra features preloaded on the tablet are Chess, Sudoku, and Crossword games as well as Pandora and a built-in music player that comes in handy if you listen to music while reading. The built in speaker for the device is not of high quality and is relatively quiet but gets the job done. You probably want to wear headphones if you want to hear higher quality music. The device also allows you to add accounts for Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail to share information about what you’re reading on the device. It should also be noted that HSN has said the Nook Color will get an update in mid-April that will bring Flash support and various applications, including Angry Birds. These added improvements will bring added value to this tablet/e-reader device.
Common User Recommendation
The Nook Color is a great device for the casual user. If you don’t plan on doing serious gaming then this is the tablet for you. The size may be small, but you can read the internet content you want. Read full featured magazines and newspapers, read books, listen to music, play the occasional crossword or chess game, and do basic web browsing on WiFi. (Please note that this device is not available with a cellular modem, so you have to have a WiFi connection for any browsing or downloading of content). With the update in Mid-April, this device should become a real option for more people. It provides a great user experience with half the price of the 16GB WiFi iPad.
Power User Recommendation
Root! If you are a power user, you should root this device. There are instructions out there that will guide you in rooting it. You are then able to load applications from the Android Market, including the Amazon Kindle app if you’d like. You can load the GMail application, Google Calendar, and a lot of other applications. This expands the functionality tremendously. This may be similar to the Mid-April official update from Barnes & Noble, minus the Amazon Kindle app. With rooting the device you can also load different ROMs on here, including a preview of the Honeycomb OS that is seen on the Motorola Xoom.
For half the price of the lowest Apple iPad, this device can bring a lot of fun and use for those that like to tinker with devices. It may have a smaller screen with no cameras or gyroscope, it still is very useful.
[Edited 2/4/2011 to add printing comments]