January 30, 2011
I first got a taste of the Samsung Galaxy Tab (SGT) at a local telecom operator. Back then my experience surfing the Web on the SGT was disappointing as I found the response time to be slow. Little did I think that the speed may have to do with 3G wireless connectivity around the area.
With a test unit finally arrived I’ve finally set my perception straight: surfing on the Web using the SGT is pleasantly fast. The display of the websites is another issue.
On to the review…
Some of the reviews I’ve seen suggest that the SGT is the iPad-killer. Certainly at the moment, it is the only touch tablet that offers sufficient feature-functionality to be of any consideration in an iPad vs competitor comparison. As it stands, the neither the hardware nor software of the Apple iPad is its redeeming feature but rather the growing basket of third party applications that make for a very enjoyable experience using the device.
Android 2.2 or Froyo is actually not built for devices with a viewing screen larger than 5″ – it was built for mobile phones. As I understand it, Samsung and Google worked on adapting Froyo to run on a 7″ screen. And while has worked, many of the third party applications built for mobile phones will look funny (odd) on the SGT. This is nothing new of course as this happens on the Apple iPad. Because iPhones and iPad share the same OS, you can run iPhone apps on the iPad except that the app will in the default size of the iPhone’s 3.5″ display. There is an option to double the app’s size to more closely fit the iPad but the result is fugly (pun intended).
Still on the Samsung TouchWiz UI, you can set up to nine desktops on this device. The problem here is that there aren’t that many interesting widgets that you might want to be visible to you at a touch of the screen. But the nine desktops does give you the option for future add-on widgets.
When I first started writing this review on the SGT I quickly realized that it was not possible to work fast using the small virtual keyboard. In fact my first thought was that this device (the SGT) was good for content consumption NOT creation. But then I thought I’d give it a fair chance on the creation side. So I took out a bluetooth keyboard I bought at a local computer store, synced the two, and voila… I was in business. Today, in my opinion, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has as mich right to be used in content creation as does the Apple iPad.
WHAT I LIKE
From a hardware perspective, the SGT is everything I would have liked the iPad to be, including dual cameras, memory expansion, and connectivity. I may not necessarily object to a slightly larger screen but the certainly this size makes it easier to surf the web without the annoying finger exercise you need to do on the Dell Streak or every smartphone out in the market that can surf the Net.
You’ve heard Steve Jobs say that there is no market for a 7″ tablet. You can bet he is saying that because the iPad is 9″. If the situation were reversed, he would trash the 9″ tablet as vigorously as he does the 7″ today. Rumors abound that Apple will eventually release a 7″ themselves. I think that the 7″ tablet is almost just the right size in terms of portability and usability. As an iPad user, I can tell you that I find the iPad VERY HEAVY for reading books. Would if there was a way to hold it without my hands. Or maybe a robot arm will become commercially available to hold the iPad for those long hours of reading. The SGT is light, can be comfortably held in one hand, and the quality of the screen is good (you have to expect nothing less from the leader in screen technology).
There is very little not to like about the SGT. The bright screen, feature-rich device, gives the owner more value for money compared to the iPad. Granted that the Google app market doesn’t have the hundreds of apps that exists on the Apple iTunes market but this shouldn’t deter would be owners. Nor should it be a deciding factor in your decison to buy one.
Yes, Flash is important and in this case, the SGT is the tablet we’ve been waiting for.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
If I have to fork out US$600 for the SGT (without operator contract), I would like the device to look a little bit the price I paid for it – not this plastic back cover that reminds me of my kids’ pencil boxes. Even HTC is evolving its higher-end smartphones to look the price they come in. Afterall, in the competitive market of consumer business, people are more willing to part with their money if the device not only works well and does what it says, but looks the part (even when not doing anything). [Why else would people buy a Macbook Air when the thing is nothing more than a glorified (and expensive) netbook. Am I being picky here? I tapped the back of the SGT lightly and I could like the ‘tok’ sound coming from a hollow back. The SGT deserves more than a cheap plastic back and Samsung can afford it.
Other than this, the only other problem I find with this tablet is the same feature that every touchscreen device lacks – a hard switch to disable to screen from executing a command when I accidentally touch a button or part of the screen.
A FEW MORE THINGS
I was made to understand that the US versions of the SGT cannot be used to make voice calls outside of VoIP applications. But the version in Asia and Europe can make normal voice calls. I wouldn’t want to be seen holding a large slab of plastic next to my face. I didn’t get this test unit in its original box so I can’t be certain if the unit came with a headset. If it doesn’t, then that would be freaking redonculous. Of course the Samsung Hong Kong website list among the SGT’s feature is a speakerphone functionality. http://hk.samsungmobile.com/ENG/mobile-phones/samsung-galaxytab-specification
One of the benefits of a proprietary approach that Apple took with the iPad (and indeed with every product it makes) is that it alone controls the faith or development strategy for any product it creates. What this means is that software upgrades from one version to another (although there is a limit to this) is generally seamless (if not free, sometimes). We’ve already seen this issue crop up time and again with mobile phones that use the Android as its operating system – it takes a long while before a phone gets approved to upgrade its operating system (if at all) by the hardware vendor. It is fair to say, although it is a guess at this time, that the Samsung Galaxy Tab will follow this route. Be prepared that the SGT will take awhile before it gets upgraded to Gingerbread (2.3) and maybe even longer (if at all) before Samsung sees fit to let the over 1 million SGT users to upgrade to Honeycomb (3.0).
Rumors persist that Honeycomb requries a dual core processor. If this is true then the SGT version 1 will have a very short shelf life and customers of the first Samsung tablet will be cursing themselves for buying so soon (I know I am when I got my iPad). I am of the impression that like most consumer electronic devices that we buy, as long as it works and we are happy with what the device does, we shouldn’t care if we can’t avail of future updates to the product. For instance, I have an 8-year old iMac (Jobs called it inspired by the sunflower). And while it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the latest iMac, it still works and does jobs assigned to it.
Would I own a Samsung Galaxy Tab if I didn’t have an iPad? I probably would. Would I recommend it after this review? I probably would with the caveat that you have to think of the things you want to do with this device. If Samsung were to lower the cost of the SGT, I’d recommend it.
One more thing: Samsung categorizes this device as a smartphone. It should not. It is a tablet PC with a phone capability. Treating it as a smartphone is a discredit to either industries. Above anything else, it is a portable device aimed at allowing you to create and consume digital content. The ability to call someone via cellular network service is a bonus.
Network: 2G: GS 850/900/1800/1900; 3G: HSDPA 900/1900/2100
Operating System: Android 2.2
Dimension: 190.1 x 120.5 x 12mm
Display: 7.0″ 16M colors, TFT capacitative touchscreen, Gorilla Glass Display
Interface: TouchWiz UI
Other elements: Accelerometer, Three-aix gyro sensor, Proximity sensor for auto turn-off
Memory: 512MB RAM, 16/32GB storage, microSD supports up to 32GB
CPU: 1GHz, ARM Cortex A8 processor, PowerVR SGX540 graphics
Battery: PiPo 4000 mAh, 490 hours stand-by, 8 hours talk time
Front Camera: 1.3MP
Rear Camera: still @ 2048×1536 pixels, video @ 720×480 pixels, 30 fps
Video CODEC: DivX, MP4, WMV, H.264, H.263
Connectivity: GPRS, A2DP with v3.0 bluetooth, 3G HSUPA @ 5.76Mbps, HSDPA @ 7.2 Mbps, USB 2.0, Edge, WLAN 802.11 b/g/n and A-GPS
Others: Java 2.1, MIDP, social networking integration, digital compass, TV-out
Using Evernote on the Samsung Galaxy Tab
Surfing the Web with the Samsung Galaxy Tab
Samsung Galaxy Tab with a bluetooth keyboard
Video Review (warning: over 13 minutes long)
January 23, 2011
When I did the review of the Dell Streak, one of the things that struck me was the notion that I can use the Streak to make a phone call. I could not imagine myself making a phone call with a 152.9mm x 79.1mm pad. This time around I was loaned the Dell Venue, a smartphone that is based Google’s Android 2.2 operating system. This should not be confused with the Dell Venue Pro, which has almost the same look and feel, minus the physical keyboard and Windows Mobile 7 OS that the Pro possesses.
The Venue’s most pronounced feature is its 4.1 inch WVGA AMOLED touchscreen display. Dell used a high quality Corning Gorilla Glass giving it what I can only describe as true crystal clear display – one of the best I’ve seen so far (and only reminiscent of my experience with some of the high end 3D LED displays out in the market recently). Gorilla glass is optimized for handheld devices and notebook computers Its easy to clean, and wear resistant.
Despite its size 121mm x 63mm x 12.9mm (Height x Width x Thickness) , I didn’t find it anymore bulkier than the other smart phones that I’ve tested before.
WHAT I LIKE
The Venue has smooth metallic (chrome) sides. When I first took it out of the box, I was worried that the metallic sides would mean I would have to handle this phone gingerly for fear it would slip easily off my hands. As it turns out, the back panel has a micro-pattern that gives it just enough texture to give you a firm grip on the phone. In contrast to the HTC or the Sony Ericsson Xperia phones which always kept me on my toes whenever I held the devices for fear I would drop the phone, or it would slip off my hands. The Venue never slipped off my hand during the entire two weeks i was playing with it. I loved the curves ends of this phone as it doesn’t poke when inside my trouser pockets.
This is one of the few smart phones with an 8MP digital camera. The software is very intuitive as is the use of the Venue to take photos. However, quality is still not up to par with a dedicated digital camera with similar rating. I think all camera phones share this problem. They are, first and foremost devices for making calls. Shooting photos is a nice to have function (although increasingly as consumers grow accustom to taking photos and posting these to their Facebook account, having a good camera is becoming a must have feature, second only to making calls.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Two things irked me using this phone. The first is the lack of a way to lock the phone without blanking out the screen. When you are watching a video, you will want to disable the touchscreen so as not to accidentally pause the video. Unfortunately the lack of such a feature meant, this occurred too many times for me.
But a more disrupting feature for me is the user interface of the Venue. Called Stage, I found it takes some getting used to as the layout is no intuitive (in my opinion only). So for me navigating around the many features of the phone was at times taxing. Often, I end up trying to trace back how to get a specific contact, or surf the web, or make a call.
For those who are using Dell laptops, the Stage software may not be so alienate. Dell uses this same software for accessing music, videos and photos on laptops and other mobile devices.
ONE MORE THING
So would I buy this phone? It’s very likely not for me. I love the external look and the solid feel of the phone when I am holding it. But the clunky user interface is a turn-off. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,999 or US$514, it is not a cheap phone.
The title of this review is “making calls with the Dell Venue” so from that perspective my overall experience is that the Venue is an ok phone. Its not amazing but certainly I found it not anything less than I’d expect from Nokia. I did found it difficult to adjust the loudness of the call when it sounded weak but overall it isn’t a bad device for making calls. Certainly I’ve had worst.
Dell Venue camera flash logo
Dell Venue home page
Music page as displayed by Dell Stage software
Surfing the Web on the Dell Venue
Facebook on the Dell Venue
Side view of the Dell Venue
Operating system: Android 2.2
Processor: Qualcom 1GHz QSD 8250
Bands: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, GPRS, Edge, HSDPA 7.2 MBps
Display: AMOLED 4.1″ 800×480 pixels, 24 bit, 16M colors
Camera: 8MP, autofocus, 4x digital zoom, video and audio record, dedicated camera key
Video: H.264 MPEG-4 AVC, WMV
Messaging: POP3, IMAP, ActiveSync, Push Email, Microsoft Exchange, SMS, MMS, Native IM
Browser: Web 2.0 full HTML, WAP support
Memory: 1GB / 512MB
Storage: micro SD support up to 32GB
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, AGPS, Bluetooh 21 EDR, A2DP, AVCRP, 3.5mm HSJ, micro-USB
Primary battery: 1400 mAh
Dimension: 121 x 64 12.9mm
Weight: 164 grams
Others: GMS HW compliant with G-sensor, E-compass, Virtual keyboard
January 13, 2011
It’s been awhile since I last tested an Android phone so it was with anticipation that I unwrapped the HTC Desire Z that was delivered to my desk. My anticipation quickly dissipated when I unwrapped a dirty, smudged-ridden grey-silver bodied smartphone.
I knew this unit to have a physical keyboard because of the two thin slabs of plastic that seemingly looked stuck to each other. But for a few minutes I could not separate the two slabs to expose the keyboard. Then something happened – my two thumbs working instinctively flipped the one side of the upper slab and voila, the keyboard laid bare before me. For a moment, it was like magic.
The HTC Desire Z is one of more attractive phones I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. HTC’s designers are starting to get good at industrial design. An odd design I found wanting in most HTC phones is the way to access the battery and SIM slot at the back of the phone. It usually involves prying lose a plastic cover. In the Desire Z, HTC introduced a back cover lock that unlatches the brushed aluminum cover to expose the battery, SIM and micro SD card slots.
At 164g this is not a light phone but you’d expect that given it has a full qwerty keyboard (with a solid feel to it – more on this later). I was expecting this to be using a 1GHz snapdragon given the speed with which it handled my fingered commands (that didn’t sound right) but the spec says its uses an 800MHz Qualcomm processor. I am sure the 1.5GB User memory ROM has something to do with the speed.
The round edges of the phone means you can slip it in and out of the pocket without worrying it will punch holes or poke your leg unduly. I found it interesting that the optical trackpad is clickable, offering a tactile response to specific commands.
A distinguishing feature of the Desire Z is the slideout keyboard. I had some initial concerns with the slide-out keyboard but these were soon dispelled. The gray rubber coating around the aluminum battery door offered a secure and comfortable grip when typing on the keyboard.
Like most mid- to high-end smartphones, the Desire Z is equipped with a 5-megapixel digital camera that can also shoot 720p HD video. For dimly situations, there is a LED flash. The camera is actually not that bad. Zooming, focusing and shooting is very smooth and the quality of the shots are surprisingly ok for a camera phone.
As with the best of present-day smartphones, the Desire Z is built for connectivity – HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS.
I’m going to refer back to what Apple claims is a key selling point of the iPhone 4 – a high resolution display that can show the details of freckles. But as I wrote in my report on the HTC HD7 – who would want to do that? As long as you can comfortably watch a video or see photos clearly on such a small screen, that should be enough.
WHAT I LIKE
The HTC Sense is the software that makes for easier navigation and access to some of the features of this smartphone. Of the many Android phones out in the market, HTC Sense is one of my favorites. I’d argue that its probably one of the most tweaked since it’s one of the earliest user interface created for the Android operating system. I do confess, however, that I was never a fan of the HTC TouchFLO, the predecessor of the Sense.
The 3.7″ screen is not AMOLED but don’t let that distract you from the quality of the display. You can watch any movie or surf a website with reasonable quality and comfort.
I like the fact that this phone is priced much lower than the HTC HD series but still performs almost on par with its much more powerful siblings. While I also like to have a physical keyboard as I still make too many mistakes typing on a touchscreen, I think you will see from my comment below that my experience with the keyboard isn’t exactly what I’d call a running success.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The qwerty keyboard looks solid and impressive. HTC raised the keys slightly to make typing more efficient. But my experience typing on it is less than satisfactory. I actually found it easier to type on the screen even though I prefer a physical keyboard when typing messages. I also found the the position of the tab key on the left very annoying as I often pressed it mistakenly for the “a”. I also found myself pressing harder than expected to enter a key. This action becomes annoying if you consider that typing a short SMS message should’t take too long. One thing to note is that using the keyboard the Desire Z, you can’t type on the keyboard with one hand. On the BlackBerry Torch 9800 (and most other BBs) I can still type with one hand albeit a little slower than I’d like.
I wrote praises for the Desire Z’s camera but I have to tell you that despite the quality of the shots, I still find it difficult to take those candid shots with ease and speed. This, like most smart phones with cameras, is not your standard point and shoot camera. A steady hand is definitely a must as is more time to set the scene for the shot.
One thing that annoys me consistently with all touch devices (with the exception of the BlackBerry 9800) is the lack of way to lock the screen. For instance, when watching a video I almost always accidentally touch the screen resulting in the video pausing. On the Torch 9800 the buttons that appear to be sensitive to the touch are the mute and power buttons. On most touch other touch phones, this is anything on the screen. In all the tests I’ve conducted, this is a consistent experience. Very annoying if you like to have a quiet time between you, your player, and the video you are trying to watch. (more…)
January 2, 2011
I’ve been clamoring for a chance to test drive a Windows mobile 7 phone for several months now. Much of this interest comes on the heels of reasonably good reviews of the product even from those I feel are traditionally Microsoft Windows haters.
So it was with gusto that I accepted the offer by HTC’s PR agency in Hong Kong to review the recently released HTC HD7 mobile phone. The review units tend to arrive on my desk with very little ceremony and packaging. The HD7 came cocooned in bubblewrap and nothing else. No manual, no cable, no nothing. So I pulled out the micro-USB charger of my BlackBerry 9800 and started to charge the HD7. I left it charging for overnight just to be safe. I also discovered that the last reviewer didn’t bother to erase his data so I proceeded to look for the RESET option with the full intention of wiping out the phone’s data before I proceed with the review. Needless to say, this is where the trouble started.
This is NOT an iPhone. One of the qualities that make for an excellent beginner’s experience on the iPhone is that you don’t need a manual to get started. This, alas, is lost with most other smart phone manufacturers. In most cases, whether its a Sony Ericsson Xperia or an HTC or a Samsung Galaxy, you need to read the manual to use the phone for purposes other than making phone calls. What’s worst, its becoming a fad now not to print the manual to appear to be “green”. Most users will not quibble about this when buying the phone at the local retail store but soon after they switch on the device, owners will start to wonder how to (1) set up the phone; and (2) move data from the previous phone to the current phone. OOPS! No manual. What do I do now?
In my case I had to Google it to find the user manual. The manual says out of the box, you get a phone, battery, USB cable, 3.5mm stereo headset, power adapter, start here guide, quick guide, and safety and regulations guide.
The HTC HD7 phone follows the current cream of smartphones in terms of physical attributes: large, reflective screen; minimalist physical buttons (in this case, one for power, a rocker for volume and a camera shutter); three soft buttons near the button front of the panel; a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm stereo headset port. The back of the phone hides the battery and SIM slot. A 5 megapixel camera is flanked by two LED flash and a tiny speaker. There is also a kickstand that props the phone in landscape mode when all you want to do is watch a video.
A year ago, I’d argue that setting up accounts on a mobile phone was a pain. My view of this changed with the Android phones and now with the Windows 7 mobile phone. I set up my gmail, hotmail, yahoo and Facebook accounts with ease.
WHAT I LIKE
I’ve never been fond of the voice command function of phones because most require that you train the phone and half the time the software isn’t accurate. The HD7 changed my view of this. To use the voice command to make a call, you press and hold the START button and then say “Call” name. In the five times I tried it, it was flawless.
The primary purpose of a phone is to make calls. My earlier experience with NOKIA and Motorola is that finding names can be troublesome if you have more than a few hundred contacts in your database. In my case, its closer to 3,000. On the HD7, this can get complicated once you’ve created your multiple contact accounts as the software will automatically pull the contacts from your different accounts. Imagine if you have a name listed in five accounts. That person can appear five times in your People list. The good news is that on the HD7, you can link multiple contacts together.
I like the use of Tiles on the home page to make navigation to different applications very easy. Some of the best apps I’ve taken to really like, and wish other vendors would shameless copy, is the People hub. People was built to make social networking and micro-blogging a seamless and enjoyable experience.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The first time I was handed the phone, I immediately didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t get it to work. My years of intuition wasn’t sufficient (I wasn’t intelligent enough) to get the phone to work. I was puzzled why the phone didn’t have a micro SD card slot (It turns out the phone came with 16GB of built-in storage). So after a few days of playing around with the phone, I’ve finally nailed down what it was I didn’t like most about the HD7 – the battery life.
The other less annoying is the power button. HTC has this button flushed so close to the chassis I often find it hard to press when I need to.
It can be argued that part of the iPhone’s apple is the 300,000+ apps designed to specifically for the phone. This is what every major phone manufacturer from Sony Ericsson, to RIM, to NOKIA, to Samsung, to Google, and now Microsoft is trying to emulate. As of writing, the Windows Marketplace for Mobile has about 5,100 apps on it although most have a price tags ranging from US$8 and up. The most expensive one I’ve seen so far is from MerchantPlus costing US$120.
By far, proponents of the iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPad will say that Microsoft is still ways behind in creating a more acceptable user interface when browsing the Internet. Yes, on the HD7 Web browsing is a bit slower. Not sure if this is a caching or rendering issue. But at the same time, this is far more pleasurable than surfing even on the BlackBerry Torch (hands down).
ONE MORE THING
Windows Mobile 7 clearly shows that Microsoft has been studying the Apple iPhone strategy. I understand that Microsoft is forcing phone manufacturers to customize as little of the operating system’s user interface – a strategy that mimics Apple’s approach of closely integrating the hardware with the operating system (OS). Earlier versions of the Microsoft Windows mobile approach was to let mobile phone makers freely customize the user experience, making base OS upgrades difficult.
One of the things I like about my BlackBerry is that I can copy over photos, videos, music and files to the device simply by dragging the dropping the aforementioned files using Windows Explorer. With the HD7, and I was told all Windows Mobile 7 phones, the only option is via Zune, Microsoft’s implementation of iTunes. While it is annoying that you need Zune to move files in and out of the phone, the one thing Microsoft has done well was make the Zune experience more intuitive and enjoyable – try it. This is a big improvement over iTunes’ very staid and uninviting user experience. I’m guessing you will like it… eventually.
I will regret returning this phone to the PR agency but as with all good things, everything has an end. I am sure the next iteration of Windows Mobile 7 will be even better. And you can ‘almost’ safely say that with WM7, Microsoft has ‘almost’ finally come to understand what mobility is all about. Watch our Apple and Google, Microsoft is back in the game.
As for the HTC HD7 phone itself, there is nothing not to like with this phone except maybe the lack of a case to house the unit and protect it from accidentally pressing the sensitive capacitative screen. Otherwise I’d be happy to consider it a replacement for my current phone – BlackBerry Torch 8900… IF…
Homepage of the HTC HD7
Back panel of the HTC HD7
Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons
Zune user interface on the HTC HD7