A couple of years back, my family got me a Canon G10. The retailer gave us a free third party camera. Then came the advice from Canon that I needed to bring my camera overto their service center for a firmware update to correct a software bug. At the service center the staff showed me a nick on the side of the G10. This was reported in the service slip so I cannot say Canon damaged my camera. I quickly realized I was at fault because I used a standard compact camera case that didn’t really provide complete protection for what was an expensive gear. It didn’t take long and I looked around for a much better case that was specifically designed for my G10. What am I getting here?
We spend a fortune on stuff that add bling to our life. Many of these stuff no matter how durable are not designed to withstand the wear and tear of every day use. And many times we plan to keep these expensive things with us for some time.
So that was the logic when I got myself a Samsung Google Nexus. From an industrial design standpoint, it was a feat of engineering marvel: a very thin (measurement here) that came with a slightly curve glass panel (not sure how they managed to do that). The first thing I did was look for a case for the Nexus (I christined it ‘Nikki Heat’ cause it gets warm for no reason). And to my disappointment the only case available that had the contour of Nikki H were variants of the rubbery or silicone cases that are made mostly for decorative purpose. There was a leather case but it left 60% of the phone exposed.
So my quest for a case went on for over two months. It included a run to the famed Ap Liu Street in Shamshuipo (sometimes referred to as the electronic street) and the Golden Computer Arcade where street stalls were filled with hoards of mobile phone and tablet cases. I reckoned there were three variants specific for the likes of Nikki H. There is the silicon/plastic case, some made from aluminum, and another claiming to be made of genuine leather. Alas for the price of between $60 to $210, I just didn’t see spending this kind of money for what looked like cheap stuff. In desperation I even went to the Internet where I found a brand called Otterbox. I read the reviews and decided this may be the case for me. I checked for distributor(s) in Hong Kong, founded two and called one for list of retailers.
It took another three weeks before I finally got one from a retailer at LCX in Ocean Terminal onTsim Sha Tsui (TST). Before the cashier could wring in the payment, I had Nikki H wrapped in the Otterbox Commuter and I knew my hunt was over.
The actual case is made of two parts: an inner, soft silicone wrap-around shell; and an outer polycarbonate shell. The silicone shell pretty much covers most of the phone except for the camera/led flash, rear speaker and top and bottom mics. The covering for the USB and 3.5mm audio jack can be raised (soft flaps) to reveal the ports easy enough.The rest of the physical buttons, including volume and power are nicely covered. What holds the silicone shell firmly together is the outer polycarbonate shell. This is important since the phone itself could come off most other silicone cases easy enough, leaving the phone vulnerable to scratches should it fall.
Instructions are provided inside the carton box in case you don’t know how to assemble the case together. In reality, its so simple even my wife (but not my mom) could do it.
I bought the case for HK$273 or US$35. This is not that far off from some of the so called high-end silicone cases available for both iPhone and Samsung phones. Without a doubt the Otterbox Commuter series is well worth it. Nikki H without the case may have been very slim but I always felt like I’d drop it anytime because it felt slippery in my hand. The Otterbox Commuter case gives it the heft and stiffness I appreciate in such an expensive device.
Overall, I like the design, fit and finish of the case. The pieces fit together perfectly giving it the feeling of total protection. Afterall this is what you want to have… the feeling that your investment is protected from the day-to-day trashing and bashing that comes with using a device so portable and so vulnerable.
PHOTOS

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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…
OBSERVATIONS
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.

OTHER REVIEWS
TechPCReview http://www.tabletpcreview.com/default.asp?newsID=1809&review=google+android+os+samsung+galaxy+tab+tablet
Gizmodo: http://gizmodo.com/5686161/samsung-galaxy-tab-review-a-pocketable-train-wreck

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
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
Weight: 380g

PHOTOS

Using Evernote on the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Using Evernote on the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Surfing the Web with the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Surfing the Web with the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab with a bluetooth keyboard

Samsung Galaxy Tab with a bluetooth keyboard

Video Review (warning: over 13 minutes long)

It’s a weird feeling using IGor, my iPad, to write this review of a competitive product to the iPad. I was fortunate to be loaned the latest portable tablet from Dell – the Streak. Delivered boxed, it reminded me of how Apple and HTC packaged their offerings except that Apple boxes and white and almost utilitarian.

The box contains the Streak, a pouch, charger and starter guide. 

The first time you power up the Streak, it will ask you to insert a SIM card as part of its boot up and setup sequence. This process suggests this new tablet is a mobile phone. If it were I can’t imagine seeing myself holding a (152.9 x 79.1 x 10mm) slab of electronics close to my cheek. Years ago I used to laugh when I see people using the NOKIA n-Gage to make calls. I often commented that it was having a burrito in your ear. If the n-Gage was a burrito, the Streak is a thin paperback. It took me a few moments to get around this requirement and force the Streak to connect to the Wi-Fi to continue the device initialization sequence.

As a handheld it’s impossibly thin at 10mm. It’s not really feather light at 220 GM. For its size (152.9 x 79.1mm), it’s surprisingly light. For people with small hands it would be cumbersome to hold comfortably and safely. It looks fragile because of the glass top but the feel is solid for the device itself.

The Streak ships with Android 1.6 so it doesn’t multi-task at all. No different from the iPad. But I read in forums that Streak owners have the option to upgrade to 2.2 by end of 2010. Brave souls who have tried upgrading report problems after the upgrade.

The small screen makes it a little difficult, but not impossible, to read documents. Despite the handicap of the OS, the overall performance is very good; it is fast and as fluid flicking and pinching as using the iPad. If there is any serious complaint it is the user interface needs tweaking to make it easier to navigate or access applications.

I did a full charge of the device and it took about two days before I charged it. The default setting means the device powers down too quickly (1 minute) making it annoying at times if you got side tracked for a minute to do something quickly leaving the device unattended.

Facebook and other social networking platform users will find the experience welcoming provided you have the App customized for the size of the screen. Yehey for Facebook!

Overall first impression is that it is a solid device to hold. Small enough to fit in a small bag and convenient to carry around wherever you go. If you have a Bluetooth headset and installed a SIM Card in it, you can use it as a cell phone without looking like one of those characters from Third Rock from the Sun. People might think of Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory if they see you talking using the Streak but who cares.

Just for the heck of it, I did install my 2G SIM on the Streak and made calls as well as received them. It was easy enough to make the voice connections, and even sending SMS messages was not at all that difficult. The menu system does take getting used to but I find it less taxing then searching for specific functions on any Symbian-based phone. (more…)

Product testing is a common practice for many manufacturers. In the enterprise space, vendors refer to them as beta testers – people or companies who agree to test an indevelopment product to check it for usability (or lack thereof) and help fine tune the product. The benefit of being a beta tester is you get to be at the cutting edge of the market with influence over the course or development of a product.

A more common name that has cropped up in recent years is early adopter. TechTarget defines an early adopter as a person who embraces new technology before most other people do. Early adopters tend to buy or try out new hardware items and programs, and new versions of existing programs, sooner than most of their peers. According to a theory called Diffusion of Innovations (DoI) formulated by Everett Rogers, early adopters make up 13.5 percent of the population.

While bragging rights and the envy of all are qualities that come with being an early adopter, it is well known that the risks associated with being first to own are real. Software may be buggy, as in the recently launched 15-inch and 17-inc Macbook Pros. Apple published a 256MB patch as part of its software update 1.3 (http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1600979/apple-microsoft-patch-buggy-products).

When Apple released its new toy – the iPad – I was one of those who posted an early look at the device.

Back then I was merely trying to set straight what the iPad was, and what it wasn’t. At the time of writing, the iPad was touted as a tablet PC in the vein of tablet PCs running Windows 7 and Linux. For a couple of months I resisted getting the iPad for a number of reasons:

First generation Apple consumer products usually are feature poor. In the case of the iPad, it lacked any USB ports, no memory slot card reader, does not support multi-tasking, and no camera.

But my wife decided to get one for me as a birthday present. Within one week from unboxing the iPad, I discovered one more flaw – a very severe one, in my view. The WiFi stopped working! I really mean stopped working. The iPad could not pick up any WiFi signal whatsoever. Apple tech forums offered a number of suggestions and I tried all of them but my iPad – which I dubbed iGor – remains unable to connect to anything other than the laptop.

Before Steve tells me I am stupid, yes, Apple. I restored the software (three times). I reset it several times as well. I turned off the auto brightness control. I set the brightness to maximum. I even called the vaunted Apple Tech Support and after almost 30 minutes of fiddling around with iGor, the technical on the other side of the phone suggested I bring it to the nearest Apple Store for repair.

There was one small catch! The iPad is not yet available in Hong Kong. I was given a choice: fly to the nearest country that has the Apple locally available – that would be either Japan (five hours away) or Australia (8 hours away) or wait until it becomes available in Hong Kong (no idea when that will be).

Being in the media, I thought I’d try to use my media charm and cry ‘help’ to the local Apple PR contact. I was not surprised when I didn’t get any response (not even an email bounce).

Scouring through the Internet, I came to this article about the vaunted iPad WiFi problem. (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ipad_hits_a_bump_wi-fi_woes_point_to_apple_bug.php) But none of the fixes were of any help for me. I am resigned to the idea that I will have to wait until when Apple decides to make the iPad available in Hong Kong.

What I am left with today is an oversized iPod Touch (minus WiFi).

(more…)