Sunday, March 31, 2013

First impressions of the Acer Iconia w510


So after only owning this device for over 24 hours, here are my thoughts on the Acer Iconia W510 so far.
Things I like:
  • Device is nice and light. The main benefit of its all-plastic construction is that it doesn't weigh as much as an iPad 3. The device is still a bit awkward to hold in one hand in its intended orientation (landscape), but it's less tiring to hold for long periods.
  • Screen size to resolution - along with all of the other atom powered tablets and lower level win 8 laptops, the resolution of the Iconia is 1366x768. But on a smaller, 10.1' screen, the display is still quite crisp and clear. It's not retina by any means, but it's less noticeable on this screen vs the 11.6' displays.
  • Size - related to the previous point, I think 10.1' is the ideal size for a tablet...any larger and the device becomes more unwieldy, and you don't actually see any more stuff, since the tile interface scales for different resolutions anyway, while the touch targets would just end up being even smaller in desktop mode in the higher resolutions.
  • Claimed battery life - I've qualified that statement because I haven't spent a full day using this tablet as yet, but I'm not racing to the power cable after a couple of hours use, and the reviews I've read seem to support the claim of 7-9 hours of battery life. Another thing that I want to check is how long it takes to charge the device from empty - which you don't often see being tested in reviews, but are important when you're pressed for time and need to get as much juice in your device as possible.
  • Extras - I do appreciate the inclusion of a carry case (pungent as it is - see below), micro-HDMI to VGA adapter, and micro-USB to USB host cable. It's a nice touch, and means that the device is more flexible out of the box.
  • Position of ports - with the exception of the power port, which is on the bottom of the tablet, the micro-HDMI, micro-USB and micro-SD slot are all located on the side of the tablet, so they're readily accessible even if you place the device on a dock or stand.

Things I don't like:
  • Device gets really hot when charging - and I don't just mean warm, I'm talking hot. Specifically, it's only the top right-hand side that gets hot, and you definitely feel it on the display. It doesn't seem to have an effect on the screen at the moment, but it does make me worry about leaving the device to charge overnight, and of the long term impact of that side of the device getting baked with all that heat. When not plugged in that area is only slightly warm (suspect that is where the CPU resides) so at least it's not a constant issue.
  • Build quality - the device is solid overall, but there are issues with seams not being as tight as they could be, and components like the display not joining up evenly to the chassis (shall post pics in later post)...and for the RRP of $699 AU, I'd have expected more. Basically, with screen off, you'd be forgiven for mistaking this tablet for one of those budget no-name android tablets based on the materials, fit and finish of the device.
  • Stinky case - so this is nit-picking a bit, but the supplied pleather case supplied with the tablet gives off some strong solvent fumes. I've thrown it back into the box for the moment, but I'll eventually get around to airing it out and using it.
  • Position of speakers - they're basically where your hands would go if holding the device in landscape (lower left and right-hand sides of the tablet)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

5 way camera comparison - 3 tablets, 1 iPhone and 1 iPod touch

Even before I did this comparison, I've always found that the quality of images from iOS devices tend to be better than those of other manufacturers. This has been true since the original iPhone, and seems to still be the case today. Having said that, I don't have a Samsung Galaxy device at all to test, nor do I have access to the latest and greatest HTC One or Nokia Lumia 920.

Please excuse the first group of images exceeding the bounds of the blog post margins, but I think proper image comparisons really need the images to be big. My take away from this comparison are:

  • The iPod Touch 5Gen, iPad Mini and iPad 3 are equivalent in image quality;
  • iPhone 4S beats everything in this line up;
  • If Apple ever makes a Galaxy Camera type device with real camera optics and iOS as the UI, I would buy one in a heartbeat.
  • The poor transformer TF300 didn't stand a chance against this group.

 iPhone 4S
iPod Touch 
iPad Mini
iPad 3
Transformer TF300
iPhone 4S
iPod Touch
iPad Mini
iPad 3
Transformer TF300
iPhone 4S
iPod Touch
iPad Mini

iPad 3
Transformer TF300

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Surface RT post mortem: Pleasantly surprised.


I think the title pretty much says it all. I mean, I've already said my piece regarding the Surface RT on the review that I posted earlier, and for the most part my opinions haven't changed ie. I wish we didn't have to have desktop mode, since there aren't any apps outside of IE and Office that can run on desktop mode in RT, and the targets in desktop mode are are not very finger friendly.

But an interesting thing happened on the week that I was testing the RT - the official twitter app became available on the Microsoft app store. No offence to the other twitter clients, but there was always something that I didn't like with Rowi or metrotwit (probably a combination of unfamiliarity, and UI elements that were counter to my expectations), so I was happy to finally have the official app with its familiar UI and swipe to refresh. With the official twitter app occupying the smaller pane of the two pane multi-tasking you can have in Windows 8, I find myself being able to do two things at once on a tablet - something that I was not able to do on any ARM based tablet I own. Having my feed scrolling by as I was watching youtube videos, or window shopping on my favourite website was a breeze; and when the occasion warranted it, I would just make the twitter feed occupy the larger pane by switching the middle border separating the two windows. No animation to switch the screens out, no leaving one screen to view another - it was seamless, and something which I didn't realise I missed when I switched to using an iPad and Android tablets for most of my home computing needs. I still didn't play much games on the RT as I normally do on my iPad (mainly due to lack games that I wanted to play), and I still miss the depth of the app selection that are available in the iOS and Android app stores, but I had finally found the ideal use for the two pane multi-tasking in Win8 that actually enhanced my experience on the RT.

So just some final thoughts:

  • I really like the Surface RT build quality, and I really like the kickstand - having the one fixed angle might have been an issue in theory, but with the wide viewing angles of the IPS display it didn't actually matter.
  • Battery life is great - I only have to charge the RT when I no longer need it (when I go to sleep), so it's effectively untethered to power while in use. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to take very long to charge either, which is a definite plus.
  • I really like the Tile/Metro interface in Win 8 when you're navigating via a touchscreen - I thought the gestures were gimmicky at first, but I like them so much now that I find myself trying to do that with non Win 8 toushcreen devices.
  • I'm using the the base model with 32Gb of storage (~16Gb available) - I have yet to hit this limit, so it wasn't as much of an issue as I had originally thought...though this might change if the App store selection got better and I download more games.
  • The widescreen aspect ratio makes the surface hard to hold in one hand, and also means it's quite long in portrait mode. This is a problem that also affects android tablets, but seems more pronounced as a tablet screen gets bigger than 10 inches.
  • The win 8 onscreen keyboard occupies a lot of screen real estate in landscape mode (its native orientation), and this doesn't change when you use the split keyboard - it would be nice to be able to resize the keys (like on WebOS), or to be able to change the opacity of the keys.
  • If I had to choose between an Android tablet or the Surface RT, I think I would choose the RT. The two pane multi-tasking just isn't available on any other platform, and since Android Tablets and Win 8 RT are not so far apart in terms of available tablet optimised apps, it would be enough to sway me to getting the RT.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I found the MS Surface's killer app


Twitter on the left, ABC iView SBS On Demand app on the right. Boom. Do you know any other ARM based tablets that can do that? (Thanks to @skitterusty for making me realise my mistake)

Here is the same scenario, but with ABC iView streaming (via the ABC website's flash player) on the tile/metro IE:

Surface RT Review

Note: As I prepped @thepatr1ck's MS Surface RT tablet for my week of use, I found that I had actually written a review on it already (whoops!). My impressions below were after a few days of use; since then I have bought and used a "proper" Windows 8 laptop with touchscreen (F202E, which I think I kept calling the X202E...), and my feelings haven't changed for the most part. If you're expecting a Surface trashing, then you've come to the wrong place; despite my criticisms, I actually enjoy using the Surface RT and want it to succeed - in fact, I'm finishing off and posting this blog post on it right now :)

Surface RT Review

Thanks to @thepatr1ck’s gadget lust, I was able to play around with a Surface RT tablet for a few days. I was able to play with a Surface tablet briefly at one of Microsoft’s Experience booths at Sydney Westfield last week, and the experience was so good that I was convinced that I’d wanted one.

What I liked:
  • Tiled Interface (the interface formerly known as Metro) – The active tiles are what caught my attention off the bat. Navigating through the colourful tiles was a very snappy experience, and I like how they would be updating by themselves. It was bordering on being too “busy” but as someone who likes to stare at a large mass of information at once, this suited me well.
  • Hardware. Hands down the best constructed, non-iPad tablet I’ve ever had the chance to use. It had a premium feel and nice clean lines – this tablet wouldn’t look out of place at a high-power corporate meeting, and certainly looks way more than the asking price. The built-in kick-stand was also very solid, and well integrated into the rest of the device.
  • Peripheral support – so I can’t really say much about the depth of peripheral support that the Surface provides, since I’ve only ever tried it with a wireless keyboard (via proprietary dongle attached to the USB port), but nice to see that it’s there.
  • Useful multi-tasking – I’ve added the qualifier because multi-tasking is already something that Android tablets/devices have been able to do since day one. However, unlike Android, multi-tasking on the Surface RT allows you to have both applications running side by side. I think this was the feature that tipped me over the edge. I am aware that Samsung now has a similar feature with their devices, but I must say that I really like how Microsoft has implemented it.
  • Onscreen keyboard – Very good. You tap on a key, and the letter appears on the screen – no lag or other issues. The experience is also far superior than the optional touchcover, since you can use a very light touch to type.

What I didn’t like:
  • Desktop mode – I think that Microsoft has done so well with the Tile Interface, that it is disappointing that some functions (viewing folders, adjusting certain settings, using MS Office) involves being shunted back to the familiar but slightly outdated view that is Desktop mode. You can argue that the benefit of Desktop mode is that the Surface can be both your Tablet AND your desktop/laptop…except when it isn’t. At least for the Surface RT (running ARM), you cannot install any 3rd party apps on the desktop that you can on a regular windows machine, and at least at this stage, the only apps that are installed on your “Desktop” are IE and MS Office. One could argue that the power of desktop mode is that you can multi-task, but you can already do that on the Tiled Interface (as I’ve mentioned before).
  • Low resolution cameras – Ok, so I may look like a doofus taking pictures with a tablet (and I try not to outside of my house) – but it’s a shame that the rear camera is only 1MP. I would have thought that if MS had been positioning the Surface RT as a iPad and Android tablet competitor, that they should at least be able to match them in specs. I don’t really use the front-facing cameras much on my existing tablets, but the front wasn’t anything to get excited about on either of them.
  • Meagre app selection – ok, so the operating system has just come out, so I won’t hammer this point too much. But the app store will need to be improved before I can give up my iPad or Asus Transformer. Having said that, since Android Tablets themselves aren’t exactly bursting with Tablet apps either, maybe in a few months MS can gain and surpass android in that respect…that would be enough to make me switch from Android.
  • Total Storage vs Available Storage – I’m not that upset by finding out that half of the Surface RT’s 32GB of storage is actually taken up by the OS and built in apps, meaning that the “bargain” of getting a 32Gb Tablet for around the same price of a 16Gb iPad, wasn’t. I guessing if Microsoft had been much more transparent about this fact, then I wouldn’t feel like I had been misled. Update: 17th March 2013 – I’ve made my peace with this fact, because in all honesty I don’t actually store that much on my devices. I guess this might eventually be an issue when/if I run out of space for installing apps.

What I’m indifferent about:
  • Microsoft Office – I’m not upset that it’s there, and I am glad there is a word processing app built in, but it’s not enough of a draw for me since I don’t use MS Office much outside of work. It will be a value-add for some people, and I think this was good move overall on Microsoft’s part.
  • IE (Desktop and Tile versions) – While I am still not getting why they can’t just be the one app, I’m not that fussed. Since I like to “live” in the Tile Interface (because that’s where all my apps are), I am content with the version of IE that lives there.
  • Touchcovers – My experience with the touchcover has that it was ok, but I would rather have the Typecover, with real keys. But I think the Surface RT’s onscreen keyboard is actually pretty good already, so I don’t see either of those accessories are necessary for getting a good experience on the tablet. The only complaint I have is that the on-screen keyboard doesn’t automatically appear when you click on an input field in desktop mode IE, nor does it move the input field so that the on-screen keyboard doesn’t block it. Works great on the tile interface (and on the MS Office apps on desktop mode), but even a setting to tell desktop mode that I want the on-screen keyboard to pop up would be nice.

So overall, I do like the Surface RT Tablet – it’s well built, has nice features that are unique to it (useful multi-tasking, innovative Tile Interface), but as a person who already owns an iPad (3rd Gen) and an Android Tablet(Asus Transformer TF300) – the Surface doesn’t quite have what it takes to make me give up one or both of these devices. I honestly believe that if Microsoft had come in earlier in the game, it would have been a different story, but as it is, it’s trying to compete for space in a category against two mature platforms, and it’s not quite to their level just yet. If it were to topple one of the big two, I’d bet that Android would be more likely to be superceded.

All in all, for people who are just about to get a tablet for the first time I think the Surface puts up a compelling and attractive product against existing Android tablets, and possibly even iPads – you just have to be a little patient for the apps to trickle in.

Week 2 (iPad Mini) Post-mortem: What a difference an app store makes


I think the title says it all – where the experience with the Samsung Galaxy Tab last week was bit disappointing because of the apps, the iPad mini was quite the opposite. Having said that, I have invested quite a bit of cash on the iOS app store so I have a big selection of apps ready to use when I fired it up. But the reason why I'm more likely to buy things from the iOS app store is because I have more confidence that apps (when sold as tablet compatible) actually look right on said tablet, vs phone apps stretched out to fill the screen (not all apps, but enough of them for me to notice).

Ignoring the iPad mini's hardware for the moment, I believe that if android had the breadth and the quantity of tablet apps that are currently in the iOS app store, that the iPad wouldn't be so dominant. Speaking from personal experience, if my Asus Transformer TF300 had the apps I have on iOS AND those have been designed to work on the larger screen as they do on iOS, that I could easily ditch my iPad and go Android. Android tablets excite me because of the diversity of their form factors, but the software support for tablets just isn't to the standard of iOS.

So what things did I use my iPad mini for? Well since I only have the base model (16Gb WiFi), it got the most use when I was at home and had access to the internet. I did bring it to work each day, but since the only offline things I could do with the mini was play games, it pretty much just sat there. I have tethered it to my phone a couple of times, but when I just need to look up something quickly, like check my twitter and email notifications, it was just easier to do all that on the phone.

But once home, I was completely happy having it as my primary computer – paying bills, web surfing, reviewing/responding to emails, communicating on twitter, reading comics and playing games, the mini was flawless, fast and most importantly, wireless. The only time I would have to charge the mini was when I went to bed if I played games on it for too long; otherwise, it only gets charged once while at work.

Navigating the iPad mini was a pleasure – a benefit of new hardware optimised to run the OS – and I'd  daresay it was even a touch faster than my iPad 3 with retina, especially when registering taps on the screen. And even though I use an iPhone 4s as my phone, switching between that and the iPad mini didn't make me aware that the latter didn't have a retina display, though that's partially helped by my deteriorating eyesight I'm sure. Finally, the benefit of the reduced width of the mini vs the regular sized iPad, is that thumb-typing doesn't require splitting the keyboard, which is great since I then won't have to merge it again when I want to type something out in landscape mode (which is faster because I can use more fingers).

In conclusion, I came off quite impressed by the iPad mini – it might be diminutive in size, but not in performance or longevity. Apps, comics and websites (99% of what I would use a computer for) all work great on it...the only thing I would do next time around is cough up the extra dough for the 4G/cellular version...and even though I didn't miss it, I would get a retina version if Apple came around to making one :) “Fanboi” you say? I am, yes. But how could I not be, when the experience I've had so far has been so good.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Another take on the week 1 post-mortem


After having read over my first post re the Galaxy Tab, it seemed to give the impression that the experience was pretty terrible, when that wasn't necesaarily the case. Although it didn't really suit my daily needs, there are quite a few things that the Galaxy Tab did well, so I thought I'd share those to balance out the previous post.

Great for reading text
Although the buzzfeed app would sometimes get quite sluggish when it has to render posts with lots of images, it works very well when the posts are mostly text. Plus, the paperback book-sized Galaxy Tab makes it easy to hold while in bed, or having dinner :) With google reader, reading through my feeds was a pleasant experience. The lowish resolution on a bigger screen also means that the text is a bit bigger than on a smartphone, so it helps my crappy eyes :p

Youtube video viewer
I like to watch old 90's kids cartoons on youtube, which tend not to be in the highest of resolutions, so viewing them full-screen on the Galaxy Tab actually works quite well since the image is big enough to see comfortably, while the lower resolution is more forgiving to the older low resolution content.

Instagram viewer
Annoyingly, instagram insists on restricting its app to portrait mode (blah blah blah intended for phones, not tablets blah blah). Being basically an oversized phone (I believe you can actually take calls on the 3G Galaxy Tab!), it's perfect for viewing instagram pictures on a larger screen.

Phone apps look normal
One of the criticisms I have about android tablets is that hardly any apps are available in the apps store that take advantage, or at least adjust for, the tablet formfactor and screen real estate. This means that for apps like twitter and instagram, what you get is the phone app, which just look comical being stretched out on a large, landscape oriented device. At least on the Galaxy Tab (and other 7 inch android tablets), the apps look acceptable, and only just look a tad jitterbug-ish (ie. catering for older users which appreciate bigger fonts and larger targets to hit vs on a smartphone).

Week 1 Post-mortem - Samsung Galaxy Tab


In a nutshell, I wasn't able to use the Galaxy Tab for the whole week as I wanted - although it's still quite capable despite its age, I just wasn't able to do all the stuff I wanted to do on it. Actually, it's not even that - all of the things I needed to do: connect remotely to my work computer, check work emails, catch up on buzzfeed, podcasts and twitter -  were all possible using the Galaxy Tab. The annoying thing was that it didn't do it as well as my other devices. Therefore, when I needed to visit a customer site for work, I had to bring my daily driver (iPad 3), because I couldn't be confident of being able to do all the work critical stuff I might need on the Galaxy Tab. I couldn't even use the Galaxy Tab as my GPS for said trip to the customer, since the Galaxy Tab was just over the maximum width that could be handled by my adjustable GPS car mount; that job ultimately went to my iPhone 4s (using Google maps, not Apple maps).

Because it was running older hardware, things would be a noticeably slower on the Tab, and combined with the fact that the screen is a lowish resolution (1024x600) on a 7 inch screen, meant that websites required a lot more scrolling, and bogged the device down (if I forced it to view the full desktop version), or I was forced to use mobile versions with reduced options. This, combined with the tendency of android apps to look a bit less 'polished' than their iOS counterparts, just made the experience a bit 'meh' for me.

Even now, a day before my week with the Galaxy Tab is supposed to be over, I'm typing this post on my Asus Transformer, just because it has a physical keyboard that I can use and a nice big screen to view all my text in.  So on that note, I'll start tomorrow with my next device (iPad mini) and report back next weekend.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Hunger/Gadget Games

Update 1st April 2013: Since having just bought the Acer Iconia W510 on Saturday (and thus wanting to use it all the time), I'll be using the Iconia for week 5, and pushing the X202E to the week after.
Update 17th March 2013: Seeing as (1) the HP Touchpad is discontinued and no one cares and (2) I can't find it at the moment, the MS Surface RT tablet will take its place for week 3.

I have too many computers - tablets, laptops and phones. In my defense, they are all very shiney, and I do usually use all of them at some time during the day. I think after years being a poor uni student, finally having a job with decent pay kinda made me go a bit overboard. I wish I could say that I've gotten better now, but my most recent purchase was only a month ago :/

Part of the reason why I have so many is that I upgrade, but I'm too much of a hoarder to sell/give away the old stuff, especially since they still work fine. If I was a sensible person, I would not buy anything until at least of few of my existing devices have died, but I'm not, but I am hoping to get better.

So as an experiment on downsizing, I thought I'd see how well each of my devices do at being my primary and only device - I've exempted my mobile phones from this for now, since I need to be reached, and also because I've pretty much committed to using my iPhone 4S as my smartphone. By identifying the one device I couldn't live without, I'm hoping to be able to slowly let go of the other stuff, and make smarter choices about future purchases.

In order to achieve this, I've chosen to dedicate a week for each device in my little stash and see how they fair at meeting my work and leisure requirements. Below are the list of gadgets I'll be testing:

1) iPad 3 (64Gb w/ cellular)
2) Asus Transformer TF300 with dock (32Gb, wifi)
3) iPad mini (16Gb, wifi)
4) HP Touchpad (Yes, the discontinued WebOS tablet, 16Gb, wifi)
5) Original Samsung Galaxy Tab (16Gb w/ Telstra NextG)
6) Asus X202E Touchscreen laptop (Celeron 847, 2Gb RAM, 320Gb HD, wifi)

Of all the devices that I'll be testing, the one device that I use the most is the iPad 3, mainly because it has 3G and that lovely retina display. I've also invested quite a bit of cash on the iOS store, and I find that all of the games I play (Sims Freeplay, Angry Birds Star Wars, Jetpack Joyride) whilst also being available for Android, look a bit better on the iPad. 

Apart from the list above, I do have other computers, such as my iPad 1 and my 13 inch MB Air, but I won't get rid of them because (1) the iPad 1 is worth nothing now (and is a good kitchen computer) and (2) the MBA is how I access and maintain my iPhoto library.

I wasn't sure on how to decide the order in which I test these things, so I've asked twitter to call out some numbers @ me, so the order will be:

1) Samsung Galaxy Tab (5 - thanks @JulzM); 
2) iPad Mini (3 - thanks @19bk69);
3) HP Touchpad (4 - thanks @northirid); Update 17th March 2013: MS Surface RT (borrowed from @thepatr1ck);
4) Asus Transformer TF300 (2 - thanks @bendurbubble and @19bk69);
5) Acer Iconia W510 (recently purchased on 30th March);
6) Asus X202E (6 - thanks @sylmobile and @manakatie);
7) iPad 3 (1 - which no one picked!)

So I shall start tomorrow with the Galaxy Tab (the oldest of the lot), and report back on Saturday :)