My Next Android!

This was a tough one. Really, after buying the Acer Stream S110 earlier this year, an Android phone which would happen to be refused an update to Gingerbread not much later; and even more so after testing the Samsung GT-I9100 for a while, I felt quite disappointed with Android phones.

Not that both were such horrible devices – the Galaxy SII being good enough to sell really well, making it the Android phone you spot the most out there in the streets. Still, I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic with the Galaxy SII, I hadn’t really liked it, finding it too wide to hold comfortably, disliking the rather low pixel density and the placement of hardware buttons. Then, on the other hand, all competing Android headsets had there own flaws. LGs dual core “Optimus” superphones, the Speed (P990 / T-Mo USA P999) and the 3D (P920) seemed nicer to me because of their LCDs and overall button layout, but had obvious flaws of their own. Flawed were all the other devices, such as the Sensation, maybe the least flawed of the aforementioned, but being out of the game for me because of HTC Sense, or the Motorola Atrix, which while really cool seeming with its Laptop Dock suffered a lot from its (albeit featuring qHD resolution) PenTile-LCD screen and Motorolas slow software updates, a few variants of this device are still officially stuck on Froyo.

In addition to the hardware, I felt that the software had real problems that didn’t make it quite likable to me. I started to really dislike Android’s menu button, a relict carried over from the days, when Android was being imagined as a Blackberry-competitor running on devices that itself resembled the classic blackberry formfactor: A small, maybe 2,6” sized display, placed on a rather wide candybar in a landscape position atop a full QWERTY keyboard. This form factor had never been really popular with android, even the old and famous G1 (HTC Dream) had looked very difficult from this because of its vertical slider. But with the G1 the menu button hadn’t been much of an issue, as you had a trackball and thus weren’t really forced to use the touchscreen at all with the early iterations of Android. With the 4,3” WVGA Galaxy SII this had fundamentally changed, and it had become totally obvious to me, that Android was a land of usability horror, partly due to the aforementioned problem, partly due to apps that didn’t fit into the problematic way Android did things, resembling iOS-Apps instead.

Being frustrated with all that, and reading that Honeycomb was still overly complicated (BTW a few issues, that aren’t so problematic with smartphones because of their smaller size will likely remain on tablets even with Ice Cream Sandwich), I felt like going webOS wasn’t the worst idea ever. This turned out to be wrong the night Leo Apotheker killed webOS, rendering the really promising HP Pre 3 an unannounced device. (HP may try to revive webOS, but I doubt that they can undo the damage done, rendering what was ahead this announcement an uphill battle a battle that is virtually impossible to win…) As we know now, the HP Pre 3 will likely never ever receive more updates, rendering the non carrier branded Rest Of the World version of it stuck on basically the same version it shipped with. This version has a load of bugs, the whole Skype integration doesn’t feel matured at all, and you happen to run into “Too many cards”-Errrors way to often. That aside, the accelerometer is effingly shaky, doing very abrupt orientation switches, making the device a rather painful thing to use as you can’t even switch that thing of. There simply is no patch for that. (You see, I really should update my review of the Pre3 and make it more negative.)

The most promising Linux platform out there not yet mentioned had been killed ahead of the launch of its last device. Maemo 6 as you should call it, as it hasn’t really much in common with the MeeGo open source project (which was cancelled and will come back as “Tizen” rather soon), made a good to great impression on the Nokia N9 anyway, because of physically stunning hardware (even though the SoC is clearly old and dated) and great usablility concepts. However, it is simply to expensive, being higher priced than the Galaxy SII, making it no real option for me.

Frustrated as I was, I bought the N900 in an attempt of escapism. Well, that thing is nice, but it is an awkward thing, being nowhere near a modern smartphone in its design and much rather a downsized Nokia Internet tablet that can do 3G and phone calls. While the N900 is insanely cool because of all its geeky features (FM sender, Infrared, the debian based package system), it is also fundamentally flawed by it’s landscape forcing software and form factor, its thickness, the resistive screen and a web browser, that doesn’t show you most of the great mobile webpages that were released since the rise of the iPhone and Android – some of these are so useful, that I use them on the desktop, because they are just a lot simpler while delivering all the important parts.

So I finally had to realize that it was time to get a decent smartphone, as I can’t carry my iPad everywhere. Not that it is too big, it is really OK and has an outstanding battery life, but you get awkward looks with it on the subway and in the rest of real life. Way to many people start asking you questions about it, its way to “Show Offy”, while all this doesn’t happen if you carry an “iPhone like device”.

I had been waiting for the Galaxy Nexus. While Ice Cream Sandwich looked really stunning, I simply hate a few details about this device. One is the SoC, which doesn’t seem to be the best choice. I don’t really understand why this isn’t an Exynos device. However, this doesn’t make enough of a difference to kill it for me. The camera is said to be decent. Be that as it may, 5MP isn’t what you expect in late 2011. Another downside, the very one that kept me from buying the Nexus S, is that you have no microSD option. And last, but not least, there’s the same button placement (volume and power button) that drove me nuts with the Galaxy SII. I know, I am just holding it wrong, but that kills it for me. Seriously.

So I instead opted to buy two devices that are said to even be officially updated to Ice Cream Sandwich. One is the aforementioned LG Optimus Speed (P990), which I got because it is an official CyanogenMod device – I really want to have this again, as this project prolonged my G1 use by about a year. The other is running the only Android skin I might be able to like: It’s the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pro, the best spec’ed full QWERTY Android Smartphone available in Europe.

One of these (or both) will be my next Android smartphone(s). I will share my impressions!

HP announces to kill webOS devices, looks for licensees

Imagine you were spending a day at work lifting boxes and while doing so you would think of what kind of blog article you were going to write later that day. This article would be an announcement, that you were going to write about some kind of a product, say a HP Pre 3 in the future because you just made the decision to get this device as your next primary phone. Later that same day, right before sitting down to write that aforementioned article, you would check twitter and see rumors of the very company making that very product was going to discontinue that, and not only that but the whole range of devices using the same software platform.


Well, this is what happened to me today. And you know what? I will buy a Pre3, anyway.

This was quite a long introduction to a rather sad story. HP has, about 16 month after purchasing Palm, decided that they will stop producing webOS devices later this year. While this doesn´t neccessarily mean that webOS is all dead, this is sad news for me as a person that likes choice and loves Linux, and most importantly, loves webOS.

I haven´t been happy with HPs progress with webOS anyway, but this news is a huge disappointment, especially because it always felt like that HP hadn´t really started to push webOS forward: The Pre2 was a lot, but definitely not too exciting and little more than a ruggedized and sped up Pre (Plus), the Veer has this special form factor which doesn´t make it too attractive for many (even though it has become really cheap recently here in Germany – you have to pay a little more than 150 EUR) and the Pre3 is just being launched. HPs TouchPad isn´t a flawless product, but it´s nice – initial pricing was way of and the fact that it was released in what one may call a pre beta stadium is a real disappointment. These are all the products HP has launched, 3 of them only very recently and yet they are pulling the plug. Knowing something about business I do understand that measures are possible this early, but seriously: They didn´t launch one exciting smartphone and postponed the one, that could have been exciting for more than six months, they released a tablet which, in terms of look and feel, is unfortuntely inferior to the first iPad (Samsung somehow managed to quickly crank out an even thinner Galaxy Tab 10.1 in about the same time it took HP from announcing to selling the TouchPad) – it´s all a sad story. And the software: I would have hoped for HP to move forward at a faster pace there, too.

I could start to critisize HP webOS even more, but I will do so, when I´ve got the Pre3 – if necessary. I like this software, and webOS is a weak platform right now, which doesn´t need any harsh words – it needs (and deserve) soft care instead. Just saying: Even with the flawed Pre Plus hardware (which is already a lot better than the original Pre) I love to use webOS for its ease of use that you feel once you are used gestures and cards. HP, btw, announced a purchase and that they are actively considering to externalize their PC business – this day could be the day that marks the end of HP as we know it. I, for one, feel like Léo Apotheker is trying to make HP another SAP – I may be wrong there, but seriously, I believe most of you didn´t see as HP as a software company until now.

The future is open, it will always be. I am excited to get my hands on the HP Pre3 and hope for some licensees that will crank out the kind of products webOS needs to become what it maybe could not become with hardware made by HP / Palm: A Success.


SOURCES / RECOMMENDATIONS TO READ ON:
thisismynext (the fellows that will become “The Verge”) have a great live blog of HPs Q3 2011 earnings call
thisismynext: HP killed webOS devices

Comment: Why HP should send a huge Thank You to S. Elop

Let´s face it: Many people like the Nokia MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan / Maemo 6 presented on the Nokia N9 – if you read the negative comments, these show concerns about buying a device which is abandoned on release, they dislike the last years Hardware platform or ask the “What about apps?” question – if Nokia hadn´t discontinued the MeeGo platform, one of these negative points wouldn´t be there, and the other two would be addressed by future devices over time (I think I read once that OMAP4 is pin compatible to OMAP3).

One of too many webOS 2.1.0 bugs (Device: Palm Pre Plus)

But let´s think about to whom the the Nokia MeeGo platform would have been a strong competitor. Many of you may think Android, and while this absolutely right in the long term, in short and mid term Nokias Meego platform would have been more of a competitor to the smaller smartphone operating systems / ecosystems, such as Windows Phone 7 or HP webOS, which are chosen by their loyals because of their usability, which is less flawed than Androids (menu button, multi tasking).

Nokias MeeGo platform is as it is (in its nearly abandoned state) already a strong competitor to what HP webOS is like – both systems are all about gesture powered multitasking. Let´s look deeper. HP webOS is – and I am sorry to say that – is flawed by the web technologies it´s using – JavaScript still is not running as fast as seasoned programming languages, and besides that, there will be some work necessary to speed up system services – just compare the HP TouchPads Sun Spider benchmark scores – the TouchPad is the most advanced version of webOS and surely requires some more polishing, as this is the first public release we are dealing with here (and no, it´s not the hardware´s fault, I´ve seen benchmarks were the Qualcomm platform smoked the Tegra2 used in most Android tablets out there).

MeeGo, as being a still rather new development on top of very seasoned technologies, performs a lot better (which has a huge impact, you have to consider that these devices are mobile, and less CPU usage is automatically connected with better battery life..), and as Nokia´s MeeGo UI is more than competitive, this platform with Nokia’s experience in the mobile sector (which while HP / Palm have some too should be superior) could have easily made it to the third position on the market, with a huge gap to Android and iOS still, but better than the rest. Nokia opted against a clear MeeGo push though, so this is all theory (most likely they would have stuck to the way inferior Symbian too much, anyway) – thanks to S. Elop,HP has another chance.

Success, however, is something that requires more than just good ideas, even more than astonishing products (that HP doesn´t have yet, the TouchPad, Veer and Pre³ are in many ways inferior). An alliance with Samsung (that build smartphones with Android, Windows Phone 7, Bada and LiMo already) could help with great hardware, but possibly killed HPs own margins and besides that, it´s the software which until now still isn´t more than a set of brilliant usability concepts that is sort of usable. HP has the chance to fix their issues, which are many – as Elop gave them some more time.

On HP webOS and the HP Veer

As the HP Veer is about to be launched in the US (May 15th on AT&T), reviews are being published. Some are more positive than others, naturally, and i am not surprised that the reviews of the webOS focussed sites write about this new little kid in town a lot more positive than those that review everything. The Veer is special, and I felt irritated when it was announced. I felt like: Hell no, why did they turn the Pixi into a slider (the hinge is said to be great, firm and sturdy, though), and even worse, why did they keep the Pixi´s subpar display? I couldn’t really understand it and I can´t now and so can´t some others.

The one review I really agree to is the one that Joshua Topolsky, former editor-in-chief at engadget, now at thisismynext.com while building something new, did. Mr Topolsky is not a webOS hater, he´s been using the Pre2 for quite some time and told everybody that he liked it, but he is not a fanboi and honestly, there could have been more progress with webOS since HP bought Palm.

The worst part about todays webOS is the really bad Email application. I am not talking about Synergy, I am talking about the UI of the eMail application in webOS, which really offers the options one would like to see. To delete multiple messages (or, say, to mark some as read) is virtually impossible – you have to delete one, and then the next. There are a few patches in Preware for the Mail app, but patching is not for everybody and these patches don´t make the Application a good one, they are much rather quick hacks to make the thing less painful. The only thing that became notably better with webOS 2.1.0 is that you can opt out deleting mails by a simple swipe – on 1.* I once lost an important mail without noticing it because of this stupid behaviour, so this “just swipe and it´s gone” thing should have never been done in the first place.

Besides that, loading in webOS often takes longer than it should. Sometimes this is due to performance issues in webOS, sometimes its due to a slow network connection. But you can´t really distinguish it in many apps, so in many users minds its webOS that´s blamed, with its huge, slowly spinning wheel.

Another example is the startup webOS. Takes forever. Android Gingerbread is a lot quicker on inferior hardware.

I really think that HP should work on optimization or start something like a HP webOS enthusiast program, which receives updates quick and early and which allows people to really change things. Open
up some more stuff, make your development process a little more open, allow people to port over newer, more optimized kernel versions to webOS, make it easy to change the used version of gstreamer to allow for support of *.ogg and *.flac files, enable people to try out newer WebKit / V8 versions or something – I am pretty sure that there are tons of people out there, that would totally love to help you to make webOS faster if you open it up a little bit more. Move, HP. Don’t listen to your webOS fanbois, listen to those, who know your opponents. The main advantage of your webOS on smartphones is the great card based multitasking. But the others are getting closer. Android won´t suck at multi tasking usability forever, even Windows Phone 7 will get something nice and we don´t know how great actual MeeGo devices will be (BTW, MeeGo is quick at startup, maybe, HP, run Luna atop of MeeGo? Google builds Chrome OS on a MeeGo basis, so why shouldn’t HP do that?)

Back to the Veer, the little Qualcomm MSM7230 powered powerhouse. I won´t buy one. A small screen with an awkward resolution and not too great colors is not for me, and BTW, i consider the Pre/Pre Plus/Pre² to be a small smartphone already. A Palm Pre³, with a better Mail application… that might get me tempted.

HP kills “Palm” brand, presents S, M, L sized webOS 2.0 devices

HP held a great announcement event yesterday, which was all about webOS, the mobile OS running atop a linux kernel, which I find quite likable, even though parts of it aren’t open source. The UX is just great, webOS offers the user true multi tasking – it’s not only the cpu which runs multiple processes or tasks, webOS offers a great way to switch tasks really simple and fast – Android really can’t compete on that front, and iOS either.

Let’s start with the smallest newcomer (and thus Pixi (Plus) successor), the HP Veer, which, while still featuring the same 2.6” 320×400 screen now looks like a down-sized Pre, making it form factor wise a 15mm thick credit card. Most importantly the internals have been bumped up – while storage is still the same as with the Pixi Plus before, HP cramped some more horsepower into the little thing, making it a real smartphone: The SoC bump (QC MSM 7230 vs. QC MSM 7225) doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a real 800MHz second generation Snapdragon with Adreno 205 graphics and thus a huge improvement, RAM is said to be similar to the Pre2 – it should be around 512 MB which should be enough for serious multitasking – if only your hands are small enough to feel comfortable with this 5MP camera ;-).

Moving on to M size, aka Pre3, which will be available in an EVDO/CDMA flavour (Veer HS(D)PA/GSM only).
As the M indicates, this thing is bigger, and it is bigger than the earlier Pre devices, as the 3.6” sized WVGA (as opposed to 3.1” HVGA before) indicates. Looking at the internals, RAM is said to remain about the same – but it’s now a Snapdragon inside (before TI OMAP 3 3430/3630) – the model number is 8655 (EVDO/CDMA) respectively 8255 (HSPA/GSM) here – and that means 2nd gen Snapdragon here, too – but this time clocked at 1.4GHz. The camera remains at 5MP, but gains autofocus and HD Video recording – and there will be a secondary, front facing camera for video telephony) While the Veer is said to be out in spring, the other webOS 2.2 running portrait slider, the Pre3, will be out in summer – which makes sense, as the first webOS 2.0 device, the Pre2, is available in the US on Verizon from today on.

The tablet device (aka L sized according to HP (I believe it’s 9.7” screen makes this rather XL or even XXL) is much like the iPad – with better specs: about a gigabyte of Ram, a dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU sounds like quite some horsepower, and it’s got some more fascinating features like a camera – the screen is just plain XGA (if iPad2 will have the rumored 2048×1536 pixel “Retina” screen, this will .um.. suck – as both will be out in summer). The name is pretty generic, it’s Touchpad, overall this is a tablet running webOS in its third mayor iteration (no gesture area, btw), which might turn out nice if HP manages to communicate the advantage of their solution – I will just mention the great synchronization with webOS phones here (I am typing this on my G1 and don’ t feel like looking up buzzwords).

All devices feature the same design language which surfaced first with the Pixi and its flat surface and was since refined with the Pre2. And there is on point, that I do not like too much about all of them, and which is really bad on the Pre3 and the Touchpad, considering that these are HPs top notch products: Storage. 8 GB or 16GB on the Pre3, which most likely doesn’t, just like its predecessors, feature a microSD slot really sounds like a bad joke – 16GB / 32 GB would have been much more adequate. It’s the same for the Touchpad, 32GB/64GB would have been appreciated. Please HP, if possible, fix this before you really ramp up production.

Having mentioned that HP plans to bring webOS to PCs, too (As a layer on top of Windows? As an Instant On System? They didn’t say.), these are some nice new things, and HP really seems to be devoted to push webOS – which is great, if only they keep the platform as slick as it is and don’t mess it up.

And guess what: They kinda mess it up: J. Rubinstein stated that the promised webOS 2.0 update for legacy webOS devices won’t happen – the community seems to be upset. HP says that it the Hardware wasn’t good enough to run webOS – while the webOS 2.0 might really stink on a Pixi, it most certainly wouldn’t on a Pre Plus. Probably this is the time to port Android to the Pre(+)… it should run just fine.