Google and their hardware for this christmas season

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A few years ago there was no such thing as hardware that was co-branded by Google – as Google was just a service provider in the internet, this made sense. It all started with Android and the so called Google Experience Devices. Then, in early 2010, Google launched the Nexus One, an HTC made smartphone.

As of now, Google has 5 main devices out there, 3 for Android, two Chromebooks: The LG made Nexus 4 smartphone (which replaces the Samsung made Galaxy Nexus), the ASUS made Nexus 7, the Samsung made Nexus 10 (which not only features Samsungs latest SoC, the Exynos 5250 but also a 300PPI screen), the Series 3 Chromebook, running the same ARM chip as the Nexus 10 and the Chromebook 550, running a dual core Celeron chip.

To me, two of these devices are particulary interesting: The very popular $ 199/ € 199 Nexus 7 and the ARM powered Chromebook.

This should not imply that I am not interested into the Nexus 4, which has been critized for being to little of an improvement about its Samsung made predecessor, as it lacks LTE. For me, living in Germany, where LTE is just starting and thus not really affordable and where there are quite acceptable 3,5G HSPA networks available, the lack of LTE is not a killer. It’s just that I really got used to having a dual SIM phone (the Jiayu G2, which I still like a lot, even though the glass unfortunately broke), and don’t want to switch back, as it would cost me extra money for about 10 months – my next smartphone will be based around the Mediatek MT6589 SoC, a quadcore ARM Cortex A7 / Power VR SGX 544 chip – the great thing about these chinese phones is not only their relatively low price, but also the not too customized, mostly pure Android these devices run.

(If you want to buy a good dual SIM phone without importing it, the Alcatel OT 997 Ultra seems to be a good choice, btw).

Same goes for the Nexus 10, which seems to be a great device, too – only Android still lacks in real great tablet apps (compared to the Apple iPad), and 10,1“ 16:10 is just to large for me.

The Nexus 7, now available in an 3G flavour, too, is a compelling device, likely the best choice in 7“ tablets out there – talking of the OOTB experience. It lacks a video out and extendable storage – but hey, does this really matter that much? While I am a huge fan of microSD storage and HDMI out I must admit that I almost never use these – I don’t even have an miniHDMI cable, and the microSD in my phone is almost empty because I was to lazy to fill it up with my music. Now why a 7 inch tablet? Well, size does matter, my Nook Simple Touch tought me that, as size was the main factor making it almost abandon my iPad for some time.

Then the Chromebook. Why the hell would anyone want such a thing as this chromebook you may ask. Well, typing on smartphones, tablets and netbooks sucks, and I don’t want to bring my Notebook with me all the time, as it is still my “digital hub” and thus far to valuable to be accidentely dropped in the subway. And there is another thing with this thing: It has no fan, no harddrive – and an OS which is foolproof. Plus, hackers are already working on porting classic GNU/Linux distributions on this thing, making it basically a full ARM-powered computer, that has a great keyboard and is still light, portable and cheap. And I am sure that someone will port over Android, too. Sure: If this had a touchscreen, it would be even greater, for sure – but at USD 249 (and hopefully EUR 249) you can’t expect too much, right? Exspecially if you really feel the need for a device to hammer in texts on the go…

So these are the Google devices that are on my “wish list”. What do you think?

Tizen on real world hardware

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkfd-2cLq-g

(via Tizen on Samsung Galaxy SII HD – Gallery, Live Call and Video)

This is an impressive demo of Tizen on real world hardware, aka the Galaxy SII HD LTE which is available in the shops in South Korea and the USA. Don’t be mistaken by the Galaxy SII branding – this device has a 4.65” Super Amoled HD (1280x720px) (just like the Galaxy Nexus) and is powered by a 1.5 GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 chip – in fact, resolution and SoC are similar to the Sony XPERIA S.

BTW, the HP Touchpad uses a close relative of this SoC (almost the same, but no GSM/3.5G hardware) this performance seems even more impressive – if the TouchPad had performed this well, it likely wouldn’t have failed so badly.

Samsung Galaxy SII (GT-I9100) – Review

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After about three weeks I feel ready to write this late review on the Samsung Galaxy SII, an Android best seller. I have been using it, switched back to my Acer Stream (2010 gen.), compared it to the Pre Plus and the old and dusty T-Mobile G1 to come to the conclusions I will share now. The Galaxy SII in question was running Android 2.3.3, build Gingerbread.XWKE2.


The first thing one notices when one gets the SGSII is: “Wow, that IS a small box.” The next is, after opening the box: “The box couldn´t be smaller.” One takes it out and thinks: “Hey, that is thin and light”. A second later one notices, that the battery isn´t inside the phone yet – I could go on like this, but who would read it like that.

HARDWARE


It´s thin (8.49mm), but huge – and light (119g). It´s fast, a 1.2GHz Dual Core ARM Cortex A9 chipset, accompanied by ARM Mali 400 MP graphics (developed and made by Samsung, called Exynos 4210) and 1GB of RAM  provide a stutter free Android experience on a WVGA (800×480) Super AMOLED Plus screen (12 subpixels. 16GB of onboard storage (microSD slot is there, too), an 8 Megapixel Camera with LED flash, a 2MP front camera and a HSPA+ capable 3G module make the spec sheet complete.

While the device feels good and solid in my rather large hands (at first I found it a little bit to light and was terribly afraid of breaking it), the hardware has its weaknesses – I don´t want to comment on the plastic skin of the device, which makes it so super light and feels sturdy, but on the button of the SGSII, which are.. well, not that great.

First of all, there is the missing camera button. Not that I would particularly like dedicated camera buttons, but with such a good and quickly starting camera like the one of the Samsung Galaxy SII, this IS annoying, as starting the camera becomes more interesting, as you know that you could do a quick shot if only there was a dedicated button (or maybe a lockscreen option, though that would be slightly inferior in my opinion) to start the camera. But there is none, and so you find yourself searching hecticly for that camera shortcut – I placed one on every homescreen, but that´s an ugly hack.

The three buttons the SGSII has on it the sides, volume up and down and power, are, to make this button game even worse, poorly placed, on opposite sides at the same height. This made me hating them, as I, while short pressing the power button to save power by switching the screen off, often accidentely raised the volume without noticing. Think of sitting in a business meeting (or a lecture at school or university, or in a play at the theatre) and your phone starts ringing loudly – it didn´t happen to me, but that was because I was lucky. I believe that Samsung should have placed both buttons on one side or moved the power button to where the iPhone has its – if engineerly feasible, they should do that for their next superphone, even if that means an extra milimeter of thickness.

These are the most annoying buttons, and I´ve got to say that the one physical, surrounded by two capacative ones, sitting right under the screen, aren´t that great, too. As Samsung seems to be trying to resemble the iPhone as good as possible, they didn´t watch usability here. While there is nothing to complain about the physical Home Button, the other two (you can configure their illumination in the settings, which is a nice touch) are so close to the bright and amazingly colorful screen (I didn´t miss qHD resolution, though more is always better ;) ), without anything that makes a haptic differentiator and at a low height of 14 milimeters, that it occurs that you touch them while trying to access the buttons of an application or the other way round – especially while you´re in a haste.

One more thing: There is no notification LED on the SGSII.

Nontheless, all these issues are neglectible, the Galaxy SII is a great hardware, that looks awesome (while sort of knock-offy), sometimes at expense of usability.

SOFTWARE

TouchWiz 4.0, slightly customized

The Android 2.3.3 software (as reviewed, I will update to 2.3.4 right after this review, unfortunately not OTA) doesn´t come stock but has a layer on top of it, that is custom to Samsung devices and has the name TouchWiz, iteration 4.0. With 4 buttons at the bottom it resembles a well known fruit phone. Besides that, Samsung has replaced many icons, and added in blue as an additional color.

While speed and responsibility aren´t harmed by TouchWiz (which is a notable thing, as other custom layers, like the ones of LG, Motorola (Motoblur), Sony Ericsson, and HTC (Sense) have been reported to slow the phones down – to there defense I have to add that the customizations of the latter two change a lot more),  my eyes and usability are.

It´s a personal thing, but I find these TouchWiz icons ugly in comparison to what Android 2.3.x (Gingerbread) delivers. While the colored buttons in the settings menu may help some, the changed battery icon definitely doesn´t – it´s always green, while the stock icon features different colors that help illustrating the battery status.

Samsung has added some applications in, as all manufacturers seem unable to resist to (this, btw, is a great pro of the Nexus series). Most prominently these are the 4 Hubs (Social Hub, Gaming Hub, Readers Hub and Music Hub), that offer you content for money – even the Social Hub, which just comes with a limited feature set. All of these hubs seem to be an attempt to build an ecosystem like the one Apple offers – but it´s no more than an attempt in my opinion. In addition to this, there is “Samsung Apps”, an application market which offers you a bunch of free Apps, among these many, that are in the Android Market anyway (which is still crowded and appears sort of unorganized). It has some special Samsung applications in the “Utilities” section, which are quite usable though (many of these come preinstalled, but not all), including Kies Air (which is great, you connect your Phone to your PC via WiFi and can access the phones data via your PCs browser), Samsung Remote, Samsung Mobile Print and a tool which you can use to update your phones camera firmware.
The most welcomed additions by Samsung to Android (they have added in a custom email app (somehow connected to that Social Hub crapware, customized dialer, contacts, calendar in a million small ways that don´t add value in my humble opinion) are 3 three pre installed apps: A Video editor, a picture editor and Polaris Office, which allows to view and edit Microsoft Office documents (+ view PDF). While all of these apps surely have a limited feature set (this is mobile!), they come in nice and handy and one is glad to have them. Swype is a nice addition that deserves to be mentioned, too.

A friend of mine just bought a SGSII (as his first real smartphone), and I want to share his first impression with Samsungs Software stuff (translated):

“I’ve now bought the SII 9100: D and I’m still happy ….. I wonder just how much garbage is already on the homescreens – mega lots of windows for gaming hub, movie hub, … etc – if you use them, does that cost money? Are these applications where one has to download stuff et cetera or where you are directed into a store?”

Sounds like fail, Samsung!

USABILITY/MULTITASKING (Software side)

Well, this is Android. Usability on Android has never been exactly award winning, and Samsung didn´t manage to really improve this with TouchWiz 4.0, which makes the whole TouchWiz story even more disappointing. Multitasking on Android means using a “Share” option (when you want to send something to another App) or using the Home Button with a short or a long press. While short press brings you back to the homescreen where you left of (another press then directs you to the first homescreen in TouchWiz (as opposed to the one in the middle on stock Android), a long press on the SGSII´s home button leads you to a Screen showing the “Recently used Applications”. This seems nice, but say you´ve got a notification (new email) and entered your eMail app using the Notification area (which Samsung enhanced nicely, though CM does this in a better way), you won´t find that eMail app among the recent apps that pop up after another long press after you´ve gone elsewhere (e.g. browser, to look things up). Google should really improve this in Ice Cream Sandwich, the next Android release which is going to unite smartphone (Gingerbread, 2.3.*) and tablet (Honeycomb 3.*) branches of Android again.
And then there´s this Menu Button, which, mostly because of bad usability decisions by App developers is a pain in the neck – comparable platforms like iOS or WP7 don´t have such a button, which shows that it isn´t necessary – in fact this button is a relict of the early days when Android was developed to become a Blackberry competitor using Googles services.
None of these things are genuinly Samsungs fault though, it´s a problem of Android itself.

PERFORMANCE

Nothing to complain here. It´s fast, it´s fluid – I experienced crashes using 3rd party applications, but that´s most likely not Samsungs fault. It´s on a speed experience level with the latest fruit phone. However, for those of you into gaming, you may consider to get a nVidia Tegra2 powered device (such as the LG P990 or the Motorola Atrix, which both have more flaws then the SGSII), as these feature the Tegra Zone with special games – what Samsung offers in their “Samsung Apps” can´t compete yet.

BATTERY LIFE
Well, it´s ok. It worked a day for me usually, and I am pretty hard on my phones – the SGSII did better than the Palm Pre Plus or the Acer Stream. I could critisize some of the Power Saving Mode stuff Samsung did (no revert to 2G, etc. pp.), but at least they tried to help users with power saving. What´s annoying: Once battery drops under 10%, you can´t take anymore pictures. Doesn´t make sense to me.
ACCESSORIES

Samsung doesn´t put much into the small box. Among a wallcharger and an USB cable and an everlasting Quick Manual, all you find is a surprisingly good in ear headset, which really sounds good. I am going to get myself one of these for my Palm Pre Plus as it just is a lot better (though not as good in the looks department – but, as you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

VERDICT


The Galaxy SII is a good phone, that offers great performance. Samsung really did a good job with the Exynos chipset – unfortunately the phone doesn´t deserve the title “great” due to aforementioned issues. Many of the issues, mostly those on the software side are fixable – if they aren´t fixed by Samsung, the community will attempt to do so.

+ / Pro

  • huge, great, responsive, colorful Super AMOLED + touchscreen
  • thin
  • Camera
  • fast. really fast!
  • battery life is really ok for such a beast
– / Contra
  • TouchWiz / Samsung Software additions don´t add much
  • no Camera button, overall button placement
  • WiFi isn´t that good
  • Multitasking isn´t always fun thanks to Androids UX

More:
Screenshot Gallery on picasa
More LINMOB content on the SGSII

Android 2.3.3 on the Samsung GT-i8320

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It´s not a huge step and I haven`t tried this out myself yet, but I am very happy to see some Gingerbread coming to the Samsung GT-i8320 (you know, that´s this mid-2009 phone with WVGA AMOLED screen, TI OMAP 3430 which ran a LiMo compliant OS OOTB) – as there is little ..err.. no evidence that anyone is porting over 2.3.x to the Acer Stream it is nice to have one device that runs the most beautiful iteration of Android for smartphones yet at faster than G1 speeds.

Don´t expect this to be perfectly reliable yet, there are a few things that simply don´t work yet:

  • GPRS / 3G data
  • Cameras 
  • GPS
  • SMS are said to be unreliable
  • apparently there are (almost random?) restarts

Still, it´s great to see this project improving. Kudos to everyone involved, especially to mephisto, the chinese mastermind behind this port.

h1droid Project page (Google Code)
Samsung i8320 Forums

LiMo R4 announced, devices to come?

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When LiMo 3 was released, nobody was really excited – it was last year in february, and at that time Intel and Nokia got all the attention for their MeeGo announcement, and besides that, Android was becoming huge at that time. Now, with MeeGo being pretty much dead in the handheld / smartphone form factor, this may change. While there wasn´t much reaction on the announcement of  LiMo 4 during MWC this might change as soon as devices will be out (there is not a single LiMo 3 device available in Europe, btw).

When you look at the LiMo platform architecture overview, and you know what this looked like before, you notice that there is a new UI stack: EFL – Enlightenment Foundation Librarys. In fact, this is a contribution by Samsung, who hired Carsten Haitzler, BDFL of this project, a while ago.

At CeBIT 2011 I had the chance to talk to C. Haitzler for about half an hour, and he told me that “there will be something in the future” – of course he can´t talk about anything, but with Samsung investing in EFL to get a faster UI stack into LiMo, it´s likely that there will be Samsung LiMo based device later this year (he also told me that there is no EFL inside Bada), I guess that there will be an announcement in summer. I´ll not speculate just quote a few lines he wrote in his blog:

Samsung is putting real resources behind EFL and using it to make a production-ready OS. The OS not only is Linux based, It uses all the other infrastructure from Linux (DBus, Glibc, Xorg, and much much much more). It is also going to be Open Source (GPL, LGPL etc.) and with Opensource upstream gaining contributions back from Samsung.

This is a real effort and not just some research experiment. Stay tuned. Things will only improve from here. If you were hoping for a slew of MeeGo handsets, then maybe you should also keep an eye out for something from Samsung (actual product details not available yet – if it be a tablet, handset or TV or anything else for that matter).

Many of you will ask: Why LiMo? This question has to be asked, I totally agree. The great thing about LiMo is that it builds on “real GNU/Linux” – Android doesn´t, it just uses the kernel and some more small parts, but it has it´s own framebuffer UI stack (no X), its own C library “bionic” (no (e)glibc) and so on. Still, opensource people haven´t been exactly exited about LiMo – LiMo phones aren´t hackable (LiMo2 phones like the Samsung GT-i8320 (sold as Vodafone 360 H1 in Europe) have non writeable rootfs (cramfs) and locked bootloaders, and there were open alternatives like Openmoko. With Openmoko no more in the smartphone market, and it´s dated at release hardware aging even more, this issue is partly solved – while contribution and hacking on LiMo still will be difficult with LiMo being a middleware and an IP pool. Consumers didn´t really like LiMo phones, either – LiMo based deviceslacked an ecosystem in the past, there were few native applications and no free SDK. But these issues are addressable, and with EFL, next generation LiMo based phones will have a blazing fast UI which certainly will be fascinating, and feel more fluid than comparable Android devices. There might be a comeback.

100! … MWC!

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While this is the 100s post on this blog which I wanted to kill a few weeks ago in favour of brimborium.net, I will not fuss about why it is so great to have written 100 entries in bad english, but try to summarize what I like about all these new great MWC devices and announcements.

Let´s start with the latter. MeeGo. Nokia and Intel join their forces (Maemo and Moblin, respectively), to fight against Android reduce fragmentation and create a strong platform for mobile devices from smartphones to netbooks. Of course nobody knows how this will turn out, but anyway, Nokia and Intel both are pretty strong companys in their markets so this might become a strong platform. I believe it will, there have been some uttering that Nokia and Intel were rather late, but I don´t think that this is true, platforms (and markets in general) appear, evolve and become abandonned – there is nothing like an “end of history”, at least if there´s enough momentum behind a new player. BTW: The first MeeGo release will be what would have been Moblin 2.2.

That´s it with platforms, isn´t it? No, it´s not. I should mention Samsungs bada (meaning ocean in korean) and of course Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsofts new platform for mobile devices. Both are non-PC like operating system (as the old Windows Mobile was), but made for todays social smartphones, which are always connected to social networks – if you are interested in Windows Phone 7 Series, I recommend to read this engadget article. And bada? We know what it is, but we don’t really know what the software stack looks like. There might be a Linux kernel, but it might be RTOS, or whatever. The UI is likely to use some librarys used as well in a project which we know as “Enlightenment”, as Enlightenment’s lead Carsten “Rasterman” Haitzler has been working for Samsung lately. I said that we knew what bada is, but did not explain? Well, it is a part of Samsungs strategy to make smartphones more affordable, so one might think of it as an operating system that works on rather poor hardware, something like a “smartphone operating system for dumbphones”. But the hardware of Samsungs first bada phone, the Samsung Wave, tells a different story. Samsung is creating it’s own platform with an application market of it´s own, to monetize these smartphones even more – if you earn you money while the device is being used, you can sell it at lower price points, a simple equation that is, though I believe it is a mix of both strategies mentionned before, the Wave is just high end to get attention for the new platform. We will see how this will evolve, maybe Samsung will abandon some platforms as they have got Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian in their smartphone portfolio, but you never know. Let’s just hope that bada gets a bing widget (or application) ;)

Let’s talk about devices. I already mentioned the Wave, we are told that bada runs super fast and that the screen is pretty cool, apparently “Super AMOLED” has a fine daylight readability (AMOLED sucked at that), but the Samsung phone I would in fact prefer is the Android beamer phone called, guess it, Beam. The inbuilt beamer might be more of a fun feature, but as this beast has a huge battery, it might be interesting, even if you do not plan to use the beamer frequently. BTW, I personally will not get any Samsung phone in the near future, as the SGH-i780 was delightful in terms of build quality, but Samsung was lazy (and is e.g. with the Galaxy) with software updates.

HTC didn’t manage to get me surprised, they have announced the “Desire” which is, as Android hacker Cyanogen stated, a “Nexus One done right”. Ok, it has Sense (which I do not really like), but this thing is unlikely to sell bad. In addition to that there is one more Android phone, the “Hero” follow up “Legend”, which isn’t that legendary.
Of course all these were leaked before, the only thing we were missing were the names.

Motorola.. Did they announce anything really cool for the western markets? I guess they did not, and hey, the Droid/Milestone is still pretty cool and there is plenty of time to replace it later this year by another top offering.

Sony Ericsson announced more than one Android phone, having launched more than one new XPeria phone, the X10, X10mini and X10mini pro, which all run a customized UI on top of “Donut”. Still the form factor of the mini devices is definitely interesting.

That should be it for smartphones.. Oh no, I forgot the upcoming Intel Moorestown based MeeGo beasts, like the Aava Mobile x86 smartphone. Aava Mobile is stating to offer “The World’s First Open Mobile Device” – and while we know that this is not true, it is still a pretty cool thing.

Then: Loads of tablets, the first ION2 Netbook, and a device that is my favourite 2010 device until now: The Notion Ink Adam tablet. But this post is too long right now, so I will write about that later.

linmob weeky roundup (6 / week 12): few news, but at least some

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Another week has passed by and it is time for another round up of what happened.

Besides Android smartphone speculations and rumors (e.g. there will be a Samsung branded Android running smartphone as soon as Q3, but it will be just a Samsung branded HTC Sapphire / Magic device.. and Samsung Omnia HD might run Android, as well), there was really great news this week.

The OpenSource BlackBerry is great news, don’t you thengadget’s mobile OS shootout.ink so?

Ok, might be that interesting for everybody. iPhone OS 3.0 isn’t really Linux related, but as it is a competitor, it has to be mentionned. You should read engadget’s mobile OS shootout.

What are further findings of this week?

Well, you should definitely read Andreas Costantinous opinion about the LiMo platform. I believe that LiMo’s idea wasn’t the worst we’ve ever seen (damn it, I still have to write that article about LiMo…), but now that we have several Linux based platforms like Android, Palm’s WebOS and good old Maemo, that don’t use the benefits of the LiMo platform, and as LiMo-based ALP and Azingo missed their timelines, they should definitely re-think their approach. The market doesn’t wait.

Additionally I would like to link the Openmoko Community Update, but it isn’t ready yet…
Check out the latest OM Community Updates!

[UPDATE 03/22/2009]

I was a little bit lazy yesterday, so enjoy two mobile internet experience related things that might interest you:

Fennec 1.0 Beta
is out, and there is a webpage with two nice videos of the soon to come mobile firefox.

A french video (of the SFR HTC Magic) shows that there will be a new zooming mechanism on Android 1.5, circular zooming (via Android Smartphone).

One more thing: Koolu has some more, newer Android beta images, featuring a new installation process and faster boot-up. But as they aren’t officially announced (at least I couldn’t find an announcement on koolu.com), I would just recommend you to find them yourselves.. ;)