a reMarkable paper tablet

I am late on this one, as I could have written about this way earlier. But I neglected to do so because it seemed to be just another good idea that will not work out—neither in the market place, nor technologically.

After this dark precursor on a very white device, the reMarkable paper tablet, let me start by pointing out that this is a device that comes close to fulfill my “Digital Assistant” “vision” I uttered in late 2009. In fact, it is the device that comes the closest of the countless devices I had for brief intervals of time (* = still have it): Continue reading “a reMarkable paper tablet”

10 Days with Chromebooks

I now spent ten days with my  Chromebook. Pardon me, it is actually Chromebooks. It didn’t take me long to realize, that this is a device that is better off connected, and so I purchased yet another one, this time with 3G1.

I quickly went “Bleeding edge”. In fact, I find the development alphas stable enough. And I put my Chromebook in dev mode to crouton it. What I mean: I installed a Chroot environment of Ubuntu Raring (13.04) with LXDE. Works great, too, and it is certainly great to be able to run LibreOffice for some documents or Firefox for the fun of it2. On the other hand, I can’t get DVD playback (video) to work, which might actually a kernel related thing (I really have no idea), and so I will try out the other “real standard Linux” option, Chrubuntu, rather soon.

What else happened? Not much. The iPad is catching dust. I hate booting up my Thinkpad Edge3, because it is so heavy and has worse input devices. Unfortunately, it does not really feel much speedier, either. But let’s get back to the iPad. With the Chromebook loaded with my Data SIM (and thus the iPad 2 being forced on WiFi) the iPad is a lot less useful on the go. The only app I miss on the Chromebook is Salvatore Rizzi’s Reeder, but I could really move my data into one of the more beautiful Google Reader Feedly alternatives like Feedbin.

So the iPad is still in my daily bag. It is with me on the both commutes and during lunch break, but I rarely touch it. Everything I want to do works well enough on the Chromebook so I don’t bother taking the iPad out of my bag. In fact, I think that I will need to take my hacked Barnes&Noble Nook Simple Touch with me. A smaller form factor could actually add something. But then I might as well replace the Nook by something else…

  1. XE303C12-H01DE, as Samsung call it, the other one (slightly better build, slightly better screen, slightly better battery life) is going back where it came from (eBay) []
  2. Firefox on a Chromebook + Chrome on a Firefox OS smartphone… That would be fun. []
  3. Lenovo E320 []

Barnes&Noble seemingly do not understand the tablet business

UPDATE (3 May 2013):Google Play is coming to Barnes&Nobles Nook HD(+) tablets.

Yesterday I had a great day at work: I was allowed to play all morning. The toy: A Barnes&Noble Nook HD+. It was all great fun, except for some annoyances of the Nook, which where the reason for me being allowed to play with it.

Today morning I read (using the soon-to-be-extinct Google Reader) a great post by the great Nate Hoffelder, who runs a blog called “The Digital Reader”, commenting on a B&N press release (B&N announced that they will allow In-App-Sales in their Nook App Store) that this would not help them much. I do agree with him there, but let me describe my impressions of the Nook HD+ first.

When you see the Nook HD+, it is a nice looking, decent device that doesn’t exactly cry “Here I am”. The only odd thing to notice when looking at it is the hole in the lower left side, which has already been a distinguishing design features on previous Nook tablet device, namely the Nook Color and its successor, the Nook Tablet. Being an 8.9″ tablet, this is not a small one, yet as it is almost (portrait mode assumed) as tall (9.46″) as an iPad and only 0.9 inches narrower (width: 6.41″), you are surprised how light it is when you take it in your hand. It does not feel cheap in any way however, nor did I (as an avid user of my iPad 2) notice the extra thickness (0.45″).

But then there is the software, which does not live up to the expectations raised by the great hardware (to me it felt better than my iPad 2) and the fact that there is a TI OMAP4470 used for computing performance: The heavily customized Android 4.0.4 is not as fast as it could be, and to be blunt: I don’t believe that there is anything good about it despite the overall brighter colour scheme, that looks friendlier than the darkness ICS provides by default.

Anyway, it’s not even the looks or the stuttering. It’s another thing that has led to disapointment at work: The Nook HD+ does not allow for 3rd party apps to be installed, and in addition to that, you can’t even install one of the few free apps in the Nook App Store without handing over your credit card details to B&N. This, along with the unwillingness to circumvent these stupid restrictions led to a decision that will render this very Nook HD+ a nice dust catcher and nothing else.

Now why does this lead to me believing that B&N simply doesn’t get it? I have a strange feeling that they don’t understand the difference between an eReader and a tablet. I am not talking about the difference in hardware (better specs, LCD screen, larger battery on a tablet) but about the difference that occurs in users minds when they approach such a tablet device compared to an eReader: Tablets are multi purpose devices, just like computers, only easier to use and more comfortable to handle. And here the Nook App Store + the no 3rd party apps thing come in as a huge letdown: Your device is less a multi purpose device if it has less apps.

Back in the days of the Nook Color and Nook Tablet B&N was able to sell rather large volumes of their tablets into the market. With overall Nook sales are going down (due to better tablet alternatives and outdated eInk displays), there is little chance of B&N getting the many more apps into the Nook App Store. They need to rethink their “no-3rd-party apps” policy, even if this will make them loose App Sales in their store. They need to open up. This might save them, but then there is the possibility that this will be to little to late.

On iPad. And tablets in general.

This weekend I finally decided to de-jailbreak my iPad 2 and get iOS 6 onto it. A dumb idea, as it turns out, as this de-jailbreaking makes the iPad even more inconvenient. It’s not that the Jailbreak made it so much better, but it offered a few features like the “Quick Settings” in the Notification area, that are really missing once you have ever had them. (In fact, I miss them even more, as I disabled 3G before flashing using these settings, and now can’t enable it again).

Lately, I like my hacked Nook Simple Touch a lot more as a tablet than my iPad. It’s not only significantly smaller and lighter, the smaller size is still a definite improvement over a smartphone. And on Android, you are just so much more free, you can use simple stuff like a file manager to get your stuff on and off the device. That’s the great thing about Android: In most cases, you’ll find a work around around stupid restrictions imposed on you by the manufacturer that is rather simple.

Nexus 7. Or why I won’t buy it.

The Nexus 7 came out as leaked, and while I must say that I like the improvements Google managed to put into Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”), I won’t get the first tablet to run it (officially).

Not that I wasn’t in the market for a 7” tablet – the 6” Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch really makes me long for a nice 7” tablet – just because you can carry it with you, wherever you go without needing to carry some kind of a bag – wearing a jacket is just enough.

However, the Nexus 7 not only runs on NVidia’s Tegra 3, it does not support any kind of a video out. Seriously, this makes the Tegra 3’s USP (its immense video power, if we are to believe NVidia’s marketing department) not worth much. And there are other shortcomings. There is no way to add extra storage (in default mode, I am sure that there will be some decent hacks), you are limited to 8 or 16 Gigabytes, which in reality is even less, as the OS and apps are placed on this scarce storage too.

Let’s come to a few good points. The price is pretty good, considering that this is real 2012 hardware and not some old stuff, and the way they axed features in order to make this price is actually pretty well done: The display (1280x800px; IPS) is decent. There is one camera, for video chat – which is the most useful camera purpose on a tablet, imho. Android 4.1 is even better than the already awesome Android 4.0. Google is finally building its own content eco system – and there we are back at the cons. Much like Amazons $199 tablet (Kindle Fire), this device is mostly a frontend to some kind of content store – only slightly less locked down.

Yeah, I must admit that I am picky. I don’t want a Tegra 3 because of nVidia being “not so good” to “horrible” at supplying Linux drivers. I say “nope” because there is no video output – I would love a 7” tablet to power a dumb Lapdock, like the one Motorola supplied with the Atrix 4G, or the Clambook – just for the use cases where you need to do some work, but wouldn’t necessarily need your real, full-fledged notebook.

But then, after all, the Nexus 7 is definitely not the worst choice for an affordable, 7” inch Android tablet for Android enthusiasts. It’s much rather among the best choices you can make, if you can live with its shortcomings (storage, connectivity) – I can’t.

iPad 2. First Impressions

So I got myself an iPad 2, to be precise the one with integrated 3G, in order to be connected everywhere.

Why, you may ask, did I do that? Why didn’t you buy a nice honeycomb tablet?
Or a MeeGo tablet, like that good old WeTab? Well, first of all, I have been noticing that I have noticed that I have become real picky about bad usability, and Honeycomb IMHO isn’t that great in terms of that – and as I felt like I would need 3G for my use case, the otherwise o.k. HP TouchPad didn’t seem exactly suitable.
Besides, I am now in the media business and at least as far as the German market is concerned, the iPad is currently THE content platform – almost the only.

When I unboxed it, I became very excited, after having installed iOS 5 on this device, I knew I had entered the often mentioned reality distortion field, that Apple devices are known to impose on their users.

Right now, as I am writing this, I am less than overwhelmed, as I stumbled on a few annoyances, despite those that I expected anyway (iTunes, being forced to spend money in the App Store to have an usable device after all, there isn’t even a voice recorder preinstalled), and so on. The most annoying thing I stumbled upon: if an app (or media file in iTunes) is larger than 20 MB, you will be forced to download this over WiFi, which simply doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I can’t understand why this is so, as downloads in the browser work nicely without any hassle, no matter how large the requested files are – while a warning would certainly be nice to those with a very limited data plan, being forced to find a hotspot near you is a real PITA.

On the other hand, everything is really smooth. I had a few apps that didn’t work too well (itself or in combination with that new split keyboard), some even crashed, but that maybe related to the new features and thus changes Apple introduced with iOS 5. In general, everything’s smooth, and those Music and painting apps are something I’ve been longing for for quite a long time, so I really enjoy that.

But then, there are those mixed feelings again, because of all these limitations, the fact, that I miss certain open source apps and know that it’s virtually impossible to ever use them on this device (more unlikely than it would be on Android, whether it would even be easily doable on the HP TouchPad using the homebrew software Xecutah) – I don’ t really know whether I will actually keep this tablet, which doesn’t lead the tablet market for no reason.

I will keep you updated about me and my iPad – don’t worry, it won’t be more often then, say, monthly.

MWC2011: Day 2

(Noteworthy) Devices:

  • ZTE Light 2: Tablet, 7” PixelQi WSVGA screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz single core QSD825*, 512MB Ram, 4GB integrated memory, µSDHC, running Android 2.2 (Froyo), integrated 3G, 2 cameras: PixelQi (ZTE sounds like higher quantities than NotionInk ships (at least compared to what they shipped up to now))
  • HTC Flyer: Tablet, 7” WSVGA screen with stylus support (piezoelectric touchscreen?), Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.5GHz QSD8255, 1GB Ram,  32GB internal memory, µSDHC, Android 2.4 (Gingerbread) + Sense, WiFi or 3G + WiFi (no voicecalls, though), 2 cameras: netbooknews.com
  • Fun fact: Samsung won´t release another 7” tablet device, they believe in the 10.1” form factor. Apparently Galaxy Tab did sell below Samsung’s expectations.

Besides these it was a rather boring day, not many exciting new devices (ok, HTC released several new smartphones, but all Sense, all single core —> not exiting).

Besides that – and rather related to Nokia´s recent announcement to settle with Microsoft Windows Phone 7 than to this Mobile World Congress – open source groups have been attacking Nokia´s move that leaves MeeGo as a playground for the future, check it out at techeye.net or read the statement in the SHR blog. Nontheless I do hope that there will be some efforts to port MeeGo to devices like the GTA04 refreshed Openmoko Neo FreeRunner. I will certainly try to start to bring this to a cheap EOL device (still above mid level hardware – it’s not the Palm Pre) – announcement will be as soon I have got something to show off. Don´t freak out, though.

More on the iPad.

iPad

What I have been reading during the last hour, was a lot of criticism, lots of people seem to be disappointed of the iPad.
Well, that´s pretty much normal, afair – take a look at all these latest launches of Apple products. All these rumored features in the time before whispered by tons of experts and “experts” are too much to be delivered at one launch – and no one would expect any other company to bring that much innovation to the markets in single products.

Of course it is dissapointing that the iPad does not support Videochat, does not support Flash (I do not believe that Flash is the best technology for flash video, anyway), is unable to beam you to the Maledives – oh, wait, that wasn´ t rumored? I am so sorry.

The dissapointment is the lack of multitasking – but I do believe, that Apple will add that, once they have it worked out in a way that is appropriate for such a tablet device. But still, even though I do not love Apple: This is the best tablet to date, and it will most likely be the best tablet when it will be available. Of course, the hardware is not perfect, a flat bottom would be better for on table use, iPad is a bit heavy, or think of a second dock connector for keyboard use in landscape mode (which was much more laptop like). And the screen will (compared to PixelQi solutions) suck at outdoor use I bet. Or more video out options, like Display Port or HDMI. I don´ t have to mention that I would love USB Host on a device of that size, do I?

All nice to have, but not that necessary – because it has Apples software on it, which is just impressive and has huge competitive advantages like all the iPhone Apps and iTunes. No other company will (ever?) be able to offer those.

And let´s not forget one other thing: This is a home entertainment device rather than a mobile companion device – battery life, the screen – all this makes it a device for at home use, particulary when you are on holiday and stay in a cabin or so. A leisure device with some sunday work features. Maybe I am wrong here, and I believe future iPads will be different, better.

Let´s be realistic: This is Apples´ first torpedo to sink netbooks (meaning: the devices between notebooks and sub 4 inch devices. Not perfect, it will most certainly miss its target, the ship will not sink. But better be scared of the next one. The iPhone 3GS was the one that sold best until now – I believe a 3rd generation iPad will be similar. If Apple just listens a little bit to the complaints of the people, this generation will sell more than O.K. and future iterations will be .. just fantastic, at least as far as sales figures go.

iPad. First thoughts.

I was expecting a lot of Apples new device. Having had read most of the rumors, I believed that it would have a 9.7″ capacitive multitouch screen (because there were these rumors of Apple having ordered large quantities of these), I believed the “own silicon” rumor (as Apple aquired P.A. Semi years ago), I did not believe in those Verizon CDMA rumors (simply because GSM is almost worldwide). So, I was pretty close to what Apple delivered announced today.

But still I am pretty impressed having I only seen text and pictures at gdgt.com. The only thing I can think of is “Well Done, Apple!” (And: “Goodbye JooJoo (the ex Crunchpad) and others!”).

Of course, yeah, Wacom like stylus input for handwriting (as we know it) was nice to have. Or voice recognition (which is most likely just a software matter, if iPad has a microphone). And Apple was apparently pretty silent about video, so most likely no 1080p like nVidia Tegra (II) powered solutions… besides: 4:3, not 16:9, so not that great for “mobile cinema”, anyway. And a personal issue: Openess.. (Free Software? Apple!? Rather not.)

But besides these few points, this is a great product. A impressive one. Just like the iPhone was. Just look at the accesoires – a keyboard dock, and a bag, which is a stand. The fact that they made productivity software for this device. They didn´t forget too much, did they?

(More might follow later.)