Monthly Archives: February 2011

Last Minute Engineering Issues Led Apple To Pull Retina Display From iPad 2

According to Engaget, an “engineering issues” have led Apple to make last-minute design changes to iPad 2, these changes will cause to launch iPad 2 which scheduled to see the light by March 2nd without a Retina Display 😦

What’s the cause of the switch? Well our sources weren’t crystal clear on the exact reasons, but the gist of what was explained to us centered around vague “engineering issues” which may have forced some changes at the eleventh hour. It’s worth noting once again that these sources have been dead right on specific Apple plans and specifications for unannounced products in the past, and we have no reason to believe these changes are due to anything more than legitimate engineering decisions made close to launch.

According to the floating rumors, it’s expected to see a thinner iPad, 512MB RAM, more powerful CPU with A5 processor, front camera and more. In the same event, it’s rumored to see a preview for iOS 5 for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and releasing for iOS 4.3 GM (Gold Master).

iOS 4.3 GM to Release Next Week?

BGR sources has claimed that it looks like Apple has finalized the code for long awaited iOS 4.3. The sources also told that iOS 4.3 GM will be released on the upcoming iPad 2 Media Event.

For who don’t know, Apple has released the first beta of iOS 4.3 bringing multitouch gesturesand more, followed by iOS 4.3 beta 2 with the removal of this awesome gestures, and finally iOS 4.3 beta 3 with bugs fixing.

Apple to Preview iOS 5 for iPhone 4 on iPad 2 Media Event

Closed sources to Engaget claims that Apple is going to show off a preview version of iOS 5 at the long overdue iPad 2 media event which scheduled to be held by March 2nd at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

It’s also almost guaranteed that we’ll see the next version of iOS (number 5 in all likelihood, along with its SDK for devs), and an expansion of Apple’s cloud services (that part is a little… foggy right now). Of course, that will perfectly set up Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 5 in June, which is when iPad owners can likely expect to be using the new software. Regardless, we’ll have the goods come next week, so stay tuned!

By the way it’s expected to release iOS 5 with the iPhone 5 by the next summer, till now there’s no any official word about release date or even its features.

MacBook Pro 2011: Intel Sandy Bridge, Thunderbolt, FaceTime HD & More

Apple today unveiled its new line of MacBook Pro notebooks with next-generation Intel processors Sandy Bridge and the chip giant’s high-speed data-transfer technology ‘Thunderbolt’, which allows users to transfer files at 10 gigabits per second.

The new MacBook Pro 2011 line is up to twice as fast as the previous generation, using the latest dual-core and quad-core Intel Core processors that combine graphics and computing on the same piece of silicon. The company has also changed up its graphics solution, going from the Nvidia GeForce 330M to the AMD Radeon 6750.

Apple’s new MacBook Pro computers will starts at $1,199 for the 13-inch model and $2,499 for the 17-inch. All models include a new FaceTime HD camera with triple the resolution of the previous generation for widescreen video calls.

Full press release is as follows:

Apple Updates MacBook Pro with Next Generation Processors, Graphics & Thunderbolt I/O Technology

CUPERTINO, California-February 24, 2011—Apple today updated the industry-leading MacBook Pro family with next generation processors and graphics, high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology and a new FaceTime HDcamera. Featuring the very latest dual-core and quad-core Intel Core processors, the entire MacBook Pro line is up to twice as fast as the previous generation.

“The new MacBook Pro brings next generation dual and quad Core processors, high performance graphics, Thunderbolt technology and FaceTime HD to the great design loved by our pro customers,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Thunderbolt is a revolutionary new I/O technology that delivers an amazing 10 gigabits per second and can support every important I/O standard which is ideal for the new MacBook Pro.”

Starting at $1,199 the new 13-inch MacBook Pro offers amazing value and performance in a compact design. The highly portable 13-inch MacBook Pro features Intel Core i5 and Core i7 dual-core processors up to 2.7 GHz and Intel HD Graphics 3000. The powerful 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro models feature quad-core Core i7 processors up to 2.3 GHz and AMD Radeon HD graphics processors with up to 1GB of video memory for high performance gaming, pro video editing and graphics intensive applications.

MacBook Pro is the first computer on the market to include the groundbreaking Thunderbolt I/O technology. Developed by Intel with collaboration from Apple, Thunderbolt enables expandability never before possible on a notebook computer. Featuring two bi-directional channels with transfer speeds up to an amazing 10Gbps each, Thunderbolt delivers PCI Express directly to external high performance peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters. Thunderbolt also supports DisplayPort for high resolution displays and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. Freely available for implementation on systems, cables and devices, Thunderbolt technology is expected to be widely adopted as a new standard for high performance I/O.

The MacBook Pro now includes a built-in FaceTime HD camera with triple the resolution of the previous generation for crisp, widescreen video calls. With Apple’s innovative FaceTime video calling software, the new camera allows high definition video calls between all new MacBook Pro models and supports standard resolution calls with other Intel-based Macs, iPhone 4 and the current generation iPod touch. FaceTime is included with all new MacBook Pro models and is available for other Intel-based Macs from the Mac App Store for 99 cents. The MacBook Pro lineup continues to feature its gorgeous aluminum unibody enclosure, glass Multi-Touch trackpad, LED-backlit widescreen display, illuminated full-size keyboard and 7-hour battery.

As the industry’s greenest notebook lineup, every Mac notebook achieves EPEAT Gold status and meets Energy Star 5.0 requirements, setting the standard for environmentally friendly notebook design. Each unibody enclosure is made of highly recyclable aluminum and comes standard with energy efficient LED-backlit displays that are mercury-free and made with arsenic-free glass. Mac notebooks contain no brominated flame retardants, are PVC-free and are constructed with recyclable materials.

Every Mac comes with Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the world’s most advanced operating system, and iLife, Apple’s innovative suite of applications for creating and sharing great photos, movies and music. Snow Leopard builds on more than a decade of innovation and includes multiple features for portable computing such as Multi-Touch navigation, advanced wireless networking, easy file sharing, automated data backup and intelligent power management. The new iLife ’11 features iPhoto with stunning full screen views for browsing, editing and sharing photos; iMovie with powerful easy-to-use tools to transform home videos into fun theatrical trailers; and GarageBand with new ways to improve your playing and create great sounding songs.

Pricing & Availability

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro, 15-inch MacBook Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro are available through the Apple Store (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available in two configurations: one with a 2.3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 320GB hard drive starting at $1,199; and one with a 2.7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 500GB hard drive starting at $1,499. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is available in two models: one with a 2.0 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6490M and 500GB hard drive starting at $1,799 and one with a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive starting at $2,199. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro features a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive and is priced at $2,499.

Configure-to-order options include faster quad-core processors up to 2.3 GHz, additional hard drive capacity up to 750GB, solid state storage up to 512GB, more memory up to 8GB DDR3, antiglare and high-resolution display options and AppleCare Protection Plan. Additional technical specifications and configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at http://www.apple.com/macbookpro.

We will soon be posting review videos for new MacBook pros.

Android Honeycomb Review

Google doesn’t mince its words: the search giant told us that smartphone versions of Android weren’t ready for tablets, and that we should wait for its slate-specific build, and boy have they delivered. Android 3.0 Honeycomb marks a significant shift from the Android 2.x we’re familiar with on handsets, with a refreshed UI and functionality to make the most of tablets’ expansive touchscreens. It debuts on the Motorola XOOM but we’re already expecting it on the imminent Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG G-Slate; check out the full Android 3.0 Honeycomb review after the cut.

 

User Interface

Android’s UI has gradually evolved into the multi-desktop icon and widget layout we’re used to on smartphones today, and Honeycomb pushes that paradigm to suit larger displays. The homescreen is a horizontally scrolling array of five panes, each accommodating an 8×7 grid of icons and widgets. As on handsets, the smallest icon is a 1×1 square, but various other sizes of widget are available, and usually offering greater interactivity than previously seen. So, for instance, the Gmail widget not only shows the most recent three messages (whether in your inbox or sorted by label) but can be scrolled to show older emails as well.

Gone are the hardware buttons for home, back, menu and search, replaced by on-screen controls on the persistent Action Bar (at the top of the screen) and System Bar (at the bottom of the screen). The action bar changes contextually depending on which app is in use; at the desktop, for instance, there’s a Google search button, Voice Actions trigger, Apps menu button and homescreen editing button. Other apps can use the space for software-specific buttons, such as search or share in the YouTube viewer. If you highlight a word or sentence – in the same manner as you would on an Android phone, tapping a word and then dragging out the selection using pull-tabs at either end – then the copy, paste, share, web-search and local find options show up in the action bar, rather than in a floating menu next to the highlight. It’s consistent, but it does lead to more reaching around the display.

The system bar, meanwhile, replicates the functions of the hardware buttons on phones, with back, home and the app switcher on the left and notifications, statuses, clock, wireless status and battery on the right. Although always on-screen, it dims in a “lights out mode” during full-screen apps, such as video playback. Tapping pulls up a more comprehensive status display, showing date, which wireless network you’re connected to, and a shortcut to volume settings.

Android’s notifications system has always been reasonably good, but the Honeycomb system is more comprehensive again. The extra screen space allows for more information in each alert, so messages and missed calls show caller ID as well as a contact photo if available, while music playing in the background has play/pause and track-skip controls so that you can navigate your tracklist without having to leave the app you’re currently in. Notifications can be individually cleared, too, rather than Android 2.x’s universal “Clear All” option. It’s not as discrete as, say, webOS’ system, but it’s far preferable to iOS 4.x’s clunky pop-up notifications on the iPad, and it fits in a lot more control and information than on the HP TouchPad.

The app switcher, too, is a solid improvement on Android phones and iOS, offering preview images of each app’s status as you left it rather than merely icons. Tap the app switcher button in the system bar, and list of software pops up along the left edge of the screen, showing up to five titles at any one time, and scrolling to show others. Google is keen to point out that this is “true” multitasking, and as such apps continue running – unlike the iOS system – even when they don’t have focus. That makes for an easier time for developers, who don’t have to work with a specific set of background process APIs, but it does leave Android responsible for managing the polar demands of battery life and multi-app performance.

Text entry is via the new on-screen keyboard, following Apple’s example of shifting the number row to a secondary layout, but managing to fit in a dedicated Tab key for shuttling between text boxes. There are also contextual keys depending on the app you’re in, so the browser offers a dedicated .com button (which can be pressed and held for other suffixes) or emoticon button, depending. Thanks to the simultaneous multitouch display you can hold down one button – say, shift – and tap others; alternatively a double-tap on shift sets Caps Lock. We had no problems inputing text (you can pair a Bluetooth keyboard if you want to do more intensive entry) and the autocomplete system works well, suggesting URLs in the browser and words (with an easy to use method of adding to the dictionary) everywhere else.

In most places, Google has stretched out the standard Android interface with some added extras. Searches, for instance, not only query your browser history, apps, contacts and music, but can look through third-party apps like your Kindle ebook library, Dropbox files and Evernote notes. Alternatively, you can tell Honeycomb not to search through any particular app, to bypass personalized searches, and whether or not to take into account your current location.

Searches themselves throw up results as you type, with a predicted list of auto-complete terms on the left and the apps, contacts, Google search and others on the right. On the XOOM’s Tegra 2 processor there was no lag in waiting for results to arrive.

Voice Actions use the same system as on Android phones, and you can use the same natural commands to load apps as well as trigger basic searches. So, you can say “Listen to…” and then name an audio track for the media player to play, or “Navigate to… ” and a destination for Google Maps to locate. As usual, the processing is done server-side, not on the Honeycomb tablet itself, and so you’ll need a data connection if you want to use voice commands.

Everything is wrapped up in a slick, elegant theme, which doesn’t dumb down the tablet experience but which isn’t unduly intimidating for the first-time user. Buttons pop up as you need them and dash away when you don’t, and the consistency between apps – even third-party titles, more on which later – should silence many previous criticisms of Android feeling disjointed in comparison to iOS. Animations and effects are neat, without delaying navigation, and there are little touches – like icons leaving their exact outlines behind when you’re dragging them around the homescreen – which show Google has paid real attention to the overall feel of Honeycomb.

Browser

Most tablets will be predominantly used for web browsing, and so the Internet experience needs to be good. The Android 3.0 browser gains tabs rather than the smartphone version’s windows, and supports the usual multitouch pinch-zoom gestures. On the XOOM’s Tegra 2 it’s fast, too, rendering pages with little delay and scrolling cleanly.

Some of that speed may be because of the absence of Flash, however. While Adobe has confirmed that Flash Player 10.2 for Honeycomb is in the works, it won’t be available at launch. That means no in-page animations, streaming video or other Flash content, just as you find on the iPad. HTML5 is supported, at least, and Motorola says it will only be a matter of weeks until Flash Player is available for Android tablets. We’ll update this review as soon as it’s released.

Private browsing with “Incognito” windows is supported, bypassing the combined bookmarks and history pane (as well as cookies), and there’s the option for bookmark synch with Google’s Chrome browser. There’s also the option to automatically sign into pages requiring Google credentials using the user ID and password Android has on file, which can save time (though isn’t much use if, say, you have separate Google accounts for business and home).

More useful are the Quick Controls, an option turned on in the browser’s settings. Triggered by a finger-swipe from the left or right edges of the display, they’re a crescent of shortcuts for easy access to forward/back, page refresh, Goto, menu, bookmarks and add-to-bookmarks. If your thumb is long enough, you can navigate back and forth through pages while still holding the tablet in your hand, though of course URL entry or picking from a list of bookmarks requires you to tap elsewhere on the screen. A set of directional arrows and a selection key would be a neat addition to the Quick Controls array.

Messaging and Calendar

Android’s potentially confusing dual email apps continue in Honeycomb, with Gmail getting separate software from all other email types. If you rely on Gmail then you can use the dedicated app, with support for push-messaging, labels and multiple accounts. The standard Email app, meanwhile, has POP, IMAP and Exchange support. Both get a multi-pane layout that’s new to Android 3.0, splitting out the list of headers on the left and a conversation view of the messages themselves on right.

Liberal use of folders and labels is made, and there’s now drag & drop support for pulling messages out assigning them to the different categories. Any sort of jerkiness or lag would be a real issue here, but thankfully Honeycomb coasts along slickly with no problems whatsoever. You can use both apps simultaneously, of course. Altogether it’s one of the best interpretations of email on a tablet device that we’ve seen, bringing across some common-sense desktop behaviors but not losing the finger-friendliness a slate demands.

New with Honeycomb is Google Talk support for video calls as well as IM conversations, taking advantage of front-facing cameras such as the Motorola XOOM’s 2-megapixel webcam. Individual contacts can be placed on the homescreen, with indicators showing their GTalk status. Calls are initiated from a text conversation; hit the camera icon and the video call rings.

By default Honeycomb uses the front-facing camera, but – assuming the tablet has one – you can also switch to the rear camera by tapping the screen and choosing the camera-flip icon. As well as Android 3.0 slates, GTalk video calls work with the Mac and PC desktop app, a free download. Picture quality was strong over WiFi and 3G connections (assuming the latter had a decent signal), though the call setup takes a few extra steps compared to Face Time on iOS devices.

Like the email apps, the Honeycomb Calendar has been boosted to take advantage of the larger screen size. In day and week views, a pinch-zoom gestures changes the grid layout; multiple calendars can be synchronized with a single view. Even with a week’s layout on-screen, there’s still room for a date-grid for the entire month, with the different calendars listed underneath (and easily toggled on and off). It works just as you’d expect from Google Calendar in the browser. The one odd omission is an agenda view, all the more surprising given that calendar search results are pulled into a brilliant, comprehensive list with pop-out details. We’re not sure why Google didn’t offer this list as an alternative view.

Camera

Android’s smartphone camera UI is one of the less successful interfaces, so we’re glad to see Google bringing Honeycomb up to date with a refreshed layout and controls. The preview window dominates the screen, with the controls clustered on the right hand side of the display. Zoom buttons are at the top, with a button to flip between front and rear cameras, and a toggle for photos or videos, at the bottom.

In-between is the new circular control wheel, with the shutter-release in the center, surrounded by a ring of effects, scene, focus and other settings. These include flash (on, off, auto), white balance (auto, incandescent, daylight, fluorescent), color effect (none, mono, sepia, negative, solarize, posterize), scene mode (auto, action, portrait, landscape, night, night portrait, theatre, beach, snow, sunset, steady photo, fireworks) and then a settings menu with controls for focus mode, exposure, picture size and picture quality. The most recent photo is shown as a thumbnail in the lower left hand corner; tapping it opens up the gallery.

Image quality will of course depend on the camera itself, but browsing stills and video is a more enjoyable experience thanks to the updated gallery. As usual there’s a folder view, splitting shots up into those downloaded, those taken with the camera and any particular sets you’ve set up yourself. Tapping into them gives you a full-screen view and a smaller timeline of shots along the bottom, which scrolls along in a suitably silky manner. Up on the action bar there are buttons to kick start a slideshow – useful if you’ve got a dock or stand of some sort – along with the Android sharing button to send out the current image via email, message or another route. If you have an Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet with an HDMI connector – like the XOOM – then you can hook up the slate to your HDTV and browse content on the big screen. There’s a mirroring option that replicates the display on both the touchscreen and the external screen for easier control.

Multimedia

If the regular Android camera UI is unloved, then the music app has traditionally been even less appreciated. Happily Google’s engineers have given it more than a fresh coat of paint for Honeycomb, with plenty of eye-candy that, thankfully, doesn’t slow down actually browsing through tracks. There’s a tilting, twisting 3D wall of albums and artists – flipped between with a drop-down menu in the top left corner – together with a New and Recent view with a timeline of the latest content you’ve loaded.

Alternatively there’s a songs view – which presents tracks in a straightforward list, sorted alphabetically, by album or by artist – and a genre list, while you can also create playlists on your tablet. There are two ways of doing so: either by creating a blank playlist and then filling it with tracks, or by tapping the “Add to Playlist” option in any individual song’s context menu. The now-playing screen shows album artwork, artist, title and album name, as well as a responsive scrub-bar and shuffle/repeat buttons.

Video playback works from a straightforward grid or list view of files, though Google is yet to significantly boost the list of codecs Android supports. In Honeycomb there’s H.263, H.264, MPEG-4 and VP8, in .3gp, .mp4 and WebM containers, which is a pretty poor showing considering the multimedia ambitions – and capabilities – of the sort of processors to be found inside Android 3.0 tablets. We turned to RockPlayer and vPlayer, found in the Android Market, to fill in the gaps, and these worked well, playing full-screen on the XOOM and outputting high-definition video via HDMI.

As on Android phones, there’s a dedicated YouTube app for streaming video, useful given the lack of Flash support at launch. This has also had a makeover, with a new 3D wall of videos to choose from. It’s more to show off Honeycomb’s 3D acceleration than anything else, but it works and there’s channel and search functionality along with options to filter by video age. Given the bigger screens, it’s useful to be able to change the font size for captions; you can also force Honeycomb to stream in high quality even when on a cellular connection.

Plug an Android 3.0 tablet into a PC and it will show up as a removable drive for managing content, but as of Honeycomb there’s a new OS X sync tool. Once installed (on OS X 10.5 and above systems) Android File Transfer loads automatically when you plug your Honeycomb slate in via USB, and allows you to browse files and folders, and copy content between computer and tablet (as long as they’re under 4GB in size). It all works, but we can’t help but wonder when Google will offer some sort of proper media sync app, similar to iTunes or Microsoft’s Zune manager.

Google Maps

As we saw in the most recent Google Maps update on Android smartphones, Google has done a lot of work slimming down data use for its mapping app, and that’s carried over to the Honeycomb version. The app renders dynamically, rather than using vector-based imagery, which adds up to quicker graphics and less data traffic. As a result, there’s now room to cache common or frequently searched journeys, allowing you to browse those routes even without a data connection. It might not be so useful on a tablet as on a smartphone, but it still works well and Google’s 3D buildings look great on a bigger screen.

Boosted gesture support allows you to tilt the map using a two-finger slide, and then rotate it with a chiral-twist movement. If your tablet has a digital compass – as we imagine they all will – then you can synchronize rotation to the direction in which you’re facing. There’s also far smoother zooming, and Street View looks incredible at this scale.

Apps

It’s not enough to have a single platform now; you need to have a full ecosystem, with apps and an active developer community. Google has those for its smartphones, following only Apple in terms of the sheer number of titles available in the Android Market. The good news is that most existing apps should work on Honeycomb tablets, even if they were written for smartphones, just as long as the developer followed Google’s guidelines for best code practice.

Unlike the screen doubling on the iPad, Android apps run full-screen natively in Honeycomb, and general usability is good. Most titles work just as you’d expect from a handset, though some graphics can be blocky. The bigger issue is layout and how software uses screen real estate: an app designed for a roughly 4-inch smartphone display doesn’t make the best use of space when viewed on a 10-inch tablet like the XOOM. Developers will have to go back to the drawing board to create tablet-centric UIs, at least, even if their core software is functional. To help with that, Google released the official Android 3.0 Honeycomb SDK this week, complete with the final APIs, so we should start to see refreshed software coming through the pipeline soon.

Google provided three Honeycomb-optimized apps for us to look at, the Body app demonstrated at the Android 3.0 launch, Grocery IQ from Coupons, and a new version of the Pulse news reader. Body is utterly amazing, an educational title that allows you to strip back the human form to muscles, organs and skeleton, with labelling and search functionality. Grocery IQ is much the same as the Android phone version, allowing you to create and manage shopping lists on your device and sync them with the web and to other phones and tablets.

Pulse looks all but identical to the iOS version for iPad, with straightforward sharing tools that hook into Facebook, Twitter, email and other routes. However, it’s actually a good example of Honeycomb’s new Fragments addition to the API, which allows developers to build app UIs from multiple interchangeable and rearrangeable modular panes. In the case of Pulse, the preview window and the side-scrolling headline window are different fragments, with the blocks pieced together in different ways depending on whether you’re reading in portrait or landscape orientation, or indeed on a smartphone or on a tablet. Fragments means developers will have to do less UI work to make apps that are usable on both platforms.

Finally, there’s also a Books app, to manage your Google Books ebook collection, though we imagine most people will use Amazon’s Kindle app or Barnes & Noble’s NOOK app, which each worked as expected.

Security and Connectivity

With tablets making increasing strides in the enterprise, it’s little surprise that Honeycomb has at least a nod to business and security. As usual you can set a lock on the homescreen – though only with a passcode or PIN, since Google has done away with the pattern-based unlock from Android for smartphones – but now you can also encrypt the entire tablet. Google warned us it would take some time, and they weren’t wrong: we hit encrypt as soon as we got the XOOM out of the box, and it took over an hour to complete. It’s worth noting that, should you subsequently forget the PIN, the only workaround is a complete hard-reset (and losing all your data). There’s also support for remotely wiping Honeycomb, should you or a member of staff lose your tablet.

As for connectivity, Android 3.0 has mobile hotspot support for sharing 3G/4G data with up to five WiFi-tethered clients, thought you’ll likely have to opt for a more expensive data package before the carriers will let you do so. There are three sharing options, USB tethering, portable Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth tethering. As on Android phones, it works well, though battery life takes an inevitable hit.

Wrap-Up

To describe Android 3.0 as a significant division from the versions we’ve seen up until now is an understatement. Word from inside Google is that Honeycomb is one of the biggest undertakings for the Android engineers so far, and that effort demonstrates itself in the platform’s consistency, completeness and efficiency. There’s no sense at almost any point that functionality has been sacrificed for aesthetics, and yet the overall Honeycomb experience is still eased through with neat animations and all the gloss demanded of a modern platform.

It’s also clearly not just a smartphone OS blown up to suit a bigger screen. All of the core apps – as well as the menus, homescreens and structures that fit around them – have been updated to suit the tablet form-factor. At times that can leave it feeling almost not Android-like – no familiar pull down status bar, the shift to all-onscreen navigation buttons – but everything works as you’d want it to and, when you dig in a little more, the same familiar dialogs and menus are there. Yes, perhaps a physical Home button might offer a lifeline to first-time users, but the onscreen version works just as well, and the straightforward layout and thumbnail app switcher makes Honeycomb one of the easier platforms for new users to get to grips with.

 

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The consistency certainly helps there, and third-party developers have some work to do if they’re to match the overall polish of what Google’s coding team has produced. That will come in time, however, and until then regular Android apps work with few issues when downloaded from the Market. That puts a big fat tick in the backward-compatibility box, and should help keep Honeycomb ahead of webOS, QNX and other tablet upstarts.

Honeycomb’s biggest strength, though, is the speed at which Google has demonstrated it can move. Considering Android 1.0 only hit the smartphone market in late 2008, and now the platform boasts a comprehensive and convincing tablet OS just a few years later, there’s every reason to expect iterative updates to further polish the user-experience at a rapid pace. It starts that process at an incredibly strong position, passing the baton to manufacturers to match Android 3.0 with suitably class-leading hardware. The first batch of Honeycomb slates may have some wrinkles – the missing Flash and paucity of video codec support being two examples – but 2011 definitely looks to be the year that Android tablets will come of age.

NOTE: also take a look at our Motorola XOOM tablet review and a post by our sister site Android Community: a Q&A style review of both the tablet and the mobile OS!

Motorola XOOM Review

Motorola’s big launch of CES 2011 and the first Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet on the market, the Motorola XOOM has a lot to live up to. In its haste to reach Verizon shelves, the XOOM could seem a little half-baked; it doesn’t get Flash Player support for another few weeks, and won’t have 4G until an update sometime in Q2. Still, as the iPad has shown, there are undoubtedly benefits to being first out of the gate, and there’s undoubtedly plenty on offer. Can the XOOM bypass pricing skepticism? Check out the full SlashGear review after the cut.

 

Hardware and Performance

Motorola’s design is sober and discrete, and where the iPad shows off its brushed metal the XOOM seemingly prefers to let the 10.1-inch display do the talking. It’s a 160dpi, 1280 x 800 WXGA panel with a capacitive touchscreen supporting multitouch gestures, and while it doesn’t use the same IPS technology as the Apple slate, it still manages decent viewing angles. We’ve had no issues with touchscreen responsiveness, though at 9.8 x 6.61 x 0.51 inches and 25.75oz it’s a somewhat heavy device, and one-handed use can get tiring.

Inside, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 is calling the shots, a dual-core 1GHz SoC paired with 1GB of DDR2 RAM and 32GB of integrated storage. Although the XOOM has a microSD card slot, currently the tablet doesn’t support it; similarly, there’s an LTE SIM slot – filled with a blanking card – but that won’t be used until Verizon updates the tablet to 4G in Q2 2011. Instead, you get EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, along with USB 2.0 and mini HDMI ports. Motorola is readying a WiFI-only XOOM, but that isn’t expected until later in the year.

We’ve seen sensors of various types proliferate on smartphones, and the XOOM ups the ante. As well as GPS, an accelerometer, digital compass, ambient light sensor and gyroscope, there’s a barometer for measuring air pressure. So far there’s no actual use for it in Honeycomb, but since it’s available for third-party developers to tap into via the Android 3.0 APIs, it’s only a matter of time before somebody takes advantage.

On the front is a 2-megapixel fixed-focus camera and a tricolor notification LED, though no physical controls, while on the back is a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with a dual-LED flash. It’s flanked by stereo speakers and the power/standby button. The only other hardware control is the volume rocker on the left hand edge. A 3.5mm headphone socket is on the top edge of the slate.

Benchmarking Android devices is something of an inexact science, with various tools – synthetic and real-world – in common use and lingering issues around multicore compatibility. We ran Quadrant on the XOOM, and the Tegra 2 based slate scored 2,126. Meanwhile, in Linpack the XOOM managed 36.166, and BenchmarkPi crunched through in 559 milliseconds.

Perhaps more importantly, however, the XOOM whipped through everyday tasks with hardly a pause. Panning through the 3D-style homescreen was lag- and jerk-free, the app menu opened without delay, and apps themselves sprang to life as fast as we’ve seen on an Android device. In comparison, the single-core 7-inch Galaxy Tab feels sluggish. The healthy chunk of RAM meant that heavier webpages still rendered successfully and panned/zoomed without protest, even with multiple tabs open.

Software

We’ve already covered Android 3.0 Honeycomb in our separate review of the new tablet OS, and – in keeping with a Google Experience device – Motorola has left the software well alone on the XOOM. It’s a sensible decision, given Honeycomb’s degree of polish. In fact, the hardest part for most people has been finding the power button, which Motorola has put on the back of the slate.

The untampered OS should also mean that, as Google rolls out newer versions of Android, the XOOM is hopefully first in line to receive them, something that can’t be said the same for Motorola’s smartphone range. Considering the attention Android fragmentation gets, that’s a big element in the XOOM’s favor.

Cameras and Multimedia

Motorola has outfitted the XOOM with two cameras, a 5-megapixel unit on the back, complete with auto-focus and an accompanying dual-LED flash, and a 2-megapixel fixed-focus camera on the front that’s primarily intended for video calls. They take advantage of Honeycomb’s new camera app, complete with various effects and shooting modes, and are easily controlled with the new circular shortcut wheel (though there’s no dedicated camera shortcut key on the slate).

Stills from the 5-megapixel main camera are good, though not outstanding. The biggest surprise was how comfortable taking photos is on a tablet; while the 7-inch Galaxy Tab felt like a somewhat ridiculous, oversized smartphone, the 10.1-inch XOOM doesn’t feel awkward, and the large on-screen controls make it straightforward. Currently the Motorola tops out at 720p HD video recording at 30fps, though an update to support 1080p HD is promised at some point in the future. Clips are on a par with Motorola’s smartphone range, with generally jerk-free footage that only shows smearing on faster pans. The dual-LED flash can be used as a video light, but it’s only really of use in mildly darker environments.

As for the front camera, while it can be used for stills and video, it’s unsurprisingly not adept at either. Motorola has tuned it for video call duty, and in that it does well, producing a reasonably crisp picture that manages to keep detail even when compressed for a 3G stream. The fixed-focus does mean you lack sharpness, however, not so noticeable in video but making vanity shots unimpressive.

Photos, video and audio can be played back either on the slate itself – with the XOOM’s stereo speakers proving underwhelming for all but the most casual of listening – or, using the HDMI 1.4 output and bundled cable, on a nearby big-screen TV. The entire interface is mirrored on both the external display and the touchscreen, making for easier control, and the XOOM can handle up to 1080p Full HD playback. We’ve commented on Android 3.0′s paucity of native codec support in our OS review, but thankfully there are various third-party media players in the Android Market that do a better job with video content other MP4, WebM, 3GP and H.264/H.263. Footage is crisp, as you’d expect, and with 32GB of onboard storage there’s a decent amount of capacity for media. It’s worth noting that, if you’re a Mac user, you’ll have to install the new Android File Transfer tool, since Honeycomb won’t be recognized by OS X as a USB drive without it.

What you don’t get, at this stage, is Flash support. Adobe is busy working on Flash Player 10.2 for Honeycomb, but right now there’s not even 10.1 for backward compatibility. It’s another reason the XOOM feels somewhat rushed to market, and it knocks an important selling point from the Motorola’s roster. Yes, Flash is on its way, but with the iPad 2 launch imminent, Motorola really needed all its strengths in one place to take on the iOS slate.

Connectivity and Battery

The XOOM isn’t short on connectivity, with EVDO Rev.A, WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and USB 2.0, along with a 4G LTE update in the pipeline, but it’s worth noting that it won’t make voice calls. Verizon’s agreement is for data only, which means that if you want to actually talk with someone using the XOOM you’ll have to pick a VoIP client. Still, with Skype, Fring, Qik and others in the Android Market, and Google Talk preinstalled in Honeycomb, most users should find something to fit that gap.

As well as using the 3G connection for onboard surfing, Honeycomb comes with a mobile hotspot app that can be used to share the data out with up to five WiFi-tethered clients. It’ll likely incur a surcharge, however: Verizon has only said that data access will start from $20 per month for 1GB, and we’re assuming that, like the carrier’s phones, hotspot service will be a higher-tier package.

Verizon is also yet to detail the 4G update, which means we don’t yet know how early-adopters of the XOOM will convert their 3G tablet into an LTE one come Q2 2011. It’s possible that this is a modem firmware update, which could be released OTA or as a sideloaded install, or alternatively owners may have to take their XOOM into a Verizon store or even send it off. Still, Verizon has said it will be a free update, though it hasn’t confirmed whether there’ll be a 4G surcharge on top of the regular 3G data package.

Battery life, meanwhile, has been very impressive. With very heavy use, the XOOM lasted over 14hrs – over 8hrs of which the screen was on – before shutting down. Bear in mind that’s undergoing testing for this review, meaning a combination of browsing, media playback (both using the XOOM’s display and via the HDMI output), both WiFi and 3G connections, streaming media and photography. With more casual use, especially if predominantly browsing, we’d expect to see 9hrs or more. That’s a little less than an iPad, certainly, but still enough to be considered a strong showing in our opinion. A full recharge takes around 3.5hrs.

Accessories

Verizon provided two official accessories with our review unit, the Speaker HD Dock and a Bluetooth Keyboard. The dock is, surprisingly, more basic than that offered for the Motorola ATRIX 4G, having only power and mini HDMI connectivity. It will charge the XOOM and allows you to have a wired connection to your HDTV permanently hooked up, but we’d have preferred it if Motorola had used a full-sized HDMI port. We’re guessing the choice of a mini connector was so that the cable bundled with the tablet could be used with the dock as well, but given most users aren’t going to want to keep swapping a single cord between their bag and the dock, opting for the more common (and cheaper) full sized HDMI would have been a more sensible decision. The integrated 5W stereo speakers are more powerful than the XOOM’s own, which makes for stronger audio during video playback together with more easily audible video chats.

As for the Bluetooth keyboard, that also works as you’d expect it to, hooking up wirelessly with no issues and then allowing for easier text entry than the on-screen ‘board. It’s worth noting that, since the XOOM supports the standard Human Interface Device (HID) protocol, you can use a non-Motorola Bluetooth keyboard you might already have. Motorola’s ‘board is actually the same as offered for the ATRIX 4G, which means it adds in shortcuts to various Android apps. It’s also reasonably comfortable to type on.

Motorola also offers a Portfolio Case for the XOOM, though we didn’t have that on hand to test. As with similar examples for other tablets, it basically allows you to prop the XOOM up for easier on-screen typing or watching videos, as well as folding around to protect the display during transport. Finally, there’s a Standard Dock, which props the XOOM up and recharges it, which we also didn’t have in to test.

 

http://asset.slashgear.tv/sgplayer.swf

 

Pricing and Value

Cost is likely to be the XOOM’s most contentious aspect. Verizon and Motorola have priced the slate at $799.99 without a contact or $599.99 with a new, two-year agreement on a data-only plan. With the cheapest data package Verizon offers – $20 per month for 1GB – that adds up to almost $1,080 over the course of the contract.

In contrast, Apple’s 32GB iPad WiFi + 3G is $729. That’s less than the unsubsidized XOOM, but more than the on-contract version; however, AT&T allows iPad owners to activate and deactivate 3G service as they see fit, rather than locking them into a monthly commitment. You also get more for your money on AT&T, with iPad 3G plans offering either 250MB per month for $14.99 or 2GB for $25.

The XOOM is likely to fall in price after a couple of months – there’s always an early-adopter premium to be paid – but it’s not the home-run we’d hoped it might be. It’s worth remembering that, even if you don’t want to use Verizon’s data and only rely on WiFi to connect, you’ll still have to pay for a month’s worth of service and the activation fee.

Wrap-Up

Despite the absence of Flash support and the absence of 4G, there’s a lot to like about the Motorola XOOM. It’s a solid, discretely handsome slate, with strong battery life and whip-crack performance. Against it are the premium price tag and the ridiculous mandatory first-month data fee; frankly, Verizon have missed a trick by not giving buyers a free first month in the hope of getting them hooked to the convenience of 3G.

Much of the XOOM’s strength comes from Android 3.0 Honeycomb, and there’s little doubting that Google’s tablet-centric OS is the star of the show here. As we found in our full software review, it’s a convincing and polished platform, which brings a highly usable multitasking environment to the tablet marketplace, neatly distinct from the “oversized smartphone” accusations levied at previous Android slates.

Until Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 and LG’s G-Slate reach shelves, the XOOM has the Honeycomb space all to itself. Still, neither Motorola nor Google can afford to rest on their respective laurels. The iPad 2 is expected to debut a mere week after the XOOM goes on sale, and considering the first-gen version is still the benchmark by which new tablets are measured, the second-gen model is only going to raise the table stakes.

Nonetheless, we’re impressed by the XOOM, and by Honeycomb. Neither feels like a compromise, and with the heft of the Android Market behind them, the gap between Android and iOS has narrowed drastically. The XOOM may only be the first Honeycomb slate, but it’s a strong start to what’s going to be a fiercely competitive race.

ALSO have a look at our Android Honeycomb Review as well as an informative post by our sister site Android Community: Motorola XOOM and Honeycomb Review [All Questions Answered].

Tech Bloggers The Focus Of Latest T-Mobile Ad

Remember long ago when Apple first did those “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials? They exploded and got popular real fast. T-Mobile has followed the advertising trend and made their representative a pretty brunette, usually in some shade of pink. The company’s latest ads change things up from making fun of Apple’s iPhone and bringing in a tech blogger.

 

T-Mobile is pushing its new Galaxy S 4G, calling it the fastest phone on the network and the “ultimate” in entertainment. The quip about being the “ultimate” is what brings our blogger into frame, asking to inspect the phone to check the merits of T-Mobile’s claim. We’re clued into his profession when he mentions that he “blogs about these things”.

It’s pretty funny and while not all tech bloggers look and sound like the guy in the ad, it wouldn’t be hard to find one at MWC or CES. The Galaxy S 4G also comes pre-loaded with Inception on it so you can think up all the dream theories you’d like.

 

 

[via Pocketnow]

Apple CEO Steve Jobs Rail-thin body is not in Good Health [Video]

RadarOnline has posted a video of Apple CEO Steve Jobs where he is looking painfully frail and weak. From this video, it is evident that cancer stricken Steve Jobs 6ft 2 inch, rail-thinbody is not in good health. Check out the video after the break!

Few days back inquirer posted shocking news that Steve may have just six weeks to live, but later White House posted Steve Jobs Photo with Obama squashing those rumors about his health. But the question is – Why White House did not released Steve Jobs Photos with Obama from the front?

We sincerely hope he’s wrong and wish Jobs all the best. We will update you as and when more information comes-in.

Apple Preps Yerba Buena Center for iPad 2 Event

As the latest images from outside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California reveal, Apple is ready for it’s March 2nd event to unleash iPad 2. Apple sent out invitations for its “scheduled event” earlier today.

 

Via Steve Troughton

Apple ‘Sandy Bridge’ MacBook Pro 2011 to Launch on February 24

For everyone wanting to get new series of MacBook Pros, the wait is coming to an end. According to the latest reports, new MacBook Pro’s galloping on the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors will be released on Thursday, February 24 giving the much needed speed boost. Apple last updated the MacBook Pros almost one year ago with Intel’s Core i5 and i7processors.

The new models of MacBook Pro are listed as MC720, MC721, MC723, MC724, and MC725. Apple currently offers six standard configurations, two for the 13-inch model, three for the 15-inch model and one for the 17-inch model. The new models are also expected to have a redesigned case that resembles latest MacBook Air and should be thinner, lighter with longer lasting batteries.

We’ve since heard reliable confirmation that this information is accurate and that the expected release date is next Thursday, February 24th. The move would be a bit unusual for Apple to launch new machines on a Thursday. So, if you are about to buy a new MacBook Pro, wait until next week

Apple is almost the last OEM to move to new Intel chips, and given that Sandy Bridge systems just resumed shipments, it’s very unlikely Apple will have MacBook Pros by February 24th. Not the strongest of legs to this rumor, but we’ll keep our eyes on that date anyway.

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