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Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph Android smartphone review

Motorola Triumph packaging 3

New updates added at the bottom of the review!

Additional updates added in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: After returning my original Triumph, I returned my second one as well and have gone back to the Optimus V. After a few days of usage I found that there were too many basic issues with the Triumph. Details in the comments at the end of the review…

The Motorola Triumph has been one of the most anticipated smartphone of 2011. This Android-powered slate phone is Virgin Mobile’s most advanced smartphone to date and takes the prepaid market forward with a respectable 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 4.1 inch screen and 5 megapixel, 720p HD video-capable camera. The Motorola Triumph bests Virgin Mobile’s current Android flagship, the LG Optimus V, which we reviewed previously. It’s also more expensive at $299 upfront with no contract on Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk prepaid plans. So can the prepaid market support a premium Android smartphone like the Motorola Triumph? Here’s our review…

First impressions of the Motorola Triumph

While the original release date for the Motorola Triumph was July 19th, my local Radio Shack was happy to sell me one yesterday. Lucky me! The Motorola Triumph comes in Virgin Mobile’s now familiar easy-open packaging, which houses the smartphone, a two-piece charger/USB cable, a battery, a quick start guide and a MicroSD card adapter. There is a 2GB MicroSD card pre-installed in the phone, which should be sufficient to hold a fair amount of music, photos and videos at least initially. The MicroSD card is removable which makes it easy to install a higher capacity card if desired.

Motorola Triumph frontThe Motorola Triumph has a minimalist look with few frills. The casing is made of dark gray textured plastic and the four inch capacitive touchscreen dominates the front of the smartphone. The four standard Android buttons below the screen are also capacitive. There’s a forward facing video camera above the screen to the left of the earpiece for video calls.

Around the sides are volume buttons, an on/off button, micro USB port for charging and data transfer and a mini HDMI port for connecting the Motorola Triumph to an external monitor or TV. Nice. Unfortunately an HDMI cable is not included in the box however. The back of the Motorola Triumph houses its 5 megapixel camera which also serves as a 720p HD video camera, and there’s an LED flash as well. There is no dedicated camera button, the camera is activated by launching the camera app.

The Motorola Triumph feels light for a smartphone with a four inch screen. At 5.04 ounces it’s easy to carry in a trouser or coat pocket without feeling uncomfortable, although it might weigh down a shirt pocket. While the Motorola Triumph is a little plasticky and lacks a premium feel, I like the clean lines of the device; the screen almost stretches to the edges, the back is flat and the phone is pleasingly thin. It’s a simple minimalist design.

Using the Motorola Triumph

Like Virgin Mobile’s LG Optimus V, the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 with hardly any carrier modifications, which is great for those looking for a stock Android smartphone. There are a few preloaded Virgin Mobile apps and wallpapers, but nothing intrusive. Sync’ing with Google services works as expected, and I haven’t found any blocked applications so far. For example, Skype installed properly and I was able to make a call over WiFi although I haven’t tried making a 3G Skype call yet.

In general operation the Motorola Triumph’s 1GHz Snapdragon processor makes the smartphone feel more snappy than the LG Optimus V, which is clocked at 600MHz. The Motorola Triumph also has far more onboard memory at 512MB, which definitely helps to keep the device humming along smoothly. The larger screen size and faster processor of the Motorola Triumph may however lead to worse battery life than the LG Optimus V. It’s early days yet and I’ll update this review with my experience of the smartphone’s battery life after more regular usage.

The Motorola Triumph paired quickly with the Bluetooth hands free and stereo headphone devices that I’ve tried so far. For stereo Bluetooth fans, the Motorola Triumph supports A2DP for stereo audio streaming and AVRCP for remote control over playback. I was able to control Pandora’s play and skip controls using a stereo Bluetooth headset.

As with the LG Optimus V, I was unable to use a Bluetooth headset on the Motorola Triumph for a Skype call. I’m not sure if this is possible on any Android smartphones at present, has anyone successfully managed to do this…?

The 5 megapixel camera on the Motorola Triumph produces respectable photos that in my opinion are easily good enough for casual use. If your primary camera usage is snapping general photos and uploading them to social networking sites like Facebook or taking casual vacation shots, then you could probably leave your point & shoot camera at home if you have the Motorola Triumph. It’s definitely a step up from the 3 megapixel camera on the LG Optimus V. I will post some photos that I took using the Motorola Triumph using its out-of-the-box settings, stay tuned!

The video camera also does a decent job. There is no image stabilization, but video come out looking absolutely fine for a mid-range device. Bear in mind that shooting 720p HD video requires a lot of storage space, so upgrading the supplied 2GB MicroSD card to a larger size might be advisable for budding directors.

Downsides to the Motorola Triumph are difficult to fully capture at this stage. I’m still only on day two with the device and I’ll add to this review as I continue to use it. So far I’ve only been using the Motorola Triumph on WiFi, so I haven’t made calls using it yet apart from Skype, although I have no reason to expect that it would have problems making regular calls! Motorola Triumph batteryThe microphone, earpiece and speaker worked well on Skype and I will update the review if I encounter any issues with network calls. In particular I’d like to add an idea of battery life after more consistent usage and I’ll also report back on whether the device starts to exhibit slow-downs and other performance side-effects that sometimes appear after time with smartphones.

The main issue I’ll raise now though is the price. At $299 the Motorola Triumph is not an impulse purchase, but it does offer good value compared to having a two year contract. Virgin Mobile has also just changed its Beyond Talk pricing, which now costs $35 for 300 minutes and unlimited data & texts (previously $25), rising to $45 for 1200 minutes (previously $40) and $55 for unlimited talk time (down from $60 previously). Virgin Mobile also just announced that it will throttle users down to 256kbps if they exceed 2.5GB of data usage in a month. While 2.5GB is more than enough data for many users, it’s disappointing to see Virgin Mobile adopting throttling especially when its parent company (Sprint) has not announced similar restrictions for Sprint customers on the same network.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 Froyo rather than the latest version of Android, which is 2.3 Gingerbread. I forgave the LG Optimus V for this since Gingerbread was still fairly new when that device launched. However Android 2.3 has now been out for a long time and new devices should really have the latest version of the operating system installed when they ship. This is a big issue compared to the iPhone, or a laptop computer which will pretty much always ship with the latest version of its platform’s operating system.

Also, for those of you who like to use your phone outdoors, the screen of the Motorola Triumph is virtually illegible in sunlight. This is in keeping with many devices out there, and the screen is viewable outdoors in the shade.

On balance the Motorola Triumph works out well compared to a similarly spec’d smartphone on contract. Even though the price just increased by $10 each month, light voice minute users will still do well on Virgin Mobile’s $35 plan over two years compared to a similar voice & data contract on other carriers. The other plans are also good value. Remember that if you ever decide to stop using Virgin Mobile, there is no early termination fee and you can sell your phone to recoup some of the purchase cost. Just be sure to completely wipe the device of any personal data before selling it or passing it on to someone else.

So in that light, the $299 upfront cost is not quite so bad. At least that’s what I talked myself into when I bought the Motorola Triumph yesterday! In my two days of usage, the Motorola Triumph certainly seems like a solid contender and may well encourage those on contract to consider taking up the flexibility and lower overall cost of Virgin Mobile’s plans. The Motorola Triumph might not have some of the frills of the current top end smartphones, but it should easily meet the needs of many users and then some. Things sure have changed in the prepaid world.

Some updates:

I’ve been using the Motorola Triumph for a few days now and noticed a couple of things. Battery life seems good overall, I’m easily able to get through a day with moderate usage. Network signal on my Triumph is weak, definitely weaker than the LG Optimus V. There have also been a couple of occasions where I had to reboot the Triumph because it failed to re-find a signal for a prolonged period of time. The Bluetooth implementation has also been buggy for me so far. The Triumph either routinely refuses to connect to devices it has paired with previously, or it takes a long time to connect with them. Bluetooth signal drops are frequent.

On the whole it’s been an enjoyable phone to own so far, but cell radio problems and Bluetooth issues should not be present in a $299 smartphone in 2011. There’s nothing worse than having no bars when your friends have lots!

Additional updates in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: I have gone back to using the Optimus V, the Triumph’s issues became too frustrating in day to day usage.  Details in the comments…

Neil Berman

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Jul 17, 2011 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V review

LG Optimus V 11In case you didn’t get the memo, Android is getting big. Ahem, ok so that’s an understatement, the platform is becoming hugely popular in the smartphone world as a competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Previously the preserve of monthly contract plans, some no-contract carriers now offer Android smartphones for a song, dance and some green. Virgin Mobile just launched the LG Optimus V Android 2.2 smartphone for an upfront cost of $149.99, and is asking for a measly $25 for a month’s worth of unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes. Is this the craziest deal of all time, or is the phone perhaps a stinker? To find out I scoped out seven (!) Radio Shacks until I found one with the smartphone in stock, and then I bought the sucker. Here’s my review after two weeks of daily usage.

LG Optimus V 5Virgin Mobile is shipping the LG Optimus V in a cardboard easy-open container, which is a welcome change from the sealed plastic ones used for previous models. Inside the box you’ll find the phone itself, a two piece USB charger (a cable with a separate plug attachment), headphones with handsfree capability, battery and manual.

For a budget smartphone, the LG Optimus V is a real looker. The main body of the phone is made of two soft touch pieces of black plastic that appear more premium than they sound. Between them across the top of the phone is what looks and feels like a brushed aluminum strip that houses the power button, headphone socket and volume controls. Further down the sides of the LG Optimus V are dedicated buttons for the camera and voice commands, as well as a slot for a Micro SD memory card. A USB charging port sits on the bottom of the smartphone.

The upscale look continues on the front of the LG Optimus V with the four standard Android buttons encased by shiny silver surrounds. It’s good to see hardware buttons rather than the software buttons of some Android devices that only light up when the phone is in use. Around the back things get a little cheaper looking, although it’s difficult LG Optimus V 2(and also less important) to make a phone’s battery cover look impressive. The back is simply a plastic cover with a cutout for the speaker and a silver surround for the camera. Can’t get excited about that, it looks okay, but you’ll spend more time looking at the front anyway.

In a world where most smartphones look pretty much the same, the LG Optimus V fits right in. So while the LG Optimus V is a budget device, most people looking over your shoulder would never know it.

In terms of interior specs, the LG Optimus V sports a 600MHz processor, 320×480 pixel capacitive touchscreen, Bluetooth 2.1 including A2DP & AVRCP for music streaming and remote playback control, a 3.2 megapixel camera without flash, A-GPS, WiFi and the whole shebang weighs in at 4.6 ounces (130 grams).

The LG Optimus V carries Google’s ‘with Google’ branding, so I was hoping for a pretty vanilla Android experience…and that’s pretty much what I found. From what I could see, apart from a couple of Virgin Mobile apps, the LG Optimus V appears to be running something very close to stock Android 2.2. So far all the apps I’ve downloaded from the Android Market have worked perfectly, such as Skype, Pulse and my new personal fave Google Translate. Bear in mind you can only make Skype calls over WiFi with the LG Optimus V.

LG Optimus V 10Even though the LG Optimus V doesn’t have the fastest processor on the planet I found the 600MHz CPU to be perfectly capable as a daily driver for the phone. In my mixed usage of email, browsing, YouTube, streaming audio over Bluetooth and playing Angry Birds, I only occasionally noticed hangs or delays. The LG Optimus V has generally been reliable, although it has spontaneously restarted itself twice in my two weeks of usage.

One welcome addition in the LG Optimus V is that it ships with Swype installed. This allows for fast typing by moving your finger across letters on the smartphone’s virtual keyboard. I was impressed with Swype on the Samsung Epic 4G and it’s all the more useful on the LG Optimus V since the Optimus lacks a hardware keyboard. Swype isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely competent. I wrote this whole review on the LG Optimus V using Swype.

The screen on the LG Optimus V is not super high-res, but at 320×480 it’s dense enough for 3.2 inches of real estate, and I’ve found it to be perfectly usable. Then again, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to get out a magnifying glass and complain if I can see individual pixels. More importantly the screen can be cranked up to be up bright enough to be legible outdoors for occasional things like checking Google Maps or sending texts. Wearing polarized sunglasses also helps to minimize screen reflections when trying to read the LG Optimus V’s screen on sunny days.

LG Optimus V 7One thing I absolutely love about the LG Optimus V so far is its battery life. I’ve found it easy to get through a day with regular usage. I don’t spend all day on my phone mind you, but I do have it set up to pull email from multiple accounts regularly, stream music during my commute and update various feeds in the background. It’s refreshing to not have to turn off things like Bluetooth and background services during the day just to make sure I have enough juice for my journey home. Your mileage may vary though depending on how you use the LG Optimus V.

I’m guessing this power efficiency comes from a few factors. Firstly, the LG Optimus V has a slower processor than the 1GHz+ CPUs on the top end juice guzzling smartphones. Secondly, backlighting the LG Optimus V’s 3.2 inch screen probably uses less power compared to backlighting a 4+ inch screen on larger smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V uses 3G rather than 4G, which tends to require a lower power draw from the radio.

On that subject, I’ve seen some forum discussions questioning whether the LG Optimus V is restricted to 1x RTT. I can happily confirm that the LG Optimus V uses 3G where possible and downgrades to 1x RTT if the 3G signal is too weak.

In terms of connection speeds, in downtown Manhattan I’ve been experiencing download speeds that I think are fine for a phone with a smallish screen. In terms of specifics, I’ve measured consistent download speeds of around 1.1Mbps and upload speeds of around 0.4Mbps. For app downloading, watching HQ YouTube videos and listening to Pandora, that kind of speed is absolutely fine. It’s worth checking coverage in your area before you take the plunge though, and bear in mind that Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network. So if your area has good Sprint 3G coverage then

LG Optimus V indoor photo 2

The Optimus V captures a decent amount of detail on this indoor shot of Halo with good ambient lighting

you should be fine. Having said that, Virgin Mobile does have a 30 day return policy, so you could always take advantage of that if you’re not happy.

There are a couple of downsides to the LG Optimus V. Firstly, it’s camera is okay for quick snaps but nothing to write home about . It only has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and lacks a flash, so photos in well lit environments come out far better than those taken in dimly lit rooms. I’d really like to see a decent 5 megapixel sensor with a flash as standard on all smartphones. Secondly although the LG Optimus V can record video, it’s not capable of capturing HD footage. Again, I think being able to shoot in 720p should soon be the minimum for smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V only ships with a 2GB Micro SD card, so it’s worth setting aside some extra green if you need more storage for your extensive music collection. Given the LG Optimus V’s price though, these issues are easily forgiven since on balance this smartphone is far more capable than its price would indicate.

Check out our review of the new Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph!

Overall I’ve been seriously impressed with the Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V. It handles run-of-the-mill smartphone tasks competently, looks good and is cheap to run. I was worried that the LG Optimus V might be a let down because of its low price, but in reality it’s possibly the best smartphone value on the US market today.

Neil Berman


Feb 27, 2011 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Mini-review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab

I scored some playtime with the Samsung Galaxy Tab earlier this week.  For newbies out there, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the foremost Android-based tablet competitor to the iPad both in price and intended usage.  That’s where the similarities end however.

The Galaxy Tab has a seven inch LCD screen (not AMOLED) that provides approximately half of the screen real estate of the iPad’s 9.7 inch IPS panel.  The Galaxy Tab is correspondingly around 50% lighter as well, weighing in at 0.84 lbs compared to 1.5lbs for the iPad.  The operating systems are obviously different too, with the iPad running an iPad-optimized version of iOS, whereas the Galaxy Tab runs Android 2.2 with some Samsung app enhancements to make the experience more tablet-

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab keyboard

The Samsung Galaxy Tab docked with its optional keyboard

 

friendly.  The Galaxy Tab is likely to be available on various carriers contract-free for around $599-$649 and on a two year contract for around $399.

I’ll keep this short.  The Galaxy Tab is a disappointment for the large amount of money being asked.  As a contract-free proposition it costs around the same as an iPad 3G.  I won’t even go into the pros and cons of locking yourself into a 2 year contract by buying a Galaxy Tab at the lower price.  I can’t see why anyone would want to do that when Google has said that the version of Android running on the Tab shouldn’t be used on tablets.  It’s pretty clear that since future versions of Android are rolling out (imminently) and the CEA said this week that eighty Android tablets are coming in the next 6-9 months, I can’t imagine who would want to be locked into a 2.2 device for two years with no guarantee of a software upgrade to a possible future tablet-blessed version of Android.

Using the Galaxy Tab was pretty near identical to using a large screened Android smartphone, except that the Galaxy Tab is unable to make regular voice calls.  Most apps looked the same as their smartphone equivalents but were just larger, which seemed to defeat the benefit of having more screen real estate.  Unlike the Samsung Epic 4G, loading web pages was a little slow on the Galaxy Tab but I’ll put that down to the WiFi connection where I was using it since a lot of people were pulling data at the same time.  What I can’t excuse the Galaxy Tab for however is that once pages were loaded, scrolling and zooming was laggy compared to the Samsung Epic 4G which is buttery smooth in this regard.  The physical look and feel of the Galaxy Tab is okay, but there is no real premium feel to the device.  It does look nice and feels solid, but it’s an all plastic affair rather than a more upmarket metal design.

I’m in two minds about the merits of the seven inch screen.  Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab is too large to put in a regular trouser or coat pocket, so it is unlikely to go everywhere with you.  Given that limitation I’m not sure if the seven inch screen conceptually works.  Let’s say you carry a four inch smartphone daily and your use-case for the Galaxy Tab is to carry it occasionally or use it at home for larger screen browsing and media consumption.  I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just choose the iPad instead, since Samsung Galaxy Tab web browserwith a screen that’s around 100% bigger you really can do a lot more; it’s not as if the iPad is materially less portable.  By comparison, even though the Galaxy Tab’s screen is much larger than a four inch smartphone screen, it’s still not really big enough to fully enjoy desktop versions of websites unlike the iPad.

My biggest concern about the Galaxy Tab however is the one I previously wrote about; I think this device is heading for a soft fail.  There just isn’t enough software that takes advantage of the Tab’s seven inch screen to make it compelling just yet.  The Wall Street Journal Android tablet app is probably the first high profile release, but the Tab-optimized app selection is tiny compared to the tens of thousands of iPad-optimized apps.

Would I buy a Galaxy Tab right now?  Dedicated Android followers will undoubtedly enjoy the Tab, but based upon what I’ve seen so far I’d have to say that the iPad is a better proposition for typical Main Street users.  I really want there to be good Android tablets out there to push the overall market to a higher level, and Samsung has done a solid job with the hardware, but the software is just not in place yet to turn the Tab into the market leader.  If a good selection of optimized apps gets released then I’d be willing to give the Galaxy Tab a second look, but for now I can’t see a compelling mass-market case for buying one over the similarly priced iPad.

Neil Berman

Nov 12, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Samsung Epic 4G review: Part 1

Samsung Epic 4G

Epic – that’s a big word. Sprint and Samsung are suggesting that this member of the Galaxy S family is not merely vibrant, fascinating or even captivating. No, they’re saying it’s epic, like the Godzilla of smartphones. That’s a bold claim, especially in such a competitive space. After all, making an epic claim like that could lay you wide open if the device is an epic fail. We held back on asking Sprint for a review unit until the carrier switched on 4G in New York. The network went live a few days ago and here’s our review, so what kind of epic is the Epic 4G?

First impressions of the Epic 4G

The Epic 4G ships in a regular Sprint and Samsung branded box. Inside are an assortment of guides together with wired headphones that serve as a hands-free set, a USB cable and power adaptor. The power adaptor is one of those nice small block designs with a USB port that allows owners to connect the same USB cable as supplied for the Epic 4G’s connection to a computer. That’s a nice touch for travelers and we’d like to see more manufacturers following suit (several already do this).

The Epic 4G itself is a smart-looking device. It’s a Galaxy S device and as such the front surface is an all black glossy affair. The back is matte black with a chrome surround separating the two. Sliding the screen up reveals a landscape keyboard with flat keys bordered by the chrome surround. Some reviewers have commented that the Epic 4G is too plasticky compared to other flagship competitors, but we think the Epic 4G’s look and feel works well, especially with the keyboard exposed. Below the screen, capacitive Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons light up when needed.

There’s a front facing camera for video calling as well as a five megapixel rear camera with LED flash that is also capable of shooting HD video at 720p. Around the sides are a volume rocker, dedicated camera two-stop shutter and power button. The top of the Epic 4G houses the headphone socket and micro-USB charging port. Hidden inside the back plate is a MicroSD card slot, and the Epic 4G ships from Sprint with a 16GB MicroSD card already fitted. While we prefer externally accessible MicroSD card slots, the one on the Epic 4G is accessible without needing to remove the battery although you do of course need to snap off the back plate.

The five row keyboard is fully featured, with a well designed partially staggered Qwerty layout. The Epic 4G sports a dedicated number key row, as well as dedicated cursor arrows and keys replicating the front plate’s Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons. There is also a dedicated key to access emoticons. Symbols are accessed either using the Fn or Sym keys. Samsung have clearly put some good thinking into the keyboard design.

Hiding beneath all of this is a Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor humming along at 1GHz.  There is 512MB RAM and 512MB ROM, WiFi supporting 802.11b/g/n and GPS.  The screen is a Super AMOLED at 800×480 and the whole package weighs in at 155g.  That’s pretty respectable compared to the closest keyboard-bearing competitors; the Epic 4G is 14g lighter than the Motorola Droid 2 and 25g less than the T-Mobile G2.

All that horsepower is driving Android 2.1, with and update to 2.2 believed to be on the way. Samsung has layered its Touch Wiz skin on top of that, and Sprint has added its own apps such as Sprint TV and Navigation that are included in the Simply Everything package.  As with the HTC Evo 4G, Sprint asks for an extra $10 each month to enjoy the privilege of unlimited 4G data (although the equivalent plans still undercut Verizon and AT&T) and the Epic 4G itself costs $249.99 on a new contract after rebates.

If that’s got you all hot and bothered, stay tuned for the rest of the review which is coming soon.  Or if you just can’t hold yourself back, dive into the gallery and sample photos that we shot using the Epic 4G.

Neil Berman

Nov 8, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can the Samsung Epic 4G replace a pocket HD video cam?

While we complete our review of the Samsung Epic 4G, here’s some food for thought.  The Epic 4G can serve as a Sprint 4G mobile hotspot, potentially cutting the need to pay for separate a home internet.  It can handle the general smartphone stuff with ease too.  But does it have the chops to take a pocket HD video cam out of the frame as well?  We tested the Epic 4G’s HD video recorder in various light and motion scenarios and here’s what we discovered…

Remember to choose 720p if you want to watch in HD rather than the default 360/480p.

Neil Berman

Nov 7, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Think Android is not ready for Enterprise? Actually it’s Good

 

Android Good emailThere’s been plenty of noise surrounding the iPhone’s supposed march into the Enterprise, but little discussion about Android.  The iPhone natively supports Exchange email but it’s a little trickier with Android.  Of course, companies that have made the move to GMail will find Android smartphones like Sprint’s Epic 4G to be useful partner devices.  However these companies are probably more likely to be smaller businesses with a small footprint that want to reduce the costs associated with an Exchange/Outlook environment.  That thought fits with the recent discussion I had with Sprint, who told me they had seen the Epic 4G being picked up by plenty of small businesses but less so among larger companies.

The fundamental issue with the iPhone and Android in Enterprise is security.  BlackBerry has long been the darling device of the Enterprise market due to its encyption and security capabilities.  But using the Epic 4G, I’ve come to believe that this device is possibly the best consumer/corporate device on the market at present.  It combines the consumer friendliness of Android with a great keyboard, all rooted (sorry for the Android pun) in first rate hardware.  So how can the security concern be overcome?

There is a nifty piece of software out there from a company called Good, that allows Android (and also iOS) devices to receive Exchange email and calendar data in a secure smartphone app.  It takes a little more effort to implement than just regular Exchange, but it provides a secure container on the phone that is likey to satisfy many of the more stringent corporate IT security policies.  Good is totally self-contained on the device, allowing the user to have other apps and media just like normal.  Compare this situation with a corporate BlackBerry that is typically locked down to only be capable of making calls and sending messages from company accounts.

With Good on Android or iPhone, it’s a win-win.  Employees are able to have an awesome smartphone like the Epic 4G and the IT security folks still get what they need.  At the start of the year I predicted that BlackBerry had peaked in terms of market share; software like Good could make RIM’s outlook all the more precarious.

Neil Berman

Nov 4, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robo Defense is an Android must-have game

It seems every self-respecting mobile OS needs a great tower defense game these days.  iOS has the spectacular and cute Plants vs Zombies and Android has the pixelated but utterly compelling Robo Defense.  Even though the graphics of Robo Defense aren’t quite up to the standard of its iOS nemesis, the gameplay is superb with a decent range of weaponry and a good selection of baddies.  It doesn’t have the depth or longevity of Plants vs Zombies, but in the slightly lackluster world of Android gaming Robo Defense is a shining light.

Neil Berman 

Nov 1, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did we just live through “Crazy Pricing Week”?

First was the Logitech Revue Google TV at $299, then the Cisco Umi home videocon came along at $599 and yesterday we saw rumors tha the Samsung Galaxy Tab might launch at $399 on a 2 year contract with T-Mobile.

If that last one turns out to be accurate, it could end up as a disaster for the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it looks like the Samsung Galaxy Tab will not have the software and app ecosystem to compete effectively with the iPad.  Heck even Google said Android 2.2 is not designed to run tablets.

These issues might be surmountable if the Galaxy Tab were to be priced competitively – and I mean something like $199 on contract and say $399 contract free.  The rumored $399 with a contract make it seem irrelevant, since anecdotal evidence suggests that only a small percentage of iPad owners have subscribed to the ontract free AT&T  data plan, which starts at just $15 per month.  The rumors also suggest that the unsubsidized Galaxy Tab might cost $649, which is slightly higher than the 16GB iPad 3G.

Samsung does have a history of expensive tablet pricing.  The company’s Q1 7-inch Windows XP tablet and Q1 Ultra follow-up device were too expensive to win significant consumer attention.  If the Galaxy Tab pricing rumors are true, expect to see limited numbers out and about.

Sheesh, that really was the week of crazy pricing.  Sure sales might have been down recently due to the weak economy but the way to win back sales is surely to price appropriately and look for volume buildup rather than having to endure price cuts that anger early adopters.  Apple already went through that with the original iPhone launch and hwere wise to avoid a similar pitfall with the iPad.

Neil Berman

Oct 11, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The $25-a-month Android phone is coming

We’ve covered the higher end Virgin Mobile products recently because they’re shaking up the smartphone and mobile data markets with seriously funky pricing. Hot on the heels of recent rumors, samsung-intercept-virgin-mobilethe carrier has now announced that it’s bringing the Samsung Intercept Android smartphone to it’s lineup this month for $249.99.

Virgin Mobile will be offering the Samsung Intercept on its Beyond Talk plans so yes that means you’ll be able to run it for $25 a month with no contract. $25!! Are you kidding?? The Intercept might be outclassed by the likes of the Droid X and the Epic 4G, but it’s still a perfectly solid midrange Android smartphone. It packs an 800MHz processor running Android 2.1 and I would expect the usual Android goodies to be present, like Google Navigation, a decent browser and Android Marketplace. On the downside the Samsung Intercept’s camera is a middling 3.2 megapixel affair and it uses the slower EVDO Rev. 0 data speed. But $25, for unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes on a genuine Android smartphone!

We’re hoping to get our hands on this puppy as soon as possible so stay tuned for a review…

Neil Berman

Oct 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Windows Phone 7 heading for bigger launch in Europe than US?

Today’s announcement that Windows Phone 7 will launch on all five major UK carriers indicates that the platform is likely to enjoy success sooner in Europe than on home territory.  So far it looks like AT&T may be the only major US carrier to have a big Windows Phone 7 laumch, and with Verizon heavily invested in the Droid brand I wouldn’t expect them to rush in when CDMA handsets become available.  That leaves Sprint, who also have to hang on for a CDMA version and T-Mobile, who have traditionally offered one or two Windows based hamdsets at any given time.

So on home territory it could be a difficult holiday season for Microsoft’s new hope in the smartphone market.  They’ll be up against the iPhone 4 for upgrading customers on AT&T, and the whole gamut of established brands across the market for new subscribers.  To my mind, this holiday season will be about two dynamics in the top end smartphone space: 4G (Sprint WiMAX and possibly Verizon LTE) vs 3.5G (AT&T and T-Mobile both with HSPA+rollouts) and iPhone 4 vs Android.  Unfortunately I don’t see Windows Phone 7 factoring significantly in that mix in the US, which is a shame because it looks frickin’ awesome.

Neil Berman

Sep 22, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Samsung Galaxy Tab heading for a soft fail?

Samsung Galaxy TabAs we await final pricing for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, one constraint is known: The iPad costs $499.  Regardless of the fantastic energy around the Android platform at present, any tablet launched at or above this price point must present a winning combination of software  and hardware in that order.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab, while endowed with promising hardware looks set to disappoint on the software front and but most importantly may simply self-destruct if current pricing rumors are true.

Samsung does have a history of expensively priced tablets, with the Q1 and Q1 Ultra (which I lusted after for months) being examples of good hardware that failed to achieve significant adoption due to high retail prices.  I have a feeling

Samsung Q1 Ultra

Samsung's Q1 Ultra failed to achieve significant adoption due to its high price and lack of tablet-optimized software

that the rumored prices we are seeing for the Galaxy Tab might be total costs of ownership based upon a cell carrier monthly contract plus a low initial purchase price.  This model does mean however that a standalone device would be very expensive and I suspect that few people want a tablet tied to a two year carrier contract.  So on a like-for-like basis the Galaxy Tab might end up being cheaper than an iPad 3G, but this is a probably a far smaller market than the regular WiFi model.

The bigger issue aside from pricing is the software.  While Android is clearly now an excellent smartphone OS, there’s no current indication that it ready to be a good tablet platform competitor to the iPad and here’s why:  The iPad has 25,000 apps that take advantage of its large screen to optimize content delivery and presentation compared to their iPhone versions.  At present pretty much all Android apps are optimized for 3-5 inch screens, and while they will probably scale up to fit the Galaxy Tab’s screen most of them will not be able to take advantage of the extra screen real estate.

While there were initial concerns that the iPad would not sell enough units to generate enough revenue for developers to built dedicated apps, the opposite has happened. iPad apps typically sell at a significant premium to iPhone versions.  Plants vs Zombies is a perfect example; it’s $2.99 on the iPhone and $9.99 on the iPad.  Herein lies the real issue for the Android tablet software developer.  The Android Marketplace has a larger percentage of free apps than any other mobile platform.  So before developers can even think about drawing higher margins from an Android tablet there’s work to be done on the smartphone platform first.  Plus, we don’t yet know if the majority of Android tablets will be 7 inch 1024×600 devices, 10 inch 1280×720 or some other resolution and these variables will create developer challenges to optimizing apps.

For the last decade it’s been clear that tablets are only as useful as their software.  While Android is clearly a good starting point for tablets we’re going to need to see a solid growth of dedicated apps to make the platform successful on the bigger screen.

Neil Berman

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Sep 3, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dummy phones are dumb

I’ve recently noticed that my local T-Mobile stores have taken away their demo cellphones and replaced them with non-functioning replicas. This seems like an effective way to make products look boring and empty a store.

While the local Sprint, Verizon and AT&T stores are packed at lunchtime with deep-pocketed office workers trying out those carriers’ latest smartphones, the nearby T-Mobile shop assistants look lonely.

In the universe of silly ideas this sounds like a biggie; I mean what kind of mainstream consumer is going to switch to T-Mobile if they can’t even try the goods before they buy.

Motorola Milestone DroidBut then on my current visit to London I wandered through Brent Cross shopping mall and the stores there had dummy models too! What the heck? Even worse, although there was a dedicated Android feature at one store with real smartphones, the devices were half-covered in tape, were totally unusable and looked super-ugly!

This situation is all the more painful for Android because it is a new platform that should be encouraging consumers to give it some hands-on time. The growth rate of Android is clearly phenomenal but, with some more polish around the sales technique, the unit volumes would surely be higher.

Of course this was happening right next door to a busy Apple store full of iPhones that were switched-on *gasp*, fully functional *shock* and beckoning customers to play with them.

So if Apple is able to have working iPhones on display why is it so hard for dedicated cellphone shops to have Android phones on display, and why do Android handset manufacturers allow stores to turn their latest hero device into a non-functioning dummy?

Neil Berman

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Aug 5, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steve Ballmer talks up Windows 7 tablets, devices still lacking

Steve Ballmer Windows 7 tabletIt feels like a long time ago that I was sitting in Microsoft’s CES keynote in January where Steve Ballmer showed off HP’s elusive Windows 7 tablet. That device is yet to come to market, while the iPad has walked off with over 3 million sales. It also seems that Android tablets are set to make a splash with companies such as Archos already at market, Samsung coming and plenty of others due to follow.  HP has intimated that it is concentrating on the Enterprise sector with its Windows 7 tablet and refocusing on Web OS for consumers.

So it was bizarre that Steve Ballmer’s press conference produced less certainty around Windows 7 tablet delivery than his CES keynote. At least in Las Vegas he was actually holding a tangible prototype device that seemed like to come to market. The message this week was that Windows 7 tablets are coming but we don’t know when.

To my mind this there are two things wrong with this message. Firstly, the lack of timeframe is severely problematic since the iPad holds the consumer mindshare in this sector. Android is poised to bite a chunk out of that near-monopoly as demonstrated by recent demand for the cheap (but unfortunately not cheerful) Augen GenTouch 78. Augen GenTouch 78So as consumers in this small market buy an iPad or Android tablet, Microsoft’s first generation sales become smaller by the day in this sector without a meaningful product. I mean when people need convincing to buy one first gen tablet, who needs two?

Secondly, as I’ve said before, Windows 7 feels like the wrong platform for a tablet and Windows Phone 7 feels like the right one. Just as Apple successfully ported iOS from the iPhone to the iPad, Microsoft should do likewise with Windows Phone 7. The OS is already touch optimized and is designed to run on low power touchscreen devices delivering sustained battery life and fun interactions.

Every Windows 7 tablet device I’ve used suffers from slow start-up times, poor battery life and has been challenging to use without a stylus. They’re essentially netbook-speed devices with a touchscreen and no keyboard; the Archos 9 is a case in point. The market has clearly demonstrated that this is not what it wants, as we can see from the success of the iPad.

Microsoft has admitted to missing a cycle in the smartphone market. It should review its tablet strategy to avoid missing another one.

Neil Berman

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Jul 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This gadget life: Choosing a smartphone

Regular readers might have noticed that I’ve been writing about smartphones a lot recently. This is partly because iPhone 4 and Evo 4G hysteria all came around at the same time, but also because I’m in the market for a new smartphone.

My trusty BlackBerry Bold 9000 has an almost dead trackball having recently acquired an unplanned taste for coffee, and this summer has seen an abundance of smartphone releases.

Like many people, I have some generic and some specific use cases for a smartphone, which guide me towards certain platforms.

Firstly, I need something that is enterprise friendly. In my case this roughly narrows down the range of acceptable platforms to BlackBerry, Android and iOS (iPhone). Not to get too deeply into the relative pros and cons of each of these at an enterprise level, for my needs these platforms are either natively enterprise ready or can provide secure email functionality through add-on apps. Winner: Used to be BlackBerry hands down but these days it’s a tie.

Secondly, the ability to type quickly and accurately is important. The iPad has certainly taught me that software keyboards are not an impediment to fast typing, but accuracy becomes challenged as the virtual key size reduces. It goes without saying that BlackBerry hardware keypads are excellent but software keyboards on the larger smartphones like the Evo 4G are also easy to use accurately in landscape. I’m 50/50 on the iPhone keyboard, and find that I need to make a correction every couple of sentences. Winner: Tie between BlackBerry and large-screen Android smartphones.

Thirdly, I need my smartphone to work reliably in year round temperatures. New York City summers are hot and humid, so my phone needs to function well under direct sunlight with plenty of environmental moisture in the air. There’s sufficient anecdotal evidence on the web to suggest that the iPhone copes poorly under sustained sunlight, with temperature related shutdowns being commonplace. I have had that very experience on my iPad after just five minutes of direct sun exposure. My BlackBerry Bold 9000 has never given me a heat warning, even after hours of use under the sun, plus the screens of most of the current BlackBerry range, such as the 9xxx series, are viewable in daylight. It’s difficult to assess the situation with Android phones as there are so many models. The Evo 4G does seem to have some heat issues although it sounds like these are more connected to signal strength with the device getting hot as it searches for a signal in weak coverage areas. Winner: BlackBerry.

There are a host of other considerations of course, such as Internet browsing, media playback and size/weight. For my use case, the web browsers on most smartphones are good enough for my occasional usage with the exception of the BlackBerry which has a disappointingly poor browser. Media handling is good on most modern smartphones, although the iPhone has the disadvantage of having to be tied to a specific computer for mass media transfer. The iPhone also has an incomplete Bluetooth implementation for stereo headset usage. For size and weight, the iPhone and BlackBerry devices win over the 4+ inch Android smartphones that are less pocket friendly.

For now I’m torn between the Evo 4G, Samsung Captivate and BlackBerry Bold 9700. The BlackBerry 9800 slider may also get onto my shortlist if we ever get a release date. Even though the BlackBerry platform has much to do to catch up to the user experience of iOS and Android, its reliability continues to make it a compelling platform as a daily workhorse.

Neil Berman

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Jul 12, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Verizon Motorola Droid X makes TV appearance

Droid X Verizon 1Can’t wait ’til July 15 to see the Droid X?  Well aren’t you lucky because here are some screen grabs from the Verizon “Rile The Air” commercial that aired tonight.  The images on the screen of this Droid X were simulated, but you get a great sense of how big that expansive widescreen of Motorola and Verizon’s latest Android smartphone really is.  Can’t wait.

Droid X Verizon 2

Neil Berman

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Jun 28, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Slate of the Tablet

Apple NewtonThe tablet market is moving fast this year and it’s hard to keep up. So here’s the State Slate of the Tablet.

Apple iPad running iPhone OS

Since the death of the Newton a long time ago there have been rumors that Apple was developing a new tablet. Steve Jobs finally announced the iPad earlier this year which, in case you’ve been on an extended remote vacation, is Apple iPad theONbutton landscapeavailable now running iPhone OS. It is available in WiFi only or WiFi+3G, the latter being a smart choice to get the most out of the iPad (pictured). The iPad uses the same App Store as the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad can run iPhone apps but dedicated iPad apps look best.

We now either own one, want one or don’t know what it’s for. Personally I didn’t know what it was for, then wanted one and lined up on launch day to own one. I now know exactly what it’s for, which is around 75% of all my Internet and media consumption. The chances are that if a website doesn’t work on the iPad, I’ll find another website or better still, an app.

Limitations include the iPad’s lack of Flash support, no easily accessible file explorer and a beautiful screen which is difficult to read outdoors. Strengths include ten hour battery life, loads of great apps and the ability to enjoy good Internet content without having to trawl the whole Internet to find it.

PC tablets running Windows

Windows tablets have existed ever since the release of Windows XP Tablet Edition years ago. These early tablets were typically ultraportable laptops with touchscreens that swiveled to convert the device into a tablet. They used resistiveArchos 9touchscreens and required a stylus for input, or a very precise fingernail.

The current crop of Windows 7 tablets, spearheaded by the likes of the Archos 9 (pictured), are certainly far lighter than their ancestors but the weaknesses remain. Notably the resistive screens and stylus or trackpad input method. Unfortunately there are just too many aspects of Windows 7 usage that require precise interaction to allow tablets to really exploit the OS.

Multitouch gestures have been built into Windows 7 but as soon as you try using an application like Microsoft Office on a Windows tablet, it is beaten in usability by iWork for iPad which was created from the ground up for tablet usage. Battery life is also an issue on Windows tablets which mainly now use the Intel Atom processor. This is a very power efficient CPU but real life battery usage on these tablets tends to top out at 2-3 hours.

Android

The Google and Open Handset Alliance backed Android OS is making a big play for tablet market share. Or perhaps I should say lots of little plays, because like the Windows tablet market the Android one is made up of a gazillion of Dell Streakemerging models. Unlike the Windows market however, the Android devices we’ve seen so far are all running slightly different versions of Android.

Personally I feel that while Android will overcome the obstacle of fragmentation in the smartphone market, I believe it will greatly hinder the platform in the tablet market. Most users ultimately don’t care if they can’t run this or that app on their phone as long as the device runs a core set of important apps. With tablets it’s different because they are perceived as far more capable devices than phones due to their screen size. If a user tries to download an app which only works on Android 2.1 onto a 2.0 device she purchase that day, frustration will mount. The fragmentation of Android builds on tablets may hold back the rise of the platform if left unchecked.

In terms of actual Android tablet devices in the marketplace, we have seen the JooJoo come and be poorly received. That was the most high profile launch until the recent Dell Streak (pictured above), which is a small tablet and large smartphone wrapped up in a heavy, less than pocket friendly chassis. There was a ton of Android tablets announced at Computex last week running various builds of the OS, which seemed to reinforce the idea that fragmentation is the biggest issue facing this platform.

Palm Pre PlusWeb OS by Palm

HP recently acquired Palm and the jury is out on whether the HP Slate, which was due to be launched imminently running Windows 7, will be shelved in favor of a HP Web OS tablet. Those who have used a Palm Pre (pictured) or Pixi may feel that Web OS could be the foundation of a very useful tablet interface. We’ll just have to wait to see what HP has in store for us on this front.

Neil Berman

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Jun 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm: Savior of the HP Slate?

The rumors of the premature demise of the HP Slate have left me with mixed emotions.

I had been looking forward to seeing if HP could develop its Touchsmart software to bring a viable Windows based competitor to the tablet market.  Recently however my time with the Apple iPad have left me grave doubts that Touchsmart advances could bring the HP Slate anywhere close to its most prominent competitor.  Even major enhancements to HP’s software would most likely lead to a HTC Sense over Windows Mobile 6.5 situation where a pretty, and functional, front end covers a less touch friendly but useful operating system.

HP’s acquisition of Palm obviously point towards development of both phone and tablet platforms using Palm’s WebOS software so, personally, I would be surprised to hear of HP engaging in significant further tablet development using Windows 7.  Speaking as a Windows 7 user since January 2009 and someone who attended its CES launch event, I simply do not see it as a strong competitor to the iPad for mainstream users.  This is different to OSX vs Windows.  Tablets need a completely finger friendly user environment, for all operations.

Even though Windows 7 offers so much more power than WebOS, Palm’s offering offers more relevance for mainstream tablets at this time.  Similarly Windows Phone 7 in my view looks likely to be a better fit for tablets as well.  There is really no need to squeeze all of Windows 7 into a tablet for Main Street.  The result is a large amount of unusable applications for most use-cases, poor battery life and long startup times.

Just in case there’s any confusion, the current market benchmark is thousands of high quality touch only apps, ten hours of real life battery duration and instant-on startup.  These are not nice-to-haves, these are the qualities of the best selling device in this sector.  Aspiring competitors who are considering entering this market must believe that they can improve upon these qualities, or they should not waste shareholder value in developing a competing product.

If the rumors of HP laying its Windows 7 based Slate to rest in favor of a WebOS based ‘Hurricane’ come to fruition, that’s probably a good thing.  It’s also not necessarily a bad thing for Microsoft.  Windows 7 is a great desktop, laptop and netbook operating system; probably the best I’ve used, all things considered.  Microsoft should look to preserve that reputation and produce the right products for the right platforms.  That could mean giving OEMs the right to use Windows Phone 7 in tablet development to avoid WebOS taking hold alongside Android as the viable competitors to the iPad.

Neil Berman

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May 14, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today in 2015: The Big Three rule the smartphone market

This article is a fictional work of my overactive imagination depicting how the smartphone market might appear in 2015.  Don’t count on it turning out this way…

Ah, how time flies!  It feels like only a few months ago that Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 Series and fans lined around the block for Apple’s iPhone Evolution, yet five whole years have passed since then.  During these telling years the smartphone market has truly evolved.  Vertical platform integration, wider corporate adoption and growth in the tablet market have been kind to Microsoft, Apple and Google at the expense of the RIM, Nokia and Palm.

With the benefit of hindsight it should have seemed obvious that as vertical platform integration improved, the smartphone market would come to resemble what used to be called the desktop computing market.  In the last five years the Microsoft, Google and Apple smartphone platforms developed such successful …continue reading

Mar 15, 2010 Posted by | Analysis | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Android gets Flash

The Apple Flash issue came to the fore recently when  Steve Jobs announced the iPad and today Google dropped a flash bomb on Cupertino by adding Flash to Android.

As we and much of the world noted recently, the iPhone and subsequent Apple devices running its OS such as the iPod Touch and iPad do not support Flash.  This means that they need special apps to access certain internet media content like YouTube videos and many websites just don’t work on those devices.  Windows Phone 7, announced on Monday, will also initially ship without Flash support.  Today however Google announced that Flash 10.1 will be available for Android, setting up the platform to offer a unique feature set in the smartphone market.

We know that Flash can be a resource hog on full power computers, sometimes causing Macs to crash, so I was curious to see how fluid the experience would be.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find this demo of a Motorola Droid running Flash videos on YouTube in a browser perfectly, and even managing to switch from portrait to landscape without missing a beat.  Can iPhone and Windows Phone 7 really afford to sit this one out?

Neil Berman

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Feb 17, 2010 Posted by | Mobile, News, Software | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Windows Phone 7 Series analysis vs iPhone, Android & BlackBerry (update: now with video!)

Windows Phone has been struggling in recent years.  Facing an onslaught from Apple, Google and RIM, many would say that the OS formerly known as Windows Mobile has not even been competing in the current marketplace.  Rumors have been flying around about Microsoft starting from scratch with Windows Phone 7 Series and that’s exactly what they’ve done.  And they’ve done it well. Continue reading our in-depth analysis…

Feb 15, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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