Springtime for nerds

It’s spring and the mind of the geek turns to new hardware releases.

The iWatch is still the hot rumor, but I wouldn’t expect that to even be announced until September.  That is when Apple will, probably, announce the iPhone 6, and iOS 8.
I’ve seen rumors that Apple will include a range of fitness tracking options in the much debated iWatch.  If they do, then they have a chance to pounce on the market hole created by FitBit recalling their Force device.   This also puts a lot of pressure of FitBit to come up with a Force replacement (with a functional wrist band) PDQ.  If they wait too long, and the iWatch rumors get stronger, they will loose market share to Apple’s vaporware.
On the Amazon front, they have discounted their Kindle devices.  Given that they had razor thin margins at best at the retail price, I’m taking the discounting as a sign they want to dump inventory.  Flushing the channels of the current inventory in preparation for new model Kindles in the pipeline. I expect them to announce these well in advance of Apple’s big announcement in September.  Big retail sale days for consumer electronics include Graduation and Father’s Day (Dad loves his gadgets).  If they can make those dates, that would make up for the loss from discounting the current Kindles.   They count on the downstream sales on those devices anyway.
For the Android fans out there, take heart.  The Google I/O show is slated for June.  The rumor mill is expecting the next flavor of Android to come out as well as some new hardware.  A new Nexus and some more wearables to go with Google Glass are expected.
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Google enters the 7″ tablet market

Bladerunner may have given us the Nexus 6, but Google is delivering on the Nexus 7.

Before you get your hopes up, the Nexus 7 is a 7″ android based tablet.  Supposed to be available in July 2012.

There is a comparison chart over at gdgt that compares it to the other two important players in the 7″ tablet market, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Color Nook.  There are some gaps in the data on that chart, most of which can be filled with a quick search.

For a more detailed peek under the hood of the Nexus 7, try the PCMag review.  Here are some key features. It will be running Android 4.1, not a feature reduced in house version of Android like the Fire or Nook.  It has a Quad core CPU with a 12 core GPU.  That is a lot more horse power than you get with the Kindle Fire.  The Nexus 7 screen resolution is a bit better, 1280 x 800 opposed to the Fire’s 1024 x 600 and it has double the RAM as well.  The Nexus 7 also has a built in camera in addition to Bluetooth, both features lacking in the Fire & Nook.  What the Nexus 7 doesn’t have is  speakers or a microphone.  It does have a 3.5mm audio jack, which is the only port besides the MicroUSB port.  That’s right, no SD slot.  The Nexus does come in two flavors, one with 8 Gig of storage for $199 and a 16 Gig version for $249.   For comparison, the Kindle Fire also has 8 Gig, and no SD slot.  The Color Nook is the only one that has a SD slot for additional storage.  Given that both Amazon & Google have extensive Cloud storage solutions, I’m not surprised by the lack of the SD slot.

I’ve used the Kindle Fire before, and I liked it.  However, if I had to put down $199 (plus tax) of my money for a 7″ tablet, I would go with the Google Nexus 7.

Update: The MIT Tech Review has their review of the Nexus 7 up.  According to them it does have a speaker.

Kindle Fire Review

I recently got my hands on a Kindle Fire, Amazon’s 7″ Android tablet. I can see why they are selling like the preverbal hotcakes. For $200 you get an Android tablet that is optimized for the Amazon eco-system.

The screen is sharp, and the text clear. It’s still not an e-ink display, so if all you want to do is read books, you are better off with one of the other Kindle devices. They are cheaper and easier on the eyes for prolonged reading.

The Fire is also WiFi only. No cell carrier based updates and also, no Bluetooth. So no add on keyboards or wireless headsets.  There is a headset jack, and stereo speakers.   You’ll probably want to use headphones or ear buds, but the audio is good enough through the speakers for casual use.

It has just one button, everything else, including volume/mute requires multiple touches to the screen to adjust. The screen is also a fingerprint magnet. Possibly worse than first gen iPads. Bad enough were I started carrying a stylus I had picked up to draw on the iPad with to use *all the time* on the Fire.  The screen is very crisp and the video quality is quite good, so I don’t want to be staring through fingerprints to see that picture quality.

I’ve heard one review consistently that I have to agree with. For content formatted for the 7″ screen, it looks great! Other content, not so much. Streaming video from Amazon in landscape is large and sharp! I’ve loaded some video content and the gallery player only plays it in portrait mode, so I’ve got landscape formatted video playing in the middle third of the portrait mode screen. Definitely sub-optimal. Browsing the web is not as clean as it is with a larger screen (an iPad for example). I found myself constantly having to drag the screen focus in order to read the end of a line.

The Amazon Android App store is ok, but definitely limited.

Bottom line, if you are already invested in the Amazon eco-system, and just want to read books & magazines, and watch videos from Amazon, then is a very well spent $200.

If you want more flexible device in order to see more of the Internet than what Amazon provides, then you are better off with a tablet with a 10″ screen, with either a more open version of Android or Apple iOS.

Lowest cost Android tablet on the market

Currently I would have to say that title belongs to the Nook.  Ya, ya…Barnes & Noble tells you it that it just an ebook reader, but it’s running a crippled version of Android that you can root pretty easily.

It’s pretty straightforward, and you can find just about everything you need at nookDevs. Once you are done, you can load multiple ebook readers, including B&N’s android app!

Downside, no camera and no Bluetooth.

Upside, no monthly service fees!

Disclaimer: In case this wasn’t obviously clear, rooting your Nook is not warranty friendly.

Mucking with Android

I’ve started to muck with Android. Details to follow.

Two new Android phones

AT&T is finally carrying an Android based phone, this one is made by Dell, and called the Mini 3. This phone has been selling overseas already, so the specs are pretty well known. 3.5-inch 640×360 display, Bluetooth, 3 megapixel auto-focus camera with flash, microSD, and GPS.   Two things catch my eye, no WiFi and and microSD support.  So that is the bad and good points right off the bat.  No WiFi was one of the major complaints about the Crackberry Storm.

The inclusion of a microSD slot is a big, big plus.  The lack of an additional memory source is the biggest strike against the iPhone hardware, IMNSHO.

The other new Android phone is Google’s own Nexus 1.  We’ll see how long that name lasts.  The estate of Philip K. Dick is already taking legal action against the name.  Otherwise, this is an impressive bit of hardware. It sports a one-gigahertz processor, a 3.7-inch display, a five-megapixel camera, light and proximity sensors, and dual microphones that allow for noise cancellation.  Woot! This phone also has a removable battery!  The serious road warrior can pack a spare for emergencies.  The phone itself only has 512 Meg of flash memory, but it comes with a 4 Gig microSD card.  The phone will support up to 32 Gig in that slot, so expansion is available.

You can buy an unlocked phone direct from Google fro $529.

The Droid

Verizon has finally gotten what could a be a viable iPhone replacement.  A phone running the latest version of Google’s Andorid OS and a growing supply of applitions.

I haven’t got my hands on one yet, but I’ve read a few reviews that state it stands up quite well in head to head comparisons with the iPhone.  The biggest complaint I’ve heard is that the iPhone has a much deeper pool of applications available.  Not suprising, but I expect the number of Android apps to grow quickly.

Verizon is also pushing its much wider 3G coverage heavily, but it’s still not a GSM network.  That topic has been discussed here, and I’m sure it will again, but I’m still a fan of GSM networks.  It is my opinion that Verizon is going to have to bite that bullet sooner or later.

The Droid phone and its OS have another advantage, open source.  The iPhone is locked down tight by Apple.  It controls your apps, what they can do, and how much data you can transfer over the cell phone network.  An Android based phone, with a SIM slot, is much more flexible.