Sunday, November 28, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab Android Tablet, continued Part 3

I did not use the device very much in the last day. But here are a couple points I did find memorable. You will see a number of Galaxy Tab vs. iPad comparisons below, and I will report that I give the nod on most of them to the iPad. As I indicate, I need to give the Galaxy Tab some more time, I have used the iPad for almost seven months now and it has a real experience lead. And that does not always equate to being better:

* Voice command of the Android phone is very good for web and information searching. Using the combo of the Android 'microphone' and Google cloud to both convert your speech to text and do the search is a real powerful set. To my comparison mode with Android vs. iPad/Phone in this area, the Apple voice command system seems focused on two areas; voice dialing and iPod music control. Yes you can do other commands with Apple voice command, but is seems less useful and reliable once you leave the dialing and iPod control commands. On the Android, I've yet to figure out what [if any] commands will do a voice call. I think you can do it but is not obvious. However web searching and other commands like SMS texting are as close to 'natural' as I've seen on a voice controlled device to date.

* The power button location is on the right side on the Galaxy Tab. I need to be careful of my long time iPad owner bias, but so far I do find the iPad power button location on top more fluid.

* My comparison of hard buttons of the two tablets continues to the 'Home' button. So far, I find the iPad's concaved home button easier to 'find' and also it serves a better roll in helping 'orient' the tablet when you first pick it up. I use the power button on the Galaxy Tab for this orientation task [you often do this when you pull the tablet out of a bag or from a table where you have no idea how it was put down]. I realize that both tablets do have a autorotation function to make 'any side' up. But on both, I find this slows me down.

* More on buttons. On my first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, the four standard 'hard' buttons had physical feel and feedback. On the Droid and Galaxy Tab, these are capacitive buttons with no feel. See the pictures below. I'm sure as I use the Galaxy Tab more, I will remember my finger placement, but having the feedback here is very nice in a mobile device. There is a usability factor that I am starting to get a stronger understanding of when you use a mobile device. When you first start a set of steps on a mobile device you often start using the device in an unstable or awkward position, having buttons and other physical feedback items gets your brain through these insecure first few moments of interaction and lets  you get to the 'value' steps faster.


Motorola Droid









android-galaxytab.jpgSamsung Galaxy Tab


android-g1.jpgT-Mobile G1



* On a side note of the four physical buttons that are installed on almost all Android phones, different hardware manufactures seem to have the license to place the buttons in whatever order they want. Granted, not many folks are going to be regularly using two different Android devices, but I am. And as you can see between the Droid and Galaxy Tab pictures above, Motorola and Samsung have put three of the four buttons in different locations. G1 is different as well. Very difficult on my memory!

* On the auto-rotation function on the Galaxy Tab, I find it a bit more 'squirrely' then on the iPad. Both can be pretty annoying and I often find I've locked the orientation on both devices and then just 'deal' with turning the tablet. To this 'solution', that is why right now I find the iPad a bit quicker from 'on to usefulness' with its physical home button.

* Belkin Grip Vue silicon [or something like silicon] case. $29.95 at Best Buy. I like the product for two reasons; first the fit, finish and functionality of this cover is outstanding. This is not a full case for the Galaxy Tab, it only covers the back and edges of the unit. Nothing over the glass front. But it significantly enhances the 'grip-ablity' of the device. Second, kudos to Belkin for selling something that I doubt costs them more than dimes to make for THIRTY DOLLARS! Far too much markup, but what can you do.

I first purchased one of these for an iPad, I do want to report that the fit and usefulness of the Grip Vue is better on the iPad. On the Galaxy Tab, it does fit snugly but warps out along one edge and the fit around the power and volume buttons are not as useful as on the iPad. Also, because the iPad has more mass, the security you get after you start holding the iPad in the Grip Vue is greater. Still on the Galaxy Tab I feel better about 'one handing' it with it in the Grip Vue, but I really felt that way on the heavier iPad.

* Keyboard feedback. I am not sure as yet how to control this feature, but as you press 'keys' on the on screen keyboard on the Galaxy Tab, you get a 'vibrate' feedback. This is much better than the 'click' audio feedback on the iPad or iPhone. It does not tell you you're hitting the right key, but for some reason the vibrating feedback makes me more confident while typing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab Android Tablet, continued Part 2

Here are my notes after two more days of exploring the Samsung Galaxy Tab Android Tablet. I've still not gotten to creating a UI's that take advantage of the larger screen space, hopefully over the weekend.

Plenty of rumors on the Android forums of other Android tablets coming soon and about the next two versions of the OS; 2.3 and 3.0. The tease from the Notion Ink people about the Adam tablet is pretty impressive. If it lives up the pretty pictures and price rumors then that might be a really exciting unit.


* Video players for Android, there is a real lack of players that support the various media formats that are out there. The hardware in the Galaxy Tab does not support many format, or so I am told by a number of the free players I've tried. There are couple of players that do software decoding of formats. The one I am using the most now is something called RockPlayer. It plays two formats that the build in player 'Video' version 0.16.04P1 did not identify as playable. The OGG video seems to play okay, but the .MOV format video that I recorded with the iPhone does not play very well.

* Google's App Innovator Android app development environment. I installed this under Ubuntu 10.04 and Chrome. It took a little work to get it install, most of the roadblocks I encountered I had already figured out as part of installing the standard Eclipse based Android development environment under Linux. App Innovator is similar to the old Apple HyperCard. It is a nice start as a tool for educating student on software development ideas using the Android platform. I've been following the discussions for it since it first went into public beta, about 4 months ago I think. It is a solid first step, the biggest problem I see with it so far is what I see a fairly slow roll out of updates. I realize that it is only 1 year old or less, but in this fast paced world it really need to move to stay on the radar.

* Battery life has been good, not as strong as the iPad but a solid 6 hours before you start to worry about running low or get any messages.

* Only one total lockup that required a hard reboot [Done by holding the power button down for 10 seconds or more]. I was trying out 3 or 4 of the twitter apps that are available, I think I did not successfully kill one before launching another. While I have had two of them running in the past, I think the background downloading tasks go in a fight.

* I do find myself actively killing tasks that are in the background on a regular basis. The build in task manager feature that is in this copy of Android 2.2 does that very nicely. Frustratingly, the build in task manger of the 2.2 version on my Droid phone does NOT have this feature. I picked up the habit of using the 3rd party task killers on Android a long time ago on my T-Mobile G1 and Android 1.6, perhaps I do not need to do this as much anymore, but the behavior is ingrained in my. Interestingly, I do the same on the iPhone, though not as regular. Even there, I do find apps that suck battery life in the background at times. Apple advantage is that they allow less types of processing in the background so apps have fewer opportunities to screw up.

* I upgraded the Barnes and Noble Nook e-book reader when it was offered by the Android Market, as a result the Nook app can no longer open its books. The original version that came installed seemed to work fine. I emailed the Nook support and got a reply asking me how I could have possibly have either gotten the Nook reader on an Android Tablet or how I got the Android Market running on a Android Tablet.... I gave them the details and have not heard anything back.... Frustrating that their tech support was both poorly informed and so sure that what I was experiencing could not possibly be occurring.

* I've downloaded and done some basic exploration with about 50 apps so far. The built in apps from Google [and their add on ones, like Google Sky, Googles] are solid and very comfortable to use on the Galaxy Tab. The Twitter apps are all good solid performers, on par with the iPhone/iPad apps. The only area they are a little behind on are web page link previews. A couple have this but not as evolved as the same on iOS. All the remained apps [and a couple games] work fine. No screen issue with any apps so far. And only a couple don't 'scale up' on the Galaxy Tab. I still have a more iPhone apps that do not scale to the iPad on iOS! I find programs like Epocrates, a medical app that does medical news, drug interaction and pill identification as well as several other useful function the type app that I think is going be really effective on the 7 inch form tablet.



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab Android Tablet First Impressions

I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab Android tablet at the Santa Barbara AT&T store today. These are my first impressions of the device.

I've been using the Apple iPad since it first came out in April of this year and I still think it is a fantastic device and the leader of this new mobile wireless form factor that is taking off. It was clear to me when Steve Jobs announced the iPad in January of this year that the tablet device was going to be an amazing next step in the evolution of computing. I felt at that time that there would be a big rollout of these tablet devices and today I am trying my first Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab:



I picked up one of two units that were delivered to the AT&T store in Santa Barbara. I had dropped by yesterday and they had not yet received any units. Cost out the door was USD 706.86.

They do not have any accessories in stock. I found this the case on release day for the AT&T iPhone 4 at their stores as well, I think they are really missing the boat on profits in these accessories on launch day. Best Buy really understands this.

I played around with the Verizon and Sprint version of the tablet yesterday at Best Buy before dropping by the AT&T store to see if they had any. Best Buy was well stocked with both the Verizon and Sprint units and accessories.

I reviewed the costs of the unit via the various wireless providers and decided to go with the AT&T version for two reasons:

1) Even though it was the most expensive to purchase, the fact that the service plan is completely without strings, like the Apple iPad's service, is a big plus. On a 2 year plan, it appeared to me that the subsidy only comes out to about USD 10 to 15 dollars per month and the lowest cost plans seemed to be in the USD 30 up amounts [plus the taxes]. So even purchasing a subsidized  unit would still cost ten or more dollars per month from the other carriers.

2) I figured that a unit on the GSM network such as AT&T would be more flexible, for international travel and possible resale than the USA centric CDMA units.

I walked out of the AT&T store with the device in hand and went over to a nearby Starbucks to give it a first spin. This is where I ran into my first problem, after getting a cup of coffee. I open the box to find the unit powered on and on a screen that said 'Downloading.... do not turn off Target!!!' The salesman at the AT&T store did not power the unit on and the SIM card was already installed. In hindsight, I should have had the guy at least turn it on. The box was sealed when he bought it out to the counter, so I'm not sure where or when this update started. I waited for 15 minutes to see if the screen changed, there was no progress indicator. After that period, I crossed my fingers and powered the unit off. When I powered it back up, it came up to a normal initial setup screen with no problems.  But not a good first impression, hopefully others are not seeing similar.

So I got it up and running to the initial Android desktop and played around with it a bit. As I had found the day before at Best Buy, the unit is very spry and responsive.

My next step was to purchase a 1 month of wireless service on the unit. This I found a bit difficult to get done on the device, partly due to my lack of experience with 'typing and swiping' on it and part due to the fact the registration was done in the web browser window, not in a dedicated and formatted web window as I remember the iPad AT&T service registration being done. After three tries reentering my info, I finally was successful.

I found the unit to be at 50% charge level after I rebooted it from the 'downloading' screen, so I plugged it in to a wall socket at the Starbucks and did all of my initial 2 hours of testing while the unit was powered on A/C. I find the supplied cable to be a bit short, the one with the iPad seems to be longer. The A/C adapter is a nice small size with an exchangeable wall plug for international use, however like the Apple unit, it is a unique format that will require buying adapters from Samsung. However, it is 100 to 240 volt universal. The prongs on the A/C adapter do not fold down like some of the Apple units do, I realize this easier for the USA plug format, but is a nice feature to see on A/C adapters.

The unit got to a full charge in less than the two hours I spent at the Starbucks. It connected to the free AT&T Wifi service at Starbucks fine, although the first time it did require me to acknowledge the service agreement in the browser, I did not think the iPhone and iPad require this at Starbucks. I will see if it continues to require this in the future.

I downloaded several apps and synced my two Google accounts while at Starbucks. One of the apps I tried was Skype, which made a phone call just fine over the wifi. The USA versions of the Galaxy Tab do not include any voice calling via mobile, so it was nice to see that VOIP service seem to work fine. I tested to see if Skype would make a call over the AT&T wireless network and NOPE, Skype says that 'In the USA, voice calls are only available via Wifi'.

The Android market worked fine, both on the Wifi and AT&T network, I was able to purchase 'Doodle Jump' via my Google account.

After getting used to the size and operation; web browsing, email and apps are working well. To Steve Jobs point, that this size screen will not be as effective for the basic productivity functions I will agree. However, there are other aspects of this size device that I do think beat out the iPad. The smaller size is easier to carry and for some operations including video, audio and dedicated apps I have the feeling and so far my experience support that this size device will find a useful niche. The iPad can get a bit awkward at times and tiring to use for extended periods. I think the Amazon folks research that ended the up at this size for the first Kindle book reader is correct, so that Steve is not 100% accurate in his statement that this size device is not useful.

My second negative experience came when I tried to register the device at the Samsung web site, when I went to enter the serial number of the unit in the registration form, the web site came back and said that it was not a valid serial number. I used the online chat service at the Samsung web site and with the help of the 2nd level tech on chat I was able to register the unit using the IMEI number rather than the serial number as was requested.

So my only two real knocks on the overall experience so far are not related to the operation of the Galaxy Tab  or Android, but rather due to the overall initial fit and finish of the service aspects of the experience. But, these are important, as many returned and unused technologies are due to these side problems. Apple continues to do a fantastic job of making sure the complete experience is good, they really understand this.

I am now into the 5th hour of operation of the device, figuring two hours of that were on charger, I have been on battery for 3 hours and the battery level indicator says that 31% of the battery remains. I have been using the GPS, navigation, wifi and music player functions for a considerable part of this time on battery.  So my initial impression is that I will see about 5 to 6 hours of continuous use under medium to high power use functions. Not as good as the iPad.

I have not found any screen size issues with apps running on the Galaxy Tab, a number of reports knocked the unit and apps for not being formatted for the larger screen. The apps I've tried, from games like Angry Bird to productivity apps like Facebook and Twitter are very useable. As a matter of fact, having the fonts size up is a good thing for folks like myself with diminishing near vision. I have not seen any pixelated fonts or images so far. Some of the startup splash screens do show the 'blown up' effect, but once the apps are running Android 2.2 is doing a good job of scaling fonts, text and menus. Overall, the Android 2.2 experience on the tablet format is good. I do think it is missing some usability functions that Apple refined for the iPad in iOS, but these lacks have not been as big as I had heard they were.

I am going to use the Galaxy Tab more over the next days and refine my impressions and then I will move to the really interesting aspect for me, developing apps for this device. The combination of the size and the far more openness to connectivity of the Android platform are the parts that make me think that some very powerful uses of this platform can be done. This is where I think the Android tablets have an advantage over the closed Apple iPad. While for general use, the walled garden of the iPad is a good thing. For specific vertical uses of the tablet format, being able to control and mod the Android devices will be extremely powerful. That combined with the refining of the Android software that is occurring will give Apple a real run for leadership. Fundamentally the hardware is going to be very similar from all vendors, the advantage that Apple has had in the area of unique and leading edge hardware is reducing. They may well still lead out the gate, but the window of this lead is narrowing with each new hardware release.

I will close out this initial post on the Samsung Android Galaxy Tab by giving it a 4 and 3/4 star out of five rating. I will use the iPad as my 5 star perfect score for comparison. Not because I think the iPad was perfect the day it came out seven months ago, or even today, but it is fair to say that it is the standard that other tablets will be measured against for the next year or so. That is fair, as it was first out the gate.

I think that Android tablets in the 7 inch form factor is going to be very popular and my initial impressions are very positive. Congratulations to Samsung and Google!