Tagged: First Look

Eyes-on with the Samsung Galaxy S III

So what do you do when you want to come up with the next version of one of the world’s most popular phones?

You start by not messing with a proven formula. Samsung’s Galaxy S III, unveiled today at a London, England event, is evolutionary not revolutionary and that’s just fine with us.

They’ve kept the large-but-not-too-large 4.8″ screen, they’ve used a variety of materials including metal to give the phone a more sophisticated look and up-market feel (Samsung says this is the first of their phones to be built from a designer’s perspective, not an engineer’s) but most of what sets the GS III apart from other Galaxy phones and indeed other Android smartphones in general, are the software enhancements.

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But before we get to that, let’s talk about the screen. As mentioned, it’s 4.8″ in size and has  720 x 1280 HD resolution. It’s the same Super AMOLED HD technology found in previous Galaxy devices, but they’ve managed to give the display better readability without sacrificing the vibrance that AMOLED screens are known for.

This isn’t a small thing. Some people have noted that while they love the incredible richness and saturation combined with deep blacks that Super AMOLED offers, this same brilliance can make it harder to read when compared to the IPS-LCD technology found in the current generation of iPhones and iPads. And while we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the GS III, I think Samsung has found the right balance.

The rest of the hardware specs are almost exactly what you’d expect: 8MP camera with 1080p video, 4G LTE (with HSPA support), MicroSD, WiFi N, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and MHL.  What’s new here is the 1.4GHz Exynos 4 Cortex-A9 quad-core chip that’s powering the whole experience. When you hold the GS III in your hand and compare it to the current GS II HD LTE, they feel very similar. The GS III might weigh ever so slightly more, but that serves to make it feel more substantial (Galaxy phones have always felt a tad light in the hand for my liking). The back plate now has a smooth finish instead of the texture panel on the GS II. Again, you might like this more or less, but I found it pleasant enough.

The GS III is the first Galaxy smartphone to ship with Samsung’s interpretation of  Android 4.0  (the Galaxy Nexus which Samsung makes, is Android unadulterated, as it comes directly from Google), and this is where you find most of the differentiating features.

Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, which has only soft buttons, that take up screen real-estate and are embedded into the OS, the GS III uses hardware buttons – 2 soft-touch buttons and one central home button which is physical, slightly rubberized and has a pleasing soft-click action. Samsung indicated that this was done not only to increase the amount of available screen real-estate for actual content, but also because users like having physical buttons – we agree.

On a deeper level, Samsung has added their own touches to the Ice Cream Sandwich experience. Some are subtle – like the camera’s ability to automatically suggest the best picture from a series of rapid-fire shots. Others could end up being game-changers: a contextual calling feature lets you call the person you’re texting with by simply pressing a finger to the screen and then raising the phone to your ear – the GS III immediately places the call.

Physical gestures such as this are part of Samsung’s effort to re-make the smartphone interface into a more human and intuitive experience. Another great example of this is the option to have the GS III “read” your face when you’re using it: using the front-facing camera, the GS III can tell if you’re watching video, or reading a web page and automatically prevent the screen from slipping into power-saving mode.

Speaking of video – you know the picture-in-picture feature that most modern HDTV’s have? Well the GS III has it too. You can now keep a video window open on the phone, regardless what other task you’re involved with. This works for both local and streamed videos and you can reposition the window anywhere you want.

Whether you find these engineering tricks to be your cup of tea or not, Samsung is clearly hoping that they will help set the GS III apart from an increasingly crowded Android field where their current leadership is anything but assured. They might also be harbouring some hope that these extras will appeal to those who are contemplating leaving Apple’s juggernaut on their next phone refresh.

Obviously, Samsung wasn’t quite ready to let us spend some serious time with the Galaxy S III, but rest assured we will be doing so in the very near future, and will have all the details regarding price, carrier availability and Canadian launch dates – stay tuned!

May 29 is the European launch date, with the Canadian release slated for this summer.

Here’s the full list of specs for the GS III:

Network

2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G (HSPA+ 21Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
4G (Dependent on market)

Display

4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED (1280×720) display

OS

Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Camera

Main(Rear): 8 Mega pixel Auto Focus camera with Flash & Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
Sub (Front): 1.9 Mega pixel camera, HD recording @30fps with Zero Shutter Lag, BIS

Video

Codec: MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark
Recording & Playback: Full HD (1080p)

Audio

Codec: MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X

Additional
Features

S Beam, Buddy photo share, Share shot
AllShare Play, AllShare Cast
Smart stay, Social tag, Group tag, Face zoom, Face slide show
Direct call, Smart alert, Tap to top, Camera quick access
Pop up play
S Voice
Burst shot & Best photo, Recording snapshot, HDR

Google Mobile Services

Google Search, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Latitude
Google Play Store, Google Play Books, Google Play Movies
Google Plus, YouTube, Google Talk,
Google Places, Google Navigation, Google Downloads

Connectivity

WiFi a/b/g/n, WiFi HT40
GPS/GLONASS
NFC
Bluetooth® 4.0(LE)

Sensor

Accelerometer, RGB light, Digital compass, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer

Memory

16/ 32GB User memory (64GB available soon) + microSD slot (up to 64GB)

Dimension

136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm, 133g

Battery

2,100 mAh
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Tablets, 3D, smartphones set the tone at CES

Darth Vader makes a surprise appearance at CES 2011

CES 2011 is in some ways no different than in previous years: massive. The sheer number of companies exhibiting their products is overwhelming. But that’s CES and I wasn’t expecting anything different. What has come as a bit of a surprise is the number of attendees. The show is jam-packed with people milling around the show floor and making it nearly impossible to navigate some of the larger and especially flashy booths like LG’s behemoth which I suspect is consuming more power right now than the entire Las Vegas Strip – it has hundreds of TV screens of every shape and size imaginable.

This attendance level would seem to indicate that while the U.S. is still trying to pull itself out of a lengthy recession, worldwide interest in consumer electronics is hitting a feverish pitch which hasn’t been seen in the last four years, possibly longer.

Full Article below the Photo Gallery…

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So what’s driving this curiosity? Strangely nothing ground-breaking or hugely innovative. Instead it appears that the industry has decided to hunker down and work on improving two categories that have been around for a few years: 3D and smartphones, while at the same time aggressively playing catch-up to the unprecedented success of Apple’s iPad in the tablet space.

3D, which made a big splash at CES two years ago, and then affirmed its presence last year with more products, is now pretty much everywhere. Every major manufacturer (and most minor ones) now have 3D HDTVs in their lineups and the focus is now on differentiation.

What started out as a single approach to in-home 3D – that being the use of “active shutter” glasses – has now fragmented into at least 3 techniques: the “active” approach, still being pushed aggressively by Panasonic and Sony, the “passive” approach which uses the same polarized technique employed in movie theatres, and a third – glass-less 3D which allows viewers to see the 3D effect with their naked eyes.

While the glass-less or glasses-free TV technology isn’t being scheduled for release just yet, it is maturing rapidly and is already slated to appear later this year in Nintendo’s handheld gaming device the 3DS.  The “passive” technology however will be hitting store shelves this year and I strongly suspect will win over consumers who have been hesitant about making the 3D plunge. The passive glasses are so inexpensive they can be considered disposable, there’s no limit to how many people can watch simultaneously, and it’s inherently flicker-free and perceptually brighter than the active shutter displays. The only catch might be the price of the TVs. At least initially, the polarized TV screens might be more expensive than the non-polarized type.

Will passive win out over active as the true single-standard? It’s far too early to tell, especially since consumer appetite for 3D remains suppressed due to our still-struggling economies, a lack of library-depth in 3D titles and an unwillingness to spend a lot of money buying new technology when many people recently upgraded to HDTV within the last year or two.

On the smartphone front, “4G” and Android are the dominant buzzwords. The 4G label is being pushed around a lot down here in the U.S. and I think it’s creating a lot of confusion for consumers both north and south of the border.

What is 4G exactly? Well according to a strict definition as cited by Wikipedia, it’s a mobility standard that doesn’t exist commercially yet with any provider as 4G requires “Peak data rates of up to approximately 100 Mbit/s for high mobility such as mobile access and up to approximately 1 Gbit/s for low mobility”. The fastest mobile devices at the moment are capable of up to 21 Mbps – a far cry from the 100 cited in the 4G standard.

So why are the U.S. carriers crowing about “4G”? It’s a marketing game. What they’re really referring to is the HSPA+ communication standard – the one that can deliver up to 56Mbps (but is currently running at up to 21Mbps in most countries) and is probably better labeled as “3.5G” since it is an upgrade of the slower HSPA standard (up to 14 Mbps) which along with EVDO was the original “3G” standard.

I guess these companies needed a way to tell people that they were getting something significantly better with HSPA+ than they were getting with HSPA, and probably felt that saying 3.5G just wasn’t going cut it. So they skipped it altogether and adopted 4G. For a good explanation of the current mobile landscape in the U.S. see CNET’s article on the issue. In the Canadian market you probably won’t hear the 4G term used at all. That’s because the major national mobile carriers are already operating HSPA+ and are thankfully resisting the incorrect 4G label. But naturally the power of U.S. marketing will leave some thinking that our American cousins are enjoying something that we can’t get. Rest assured, it ain’t so. So while Motorola’s new ATRIX will likely bear the 4G moniker in the U.S., the very same phone up here will simply be called the ATRIX – no other letters or numbers needed.

Finally, there are really more tablets here at the show than I can effectively discuss in this post, but I will be dedicating a separate post cover just these devices. Everyone it seems now has, or has plans for, an Android-powered tablet of some description, with many companies trying out several different sizes simultaneously. Most of these were anticipated, such as Motorola, RIM, LG etc, but some have been a surprise like Panasonic’s line of VIERA tablets which seem to be designed more as a complement to their TVs than as iPad competitors.

Stay tuned… more (much more) – and videos, to come…

The iPad unboxed: can you feel the excitement?

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It’s the kind of hype that only Apple can build. From Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPad, to the reaction of the blogosphere, to the retail debut in the U.S., it’s hard to recall a device launch that has had this level of curiosity, commentary and criticism. The iPhone launch comes to mind, but if we let the numbers tell the story, the iPad has easily surpassed its smaller sibling in initial sales: more than a million units shipped so far – a sure sign that demand for the new gadget is meeting expectations.

But numbers don’t tell the full story. Especially when it comes to Apple products and even more so in the case of the iPad, a device which on paper at least, fails to impress. After all, from a functionality point of view, the iPad has less going for it than the iPhone. As many observers have pointed out, it lacks a camera, a keyboard, a memory card slot and in it’s current iteration can’t multi-task. Then you get your hands on one and these quibbles take a back seat to the experience of using the iPad. It may only be an iPod Touch on steroids, but that single difference – the size of the screen – makes all the difference in the world.

This isn’t a review of the iPad. If you want to read one, check out Marc Saltzman’s take on the gadget in text and video. He explains why the iPad is a device worth taking notice of and worth trying before you decide if it’s right for you. Instead, this is the story of Andrew Takla, a gadget geek of the first order who made up his mind months ago that he had to have an iPad.

As any self-respecting geek would, Andrew considered the drive down to the U.S. to buy himself an American model, but in the end he decided to delay his gratification by a few weeks and became one of the first to pre-order a Canadian model from Apple’s website.

As the weeks rolled on and talk of supply problems surfaced, some of us in the office began to question his decision. “What if they run out of iPads in the U.S.? Won’t that mean that Canadian pre-orders will be delayed? Andrew, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”  You had to admire this man’s resolve. He stood firm. He did not panic. He did not cancel his order and make a run for the border. “Apple will deliver,” he stated calmly. I for one remained doubtful. Perhaps that’s because I’m old enough to remember the terrible iPhone shortages that plagued the Canadian launch of that device. With a shudder at that memory I offered what I hoped was a supportive smile and said, “I hope so.”

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Well today was the day that Andrew was able to survey his skeptical co-worker with a not-so-subtle “I told you so” look as he proudly held aloft the shipping box that contained his iPad. Apple (via FedEx) had indeed delivered. The only thing left to do was perform the ritual unboxing, a ceremony so steeped in tradition it has been documented all over the web in pictures, prose and video.

Andrew began the process of taking the wraps off his new toy, and like a kid on Christmas morning, he could barely contain his excitement. The goofy grin at times looked like it might consume his entire face.

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Andrew’s iPad model of choice – a 16GB version with 3G capability – emerged from its trademark glossy-white box and was greeted with daylight for the first time. As it was held, nay, cradled in Andrew’s paternal hands and raised up so that all could see, I believe I heard the sound of angels singing Hallelujah. Or it might just have been someone’s ringtone. It was an emotional moment.

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Once we had sufficiently collected ourselves, it was time to move on to the next step in our iOdyssey: the First Sync. Carefully, Andrew connected the iPad to his laptop via the USB cable and the crowd around his desk once again breathed a collective “oooh” as the computer dutifully responded with the message “Found New Hardware – iPad”. Have any four words ever sounded so sweet?

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Then, in a somewhat anticlimactic pause in the proceedings, we waited for the iPad to complete its synchronization with the iTunes software. We waited. And waited. It turns out that in Andrew’s pre-iPad excitement, he had gone on a virtual shopping spree in the App Store in anticipation of his upcoming mastery of mobile computing. There were a lot of apps to sync.

Depending on how you look at it, the App Store’s ability to keep all of your i-devices up to date with all of your downloads apps is either a blessing or a curse. I’m sure Andrew was delighted by the slow but steady progress as his new gadget morphed its catalog of software  into a mirror image of his iPod Touch, but I was growing impatient. Watching any device sync is the electronic equivalent of paint drying.

The process did come to a halt 10 minutes later – an eternity from my perspective – and it was time, finally, to perform the ultimate inititation rite for any gadget that possesses the magical ability to connect to the internet sans wires: firing up the browser and checking out a website or two.

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First stop? No not Google – that would be too easy. Instead we pointed Safari to – insert shameless plug – Sympatico.ca, our very own portal and a good test of the iPad’s surfing acumen. It loaded flawlessly. If you’re raising your eyebrows and muttering “So what” at your screen right now, you might not be aware that not every website works on an iPad. Sites that use Adobe’s Flash for all or part of its content will not play nicely with the iPad because the device does not support Flash natively, workarounds notwithstanding. This includes many video sites that rely on the Flash video format for their clips.

At this point, the crowd began to disperse and we left Andrew alone with his new tablet tag-along. It had been an exhausting morning and the pair needed time to bond. Ever the doting dad, Andrew’s first responsibility as an iPad owner is to provide the necessities of life: a cover, an extra charger and a MicroSIM card from Bell Mobility (of course).

Congratulations Andrew, we wish you and you iPad all the best. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada