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.
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:
|2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G (HSPA+ 21Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
4G (Dependent on market)
|4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED (1280×720) display|
|Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)|
|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
|Codec: MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark
Recording & Playback: Full HD (1080p)
|Codec: MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X|
|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|
|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
|WiFi a/b/g/n, WiFi HT40
|Accelerometer, RGB light, Digital compass, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer|
|16/ 32GB User memory (64GB available soon) + microSD slot (up to 64GB)|
|136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm, 133g|
One of the big draws at this year’s show was Samsung’s demo of their new TV interface which combines voice commands and hand gestures to perform activities like changing the channel or muting the sound. Almost anything you used to only be able to do with the remote, can now be accomplished by speaking to your TV.
Or should I say ‘shouting’?
If Samsung’s demo proved anything to me, it’s that I have no desire to start talking to my gadgets. Or waving my hands at them. Or to do anything else that isn’t a clear improvement on the way I used to do something.
Given that I’m not a big fan of other voice systems such as Apple’s Siri, I suspected Samsung would have their work cut out for them in trying to make a convert out of me. Even though Siri and I don’t get along, we understand one another. Actually that’s not exactly true. She understands me some of the time, and I understand why some people think she’s the best thing since sliced bread. That’s because there are plenty of times when you can’t interact with your smartphone with your fingers – say, when you’re driving.
And even though the woman running Samsung’s demo suggested that there would in fact be times in my life when I wouldn’t be able to reach for the remote, I have yet to find my hands so preoccupied while watching TV that I could spare a digit or two for stabbing at those little buttons.
At least I know that if I hit the ‘channel up’ button, that’s exactly what will happen, barring me pointing the remote at my own belly button and even then it will probably still change the channel.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with Samsung’s voice system.
On more than one attempt, our exhausted demo leader had to repeat herself to get the TV’s attention: “HI TV!” (pause) “HI TV!”
To the TV’s credit, when it failed to understand the commands being shouted in its direction, it did not shout back. It politely notified us on-screen that it hadn’t understood and perhaps we would like to use a hand gesture instead.
Yes TV, I would like to use a hand gesture. But I don’t think you’re going to like the one I have in mind.
This new interaction scheme will be available on all new Series 8 and 9 LCD TVs from Samsung later this year. You’ll be pleased to know it can be turned on or off at your discretion and the sets still come with good old fashioned remote controls.
That’s good. You see I already have voice control for our TV. Every day I shout at the kids to turn the thing off and come have dinner.
But just as with Samsung’s system, I usually have to say it more than once.
So readers, are you excited that you’ll soon be able stop asking “where’s the remote?” Or are you are you beginning to have flashbacks to your first viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Given that it’s going to be the first device in Canada to come equipped with the latest version of Android – Ice Cream Sandwich to those of you in the know – it’s fair to say there’s a good amount of anticipation surrounding the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was confirmed to be arriving on Bell and Virgin’s networks.
And now we know when and how much: December 8th is the date you’ll be able to take your place in line at participating retailers to grab one of these smartphones before the holidays and it will cost $159.95 on a new three-year term.
I know, I know – another line. I’m not a big fan of lining up either. Heck, I will intentionally wait weeks after a movie opens if it means I can avoid a line up for tickets.
So I’m a little intrigued by this new concept (at least I think it’s new) that Bell has cooked up called a “Bell Twitter line up.”
It works like this:
If you want the Samsung Galaxy Nexus on launch day, but you do not want to go and physically line up at a store, you can do your lining up a week earlier, and from the comfort of your home or office. But you’ll need a Twitter account and reliable internet access to do it.
On Thursday December 1st, hit Bell’s sign-up website between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST. If you’re one of the first 100 people to sign-in, you’ll be given a pre-populated tweet that you will then need to tweet from your account immediately. You must then check back in to the site every hour that day until 10 p.m. and repeat the process. This is how you will “stay in line.” At 10 p.m., if you’ve successfully tweeted the required tweets during the day, Bell will get in touch with you and arrange the shipping and payment.
Follow this process to the letter and your Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be shipped to the (Canadian) address of your choice and arrive the same day as the phone goes on sale (December 8th). No line ups, you don’t have to take the day off work or leave your kids or even miss your favourite TV show, and you’ll get your phone on the same day as those who had to line up. Not a bad option.
So Sync readers, does this idea of a virtual line up work for you? Or will you go the tried-and-true route and take your chances at a retail location?
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE Inc.
Last year, Google broke new ground in the mobile space when they announced the “Google phone” which was to become known as the Nexus 1. HTC built the handset but Google took the unusual step of marketing it directly to consumers from their own e-commerce website.
And while this “selling direct” model didn’t last long (Google eventually stopped selling this way and partnered with Best Buy in the U.S. to sell the phone) the Google phone itself has continued to evolve.
And while Canada missed out on the first version The latest iteration is the Nexus S. This time around it’s built by Samsung (that’s the ‘S’ part of the name) and if you’ve ever used Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone, you’ll feel right at home with the Nexus S. The two phones share much in common, including the dazzling Super AMOLED screen, which is incredibly vivid. But there are some significant differences too. The Nexus S has a slightly curved screen – curved from top to bottom, not side to side. Samsung claims this not only makes the phone more comfortable to hold as it matches the contour of your head and hand, but also helps to improve visibility by better handling reflections off the glossy surface of the screen.
The other big difference is that while the handset itself is 100% Samsung, the OS is 100% Google. Unlike other Samsung phones running Android and in fact unlike *any* other Android phone from other manufacturers, the Nexus S has no 3rd party software on it whatsoever. No TouchWiz or other manufacturer layer on top of Android, no third party app store like Samsung Apps, and no carrier apps (such as carrier-specific GPS apps) pre-loaded.
The whole user interface is unadulterated Android Gingerbread. Now, depending on your experiences with other Android devices this may or may not be a good thing. If you’ve come to enjoy the extras that TouchWiz or HTC Sense bring to Android, you won’t find them on the Nexus S. One of the biggest downsides to this in my opinion is the lack of the superb “Swype” application that gives users a whole new (and I think far more efficient) way of inputting text from the on-screen keyboard.
On the upside – and many folks will be delighted with this – there is no longer an middle man between you and upgrades to your mobile OS from Google. As soon as Google releases an update for Android, it will be available to Nexus S users.
This positions the Nexus S as the ultimate smartphone for those who simply must have the latest upgrades and can’t stand the idea of waiting while the manufacturer figures out all of the compatibility issues with their proprietary software. When you hear people refer to the Nexus as a “Google phone” – that’s why. The hardware might be Samsung, but everything else is Google.
Interestingly, both carriers and Samsung will provide first-line tech support for the Nexus S, only handing off to Google if they can’t resolve the problem themselves.
Speaking of carriers, the Nexus S represents the first time a new handset will launch simultaneously on every provider in Canada. And I mean *every* carrier. In addition to the big three (Bell, TELUS, Rogers) there will be a version for WIND and Mobilicity too and Videotron in Quebec. This is unusual if only because most manufacturers release their GSM (or EVDO) versions first, and then only after an initial exclusivity period move on to the AWS version – that is if they do one at all.
I know you’re probably itching for a firm launch date and price point but Samsung wasn’t offering either up when I met with them today. All they would say is “early April.”
They did mention that in addition to the usual batch of carrier store locations, there would be a big retail partner too. Your guess is as good as mine.
I’ve got a demo unit in my hands as I write this, so you can expect a full review as soon as I’ve put the device through its paces. In the meantime, here are some images to keep you entertained as well as this link to Engadget’s review of the U.S. Nexus S.
Android! iPad! PlayBook! These are the buzzwords being shouted this year and they were especially loud at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. There’s good reason for this. Tablets, in case you’ve been sitting under the proverbial rock, are hot, and everyone’s looking to get in on the action. But in all the excitement, more than a few people are asking a very good question: Can I really stop using my laptop or desktop and migrate all of my computing tasks to a tablet? The answer for now at least, is no – not completely. The tablet form factor itself lacks a built-in keyboard which many consider a deal-breaker in terms of doing “real work”, while the operating systems being used (Android, iOS, QNX) aren’t compatible with any of your existing Windows or Mac OS software or peripherals.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The tablet category, while not technically new, is still very much in its infancy and it will be a few more years before people can give up their existing computers in favour of these lighter gadgets. But for those who are determined to take advantage of the increased portability and touch-screen UI of a tablet without sacrificing full PC functionality, Samsung may have the answer. Their 7-series Sliding PC is a Windows 7 netbook that has all of the typical netbook specs, but when you tuck the sliding keyboard behind the screen, the device becomes a somewhat heavy but nonetheless quite usable tablet.
Personally, I think people should probably skip this device, assuming it ever hits store shelves. In trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being neither. If you want a tablet, this machine is heavy and laden with an OS that is not designed from the ground-up as mobile computing platform. If you want a netbook, this machine offers a few nice perks such as micro-HDMI and 3G, but you can expect it to cost a lot more that the average $300 netbook. Although Samsung wouldn’t give us a date or a price at the show, Engadget was able to squeeze it out of them.
The age of the connected TV is here and it will take the humble television and turn it into much more than a screen for watching video. Every manufacturer is now shipping or has plans to ship models that will let you do everything from streaming videos to video calling and almost everything in-between. Samsung’s Smart TVs are a great example of how rapidly this technology is evolving. My guess is that those of us who migrated away from the TV to start using the internet for our entertainment will now be coming back to the big screen… and loving it.
For the first time since the iPad went on sale earlier this year, it has a competitor. And I’m not talking about a thin and light laptop or netbook or even an eReader no matter how fancy they may be. I’m talking about the Samsung Galaxy Tab: an Android 2.2 powered touch screen device that rivals the iPad in all but a few areas and even manages to up the game with some features that the iPad lacks.
But when everything’s said and done, has Samsung managed to beat Apple at the tablet game? I wish the answer was an easy “yes” or “no”, but as is the case with so many Apple-Android comparisons, the answer is “Sort of, well, maybe… um you might want to sit down.”
So let’s begin at the beginning, with a quick look at the specs for these touch-screen devices. For the purposes of this review, we’ll look at the iPad WiFi+3G 16GB and the Galaxy Tab 16GB, since the Tab isn’t available as Wi-Fi only:
|Apple iPad||Samsung Galaxy Tab|
|Size (H/W/D/weight)||242.8/189.7/13.4/0.73 kg||190.1/120.5/12/0.38 kg|
|OS||iOS 4.1||Android 2.2 “Froyo”|
|Processor/speed||Apple A4 1Ghz||ARM Cortex A8 1Ghz|
|External storage||n/a||Up to 32GB (MicroSD)|
|Cameras||none||3.2MP rear/1.3MP front|
|Audio support||HE-AAC/AAC/Protected AAC/MP3/MP3 VBR/Audible/Apple Lossless/AIFF/WAV||MP3/WAV/eAAC+/AC3/FLAC|
|Video support||H.264 (mp4/m4v/mov) MPEG4 (mp4/m4v/mov) Motion JPEG||MP4/DivX/WMV/H.264/H.263|
|Battery life (claimed)||10 hr||7 hr|
|Price*||$679 (Apple)||$649 (Bell) $674.99 (Rogers)|
*Pricing is based on n0-contract. Discounts may be available with locked-in contract terms. See mobility dealers for details.
Okay, so without getting too deep into the above chart, you’ve probably already identified the key differences between the iPad and the Tab: The Tab is smaller, slightly thinner and much lighter than the iPad and it has two cameras whereas the iPad has none. It also has less screen resolution: 172,032 fewer pixels than the iPad to be precise, and for those who like relative terms that’s 21.8% less. That might be an important number later on. While Samsung has not used the same wonderful AMOLED screen on the Tab as they did on the Vibrant S (a rumoured 2011 update to the Tab will have it), the LED-backlit LCD screen gets the job done and I think compares favourably if not perfectly to the iPad’s larger display.
The Galaxy Tab’s form factor is probably the best argument against Steve Jobs’ now-famous claim that the “current crop of 7″ tablets will be DOA – dead on arrival.” With all due respect to the Apple research and development team, I think a 7″ device can provide a very good user experience for most tasks and frankly, a much better user experience than a 9.7″ device for a few specific tasks. The Tab is ideally sized and shaped for holding in a single hand. Most adults will be able to grasp both sides easily. The curved back not only helps in cradling the Tab but reduces fatigue too. The iPad is heavier and wider which means your hand can only hold it like a dinner plate, or cradled in the crook of your arm clipboard-style. Neither is ideal. Somewhat ironically – considering the fact that the iPad was never conceived as laptop replacement – an angled lap remains the most comfortable position in which to use it. And by the way, if you prefer to type with your thumbs as on a Blackberry or other phone-sized device, you can do that on the Tab in portrait orientation. Try that on an iPad. On a related note, the Tab has a vibrate function – something that Apple chose not to include on the iPad – and it’s a welcome addition. You can use it for alerts (the Tab is actually small enough to fit in a jacket pocket) or as haptic feedback when you type or my favourite use: to enhance gaming. While playing Labyrinth HD, I was delighted to find the Tab vibrating subtly when the virtual metal ball hit the walls or other objects. Now that I’ve had this experience I think it would be foolish of Apple not to include vibration in the next release of the iPad – it would be a boon for game developers.
The smaller form factor also enables the Tab to be used as a true e-reader. Now I know you can read books on the iPad, and according to one recent study 66% of iPad owners use their device for reading books. That’s a pretty impressive stat. But does it mean that the iPad is a great e-reader? No. It simply means that people who own iPads probably don’t own dedicated e-readers like the Kobo or Kindle. We’ve got an iPad and a Kobo at home and when it comes to reading there’s no contest, the Kobo wins. The e-ink screen is far less fatiguing on the eyes, but it’s the weight of the iPad that is the real barrier. Trying to hold that thing in your hands comfortably for more than ten minutes? Impossible. The Tab’s lighter weight and smaller screen make it a genuine competitor to the Kobos and Kindles of this world. The LCD screen is still no match for e-Ink, and there are no dedicated buttons for page turns, but I don’t think you’ll mind most of the time.
In terms of pure muscle, these two gadgets are definitely in the same weight class. In fact, Apple’s A4 processor – the same one it uses in the new iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, is essentially the same chip that Samsung has packed into the Tab. Yes, the Tab does have twice the RAM as the iPad, but keep in mind, RAM is less of a factor when it comes to overall performance of a mobile device like these units than it would in a PC. What matters most is how well the OS manages that CPU. I’ll get to that in the software section.
Apple boasts that the iPad will give you up to 10 hours of constant use when on Wi-Fi. The Tab’s power is good for 7 hours according to Samsung. But do those claims hold up in the real world? My experience with the iPad is that the battery is at least as good as Apple suggests, and maybe even a bit better. The Tab on the other hand seemed to under perform the brochure. My feeling is that 5.5 is probably a more realistic number.
And no doubt you’ve noticed the presence of not one but two cameras aboard the Tab. This is where most Apple faithful were let down by the iPad. Of all the criticisms levelled at the device on launch, the lack of a forward-facing camera for video chats was universally agreed upon. The other big irk was no USB port. Samsung has obviously learned from Apple’s trailblazing by ensuring that the Tab addresses the camera issue, but unfortunately they botched the implementation. Neither the front or rear facing cams produce decent images, even under good lighting conditions – something that is truly surprising given the success they’ve had with on-board cameras on their mobile phones. Worse still – and this should be a cautionary note for other manufacturers – the forward facing camera produces an awkward looking image of the person holding the device for a number of reasons. First, the offset of the camera from the screen means your subject (probably you) appears to be looking away from the lens – slightly to the left or slightly down. We’re used to this effect when people use laptop or desktop-based cams, but on a small, portable device the effect should be minimized – try the FaceTime cam on Apple’s iPhone 4 if you doubt me – it’s nearly perfect. Secondly, whether you hold the Tab in landscape or portrait mode, the image captured by the front camera is always in portrait mode. Again, they should have taken careful note of how the iPhone 4 does it: rotating automatically to match the device’s orientation. As an aside, I mentioned the lack of a USB port on the iPad, and the Tab lacks this function too but what it can do is recharge over a regular USB 2.0 port on your PC, something the iPad can’t do: it needs a dedicated 10W power supply. Traveling with the Tab means only bringing along the sync cable which is one less accessory to remember.
One area where the Tab has a real chance of improving on the iPad is media-file compatibility. The iPad, as with so many i-devices, supports only two standards of video (well three if you include Motion JPEG but I don’t know anyone who uses that format) and five standards of audio. While most of us can get by on the audio support, the video limitations can be frustrating – no DivX, xVid, MKV, avi, mpg playback. So I was pretty pumped to see a new player open this space up. The Tab improves upon the iPad’s efforts with DivX and WMV support but then disappointment sets in when you go to play videos on the Tab. The image quality itself is good, but there were noticeable stutters in the overall playback. It wasn’t awful and some people might not even notice it. But when you compare it to the iPad’s super-smooth video performance it definitely comes up short. One last note on videos: Even though the iPad offers native support for a few codecs, there are now a handful of great 3rd party apps including the very capable VLC Player that can handle many of the popular formats that aren’t supported. They do this via software as opposed to hardware which means that playback isn’t quite as smooth as the iPad’s native video app, but they give users a solid option for broad media support on the iPad.
Form-factors aside, the actual user experience is defined by software. But there are two components to software: the OS which regulates the way the hardware is manipulated and governs the basic functions such as volume levels, touch input, copy/paste, multi-tasking etc., and apps which are the programs that actually give the device the functionality you need (web browsing, watching videos, facebooking, email etc.)
On the app side of the equation, it’s hard to compare these two devices. In the iTunes App Store, there are over 41,000 apps that are designed either for the iPad or both the iPad and iPhone. There are few apps designed for the Tab itself and the Android App Store is just not set up for this relatively new category. I’m sure over time this will change but for now, I’m going to focus on the core elements of the iPad and the Tab – namely the OS and the apps each device ships with.
Android vs. iOS
This is the part where we come dangerously close to religion or politics in terms of topic sensitivity. These two competing operating systems are like flip sides of the same coin. They both strive to offer a powerful yet simple touch and gesture-based way of interacting with mobile gadgets along with easy access to growing libraries of free and paid apps that leverage the capabilities of each device. The philosophy behind each couldn’t be more different.
With Apple, it’s their OS running on their devices. The OS has been tuned for precisely the device that runs it and every single app in the iTunes App Store has been verified to run on every device listed in the compatibility portion of the description. If you like a neat, orderly and practically bullet-proof experience on a device, iOS is the way to go.
Android was born out of the belief that a mobile OS should be open, with as few rules and regulations as possible. It’s the Wild West compared to Apple’s walled garden. The upside of course is that you can choose from a growing list of devices that run Android and there is no one calling the shots but you when it comes to the apps you can install and run. Hardware developers are free to run their own “skin” on top of Android. In Samsung’s case that skin is called TouchWiz 3.0. This means that though Android devices are similar to one another, they all exhibit unique characteristics.
Now that we’ve discussed our two camps, what does this mean for the iPad and the Tab? It really comes down to elegance and sophistication.
The iPad runs a smooth as butter. Flicking between app screens, scrolling, transitions – these all happen beautifully and seamlessly. The combination of the iPad’s vibrant screen and iOS’s interpretation of your touches on the glass is a thoroughly elegant and sophisticated experience. It’s like driving a luxury-class European sedan.
Android 2.2 + Samsung’s TouchWiz on the Galaxy Tab performs more like sports car. The power is there, and you never feel like you’re waiting for things to happen, but everything is just a little more jarring. Turning the device from landscape to portrait orientation results in a “snap” transition on-screen to the new layout. When scrolling web pages, the text loses its edge smoothness until you stop moving and only then does it return.
If you’ve never used an iPad, I doubt very much that these things will bother you or cause you a moment’s concern. But it’s hard to get out of the lap of luxury and get comfortable in a little two-seater.
But of greater concern to me is the way the Tab handles Android apps. For the most part, apps run well and the Tab seems to manage its larger resolution (compared to Android phones) with the same “doubling” that the iPad performs on iPhone apps. There was a notable exception however. The racing game Asphalt 5 however, could not decide where it wanted to display itself on the screen. Consequently there were large white spaces at the top of the screen and buttons were no longer mapped for touch correctly. To stay with the car analogy, it was a wreck.
That’s something that has always worried me about Android. Similar to Microsoft’s Windows, which has to run on a vast number of different machines and processors, with thousands of programs and at least as many peripherals, Android needs to work well on lots of different mobile devices. Steve Wozniak, Apple’s other co-founder, recently made the same observation and even went so far as to say that he thinks Android will eclipse Apple’s iOS as the dominant force in mobile computing. Can such a system ever be as reliable as one where both OS and gadget are paired from the start, the one designed for the other? Time will tell.
One area however where Samsung’s implementation of Android beats the pants off the iPad is text-input. The Tab includes Swype. I’ve said this before: every device with a soft-keyboard should be equipped with this software. While I’m getting pretty good at tapping on those imaginary keys, being able to just drag your finger from one letter to the next and voila – your chosen word appears – is simply marvellous. Of course if you’d prefer not to use Swype, that’s fine – the standard soft keyboard layout is excellent and includes a feature which I sorely wish the iPad and iPhone had: the ability to press and hold a key to access a secondary character instead of switching modes. Physical keyboards can do this through alt and ctrl keys and I’ve just never understood why Apple clings to their first-generation keyboard.
Much like the iPad, the Tab ships with a minimal set of apps – just enough to get you going on email, calendaring, web browsing and other standard activities. Some of these apps have been well thought out – the calendar for instance gives you a great layout for looking at your day, week or month and makes navigating your appointments a breeze. Others don’t perform as well: the Photos app has trouble keeping up as you swipe from one photo to the next and the slideshow option produces jerky, stepped transitions that absolutely pale in comparison to the iPad’s presentation skills.
The email app is a mixed bag. The layout and overall readability Is excellent both in portrait and landscape mode, but there are some frustrating drawbacks such as no ability to individually delete emails from the inbox view without first entering a delete mode from the menu options. It can also be tricky to differentiate unread items from the ones you’ve read since the only difference is a slight bold treatment to the subject lines of the unread messages. What’s odd here is that the mail app on the Galaxy S Vibrant avoids both of these pitfalls. Hard to know if this is an Android 2.2 issue or just a mis-step on Samsung’s part in porting their mail app to the Tab.
One of the big surprises on the Tab is an app they’ve called the “Music Hub.” The first surprise is that this is Samsung’s answer to the iTunes Store – at least as far as music purchases are concerned. It’s the first time I’ve seen the app on any Android device and Samsung hasn’t made much effort to highlight it in any of their press. The second surprise is how good it is. Powered by a company called 7digital, the store offers downloads in DRM-free MP3 format. The store is easy to browse, has a decent if not comprehensive selection of artists and tracks and the whole thing has been optimized for use on a tablet. Given that Android users don’t have access to iTunes from their devices – at least not currently – Samsung’s Music Hub is the next best thing.
If you’ve patiently read through all of my observations on the Galaxy Tab vs. the iPad, and are still wondering where I stand, let me summarize:
- Android 2.2 with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin is a great OS for multi-touch devices but this combo running on the Tab is still no match for Apple’s iOS running on the iPad for overall smoothness and sophistication
- Some of the Tab’s included apps are not as well executed as those on the iPad
- The smaller footprint of the Tab does not hold it back as much as many anticipated and even gives it an advantage when it comes to e-reading and text input using the two-thumbs or Swype method. The Tab can be pocketed which might be a huge plus for some ultra-mobile types
- Ignore the addition of the two on-board cameras. They work, but they don’t work well enough that you would choose them over the camera on your phone.
To decide if the Tab is right for you, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you value a smaller, lighter device that is pocketable and can double effectively as an e-reader?
- Do you prefer the idea of Android’s flexibility and customization over the locked-down nature of Apple’s iOS – even if it comes at the price of a less elegant interface?
- Are you more interested in a productivity tool and place less of an emphasis on high-end multimedia capabilities?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you owe it to yourself to check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab before making your final decision.
Though it shocks a lot of people when they find out, the truth is I have never spent much time with an iPhone. Sure I’ve used one on an occasional basis as friends and colleagues have let me play with theirs, but my primary device has always been a BlackBerry.
But my good ol’ BlackBerry Curve is beginning to show its age in a big way and I’m gearing up for my next mobile device. The question is, do I stay with the King of the Keyboard or do I throw caution to the wind and join the legions of people who have ditched physical buttons for touch screens? As luck would have it, both Samsung and Apple were kind enough to lend me their flagship smartphones to perform a head-to-head comparison. I’ve now had the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant for a month and the iPhone 4 for two weeks. And though we don’t have room here to discuss every aspect of these two high-tech marvels, here are my thoughts on how they stack up in a few key areas.
The first thing you notice about the Galaxy S Vibrant is how it lives up to its name. The Super AMOLED touch screen which measures 4” and has a 480×800 resolution is truly stunning. The blacks are deep; the colours are rich and jewel-like. I’ve always preferred OLED to LCD when it comes to HDTV displays (though sadly this use of the technology has yet to catch on at the manufacturing stage) and the same is true when it comes to the mobile arena. The iPhone 4 uses an LED-backlit IPS-LCD screen at 3.5” with an astounding 640×960 resolution which they refer to as a “Retina Display”. Though the specs are impressive, in comparing the iPhone 4 to the Galaxy S, I didn’t find that text was any easier to read on the iPhone or that images were any sharper. Both phones have excellent screens, but the Galaxy S’s larger and brighter display makes for a better viewing experience.
The obvious benefit to touch screen phones over their physical-keyboard brethren is the larger display area and easy, gesture-based interaction. But when it comes to typing, many people find that real buttons can’t be replaced with soft ones. I’ve always been one of those people and it’s been the biggest reason for sticking with my BlackBerry. As I had suspected, typing on the iPhone 4 – even in landscape orientation with a wider keyboard layout – was difficult and required a lot of backspacing. Over the years, my thumbs have developed such familiarity with the location of letters on my BlackBerry Curve that I can often watch the screen and not the keys while maintaining a very good level of accuracy. I recognize that I might get there with the iPhone given enough practice and there are plenty of iPhone users who demonstrate superb typing skills. But the thought of having to go through the inevitable months of pain while I condition myself to a totally different system depresses me.
And then I discovered Swype. And the world changed just a little. Swype is software that ships with the Galaxy S Vibrant and it gives users a completely new way to interact with the soft keyboard on their phone. Instead of trying to accurately hit those little keys, Swype only asks that you trace a path on the keyboard from one letter to the other. You don’t even have to be all that accurate. At the end of the word, remove your finger from the screen and voila – the word you were typing, er, swyping, automatically appears.
It sounds like magic and most of the people who I show Swype to have the same reaction: “No way!” It’s that good. So good in fact that when I switch from the Galaxy S back to the iPhone, I’m even more irritated by the iPhone’s keyboard. Every touch screen phone should come with Swype.
The two phones are fairly similar in outward appearance: Black slabs that are all-screen with a few physical buttons on their front and sides. The Galaxy S is slightly larger in width and height but is lighter in the hand than the iPhone. To some this will feel good – especially if you plan to carry it in your pocket, while others will prefer the iPhone’s heft and its solid feel. The iPhone claims to be the thinnest smartphone on the planet, and while that might be true, you’d need a magnifying glass to be aware of the difference between these devices.
The Galaxy S keeps its power/wake-up button on the side near the top of the phone while the iPhone maintains its traditional top-mount location. While I prefer the iPhone layout, it’s not a big deal. More impactful are the Galaxy S’s three navigation buttons at the bottom of the phone. Nowhere else does the Android vs. iOS experience become so similar to the PC vs. Mac debate. Apple has always maintained that a one-button mouse should suffice when using a computer while PC mice typically feature two or more buttons. And so it goes with the iPhone – a single “home” button that performs several tasks, while the Galaxy S offers the same physical button, but flanked by two dedicated soft-touch keys: “menu” on the left and “back” on the right.
I’m going to take a guess that if you agree with Apple on the whole mouse design issue, you will have no problem with their single home button – instead relying on the operating system to provide you with all the navigation options you need. I’m not in that camp. I like my computer to have a two button mouse (with a scroll wheel!) and coincidentally, I really like having a menu button and back button available to me whenever I want them on a smartphone. Can you get by without them? Sure – the iPhone works just fine without them. But they sure are handy.
Despite the entire furor over “Antennagate”, I didn’t experience any issues with dropped calls on either the iPhone or the Galaxy S. But there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound itself. On the iPhone, voices sounded rich and natural – at times it was hard to tell I was talking on a mobile phone. The Galaxy S on the other hand, sounded tinny and distant. This wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me as voice calls are something I do only rarely, but if you’re a big talker, the iPhone wins hands-down.
This is one area where I wish I could combine the strengths of each phone into one device. The Galaxy S gives you great control over your inbox, letting you perform bulk actions like multiple-delete, something the iPhone lacks. [Update: the iPhone 4 can do this too, but you need to jump into an edit mode to do it – Thanks Robert for the clarification in the comments section]. Whereas the iPhone does a better job of rendering HTML emails to preserve their original format. The Galaxy S lets you access all of your mailbox subfolders (inbox, sent items etc) from any screen, but the iPhone lets you see message threads as a single item, so you can more easily see how a conversation has progressed over a series of replies.
Photos & Video Recording
Both devices have 5 megapixel cameras capable of capturing 720p high-def video at 30 frames per second. Both have software zoom capability. But the iPhone takes a slight lead in this category, based solely on improvements to the iOS. The iPhone 4 can capture HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos which significantly improve the look of images that would otherwise have washed-out areas or poor detail. In video mode, you can trim the video clips you just shot and immediately upload them to YouTube via Wi-Fi.
iTunes Vs. Samsung Kies
Though most smartphone buyers are going to judge their next device based on what it can do when you’re out and about, some consideration should be given to how easy it is to transfer content to and from the device using your PC or Mac. When using an iPhone, iTunes is the de facto standard for device management. Though there are certain weaknesses (e.g. you can’t import or export photos and videos via iTunes on a PC) iTunes is a very polished piece of software with two undeniable strengths: 1) The built-in store gives you super easy access to a wealth of first-rate content including music, movies, TV shows and Apps. 2) You can back up every app, video and song you have bought from the App Store so that if your iPhone dies you haven’t lost your investments in content.
The Galaxy S line of phones has an equivalent to iTunes known as “Kies”. What’s odd is that this very useful piece of software is largely unpromoted by Samsung. There’s no mention of it in any of the product manuals that accompany the phone, and I only happened to stumble upon it by accident when googling an unrelated search. Kies is essentially a virtual desktop program. When launched on a PC, the program simulates a desktop complete with a “My Computer” icon in the top left corner and a dock area that contains icons for the program’s various functions such as “media player” and “photo viewer”. Anyone who has worked on a Mac will immediately see the similarity to MacOS. When you connect your Galaxy S device via USB, it shows up as a mounted icon in the upper right corner. The reason for the desktop interface is that Samsung is trying to provide an all-in-one environment for duplicating the functions of the smartphone. Instead of jumping from one app environment to the other the way you would on the actual phone, these functions appear as windows on the Kies desktop. It’s a system that works surprisingly well. The ability to fully back up your phone is absent as is any connection to an e-commerce platform to buy content, but I expect that Samsung will be adding this soon, given their recent announcement of their iPad competitor, the Galaxy Tab and its associated storefront known simply as the “Media Hub”. While Kies may still lack the sophistication of iTunes, given that it is still early in its development cycle compared to the more mature iTunes (now in version 10), there’s plenty of reason to think it will get better as long as Samsung doesn’t abandon it.
If you’re a BlackBerry user, battery life is one of the big differences when it comes to using other smartphones. My Curve has been known to go for three days without a charge and I have never had the battery die on me during regular use. I’d already heard the complaints about the iPhone 3G and 3GS batteries so when I got the iPhone 4 I was prepared for regular charging. Much to my surprise, I was able to get two days out of the iPhone before needing to charge, and that was with fairly liberal use of Wi-Fi, 3G and calling. No massive hour-long conversations or anything, but neither did I hold back. The Galaxy S on the other hand was never able to go more than 24 hours on a full charge, and even then, I wasn’t able to use it as hard as the iPhone. A few people in the office were quick to blame things like the Samsung’s larger AMOLED screen, but I don’t think the difference is a result of power-hungry components. I suspect the reality is that Apple put a much higher capacity battery in the iPhone 4 than in previous models. Apple has made enormous strides in battery life since the first iPod models hit store shelves and I think they have finally achieved a balance between weight, cost and longevity. Not being able to replace the battery on the iPhone is no longer a reason to avoid it, if ever it was.
The Galaxy S Vibrant and the iPhone 4 are both incredibly sophisticated and powerful smartphones that are ideal companions for people who want complete control of their digital lives while on the go. Which one you choose will likely boil down to how you answer the following questions:
- Are you already hooked into the Apple ecosystem because you own devices like the iPad or iPod Touch? If so, you may as well get the iPhone 4 as it will allow you to maximize your existing investments.
- Are you frustrated by the inaccuracy of touch screen keyboards? Samsung’s embedded Swype application largely takes the pain out of this experience and 2 minutes of playing with it will make anyone feel speedy.
- Are you swayed by fashion and trends? Get the iPhone 4. You’ll get tons of admiring glances and you’ll have a virtually unlimited choice when it comes to accessories for dressing up your phone.
- Do you prefer to exert more control over your technology instead of going with the default settings? The combination of Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 interface and the Android 2.1 OS gives you lots of choice in how you interact with the Galaxy S.
As for me? Well, I’m waiting to try out RIM’s BlackBerry Torch before making my final decision. But if I had to choose right now, I’d probably go with the iPhone. While I preferred the overall user experience of the Galaxy S, having an iPad at home has made me an App Store junky and I’m reluctant to give up on our collection of apps even if it means a few more typos.
When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.
If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.
Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”
Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.
As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.
Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:
“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”
The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.
RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:
“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”
And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:
“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”
One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.