Mario and iPhone 7…Pokemon and Apple Watch

Apple had its September press event to announce Apple Watch, Series 2, iOS 10 and iPhone 7.  But, perhaps the biggest thing announced at the event was a game.

Early on in the event, Tim Cook said that there were over 500,000 games in the app store, but that one had been missing. Rather, one character had been missing…MARIO. And, with that, he introduced Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

Mr. Miyamoto explained the new game while a demo was being played on the big screen.  This Mario game looks and sounds like a Wii U game, but is controlled via touch on the iPhone or iPad.  You use a single finger to control Mario’s jumps…the longer you hold your finger down, the higher he jumps. 

While the game looked great, the game play is like a neutered Super Mario Brothers 2D side scroller. Neutered in that it appeared that Mario only goes in one direction in single hand play.  The goal is to collect as many coins as you can and raise the end of level flag, before the time runs out. 

More importantly, the game will NOT be a ‘freemium’ game in the traditional sense. You only pay one time, there are no in game purchases.  There’s no having to wait two hours for your lives to replenish.  It is a nice change from the current game mobile game model.

Now, for the other announcements, and I’m not going into detail as it has already been covered else where.

Apple Watch 2 will be out in September and will be faster and more responsive.  Oh, and Pokemon GO! is coming to the Apple Watch.  With some health monitoring additions, this looks pretty decent.

iPhone 7, though, is what I am more excited to talk about. 

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am still not an Apple fan and I LOVE my Windows Mobile 10 phone(s). 

So, what has me excited about the iPhone 7?  Well, even though it isn’t a huge, earth shattering advance in mobile technology, the camera, faster processor and MICROSOFT have me excited for the new iPhone. 

The iPhone 7 will feature a new image sub system, new API’s and better optics. In addition, iPhone 7Plus, the phablet edition, will feature TWO 12 mp cameras in addition to the front camera.  The new image processor enables the phone to record in 4K video as well.

Here are some of the nice new photo related features, from Apple:

  • New Apple-designed Image Signal Processor, which processes over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds, resulting in incredible photos and videos;
  • New 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with wide color capture, advanced pixel technology and auto image stabilization for even better selfies; and
  • New Quad-LED True Tone flash that is 50 percent brighter than iPhone 6s including an innovative sensor that detects the flickering in lights and compensates for it in videos and photos.

Iapple-iphone7plus-zoomn addition to the photo features, Microsoft’s entire suite of apps that are on the iPhone mean that I can continue using my Microsoft services and apps with my Windows 10 desktop just as seamlessly as I can, now, with my Windows Mobile phone.

There are other things, like the subtle changes to iOS and to the phone chassis itself.

There are things I don’t like, such as the removal of the headphone jack, inability to upgrade storage via SD card, no way to project the phone to another screen (at least, I haven’t seen this) and the lack of home screen tiles…a feature I’ve really grown to love on my Windows Mobile phone.  In fact, the lack of live tiles is almost a deal breaker for me. Almost.

For now, I am on the verge of mothballing my Windows Mobile phone and going Apple again.  I’m going to have play with one for a bit.   But, today’s announcements look encouraging.  Of course, if I wait a year, I may like iPhone 8 more…

Apple Announcements 2015: iPad Pro, Watch, iPhone

Microsoft has often be accused of ‘firing up the Xerox’ to copy Apple’s ‘innovations.’  Well, during the Apple presentation on Sept 9, it seems that they are the ones who ‘fired up the Xerox.’  Indeed, the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro they introduced has many Surface 3 Pro features, including the docking keyboard and the pen, which Apple calls ‘the Apple Pencil.’  Cute.  Of course, this harkens back to the Steve Jobs comment “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Of course, the Apple apologists will say that he didn’t really mean it that way.  Uh huh, right.

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTAll kidding aside, the iPad Pro is a credible machine.  At nearly 13 inches, the screen is big enough to adequately display two apps, side by side. Interestingly, there’s no drag and drop between applications. You copy/cut and paste.  An odd thing to leave out.  Maybe iOS 9.2.

The iPad Pro’s stylus has a nice feature that lets the Pro know the angle and pressure the user is placing on the screen’s surface.  Sensors built into the device communicate this data back to the software, which, in turn, acts on it.  Designer’s can now draw fine lines or really thick lines without having to lift the stylus. 

Microsoft was on stage demoing Office for iOS.  Yep, it is a credible package that turns the iPad Pro into a real, honest to goodness productivity device. 

The Pro’s keyboard dock is very, very similar to the Surface 3 Pro’s keyboard.  In fact, there were many, many similarities, so much so, that it seems that Apple was acknowledging Microsoft’s lead in this space.  A refreshing turn of events.

The iPad Pro also boasts four speakers.  The sound, one would hope, is far better than the tinny monoaural sound that comes out of them now.

On the watch front, native apps are now available as is several new bands.

Apple TV got a major upgrade with the addition of in device memory, a redesigned controller and an app store. Yes, it now runs apps and games with ‘stunning, console quality graphics.’ Someone quipped ‘yeah, if the console is a Wii.’  Hey, the Wii is still a cool little console.  Leave it alone or I’ll give you a wedgie!

Prices for the Apple TV are $149 and $199 for the 32gb and 64gb versions.  No 4k yet.

Prices for the iPad range from $799 to $1069.

Of course, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were also on display.  The killer feature:  living images.  This is a feature that Microsoft has had in its Lumia smart phones for quite sometime.  Basically, the camera buffers about four seconds of video.  The best frame, for the iPhone and in the ‘middle’ is taken where as the Lumia is usually the best of the last frames.  Either way, the effect is impressive.  Apple has taken it a step further and provides magic that also captures audio.  The Lumia does not do that.

There were other interesting things about the phones…faster processor, more internal RAM, 12mp camera, but the living images is, by far, the best new feature.

Head over to CNET for much more detail.

Why, Apple, why? An iPad ordeal

Way back in April of 2010, about three weeks after it became available, I eagerly purchased an Apple iPad. Man, was this the device of my dreams, or what? Indeed, I had wanted a tablet for a decade, ever since I saw a really poor Fujitsu tablet with Windows 95 and ‘Pen Windows’ extensions. Even earlier, I once had an Epson ‘notebook’ which was similar to the TRS-80 Mod 100.

So, now I had this dream device.  I bought EVERY accessory for it that Apple came out with in those first few months. The keyboard dock. The video out cable. The Camera Kit. The case. Extra cables. I was so excited. I showed it to everyone I saw. After using it and downloading some useful apps, I thought this thing could replace my laptop.

After the death of my wife, I took my son on a rollercoaster tour of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. We hit up Six Flags America, Trimpers in Ocean City, Maryland, Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens in Virginia and Carowinds in Charlotte, NC. I had several digital cameras with me and took a lot of photos and video. At the end of each day, I would-using the Camera Kit, which was just an SD card adaptor and a USB adaptor-upload photos from the cameras to the iPad and then correctt them, catalog them and upload a few to Facebook or Picasa. For the next few years, I did this. I used the iPad as a laptop replacement.

Over time, though, it was less and less useful. As Apple brought out new models, my old iPad really began to show its age. I used it less and less and the laptop, which had showed its prowess many times, saw more and more use. My Kindle Fire picked up a lot of what I used the iPad. My Asus Windows 8 tablet sealed the iPads fate: it got relegated to kid duty.

A few days ago, I picked it up and began to peruse the photos. I realized that there were many that I did not have anywhere else. Hmmm…now I have to get them off.  Easy.

NOPE.  Apple made it nearly impossible to get your media OFF of the iPad. As the latest iOS this thing supports is iOS 5.1, I had few avenues.  iTunes was out as the computer I originally synced it with is long gone and iTunes will not allow multiple computer sync. Really.  How inconvenient is that? Windows file explorer could only ‘see’ the ‘saved photos’ and NOT all of them.  What to do?

Well, there are several applications that will bypass the one computer limit and allow true syncing. However, these applications are not free and I did not want to spend money on this as it is a one shot deal. 

To get photos into the Saved Photos folder, you must select them, one at a time and copy them over.  A real pain.  So, I figured I would have to go through this rather laborious ordeal. That is, until I remembered Goodreader.  GoodReader will allow you to import photo folders and then zip them up. It also contains a WEB SERVER. A Ha!

I had a plan.  I created a couple of folders in GoodReader. Imported the folders from Photos. Selected All. Zipped them up.  Fired up the web server. Connect from Internet Explorer and download each zip file. It took about an hour, but I got the photos I wanted.

Now, I ask you, why did Apple make this seemingly simple task an almost impossible on?

Office 365: Worth it?

word2013Back when Microsoft announced that they were going to offer Office as a subscription, I put it down.  I was convinced that it was nothing more than a money grab and not worth the money.  Well, A reader of this blog, and someone I consider a friend even though we’ve never actually met, convinced me that it was worth the money.  After some further research and listening to several podcasts both praise and condemn the notion of annual Office payments, I decided to try it out.

There are several subscriptions available, each have a unique offering, for the home and business user.  The home subscriptions works on just one device and is about 7.95 a month.  I got the middle tier, a $99 a year subscription that gets you installs on five computers and five portable devices.  The business edition is higher cost and is aimed squarely at companies and we won’t discuss that here.

Now, the really good thing with Office 365 is that you can actually install it on any number of computers and devices, but only five of each are active at any time. You can deactivate it on a device and activate it on another.  That’s pretty handy, and if you use OneDrive, then being away from your computer suddenly becomes a moot point. Save your work to OneDrive and access it and Office from anywhere. Just deactivate one machine, then activate the one you are on, do your work, save to OneDrive and then deactivate.  Plus, you only install what you need. If you don’t want Powerpoint, don’t install it. Simple.

So, here at my house, I have it installed on my primary machine, my Son’s laptop and one other desktop. As the other computers already have Office 2007 or Office 2010, I’m going to leave them be. I did install it on my Asus tablet and have downloaded the three apps for the iPad. 

My only complaint, so far, is that my Live ID seems to have problems with the Office 365 login.  Not sure why, but every other login seems to return an error telling me that the ID has a problem. It never says what it is.

OK, I do have one more issue: on my tablet, some of the damn on screen widgets are too small. It isn’t very finger friendly under Windows…yet.  With Build 2014 coming up, I’m hoping that Microsoft will announce a ‘Modern UI’  version of the suite.

Office 365 is one of those odd things that, on the surface, seems like a bad deal, but it really is not.

The iPad Mini: worthy successor to the iPad

ipadminiWhen Apple introduced the iPad in April, 2010, I was a bit skeptical but excited. Initially, I resisted the urge to buy one, but, ultimately, I did.  It was exactly what I had been wanting…except it did not run Windows. But, the device had so much going for it, I decided that the lack of Windows was OK. (It really wasn’t, but I had been able to get around it.)

When I bought, I went all in with the accessories. I bought the camera kit, extra power cables and adaptors, the keyboard dock, composite and VGA cables, you name it. If Apple had an accessory, I bought it. I LOVED the iPad.  It was toted around with me, everywhere I went.  I bought a WiFi hot spot just to have Internet access too (I bought the 32gb WiFi only version) and thought I was just all that.  Indeed, when I went travelling, it was all I carried.  My clunker laptop stayed mated to my desk at home.

Well, fast forward four years.  That original iPad is, at best, an aging game machine. It is no longer stable, the multitude of iOS updates have just killed it.  It is no longer supported, so I cannot update it to iOS 7.0.1, which seems to have stabilized my old iPhone 4.  Many apps I have on the device are out of date.  It crashes. A LOT.

I finally convinced my wife that she needed a decent tablet of her own, one that was still current and supported by its manufacturer. Well, she’s not a big Windows 8 fan (she pretty much hates it) and she does use her iPhone 4 as her computer, so I talked her into an iPad mini. I’m glad I did.

We got the iPad Mini 16gb WiFi version. Using my Best Buy rewards points, we got the device for about $270. Not too bad. It is new and has the very nice Retina display and a very fast A7 processor. Compared to the old iPad, it is like a Porsche to a VW Beetle.

The device is almost the perfect size, too. It isn’t overly heavy and it is pretty thin.  My complaint is with the screen. Even though it is the beautiful Retina display, it is a tad small for these tired eyes. For some reason, it seems tinier than my Kindle Fire, which is about the same size. I don’t have as much trouble reading text on the Kindle as I do the iPad Mini.  Weird. Still, the display is very, very nice and photos look great. It does video very well.  The sound is a bit tinny, but that is to be expected.

Of course, it came with iOS 7, which works much more smoothly on the iPad Mini than on my iPhone 4.  The nuanced animations, reshaped buttons, transitions…all look and work much more nicely on this device than my old iPhone (which doesn’t do most of the animations anyway.)

Apps seem to respond better, run faster and crash less. Yes, they crash less. They still crash, though, and crash more than they should. It would seem that Apple still has a way to go in the operating system department.

Aside from the screen issue I mentioned, the only other real complaint I have is that damned connector. We have tons of things that use the 30 pin connector and almost nothing that uses the Lightening connector, so…we had to buy another car charger and, likely, will get another household charger. She does not want the keyboard, yet. That may not be an issue, since we can use the Bluetooth keyboards we have.

The tablet comes with both forward and rear facing cameras. The take nice photos, with the rear camera taking the best still and video. The forward camera is better suited for Facetime.  In fact, this thing is the perfect Facetime device: big enough to actually use, not too big and easily propped up, far better than an iPhone.  It will also work well with Apple’s iMessage service.  Keep in mind, though, that Facetime needs excellent WiFi to work well. Oh, and you need a lot of light to get a good, crisp image sent to the recipient. That forward facing camera isn’t too good in the low light scenario.

Apple’s suite of video editing software works well with the device. I was able to use the iPad Mini to shoot video of my baby’s birthday, then edit it and post to Facebook as well as share the video with other devices in my house.  Apple’s in house developed software was excellent. I had not gotten to use it since my old iPad did not have a camera and Apple prevented me from downloading it because of that, even though I could use other software to edit video on the device (remember, I have the camera kit, which pulled video from my camera.  Apple, you were so forgetful…)

Overall, the iPad MIni is nice device. The price, while still a bit high, is better than what you pay for a full size iPad or Windows tablet. If you already have an investment in iOS apps, and you want another tablet, you cannot go wrong with the Mini. IF, however, you are starting out fresh and have little or no Apple interests, then you would be better off with a Windows tablet or even the Samsung Galaxy, if you care for Android.

Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

Siri alternatives: Google Now, Evi and Vlingo. Which is best?

Since I got my company issued iPhone 5, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with Siri, the voice search application that began with the iPhone 4s.  I’ve had mixed results with it and, generally, do not use it. However, that does not mean I don’t like the idea. Far from it, I do.  It’s just that the Siri implementation is, well, sorely lacking. And, for some reason, I can find out the meaning of life yet cannot get results for NASCAR.

Bias aside, I can blame some of the poor results on Apple’s algorithm. Some of the witty results are from Wolfram Alpha while some, I am sure, are from Apple itself. (Ask it who let the dogs out…go on, I dare you.)

Since my personal phone is an iPhone 4, I do not have Siri. Neither does my first gen iPad.  However, all is not lost. See, there are a few apps that do some or all of what Siri does and more.

I have tried out three alternatives and my results are below.  Each one of the apps are free but there are paid ones as well. I have not tried them.

GoogleNowGoogle Now

Google Now is the most complete of the three apps I tried. It has the power of Google search behind it and, in my opinion, is more responsive than even Siri. Google Now also works on PC’s and Macintosh. Google Now also gives you access to Google goggles and a host of Google apps. But, how useful is it?  In a word: VERY.

I am not a huge fan of Google, in fact, I use Bing as my primary search engine but Microsoft does not have something like Google Now (it did, way back in the Windows Mobile 5 days with Live Search. That was pretty good, for 2006.) That said, I think Google not only did a good job with Now, I find it better than Siri in so many ways. It returns better search results, does not give as many smart assed answers (though some of them that Siri gives are funny) and it knows about NASCAR.

eviEvi

Admittedly, I did not try this one as extensively as the others. In a word, it’s confusing. However, it did come closest to Siri, even using Siri’s voice(!). However, it failed to discern Erie, Pennsylvania from Gary or Yearly when I asked for the distance between that location and Mechanicsville, Virginia. Some results it spoke, most it just returned a web page. This was my least favorite of the three. It had far too many options as well and was the worst of the three in picking up my voice.  To be fair, however, I tried it on the iPhone 5 and Siri seems to misunderstand quite a lot as well, so maybe it is either the microphone on the 5 or neither like my voice. Evi also seems to be iPhone ready as it fills the screen completely.

VlingoVlingo

Vlingo is interesting in that it has hooks into email, sms, maps and your social nets as well as search. It really does create an email with the to, subject and body all filled in. It really does create an SMS message and will post to Twitter or Facebook. The problem, though, is that you have to use specific words (which makes sense) and it must understand what you want. Here’s where it seemed to have problems. For me, it mostly understood me, it just did not do what I wanted. And, when it did, you still have finish the task by tapping an onscreen button.  Why can’t you just say ‘Vlingo, send’ or ‘Vlingo, done’? I like what they are trying to do, they just need to go a wee bit further. Oh, one additional gripe: you must tap the screen when you are done speaking. It was the only app to require this. I suppose it is so the apps knows when you are dictating, but it makes little sense.

Of the three (and Siri,) I prefer Google Now. Vlingo, when the bugs are worked out, will be a strong contender, but, for now, Google wins.

All three apps are in the App Store, work on iPhone 4 and up and are free.

EDIT: I neglected to mention that Google Now and Evi are also available on Android and gives Android users a Siri like experience. Evi is currently in Beta. Vlingo is also availble on Blackberry and Windows Mobile (no mention of Windows Phone, though.)

So many tablets…iPad, Android, Surface or ?

surfacertA decade ago, I was hungry for what I called the ‘perfect form factor’ PC. This perfect form factor was something without a physical keyboard (but, I could connect one if I wanted), feature some kind of Palm like touch interface (because Palm did touch right) and run full Windows OR the Palm operating system. The device could be between 7 and 10 inches. Yep, I wanted a tablet.  Wanted one, really, since I first saw the PADD in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Well, in 2010, I got my wish, finally. The iPad opened the flood gates. While I purchased the first gen iPad, three weeks after its release, I still really wanted that Windows or Palm (by then, it was webOS) tablet. But, I loved-absolutely loved-the iPad. So much so that I went and bought my first new Mac (a 2010 Mac Mini) to do some development and get my feet dirty in the Apple world.

In late 2010, I got my first Android tablet, a pathetic attempt by Pandigital (I see why they are history now.) In 2012, it was the Kindle Fire-by far, the best attempt at making Android usable. The Fire was brilliant: comfortable size, decent speed (I really, truly, do not understand what the speed criticism was about) and decent UI. While it is still Android under the covers, it does not feel like Android.

2013 ushered in the device I truly wanted: a full on Windows tablet. This baby, the Asus VivoTab Smart, runs full Windows 8 and runs it well. Coupled with a Bluetooth keyboard, I can use it for both fun and business. 

So, there you have the three main tablet types: Apple and the iOS, any number of Android tablets and Windows.  So, lets take a quick look at them and do a quick comparison.

Apple and iOS

ipadminiThe iPad is the predominate tablet, but Android is closing and fast.  iOS offers a fairly clean ecosystem, mainly because it is tightly controlled by Apple. Apps must undergo some kind of evaluation by Apple in order to get into the App Store.  Most of the ‘big’ app types are there: some kind of productivity suite, plethora of games and multimedia consumption and creation.  The software can be quite good, but is, mostly, just variations of other apps to varying quality. Want a fart app? Check. Want a flashlight? Got that too.  Want a word find game? Easy. Want Microsoft Office…oops! Well, you still have those fart apps.

Android

sylvania7The Samsung tablets are the best of breed with the Kindle Fires hot on the heels.  Like iOS, Android has an amazing app ecosystem, but also suffers from the same problem: Lots of junk. In Androids case, most of the software is crap and of little value.  Most of the Android tablets are crap as well. Because Android is FREE, any company with a tablet reference design can tailor Android to work on that design and these companies want to maximize any potential profit, so these designs end up being junk. Take a look at Craig, Coby, Kobo and any number of ‘off’ brands. Even known brands like Vizio have missed the boat. Samsung, Motorola, Amazon, Acer and a few others have figured it out, but, on the whole, Android is just too messy.

Windows

vivotabfrontNow, it gets interesting.  There are, currently, three flavors out: Windows 7, Windows RT and Windows 8.  Windows 7 tablets are meant for non-consumer and are targeted to medical and other business use. Windows RT is aimed squarely at consumers and the Windows 8 devices are marketed to both business and consumers. With WIndows 7 and 8, there are tons of applications out and most will work fine with a touch device. Many are less than optimal, but will work. Windows RT requires a new library of apps. This should not be a problem since most would likely buy new apps for any Android or iOS device, so why not for Windows RT?  The problem, though, is the device itself. While not quite as bad as the Android world, the Windows RT world could face similar low cost devices too. This has yet to happen, but…be on the look out for tablet that purport to be Windows. Craig and Coby both sell Windows tablets, but these are WINDOWS CE tablets and that is a HUGE difference from RT or 7 and 8.

So, which ones stand out? Apple’s latest iPads, of course, are good choices. The iPad mini is proving to be a worthy machine and one that many seem to want. In the Android world, Samsung’s devices are a good bet as is the Kindle Fire HD. In Windows land, there are several good ones: Of course, the Surface RT and Pro, Asus’ VivoTabs (RT and Smart) and Acer’s offerings.  If price is your driving factor, then the Kindle Fire HD is the hands down winner.  If you want productivity out of the box, the VivoTabs are an excellent choice and my personal favorite. But…for the best of both (and if you don’t mind starting over in the software area) the iPad Mini is the best choice. Its size, price and software offerings make it the clear winner.

It is interesting, though, to read and listen to the tech pundits write off Microsoft and, now, even Apple.  It is definitely too early to be writing off either. The big reason Android dominates in phone and tablets is because it is free. This is will bite Google in the rear if it does not do something to stem the tide of cheap and dirt cheap hardware. I know many retailers moved a ton of these cheap tablets (from Sylvania, Coby and the others) over the holidays. I have to wonder how many were either returned or are sitting in a drawer while an Apple iPad is being used instead.

2013 will be even more interesting with the addition of the Ubuntu Touch devices. For once, I’m kind of excited about a Linux based product. Ubuntu Touch does not look like something you would need a masters degree in order to use.  I hope the final product lives up to the pre-release promise. The tablet and phones could be pretty interesting and give everyone a run for the money.

After a decade, though, I am still looking for that Palm tablet. Sigh.  I missed the boat on the HP TouchPad.  Maybe LG will fulfill my desire. Sigh.

Above the Surface: Asus VivoTab Smart Windows 8 Tablet

Tablet-PC-Stylistic-1200I’ve been wanting a Windows tablet for years. I even bought two Fujitsu Windows NT (the Stylistic 1200) tablets off eBay a few years back, but could never get them working. Turns out, they used all proprietary parts that I needed-and could have gotten, but did not want to pay the price.  When the iPad came out, I thought it would satiate my desire for the ever elusive Windows tablet. For awhile, it did.

The iPad was a godsend, to be sure. But, it’s shortcomings-and there are many-got to be more than I wanted to deal with and with each release of iOS, the first gen iPad really began to show its age.

My Kindle Fire became my workhorse slate, so to speak, but, it too, was lacking in so many areas.

When Microsoft showed of the Surface, however, I knew that my ideal table would come from Microsoft. Indeed, the folks from Redmond did a nice job with the Surface. It looks great, feels nice to hold and is just nice to look at. Windows 8 RT looks and works great on this thing.  Windows 8 Pro is even better, though I did notice a bit of warmth to the body of the device, which means it could run a bit warm. There is one huge drawback to Surface: price.  At $499 and $799, they are two to four hundred dollars too expensive. I could have purchased the 64gb Pro, but, at nearly a grand for the device and keyboard cover, I just couldn’t do that for a tablet. I don’t know, mentally, I think these things should not be more than $500, no matter what’s under the hood. I could settle for the RT, but that defeats the purpose of the WINDOWS tablet.  What to do?

Enter Asus.

Asus just introduced a full-blown Windows 8 tablet for $499.  So, for the price of the Microsoft Surface RT, I could get a full on Windows 8 device.  Sweet. Open up the checkbook already!DSC_4342

So, I got my Asus VivoTab Smart tablet from Best Buy. Now, before I go on, I have to say that the buying experience was less than stellar, but not as bad as when I bought my son and wife their laptops from the same store.  First, the sales guy did not know anything about the tablet. He tried to tell me it was RT and, when I challenged him, he did go look it up.  So, then he had to figure out if they had them in stock. The web site said they did, which is why I went out of my way to go to this particular store.  Anyway, while waiting, I was bombarded with questions about Comcast! I told the lady that was talking to me about them that I was very displeased with them and if I have a viable alternative for internet access, I’d drop Comcast in a heartbeat.

Back to the tablet.

So, upon getting the device home to live internet connectivity, I proceeded to set it up. That was notvivotabfront difficult or time consuming, though I did have a hiccup with ACTIVATION. Really, Microsoft, this BS has to stop. Your products will always be pirated, get over it. All your activation silliness does is piss off your customers, it does not stop the piracy.   The problem? Well, as it turns out, if the date and time on your device are not correct, your activation will not work.  Once I realized that the date was a year out, I fixed it and tried to activate again. It worked.

Setting up my user account to be the same as my other Windows 8 computers allows me to sync my Windows 8 style apps across my devices. This involves creating a new user and using your Windows Live ID mail box.  Now, I have most of the same apps across all three of my Windows 8 devices.

OK, OK, how about the tablet?

This thing is nice. It is 10 inches wide and in 16:9 format, which means movies will play nicely on the device.  The screen is very nice, but not quite as nice as the Surface or a current gen iPad, though it still looks REALLY nice.  Audio is weak, but I don’t expect booming sound from a tablet, but the volume level could be a bit better. The heft of the device, for me, is just right. The quality of the casing is not quite as nice at the Surface or an iPad, but better than most tablets.  I think I like the rubbery feeling on my Kindle Fire a tad more. The case is plastic and feels like it. However, it does not look ‘cheap’ like some tend to look.vivotabtop

The speed of the device is a bit better than I expected. Running a dual core Atom from Intel, the machine is fairly snappy and I found web page rendering and video playback to quick and smooth. I’ve not yet played many games, and the only graphical game I’ve play, so far, is something Jetpack Joyride, a 2D side scrolling action game in the style of the old Commander Keen or Duke Nukem. The game played just fine.

Because I want to use this as a mobile work machine, I bought a 32gb SD card to increase storage to a more reasonable size.  Nearly 100gb (with 24 gb taken for OS stuff) should be enough for my needs.  I also needed a keyboard.  Interestingly enough, the RT version of the device includes the cool snappy add keyboard, similar to Surface, but the VivoTab Smart does not. In fact, the only connectors it has is the single micro-USB connector and the SD card slot.  I did buy a Logitech K400r keyboard with integrated touch pad, but it is USB (wireless, with USB adaptor) but cannot find a full size female USB to micro male USB cable. rpi3After a couple of days hunting for such a thing, I caved and purchased an iHome ‘tablet’ keyboard with Bluetooth. The VivoTab has Bluetooth built in, so this works nicely. Not as elegant as Surface, but it cost under $50 so I’m still way ahead.

Oh, it does have a micro-HDMI connector as well. How could I forget that?  It’s another $35 cable. That is still on the store shelf.

Unlike my Kindle or old iPad, the tablet has two cameras: a forward facing camera for things like Skype and a rear facing, 8 mega pixel camera. The rear camera takes nice photos and pretty good HD video.

Battery life excellent, on par with my iPad: about 10 hours of battery life. They advertise 9.5 hours, but I got about ten out of it.

The thing that really amazes me with this tablet is that it is a full Windows 8 computer.  I can run pretty much anything I already have, including Visual Studio. It feels nice, is good looking, will work all day before needing to be charged and pretty fast for a mobile device. It is $499 and is available at Best Buy, online and from Asus.

 

Specs:

  • Windows 8
  • Intel® Atom™ Z2760 Dual-core CPU @ 1.8Ghz for best performance, power efficiency and compatibility ·
  • 10.1” IPS panel with 1366 x768 resolution for increased visual clarity ·
  • 580g light and 9.7mm thin with colorful design ·
  • TranSleeve as combined cover and stand with wireless keyboard ·
  • 9.5 hours extra-long battery life for all-day computing ·
  • NFC – Tap and Explore: simple interaction with other NFC enabled devices ·
  • Crystal clear 8MP auto-focus camera
  • Choosing a tablet is as bad as buying a car

    ipadminiSo, this is the time of year when shopping is in full swing for the holidays.  Every year, there seems to be that one standout, must have category and, so it seems, this year it is the tablet computer.  As such, I thought I would give some pointers on how to shop. I don’t want to come out and recommend a specific tablet, but I will share my thoughts on several categories of tablets.

    How to determine which category you belong in

    First thing to decide is who is the tablet going to go to, it is the important part of the puzzle. If it is going to a child, then skip ahead.  If to an adult, or yourself, then you need to know the following:

    • Does the recipient have an iPhone already? If they do, they, likely, already have a multitude of accessories and applications.  Things like power adaptors, bluetooth keyboards, cables, etc. will work on the iPad and, if they do not have one, that it is the best and easiest way to go.
    • Does the recipient have an Android phone? If yes, then skip to the buying an Android tablet.
    • Does the recipient have a Kindle or use the Kindle software? If yes, there are three choices: the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 inch or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch.  Here’s where you need to figure out which is better. If they have a hard time seeing, then get the 8.9 inch otherwise, the 7 inch is probably the best way to go.  Amazon has a nice ecosystem already and if they use Amazon Prime, then there is a whole world of streaming possibilities. Plus, anything you purchase from Amazon (like apps or media) will be store in the cloud and the device.
    • Does the recipient need or want an e-reader more than a tablet? If yes, then the aforementioned Kindle Fire or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD are good choices.  The Nook runs a more standard Android operating system while the Kindle Fire (and HD) run a modified Android OS.  Also, there is the KOBO e-reader with table like features and the low end Kindle and Nooks (with some tablety features) for under $80.
    • Does the recipient eschew Android and iOS (the operating system of the Apple iPad) and want something different? Well, if so, there are not many choices. You have Windows 7 tablets, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. The Windows tablets are still on the pricey side, however if you want something more like an iPad, but not iPad, the Windows RT tablet may fit the bill. There are several brands, including the MIcrosoft Surface as well as one from Asus.  Keep in mind, Windows 8 RT Store is rather new and no where near as complete as the Android and Apple’s App Store.

    If an Android tablet is in the offering, then read on…

    Buying an Android Tablet

    Android tablets are plentiful and run the gamut from 1.0 to 4.1.  Price is a big factor here, the cheaper the tablet, the crappier the tablet, with a few exceptions.  Generally speaking, stay away from brands that you have never heard of, as well as low end names like Craig, Emerson and, sadly, Sylvania.  These are going to be cheap, slow, lack performance and battery life and, likely, the Google Play Store.  You will have to get your apps from, shall we say, more questionable sources. Plus, many of these tablets will run older versions of Android (CVS carries one – a Craig – with Android 1.6) which may be wholly incompatible with most apps.

    It is better to stay with names you know, like Motorola, Samsung and LG.  Samsung has the best Android tablet, the Galaxy 10.1. It rocks the latest Android, has the performance and battery life to make it useful.  Motorola’s tablet is nice, but lacks some of the prowess of the Samsung. Others to look for include Acer (which always makes good products) and Asus.  These are going to be pricier tablet, in the $300 to $600 range, but will be worth the cash.

    Stay away, far away…

    …from places like CVS, Big Lots, Wal-Greens or any such store.  They are likely to have the aforementioned low end brands and nothing worth laying down your cash. (One possible exception is thesylvania7 Sylvania 7 inch in the BLACK BOX. I don’t have the model number, but it has Android 4.1 and sports a 1.2ghz processor and seems fairly responsive. I would ONLY get this if you need a spare device to use for music or internet and it’s under $80.)  Be careful if you do decide to get a tablet at one of these retailers (which I really have nothing against, they just aren’t the place to go buy a tablet) since some tablets are being sold with WINDOWS CE. Read the box, carefully. You DO NOT WANT WINDOWS CE.  Not in a tablet, phone, ‘netbook’ or anything else. Trust me on this, that is one dog you just do not want.  Also, Pandigital is a brand to now stay far away from as they are no longer an active company. You can still find their stuff in the channel, but you will get NO SUPPORT. And, I’m pretty sure that most of the other tablets will render you supportless as well.

    Buying for a child or for a family

    There are many tablets for children that are really nothing more than toys. Some of these are fine and are inexpensive, like the Innotab. However, if you want a real tablet that is safe for kids, your choices are limited.  Ideally, you will want a tablet that lets you set up profiles for the kids and profiles for the adults.  Currently, the Kindle Fire and FIre HD will do this, as will the Nook and Samsung Galaxy (a combination of manufacturer software and Android.)  The Windows tablets will as well, but they are far too pricey for kids. iPad does not currently do this, but it does have the best selection of children friendly games and software, bar none.  The Kindle offering has a good selection as well.  Another thing to consider is durability. Currently, there are bumpers and cases for the iPad, Galaxy and Fire that will protect the tablet from drops and other oopsies.  Price is also a factor as well as size. The bigger the tablet, the harder it is for them to hold.  Here, the iPad MIni is a great choice. Children’s eyes are usually better than ours, so the difference in the screen won’t mean much. It is also cheaper than it’s much larger brother.

    Ok, I’m still not sure what to get…

    surfacertAlright, let’s look at it a different way…what does the recipient do most: play games, use Facebook or other social network, surf the net, be productive?  For simple net surfing and Facebook, pretty much any of the under $200 tablets will do that, hell, even those cheap ones I just warned you about will do that (still, stay away from them) but you want to get one that COULD do more,  Here’s where the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Nobel Nook HD would be excellent choices. Both are under two hundred bucks, both have a fairly decent ecosystem, both are easy to use.

    If the recipient wants to play games, again most of the mid to upper end units will work, but the iPad has the advantage here. Every major game publisher supports the iPad and you can bet they will for a long time to come. Forget the iPad mini and get the real deal and go for the 32gb version, they will burn through 16gb in no time. The Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire and Fire HD and the B&N Nook HD also make nice game players. Not sure about Windows RT as the RT market is rather limited at the moment.

    Being productive is the big limitation here.  This is the area where the Windows devices shine best. The Windows 7 tablets, while functional, should be ignored as they are nothing more than Windows 7 computers shoehorned into a tablet. Get a Windows 8 Pro device. You can use full size keyboard and mice and also use them as full desktops. Plus, they have the mobility factor.  The Windows RT devices CAN be used this way, but the PRO version is better. Also, iPad and the Samsung Galaxy are good, if not incomplete, choices.sylvania10inch

    Ultimately, money is likely your deciding factor. Get the most for the least is my motto and you can do that with tablets, but you have to shop around. Best Buy will have most of them out so you can at least play around with them and their prices aren’t awful either.  Surprisingly, Target is another place to purchase them, but the selection is extremely limited.

    A good resource to use for comparing features and reviews is CNet. Amazon is decent too, but can be confusing.

    Good luck and Happy Holidays!