July 17, 2011
The first Motorola Droid set off a wave of high-end Android handsets that came in rapid succession as Verizon rolled out the red carpet for the Google-backed operating system. It had a strong specification sheet but its slide-out keyboard was a disappointing tactile experience as Motorola sought to keep the device relatively slim. The Droid 2 improved the keyboard, but it still wasn’t great.
The Droid 3 is a big step forward. Not only does the keyboard offer a vastly improved typing experience including a luxurious number row, but the screen has been expanded to four inches, which I believe is the “sweet spot” for a touchscreen handset (although requires a little adjusting to after using the Samsung Infuse extensively for a while. Consistent with reviews of the Atrix 4G, the user interface is silky smooth and Motorola includes a 3Dish animation effect (swiping in a concave manner as opposed to HTC Sense’s convex one).
The bottom lipped industrial design is more akin to the stacked slabs I preferred on the original Droid as opposed to the curving slope on the Droid 2, but the bottom slab is now at a diagonal. Critics angered that Motorola switched the button order between the original Droid and Droid 2 will likely be glad to know that Motorola has kept the Droid 2 button order intact. Motorola has even improved the on-off button, which I sometimes found difficult to trigger on earlier Droids; the Droid 3 blanks out with a cute CRT-like power down animation. The case is a much more pleasant soft-touch texture than the Droid 2′s rubbery back. And finally, the whole package, while a bit imposing in the hand, is a bit thinner than the Droid 2.
I tried Google Navigation on it last night and it worked great on the trip out although took a while to pick up signal coming back when it was admittedly a bit cloudier. In the next few days, I’ll be trying out the Droid 3′s full HD camcorder complementing its 8 MP still capabilities. I’m not as much of a fan of Motorola’s visual style in general versus some of its Android competitors. (The browser icon is terrible.) However, it makes good use of the device’s high-resolution (QHD, 960 X 540) display and text, while small, is easy to read. Alas, it is a 3G-only device. Overall, though, it seems like a much bigger leap forward from the Droid 2 than the Droid 2 was from the original Droid, and without question the best QWERTY device in Verizon’s lineup.
Tags: Droid, Droid 3, motorola, smartphones, Verizon Wireless
March 19, 2011
There can be no doubt that T-Mobile’s branding of its HSPA+ network as 4G was the best marketing move in the wireless industry in recent history. Sprint may have had the first 4G network and Verizon Wireless may have the fastest, but HSPA+ has allowed the fourth largest U.S. carrier with challenging spectrum holdings to go from a constrained 3G portfolio to marketing three 4G devices (the G2, myTouch 4G, and a 4G version of the popular Samsung Galaxy S design) with a a fourth announced (the Sidekick 4G).
In contrast, despite a long head start ,Sprint has just three 4G handsets on the market and Verizon Wireless just shipped its first 4G handset. That device – the HTC Thunderbolt (much like its similar predecessor, the EVO 4G) – impresses in all but battery life Here again T-Mobile has an advantage as its HSPA+ handsets deliver better battery life than WiMAX or LTE devices while often scoring closer to Verizon’s speed benchmarks than Sprint’s.
Sprint has a big event lined up for CTIA and the onus is on the company to roll out some more WiMAX products. Hopefully, the revamped Overdrive, for one, won’t suffer from the shoddy design that resulted in the USB connector breaking loose, the fate of the unit I tested.
Tags: 4G, HSPA+, marketing, smartphones, Spring, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, WiMAX
February 15, 2011
Will the third time be a charm for the portrait slider form factor that was the vehicle for webOS’s debut? The competition has gotten a lot tougher and the app gap remains webOS’s biggest challenge. Still, I think there’s cause for optimism.
As HP was not shy about pointing out at its Think Beyond event last week, the trend in the market has been toward jumbo screen sizes; CES was rife with announcements of 4.3” and 4.5” handsets. The original Pre and Pre 2, however, simply had too limiting a canvas. The bump to 3.6” puts HP in iPhone range. While I’ve said on a few occasions that I think 4” is perhaps the ideal balance between reachability and real estate, 3.5” is pretty usable and HP has put the extra width to good use by adding a larger keyboard..
But even screen size wasn’t as horrible an impediment with the first Pre as the experience-crushing lag. HP has addressed that in two ways, by bumping up the maximum processor clock speed to a roaring 1.4 GHz and by many optimizations in webOS 2, which I awarded the Switchie for most improved smartphone OS. I’m hoping those two improvements combine to make the fluidity of using a webOS handset consistent with the fluidity of the user interface’s design.while providing competitive battery life.
Tags: HP, Pre 3, screen sizes, smartphones, webOS
July 2, 2010
This week, Samsung, which noted that it has the highest market share in the U.S. for cell phones overall according to “several analyst firms” (ahem), gave notice that it is now getting into the smartphone market for real with the launch of the Galaxy S. Samsung is indeed making a big splash with this device. Unlike similarly specced devices that are exclusive to one carrier, different flavors of the Galaxy S will launch on all four major U.S. carriers. This should work to Samsung’s favor when it comes to gaining smartphone market share, but may also reflect the phone’s arrival date, coming in after Sprint and Verizon are making big bets with their 4.3” Android devices in a bid to fend off the iPhone.
But the branding of the deices will go beyond the model numbers used for the BlackBerry Curve on multiple carriers. Rather, they will each have distinct names and, in most cases, distinct industrial designs. On the verb camp are the Verizon Fascinate and AT&T Captivate while Sprint and T-Mobile have adopted adjective names with the Vibrant and Epic 4G. Yet they are all identified as Galaxy S smartphones.
Having checked out the phones for a bit earlier this week, I have a few early thoughts. First, the screens are very bright and do well in direct sunlight, although they are not significantly brighter than that of the iPhone 4. That said, the extra resolution and screen size of the Galaxy S’s screen enables it to display more of a Web page without striking one as overwhelming the way the Droid X and HTC EVO 4G do.
Tags: AT&T Captivate, Ganaxy S, Samsung, smartphones, Sprint Epic 4G, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Wireless Fascinate
July 1, 2010
Apple says that the iPhone 4 is much more than just an incremental tweak from previous iPhone. And while it can defend that claim, the arrival of the iPhone 4 reminds me quite a bit of the arrival of the iPhone 3GS in many ways. First, a large part of the value lies in the release of new software, in this case the newly renamed iOS 4. Second, much as the iPhone 3GS ushered in video capture to the platform, iPhone 4 has added video (and stills) capability to the front of the device, providing the key hardware for the FaceTime videoconferencing.
The three most significant new features in iOS 4 are multitasking (albeit Apple’s limited flavor of it), folders, and the universal threaded e-mail discussions, and they all improve the efficiency of working with the iPhone.Multitasking is particularly helpful when you need to switch among more than two apps and especially if those apps were located on different home screens (a scenario that folders also ameliorates). Apple’s approach has its drawbacks. For example, when you return to the e-mail client or a Twitter client, those apps will only then connect to the network and start downloading new messages. So if, for example, you haven’t remembered to switch to that app before entering a place with no coverage, you won’t have access to the latest updates. The upside to limitations like this is enhanced battery life, which I’ll discuss later.
In a release that has done much to alleviate the repeated swiping to move among home screens and e-mail inboxes, the task switcher seems like a throwback. While swiping to the left to access media controls is a good idea, Apple need not have so many screens of recently opened apps, and removing them from the selection row takes too much time and is potentially confusing. Also, it’s not clear why Apple preserves so much of the screen to the near-useless space of the active app when you are in task switching mode. These could all be addressed with simple fixes – devite, say, half or even 3/4 of the screen to task switching and implement WebOS-style flicking away of icons (or, even better, preview screens) to remove them from the app switcher.
Tags: Apple, iPhone 4, smartphones
April 28, 2010
So, it looks as though Lenovo wasn’t the global PC maker that would up with Palm. Instead it was Palm’s Silicon Valley neighbor HP, which has been dipping its toe in WinMo waters for the past few years. WebOS will help diversify mobile offerings from the computing giant, which faced the prospects of facing tough software differentiation under Windows Phone 7 — a dilemma from its PC business that it likely had no desire to repeat in the handset space
Palm gains access to HP’s vast R&D resources, global distribution and corporate clout while HP gains instant entry into the carrier portfolios of three of the four major U.S. carriers as well as an increasing number abroad. In the post-iPhone world, it’s clear that major PC companies need to have a serious play in the handset market. WebOS is an elegant, powerful operating system, but its performance continues to need help and Palm did not have the bandwidth to focus on suddenly hot tweener devices years after the fall of the Foleo and months after the rise of the iPad. WebOS may appear in HP smartbooks such as the Compaq Air’Life and perhaps even down the road as an embedded pre-boot environment. This seems to be a good fit from a technology and product offerings perspective.
There’s more to come on this story, to be sure.
Tags: AirLife, Android, HP, iPhone, Palm, smartbooks, smartphones, Windows Phone 7
April 21, 2010
One of the less successful handsets RIM has launched in the past few years was the BlackBerry Pearl Flip. The phone seemed like a throwback to a form factor from which American consumers – at least smartphone consumers – had moved on. But if the documented rumors from Boy Genius Report are true, RIM may be mounting another attack on the clamshell with the 9670. RIM would be demonstrating a continued commitment to push into other form factors beyond its classic QWERTY candy bar of the Curve and Tour.
Putting a full-QWERTY keyboard onto a squarish device that opens in some way has been tried by several manufacturers. There’s been the Verizon Blitz (by PCD), the Motorola Hint and Karma, the Nokia Twist, and the forthcoming Microsoft Kin One. The 9670, though, looks like a longer device, perhaps more akin to the Samsung Propel Pro or Palm Pre.
But I still like the idea of a QWERTY device in a clamshell, like the LG Lotus offered exclusively at Sprint. Some consumers simply prefer ending calls by closing the phone. And compared to sliders, clamshells let you have an exterior display while controls and perhaps the touch screen are protected from accidental activation without having to lock the phone, and may be a more comfortable upgrade for consumers who have spent years with clamshells like the Motorola RAZR..
Tags: Blackberry, LG Lotus, Pearl Flip, QWERTY clamshell, RAZR, RIM, smartphones
April 13, 2010
It was called Project Pink, a name so embedded in the team’s head that the Microsoft team that spoke to a small group of media gathered for a satellite launch event in New York City couldn’t avoid mentioning it. However, the accent color and default user interface are green. Forked off from the core Windows Phone 7 team, the Kin One and Kin Two explore a question that Microsoft claims it painstakingly researched: what do 15 to 25 year olds obsessed with social networks want from their handsets?
Their answer is a Windows Phone that doesn’t run apps, but instead has social networking integrated into its user interface and has solid imaging capabilities. The Kin One has a five megapixel camera whereas the less visually distinctive Kin Two has an eight megapixel camera and 720p video capture capabilities. With the exception of that HD video, the Kins will send nearly all of their information up to the cloud for review in an impressive, but potentially visually scale-challenged, Silverlight Web site called Kin Studio. Microsoft was not shy about coming up with catchy names for different parts of the Kin experience.
The Kin’s user interface is also like no other. Rather than the lines of text like many feature phones or a grid of icons like many smartphones, it takes Windows Phone’s “Metro” design of tiles and blows them out to large squares featuring items to share and people to share them with A small circle on the screen called “the spot” sends them off to be shared. Kin can also share via social networks, but still requires that you manually pick which of the three social networks supported by Kin – Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – receives the update. A classic 1.0 deficiency, sharing photos via Twitter is not supported, which leads me to think that Twitter is planning to launch its own photo sharing service.
Kin faces a number of challenges, but without yet knowing the price of the device, and how it will compete with capable, inexpensive smartphones such as the iPhone, Palm Pixi and Droid Eris, much will come down to how Verizon Wireless –– Microsoft’s exclusive launch partner in the U.S. – prices the service. I take it as a good sign that Verizon representatives did not say at launch that the standard data pricing plan would apply. On the other hand, Kin will be shooting a lot of data up into the cloud all the time, and is a much more mobile device than the iPad on which AT&T offered Apple special pricing.
The second, longer-term challenge will come from the quickly evolving nature of social networks. It is a challenge to keep up with rising stars in social networks and their related services. For example, the Kins support neither Foursqure nor Gowalla, Perhaps Microsoft is waiting to see which one rises to the popularity of Twitter. Or that might spell bad news for the company, as it currently offers its own Bing Maps to convey location information with the handsets.
Tags: Kin One, Kin Two, Microsoft, smartphones, social networking, Veirizon Wirelesss
February 9, 2010
Hulu is anytime, anywhere enjoyment of some of your favorite TV shows — as long as your PC can be used in those circumstances. With Flash coming to nearly every smartphone save for Apple’s many are looking forward to enjoying their House outside of their home.
But first, there’s the realities of even today’s most advanced smartphone processors and even more limiting wireless networks. Apparently, using the latest Flash beta for the Snapdragon-powered Nexus One, you can get up to about 17 frames per second for standard-definition Hulu content (360p) and that’s using Wi-Fi.
That’s not bad, for as long as it lasts. But there may be issues in preserving compatibility with smartphone Flash as Hulu rolls out new DRM. More serious, of course, is whether Hulu, or its content partners, or its content partners’ cable customers, want you to watch Hulu on your smartphone as Hulu is authorized only to deliver video to the PC. If any of those parties decide that they don’t want Hulu being watched on handsets, we could see a redux of the recently reignited Boxee block.
I suspect it will not pan out that way, but I also would be somewhat surprised to see Hulu negotiating with the carriers or creating their own smartphone applications. Perhaps the networks will go it alone or perhaps they will anoint some new puppet aggregator to manage wireless distribution.
Tags: boxee, Flash, hulu, NBC, smartphones
March 30, 2009
It’s no secret that Symbian is the most prevalent smartphone operating system around the word but barely has a toehold in the U.S. as i has been hampered by Nokia’s poor showing in the States. But both Nokia and Symbian could well pick up some domestic share with the Nokia E71x, which Chris Ziegler at Engadget Mobile (with whom I shared a doomed episode of TechVi) reports is slated to hit AT&T. . Its svelte profile, solid keyboard and efficient if not glamorous UIs made it the E71 one of the best smartphones released last year. and by far the most broadly appealing S60 QWERTY device to ever hit U.S. shores.
Being launched by one of the two biggest U.S. carriers a a price under $100 could create significant market pull. It’s a Centro-priced smartphone that is in nearly every way superior to the Centro,. And while I personally think the E71x looks fetching in black, I think AT&T would have been wise to do some alternative colors as Sprint did with the Centro. Like the Centro, I suspect that most consumers won’t seek out third-party applications although there’s much more there for he taking for the E71x.
The same Engadget Mobile post also notes that AT&T will also roll out the Samsung Propel Pro, which stuffs Windows Mobile into the feature phone offered by the operator. This will mark the entrant of a rare Windows Mobile vertical slider, and should provide a rare opportunity to ferret out how much of a market advantage, if any, Windows Mobile offers a device that shares a sub-brand and form factor with a feature phone.
Tags: at&t, Centro, Nokia, Propel Pro, Samsung, smartphones, Symbian, Windows Mobile