The Hills Are Greener: Why Smaller Tablets Aren’t Just Physically Smaller

The Hills Are Greener: Why Smaller Tablets Aren’t Just Physically Smaller

Jan 21, 2013

A reminder that the Android market is not the same as the iOS market has been served by Super Hexagon. The Nexus 7 version of the game suffers from a latency issue on touch release that appears to be a hardware-level issue thanks to a cheap touchscreen on the Nexus 7, according to developer Terry Cavanagh; initially the game was going to skip the Nexus 7 but as players manually installed the game and reported that the issues were minor, he decided to go ahead and enabled Nexus 7 support on Google Play. Crisis averted.

Now, while eventually it was sorted out, the point is this: the Android tablet market is largely defined by cheap devices. The Nexus 7 got its start, after all, as a low-cost 7" tablet from Asus that was highly-powered, but concessions had to be made to get it down to the $200 level. There’s a general feel that it is less sturdy than say an iPad, though its rubbery grip could be the cause of that. Still, it’s something that pales in comparison to Apple’s hardware design – one may not enjoy Apple products, but their craftsmanship is very high, even on their relatively low cost ones.

It’s not just Google that’s doing it: Amazon and Nook are pushing low costs on their tablets too. And that’s not to speak of the many nameless manufacturers trying to cut below even them. The market has spoken, and in the 7“ range at least, people want cheap tablets. And there’s a chance that in getting them, quality is going to suffer at least a little bit. And while the 10” market is a bigger unknown – the smaller 7–8" range is the hot market now with the iPad jumping in, and the Galaxy Note 10.1 is certainly well-advertised, but finding out just how many units its sold is not an easy endeavor, while Samsung touts the sales of the entire Galaxy Note line. The Nexus 10 is sold out on Google Play, but who knows how accurate that is. Maybe only 10 Nexus 10s were made. The fact that the Nexus 4 is still out of stock is still suspicious as compared to how fast they should be produced. Who knows.

The point is this: the 7“ market is the clear winner for Android, but people should not expect to be getting the absolute latest and greatest because of the demand for low prices. And a similar phone market is unlikely to develop long-term because phone subsidies on 2-year contracts bring prices into the range of 7” tablets. Heck, even Apple is underpowering the iPad Mini compared to the full-size line. That says a lot about what this market really is.

The Hills Are Greener: Size Matters

The Hills Are Greener: Size Matters

Sep 10, 2012

Size matters. This past week, we saw Amazon try to take on the iPad with a tablet size that's still a bit smaller than the flagship iPad, but definitely something more for the tablet customer who wants a bigger device, without paying the iPad premium. This will likely be competing for dollars with the Nexus 7 this holiday season as well, and Amazon's hooks in traditional along with online retail make it a force to be reckoned with, especially if the device is as powerful as it could be.

Meanwhile, with Apple holding an event this week, reportedly for the iPhone 5 as hinted by the big "5" shadow in the invitation, it will be all about getting bigger as well. Reportedly, the iPhone 5 is going to grow taller to 16:9 resoultion, while remaining 640 pixels wide for the comfort of developers used to the screen width.

Expect iPhone apps to go through some hurdles. With no time to prepare for the new aspect ratio like with the iPad being announced months ahead of time, and with developers not used to designing around aspect ratio neutrality, there could be a slew of awkwardly-designed apps. Android developers, used to bajillions of hardware and resolution permutations, were born ready for every resolution on the face of the earth, or at least ready for when resolutions change. iPhone developers may need to learn quickly, though the horizontal resolution remaining the same will make it simpler.

But the very fact that even Apple is recognizant of the idea of different screen sizes after staying static for so long shows that there is a shift in the market. Consumers like being able to have big phones, and occasionally smaller tablets. That may be part of the reason why Android has gotten to take off: it's provided a choice that Apple has not. And though Apple is now starting to expand into this area, it may not be in time to really slow down Android to a significant degree, though it could win them back customers who liked Apple, but not enough to prefer Android's options.

As well, if NFC is not in the iPhone 5 as rumored, then it's another blow to mobile payments, and one that could be hurting the entire movement due to Apple's largesse. It's a catch-22: they won't take off until iOS uses them, but Apple may be hesitant to put them in because of their non-ubiquity. What a confusing web being woven.

Of course, what this is really leading to is the singularity 6" size, something big enough to fit in our pockets without sticking out (even if it's uncomfortable), but something that we can all enjoy. The one size to rule them all! Of course then no one except me, who wants a huge phone anyay, would be truly happy.

It's silly. These device sizes are really only nominally bigger than each other, and yet they're such a big deal. In the world of mobile technology, size does matter. What a first world problem. And yet, as a mobile technology addict, I know how the subtle differences do matter.

Samsung’s Galaxy Player 5.8 Redefines Giant Screens

Samsung’s Galaxy Player 5.8 Redefines Giant Screens

Aug 28, 2012

Did you think that the Galaxy Note was just too small? 5.3" of screen just wasn't enough, was it? No, you need something bigger. The Galaxy Note 2 having a rumored 5.5" screen? Still not enough. How about the new Galaxy Player 5.8, recently announced in Korea? It's got a 5.8" screen. It features a design inspired by the Samsung Galaxy S III, just bigger. Sadly, the resolution is only 960×540, so there's a definite drop in PPI. But those are the sacrifices that must be made when going after the biggest, baddest screen. There's no sacrifice of battery life, with a beefy 2500 mAh battery. It also boasts frontal stereo speakers, and in fact this thing's layout may make it optimal as a wifi phone. There's just no word of what's under the hood – sure, it might be able to handle video, but will gaming work well on it? And will the western world, hungry for giant screens, be able to get their hands on this thing soon? And I do mean hands because that screen size is big, yo.

Samsung Galaxy Note Finally Gets Ice Cream Sandwich

There were probably 2 main complaints about the Samsung Galaxy Note at launch: one, that it was too big. Two, it used an outdated version of Android. While Samsung’s hand-enlargening worldwide gas distribution project has hit some speed bumps in development, Ice Cream Sandwich is finally hitting the gargantual phone. This brings a TouchWiz version of ICE to the phone, with the special Galaxy Note apps like S Note, which also features updates to make it work better, along with a new S Memo widget. While this update is long overdue (there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have shipped with Ice Cream Sandiwch in the first place), it’s at least getting the upgrade, which is more than many phones can say.

Still, this should make the phone more attractive to power users who wanted a unique device without giving up the advantages of the latest Android OS. The update is currently rolling out around the world – US Galaxy Note owners may get it later because of the different hardware and because of carriers insistence on testing the OS before release. However, custom ROMs do exist.

The Samsung Galaxy Pocket is the Anti-Galaxy Note

The Samsung Galaxy Pocket is the Anti-Galaxy Note

Apr 3, 2012

Samsung is officially the Three Bears of smartphone companies. The Galaxy Note is too big! Now meet their phone that’s too small: the Galaxy Pocket. This microscopic phone is designed for those who not only think that Samsung’s behemoth phones are too gargantuan, but that the iPhone is too big as well. How do those size 0 jeans fit, anyway? Are they comfortable?

Now, unlike the Galaxy Note, this is an underpowered phone, that would likely be targeted at the low-end consumer if it ever reached the US. It does come with AT&T cellular bands, so it’s definitely a possibility. The concern that critics of the Galaxy Note have in particular is that smaller phones would be underpowered. In reality, it would be interesting to see a Samsung or similar company release a smaller device, designed for the person who wants a small screen size, but big phone power. Heck, they could even use similar or identical components between them. It would be perfect.

However, considering the wide variety of phones currently in play, and the ever-increasing number announced regularly, that is unlikely to change any time soon. But for Android owners with tiny processing power needs to go along with their tiny hands, hopefully this phone comes to the US for their sake. Thankfully, it recently passed through the FCC, so tiny phones may soon be had by all!

The Hills Are Greener: A Note About Arrogance

The Hills Are Greener: A Note About Arrogance

Apr 2, 2012

So the Samsung Galaxy Note, the well-advertised 5.3-inch behemoth of a phone has been announced as selling over 5 million phones so far globally. Impressive numbers so far for the phone that Samsung spent a lot of money advertising during the Super Bowl.

This has made some people really angry. Angry to the point where a TechCrunch author thinks people just can’t be trusted to buy large phones. A Gizmodo author says these people are “confused.” Why so elitist?

The thing is, there actually is a legitimate concern to be made about device sizes, which I can understand. The Galaxy Note is not for everyone, and the carriers and phone manufacturers don’t always do what’s best. Still, considering that the smaller screen Android phone has yet to disappear, I find myself skeptical that the Galaxy Note is the end of all small phones. I don’t even think I’m all that sold that Apple is going to make the next iPhone all that much bigger, if at all.

Yet, what about those people that it is for? The large handed individuals of the world. Those that really don’t care all that much about typing with just one hand. Those who get value out of having a large screen being so portable. Fat people need phones too! I just fail to understand what is so offensive about this phone’s existence that some pundit sitting behind their keyboard thinks that people wanting a large phone is so offensive, that this is proof that people can’t be trusted?

What if they lack perspective? Maybe the design concern of “this phone can’t be used one handed” was overblown? Maybe people buy large phones because they want large phones, and maybe the faults that those that cover the indsutry (if I may be so bold to include myself in that group) that are so important to us are small matters to the average person.

I do agree that the variety of screen sizes should not disappear. There are some people for whom the 5.3-inch size just does not work. It just strikes me as a curious, and possibly biased, reaction to say “this phone sold 5 million units! People can’t be trusted!”

The reaction is motivated by a fear that a singularity of one Android screen size will happen. The irony is that it would solve one of the other big Android problems: that there are too many screen sizes, and too many devices. Now pundits are afraid that one size just might take over. Let that one sink in.

Angry Birds Space: Over 10 Million Served, Samsung’s in the Danger Zone, and Backing Up That Save

Angry Birds Space: Over 10 Million Served, Samsung’s in the Danger Zone, and Backing Up That Save

Mar 27, 2012

Angry Birds Space has really taken off! (Pause for groaning from readers) Rovio has revealed that the newest Angry Birds game has gotten ten million downloads in three days. While they did not reveal anything about platform numbers, many of those downloads are likely sales, though Android will also be making up a big number of those downloads given the presence of a free version on Google Play.

In fact, as far as versions of the game go, this is the first Android Angry Birds game to have a tablet-optimized version specifically. However, the only difference between the HD version and the regular versions is that interface elements are better scaled to high-resolution devices. Beyond some letterboxed artwork, the game plays perfectly well on tablets. In fact, I would say there is literally no difference in gameplay at all. This is basically Rovio trying to get an extra two dollars out of tablet users. The difference between Android and iOS in this respect is that iPad users have to buy the HD version or deal with scaled graphics; Android users get one that’s expanded out to take advantage of the full resolution.

The HD version's level complete menu.

The standard version's level complete menu.

Samsung Galaxy device owners got 30-plus free levels with their download, getting the Danger Zone levels unlocked for free, and before the rest of the Android universe got them. As well, a Golden Eggsteroid level with a Galaxy Note theme was made available. These levels are available on iOS, but as an in-app purchase; a three month exclusivity on Android was mentioned, but no word on if the levels will be made available through in-app purchases was mentioned. As well, the Android version is lacking the “Space Eagle” IAP that the iOS version has; Rovio appears to be avoiding in-app purchases on Android entirely, perhaps due to not having standardized options thanks to multiple marketplaces.

Yesterday, I wrote a column that in part bemoaned the lack of any kind of save game synchronization between Angry Birds games. While transferring progress between my iOS devices and my Android devices is still at Rovio’s whims, third party developers have figured out ways to transfer saves between Angry Birds games on Android. While there are several solutions, maybe the best one is Angry Birds Backup, which has been updated to work with Angry Birds Space. This is for several reasons.

  1. It backs up to Dropbox. This uses the Dropbox APIs (requiring the Dropbox app to be installed of course) to link to a folder, then the file from a game is backed up, and can be easily restored and re-backed up from any device with the app installed. Multiple profiles for backing up can be used as well.

  2. It can restore to different versions of the game. Start playing the paid version on one device, but have the free version on another? This works for transferring between versions. Note that the app will backup/restore data to/from one version on the device, in the priority of: ad-supported, paid, HD version. While it would be nice to choose between versions manually (especially when converting from free to paid on a single device), there really isn’t much of a reason to have multiple versions.

  3. It’s free. It works perfectly and it comes at no cost to the user. Some paid solutions exist, but this option works well. It also has limited permissions requests for internet access and modifying storage contents, so it appears to be safe as well.

It also doesn’t require root access, so all users can free their Angry Birds data. The app is available on Google Play but not the Amazon Appstore, so Kindle Fire users are out of luck at the moment with this particular solution.

The Hills Are Greener: Size Matters

In the glorified internet flame war between Apple fans and Android diehards, screen sizes are a real sticking point. Apple fans think iPhones’ smaller sizes are ergonomically superior to the bigger screens of many Android phones, and they think the iPad’s bigger screen is superior to the smaller screens of many Android tablets.

The latest source of derision from the iOS camp is the Galaxy Note from Samsung, the 5.3″ 1280×800 behemoth of a phone/tablet hybrid. The brouhaha seems to be split between two camps: one, the people who look at its 5.3-inch screen and think it’s massive, too massive for human consumption. Then there are those who feel like it’s big, but not necessarily too big to use, and the benefits of its size outweigh the weight. It is the focal point of the iOS-Android flame war, along with the derision over 7-inch tablets.

But it actually makes sense for this smaller size range, for Android phones and tablets to be five inches and seven inches respectively. The easiest way to stand out next to an Apple product is to look completely different. People who might want a bigger phone will look Android (and with some of the bigger models, it’s physically hard not to look). For those wanting a more compact tablet, Android is the only game in town, unless an iPad mini or iPod touch Deluxe comes along.

Really, where Apple tries to stand out is in screen quality, not necessarily screen size. The iPad 2 screen looks notably nicer than the Motorola Xoom, especially as it has a better contrast ratio. I’d rather watch a video on the iPad 2, just because it looks much nicer, despite the aspect ratio difference. As well, if reports are true, then the iPad 3 will boast a 2048×1536 Retina Display, which may be a bit overkill (and a developer nightmare if it doesn’t have enough horsepower), but odds are that the iPad 3 will have a screen that competitors will be rushing to keep up to.

That, or they just won’t. After all, they are only now just catching up on DPI on phone screens, preferring to go for wider landscape ratios and bigger screens than iOS devices – the Galaxy Nexus from Samsung is the only phone that can come close as far as DPI is concerned.

Apple might not have any reason to change the size of the iPhone. The iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, and iPhone 3GS all outsold any individual Android model over the holiday season, despite being smaller than the average screen on any Android phone. Apple may feel that the 3.5-inch screen size is their preferred ergonomic design. Apps are designed for that explicit screen size, and it would be a new wrinkle for developers to deal with, a slightly larger screen size.

However, rumors of a 4-inch iPhone 5 have floated around the internet, and while there isn’t any proof of this existing yet like the iPad 3’s Retina Display. Steve Jobs may have had certain parameters in mind, but as was said when Apple was demoing Mountain Lion to press recently: “We’re starting to do some things differently.”

Samsung’s Massive Galaxy Note Coming to AT&T This February

Samsung’s Massive Galaxy Note Coming to AT&T This February

Jan 31, 2012

Samsung and AT&T have announced that the Galaxy Note is finally hitting US shores this February. This is a phone for those who believe that 4.7″ displays are just too tiny. This is a phone for those don’t care if their phone fits in their pocket or not.

The Galaxy Note comes with a 5.3″ 1280×800 display. Yes, that’s HD resolution on a 5.3″ screen, with pixel density right below the Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4, with a 284 PPI (pixels per inch) compared to 316 and 330 PPI respectively. This is designed to be a phone/tablet hybrid, offering more workspace than most phones, while being more portable than a tablet. It might be a struggle to fit in many pockets, but reports of the Kindle Fire fitting in people’s pockets are out there, so this should fit as well.

The screen isn’t the only HD element this behemoth of a phone boasts. The rear camera can take 1080p video and 8-megapixel photos, and the front-facing camera is 2-megapixels as well. The processor is a a dual-core 1.5 GHz one, faster than the 1.4 GHz Exynos processor in the international version. This thing is not underpowered.

The Galaxy Note also comes with a special stylus called the S-Pen that is designed to work with the screen and with special apps, like their S-Memo app that can be used to doodle, convert handwriting into text, and more.

The phone ships with Gingerbread, not with Ice Cream Sandwich, though it has been announced that it is coming. As well, the hacking community (who have had international versions of the device to play around with) have released custom ROMs for the device, and there is an early build of CyanogenMod 9 for the Galaxy Note that is ICS as well. However, with the S-Pen functionality, it may be preferred to wait until source code for an official ICS build is released, so custom ROMs could take advantage of special Galaxy Note features.

The Galaxy Note for AT&T will be available in stores on February 19th, with preorders beginning on February 5th – and those preorders will be received as soon as February 17th. Will US customers respond well to this massive phone-tablet hybrid, possibly leading to a new wave of hybrid devices, or will it be a colossal failure? By which we mean it’s big. That is one big phone.