SDCardXD for Xoom Does What the Xoom Should Have Supported All Along

SDCardXD for Xoom Does What the Xoom Should Have Supported All Along

Aug 7, 2012

SDCard XD for Xoom is an app that probably shouldn’t be necessary, but really is. See, the Motorola Xoom, that venerable 10" Android tablet, is at this point is pretty much a Nexus device thanks to it getting Android updates in a timely manner. It got Ice Cream Sandwich shortly after its reveal, and recently got an update to Jelly Bean as well. On the hardware side, while it has a microSD slot, its functionality has always been lacking because of the fact that the Xoom can only read from the microSD slot, so no file modification of files on the device is possible. Well, until now, that is! SDCard XD for Xoom is a file manager that claims that it can actually write to the SD card slot.

Well, does it live up to its lofty claims? I gave it a shot and can confirm that yes, it does. It’s not the fastest writing process in the world, and one file copy caused the app to hang and say that the file was still transferring when it was done when testing on Ice Cream Sandwich, but it was usable after completion. Jelly Bean support seems a lot better, though it will work with ICS and even Honeycomb devices.

Copying and otherwise managing files is done by tapping-and-holding on files to call up a list of commands. There’s a two panel interface to make things easier, with a one-tap SD card access button. It’s not the nicest interface for a file browser, but it’s meant to primarily facilitate SD card writing access. Note that root access is not needed at all for Xoom users, it works perfectly well on stock devices.

There’s a good reason why this is one of the top-selling apps on Google Play for the Xoom: it works as advertised. It is a perfect solution for an imperfect world, because I never did understand why the Xoom couldn’t write to the SD card, anyway. SDCard XD for Xoom currently runs for $1.49 on Google Play.

What’s New in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean?

What’s New in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean?

Jun 29, 2012

Lest we forget with the new hardware introduced at Google I/O 2012, the new Android version was introduced there as well: Jelly Bean. This isn’t 5.0, as some people speculated, but a 4.1 release, and as such it appears to be largely comprised of incremental updates, little features to improve the experience on Android, rather than major overhauls like Ice Cream Sandwich introduced.

Delta app updates have been introduced, which means that when an app update is released, it’s possible for only the data that’s been changed to be downloaded to the device in order to update it. This could come extremely in handy for large games – and iOS could use this feature!

Notifications can now include more information than just their app icon with a subject and text, with richer information fields that will allow for multiple lines of text and images to be added in to notifications. Multiple actions can be added to a notification, such as missed calls will have options to call back or send a message directly from the notification bar. Developers can implement this in their apps as well. Users will be able to prioritize notifications as well, so important ones appear at the top.

On a technical level, new vsync timing has been introduced across Android frameworks in order to help combat lagginess. Part of Google’s “Project Butter,” if this helps make the Android user experience much smoother, it could help Google out in the war of quality versus iOS. Devices with HDMI output can now send multichannel audio through HDMI, meaning that hypothetically, videos from Google Play can now play back through surround sound systems. Widgets can now automatically resize based on the space available to them, and change the content in them based on the space given.

Additional options for accessories have been added, such as discovery of new input devices like controllers, and discovery of features such as force feedback in controllers. Network discovery options for finding services on local networks could also help with local wifi multiplayer games. Audio can be output via USB, which will help with dock accessories that will be able to charge and play music in a car through one port, for example.

While there’s not one killer feature here that defines the OS, or any kind of major overhaul visually, it’s an update that should improve the user experience for the lucky few who get it. The update is rolling out to the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, and Motorola Xoom in the next month, the Nexus 7 will launch with Jelly Bean, and the source code is available now for phone manufacturers (read: custom ROM creators) to start playing around with and get supported on their phones soon.

Motorola Xoom Ice Cream Sandwich Update Hands-On

Motorola Xoom Ice Cream Sandwich Update Hands-On

Jan 19, 2012

One of the first tablets to get an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade is the Motorola Xoom. Motorola began sending out the update this week to users of the wifi version of the tablet, and I have officially gotten to take it for a spin.

The tablet is actually much faster after the upgrade. There were little moments of sluggishness on Honeycomb, and it affected games at times, but not so on ICS. It runs smoother thane ver before. Interface elements pop up instantly, games run smoother. Apple’s upgrades are known for generally slowing down older devices; apparently this isn’t the case with the Xoom, though this may have a lot to do with Android’s architecture; there’s more room for optimization along with feature enhancement because it’s software meant to be run on various hardware, instead of iOS being written from the ground up for set hardware configurations.

Screen capture is finally here on the Xoom, though it is a little tricky. The command – hold down volume down and power simultaneously for a second – works, the problem is that the volume keys on the Xoom are small and hard to press down in an instant. This makes screen capture a rather tricky proposition, more so than other phones where hitting both keys simultaneously is much easier. This might not be great for taking game screenshots, but it will help for some cases, and with practice, who knows, one-handed screenshot capture is possible because the buttons are all on the top left of the device.

The new Roboto font is very nice looking, and brings a great unified look to the OS. The design feels more consistent now, although not a lot has really changed from the previous Honeycomb experience, it’s just a lot of tweaks. On phones, it may be different, but for tablet users, ICS is full of nice little tweaks, it isn’t a life-changing upgrade. There is no face unlock for the Xoom, it appears. Note that the default notification sound from Honeycomb for the Xoom is nowhere to be found, so get used to all new sounds. Other apps have gotten minor visual tweaks – Gmail has a tweaked look, and boasts an easily-accessible “mark unread” button. The People app is also a major update to Contacts – it does well to integrate in social data from Google+, and it also includes data from third-party apps like Twitter.

Data usage does work for the Xoom Wifi, and it’s useful to see just what exactly is transmitting data, though of course, with wifi, data usage is not a concern unless with metered internet connections. The SD card slot still appears to be read-only, which still makes zero sense – why would Motorola include an SD slot on a device that would be read-only?

Still, minor issues aside, this is a useful update for the tablet, especially as the improved smoothness makes it far more useful. Now, let’s hope other manufacturers can get on the ball with updates to the latest and greatest Android.

The Hills Are Greener: All I Want for Christmas is an Android Tablet

The Hills Are Greener: All I Want for Christmas is an Android Tablet

Dec 19, 2011

This promises to be a huge time of year for Android tablets: between the Kindle Fire being the most gifted item on Amazon, Barnes and Noble launching their new Nook devices including the Nook Tablet along with the still-on-the-market Nook Color. Plus, the Nook Touch is actually an Android device with an e-ink screen, and it’s actually possible to run Android apps on it after rooting it. This is very unsupported functionality, though. This is along with other cheap Android tablets that are on the market at bargain basement prices, and those high-end models at the iPad’s price point.

While sales will obviously be a huge barometer for the success of these devices, the other question will be quite simply if users will enjoy these Android tablets. Like it or not, the iPad is still the champion of the tablet market and what users are going to compare these tablets to. If the tablets don’t perform up to snuff, will people lose any faith in Android? The greatest fear that Google and other Android supporters have to have is that the current rush on Android tablets winds up creating a greater demand for tablets, but a dislike of the Android tablets released causes people to just be driven to the iPad. Long-term, these cheaper tablets may be bad for Android.

I personally have been telling friends interested in tablets that the iPad is a superior choice to the Android tablets. In particular, the smaller app selection on the Nook and Amazon stores represents a stumbling block, especially as even with Market access these tablets still pale in comparison to the iPad in terms of apps. Cost is a concern with them, and that is where Android tablets will succeed – being a fraction of the cost is a humongous selling point that the iPad just can’t compete with.

As one Twitter user pointed out, many tablets like the Kindle Fire are being given as gifts, and if users dislike them and start to try and return them or sell them secondhand en masse after Christmas, Hanukkah, and Festivus, then Android vendors could be seeing a lump of coal come next year when the next round of Android tablets come out.

Motorola Xoom Wifi Hardware Review

Motorola Xoom Wifi Hardware Review

Aug 10, 2011

Android tablets have been something of a mythical beast, often mentioned, but rarely seen in the wild, at least as long as the iPad has been the popular tablet of choice. So most of my experience with Android tablets has been secondhand, until I recently got my hands on a Motorola Xoom Wifi tablet, running Android 3.2.

The Xoom feels about the same weight as the iPad, if not maybe slightly heavier, but the difference, if any, is such where actual measuring tools would have to be used to determine any weight difference. The hardware feels very rugged, like it could take a beating and keep on ticking. The battery life of the Xoom will depend on how much background processes will be running, and if a lot of notifications are active, but I approximate 6-8 hours of continuous usage without a charge; with occasional usage, I can go a couple days without charging the Xoom. The Xoom comes with a micro-USB cable and a separate wall charger; the cord on the wall charger is of very generous length, and using the Xoom while it is charging is very easy, unlike with the iPad’s obtrusive dock connector. The interesting element of the Motorola Xoom is that it actually has fewer buttons than the iPad, having just a lock/power button on the upper left side of the device, and volume keys.

The rear-facing camera is solid, and comes with a built-in flash. However, there is no “tap to focus” like on other Android devices, focusing only happens when the shutter key is pressed, and even then it does not provide a good preview of what the final image will look like. That’s really the problem with the camera in general; pictures are practically impossible to set up. This is a competent camera, though. A front-facing camera is available as well, though there’s no Skype available for the Xoom yet. Google Talk video support works, though.

All the ports are put in positions where they are out of the way of the hands in pretty much any orientation; the headset port is on the top, the charging ports are on the bottom of the device, and the volume keys are on the top left. If turned upside down, the volume keys are difficult to press accidentally. In portrait orientations, the ports are still well out of the way of any hand placement, though the tablet feels a bit top-loaded due to its taller aspect ratio. In landscape mode, the widescreen 1280×800 resolution of the Motorola Xoom makes it better for viewing videos, and makes it great for multi-column apps like Gmail and Twitter apps like Plume. A thumb keyboard comes highly recommended, though there isn’t one pre-installed with the Xoom.

There is the occasional slowdown while using the hardware, and the lack of any kind of default task manager makes clearing applications out of RAM a problem after a couple of days of continuous uptime. Power cycling usually solves these issues; rebooting is not available on the default software, and would likely require rooting. Still, for a device that is touted for its dual-core processor, it’s disappointing to see the slowdown that often pops up. The browser suffers from some of this occasional slowdown and lag. Flash does not come pre-installed, but can be easily downloaded and installed from the Android Market.

A comparison of the Android tablet OS compared to iPad’s iOS can be found in this The Hills Are Greener column, but the main drawback to Android 3.x is that tablet apps are harder to find. A variety of apps do work when stretched out to tablet resolution, yes, but it does lead to weirdness with the user interfaces. A lot of these apps are in the Android Market’s “featured tablet apps” section, as well!

Using the Xoom has been an entirely different experience from the iPad because of the differences. The Xoom is a great piece of hardware, and the base OS is very solid and well-designed for tablets. With more available apps on the Market, the tablet experience could improve. For those looking for an Android Tablet, the Xoom seems like a great choice, and will become something that I will regularly use, especially for productive activities, like writing and the most important activity of all: tweeting.

Skype Video Calling Now Available on More Android Devices

Skype Video Calling Now Available on More Android Devices

Aug 4, 2011

Skype has been slowly bringing video calling to Android devices. The device support has recently been expanded to officially support a variety of new devices, including some popular Android models, and even the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The full list is available on Skype’s blog. Some of these devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S, do not have front-facing cameras on some of their models; if these devices are on Froyo (Android 2.2) or higher then they can use their rear-facing cameras for video calling, at least.

What’s most interesting about this update for most users is that Skype has activated video calling for potentially all Android devices, not just ones that are officially supported. All devices on Froyo or higher can check in the settings of the app to see if the ability to enable video calls is available; if so, then video calling may work on the device. In order to use the front-facing camera on these unofficially-supported devices, the device needs Gingerbread (Android 2.3) in order for Skype to have access to the front-facing camera, otherwise only rear camera access will be available. Video calling between two people works well, even when calling users on various other platforms that support Skype video calling, meaning that this will work to call iOS Skype users. Finally, the bridges that have divided us for so long will be repaired!

Not all devices with front-facing cameras will be able to make video calls from the new Skype for Android update. Tablets may or may not work at this point, as video calling was not available on the Motorola Xoom running Android 3.2 after the latest update was installed. Skype should be adding more devices to the supported device list, and hopefully better tablet support is on its way. Skype for Android with expanded video calling is now available for free from the Android Market.